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Iowa Workforce Development
Region 12

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Region 12
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Hints for Job Seekers

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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 IowaWorks Business Directory. If 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 Blanks!

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 suggestions:

  • 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 on.)
  • 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 forklift.
  • 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 in interview."
  • 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 short.
  • 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 so.
  • 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 information.

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A Lasting First Impression

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.
  • Do I need a haircut?
  • Men—are you clean shaven or is your beard or moustache trimmed?
  • 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 Etiquette

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,, 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, 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 someone.”

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 the job.

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 values.

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The Interview

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 mean:

  • 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 there.

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 common questions.

  • 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 history.
  • 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 teenagers."
  • 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 conversation confidential."
  • 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 job interview:

  • What would my job duties be?
  • How would I be trained?
  • How would my progress be rated?
  • Are promotions possible?
  • 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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Follow-Up Calls

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 major employers.

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 staples.

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 data.

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Other Resources

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 Interviewing
  • Resume Participation Guide
  • Billfold Résumé for Job Interviews
  • Tip Sheets on various subjects.

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Your Answering 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 antics."

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 the job.

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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