7 ways to drop the ball in the job search

mistakegirl

I’m not known for my etiquette. For instance, I often forget to send birthday cards to family members,; or I forget their birthdays entirely. When I’ve forgotten birthdays, I’ve essentially “dropped the ball.”

There are a number of ways jobseekers “drop the ball” in their search. They may not be aware of the mistakes they’re making, or they simply may not care. But it only takes dropping the ball once to lose out on an opportunity. Here are seven mistakes that come to mind.

1. Don’t update their résumés to reflect the job requirements. Some of my customers admit to sending a cookie cutter résumé, or one-fits-all, to a prospective employer because it’s the easy thing to do.

Not recommended. It’s sort of like giving someone a Valentine’s Day card that you’ve given your loved one the year before…and the year before that…and the year before that. In other words, you’re not showing any love.

Employers hate receiving résumés that aren’t written to them, ones that don’t address their needs and concerns. So make the extra effort when writing the most important document you’ll write until you land a job.

2. Don’t send a targeted cover letter. Again, like the résumé, the cover letter must reflect the skills and experience that are needed for the particular job. Your cover letter is a great way to tell your story and point the reader to the key accomplishments on your résumé.

One customer of mine sheepishly admitted that she once sent a cover letter with someone else’s name on it. That’s just plain embarrassing but goes to show you that care goes into writing and addressing the requirements of the job.

3. Fail to follow up after sending the documentation. Unless the employer strictly says, “No phone calls, please,” follow up to see if she has received your material. Employers aren’t dumb; they know why you’re calling. You’re calling to put a voice to the résumé and cover letter. In that case, make sure it’s a good voice.

Be prepared to talk about your interest in the job and company, but most importantly be prepared to state what makes you better than the hundreds of other applicants for the job. Have your personal commercial ready to deliver, a commercial that’s tailored to that particular job.

4. Avoid networking. Even though you’ve heard over and over again that networking is the most successful way to land a job, you would rather apply for jobs online. Guess what, the majority of jobseekers are applying for jobs online, and these jobs represent 20% of all jobs available in the job market.

The best way to land a job is to penetrate the Hidden Job Market by networking. Employers would prefer promoting their own employees, but if that isn’t possible, they’ll turn to referrals. The only way to be referred is by knowing someone at the company or knowing someone who knows someone at the company.

Networking doesn’t come easy to everyone, nor do some people like it; however, it must be done. You don’t necessarily have to attend networking groups, but you should make it part of your daily routine. Network wherever you go, whether it’s at a sporting event, your religious affiliation, your dentist’s office, a social gathering.

5. Aren’t taking LinkedIn seriously. I know this is tough for those qualified jobseekers who don’t know what LinkedIn is and don’t understand why it’s important in the job search. I see the dear-in-the-headlights look on my LinkedIn workshop attendees when I ask them how their profile matches up.

These are people who are curious about the application—how it can help in their job search. Well, it can’t help if your LI profile isn’t up to snuff. Rather it can hurt. Here are a few ways it can hurt: 1) it’s identical to your résumé in that it doesn’t provide any new information; 2) it isn’t fully developed; 3) you only have a few contacts or recommendations. There are many more mistakes you can make with your profile.

As a side note, the other night I was talking to a recruiter from RSA who said he spends every day on LinkedIn looking for people to fill his software engineer positions. One point of interest: he told me Monster.com is dead to him. This is how important LinkedIn has become.

6. Don’t prepare for the interview. At the very least you should research the job and the company so you can answer the difficult questions. Take it a step further by gathering insider information on the job and company. Some of my customers have been savvy enough to use LinkedIn to contact people in the company.

However, the night before you can’t locate your interview outfit. You haven’t taken a drive by the company to see where it’s located and how long it will take you to get there. How many times were you told to practice answering some of the predictable questions you may be asked? Again, can you answer questions like, “Why should I hire you” or “Can you tell me something about yourself”?

7. Don’t send a follow-up note. This one kills me. After all the hard work, you don’t follow through with a Thank-You note that shows your appreciation for being interviewed, mentions important topics that were discussed at the interview, or redeem yourself by elaborating on a question you failed to answer. I tell my workshop attendees that the interview isn’t over until they’ve sent the Thank You note.

Don’t drop the ball for any of the aforementioned reasons; instead keep focused on one of the most important times in your life. My not sending birthday cards to my relatives, or even forgetting them all together, is minor in comparison to losing out on an opportunity.

2 areas where extraverts can improve in the job search

writing-resume

With the plethora of job-search advice for introverts (Is) and approximately zero for extraverts (Es), it must make the Es feel…unloved. I’d like to give some love to the Es, because that’s the kind of nice guy I am. In this post I’ll advise the Es on mistakes they can avoid.

There are two components of a jobseeker’s marketing campaign, written and verbal communications, where Es can use some help. We’ll look at the résumé, networking, and the interview.

1. Written communications. For most, the job search begins with submitting a résumé and possibly a cover letter to the employer. The act of writing a résumé can sometimes be problematic for the Es, who prefer speaking over writing.

Is, on the other hand, prefer writing than conversing and, as a rule, excel in this area. The Is are more reflective and take their time to write their marketing materials. They prepare by researching the position and company–almost to a fault.

Es must resist the urge to hastily write a résumé that fails to accomplish: addressing the job requirements in order of priority, highlighting relevant accomplishments, and promoting branding. One excuse I hear from my extraverted customers for faltering in this area is that they’ll nail the interview. At this point I tell them they “ain’t” getting to the interview without a résumé.

Where the Es can shine in this area of the job search is the distribution of their written material. They are natural networkers who understand the importance of getting the résumé into the hands of decision makers and, as such, should resist simply posting their résumé to every job board out there. This is where the Is can take a lesson from their counterpart, the ability to network with ease.

2. Verbal communications. Speaking of networking; the Es are generally more comfortable than introverts when it comes to attending formal networking events. But not all Es are master networkers. The main faux pas of poor networkers is loquaciousness, which is a fancy word for talking too much. While Is are often accused of not talking enough, the Es have to know when to shut the motor—a tall order for some Es.

stop talkingNetworking isn’t about who can say the most in a three-hour time period. Take a lesson from the Is who listen to what others have to say. People appreciate being listened to.

Many of my extraverted customers tell me they talk too much, and some have admitted they botch interviews because they—you got it—talk too much. Some of them say they can’t help it. Es are known to be very confident at interviews, which is a good thing. But they can also be over confident which leads them to ignore the tenets of good interviewing. That’s a bad thing.

At interviews the Es must keep in mind that it’s not a time to control the conversation. The interviewer/s have a certain number of questions they need to ask the candidates, so it’s best to answer them succinctly while also supplying the proper amount of information.

Lou Adler writes in an article this about answers that are too long: “The best answers are 1-2 minutes long….Interviewees who talk too much are considered self-absorbed, boring and imprecise. Worse, after two minutes the interviewer tunes you out and doesn’t hear a thing you’ve said.”

One more area the Es must work on is conducting the proper research before an interview. They are confident verbal communicators and may see no need to research the job, company, and competition; thus going in unprepared. Winging it is not going to win the job; the person with the right answers will.

The Is, on the hand, could take a lesson from the Es’ playbook in terms of confidence during the interview. They need to speak more freely and quicker; rather then reflecting and appearing to reflect too much. This is where the Is preparation comes in handy.

There has to be a middle ground, referred to by folks like Daniel Pink as ambiverts, when it comes to reaching the right amount of talking and listening at networking events and interviews. Accordingly, the Es who “score” slight in clarity on the continuum (11-13) are more likely to be better listeners, as well as comfortable with small talk. This is likely true for introverts who also score in the slight range.

When it comes to written and verbal communications in the job search, Es have to be cognizant of taking their time constructing their résumés and knowing when it’s time to listen as opposed to talking too much. Without understanding the importance of effective written and verbal communications, the job search for the Es can be a long haul.

The best way to answer an interview question; Prove It.

Woman Job CandidateYou’re asked the interview question, “what is your greatest strength?” To which you answer, “I would say customer service is my greatest strength.”  Paus…. Long silence between you and the interviewer…. Interviewer writes on her notepad…. She clears her throat…. Next question….

What did you do wrong?

If you say you did nothing wrong, that you answered the question by addressing the major skill the employer is seeking; you’re partly correct. What you failed to do is prove that customer service is your greatest strength. Here’s how to prove your greatest strength.

Take a breath before answering this question. “I would say customer service is my greatest strength. I listen to the customer’s needs, always asking how I can help him/her. When I understand the customer’s needs, I do my best to meet them. Can I give you an example?”

The interviewer nods and waits with anticipation for you to prove what you assert. To do this you’ll tell a story using the STAR formula, which may go like this:

Situation: One of our longstanding customers had left us prior to my arrival at Company X. I had heard the customer was unhappy to the point where he said he no longer needed our services.

Task: My vice president wanted me to persuade the customer to return. As the new manager of a group of five furnace technicians, it was my mission to win back this customer.

prove itActions:To begin with, I had to understand what made our customer unhappy, so I asked one of my subordinates who was close to the situation. He told me it was because the person who previously worked on his furnace did shoddy work and wasn’t responsive.

With this information in hand, I called out customer to introduce myself as a new manager of the company and ask him why he was unhappy with our service. At first he was justifiably angry, telling me he would never use us again. He revealed that his furnace was never cleaned, that it still smoked..

This was going to be a tough one, based on the tone in his voice. I listened to what he said and told him I really couldn’t blame him for being upset. I agreed with him that he wasn’t treated properly. I was going to make it right. Too late, he told me; he was going to go with a competitor of ours. He hung up before I had the chance to talk with him further.

I decided to go unannounced to his house to introduce myself from Company X, I was met with, “Boy, you’re persistent. I apologized for coming without warning and asked him if I could look at his furnace. He didn’t seem to mind and told me to go to the basement through the back.

“But I ain’t paying for nothing,” he told me. Fair enough, I told him. We want to regain your trust, and if I can’t fix what’s broken, I wish you the best. I am still sharp with my technical skills, so I was sure I could fix his furnace and win back his business.

I spent two hours fixing what was broken, namely the exhaust pipe was full of soot, which required vacuuming. In addition, the oil pump had to be replaced. This was not news our customer wanted to hear, but he was happy I was honest with him and for the work I had done. He also said the former technician didn’t catch these problems, or didn’t care.

When he asked me what he owed me, I told him there was no charge. I just wanted to be assured that he’d stay with our company.

Result: My customer told me that I had regained his trust. Further, he appreciated my honesty and concern that his furnace would be fixed right the first time. He returned to our company. For my efforts, he tried to give me forty dollars “to take the missus out for dinner.” Of course I refused his money.

From the above story, you see how the job candidate proves how he provided customer service in this instance. Of course the interviewer will ask more questions about customer service, both requiring positive and negative outcomes. Although this story exceeded two minutes, the job candidate was able to grab the interviewer’s attention.

4 components employers are looking for in job candidates.

A Forbes magazine’s article, Top Executive Recruiters Agree There Are Only Three True Job Interview Questions,  confirmed what employers are looking for in candidates. This is not new news; employers want people who can 1) do the job, 2) will do the job, and 3) will fit in (or be tolerated).

But there’s a fourth piece to the puzzle Forbes doesn’t mention, which is “can we afford you?” Unfortunately, this seems to be almost as important as the other three requirements, as evidenced by the phone screening, where you’ll most likely get the salary question.

Let’s look at the four components employers look for in a candidate.

1. Can you do the job? Of course interviewers won’t ask the questions phrased as such: Can you do the job? Rather they’ll pose them as: “What skills do you see being necessary to do the job?” “Tell me how you’ll handle problem X.” “What kind of experience do you have in the areas of Y?” And other questions that gauge your technical abilities.

For many employers this is the most important component of the potential employee, but the following three cannot be overlooked. Having the technical know-how is essential to performing the job and advancing in your career, but there are other qualities employers look for in candidates, perhaps qualities on par with the hard skills.

2. Will you do the job? For the motivation part, they’ll want to know if you’ll enjoy the responsibilities and the mission of the organization. Will you work until the job is finished? “Why do you want to work for this company?” may be a question you’ll have to field. Think about it; would you want to hire someone who isn’t totally into working for your company? Probably not.

How can you prove your desire to work for the company? Stories using the Situation-Task-Action-Result (STAR) formula are a great way to demonstrate competencies that talk to your desire to do the job.

3. Will you fit? Showing that you’ll be a good fit is a tough shell to crack and a concern many employers have. It’s about your personality. They don’t want to hire someone they’ll have to let go because he can’t get along with co-workers. In this area you’re likely to get behavioral-based directives, such as: “Tell me about a time when you had to deal with an irate colleague.”

To some employers this is even more important to demonstrate at an interview than the technical piece. Technical, or job-related skills, can be learned. Most personality skills are difficult to learn, if not impossible. Read this article in which the author asks the following questions about employees teaching their employees teaching these skills:

“Can you train someone to become more sensitive? What about teaching a talkative person to become a listener?”

A surprising figure stated in the article claims that: “40 percent of senior executives leave organizations or are fired or pushed out within 18 months. It’s not because they’re dumb; it’s because a lot of times culturally they may not fit in with the organization or it’s not clearly articulated to them as they joined.”

4. Are you affordable? Salary negotiation makes some people’s skin crawl because they see it as a confrontational discussion, when in fact it’s straight forward. Companies don’t want you to resent them by paying you too little. However, a smart company sees this as business, so they’re not going to give away the farm.

“What do you think you’re worth?” might be a question you’ll get. Or, “What did you make at your last company.” Be prepared to answer it so you don’t lose out on the salary you deserve. As well, don’t be surprised if you’re out of their price-range. The final piece.


Being able to address the three most obvious concerns employers have is what gets you to the fourth concern, can they afford you. If you do a great job with the first three, the last one should go smoothly, just as long as you’re reasonable.

Reverse age discrimination could hurt your chances at an interview. 5 things to consider about the younger worker

Amy, a colleague of mine who looks no older than 30, came to me to tell me of one of her recent meetings with a jobseeker and to give me some advice. In her rapid voice, she told me that she had just met with a mature male worker who treated her as though she were a child. She was outraged and rightfully so.

Hmmm, I thought, here it comes.

Amy is well revered by the staff at our career center and the customers with whom she meets. She knows a great deal about the job search and training, so being disregarded by this man rubbed her the wrong way. We sat and talked about her meeting with him and wondered aloud if this is how he presents himself at interviews to people younger than he. And if he does, what his chances of success in this job market are. Slim to none, we concurred.

Eventually she calmed down.

Her advice to me was to bring up this attitude toward younger interviewers at my Mature Worker workshop. (She told me three times.) I totally agreed with her and immediately made a change to the presentation slide: “Treat younger interviewers like you would like to be treated.” No, better.

We career advisors always come to the defense of mature workers who experience age discrimination; but we don’t talk as much about reverse age discrimination, such as what my Amy experienced. We are reluctant to tell people who are unemployed how the interviewer might feel about their rude behavior. But this is wrong of us.

Think about if you were on the opposite side of the table interviewing people for a position, where personality fit is as important as technical abilities. How would you react if a mature worker looked at you with disdain and without saying it, called you inexperienced and beneath his level? Further, what would you think if you were going to be his immediate supervisor?

Hiring him would not be a marriage made in heaven. You, as the hiring manager, would have to prove yourself to the, albeit highly qualified, candidate on a regular basis. He would question your every decision and tell you how “he” would do things. Any effort you would make to correct his actions or even reprimand him would be met with resistance. You would feel powerless. You’d be crazy to hire him.

Amy and I believe that the large majority of mature workers have a great deal of value to offer employers. They’re knowledgeable in their work and possess life experience that younger workers do not. They want to work and are flexible with their schedule. They’re dependable, able to mentor others, and are great role models. These are but a few qualities of the mature worker.

But there are a few mature workers who think they’re all that or who have a chip on their shoulder. They are convinced that they’ll experience age discrimination at every interview. In other words, they have lost the job before the interview begins.

Susan Jepson, director of the National Senior Network, wrote an article addressing reverse age discrimination practiced by mature workers. She believes that sometimes it’s not intentional, “Without intending to, or without knowing it, mature workers can come across as arrogant, condescending; that behavior can invite rejection. Examine your beliefs and assumptions and work hard to be open and communicative with your interviewer, without prejudice of any kind.”

Susan Jepson is a mature worker, so she speaks objectively.

If you happen to be one who intentionally discriminates against younger interviewers, remember that the person sitting across from you deserves as much respect as you do. Also keep in mind that your livelihood might depend on how much they value you as a potential employee. More specifically, remember:

She earned her job. Whether she has less experience on the job than you is irrelevant. Someone in the company determined that she was the most capable to manage a group of people. And yes, they could have been wrong.

Her job is to hire the best person. You are the best person, but if you show contempt or even hint to your superiority, she won’t see your talent through the less-than-desirable attitude you demonstrate.

She will appreciate your points of view. Once assured you’re not after her job, she may see you as a mentor and role model. Younger colleagues like the approval of mature workers. Take it from someone who supervised someone 20 years my senior; her approval meant a lot to me.

She might have some growing to do. And if you want to succeed, you’ll realize that people of all ages have some growing to do, including you. You can help her through this process by building her self-esteem and confidence. It’s a wonderful thing to see someone grow under your tutelage.

Whether you like it or not, she will be your boss. What are your options right now? Enough said.

You may arrive at interviews where age discrimination is blatant due to no fault of yours. This is the time when you are the bigger man/woman and leave with your pride intact, your head held high. The word humility comes to mind, as he who is humble can adapt to more demanding situations than he who is arrogant.

In the end, my colleague Amy told her customer that his behavior was unacceptable and would do him more harm than good; and he apologized, admitting his error. We are never too old to learn valuable lessons.

10 ways to act professionally in the job search

ProfessionalimsMy daughter recently had to defend her position when she was accused of something that she and I felt was unjust. Nonetheless, before she spoke to the principal, I told her to act professionally.

The look on her face was priceless. “How should I act professionally in this situation, Dad?” she asked. Exactly. How do you act professionally in a situation that is less than desirable? The best answer I could give my daughter was, “Do your best. Just do your best.”

This recent event prompted me to think of 10 ways to act professionally in the job search:

  1. Treat people with respect. This is simple advice your mother gave you as a child. In your job search you’ll run into a helpful people and people who are…well putzes who think it’s all about them. Treat all of them with respect and work with the ones who treat you with respect.
  2. Resist the urge to only take and not give. The term “Pay it forward'” has real meaning. Create good karma by being a giver, understanding that the help you give others will be returned by someone else. One of my customers, who recently landed a job, was the epitome of a networker because of the leads she doled out like candy.
  3. Act positive. Having been unemployed myself, I understand the emotional ups and downs, as well as the financial burden, that go with being out of work. I’m not telling you to feel positive; I’m telling you to act positive. In other words fake it till you make it. Keep in mind that people feel more inclined to help those who appear positive.
  4. Dress the part. Put on the appearance of a professional by dressing properly, not like you’re heading to the beach. I can spot the jobseekers who aren’t fully into their job search by the way they dress, e.g., they wear tee-shirts instead of button-down shirts; yoga pants instead of dress pants or skirts. First appearances count; they really do.
  5. Be a student of the job search. I’ve witnessed those who understand the norms of the job search and those who don’t. The ones who do, dress appropriately, maintain a positive attitude (despite how they’re feeling inside), and follow proper etiquette. You are part of an organization called the Job Search.
  6. Be dedicated to your job search. I ask my workshop attendees how many hours a week they should dedicate to their job search. The ones who tell me what they think I want to hear say more than 40 hours. That might be a bit extreme, as there are other important things in your life, like family. I say 25-30 hours should suffice. Work smarter, not harder, as they say.
  7. Listen to constructive criticism. It is essential that you don’t get offended when someone critiques your “brilliant” résumé, interview performance, or networking etiquette. People generally want to help you in your job search. You’re not required to take their advice, but listen to what they have to say.
  8. Show up or call on time. In your case, it may be for the interview and appointments you’ve set up to meet with other jobseekers. The rule of never being late still applies. (Worse yet is forgetting entirely about an appointment, of which I’m guilty.) Call ahead if you’re going to be late, though. You might get some forgiveness.
  9. Realize the employer is not your enemy. Here’s the thing, the employer is only trying to hire the best person possible. Many hiring managers, HR, recruiters have been burned by hiring the wrong person—68% have done it at least once. Don’t create an adversary environment between you and the employer; you’ll lose.
  10. Follow up; always follow up. If you had a great meeting with a fellow jobseeker or you were granted an informational interview; always remember to respond with a thank you message and a call to action. Sometimes our meetings don’t warrant further action. Nonetheless, show your gratitude for the time the individual took to help you.

The story of my daughter turned out well–she was not at fault of what she was accused. I was proud of how my daughter handled the situation. She acted professionally and manged to create a positive atmosphere between her and the principal I, on the other hand, might not have done so well.

Don’t be stumped at the interview; ask questions about 3 major areas

 

stumpedHow often have you come to the end of an interview and drawn a blank when it was your time to ask the questions? The interview has proceeded like a pleasant conversation in which you’ve asked questions throughout, but now you’re stumped.

You’ve asked all the questions you can think of.

Hopefully this hasn’t happened too often or not at all. But even the most qualified candidates have a moment of letdown and lose the interview because they were unprepared.

It’s extremely important that you have insightful questions to ask at the end of an interview. It shows your interest in the job and the company, and it shows that you’re prepared, all of which the employer likes to know.

Arrive prepared for the interview. Before the interview write 10-15 questions on a sheet of paper or note cards. If you think you can remember them, simply tuck them in your leather binder for safekeeping. However, you may need assistance when your nerves are rattled and you’ve reached the point of exhaustion, in which case you can ask if you can refer to your written questions. Interviewers will generally allow you to read your answers off your sheet or note cards.

So what types of questions do you want to ask? What is the employer hoping to hear? Not “How much time do I get for lunch?” nor “What are the work hours?” nor “What’s the salary for this position?” In other words, no stupid question that will reflect poorly on you.

I tell my customers to focus on three general areas: the position, the company, and the competition.

1. The position. Don’t ask questions you could find by reading the job description; rather ask questions that demonstrate your advanced knowledge. For example, the ad says you’ll be required to manage a supervisor and 10 employees. You realize that a start-up company might not have the resources to train its supervisors in Lean Six Sigma, and you want to highlight your certificate as a Black Belt.

“I’d be curious to know if the current supervisor is certified in Lean Six Sigma, and if not would your company consider having me give him a basic course in LSS?” The answer is yes to your question, so you follow with another question that could lead to further conversation. “Would you like to talk further about how I can save your company money by training your supervisor?”

This question shows a legitimate concern for quality performance but also demonstrates your willingness to improve the supervisor’s knowledge, your ability to solve problems, and your desire to save the company money. Always ask questions that indicate you’re concerned most with what the company needs, not what you need.

2. The company. Like the questions you’ll ask about the position, research is essential for this area of questioning. Your research should entail more than visiting the company’s website and reading its marketing material—everything written will extol its superior products or services. In addition, talk to people in the company who can give you the good, bad, and ugly of the company.

“I’ve read on your website and spoken with some of the people here who verify that your customer satisfaction rate is very high. Could you tell me if there are issues your customers have that need to be addressed immediately?”

The interviewers are happy to hear that you’re thinking about satisfying customers and indicate there have been some complaints about late shipments.

“In that case, I can assure you that late shipments will dramatically decrease. We may have failed to talk about the role I had at my previous company which had me oversee shiping and create a system that decreased late shipments by 35%, thereby saving the company thousands of dollars in returns. Would you like to talk about how I can help your company improve shipping processes?”

3. The competition. The company has one company that is giving it headaches. It’s a sore topic, but you want to make the interviewers aware that you are coming in with your eyes wide open. Your research has told you that the other company is competing for some market share in the widget product.

“I’m aware of company XYZ’s movement in its widget. What are your concerns, if any, Company XYZ poses in this market? I have ideas of how to market your similar product to your customers. Would you like to hear them?”

After a great conversation, where you’ve answered the interviewers’ questions and asked some of your own,  it’s your turn to ask more questions. Don’t go to the interview unprepared to ask the interviewers illuminating questions of your own. Failing to ask quality questions can mean he difference between getting or not getting the job.