October 25, 2011
By Pamela Williams
If you’ve shifted into job-search mode, and you’re charging along in the fast lane, it’s easy to forget that the road can be filled with potholes (a.k.a. potential blunders) that could stall your progress. In some cases, they could even bring your career advancement to a grinding halt. So do yourself a favor: slow down and consider the impression your actions, or lack thereof, may have on potential employers.
First Things First
The time-honored adage is true: You get only one chance to make a good first impression. When you’re searching for a job, that opportunity comes in the form of your resume, cover letter and/or initial email message. If you’re looking to send out dozens of resumes and initial communications without landing a single interview, turn off your spell check, forget about proofreading and ignore everything you learned in English class. Eric Hawkins, SVP of HR for Discovery Networks International, said, “It’s an immediate turn-off when someone who is applying for a role that requires expert verbal and written communication skills makes glaring mistakes in grammar, punctuation or style.”
Another way to end your effort at the get-go is to make misguided attempts to stand out from the crowd. “I certainly understand when people want to show off their artistic abilities or make it clear that they are creative, digital media or social media experts,” said Hawkins. The problem comes when they go about it too overtly. In particular, nothing is worse than when people list their own personal blogs or websites on their resumes, and the content turns out to be far from appropriate for potential employers to see.”
Other resume and cover letter no-nos include whimsical formatting, multiple font sizes and styles, contact information that is hard to find and unprofessional email addresses such as email@example.com.
Another quick way to be dismissed from consideration is to include hobbies, sports interests or other irrelevant personal information. As an example, Hawkins mentioned a colleague who once received a resume stating, “I like to collect unicorns.” When you submit a cover letter or resume, you have a very short amount of time to grab or lose the readers’ attention. You can’t afford to waste valuable space by citing your preferred leisure activities.
Still another common mistake—and one that is actually encouraged by some professional resume writers—is trying to camouflage a lack of continuity in work history. According to Rosalind Clay Carter, SVP of HR for A&E Television Networks, “An experienced recruiter can easily pick this up. You’re better off if you explain the gap rather than try to hide it.”
How Not to Ace an Interview
No hiring manager or HR pro thinks kindly of an applicant who shows up late or exceptionally early, is inappropriately dressed for the job or makes excuses of any kind. In Hawkins’ words, “You need to be on time no matter what. Plan for traffic, weather or car problems. Print your resume ahead of time—running out of ink or paper, or not being able to get your printer to work is not acceptable.”
Lisa Kaye, president and CEO of greenlightjobs.com, has found that once the interview starts, applicants tend to be turned down due to what they fail to do. She noted that among the most common mistakes she sees are “not doing your homework on the company before the interview, not asking the interviewer important questions about the job and not informing references in advance that they might get a call from the prospective employer.”
Frequently, people seem to forget to perform some basic acts that should be elementary. “For instance,” Kaye noted, “they neglect to ask for the interviewer’s business card, fail to send a follow-up thank-you note—and sometimes don’t even say ‘thank you’ at the end of the interview. And all too often, people who are under contract don’t bother to tell the recruiter, either during or after the interview, that they are not immediately available to accept an offer of employment.”
AETN’s Carter offered a few more gaffes of omission: “Applicants often don’t listen to the interviewer’s questions. They want to share what they consider most important about their experience, rather than exploring the areas that are of prime interest to the interviewer.”
As for what not to do in an interview, David Laughlin, Director of HR for Starz Entertainment, advised, “Don’t ask about vacation time or benefits during the first interview. Wait until you get closer to the offer stage. And don’t be evasive when you’re asked tough questions. By trying to avoid looking bad you’ll end up, well, looking bad. Answer the hard questions honestly, and let the interviewer know how you learned from your mistakes.”
After the interview, Laughlin advised, “Don’t stalk the recruiter. While a follow-up thank you and reaffirmation of interest is welcome, repeated phone calls and e-mails can be really bothersome. If you’re being considered for the next step, the recruiter will contact you.”
Take Care When Casting Your Net
Looking for a job outside your current company is fraught with opportunities to commit a monumental faux pas. One that is guaranteed to give you low grades from any interviewer is to complain or make negative remarks about your current employer. Not only is such behavior highly unprofessional, but in Lisa Kaye’s words, “It’s also likely to come back to bite you.”
Another move that can land you in hot water is making your resume public and easily accessible on Internet search sites like CareerBuilder and Monster. Also beware of applying for jobs posted on sites by anonymous companies—they well may be external postings by your own employer. Even worse is applying to companies that are direct vendors or customers of your current employer. Warned Discovery’s Hawkins, “There’s a good chance they have non-compete agreements. Your application can throw red flags in either direction, and could jeopardize major deals between the companies.”
Finally, whether you’re targeting positions across the industry or within your current company, don’t apply if you’re not truly qualified for the job. To a recruiter, it sets an over-eager, almost desperate, tone that can damage your chances of being selected when the right spot becomes available.
Socialize with Caution
Although social media sites such as Facebook and LinkedIn are invaluable resources for job seekers and employers alike, they can sabotage your job search—or your entire career—if you’re not careful. For starters, resist the temptation to complain about your current boss or to post any pictures that you would not want a future employer to see. Also steer clear of games or any other non-work-related sites during business hours. Most of all, heed AETN’s Carter’s words of warning that no matter what you post or when, “What is on the net never goes away.” (In next month’s article, we’ll take a more in-depth look at the ins and outs of social media to advance your career or search for a new job.)
Finally, never forget the fact that opportunity can knock at any time, anywhere—whether you’re perusing LinkedIn, walking the treadmill at the gym or riding the subway to work. The challenge is to always be prepared to turn chance encounters into job opportunities.
(Pamela Williams, CAE, is Executive Director of the Cable and Telecommunications Human Resources Association (CTHRA).)