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4 Things Employers Wish Job Applicants Would Stop Doing

4 Things Employers Wish Job Applicants Would Stop Doing

Most job seekers today understand the importance of a strong resume and will spend hours crafting multiple drafts and customizing their approach for each new application.

But no amount of customization or spell-checks can address tiresome clichés, and far too many resumes and cover letters still tend to be filled with meaningless drivel that tells recruiters little or nothing about what an applicant is really like.

You wouldn’t tell a potential employer you are a “highly motivated, results-oriented team player with excellent analytical skills” in a face-to-face interview, so why put it in your resume?

To get to the bottom of some of these clichés, I’ve asked four employers to share their pet peeves, as well as the things they wish applicants would do instead.

1. Talking in the third person

This might come as a bit of a surprise since there’s a lot of advice out there saying that writing in the third person is more professional for a resume or cover letter.

But while it’s true that using “I” or “me” can be seen as unprofessional, your resume should never look like something your mother wrote about you.

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“It just sounds odd for someone to introduce themselves in the third person when the resume or cover letter was clearly written by them,” says Kara Alcamo, director of search marketing at R2integrated.

Saying “John Smith has worked in marketing for ten years,” sounds impersonal and even pretentious.

Why? Because a third-person point of view distances you from the thing or person you are writing about, and considering that you are writing about yourself, that’s a pretty ill-advised thing to do.

Instead, craft your resume in the first person, but leave “I” out of it to prevent it from sounding like an entry in your diary. If you’re having trouble with this, just write it out normally, and then remove every “I” and “my” later on.

Alcamo adds that aside from getting the tone right, it’s important for applicants to think about what the hiring manager is actually interested in.

“Everyone can talk about their great work ethic, but hard examples are more motivating,” she says.

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“For example, I’m currently looking for a paid search strategist, and if someone wrote that they increased conversion rates for a client by 40% with an A/B landing page test, I’d be much more interested in hiring them than someone who just used some buzzwords to describe themselves.”

2. Exaggerating skills and abilities

Sabrina Hartel, Editor in Chief for women’s magazine Red Hot 40, notes that applicants often overstate their abilities, or fail to back them up with facts and examples, which is just as bad.

“The most overused cliché that I’ve seen when hiring a writer is, ‘I can do this,’ even when the person has no relevant experience in their resume or writing samples,” says Hartel.

“As long as I see samples, I would hire a writer straight out of high school. The most important thing for me is to be able to see what I am working with.”

Business owner and recruiter Kenneth Havens says that applicants tend to greatly overstate their experience or abilities, and on a couple of rare occasions, even make them up.

“I once interviewed an applicant who had stated in her resume that she spoke fluent Japanese,” he says.

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“During the phone interview, I explained that the job would require her to speak and understand some basic Japanese, and she assured me that she spoke Japanese quite well.

However, when I switched over from English to Japanese to test her fluency, the voice on the other end went silent. I’ve never heard from her again.”

Instead of exaggerating, which will almost certainly backfire, Havens advises applicants to simply research the company and carefully read through the job requirements to ensure that their particular skill set will be welcomed.

3. Being too vague

Keeping your resume brief is always good practice, but being too vague or general is another matter entirely.

“Applicants often apply with statements such as ‘I like food,’ or, ‘I like to cook,’” but who doesn’t like food?” says Melanie Young, Chief Connector with The Connected Table, a food and beverage marketing company.

“It’s important for applicants to look at the company’s websites and be familiar with their services and programs. Many of the applicants I deal with do not do this, or have no idea of what is involved with working at a public relations firm.”

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Young points out that it can also be beneficial for jobseekers to sharpen their “elevator pitch,” with at least 3–4 specific attributes they can bring to the company. This will help them keep their pitch brief but also ensure that it’s specific enough.

4. Hinting at future ambitions

Many job seekers misguidedly think it will help their cause to demonstrate to a potential employer how ambitious they are by talking about their plans for the future, even when these extend beyond the job and company they are applying to.

But although employers do value ambition in an employee, no one wants to hear that the person they are considering for a position in their company has plans to take over their job or steal away their clients in two years time.

“I often see applications that say things along the lines of ‘I want to own my own agency someday,’” says Young.

“But all that really makes me think is; ‘Great! How long do you plan to work for me? And will you be taking a second helping of my file when you leave?’”

In order to demonstrate that you’re ambitious without causing employers to wonder where your loyalties are, try to focus on the things you’d like to accomplish or improve within the company you want to work for.

Featured photo credit: Image courtesy of hotblack/morguefile.com via mrg.bz

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Marianne Stenger

Writer, Open Colleges

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Last Updated on March 14, 2019

7 Questions to Ask in a Job Interview That Will Impress the Interviewer

7 Questions to Ask in a Job Interview That Will Impress the Interviewer

Recruiters might hold thousands of interviews in their careers and a lot of them are reporting the same thing—that most candidates play it safe with the questions they ask, or have no questions to ask in a job interview at all.

For job applicants, this approach is crazy! This is a job that you’re going to dedicate a lot of hours to and that might have a huge impact on your future career. Don’t throw away the chance to figure out if the position is perfect for you.

Here are 7 killer questions to ask in a job interview that will both impress your counterpart and give you some really useful insights into whether this job will be a dream … or a nightmare.

1. What are some challenges I might come up against this role?

A lesser candidate might ask, “what does a typical day look like in this role?” While this is a perfectly reasonable question to ask in an interview, focusing on potential challenges takes you much further because it indicates that you already are visualizing yourself in the role.

It’s impressive because it shows that you are not afraid of challenges, and you are prepared to strategize a game plan upfront to make sure you succeed if you get the job.

It can also open up a conversation about how you’ve solved problems in the past which can be a reassuring exercise for both you and the hiring manager.

How it helps you:

If you ask the interviewer to describe a typical day, you may get a vibrant picture of all the lovely things you’ll get to do in this job and all the lovely people you’ll get to do them with.

Asking about potential roadblocks means you hear the other side of the story—dysfunctional teams, internal politics, difficult clients, bootstrap budgets and so on. This can help you decide if you’re up for the challenge or whether, for the sake of your sanity, you should respectfully decline the job offer.

2. What are the qualities of really successful people in this role?

Employers don’t want to hire someone who goes through the motions; they want to hire someone who will excel.

Asking this question shows that you care about success, too. How could they not hire you with a dragon-slayer attitude like that?

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How it helps you:

Interviewers hire people who are great people to work with, but the definition of “great people” differs from person to person.

Does this company hire and promote people with a specific attitude, approach, worth ethic or communication style? Are the most successful people in this role strong extroverts who love to talk and socialize when you are studious and reserved? Does the company reward those who work insane hours when you’re happiest in a more relaxed environment?

If so, then this may not be the right match for you.

Whatever the answer is, you can decide whether you have what it takes for the manager to be happy with your performance in this role. And if the interviewer has no idea what success looks like for this position, this is a sign to proceed with extreme caution.

3. From the research I did on your company, I noticed the culture really supports XYZ. Can you tell me more about that element of the culture and how it impacts this job role?

Of course, you could just ask “what is the culture like here? ” but then you would miss a great opportunity to show that you’ve done your research!

Interviewers give BIG bonus point to those who read up and pay attention, and you’ve just pointed out that (a) you’re diligent in your research (b) you care about the company culture and (c) you’re committed to finding a great cultural fit.

How it helps you:

This question is so useful because it lets you pick an element of the culture that you really care about and that will have the most impact on whether you are happy with the organization.

For example, if training and development is important to you, then you need to know what’s on offer so you don’t end up in a dead-end job with no learning opportunities.

Companies often talk a good talk, and their press releases may be full of shiny CSR initiatives and all the headline-grabbing diversity programs they’re putting in place. This is your opportunity to look under the hood and see if the company lives its values on the ground.

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A company that says it is committed to doing the right thing by customers should not judge success by the number of up-sells an employee makes, for instance. Look for consistency, so you aren’t in for a culture shock after you start.

4. What is the promotion path for this role, and how would my performance on that path be measured?

To be clear, you are not asking when you will get promoted. Don’t go there—it’s presumptuous, and it indicates that you think you are better than the role you have applied for.

A career-minded candidate, on the other hand, usually has a plan that she’s working towards. This question shows you have a great drive toward growth and advancement and an intention to stick with the company beyond your current state.

How it helps you:

One word: hierarchy.

All organizations have levels of work and authority—executives, upper managers, line managers, the workforce, and so on. Understanding the hierarchical structure gives you power, because you can decide if you can work within it and are capable of climbing through its ranks, or whether it will be endlessly frustrating to you.

In a traditional pyramid hierarchy, for example, the people at the bottom tend to have very little autonomy to make decisions. This gets better as you rise up through the pyramid, but even middle managers have little power to create policy; they are more concerned with enforcing the rules the top leaders make.

If having a high degree of autonomy and accountability is important to you, you may do better in a flat hierarchy where work teams can design their own way of achieving the corporate goals.

5. What’s the most important thing the successful candidate could accomplish in their first 3 months/6 months/year?

Of all the questions to ask in a job interview, this one is impressive because it shows that you identify with and want to be a successful performer, and not just an average one.

Here, you’re drilling down into what the company needs, and needs quite urgently, proving that you’re all about adding value to the organization and not just about what’s in it for you.

How it helps you:

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Most job descriptions come with 8, 10 or 12 different job responsibilities and a lot of them with be boilerplate or responsibilities that someone in HR thinks are associated with this role. This question gives you a better sense of which responsibilities are the most important—and they may not be what initially attracted you to the role.

If you like the idea of training juniors, for example, but success is judged purely on your sales figures, then is this really the job you thought you were applying for?

This question will also give you an idea of what kind of learning curve you’re expected to have and whether you’ll get any ramp-up time before getting down to business. If you’re the type of person who likes to jump right in and get things done, for instance, you may not be thrilled to hear that you’re going to spend the first three months shadowing a peer.

6. What do you like about working here?

This simple question is all about building rapport with the interviewer. People like to talk about themselves, and the interviewer will be flattered that you’re interested in her opinions.

Hopefully, you’ll find some great connection points that the two of you share. What similar things drive you head into the office each day? How will you fit into the culture?

How it helps you:

You can learn a lot from this question. Someone who genuinely enjoys his job will be able to list several things they like, and their answers will sound passionate and sincere. If not….well, you might consider that a red flag.

Since you potentially can learn a lot about the company culture from this question, it’s a good idea to figure out upfront what’s important to you. Maybe you’re looking for a hands-off boss who values independent thought and creativity? Maybe you work better in environments that move at a rapid, exciting pace?

Whatever’s important to you, listen carefully and see if you can find any common ground.

7. Based on this interview, do you have any questions or concerns about my qualifications for the role?

What a great closing question to ask in a job interview! It shows that you’re not afraid of feedback—in fact, you are inviting it. Not being able to take criticism is a red flag for employers, who need to know that you’ll act on any “coaching moments” with a good heart.

As a bonus, asking this question shows that you are really interested in the position and wish to clear up anything that may be holding the company back from hiring you.

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How it helps you:

What a devious beast this question is! On the surface, it looks straightforward, but it’s actually giving you four key pieces of information.

First, is the manager capable of giving you feedback when put on the spot like this? Some managers are scared of giving feedback, or don’t think it’s important enough to bother outside of a formal performance appraisal. Do you want to work for a boss like that? How will you improve if no one is telling you what you did wrong?

Second, can the manager give feedback in a constructive way without being too pillowy or too confrontational? It’s unfair to expect the interviewer to have figured out your preferred way of receiving feedback in the space of an interview, but if she come back with a machine-gun fire of shortcomings or one of those corporate feedback “sandwiches” (the doozy slipped between two slices of compliment), then you need to ask yourself, can you work with someone who gives feedback like that?

Third, you get to learn the things the hiring manager is concerned about before you leave the interview. This gives you the chance to make a final, tailored sales pitch so you can convince the interviewer that she should not be worried about those things.

Fourth, you get to learn the things the hiring manager is concerned about period. If turnover is keeping him up at night, then your frequent job hopping might get a lot of additional scrutiny. If he’s facing some issues with conflict or communication, then he might raise concerns regarding your performance in this area.

Listen carefully: the concerns that are being raised about you might actually be a proxy for problems in the wider organization.

Making Your Interview Work for You

Interviews are a two-way street. While it is important to differentiate yourself from every other candidate, understand that convincing the interviewer you’re the right person for the role goes hand-in-hand with figuring out if the job is the right fit for you.

Would you feel happy in a work environment where the people, priorities, culture and management style were completely at odds with the way you work? Didn’t think so!

More Resources About Job Interviews

Featured photo credit: Amy Hirschi via unsplash.com

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