If you are actively interviewing, or even passively putting your “feelers” out there as the economy starts to show signs of revival – you should really take a second look at everything you are putting out there for prospective employers to judge you on. Since I feel that I have already blogged enough about personal branding and how a photo of you wasted, and half naked at your best friends bachelorette party isn’t the best Facebook profile pic to have online while interviewing for a job, I shall spare you my lectures on social media this time around.
Below are 5 mistakes that I see candidates make DAILY, and some ways around them that will guarantee a certain level of success as you navigate through the grueling interview process in hopes of landing your dream job (or at least one that will pay the mortgage).
1) Grammar/Spelling errors in email or written correspondence following your interview. This is the most common flaw that hiring managers/HR use to screen out candidates. We have to assume that the nature/style/format of your emails are representations of what your emails will look like to our clients, internal stake holders, executives and colleagues once you are hired. Here are some tips to writing good post-interview follow up emails; work samples submission emails or general job inquiry emails:
Make the subject line relevant: “Angela Miller – Project Manager Position – Resume Attached” or “John Smith – Interview Follow Up – Technical Writer – Ref# 3455”. Subject lines that read “Hello,” or “Thank You” alone can get lost easily in swamped email inboxes of busy people – so do your best to ensure your email is read by a succinct, professional subject line that is relevant to the content of your email. Always include your full name in the subject line when moving through an interview process.
Always include your contact information below your signature in every single email correspondence to a prospective employer. Make it as easy as possible for them to reach you. Missing this step won’t ever rule you out for a position but your goal during an interview process should be to make it as appealing and easy as possible for them to contact you.
If your email MUST have a lot of content: Perhaps they’ve given you an assignment, or asked that you submit work samples and the body of your email must explain each attachment. It’s imperative to make use of an outline style where you use Bold and Underline to highlight each section and bullet points to describe anything you need to.
In regards to submitting work samples (Writing, PPT, Strategic Briefs, Reports, Excel, etc…) try to submit pieces that are somewhat in line with the business you are presenting to. This may not always be possible – but try to avoid overt mistakes like submitting a PPT for an alcoholic beverage marketing campaign to a company that builds marketing campaigns for churches.
Make emails short and sweet. Emails that are painfully long are a huge red flag and you can count on the fact that nobody will read to the bottom. Proof read it 3 times before sending. Make sure that your spacing looks good, your punctuation and name spellings are correct. Make sure the company name is spelled right. Some hiring managers get incredibly annoyed when you address their company “Fortrans” as “ForTrans”. Branding means a lot in this day and age so make sure you know who you are interviewing with and are familiar with how they spell their name.
2) Changing your story as it relates to compensation throughout the interview process. In your online application when you submitted your resume, you put $70-75K annual compensation. In the first interview you say $75-80K after you hear about benefits and learn more about the position (often based on benefits/responsibilities, candidates will want to revaluate what they need to earn – but leave room for this in your initial quote by making the range larger). The second interview is almost done and you spit out that you want to entertain offers within the range of $85-90K. You were most likely invited to subsequent interviews after the initial meeting for a few reasons, one of which was that your salary requirements matched with the company’s budget for the position. Changing your story at the last moment, when you feel that the company likes you and is almost ready to extend an offer, puts pressure on the company to pony up more cash and can create an awkward relationship that might force the company to withdraw interest and harbor feelings that you wasted their time.
3) Being hard to get a hold of. If it takes you two days to return a phone call while you are going through the interview process and your availability for follow up interviews can only be outside of normal business hours, it can be perceived as a lack of interest on your part and the company might retain a more passive, “If she calls, we will interview her again,” stance. This can open the door for someone else who portrays themselves as more eager and interested to steal the opportunity right out from under you. All calls from a prospective employer should be returned within 24 hours – ideally in the same day to ensure you are showing interest, respect and professionalism.
4) Using email rather than a phone call to follow up after a phone call from a prospective employer is odd. If someone calls you – then call them back. If they email you, then email them back. Let the prospective employer set the tone for how you will correspond back and forth and respect that tone by following it. Especially if you are interviewing for a sales position and only use email to respond to us – it only makes us assume that you are scared of the phone…which in sales, is not good.
5) Not listing any recent managers as references is a huge red flag and good recruiters will call them anyway (of course not your current boss, but recruiters often cold call into your former companies and ask around until they get the person you once reported to). If you’ve worked at 3 jobs in the last 5 years, and are currently working at the 3rd, then the last two bosses should be references. A well-rounded reference list should include any managers you have worked under in the last 5 years, a colleague, someone who reported to you and a personal reference of someone who has known you for at least 5 years. If you are a college student approaching interviews for your first job, then peers, professors, leadership individuals from any extra-curricular activities are great references.
The point is, while we are seeing an up-tick in the economy and more companies are hiring – we are still far from the days of 10 years ago when there was more than enough room for mediocrity. There are 20 other qualified candidates going for the same job as you are – and you have to control what you can control.
You can’t control whether the hiring manager belonged to a rival sorority and therefore is biased against you. You can’t control if the hiring manager’s wife named Susan just left him and you don’t stand a chance if your name begins with an “S.” You can’t control if your personality just won’t fit in with the current dynamic of our team, or if what you describe as an “ideal job” if so far from our environment that we know you would be miserable here.
What you can and must control, is portraying you in a professional, intelligent, A-player light by being overly detail-oriented during this first “courtship” period. Companies still need to feel that you are trying to put your best foot forward for them. Positioning yourself to avoid these silly mistakes can help you come across as consistent, reliable and hireable.