Thursday, May 7, 2009

Shoes, Phones and Backpacks: What They're Really Looking at During Your Job Interview

As I mentioned in my previous post, I got a real kick out of spending time recently with college students about to enter the job market. But it got me to thinking that no matter how many "rules" I provide about networking and resumes and other stuff, there are always those tricky little things that can trip you up if no one tells you. And believe me, the stuff I'm about to reveal often isn't discussed out loud. It's not that it's some dark, little secret, but it is so subtle that it's often not talked about as much.

So, here are the 10 things you should know when you're entering the job market:

1.They look at your shoes. You need professional-looking shoes. Not the 4-inch stilettos. Not the pseudo-dress shoes that are a cross between a sneaker and a loafer. Not shoes that have a broken shoelace that you've knotted back together. Real shoes that you've practiced walking in so that you don't resemble a giraffe on stilts.

2. Your hair is a problem. If you have Zac Efron hair, get it cut or at least use some kind of super glue to keep it out of your face. If you are female and wear it deeply parted on one side so that you're constantly doing this weird side head sweep to keep it out of your eyes, get the same super glue. If any part of your hair is the color of Kool-Aid, get rid of it.

3. Sit up straight. Slouching when sitting in a chair makes you look like a sullen teenager. Always sit up straight with your feet on the floor. Slumping makes you look bored -- and a possibly even a little stupid.

4. Ditch the backpack. If you're carrying the backpack you schlepped to school, it probably is not only dirty, but smells. Plus, it makes you look like you're headed to class. You want to look like you're headed to a job. You don't have to have an expensive satchel, but get one that is clean and streamlined. And don't put any buttons or stickers on it.

5. Don't play with your phone. While you may know enough to mute your phone during an interview, you also can't even look at it. Don't try to discreetly check it when someone texts you and don't hold onto it like it's your binky. Put it away so you're not even tempted.

6. Put on a watch. A huge pet peeve for many employers is employees who are late or who otherwise can't adhere to a schedule. Even if you don't look at it, wearing a watch shows that you're at least aware of the time. (Make sure it's professional looking -- no Hello Kitty or Mickey Mouse watches.)

7. Use formal forms of address. When meeting someone for the first time, always say "Ms." or "Mr." unless invited to do otherwise. This includes the receptionist, the office manager and the person who sorts the mail. These people often are asked for their impression of you, so if the only thing they can say about you is that you were respectful -- that's a big plus for you.

8. Know you're always being watched. Don't litter in the parking lot, fail to hold the door open for someone else when you enter the building or throw paper towels on the floor in the bathroom. Read industry materials while waiting.

9. Avoid eating and drinking. If you carry coffee or a drink with you into an interview, it's a distraction and can make you appear too casual. Don't eat something while waiting for your interview -- it can give you bad breath and you risk getting something stuck between your teeth or crumbs on your clothes. (And the receptionist will notice if you're a sloppy eater.) When you're further into the interviewing process, you may be invited to have a meal, but in the beginning stages just focus on the questions, not your latte.

10. They pay attention when you leave. Did you say "thank you"? Did you shake hands? Did you smile, make eye contact and tell the receptionist goodbye or hurry away? Were you on the phone or texting or taking off your jacket and loosening your tie before your feet hit the exit? Did you pick up some company brochures on your way out? Remember, your last impression is often the most lasting. Make sure it's one that they will recall as professional and positive.

What are some other subtle tips to make a good impression?

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Monday, February 2, 2009

Is Your Knuckle-Cracking Killing Your Job Chances?

I've spent a lot of time lately interviewing people who no longer have jobs. One thing I hear over and over is that they really need to feel they're doing something positive every day. Whether it's writing a blog, teaching themselves a new skill, or making phone calls to network with former colleagues, they manage to keep their sanity by keeping busy and not giving in to panic or despair.

I'm impressed by how many of them want to turn this time in their lives into a self-improvement exercise, focusing on ways they can make themselves more appealing to employers.

As part of that effort, I want to focus on an issue that will not only help the unemployed present themselves to potential employers in a better light, but also aid them once they get a job.

The first thing needed is a video camera. The second is Jay Leno. (If Jay Leno isn't available, a friend or family member will do.)

If you're game for this exercise, the first thing you do is put on clothes that you would wear to an important interview. This gives you a chance to make sure your clothes are not only appropriate and look professional, but comfortable enough you're able to think of more than how you're about to choke in a too-tight collar.

Ask your friend to come up with a list of standard interview questions, but make sure you tell them to add some "zingers" to catch you unprepared. ("Is this your photo on Facebook where you appear to be using a beer bong?")

Now, begin your "interview" with the camera pointed directly at you. The interview should be at least 15 minutes long, with your entire body visible to the camera.

When you're done, get a paper and pen and review your video. Mark down any mannerism you do more than one time, such as fiddling with your hair, clicking a pen, licking your lips, slouching, picking at your face, biting your nails, chewing your lips, playing with your clothing, cracking your knuckles, jiggling your legs, crossing your arms or avoiding eye contact.

Next, listen to your voice. Try and determine if you're talking too loudly or softly, and whether you're easily understood. Do you interrupt the interviewer, use profanity or use "slang" words? Do you say "like" or "you know" too much? (This is a big pet peeve of many interviewers, as in "I, like, was head of my department. I, like, you know, did most of the work.")

If you're not sure what may constitute a bad or annoying habit, consider the things other people may have pointed out to you in the past. For example, if you've ever been told you talk too softly, then you need to work at projecting your voice. Or, if you've ever been told you have poor grammar, dress like a slob, have an annoying habit of jingling change in your pocket, then you've got a place to start looking for improvement.

Further, you can always ask someone who doesn't know you well to review your video, perhaps a neighbor or someone you respect from your industry. Do they notice any habits that are distracting? (Don't put them on the spot by asking for "bad" habits -- they may not want to hurt your feelings.)

You may think that you speak just fine, that you don't have any mannerisms that need correcting. But in this tough job market, you want to stand out because of your qualifications, not because you're the woman who kept flipping her hair over her shoulder or the guy who couldn't stop fiddling with his tie.

It's important to build rapport quickly with an interviewer because you're given only a limited amount of time. While our family members may think it's endearing that we say "for intensive purposes" instead of "for all intents and purposes," an interviewer or business contact is just going to think you're not too bright. Or, while a friend is willing to overlook your habit of constantly petting your beard as if it's a beloved pet, it is just distracting and annoying to people who don't know you well.

No one is perfect. Everyone has bad habits, personal tics and mannerisms that are unique to them. I'm not suggesting you become a robot with no personality. What I am saying is that anything that gets in the way of establishing a better rapport with an interviewer is something that you can improve -- and that's a habit that will serve you well in your career.

What are some ways we can break bad habits that may adversely impact rapport with others?

Lijit Search

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Monday, December 22, 2008

Two-for-One Sale: Get Your Interview Tips Now!

I sent out a HARO request the other day asking for input on resume do's and dont's. I was flooded with so many good suggestions I couldn't use them all for my Gannett News Service and column, so I'm offering you a great deal today: Super resume advice at no cost to you! (I think I'm spending too much time reading the retailer ads that bombard my e-mail every day.)

Anyway, I'll let these people tell you in their own words what you can do to help you in your job search:

"One of my pet peeves is extremely vague objective (resume)statements. These are statements like "Objective: A position with a strong, stable company where I can use my skills and expertise to contribute to growth and advance my career." No kidding. This applies to every employee, everywhere. No one sends me a resume that says, "I'm looking to work for a financially shaky firm, in a dead-end role, at a lower salary, doing tasks that I have no knowledge of or experience with."
-- Anne Howard, Lynn Hazan & Associates

"When you write the cover letter and tailor the resume, be sure to reference the job posting and be specific in your response to what they’re seeking. If you don’t have actual job experience, explain how you obtained the skills needed. If you have actually done a particular task, make sure they can easily determine when and where." -- Minde Frederick,OBERON, LLC

"I once got a resume with a picture of a banana on it and a sidebar that read, "I'm ripening...". It definitely caught my attention but for all the wrong reasons. Bold moves are not required. Give me clean, clear and concise any day." -- Caroline Ceniza-Levine, SixFigureStart Career Coaching

"With the influx of applicants returning from military duty, most hiring managers in private sector organizations don't understand military job titles or levels and have no idea what duties or responsibilities are associated with those positions. Therefore, I recommend that individuals with military experience rewrite their resume to show what they did such as the number of individuals supervised or led, financial experience relative to budgets, project goals and how they were met, etc." -- Q VanBenschoten, North America for Intertek

"I particularly do not appreciate people who use 'non-words' such as 'like' or 'umm' or 'uh' throughout their sentences. This has become a significant communications problem particularly among those just entering the workplace. Whether a person works on the factory floor, in an office environment or on the road, the manner in which the information is conveyed is important to understanding the message." -- Douglas Duncan, Your HR Solutions

"We'd like to see more people include links to additional content available on them - a link to their blog, or white papers and articles they may have written. Anything that helps reinforce and demonstrate what they've stated in their resume." -- Mark Rouse, IQ PARTNERS Inc.

"Turnoffs: weird or inappropriate email addresses (, for example), strange 'personal interests,' and anything that is disparaging to a former employer." -- Gretchen Neels,Neels & Company, Inc.

"Spelling errors will get you thrown out. In addition, I only look at the work history, the cover letter, and most of the body are generally junk. With 100's of resumes to read you have to focus on what is important." -- Michael D. Hayes, Momentum Specialized Staffing

Any other advice that job seekers should follow?

Lijit Search

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Wednesday, August 27, 2008

What the Brady Bunch Can Teach You About Finding the Right Job

Like most people, I was broke when I got out of college. Flat broke.

That meant than instead of getting a cool apartment to go along with my first job, I had to take what I could afford: A place that looked like the Brady Bunch had exploded all over it. Crushed orange velvet sofa. Orange, yellow and green wallpaper with flowers bigger than my head. Olive green appliances.

You can imagine that as soon as I could scrape together more money, I jumped at the chance to rent a better place. When I saw the apartment, I fell in love. It was in an old Victorian home that the owner had converted into three units. High ceilings, a claw-footed bathtub and no olive green appliances. I immediately grabbed it and put down my deposit.

But after moving in, I began to discover some things that I had not observed in my first starry-eyed inspection of the place. There were only small, gas heaters in each room. Hmmm....never used anything like that before. Upon my first bath in the cool old bathtub, I discovered that hot water was in short supply and the water pressure so low it took about two hours to fill.

As time went on, I discovered all the summer heat in the old house went straight to my second story place, making the kitchen floor so hot I couldn't walk across it in bare feet. But then, funny enough, the heat didn't rise in the winter and I was forced to live in one room because I couldn't keep the entire place heated.

I put on a brave face for my friends -- my new apartment was awesome! It was near work, had a nice porch overhanging the front yard (that I couldn't use because the floor was rotted and I was afraid I would plunge through it to my death) and had two built-in bookcases 9that were so crooked my books all leaned to the right like drunken soldiers).

As I huddled under blankets during the winter with that small gas heater spitting out about as much warmth as a lizard's burp, I thought longingly of my Brady Bunch apartment with it's hot water and great water pressure and central heating and cooling. What was a bit of shag carpeting after all?

When it came time to relocate for a new job, I had several friends competing for the right to live in my awesome apartment. I gladly gave them the landlord's name, waved goodbye to the toilet that always leaked and headed for better digs.

I learned a valuable lesson from that apartment debacle. I learned that no matter how good something looks on the surface and no matter how much I may believe I want it, I need to take a deep breath and look a little closer.

I think it's that way for many people who get caught up in interviewing for a job they really, really want. They are so excited about it, they forget to check out whether underneath the sheen of joy there might be a leaky toilet or rotted roof.

We all know that when we interview we're supposed to ask intelligent questions about the job, the company, the industry, etc. But let's look at some other things that you need to examine:

* Eye contact. Do people look one another in the eye when they speak? Does the manager look directly at employees, and vice versa? Do employees look each other in the face when they speak? If you don't see that eye contact, it could indicate that there is a lack of trust or respect among the employees and managers.

* It's too quiet. While you wouldn't want to work in an office that resembled a three-ring circus, a lack of talking -- and laughter -- could indicate an unhappy atmosphere where everyone avoids any contact with one another.

* It's sterile. One of the first things I notice in any office is the personal mementos that everyone displays. You can tell a proud papa by the numerous photos of his children or the avid gardener who has homegrown flowers in a vase. If workers don't seem to have anything personal around, it could indicate the management may have little support for employees having a life outside the office.

* Body language. Look at how employees behave as they work. Are there nervous or unhappy gestures such as slamming down phones, biting fingernails, chewing lips, constant sighing, etc.? Do employees not look well? Deep eye circles, unhealthy skin pallor and disheveled clothes might indicate they are overworked and overwhelmed.

* Interaction. I've already mentioned that a lack of eye contact or talking casually might indicate problems, but do you see employees interacting around the coffee pot or in the lunch room? Or, is everyone eating at their desk or while their nose is stuck in a newspaper? While some people may want to be alone during lunch, you also want to see a bit of camaraderie among workers to indicate a relaxed, friendly atmosphere.

* Doors. While management may say there is an open-door policy, is there really? How many doors do you pass that are closed?

* General upkeep. Ask for a tour of the facility and be sure and note whether it seems to be in good shape. Unkept bathrooms, overflowing trashcans, broken furniture, dirty floors and piles of papers may indicate not only a disorganized workplace, but one that might not be financially able to afford a good cleaning service. It can also reflect a general lack of pride by the workers in their company.

I'm not saying you should reject a job offer because of any of these things, but I do think it's a smart idea to look beyond the surface, and make sure you won't wind up feeling uncomfortable in your new job.

What are some other things a job candidate should look for when interviewing?


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