What separates a good job applicant from a bad one? A lot of things
Special to The Seattle Times
On networking: "If a [job seeker] is polite and professional and respectful of an individual's time, most people I know will give the time to meet with them. Because we all did it when we were searching for jobs."
On interviewing: "One thing that throws me sometimes is that applicants will be well qualified, they're polite, they're engaging, they have a good background, but they've done no research on the company. There's no excuse for that."
Jack Goldberg knows the job market from the inside out. His Kirkland-based firm, Personnel Management Systems, not only helps other companies recruit, screen and hire employees, but he has had to do that himself recently. His company now has 20 employees.
"Things are definitely improving," says Goldberg, who started the business 23 years ago with his wife, Nancy Goldberg.
"The economic recovery is the real deal. We've got clients who are hiring again."Goldberg's company provides human-resource services for about 100 small and medium-sized companies in the Puget Sound region, including the screening and hiring of job applicants.
So we asked him what does and doesn't work for in the often-tricky world of tracking down good jobs. He divided the process into three sections: the job search, the résumé and cover letter, and the interview.
Q: How important is networking?
Goldberg: The value of networking is huge. Yet a lot of people lack creativity when it comes to the job search.
They don't take personal inventory of all the potential networking connections they might have, whether it's family, friends, neighbors, teachers.
I'm amazed at the people who don't stop to think of whom they might know who works for or might know about that company, or know someone who knows someone.
That's the first thing that people need to stop and think about. It's as relevant for a 19-year-old looking for a summer job as it is for someone with 25 years of experience.
Q: When you're networking, what do you talk about?
Goldberg: If I had a meeting with someone, I would ask them about the industry, so I could educate myself about which companies are within that industry.
Or better yet, if the person is well connected to that industry, ask what names can they give you.
Even if they aren't the names of people who are hiring, they can still give you more intimate knowledge about who might be hiring, or who might be hiring in other departments.
Q: Are people usually receptive to "networking" interviews?
Goldberg: If a [job seeker] is polite and professional and respectful of an individual's time, most people I know will give the time to meet with them.
Because we all did it when we were searching for jobs.
Q: How important is the online aspect of a job search?
Goldberg: It's become a huge part of the whole job-search process now, whether it's Monster, or Dice or craigslist. I think most people are smart enough to know they have to pursue those avenues.
[But] I've heard people say that the good jobs aren't in the newspaper. But I think that's totally and utterly ridiculous. I don't know where that came from.
We regularly hire for about 100 companies, so right now we have, let's say, 80 job openings. Ninety percent of those companies want those job openings in the newspaper.
There's no question if you're networking and get a direct conduit to the hiring manager, that's going to be more effective than simply responding to an ad in the newspaper.
But that doesn't mean you should exclude ads in the paper from your job search. You've got to pursue everything.
Résumés and cover letters
Q: What's the most common mistake you see in résumés and cover letters?
Goldberg: It's still absolutely amazing to me how many times we get résumés, not to mention cover letters, full of typos. Incredible. It seems like that would be such a basic premise.
Q: Has that changed much in the 23 years you've been in the HR business?
Goldberg: I don't think so. It's as bad now as it ever was. People rely so much on spell checking that they don't engage the brain. They don't read the cover letter and make sure the words they're using even make sense.
Q: What's the big deal about a few typos?
Goldberg: HR people have to have a way to screen applications quickly and efficiently.
Otherwise you can't get through them, you'll just get bogged down in the sheer volume of the work.
So if we see an application or cover letter with a typo or grammatical mistake, all that does is give us a very easy, simple way to screen a résumé out. And that will happen in less than 10 seconds.
We almost relish the opportunity to screen somebody out, because we're trying to get from, say, 300 applications to 10.
So you're looking for reasons to exclude people, you're not looking for reasons to include people.
Q: What's the most common mistake people make about interviewing?
Goldberg: Many people assume the interview starts when they sit down with the hiring manager in the office. The reality is, it starts when they pull into the parking lot.
I have seen applicants pull in — they're running late, they're rushed — and park in the disabled spot.
Right off the bat, you're not making a good impression. Or smoking their last cigarette at the door before walking into the building. Or filling out an application in the lobby with their feet up on the table.
You'd think common sense would prevail, but people aren't thinking it through.
Lots of hiring managers, after an applicant leaves, will talk to the receptionist and say, 'Tell me about what you thought about so and so. Did they introduce themselves? Did they engage you in conversation? What was their demeanor while they were waiting?'
Q: Is it possible to overdress for an interview?
Goldberg: There's so much written about what to wear and how to dress.
But people still take that issue far too casually. You're far, far better off to overdress than to underdress.
Nobody's going to think poorly of you if you're overdressed.
But if you're underdressed, you're sending a message about yourself, about your respect for the person who is interviewing you.
People need to be really cognizant about what they wear, and if they're not sure, get help, ask for advice.
Q: What about tuxedos?
Goldberg: No, not a tuxedo.
Q: What about wearing a tie?
Goldberg: The tie thing is a big deal now. Do I wear a tie or don't I?
If you're not sure, wear a dang tie! Big deal.
Nobody's going to fault you for having a tie on.
Q: How much knowledge about a company should an applicant have?
Goldberg: One thing that throws me sometimes is that applicants will be well qualified, they're polite, they're engaging, they have a good background, but they've done no research on the company.
There's no excuse for that. It only demonstrates to the hiring manager that you're really not expressing the sincere level of interest they want to see.
It used to be harder (to do research on a company). You had to go to the library. But now, on the Internet, it's easy.
Q: What other mistakes do you see in interviews?
Goldberg: Some people look at the interview as being mystical.
"I'm going to be asked trick questions or unusual questions or things that will throw me off balance."
Most people ask basic questions about a person's experience, qualifications, education, things like that.
An applicant should be able to predict most of the interview questions and come prepared with good answers.
I'm amazed at how many times you sit down and ask an applicant about their qualifications and how they might apply to the job, and it's like they haven't expected the questions. They're making up the answer, they're not mentally prepared.
I'm also amazed at how many times, at the end of the interview, people aren't asking for the position. It's like a sales call.
You have to close the sale. Ask what the next step is.
Ask what they can do to be further considered. Something, do something to close the deal.
You've gotten so far — to just shake hands and walk out is a shame.
Make an effort to follow up with a thank-you note or phone call.
That advice has been around for a hundred years, but I'm still amazed at how often people don't.
Especially for someone applying for customer-service or sales positions, that's part of the application process.
How to interview or talk in person, but also how they talk on the telephone.
Copyright © 2005 The Seattle Times Company