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Job Search Etiquette

Beverly Langford: Hello Everyone. I’m looking forward to our chat today and hope that the discussion will be helpful to you. Let’s get started.

Brentwood, Md.: What is one thing to do or say when interviewing for a new job that impresses the interviewer?

Beverly Langford: Demonstrate that you know about the company and the requirements of the job, and come to the interview prepared to ask insightful questions and make substantial comments. Convey to the hiring manager that you want this job, not just a job. Ask what constitutes exceptional performance in that position and how the company measures that performance. The hiring process costs companies a great deal of money. They want to see a significant return on their investment. Let the manager know that you are committed to contributing significantly to the success of the company.

Chester, Va.: Dr. Langford, please solve a debate for us. Which do you think is preferred: A follow-up e-mail, phone call or handwritten note?

Beverly Langford: You are always safe with a handwritten note, since it’s more traditional. However, if the corporate culture in the company where you interviewed is more casual or technology driven, an email is appropriate. A phone call would be my last choice because it can come across as an intrusion. Sometimes I will send a quick email immediately and follow up with a more formal written note. Overkill perhaps, but people like to be appreciated.

Chesapeake, Va.: What advice have you for those who have retired and attempting to re-enter the workforce?

Beverly Langford: Plan a re-entry campaign that focuses on what advantages you bring to the company where you seek employment. Do you have an existing retirement plan that includes benefits, for example? Perhaps you can save the hiring company money in this area. Would you be willing to work part time or job share? Be prepared to show how your experience can translate into the company’s bottom line. Enthusiasm and a creative, flexible approach are key to helping a potential employer see you as a good investment. Further, have a cogent explanation as to why you want to return to the workplace.

Anonymous: Often I get told that I’m over-qualified. What do I do?

Beverly Langford: You mentioned that you are “often” told that you are over-qualified. Are you setting your sights too low in the jobs for which you apply? Make sure that you evaluate your background and skills against the requirements of the job. If you really want a job for which you seem over-qualified, your challenge is to convince the hiring manager that this job is indeed suited for you -- and to articulate reasons why you believe that to be true. Employers often are leery of hiring people who seem over-qualified for a job because they are afraid that the employee will become bored, try to turn the job into something it’s not, or leave within a short time. You need to be prepared to address and alleviate those concerns.

Anonymous: Dr. Langford wrote, “Convey to the hiring manager that you want this job, not just a job.” This is so true! I’m a hiring manager and it really stands out to me when a candidate clearly wants THIS job with THIS company, not just A job. Find ways to make that clear -- in your cover letter, in the interview. (I write about this a lot at my blog, and it’s interesting to me how often this seems to be news to people).

Beverly Langford: Thanks for your comment and great insights.

Arlington, Va.: Dr. Langford, I have seen various opinions on this subject. But is a resume considered more professional or less if it is written in the third person? I have always shied away from using ‘I’ in my resumes -- and so far it seems to have served me well. But I am still unsure if there is a preferred standard for pronouns. What do you think?

Beverly Langford: Most resumes still appear in third person, using “telegraphic” sentences, which don’t have a subject. For example, “Led a team that cut operating costs by 20%.” Start with an action verb that focuses on outcomes and accomplishments. If you write in full sentences using the personal pronoun, the resume is too full of “I’s.”

Washington, D.C.: The interview questions I have problems with are when asked what are my weaknesses and strengths. And “why do you think you should get hired?” I work in the medical field as a medical receptionist. I always get the second interview but I don’t know what happens from there.

Beverly Langford: Self-awareness demonstrates maturity, good judgment, and an ability to learn, and employers are almost always looking for those qualities. Think about what you do well, and rather than talking in terms of weaknesses, consider areas where you have room to grow or where you face challenges. If you mention a weakness, include your plans for overcoming or mitigating that weakness. Don’t just come across as accepting it as the inevitable. Almost every potential employer asks the question about why you think that company should hire you. Have your answer ready before you go into the interview, and make sure that the answer focuses on the contribution that you can make to the organization. What are your particular skills, and how can you use those skills to achieve specific results in that job. What problems or issues can you overcome if you hold that position? Deliver that message with enthusiasm and conviction.

Arlington, Va.: To me, an email and a written note comes across as a little desperate and a bit creepy. I think I’d be put off by a person that sent both.

Beverly Langford: Good point. I was suggesting something really short for the email, such as “I enjoyed meeting you today. Thanks for your time.” Then that gives you a little breathing room for writing the more formal thank you. But, as you said, you don’t want to sound desperate.

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Washington, D.C.: I am an administrative assistant with 20+ years of experience. I am currently volunteering at a recovery house for women and am actively seeking employment so I can return to my field of expertise. How do I explain the career change. I truly wanted to give something back to the community, and could see no better way than to help women who were less fortunate than myself. I think I’ve already answered my question Dr. Langford. Also, I have a two-month gap in employment. Is this a problem? When I returned from southern Virginia in March 2007, I knew the volunteer job would not be available until May 2007. How do I explain this?

Beverly Langford: Your reason for leaving your chosen field to volunteer is legitimate and admirable and shows initiative and a willingness to grow and develop. I don’t see the two-month gap as a significant problem. Just explain it simply and clearly in a way that doesn’t raise questions in the interviewer’s mind. The real question that you need to be able to answer is why you want to return to your traditional employment and why now? Volunteerism provides a great opportunity to learn new skills and meet new challenges. What are some accomplishments or results that you achieved during your time at the recovery house? Did you develop new processes or make things more efficient? How did your particular abilities contribute to the success of the organization? Think about how you can position this experience to your advantage in the workplace.

District Heights, Md.: If you are really uncomfortable and unhappy in a new job position and would like to search for new more suitable employment, what are some acceptable reasons that don’t raise red flags with prospective employers why you are looking to move so soon? Thank you.

Beverly Langford: Keep the discussion with your prospective employer strictly job related. You can say, for example, that the actual job turned out to be significantly different from the position that was described during your job search. Focus on your expectations and what you are seeking. Be positive and forward looking. You might want to have some answers ready if the interviewer wants to pursue the issue. But you should also feel comfortable in stating that you don’t wish to discuss the specific reasons.

Dallas, Texas: Should I take notes during an interview or is this considered rude?

Beverly Langford: In my opinion, taking notes during the interview shows that you are engaged, enthusiastic, and interested in capturing what the interviewer has to say. Come to the interview with some good questions, and write down the answers that you receive. Of course there’s always the possibility that the interviewer is

uncomfortable with your note taking. You can always ask his or her permission before you start to take notes.

Washington, D.C.: I’m job hunting right now. I’m surprised at that I don’t hear back... at all... after interviews. I can easily figure out that when my inquiries go unanswered, I haven’t gotten the job, but don’t employers have some etiquette rules they should follow themselves? I write the thank notes, I show up on time properly dressed, I bring extra copies of my materials just in case, I’m polite on the phone and in e-mail and I follow the “contact three times and then stop” rule. And I’m looking the nonprofit area, interviewing at membership organizations, which don’t seem to realize that a poorly treated job applicant isn’t going to become a donor later on... or ever.

Beverly Langford: I agree that interviewers should follow up with candidates. If an interviewer doesn’t have the time or focus to handle the follow-up individually, then he or she should enlist someone to contact each candidate (either by phone or in writing) and apprise him or her of the status of the process. The sooner the company provides closure, the sooner that applicant can focus on looking elsewhere. Courtesy and consideration should occur on both sides of the desk during the interview process.

Washington, D.C.: As someone who often interviews young applicants, I have a word of advice for young women. And I’m young, pierced and not too out of it (just for my bona fides). When you sit down, make sure your skirt comes to at least the top of your knees. So many young women doen’t seem to know this, and their discomfort shows through as they sit trying not to show everyone their Sharon Stone shot.

Beverly Langford: Thanks for your comment. I agree. The better you feel about your appearance in the interview and the more comfortable you are in the situation, the more effectively you can concentrate on the substantial issues of the interview. It’s difficult to come up with a great answer to a question when you are worrying about your skirt.

Garrisonville, Va.: Dr. Langford, how much do handshakes really factor into a job-related meeting?

Beverly Langford: First impressions are extremely important, and a handshake is part of that initial ritual. A surprising number of people make all kinds of judgments about others based on the quality of the handshake. A reasonably firm (not bone-crushing) handshake that doesn’t hold on too long is generally considered acceptable. Good eye contact and a smile should accompany the handshake. Note, however, that handshakes vary from culture to culture. In some parts of the world, handshakes are much softer than in the U.S.

Atlanta, Ga.: How do I handle an interview that will be a lunch meeting?

Beverly Langford: If you are the person seeking the job, by all means be on time -- even a bit early. Order something that will be easy to eat and that won’t create a distraction. Don’t order the most expensive item on the menu. Brush up on your table manners. The lunch interview is often a way to observe someone in social sitautions. Even if the meal isn’t great, avoid any complaints or negative comments. Let your host guide the conversation, and make sure that you express your appreciation for the invitation and the occasion.

Alexandria, Va.: And you don’t need to wear a suit, but please wear something that looks like professional entered your mind while buying it. Black, gray or brown pants are great. A white collared shirt is great. A neat, professional looking cardigan or v-neck sweater over the shirt. Fine. But don’t wear clothes that you would wear to happy hour or to lounge around the house. And seriously: Buy a suit. You can get suits from New York & Company or Sears or JCPenney for under $100 total. Even for under $50 total if you shop clearances. It doesn’t have to be the best quality if you’re not wearing it all the time. And I appreciate when a candidate does wear a suit, because it makes me feel like they take the job and my organization seriously.

Beverly Langford: Great comments. Thank you.

Beverly Langford: Thank you for all the outstanding questions and comments. I wish we had more time. I wish all of you the best in your job searches and in your careers, now and in the future.

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