Most e-mail and homepage providers often have a career section that, on a weekly basis, elicits some sort of list of “what to/to not say in an interview” or “how to make your resume look like art“ or “what color tie angers hiring managers”. Most claims made in these articles are, even at an intuitive level, unfounded. You don’t have to sit through the grind of daily interviews to realize that not all hiring managers or CEO’s or recruiters ask the same questions or are put off by the same signals. In the experience of seeking a job in a down economy, at some point, everyone should realize that the person conducting the interview is just as human as you are. The following (sticking with the numbered theme of career related articles) is a list of issues that may or may not come up when it comes time to meet your potentially future boss but are instilled in us to stress over come interview time:
- Attire: Certainly there are some interview standards when it comes to what to wear; however, most of them rarely apply to anymore. Very few of us are applying to a Fortune 500 company. Granted a suit and tie or pants suit always says “professional”, it isn’t necessarily what a manager is looking for. More often than not the company you are applying to has some sort of outlet for company information, whether it’s a website or open house, either way you have access to see what a full time employee at the company looks like. Attempting to mimic how current employees dress will set you in with the hiring managers standards and daily perception of his or her company. If the person interviewing you already associates how you look with the company, that’s a huge step in your favor. Granted this may not always work if the attire at the company is overly casual, but it is a starting point, one that you can adjust before the interview. Believe it or not, some people see the suit and tie method as stuck up and even empty – these people are trying to gauge who you are (and quickly, I might add) and so anything too standard will make them group you in with dozens of other applicants.
- Wording: Of course there are things you shouldn’t say in an interview like curse words, ethnic/sexist slurs, or overt arrogant statements (i.e. “if you don’t give me this job, you’re hurting your company”). On the other hand, there is a reason why overly confident, mean, passive-aggressive, fake, incompetent, etc. people have jobs – not only do they have some sort of skill set that’s needed but they also know how to sell themselves. Yes there have been plenty of “studies” done to find what hiring managers do not like to hear, but when interviewing an interviewer, knowing the results will be published somewhere, how likely are they to speak the utmost truth? Not every boss is going to admit that they so virtuously denied an applicant because they said something sexist in an interview (keeping in mind there are still a lot of work places where such behavior is welcomed). These managers are human and may even fit one of the descriptions above. If someone likes you enough, you can accidentally curse in front of them and then apologize to no affect – who is so easily offended these days anyway? But this is straying from the main point, if you were to come off as arrogant, this may put off a hiring manager who is passive-aggressive or meek, but it certainly won’t put off a CEO who needs a new salesperson on the floor. Staying within reason, if you were to bad mouth your old or current company, yes this will keep you from progressing to the second round of interviews, but if you’re worried that they’re going to inquire about why you’re leaving your current job, if you speak tastefully, without condescension, you’re more likely come off as a “team player” or something of the sort. The truth is you’re not going to know what to say or what not to say before the interview, but if you keep it “clean”, concise, and know how to sell yourself on what makes you different from most other people, you’re far better off than trying to recall a list of phrases not to use that your internet provider’s page suggested.
- Resume: No matter what anyone says, there is no “right” way to format your resume. If there were only but a handful of correct formats, nobody would want to be a hiring manager. To have to read hundreds of resumes all in the same fashion would not be unlike someone who reads telegrams from the 1930’s all day. Career centers, specialists, workshops and the like will always be the first to tell you your resume is wrong, otherwise they would be advisors without a purpose (much like this column). Some specialists will tell you there needs to be a mission statement or objective, others will tell you that an objective is redundant and says little to nothing about you. Some will tell you to keep it strictly to one page, others will say to have a second page strictly for accomplishments and specific skills. If you can take anything away from this, it is: keep it concise and make it noticeable. Remember, they’re probably only going to read it once and skim it a few other times, so if your resume is just a collection of tabs, returns, and words, it’ll be unappealing to read over. Try new fonts, but take care with that because as a general rule in successful advertising, anymore than two fonts will just seem cluttered and will come off as trying too hard. Don’t have everything aligned the same; if your special skills is aligned equally with education, a manager is going to wonder why you added “computer” twice in this cohesive mess, and they won’t re-read it to find out. Definitely make your subsections stand out from one another and don’t be afraid to change the order from the norm; for example, most accounting firms tend to be more to the point and so if you have a specialized degree in accounting or have taken classes on accounting software, don’t be afraid to put education experience over work experience. You will be the best judge of your own experience and what you can best sell yourself on, use this to format your resume. People who work at career centers do have plenty of experience in their field, but do not be so ready to take their word as infallible.
Work experience, college education, and your personal wardrobe aren’t everything. Not everybody is going to be a lawyer so don’t feel like you have to act like one but don’t treat your interview like you’re going to run the ball pit at Mcdonald’s either. If you act other than you, you will probably get a job you would only have wanted if you were that other person.