How Can I Be Successful in My Job Search?

Your Question: I did not leave my last company in a positive light. I have tried to get back in the field since and have not had any success. I believe my previous supervisor has encouraged other company executives to not hire me because of their sitting on same board.

What could I do to address this?

Our Response: I wish there was a quick and easy answer for you, but of course there is not.  Your frustration and worry is very understandable. Apparently you can’t prove your former supervisor has had a role in your situation. The potential for that would depend upon the size of your former organization and the size of the organization where you are seeking work. If HR is involved either place, the fact that your supervisor has talked to executives, might have very little influence.

It may be that when your former employer’s HR person is asked if you are eligible for rehire, they answer “No.” Or, it could be that the fact that they will only provide your hiring date and last date employed, makes a future employer wonder. Or if there was a serious blot on your last job record, HR or your former supervisor could tell a potential employer about it, if you’ve given permission for a former employer to be contacted.

Whether there has been behind-the-scenes influence or not, your best response at this point is to move forward as though your resume and interview stands on its own. You will need to demonstrate that you can provide the knowledge, skills, abilities and traits that are required by the job description–and that you know from experience are most valued. If, upon honest appraisal, you lack any of those things, you can perhaps gain them or at least show that you are continuing to train.

Sometimes people who have been out of a career field for even a short amount of time, fall behind in the latest software or new concepts in the field.  Some people have found it helpful to put an item in their resume to make it clear what they have been doing with their time if there has been a large gap. One person put the last employment date until the current time and listed several self-training activities.

It’s also crucial to make it past the first review of resumes, whether there are only two applicants or two dozen. For example, a marketing executive told me she reviewed several dozen online resumes with HR. They needed someone who was skilled at Excel and could schedule travel, maintain calendars for several people and order large amounts of materials. All of that, plus a few other things, were made clear in the online hiring notice. They received a dozen or so resumes.

The first thing the HR person did—as you can guess—was to look at Facebook and other social websites. They both looked at everything on the resume to see if anything was a “turn off” or if things seemed normal. They liked email addresses that included the whole name, so they could link it easily in their records. They liked having the instructions followed precisely.

They were turned off by witticisms, sarcasm or negative remarks.  For example, one candidate put, in the space for “reason for leaving last employment”, “I became allergic to the poisonous work environment.” What a foolish thing to write in a resume!

Many of the resumes started with statements about wanting progressively higher levels of responsibility and leadership. The four they interviewed started with statements about wanting to provide excellent support for a busy marketing team and being a strong resource. Much more humble aspirations than some others, but much more realistic for the position.

Those four also included specific information about what they could do in Excel. One candidate said she had learned and worked with four very different business calendar formats.  Those were the kinds of things the marketing VP and HR needed to know before offering an interview invitation.

At the interview all four did fairly well. They all were asked scenario-based questions (“Here is a situation, what would you do?”)  

One who was not hired kept bringing up the things she was not. “I don’t gossip or meddle.” “I don’t wait to be told to do things.” “I don’t take sick time.” “I wouldn’t handle that by……” “In a case like that, I wouldn’t assume that…..” “Given that situation, I wouldn’t…..” “I would never populate that field by….”

A few remarks like that would have been OK, she just overdid it. They would have preferred hearing a more positive approach to those things and to put what she WOULD do upfront, instead of at the end of the questions or statements.

The person who was hired had a reasonable and logical approach, even when her responses weren’t what she should do, within the work of that company. She showed that she was flexible and adaptable as well as having a good foundation of knowledge and skills

None of that may apply to your situation or your resumes or interviews. I included it because I know that many of our readers do make some of those mistakes and it’s helpful for them to think about. Almost all of us (including me!) need to put more focus on the company where we want a job. That is why it is helpful to use the name of the company now and then. “In a situation like that, I’d want to represent Belmar Medical Services in the best way possible, by……..” “The mission statement of Onward and Upward Career Support  is, “We help clients use their past to make a better present and achieve their perfect future”, so if a client had a situation as you describe, I’d start by….”

I often say that there are two unspoken questions in every resume or interview:

1. “So what?” (You say you can do this and this or that you have this certification or this experience. So what? How will you use it if we hire you?” )

2. “Can you prove it” (You say you have this trait or that you have this skill or knowledge area. Can you prove it? What have you done in the past that could solidly show it?)

Some interviewers still say, “Tell us why you are the best candidate for the job.” I’ve had to sit on some hiring panels and cringed when I knew the candidates would be asked for their hiring justification. Some candidates say, “I don’t know about the other candidates, but I can assure you……” Others say they are the best candidate, because…..

An effective response that doesn’t evade the question is, “Based on the job description for an associate at High Country Counseling, the best candidate will have three qualities that I have shown strongly in the past and will build on here. Those are 1. Whatever. 2. Whatever. 3. Whatever. (Then continue on with a brief restatement of your qualifications in those three areas.)

Generally the three to five areas should include knowledge, skills, capabilities, traits and attitudes, to show them the whole employee they will get if they hire you.

All of this long response was to say that your best approach is to be like Onward and Upward Career Support, and use your past, evaluate and improve your present and fully demonstrate that you fit the picture they have (the job description) of the perfect person for their organization. That way, perhaps you can overcome any negative bias. Be so effective in your application and resume that your potential employer will want to meet you, then be so effective in your interview that you overcome even subtle objections.

Best wishes to you! If you have the time and wish to do so, let us know what happens with your career.

Tina Lewis Rowe
Ask the Workplace Doctors

Tina Lewis Rowe

Tina had a thirty-three year career in law enforcement, serving with the Denver Police Department from 1969-1994 and was the Presidential United States Marshal for Colorado from 1994-2002. She provides training to law enforcement organizations and private sector groups and does conference presentations related to leadership, workplace communications and customized topics. Her style is inspirational with humor.