Tag Archives: career search

Talk more; 5 reasons why your job search and performance at work require it

This article contrasts one I wrote on talking too much. What’s the balance many, including I, wonder?

We’ve all been in the presence of people who don’t talk much, if at all. It can be frustrating or downright agonizing, particularly if you’re sharing a car ride with them or at a party or working beside them. As uncomfortable it is for you, the consequences for the dead-silence types can be devastating to their job search and occupation.

I’ll be the first to admit that making small talk is not my forté, but I do all right when the moment calls for it. I’m better at asking questions to draw out information from anyone without sounding like a CIA interrogator.

I often wonder about the times I talk too little, why a failure to communicate comes over me. The reason for this, I believe, is lack of confidence and a touch of insecurity. I’m an articulate person. I might commit a misnomer here and there or forget what I was going to say, but for the most part I can communicate my thoughts and ideas.

I wrote about the opposite end of the spectrum, people who talk too much—a documented disability in some cases—and the effect it has on their job search and ability to function at work. I also believe that people who fail to talk at crucial moments hurt their chances in their job search and at work. Below are five areas where people must talk.

Networking—In your job search, networking in social settings, at networking events, and professional meetings; demonstrating your verbal communication skills is essential to success. People need to know what you want to do, what skills you possess, and the accomplishments you have under your belt.

Networking is a daily activity that permeates every aspect of our life. We network for the best mechanics, baby-sitters, great restaurants, and more. Networking to find a job obviously serves a different purpose than finding a trustworthy mechanic, but in all cases you have a goal which can only be accomplished through effective communications.

Telephone Interviews—First rule: don’t assume the telephone interview is only a screening, where you’ll only have to answer questions about your technical skills and salary expectations. They’ve become increasingly similar to face-to-face interviews. My jobseekers have been through multiple phone interviews—behavioral-based included—before a final face-to-face.

When you leave your contact information on voice mail, also include your personal commercial as something that will set you apart. You’re interested in the position and feel you’re the right person for the job because 1) you have the necessary experience, 2) meet all the requirements, 3) have job-related skills, and 4) the big one…you have quantified accomplishments that prove what you can do for the employer. Don’t be surprised if the hiring manager answers the phone; it happens, so be ready to talk.

Interviews—If you don’t talk, they won’t hear you. This is where your confidence must be abundantly clear. If you want to pretend you’re on stage, fine. This is your greatest performance. Preparation is the key. You know that you have to understand the job and company inside and out; but there is one other thing you have to know by heart…your résumé. Knowing your résumé will help you talk about yourself, particularly if you wrote it yourself.

Some of my jobseekers admit that they like an interview where they don’t have to talk. Letting the interviewer do all the talking is fine with them. It’s a good sign, they tell me. Wrong. Letting the interviewer talk non-stop prevents you from getting your key points into the conversation. How will they know you, if you don’t talk?

Meetings—You’ve secured a job. Your willingness to talk is just as important as when you were looking for a job. Employers like those who appear confident and who can engage. Have you ever been to a meeting where a group of people—not necessarily introverts, but more likely—never talk. Afterward they’ll approach a colleague and express their feelings about the topics covered, but not during the meeting. Why, I ask you?

Don’t rely on meeting leaders to ask for your opinion if you’re remaining silent. I’m sure you have great ideas, so why not express them. One person in my MBTI workshop said that all the extraverts talk over everyone. First of all, I don’t see that as a common practice. Second, fight back. That’s it, raise your voice to show you’re not timid; you can talk and have great ideas. The meeting leader will appreciate this.

Promotions, Special Requests—Nancy Ancowitz, Self-Promotion for Introverts, writes, “All too often, introverts get passed over for job offers and promotions while more extroverted colleagues get all the recognition….” I’m not saying that introverts are deficient and require help. But as an introvert, I tend to like writing more than speaking, because I express my ideas clearer on paper.

However, when it is required to use your verbal voice, such as following up on an e-mail about scheduling a special meeting for that company-paid training, you have to be on. You have to be psyched up for the moment; and even if you’re sweating, your stomach aches, you want to jump out of your skin, you still have to use the verbal communication skills that have been latent since you earned the job.

Where’s the balance? Talking too much can be detrimental to your success. We know people who make our minds go numb from their incessant babbling. They make us want to run in the opposite direction. But there are also those who don’t talk, which as you’ve seen can sabotage a job search and performance at work. There is a balance between the overly loquacious and the utterly dead silent. There are extravert types who can listen as well as they talk and introvert types who can talk as well as they listen. You know people like this, so emulate them…for the sake of your career.

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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.

When the interviewer is doing 100% of the talking

Have you experienced a situation like this at an early-stage interview–you’re excited to be there, a bit nervous expecting the difficult questions to be fired at you, but the interviewer is doing 100% the talking?

Then toward the end of the interview, you ask if he wants to ask you any questions, to which he replies, “No, I read your résumé. We’re good to go.” You’re wondering what the hell happened. You didn’t have the opportunity to sell your skills, experience, and accomplishments.

Some of my customers complain to me about similar scenarios, while others tell me they felt relieved and grateful for not having to talk. Those who felt relieved erroneously believe the interviewers were doing them a huge favor.

Interviewers who do all the talking are not doing you a favor; they’re hogging your precious time. And although you’re nervous at the time, it’s essential that you achieve what you went there for–to sell yourself.

You never want to come across as controlling the interview, but sometimes you have to break in so you can inform the interviewer why you are the right person for the job.

So how do you break into the conversation?

First of all, don’t make assumptions. One assumption might be that it’s an inside hire and the interviewer is just trying to take up time. Another might be that the company is required by law or according to their policy to interview a few candidates. There are a number of reasons why the interviewer is blabbing like a fool, but chances are he’s simply self-absorbed and unaware of his duty.

Know when enough is enough. After the interviewer has rattled on for a number of minutes, it’s time to put a halt to the monolog. There’s a chance the interviewer might get on a roll and sabotage the whole process.

Don’t get belligerent. Saying, “Aren’t you going to ask me questions?” won’t leave a good impression. You’ll come across as rude and trying to control the interview.

Break into the conversation in a seamless manner. “The management around here leaves a lot to be desired,” he is saying. This is your cue to answer one of the most popular questions; what kind of manager do you prefer?

“Where I last worked, management was very good,” you break in. “They were fair, communicative, and had their priorities in order. I’ve worked under many different management styles from hands-off to hands-on. I’ve thrived wherever I’ve worked because I can adapt to all types of styles.”

Later he says, “Our customers are very needy. They require a lot of hand-holding–a real bunch of idiots.”

You counter, “Interacting with difficult customers is one of my fortes. In fact, many of the difficult customers were routed my way because I had a very patient attitude which the customers could sense. I managed to revive many failed customer relations.”

This may put a halt to the interviewer’s loquaciousness, or he may continue to drone on and on. But you can’t give up your efforts of getting yourself heard. The next time you hear a break in his monolog, engage him again by summarizing your job-related skills and accomplishments, declaring you’re the person for the job.

At the end of the interview inform him that you’ll send along an e-mail outlining how you can address many of the problems he was so kind to elaborate on. You may want to ask him if you should forward it to his manager and HR.

Job search tip #5: Write a powerful cover letter

In the last article we talked about revising or writing your resume. Now we’re going to look at writing exciting cover letters. Your cover letters allow you to show your personality and demonstrate your strengths for a particular job.

All too often, though, the opening of a cover letter stops employers in their tracks. What’s your take on the following opening paragraph?

I read on Monster.com of a marketing communications writer position at ABC Company. Please consider my credentials for this exciting position.

Boring. That’s right, the opening paragraph of this cover letter is enough to bore employers to tears, yet this is a typical opening paragraph of many cover letters. In fact, you’ll see examples of this kind of opening paragraph in cover letter books or guides that display such apathetic, thoughtless verbiage.

You’ll be reentering the workforce, so make your mark with a cover letter that grabs the employer’s attention from the beginning. Let him know that you understand the nature of the position, the industry, and even the competition.

Are you looking for someone who has achieved success in marketing at one of your competitors? At my previous position I rose from an office clerk to authoring press releases and content for their website, as well as representing them at tradeshows in the New York City area. My supervisor at XYZ Company, John Bruce, told me to contact you regarding the marketing communications position you have in your marketing department.

Note: notice how the writer throws in a referral in her opening paragraph from her supervisor. Nice touch. 

Now you’ve grabbed their attention. But you won’t stop here. You’ll demonstrate your skills further in the second and third paragraphs.

At XYZ Company I was entrusted to write press releases that were published on the company’s website and featured in Mac World. My writing skills allowed me to pen “Words from the President” on the company’s website. So impressed was the president with my knowledge of the products and ability to promote them, that he rarely proofread the column that I wrote. I demonstrated the ability to quickly understand the company’s complex products and how to relate to our stakeholders. In addition, I became more involved in the organization of our quarterly trade shows, which was a testament to my diverse skills.

A quote from a supervisor or higher is a nice touch. The quote below can serve as the third paragraph.

“Maggie’s talent as a writer is truly impressive. She understood the direction of our organization, the value of our products, and our customers’ needs better than marketing writers that came before her. I wish we could keep her on at XYZ Company. Please don’t hesitate to call me if you have any questions regarding this fine, young talent.” Cheryl Masson, President, XYZ Company.

To conclude your cover letter, emphasize your interest in the position to show your enthusiasm and motivation.

I look forward to meeting with you to discuss this exciting position. I will contact you next Wednesday at 2:00 pm to arrange a convenient time for us to meet. If you would like to contact me before then, please call me at 815.555.0202 or at maggiejones@myemail.com.

Does this sound too forceful? Keep in mind that employers want job candidates that are confident and willing to take charge. Indicating a time you’ll call is perfectly acceptable, just as long as you follow through with your promise.

Some question the use of a postscript, but it will capture the reader’s attention. Finish with:

PS. Mr. Bruce will be willing to talk with you about my credentials.

The next tip is about creating your accomplishment list.

If you enjoyed this tip, start at the beginning with tip number one.


Your handshake matters more than you might think: 10 different ways to shake one’s hand

I wrote this article a year ago, but it’s worth reiterating how important a handshake is in your job search, business, and life.

I’m a firm believer that you can tell a lot about person’s character by his handshake. In a recent interview workshop, I told my attendees about my obsession with a good handshake and, as a result, a half  hour conversation ensued.

At the moment I’m talking about the the importance of making a great  first impression. I tell them, “Someone’s handshake tells me many things about a person. If it is firm, the person is trustworthy, open to engagement, warm spirited, confident, and basically someone who I’d allow my daughter to date.” They all laugh.

I get sidetracked and tell them about how my daughter dated a boy who shook my hand for the first time with a limp handshake. I told her soon afterward that her boyfriend better learn how to shake hands if he wants to get anywhere in life. She told me I was being ridiculous.

“If it’s limp,” an attendee speaks out, “the person is suspicious, anti-social; someone I wouldn’t want my granddaughter to date.” Laughter erupts. He has stolen my thunder.

An article on CareerBuilder.com states that a proper handshake makes employers overlook some deficiencies in jobseekers: “Prospective employers said they’re more likely to overlook visible body piercings and tattoos than an ineffective handshake, according to a 2001 survey of human resources professionals.” Though this article is dated, I think a good handshake is still a vital component of the first impression.

About.com, under an article about social disorders, talks about 10 “Bad Handshakes.” They are:

  1. “I am dominant”
  2. “Bone Crusher”
  3. “Limp Fish”
  4. “Just Fingers”
  5. “Cold, Clammy, or Sweaty”
  6. “The Double-Hander”
  7. “The Long Handshake”
  8. “Without Eye Contact”
  9. “The Miss”
  10. “Too Close”

I can relate most to the “Bone Crusher” because I’m an occasional bone crusher. I once shook a woman’s hand with such force that I thought I heard her bones being crushed, or at least shifting. She winced in pain. The handshakes that drive me mad and make me want to take a hot shower are the “Limp Fish” and “Cold, Clammy, or Sweaty.”

I reached out to my LinkedIn family and posted a question about the significance of handshakes, and there were some pretty good responses. One person, wrote, “The handshake is part of the first impression. Not so firm as to cut off my blood circulation and not limp like holding a slice of calf’s liver. And God help us, not sweaty either. So make sure your hands are dry before you extend a handshake.” I love the image of a “slice of calf’s liver.”

On the other hand, a respondent to my question wrote: “I’m interested in the information the person [has] to communicate to me, not peripheral customs like a handshake.” I appreciate his opinion; not everyone places so much stock in a handshake as I do. But I don’t buy it. The “Limp Fish” would send anyone over the edge, regardless of the information.

Wiki.answers.com writes extensively on the subject of the handshake, including the proper position. “Your body should be approximately two cubits (distance from fingertips to elbow) away from the other party. Your shaking arm should be bent so that the elbow forms a 135-degree angle, and the forearm is level with the floor. Your hand should neither be on top, nor underneath the other person’s hand. Both parties’ hands should be straight up-and-down, even with each other. The web of your hand (skin running between the forefinger and the thumb) should meet the web of theirs.”

Okay, some pundits go a bit far with their explanation of a proper handshake. I definitely feel that a person should maintain eye contact while shaking an employer’s or business person’s hand, but keeping her elbow at a 135 degree angle is a bit extreme.

My customers attend my interview workshop to learn the tricks of mastering the interview, but it’s important for them to master the first impression before the interviewer starts asking the difficult question. When I meet someone for the first time, I size them up immediately based on their handshake; but that might just be me.

The word “innovative”; is it a crime to have it on your résumé?

Innovation

Innovation (Photo credit: masondan)

Did you know the word “innovative” is a cliché? According to some job search pundits it is. It made some notorious list that circulated on the blogosphere. TheFreeDictionary.com defines a cliché as “a trite or overused expression or idea.” If “innovative” has become overused, than it is by definition a cliché, but could it be called trite?

I have to admit that I’ve been telling my jobseekers to keep “innovative” and other adjectives off their résumé and out of their vocabulary, as they are subjective–it’s better to show than tell how you’re innovative. In fact, I wrote an article bemoaning the use of words that are considered clichés, some good words at that. So it appears I’m contradicting myself, but this wouldn’t be a first.

But I had an epiphany when I was talking on the phone with a customer whose résumé I’m writing. As I was going over her résumé pointing out some of her accomplishments, I told her she is innovative, at which she agreed with great delight that, yes, she is. To get her to realize this made the word “innovative” special, not a cliché.

I once described myself as innovative but when I read that it was one of the 10 clichés to avoid on your LinkedIn profile, I stopped writing and saying that I’m innovative. After all, it’s a cliché, right? This was like the time my brother said Miso soup tastes like low tide. His expert opinion ruined the soup forever for me.

I just sent my customer her résumé with the adjective “innovative” included in the professional profile, and I didn’t feel the least bit guilty–considering she had initiated social media at her current company, implemented a preventative care program at yet another company, and more accomplishments that clearly show her as innovative.

In fact, my customer also demonstrated that she’s “creative” and “dynamic,” which are also considered taboo by the cliché police. With all of what I’ve expressed, I’m beginning to question the validity of experts who trash some great words just because they’re considered overused.

What if there are a lot of jobseekers and workers who are “innovative,” “creative,” and “dynamic,” and these are the best words to use to describe them? Should we use words that don’t mean quite the same, or should we use words from a different language? No, we need to show rather than tell, right?

“Designed a (an innovative) social media curriculum for students at risk that taught them how to market the school’s English Language Art’s program, earning Department of the Year.

I suppose this secondary teacher’s accomplishment statement shows innovation, but what’s wrong with using “innovation” in the sentence to give it more flavor. Further, when a job description calls for someone who’s “innovative,” and you’re trying to meet as many of the keywords to pass the Applicant Tracking System’s test, do you exclude this word? Just a thought.

I’m now beginning to think a little too much emphasis is being placed on finding ways to reinvent ways to describe jobseekers and workers. To hell with worrying about what the pundits consider to be clichés. They’re ruining the pleasure I get when writing a résumé or advising jobseekers on how to describe themselves, just as my brother had ruined my appetite for Miso soup.

Heed your inner voice in the job search

inner voiceIf you’re like me, there have been times when you spoke without thinking and said some incredibly stupid things. Worse yet, you might have blurted words that had negative consequences. At times like this, your outer voice took over like a hurricane leaving devastation in its wake.

If only you had heeded your inner voice, the voice that tells you to stop and think before you talk or write something you’ll regret. The voice that is rational and will usually save you from embarrassment and, ergo, negative consequences.

A customer of mine recent told me during a Salary Negotiation workshop that he was offered a job during the last of four interviews. But when he was told the salary for the job would be $12.00 an hour, half of what he made at his last job, he screamed, “Are you (expletive) kidding me?” Needless to say the interview and all possibility of getting the job went up in smoke.

He asked me if he had said the right thing? The rest of the group shook their heads; I simply said, “no.”

Jobseekers need to be cognizant of their inner voice and not let their outer voice speak for them. Another of my customers was asked an illegal question during a phone interview. “How old are you?” she was asked.

She promptly swore obscenities and hung up on the recruiter who was probably screening her and was in no way indicative of the people for whom she might work. She was clearly listening to her outer voice which told her, “Illegal question, illegal question,” and she acted impulsively.

Instead she might have said:

“I’m 49; however, I’ve been consistently acknowledged for my productivity. In fact, I’ve out worked my younger colleagues and covered other shifts when they needed weekends off. Because my kids are self-sufficient, I require no time off. You should also consider my job experience, as well as life experience, which younger workers don’t have.”

The outer voice is apt to reveal its ugly head when jobseekers are frustrated and despondent over the job search, such as when they’re networking and asked about their current situation. A listener understands her partner’s anger, but hearing him speak negatively is off-putting. The networker has most likely lost his contact because his outer voice defied him, truly revealing his feelings.

What would you like to do in the job search? You’d like to listen to your outer voice, which encourages you to express your negative thoughts.

There will always be those who are prisoners to their outer voice. They will talk without consulting their inner voice and will pay the price. These are folks who are often trying to dig themselves out of a whole that is insurmountable. Although they proudly spoke their “mind,” it’s not usually worth the trouble they land in.