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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 January 15, 2021

7 Ways To Have More Confident Body Language

7 Ways To Have More Confident Body Language

The popular idiomatic saying that “actions speak louder than words” has been around for centuries, but even to this day, most people struggle with at least one area of nonverbal communication. Consequently, many of us aspire to have more confident body language but don’t have the knowledge and tools necessary to change what are largely unconscious behaviors.

Given that others’ perceptions of our competence and confidence are predominantly influenced by what we do with our faces and bodies, it’s important to develop greater self-awareness and consciously practice better posture, stance, eye contact, facial expressions, hand movements, and other aspects of body language.

Posture

First things first: how is your posture? Let’s start with a quick self-assessment of your body.

  • Are your shoulders slumped over or rolled back in an upright posture?
  • When you stand up, do you evenly distribute your weight or lean excessively to one side?
  • Does your natural stance place your feet relatively shoulder-width apart or are your feet and legs close together in a closed-off position?
  • When you sit, does your lower back protrude out in a slumped position or maintain a straight, spine-friendly posture in your seat?

All of these are important considerations to make when evaluating and improving your posture and stance, which will lead to more confident body language over time. If you routinely struggle with maintaining good posture, consider buying a posture trainer/corrector, consulting a chiropractor or physical therapist, stretching daily, and strengthening both your core and back muscles.

Facial Expressions

Are you prone to any of the following in personal or professional settings?

  • Bruxism (tight, clenched jaw or grinding teeth)
  • Frowning and/or furrowing brows
  • Avoiding direct eye contact and/or staring at the ground

If you answered “yes” to any of these, then let’s start by examining various ways in which you can project confident body language through your facial expressions.

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1. Understand How Others Perceive Your Facial Expressions

A December 2020 study by UC Berkeley and Google researchers utilized a deep neural network to analyze facial expressions in six million YouTube clips representing people from over 140 countries. The study found that, despite socio-cultural differences, people around the world tended to use about 70% of the same facial expressions in response to different emotional stimuli and situations.[1]

The study’s researchers also published a fascinating interactive map to demonstrate how their machine learning technology assessed various facial expressions and determined subtle differences in emotional responses.

This study highlights the social importance of facial expressions because whether or not we’re consciously aware of them—by gazing into a mirror or your screen on a video conferencing platform—how we present our faces to others can have tremendous impacts on their perceptions of us, our confidence, and our emotional states. This awareness is the essential first step towards

2. Relax Your Face

New research on bruxism and facial tension found the stresses and anxieties of Covid-19 lockdowns led to considerable increases in orofacial pain, jaw-clenching, and teeth grinding, particularly among women.[2]

The National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research estimates that more than 10 million Americans alone have temporomandibular joint dysfunction (TMJ syndrome), and facial tension can lead to other complications such as insomnia, wrinkles, dry skin, and dark, puffy bags under your eyes.[3])

To avoid these unpleasant outcomes, start practicing progressive muscle relaxation techniques and taking breaks more frequently throughout the day to moderate facial tension.[4] You should also try out some biofeedback techniques to enhance your awareness of involuntary bodily processes like facial tension and achieve more confident body language as a result.[5]

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3. Improve Your Eye Contact

Did you know there’s an entire subfield of kinesic communication research dedicated to eye movements and behaviors called oculesics?[6] It refers to various communication behaviors including direct eye contact, averting one’s gaze, pupil dilation/constriction, and even frequency of blinking. All of these qualities can shape how other people perceive you, which means that eye contact is yet another area of nonverbal body language that we should be more mindful of in social interactions.

The ideal type (direct/indirect) and duration of eye contact depends on a variety of factors, such as cultural setting, differences in power/authority/age between the parties involved, and communication context. Research has shown that differences in the effects of eye contact are particularly prominent when comparing East Asian and Western European/North American cultures.[7]

To improve your eye contact with others, strive to maintain consistent contact for at least 3 to 4 seconds at a time, consciously consider where you’re looking while listening to someone else, and practice eye contact as much as possible (as strange as this may seem in the beginning, it’s the best way to improve).

3. Smile More

There are many benefits to smiling and laughing, and when it comes to working on more confident body language, this is an area that should be fun, low-stakes, and relatively stress-free.

Smiling is associated with the “happiness chemical” dopamine and the mood-stabilizing hormone, serotonin. Many empirical studies have shown that smiling generally leads to positive outcomes for the person smiling, and further research has shown that smiling can influence listeners’ perceptions of our confidence and trustworthiness as well.

4. Hand Gestures

Similar to facial expressions and posture, what you do with your hands while speaking or listening in a conversation can significantly influence others’ perceptions of you in positive or negative ways.

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It’s undoubtedly challenging to consciously account for all of your nonverbal signals while simultaneously trying to stay engaged with the verbal part of the discussion, but putting in the effort to develop more bodily awareness now will make it much easier to unconsciously project more confident body language later on.

5. Enhance Your Handshake

In the article, “An Anthropology of the Handshake,” University of Copenhagen social anthropology professor Bjarke Oxlund assessed the future of handshaking in wake of the Covid-19 pandemic:[8]

“Handshakes not only vary in function and meaning but do so according to social context, situation and scale. . . a public discussion should ensue on the advantages and disadvantages of holding on to the tradition of shaking hands as the conventional gesture of greeting and leave-taking in a variety of circumstances.”

It’s too early to determine some of the ways in which Covid-19 has permanently changed our social norms and professional etiquette standards, but it’s reasonable to assume that handshaking may retain its importance in American society even after this pandemic. To practice more confident body language in the meantime, the video on the science of the perfect handshake below explains what you need to know.

6. Complement Your Verbals With Hand Gestures

As you know by now, confident communication involves so much more than simply smiling more or sounding like you know what you’re talking about. What you do with your hands can be particularly influential in how others perceive you, whether you’re fidgeting with an object, clenching your fists, hiding your hands in your pockets, or calmly gesturing to emphasize important points you’re discussing.

Social psychology researchers have found that “iconic gestures”—hand movements that appear to be meaningfully related to the speaker’s verbal content—can have profound impacts on listeners’ information retention. In other words, people are more likely to engage with you and remember more of what you said when you speak with complementary hand gestures instead of just your voice.[9]

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Further research on hand gestures has shown that even your choice of the left or right hand for gesturing can influence your ability to clearly convey information to listeners, which supports the notion that more confident body language is readily achievable through greater self-awareness and deliberate nonverbal actions.[10]

Final Takeaways

Developing better posture, enhancing your facial expressiveness, and practicing hand gestures can vastly improve your communication with other people. At first, it will be challenging to consciously practice nonverbal behaviors that many of us are accustomed to performing daily without thinking about them.

If you ever feel discouraged, however, remember that there’s no downside to consistently putting in just a little more time and effort to increase your bodily awareness. With the tips and strategies above, you’ll be well on your way to embracing more confident body language and amplifying others’ perceptions of you in no time.

More Tips on How to Develop a Confident Body Language

Featured photo credit: Maria Lupan via unsplash.com

Reference

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