This is “Communicating for Employment”, chapter 20 from the book Communication for Business Success (Canadian Edition) (v. 1.0). For details on it (including licensing), click here.
This book is licensed under a Creative Commons by-nc-sa 3.0 license. See the license for more details, but that basically means you can share this book as long as you credit the author (but see below), don't make money from it, and do make it available to everyone else under the same terms.
This content was accessible as of December 29, 2012, and it was downloaded then by Andy Schmitz in an effort to preserve the availability of this book.
Normally, the author and publisher would be credited here. However, the publisher has asked for the customary Creative Commons attribution to the original publisher, authors, title, and book URI to be removed. Additionally, per the publisher's request, their name has been removed in some passages. More information is available on this project's attribution page.
For more information on the source of this book, or why it is available for free, please see the project's home page. You can browse or download additional books there. To download a .zip file containing this book to use offline, simply click here.
If you call failures experiments, you can put them in your résumé and claim them as achievements.
Volunteer—not so you can build your résumé, but so you can build yourself.
Where Are You Now? Assess your present knowledge and attributes by completing the self-inventory below. Where do you need to focus your efforts when it comes to your job search?
|1. I have a good understanding of my career options.|
|2. I have a good understanding of the work-related skills I will need in my chosen career and a plan to get them.|
|3. I know where I can get useful information about careers.|
|4. I have created a transferable skills inventory.|
|5. I have a written up-to-date résumé.|
|6. I know how to prepare an effective cover letter.|
|7. I have both professional and social networks.|
|8. I have discussed my career objectives with my academic advisor.|
|9. I am comfortable in interviews.|
|10. I have chosen my major based on the job market.|
|11. I have chosen my major based on my personal interests.|
Source: Beiderwell, B., Tse, L., Lochhaas, T., & deKanter, N. (1999). College Success Irvington, NY: Flat World Knowledge.
As you prepare to embark on your job search, you may be asking yourself a couple of questions:
I won’t graduate and be in the job market for a couple of years. Do I need to work on résumés and networking now? Yes, absolutely! Even though you aren’t yet graduating from college, there are many benefits to starting now. As a student, you are likely to be applying for part-time jobs, internships, and even volunteer positions. Networking is a process of building relationships, and the strongest relationships are built over time. Having a good network will help identify interesting and relevant opportunities. Having a résumé that summarizes your strengths and skills will give you an advantage over other candidates who apply without a résumé, because job application forms rarely give the opportunity to highlight your strengths. Furthermore, a résumé is an updated record of your skills and experience; it makes sense to capture your accomplishments as they happen and will save you a lot of time in the future.
I don’t have any work experience. How can I write a résumé? You may not have any work experience, but you do have experience and skills. Focus on your transferable skills, and list examples of how you have used them. Think of organizations you have been involved in and volunteer work you have done. It is OK to include high school accomplishments if you've graduated within the last 3-5 years, and you can replace them with college accomplishments as you gain them. It is also OK to include your GPA if you're proud of it, because among other things a good GPA can help show that you are disciplined and organized.
This chapter will help you develop a sense of who you are and what you do well. You'll discover the importance of networking, the résumé, and the cover letter. Finally, you will learn how to prepare (and ace!) the job interview.
The employment market and job-seeking techniques have changed significantly over the past ten years and will continue to change; it is not as easy as it once was to map out a clear career path. However, a clear direction can still provide enough flexibility to respond to the changing needs of today’s job market. In fact, building flexibility into your career plans is a requirement for achieving a successful career.
Consider the ways in which the job market has changed—and what it may mean to your planning:
These factors combine to create a job environment that is different from what most people might expect. The way you prepare for a career needs to be more flexible and more personalized. Technology will play an important role in your career development. Linking your demonstrable skills to the needs of a job will be a key to your success.
Many of the skills you will need are career specific: we call those work-based skillsSkills you need that are specific to your chosen career.. These include knowing how to use equipment that is specific to your career and mastering processes that are used in your field. While some of these skills are learned and perfected on the job, you may be in a vocational track program (such as for computer programmers, nurses aides, or paralegals) where you are learning your work-based skills.
These are not the only skills you will need to be successful. The second set of skills you must have are called transferable skillsSkills that can be used in almost all occupations. because they can be used in almost all occupations. These include thinking skills, communication skills, listening skills—in fact, most of the skills we have been stressing throughout this book are transferable skills because they are also key to success in life. This skill set is very broad, and your extent of mastery will vary from skill to skill; therefore, you should identify those skills that are most important to your career objective and develop and master them.
Donna Dunning, writing on Dan Schawbel's Personal Branding Blog, lists her Top 9 Transferable Skills as follows:
As you reflect on the list above, you will find that you have at least some experience in many of them, but you probably haven’t thought that much about them because you use them in so many ways that you take them for granted. It is important to think about all your activities and consider the skills you have applied successfully; your transferable skills inventory is larger than you may think. For example, if you volunteer as a big brother or big sister, you have skills in active listening, mentoring, time management, and probably coaching. If you have written a college paper, you have skills in time management, researching, communicating, and writing.
Be aware of the ways you develop and master transferable skills. Keep a list of them, and update it every month or two. That will be a valuable tool for you as you work with your career development and ultimately with job applications.
Are you frustrated by the fact that even entry-level jobs require some experience? Yes, employers look at your previous experience, and this often stumps students who are in the early stages of their careers. Relevant experience is not only important as a job qualification; it can also provide you with a means to explore or test out occupational options and build a contact list that will be valuable when networking for your career.
But how can you gain relevant experience without experience to begin with? You should consider three options: volunteering, internships, and part-time employment.
Volunteering is especially good for students looking to work in social and artistic occupations, but students looking for work in other occupation types should not shy away from this option. You can master many transferable skills through volunteering! Certainly it is easy to understand that if you want to be in an artistic field, volunteering at a museum or performance centre can provide you with relevant experience. But what if you want to work in an engineering field? Volunteering for an organization promoting green energy would be helpful. With a little brainstorming and an understanding of your career field, you should be able to come up with relevant volunteer experiences for just about any career.
Internships focus on gaining practical experience related to a course or program of study. Interns work for an organization or company for a reduced wage or stipend or volunteer in exchange for practical experience. A successful internship program should create a win-win situation: the intern should add value to the company’s efforts, and the company should provide a structured program in which the student can learn or practice work-related skills. Internships are typically held during summers or school vacation periods, though on occasion they can be scheduled for a set block of time each week during the course of a regular school term.
Once you secure an internship (usually through a normal job application process aided by a faculty member or the career guidance or placement office), it is important to have a written agreement with the employer in which the following is stated:
This written agreement may seem like overkill, but it is critical to ensure that the internship experience doesn’t degrade into unsatisfying tasks such as photocopying and filing.
Remember that a key objective of your internship is to develop relationships you can use for mentoring and networking during your career. Befriend people, ask questions, go the extra mile in terms of what is expected of you, and generally participate in the enterprise. The extra effort will pay dividends in the future.
Part-time employment may be an option if your study schedule provides enough free time. If so, be sure to investigate opportunities in your field of study. Ask your instructors and the career guidance or placement office to help you generate job leads, even if they are not specifically in the area you want to be working in. It is valuable and relevant to hold a job designing Web sites for an advertising agency, for example, if your specific job objective is to produce event marketing. The understanding of how an advertising agency works and the contacts you make will make the experience worthwhile.
If you are lucky enough to have a job in your field of study already and are using your college experience to enhance your career opportunities, be sure to link what you are learning to what you do on the job—and what you do on the job to what you are learning. Ask your supervisor and employer about ideas you have picked up in class, and ask your instructors about the practices you apply at work. This cross-linking will make you a much stronger candidate for future opportunities and a much better student in the short term.
Transferable Skills Inventory
In the list of forty transferable skills that follows, underline five skills you believe you have mastered and then describe specific ways in which you have used each skill successfully. Then circle five skills you think are important to your career that you have not mastered yet. Describe specific steps you plan to take to master those skills.
|Active listening||Decision making||Negotiating||Researching|
|Analyzing||Evaluating||Organizing||Speaking a second language|
|Communicating||Handling a crisis||Planning||Teamwork|
|Consulting||Handling details||Problem solving||Time management|
|Creative thinking||Manipulating numbers||Public speaking||Training|
|Skills I have mastered||Examples of how I used them|
|Skills I still need to master||How I will master them|
Source: Beiderwell, B., Tse, L., Lochhaas, T., & deKanter, N. (1999). College Success Irvington, NY: Flat World Knowledge.
There is some wisdom in the saying that it’s who you know that brings success in getting a job. Consider the following:
What exactly is networking? In its simplest terms, it is the process of engaging others in helping you reach an objective. Three words in this definition deserve a closer look:
The process of networkingThe process of engaging others in helping you reach an objective. involves three basic phases: prospect identification and management, making contact, and follow-up.
The first phase involves identifying whom you should be speaking to and pinpointing the people who can introduce you to them. This is like the game Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon applied to your own life. Whom do you need to speak to? That really depends on your objectives. If you are trying to learn about an occupation, it can be just about anyone involved with that field. If you are in the process of trying to land an internship or a job, you want to reach the person who will make the hiring decision.
Your objective also defines how you get started with your networking. In the first case, you might want to start with people you met at an industry conference; in the job-specific case, you’ll want to think about whom you know in that company or who might know someone in that company. If you don’t have any contacts who fit that description, whom do you know who lives in the town in which the company is based or in a nearby town?
Your success in this phase of networking will be driven by the quality of the candidates (those who can directly influence your ability to reach your objectives) as well as the quantity (those who will lead you to the most contacts). This is why there is no such thing as a bad contact.
As important as having contacts is your ability to access those contacts when you need to. That is where contact management comes into play. Don’t be caught wishing you could call someone you met three weeks ago…if you could only remember what you did with their business card! There are countless ways to keep track of contacts, from writing names in an address book, to keeping a Rolodex, to using a computer-based contact management system os simply an Excel spreadsheet. Choose a system you feel comfortable with—comfortable enough to use regularly. A sophisticated system that has all the bells and whistles is no good to you if you can’t use it.
Let technology help you in this endeavour. Your computer, PDA, or smartphone probably has features for capturing contact information and retrieving it based on keywords, and most will even connect with your calendar for scheduling and reminders. Consider Web-based applications such as those offered by SuccessHawk (http://www.successhawk.com) and networking sites focused on professional networking, such as LinkedIn. Whatever your choices, invest the time to learn to use them well; you’ll be very glad you did.
Building a network requires consistent work, and a strong network will take time to achieve. That is why we recommend you start building your professional network now—even early in your college career. Your network should include anyone who might have a connection that will help: family, friends, neighbours, past and present coworkers, bosses, people you met through associations and clubs (especially business associations), alumni from your college, and acquaintances you have met via online networking.
When you capture your contact data, use relevant keywords to help you search your database and shape your contact activity. One of the most overlooked pieces of information that you should be sure to capture is the source of the contact. That’s what turns a “cold call” into a “warm call”—and it helps engage the prospect. If a friend introduced you, be sure to note that friend’s name; if you met at a party, note the name of the host and the occasion; if you met at a conference, note the conference and date. You should also use other keywords so that you can quickly find the contacts that will be most effective for each of your objectives; keywords might describe the area of specialization, organization membership, or type of contact (family, friend, colleague, etc.).
Being in the right place at the right time has much less to do with luck than with the art of personal contact. Contacts are everywhere, and you don’t know when you might turn one to your advantage. You may feel a little awkward following these tips at first, but with practice you will become quite adept at meeting new people and adding them to your network.
What you say in your networking calls or e-mails will depend largely on the objective of your networking effort. (Is it to learn about an occupation or industry? Seek a job-shadowing opportunity? Ask for a job?) But some networking basics and elements of etiquette apply to all contacts:
Much of the success of your networking efforts depends on what you do after you’ve hung up after a call or received an e-mail reply. The first step is to thank your contact for his or her help. Do this right away; any thank you after twenty-four hours of your contact can be considered late. Find a reason (not just an excuse) to keep in touch with people in your network. If you read an article people in your network would be interested in, send them the link. If you run across a problem one of your contacts might help you with, don’t be shy—give him or her a call to ask for help. If you meet someone you think a contact would like, make introductions. Send a follow-up note of thanks to a person who gave you a particularly productive lead. Let him or her know what you were able to accomplish. People like to know they are on a successful team. Finally, if a person in your network asks you for help, do what you say you will do.
A résuméDocument that summarizes your education, skills, talents, employment history, and experiences in a clear and concise format for potential employers. is a document that summarizes your education, skills, talents, employment history, and experiences in a clear and concise format for potential employers. The résumé serves three distinct purposes that define its format, design, and presentation:
An online profile page is similar to a résumé in that it represents you, your background and qualifications, and adds participation to the publication. People network, link, and connect in new ways via online profiles or professional sites like LinkedIn. In many ways, your online profile is an online version of your résumé with connections and friends on public display. Your Twitter account and Facebook page are also often accessible to the public, so never post anything you wouldn’t want your employer (current or future) to read, see, or hear. This chapter covers a traditional résumé, as well as the more popular scannable features, but the elements and tips could equally apply to your online profile.
The most effective résumés will focus on your accomplishments, not just the positions you held. Your résumé should point out your strengths. Use dynamic verbs (see “101 Action Verbs” below).
Here are the kinds of verbs that help “sell” you to potential employers. Expand on this list to find good verbs specific to your accomplishments by doing an Internet search for “action verbs for résumés.”
Source: Beiderwell, B., Tse, L., Lochhaas, T., & deKanter, N. (1999). College Success Irvington, NY: Flat World Knowledge.
The most effective accomplishments are quantifiable: include numbers. Be sure to include dollar amounts and percentages that support your achievements. For example, you might write “Reduced costs by 20 percent.” Your résumé should be a living document; any time you accomplish something of significance, note it in the current version of your résumé so you don't have to struggle to recall it at a later date.
Sometimes, though, we don't have numbers. We aren't told about them or it's too difficult to quantify your success. In those cases, focus on the skills you developed in that experience. Did you improve your time management skills? Did you develop excellent leadership skills? Did you polish your customer service or communication skills?
Deciding what to include in your résumé is where most of the work comes in, because it is in the careful wording of the body of your résumé that you can really sell yourself for a position. Ideally, you should review your résumé for each position you are applying for, particularly to include any accomplishments that you would not include in your “general résumé” but that are relevant to that particular job.
Regardless of the format, employers have expectations for your résumé. They expect it to be clear, accurate, and up to date.Bennett, S. A. (2005). The elements of résumé style: Essential rules and eye-opening advice for writing résumés and cover letters that work. AMACOM. This document represents you in your absence, and you want it to do the best job possible. Unfortunately, too often a résumé is a reason to exclude a candidate. Poor grammar, misspelled words, lengthy listings of irrelevant experience, and messy formatting motivate hiring managers to move quickly to the next candidate.
You don’t want to be represented by spelling or grammatical errors, as they may raise questions about your education and attention to detail. Someone reading your résumé with errors will only wonder what kind of work you might produce that will poorly reflect on their company. There is going to be enough competition that you don’t want to provide an easy excuse to toss your résumé at the start of the process. Do your best work the first time.
Résumés can be quite subjective. Although there is no such thing as a perfect format for a résumé, there are several basic elements that employers look for, including your contact information, a summary of qualifications, education and work experience. You may also include an objective statement, volunteer experience, and so on. Each résumé format may organize the information in distinct ways based on the overall design strategy, but all information should be clear, concise, and accurate.Simons, W., & Curtis, R. (2004). The Résumé.com guide to writing unbeatable résumés. New York, NY: McGraw-Hill.
This section is often located at the top of the document. The first element of the contact information is your name. You should use your full, legal name even if you go by your middle name or use a nickname. There will plenty of time later to clarify what you prefer to be called, but all your application documents, including those that relate to payroll, your social security number, drug screenings, background checks, fingerprint records, transcripts, certificates or degrees, should feature your legal name. Other necessary information includes your address, your primary phone number (cell or landline), and e-mail address. You should also consider including an up-to-date LinkedIn account or personal Web page if those online sources highlight your accomplishments and represent you professionally. If you maintain two addresses (e.g., a campus and a residential address), make it clear where you can be contacted by indicating the primary address. For business purposes, do not use an unprofessional e-mail address like email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org. Create a new e-mail account if needed with an address suitable for professional use.
Figure 20.1 Sample Contact Information
The profile or summary of qualifications answers the question, "Why should you hire me?" It summarizes the résumé in 3-4 bullets or sentences, and provides an "executive summary" of your document. This section presents your best qualities as they align with the requirements of the job ad.
Figure 20.2 Sample Profile/Summary of Qualifications
Hiring managers are generally divided on the use of an objective statement. Many find it redundant because they know what your objective is: to get the job!
Having said that, many applicants still have the need to include one. If you insist on doing so, your objective should reflect the audience’s need to quickly understand how you will help the organization achieve its goals.
Figure 20.3 Sample Objective
You need to list your education in reverse chronological order, with your most recent degree first. List the school, degree, and the year of completion. If your education is still in progress, say so, perhaps including an anticipated graduation date. Only list education that you completed or is still in progress; if you went to a specific university or college for a year but left because it "wasn't for you" then you don't list it on the résumé.
You may want to add your overall grade point average (GPA) if you are proud of that number. You may also want to list grades in your major courses to demonstrate your success in your chosen field. You may also want to highlight relevant coursework that directly relate to the position.
In general, follow the five-year rule when considering the addition of your high school education. If you graduated high school within the last five years then feel free to include it on your résumé. Once you've graduated college or university then you should consider removing the high school information; hiring managers will assume you graduated high school once your college or university degree is listed.
Figure 20.4 Sample Education Field
List in reverse chronological order your employment history, including the positions, companies, locations, and dates. Use bulleted lists to describe your accomplishments, and skills demonstrated or acquired. You may also consider a bullet that succinctly describes your duties.
Ensure you emphasize quantifiable accomplishments and responsibilities that match your strengths to the requirements of the job. Often this involves communication, budgets, teamwork, supervision, and customer service when applying for positions in business and industry, but don’t let emphasis become exaggeration. This document represents you in your absence, and if information is false, at a minimum you could lose your job.
Figure 20.5 Sample Work Experience
Table 20.1 Types of Résumés
|1. Reverse Chronological||Reverse chronological résumés (also called reverse time order) focus on work history.||Demonstrates a consistent work history||It may be difficult to highlight skills and experience.|
|2. Functional||Functional résumés (also called competency-based résumés) focus on skills.||Demonstrates skills that can clearly link to job functions or duties||It is often associated with people who have gaps in their employment history.|
|3. Combination||A combination résumé lists your skills and experience first, then employment history and education.||Highlights the skills you have that are relevant to the job and provides a reverse chronological work history||Some employers prefer a reverse chronological order.|
|4. Targeted||A targeted résumé is a custom document that specifically highlights the experience and skills that are relevant to the job.||Points out to the reader how your qualifications and experience clearly match the job duties||Custom documents take additional time, preparation, analysis of the job announcement, and may not fit the established guidelines.|
|5. Scannable||A scannable résumé is specifically formatted to be read by a scanner and converted to digital information.||Increasingly used to facilitate search and retrieval, and to reduce physical storage costs||Scanners may not read the résumé correctly.|
Do not include references at the end of your résumé. And while many people are tempted to include a “references upon request” line, even that statement is considered redundant. Of course they're available on request! If the hiring manager makes that request, you're absolutely going to provide them!
Experts are also divided on résumé length. Some suggest you should never extend your résumé to more than one page, but it all depends on who you are and what experiences and skills you have acquired. If a one-page résumé provides a good snapshot as to who you are at this point in time without seeming like it's skimping on the details, then great! But if it looks like you've chopped so much out just to get it to one page and the hiring manager can't see your skills and accomplishments, then that's not so good.
If you've got a lot of relevant skills, accomplishments and experiences, then a two-page résumé is totally fine. If it looks like you're padding your résumé with irrelevant information just to get it to two pages, then that's not so good.
Don't focus on length; ensure the résumé provides the reader with the relevant details that highlight your skills and accomplishments. Remember, you may never get a second chance to make a good first impression.
Just as there are common search terms, and common words in relation to each position, job description, or description of duties, your scannable résumé needs to mirror these common terms. Use of nonstandard terms may not stand out, and your indication of “managed employees” may not get the same attention as the word “supervision” or “management.”
If a job description uses specific terms, refers to computer programs, skills, or previous experience, make sure you incorporate that language in your scannable résumé. You know that when given a class assignment, you are expected to follow directions; similarly, the employer is looking for specific skills and experience. By mirroring the employer’s language and submitting your application documents in accord with their instructions, you convey a spirit of cooperation and an understanding of how to follow instructions.
Consider a brief section that lists common words associated with the position as a skills summary: customer service, business communication, sales, or terms and acronyms common to the business or industry.
You need to make sure your résumé is easy to read by a computer, including a character recognition program. That means no italics, underlining, shading, boxes, or lines. Choose a sans serif (without serif, or decorative end) font like Arial or Tahoma that won’t be misread. Simple, clear fonts that demonstrate no points at which letters may appear to overlap will increase the probability of the computer getting it right the first time. In order for the computer to do this, you have to consider your audience—a computer program that will not be able to interpret your unusual font or odd word choice. A font size of eleven or twelve is easier to read for most people, and while the computer doesn’t care about font size, the smaller your font, the more likely the computer is to make the error of combining adjacent letters.
Use a laser printer to get crisp letter formation. Inkjet printers can have some “bleed” between characters that may make them overlap, and therefore be misunderstood. Folds can make it hard to scan your document. E-mail your résumé as an attachment if possible, but if a paper version is required, don’t fold it. Use a clean, white piece of paper with black ink; colours will only confuse the computer. Deliver the document in a nine-by-twelve-inch envelope, stiffened with a sheet of cardstock (heavy paper or cardboard) to help prevent damage to the document.
Figure 20.6 Sample Format for Chronological Résumé
Figure 20.7 Sample Format for Functional Résumé
Figure 20.8 Sample Format for Scannable Résumé
The purpose of a cover letterA letter that entices the recipient to read your résumé. is to entice the recipient to read your résumé. There is no better way to entice someone to read further than to demonstrate that you fit his or her needs. A successful cover letter should emphasize how your knowledge, skills, or experiences make you an ideal candidate.
When writing a cover letter, look over the job posting carefully. What are the keywords in the posting? Underline or highlight them. Think about how your experience and skills are related to those keywords. What examples can you give in short sentences? Now you can begin to write.
Your first strategy is to show that you are a unique and qualified candidate. This, in marketing terms, is your selling proposition. Begin with an immediate summary as to why you are the best candidate for this position. Write this opening (1-2 sentences) two or three different ways and then choose the best. If you don’t hook the reader here, you may not be considered for the job. Next, be sure to state what job you are applying for and how you found out about the position.
When you are happy with your opening paragraph, add one or two paragraphs that illustrate your proposition from the opening paragraph. Elaborate a bit on the bulleted information found in your résumé, showing how your skills can contribute to the company's needs and how you can contribute. Tell the story behind your most significant accomplishment.
Remember that your cover letter also demonstrates your communication skills. Be clear, be concise, and be careful. One typo and your application will be set aside. Be sure your spelling and grammar are correct. Did you double-check the spelling of the company name? Read the document; look for mistakes your spellchecker won’t catch (like the word “you” instead of “your”). Put it down for a while and then reread it again.
A résumé will represent your skills, education, and experience in your absence. Businesses increasingly scan résumés into searchable databases. The purpose of the cover letter is to entice the recipient to read your résumé.
We all join communities, teams, and groups across our lifetimes. We go from an unknown outsider to a new member and eventually a full member. Businesses and organizations are communities consisting of teams and groups, and if we decide to switch teams or communities, or if that decision is made for us with a reduction in force layoff, for example, we’ll be back on the job market. In order to make the transition from a outsider to an insider, you’ll have to pass a series of tests, both informal and formal. One of the most common tests is otherwise known as an employment interview. An employment interviewAn exchange between a candidate and a prospective employer. is an exchange between a candidate and a prospective employer (or their representative). It is a formal process with several consistent elements that you can use to guide your preparation.
In a job search, nothing is more exciting or more intimidating than an interview. Reaching the interview stage means that you are in serious consideration for the position, and the pressure feels cranked up. In this section, you will learn how to prepare yourself to “ace” this process.
Employment interviews come in all shapes and sizes, and may not be limited to only one exchange but one interaction. A potential employee may very well be screened by a computer (as the résumé is scanned) and interviewed online or via the telephone before the applicant ever meets a representative or panel of representatives. The screening process may include formal tests that include personality tests, background investigations, and consultations with previous employers. Depending on the type of job you are seeking, you can anticipate answering questions, often more than once, to a series of people as you progress through a formal interview process. Just as you have the advantage of preparing for a speech with anticipation, you can apply the same research and public speaking skills to the employment interview.
In the process of exploring occupations and landing a job, you will likely participate in a variety of interviews. They are defined by their objective:
The invitation to interview means you have been identified as a candidate who meets the minimum qualifications and demonstrate potential as a viable candidate. Your cover letter, résumé, or related application materials may demonstrate the connection between your preparation and the job duties, but now comes the moment where you will need to articulate those points out loud.
If we assume that you would like to be successful in your employment interviewing, then it makes sense to use the communication skills gained to date with the knowledge of interpersonal communication to maximize your performance. There is no one right or wrong way to prepare and present at your interview, just as each audience is unique, but we can prepare and anticipate several common elements.
The right frame of mind is an essential element for success in communication, oral or written. For many if not most, the employment interview is surrounded with mystery and a degree of fear and trepidation. Just as giving a speech may produce a certain measure of anxiety, you can expect that a job interview will make you nervous. Anticipate this normal response, and use your nervous energy to your benefit. To place your energies where they will be put to best use, the first step is preparation.
Would you prepare yourself before writing for publication or speaking in public? Of course. The same preparation applies to the employment interview. Briefly, the employment interview is a conversational exchange (even if it is in writing at first) where the participants try to learn more about each other. Both conversational partners will have goals in terms of content, and explicitly or implicitly across the conversational exchange will be relational messages. Attending to both points will strengthen your performance.
On the content side, if you have been invited for an interview, you can rest assured that you have met the basic qualifications the employer is looking for. Now comes the time for you to prepare:
Learn about the organization. In almost every interview situation, you’ll be asked, “What can you do for this company?” Practice your answer. Research press releases, stories in the Globe and Mail, annual reports, blogs, Web sites, the news, and so on. Know the company’s philosophies, goals, plans, new products, targeted customers, new executives, and major directional changes.
Use your network. Do you know anyone who works for or has worked for this company or organization? Call or have lunch with him or her before your interview to learn more. Your competition likely won’t have done their homework as well as you have. Your prospective employer will notice.
Review the job description. Be prepared to explain how your background qualifies you for the job. Did you find the job posting online? Be sure to have printed a copy, and bring it with you to the interview. Some companies take weeks to start calling people in for interviews, and by then the job description may have been removed from the site where you saw it.
Review your résumé. Think of examples that describe or illustrate your accomplishments. You will be asked about items on your résumé, and you need to be able to support them and go into more detail.
Businesses hire people to solve problems, so you will want to focus on how your talents, expertise, and experience can contribute to the organization’s need to solve those problems. The more detailed your analysis of their current challenges, the better. You need to be prepared for standard questions about your education and background, but also see the opening in the conversation to discuss the job duties, the challenges inherent in the job, and the ways in which you believe you can meet these challenges. Take the opportunity to demonstrate the fact that you have “done your homework” in researching the company. Table 20.2 "Interview Preparation Checklist" presents a checklist of what you should try to know before you consider yourself prepared for an interview.
Table 20.2 Interview Preparation Checklist
|What to Know||Examples|
|Type of Interview||Will it be a behavioural interview, where the employer watches what you do in a given situation? Will you be asked technical questions or given a work sample? Or will you be interviewed over lunch or coffee, where your table manners and social skills will be assessed?|
|Type of Dress||Office attire varies by industry, so stop by the workplace and observe what workers are wearing if you can. If this isn’t possible, call and ask the human resources office what to wear—they will appreciate your wish to be prepared.|
|Company or Organization||Do a thorough exploration of the company’s Web site. If it doesn’t have one, look for business listings in the community online and in the phone directory. Contact the local chamber of commerce. At your library, you may have access to subscription sites such as Hoover’s Online (http://www.hoovers.com).|
|Job||Carefully read the ad you answered that got you the interview, and memorize what it says about the job and the qualifications the employer is seeking. Use the Internet to find sample job descriptions for your target job title. Make a written list of the job tasks and annotate the list with your skills, knowledge, and other attributes that will enable you to perform the job tasks with excellence.|
|Employer’s Needs||Check for any items in the news in the past couple of years involving the company name. If it is a small company, the local town newspaper will be your best source. In addition, look for any advertisements the company has placed, as these can give a good indication of the company’s goals.|
You may want to know how to prepare for an employment interview, and we’re going to take it for granted that you have researched the company, market, and even individuals in your effort to learn more about the opportunity. From this solid base of preparation, you need to begin to prepare your responses. Would you like some of the test questions before the test? Luckily for you, employment interviews involve a degree of uniformity across their many representations. Here are eleven common questions you are likely to be asked in an employment interview:McLean, S. (2005). The basics of interpersonal communication. Boston, MA: Allyn & Bacon.
Employment interviews, especially screening interviews, do not stray far from a standard list of questions. Find a quiet one to two hours to review the interview study guide provided here, prepare your answers, and actually practice them. Your answers should be short but complete.
The following questionsSuccessHawk, “Interview Questions to Anticipate,” http://www.successhawk.com/Interviewing/Interview-Questions-to-Anticipate (accessed July 13, 2010). are typical in many employment interviews. If you prepare answers for them ahead of time, you will not be caught off guard during an interview.
What can you offer us? Why should we hire you? Make a list of your qualifications for the job. Include years of experience, education, special training, technical skills, inside knowledge of a product or market, and so on. Are you a customer of this product or service?
Use your list of transferable skills like communication, leadership, organization, attention to detail, and work ethic. Review the list objectively. Which items are most valuable to the employer? Use this information to write a brief “sales pitch” that describes your qualifications for the job. Structure the information in a logical fashion and then practice saying it aloud until your delivery is smooth, natural, and confident.
What are your strengths? Provide context and scope when answering this question. By elaborating on your strengths, it’s easier for the employer to see where and how you excel.
Think about your noteworthy and unusual achievements or experiences. What did you do to accomplish them? What kind of preparation did they require? Why are they unique?
Think about performance reviews you have received in a job. Have you won awards or received positive feedback from others in the organization or from a happy customer? What were the reasons for the positive attention?
If you are a student or recent graduate with limited professional experience, think about your papers, reports, projects, or group assignments. Think about the assignment and what you did to complete it. The same strengths that helped you academically will also help you succeed professionally.
What salary are you expecting? This is a land-mine question and one you’ll almost certainly face. Typically a company has budgeted a certain salary range for a position and will do their best to stay within it. A general rule for salary discussions is that he or she who says the first number loses. Ask what the salary range is and where the interviewer sees you fitting into that range.
You owe it to yourself to find out before the interview what the salary range is for a comparable position in the geographical region. You can learn this through your network or an online salary search.
Trick Questions in Interviews
These happen to the best of interviewees. The only wrong answer to an impossible question is “I don’t know.” Hiring managers are looking for employees who think through tough challenges. They want to know if you keep your cool under pressure, if you can think on your feet, whether you BS or maintain your credibility, and how you respond to the unfamiliar. So show them: think aloud.
Talk about what you know about the problem; work out the process in front of them. You are being judged not only on your ability to solve problems but also on your intelligence and potential. There is no potential in “I don’t know.”
Consider using the “because” response whenever you can. A “because” response involves the restatement of the question followed by a statement of how and where you gained education or experience in that area. For example, if you are asked about handling difficult customers, you could answer that you have significant experience in that area because you’ve served as a customer service representative with X company for X years. You may be able to articulate how you were able to turn an encounter with a frustrated customer into a long-term relationship that benefited both the customer and the organization. Your specific example, and use of a “because” response, can increase the likelihood that the interviewer or audience will recall the specific information you provide.
You may be invited to participate in a conference call, and be told to expect it will last around twenty minutes. The telephone carries your voice and your words, but doesn’t carry your nonverbal gestures. If you remember to speak directly into the telephone, look up and smile, your voice will come through clearly and you will sound competent and pleasant. Whatever you do, don’t take the call on a cell phone with an iffy connection—your interviewers are guaranteed to be unfavourably impressed if you keep breaking up during the call. Use the phone to your advantage by preparing responses on note cards or on your computer screen before the call. When the interviewers ask you questions, keep track of the time, limiting each response to about a minute. If you know that a twenty-minute call is scheduled for a certain time, you can anticipate that your phone may ring maybe a minute or two late, as interviews are often scheduled in a series while the committee is all together at one time. Even if you only have one interview, your interviewers will have a schedule and your sensitivity to it can help improve your performance.
Above all, be honest, positive, and brief. You may have heard that the world is small and it is true. As you develop professionally, you will come to see how fields, organizations, and companies are interconnected in ways that you cannot anticipate. Your name and reputation are yours to protect and promote.
You completed your research of the organization, interviewed a couple of employees, learned more about the position, were on time for the interview (virtual or in person), wore neat and professional clothes, and demonstrated professionalism in your brief, informative responses. Congratulations are in order, but so is more work on your part.
Remember that feedback is part of the communication process: follow up promptly with a thank-you note or e-mail, expressing your appreciation for the interviewer’s time and interest. You may also indicate that you will call or e-mail next week to see if they have any further questions for you. (Naturally, if you say you will do this, make sure you follow through!) In the event that you have decided the position is not right for you, the employer will appreciate your notifying them without delay. Do this tactfully, keeping in mind that communication occurs between individuals and organizations in ways you cannot predict.
After you have communicated with your interviewer or committee, move on. Candidates sometimes become quite fixated on one position or job and fail to keep their options open. The best person does not always get the job, and the prepared business communicator knows that networking and research is a never-ending, ongoing process. Look over the horizon at the next challenge and begin your research process again. It may be hard work, but getting a job is your job. Budget time and plan on the effort it will take to make the next contact, get the next interview, and continue to explore alternate paths to your goal.
You may receive a letter, note, or voice mail explaining that another candidate’s combination of experience and education better matched the job description. If this happens, it is only natural for you to feel disappointed. It is also only natural to want to know why you were not chosen, but be aware that for legal reasons most rejection notifications do not go into detail about why one candidate was hired and another was not. Contacting the company with a request for an explanation can be counterproductive, as it may be interpreted as a “sore loser” response. If there is any possibility that they will keep your name on file for future opportunities, you want to preserve your positive relationship.
Although you feel disappointed, don’t focus on the loss or all the hard work you’ve produced. Instead, focus your energies where they will serve you best. Review the process and learn from the experience, knowing that each audience is unique and even the most prepared candidate may not have been the right “fit.” Stay positive and connect with people you who support you. Prepare, practice, and perform. Know that you as a person are far more than just a list of job duties. Focus on your skill sets: if they need improvement, consider additional education that will enhance you knowledge and skills. Seek out local resources and keep networking. Have your professional interview attire clean and ready, and focus on what you can control—your preparation and performance.