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Hints for Job Seekers
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. If the
employer or company has a Web site, that's also an excellent place to find
good information about what they do. 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
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 nights 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
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.
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
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 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 of 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 that 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, and 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!
Why Did You
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
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, but how many do they
have when they quit for those reasons without another job lined up?
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.
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
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.
Employers can learn a lot about you at a
job interview, and not just from your answers to their questions. Remember,
your first 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 possibly
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 coworkers.
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 question. Think
before you open your mouth, and 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 works
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 answer 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 coworkers, say so. A safe
answer is, “I can’t think of anything I didn’t enjoy.” Be careful using
that if it’s not true!
If asked what you liked 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, 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
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
What other companies are you
interviewing with? Your response 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 and list your strengths and
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
Who would I be reporting 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.
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
The rules for resumé 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 marital
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 resumé 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 office for copies of materials
on how to construct a resumé, or come in and use one of our resource
centers. We have PCs, 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.
More information is available at your
local Iowa Workforce Development office. Call or stop by for some one-on-one
help with your questions, or ask for copies of these helpful publications:
The Great Job Search
Discovering Your Talents
A Veterans Guide for Successful Job
Job Search Tips for Older Job Seekers
Billfold Résumé for Job Interviews
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