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What Does Labor Day Mean To You?

Wednesday, September 7th, 2011

For so many workers, the meaning of Labor Day has changed drastically.  What used to be regarded merely as a long weekend and a changing of the seasons is now a stinging reminder of being unemployed or underemployed.

Similar to the anniversary of the death of a loved one, Labor Day creeps up and reminds many people of what they once had . . . and slaps them in the face with the reality of what they are now faced with instead: little or no reward, appreciation or prospects, not to mention a reminder of how much time has passed since the job search began.  It can all be a bit overwhelming to have Labor Day stare you down like that.

There never were guarantees in the job market, but the odds have gotten much more difficult in this economy.  Having a list of various steps that you can take to help tilt the odds back in your direction can be useful.  Not only might this increase your chances, but it can also begin to allow you to consider the employer’s point of view more often.  As you are more mindful of a hiring manager’s needs and perspective, this will make you a better candidate overall.

There are many phases in the hiring process beyond the face to face interview, which is certainly important and worthy of preparing questions, responses, wardrobe, demeanor, etc.  However, aspects prior to sitting down with a hiring manager may or may not lead to getting that interview, and your actions after the interview can determine if you’re called back or selected for the position.

With so many candidates being qualified – and over-qualified – directors have the luxury to be as picky as possible these days.  Which areas might you improve upon, either to impress or make life easier for a potential new supervisor?

Phone/Voicemail

Typically, if a hiring manager likes what they see, the first means of contacting you for more information will be by phone.  It’s important, therefore, to consider carefully which phone number(s) you have provided.  Unless you were asked for more than one phone number, provide only one and remain consistent.

•     Is this a phone number you have control over, or do you share the line with others?  Will you get your messages in a timely manner?
•     What impression will the potential employer get when the phone is answered?  How is the phone answered?  Will the hiring manager feel you are professional (“Hello.  This is Dawn.”), or immature (“Yo! ‘Sup, dude?”)?  Will there be unfavorable background noise, or unprofessional voicemail?  Do you identify yourself on your voicemail, or is it a generic, “Hi – this is 555-1234.  Leave a message.”
•     How soon after a call do you get/retrieve your messages?
•     How easy is it for you to return – or receive – a call during working hours in a private, uninterrupted setting?  (Most first interviews are now via phone.)
•     Do you make a point to add your phone number under your signature in every email correspondence?  Although it may already be listed on previous documents, why not make it easy for someone to find your phone number, instead of looking it up elsewhere?

Email

Many people don’t give a single thought as to how they are representing themselves with their email address, either, but this can affect the job search also.

•     Most people have more than one email address these days.  Consider using – or creating – one specifically for job hunting and networking purposes only.  Receiving all correspondence at one email address can make it easy to have your inbox cluttered and lose or overlook an important incoming message.
•     Try to make your email address as business-like and close to your name as possible.  If your name is “John Smith,” then JohnSmith@aol.com is no doubt taken, but if you can try a different service provider and/or adding your middle initial, certification, etc., so that your email doesn’t end up adding several digits to your last name, it’s much better.  You wouldn’t want a typo of inverted numbers to leave you without a message that was intended to ask you to return for a second interview.
•     Consider investing in a smartphone or other handheld device that allows you to access your emails without having to use a company computer.  Most businesses monitor employees’ online activities these days, and while “personal emails” may have a broad interpretation, using company property to search for and respond to other job listings and offers could get you in real trouble.
•     Many colleges offer free email to their alumni upon graduating, but it’s not a good idea to use this account as your job search email.  Unless you are in the academic field, hiring managers will view you – fair or not – as very young and very green, just out of college, with no “real world” experience, and still trying to vicariously relive your college days.

Online Presence

Having social networking skills is often a selling point when interviewing these days.  It’s often becoming a necessary part of the job, just as computer skills were a couple of decades ago.  However, it’s essential that you be aware that how you behave online reflects back on the impression you make to your current and future employers.  There really is no privacy online whatsoever, regardless of any setting(s) provided on the various social networks.

Take care in what you say and how you say it when posting – or emailing – any type of statement, video, photo, etc.  If you wouldn’t be comfortable with the general public viewing it, it’s best left unsaid online.  This doesn’t mean you have to be a recluse, however, but learn that it is a public venue.  There are things you wouldn’t say or do in public, simply because you prefer to present a well-behaved, polite persona.  It’s the same thing.

Some additional pointers:

•     Periodically Google your name and see what the results are.  Are you pleased with them?  What are the most important aspects that Google has to say about you, if anything?  If your name is similar enough to others, add some other distinguishing terms about yourself (or remove the distinguishing terms about the others) to narrow the search to you.  If you don’t care for the results, there are two things you can do to improve your online presence:  Add more positive hits with online activities such as tweeting, blogging, posting comments on other blogs, LinkedIn groups, etc., or remove the hits by contacting those sites that have mentioned and/or tagged you.
•     Be mindful of what you are tweeting, posting, blogging, commenting, etc.  This isn’t just about party photos, but such things as complaints about your job, co-workers, boss, and so forth.  If you come across as whining about job interviews, or being negative, rather than someone who perseveres, your attitude – regardless of the topic discussed – can help a hiring manager decide whether you make the short list or not.  Many bosses are turned off by excessive use of profanity as well.
•     Consider that the better you become at social media, the more you can use these tools to your advantage, too.  While managers are availing themselves of a way to view potential employees while they “have their hair down,” candidates with know-how can do the same thing and learn more about the personality of a possible manager than they ever could before.  Now, after an interview, if you have a gut feeling about that person possibly being condescending or a drill sergeant in disguise, you might be able to confirm that hunch with a little online homework!

Mail

Don’t neglect the importance of writing a handwritten thank you note after your interview.  For a phone interview, an email thank you may be all that’s necessary, but unless a decision is being made within the next day or two (which you determined during your interview), there is time to write and mail a thoughtful, handwritten note, which elaborates upon some point or topic discussed during the interview, as well as thanking the manager(s) for their time.

Not only does this gesture demonstrate that you have courtesy and a timely sense of follow through, but in addition to showing legible handwriting and the ability to craft a letter, all managers appreciate knowing who has the ability to compose sentences properly without the use of spell check and grammar assistant tools from a word processor.

So few candidates send a thank you after an interview, and among those that do, many opt for the shortest route, such as a text, email, or sending some type of form letter to everyone seen.  Make certain you take good enough notes to write each individual a unique message expressing something about the time spent with them – or why bother?

The better fit you can find with the job you ultimately do get, the less likely you are to spend all of your off hours searching for the next job so soon.  The ideal situation is not only to find work that is challenging, but also a supervisor that gives and receives respect.  A living wage is the cherry on the sundae, of course.

Here’s hoping that future Labor Days remind us more of sundaes, s’mores and picnics, rather than unreached goals.

___________________________________________________________________________________
Good judgment comes from experience, and experience comes from bad judgment.
—  Rita Mae Brown

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