Iowa Trends Site
Employment & Disability
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
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
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 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 about 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
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
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
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
“Downsized.” 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. 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.
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 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 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 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
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 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
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
Whom 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.
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 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 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 résumé
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 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
for Job Interviews
Successfully Interviewing Job
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