As I sat at a meeting with over 40 recruiters and listened around the room as they shared their pet peeves about the application and interview process with job seekers, two things occurred to me; one, in 2005 these same recruiters would have probably had lower standards because employees were harder to find and two, you never want a recruiter to be sitting in an interview thinking "is this real life?"
Story after story was shared about how parents came to interviews, followed up on interviews and sometimes even did the phone interviews for their children. Handshakes and body language were high on the pet peeve list, as was not reading the website or being prepared.
It seems like many of the steps to getting a job should be common sense. If a job is open, you send a resume, chat about your history and start on Monday. That might have been true in 2005 when jobs were abundant, credit was given to just about anyone and requirements were waived if the person seemed to have at least the basics. In 2008, everything changed. Online applications, unreturned phone calls and no responses seemed to be the norm. Candidates were deemed overqualified or under-qualified, and there were 300 applicants for every available job. Recruiters were overwhelmed, to say the least.
So what does it take to get a job these days? From my experience speaking with the Central Florida Employment Council Members (CFEC), a group of 800+ recruiters and HR professionals, and our employment counselors at Christian HELP, here is what we have found to be solid advice.
1. Only apply for jobs you are qualified for. Sending resumes out to every job you see, not reading job descriptions or not having the experience required is a waste of your time and the recruiter's. Take the job description, circle all of the skills and qualifications you have that are listed and make sure they appear in your resume. Use the same language as the job description whenever possible. It is very important that you complete the application process from start to finish or it could keep you from getting a call. Resumes should be error-free and in an easy-to-ready format.
2. Prepare for the interview. Spend time before the interview reading the website of the company. Look for articles and news about the company and be able to talk about it. If you are interviewing in person, take a trial run to the company and make sure to arrive about 15 minutes early the day of the interview. Dress to impress in a conservative way.
3. Body language is just as important as what you say. We are now doing a class on impressions. People do judge a book by its cover. It is unfortunate, but it is true. Handshakes should be firm, not limp or the vise grip. They should never be a fist bump! Eye contact is important, as well. If you don't look people in the eye, they think they can't trust you. Practicing the interview questions in advance can help stave off the nerves. Cell phones and sunglasses should never be interview accessories.
4. Don't self-sabotage in the interview process. Interviews are an opportunity for the company to meet you in person and determine if your skills are a fit for the company. Interviewing goes beyond skills to making sure you are a cultural fit for the company, as well. If the company is customer-service focused and you don't like people, you may not be a fit. It is important to be able to answer the standard questions such as "tell me about yourself," "what are your weaknesses" and "where do you see yourself in 5 years." Keep in mind the answers should be work related, not personal.
Be prepared to answer behavioral questions which are usually posed as a situation or task, action and result. We call them STAR questions. An example would be "Tell me about a time you had a difficult customer, how did you handle him/her, what was the result?" Answer the question in the same fashion it was asked. It should go without saying, but listening is an important interview skill. Finally, the recruiter is not your counselor; keep the interview professional and work related.
5. Say thank you. Thank the interviewer for their time, ask questions and find out what the next steps are. When you leave, recap the interview and then send a thank you letter by email or letter. Take the opportunity to thank the recruiter again and to highlight your good points and clarify any answers you may not have been clear on. Lastly, if you do not get the job, take the high road and do not burn bridges. You never know if you were the second choice and something else could come open.
As I work with people who are in the job-searching process, the first question I ask is "Are you getting interviews?" If you are not, the problem is generally your resume, lack of networking or the application process. If you are getting interviews, but not getting hired, you may be falling short in the interview process. Recruiters will never tell you, so I suggest finding a coach or someone to give you feedback.
There are many organizations, local and national, dedicated to helping people improve their job search skills. Goodwill, Christian HELP in Central Florida, the Seattle Jobs Initiative, and the Cara Program in Chicago are just a few. Job searching is harder than before and very competitive. You don't have to go it alone.