These last few days, I’ve had the pleasure of interviewing candidates for our summer internship program. It’s high season for young job hunters. Between new graduates, soon-to-be graduates and students on summer vacation, I am certainly not at a loss for applicants.
What I am at a loss for, unfortunately, are applicants who actually impress me. And it’s not just this round of applicants. Lately, I’m consistently surprised at the obvious mistakes some people make during their job search. According to U.S. News, I’m not the only one. Despite looking to hire even more new grads than in years past, employers are disappointed at the lack of preparation among their young candidates.
Luckily, the mistakes I’ve seen are wholly fixable. So here are some Dos and Don’ts (I’m serious, don’t) to keep in mind during your job search.
Your Cover Letter/Resume
Do: Have someone proofread these for you. Triple-check your cover letter before you send to make sure you have customized it to the right company. Saying that you are very interested in applying for the wrong position at the wrong place pretty much takes you out of the running.
I’ll be walking you through how to do a good cover letter next week if you need help with figuring out the content.
Don’t: Resend revised materials because you initially made a mistake. If it was a huge error, like sending the wrong cover letter, you probably aren’t going to get called in anyway. If you made a small error, cross your fingers and hope the recipient don’t notice. Sending a corrected version only highlights your mistake.
Do: Be on time. I don’t do this, but I know a few people who have said that if a candidate comes late, it’s over before the interview starts.
Don’t: Come too early, either. Too early is better than a little late. But if you come too early, you might catch your interviewer at a bad time. If he or she is flustered, things might not go as well for you. Give yourself plenty of time to get to your interview, and if you arrive with too much time to spare, sit in your car and mentally prep yourself.
Do: Wear a suit. “Oh, but I hate suits!” Too bad. Wear a suit. If it’s super hot outside, carry the jacket so your prospective employer can tell that you tried to wear a suit. If the company culture is either super casual or always a la mode, you should still wear something suit-like. Even if your interviewer isn’t wearing a suit, you don’t work there yet and you need to look like you are trying to impress.
Don’t: Dress inappropriately. Err on the side of conservatism – close-toed shoes, knee-length hemlines, high-cut necklines, you get the idea. I’m sure you are fashionable people and you can figure out ways to look fabulous and professional. It’s not that employers are prudes. They just assume that during your interview, you are trying to put your best, most professional foot forward. Coming in wearing a deep V-neck or miniskirt makes them worry that once you are hired and comfortable, they will inevitably have to sit you down for this awkward conversation:
I know from experience that having the dress code talk is super-awkward for all parties involved. Employers like to avoid that at all costs, so present yourself in a way that guarantees no future issues.
Do: Bring a few extra copies of your resume and whatever materials they requested. If this isn’t your first job or your first job in a new industry, you can print these on nice paper and claim the costs come tax season. You may also want to have a list of your references handy and a detailed employment and residence history in case they need you to fill out a job application on the spot.
Don’t: Carry these materials in a torn up folder or a backpack or canvas tote. I know we’re all trying to be green, but this is not the time. Invest in a nondescript briefcase or executive bag. They have plenty at Target for $35 and under, including this one. Carry your materials in a plain folder or better yet, a leather portfolio.
Do: Watch your nonverbal cues. According to the Journal of Occupational Psychology by Ray J. Forbes and Paul R. Jackson, successful job applicants consistently engaged in direct eye contact, smiling and head nodding/shaking.
Don’t: Be negative. This means no trash talking your former position, company or coworkers. This also means no talking about what you won’t do. An aspiring administrative assistant once told me that she hated filing. All I could think was that if she ever was assigned to file, she would either resent doing it or avoid it entirely. Either way, it does not make for a happy, productive employee.
And in case you hadn’t heard it a million times already, don’t EVER bring up salary and benefits until after you’ve received the job offer.
Your Thank You Letter
Do: Send one within 24 hours. Want to know a secret? I immediately disqualify any interviewee that didn’t send me a thank you card. Sound harsh? I picked up the practice from many of my former bosses. I was always taught that a post-interview letter was all but mandatory. Yet in every batch of hopefuls, I get enough to count on one hand. If you need help writing this, I’ll cover this next week, as well.
Don’t: Only send a pretty, handwritten card unless you know you have time. Handwritten cards used to be a must; but in this digital age where decisions are made quickly, they are becoming impractical. I strongly suggest sending an email first and a handwritten card to supplement. This won’t make you look over-eager. It’s actually classy, thorough and impressive.
The job market for Milennials is already difficult enough. Don’t let simple, but glaring mistakes make things harder. I’ll cover these individual topics more deeply in the future. But follow these basic guidelines now and keep yourself from ending your job search before you really get started.
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