Sunday, April 17, 2011

The Best Way to Conduct a Mediocre Job Search

Most of us can pinpoint some form of mediocrity in our lives. For example, I am mediocre in that I do my own laundry, but I rarely separate my lights and darks. I like to run, but never more than three miles at a time. I watch the History Channel, but only to make up for the brain cells I've lost while overindulging in reality TV. I know that I am mediocre in these areas because I have blue socks that used to be white, I run four days a week but haven't lost a pound, and I probably know more about the Kardashians than I do about the Kennedys.

If you have been at your job search for a while now, and (A) haven't gotten an interview, (B) haven't gotten a second interview or (C) can't seem to close the deal and land a job, mediocrity has probably contaminated your job search like a pair of blue jeans in a load of whites.

If you are guilty of one of these mediocre job-search tactics, it's time to step up your game.

You apply to 10 jobs per day, but don't send a cover letter

A cover letter can be time consuming. You have to find out the name of the person you are sending it to, and tell that person -- in a unique and extraordinary way -- why you are exactly what the company is looking for. You may even be able to double the number of applications you send out in a week by not including a cover letter. So you decide to stop sending them altogether. The only way that not sending out a cover letter with your résumé is anything other than mediocre is if you're in the job market only for the thrill of the chase. In that case, it is an excellent tactic.

"Hiring managers know that it's easy to just send in a résumé," says Monique Honaman, CEO of ISHR Group, a leadership development company based in Suwanee, Ga. Providing a customized cover letter that targets the specific job opening shows that you put some extra energy into applying for that position, and it also tells the recruiter why you are a good fit for the job, she says.

Basically, if you don't include a cover letter with your application, you might as well just change your first name to "Lazy" on all of your application materials, because that's all the recruiter will see anyway.

You land an interview, but don't research the company beforehand

Would you go to Paris without knowing how to say, "Where's the bathroom?" in French? Would you make a chocolate cake without a recipe? Would you go on a blind date without doing an Internet search on the person first? If your answer is yes, you may also be inclined not to research a company before an interview. Although it may seem like you're saving time initially by winging your interview, in reality, you're actually wasting time, since your interview will be fruitless if you show up unprepared.

"There is nothing more embarrassing in an interview than being asked a question and not knowing some very basic element about the company and its product or service lines," Honaman says. "And don't think that hiring managers don't have some stock questions in mind to get at the very basics of whether you have done your research. You can't convey a message of, 'This is the perfect job for me' if you don't know the basics about the company."

Although research is time consuming, it is also time consuming to go on 10 interviews and not get a job offer. In order to rise above mediocrity, remember the five P's: Prior preparation prevents poor performance.

You do so much research that you don't have any questions for the interviewer

Before your interview, you may spend days researching the company, the industry it's in and the type of position you're up for, so by the time the interview rolls around, you may think you have all the information you need about the company. When the hiring manager asks, "So, do you have any questions for me?" you reply, "No, I think I'm all set!" Even if this is true, ask a question anyway.

"Someone who doesn't ask any questions appears to be disinterested in the position and that apathy shows through," Honaman says.

So, if you want the job, it's best to ask something (read: anything). "Hopefully, the interview process truly did generate a few questions in your mind," Honaman says. "If not, be prepared with a few 'stock' questions such as, 'What do you like most about working here?' or 'After reviewing my résumé and having this interview, what concerns, if any, do you have about my fit for this role?'"

This lets the interviewer know you were paying attention and are interested.

You have plenty of questions to ask, but you don't think before you speak

For example, "If you ask about work/life balance, do it without sounding lazy," says Ed Muzio, author of "Make Work Great."

"One of the best ways I ever heard this put was like this: 'Every job falls somewhere on a continuum; on one end is people putting in their 40 hours and leaving, on the other end is 90-hour weeks with nothing but work and sleep. Where would you say this job falls?' One of the worst ways I ever heard it put was like this: 'Are people expected to work, like, a lot of extra hours?' Same question, different message."

If you ask thoughtful questions that reflect both your interests, as well as the employer's, you're sure to leave a good impression.

Like anything else in life, when it comes to a job search, you get out of it what you put into it. A mediocre effort yields mediocre results, and -- unless you don't mind selling yourself short -- it's best to put 100 percent into your job search.

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