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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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    Published on September 16, 2020

    12 Practical Interview Skills to Help You Land Your Dream Job

    12 Practical Interview Skills to Help You Land Your Dream Job

    Today, with many companies going remote—at least until there’s a COVID-19 vaccine—technical proficiency is a vital skill for every interviewee to master. You may be asked to interview for a job on Zoom or Microsoft Teams. The way you handle yourself in the online interview (your interview skills) will say much about your ability to work from home efficiently.

    Does your workspace look clean or cluttered? Is the area free from noise? Is your home office well lit?

    Once hired, you may be asked to organize meetings on Zoom and other platforms. Along with mastering the technology, you will have to learn to follow certain protocols.

    Now is the time to get up to speed on your technical skills. Learn which interview skills are needed for the particular job for which you are applying and practice them.

    Online learning sites, such as LinkedIn Learning and Udemy, offer courses for free or a nominal membership fee. If you are a DIY type, make use of training videos offered through your particular digital tools.

    Additionally, demonstrating that you have these 12 interview skills will help you land your dream job.

    1. Organization

    When you work in a brick-and-mortar office, some of the organizing is left to others. Your direct supervisor may host a Monday morning quarterback meeting where each worker reports on the progress on their tasks.

    When you work from home, much of the organizing will be left up to you. To a much greater extent than before, you will need to develop a schedule and stick to it. Some tasks may be faster to complete from your home office where you don’t have other workers competing for your attention.

    Conversely, you may find that some tasks that would have gone quickly in an office seem to take forever from your home computer. Your phone may ring a lot, which can distract you, or you may have kids and a spouse who inadvertently disrupt your schedule.

    To do: Set a schedule and stick to it.

    To discuss during your interview: Be specific. Point to the interview skill you utilized to create a schedule for a complex work project and followed it.

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    2. Flexibility

    You set a schedule for the completion of your tasks, but your prospective boss gets their work done between the hours of 2:00 and 8:00 a.m. Your West Coast partners are three hours behind your East Coast partners, and one of your partners lives in England while another lives in Australia.

    Feedback and collaboration (see point 3) may need to happen asynchronously. Be the flexible candidate—the person who is willing to occasionally disrupt their schedule for the greater good of the team.

    For extra credit: don’t just look up time zones, look up whether they observe Daylight Savings Time.

    To do: Be flexible about meeting times.

    To discuss during your interview: Highlight a time when you worked on a team where members lived in different time zones. Discuss your processes.

    3. Collaboration

    As recently as six months ago, before the pandemic raged around the world, collaboration wasn’t quite as essential as it is today. In a remote office setting, collaboration doesn’t just mean working well with others—but actually sharing documents and editing them online on time.

    Several cloud-based tools, such as Google Drive, Basecamp, and Trello, enable the type of collaborative teamwork that most companies want today.

    To do: Download the correct software and practice using it.

    To discuss during your interview: Discuss how you worked remotely with a group. Share how you overcame certain challenges.

    4. Poise

    Murphy’s Law states, “Anything that can go wrong will go wrong.”

    When things do go awry, keeping your wits about you will demonstrate your consummate professionalism under fire. This will show your future bosses that you will be able to work well under the pressures of remote work.

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    What could go wrong, you ask? You might be muted without realizing it—your Internet connection may not be robust, your headphones may blip out, your cellphone may ring, Zoom could have an outage. The list goes on and on.

    To do: Make sure you have the most up-to-date versions of Skype and Zoom uploaded.

    To discuss during your interview: Consider highlighting a time when a project did not go as planned. Demonstrate the interview skills that allowed you to rise to the challenge.

    5. Communication

    Your ability to handle online communication is one of the top critical skills you will need to thrive in today’s remote workplace. Download Slack if you haven’t already. Get used to toggling to a different form of online communication if one of your tools fails.

    When it comes to the preferred format for your online interview, demonstrate proficiency by offering several different options. Give your phone number, Google Chat Hangouts name, and Skype ID.

    To do: Familiarize yourself with video conference and online chat tools, such as Slack, Fleep, or Workplace by Facebook.

    To discuss during your interview: Be prepared to share the online communication tools you’re using and examples of how you use each one.

    6. Good Computer Hygiene

    Setting up a backup system for your computer files is one of today’s crucial requirements for working in the digital age. Storing documents that can be shared by team members is also an efficient way to work together on presentations, articles, and reports—although studies show nearly one-third of employees avoid them because of the time it takes to find documents.

    Be prepared in your interview to indicate your experience utilizing this technology, describing how you organize and store files using cloud-based collaboration tools. How do you keep track of links and tabs? Do you use Dropbox? Google Docs? Confluence? Others?

    To do: Take inventory of the cloud-based document sharing and storage systems you know and use.

    To discuss during your interview: Describe the document sharing tools and backup systems you utilize—both for personal protection and professional file sharing.

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    7. Proper Meeting Etiquette

    Today, presenting yourself virtually has its pros and cons. While you only have to show a professional persona from the waist up (make sure to straighten up your office space behind you), you must boost your energy to show that you’re engaged in the discussion.

    Make your voice as upbeat as possible. Have your talking points at the ready and be careful not to ramble on, as long virtual meetings easily become tiresome. Use the mute and chat features to avoid interruptions.

    To do: Once you know the meeting platform, make sure you have it mastered before your interview.

    To discuss during your interview: Offer to share your screen to show an example of a work project— while at the same time demonstrating your prowess with video conferencing tools.

    8. Respecting Feedback

    In the age of working remotely, there may not be as many systems in place to obtain feedback (such as yearly performance reviews). Workers may need to ask for feedback, while managers may need to give more feedback than usual as the team adjusts to working off-site. Respecting feedback is on top of the interview skills list that you should learn.

    Taking a proactive approach with giving and receiving feedback and incorporating it into your work style is a desirable quality that your employers will note.

    To do: Reflect on the positive feedback you’ve received from past employers to bolster your confidence.

    To discuss during your interview: Share a time when you received feedback that made you grow in the job. If you’re a manager, share a time when you gave feedback to an employee who needed to better their job performance.

    9. Project Management

    Staying on task with projects has evolved far past a to-do list, with electronic tools that can track time, manage team workloads, and even do the client billing. While your prospective employer may have its preferred project management program, your experience with any of the various options—whether it’s Basecamp, Teamwork, Smartsheet, or another—will be applicable.

    To do: Know which project management software is likely to be used by the industry in which you’re interviewing, and familiarize yourself with its features.

    To discuss during your interview: Highlight a project management feature that is particularly useful in helping you excel in your work, and explain how you utilize it.

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    10. Staying up to Speed

    Employers expect their remote workers to be technically proficient so that technology runs smoothly and doesn’t create work disruptions. Bosses count on remote workers to know enough about their systems to manage them without relying on the help of overworked IT staff.

    To do: Make sure you have a fast internet connection and have a back-up plan, such as a second computer or other tethered devices.

    To discuss during your interview: Note that you are diligent about keeping your computer and software up to date.

    11. Attention to Cybersecurity Issues

    “Virus” is a loaded term these days. Spreading a computer virus in your company, however, will not only bring productivity to a halt, but it will also make you a pariah. While working from public places using free Wi-Fi (with uneven security provisions) has waned, in pre-pandemic times, coffee shops accounted for 62 percent of Wi-Fi security breaches.

    To do: Keep antivirus software updated and don’t download software without verifying its authenticity.

    To discuss during your interview: Emphasize your awareness of cybersecurity risks and your care in taking necessary safety measures.

    12. Teamwork

    Work relationships now mostly happen in virtual settings, yet employers value team-oriented workers.

    Being a part of a team gives you a sense of connection and shared purpose. A well-honed team understands how mutual reliance makes the sum of its parts greater than when individuals act on their own, improving the end product.

    To do: Take stock of your attributes as a team player and where you can cultivate skills that will enable you to work more collaboratively.

    To discuss during your interview: Inquire about the company’s culture and how it encourages a sense of community despite working remotely.

    Final Thoughts

    Preparing for remote positions available in today’s job market will mean honing your interview skills to highlight your technical abilities as well as your adaptability. By adhering to these To-Do’s and perfecting your online interview skills and charisma, you will rise above the competition and win over any prospective employer.

    More Tips to Improve Your Interview Skills

    Featured photo credit: Christina @ wocintechchat.com via unsplash.com

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