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A View From the Other Side of the Interview Desk:
3 Changes to Improve Your Odds at Getting that Job

by Dr. Stephen A. Laser

Dr. Stephen A. LaserGetting a job is hard enough that candidates donít need to unnecessarily shoot themselves in the foot once they get that coveted job interview. So how does an otherwise qualified job candidate squander a chance to land a good job? Below are the three most common mistakes Iíve seen job candidates make in my experience as a business psychologist as well as an explanation on how to avoid them along with improving your chances of finding the right opportunity for you. The ďBig ThreeĒ as I call them are:

  1. Talking too much
  2. Failing to do your homework
  3. Relying on a one-size-fits-all resume

Donít Talk Too Much

In my work on the other side of the desk, the number one reason people fail to land a job is plain and simple: they talk too much. Why do candidates feel compelled to talk so much? First and foremost, they are frustrated. After many months of extended unemployment and no responses to emails or phone calls, people naturally become angry and upset. The frustration of emailing, snail-mailing, and perhaps, going door-to-door handing out resumes is a tiring process, and it can seem like a foolís errand. When a person finally does land that much coveted interview, several things can happen Ė and many of them are not good.

Often, the long-awaited chance to talk to a human being either face-to-face or over the telephone is seen as an invitation to tell everything. Job histories are recited in excruciating detail, and each question from the interviewer is an opportunity to offer a soliloquy. In other instances, the discouraged job candidate vents all of his frustrations on the poor human resources rep who is only trying to do her job.

To counter these problems, let me offer a few common sense suggestions. First, listen and answer the question directly. Simple questions deserve simple answers. For example, to the question, ďHow many years have you worked in sales?Ē donít begin with your first job in high school selling retail clothing at the mall to 25 years later, reviewing your most recent role as a national account manager. Instead, simply say, ď25 years.Ē

Remember: while the job interview might be your first in months, it is probably the HR repís fifth or sixth of the day! Give them a break. This poor person might be the age of your son or daughter. How would you feel if an angry job applicant verbally assaulted one of them? Finally, if you absolutely need to vent about your frustrations surrounding unemployment, talk to a counselor or a clergyman or even a sympathetic family member or friend.

Do Your Homework

The internet is your friend. Use it to search for information on your prospective employer. Find information about the company and its products. If you are interviewing with a not-for-profit, learn about its history and mission. Read news stories posted on-line about the place. The more you know about the organization you might be working for, the better informed you will be. More importantly, you will sound knowledgeable and well-prepared to those at the company who will be interviewing you, and this impresses people.

If you are fortunate enough to know the names of the people you will be meeting, find out as much about them as possible. Where did they attend school? What significant contributions have they made to the company or to their field? Using Google as well as LinkedIn you can uncover a treasure trove of valuable information. Another reason for searching for information about individuals is to try to connect with them in some way. Maybe you know people in common or share a similar background in terms of education or interests. We all feel more comfortable with people we know and share common interests or experiences.

Ditch the One-Size-Fits-All Resume

With word processing tools there is no reason not to customize your resume for different jobs. For handy reference, keep a template on your computer of your basic resume format which you can tailor at a momentís notice. Besides the obvious value of customizing your resume for a particular employer, there is another important fact of life in todayís job market which should compel you to listen to take my advice. With the crush of hundreds, and even thousands of resumes being submitted to an employer who posts a job opening, companies are getting aggressive about screening out resumes which donít make sense for the job and are not worth taking to the next round. In particular, organizations are employing sophisticated resume scanning tools to search for key words. If thereís not a match, then the resume is dropped. This, of course, probably explains why so many resumes go unanswered in todayís crowded job market.

To counter this problem, let me suggest a couple of ideas. First, examine the job posting or ad if in it was in the newspaper or on a bulletin board. Copy it word for word and then make sure your resume contains the same exact key words as in the posting. While not always possible, you might try to ask for a job description, and again, look carefully for the key words in the document so that you can transcribe them onto your resume in order to avoid being screened out electronically.

In closing, there is nothing magical about these three suggestions for avoiding costly mistakes that might separate you from being a second round candidate as opposed to being rejected out of hand. Itís amazing what a difference common sense and little extra effort upfront can make in increasing your odds of ending that long period of unemployment. Now, get back to work!

Stephen A. Laser, PhD has over 30 years of experience as a business psychologist. He founded and manages a Chicago-based consulting firm specializing in advising clients on hiring employees. Over the past 10 years, Dr. Laser has been a guest speaker to various groups of unemployed individuals, typically over the age of 40, and previously taught courses in business psychology at Northwestern University, Roosevelt University and the Lake Forest Graduate School of Management.

Dr. Laser is the author of Out-of-Work and Over-40: Practical Advice for Surviving Unemployment and Finding a Job. He is a regular contributor to The Weissman Report, has written articles for top media outlets and industry publications and has been quoted as an expert by BusinessWeek.com, CBS MoneyWatch, Huffington Post, Black Enterprise and the Chicago Tribune. For more information, please visit www.laserassociates.net.

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