17 July 2009

Since it came up in conversation...

The worst interview and resume mistakes
by Tara Weiss, Forbes.com
Wednesday, January 14, 2009

A few minutes into an interview with a promising advertising sales representative, the candidate's cellphone rang. Instead of being embarrassed that he forgot to shut it off, he asked the recruiter, Debra Wheatman, "Do you mind if I grab this for one quick sec?"

Of course she minded.

That he answered the phone spoke volumes about him. His résumé went straight into the trash. It didn't matter how qualified he was; Wheatman wasn't hiring someone who valued a cellphone call over a job opportunity.

"I was flabbergasted," she says. Wheatman was an in-house recruiter at Condé Nast when this awkward incident occurred. She is now a career counsellor for the job Web site Vault.com.

Answering your phone during a job interview is obviously inappropriate. But there are many much more subtle mistakes job seekers make on their résumés and during interviews. With so much competition for jobs, don't let one of these faux pas hurt your chances.

Your résumé is your first chance to make a positive impression. Make sure there aren't any typos, grammatical errors or spelling mistakes in it. You must do more than just spell check it. Print it out. It's easier to detect errors on paper than after your eyes glaze over from staring at a computer screen. Also, have a friend or mentor proofread it.

One version of your résumé won't be right for all the jobs you apply for. It's better to tailor it to a handful of openings that directly relate to your experience rather than to write one and spam dozens of hiring managers with it. Also, use the keywords that appear in the job ad to describe your skills.

"The biggest mistake people make on a résumé is they think everything they've ever done needs to be in there," says Rich Thompson, vice president of training and development for the staffing firm Adecco Group North America. "The résumé is the bait to get you the interview."

Managers are more likely to take that bait if you describe your accomplishments instead of listing your daily responsibilities. This will set you apart from the competition. Quantify those accomplishments when possible. Describe what you made, saved and achieved for the firm.

Once you get the interview, dress professionally. Men should wear a suit and tie and women a nice top with either slacks or a skirt. It doesn't matter if the company's typical attire is business casual. "You're there to make an impression," Debra Wheatman says.

Nothing frustrates recruiters more than when a candidate doesn't know enough about their company. Before the interview, learn all you can about the company's products, services and competition. Check out the press room on the firm's Web site to see what the latest news is.

All this information will come in handy when the hiring manager asks why you want the job. That's the perfect opportunity to explain how you'll be an ideal fit for the position.

Joan McGrail, human resources manager at the footwear company New Balance, sees many avoidable mistakes when she conducts interviews. Among the most common: asking about vacation policy before you've landed the job, long answers that never really address the question, trying to dominate the interview and failing to show respect for all interviewers and company personnel, like the receptionist and security person.

Among the silliest errors she's seen: A job candidate wore a competitor's sneakers to the interview.

McGrail recommends being prepared to discuss specifics. For example, many managers will ask questions like, "Tell me about a time when you had to overcome a challenge on the job."

Always come prepared with questions. Wheatman recommends asking, "Can you tell me about the characteristics of a person who held this job who was very successful? What about someone who held the job before who wasn't successful?"

Many interviewees get tongue-tied when asked the open-ended question, "Tell me about yourself." "People often start babbling," Wheatman says. "It's meant to get you to open up and talk about something not on your résumé."

She recommends discussing something interesting you've done that illustrates your character. Typical good options: having recently trained for and run a marathon or recent volunteer work.

As for salary, don't discuss it until you've been offered the job. If you toss out a number before the interview, it may be higher than they wanted and you'll take yourself out of the running. Show them during the interview why they can't live without you. Then they'll be more likely to give you the pay you deserve.

Many recruiters create an uncomfortable situation by asking what your current salary is. That shouldn't have a bearing on what you'll make in your next job. The company should pay you the market rate for your unique skills set.

If this comes up, respond by explaining that you're really excited about this opportunity and you're sure you can arrive at a salary you both feel comfortable with. If that doesn't work, Wheatman suggests, ask how much the position is budgeted for.

Don't underestimate the power of a good interview. "We find the overwhelming percentage of people who get the job are not necessarily the ones most qualified," Thompson says. "They're the ones who do the best in the interview."

Whatever you do, don't forget to shut off your cellphone.

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