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Book shares tips on how to prepare for a job interview

By Michelle Singletary
Sunday, May 2, 2010; G01

Can I Wear My Nose Ring to the Interview? The Crash Course: Finding, Landing, and Keeping Your First Real Job

By Ellen Gordon Reeves, Workman Publishing Co., 277 pgs., $13.95

She was late, but I was willing to give the 20-something job applicant some leeway, given the horrendous Washington traffic.

Maybe something happened to her. As time passed, I finally called her. She answered with a text message and then left a rambling voice mail explaining why she didn't show up for the interview.

She never apologized.

She just left a trail of electronic excuses.

I was hotter than the asphalt on a Deep South highway.

I should have sent the young woman the Color of Money Book Club pick for May, "Can I Wear My Nose Ring to the Interview? The Crash Course: Finding, Landing, and Keeping Your First Real Job" (Workman Publishing Co., $13.95), by Ellen Gordon Reeves, a résumé expert at the Columbia Publishing Course in New York.

So here we are just a few weeks from graduation ceremonies across the country. Although companies are hiring a bit more this year, it's still a tough market, according to CareerBuilder's annual job forecast.

I wonder how many of the graduates will make careless and thoughtless mistakes trying to find their first full-time job.

It's downright shocking the blunders many applicants make when looking for work. They should know better. The young woman I was scheduled to interview should have known better.

One would think that after several years in college, people would have been taught how to prepare a résumé and cover letter, what to do for an interview (like show up), what not to do during an interview, what to wear, what to say or not say.

But talk to anyone in a position to hire folks and you will hear some of the most outrageous, crazy and unbelievable stories about job candidates.

There are many books on this topic. But Reeves has put together a guide that reads fresh and is as easy to navigate as the technology you can't pry from the hands of young adults, the target market for her book. I love the way she picks through the errors in sample résumés and cover letters.

The book is hip (although I suspect it's no longer hip to say hip). It's not written in a way that is condescending. It's also encouraging.

"Here's what most new job hunters don't realize: An economic downturn will not destroy your chances of getting a job; indeed, it can actually offer opportunity, if you understand how to make the most of the situation," Reeves writes.

Don't let the book's title fool you. The advice isn't trite. There are the usual reminders about networking, writing an error-free résumé and cover letter, and discussing salary. But Reeves approaches her advice as if she's having a conversation, not giving a stern lecture.

Here's a typical question about networking: I'm shy. Talking to people I don't know is scary. Do I really have to do this?

"No one is asking you to turn yourself into a social butterfly or accost people at bars or parties, but if you are going to launch an extended job search, you've got to talk to people," Reeves writes.

If you're looking for a job, please spare another person who is interviewing applicants from having to endure hair-pulling blunders by a job seeker. Follow the wisdom and common sense in this book so that your chances of landing a job increase tenfold because you show up for interviews prepared. Or at least show up.

As with all Color of Money Book Club selections, I'll be hosting a live online chat about the book. This one will be at noon May 27 at http://washingtonpost.com/discussions. Reeves will be with me to take questions. If you're a hiring manager, join us and share your tips and frustrations with what you've seen. If you're looking for a job, it would also be a great chat if you joined us.

The online chat is a way for book club members to meet virtually. Every month, I randomly select readers who will receive a copy of the featured book, donated by the publisher. For a chance to win Reeves's book, e-mail colorofmoney@washpost.com with your name and address. I would particularly like to give books to new graduates.

Oh, and by the way, if you're wedded to your nose ring, Reeves says to go ahead and wear it to the interview if you intend to wear it on the job if you're hired. You might as well show the employer what he or she is really getting, she says. Of course, in general you want to look like someone who wants a job, not a date. As Reeves cautions: "The first impression you make can determine your fate."

Readers can write to Michelle Singletary at The Washington Post, 1150 15th St. NW, Washington, D.C. 20071.

Comments and questions are welcome, but because of the volume of mail, personal responses are not always possible. Please note that comments or questions may be used in a future column, with the writer's name, unless a specific request to do otherwise is indicated.

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