Tips 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.
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
- 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
- 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 10
cents, and makes it easy to carry your applications &
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
- 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
- It is acceptable to answer a question “Will explain in
- 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
- 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,
- "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
- "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
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
- 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. Here’s what
- 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
- Maintain good eye contact. Practice on yourself in the
- 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
- 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
- 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
- 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
- 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
- Strengths & 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 – 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
- 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
- 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 & that (list your strengths and abilities
- 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
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
- 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 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 & 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 résumés is clean and clear, with no graphics, bold
face type, italics, or bullets, and is unfolded with no
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 websites
that list job openings, career exploration tools, and
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
- The Great Job Search
- Discovering Your Talents
- Creating Résumés
- A Veterans Guide for Successful Job
- Job Search Tips for Older Job
- Billfold Résumé for Job Interviews