By Jay Goltz
While there clearly are not enough jobs to go around, some people are getting hired. Every day, every hour, thousands of people are selected from thousands more who are ready, willing and able to work. The question is, why is it that some people get hired and some don’t?
I have an unusual perspective on this. I read several résumés a week. My human resources person reads hundreds. There are some obvious answers like education, connections, experience and even enthusiasm. But there is another reason that may be just as significant: bad résumé and interview skills, especially for applicants right out of school or someone who hasn’t interviewed in a long time. I can’t tell you how many times we have interviewed a recent college graduate who would surely get an F in Job Hunting 101.
As a parent of a soon-to-graduate student (last one, yippee!), I am thinking about the students and their parents as they enter the real world. I can easily imagine what these grads tell their parents when they can’t find a job: “No one is hiring!” “You don’t understand how competitive it is out there!” “I’m thinking of going to grad school!”
Poor dad. Poor mom. And I do mean poor. With the cost of college, parents can be forgiven for expecting their grads to be able to land a job. There’s no question that this has been as tough an economy as we’ve had in a long time, but again, even in the worst economy, some people do land jobs. Here’s my top 10 list of what you can do to improve your odds.
- Review the résumé. Review it again. Have a grown-up review it. Would it surprise you to learn that a third of the résumés we get have misspellings? I just looked at one that listed the person’s address as Chicago, Ohio. She was from Ohio. An honest mistake? Sure. But it shows a lack of attention to detail, and it was the first of five careless mistakes. This was for a job that requires communicating with customers and putting proposals together. I don’t understand. Have these college graduates really not heard of spell check? If you have a pretty good idea that you can’t spell, why wouldn’t you have someone else look it over? Or do bad spellers only hang out with other bad spellers?
- Show up on time for the interview. That means plan on getting there early. Look around. Look friendly.
- Dress appropriately. O.K. This one is going to require some judgment. Don’t wear jeans (unless you’re applying at the Gap). Don’t look like you are on the way to the beach unless you are applying for a lifeguard job. You get the idea.
- Know something about the company. Or, better yet, know a lot about the company. With the advent of the Internet and Web sites, many companies expect you to be familiar with what it is they do. They also expect that you will speak convincingly about why you would love to work at their company. You can do it.
- Take internships seriously. It isn’t easy to find an internship. Many companies use them to develop a pool for prospective employees. We hired a paid intern to work in our gallery. She had a degree in art, was very outgoing and seemed to have an ability to sell. But she kept coming in late, even though she lived five minutes away. After several conversations, she still kept coming in late. We rode out the internship and wished her well. We hired someone else. There are very few art jobs out there. My new employee is very thankful. She has never been late.
- Don’t just look for job postings. Target companies that you would like to work for and send them a résumé. Follow up. Send one to the H.R. person, the manager, the president. Include a beautifully written cover letter. Follow up. If you do this enough, you will find someone who just happens to be thinking about placing a job ad, and calling you may make this person’s life a little easier. Timing is everything, although persistence is important, too. Talk to friends and relatives about companies they know.
- Think about things you have done in school, in a previous job, in a volunteer position that speak to your commitment, your ability to solve problems, your ability to deal with difficult customer situations, your ability to get a job done. Work it into your résumé and your interview responses.
- Ask questions, especially when interviewers ask if you have any questions. If you don’t, you look unengaged, afraid or uninterested. And make them good questions about what you’ll be doing on the job. Don’t ask how much vacation time you get. The primary goal of the questions you ask is to get the job, not to decide if you want the job.
- Think before you speak. This is a skill that most of us could improve. During one interview, I asked a young woman why a reference she had listed hadn’t had much to say about her. She immediately blurted out, “I’m difficult to work with!” Of course, I hired her immediately, because everyone wants to work with difficult people! (No, actually, I didn’t.)
- Stay in touch. If you get to be a finalist for a position but don’t get it, suck it up. Don’t take it personally. The company clearly liked you, but you were edged out. It is not easy to pick between finalists, and many times it is very close. Ask if you can stay in touch. If you get an enthusiastic yes, be sure to do so. There is a good chance that the new hire won’t work out or that another position will open up. You are close!
- Bonus! I can’t tell you how many times I have seen people burn bridges for no reason. That doesn’t necessarily mean telling off your boss on the way out. It is usually more subtle, like not giving notice, making disparaging remarks about the company to co-workers (who can’t wait to tell the boss) or exhibiting an I-don’t-care-anymore attitude. Be smart: if you give notice and the company chooses to keep you around, stay on your best behavior. Say good-bye to everyone. It will speak well of you, and it will be remembered. It can be the difference between getting a lukewarm reference or an enthusiastic one. That could easily make the difference in getting your next job.
Jay Goltz owns five small businesses in Chicago.