Iowa Trends Site
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 what the employer does – this lets you ask intelligent questions
during an interview, and lets the employer know you are really interested
in a 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 out a lot of 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 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 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 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.
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 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 your applications and résumés around without ruining them. 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 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 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
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 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, 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 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, but 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
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.
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 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 possibly reschedule if
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 there.
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: “I feel 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 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: “I can’t
think of anything I didn’t enjoy.” Be careful using that if it’s not true!
If they ask 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 of
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
– either 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 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 that (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 promotions possible?
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
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
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 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.
Do not include personal information unless it directly relates to the
position you are applying for.
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 office for copies of
materials on how to construct a résumé, or come in and use one of our
resource centers. We have computers, 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 helpful publications that we have available to the
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