Category Archives: Job Search Tips and Resumes

Communication: The Lost Art. And Maybe the Lost Job.

InterviewingRecently, I was talking with someone who does a lot of hiring at Duke University hospital in Raleigh, North Carolina. We ended up getting into a conversation about the skills that many of today’s job seekers have – or don’t have – which is the sad point. We noticed that many necessary communication skills seem to be sorely lacking in some in the millennial generation. Granted, millennials are fabulous techies but that expertise seems to have led to a deficit in interpersonal communication skills. This lack is, from her perspective, a deal-breaker in terms of getting a job. And, may I add, an absence of interpersonal communication skills is a problem in any situation which requires dealing with people – which, when lacking, could be a dream-breaker in general.       

     Here are some of her tips.

     Number 1:  When you’re talking with people, look at them. This seemed, as we talked, to be her number one complaint. And while this skill should be self-evident, it’s apparently not. She reports that when interviewing, many people – especially young folks – simply don’t know how to look her in the eye. We’re guessing that that’s because much of the interaction millennials have is with their own peers and the majority of those interactions are electronic; therefore, they simply have not had much practice interfacing directly with others so they feel uncomfortable when someone else is looking (or attempting to look) them in the eye.

     I’ve noticed a couple of things with millennials as well. First of all, I’ve often marveled at how, when they’re with one friend, they’re texting or messaging another. And guess what? When they’re with that friend, they’re messaging the first one. Or I’ll see them chatting with each other while they’re playing video games or texting and neither is, of course, looking at the other. Sometimes I hear them chatting with someone in who knows what state or nation while playing a video game, meaning they haven’t ever seen the other’s face. And many times in the classroom when I’m speaking directly to a student, I’ll have to stop and ask him (or her) to look at me so I know I have his attention.

     Which is the point: when you’re talking with someone and they’re looking down or anywhere but at you, the message is that they’re not paying attention. And that can be inferred to mean that what you’re saying is not that important.

     Is that the message you want to send to a prospective employer? Or to anyone else?

     Number 2:  When you’re talking with someone, slow down and speak up.  Evidently, mumbling is an issue. Granted, it can be unnerving to have to talk with someone you don’t know, but as I tell students when they’re public speaking, if people can’t hear you, then their focus is off your message and on you. And that’s bad. The same thing applies to the speed of your speech; the faster you talk, the more nervous you’ll appear. People who speak slowly are perceived as more confident plus, it’s easier for a listener to process what they’re saying. So, again, if you’re speaking too quickly, people are off message and on you. As I tell students, we don’t pay any attention to the radio unless it’s not working and it’s the same with a speaker.

     The irony is that people get nervous speaking with or to folks they don’t know because they’re afraid of looking foolish and yet it’s that nervousness that causes them to do (or not do) the things that do make them look foolish.

     Which leads me to the next point . . .

     Number 3: Prepare. And then practice. You know what situation you’re going into, whether it’s a job interview, a meeting with a client, or simply a social meeting with a new person. It’s not like you’re going to be beamed over somewhere with no notice and you’re standing there in your underwear. So practice what you’re going to say.    

     Sometimes when a friend is going to a job interview, I’ll offer to let them rehearse the worst case scenario – a really mean interviewer. I’ll ask them hard questions and do my best to put them on the spot. I’ll say things like, “What’s your greatest weakness – and don’t tell me it’s that you work too hard!” (Don’t ever say that!!) Research interview questions, Google the best and worst answers, and get someone to practice with.

     Number 4: Pay attention to what you look like. Now you might be thinking that a job interview is not a beauty contest – and you’d be correct. However, it is a contest of how professional you are, whether you know how to dress for a work environment and, believe it or not, whether you’re a clean, neat person. My Duke friend entertained me with stories about how some people dress coming to job interviews – and some are not pretty. For example, one woman came dressed in scrubs. Now granted, she was looking for a job in the medical profession, but one doesn’t dress down for an interview; one dresses up. That means, as a general rule, always dress one step higher than the job requires. For instance, if you’re meeting the manager at a fast-food restaurant where you’ll be wearing a company uniform, nice slacks and a shirt or blouse are all that’s necessary. (And decent shoes – don’t wear sneakers!) If you’re applying for a professional job, a sales job, or an “out front” position like a receptionist, dress up. A suit for men and a suit or nice dress for women. And ladies, be modest: watch how short the skirt is or how low-cut the dress. (Sadly that has to be pointed out . . .)

     Number 5: And for crying out loud, smile!!  It’s not that difficult. Enough said?

     If you’re a person for whom any or all of these things do not come naturally, prepare!  Your competition will.

     Now – don’t be nervous. You got this!

Get the Job Interview – Guaranteed!

Flower BasketIn the war for a job in competition with dozens of other people, how do you even get an interview – which is the key to “selling” yourself?  The answer?  You have to set yourself apart and stand out big from the rest of the job-hunting pack.

Recently we discussed how crucial it is to have an impeccable resume but the truth is, an impressive resume itself won’t guarantee you an interview; it just reduces your chances of being immediately eliminated. But don’t despair because there is a way to get yourself and your name, not only noticed, but remembered.

Back in the day when I worked in advertising developing campaigns and doing promotions, copywriting, etc., we all understood one thing: “Presentation is everything.” Anyone will buy anything as long as that thing is presented the right way. For example, say someone gives you a beautiful piece of jewelry and they present it in a plain white box and simply hand it to you. Okay – that’s nice. But what if they placed that same piece of jewelry into an elegant velvet jewelry box and wrapped that jewelry box in satiny white paper and tied it all up with a gold satin bow? Better, right? Same piece of jewelry but different message. The message the fancy packaging conveys is, “I cared enough to invest time in making this special because I care about you.” That’s what employers are looking for: someone who cares enough to strive for excellence. And your packaging will communicate that.

Choc-Basket-2Not too long ago, Hallmark hit on a winning ad campaign to sell their very expensive cards. Remember the tag, “When you care enough to send the very best”? They’ve been using that slogan for years because it works. In the same way, you can use the “usual” packaging for your resume – maybe a nice envelope that matches your resume paper or – you can stand out, show you car.

Some years ago, I wanted a job as assistant promotions’ director for our local ABC affiliate television station. So I did the resume thing with my signature paper, an elegant, pale gold parchment, but I wanted something more, something that showed the creativity I knew they were looking for in this position. And I knew that if I waited to get the interview to tell them how creative I am, I might never get the chance. As we writers always say, “Show, don’t tell.” So I found a big white box and filled it with fun things like nice chocolates (separately wrapped pieces, btw) and a few other things, including my resume and cover letter. But I also included a couple of helium-filled balloons (thus the bigger box) and lots of shiny confetti so that when the director opened the box, the balloons would pop out. I got the interview but I also got a vivid description of how long it took the director to get the confetti out of her rug. (Lesson: maybe don’t use confetti.) 

An additional plus for you when sending a presentation package is the benefit of walking into the interview with confidence.

There are lots of ways to make a creative presentation and granted, it’s going to be different for various industries. For jobs that are more conservative than creative, I would stick with a nice flower arrangement or a coffee/tea basket (always include both beverages). Featured prominently, of course, in the midst of any of it, would be your resume and cover letter. Protect those, if necessary, by putting them into a plastic cover or an appropriately-sized cardboard or metal tube (check any craft store).

A while back, I applied for a radio job for which I’d need both a resume and audition tapes and, as always, I suspected the competition might be stiff. So, in order to at least get my foot in the door, I sent a coffee/tea basket with some goodies and my application items. I got that interview as well, along with some comments about how much everyone enjoyed the goodies. Even the receptionist who answered my call recognized my name from the basket and thanked me for sending it. In the end, I didn’t get that job – I wasn’t the best qualified – but at least I got the opportunity to pitch my game. And I met some very nice people.

An additional plus for you when sending a presentation package (besides getting the interview) is the benefit of walking into the interview with confidence. You’ve already set yourself apart from other applicants in the employer’s eyes so you already have an advantage. And you’ll all know it.

Creative ideas are limitless and don’t have to cost a lot of money. If not a present box, a basket or a flower arrangement, consider sending a nice box of chocolates or one of those fresh fruit arrangements that looks like a flower arrangement. (They’ll remember that.) Whatever you do, keep it tasteful and make sure that what it conveys is your ability and desire to go that extra mile to get things done; make certain it shows that you care. 

Oh, and post-script – do not forget the “thank you” note after the interview. It doesn’t have to be mushy – just a “thanks for the opportunity; I enjoyed meeting you” message.  However, if you’re one of those people whose motto is: “I don’t do thank you notes,” it’s your call.  Just remember that the ones who do write them will be the ones who get remembered.

I’ll end with this word of encouragement: I have never used a presentation package and not gotten an interview. After all, if you were the employer, wouldn’t you, at the very least, want to check out the person who just sent you a big box of chocolates? 

You know you would.

 

 

Resumé Killers

     Job Search        The “Job Hunt”.  Many would consider it easier to hunt a wounded lion with a bow and one broken arrow than to have to hit the pavement and hunt for employment. And if that’s you, fear not. All you have to do to bag your dream job is to get yourself well-equipped for the quest. Here are some things to pay attention to as you navigate the jungle . . .

            First things first:  Are you “interview-challenged”?  That is, are you concerned about landing interviews for your dream job?  That’s not unusual given the competition in today’s job market. Granted, if you’re, say, a nurse or engineer, pick a job – it’s yours. But if your dream job happens to be in business, advertising/promotions, retail, office administration, some medical positions, social services, education at any level or many service-related jobs, you could be in for a long, job-hunting haul. In teaching, for example, many posted positions reel in hundreds of resumés per job. No lie.  And how do you compete with that?

           Here’s how: Get the interview! You can’t land any position without first getting in the door and meeting the peeps in charge. But, with hundreds in competition, how do you do that?  Get yourself noticed! Or, I should say, get your resumé noticed. That’s the first step. However, it’s often the end of the road for many applicants. Why?  Because their resumés are just so bad! I know; I’ve seen them. I’ve been on interview committees and I’ve done (or re-done) dozens of resumés. Here are some of your most common resumé problems:

            Thing Number One: Mistakes! Grammar, spelling and punctuation errors quickly make your resumé trash-can fodder. Not only do such errors tell a perspective employer that you don’t have a grasp on the English language – and they’d really like you to have that – but, right or wrong, it speaks to the kind of employee you might be: careless. Now keep in mind that potential employers don’t know you (unless they do) so they can only judge by the resumé you present to them. You might not be a careless person but if you present a resumé without at least having proofread it, then that doesn’t speak well of you. “But,” you object, “I’m a great salesperson! I’m just not a great writer!” Maybe. But then have someone else do your resumé and cover letter; if you can’t find someone to help you compose it, at least have someone else proofread it.  

Keep in mind that the average time an employer or HR professional spends looking at a resumé is thirteen seconds.

            I once almost didn’t get an interview because I left out an apostrophe in my cover letter. True story. I was trying to express how many “years’ experience” I had and I forgot the apostrophe on “years”.  And the owner of the company let me know about it as soon as I walked in the door. She told me that the only reason I did get an interview was because the other candidate they were interested in also had one error in her letter. I tell my high school students this story to make the point that details matter. Unfortunately, they don’t always believe me. (Btw – I got the job.)

            Thing Number Two: Poor formatting. This is a serious problem because poor layout will (not “can”) make your resumé look cluttered, messy and hard to read. Keep in mind that the average time an employer spends looking at a resumé is thirteen seconds. Then it either ends up in the “warrants closer inspection” file or the circular file (a.k.a. – trash).

            The biggest formatting mistake I see on resumés is TMI: too much information. Remember – the purpose of a resumé is to give enough info to get employers interested in learning more about you. It is not to document every little thing you’ve ever done.

            Attached is an example of a classic clutter resumé. The sad part is that the poor, unsuspecting job seeker to whom it belongs was actually told to format it this way by some college advisor. About the only thing the advisor got right was that the resumé should be type-written.

Sharon Old Resume

           

            The resume is not crystal clear because, of course, I couldn’t get it fully sized in this post space but it should be apparent that, in its paragraph format, it’s difficult to read. I won’t go into detail regarding all of the errors here except to say the person’s relevant skills and experience are so often repeated in run-on sentences that they’re virtually buried “in there somewhere”. And that’s too bad because the experience is impressive. I reformatted this resumé and doing so felt much like untangling a plate of spaghetti. Long story short: no employer is going to take the time to wade through that

           Thing Number Three: Wrong information. No employer is interested in seeing a separate section listing the skills you say you have. Anyone can say they have “computer coding skills”.  What employers really want to see are skills paired with specific job titles to prove that you’re not fudging your skill sets. (Of course, who would do that . . . ?) The only exception to this rule might be those entering the job market for the first time who haven’t yet had a chance to acquire experience; if so, list your skills. And remember that volunteer positions count as well; volunteering helps you to acquire valuable skills and it also says something about you as a person.

            Also – a little advice: do not include a “Job Objective” at the top of your resumé stating that you’re looking for a position in, say, social services and then send it to a dog groomer. That never works.

           Thing Number Four: Boring presentation. I don’t think I’ve ever sent a resumé on a plain white piece of paper, no matter how expensive. Even for very conservative fields, use color: pale blue or gray – something to make your resumé stand out in the endless pile of white. However, use the sense God gave you: no neon colors.

           Here is the same resumé after we reformatted it; it’s cleaner, less cluttered, and much easier to scan in thirteen seconds.  (We even added initials for the little “something extra”.)

 

Sharon Anon Resume PNG

Next time I’ll give you some tips on how to present that resume – tips that will get your resumé noticed and your name remembered – no matter how many competitors you’re facing.

            In the meantime, good luck in the hunt.