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The 'little things' in a job search

Q. My job search is now coming on 5 months, and I don’t understand where the offers are. I am doing what everyone says, I network, I use the job boards, I have as good resume, I am told I interview well. The big bases are covered. Everyone can improve something (I do know that) but am I doing anything wrong or is this just how it is?

A. The job search in this market can be a frustrating, challenging process. Everything you do in this public forum does matter. Each interaction counts, and how you present to every person becomes part of your story. People do talk about candidates within companies and between companies, and you want to make sure what your story is represents you as positive, professional, and an asset to any organization.

We know of situations where people have lost offers for being rude to receptionists, condescending to wait staff at lunch interviews, or because their etiquette was lacking. We know people who ask for a networking meeting and then don’t offer to pay for coffee or lunch. We can start a collection of worst behaviors exhibited by job seekers – feel free to send me your examples and experiences. There are many stories about people who hurt their candidacy by ignoring what they think are the little things, and when it is an employers market, the little things add up.

I’m not saying this is the case for you. The job search does take months and you need to use all methods, and probably with a lot more diligence than most people expect. The challenge is each of these many activities needs to be completed effectively, leaving a positive impression with each person you reach.

You have the big bases covered, so let’s review the “little things”.

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What’s your conversation style? Are you prepared for a conversation? Great conversations are give and take, with eye contact, sincere interest, and preparation involved. Do you listen or interrupt? Is it about you and only you, or are you eager to learn as much as you are to talk. Whether you are networking, interviewing, or chatting with someone in the elevator (who later turns out to be a managing partner or the assistant to the managing partner) being a person who shows interest in others will reflect well on you.

Can you pass etiquette101? Being a professional requires knowing appropriate behaviors in a variety of situations, from opening doors to using a fork and knife correctly. Regardless of gender or age, knowing when to stand, which water glass or bread plate is yours, and remembering to ask others if they would like the cream for their coffee are the little things. When these are missing, people take notice, and not in a good way.

How is your handshake? Why do most people think their hand shake is fine but so many of us chuckle about crusher out to prove they lift weights, or dead fish hand shakes or the grandmotherly style of shaking fingers? Maybe it is germ phobia, is preventing this lesson, but everyone should learn how to shake hands correctly. Practice greeting people with a side facing flat open palm, make good eye contact, and wrap those fingers gently around the other person’s hand. Don’t crush them; don’t let them do all the work of lifting your hand.

And speaking of appreciation – Thanks. Thank you. I appreciate your support. You can’t over use these words. Don’t overlook the opportunity to thank people who help you and those who try to help you. Emails, hand written notes, typed letters, voice mails and live expressions of thanks can help you make the impression you want to make.

Are you ready? The little things are easy to forget but good job seekers like scouts are prepared for their activities. Many people show up without a copy of their resume, or a pen, or their business cards, or they are late because (fill in the blank). People want to know that if they agree to share their time with you, that you value it, appreciate them, and are fully prepared.

These are little things. They aren’t your expertise. They don’t represent all the hard work you are doing as part of your job search. But these ‘little’ things do matter, and if you can polish the little things, the big things will shine even brighter.


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