Communication Skills Required

More and more job postings have something in them about having strong communication skills, oral and written communication skills and/or presentation skills.

This seems like such a simple thing, you might wonder why it’s even posted as a requirement.You might think everyone is capable of communicating at least on some level.

In reality though, so many people communicate by text, email, skype using abbreviations and acronyms and letting spell check change words however it sees fit…the ability to communicate verbally seems to be lost.

When I see this as a mandatory requirement, what it means is you must be able to speak, understand, comprehend and write clearly. And, unless otherwise noted, this is expected to be in English.

It saddens me to receive resumes from candidates with stellar GPA’s and a beautifully written resume, only to call them and discover they cannot speak or understand English. Not all of them are from other countries.

When I ask a question and the answer is the same words I just said rearranged into an incomprehensible sentence …You’re in trouble.

Entry or senior level, hourly or salaried, whatever type and level of candidate you are…if you are answering every question with a yes or no…You’re in trouble.

While this may seem to be an efficient way to respond, it doesn’t help you prove you are capable of holding your own in a conversation or that you actually comprehend the question you were just asked.

When I ask for feedback on why someone did not get offered the job, the majority of the time, the answer has something to do with inability to communicate.

The art of conversation is important. Practice with friends and family if you need to brush up your communication skills.

Targeting the Hiring Manager

Email from a Job Seeker

I keep seeing articles about how to get my resume into the “right hands” and suggesting that I write a compelling cover letter and mail it directly to the hiring manager. According to some, this is the best way to get noticed and communicate clearly that I’m the right fit for the job. I even saw a statistic the other day saying 25% of people who do this get the job they are going after. What do you think?

Frustrated Job Seeker

Dear Frustrated Job Seeker,

I believe there is no right or wrong answer here. It “could” work. It “could” also backfire. A 25% success rate sounds like it may have some merit, but what happened to the other 75%?

While I believe you should not only craft a cover letter that targets the position you are applying for, I also believe you should highlight your relevant skills on your resume. Sometimes the letters and the resumes get separated. Sometimes, gasp…no one reads the cover letter you spent all that time writing.

I think pursuing the hiring manager “might” work in your favor, but mostly that seems to help in a very large corporation. If there’s a computer scanning for keywords between you and the hiring manager, you “could” get noticed by trying to go direct…IF the hiring manager actually receives your resume.

For the times I’ve seen it work, I’ve also seen it go completely wrong. Hiring managers have human resource professionals, support staff and a variety of other team members who can still end up with your resume. If it’s your job to screen resumes and someone deliberately bypassed you, how favorably would you be viewing the candidate? What message is it sending to someone who could be your co-worker or your peer? What message is it sending to the hiring manager? For every one who views this as a positive thing (assertiveness), there’s an equal number who see it as desperate, aggressive or sneaky.

If it’s a smaller company, a start-up or a professional recruiter working for a company … somewhere there are actually people reading your resume… bypassing these people may not work in your favor. Some of us can and will help.

Golden Handcuffs

Wikipedia defines “Golden Handcuffs” as “… a system of financial incentives designed to keep an employee from leaving the company. These can include employee stock options that will not vest for several years, but are more often contractual obligations to give back lucrative bonuses or other compensation if the employee leaves for another company.”

It used to be this expression applied to high level executives, highly educated employees who were likely to change jobs frequently; however, I am seeing it happen now to people right out of college.

What do you do when the first job you get right after graduation pays exceptionally well, has tremendous benefits and you HATE IT.

It’s very hard to walk away when something more exciting, interesting or challenging comes along, but the salary is just not there.

On the plus side, there are numerous articles written about how to get out of this type of situation, but they all require you to walk away from the money. Maybe the old saying money can’t buy happiness has some merit.

What a Recruiter Wants to See

A Tongue in Cheek Overview

What do recruiters see when they look at a resume?  What makes them want to stop and read yours word-for-word and what triggers the impulse to skip on to the next one…

I’ve had several conversations recently with job seekers who all seem shocked when I tell them to “hone” their resume.  Make it perfect.  Make it a marketing piece.  Make it stand out.  Tell me clearly and concisely why you are the right fit for the job and why I want to meet you.

I recruit full time, I love recruiting.  I’m passionate about people and jobs and finding the right fit.  I freely admit that I sometimes spend way too long looking at a resume, but the majority of recruiters do not.  We are all buried under with resumes (especially in this economy).  I recently posted a job for a technician and within one hour, I had over 100 resumes in my in box.  Two weeks later, I’m still receiving them.  Time is precious.

The exact amount of time most people spend reviewing a resume varies, but most often I’ve heard anywhere from 10 – 30 seconds.

There’s not much in this world that anyone can do “well” in that amount of time, but after years of recruiting, I can tell you roughly what someone is looking for on a resume in 10 – 30 seconds.

Location?  Do you have a degree (if I need one)? Job titles? Company names/industries? What have you done that applies to this job opening?  Are you a US Citizen (if I need one)? What makes you special?

Anything beyond that is lost in the clutter of a resume.

From a recruiter’s standpoint, give me what I need up front.  Don’t make me search for it.  Everyone knows it’s a highly competitive market and if I have to spend too long looking for what I want on your resume, well, I’ll move on to the next one…PASS.

Why do I want to know your location?  Are you local to my company or are you looking for relocation assistance?  Do I have to fly you in for an interview or can you get here in ten minutes?  Maybe I don’t care, but if I do care and you don’t tell me you live down the street, I’ll assume you live in Timbuktu…PASS.

Degree?  Do you have one?  What school did you attend?  If you just list the college, what does that mean?  Are you hiding the fact you didn’t graduate or are you assuming that I know that listing a school means you got a degree?  Was it an Associates, Bachelors, Masters, PhD? What did you major in? If I have to guess or I have some doubt…PASS.

Job titles?  Maybe it’s not applicable to the job you are applying for, but if you don’t tell me what your title was, I’m likely to have to guess and I’ll always guess you were the janitor (unless you are applying for a janitorial position, then I’ll guess you were the president).  Too much room for doubt…PASS.

Company names?  Have you ever worked for any of my competitors?  Do you have similar industry experience?  A1B2C3 Company is meaningless.  Tell me what industry it was in.  Even if you worked for Microsoft or some other well known company, I need help knowing where your background experience came from.  If I need someone from a manufacturing industry and none of your employer’s names include the word “manufacturing” I won’t know the industry, so …PASS.

Job description, duties and responsibilities?Tell me in the first few lines under each job what you did there that applies to what I want you to be doing in the job for which I am recruiting.  If the fourteenth bullet point under your last job title is exactly what I’m looking for, I’ll never see it.  If the fourteenth bullet point under your last job title says “discovered the cure for cancer” no one will ever see it…PASS.  It’s a shame, isn’t it?

US Citizenship?  If I’m recruiting for a client who requires a US Security Clearance, I’ll need candidates with US Citizenship.  If you are a US Citizen, even if your name is George Washington, put US CITIZEN on your resume.  If I’m in doubt and have to call to find out for sure that’s going to take too much time…PASS.

What makes you special?  I need to see it, in writing on your resume.  Never assume that because you had the title of … Electrical Engineer … that I know automatically you know how to design a printed circuit board.  You could be an Engineer and drive a train.  You could be an Electrical Engineer and never have anything to do with PCB design.

Read the job posting.  Analyze it and make sure your resume highlights the skills that are requested.  Tell me where you did the same or similar work and how successful you were at it.

And, last but not least, follow directions.  If I ask for a Word version of your resume, please send a Word version of your resume.  If I ask for your salary requirement, please tell me roughly what you think is acceptable.

“Negotiable” means something completely different to everyone who sees the word.  If I’m worried that I’ll get all the way through the interview process with you and then find out that your definition of negotiable is twice what the top of my salary range is…well…it’s just faster to…PASS.

By the way, if the resume is loaded with typos and spelling and grammatical errors…PASS.

Sometimes recruiters look for totally different things in resumes, but then it depends on the job requirements, the company culture, and any number of variables.

In general though, the same rule applies:  Give a recruiter what they want to see on your resume as quickly and clearly as possible and it will get our attention.  Any time over 10 – 30 seconds might just be long enough to find out you should come in for an interview.

The Good Part of a Job Search during the Holidays

All of the year-end holidays are quickly approaching.  Looking for a job this time of the year can be even more frustrating…delays in responses from the hiring managers added to the stress of being unemployed or unhappy in your current position, make this a particularly difficult time of the year.

The silver lining in the otherwise dark cloud of job searching is this fact:  So many job seekers give up this time of the year thinking it’s not worth the effort to apply, that quite frankly, the candidate pool is smaller.  The competition is less and you may actually have a better chance of being hired than you think.

While it’s true companies have holidays and vacations and some people are out of the office, there are still some companies who have funding budgeted for a hire in the fourth quarter and are trying to get new employees in place before the first of the new year.

Happy holidays and DON’T GIVE UP!

The Secret to Getting Your First Job Right Out of College

The short answer is:  CARE!   Show you care.  Demonstrate, at every level that you care and you want the job.

You have your degree, presumably in a field where you have some level of passion, excitement or at least a desire to work.

Why are the companies not beating down a path to your door?  Why are you not getting calls for interviews?  Why are you getting the interview and not getting the job?  What are you missing?

This is not intended for everyone.  Up front, let me say I know there are thousands of graduates out there who are doing everything right and still not finding the job of their dreams.

This is for the others…the ones who haven’t figured it out yet.

This is going to seem pretty basic.  I find that many recent graduates are not looking for work, or they are looking for the wrong kind of work.

Looking for a job IS a full time job.  Use the services of your college career center. Use the on-line job boards. Use social media.  Know what you are looking for and how you fit.  Not just how you fit, but how you can make a difference and how you can shine.

Start with your resume.  Is it perfect?  If it’s not perfect, fix it.  Simple, right?  If you have a single typo, spelling or grammatical error on your resume that will be what the hiring manager sees.  Nothing else will show up, just that you didn’t care enough about your resume and the application process to make sure your resume was perfect.  That attitude will likely be carried over into the work environment and no one wants that employee.

If you are a recent graduate, submitting your resume for any position that has the title of “manager” or above, you are not likely going to get any response.  On the other hand, if you submit your resume with a cover letter (in the email) stating that you know you are not qualified for this one, but if there is an entry level (or more suitable) opening you would appreciate being considered for it.  NOTE:  There should not be typos, spelling or grammatical errors in your cover letter either.  This is not where you showcase your ability to use emoticons or acronyms or see how few keystrokes you can use.

Tailor your resume for the job you are going after.  If you have any experience that is relative to the position or if you have specific course work that covered the requirements for the position, make sure that is on your resume.  Assuming the hiring manager knows what you can do is a huge mistake.

If you are fortunate enough to get an email or a call from the hiring manager or anyone at the company, ANSWER the email or the call.  Be polite, professional and respond as quickly as possible.  I’ve had people answer me weeks or months after I’ve sent an email or left a message.  The job is gone by then or at the very least the company is in the process of narrowing down the search.  And, even if they are not and are still looking for the right person, your lack of responsiveness is a reflection on you.  You just sent a message:  You either don’t care about the job or you are too unorganized to follow up or you are lazy.  It’s very difficult to overcome any of these perceptions.

Once you have an interview scheduled, whether it is a phone interview or an in-person interview with ANYONE in the company, be sure you know everything you can about the company and the job opportunity.

Not knowing what you are interviewing for or what the company does means you are lazy, don’t care or are unorganized and didn’t have the time or inclination to research it before you spoke with them.

Going on the interview in person.

Dress professionally.  Jeans and a tee shirt may be what everyone wears once they are employed with this company, but for the interview, business professional is required.  No one has ever failed to get a job offer because they wore a suit or a tie or looked professional.  On the other hand, I’ve seen several people get the job because they were the only candidate to show up dressed professionally.  It shows you care.

After the interview.

Follow up.  Send a thank you note.  Email is fine.  Typed letter is fine.  Handwritten is fine (assuming you have nice handwriting).  It shows you care.  Down to the finalists, all things being equal (same degree, same GPA) the one who sent the thank you note almost always gets the job.  Everyone “says” they send a thank you note.  Not everyone does.  Stand out from the crowd.

Are You Too Old

There is no denying there is actually age discrimination in the world.  There are various forms of age discrimination.

The preconception that someone is too old for the job because they won’t have the energy of a younger employee, the recent education of a younger employee, the new technology skills of a younger employee or the ability to stay awake during the meetings…Oh wait…I’ve seen people of all ages nod off during particularly long-winded meetings.

There is also the concern that someone older will not want to work for a younger boss.  Or they will make their younger boss look bad because they have so much more experience.  Is that actually discrimination or is it fear?

One of the tougher hurdles to overcome is the idea that you have 30 years of work experience, so you will want more money than is budgeted for the position.  And even if you take the job, you will leave as soon as something better comes along.  That’s a tough one, because while it’s a preconceived notion…it also really does happen frequently.

By and large, the absolute worst form of age discrimination is when I hear it from a job seeker about him or herself.  “I can’t find a job because I’m too old.”  In that case, the job seeker is stating a fact; a fact that they have created and chanted over and over until they believe it at their very core.

So walk into an interview, thinking you are too old for the job and you are too old for the job!  One of the hardest obstacles to overcome is the self-inflicted kind.

You have the education, the skill set (taking courses to brush up and stay current on the technology), the experience (in spades) and the desire to work with a work ethic that goes along with your generation (most likely).

Whatever you do, don’t convince yourself you’re too old for the job.  No matter how hard you try to hide this, if you truly believe it, this will come through in an interview.

Attitude or Aptitude

Maybe we should just give up and recruit for attitude and forget about aptitude.

I have numerous client companies in a variety of fields for which I am currently recruiting new employees and I’m hearing this more and more often.

Yes, you have a college degree and a solid GPA and you may even have some relevant experience, but how do you present yourself in an interview?

A good attitude is often talked about but it’s difficult to pinpoint.  It’s a fine line between showing your enthusiasm and desire for the job and appearing to be totally desperate and willing to take anything.

A good attitude is the ability to convey your skills in a way that matches the needs of the position you are applying for and at the same time addresses how you, personally, can solve their problems, contribute to the solution of their problems or at the very least, not create new ones.

A good attitude is being a team player in real life, not just saying the words and not really understanding what they mean.

How can you help?  How can you make improvements? How can you learn your new job quickly?  Are you the type of person who puts in time after work studying the company, the products or services they offer or researching new technology that’s applicable to your field so you are always learning and always at the leading edge?

Given the choice between two candidates from the same college, with the same GPA in the same field of study…the one with the positive, upbeat, energetic, eager to learn and grow attitude will always get the job.

Functional versus Chronological Resume Formats

From the perspective of someone reviewing thousands of resumes and working with a wide variety of human resource professionals and hiring managers…I have a strong opinion on resume formats.

There are basically two formats for a resume:  Functional and Chronological

The “functional format” allows you to showcase your skills and experience, but doesn’t say when or where you used or developed these skills and experiences.

If you have a background that includes technical skills, financial responsibility and management and you use the functional format, how can the reviewer tell when you last managed a team, designed a building of had P&L responsibility?

While some skills last forever, others get rusty or are dated.  If the last time you worked on a computer was when Windows was released as an add-on to MS-DOS, a functional format will definitely cover that up for you.  But how efficient are you with Windows 8?

Originally the functional format was used only when the job seeker was trying to hide something and that stigma is still out there.  Upon being presented with a functional resume, the majority of my clients will immediately ask me, “What is this person hiding?”

Over time the functional format has become more popular as a way to transition from one type of job or discipline into another.  Thus, allowing for you to clearly outline what you can do, what you know and how it specifically applies to the job you are trying to get.  It’s great for highlighting your transferrable skills; however, in the last ten years I’ve only personally known one candidate get a job offer with a functional resume.

Your resume is a marketing tool.  You want it to get the attention of the hiring manager or the person reviewing the resumes in human resources and convince them, they want to meet you. The last thing you need is someone wondering what is being hidden.

Depending on the job for which you are applying, you can always reorganize your chronological resume to a certain extent.  For example, if you have ten bullet points under your most recent job and the one you are applying for requires you to do something that you have as bullet point number ten, you should pull that up to one of the top 3 – 4 bullet points.  Align your resume with the requirements for the job you are pursuing.

Most people will skim your resume.  They want to see something that clicks and makes them immediately say “here is someone who has what we want/need.”  If they don’t see this immediately, they may never get to the bottom of the bulleted list.  I always say somewhere there is a resume that the 14th bullet point under the fourth job down is “discovered the cure for cancer” but no one ever read that far down on a resume so we’ll never know for sure. :-)


Top Four Reasons for Not Getting the Job

If you have no trouble getting an interview, but never seem to get the job or are always second runner up; you may be wondering what’s going on.

It’s difficult to know precisely where things go wrong with an interview.  But you really can’t judge yourself.  And it is extremely rare that once you’ve been passed over that the hiring manager or human resources professional will tell you exactly what went wrong.

I suggest you find someone you trust and ask them to interview you.  This needs to be done by someone who will tell you exactly what they see…even if it’s not really going to make you happy.  Someone who cares about you but doesn’t love you would be best. Typically a family member is the wrong choice.

For example, you need to know if you are making eye contact or are you staring at the floor?  Do you make so much eye contact you’re coming across like a potential stalker? Or, if asked, could you even tell the interviewer what color shirt they are wearing?

There are so many reasons I’ve seen interviews go badly.  The top four I hear regularly:

1. Candidate showed no interest or enthusiasm for the company or the position for which they were interviewing.  In response to the question:  “Do you know what we do?”  The worst answer you can give is…”I don’t know. I didn’t look you up.”

Alternatively, “Yes I’ve analyzed your company and done personal background checks on every senior manager and I know that you take sugar in your coffee and stop at Starbucks every morning on the way to work at 7:35 a.m.” will NOT gain you any points.

2. Candidate arrived late for the interview.

Alternatively, arriving more than ten minutes early can be a little off putting as well. Sitting in the reception area for an hour watching people come and go isn’t going to make a good impression.

3. Candidate seemed to only be interested in the salary and benefits package.

Asking questions about the company, the position and the general culture is perfectly acceptable.  Asking about salary and benefits on the first interview is not.  If that’s the first question out of your mouth, you can pretty much be guaranteed that you will not be getting an offer.  There’s a time and a place for these types of questions and the first interview is not it.

4. Candidate arrived dressed inappropriately.  While it is rare, I have seen candidates arrive for an interview in ripped jeans and a stained t-shirt for a senior level position.  Unless there’s an extremely good reason, dress as professionally as possible.

Acceptable exceptions:  A senior level engineer went to an interview in a suit, tie and jeans because he broke his leg in a car accident and did not want to cut his dress slacks to go over the cast.  (He got the job).  Also, a professional administrative assistant went to an interview in a suit and heavy duty boots with ice cleats.  There was eight inches of snow and freezing rain and she didn’t want to fall down in the parking lot.  (She got the job).

There’s an expression that you should dance like no one is watching.  It’s a fine line to interview with confidence, like you don’t need the job but are still very excited by the opportunity.