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Region 6

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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.

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 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 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 “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 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 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, 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 your part.

Make 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.

The Interview
Employers can learn a lot about you at a job interview, and not just from your answers to their questions.  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 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 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 coworkers, 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 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 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 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?
  • To whom 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.

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.

The rules for résumés 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 résumés 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 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 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. 

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