Saturday, November 5, 2016

Applying For A Job?

By Jim "Gymbeaux" Brown, November 5, 2016

We all have seen the unemployment rate either promoted or criticized on the national news outlets over the past several years.  Yesterday it was indicated that 4.9% of Americans were unemployed yet millions are no longer counted as being “unemployed” because they have quit looking for a job.  This Nugget is NOT about the politics regarding the unemployment number; it is about applying for a job.

Before I left my U. S. Coast Guard career, I attended a pre-retirement course conducted by an employment “expert” who gave us instructions on writing effective resumes and being engaged in effective interviews.  Before I explain the actual reason behind this Nugget, I want you to read the following excerpt from Orison Swett Marden’s book, How to Succeed, or, Stepping Stones to Fame and Fortune and keep in mind that it was written in 1896 and that is not a typo, it was written in 1896.  I emphasize the date for two reasons, first, interviewing for a job, whether it is entry level or upper management, the process is critical for getting the job.  Second, things are not always as they may first appear and I’ll explain that more in this Nugget.

“A gentleman advertised for a boy to assist him in his office, and nearly fifty applicants presented themselves to him. Out of the whole number he in a short time selected one and dismissed the rest. "I should like to know," said a friend, "on what ground you selected that boy, who had not a single recommendation?" "You are mistaken," said the gentleman, "he had a great many. He wiped his feet when he came in, and closed the door after him, showing that he was careful. He gave up his seat instantly to that lame old man, showing that he was kind and thoughtful. He took off his cap when he came in, and answered my questions promptly and respectfully, showing that he was polite and gentlemanly. He picked up the book which I had purposely laid upon the floor, and replaced it on the table, while all the rest stepped over it, or shoved it aside; and he waited quietly for his turn, instead of pushing and crowding, showing that he was honest and orderly. When I talked to him, I noticed that his clothes were carefully brushed, his hair in nice order, and his teeth as white as milk; and when he wrote his name, I noticed that his finger-nails were clean, instead of being tipped with jet, like that handsome little fellow's, in the blue jacket. Don't you call those letters of recommendation? I do; and I would give more for what I can tell about a boy by using my eyes ten minutes, than for all the fine letters he can bring me."

Fast forward to 1985, the year I retired from the Coast Guard and attended the pre-retirement course.  The instructor went into great depth to talk about the interview process at a very well known hi-tech company.  He described entering the company’s main office and noticed that it was finely decorated and very pleasant to the eye.  There was soft comfortable living room type furniture with a couch, two chairs, a coffee table, two end tables with home-style lamps all sitting on a plush small room size, 8x10 blue carpet; the remainder of the area was all finely finished hardwood flooring. Perpendicular to the couch was an office-style desk where the receptionist sat with a very clean and neat desktop (meaning it was not cluttered with papers or things you might see on top of a work-station type desk).  Behind the receptionist was an original oil painting on the wall, plants adjacent to the credenza that sat behind the desk and throughout the reception area there was soft and welcoming lighting instead of the typical harsh lighting that you might expect in most office spaces.  Atop the coffee table were three booklets that faced the couch and were all related to the hi-tech company.  One was a Profit & Loss booklet; the second was the company’s Benefit & Services booklet and the third was the company’s official Mission booklet.

Our instructor then described the process.  The potential employee entered the reception area and immediately was greeted by the receptionist who used the interviewee’s name without being told the name by the interviewee.  In other words the receptionist was prepared in advance of his appointment and was instructed to expect him.  He was invited to sit down and his arrival would be announced and informed that it would be about 5 minutes before he could be seen.  Shortly after he sat down someone came in and offered him refreshments from a cart that included soft drinks and snacks.  All was going well and he was very impressed and excited about the opportunity.

Keep in mind what Marden wrote above as to how the employer literally eye-balled the boy and hired him without as much as a “recommendation” or what we might call referrals.  In the case of this company the actual interview process had already begun without the interviewee recognizing that everything thus far was part of the interview process.

The receptionist was not only grading the “first impression” in regards to his dress, speech, and manors, he was being scrutinized as to how he presented himself to the receptionist.  A lot of people are very noncommittal and almost condescending to people who greet them at the front desk of most businesses, they are literally taken for granted meaning they are there to greet them and are low on the company’s organizational chart so to speak.  Eye contact by the applicant is minimal or nonexistent.  

The receptionist grades this type of behavior.  Was there eye contact?  What kind of interaction took place between the interviewee and the receptionist?   Was the interviewee polite and courteous or more distracted and nervous without much conversation?  Did the interviewee take a seat as requested or did he pace the room?  When he sat down, which one of the three booklets in front of him did he open to read if any?  For example, was the company’s befits and services more important than the company’s mission and/or profit & loss statement?  What was his reaction to the person who came in to serve him refreshments?  Was it cordial or condescending because this person was obviously even lower on the organizational chart than the receptionist?  Did the interviewee accept any of the refreshments and if so which ones?  Not a good thing to eat or drink anything just prior to an interview.  What if you spill something on your clothing?  Just not a good idea.

In other words, the interviewee was already engaged in the interview process and had already been met by two people who would be part of the decision process as to the employment of the applicant.  First impressions are extremely critical and they often take place BEFORE you get the opportunity to sit in front of the person who YOU think will be doing the hiring.  Marden described the exact same things that this hi-tech company engaged in even before the interviewee had the opportunity to speak to the employer.

In today’s world no one would or should ever apply for a position WITHOUT a personal resume.  I am not certain that would have been a requirement in 1896 but I can assure you it is today no matter what position or entry level you are applying for.  Let’s assume that a person is applying for a basic entry level position.  How many of these people do you think would report for the interview process WITH a personal resume in hand?  If the company is like most, my guess would be NONE.  So if you are applying for an entry level position, a personal resume would automatically be one step ahead of most if not all of your competition.  Here is a HUGE BUT…resumes are like eating at a restaurant.  You can get a good meal or you can get a bad meal.  The meal can look bad but taste good and vice versa.  In other words, consider the type and quality of paper you use.  Is it prepared where it “looks good” before it is read?  Was it too long (usually more than one page but definitely more than two) or too short, just not enough information about the applicant.  If you were required to mail in your resume before you could obtain an appointment, the resume is YOUR KEY to the appointment.  I can speak from personal experience that when I reviewed resumes; some never got a second look because of the initial appearance of the resume.  My feeling was that if the applicant could not take enough pride in a document they provide to you that will be used to help make a hiring decision, is this the type of person I would want working for my company?  Probably not.  Therefore, just like the “boy” described by Marden above, the applicant was being eye-balled before a word was exchanged.

Something else that I did was that I would have the receptionist ask the applicant to fill out some type of form.  I was not really that interested in what the applicant put on the paper as much as the handwriting used in doing so.  Could the applicant write where anyone could read it?  Did the applicant simply “fill out the form” or did the applicant take pride in what he or she was not only writing but more importantly how it appeared as written?  To me that was very important.  If people can’t read what you have written, do you really want that type of person working for your company?

Know what YOU are going to say as you enter the interviewer’s office; do not wait until you get there to know exactly what you will say.  You should have rehearsed it long before you arrived and practiced it until it becomes natural and almost routine.  Once you get past the opening comments, the interviewer will control the conversation and questions.  But you should know what you will initially say and also what you will say to end the interview.

Entry level or management – personal dress is EXTREMELY important because it represents the employer’s FIRST IMPRESSION and probably the most lasting impression.  Did the applicant dress for the occasion or was it just another day and another interview and no importance placed upon the applicant’s appearance.  Was the applicant’s hair neatly prepared (both men and women)?  Did the applicant wear excessive jewelry?  My suggestion would be to NEVER wear a watch to an interview – NEVER!  If during the interview you look at your watch, it signals to the person conducting the interview that you have more important things to do or places to be and you do not want that to happen.  Again you don’t have to say a word and the box on the mental checklist of the interviewer has been checked and it is not good.

PHOTOGRAPHS:  I know what professional recruiters say about attaching a photograph to a resume – don’t do it.  They feel that a photograph may keep you from getting the interview and they would be correct.  Some applicants may feel they may be rejected because they are not the right color, the right age, or the right gender and being rejected on these grounds would be against the law and they would be correct again.  SURPRISE, this could happen whether you attach a photograph or you just walk in; either way you WILL be judged. Anyone who says they do not judge people they first meet will lie about other things.  It is human nature and it cannot be avoided no matter how many laws to the contrary are passed.  Yes, people try not to judge but the question really comes down to one simple question; Does this person present the image I want to project for this company?  That may not be an official check box on an interview sheet but it is being check nonetheless and you need to both know it and accept that it is happening.  Therefore your initial appearance, whether it is in person or on a photograph attached to your resume, it is EXTREMELY CRITICAL to you being hired.  A high quality photograph is always good to have.  I would recommend getting a professional photo but not a Glamour Shot type photo, you do not want to scare the interviewer when they actually see you in person if you know what I mean.

YOUR VOICE:  You will also be graded on your voice.  Normally an accent will NOT be something that will work against the applicant and in fact oftentimes it helps because it may be uniquely different.  More importantly, when you talk, can someone understand what you say?  Do you distinctly pronounce your words or do you slur them?  Do you use what you might think to be endearing terms like, “honey”, “dear”, “baby”, “sugar” and yes I have heard them all used during the interview process.  Such words should NEVER be used.  Is your voice excessively loud or extremely soft; unless it is not important to the position you are applying for, this too is very important.  You want to conduct your interview using a voice that is both conversational in tone and volume.

RESUMES.  My advice would be to purchase a book on writing resumes or check the Internet for tips and advice.  Resumes are critical to the process so do not take it lightly.  My personal advice would be to start with a basic resume that you can change on a moment’s notice.  When you get the opportunity to meet for an interview or you are mailing a resume in KNOWING what type of job you are actually applying for and the type of work the company is engaged, you can and should personalize your resume with those two things in mind.  I would NOT recommend sending in a “standard” resume that you use for every job opportunity – customize it so it applies to both the position and the company.  As a side note, most people prepare their resumes on white or slightly off-white colored paper.  In fact most use basic printer paper to prepare their resumes; not good.  My suggestion would be to use a different color but NOT bright colors, something like a parchment color.  This makes YOUR resume standout in a pile of other resumes.  Just a thought, you want to appear different but not eccentric.  I would also get someone to read your resume to get fresh eyes on it and ask them to read it as if they were an employer, not a friend.

TERMINATING THE INTERVIEW PROCESS:  This too is so important to the process.  Learn how to exit the interview gracefully.  It is critical to thank the person conducting the interview and asking if he or she needs any additional information to be provided.  If yes, make a hand written note of what is asked for, this shows the interviewer that you are meticulous.  Leave gracefully but before you leave the building, make absolutely certain that you greet the receptionist (preferably by name using Ms. Mrs., or Mr.) and thank them as well.  Remember, it is quite possible that the interviewer will ask the receptionist and any other person you may have met what their first impressions were of you and that could make a difference.

There are a lot of other things that “should” be obvious and taught long before you ever are interviewed for the first time.  Sadly I should not have to list them but if you watch any of the tips on the various business channels, they apparently are not so obvious.  Never chew gum.  Never look at your incoming text messages, in fact leave your phone in your car so you are not tempted.  Never pick your teeth.  Sit up straight, don’t slouch.  And most importantly, dress for the occasion.  This may be and probably is the most important day of your life thus far.

Lastly, on the very same day as your interview, sit down and with your best handwriting, write the person conducting the interview a personal, HANDWRITTEN thank you note and mail it the same day as the interview.  I can personally attest that during a period when unemployment was almost as high as it is in 2016, I was hired for a position because I was the ONLY ONE who wrote a thank you note to the interviewer.  I was told that my note card was why I was hired over at least 30 other resumes she had on her desk most of whom had more impressive resumes than I had.  There were applicants with Doctor’s Degrees applying for the position obviously beneath their educational level because jobs were so hard to acquire; yet she hired me because I wrote a note.   

Final note:  I have become an avid reader and huge fan of Marden’s books.  You can obtain most of them FREE on if you order the Kindle version.  Some may cost 99 cents.  Either way they are priceless.  Just search for Orison Swett Marden Kindle and you will see them all.  Marden’s Pushing to the Front is an amazing but very long read; I highly recommend it to everyone.

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