What You Should Know About Online Job Applications: Part I

More and more employers are moving their application process entirely online, so it’s important that you know the basics of filling out online applications. While every job application is a little different, there are a few things that are basically the same across most of them. In this blog series, we’ll discuss some of those similarities.

Before you start

Before you start on your online job search, you need some information handy to make applying easier. We recommend keeping a job search notebook, where you can jot down information like what jobs you’ve already applied for and whether you’ve heard back from them; usernames, emails, and passwords for various job search and application websites; and lists of your professional experience, as well as possible references and their contact information.

Passwords

One of the first things a new job application will ask you to do is create an account. I like to think of passwords as a sort of “magic key” to websites that you can make yourself. They’re much easier to copy than a regular key though – and in fact, they can even be guessed! Here at the Career Center, we encourage patrons to think of a password that’s easy for you to remember but hard for others to guess. Ideally, you’ll have a separate password for each website you use, and that includes job search websites, too. You can write down your passwords, along with other information about each website, in your job search notebook.

If you want to know more about good passwords and how to make them, watch our video on the subject.

Legal mumbo jumbo

Almost all employment portals have a legal disclaimer or Terms of Service page that you need to agree to continue. We always recommend reading, or at least skimming, through the Terms of Service, and making sure you agree with how they’ll use your information, before continuing.

However, the fact of the matter is that you won’t be able to apply for the position without indicating that you agree to their terms (usually there’s a check box you can click) and clicking Continue. So read through the Terms, think about it, and make your own decision.

Required fields

This is generally-applicable advice for almost any web forms you fill out, not just online applications. Some web form fields are required, meaning they must be filled out to continue in the form. Most application forms we’ve come across have marked those with an asterisk, like this: *. Much of the time, that asterisk is red, as well. However, these are conventions, and some websites might indicate required elements differently! Be on the look out for instructions that let you know how the employer has marked required fields, and make sure to answer those. Otherwise, the application won’t let you continue.

If a field isn’t required, you don’t have to fill it out – and in fact, for some fields it’s better not to. These include questions like these:

  • What do you expect to be paid for this position?
  • What were you paid in your previous position?
  • May we contact your current employer? (See below for more information on this question and the next one.)
  • Why did you leave a previous position?

Personal questions

Demographic information

Demographic information includes data like your age, sex, and ethnicity. It is illegal to discriminate against these parts of your identity, and in many cases, for the actual employers to even see the data before making a hiring decision. Most of the time, when employers ask you for demographic information, it’s actually a third party they hire to compile that information for later analysis, or more recently, to apply for a federal tax break. You should never be required to input demographic data in a job application form.

Legal authorization to work in the U.S.

While companies can get in trouble for discriminating based on demographic information such as ethnicity, they can also get in trouble for employing someone without the authorization to work in the United States – so while this question may seem personal, they need to ask it. However, it can be confusing to know for sure if you are authorized to work in the U.S. Here are a few tips.

  • If you were born in the United States, you are legally authorized to work in the U.S. You can answer Yes.
  • If you were not born in the United States, but you are a permanent resident – that is, you have a green card – you are legally authorized to work in the U.S. You can answer Yes.
  • If neither of the above are true: you should (hopefully) know about your immigration or naturalization status.

Previous employers

Companies love to ask about your previous employers and whether they can contact them. Unless you were fired for gross misbehavior from a previous job, it’s fine to put the employers’ number down here. Usually, prospective employers are routed to HR, where they’re only told that you did work there and your dates of employment.

Reason for leaving

Especially with your most recent employer, you might get asked about why you left. If you can leave this blank, we recommend it. Otherwise, try to think of the most neutral- or positive-sounding, while still being honest, version of why you left the company. An answer like, “I wanted more money,” is not a good answer, no matter how true it is. Try an answer more along the lines of, “A better opportunity presented itself.”

Criminal record

If you have a criminal record, it can be especially hard to get a job. Check out our video Special Resumé Rules for Ex-Offenders for some resumé tips.

Social Media

Make any social media your employer may see as private as you can, or keep your feed as professional as possible. Imagine your boss (or prospective boss) is standing behind you and can see the posts you make and reply to. While it’s a breach of privacy, in our opinion, for employers to comb through applicants’ social media, they do and they’re completely allowed to. Plan accordingly. For more detailed information on this topic, check out our video Social Media Etiquette for the Job Search.


Make sure to keep an eye out for Part II of this series, where we’ll discuss which documents you should attach to online applications, as well as the dreaded Assessments!

Written by Case Duckworth

Workplace Survival Guide, Part 2

This article is a follow-up to Workplace Survival Guide Part 1. This series is designed to help workers make good impression on bosses, fit in with co-workers, and succeed in their careers.

communication dos and don’ts

Communication is one of the most important skills you’ll need on the job. A large percentage of the interpersonal problems that happen in the workplace boil down to communication problems. If you don’t communicate clearly, you may give people the wrong impression – they may feel that you’re insulting them or not taking them seriously, when that was not your intention. Everyone thinks and speaks a little differently, so often, we aren’t aware of how we come across to others. Keep these techniques in mind.

Do: mind the gap – the generation gap. Older workers tend to prefer face-to-face conversations, finding that they express themselves better that way. Younger employees tend to prefer email, text, or DMs, finding in-person meetings to be too time-consuming. Be aware of your audience, and if a certain method of communication doesn’t seem to be working, try a different one.

Don’t: get mean, angry, or insulting. Never lose your temper, even if you are provoked – keep to the high road and maintain your professionalism. Do not talk to another employee as if they’re the problem. Talk to them about how you can work together to fix the problem. If you create a “me vs. you” dynamic, the other person is going to become defensive. But if you can create an “us vs. the problem” mentality, you can move forward.

Do: think about their perspective. As the adage goes, walk a mile in the other person’s shoes. Before you express yourself to a colleague, stop and think: How is the other person going to feel about what you’re saying? Be aware of what your colleagues are feeling and thinking. And if you don’t know, ask. If someone seems to be upset/angry for no good reason. . .there probably is a reason that you don’t know about.  Give them the benefit of the doubt.

Don’t: tune out what others are saying. Do you really listen when other people are talking, or are you waiting for your own turn to speak? If you have a tendency to tune people out, ask yourself: how does it make you feel when other people treat you that way? Active listening is a key part of good communication. Give your co-workers your attention and respect.

Do: pay attention to your tone of voice. It’s not just what you say that matters, it’s how you say it. When speaking with a colleague, keep some energy and enthusiasm in your voice. That will make the other person feel that you’re enjoying the conversation. Tone of voice is especially important when you’re having a difficult conversation – for example, correcting a colleague’s error or reminding them about an uncompleted task. If your voice is friendly, calm, and patient, you can avoid making the other person feel as though you’re attacking them.

Don’t: let your body language sabotage you. A large percentage of communication is non-verbal. Even if you say the right things, the way you carry yourself may make you look hostile or distracted. Make sure you maintain eye contact with the other person, as well as a friendly facial expression. Avoid sullen-looking gestures such as crossed arms or slouching.

Do: recognize your bad habits and work to change them. Nobody’s perfect. We all have bad habits when it comes to communication. The key to being successful at workplace communication is to realize your weak spots and work to improve or overcome them.

If you would like further assistance with these soft skills, please call us at 225-231-3733, email our Career Coach at anowak@ebrpl.com, or visit our YouTube channel.

Written by Lynnette Lee

The Workplace Survival Guide, Part 1

“i do my job, so why don’t they like me?”

Sometimes in the Career Center, we see patrons who aren’t sure why they’re having such a rough time in the working world. Often, they have difficulty keeping a job, or they seem to constantly be in trouble at work. Sometimes, they complain about their bosses not liking them, their co-workers excluding them, or generally not fitting in.

There are many reasons that could be happening, but the most common one, we’ve found, is that these patrons don’t know the “unwritten rules” of the workplace. These unwritten rules discuss behaviors which, while you’ll never find them listed in a job description, are always a good idea on the job. Following these rules can help you start a job on the right foot, get along with co-workers, make a good impression on boss, and generally succeed in your career.

The 6 unwritten rules of the workplace

This information was adapted from the seminar “Preparing At-Risk Youth for Workplace Success”
by Dr. Steve Parese of Workin’ It Out Training. Please visit their website for more information about their soft skills training classes.

  1. Work comes first. Personal issues shouldn’t get in the way. This can be difficult, because you do have a life outside of work, and that’s perfectly normal. But make sure that life doesn’t interfere with your job. Ask yourself – are you constantly talking about your personal life at work? Do you have issues in your personal life that are affecting your attendance, reliability, productivity, or attitude? If so, your personal life is getting in the way of your job.
  2. Don’t get involved in other people’s problems. As an extension of the previous rule – in addition to keeping your personal issues out of the way, make sure you don’t let other people’s personal issues get in the way of work either. Avoid gossip and rumormongering. If you have co-workers who bring drama to the job, stay out of it. Their business is none of your business. Work is not a social club or a high-school clique, and behaving as if it were can backfire and make enemies for you.
  3. Try to fit in. Don’t act or dress TOO different from everyone else. Observe what everyone else is doing – does everyone in the department dress a certain way? What are the popular topics of conversation among your co-workers? What sorts of personalities, attitudes, and work styles are most common? The more you align yourself with the group, the more you’ll fit in with your co-workers. Of course, you’re a unique individual, and you’re not going to be exactly like anyone else at the company. But if your personal culture is vastly different from the company culture, you’re going to have trouble making a good impression.
  4. Stay busy (or at least LOOK busy) the whole time you’re at work. If you finish your work ahead of time, that’s great! But sitting around doing nothing for the rest of your shift. . .that’s a bad look. Your boss is not likely to think, “How efficient of that employee to finish their work early!” No, probably, your boss is going to think, “How lazy of that employee to do nothing. Why am I paying them for this?” Now it’s only human to occasionally need some downtime, but if you’re going to goof off at work, do so in such a way that no one can tell you’re goofing off. Perception is key.
  5. Do what they ask, even if you don’t want to. No boss ever wants to hear, “I’m not doing that. That’s not in my job description.” If you’re not willing to go above and beyond occasionally, that suggests an uncooperative, do-the-bare-minimum attitude. Please note, however, that we are NOT suggesting that you let a boss bully you into doing something dangerous, inappropriate, or illegal. In that case, you can absolutely stand up for your rights as a worker. However, it’s probably a good idea to agree to perform any task that could reasonably be expected of an employee in your position or department.
  6. Work is not always fun. That’s why they pay you. This reinforces every previous rule. Staying busy, fitting in, doing unpleasant tasks, and avoiding personal issues – none of that sounds fun. But that’s the point – work isn’t a fun recreational activity; otherwise you’d do it for free. Even the best, most fulfilling job in the world will occasionally include things you don’t want to do. A true professional accepts this.

scenarios

  1. Jasmine works as a cashier at Winn Dixie. At a slow point, her boss asks her to clean up a spill in the soda aisle. She ignores him.
    • What she’s thinking: “I’m a cashier, not a janitor. He shouldn’t tell me to do stuff that’s not my job. I hate the way he bosses me around.”
    • What her boss is thinking: “If she’s just standing there doing nothing, I’m going to ask her to help out. She thinks the rules don’t apply to her, but we all have to do the work that needs doing.”
    • What unwritten workplace rules apply to this situation?
    • What would you advise Jasmine to do?
  2. Carlos works on the lawn care crew at Radisson Hotel. His boss tells him to take out his piercings and cover up his tattoos. Carlos is angry.
    • What he’s thinking: “It’s my body; I should be able to look how I want. What does my nose ring have to do with my ability to cut grass?”
    • What his boss is thinking: “Our company must maintain a certain image. Our guests expect the staff to look professional. All those piercings and tattoos may scare or offend people.”
    • What unwritten workplace rules apply to this situation?
    • What would you advise Carlos to do?

If you would like further assistance with these soft skills, please call us at 225-231-3733, email our Career Coach at anowak@ebrpl.com, or visit our YouTube channel.

Written by Lynnette Lee

How to Research a Potential Employer for Cultural Fit

It’s a common, and very frustrating, situation. You scored the new job, it fits your skills and experience perfectly, and you are excited to start. But then, after a few weeks or months, total frustration. What happened? You and your new company have no cultural fit.

Let’s look into the concept of company culture, what it is, why it is important, and how you can research it before you start a new job.

What is Company culture?

Company culture is made up of the values, norms, beliefs, habits, language, and underlying assumptions of an organization. Every organization has a company culture. Sometimes it is carefully crafted and curated, and sometimes it developed more organically. These building blocks have immediate influence on atmosphere and work environment and on work practices. Work practices include:

  • Hierarchy
  • Dress code
  • Decision making style
  • Performance management and promotions
  • Compensation
  • Flexible hours/home office
  • Time off for community service or company-sponsored volunteering

why does it matter so much?

Now it is easily apparent why it is so important that there is a good cultural fit between the employee and their organization. If you like flat hierarchies but your company operates with a top down approach, you will not be productive. If you believe in pay for performance but you work for an employer that gives the same percentage raise to everybody regardless of performance, you will be frustrated. If you hate suit-and-tie but have to wear it every day, you will not feel at ease. The good news is, it is absolutely possible to research some of these determinants of company culture before you accept a new job.

Start with yourself

Before you start researching companies you are interested in, take a step back and start with yourself. In order to assess fit, you first need to be aware of your own priorities. You need to figure out which of the components of company culture listed above are most important to you. Is pay for performance more important than flexible hours or home office? Do dress code and community service trump pay and job content? These values will change over time and depend on the stage of life you are in. But you have to be aware of what is most important or non-negotiable for you.

Researching company culture

Now that you know what is important to you, you can start your research.

  1. Start with the company website. Check out the “our team” or “who we are” sections. Take a look at how the team is presented. Just picture and title? Or picture, title and some more background information? How are people dressed? Does the site only feature matter-of-fact content? Or do you see pictures from company parties or company volunteer days? What kind of information is displayed on the recruiting site?
  2. Check and follow the organization’s social media feeds.
  3. Check the LinkedIn profiles of people who work at your desired organization.
  4. Search online reviews, for example on www.glassdoor.com.
  5. Look for articles in professional, business, and industry publications.
  6. Listen to business podcasts where company leaders and/or founders are interviewed.
  7. Finally, talk to people who work at your desired employer and ask them about company culture.

All, or even just some, of the steps above will give you some insight into the company culture of a potential employer. And if you previously established your own list of priorities, you will be able to easily compare and contrast to see if an organization might be a fit.

We wish you much success in your job search! If you’d like any help with your job search or career development, the Career Center is here to help. Contact us at 225-231-3733 or at www.careercenterbr.com or check out our YouTube channel at careercenterbr.com/youtube.

Written by Anne Nowak

How to Succeed in a New Job

Congratulations, you made it through the application process and scored the new job! Now you want to make sure to start the new role off right.

Before your actual start date

Before your first day, you want to research the organization again. Check out if there is any recent big news such as leadership changes, acquisitions, new patents, new products, etc. You also want to read up on your new colleagues. Search them out on LinkedIn to see if you can establish any commonalities with some of them (for example, having attended the same college or having a previous employer in common). Sharing these experiences will make an easy segue to get to know your new colleagues.

Another easy way to make a good first impression is to talk to your new supervisor and ask them if there is anything specific you can do to prepare for your first day. Maybe they have an important deadline coming up where it could make a real difference if you hit the ground running.

The first days

You want to have a beginner’s mind; be open and eager to learn. Even though you might be an expert in your role, don’t barge in and let them know that you know everything better and will show them how it’s done. It’s important to first observe and learn how things are done in the new organization.

Good communication is always of utmost importance but especially early in a new job. Early on you want to discuss and establish the following with your supervisor and/or team:

  • Responsibilities
  • Priorities and upcoming deadlines
  • Gauge the preferred communication style, e.g. regular structured feedback vs. ongoing feedback
  • Expectations and objectives
  • Metrics to measure achievement of objectives

The first weeks and months

Spend some time networking within your company. Go to lunch with people, mingle at the water cooler, speak up in meetings and be proactive and display a can-do-attitude.  The more colleagues you have good relationships with and the more coworkers know about you and what you do, the better for your career. Relationships with the right people are the key ingredient to promotions and career success (of course you also want to be known for your stellar work product).

We wish you much success in your new job! If you’d like any help with your job search or career development, the Career Center is here to help. Contact us at 225-231-3733 or at www.careercenterbr.com or check out our YouTube channel.

Written by Anne Nowak

How to Build Self-Confidence for Job Search and Career Success

Job search can be a tough time for anybody’s self-confidence. Getting rejected for jobs or having the search taking longer than expected can eat away at our self-esteem. Here are some tips on keeping up your positive self-image even during tough times.

Self Confidence is a learned behavior

According to famed motivational speaker Tony Robbins, self-confidence is “the feeling of certainty that you can accomplish what you set out to do.” And it is a learned behavior! In his words, “The truth is that you are completely in charge of how you feel, including whether or not you feel confident. Confidence is not something that people are born with or simply have – it’s something you can create.” Gerald Schiraldi, author of the Self Esteem Workbook, points out that “the love and approval of others do not equal self-esteem. Otherwise it would be called other-esteem”. So, how can we increase or strengthen our self-esteem?

A healthy mind in a healthy body

It’s harder to feel self-confident when we feel physically unwell. Self-esteem builds on the basics of enough sleep, a good diet and exercise. Good posture and standing up tall also improve our feeling of power and agency. Try powerposing!

Retraining the brain for self confidence

Self-confident people know that they are the narrators of their own story. They take full accountability and have the belief that it is in their power to achieve what they set out to do. Since this belief in oneself is trainable, let’s look at a few exercises that can help everybody to build up their self-confidence.

  1. Practice the Golden Rule in reverse. We often talk to ourselves more harshly than we would to other people. Resolve to treat yourself as you would treat a good friend or loved one.
  2. Practice self-compassion. Use mindful awareness of emotional distress. Recognize self-critical thoughts without accepting them, e.g. “there is a critical thought – it’s just a thought”.
  3. Use “even though…nevertheless” statements, rather than labeling yourself. For example: Instead of “I’m just not good at this,” say “Even though I am not very good at this right now…. I nevertheless am on course and moving along” or “…. I nevertheless still enjoy trying” or “… learning nevertheless still feels adventurous”.
  4. Rewire your self-talk. “I’ll never succeed” turns into “success is exerting effort and moving in the desired direction”. “If only I‘d….” turns into “Next time I’ll….”. “I hate this about me” turns into “What an interesting quirk; I’m going to work on that”. “I’ll probably blow this” turns into “I’m not afraid to try, because my worth comes from within”.
  5. Create an inventory of your accomplishments. Everybody has accomplishments to be proud of. Write yours down and remember how good it felt to achieve them.
  6. Make a playlist with music that builds you up.
  7. Surround yourself with people that build you up. Avoid people that make you feel small.

There are many TED talks that give great examples of the techniques outlined above. Here are some to start with:

Niko Everett: Meet Yourself

Kari Romeo: Teach Your Inner Critic a New Story

Written by Anne Nowak