Can I Lie or Stretch the Truth?

Often very strong, talented candidates have a skeleton in their closets and they worry this will haunt their job search.  Maybe they were arrested for DUI, made a regrettable mistake while in college or any of a number of things in life that we wish we could do over.

It is only natural to wish to hide these incidents from a future employer but that could cause significantly more harm than good.  In this day and age, background checks are a routine aspect of most hiring processes.  It is highly likely that someone will run a background check.  If you stated on your application that you have never been arrested and then it shows up on the background report that you were arrested, you are done.  You have proven to the company that you are not a person of integrity and most likely you will not be hired.

If you had disclosed the arrest and it showed up on the report, they would realize that you own your mistakes and that you tell the truth even when it is uncomfortable to do so.  I have seen repeated instances where the incident is not the problem in a job search but the lack of honesty.  Employers are looking to hire honest employees with integrity so be sure to be completely honest in your applications.  If you are unsure what a background report would show, it is worth paying to have a report run yourself to ensure that you are addressing all possible issues and concerns.

Indeed, honesty is the best policy.

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How to Successfully Find a Job in 2017

Gone are the days of waiting for the fat employment section in the Sunday paper each week but no one really misses those days.  That was not an efficient way to find a job.  What is frustrating as a Career Advisor is to see students not properly leveraging the outstanding tools available to help them find their next career step in 2017.

Job seekers who are stuck behind their computers submitting online applications are not likely to be successful.  Their application is a needle in the haystack.  Submitting an online application and then trying to find an insider contact is also not a recipe for success.  People will quickly realize that you are only using them to advance your application.

You must follow the process to conduct a success search.

Develop Your Target List – Think about what you want to do.  What skills and experience qualify you for this position?  In what industry do you hope to work?  Where in the world do you hope to work?  What functional role are you seeking?  What do you need in terms of company culture and values?  Start drafting a list of companies for whom you would love to work.

Informational Interviews – Leverage your various alumni, family and friends and former colleagues’ networks to identify contacts who work in your target companies.  Set up informational interviews to learn more about the company and your area of interest.  What is the hiring process like?  How does the company support their employees?  What does the person like about working there?  What would they change if they could?  You will likely learn things you like and things you don’t.

Continually Refine the List – Based on what you learn in your informational interviews, continue to refine your target list.  Some companies or types of roles will fall off the list and you will learn about new companies to explore further.  Continue to build and refine your list as you continue to conduct informational interviews.

Build Networks within Your Target Companies Throughout this process you are building relationships with people who work in your target companies.  Keep detailed records of your contacts.  Be sure to thank them for spending time with you and helping you learn.

Identify Opportunities – Once you have your target companies updated and your network in place, you are ready to start exploring opportunities.  When you see an opportunity at a target company, reach out to your contact to see what insight they can share.  Ask if they would be willing to pass your resume and cover letter to the hiring manager.  Maybe they can submit it in their employee referral program.  Having an internal advocate moves your resume to the short pile instead of the mountain that arrives blindly online.  This is a huge advantage.  Your internal advocate can also share additional insight and perspective to help you prepare for the interview.

If you think you can shorten your process by applying to online applications all day, you will be seriously disappointed.  Invest the time in researching, learning and building your network and you will significantly increase your success.

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.

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.

Do I really have to write a customized cover letter?

I am often asked this question.  It is so much easier to just send a resume.  Is it really important to write a customized cover letter?  Yes, if you hope to be invited for an interview.  If you don’t want the job, don’t bother but then why even send your resume?  If you are interested in the job, a cover letter is a critical component.  The cover letter may well be your opportunity to stand out from the mountain of online applications.

Why is the cover letter so important?  This is your opportunity to connect the dots for the hiring manager.  You read a job description and said “this is good job for me because…”  You need to make those connections obvious to the employer.  What do they gain by hiring you?  Focus on your relevant experience and transferable skills.  Differentiate yourself in the process with a strong cover letter.

How professional should it be?  It should be a business letter, your name and address on the top in the same format as your resume, date, address block, salutation prior to the body of the letter.  Demonstrate your professional writing skills in your cover letter.  It should never be more than a single page.  Sincerely is the acceptable close, never fondly or other approaches.  Use “Dear Mr. Smith” not “Dear Joe”, or “Dear Joe Smith”.  Your letter should contain an introduction, body and then a strong close.  Do not just summarize your resume.  Do not over use the word “I” and be careful not to start most sentences or paragraphs with “I”.  Focus on the needs of the company.

What are some of the current trends in cover letters?   An alarming trend is the number of candidates who do not bother to write a letter, this tells the employer it wasn’t worth the applicant’s time and effort.  Many applicants focus their cover letters on what they want and need when the focus should be on how you can address the needs of the employer.  Many applicants over use the word “I” in their letters.  Do not start every paragraph with “I” and do not start every sentence with “I”.  Do your first draft and then go back and eliminate half the “I”’s by restructuring the sentences.  Your letter serves as a professional writing sample so demonstrate strong grammar, proper structure, correct spelling etc.  Lack of attention to these details is a quick route to the no pile.  Make your letter engaging, tell your story as if you were talking to the person live.  Make them want to talk to you!

Does it have to be customized if my resume stays the same?  Yes!  You need to customize every letter to the specific needs of the company and the specific requirements of the position.  Show them why you are a strong candidate for this job.  Most hiring managers can spot a template letter and it will quickly move it to the “no” pile.  The major risk of not customizing your letter is that you are perceived as more of a robot than as a unique individual with relevant skills

Do not use a template and Beware of cut and paste – Most hiring managers can spot a template letter very quickly and then move it to the no pile just as quickly.  Generic language and no focus on the specific job tell the employer you were not interested enough to prepare a customized letter.  Even if you think you are being careful cutting and pasting into a template for minimal customization, errors occur much too frequently.  Employers lose interest very quickly when your letter refers to the wrong company or position.  You can talk about your attention to detail all day but if you make these types of errors in your cover letter no one will believe you.  Demonstrate your skills and your interest with your letter.  Demonstrate your interest and passion by being you in your letter!

A strong customized cover letter increases the chances that you will be invited for an interview while a poor letter earns you a quick trip to the no pile.

Making the Most of a Career Fair

As we are preparing in the Graduate Career Center for our fall Career Expo, it is important for students and alumni planning to attend our expo or any career fair to prepare in advance to maximize their time at the end.  Career fairs can be a valuable source of contacts but to be successful, the job seeker must prepare thoroughly in advance.

 

Research the Companies

Do your homework in advance.  Identify the companies participating and see if they align with your target companies, industries or positions.   If yes, research each company you plan to visit.  Learn what they do, who their competitors are, what recent press coverage they have had, etc.  Check their online postings to see if there are specific jobs which may interest you.  Know something about the companies you hope to meet and have specific, thoughtful questions prepared for each one.   Obviously if there are no companies of interest, don’t waste your time but do some research before jumping to that conclusion.  You should never ask a company “what do you do” at a career fair.  They expect that you have done your homework in advance.

Prepare Your Materials

Have multiple clean copies of your resume with you.   Also have business cards available.   Be prepared to share them when asked.  You also want to be sure to have a notepad so you can jot down appropriate notes after each conversation.  Have a calendar available in case you are asked to schedule a follow-up interview.  Use one pocket for your own business cards and a separate pocket for those you collect.  You certainly don’t want to share the wrong cards!

Put your Best Foot Forward

Dress as if it were an interview because it could be.  You are certainly making a first impression on the company representative so you want to appear professional.  Some companies have the flexibility to do on the spot interviews if they are impressed so you want to be ready.   When it is your turn to meet the representative, make eye contact, shake hands confidently and introduce yourself briefly.

It’s about the Relationships

This is about making connections.  You can apply online all day and there is no guarantee that a human ever actually looks at your resume.  At the career expo, you are meeting a representative from the company.  They have committed their time and resources because they want to meet our students and alumni.  Let them know you are interested.   Demonstrate your interest by being well prepared and asking insightful questions.  Even if they don’t immediately have the right job for you, if you make a positive impression they could bring your resume back to the office and share it with an appropriate hiring manager.  Make a strong connection.  Do not ignore contacts who may work in a different functional area that what you are interested in.  They can and will share resumes and their feedback with their colleagues when they return to the office.

Follow-up Matters

For the people you had conversations with at the expo, send a handwritten thank you note within 24 hours thanking them for their time and reinforcing your interest.  Few people will do this so it helps you stand out in a very positive way.  If they don’t have a card, jot down their name and company before moving on to the next table.  Saying thank you makes a very positive impression.

 

If you are going to take the time to attend a career event, invest the time in your preparation so you can maximize the benefits.

Underqualified for the Job You Really Want?

You’ve found the perfect job posted and are excited to apply.  As you reread the job description, you realize that you don’t meet all the qualifications posted for the position.  Instead of immediately admitting defeat, take a more proactive approach.

The Job Description is a wish list.  Employers provide a detailed listing of what they are seeking in the “ideal” candidate.  Would it be great and make their life easier if they found someone who had already used their specific software system, worked in their industry and knew the needs of their customers?  Of course, but it is also possible to be very successful in the role without any of those things.  Particularly early in your career, the ability to learn new things is a huge asset and can overcome many objections.  Have examples prepared of how you learned a new software system, new industry, etc. to demonstrate your ability to adapt quickly to become a productive member of the team.  Don’t apologize for what you don’t have but ensure that you present your knowledge and experience positively.

This is not the time to just submit your resume online.  If all they are looking at is your resume, you may well not make it to the pile they will invite for interviews.  Increase your likelihood of success in two ways.  Submit a well-written customized cover latter that focuses on your transferable skills and your strong interest in the opportunity.  Also, network within the company to learn more and to identify an internal supporter who can pass your resume to the hiring manager with a recommendation.  Use very opportunity to stand out from the crowd of candidates.  Do not mention skills you are lacking, focus on the positives you bring to the job.

Don’t forget to emphasize relevant experience that may have come from a volunteer experience or even a position you held while in school.  All experience has value and it also demonstrates that you are a well-rounded candidate.  Often skills developed off the job can be key in landing that next opportunity.  Consider what it is about you that is unique from other candidates and focus on how that adds value for the company.

If this truly is the “perfect job for you,” go for it but be sure to put your best foot forward to increase your likelihood of success.