Category Archives: Job Search

Typographical Error may trash your job application

 

Can One Error Cost You a Job Offer?

Can One Error Cost You a Job Offer?

You just hit “send”, and an error that was invisible a nanosecond ago looks like it’s in a 50-point font. Now you fear that a single typo will be judged so harshly that you’ve blown this opportunity.

I spent 5 years directing the research department of a professional accounting association. We printed more than 15,000 copies of our 300 page research studies in one print run for distribution to our members. Thousands of hours annually, in a pre-PC era, were devoted to ensuring that no errors survived our scrutiny. So how did I respond to typos in the applications I reviewed? I hired very bright people because I needed to know that they could understand difficult subject matter and communicate effectively with authors and the practicing accountants who served on review committees to vet the content of our various publications. Luring bright accounting graduates away from public accounting firms isn’t easy. I already had Cecil, an outstanding proofreader. People who can find typos aren’t scarce. So a typo would be discussed in the interview, along with other deficiencies that had been circled in red, but one lone typo wouldn’t discourage me from inviting an otherwise strong candidate to an interview. But a cavalier response to my mention of any error would definitely concern me.

I rarely received more than 20 credible applications but that wouldn’t be the reality today. Let’s suppose you and 500 other candidates submitted your applications by email in response to a typical job posting. The first screening will be performed by a junior staff person who is looking for a handful of key words or a software program that does the same. If your application didn’t nail most of the qualifications the job posting specified it will be rejected at that stage anyway. If your application is forwarded to a hiring manager and the rest of your application is very carefully prepared, your sole error may be noted but considered alongside other factors. If the duties of the position involve writing for external parties or you have claimed outstanding writing skills as one of your qualifications, it’s likely to be taken more seriously.

So if you don’t hear back from them, don’t sweat the typo. It’s not the typo that sent the application to the trash. It was your weak application. The process that creates a well-tailored application doesn’t start the afternoon of the submission deadline and leaves time for careful proofreading. It’s rare that an amazing resume/cover letter contains a typo. And there’s never more than one.

Keyboard error image courtesy of Shutterstock.

Jobseeker – Are You an Obvious “Poser”?

Savvy employers have always looked for reliable short-hand methods for identifying a “poser” – the one who talks a good story but doesn’t really know how to do the job.

Rusty HammerIn the early 50s, my father worked as a carpenter on construction projects in Halifax, Nova Scotia. Unemployment was high and would-be carpenters approached the foreman virtually every morning. He didn’t ask for a resume, he just asked ask to see what was in that toolbox that each one brought to the job site, hoping to work that day. Anyone with a toolbox full of shiny new tools was summarily dismissed as an obvious “poser”. Brilliant! The tools of an experienced carpenter are well worn.
Here are a few lessons we can learn from this simple story:

  • Know the typical indicators that hiring managers in your field use to screen applicants. Conduct information interviews with people already working in similar organizations, the one you’re applying to if possible. Don’t just guess. Be sure.
  • Once you know “well-worn hammer” for your field, demonstrate it. Today’s hiring manager may have had more formal training in modern interview techniques, but is just as busy as that foreman. That places employs simple “rules of thumb” to eliminate unsuitable candidates at a premium.
  • Prepare thoroughly to avoid elimination. If they don’t like to see shiny new briefcases, borrow one that has seen a little use. If they care more about attitude than grades, practice that smile!
  • Build a portfolio of completed projects as evidence that you really do know how to use a hammer and bring it with you to the interview.
  • You may dislike some of the decision rules that you encounter. You might think they’re unfair or arbitrary, even idiosyncratic! That’s OK. When you have their job, you’ll get to have your own arbitrary policies!

In his new ebook, “’Headhunter’ Hiring Secrets”, Skip Freeman advises jobseekers that today’s employers are looking for reasons to exclude you from consideration, not to include you. Hoping that a kindly foreman will overlook your shiny tools ensures that you stay excluded.

Photo from phidauex on Flickr.com

The Parable of the Telemarketer

The Parable of the Telemarketer

Harry Jones is one of my neighbours in a 30-story condo building. Harry resents calls from all telemarketers, but he becomes especially rude when someone calls him asking to send a sales rep to provide a quote on a new roof. There are 15 floors above Harry. If the roof leaks, at least 15 other people will know before it bothers Harry.

One evening earlier this week, the following telephone conversation took place between Harry and Shelly, a woman calling on behalf of NVR Leak Roofing.

Shelly:      Mr. Jones, our crew will be installing a new roof just down the street and I’d like to send our estimator to provide you a free quote.

Harry:       What was your name again?

Shelly:      It’s Shelly, Mr. Jones.

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Why I Distrust First Impressions (Part 2)

My first impression on meeting someone new is a very unreliable guide for the important decisions. In the workplace and even in the church, we often need to ascertain who is dependable or trustworthy. In my recent training, I have learned in some depth about the implications of our differing temperaments. I began to wonder whether I might simply be less skilled than others in employing first impressions for hiring and other important decisions. Perhaps I am, but I was intrigued a few years ago to encounter an excellent book by “America’s top jury consultant, Jo-Ellan Dimitrius, who can literally read a person like a book”. She wrote “Reading People: How to Understand People and Predict Their Behavior– Anytime, Anyplace.” As a jury consultant, her livelihood depends on adroitly culling those prospective jurors who are likely to view the accused adversely. Her excellent advice is invaluable for anyone who needs to assess individuals. Despite being a highly skilled and experienced predictor of individual behaviour, Jo-Ellan defers a decision as long as possible, because she knows there is always one more vital piece of highly relevant information that she doesn’t yet know. Thank you Jo-Ellan!
When I meet a client, I notice a limp handshake or a broad confident smile just like anyone else and I find that interesting but far from conclusive. So I endeavour to watch and wait and grant others the benefit of my doubt (thanks, golden rule!). When I coach individuals including jobseekers, my first impression of them provides nothing more than tentative information that I can share to their benefit when appropriate.

A future entry will address the challenges we have with those we experience as “difficult” in the workplace and other environments. I have identified more than 15 distinct reasons that my coworker might seem to be “House” or “Jezebel” in my workplace. Many of them have nothing to do with me but neither do they neessarily indicate an evil nature in the other person. For now, consider that every one of us is likely to be a “difficult person” to someone!

Do you record your first impressions in ink or pencil? Let me know!

Why I Distrust First Impressions (Part 1)

What makes you cringe? For some, it is hearing the president of the United States say “gonna”. For me, it is when workshop facilitators advise jobseekers that the impression an applicant makes in the first 5 or 10 seconds seals the fate of the hapless interviewee. A weak handshake is sufficient to end the interview. A broad smile can ensure an immediate offer.

I don’t cringe because that is bad advice; I accept that it is true. I cringe because worthy jobseekers whose strengths can’t be coached are rejected based on criteria that can be easily coached. Now, I have interviewed far fewer applicants than an experienced HR manager, but I learned a long time ago that first impressions are often very misleading. I understand that the emphasis on “fit” provides clear decision rules.

However, the idea that important decisions about people’s lives are made on criteria that can easily be coached seems just seems wrong to me. And, as Richard Bolles, author of What Color is Your Parachute told us more than 25 years ago, that is a very good argument for directly contacting the hiring manager (yes, networking) instead of emailing hundreds of resumes.
I jumped to instant conclusions just like everyone else until the first night of an evening class 30 years ago. A fellow student I’ll call Jezebel exhibited all the qualities I found most objectionable. When the instructor numbered off people into groups from the front 1, 2, 3, 4, 1, 2, 3, 4, and so on, I hoped (OK, prayed) I would not end up in Jezebel’s group. I actually groaned aloud when I saw that I also would be in group #1. To my great astonishment, I grew to admire and enjoy Jezebel as we worked together on a group project and we formed a friendship that I would not want to have missed. I try to suspend judgment on people until I have some significant need to make a decision. I simply do not trust first impressions.

Mayor Hazel McCallion

Mayor Hazel McCallion

If you are not from Southern Ontario, you may not recognize the lady in the yellow jacket. At age 91, Hazel McCallion is very competently serving as mayor of a city of over 600,000 citizens. Some have been foolish enough to misjudge her based on their first impression. Oops!

So far, I have shared my own thoughts, but in part 2 I will pass on the wisdom of “America’s top jury consultant, Jo-Ellan Dimitrius, who can literally read a person like a book”. She doesn’t make important decisions on first impressions. Check in and find out why!

Career Reality Check

Miguel, a newcomer to Canada seeking full-time employment sits across the desk from a career counsellor, carrying a simple resume that exactly matches a job posting circulated earlier that morning.  A quick phone call sets up an interview and at the evening meal he celebrates with his family his wonderful new job that begins the next day. His younger brother, Carlos, presents himself a few days later at the same career centre expecting a similar outcome. His timing is also fortuitous (or so he is told) as a full-day workshop on job search techniques is about to begin. When the longest day of his life mercifully concludes, he arrives at the same kitchen table with a fistful of paper bearing advice/mandates about networking, information interviews, accomplishment statements and one mysterious insight. Carlos is mostly orange which is unusual in a bookkeeper but he shouldn’t be alarmed. Like everyone, he is really plaid. In Carlos’ home town, plaid is worn only by sedentary male tourists who wear belts at chest level and black socks with sandals.

Like Carlos, many of us are dismayed to learn that the job market of the past is gone forever. A whole new portfolio of job-seeking competencies is required to find our next position, even if it pays half our former salary.  Mastery of these competencies requires us leave our comfort zones to a degree that dwarfs any adjustment to a new workplace.

If Carlos embraces this opportunity and masters those new job search skills he will build a foundation that will serve him well for the rest of his working life. Information interviews will open his eyes to a broader range of opportunities and introduce him to some new friends. As he begins his next position, he will recognize opportunities to create accomplishment statements by taking on challenges and realize that his evil supervisor is really just gold and also plaid. When he finds himself back in the job market (and he knows that he will), those tools will fall readily to hand.

Miguel, on the other hand, will also be unemployed again and may never learn what Carlos knows. He is encumbered by his erroneous belief that job search for him should continue to be easy and by his pride. After all, if he steps out of denial and attends those workshops he will be admitting that it was just dumb luck the last time.

Success in every arena of life comes to those who are willing to do what others will not. Including preparation for the employment marketplace.