When Not Knowing Can Hurt You - advice for job hunters
Ignorance may be bliss in the game of love but it can totally destroy your chances for a job offer or a promotion. Many people don't get ahead because of a blind spot in their self-evaluation.
Achieving real knowledge requires facing some challenging questions about yourself:
Do you know what qualifications you have and where the gaps in your knowledge and experience are?
Do you know yourself well, including character assets and defects?
Have you given a thorough examination to your image? Have you been willing to have someone you trust tell you the truth about your appearance?
How conscious are you of your level of energy, mood or spirit? Have you gotten discouraged by a long period of unemployment? Does it show?
Know your qualifications and work-experience gap. Candidates who lack job experience but fool themselves about their real qualifications set themselves up for rejection. A resume that chronicles certain knowledge may get your foot in the door, but a lack of experience will be uncovered in the interview process.
The best way to let your qualifications stand out is to be prepared to talk about yourself succinctly in a two- to three-minute pitch.
Prepare yourself to explain gaps in your work history if you have had a number of jobs in a five-year period. If you are asked questions about something you don't know, take the opportunity to describe how you would find the answer.
Character defects: the hardest mirror to look into. Lack of qualifications is generally not the problem people face in being chosen as "the one." Organizations hire people, not credentials and experience. Knowing your character assets and defects will keep your name in the "yes" column.
Some people think that being humble or modest means you don't toot your own horn. Actually, self-effacing behavior is often detrimental in any relationship and does not serve you well vying for a new position. Accepting your assets means you are able to speak about them directly - neither with conceit nor with shy, embarrassed restraint, leaving out key accomplishments.
Other character flaws signal that you may be a difficult person to work with. Being overbearing or aggressive is just as negative as being unable to express yourself clearly. Interrupting frequently may be a nervous habit that will signal you as a poor listener. Bad-mouthing a former employer shows you may be a gossip or a poor team player. Cursing or telling off-color jokes may be your style of bonding but will shout lack of professionalism no matter what level job you are applying for.
You never get a second chance to make a first impression. In this day and age, is what you wear really important? Unequivocally, yes.
A COO candidate for a B-to-B direct marketing company in California learned this hard lesson by showing up in slacks and a sweater only to meet senior management all wearing business suits. Although well dressed, his casual vs. "dress-for-success" attire put his candidacy on the chopping block.
How you look on paper is just as important. Proofread and spellcheck any document you send. Byron, a copywriter, was in the last round of interviews for a senior staff position with a major Midwest cataloger. After meeting with the CEO, Byron sent an e-mail to express his gratitude and to reiterate his enthusiasm for the position. Byron ran the spellcheck but didn't look for typos in the spelling of proper names. The CEO's name was Ferd (short for Ferdinand). The typo responsible for eliminating him as a candidate was (you guessed it!) "Terd," a hated taunt from the CEO's childhood days.
Using incorrect grammar when you are speaking can also signal a less-than-professional image. Poor diction or voice quality is often judged negatively. Do you sound like Karen Walker from "Will and Grace?" Would you be more comfortable on the set of "The Godfather" than "The West Wing"? Do you fidget in a chair when you are uncomfortable? Do you generally slouch or nervously tap your foot or touch your face? If you have an opportunity for a videotaped practice interview, use it to discover these distracting, negative habits.
Perhaps only your best friend or a brutally frank headhunter will tell you this: Although bad breath, body odor, unshined shoes, chipped nail polish and unkempt hair may be characteristics of the "natural" you, the only thing they'll bring is a rejection slip.
Your spirit speaks louder than words. Are you carrying resentments due to your former company's downsizing policies that cost you your job? Are you living in high anxiety because you've been unemployed for a long period?
What are you doing to maintain a healthy attitude? Exuding confidence, high energy and focusing on what you can do to address potential employers' challenges will keep them interested in you. Do whatever is necessary to maintain a positive spirit - meditate, exercise, do yoga, keep a journal, play sports, pray.
Taking a hard look at yourself may be the best preparation you can do to land your next job. What you don't know can hurt you.
Victoria James is president of Victoria James Executive Search Inc., Stamford, CT. Connie LaMotta is president of Workplace Strategies Associates, Upper Nyack, NY.