It shouldn't come as a surprise that looking for
work can be a lot of work, especially if you haven't been in the job
market for a while, or if you are changing careers. If you need help
putting together a résumé, aren't sure how to answer some questions on a
job application, or are scared to death at the prospect of a job
interview, you've come to the right place. Here are some hints to make
the job search less frightening and more productive.
Do Some Research!
Find out about the employer's business—this lets
you ask intelligent questions during an interview, and lets the employer
know you are really interested in their job. It can also help you decide
if you really want to apply for the job. Friends who work there can be a
good source of information, along with the local chamber of commerce,
Iowa Workforce Development, and the local newspaper or library.
Iowa Workforce Development now has a business website directory, with
new addresses added daily. Just click on
the employer or company has a website it is an excellent place to
find good information about what they do. If a company is not
listed in the IowaWorks
Business Directory you can always call the
company to ask if they have a Web site, check local community Web sites
for possible links, or use one of the many search engines.
Here are some things you should ask about:
- What type of work is performed? What types of
jobs are available? There is no point applying for a job as an
underwater welder at a plant where they make filing cabinets.
- If they produce something, what is it?
- How long have they been in business? A new
business offers opportunities to get in on the ground floor, while an
established business can indicate stability and longevity.
- How many people work there?
- What are the work hours? If you don't want to
work evenings and weekends, you probably shouldn't apply for a job at
a shopping mall.
- What is the normal starting pay? It's amazing
how many people tell us they got a new job, but don't have a clue how
much they are going to be paid or if they will get any benefits.
- How do they train new employees? Is it
on-the-job, with a mentor, or would you have to go to formal classroom
training? This can show the employer you want to work, and that you
want to do the job properly.
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Fill in the
Employers tell us that a lot of job applications
are incomplete, messy and downright hard to read. You don't want that
first impression to be the wrong one, so take a minute to review these
- Be neat. Print—most people's printing is
clearer than their handwriting. Don't spill coffee on the application
form or let it get anywhere near the kids or the dog. Don't fold,
tear or smudge it. A two-pocket folder only costs 10 cents and makes
it easy to carry and protect your applications and résumés. Don't make
lots of erasures or cross-outs. Use a black or blue pen—no pink or
green ink with sparkles!
- Follow instructions. This can show the
employer you will follow instructions on the job. If you put your
first name first, but it was supposed to be last, you will either have
a messy application, or you'll have to ask for another one. (Hint: If
you can take the application home with you, make a copy to practice
- Tell the truth! They may verify your
information. Lying on an application can be grounds for dismissal if
they discover you really don't have 10 years experience driving a
- Fill in all the blanks. If a question
doesn't apply to you, draw a neat line in the space, or write "NA" for
"not applicable". It is acceptable to answer a question "will explain
- Reread it. Make sure you have
answered all the questions and your answers are positive.
- What job do you want? If the question is
"Position Desired?", say something. Employers are not guidance
counselors in the business of helping you decide what you want to be
when you grow up. If you don't say, you could be put where the
employer needs someone, and that could be a job you'd hate. If you
don't want to clean the kill floor at the packinghouse, don't say
"anything you've got." Don't waste the employer's time. Do some
research and find out what jobs they have you'd accept.
- Salary desired? If you have done your
homework, you'll have a good idea of what to put down. It is
acceptable to say "negotiable," or "the normal starting pay for this
position." Don't price yourself out of the market or sell yourself
- Date available? Be honest. Can you
really start today? if you want to give your current employer two
weeks notice, say so. That shows the prospective employer you would
give them the same courtesy if hired.
- References? If the employer wants
references, you must list some. Think of people with good credentials
who would say positive things about you. Remember to get their
permission first! And just because an employer doesn't ask, don't
assume they won't do some type of reference check!
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Why Did You Leave?
There is usually a section on job applications for
prior work history. If you've had several jobs, you obviously left
one or it left you. The prospective employer will want to know what
happened. Be positive, and avoid negative responses such as:
- Fired. Can imply you did something
wrong. A better answer is "Let go", "Released", or "Down-sized". Was
your job eliminated through reorganization or budget cuts? If yes, say
- Quit. Sounds like you can't follow
through. Why not say "resigned" or "left for better opportunities".
- Problems with the supervisor. So who
still has a job? The supervisor. This makes you sound like a
troublemaker, and the new employer doesn't need that. If you were let
go, say so, and add "Will explain in interview." At the interview, be
positive and don't bad-mouth your old supervisor.
- Personality conflict. Implies you are
hard to get along with.
- Personal. Too vague and suggests you
still have issues that would interfere with your ability to work. Say
"Will explain in interview."
- Low pay. Suggests dissatisfaction and
that you'd leave again for the same reason. Say "Left to look for a
better opportunity/more challenging position/more responsibility."
It's often perplexing when people tell us they left because they
weren't getting enough money or hours. How many do they have when
they quit for those reasons without another job lined up? None, right?
If the company was sold or there was a change in
management, say so. New owners/managers often clean house, and it
doesn't necessarily imply any fault or blame on your part.
Most applications are perfectly fine, but
sometimes a question can pop up that's potentially discriminating.
Contact you local Workforce Center for more
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You never get a second chance to make a first
impression, so don't blow it by showing up at the employer's business in
dirty clothes, bare feet and bright green hair. You might be there just
to pick up an application, but that first impression may prevent you
from getting an interview.
Ask yourself these questions:
- Are my clothes clean and neat? Are they
appropriate to the job? Do they fit or are they too revealing? When
applying for a job, wear the type of clothes you would wear on the
job. This is where your research pays off.
- Are my shoes clean? Don't leave a lasting
reminder of your visit on the employer's carpeting.
- Men—are you clean shaven or is your beard or
- Women—is your makeup neatly applied?
- Are your teeth clean and your breath fresh? A
beer with lunch can be a red flag at your afternoon interview and if
the employer doesn't allow smoking at the facility, don't have a
cigarette and then claim you don't smoke.
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Email can often be your first – and possibly, your
only – point of contact with other people. Practicing good business
etiquette on the Web can make a difference between hearing back from an
employer or not when applying for that perfect job.
“Think of your e-mail as a serious communication tool, not an excuse to
forget about being professional, courteous or friendly,” says Rohn
Everson, Human Resources manager at Maintainer, Sheldon. “Sometimes,
even thoughtless little things can completely destroy what otherwise is
a professional message.”
What message does an email address like firstname.lastname@example.org,
email@example.com send, he asks? Those addresses are not
professional, and could be considered demeaning and insensitive. Most
businesses don’t want to convey that type of image, and applicants with
these types of addresses will probably not be considered for employment.
Bryan Kooi, Human Resources manager at MEDTEC, Orange City, agrees.
“I receive a lot of resumes via email. I see some very questionable
email addresses that make me wonder about the ethics, morality, and
overall professionalism of the applicant,” says Kooi.
Always provide a personal name if your mail system allows it - a
personal name attached to your address identifies you better than your
address can on its own, advises Everson. For example,
RobertAnderson@abc123.com conveys the
sender as a professional person to be taken seriously a lot more than
“Use a sensible personal name: ‘Guess who’ or other such phrases are
annoying as personal names and hinder the recipient's quick
identification of you and your message,” says Everson.
Matt Ricke, a Sioux City-based manager, considers
questionable email addresses as a “red flag – a reason not to hire
He advises people to select a simple address, not one loaded with
letters and numbers, and definitely not something odd or off the wall.
He understands that some people consider their email address as a
personal expression, but offers this cautionary advice to job seekers:
“If that’s their image, they have to understand the consequences of
those choices.” And sometimes, he says, the consequence is not getting
Our society needs proper etiquette now more than ever, Everson believes.
“Good manners maintain consideration and kindness in our busy lives.
Knowledge of good manners can lead to success in life. Appropriate
conduct can make or break business deals, or determine the outcome of a
job interview and promote good relations,” says Everson.
The bottom line, according to all three managers, is to be professional.
Your email address is a direct reflection of you, your image and your
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Employers can learn a lot about you at a job
interview and not just from your answers to their questions. Remember,
your goal is to not get eliminated from consideration. Here's what we
- Be on time. That shows an employer you
will also be on time for work if hired. If you are going to be
unavoidably late, call the employer to let them know and reschedule if necessary.
- Maintain good eye contact. Practice on
yourself in the bathroom mirror.
- Speak well (or at least not negatively)
of previous employers or co-workers.
- Go alone. You wouldn't take your
children or other family members to work with you.
- Learn about the job by asking specific
questions. Show you are interested!
- Don't discuss family problems or provide
too much information about non-essential issues.
- Send a thank-you letter to the employer
after the interview. You'd be surprised how many people skip this
important step. This is just a short note thanking the employer for
taking the time to talk to you and reinforcing your desire to work
Job interviews can be frightening, especially if
you're not sure how to answer a specific questions. Think before you
open your mouth. Review these suggestions for possible responses to
- Why do you want to work here? A good answer is,
"I believe I can put my skills to good use here." Be complimentary. If
you've heard great things from a friend who work there, say so. Don't
say you don't know.
- Tell me about yourself. List your skills,
abilities and personal attributes. You can combine work and personal
information. Outline your strong points and accomplishments. Sum up
your answers and stop talking! If you are new to the job market,
stress your educational and personal achievements over your work
- What did you enjoy the most about your last
job? Clever answers often fall flat. If the work was stimulating, say
so. If you really liked your co-workers, say so. A safe answer is, "I
can't think of anything I didn't enjoy." Be careful using that if it
is not true!
- If asked what you like the most, be prepared to
say what you disliked the most. Maybe your answer should be "when the
job ended" or "getting laid off".
- What do you want to be doing in five years?
Show interest in moving up. Show you would like to take on increased
responsibility or learn new things. Saying "I want your job" is
dangerous! Employers can be amused or annoyed at your arrogance—it took
them 20 years to get where they are—or see you as a threat.
- How do you deal with stress or pressure? If you
work well under pressure, say so. If you had deadlines or a quota, say
you always met those if that's the case. Or try this if you have kids:
"I have a high tolerance for stress. I'm a single parent of
- Strengths and weaknesses. These questions go
hand in hand. If you can honestly say you are punctual, reliable and a
good worker, say so. If you state a weakness, tell how you are trying
to overcome it. Try the "yes, but" technique to turn a negative into a
positive. "Yes, it's true I don't have a lot of experience, but I am
eager to learn and can start right away."
- If you have a gap in your work history because
of unemployment, illness, family issues, etc., the employer will
probably ask you why you weren't working. Be honest and tell them "If
I didn't want to work, I wouldn't have applied for this job."
- What other companies are you interviewing with?
Your responses should be: "I'd like to keep my interviews with
specific companies private, just as I'm sure you'd want me to keep our
- Why should I hire you? Don't put down the other
applicants. Simply say you don't know the other applicants, but you do
know that you are able to do this type of work and list your strengths
and abilities again.
- What do you expect for a starting wage? It's
perfectly OK to answer this question with a question: "What is the
normal starting wage for this position?" Don't tell the employer what
you need to live on.
Be prepared to ask the employer questions as well.
Be positive and avoid asking questions that give the negative
impression that you are only interested in what the employer can do for
you. Sometimes your questions will get answered during the interview,
but here are some suggestions. Bring these questions along to the
- What would my job duties be?
- How would I be trained?
- How would my progress be rated?
- Are promotions
- Who would I report to?
- Why is this job open?
- May I have a tour of the work area?
It's usually best to save the "what's in it for
me" questions until the end of the interview. If the employer hasn't
volunteered this information, ask them about the rate of pay, fringe
benefits, and any probationary period.
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After the interview is over and you've sent a
thank-you note expressing your appreciation for consideration, wait a
couple of days and make a follow-up call to see if the employer has made
a decision. If you got the job—congratulations! You'll probably find out
when you'll start, etc. If you didn't get the job, don't be afraid to
ask why not in a non-threatening manner. If the manager hasn't made a
decision yet, find out if there is anything else you can do, but don't
be pushy and don't beg.
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The rules for résumé preparation come and go, and
today's résumés are often skill-based, meaning they focus on what you
can do and not where you did it. This is the format requested by many
In the past résumés also included information on
your age, your martial status, your height and weight, and where you
went to church. All of that is highly discouraged since it can
inadvertently give the prospective employer information that could be
used to discriminate against you.
Today's résumés may also have to be electronically
scannable. An electronically scannable résumé is specifically designed
to be entered into a computerized database using an optical scanner. The
scanner "reads" the résumé and stores it in text form as a computer
file. Visually appealing résumés usually don't convert well to a scannable format. The ideal scannable résumé is clean and clear, with no
graphics, bold face type, italics, or bullets, and is unfolded with no
Contact your local Iowa Workforce Development
Center for copies of materials on how to construct a résumé, or come in
and use one of our resource centers. We have PC's, easy to use
résumé-building software, and free paper, as well as information on Web
sites that list job openings, career exploration tools, and employer
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More information is available at your local
IowaWORKS Center. Call or stop by for some one-on-one help
with your questions, or ask for copies of these helpful publications:
- Resource Guide for Job Seekers
- Stand Out from the Crowd
- A Veteran's Guide for Successful Job
- Resume Participation Guide
- Billfold Résumé for Job Interviews
- Tip Sheets on various subjects.
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Machine Can Cost You a Job
By Lori Adams
Division Administrator / Workforce Services
You wouldn’t answer an employer’s job interview question with
"Loser! You’ll have to leave a message," so why risk never getting an
interview - much less the job - by putting that greeting on your
answering machine or voice mail?
Local human resources managers are encountering more and more
unprofessional voice mail and answering machine messages, and other poor
telephone manners that cost people job opportunities.
"It is not unusual for HR’s first contact with an applicant to be via
his or her answering machine or voice mail," says Jack Schreurs of
Rosenboom Machine and Tool, Sheldon & Spirit Lake. "Most HR
professionals can tell you about messages that left the impression that
the applicant was neither mature nor professional, and certainly not
serious about making a favorable impression with prospective employers.
Those same HR professionals will tell you that some of these first
attempts to contact these applicants were also their last."
Rohn Everson of Maintainer Corporation, Sheldon, advises job seekers to
skip the dramatic, comical and unnecessary messages that waste the
caller’s time. "Employers make many return calls to applicants, and the
last thing they want to do is listen to a collection of time wasting
One job seeker who wasted Everson’s time was the one whose message said
"Hi. I’m probably home; I’m just avoiding someone I don’t like. Leave me
a message and if I don’t call back, it’s because I’m avoiding you."
Carla Gates of Rohlin Construction, Estherville, dislikes job seekers
who use message numbers - but don’t bother to let the other person or
the employer know.
"My biggest pet peeve is when the applicant puts someone else’s phone
number on the app, and when you call to leave a message for John you get
Crystal’s voice mail, so again you don’t know if you have the right
number or if you should even leave a message." Gates’ advice to job
seekers: Let employers know they are calling a message number.
"I called one applicant to offer him a job, and the lady on the other
end said, ‘I don’t know why he gave you my number, he never comes over
to check his messages and is really irresponsible,’ and then she hung up
on me," said Gates. "Needless to say I didn’t hire him."
Gates has also had her share of unprofessional messages. She didn’t hire
the applicant who advised her that if she was a creditor she should hang
up, but to leave a message if he had won any money, or the one with
laughing small children and an unintelligible message.
Matt Ricke, Sioux City, agrees with Gates. "If you live with
other people, make sure they know you have applied for a job with
companies X, A and Q, so if they call, there is a priority to call them
back right away." If they can’t speak in a cordial manner, or take a
complete message, ask them to not answer the phone and let the voice
mail pick up. A message from "someone from someplace" won’t help you get
If you don’t have a valid phone number or another reliable way to get a
message, you may miss the one chance to get an interview, Ricke adds.
"The others, who are prepared, get the message or call, get scheduled
for an interview and may even get the job, just because they were
available and ready for work."
Another problem, he says, is people who don’t keep their land line or
cell phone service current.
"I wish I had a nickel for every person who calls me after they had
applied previously, and asked why we never call them and the notes I
have are ‘bad phone number or disconnected,’" says Ricke. He would also
appreciate people returning phone calls.
"We also encounter people we leave messages for who never call back.
When we do eventually get a hold of them, they say, ‘Well, I got another
job and didn’t know I needed to.’ "
Bryan Kooi of Med-Tec, Orange City, offers these suggestions to job
seekers who use answering machines, voice mail or message numbers:
- Avoid generic messages, such as "Leave
message after tone."
- Personalize the message by including your
name so the employer knows they have reached the correct number,
such as "You’ve reached the Smiths. Please leave a message. Thanks."
- Be polite, brief and clear, and don’t waste
time on such things as telling the caller to leave a message at the
beep, or explaining you cannot come to the phone right now. People
calling long distance don’t want to listen to lengthy messages.
- Avoid a current trend to include a snippet of
music from your favorite band. It wastes time and money. Also avoid
using profanity, like the message that said, "You better know what
the hell to do by now."
- If you are expecting an important phone call
or possible job offer, don’t have small children answer the phone.
Do you really want the caller to know that "Daddy’s in the shower"?
Everson also has advice for people who leave
messages with potential employers. "Keep it short but clear," says
Everson. "State your name, the time of your call, your phone number and
your reason for calling." He doesn’t think it hurts to repeat your name
and phone number, and if you are calling about a job advertised in the
newspaper or at IWD, say so.
"A professional and clear message will certainly not guarantee you land
the perfect job," Kooi says. "But having an inappropriate message will
definitely hurt your chances."
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