“Don’t undersell yourself, and take time to thoroughly understand your labor-market value and what you offer,” Mike Schwartz, YWCA Seattle King Snohomish.
Looking for a new job, or maybe just a better job? Review these tips first, to ensure your search is efficient and successful.
In today’s competitive hiring market, job seekers will need to deftly reframe past experiences to suit new prospects. “Skills are transferable to hidden opportunities,” says Mike Schwartz, YWCA Seattle King Snohomish director of Economic Advancement. Schwartz manages YWCA’s career-development and job-search opportunities for women.
“Don’t undersell yourself, and take time to thoroughly understand your labor-market value and what you offer.”
Here are 11 mistakes to avoid.
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Mistake #1: Limit your job search to the jobs you’ve already held. If you’ve managed a church or school fundraiser, you have experience in outreach, fundraising, event planning and funds management. If you’ve worked in fast food or retail, your skills in handling cash, customers or employees could translate to a job in banking.
Mistake #2: Send out generic cover letters and resumes.
For best results, understand the skills and qualifications the role calls for, and tailor your resume’s skills to fit the position, suggests Ciera Graham, the director of Everett Community College’s East County Campus in Monroe, Washington. “It shows you’ve taken the time to read the job description,” she says. Graham has more than eight years of professional experience providing job search and career advice, and will coach on resume and interview skills at YWCA’s Women RISE Career Workshop.
Of course, not everyone has the time to plan or rewrite a resume. If not, narrow down the industry and job you desire, which will probably feature similar qualifications.
Mistake #3: Describe your skills as generally as possible.
“If you say you’re ‘very hard working’ ‘take initiative’ or are a ‘good communicator,’ well, every candidate is saying that,” Graham notes. Instead of a generic description like “hard working,” Graham suggests thinking about what you really mean: perhaps that you can handle competing demands, you’re adept at managing work hours or competing priorities.
Mistake #4: Don’t worry about social media.
“Be bold and brave,” Graham suggests, with LinkedIn. “Seek out people in the organization you want to work at, and send an invite message.” Introduce yourself briefly, state your interest in the company, and that you’d like to take your LinkedIn connection to coffee or meet for an informational interview. If you’re interviewing, you may be able to connect with those in a position to hire you, and learn more about their history or interests.
Give other social media a small scrubdown before applying for jobs, Schwartz says. Delete visible posts and tweets featuring profanity, drug use or drinking. “Look at your profile through the eyes of your employer,” Schwartz says.
Mistake #5: Wear the same suit you wore to your last interview.
Slacks or jeans? Heels or flats? Jacket and tie? “I got good advice from a mentor,” Graham says: “If you don’t know the dress code of a company, around 5 p.m. sit in the parking lot and see how people are dressed when coming out of the building. You’ll get an idea of how that particular organization values professional dress.”
If your wardrobe isn’t currently ready for the interview, check out affordable professional wear at resale stores and discount stores. YWCA offers a program called Working Wardrobe at their Redmond and Everett locations. Business attire is offered free of charge to women experiencing homelessness who need clothing for interviews or new jobs.
Mistake #6: Don’t stress over the interview
“Nervousness has a stigma to it, but nerves are to be expected,” Graham says, as long as they don’t stop you from engaging or answering questions. Instead of worrying about flop-sweat, do interview research in advance. Read biographies of staff members you admire and the organization’s mission statement.
And always, always have 3-5 questions in your back pocket. “If you don’t have any questions or say every question has been answered, the employer may not think you take initiative, or you’re not a self starter or interested in the job.”
Research a workplace, an employer or an industry using sites like Glassdoor.com or your local library’s Reference USA database, Schwartz suggests.
Mistake #7: You can never talk too much, in an interview.
Indeed, you can talk too much – or too little. Two minutes is generally the sweet spot, Schwartz says – every answer has a peak point where your answer matches with what they’re looking for.
Ensure you’re making eye contact, not playing with your hair, and communicating professionally. Sometimes this requires some code-switching, he says – speaking the business-professional language expected in the workplace, and familiarity with lingo used in the field. For example, any job in the trades might expect you to understand OSHA safety precautions.
Mistake #8: Don’t let your references know that someone will be calling.
“In many situations, a past supervisor or co-worker will get a phone call and they had no idea this person was applying for job,” Graham says, leaving them caught off guard – and you have no idea what they’ll say next.
Instead, ask your potential reference if they’ll vouch for you, and send them a copy of the job description and an updated copy of your resume. They’ll be more willing (and able) to speak highly of your qualifications.
Mistake #9: Just repeat your resume’s main points during your interview.
The interview is your chance to give concrete examples of your strengths within the job’s context. Tell and show how you’re able to handle competing demands.
For example, provide a scenario demonstrating how you handled multiple competing demands: In the midst of sending an e-mail, your phone started ringing and a student walked into your office, hoping to discuss how he or she is doing in class.
“Describe how you put students first,” Graham says, turning away from your laptop and turning off your phone. “Show how you can handle multiple, competing demands and still get work done in a reasonable amount of time.”
Mistake #10: Forget following up.
Send a handwritten or e-mailed thank you note after the interview, Schwartz suggests. It’s your opportunity to point out something you forgot to mention, reemphasize a skill or just thank the interviewer for the opportunity. If you don’t get the job, you might try asking for a brief 15-minute phone call to find out what you could’ve done differently and to state your interest in future opportunities.
After all, if you’re just lacking a skill, you may be able to get that through a class or training program — and you’ve added that individual to your growing career network.
Mistake #11: Accept the first offer, no matter the pay rate.
Remember your rights. Racism and sexism can show up in interviews through implicit bias, microaggressions, or direct questions about children or previous pay. Use a site like www.getraised.com to find out how much you should earn. Today, black women make 65 cents to every $1 a white man earns, Mike Schwartz says. And unfortunately, it’s often women of color in intersectional roles who “pay” the most for making job-search and interview mistakes, he notes. So YWCA offers customized, culturally relevant career assistance for women of color. “We are selective about our employer partnerships, preferring to work with employers who not only espouse diversity, equity, and inclusion but understand racial and gender equity.”
YWCA Seattle King Snohomish is on a mission to empower women, eliminate racism and strengthen communities. Learn more about our vision, events, locations and programs.