Back to Basics

Earlier I mentioned a symposium I attended on helping homeless Veterans find jobs and some of the job seeking advice I heard there. There was one more bit of advice that’s been running around in the back of my head – do I blog about this or not? I decided the answer is yes. There’s nothing earth shattering here but it can’t hurt to get this kind of advice periodically during your job search.

Here are 15 basic tips that you need to aware of when you go to an interview or a networking meeting. Again, I hope there are no surprises here, but if there are, at least someone told you.  These are not in priority order, you need to do them all.

  1. Be on time. Before the interview know where you are going, how to get there, where you will park, etc. Plan to arrive 10 minutes (or so) early. Sit in your car and relax if you’re too early. Use the power building suggestions from by Body Language post while you wait.
  2. Be clean. I shouldn’t need to explain this.
  3. Smell good. This really should be “don’t smell.” Too much cologne or perfume is sometimes worse than none at all. I suggest you be a neutral as possible.
  4. Dress appropriately. I suggest you dress one step above what that office’s every-day work attire is. Guys – a business suit is not required or appropriate for all occasions. If they wear ties, you wear the suit. If they are business casual, you still wear the suit. If they are in jeans you wear dress pants and a dress shirt – tie is optional. If they are in shorts and filp-flops then you’re in business casual. Never less than business casual. Rarely more than business suit. If you don’t know what they wear, call the company and ask the receptionist. You don’t have to tell her your name J. Ladies – sorry but you’ll have to take your dress cues from my advice for guys. I’m not qualified to translate.
  5. Bring copies of your resume. I suggest between 2 and 5 copies. It depends on how many people you expect to meet.
  6. Bring something to take notes on. Not your hand or a pack of post-its. Don’t forget the pen.
  7. Remember your body language – smile, look people in the eye, offer a firm handshake.
  8. Speak clearly. Talk slowly, clearly. Use full sentences. Answer the question that is asked, nothing else. Don’t ramble.
  9. Remember your manners. Say please and thank you. I think you can use “sir” and “ma’am” but be careful. I may get some backlash on this, but some women take offense to ma’am because they say it makes them feel/sound old. I grew up with parents from the South and sir and ma’am are just part of who I am – no offense intended.
  10. Be patient. Take time to consider the question you’ve been asked before answering.
  11. No lying. Enough said.
  12. Ask questions. Be prepared to ask several questions (even if you already know the answers). You can ask about the company history, the strategic plan, their products, whatever – but show an interest in the organization.
  13. Ask when you can follow up. Even if they tell you when they plan to get back to you, ask when you can check back with them. Be proactive.
  14. Relax. This is a job interview. You are not being investigated for murder. The worse thing that can happen is that you don’t get this job. That’s okay – there will be others.
  15. Be yourself. Let them know all the ways you can make their organization better.

There you go – fifteen simple things to remember. Have a great interview!


Be Prepared for Surprises

Despite your best efforts in trying to predict the future, it just rarely plays out like you think it will. A friend recently received a call to schedule an interview. He’d heard about the job through a networking contact. It didn’t really sound like what he wanted to do; the location wasn’t great; he didn’t think they were going to pay very much; and he thought it was part time. In short, he really didn’t want “waste his valuable time” going to this interview.

I reminded him that a) since he was unemployed his time really wasn’t that valuable, and b) if nothing else he could consider it a practice session and hone his interviewing skills. Grudgingly he agreed.

After the interview he was excited. The networking contact had missed most of the good points. It was a full time job; the pay was okay; the location was easy to get to; and the duties were interesting – he could learn a lot on this job. Now he’s on pins and needles because they are supposed call him the next day with a start date the following week.

As a job seeker, you have to be prepared for surprises. He didn’t think this interview was worth his time a now he’s hoping for a job offer. I don’t know how many times I’ve heard of people interview for one job, but then being hired for a different job because of their skill set. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve gone into a networking meeting thinking I’m wasting my time and walked out with 3-4 excellent leads.

My advice is to go in to every interview and networking meeting with your eyes wide open. Give them your best stuff and then be prepared to step back and see what happens. Sometimes you’ll get a surprising job offer or networking leads and sometimes you’ll get some good practice. Either way, your job search is moving forward. Keep at it.


What Do You Want?

My son just recently entered the professional job market and one networking contact recently asked him “what do you want?” My son (not really knowing what he wanted) answered the best he could and the manager repeatedly asked “so, what do you want,” or “why?” The interview was certainly annoying, but good natured and in the end, very profound.

Too often, when asked “what do you want” the job seeker says “I just want a job.” While I can understand the frustration and urgency behind that statement, rarely is it true. There are always jobs open if you want to work hard and not get paid much. I was fan of the TV show “Dirty Jobs” and they shared lots of jobs I really wouldn’t want.

As a job seeker, you need to be clear with yourself and others, who you are, and what you want. You may have to accept reality and you may not get what you want every time, but you can keep working toward that goal. If you just earned your degree in Accounting and think you want to be a CFO someday spend you energy looking for jobs that utilize those skills and fit that path.

Try to avoid begin overly general like “something in sales” or “something where I work with people” – both Wal-Mart greeters and corrections officers work with people but they are very different jobs.

Spend time thinking about what job you’d really like. If you’re not sure, use networking to learn more about different jobs. Go to a local Career Center (aka Unemployment Office) and they’ll probably offer a free job interest assessment. Figure out what you do best and what you like to do, then look in that market for a job.

Focus your job search and it will improve the quality of your networking and help you find that next job. And as the Rolling Stones Say “You can’t always get what you want, but if you try some time, well you just might find, you get what you need.”