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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, 2019

What Are Interpersonal Skills? Master Them for Better Relationships

What Are Interpersonal Skills? Master Them for Better Relationships

When I wrote my book Extraordinary PR, Ordinary Budget: A Strategy Guide, I was surprised at the various layers of review and editing necessary to get the book to publication. Before I ever submitted the manuscript, I enlisted a former colleague to read and copy edit my work. Then, I submitted my work to an editor at the publisher’s house, and once she approved it, she sent it to her colleagues and then her company’s editorial board.

Upon editorial board approval of my book, my editor sent my work to reviewers in my field, then a developmental editor, then a designer and layout team and, finally, another copy editor. There were a host of personalities with whom I needed to interact along the way.

It turns out that getting a publishing contract was just the beginning – a lot happens between developing a concept, writing the book, finding an agent and publisher, and getting the book on bookshelves or on Audible or Kindle. Through every milestone of the publishing process, my ability to interact with others was crucial. This underscored for me that no matter what or how much a person accomplishes, you never do it alone – everyone needs assistance from others.

While I conceived of the book and wrote the manuscript, there is no way my book could have hit booksellers’ shelves without the dozens of people who were involved in the publishing process. Further, interpersonal skills can propel or stonewall success.

Even as someone who has written hundreds of essays, press releases, pitch notes and other correspondence, writing itself is not a solitary endeavor. Sure, I may write in solitude, but the moment I am finished writing, there are always clients, colleagues, partners, peers and others who review my content.

What is more, even as a published author and contributor for this platform, I try to never submit final copy (content) that has not been copy edited. I send everything to my copy editor, whom I pay out of my own pocket, for her review, edits and approval. Once she has reviewed my work, caught unbeknownst-to-me errors, I am much more confident putting my work out in the world.

How Interpersonal Skills Affect Relationships

It is clearer to me now more than ever before that interpersonal skills are needed in every profession and every trade.

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People don’t elect leaders because the leaders are smart. Individuals are motivated to vote when they have a hero and when they feel they have something to lose. If they seriously dislike the other candidate, they are much more likely vote according to a 2000 Ohio State University study:

“A disliked candidate is seen as a threat, and that will be motivation to go to the polls. But a threat alone isn’t enough – people need to have a hero to vote for, too, in order to inspire them to turn out on Election Day.”

In a work setting, interpersonal skills impact every facet of your development and success. Trainers must collaborate with a design team or the company hiring them to facilitate the training. During the training itself, the facilitators must connect with the audience and establish a rapport that supports vulnerability and openness. If the trainers interact poorly with the trainees, they are unlikely to be invited back. If they are invited back, they may be unlikely to inspire cooperation or growth in their trainees.

Solopreneurs interactions with clients and subcontractors, and those interactions will, in part, support or adversely impact their business. If you enjoy a career as an acclaimed surgeon or respected lawyer, your interactions with patients, clients, health insurance agencies and a team of other practitioners – many of whom are shielded from public view – will improve or decimate your practice.

As a hiring manager, one of the things I consider when interviewing candidates is their interpersonal skills. I assess the interpersonal skills they display in their content and face-to-face presentation. I ask probing questions to learn how they interact with others, manage conflict and contribute to a team atmosphere.

When candidates say things like, “I prefer to work alone” or “I can hit the ground running without assistance,” I bristle. When candidates appear to know everything and everyone, I wonder if they will be receptive to learning or open to feedback. Could these statements be indications that these individuals lack interpersonal skills?

It stands to reason, then, that interpersonal skills are among the most valuable and the bedrock of all talents and skills.

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What are Interpersonal Skills?

Interpersonal skills range from emotional intelligence, empathy, oral and written communication to leadership to collaboration and teamwork.

In sum, interpersonal skills are skills that enable you to interact well with others. They include teachability and receptiveness to feedback, active or mindful listening, self-confidence and conflict resolution.

From a communications standpoint, interpersonal skills are about understanding how colleagues prefer to communicate and then using the appropriate mediums to meet respective needs. It is about understanding how to communicate in a way to get the most out of different people.

For instance, in my career as a public relations practitioner, part of what I am constantly evaluating is which colleagues, clients and members of the media prefer email, text or phone calls. I am assessing how much frill to use with each person depending on what has worked in the past and depending on what I know about the person with whom I am interacting.

Making these decisions and being disciplined enough to follow each person’s known preferences helps me better connect with the various individuals in my orbit. Is this tiring at times? Yes. Is it necessary? Absolutely.

How to Improve Interpersonal Skills

There are tons of resources to teach interpersonal skills. I love books such as Leadership Presence by Belle Linda Halpern and Kathy Lubar, and The 5 Love Languages by Gary Chapman.

There are also a host of books and articles on emotional intelligence, which is the ability to manage one’s emotions and perceive and adapt to others’ emotions. Emotional intelligence is likewise a critical component of positive interpersonal relations. You can learn more about it in this article: What Is Emotional Intelligence and Why It Is Important

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Active and mindful listening also support improved interpersonal skills. I recommend you take a look at this piece: Active Listening – A Skill That Everyone Should Master

I have further found that humility helps a ton with interpersonal skills. It takes humility to admit you have more to learn and that you can learn from the people around you. In fact, everyone with whom you interact has a lesson to teach you. And employers are increasingly looking for team members who are lifelong learners, meaning they believe there is always room for growth and professional and personal development.

Forbes contributor Kevin H. Johnson noted in a July 2018 article,

“That’s why, when anyone asks what the next ‘hot’ skill will be, I say it’s the same skill that will serve people today, tomorrow, and far into the future—the ability to learn.”

Don’t overlook introspection.

While interpersonal skills may seem simple enough, introspection is critical to learning where and in what ways you need to grow.

Through introspection and observation, I have learned that my interpersonal skills suffer when I am sleep deprived, because then I am short-tempered and irritable. I’ve observed this connection over a significant period in my life. Unsurprisingly, it is also true of others. Fellow LifeHack contributor, health coach and personal trainer Jamie Logie noted:

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When you are chronically sleep deprived, it really does a number on you. A lack of sleep can keep your body in a constant state of stress and over time this can get pretty ugly. Elevated stress hormones can be involved in creating a bunch of pretty nasty conditions including anxiety, headaches and dizziness, weight gain, depression, stroke, hypertension, digestive disorders, immune system dysfunction, irritability.

Additionally, the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development reported,

“Sleep deprivation can noticeably affect people’s performance, including their ability to think clearly, react quickly, and form memories. Sleep deprivation also affects mood, leading to irritability; problems with relationships, especially for children and teenagers; and depression. Sleep deprivation can also increase anxiety.”

The point is, even as you are identifying ways to improve interpersonal skills, think about what is getting in the way. While sleep deprivation is a trigger for me, your stumbling block may be different.

The Bottom Line

You cannot fix what you do not know is broken. Even as you work to understand and apply interpersonal skills, spend some time in mindful meditation to get clear on what is holding you back from developing solid relationships.

Featured photo credit: Austin Distel via unsplash.com

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