This is a guest post by Ken Jacobs. Follow Ken on Twitter.
As a coach, consultant, trainer, and adjunct college professor, I′m often asked by soon-to-be and new PR professionals for my assistance in their search for internships and jobs.
For the most part, these young professionals are extremely buttoned up, generous with their thank-yous and thorough with their follow-ups.
However, in the past six months, I′ve experienced a number of situations that lead me to believe there may be many younger job seekers who′ve never been trained in the "rules of the road" when it comes to asking PR pros for assistance in their job searches.
First I′ll share these situations, and then a few tips on how you can avoid similar ones.
- I helped land an interview for an internship for one of my best students at an agency where I know the CEO. A few weeks later, the student mentioned she hadn′t heard anything from the agency. I asked what she had said in her follow-up to the firm, and the resulting silence made it clear she had sent neither a thank-you note nor a follow-up email. She was apparently waiting to hear from them to see if she had landed the internship. As you can imagine, it wasn′t offered to her.
- One of my agency clients asked if I had any students who might make a terrific intern. I had a great one, and encouraged her to contact them. While she thanked me for making the initial connection, I heard nothing more, so I assumed that the agency declined to interview her. You can imagine my surprise when I met with them a few weeks later, and learned that they not only had interviewed her, but had offered her an internship.
- I mentored a young professional on an informal basis, and noticed a pattern that concerned me: I′d hear from her when she had a particular work issue, and I′d offer her advice to the best of my ability. But there was never any follow-up regarding if that advice worked, let alone a thanks. But when a new problem arose, my phone would ring.
Here are some golden rules that might help newer seekers and "mentees" avoid similar situations:
- Within 24 hours of an interview, respond with a hand-written thank-you note, on the best possible stationery you can afford. If you′re worried that it will take too long for your note to arrive, precede it with a brief follow-up email.
- When someone puts you in touch with a potential employer, be sure to thank them. If the contact leads to an interview, let them know, and thank them again. After your interview, follow-up with an email to share your perspective on the meeting.
- If you′re being mentored informally, be sure to thank your mentor for their time, counsel and perspective, even if you don′t follow their advice. Let them know about your successes, and in particular, when their advice has worked. Send an extra thank-you once in a while for good measure.
Please note that I′m not saying all Gen Y job seekers and mentees make these errors. In fact, I′m currently helping two job seekers who are following all the rules, and then some. Even after they′ve thanked me profusely at the end of every phone conversation, they send a note, an email, or a Linked-In message, and send me regular updates on their search. In fact, a few minutes ago I got a LinkedIn message from one of them inquiring if his thank-you note had arrived.
I′d do just about anything to help these two job seekers. And that′s exactly the way you want your mentors and job search coaches to feel about you.
Ken Jacobs is the principal of Jacobs Communications Consulting, LLC, which helps organizations grow business and develop staff through its coaching, consulting and training programs. He can be reached at email@example.com.
This month I posted a position for a Research and Communications Specialist. It's an entry-level position for a recent college graduate. I'm not an advocate of using job boards to recruit top talent, but this wasn't a position that warranted a full-scale search effort, so I posted it (disclosure: It was for Paradigm Staffing, not our clients).
I'm worried about the generation of young professionals entering the workforce if the responses I received reflect the lack of professional presentation skills upon departing these expensive university educations. My email filled with over 100 resumes for this position and only two of them were candidates I would consider based on their resumes and introductions.
Embarking on the first job search for a recent graduate is confusing, stressful and a learning experience every step of the way. But there is no excuse for not knowing the basics.
A job candidate should at least be able to write an introductory letter, especially when the job ad specifies the required materials. Of course, it should always be free of grammatical and spelling errors.
Here are some of the most interesting excerpts from this recent job post:
There I gained valuable experience in photocopying and other secretarial skills.
Lesson: Photocopying is a responsibility, but not valuable experience. Demonstrate value to an organization through your accomplishments. Find a way to stand out. This person's other secretarial skills should be much more noteworthy than photocopying. Think about the importance of the job and what problem the position solves for the company. Those are the skills you should play up to your prospective employer. In this particular case, the candidate could talk about efficiency and streamlining certain business practices through his or her efforts.
i living here during one year and my planes are stay until july, I am in interesting the possition.
- from a Marketing major
Lesson: Spell check. End of discussion.
As a result of my varied experiences, I have learned how to work in various situations with varied goals.
- from a recent Communications graduate
Lesson: Diversify the language. Never use the same word more than once in a sentence. Ever.
I can offer to you is seven years of education and work experience where I learned how to communicate with customers, how of working as a team with co-workers, time management skills are necessary
- from a Business Management graduate
Lesson: I get what the candidate wants to say, but unfortunately, it is very obvious he didn't bother to look at what he wrote before he sent it.
This is a from a candidate I would have interviewed until I received an email five minutes later.
I'm sorry, my Outlook sometimes has problems forwarding emails with attachments.
- Organizational Communications graduate
Lesson: If you forget the attachment, it's excusable. Just don't lie and blame it on your Outlook program. It's insulting. It's a sure sign of someone who can not take responsibility for a simple mistake. Don't worry, you're not perfect and I expect you to make a ton of mistakes in the beginning. It's okay as long as you can admit them AND learn from them.
And my personal favorite:
I am a student from California Living in ____ currently just playing baseball and going to school with free time on my hands. I am studying Communication Studies and Interntional Business at (Ivy League University) and transportation would not be problem. I think this would be great i have time on my hands and would like to be productive. Chau!
- not sure who he is because he didn't bother attaching a resume
Lesson: Some things are better left untouched.
I despise cell phones. I've seemed to curb that addiction a few years ago and it was the best thing I've ever done for myself. If it's not the owner speaking unbearably loud, it's ringing at the most inopportune times. If it's not ringing with a horrific ring tone, the owner is responding to a text message in the middle of a dinner, a movie or while driving in his car. It's amazing we live in an era when cell phones are so commonplace, yet we haven't seemed to figure out cell phone etiquette.
Like this candidate who went on the job interview....true story.
Candidate goes for an interview with a PR agency. She showed up drenched, completing dismissing the idea of cleaning up quickly in the restroom before walking through her potential employer's door.
Now that's a little strange. First impression is everything, right? Maybe it was because when she showed up, she was still talking on her cellphone! Actually, yelling. Yelling at her spouse about picking up some paperwork and the kids.
If that wasn't an awkward enough start, it gets worse. She left her phone on and then answered it during her interview
, continuing to make her arrangements and argue in front of the hiring manager. I can only imagine it was some annoying ring tone.
Of course, she didn't get the job. Deal breaker.
- Avoid the situation from happening completely. Leave the cell phone in the car. Or in a briefcase or purse - turned off.
- If the cell phone rings, don't answer it. It's the quickest way to get escorted out the door. Apologize, turn it off, and move on quickly.
- Check the weather before leaving for the office. Better yet, keep a small umbrella in the car or office - just in case.
And one extra tidbit: Put a professional message on the cell phone voicemail. Nothing is more annoying than listening to the new Radiohead song before leaving a message.
Jason Alba's The Tuxedo movies blog post, Top 10 Things a Guy Can Do To Dress For Failure District 13 buy , made me realize how very little I understand about men's wardrobe. It's pretty complex. This is why even my husband won't get clothing as a gift from me.
Here are Jason's tips on things a guy can do to dress for failure (see his post for the extra humorous commentary).
- Wear white socks with your suit pants.
- Wear Dickies pants.
- Don't align your Gig-line.
- Tie your tie so the wider, front part is HIGHER than the narrower, back part.
- Wear your pants too high or too low.
- Wear a short-sleeved shirt with a suit jacket.
- Wear a brown belt with black shoes.
- Walk into the room with the back of your shirt untucked.
- Don't wear a full undershirt.
What would you add?
Link: Top 10 Things a Guy Can Do To Dress For Failure
A candidate interviews for a senior level position and after several in-person interviews we get to the writing test stage. The company then calls me with an update: "Skip the writing test and cut the candidate loose. Poor writing has already been demonstrated in the follow-up thank you letter."
Wow, is it that bad? I immediately called the candidate to break the news. I hadn't seen a copy of the thank you letter at this point and so I first asked to see a copy of it. This is what I received.
"Are you sure you sent the right letter, I mean, I see you wrote 'reflect those skills necessary...' twice. And... Maybe you accidentally sent your draft?," I asked.
"No, it's impossible. This is a letter written by a career professional for me! I send this to everyone!," the candidate answered.
It wasn't an easy call. I continued to express my opinion and advised the candidate that the letter never leave that inbox again.
We nicely parted ways and a few minutes later this arrived:
Red Sox vs. Yankees. Ummm... no, I think we missed the point here.
- Always write your own content - thank you letters, writing samples, interview confirmations, resume, etc. Everything
Dr. Dolittle: A Tinsel Town Tail divx
. You need to know what it says because your every move is being evaluated during this interview process. Look at it once, twice, three times. Read it out loud. Even a simple spelling mistake in a follow-up note could cost you the job.
- Always take responsibility for your actions. This person was obviously very embarrassed by the letter, but rather than reflecting on the situation and using the opportunity to fix it, the person found whatever reason to blame it on non-contributing factors.
- Try not to take rejection personally. This one is hard, especially if you really wanted that job and it was down to the wire. Only one person gets the job and competition is fierce. If you choose to take it personally, at least don't act out on it. How one accepts criticism and rejection is a good sign of their character and nobody should burn bridges. In the PR industry, it is very likely you will run into the hiring manager or a recruiter again in your career and unprofessional behavior is something that always sticks.