The Seven Deadly Sins of Job Searching, Part 5

This is the fifth post in a series of posts about the most common and damaging mistakes jobseekers make. Read the full series here.

5th deadly sin: not preparing for a job interview

You read our blog posts about the first four deadly sins of job searching, followed our advice, and scored a job interview. Congratulations! Now, don’t go out and celebrate the achievement on the night before. Instead, use that time to prepare.

Why prepare for a job interview?

After all, this is all about you, and you know yourself pretty well, right? Not quite: the job interview is about you in relation to the job you are applying for and how you can benefit that company in that specific position. In order to be at your peak performance, you need to prepare the following:

Your clothes

Research the organizations’ dress code and dress accordingly. Check out your interview clothes a few days before, if they need dry cleaning you don’t want to find that out the morning of your interview. If it has been a while since your last job interview and you don’t wear your interview clothes frequently, try them on. They might not fit anymore or be out of style.

Your route to the interview location

Check out where you are going. If you are taking public transportation, check the schedule. If you are driving, search for the best route, how long it takes, if there is construction, etc.  After all, one of the biggest interview blunders is being late!

Research the company and the role you are applying for

You want to know everything about the company you possibly can. If you know somebody that works there already, talk to them. At the very least you need to thoroughly check out their website. Ideally you also follow them on social media and research their business information in company databases such as ReferenceUSA.

Your answers

This is obviously the big one. Most job interviews will be conducted using behavioral questions. Behavioral questions are those that ask about real life examples from your work history or hypothetical scenarios common in your field. For example: “Tell me about a situation with a difficult co-worker and how you resolved it” or “An angry client calls and accuses you of giving him the wrong information. What do you do?”. It is very hard to come up with good answers to those kinds of questions on the spot. You need to take time and prepare them.

The best way to answer behavioral questions is the STAR methodSituation/Task, Action, Result. You want to tell the interviewer the situation or task you were faced with, the action you took to resolve that situation and the result from your action. Google the most common behavioral questions and write down your own best answer to each of them. Then practice them until you can present them naturally and with ease. You also want to record yourself. This way you can see your facial expressions and body language.

If you need help with interview preparation, contact the Career Center at 225-231-3733. We have many interview prep materials for you to practice and will conduct mock interviews, which we can tape if you like.

Stay tuned for the next deadly sin of job search.

The Seven Deadly Sins of Job Searching, Part 4

This is the fourth post in a series of posts about the most common and damaging mistakes jobseekers make. Read the full series here.

4th deadly sin: an unmanaged and unmonitored social media presence

If you followed the advice of our blog posts about the first three deadly sins of job searching,  you now know what you want and what you can contribute, you have a networking strategy in place, and you have a well-written resume. Great, well done! You are ready to get the word out to your network and to recruiters that you are on the market. Yet despite good qualifications, you get no leads or interviews.

Have you monitored your social media presence lately?
Is your social media presence holding you back? You want to be on social media while job searching! Social media platforms can be of tremendous help in finding a job. But your presence can also cost you the job if not managed carefully. The vast majority of recruiters and/or hiring manager will check you out on the internet!

LinkedIn: If you are in a professional career, you need a LinkedIn profile. The profile needs to be complete, including a professional picture. All LinkedIn content needs to be professional; this is not the place for your vacation pics or party exploits. For more information on LinkedIn see our previous post.
Facebook: If you use Facebook exclusively for private non-professional content, make sure to lock it down and set your privacy settings to the most restrictive settings possible. Don’t let anybody tag you in pictures; don’t let anybody post anything to your timeline. Delete old profile pics. Don’t post incriminating pictures, and be careful about what you post or articles you share or like. Beware of public groups. Despite all these potential negatives, Facebook can be a good networking tool.
Twitter: Twitter is inherently public. So adjust your strategy while job searching. If you follow any divisive or questionable groups or organizations, drop them while you are on the search. Also refrain from commenting on, posting, or retweeting such content. Do not share or retweet incriminating pictures of any kind. Do use Twitter to follow, comment on, engage in and retweet content that is highly relevant to the job you are looking for.
Instagram: Again, beware of the pictures you post, what you like and comment on. Do use Instagram to post pictures, follow, and engage in content and organizations that support your job search and show your interest in the subject matter.

Personal Branding
Ideally you want to use all your social media accounts for a branding campaign. You know what kind of job you are looking for and you know the kinds of organizations you’d most like to work with. Now you can utilize social media to learn as much as possible about these organizations and engage with them. Follow their social media presence, engage with and comment on their posts, post relevant content on your own feeds, and use targeted hashtags. If you do this well, maybe your next job will find you.

If you need assistance in creating LinkedIn profiles or learning about social media for the job search, call the Career Center at 225-231-3733.

Stay tuned for the next deadly sin of job search.

The Job Interview: “What Are Your Strengths?”

The job interview is intended to help employers determine whether you would be the best fit for a position. To that end, hiring managers will ask you about both your weaknesses and your strengths. The question “What are your strengths?” seems like an easy one to answer – it’s a great chance for you to sell yourself and your skills. Yet many people stumble over this question. Let’s take a look at some great and not-so-great responses people make to this question.

mistake #1

“Ummm. . . .I’m not really sure. I guess I hadn’t thought about it. Can we come back to that one?”

How this hurts you: This question comes up, in some way, in almost all interviews. You should be prepared for it. A lack of forethought on your part indicates to the interviewer that you didn’t put much effort into getting ready for this interview. Additionally, no one will be impressed that you have no self-awareness of your strengths.

mistake #2

“I work hard. Y’know. . . I get things done. I’m also very athletic, I love sports, so if you have a company softball team, I’d be a good addition to it.”

How this hurts you: Everyone claims to be a hard worker in a job interview. It’s not very impressive or believable, and it’s too vague to really speak to your relevant skills. Notice the word “relevant” – you want to play up your skills that are related to the job, not the things that you enjoy doing in your personal time.

Mistake #3

“My greatest strengths are that I’m great at customer service, I’m good with computers, and I’m a quick learner.”

How this hurts you: This answer is much better than the previous two. It shows self-awareness and forethought, and it showcases specific relevant skills. Yet it still feels incomplete and unconvincing. Based on this answer alone, do you really believe that this person has these strengths? Have you seen any evidence of the skills mentioned? Or does it feel like empty words?

so how do you answer this question?

First, brainstorm – well ahead of the actual interview – about what your strengths are. What are the skills you bring to the table which would be an asset to the workplace? If you have trouble determining where your value lies, reach out to those around you who might be able to help you. Your family and friends, and most especially your former co-workers and supervisors, can tell you what you’re good at.  Also think of your greatest achievements and success stories from previous jobs: what strengths did you show in those situations? Then, determine which of your strengths would be the most valuable and relevant to the job in question, as well as which strengths you can provide the strongest evidence for.

winning strategy

For each strength you mention, follow a three-step formula.
First, state the strength clearly and directly.
Second, prove the strength with specific details and examples from your work history.
Third, connect the strength to the new job by relating how it would be useful for your new would-be employers. This step is optional for skills whose connection is obvious, but it is very useful for soft skills (such as attention to detail, teamwork, and time management).

winning example

“One of my greatest strengths is customer service. I’ve always tried to follow the Golden Rule and treat customers as I’d like to be treated. I actually won an award two years ago for outstanding customer service. I know that if you hired me, I would make your customers feel welcome and want to continue doing business with us.
Another strength of mine is my proficiency with the software required for this job. I use Microsoft Word, Outlook, and Excel every day in my current position. I also have experience using Google Calendar for booking appointments and WordPress for website maintenance.
My final great strength is a passion for learning. At my current job, I’ve read all the training manuals for every department, not just my own, so that I can have a better understanding of how all the departments work together. That knowledge has enabled me to help customers better, because I could solve problems for them rather than referring them to a different department. Were I to come work for you, I am confident that I would quickly become one of your most knowledgeable employees.”

A final thought

You may have noticed that the winning answer is much longer than any of the mistake answers. That’s okay – as a matter of fact, that’s exactly what you want. Employers want to use the interview to get a good feel for who you are as an employee, what you can do for them, and how you’d fit in to the company. They can’t learn these things unless you provide full answers to their questions. Beware of rambling – you do not want to go on pointlessly for ages. But as long as everything you are saying is relevant and well-structured, don’t be afraid of a long-ish answer.

If you need any help preparing for a job interview, you may call 225-231-3733 to schedule a practice interview with one of our career specialists.

Written by Lynnette Lee

Book Review: A Friend of a Friend of a Friend. . .

what if all the advice we’ve heard about networking is wrong?

You already know that networking is one of the most important ingredients to success in business, in job search and many other life situations. But if you are like most people, you cringe at the thought of going to the next networking meeting full of strangers. If that adequately describes you, you might want to pick up business professor David Burkus’ latest book on the topic: A friend of a friend of a friend of a friend…..Understanding the hidden networks that can transform your life and your career.

Early on he writes that traditional networking meetings are actually not the most efficient way to meet the right people to connect you to your next job or to start your next business venture with. He proceeds to present a number of scientific findings coupled with real life examples of the approaches that do work. At the end of each chapter he presents exercises that every reader can do on their own to apply the chapter’s findings and facilitate their own networking success. Some of his key findings are:

“Find strength in Weak Ties”

While most people will turn to their trusted close friends and family after a career setback, Burkus presents scientific and anecdotal evidence that it is your weak and dormant ties that will most help you in your job search or business endeavor. While close friends are eager and willing to help, their networks are too similar to your own to unearth new information or leads. It is much more likely that a former supervisor or colleague or past college friends who we have not been in close contact with will furnish the opportunity or information that will lead to a career breakthrough. Therefore Burkus recommends to start a regular practice of reengaging old acquaintances (which represent the weak or dormant ties).

“Skip mixers – share activities instead”

Another finding of his research will have many readers breathe a sigh of relief. Burkus advocates shunning traditional networking meetings consisting of a large room full of strangers who awkwardly try to connect and network. He argues that most people at these events just engage with the people they already know or that are very similar to themselves. He presents research that suggests we meet people much more easily and naturally when we engage in activities together where the primary goal is not networking and that draw participation from diverse sources. Some examples are: serving on non-profit boards, volunteering, taking classes, participating in team sports or being active in religious institutions. These kinds of shared activities create stronger bonds among participants than networking mixers ever could.

Overall thoughts

These are just two of the main takeaways. There is a lot more material in the book. The author presents a lot of research to explain how networking works and why some approaches are more efficient than others. Burkus addresses networking issues specific to job search and to founding or growing a business. An added value of the book is the section “From Science to Practice” at the end of each chapter. Burkus gives the reader “homework assignments” to practice the preceding chapter’s materials in their own life. All the practical information can also be downloaded from his website. Following along and completing the assignments will definitely make you a more skilled and efficient networker.

If you’d like a fresh new approach to networking, you may check out A Friend of a Friend by David Burkus from the East Baton Rouge Parish Library.

Written by Anne Nowak

The Resume: How to Cover an Unstable Work History

Several decades ago, it was common for people to work at one company for twenty or thirty years. In today’s gig economy, such long-term stability is rare. Yet most employers still see an unstable work history as a major red flag. It indicates to them that the applicant may be unfocused, uncommitted, or a problem employee of some sort.

If you have an unstable work history, how do you handle it on your resume, so that it doesn’t look like a red flag? The answer depends on your specific circumstances. Here are some ideas:

Problem: One large gap. There is a period of several years when you were not working.
Solution: Fill it in with something. Were you going back to school during that time? Doing volunteer work? Operating a small business or working freelance? Serving as a caretaker for your children or parents? All of these are activities that you can (and should!) put on a resume to explain away the gap. You want to show them that you were using your time productively, even if it was in a way that’s not directly relevant to your career field.
Example:
Tutor, Self-employed, Baton Rouge, LA                                                           August 2013 – May 2015
Tutored several middle- and high-school students in English grammar and literature.

Caretaker, Johnson Family, Lafayette, LA                                                              July 2008 – July 2013
Managed insurance relations and payments.
Coordinated medical care, including medications, therapy, and doctor appointments.

Problem: Several small gaps. There are a few gaps of six months or less in your work history.
Solution: Use only years of employment, not months. This strategy will cover any gaps which are less than a year in duration.
Example:
Sales Associate, Home Depot, Baton Rouge, LA                              December  2014 – February 2015
Rang up purchases and processed payments.
Assisted customers on sales floor.

Flooring Manager, Ace Hardware, Baton Rouge, LA                           November 2012 – January  2013
Supervised 3 sales associates.
Provided customers with expert knowledge of flooring products.

Problem: Multiple jobs at once. You have frequently held two or three jobs at a time, which means that there are a lot of jobs in your work history.
Solution: Delete some of the jobs. For each time period you need to cover, choose one job from your list – ideally, the most impressive job with the most relevant skills. Remove the others, and add the phrase “Additional work history available upon request” to the bottom of your work history.
Example:
Crew Leader, Burger King, Baton Rouge, LA                                     October 2015 – present
Supervise staff of 5; open store daily.

Cashier, Dollar Tree, Baton Rouge, LA                                                September 2014 – July 2016
Assisted customers and ran cash register.

Prep Cook, Chili’s, Baton Rouge, LA                                                   April 2012 – October 2015
Cooked meals to order in a fast-paced kitchen.

Additional work history available on request.

Problem: Staffing agency jobs. You’ve had several short-term jobs, with gaps between them, which you found though a staffing agency.
Solution: List the staffing agency as your employer. You can list more detailed information about the types of work you did and the companies you worked for in the bullet points of your job description. But by grouping it all together under the staffing agency, it looks much more stable.
Example:
Office Temp, Lofton Staffing, Baton Rouge, LA                                 June 2008 – March 2012
Worked a variety of short-term clerical jobs.
Locations included Neighbors Credit Union, Brown Dentistry, AllState Insurance, and GMP.
Performed data entry, filing, scanning, faxing, copying, and database management.

Problem: Short-term jobs. There are jobs in your work history which lasted less than a year.
Solution: Delete some of the jobs, and use only years of employment, not months. Ask yourself whether it’s helping you to include these short-term jobs. If you can delete them without removing crucial experience, and without leaving large/numerous gaps, then do so. If not, see if you can group them together (see next Solution).
Example:
LPN, Our Lady of the Lake, Baton Rouge, LA                                      October 2016 – present
Manage ward of 12 cardiac care patients.

Home Health Nurse, Senior Care Inc., Baton Rouge, LA                    January 2016 – April 2016
Provided sole medical care for elderly invalid.

LPN, Baton Rouge General, Baton Rouge, LA                                     August 2013 – July 2015
Performed triage and assisted doctors in busy ER.

Problem: Short-Term Contracts/Projects. This is especially common in such fields as construction, where you move from job to job whenever projects are completed. If you only have one or two positions like this on your resume, simply add “Contract” or “Seasonal” to your job title. But if you have several such positions, you’ll need a new approach.
Solution: Group similar jobs together under one title. Give this entry a title which covers the general type of work you did, then get into the specifics in the job description below that.
Example:
Carpenter/Painter, Baton Rouge, LA                                                              2013 – present
Performed industrial carpentry painting work for several local construction projects.
Worked with Turner Industries, CB&I, Brock Construction, and Broh Brothers.

Problem: None of the previous solutions worked. If you tried the tricks above, but are still not able to put together a resume that will impress hiring managers and hide your unstable work history, you may need to completely re-think the structure of your resume.
Solution: Use a functional resume. This strategy emphasizes your skills and qualifications while downplaying your chronological work history. The largest downside of the functional resume is that it can be very difficult to write. The good news is, the Career Center can help!
Example: We have two templates for functional resumes, as well as a previous blogpost about how to use a functional resume to cover an unstable work history.

If you would like some help with your resume, please visit the Career Center of the East Baton Rouge Parish Library at any time during our opening hours for free expert assistance.

Written by Lynnette Lee