What Might be Keeping You from Receiving the Interview Phone Call

Just a few days ago I had dinner with a long-time friend who is the Marketing Director for a large non-profit organization. When I asked regarding what was the most frustrating part of her job, she immediately replied, “hiring new people”. She went on to relate how 400 resumes were received within two hours of posting an opening for a Marketing Assistant. When I asked how many of the 400 resumes she felt were good enough to warrant a call for an interview, my friend responded, “less than 10…and a few of those are borderline”. This is today’s reality for hiring managers.

Regarding the most common reasons why she did not select a resume to be added to the “short list” of people to be called for interviews, I was told the following:

No results – Bullet points that read like a laundry list of duties and responsibilities rather than specific examples of accomplishments and “how” those results/outcomes were accomplished. You cannot just tell me that you can do something well – you must prove it by using specific examples demonstrating exceptional outcomes.

Lack of metrics to quantify stated accomplishments – Telling me that you “increased client satisfaction” packs no “punch” unless you quantify that claim with some sort of metric (percentage increase on client satisfaction survey scores, percentage growth in referrals from existing clients, dollar or percentage increase in repeat sales…etc.)

Poorly written and/or formatted – Resumes that contain grammatical or spelling errors, bullet points that are not clear and need to be “interpreted” (by the way, hiring managers have neither the time nor the patience to figure out what you are trying to tell them in your resume), formatting that makes it hard on the eyes to read (font size and style, too many lines used as separators, margins that are too small or too big, etc). I would strongly suggest not using acronyms that only you and your former co-workers understand/recognize – remember, you are trying to engage & “wow” the hiring manager, not confuse them.

Word file saved in the wrong format – The vast majority of businesses who use Microsoft Office software still use MS Office 2003 – not 2007 or 2010. The 2007 & 2010 versions’ default is to save Word files in “.docx” format, that cannot be opened with MS Office 2003, which uses “.doc” (unless the hiring manager/HR recruiter has downloaded and installed a file converter tool from Microsoft). Use the “Save As” function to save the Word file in “.doc”. If a hiring manager cannot easily open your uploaded or attached file…they just move on to the next resume submission and yours is deleted – they have no interest in searching for, downloading and installing the conversion tool from the Microsoft website. Make it easy for me to open the file containing your resume. You can also send it in “.PDF” format, as pretty much everyone has Adobe Acrobat Reader on their PC’s.

Resume not customized for the position being sought – the more generic your resume sounds, the less skilled you appear. You are trying to convince me that you are “the one” to fill my open position. Remember – the hiring manager’s objective is to find “the best person available”…someone who is going to make them look great to their boss. If a hiring manager sees a resume customized for their open position, you’ve already made a positive impression by demonstrating that you understand the need to focus on the skills and requirements as noted in the job description. The frustrating reality is that only a very small percentage of submitted resumes are what would be considered customized (based upon my own experience and my discussions w/dozens of hiring managers and professional recruiters) – which means those written in that manner have an excellent chance to be added to the list of calls to be made to schedule interviews.
Incomplete work history – This one might be the most frustrating for job seekers. A number of folks have told me that they have been strongly encouraged to only include work experience from the last 15 years on their resumes, nothing beyond that. Although I recognize that there are definitely two different “camps” on this issue (i.e., include no more than the last 15 years vs. show everything), I am a strong proponent of the “show everything” side. And, I have yet to find a professional recruiter or hiring manager who has told me that they wanted candidates to show only a partial work history. Most of these people have told me that, if they find out a candidate who (from the resume’s work history) appears to be in their mid-30’s – is really in their late 40’s or 50’s, they begin to wonder “what else is this person hiding from me/not telling me?”. As mentioned in my posting from last month, “Tips for the More Experienced Job Seeker”, better to be honest up front and find out that a company/hiring manager might discriminate on age – than to wind up working for such an employer.

The good news is that all of these problems/issues are correctable…and easily so. Yes, there is a greater investment of your time required to develop that “killer” resume, but – aren’t you trying to convince me that you are that one out of 400 other candidates that I should hire? How impressed would YOU be, if you were the person hiring this Marketing Assistant, and found documents that were vague, poorly written, formatted in such a way to appear “pretty” – but contained little to no real content and contained a lot of bullet points about what candidates “did’ rather than what they actually accomplished and “how” they did so…?

As you write your resume, put yourself in the shoes of the hiring manager who wrote the position description for the job you are seeking (pretend that your job depends upon the success of this particular hire). Are you (the hiring manager) – going to be “wowed” enough to move you (the candidate) to the next step and schedule an interview? Until you are, don’t submit the resume – because it will most likely wind up in the pile that will receive a “thanks, but no thanks” letter.

Create a “wow” perception that will become the hiring manager’s reality.

Telling Your Story Effectively During an Interview

A powerful resume is only the first step to getting your foot in the door. Okay, you got noticed and now you are scheduled for an interview. We all know the saying, “you only have one chance to make a great first impression”. So, what do you do to “nail” the interview?

Let’s face it; most hiring managers are going to take the opportunity to fill a new or open position with the person whose skill set, image and presentation are the closest to the criteria established for their ideal candidate.

How do you convince your interviewer that you are “the one”…that person?

You do so by structuring your answers to their questions to focus on what you have accomplished and how you did so…NOT by providing a laundry list of job responsibilities while at previous employers.

Because of its proven effectiveness, most companies today use behavioral interviewing, which focuses on the premise that the most accurate predictor of future performance is past performance in similar situations. One of the most effective methods for navigating through such an interview is to use the STAR method (Situation or Task, Action and Results).

• Situation or Task – Provide an example of a specific situation/task in which you were involved that resulted in a positive outcome
• Action – Discuss specific actions that you took related to achieving the desired outcome
• Results – Provide the measurable results related to the direct outcome of your actions

For example, let’s say you are asked the following question by the interviewer:

“Give me a specific example which clearly demonstrates how you are able to work effectively with a wide variety of individuals.”

A non-STAR answer – “I think it’s a good idea to know how to deal with different personalities, and I can do that. I have been a team leader in the past and completed many big projects successfully.”

Congratulations, you’ve just told me nothing about how you are going to be able to apply your skills to the challenges of the position you are seeking and produce exceptional results at my company. I have no perspective on the actual scope of any of your “big” projects and telling me that they were successfully completed means very little without specific metrics to back up your claim. And, I have no clue as to your ability to consistently “bring it” to my team if I hire you.

I have done many hundreds of interviews during my career with most candidates’ answers sounding like the one above. I did not hire any of those people.

Answer using the STAR method – “(Situation/Task) I was asked by the company president to lead a project team consisting of representatives from different groups within our organization, to design and launch, within six months, a new widget that could help expand our current product offerings. (Actions) Selecting a very diverse group of employees, I put together a team consisting of twelve individuals representing the Design, Fabrication, Marketing, Sales, Operations and Customer Service departments. I established an environment that promoted creativity and effective collaboration among individuals, allowing my team to realize a powerful synergy from the combination of their unique talents. (Results) The new Power Widget was launched five months later and within the following year it was responsible for a 20% increase in our overall widget sales and a 5% increase in total market share. For this effort I was recognized by the president with the company’s ‘Outstanding Team Leadership’ award and promoted to vice president.”

A candidate who delivers an answer like this is going to get my attention…especially when they deliver it using good eye contact, body language that exudes self-confidence and the right degree of passion that makes it all very believable.

Interviewing is a lot like dating. Think about it…what is the real purpose of the first interview (date)? The objective is to get a second interview (date). Not unlike two people using an online dating service, the interviewer and interviewee can use the Internet to do quite a bit of research about each other – including a look at photographs, prior to actually meeting. During the initial discussion there is normally a mixture of general “get to know you a little better” questions and tougher “are you really who you say you are”, more detailed inquiries. This first meeting is used to determine if what was written about each other (LinkedIn, Facebook or Match.com) seems legitimate. Ultimately, both parties are trying to determine if the person with whom they are speaking is “their type”. A very important part of this process is figuring out if the other person will “get along with my group of friends”/future co-workers.

Interviewers love asking the “give me an example of a time when” type questions – the STAR method will help you to focus on demonstrating how your past performance indicates that you are “the one”…the ideal candidate which they are seeking.

Why Are You My Ideal Candidate?

Over the past several weeks, I’ve had one-on-one meetings with dozens of job seekers in regard to their resumes. I often ask, “Why are you here today to meet with me? What do you wish to take away from our meeting?” Most often the response is something such as, “I am not getting many interviews or being eliminated early in the interview process and want to figure out where is, for me, the weak link in that chain.”
What I continue to find is one of the most common issues/problems with candidates…They are providing me/the hiring manager (in the resume or during an interview) with a lot more information than is relevant for the position, or spending all of their resume space or interview time relating what they DID vs. what they ACCOMPLISHED, and that is not how to communicate the “wow” factor and why they may be my ideal candidate.
What you DID relates to tasks, your ACCOMPLISHMENTS tell me about what outcomes were produced as a result of your actions. And, hiring managers really wish to hear about HOW you applied the sought after skills and competencies to produce exceptional results and why those results are/were considered to be outstanding.
Here is a typical bullet point that I’ve seen on literally hundreds of resumes:
“Sourced, interviewed & recommended candidates for open positions.”
Well, that’s just terrific. You and 1,000,000 other HR people do this every day. This is a “did”, not an accomplishment. Here are some questions that this job seeker should be asking themselves about this “achievement” (trust me, the hiring manager will be):
· How did you source candidates and WHY was your manner of doing so much more effective than others?
· What is different/distinctive (from all of the other candidates who applied for this position at my company) regarding your methodology for interviewing candidates for open positions?
· What is the approximate retention rate for new hires that were sourced and recommended by you? How does that compare to your peers? Is it a “wow”? WHY?
· How many candidates did you source/interview annually…one, ten, one hundred..? How did this compare to others at your company who had similar responsibilities?
The answers to such questions helps the recruiter or hiring manager determine which candidates will be on the list to call for scheduling a phone screen or interview. And, this number is normally only a small percentage of the total amount of resumes submitted for an open position.
Here is a sample of how to tell a more impactful story about your “Sourced, interviewed & recommended candidates” accomplishment in the resume:
“Developed large network of recruiters, business owners, peers and outplacement professionals, which referred an average of sixty strong candidates annually for consideration, dramatically reducing sourcing time from an average of six weeks to two weeks or by 67%. Engaged employees, from within the department in which the new hire would be placed, in the interview and selection process, contributing to an average new hire retention rate of 95%, which was the highest percentage ever achieved by the HR Recruiting Group in 25 years.”
See the difference?
Let’s say you are a Tool & Die Maker and wish to tell the hiring manager during an interview that you helped save time as a result of coming up with solutions to problems/more efficient operational methods. You could state:
I saved a lot of time by coming up with ideas to make the workflow process more efficient.”
Again…OK, this might be very true, but the statement does not “wow” me about what you have done at your current/previous employer(s) and could possibly do if I brought you on board at my company. Something like the following would do much more towards capturing the attention of the hiring manager:
“I developed, during personal time outside of the workday, a solution to the problem, experienced by all 40 Tool & Die Makers at the company, of locating tools needed to assist in performing assigned jobs. Tools were often difficult to find by workers or had not been properly maintained, thus causing significant increases in the time necessary to complete a job. I drew up and then submitted to ownership detailed drawings and a step-by-step plan for the re-design of the Tool Room and establishment of a process for periodic maintenance of tools. This effort resulted in an average decrease of 100 man hours in the Production area on a monthly basis. The hours previously spent searching for tools or finding tools that were properly maintained and “job ready”, supported the completion of 25 additional jobs per month. I received from the company owner a bonus (no bonuses had been awarded to any employee by ownership during the previous three years) and a promotion to Senior Operator in recognition of this accomplishment.”
Once you “earn” the opportunity to interview, you need to continue the focus on accomplishments. Also, telling the interviewer about skills and competencies that are not even on the list of “Required Skills/Experience” for a company’s ideal candidate is a waste of time. It may seem/feel important to you to do so, but most hiring managers see such information as irrelevant or unimportant (and wonder why you are wasting their time by not focusing on the items noted in the job description).
Remember, a candidate has approximately 30 – 40 seconds to impress the reader of their resume or just a few minutes to “wow” the interviewer enough continue to the next step in the selection process.How are you presenting yourself?

Are you telling me why you are “the one” – the ideal candidate for the opportunity?

What Type of First Impression are You Making?

Many people say that you can tell a lot about someone in just the first few minutes of meeting them. I agree. Body language, tone of voice, attire, level of self-confidence, ability to convey a sense of believability and trust are just some of the snapshots we give or receive that go a long way to creating that critical first impression.

Job seekers often do not realize that basically everything they do, say, write or wear is considered when a hiring manager looks holistically at candidates for an open position. Below are some real life examples of impressions made:

A soon-to-graduate senior at a large university is asked to go to the headquarters of a large, international company on a Thursday for a round of additional interviews that would take place the next day on Friday. He travels across the country and is picked up at the airport by a representative of the company. That evening he, along with about 50 other candidates, is asked to attend a “mixer” at the hotel in which the company has put up all of these students from colleges around the U.S. Several of the company’s managers are at the “mixer” event…at which alcohol is available. A number of those in attendance think this is terrific and treat it like a frat party. Guess which students did not go much farther in the interview process?

Prior to this individual leaving on the trip, I asked him when he thought the interview process would begin. His response, “Like I told you, Mike, my first interview is on Friday @ 8:30 am”.

Wrong..!

His interview started when he was picked up at the airport…and ended when he was dropped off on Friday afternoon by the company’s representative.

This individual did not have any alcohol at the “mixer” that Thursday evening and made it a point to introduce himself to each of the company’s representatives who attended the event. By the way, he’s been with the company now just over three years, had three (above average) pay raises and a promotion.

A job seeker with whom I did some resume coaching had a bullet point in their resume that read, “I sold $50,000 worth of product X each month”. When I asked her to provide me with some perspective of that accomplishment by ranking that level of production against the other 5 sales people in her former company, I was told, “I was fourth”. A bit surprised I remarked, “Fourth out of six sales people…that means your sales volume was below average!” Her reaction to my comment was simply, “Wow, I hadn’t thought about that.”

If you were a sales manager, a good chunk of whose overall compensation might come as a result of the level of sales revenue generated by your sales team…would you give any serious consideration to this candidate..?

A job seeker includes in his resume’s “Career Summary” that he is a “results-oriented team leader”. Yet, there is no mention anywhere else within the content of the two-page document of ANY results for any accomplishment or anything about leading a team. No quantification of his “claims” to be results-oriented or having expertise as a team leader. This is not a good strategy for making a hiring manager believe that you are his/her “ideal” candidate.

An English teacher sends me their resume to review. I find that it is filled with multiple spelling and grammatical errors. I advise the former educator that it would be difficult for me, as a school system Superintendent, to take the resume seriously. When I review the revised resume a couple of weeks later, there were only about half as many spelling and grammatical errors. I told this gentleman that if my children attended the school in which he taught English…I would make certain that they did not have him as their teacher.

In response to a position I posted for an Administrative Assistant, I received a few hundred responses…one of which came with a cover letter that was addressed as follows:

Mike Perry
President
Szarka Financial Management
29691 Lorain Road
North Olmsted, OH 44070

Dear Lois,

Dear LOIS…!!! Apparently this candidate did not understand that when I saw the cover letter I had a disturbing vision about letters typed by her, going out with similar errors to my company’s best prospects and clients.

No thanks..! I never bothered to read her resume.

Why do people attend job seekers’ group meetings dressed like they just came from a cookout? This is a business meeting. The presenters are most often employed executives and/or hiring managers. Do these folks ever look around the room and wonder, “If that speaker (potential hiring manager or someone with connections to other hiring managers) looks at all of the attendees, observes that some/most come dressed in professional attire and then sees me in jeans or shorts and a t-shirt…what type of first impression will they have?”

I have a lot more of these “horror” stories, but you get the point.

Be your own toughest critic. Put yourself in the shoes of the potential hiring manager or HR recruiter who will be formulating quick impressions from a review of your resume, a phone screen, a search of the Internet (Google search for your name, Facebook, LinkedIn…etc).

Would you be impressed with you?

Here are a couple of tips to help ensure that you are positioned to make a great first impression with a hiring manager:

  • Check, double-check and then have a couple of other people (who you trust to be excellent proof readers) check and edit your resume and cover letter.
  • Do a thorough review of your “digital life”. Ensure that the “story” being told about you on Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter is consistent with the story being told by your resume, during networking conversations and interview discussions.
  • Have you proven everything that you claim you can do in your resume? Ensure that all descriptions listed for each of your former positions held coincide with the skills and experience being sought for the job you are seeking, and that each of your “Key Achievement”/accomplishment bullet points contains specific examples of how you applied those skills to produce exceptional results (results that are quantified with metrics).
  • Understand that everything that you do, say and write is considered part of the interview and selection process. Are you taking advantage of everything that you say, do and write as multiple opportunities to “wow” the hiring manager and anyone else involved with the candidate selection process?
  • Be willing to do something that other candidates cannot or are unwilling to do (like showing up two days early at the employer’s facility and introducing yourself to the Receptionist – the “gatekeeper”). I’ve mentioned this tip in at least one of my previous posts and I suggest it whenever I speak to groups of job seekers. Do you know how many candidates actually bother to do something like this…practically none. Impressing the gatekeeper can do a lot to begin setting you apart from the other candidates.

Be aware, be consistent, be impressive.

Which Job Seeking “Expert” is Really Correct?

Tough question…but, it shouldn’t be.

Although there is no “one and only” expert when it comes to the nuts and bolts of putting together a strong and effective job search strategy, there are a whole lot of folks out there giving advice that ranges from “not really accurate” to horribly wrong.

The frustrating part for job seekers is that they often hear presentations by or have one-on-one discussions with people (describing themselves as career experts) who may speak about similar topics, but provide sometimes wildly different advice. Unfortunately, this wide range of advice/opinions not only confuses the job seeker, but often adds significantly to their already high levels of confusion, frustration, anxiety, and diminishing feeling of self-confidence and self-worth.

For example, during a recent networking event co-sponsored by my company, one of the attendees (who has been in transition for several months) told me that she had attended a presentation at a local job seekers group at which the presenter (local career/job search/recruiting “expert”) stated to the 60 some attendees:

I see from looking around the room that most of you are in your 50’s or 60’s. Well, I’m not going to say that you won’t be able to get another job, but you’ll most likely be unable to get something at the same level as what you just came from, and probably will not be able to find something outside of that industry”.

WHAT..!!! That is not how you go about motivating a group of folks who are already feeling badly about themselves due to an unexpected job loss. Plus – It is not true!

I asked this person if she might have misperceived what had been stated by the speaker. “No”, she replied. “Everyone in the room looked at each other, shrugged their shoulders and said, ‘well, then…what are we doing here?’. At that moment I felt like I might never get another decent job”.

Wow.

I am asked to speak at corporate outplacement firms and job seekers groups about 80 times a year. On my worst day, I cannot see myself telling the job seekers assembled to hear me, the invited guest (expert) speaker, that they are “too old to get a good job”…Mostly because I just do not believe it and also – It Just is Not True!!!

This job seeker went on to tell me that another “expert” (recruiter) had told her – when she asked about the most effective manner in which to present her transferable skills (her objective was to change careers) – that, “You won’t be able to get out of the industry you are in. Don’t worry about focusing on transferable skills…that is overrated and has little to do with you getting another job”.

Again, WHAT…!!!

Hiring managers are focused on what skills/expertise/competencies you bring to the table. Case in point – Several years ago I worked with a college graduate on his job search. He had graduated with majors in Computer and Electrical Engineering and was seeking to find an entry level position as an Electrical Engineer designing control systems for custom built machines for large manufacturers. His only work experience at that time was 6 years at a local grocery store…with his title being, “Beer Aisle Manager”.

On the surface, one might perceive that to be a bit of a stretch to go from stocking beer to designing electrical schematics and programming complex control systems for large production machinery. As it turned out, his skill set matched up extremely well with the key competencies being sought by the engineering firm that ultimately wound up hiring him. That firm was seeking a college graduate, with a major in Electrical Engineering, having demonstrated expertise/proficiency in the following areas:

• Leadership
• Project Management
• Team building
• Decision Making
• Customer Service
• Communications
• Attention to detail

Guess what…he had numerous examples of his ability to apply all of these skills to produce exceptional outcomes.

After two interviews, he received a job offer…not the Beer Aisle Manager from the grocery store…but the guy who had all of those key skills/competencies that the employer felt would transfer well to their specific environment and culture.

Transferable skills not relevant…I absolutely disagree. I’ve assisted nearly 900 people with their job searches over the last 4 years and a significant number of those folks (the majority of whom, by the way, were in their 50’s and 60’s) earned a job offer as a result of proving that their skill set was transferable.

So…why do people like the recruiting expert tell a room full of job seekers that such things don’t matter or that they are too old to get a “good job”…?

Can’t answer that one, but it is terribly frustrating for those of us out there trying to provide the best advice possible to people in transition. Advice that is actionable and proven to improve a candidate’s job search results. We’re not telling people that they are too old to matter or that skills aren’t transferable…because that is just not true. We are trying to help and motivate those with whom we speak…the folks who are spending those evenings at networking events and in the basements of churches at job seekers group meetings…people who are reaching out and trusting that the advice received from supposed experts is correct.

So, how can you avoid job search/career “experts” who are really not so? Here are a couple of tips:

• Check out the speaker’s profile on LinkedIn…Do they have any recent recommendations from people who they have assisted w/job searches or from those who may have heard them make presentations on job search related topics?
• Check out the firm at which the speaker works. What do they do? What is his/her position there? What is their background (again, LinkedIn) and does that background seem to fit w/their being an expert related to resume writing, interviewing and networking skills, and putting together an effective job search strategy/plan?
• Was the expert ever in transition themselves? Have they walked in your shoes?
• When was the last time the speaker/expert actually was involved in hiring someone (I’ve had people, who asked for my assistance regarding their resumes, tell me that, “Well, my resume should be good, I’ve had an expert work on it already”, only to find out that the “expert” is their next door neighbor who had absolutely no HR, recruiting or hiring experience at all!)?

If the results of just this research don’t convince you that the person is really an expert related to job searches…well, why put yourself through the frustration of hearing poor advice that is probably mostly opinion vs. the result of years of actual experience.

Reading a book about job searches does not make someone a job search expert. Anyone can claim they are a Career Coach…doing so does not make them one.

So much of the success of a job search is the result of preparation and the effort put into researching potential employers, industries, hiring managers, culture fit…etc. Save yourself some grief and frustration by extending that same effort to those who claim to be job search/career related experts. Isn’t the job search already tough enough without throwing another log on the fire by listening to or working with a job search expert who really isn’t one?

Actions Really Do Speak Louder than Words

If a company tells you that they brew the best beer in the world, but have minimal sales and no awards to show for their efforts, how believable is their claim of having an outstanding product? We can all say whatever we wish about our abilities and achievements, but, as the saying goes, “the proof is in the pudding”.

And thus is the challenge for today’s job seekers…making believers out of skeptical hiring managers. This is actually not that difficult to accomplish, but it does take a significant investment of a candidate’s time, which is something that the vast majority of job seekers are still NOT willing to do. This means that those candidates who do elect to put in the time and effort necessary to develop a truly “killer” resume and memorable interview discussions, can very quickly distance themselves from a large percentage of those competing for the same job opening.

Here are some tips that should help your actions (accomplishments) speak for themselves:

• Telling me what you DID makes your resume sound like a job description…the hiring manager wants to read about what you ACCOMPLISHED in each of the roles you held while at previous employers. Write/talk about how you applied each of the required skills/abilities being sought by the hiring manager (your actions) and how doing so produced outcomes that were considered (by supervisors, senior management, clients, co-workers or industry standards/averages) to be exceptional.

• Quantify with metrics (dollars & percentages) each of your accomplishments. And, be certain to relate why that level of success was considered to be outstanding. In other words, provide the hiring manager with some benchmarking that proves the results of your actions were actually exceptional. For example, don’t just state that you, “increased sales”. OK, maybe you did…but the hiring manager needs to know by how much and then see that level of production compared to peers in your company and/or a similar industry. If you really are as outstanding a salesperson as you claim, comparing your accomplishments in this manner will clearly support such a statement.

• Understand that the interview starts as soon as they look at your resume. Does the document reflect the skills and competencies required/being sought as noted in the position description? What type of image did you project during the phone screen (confident delivery of your answers – reflecting thorough research on the company on your part or taking the call at your house while children are yelling and dogs barking in the background)? Did you dress appropriately for the interview? Show up on time? Did you check out the interviewer’s profile on LinkedIn (I know of many hiring managers who will check to see who has looked at their LinkedIn profile…they are often looking to see which candidates made the effort to learn about them prior to the first interview)?

Remember that everything you do, say or write, is written or said about you is all considered as part of the job selection process.

What are your “actions” telling the hiring manager about you?

Candidates May Need Some “Tough Love” to Succeed

Over the last week, I’ve met or spoken over phone with a couple dozen or so people in transition to do some resume/job search coaching. Often, I find that a good deal of what is discussed and recommended during such conversations is difficult to hear for the person being coached. After one such session with a former Human Resources executive, whose resume needed quite a bit of work (it did little to reflect her supposed HR expertise), the individual looked at me and remarked, “Wow, that was really tough love, wasn’t it?”

Yes…and the frustrating part for today’s hiring managers and recruiters is that this type of discussion needs to occur with way too many candidates.

During this same time period, I met with an executive coach, a Global Recruiter for a large, multi-national company and spoke at length with a career coach/recruiter at a large corporate outplacement firm. Below are some of the main points they shared with me when asked about strengths and weaknesses of the resumes they read and candidates with whom they speak:

Strengths

  • Mindset – Candidates with the “that job is mine”/“I can and will make a significant difference at your company when you hire me” approach…and, come fully prepared to back up that confidence with examples of their exceptional successes and accomplishments.
  • Preparation – Proving that they really are interested in the position by demonstrating much research has been completed regarding the target company and respective industry and reflecting such in their cover letter, resume and interview discussions.
  • Resume That “Wow’s” – Having to dig through what is normally hundreds of resumes per position posting, hiring managers and recruiters consider only those documents that tell a great story about exceptional accomplishments at previous employers when selecting a pool of candidates for interviews.
  • Powerful Interviews – All of these folks told me that they will develop a strong “sense” about a candidate during the first few minutes of speaking with them – whether that discussion is over the phone or in person. The candidates who are moved along in the process are those who do the best job of engaging the interviewer during the interview conversations and can create a sense of excitement about the possibility of having them become part of the team.
  • Global Thinkers – Candidates who demonstrate that they “get it”…that they have a great feel and understanding of the company’s challenges and the direction of the respective industry. This is the difference between someone with a holistic view of the work environment/organization/industry vs. a person with “tunnel vision”.
  • Culture Fit – Candidates who demonstrate that they can and have flourished in a work environment similar to that which exists at the prospective employer. Candidates that are perceived to have the ability to perpetuate and strengthen the company’s brand/image.

Weaknesses

  • Wrong Mindset – Candidates who act as though they “deserve” a job just because they claim to have the required skills and that they have “worked for 20 or 30 years” doing something of a similar nature. They may arrive late for interviews, dress in attire which is too casual or engage in phone screens/interviews at home with the dog barking and the children running around the house screaming and fighting with each other (during which the candidate often stops the interview discussion to yell at the dog or the children to “be quiet”). This occurs more often than you would think. Last week I was doing a resume review over the phone and had to stop what I was saying because the person who called me started washing dishes! I’m not kidding.
  • Lack of Preparation – Candidates whose resumes or answers to interview questions clearly demonstrate that little to no research and preparation was done regarding the target company and the respective industry. One of these folks told me, “How does someone expect to sell something (themselves as a great candidate…a great fit for the organization) if they know nothing about the buyer?” Resumes and cover letters that lack customization for the specific job being offered reflect little to no extra effort by the candidate…and this is not a message that will impress recruiters and hiring managers who are seeking to refer or hire “the one” from a pool of hundreds of applicants.
  • Resume That Fails to “Wow” – Candidates whose resumes read like a job description, contain no quantifiable results or accomplishments, are poorly formatted or written (spelling and/or grammatical errors). These poorly constructed resumes are perceived to be an example of the quality of the candidate’s written communication skills. One of the recruiters told me that he would be embarrassed to show to his boss many of the resumes received, because they contained such a large number of errors. Another told me, “Why should I recommend a candidate if they are unable to differentiate themselves with ‘wow me’ results and accomplishments? Who I refer is a direct reflection on my ability to judge talent.”
  • Interviews That Lack “Punch” – Candidates that have “nothing” of substance about which to speak or who are unable to back up their claims of expertise and success with some sort of quantification (metrics, recognition, awards…etc.) Candidates who show no passion during the discussion and/or struggle coming up with substantive answers to the interviewer’s questions are not going to do enough to warrant being moved along in the selection process towards being a finalist. One of the recruiters remarked that they find it amusing when a candidate looks at the ceiling when answering a question. “The answers are not written up there”, he stated while smiling and shaking his head.
  • Lack of Big Picture Thinking – No demonstration of thinking “outside of the box”, being innovative or understanding how one’s actions can impact other areas of the company. These are qualities that are basically no longer an option for a candidate to have…they are expected to be “part of the package”.
  • Culture Mismatch – Recruiters are paid to find the person with the “right stuff”…the candidate whose brand/culture “fits like a glove” with that of the prospective employer. Hiring managers are judged by the level of talent they find to bring into the organization and how well that talent works in harmony within the existing culture. Candidates that are perceived not to be a good fit are often “put back on the shelf”. Too much is at stake for the hiring manager to consider doing otherwise.

So…where do you stack up? Would you be considered a strong candidate or one that should not be moved along in the selection process?

First, you need to listen with an open mind to those providing you, the candidate, with feedback/advice/coaching…the “tough love” regarding your job search strategy and tactics.

That does not mean all advice is great advice that will work well for you. Advice consists of opinions based upon facts or years of actual experience, but can also consist of nothing more than “just my opinion as your friend, family member or former co-worker” (who may know/understand very little about the hiring process). Ultimately, you must make the decision regarding what strategies are followed and which tactics are executed – and with how much effort!

You must be your own toughest critic and fully committed to push yourself to take the steps necessary to be one of the candidates considered by recruiters and hiring managers as strong and potentially “ideal” for the position they are seeking to fill.