Sunday, November 24, 2013

5 Ways to Bounce Back from Career Rejection

This is a tough topic this week – how to deal with rejection in the job market. I will share with you that I’ve applied for many jobs in my 35 year career that I didn’t get. Sometimes up to 100 each time I wanted to move on. Discouraging? Yes. Hopeless? No. Here are some of my best tips for dealing with rejection:

You’re Not Alone
Follow up
Consult an Expert

You’re Not Alone. Everyone fails at something. Abraham Lincoln went to war as a Captain, only to return a Private. Walt Disney was fired early in his career, because he “lacked imagination and had no good ideas.” Stephen King’s manuscript for the book “Carrie” was rejected 30 times (and he threw it in the trash!). As mentioned earlier, I’ve seen plenty of job rejection in my time. I used to keep a file of rejection letters – some say that’s depressing, but it actually helped me past more than one self-doubting moment. When I felt rejected, I would pull out those letters and read through them. I would think about each job and the information I had learned since then. Sounds strange, but I always felt that better things were coming after reading those letters; that the best “fit” for me must still be out there. Choose to move on (mentally and emotionally), but make every effort to learn from the experience!

Follow Up. One important way to learn from the experience is to follow up. Call the Human Resources (HR) Office and ask for insight on your resume and qualifications. Identify gaps, make sure you’re applying for the right level position, ask questions about what they feel you’re missing (experience, training, etc.). If you were interviewed, call and ask the interviewer for feedback. Find out what made the selectee the “best candidate” and what you could do to improve your chances of being selected the next time. Recognize that few people like to talk in negatives, so be prepared by having some specific questions to ask. It is easier to answer a direct question, than to respond to “What did I do wrong?” If you really want to work for this agency or company in the future, the follow up call should be treated the same as a second interview – be gracious, yet purposeful in the conversation.

Retool.  Whether you’ve gained some new information or not, take time to step back and evaluate where you are in your job search. Do you need more experience? training? Are there unexplained gaps in your resume? Think about ways to address any issues. In short, retool your image. Think about finding a volunteer position in your chosen field, if you’re lacking experience. Consider taking some training – there are many online resources that offer free training courses to enhance your resume.  Join local environmental organizations. If in school, join student chapters of professional organizations. In short, find ways to fill in any gaps you’ve identified. Remember, it is a tight job market, and it may not be that you lack anything – it may be that the competition is just too stiff. In that case, you aren’t hurting anything by continuing to develop your skills and experience, so why not do it?

Network. Use your personal and professional network to find job leads. One way to do that is to completely fill out your LinkedIn profile and include the link on your resume. Believe it or not, I’ve had quite a few potential employers check my LinkedIn page – ask work and school contacts to endorse you on the site.  Join local or student chapters of professional organizations. These often have monthly meetings and periodic networking activities. Make up simple business cards that you can hand out when you meet people at these events, or when you’re out doing other errands. Go to local environmental organization or agency events. In short, make as many connections as you can. I remember reading a book about being unemployed and it said that looking for work was a full-time job – they recommended putting together a weekly “to do” list. On this list, put down how many contacts or activities you are going to do each week – and get out there and do them!

Consult an Expert. I hesitate to recommend this, only because like any good advice, one must be careful to select a trusted source for it. If you have access to a trusted source, such as a university career counselor, use it! It is in their best interest for you to get a job, so they are focused on your success, not your consulting fee. Likewise, many professional organizations offer career mentoring for free, linking you to a mentor in your field of interest. If you know someone in your career field (a friend or relative, a professor), ask their assistance. Use your resources (and your money) wisely!

I know rejection isn’t easy! I hope that these tips help you rebound and have you finding your dream job soon! 

Dr. Carol A. Pollio  

P.S. Please comment and provide me with feedback my blog!

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

6 Tips to Ace the Phone Interview

Phone interviews are very common in the environmental field. Often, this is because candidates are not local and in some cases, if there are a lot of applicants, phone interviews are used to narrow down the field of candidates. Most of my career opportunities have involved a phone interview – I’ve probably done 50 or more phone interviews, and I’ve held hundreds of them.  So what makes for a great phone interview?  Here are my tips to help you navigate through this process:

Minimize Distractions
Print it Out
Use Technology to Your Advantage
Take Your Time
Dress the Part

Minimize Distractions. Selecting a place to make the call is critical.  I once did a phone interview in a borrowed rental car at the Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill – that was a challenge! If you have distractions during the call, best to mention them to the interviewer(s). In the interview I mentioned, the interviewer was very understanding. Had I not mentioned my situation, there would likely have been some awkward moments that went unexplained -- phone interviews mean that sound is important! Try to use a land line to minimize drops and static. Avoid anywhere there are pets, people, or other things that can distract you (or bark in the background). Turn off call waiting and if your computer is nearby, silence sounds, such as email notifications and other “dings.”  Personally, I prefer using either a headset or Skype, so that I can mute the call at will. And do keep a glass of water nearby, in case you need it (but no eating, chewing gum, or pacing)!

Print it Out. Whenever I have a phone interview, I set up a card table (do people still have those?) next to my computer desk. On this table, I arrange my papers for the interview. I print out the resume submitted, position announcement, any documents I submitted in the application process (cover letter, special qualifications statement, transcript, etc.), and my list of training/courses completed.  I also write down a variety of standard interview questions and any that I can think of from the job announcement and write short bullets under each as a reminder of how I intend to answer them. I spread all of these out on the table in a logical way, usually covering most of the table’s surface. That way, I can look at them without rustling papers – that would not be something the interviewer(s) should be hearing. It also eliminates forgetting your answer when you’re really nervous!

Use Technology to Your Advantage. One advantage of a phone interview is that you can do it in front of (or nearby, in my example) a computer.  Open just a few windows on your computer – one being the company or agency’s website, Google or a search engine page, and any other relevant pages. Not too many, though! Close email windows and shut down any program that is running that might be distracting. This way, you can do quick searches online if you need to! Of course, if you do this, you need to have a mute function available, so no one hears you typing!

Take Your Time.  One of the biggest mistakes in a phone interview is rushing. Take time to respond to a question – don’t rush to fill in every pause. Since you cannot read body language or get other non-verbal cues, sometimes asking a question will help you better understand what they are asking you and it buys you a little time, if you’re struggling to think of your best answer. Make sure your answers are direct and clearly spoken. Always try to give concrete examples of things that you’ve done – don’t answer with “yes” and “no” and leave it at that. Don’t (!) drone on and on – answer the question directly, and then use a verbal cue to signal when you’ve finished your answer, so the interviewer(s) know you’re done. That verbal cue can be a summary sentence, or just using tone to indicate that you are at the end of your answer. Practice doing this, if it doesn’t come naturally to you. Ending an answer well is the sign of a great (and confident) interviewee!

Dress the Part. I know this sounds a bit over-the-top, but years ago I received this advice. I tried it…and it worked! There was definitely a difference between doing a phone interview in fuzzy slippers and a nice outfit. Somehow, it put me in the right frame of mind for the interview, and it will do the same for you. Maybe a 3 piece suit is not necessary, but sweatpants are out! 

Smile.  Like dressing the part, smiling when you talk is important. Most of us know when someone we’re talking to on the phone is smiling – you can hear it in their voice. Likewise, interviewer(s) know that you are comfortable talking to them if they “hear” you smile. Remember that it’s difficult to see the human side of you on the phone, so consider how you will convey your personality, values, and work ethic to the interviewer(s). You may want to call someone you trust and do a “mock interview” on the phone. They can point out any habits that are distracting and help you put your best foot (or voice) forward!

Over the years, I’ve come to think that a phone interview can actually be easier than an in-person one, IF you are well prepared for it. While the challenge is always the lack of eye contact and body language with the interviewer(s), the plus is that you can have all of the information you need at your fingertips!

Happy interviewing!

Dr. Carol A. Pollio