Job Hunting Mistakes, Goofs and Blunders
By Cindy Elflein
Good comedy often includes zany pratfalls and cut-ups. Chances are, you've laughed along with your favorite celebrities when they've forgotten lines or missed cues. It's not nearly as funny, however, when it happens to you during your job search.
"I had already had several job interviews, but this was the BIG one - I really wanted the job," says Sam, a business administration major. I walked into the room, greeted the interviewers, proceeded to sit down - and found myself on the floor! The chair had broken! Talk about embarrassing moments. I didn't know what to do."
So many counselors advise professionals-to-be about what to do, while neglecting to tell them what not to do. Here, then, are 14 common job hunting "wrongs" and "don'ts" along with their counter "rights" and "do's."
Having Unrealistic Self-Analysis
"New graduates tend to underestimate their talents, skills, and qualifications, and this negative outlook permeates the entire job hunting process" says Thomas C. Devlin, Director, Cornell University's Career Center, Ithaca, NY. "These students take fewer risks, make fewer inquiries and utilize fewer resources. They don't aggressively pursue opportunities - they limit opportunities." This brings us to common mistake number two...
Planning a Limited Job Search Process
"Recent graduates tend to overlook several of the available resources," Devlin continues. "For example, on-campus recruiting, a popular resource, is not the only road to a job, but is used only by a small sector of the corporate world. The vast number of jobs can be found beyond this one resource."
Choose a multiple approach, utilizing as many resources as possible: networking among peers, friends, and faculty; informational interviews; help-wanted ads, cold calls; on-campus recruitment; and the career development center.
Underestimating the Value of Extracurricular Activities
"This is especially true of liberal arts graduates," says May Fraydas, Assistant Director of Career Advising and Placement, University of Wisconsin at Madison. "Extracurricular activities may seem insignificant because they're not professional positions, but they can be important indicators of your abilities." Being a club president, for instance, can demonstrate your managerial, organizational, and people skills. Note these extracurricular activities on your resume, under the heading "Related Experience."
"Many seniors who graduate in May think that they deserve the summer off. Then, in September, they don't have a job, are out of money, and are panicking," observes Margo Jackson, Director, Career Development Center, D'Youville College, Buffalo, NY. "Job hunting can be overwhelming, but the sooner you get started, the better. Taking steps simplifies the process and alleviates anxiety."
Not Drawing up a Timetable
"You need to realize that looking for a job is a job in itself, and, consequently, you must allocate the appropriate amount of time and energy," Devlin adds.
According to Jackson, "Mass mailing resumes and then sitting back waiting for opportunity to knock, is a major blunder. You must follow up. Telephone when you don't receive an expected response to a resume or other inquiry, make cold calls, follow every lead no matter how tenuous, and state some type of action in cover letters, such as, 'I'll telephone you in a week to discuss employment opportunities.'"
Passive behavior during the interview is another big mistake. "Participate in the interview. Many job candidates are poor listeners. Be an active listener," Fraydas encourages. "Hear what is being asked, and don't just give 'yes' or 'no' answers."
Ask a few questions yourself, such as, "Will I be giving many presentations, or is information usually relayed through interoffice memos?" These types of questions show careful forethought about the position and company. "During lengthy explanations, interject a comment or question, smile or nod to show you are attentive," Fraydas continues. "Be confident and enthusiastic. Even a joke can be appropriate. The point is to use your social skills in a professional setting."
Having No Clear Path or Goal
You should know what you want to do. You will be expected to answer why you want the job, what you hope for, and why you would be effective on the job. Answering "I don't know" and "I hadn't thought of that" is ineffective.
Mishandling Interview Questions
Initially, don't inquire about salary, benefits, vacations, or overtime. These questions will indicate that you are more interested in the time you'll spend "off," rather than "on," the job. You have the right to this information, but the time to ask for it is at the second interview.
Some of the questions put to you may be tricky. A favorite among employers is "tell me about yourself." "Don't do an autobiography saying 'I have three sisters and like camping'", Fraydas advises. "Instead, use this opportunity to bring up or emphasize skills and credentials that you want to spotlight."
Questions with a negative orientation, such as "What's your worst fault?" and "Tell me about a major problem you encountered but solved" can also be tough. Answering these types of questions directly can work against you. "Never reply off the top of your head. Think of appropriate answers before the interview," Fraydas advises.
When Keysha, a marketing major, applied for a retail management position, the interviewer asked her what her worst fault was. "I had heard that a popular response is 'I'm a perfectionist,' so that's what I said," Debbie explains. "But the interviewer interpreted this as being 'intolerant' and 'impatient.' She asked me whether I might miss important deadlines as a result of perfectionism, or if I'd waste time rechecking inconsequential details - time that could be better spent on other projects."
During an interview for a position on a metropolitan newspaper, Kevin, a journalism major, was asked to relate a major problem he encountered and how he solved it. "I was working for the college newspaper, we had an important edition planned, and the presses shut down. It was my responsibility to figure out how to get the paper out," Kevin recalls. "Because I had spent a summer internship at the town's community newspaper and had made some good contacts there, I was able to arrange for that newspaper to print the issue. I don't know if telling that story got me the job, but I'm sure it helped."
Not Looking at the Job from the Employer's Perspective
Your reasons for wanting the position are important to you, but irrelevant to your prospective employer. "Candidates go into interviews with the attitude, 'What's in it for me?'" Jackson explains. "They don't consider the employer's needs and the fact that the employer will be paying a salary to have those needs met. Employers are thinking, 'What innovative ideas can you bring to our firm?' and 'What problems can you solve for us?'" Prepare yourself accordingly.
Overlooking Important Clues in Help Wanted Ads
By studying the help-wanted ads, you can learn about current salaries, pick up buzzwords to use in cover letters and at interviews, and discover which qualifications, skills, and work experience to emphasize on your resume, in cover letters, and at interviews. Your newfound knowledge cannot only be applied to the position advertised, but also to similar openings in which you are interested. In addition, the ads can tell you the companies that are expanding. If one firm is hiring chemical engineers this month, perhaps next month it will need sales representatives.
Making your Resume Duties-Oriented Rather than Skills-Oriented
Skills are transferable, duties aren't. "Employers want to see how your skills can benefit them," Fraydas says. "Illustrate your skills through description of duties." "Other resume bloopers," according to Fraydas, "include listing personal data and hobbies and forwarding a photograph. Be very picky about your resume. Don't let a spelling or punctuation mistake go by. Resumes must be flawless."
Not Dressing for Success
"You'd be surprised how many candidates dress in jeans or other casual clothes," Jackson says. "Some college seniors believe that dressing for success is overrated, and that they should be evaluated for who they are. That's very idealistic. Realistically, no one can know who you are within a 30 minute period. All employers have to go on is appearance - dress, grooming, and how you move - in short, how you present yourself."
Not Sending a Thank You Letter
Studies show that the highest correlation between those looking for work and those who get job offers is the thank-you letter. What's more, nurturing the relationship may keep the interviewer interested in aiding your job search through leads, contacts, and maybe even an offer.
Looking for a Job, Not a Career
"Don't job hunt; conduct a career search," Devlin advises. "Do some research, combining self-assessment (interests, individual talents, academic qualifications, goals) with market analysis (through informational interviewing, sessions with your career counselor, newspaper want ads) to identify the type of organization you want to work for and in what capacity. Match the results. Then start your search."