There's an old joke about how most people put more effort into planning a two-week holiday than into what potentially could be a life-changing job interview.
All kidding aside, it's the truth.
That's the opinion of 65 human resource professionals surveyed in Michael Schell's insightful new book, Human Resource-Approved Job Interviews & Resumes.
The book is a step-by-step guide for the job-seeker. But what's really compelling is the perspective that many leading HR professionals serve up in 170 attributed quotes.
|Photo courtesy of Michael Schell|
|Michael Schell has put together a step-by-step guide for jobseekers.|
Thoughtful and candid, their comments give the reader a great understanding of the criteria used by HR experts to sort through the thousands of job applicants and ultimately render a decision.
What turns them on? What bugs them? How many seconds do they actually spend reading a resume? And what's the best question a job applicant can ask?
"I think it's not only good for jobseekers, but also for people who hire people," says Schell. "They (HR professionals) are the best teachers possible."
Schell is the Vancouver-based president and CEO of The Approved Group Inc., which has produced a series of books and workshops on job searches, sales and help for small businesses.
Asked if there were any surprises in the research, Schell notes that while some common themes emerged, a few shocked him.
"I think that the one point they kept driving home is that they don't have a lot of time," he says. "The majority said they get seconds to scan a cover letter and resume. And sometimes if the cover letter mirrors the resume, they just throw them away."
In the survey, HR professionals said that only 35 per cent of resumes they received were considered "excellent," while only 23 per cent of cover letters received top marks.
"I was shocked that in many cases, up to 70 per cent of resumes contained typos, grammatical errors, little errors in punctuation," Schell says.
"But that wasn't the most shocking part. The most shocking part was that they throw them away. I thought they would overlook those things if the applicant had the skillsets and experience."
But in an applicant-heavy market, companies have a choice whom they hire. If a jobseeker won't take the time to prepare a resume properly, HR professionals said their company doesn't want them.
Organizations also don't want whiners. It's quite common for people to complain about their previous boss in an interview, Schell says. But understand that if you do this, you're dead in the water (even if your criticism is legitimate).
"You have to put a positive spin on why you want to leave (or left) that company. HR people say they never get to hear the other side of the story, so don't bother telling them yours."
Among the pages of comments in his book, HR professionals share some of the questions they like to ask first in an interview. Schell himself says he borrowed some ideas recently while interviewing candidates for his own business.
One of his new favourites is: "Describe a typical day in your last job."
This approach forces people to show common sense and good judgment. In a recent interview, Schell notes, two people were so long-winded they just skirted the answer altogether. "Some people are scattered. And for certain positions, that's death."
Another issue that surfaces in the book is that HR people became annoyed when applicants put up facades. Many HR professionals believe quite strongly that most applicants think they should just be telling HR people what they want to hear.
So the applicants cover up their human side, putting up a front that isn't genuine, Schell says. These applicants have no mistakes in their history; they have no downside. They have pre-scripted answers that interviewers hear time and time again.
"HR people appreciate and actually look for a certain degree of humility, which is a close cousin to honesty," Schell says.
"They like that honest, humble approach, where people can say: 'Quite frankly ... I've always had a challenge with time management, or keeping my desk clean. I've taken some courses. And while I'm not perfect yet, I'm probably 70 per cent better than I was.' " That answer beats the people who say they're an overachiever and a perfectionist, and that they have to tone down their work ethic sometimes because it causes resentment from their colleagues. "HR people have heard that one too many times," Schell laughs.
Savvy, and sometimes jaded, the book puts the reader inside the head of an HR pro.
One of the striking findings is that human resource experts really are "people" people. Many HR professionals, Schell says, revealed they often liked a job applicant, but the person just made too many mistakes and wasn't prepared enough. And they estimated that only 21 per cent of people were "well prepared" for the interview.
"But (HR pros) can't offer advice or coach a person in an interview," Schell says.
Instead, they've done it in his book.
It's a chance to hear from the "other side" of the interview desk. And it's worth our while to listen.
HR PERSPECTIVES The following are quotes from HR professionals found in Michael Schell's book, Human Resource-Approved Job Interviews & Resumes.
* "I remember calling an applicant a few years back for a telephone-research position. His resume looked good. When I called, I was greeted by a brief message in an abrupt tone: 'It's Matt - leave a message.' "I didn't bother. What did that message say about that person's communication skills?"
* "I think taking notes in an interview is a great idea. It's quite annoying when you invite someone back for a second interview, and you refer to things from the first interview - and they don't have a clue what you're talking about because they didn't take notes."
* "For what it's worth, if you're offered coffee, a soft drink, etc., accept it. Not to accept could seem like you were rejecting the company before you started ... Acceptance of what you are offered as a courtesy also implies trust."
* "It can be annoying when applicants call me to follow up after the interview when I've specifically told them I will contact them. When they call me every day, I almost feel like I'm being stalked."
(Mike Dempster can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org)