I recently had the unpleasant task of sorting through over 250 applicants who had applied to a job posting. Grant you, I did say the position was entry-level, so I knew that I'd get a lot of 'kids' who haven't had much experience job hunting. But I was still surprised at how poorly most of these candidates handled sending an email and their resume. So this blog is dedicated to the young and ignorant, and unfortunately also to those old enough to know better.
There are still an awful lot of people without jobs today… good people, experienced and hard-working people. And many of them are genuinely confused about why they don’t get a return call or interview after they apply to a job posting that seems to be perfect for them. If this is you, read this and do a self-check to see if you are making the mistakes listed below.
Today, more than ever, your first impression is critical. HR staff or hiring managers have to sort through SO many more resumes than usual due to the economy, so they are being pickier. You will only get ONE chance to make a good first impression on them, and that is via your cover letter and resume.
Here’s a fact of hiring that no one wants to admit but nonetheless it’s true, and you should know about it: In order to deal with the high volume of job applicants, the first priority of a recruiter or HR staffer is to REJECT as many people as quickly as possible. That way they can then focus on the applicants who have potential and require further screening. If you change your way of thinking and accept that they are looking for a reason to reject you, then you’re way ahead of the game!
If you get nothing else out of this article, at least repeat this mantra in your head while you’re looking for work, sending resumes, and all through the screening and interviewing process, “You never get a second chance to make a good first impression.”
PART ONE – HOW NOT TO GET AN INTERVIEW:
1. Assume that the purpose of sending your resume is to get the job.
In fact, the purpose of sending your resume is to get an interview. Your ability to articulate your skills, to connect with the interviewer, and to be passionate about the company (which you thoroughly researched ahead of time) and the job opportunity is what may get you the job.
2. Don’t write a customized cover letter that references the job you are applying for and the qualifications you have that match the requirements listed in the job posting. Go ahead and send out a generic letter that is suitable to any type of job you’re applying for; after all, that saves you time and effort.
HR staff just love getting these generic, one-size-fits-all letters. It makes their job easier because they can quickly reject you without even looking at your resume. Why would they do that you ask? Of course companies want to hire well-qualified people, but they also want to hire people who will ‘stick’, people who are genuinely interested in them and their job opening.
A generic cover letter or email – or none at all (for shame!) – tells them you are just applying to job after job and don’t care which job you get. No one wants to hire that type of person, and they don’t have to, since there are so many other people who take the time to research and write custom letters.
3. Send a resume with misspellings and other typos.
Again, this helps the hiring manager get through the stack of 200 resumes he/she has, as you’ll probably be rejected immediately. A sloppy resume reflects negatively on its owner. If you don’t take the time to thoroughly check your all-important resume, then what mistakes or shortcuts might you take if you got the job?
4. Use your cutesy personal email address when applying for jobs.
Want to be taken seriously? Then don’t use an email address like ‘firstname.lastname@example.org’ or ‘email@example.com’ or some other unprofessional email address. There is no excuse for not using something simple like your name or initials since setting up a new email account on Gmail or Yahoo is easy and FREE.
5. Have a funny or music-filled voice mail message.
So your custom cover letter and resume made it past the first screening step, and the HR manager picks up the phone to call you. Congrats! Then they are subjected to your blaring choice of music, or your voice saying something like, “I’m not here. I might still be passed out on Halsted or Lincoln somewhere, so if you see me, wake me up” (yes, I actually got this message when I called a candidate). I know you want to impress your friends and make them laugh, but when you’re in job-seeking mode, your voice mail message must sound professional and articulate, or you move to the ‘reject’ folder.
6. Leave suggestive or unprofessional postings or photos on social networking sites.
A recent survey of HR professionals showed that most of them now check out potential candidates by searching for them on Google or checking their Facebook page. Like it or not, the internet is very open and public, and if you post something online, you should always assume that someone else can and will find it – better to err on the side of caution when it comes to the web. An indiscretion when you were 20 might come back to haunt you 10 years later as you are job-hunting.
PART TWO – HOW TO BLOW AN INTERVIEW
1. Show up late.
You’d think this is a no-brainer but it never ceases to amaze me how many candidates show up late to an interview. Sure, they usually have an excuse – traffic was bad because of the weather, or they missed their train, etc. What you should know is that most HR staff don’t care why you are late – but they will care that you showed up late without calling them. It’s best to leave early enough so that no matter what happens you arrive early, rather than late.
2. Wear non-business or the wrong clothes to the interview.
Unless an HR staffer tells you that you can wear jeans or something else, don’t show up dressed casually. I don’t care if you ‘know’ they have a casual environment and allow employees to come to work in shorts and t-shirts. You’re not hired yet, so you have to dress better than their workers. Today ‘business casual’ is acceptable at most places, so you probably won’t have to wear a suit and tie every time, but nonetheless you should dress professionally and conservatively. Items that are always wrong are: Hoodies, flip-flops, faded or torn jeans, strong perfume or cologne, any blouse that shows cleavage, shorts or capris, t-shirts, army boots, hats. I could go on but you get the idea.
3. Don’t bring a note pad and pen to take notes with.
The HR manager is going to be asking you questions and taking notes. If you’re truly interested in this job, why aren’t you doing the same? A good indicator of your interest in the company and the job is asking good questions and taking notes during the interview.
4. Don’t bring extra copies of your resume. They’ve got a copy machine there and can make extra copies if they need them.
Sure, make them do your work for you; always a good way to impress.
5. Slouch down and get real comfortable in the waiting room, then when the interviewer comes to get you, stay seated and say, “Hey.”
I had an interview with a person who recently graduated from college. When I came into the waiting room, he was slouched so far down in his chair I thought he was sleeping. He had his hands in his pockets, his hood pulled over his head, and did not stand when I approached him. I extended my hand to shake his and he remained seated but at least took one hand out of his jeans pocket to shake mine. ‘Nuff said.
6. Be sure to ask about benefits during the interview, especially corporate discounts, sick days, holidays, vacations, etc.
Seriously, why do people still ask these questions during a first interview (which is usually their last interview)? No employer wants to think that all you’re interested in is what’s in this job for YOU. Talk about pay, perks and bennies should wait until they are interested enough in you to make an offer. Instead, go into the interview process thinking about what you can do for them.
7. Complain about a former company, boss, or co-worker.
I don’t care if your former employer was Enron and stole your 401k life-savings. Do not ‘diss’ anyone during an interview, no matter how badly you might have been treated. Complaining can make you seem petty or vindictive, or just a whiner, and no one wants to hire someone they think may someday complain about them.
8. Don’t express your renewed interest in the job.
The interview is almost over. Assuming you still want this job, say it before you leave and ask them what the next steps are.
9. Don’t send a thank you note to the interviewer(s).
No excuses on this one. If you didn’t get the business card of the people you met with, do some detective work and find out their names (LinkedIn is a good way to find people who work at a certain company in a certain city). Don’t know their email? Good, then you are now forced to go out and buy a note card, write a thank you letter, and get it in the mail no later than the day after your interview. A handwritten note always makes a better impression than an email.
PART THREE – HOW TO STAY UNEMPLOYED
1. Use the time you’re out of work to catch up on reading or video games, working around the house, watching daytime TV shows, playing with your kids, or other long overdue stuff.
I know this is tempting to do. Most of us are overworked and need some time off. But this isn’t a vacation! If you’ve lost your job, you need to change your mindset – and that means not thinking you’re ‘not working’ anymore but rather that you now have a NEW full time job, and that job is job-hunting. If you used to work 8 hours a day at your job, then spend 8 hours of time working on networking, job-hunting, improving your skills, working on your resume, working on your portfolio, and researching companies you’re applying to. If you approach job-hunting in a systematic way and focus the same time and energy that you used to focus on your job, you can succeed!