Briefcase and resume in hand, many Americans are on the hunt for a job, hoping to master the art of making a good first impression.
Despite the continuing struggle in the world of careers, there were 3.6 million job openings in September, more than the 2.4 million jobs available at the end of the recession in June 2009, according to the Department of Labor’s Bureau of Labor Statistics.
“People make the most money doing the things they do naturally well,” said True Calling master (career) coach Nathan Teegarden.
Teegarden said that with his list of nine key elements to landing a job, anyone, in any stage of his or her life, can find a way to success. His tips include research, preparation, focus, professional wear and a follow-up. The list also instructs others to ask questions and avoid negative topics.
“Every chance you have to get in contact … and bend the rules in your favor, the better off you’ll be,” he said. “For a lot of positions, you might be one of 100 applying and by taking initiative and expressing interest, it can’t hurt you.”
In a recent USA TODAY survey, 70% of those questioned agreed that it is never appropriate to talk negatively during an interview, while 25% said it was OK when asked directly. Three percent approved if it would make the interviewee stand out, and only 2% advocated the act if it were true.
“You don’t ever want to talk about past bosses or past positions, don’t even go there,” Teegarden said. “I can’t even imagine when [speaking negatively] would make you stand out, unless [the company in question] were unethical and you addressed it and got fired for it.”
Teegarden said an easy way to combat questions while remaining truthful about past jobs is by simply stating you left in hopes of finding a company with a better fit. He added that it’s important for students to ask questions.
“When someone knows exactly what they want and they know they are qualified, they ask more questions,” he said. “If you have a choice to be liked or respected, you want to be respected.”
Questions that make the cut: “Why did you come to work here?” “What do you like best?” “What is your management style?” “Do you have anything else you would like to ask me?”
Imants Jaunarajs, the assistant dean for students at the Career and Leadership Center at Ohio University said it’s a good idea to keep responses to about 90 seconds to two minutes. In addition, he said word choice is not too big of an issue though an effort should be made to avoid curse words.
“I’ve been in interviews where people have sworn — don’t do that,” he said. “Everyone is nervous so it is hard to not stumble your words though. So prepare as much as possible and that will help.”
As to be expected, Teegarden also advised students to be on their A-game the second they walk through the door and to maintain a clean social media presence, avoiding any inappropriate posts about employers.
“As soon as you show up in the lobby for an interview, the interview just started,” he said. ”In our digital age you can talk or write about anything. But people from companies can go on and see that and it becomes public information. So, I’d be careful about that. It can come back and bite you.”
A few other tips include taking professional assessments, creating clear and to-the-point resumes and cover letters and taking notes during the interview. At the end, make sure to thank the interviewer for the opportunity, make sure he or she doesn’t have any more questions and ask what the next step is before you follow up by snail mail or email.
“Once you walk out that door, it’s over,” Teegarden said. “You want to assume you have gotten the position and that you are moving forward.”