Q: I read this column every week. Most of the time I agree with the advice. I have a question I have never seen asked. What are 3 things that most job applicants do right? (Please mention the big ones). What are the 3 things that most job applicants do wrong?
A: Thanks for asking this question. It’s a great one and had me scratching my head for a bit. It’s hard to identify and explain just three of each!
What strong candidates do:
1. Pay attention to the details. Their resume is flawless. They show up on time and maybe even a few minutes early. Often they bring an extra hard copy of their resume. They return calls or emails promptly with the appropriate tone (not too casual with “Hey Dude” as the greeting and not too formal with “Dear Madam”). They spell the company name and the recruiter’s name correctly. Their email responses have no typos.
2. Build rapport quickly. Without overdoing in a phony way, smart candidates build rapport quickly. They find a common interest: you both own a rescue dog, you vacation in the same town, you both root for the Red Sox or you attended the same college. Strong candidates make connections quickly and authentically.
3. Make it easy to hire them. They are qualified and they highlight the relevant qualifications, skills, experiences and attributes which are the most important for the job. The best candidates present well both over the phone, in person and via email. They offer more than what you expect (e.g.,”I would be happy to interview on Thursday at 6pm if that works best for the CEO.”) They are positive and gracious during the selection process.
What weak candidates do:
1. Irritate early and often. Their resume is sloppy. Communication is difficult. They don’t show up for an interview or they show up late with a poor excuse. When a recruiter calls them on their tardiness, they become defensive. They take several days to respond to emails or messages.
2. Don’t prepare adequately. The recruiter recommends they dress a certain way which will fit in with the company culture. The candidates argues. A weak candidate ignores a recruiter’s requests to visit the company’s website and research the company’s product, service and competitive landscape. Candidates should always ask questions about the company and about the role. Questions indicate interest and intellectual curiosity.
3. Have unreasonable expectations and egos. Sometimes they request unreasonable dollars, hours or benefits. An early ego is detected and often big egos don’t play well in the sandbox. “No thanks” is how most of my clients respond. I have one client who says, “Egos need not apply.” It is more common for my clients to assume that a new hire will do almost anything to get the job done, even if part of the job seems beneath the person.
Finally, one more piece of advice. Strong candidates differentiate themselves in a positive way. Writing a 30-60-90 day plan, an outline of anticipated accomplishments if hired, shows enthusiasm, thoughtfulness and a high level of interest.