Hi everyone. I went to get my tattoo touched up today, and holy hummus, it hurt like a federal contract! Luckily, Game of Thrones is back. Watching GOT with a sleeping newborn on your chest while imbibing one or more bottles of hard apple cider to blunt the pain of your tattoo touchup is one of the joys of life.
All of that to say, I am not sure how coherent this post is going to be. Last week, we talked how to treat job candidates nicer. See “Hey, can we be a little nicer to job applicants and stop treating them like crap?” I remember how stressful and even existentially horrifying it was to find a job. A moment that I will always remember was an interview I bombed. So tell us about some of your strengths, the interview panel asked, to which I replied, “I, uh, um, well, I am, you see—uh, um, I have excellent communication skills.” Did not get that job.
So I have a lot of sympathy and empathy for our colleagues who are trying to find work. This week, I asked the NWB Facebook Community as well as ED Happy Hour’s Facebook group to name mistakes that job candidates frequently make. I got nearly 350 comments. I’ve combed out a few key ones into a list of not just dumbass things you should avoid, but also some things you should do. This list is by no means comprehensive, or groundbreaking. Please add other advice, or argue any of the points, in the comment section.
- First, don’t use Comic Sans. Apparently people really hate that font! (However, it is helpful for people with Dyslexia, so we shouldn’t be too dismissive)
- In fact, don’t try to be fancy with your resume. Unless they’re a design firm or something, nobody cares for artistic resumes with infographics and crap. It’ll just annoy people. Use a simple, easy-to-read, well-designed-but-not-fancy format. Says one colleague, “A word cloud of your skills will make me homicidal.”
- Do follow instructions exactly. Many reviewers put small tests into job postings to see how well you can follow instructions. For example, “Please put your last and first name in your file name.” I always have “Send in your resume and cover as one single PDF attachment.” If you send me two separate attachments, it’s not an automatic disqualifier, but it does negatively affect your chances.
- Do not call if the instructions say not to call. Says a colleague, “No calls means no calls. It also means do not show up at my office unannounced, even if your mom says it is a good idea and even if you bring cake. I don’t know you. The cake is weird.”
- Don’t have an “Objective” part in your resume. We all know your objective is to get a job. Have a summary of your qualifications instead.
- Do keep your resume to one or two pages. Extremely detailed resumes are called CVs, and they’re usually for when you apply for more academic positions and need to list out all your publications and workshops and stuff. If that’s not the position you’re applying for, no one is going to read your 5-page resume.
- Send an actual cover letter if requested: “Please see attached resume” is not a cover letter.
- Don’t start your cover letter with “Dear Sir.” Apparently this happens a lot, and the sexism is irritating. Research who is doing the hiring and address them. If you can’t find out, address it to “Dear Hiring Committee.”
- Customize your cover letter. Says a colleague, “tell me exactly why you are the best person for THIS job. Don’t make me connect the dots and don’t waste my time with a laundry list of jobs you’ve held before; that’s what your resume is for.”
- Don’t get organization’s name wrong in your cover letter. You should always proofread your application for typos and grammar mistakes. Those things are not always deal-breakers. But huge errors like getting the org’s name or mission wrong will automatically get you rejected.
- Do use PDF for your resume and cover. It preserves formatting and makes everything look nicer. And it avoids your accidentally sending in a document with track changes.
- Don’t send a picture of you with your application. I know this is a (terrible) practice in many countries, but it’s not common in the US. Since judging applicants based on characteristics like ethnicity or age is illegal, your picture will freak everyone out.
- Don’t use a dumbass email address: SugarBooty_420@gmail.com is not appropriate. Do use your full name as your email address.
- Don’t have a dumbass voicemail greeting message. Your chances to get hired greatly decrease if someone calls to schedule an interview with you and they get an unprofessional voicemail.
- Do research the organization you’re applying to: You will be asked how your skills and experience are a good fit. You will sound a lot more impressive if you can say things like “I saw in your last blog post that you have a challenge with blah blah. I have experience working with blah blah, etc.”
- Do dress up a bit. It doesn’t matter that you’ve seen most people at an organization wearing casual in general. This is an interview. As one colleague puts it, “Athletic attire, yoga pants and leggings are just an excuse to be a slob. And leggings are really just underwear.”
- Don’t show up late: Unless you got mugged or some other emergency happened, be on time. If you are late, apologize and give a quick reason, and then move on. But it’s best not to be late at all.
- Don’t show up too early: 5 minutes early is perfect, 10 minutes is fine. Any earlier and it makes it awkward for everyone, because chances are, we’re reviewing your application to brush up on questions to ask you. If you are 15 or more minutes early, just stay in your car. Meditate. Or better, use your smart phone to do further research of the org.
- Do treat everyone with consideration and kindness. Learn the receptionist’s or admin assistant’s name. Be nice to the lowly, unwashed intern. If you come off as an arrogant jerk when you walk into the room, you won’t do well anywhere except maybe US politics.
- It’s OK to be a little nervous. In fact, a little bit of nervousness is endearing. Way more endearing than being overly confident and coming off as arrogant. Just say, “I’m sorry, I’m a little nervous,” smile, and continue on.
- Do have a notebook and take notes. For some reason, it irritates a lot of us on interview panels when candidates don’t have a pen and notebook. You may have an amazing memory, but it will not hurt your chances to at least pretend to jot down things during the interview.
- Don’t lie on your resume or cover letter or during the interview, ever: If you do, heck, you may even get the job. But you will likely get fired as soon as someone discovers that you lied about something. And even if you don’t get fired, that possibility will always hang over your head. That’s not fun at all.
- Don’t say “That’s a very good question” after every interview question. We know they are good questions. That’s why we’re asking.
- Do have a plan for what you would do during the first 90 days on this job. Chances are, you will get asked this question, and no, “I will talk to everyone and build relationship and orient myself” is not a good answer. That’s obvious you’ll be doing those things. Have a few concrete ideas in mind.
- Don’t trash your former boss or job: Your last job may have been hell and your boss a sociopath, none of it matters. If you bad-mouth them, people will think you may do the same to this new org. Remain professional by saying something like, “We did not agree on some key areas and were not able to reconcile our differences, so I left [or was let go].”
- Do watch whom you are addressing in the interview. You may not be aware that you may have an unconscious bias, such as only talking to do the dude in the room, despite the fact that it may be the woman sitting next to him who may be your boss, and maybe even his boss.As a colleague says, “If I, as a non-white female, tell you I am the hiring manager and my female director is also part of the team, don’t spend the whole interview speaking to the white male in the room who is not making the decisions!”
- Don’t overshare. Your relationship problems, drug habits, or childhood trauma are probably not relevant to the job, so don’t bring them up.
- Do follow simple instructions during the interview. Says a colleague, “If I tell you to call me Steve, please pay attention. That’s not just my dislike of unnecessary formality coming through, it’s a subtle check to see how well you pay attention to simple instructions.”
- Don’t insult the sector you’re applying to. Says a colleague, “Don’t say that the reason you are applying for a job with a nonprofit is because it is less competitive or less stressful than a job in the private sector. First of all you are wrong, and second of all it sounds like you are planning to take it easy. Also, don’t mention that you are starting your own small business but still need a regular income.”
- Do ask questions at the end of the interview. It’s not good if you don’t have any questions and end the interview early. Have a list of questions you came up with ahead of time and write it down in your notebook. Don’t ask questions you can easily find on an org’s website. Don’t only ask question about the hiring process. In case you’re stuck, here are a few to keep in your pocket: “What do you each love most about this organization?” “What are challenges you anticipate with this job?” “If you can give me one piece of advice if I get this job, what would it be?” “If this position is wildly successful by this time next year, what does that look like for the org?”
- Don’t attempt any mind tricks that make it irritating for the review team. I had a candidate once who insisted that she be interviewed last. We tried to accommodate by asking other candidates to go first, but that made things complicated with everyone’s schedule. She kept insisting, and was available for other time slots, but just wanted to make sure she was interviewed last, probably to leave the last impression. Well, the impression she left was not good.
- Don’t use your partner as a way to prove your cultural competency. As a colleague says, “Don’t try to prove your diversity bonafides for a job at a small PoC community organization as a white person by saying ‘my partner is [insert ethnic group here].’” Yup, I’ve seen this happen also. Just because you’re married to someone of color does not mean anything. If asked, focus instead on your journey in understanding diversity as a White person and how you see your role in addressing institutional racism and systemic oppression.
- Do have a good closing statement. It doesn’t need to be long or complicated. Just thank the interview panel and show some enthusiasm about the job and how excited you are at the opportunity to work there. Something like, “Thank you so much for taking time to interview me. I love blah blah blah about [the org]. I know you’ll have lots of qualified candidates to choose from, but I would love the opportunity to help [the org] achieve its goals of blah blah.”
- Do follow up with a thank-you email or handwritten note. But do it right away, especially for a handwritten note, since it takes longer by snail mail. I actually prefer email thank-you notes, since they are faster. If you are applying for a development job, though, where handwritten notes are the norm, it may be helpful to do that.
- Don’t list people you didn’t work closely with as references. You may be tempted to list the Executive Director of an org you worked at, but if you barely spoke to him or her, it’s not a good reference.
- Do Google yourself to see what come up. More and more employers are doing social media research before hiring. As a colleague says, “Drunk or mostly naked photos and hate speech memes don’t bode well for a position where you will represent the organization to others.”
- Don’t involve your parents in anything. Don’t list your mom as a reference. Don’t bring your mom with you during the interview. Don’t have your mom call to set up an interview on your behalf. Alarmingly, quite a few colleagues mentioned this! Says one, “If you’re younger and applying for one of your first jobs, don’t allow your parents to talk you out of a great opportunity. And when you receive an offer don’t reply with, ‘I need to talk to my parents before I accept.’”
- Do be transparent about whether you can legally work in the US. As one colleague puts it, “Do not conceal the fact that you are not authorized to work in the US until you are offered a position and then as for help with your visa. We are a tiny org and we put a lot of resources into hiring, which you wasted since we specified that we do not have the means to assist in immigration situations, as much as we would like to.”
- If you don’t get the job, be gracious and don’t burn bridges. You don’t know who knows whom. Your angry rants about how the job is beneath you anyway or how sucky the hiring process is may cost you other jobs.
- Finally, If you’re applying for a position at my organization, Rainier Valley Corps, do make sure you use the Oxford Comma. #OxfordCommaForever!
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