The first, last and only impression

meeting-peopleMeeting new people can be a traumatic and anxious event in your life, especially in the employment process; sadly, little emphasis is given by the majority of people during this crucial step – the first impression.

In my management career, I have been directly responsible for hiring, evaluating/promoting and firing people and have supervised teams across multiple offices.  I have seen every type of individual walk through my office door to interview with me, from desperate individuals (about to lose their house in foreclosure) to un-kept slobs in shorts and a t-shirt, don’t get me wrong – there are a select few individuals who do it all right, but it’s few and far between.

Let’s start by identifying some of the areas EVERYONE should work on…

On-line reputation

Make sure ALL of your social networks are set to private and not shared with the public (or indexed by search engines).  Why? Because recruiters/human resources personnel routine use your email address on your resume to search you out on social networks.  Them seeing “I was so drunk last night” status updates isn’t a good first impression and will prompt them (with a variety of reasons) to look for other candidates better suited for the job.  While you CAN make the argument about those tactics are discriminatory (and in my opinion they ARE) it’s not discrimination because you never knew and will never know if they ever considered you in the first place…

Use a PROFESSIONAL EMAIL ADDRESS for all employment correspondences!  An employer will not take you seriously (especially if it is anything more than entry-level) if they’re emailing partyanimal69@aol.com; Again, other “more qualified” candidates will be called instead.  Go to Gmail, Yahoo or any one of the 23,549,072,001 free email services out there and get a simple john.doe@email.com or anything related to just your name (not activities, colors nicknames or animals you like).

If you’re legitimately looking for employment, you MUST check your email multiple times a day; with smartphones this is a lot easier, but if you can’t afford that luxury in an unemployed status, make sure to check your email and immediately respond to any employer responses AS SOON AS POSSIBLE.  If an employer has questions or needs more information from you, assume that they have asked these questions to everyone and now the clock is ticking to see who gets the information to them first so they can figure out who they want to interview.

Resume & Cover Letter

This is [BY FAR] the worst section everyone needs help on (I won’t lie, I was horrible at this until I was in a position of management and saw [first hand] how it affects an employer’s view of a potential employee).

Do your research on your potential employer, find out what they’re doing, why they need this position filled (is it a new position? are they replacing an existing employee?) and how you can make a difference for the company.  Gather as much information about them, as you feel is necessary.  You’re not [only] being interviewed for the position, but you’re also interviewing to see if you would like working for this company.

Your cover letter is “the knock at the door” asking for permission to enter.  What content you write in here determines IF the person reading it is interested enough to flip to page 2 to read your resume.  Typically cover letters should accentuate you as a person, your ethics and brief synopsis of related experience which would put you ahead of the other candidates vying for this position.  Spend some time on this very important step and USE SPELL CHECK!

You do not have “one resume,” you have “one resume for each job you apply for.” This is one step where it will add a LOT of time and effort in finding a job, but will pay off quickly if done right!  Sending the same “generic” resume to every company shows that you’re doing what it takes to “meet the minimums.”  Take the time to customize your resume specifically for the posted needs in the job description, citing any relevant work you’ve done with what they’re specifically looking for.  The more information you include that is relevant to the posted job means the recruiter/human resources individual is going to pass your resume on to the hiring manager to consider.

Appearance

Individuality is what makes everyone different; Unfortunately, it also is what gives the “next guy” the job and you looking for another. Mohawks, green hair, visible tattoos and extreme piercings are all completely acceptable… If you want to work as a mechanic.  In the Information Technology industry, there is an unwritten “code of appearance” for people who have to interact the other employees, customers or vendors.

Again, people can logically make the argument that it is discrimination, but [again] they’ll never disclose why they didn’t hire you except for the standard “We’ve chosen another, more qualified candidate…” line of BS.  In this section, I fully agree with the employer, not the potential employee.  Why? Either facing customers, vendors or colleagues, you are a representative of the company as a whole, not a statement of individuality.  If you’re applying for a professional position, paying a professional wage, you MUST adhere to the generic standard of clean-cut, well groomed and modest attire.

While I agree that everyone should be able to customize their appearance in what ever way they see fit, the fact is that it absolutely, without a doubt will affect your ability to land the job [and pay] you want.  If you’re going to become an individual and make changes to your appearance to appease you (and you only), make sure it is easily concealable (especially tattoos).

First Interview

When interviewing for a potential job, put some effort into getting there on time! I can’t stress this enough – SHOW UP EARLY.  If you’re not familiar with where the address/area, take a drive by the location the day before and get your bearings, figure out any detours and the best way to get there.

Dress appropriately – Under no circumstances should you expect to dress down for this event (unless they specifically ask you to).  Men should be clean shaven in a suit with modest tie.  Women have a lot more flexibility, however under no circumstances should you wear anything revealing.

Bring a few copies of your resume, reference letters/contact information and have your drivers license, social security card and other identifying information (in case they ask you to fill out paperwork).  Be organized and prepared for every situation during an interview – be prepared to talk about your career highlights and your biggest challenges.  A skilled interviewer will ask you open ended questions trying to provoke a specific response, emotion and to see how you handle the question and/or situation.  If they ask you a direct question, give a direct response.

DO NOT DISCUSS SALARY DURING THE INTERVIEW unless they specifically ask you about it.

At the end of the interview, ask for their business card and end things with a firm handshake, thanking them for the opportunity to interview.

Follow up

After the interview, be sure to follow up with the person/people who interviewed you; Send them a thank you email and ask them if there is further information they need.  This step will ensure that if they liked you, your name will be in front of them, readily accessible to call you back again.

With the current state of the economy and unemployment rate, you need to realize that you may not be chosen for a variety of reasons.  It is very important to understand that you need to keep up the effort and get in front of as many potential employers as you can, keeping in mind that your first impression is your ONLY impression with them.