First Impressions Matter

According to humorist Will Rogers, “you never get a second chance, to make a first impression.”  That is never more true than in the interview process.  Candidates want to ensure they make the best possible first impression.

Why Does It Matter So Much?

Interviewers will form an impression of you in the first thirty seconds of the interview.  In their minds, they are trying to answer two questions:  “Do I like you and want to work with you?”  And “Are you good at what you do?”

Do I Like You?

The interviewer is making quick assessments of your warmth.  They register some quick initial impressions of you and spend the rest of the interview confirming or denying their impressions.  They want to know:  “Are you someone that fits well with the team?”  “Would they want to work with you?”  “How do you interact with people?”  How do you convey all this in your interview?  You start with a smile and a confident handshake.  As you start the interview you are attentive and make good eye contact.  If the interviewer tries to engage you in small talk, you respond.  Demonstrate your passion for the work you do with your answers to their questions and the stories you share to answer their behavioral questions.  Remember as you wrap up the interview to say think you and to express your genuine interest in the opportunity.  They may also ask the receptionist at the front desk or the administrative assistant who walks you from one office to another for their impressions as well.  Your interview begins the minute you open their front door.

Are You Good At What You Do?

The interviewer is also trying to evaluate your competence for this particular position.  They want to know how well you performed in your last position and how you plan to translate those skills to meet their needs.  Be prepared to share stories of how you solved problems or handled challenging situations.   Reading the job description will help you focus on what is important to the employer.  Use appropriate language to describe your work and share results where possible.  “What impact did your work have?”  “How did the company benefit from having you in this role?”  “How do you stay current in your field?”  “How do you handle challenges, deadlines, etc.?”  “How did you achieve both accuracy and timeliness in your work?”  While demonstrating your competence to do the job, you want them to start to envision you in their role as a successful contributor.

Remember, it is not just what you say that leaves a lasting impression.  Your content is influenced by how you say it and how you behave.  Don’t forget to smile and maintain eye contact.  Also watch the tone of your answers to ensure you are making the best possible first impression.

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Interviewing the Interviewer

It is a common best practice for job seekers to prepare to put their best foot forward in an interviewer.  They will do research on the company and the position.  They will practice common interview questions.  Based on the job description they will consider likely behavioral interview questions and practice their responses.  They should also talk with their networking contacts about the company, the department and the role.  In spite of all this careful preparation, many candidates neglect to prepare for the critical aspect of interviewing the interviewer.

A major goal of the interview is for both parties to assess fit.  They only way the candidate can do this effectively is the have questions prepared to ask the interviewer.  Here are some valuable questions to consider:

Why is this position open at this time?  If it is a new position, you want to understand what business needs supported approval of a new position.  If it is a replacement, was the person promoted and they are backfilling the position or did the employee leave?  If the employee left, how long were they in the position?  How frequently is this position open?  You are seeking insight into the business need for the job, the success of people in this job and how this job is treated within the organization.

How will you evaluate success in this position in the first three, six and twelve months?  You want to know if they have clear expectations of what success looks like and how it is measured.  Are they realistic about the time it will take to ramp up in this new position?

Why did you choose to join this company?  What keeps you here?  Asking a general question about what the culture of the organization is like with likely get you a general answer.  When you personalize it you will hear a much more honest response.

How does this organization develop staff?  No one will promise you a promotion in so many months, and if they do it is likely a red flag.  Instead ask about how they invest in their staff to prepare them for future opportunities.  Do they provide training or support outside training?  Are staff members encouraged to attend relevant conferences?  Is there any type of mentoring program?

Ask about the future of the business  Do enough research to understand key growth initiatives and ask a relevant question that results in valuable information while also demonstrating that you did your homework.  Maybe it relates to a recent press release or a new product but you need to identify something that feels relevant and ask a specific question.

A job candidate can nail their responses to the interviewer’s questions but may not get the job if they are not also interviewing the interviewer.  In addition to the valuable insights you gain to help you assess fit, you are also demonstrating your interest and your preparation.

Are You Sabotaging Your Job Search?

You would expect job seekers to be doing everything possible to put their best foot forward in their job searches; however that is often not the case.  Here are things job seekers are doing that frustrate and annoy hiring managers and result in the candidate not getting an offer.  Job seekers need to differentiate themselves from the many others seeking the same positions.

With large number of applications received online, hiring managers are looking for easy reasons to whittle down the number of resumes they want to seriously review.  Many candidates are making basic errors to sabotage their own job search efforts.  How can you avoid a quick trip to the “no pile”?

Don’t Follow Directions —If you can’t follow the directions in the hiring process, what makes an employer believe you will be able to follow directions on the job?  If it asks you to attach a resume, do it.  If it asks for references, provide them.  Demonstrate that you are prepared and capable of following directions.

Make Errors – Hiring managers have little patience when you attach the wrong cover letter indicating your interest in a different job at a different organization.  They are not impressed with your lack of attention to detail.  Blatant typos or grammatical errors also demonstrate poor attention to detail and land that letter and resume in the reject pile immediately.  Do not send me your resume or cover letter in edit mode so hiring managers can see the changes you made.  What takes the cake is when the error is I in the sentence claiming your attention to detail.

Don’t Show Your Lack of Effort —Form letters are easy to spot.  If you are not interested enough in the job to customize a letter, most hiring managers are not interested in you either.  Don’t assume you know what the job responsibilities are based on the title.  Read the job description and refer to the job accurately in your cover letter.  Go online and check the website.  Demonstrate that you took some initiative and learned something about us.  Try to find the hiring manager on the website if it is not mentioned in the posting.  Show some initiative rather than sending yet another letter to Dear Hiring Manager.

Don’t Cause Me Extra Work to Consider You —Many applicants don’t bother with a cover letter if it doesn’t indicate that it is required.  They often feel their resume is all that is needed and that their experience speaks for itself.  Guess again.  Don’t make the hiring manager try to understand how your experience relates to what they are looking for.  Don’t expect them to figure out what it is you really want to do next and why.  Write a customized cover letter to address what the hiring manager is looking for and how your experience fits their needs.

It is NOT All About You – Don’t make the hiring manager count the “I”’s instead of reading the content of your cover letter.  First of all, it is not a good example of strong business writing to start nearly every sentence with I.  More importantly, it is not all about you.  The hiring manager has a business need to fill.  Your letter should demonstrate how you can help them address that need.  It shouldn’t be a summary of your resume or a dissertation on what you really want or need.

Don’t Act Desperate –While it can be very frustrating to be unemployed for a long time and that you are worried about making your next rent payment, that isn’t a reason for them to hire you.  Acting desperate makes them think you just want any job and that you’ll leave as soon as the job market improves.  While managers may respect your personal issues, they are not going to influence their decision and really have no part in the interview discussion.

Don’t Skip Your Homework —Information is available at your fingertips via the internet.  There is absolutely no excuse for not doing your research.  Learn about the company or organization.  Know what they do and who their customers are.  See what you can learn about the department you will be interviewing with and you can also learn about the person interviewing you.  Don’t come in and waste the hiring manager’s time by asking what the company does.

Don’t Ignore the Hiring Manager —If they go through the mountain of applications and identify a few for phone screens, you should be flattered and then step your preparations into high gear.  Don’t ignore a request.  Don’t wait more than 24 hours to respond.  Demonstrate your interest and enthusiasm by being responsive.  Your lack of response will be interpreted as a lack of interst.

Don’t Forget to say Thank You —This is the easiest way to stand out from the competition.  Say thank you to everyone who interviews you.  Send a quick email thank you and follow it up with a handwritten thank you note.  Personalize each note to reference something specific you discussed.  This is a great opportunity to reaffirm your interest.

An Interview Invitation Doesn’t Mean You Got the Job –Hiring managers do not interview just one person.  Don’t assume that when you are invited to interview that you have the job.  Leave the cocky attitude at the door.  It has no place in an interview.

Don’t Forget to Network —If you claim to be so passionate about this organization or this role, who have you talked to who works there or in a similar organization?  Who have you talked to in order to learn more about this role?  Demonstrate your interest by showing initiative.

Absolutely Don’t Blow Them Off —If you have an interview scheduled, either in person or by phone, you are expected to keep it.  If for ANY reason you are not able to do so, you should call with as much advance notice as possible to notify the interviewer and ask for an opportunity to reschedule.  If you are not available for the scheduled appointment and they don’t hear from you at all until three days later, you have convinced them that you do not have the customer service skills or common courtesy to work in their department.

While it seems obvious that these are things to avoid in your job search, many job seekers are regularly sabotaging their own search efforts.  Pay attention to the details to ensure success in your search.

Unfortunately people desperate for a job think that sending more resumes to online postings increases their chances of getting a job.  It doesn’t make a difference and they are being careless in the process which hurts them further.  They need to demonstrate attention to detail and they need to network like crazy.  Your behavior throughout the process is an indication of how you are likely to behave and perform on the job.  Be sure you are putting your best foot forward.

Building Your Target List

To determine how to get to the next step in your career, you need an idea of where you are going.  I often advise job seekers to build and prioritize a target list of companies where you want to work.  This should in no way be limited to companies that you know personally or those you drive by each day.  Where do you turn to help build your target list?

Linked In – Review your connections on Linked In to see where people you admire and respect are working.  Look in your Linked In groups as well to see where fellow alumni or previous co-workers are now working.  Make note of the companies that interest you.  A first step in your research will be talking to your connections about their experiences at those companies.

Lists –Fortune and other magazines prepare multiple lists of the course of the year on leading companies by revenue, number of employees, work-life balance, etc.  These may trigger your thinking but unless you are prepared to relocate other parts of the country or the world, these lists may be more frustration than assistance.  Consider more local lists.  Boston Business Journal includes lists in each weekly edition with an annual Book of Lists.  Find the local lists for the area where you hope to work.  You can look by industry, by size, etc. to identify companies of interest to you.  Look online as well.  Databases such as Hoovers allow to search with a radius of major cities by industry, size, etc.  Keep an open mind.  Many of the fastest growing companies are small to mid-sized firms that you may not be aware of today.

Competitors – As you start identifying companies of interest, do a little research and consider their competitors.  They are in the same industry and may be a good fit for you as well.

Professional Associations – If you are clearly focused on a particular industry or business function, identify relevant professional associations.  Attend meetings and see where other members work.  Listen to how they talk about their work and the companies they work for to see if there is something of interest to you.

Social Networking – Do not overlook families and friends.  They may work at interesting companies or may know people at companies in which you have interest.  At social events, ask about what someone does for work and for what company.  You can always set up a networking meeting later, but start to build a web of connections.

As you start building you list, review it on a regular basis to keep it fresh.  You will learn more about companies as you network and some companies will move on or off your list.  You then want to prioritize your list to help focus your networking.  Consider companies that interest and excite you the most.  Do you have contacts at those companies or someone who can introduce you to contacts at those companies?  Has the company posted positions in your area of interest in the last few months?  When you use this prioritized list to guide your networking, you are building valuable insider connections in the companies where you hope to work.

Are You Stuck in a Job Search Rut?

You have decided it is time to look for another job.  You may be unhappy or frustrated in your current situation or maybe you need a challenge and an opportunity to learn and grow.  Many would think that making the decision is the hard part but I see many people decide they need to change jobs and then they get stuck and make no progress.  Why does this happen?  What can they do about it?

Attitude – If you consider the process of looking for a job, yet another chore to add to your to do, it will be.  When perceived as one more thing to do, it is easy to procrastinate.  Instead, see this as an opportunity to invest in your future.  Take the time to research industries, companies and roles that may be a fit for you.  Do informational interviews with alumni and other contacts.  Use all this input to clarify your targets and build a list.  When you approach the task with an attitude of investing in yourself, each step of the journey feels like progress towards your goal.  Don’t just complain about your current situation or your inability to find a new job quickly.  Do something about it.  Set targets and hold yourself accountable.

Perfectionism –   Yes, you certainly want your resume and Linked In profile to have no errors but if you are waiting for it to be perfect you will never get your search started.  Each position may require edits to your resume to best tailor it to that specific role.  Don’t immobilize your search by waiting for your materials to be perfect.  Get feedback and a careful review and then get moving.  You can always tweak it as you go along based on the feedback you receive.  Don’t derail your search by waiting for perfection.

No Heavy Lifting – You want a new job but you don’t want to invest the time in research and networking.  What you get out of the search will be a direct correlation to what you put in.  Sitting behind the computer screen and submitting online applications will not a road to success.  Research shows that more than 75% of all jobs are filled through networking.  Get off the couch and start networking.  Build a target list to focus your networking efforts.  Know where you want to go and do something every week to move you closer to your goal.

Too Stressed – I often hear job seekers explain that they are too stressed in their current job to invest time and energy in a search.  Doing the same thing over and over is not going to change the result.  You will continue to be stressed if you stay in that job.  Set realistic goals and do something every week to move your search forward – build a target list, research top companies identify alums in your top companies, schedule a networking meeting each week.  Small steps on a consistent basis will move you forward and will change the situation you are in.  Once you feel you are doing something to begin the process of change, you feel more control which often helps reduce your stress even before you achieve your goal of a new job.

Get out of your rut and begin the journey to the next step in your career.

Summer Dress for Success

Many companies recognize that the pace changes a bit come summer and offer a summer dress code.  While it is great be cool and comfortable in the hot, hazy days of summer it is important to protect your professional reputation.

Summer Dress Code Do’s

  • Know the Culture – It is critical to know the culture of your organization and to follow the lead of the managers in your group or division.  Some companies have no relaxation of the dress code in the summer and any attempt to be more casual would be frowned upon.  In some companies summer casual means no neckties.  Before you head to the office in capri’s, shorts or a golf shirt, be sure you understand what the expectations are in your specific office.  You do not want to stand out negatively from the crowd .
  • Stay Professional – Your goal should be to always appear professional while on the job.  Even with a more relaxed summer dress code it is important that you still project a professional image.  Focus on professional looking business casual attire.
  • Be Modest and Conservative –Think about whether you would want the president of the company or an important client to see you in that outfit.  If the answer is no, don’t wear it to work.  Think about whether it projects the image of the company or your own personal brand. Remember while it may be fashionable, it may not be appropriate for the office.

Summer Dress Code Don’ts

  • Forget the Beach Attire —  If you would wear it to the beach, don’t wear it to work. Modesty and professionalism should be the determining factors in identifying attire for work.
  • Leave the Flip Flops at Home – The most frequent complaint I hear from employers is flip flops.  They are very noisy in the office and most employers consider them unprofessional.  Do not wear flip flips in the office if you want to be taken seriously. If you want to wear them for your walk to work fine, but be sure you have shoes in your bag to change into as soon as you reach the office.
  • Cover Up – Underwear is meant to be under your clothes at all times, not visible to your co-workers.  Midriff baring attire or plunging necklines are also not appropriate for the office.

 Protect Your Reputation

Your reputation at work is your personal brand.  You work hard to known as a capable, competent professional who does great work in a timely manner.  Do not ruin or at least tarnish that reputation by dressing unprofessionally in the workplace.  It is not worth it.  Stay professional this summer to ensure your future success.

 

 

Alternatives to the Summer Internship

College students look forward to the summer break as an escape from the classroom and often as an opportunity to earn money.  Finding a paid summer internship can be very competitive but don’t panic if you don’t land an internship.  There are other opportunities to add value to your resume and prepare for your future.

  • Gain Work Experience – Even if it isn’t paid.  Gaining experience is the most important goal, whether you are being paid or not. This also shows future employers that you are motivated and focused.  While it is ideal to gain some exposure to your field of choice, for this year, it is critical to be employed.  Doing most anything is better than doing nothing.  Retail or fast food experience at least exposes you to customer service skills and time management.  Before settling for those options reach out to non- profits organizations and offer your services.  They often need assistance but have no budget.  Ask your contacts if you can shadow them for a day or work on a project as a volunteer.  Be creative and find ways to build your work experience even if you are not receiving a pay check.
  • Networking – It is time to start seriously thinking about what you might want to do for your career.  You may have selected a major already or you may still be considering your options.  Either way, this is a critical time to begin networking.  Talk to people who work in fields that interest you or companies that interest you.  Start with the “low hanging fruit” – parents of your friends, people your parents know.  As you get comfortable with information interviews, reach out to alumni of your school.  Many people will make time to talk to a student and they often have some flexibility in their schedule in the summer.  Learn what skills are necessary for success in the field you are interested in.  Send a thank you note to each contact you meet.  Invite them to link with you on Linked In and ask if you can keep them posted throughout your next three years.
  • Informational Interviews- As you identify possible career options reach out to people in your field of interest and request an informational interview.  This extends your networking efforts but helps you gain valuable insights into your chose field.  What skills are critical>?  What does an employer expect from an entry level hire?  What is necessary to succeed longer term in this field?
  • Professional Associations – Identify a relevant professional association for your chose field and join as a student member. Attend meetings and start building your professional network.  During your informational interviews you can ask for recommendations of the best associations in your field.
  • Prepare Your Tools – Be ready. Sometimes companies have last minute summer needs due to students who changed their plans or unforeseen business needs.  Be sure you have your tools prepared so you can jump on those opportunities.   Update and edit your resume and ask several people to review it for you to ensure that it is flawless.  Practice writing cover letters to jobs in your field and ask for feedback to improve them.  Practice interviewing with a friend, colleague, family member or your career center.  Ask for feedback.  Anticipate frequently asked questions and consider your answers in advance.  Practice researching companies of interest to identify questions you can ask in your interview.  The more preparation you do now the easier the process will be.
  • Develop a Plan – Build a list of target companies you are most interested in working for.  Use your summer to research and identify alumni and other connections at those companies.  Prepare to maintain your networking even while you are back in school but get a good start during the summer.  Start reviewing job postings at your target companies to get a feel for the types of positions they post for entry level.  It is too early to apply but it gives you a better sense of what to watch for in the months ahead.  Commit to attending on campus career fairs, company recruiting events, etc. when you are back in school.  Manage your time wisely so you don’t miss these valuable opportunities.

Having your eye on the end goal throughout your four years in school increases the likelihood of employment at graduation but it also helps you focus on the best opportunities for you.