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7 Lessons I Learned from My Job-hunting Experiences

7 Lessons I Learned from My Job-hunting Experiences

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    Among the many ironies of the so-called ‘real world’ is not getting the job when I knew I gave my best interview. For instance, there was this firm I really wanted to work for and I was thrilled to be invited to interview on two separate occasions, only to be rejected both times. I was devastated for the next 24 hours, but I got over it. As of today, I’ve been part of the labor force for six years and I’ve had four regular jobs and a variety of freelance projects on the side. It doesn’t make me an expert, but I sure have learned lessons from every job application that somehow proved to be valuable when applied in my subsequent interviews (Hint: I’m a few days away from celebrating my second year at my present job).

    Today, I’m sharing with you the lessons I’ve learned in my personal job-hunting experiences and how they can help you avert unnecessary stress when you’re attending that interview.

    1. Read the directions when taking exams.

    Following this single piece of advice can help you, not just in getting the job, but also in saving yourself from embarrassment. You wouldn’t want to look back to a job that you almost had but didn’t get because you encircled the letters of your answers only to find out that the directions specified to use boxes. There are companies who segregate candidates’ exams according to those who followed the instructions and those who didn’t, and consider the latter rejected. This helps hiring personnel judge how applicants respond to instructions and if they are detail oriented.

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    Then again, following exam instructions shouldn’t mean that you can’t be creative with your answers. Before I got hired for my first real job, I took a barrage of tests that looked like a college entrance exam. But the part that left an indelible mark in my mind was the test where I had to complement a subject with a predicate. I didn’t want to be remembered as a boring writer applicant so I gave answers that I thought were witty. I’m not sure whether my brand of humor appealed to the supervisor, but I got the job. So unless you’re dead sure you can inspire a revolution in how the company views defiance of exam rules, deliberate disobedience or mere recklessness can take a backseat in your job hunting.

    2. Don’t just rehearse answering the basic questions; anticipate the trivial ones.

    If you’ve been in the job-seeking arena for quite some time, you’ve probably mastered the skill of answering the omnipresent interview questions (read: ‘How you see yourself in five years?’ ‘Why should you be hired?’ and ‘What you can contribute to the company’s growth?’). More often than not, it is tradition that dictates the inclusion of these questions on the list of a company’s interview protocol. However, a lot of hiring managers have outgrown this custom and began injecting fresh ideas into their interview guidelines. I remember a former boss asking me in a final interview what my worst trait was, while some inquire as far as the book you’re currently reading (that is, if you read at all) just to get a better idea of your personality.

    While it’s all right to prepare for the orthodox questions, you also have to consider the possibility that you’ll encounter something unconventional, or at least something you haven’t heard of. You don’t have to know what exactly the hiring manager will ask you, but it could help if you brush up on unique interview questions online. The point is that you don’t flinch upon hearing a question you didn’t rehearse for. Plus, anticipating trivial inquiries can help you become more self-aware and confident.

    3. Sell yourself but do not lie.

    One of the challenges I faced in my neophyte stages of job-hunting was describing myself. If it were up to me, I’d rather have the interviewer ask something—anything—about me and I’d give an honest answer. The thing is, the hiring staff needed to prove the part of my résumé where I said I had excellent written and verbal communication skills, and they gave me a chance to demonstrate both. Over time, these same experiences, as well as the skills I gained in my previous jobs, made me realize that selling myself to an interviewer wasn’t as complicated as I saw it.

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    You might think that there will always be applicants who are better than you, and you’re probably right. But if you really want to get the job, you have to make your case stronger by talking about your skills and your accomplishments. There are times, however, when people go as far as exaggerating their stories or lie blatantly just to get the job. It may be tempting to sugarcoat your achievements but remember that when you get hired and your boss discovers your lie, your reputation and your job will be on the line.

    4. Dress up for the job but do not sacrifice comfort.

    The kind of outfit you should wear to interviews depends on the company you’re applying to. Firms that have long been established often stick to wearing formal ensembles, while startup companies tend to be more lenient with their dress code and allow for smart casual outfits. Most job postings these days include the details of the company’s attire policies, but in case it isn’t provided, you can ask the hiring staff when you confirm your interview schedule. However, just because the HR tells you to wear something ‘smart casual’ doesn’t mean you can get away with jeans and black-rimmed spectacles.

    Dress like it’s your first day on your new job. Gentlemen, get yourselves a decent pair of trousers, a crisp button down shirt, and dress shoes. Ladies, wear your best skirt or slacks, a nice blouse or a chic dress, and a pair of heels that you can actually walk on. If heels aren’t your thing, wear flats that scream business. Also, don’t be afraid to put on a dash of color using light makeup. Avoid anything that you still have to break into, such as new shoes, unless you fancy risking blisters on your feet on the day of your interview. Skip anything that doesn’t fit comfortably but don’t go overboard in dressing up. A wrong choice of outfit can affect your disposition and might even sabotage your chances of impressing potential employers.

    5. Make friends with other applicants.

    Making friends with your fellow applicants has its merits. For one thing, talking to someone while waiting can help you relax your nerves, and for another, it helps you expand your professional network. Your job application can only have two outcomes—either you get it or you don’t. Either way, good friends in the field can point you to other opportunities and vice versa.

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    However, engaging fellow candidates shouldn’t be invasive either. Keep the conversation to a professional level; your biographies can wait until you’ve added each other on Facebook. Also, bear in mind that some people might simply want to keep to themselves, so take a hint from their body language if they mind small talk.

    6. Bring a book that you enjoy reading.

    I mentioned earlier that some interviewers ask applicants about the books they’ve read, but why would they want to know? An applicant who likes to read communicates openness to new ideas and the will to learn new things. Case in point: if you want to up your chances of getting your dream job and make a good impression, become more interesting by reading different kinds of material.

    My love for reading is a habit that easily manifested as I entered the world of employment. It didn’t matter what book I was reading, I’d bring it to the interview and read while waiting for my turn. Apart from saving me from boredom, it also served as an easy icebreaker when other applicants jumped into conversation. Furthermore, describing myself in the interview became easier because I could talk about reading, among other things.

    7. Remember that at the end of the day, the person who will interview you is human.

    Job interviews can be nerve-racking the first few times you do it and even more so when (a) it’s a big ticket job you’re trying to get; (b) if the person who’s interviewing you is a company executive; or (c) both. And while there are some hiring managers who take pleasure in intimidating candidates, many of them are simply doing their job. To be fair, what they do isn’t as easy as it looks. Nevertheless, it’s convenient to blame hiring personnel when we don’t get the job, but it is the higher ups who ultimately decide your fate as far as their company is concerned.

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    Still, the recommendation of the hiring manager can affect your overall evaluation, and this is where making a good first impression comes in. Show up for the interview on time, make eye contact, shake people’s hands firmly, dress sharp, and do your homework. What the interviewer will say about you may not be within your control but you can definitely do something to earn brownie points.

    Relax, it’s just an interview. And while getting the job would be fantastic, a rejection shouldn’t define your entire career.

    Featured photo credit: job interview image via ixdaily.com

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    Last Updated on August 20, 2019

    How to Find New Growth Opportunities at Work

    How to Find New Growth Opportunities at Work

    Career advancement is an enticement that today’s companies use to lure job candidates. But to truly uncover growth opportunities within a company, it’s up to you to take the initiative to move up.

    You can’t rely on recruiter promises that your company will largely hire from within. Even assurances you heard from your direct supervisor during the interviewing process may not pan out. But if you begin a job knowing that you’re ultimately responsible for getting yourself noticed, you will be starting one step ahead.

    Accomplished entrepreneur and LinkedIn Co-Founder Reid Hoffman said,

    “If you’re not moving forward, you’re moving backward.”

    It’s important to recognize that taking charge of your own career advancement, and then mapping out the steps you need to succeed, is key to moving forward on your trajectory.

    Make a Point of Positioning Yourself as a Rising Star

    As an employee looking for growth opportunities within your current company, you have many avenues to position yourself as a rising star.

    As an insider, you’re able to glean insights on company strategies and apply your expertise where it’s most needed. Scout out any skills gaps, then make a point to acquire and apply them. And, when you have creative ideas to offer, make it your mission to gain the ear of those in the organization who can put your ideas to the test.

    Valiant shows of commitment and enterprise make managers perk up and take notice, keeping you ahead of both internal and external competitors.

    Employ these other useful tips to let your rising star qualities shine:

    1. Promote Your Successes to Your Higher-Ups

    When your boss casually asks how you’re doing, use this valuable moment to position yourself as indispensable: “I’m floating on clouds because three clients have already commented on how well they like my redesign of the company website.”

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    Tell your supervisors about any and all successes. Securing a new contract or signing a new customer should be a cause for celebration. Be sure to let your bosses know.

    2. Cultivate Excellent Listening Skills

    Listen well, and ask great questions. Realize that people love to talk about themselves.

    But if you’re a superb listener, others will confide in you, and you’ll learn from what they share. You may even find out something valuable about your own prospects in the company.

    If others view you as even-minded and thoughtful, they’ll respect your ideas and, in turn, listen to what you have to say.

    Check out these important listening skills: 13 Powerful Listening Skills to Improve Your Life at Work and at Home

    3. Go to All Office Networking Events

    Never skip the office Christmas party, your coworker’s retirement party, or any office birthday parties, wedding showers, or congratulatory parties for colleagues.

    If others see you as a team player, it will help you rise in your company. These on-site parties will also help you mingle with co-workers whom you might not ordinarily have the chance to see. For special points, help organize one or two of these get-togethers.

    Take the Extra Step to Show Your Value to the Company

    Managers and HR staff know that it can be less risky – and a lot less costly — to promote from within. As internal staff, you likely have a good grasp of the authority structure and talent pool in the company, and know how to best navigate these networks in achieving both the company’s goals and your own.

    The late Nobel-Prize winning economist, Gary Becker, coined the term “firm-specific,” which describes the unique skills required to excel in an individual organization. You, as a current employee, have likely tapped into these specific skills, while external hires may take a year or more to master their nuances.

    Know that your experience within the company already provides value, then find ways to add even more value, using these tips:

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    4. Show Initiative

    Commit yourself to whatever task you’re given, and make a point of going above and beyond.

    Position yourself so that you’re ready to take on any growth opportunities that present themselves. If you believe you have skills that have gone untapped, find a manager who will give you a chance to prove your worth.

    Accept any stretch assignment that showcases your readiness for advancement. Stay late, and arrive early. Half of getting the best assignments is sticking around long enough to receive them.

    5. Set Yourself Apart by Staying up on Everything There Is to Know About Your Company and Its Competitors

    Subscribe to and read the online trade journals. Become an active member in your industry’s network of professionals. Go to industry conferences, and learn your competitors’ strategies.

    Be the on-the-ground eyes and ears for your organization to stay on top of industry trends.

    6. Go to Every Company Meeting Prepared and Ready to Learn

    A lot of workers feel meetings are an utter waste of time. They’re not, though, because they provide face-time with higher-ups and those in a position to give you the growth opportunities you need.

    Go with the intention of absorbing information and using it to your advantage — including the goals and work styles of your superiors. Respect the agenda, listen more than you speak, and never beleaguer a point.

    Accelerate Your Career Growth Opportunities

    A recent study found that the five predictors of employees with executive potential were: the right motivation, curiosity, insight, engagement, and determination. These qualities help you stand out, but it’s also important to establish a track record of success and to not appear to be over-reaching in your drive to move up in your company.

    Try to see yourself from your boss’s position and evaluate your promote-ability.

    Do you display a passion and commitment toward meeting the collective goals of the company? Do you have a motivating influence with team members and show insight and excellence in all your work?

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    These qualities will place you front and center when growth opportunities arise.

    Use these strategic tips to escalate your opportunities for growth:

    7. Find a Mentor

    With mentorship programs fast disappearing, this isn’t always easy. But you need to look for someone in the company who has been promoted several times and who also cares about your progress.

    Maybe it’s the person who recommended you for the job. Or maybe it’s your direct supervisor. It could even be someone across the hall or in a completely different department.

    Talk to her or him about growth opportunities within your company. Maybe she or he can recommend you for a promotion.

    Not sure how to find the right mentor? Here’s How to Find a Mentor That Will Help You Succeed.

    8. Map out Your Own Growth Opportunity Chart

    After you’ve worked at the company for a few months, work out a realistic growth chart for your own development. This should be a reasonable, practical chart — not a pie-in-the-sky wish list of demands.

    What’s reasonable? Do you think being promoted within two years is reasonable? What about raises? Try to inform your own growth chart with what you’ve heard about other workers’ raises and promotions.

    Once you’ve rigorously charted a realistic path for your personal development within the company, try to talk to your mentor about it.

    Keep refining your chart until it seems to work with your skills and proven talents. Then, arrange a time to discuss it with your boss.

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    You may want to time the discussion around the time of your performance review. Then your boss can weigh in with what he feels is reasonable, too.

    9. Set Your Professional Bar High

    Research shows that more than two-thirds of workers are just putting in their time. But through your active engagement in the organization and commitment to giving your best, you can provide the contrast against others giving lackluster performances.

    Cultivate the hard skills that keep you on the cutting edge of your profession, while also refining your soft skills. These are the attributes that make you better at embracing diverse perspectives, engendering trust, and harnessing the power of synergy.

    Even if you have an unquestionably left-brain career — a financial analyst or biotechnical engineer, for example — you’re always better off when you can form kind, courteous, quality relationships with colleagues.

    Let integrity be the cornerstone of all your interactions with clients and co-workers.

    The Bottom Line

    Growth opportunities are available for those willing to purposely and adeptly manage their own professional growth. As the old adage says,

    “Half of life is showing up.”

    The other half is sticking around so that when your boss is looking for someone to take on a more significant role, you are among the first who come to mind.

    Remember, your career is your business!

    More About Continuous Growth

    Featured photo credit: Zach Lucero via unsplash.com

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