How do I modestly cover myself?

In March 2013 I wrote about cover letters and how to impress with a really good one. On re-reading, I notice that two years ago I was fantasizing about Ryan Gosling. Still am. And he still hasn’t called.
The thought occurred that in the previous blog article I didn’t answer the initial question, “Why do I send a cover letter?” I could therefore usefully have called this blog “WHY do I modestly cover myself?” but I didn’t think that was as amusing a heading as the one I have chosen. Either way, you knew immediately from the title that I was going to write about cover letters, there can’t have been any confusion with anything else?
What is the point in writing cover letters?
Everyone does them, so you’d have to have a jolly good reason for just sending your resume out there with nothing to explain it. They might even think you’d forgotten to include it.
Your resume is perfect for that particular job and stands by itself without need of any extraneous help; in fact, Human Resources will be oohing and aahing over it and passing it round the department to marvel at its fabulosity? Possible but not probable…
The cover letter gives you a chance to highlight from the resume the two or three main components that are particularly relevant for the job – ideally in the form of achievements. Achievements let you mention numbers. Men, mathematicians of both sexes, and Human Resources just love their numbers. In HR’s case, they want to know how you quantitatively increased the good stuff, and decreased the bad stuff.
You can show off your writing skills. Resumes have to be well-written, but they should be written succinctly, in phrases. More in the less-is-more, Hemingway-style brevity, less in the you-can’t-pay-me-to-read-all-this-through-to-the-end Henry James-style denseness. It was popular in the 80s, but so was Bruce Willis. These days resumes have to be bullet-pointed brief. I digress à la Henry James. Cover letters give you the opportunity, more than a resume will, to showcase your writing ability, and let the world know you can write whole grammatical, error-free sentences with subjects and predicates that would make your English teacher beam with pride.
A resume is about YOU, after all, but a cover letter can allow you to relate what you’ve done/achieved to the company’s goals, culture, mission. The company, and the specific job, is all about THEM, let us never forget, so a little buttering-up to highlight that fact won’t go wrong.  

I’ve just been rejected. No-one loves me

If you think this is going to be a helpful article to help you get over the rejection from your actual/potential boyfriend, you’re reading the wrong blog. Sorry.
I made passing reference in a previous article about not getting the job. Let’s pick at the scab – I speak metaphorically. You have been rejected. “What does it all mean? What can I do about it?”
You’re allowed a moment – whole evening, in fact – of wallowing in self-pity. That’s it, though. Life is what happens while you’re waiting for life to happen, so you have to get over it and continue on your Road to Change Your Life. Changing your job may just be part of your striving for a bigger life change, in which case, everyone at Merit wishes you the very best for yourself, but I’m afraid I’m just here to write today about change in your employment situation.
There are many steps in the recruitment process. Rejection is thumbing its nose at you at every single one of them.
You are unrealistic about the sort of job, kind of salary of which you think you are worthy. It may take a loving friend/ family member/ trusted colleague/ AHA moment that you yourself have/ knowledgeable recruitment agency/ therapist to help you with this one. I sympathize; while I was waiting for Ryan Gosling to search me out, Eva Mendes got to him first, because no-one had the nerve to say to me, “You’re kidding, right?” Remember, even the Internet can help with info like market value salaries for some jobs. Try to be ambitious but realistic about your next position. You may not be Chief of Staff level yet, you may have to go through Senior Executive Assistant hoops first. Superman/woman? Not in dispute, but able to leap tall buildings in twobounces.  
Your resume may not be selling you as well as it could. Do your homework and spiff it up. You shouldn’t have to spend a fortune going to professional resume writers – there are so many other resources out there willing to help for free.
Your cover letter is ghastly and undoes all the good work of a fabby resume. Should I write a blog about writing good cover letter? S’ppose I should. The thing is, when you come to a staffing service, we’re your cover letter and know how to sell you to the potential employer, so I tend not to think about them as much as I do resumes. Maybe I should do my philanthropic bit and help those of you out there who are reading this blog but unlikely to come register with us – bit of a schlep from Minneapolis to Manhattan.
Yet another note to self: next blog topic.
Telephone interview. Remember the potential employer can’t see you and so, duh moment here, it’s different from in-person. You paused for a few seconds while you considered their difficult question, and then gave a reasoned answer but in the meantime, all the interviewer heard was – nothing. Sounding upbeat helps, the occasional, “hmm..” lets them know you’re having a wee think, and even, if it’s a real stinker of a question, “Ah, good question, thanks.” And then they know you’re thinking…
If you’re quite a quiet, low-key person, be true to yourself and not try to come across as Miss Effervescent 2015, but have a practice on some friends and ask if it sounds too monotone. At the other extreme, If you’re trying to get across how enthusiastic you are at the fact that there’s a perfect fit between you and the job, listen to the interviewer and answer what’s been asked, without gushingly interrupting (of course, the occasional interruption can’t be helped. “Ooops, sorry, I interrupted” will do the trick). Competent interviewers should give you the opportunity to tell them all the good stuff they want to know. “Can I tell you about a big project I managed?” Sigh. “Must you?” thinks the interviewer.
Face-to-face, in-person, they-can-see-you-perspire-with-nervousness interview. You can only do your best. You a) are an intrinsically awesome candidate and b) have studied all my previous blogs to help you maximize your job offer chances. So much can go right; you wowza-ed them with your experience, skills, education, personality. But an equal amount can go wrong. Some of it was out of your control – the owner’s brother-in-law got the job, the budget got slashed – don’t dwell on it, what’s the point. Just learn from what you think you did wrong, “Did I really f-bomb there?” “Was I too negative about my boss?” AND DON’T DO IT AGAIN.   
Follow-up was poor. You wrote a thank you email that read as though written by an alien from the Planet Zog. Get someone to read it through before you hit Send. You didn’t write a thank you email…YOU DIDN’T WRITE A THANK YOU EMAIL? ARE YOU INSANE?
You failed the background check… You smoked WHAT a few days ago? Sigh… You failed the credit check – oh well, wasn’t the job for you. Pick another future employer who doesn’t do credit checks.
And so on. And so on. Remember the crummy old line, which actually still makes me laugh, “You have to kiss a lot of frogs before you find your prince”? Job searching can be a bit like that. Learn from your mistakes, become a better candidate and with luck, and a following wind, even in a yeugh economy, you’ll find a decent job. 

124 non-verbal communication signs for interview

I totally made that number up. As my regular readers (of course, I think that may just be colleagues) will know, these articles with numbers in their title annoy me, so I came up with a silly number.  “I’m not supposed to remember 124 things to do/not do in interview, am I?” Nope, you’re safe. But there are some useful tips on non-verbal communication in general, and body language in particular, that could improve your interview chances.
Hand up to cover mouth/ brushing imaginary lint from trouser leg or skirt/ crossing your arms in front of yourselfas you answer a difficult question = YOU’RE LYING. The HR Manager may have gone to a training session where they taught this stuff so he or she will spot it immediately. You don’t have to remember all the signs. When you’re being interviewed, the one thing to remember is NOT TO LIE, then your body language won’t give you away. Simple, really.
Of course, if you’re asked a difficult question (“Why did they fire you?”) then a good staffing service consultant will have helped you with a truthful but positive answer.
Neuro-Linguistic Programming. A whole topic for a Master’s thesis, never mind a “Margaret Says” blog, so I’ll stick with one relevant example. 99% of people, when asked to remember something (“Where did you file that report?”) raise their eyes to the left to aid their memory. 99% of people, when telling big fibs — “When did you say you finished the report?”– raise their eyes to the right when they’re imagining a good answer, but trying to make it look as though they’re searching their memory. “Last week,” you lie, while inwardly thinking, “Blimey, better finish it tonight”. Again, you don’t have to remember that body language tip, which is an extremely useful one for Customs and Immigration Officers and Police Officers, but not so crucial in everyday life. The thing to remember is NOT TO LIE.
So…in interview, when asked an awkward question, about salary, performance reviews, what you thought of your ex-boss, tell the truth. There are many ways to tell the truth – your staffing service counsellor knows several of them to help you sugar coat your honest answer.  
Dress appropriately. What does this have to do with non-verbal communication, you ask bemusedly? Wearing a low-cut blouse, a grubby tie, a creased suit sends a message about the type of person the interviewer will think you are. The interviewers may be right or they may have misjudged, but none of what they think based on those three examples will be good. I’ve mentioned what to wear at interview in another blog, whether it’s for buttoned-up financial company or nerdy techy company, so won’t repeat it here.
Handshake. Somewhere between a dead fish handshake, and a macho-Vin-Diesel’s-got-nothing-on-me bone-crusher. If you have friends, family, colleagues who know you’re looking for a new job, ask if you can practice on them. If you live in a hippy commune where everyone hugs, DON’T (Listen, I don’t make this stuff up. My memoirs will sell like hot cakes).  
Eye contact. Some is good. None is weird and makes you look shifty/in need of psychotherapy. Too much makes you look like a candidate for one of those forensic programs on television about stalkers. This particular tip is one that you will have to remember, so you can vary your gaze. The thing is, if you’re not too stressed and treat the interview more or less like normal conversation, it’ll come naturally, so try to enjoy the interview. HR Managers or the department don’t want to interview someone who’s so uncomfortable you make THEM uncomfortable.
Mind those irritating mannerisms! If you don’t know what to do with your hands and don’t want to come across as a sparrow’s wings flailing about in the strawberry patch netting at one end of the scale or recently deceased at the other end, then put them on the arms of the chair. Armless chair? Rest them lightly, palms down, on your thighs.  You may even relax and find yourself using your hands to emphasize a point.
Inappropriate smells. I’m thinking perfume, aftershave here. I’m kinda assuming everything else, including yourself, is freshly washed or dry cleaned. A stupid number of people think they have tremendously sensitive olfactory skills and bang on about it e.g. “Her perfume gave me a headache for the rest of the day”. I’m not convinced they’re not raging hypochondriacs but they may be the hypochondriacs with the power to send you on, or not, to the next stage of the recruitment process. It’s therefore frankly best not to wear any perfume, cologne or aftershave. Annoying, but no-one said life was fair.

I have some swamp land in Georgia to sell you for residential housing development

I have some swamp land in Georgia to sell you for residential housing development
Don’t believe everything anyone tells you. Well, I mean, have SOME trust in people or you’ll end up a miserable, friendless old cynic. What I’m referring to are reviews on the Internet, possibly biased friends, potential future colleagues, company websites ….expounding on jobs, companies, salaries…
Company websites: I may be stating the obvious here (never stopped me before) but companies want to portray themselves in the best light, for future business, public relations, attracting the best staff. Even if it’s on the whole pretty good, and in fact can be excellent when the CEO remembers to take his medication, these are not particularly powerful selling statements. Websites emphasize the positive – the awards they won, the revenue they produce, the awe-inspiring education of the hedge fund management team. They don’t mention the high turnover rate of staff; they can’t even really say anything like, “And our staff turnover is much less than the competition.”
What’s your point, Margaret?
It’s a few pieces of the jigsaw puzzle, but it isn’t enough by itself to tell whether it’s going to become a seascape or skyscape. At the moment, it’s just a few nice blue jigsaw pieces.
Review websites. Shouldn’t really mention any by name, one of the best starts with a letter near the end of the alphabet. These reviews are unfiltered, Doris Lessing-like stream of consciousness and should be taken for what they are. Sometimes true, and accurate, either praising or criticizing the service they were given, sometimes horrendously off kilter. Who knows what the motivation is:
For the 5 stars out of 5 reviews:
        a) It really was a 5 out of 5 service and the world just has to be told.
        b) They are related to the owner of the establishment.
        c) They were somehow paid to write a good review (“Want a free dinner?”).
        d) Their standards are low (“It was the best grilled cheese sandwich I’ve ever had. And I didn’t                see a single    cockroach all evening”).  
        e) They want to see their name in print.
        f) They want to make their names as blog writers.
For the 0-stars-and-big-raspberry out of 5 star reviews. Let’s say X has criticized a staffing service. In fact I’m going to make it X and Y, because I’d have to keep writing he or she to keep it grammatical and I’d go nuts trying to re-word it not to do that.
a)      They came in with unrealistic expectations about what sort of jobs they wanted. A million reasons, no point in enumerating them, the poor souls were just unrealistic. The agency couldn’t find anything. Not the agency’s fault. If they can place and earn a fee, they’ll do it. So X and Y take to the Internet about how useless the agency was. Or even “I’ve been to several and none of them gets back to me. What’s their problem?” Now, class, join up the dots here….. what’s the common factor in not being sent out for interview by severalagencies? That’s right – X and Y. But they don’t listen to well-meaning advice about their resume, wearing their gang beads under, not over, their T-shirts, or refusing to brush up on their computer skills. Many agencies, Merit of course being one, can give you free tutorials for you to practice MSOffice at home. Take us up on our kind offer, don’t look at us as though we have two heads: we’re trying to help.  
b)      The economy has been, how shall I phrase this without using profanity, not good for several years now. It’s getting better, but it’s still problematic, and the job landscape in New York has changed, so it’s more of an uphill struggle that it was. If we get the jobs, we’ll ask our clients to consider you, but please don’t be writing on blogs/websites that the staffing services were useless.  
c)       No-one’s there to say, “That’s rubbish”, explain to you why your review is indeed rubbish and get you to take your comment down. So it stays there forever, giving people the wrong impression.
d)      Gosh, sometimes the comments are valid. But how can you separate out the gold from the fool’s gold (who remembers from chemistry class that’s iron pyrite?)
e)      e) and f) above still apply.
So read everything on the Internet with a pinch of salt. Even Wikipedia gets it wrong quite a bit because it’s written by people like you and me, and they don’t employ enough editors to fact check (Note to self: Maybe I should send them that three bucks they keep requesting). Use your judgment, ask people you KNOW who have had direct contact with the agency. I suppose since this is a blog I’m putting up on the Internet, I’m including myself in all this. Oh gawwwwwd. If you do disagree with my blogs, then write and tell ME and I’ll listen. Of course, if you love them, write and tell me and I’ll listen with a smile on my face.

5 things to stop you reading self-help articles with numbers in the title

Why is it that these articles, about making yourself a fortune, improving your love life, sticking to the diet, landing a new job, keeping your existing job, things to say in interview, things not to wear during interview, ALWAYS have numbers in the title? Not that it matters, really, but my theory is that the writers of course want you to read their articles, and somehow they have to make it look as though it’s easy for you to remember what they say. If there are actual numbers of things to do, say, not do, not say, then it’ll be easy peasy to remember them, won’t it?  I’ve even done it myself in one of my blog articles, but to be honest it was more as a laugh than anything; “5 resume dos, 5 resume don’ts.” Mind you, the advice was good!  
So…. What do we have to say about self-help articles, especially as they relate to finding a job, which is what the blog is about?
They’re only any good if you have the mind-set to change. You have to be in a frame of mind to change your resume, decide whether you really want to leave your job, what you want your next job to be (or, alas, what you’ll settle for.)  Other people, and what’s relevant here, staffing services, can help you in this next stage in your career path BUT THEY CAN’T DO IT FOR YOU. You can go look for jobs on the Internet, network like crazy, put your resume out there in the ether, or even just think, “Oh good grief, I’ll let an agency come up with the jobs, the ones they get all seem fine to me.”  But you still have to be in the right frame of mind, get your act together, improve the resume, listen to advice, reject what isn’t appropriate to you, start thinking like Pollyanna so that you look enthusiastic at interview. Otherwise it won’t work, potential employers can spot a Debbie Downer a mile away.
Aside – if your current job is so awful you go home feeling depressed, then get yourself off to a decent agency who will help you out of the Slough of Despond so that you’re ready to look.  
Right. Your loins are girded to go job hunting. When was the last time you revised your resume? That long, huh? Take a good hard look, see if your work history reads more like an obituary – things I have done so far with my life – than a proud proclamation  of what you have achieved and can still achieve.   
They say a week’s a long time in politics, and a year is a long time not to be updating your resume. You’ve worked hard but not achieved anything in over a year? Saved no money for the company? We don’t believe it… you’ve answered 50 phone calls a day for a year, produced obscene numbers of Excel reports, arranged so many business trips you know more than the travel department. Let the world know.
If you’re looking for a punchy new format because you don’t know what’s hot in the market, then come to an agency (no bias, but how about Merit?) and we’ll help. What we’re here for.
This is where I shoot Merit in the foot and tell you how to help yourself without an agency…. Social media are there for a reason (I g-u-e-s-s). Use them. There are all sorts of sites, I mentioned a couple in a previous thread, but why not put your information out there on Monster, CareerBuilder and LinkedIn. What THEY’RE there for. Of course, they’re not as good as a good staffing service, cough cough, but they’re much better than nothing. And how else could we find you?  
Make sure you have a couple of decent interview outfits. I’m not saying expensive, I’m saying more-or-less corporate, with a jacket, conservative pair of trousers (can’t bring myself to say pants, even after 22 years in America. Pants are still underwear to me), boring blouse or white/blue shirt with staid tie. Make sure everything is clean/brushed/dog-hair-less with no buttons missing. Do this now or you’ll be panicking the evening before an interview.
Dear me, that’s only four things you should be doing to prepare yourself for the Job Hunt, and I headed it 5 things. Oh well. There’s probably lots more, and if you think I’ve forgotten something vital, let me know.

Just Tell Us – We Can Cope

 We’re a fabulous staffing service here at Merit. We love all our clients, we love all our candidates, and best of all we love placing the correct candidate in the correct job. We’re so upbeat and Pollyanna, it’s nauseating.
But…..
We do sometimes have eye-rolling and Deep Sigh moments with a thankfully very small number of our candidates. Your behavior sometimes lacks, what shall we call it…finesse. And we think it’s more because you don’t understand the system. If you are dealing with something that you find awkward to tell us, you decide not to tell us, but instead to hide under the kitchen table with your raincoat over your head so no-one will notice you (oh, hang on, that’s what four-year-olds do when they misbehave).
So, here’s the scoop, and the scenarios that have you floundering around wondering what to do.
Scenario 1. You have interviewed  the requisite number of times for a nice job with one of our clients. They love you enough to offer you the position, and when we call you to give you the offer you don’t return our increasingly anguished calls and emails.  Because it transpires and occurs that you were all the while interviewing for another position that appealed more for any number of reasons. TAKE THE JOB YOU PREFER. I mean, WE would. Why didn’t you tell us you have another possibility? You don’t have to give us all the details (“What did you say the HR manager’s cell phone was?” No, we’re not that sort of staffing service), just the timing of it, so that we can tell our client the time constraints they have for their processes. We look bad/eedjits/incompetent to our client and we try to keep a relationship going with them for years – none of those descriptions will help us do that.
If you have another possibility going at the same time as ours, it DOESN’T affect your chances with our client; they know that you’re job searching and have to cover all bases.  Just tell us what stage the other thing is at, and we can work accordingly around it. Disappearing off the face of the earth gets us cross and frustrated.
Scenario 2. Interviewing chugging along nicely, the client has already offered/is about to offer you the position of your dreams. “By the way,” you start a conversation with us. Conversations that start “by the way”, are rarely good. “I have a vacation booked/operation planned/jury duty/court appearance/have to leave early on Thursdays.” Again, we look bad/eedjits/incompetent – we’re supposed to find out from candidates what restrictions they have; it’s part of the service we provide to clients. It most likely won’t affect your offer chances and we can work round it. Not mentioning till late in the process won’t improve your chances. Au contraire.  
Scenario 3. The client wants to see you on a particular date, with lots of notice, or short notice, either way. You’ve done a disappearing act so we can’t confirm. Calling us at midnight for the next day interview won’t cut it. We won’t hear the call for the noise of our sobbing. The client, too, isn’t going to see you at 10.00 am when you haven’t actually confirmed till too late. By the way (see what I mean? “By the way”…Never good….), texting us at midnight to CANCEL the interview? So that the client can’t do anything productive with the free hour they now have?…. Speak to the hand.
Scenario 4. You went for the interview, liked it, would like the process to continue. Tell you what…wait five days before you write a thank you note. I’M LYING. Write thank you notes immediately – that day ideally, or the next if you have other stuff planned that evening. The client is going to get worried about your sense of urgency in the job if you’re not Road Runner in the recruitment process when you’re trying to impress.
Scenario 5. Oh surely there can’t be more than four scenarios. Point is, staffing services are intermediaries between you and the client and possibly the job of your dreams.  We have a duty to you, to give you the whole unadulterated truth about the job so that you don’t find out in horrified fashion when you’ve already started – “I have to work till 10 pm EVERY Wednesday?” – and to give the client the whole story about your candidature – “she has classes that start at 6.00 for the next term, and can’t therefore stay late on Tuesdays and Thursdays for the next 10 weeks, but she can come in early or work through lunch”.
We’re here to smooth out the kinks, find you good jobs and have everyone, you, your new employer and us, feel all warm and fuzzy about it. In order to do that, we need to know the facts. Just tell us – we can cope with whatever it is.
That’s it, class!

A whole new layer added to the process

It used to be there were temporary positions and permanent positions, and once in a blue moon a scaredy-custard manager would ask if he or she could please do temp-to-perm. It reduced the number of people who would consider taking the position —  as a quick rule of thumb you should NEVER leave a permanent job for a temp-to-perm. There’d have to be a REALLY good reason to risk it, like you’re independently wealthy and don’t need the regular paychecks coming in. So it wasn’t used as an employment tool too regularly.
But now, in 2015, we’ve still not quite recovered from 2008/2009…. Back to 5.6% unemployment in the U.S. but most of that seems to be in New York. Managers therefore still have a bigger pool to fish in for good unemployed candidates; they may be afraid of their own jobs if they make a hiring mistake; the budgets aren’t assigned as speedily as they once were; managers are able to flip flop what passes for their minds and get away with it….and so on… In other words, they can get away with temp-to-perm more frequently than they used to. Because, point is, there are far more temp-to-perm positions out there than there used to be pre-2009. For some of them it’s just for 1 – 3 months and that does indeed give the company, AND THE CANDIDATE, an extra safety net to figure out if it’s working. Let’s assume, shall we, that the company doesn’t intend to keep you temping forever, under the pretense of one-day-it’ll-go-perm, so they don’t have to pay healthcare or other benefits (Merit doesn’t have clients like that, I am delighted to tell you).  
What’s a candidate to do to get them to put you on the permanent payroll?  The quick answer is “Treat it like a permanent job”.  I mean, I could end the blog here. Let’s soldier on, though, with the I-can’t-believe-they-did-that examples of candidates who’ve blown it.
The main biggie is to give the job your commitment and NOT be looking for other jobs while you’re temp-to-perming. The chances of your eventually being found out are pretty good; how often can you have family emergencies, colds, doctor’s appointments without its dawning on the company you’re interviewing? (Of course, permanent employees who want to leave the company do this as well, but stop arguing with me… we’re talking about YOU).
Work hard, join in their “Let’s all have pizza for lunch” days, do the requested overtime with a big “No PROBlem” smile on your face, show initiative, learn about the company and start to learn to care about the company. And if given lots of extra responsibilities because they’ve realized you’re awesome, then the only people you can ask for a bigger hourly rate is the staffing agency. If you didn’t come through an agency, then you’re out of luck till it’s time to negotiate the permanent salary.

Don’t be asking everyone, colleagues, manager, or HR, how long it was before they made the last person permanent, no-one likes a whinger. It’s a drag. You have to live with it for a couple of months till they make you perm and the benefits kick in. Welcome to corporate New York in the 21stCentury. But remember that temp-to-perm does give YOU the chance to decide if you really want the job, and it is what you expected. If it isn’t, then you can just tell the next employer your contract came to an end, you don’t have to come up with a fuzzy, “It wasn’t a good fit” story.

Never read my last blog on how not to blow it at interview?

“How did I blow it? Let me count the ways”. It’s all about THEM, not about you. Shocking, I know, and possibly even unfair, but there ya go. The company has a position it wants to fill. “What made you apply?” “What do you have over other candidates?” It’s either HR that’s asking, in which case they’re thinking bigger picture of whether you’ll fit into the company culture, as well as their wanting to make the line manager happy that they found someone for the department. Or it’s the department interviewing in which case all they care about is filling their job with someone who can do it, doesn’t annoy everyone and will stay in the department for ages so they don’t have to replace.
So, how do you answer their general questions? With specific answers that relate to what THEY need. None of this, “I want a challenge” rubbish. Wrong for two reasons – they don’t CARE what you want and they don’t want someone who finds the job challenging i.e. difficult for the first six months. They’d rather find someone who can be productive by Monday morning coffee-break.
You want to find a position where your skills, experience and (fill in appropriate adjective depending on job) mentality will be recognized and appreciated, and where you, for your part, can learn and grow in the job. LEARN AND GROW IN THE JOB – fabulous phrase, shows that you’re not just thinking of the next year till you start looking again.
Extra answers like, “I also would like a stable company because I don’t like job-hopping” are good too. “I love the work you do as a not-for-profit, helping the underprivileged, so it would be awesome to be using my skills and experience to help a worthy cause.”
Is this buttering up the potential employer? Yup. And it’s what they want to hear.
You’re so keen to impress that you know the answer to their question that you blurt out something as quickly as possible, in fact sometimes, gosh, so enthusiastically the interviewer hasn’t even finished speaking. (Side note – happens all the time. Just say sheepishly, “Oops, sorry”). You have a good few seconds to think through what you want to say and how you want to say it. It might seem like a lifetime to you but a few seconds to the interviewer, while you’re looking at them, clearly thinking through an answer, won’t even be noticed. He or she will in fact be bright enough to know you’re thinking through how to give the best answer.
What if you don’t know the answer? W-e-l-l, it depends on the circumstances. If it’s a question about the company/company products and you don’t know because you didn’t do enough homework (I’m calling it homework. The world calls it googling, for heavens’ sakes.) then ‘fess up. “Sorry, I thought I’d done my homework but that one passed me by.” If it looks as though you did NO homework, you might as well forget that job….
If it’s something about work practices, specific skills you’ve said you have/they want, then try to be concise, don’t burble on for the sake of talking, and give an example of how you’ve done something identical, or at least vaguely similar if you haven’t in fact done what’s been talked about. The interviewer will remember the example, rather than a bland generalization about how fabby your organizational skills are.   
If a quizzical look comes over the interviewer’s face, and you think, “Oh gawd, she didn’t like my answer”, then take the bull by the horns and say, “Did that answer your question?” I did that once, and the interviewer replied, “Not really” and then went on about what he wanted, so I gave a better answer. Better that, than just have the person think, “Useless answer” and not tell you.   
Don’t EVER trash your current/former employers. Even in they are the Devil Incarnate, and your mother taught you never to lie, you just can’t be negative. It makes YOU come across as negative, and the company will be afraid you’d be criticizing THEM when it’s time to move on. So even if you’re trying to get out of the worst job in New York City, think of something positive. E.g.1, I lasted longer than the previous 8 assistants he’s had in the last 2 years, and I’m glad I did, because I learned such a lot. e.g.2, It wasn’t a job for the long haul, the company culture was not conducive to longevity,  but I wanted to learn so I lasted the x months/years and I’m so glad I did, it gave me the skills to have me marketable for your position.  
Have you any questions? What they mean by that is, ‘What questions do you have?” Because you should have one or two… Ask about what they value most in the person doing the job you want, what are the qualities the manager likes best, what the company culture is, what the manager’s management style is, where the company will be in the next 10 years. SOMETHING to show you care….  
Remember it’s about them, not about you. Worse than having no questions is asking about salary, sick pay, vacation at this stage.
All of this is, I hope, just common sense, but it’s easy when you’re nervous to open mouth and put foot in it (er, metaphorically speaking. I haven’t literally tried doing that since I was in my pram). Follow common sense and with luck, the second stage in the interview process will follow.

As ever, if there are any questions, or comments, we’re here at Merit Personnel for you.

Thank you for taking the time out of your busy schedule to read this blog…


If I see that phrase “time out of your busy schedule” one more time in a thank you letter to potential employers, I shall SPIT. It is such a cliché, there is no excuse for using it ever under any circumstances. Remember, this blog is called “Margaret says” and this is one of those times  when Margaret says and isn’t going to listen to any “Yes, but what if”…Please don’t ever use it. Actually, if I had ten dollars for every time I’ve read it in a thank you letter/email, I’d be sunning myself on a beach, not listening to the sounds of the OWS protesters (who have just marched past the building on this Monday morning).

Ok, that’s my harrumph grumble harrumph over. What do you say instead? There are different ways to say the same thing…I mean, it WAS good of the interviewer, who will indeed probably be very busy, to give you some time to explain the job and listen to you. So… just phrase it differently. 
“Thank you so much for meeting me”, “Thank you for your time”, “Thank you for being so generous with your time”, “Thank you for the time you to took to explain to me…”.
As for the rest of the letter – and these days, that usually means an email. With luck you’ll be back for second interview before the snail mail letter would have arrived – Less Is More. Write about what you learned in the interview. 
“I was pleased to hear that your department has a system of tracking…”, “that you’re going to expand”, “that you interface with…” and then relate that information to your own skills and experience. 
Explain what you can do for the company – you have a chance to help the department be successful by bringing your skills, experience and personality to the job. That’s going to resonate with them more than the fact that you want a challenge.
Sometimes one paragraph is enough, sometimes two. There are exceptions to this but, if you’re using a staffing service, a good counselor will talk you through it.
By the way, address the person as Mr, Ms, Dr in a thank you. Not first names. Even if they’ve been very friendly, it’s still better to be more formal in written correspondence. And for heavens’ sakes, proof your thank you letter. More than once. A company doesn’t know and love you yet; all they have to go on is your resume, how you performed at interview and your thank you note. Mistake-ridden isn’t going to help your chances.

That’s it, class!  If you do have any questions, “But what about when….” then please let me know. 

So, what are staffing services? Chopped liver?

I wrote a blog once about answering the telephone when speaking to staffing services….most people are polite, don’t get thrown when they get an unexpected call from recruitment agencies, are a credit to the parents’ parenting skills. Some, though….not so much. The same applies for candidates who come into the agency offices to register. We want to love all of you, we try to love all of you, but there are a few exceptions who make us want to lie down in a darkened room.
Why are they rude/disrespectful/lacking common courtesy? Dunno, and it doesn’t actually matter, because the chances of my getting to the bottom of their insecurities and helping them through it all are slim to nil. Perhaps though if a couple of my readers (I have decided I have readers) stop and think, “Oops, I’ve done that on occasion,” then this blog will have helped do the trick.
My colleagues and I have come to the conclusion that a small but annoying minority of candidates look on agencies as a necessary evil they have to live with to get through to the company where they want to work. Agencies are given job assignments by companies, our clients, for a reason. We’re good at it, we do the grunt work of filtering out those who are, for a whole variety of reasons, not right for the position, and we save the clients time and money having to do it themselves. We want to keep the clients as clients for years and years, and have them send us heartfelt thank you emails/telephone calls/Christmas cards. So we don’t send candidates who stand little chance of being successful in the job. And we would hardly be doing the candidates any favors either.
See how that works? Simple, really.
That means when you meet us, you’re trying to show us how you’ll interview with the client. You don’t take phone calls in the middle of our interviewing you (well, unless you’ve apologetically warned us in advance), you don’t chew gum, you don’t take out your bottled water and chug without asking first, you don’t wander off into our open-plan kitchen area to sit down to fill out the application form (yes, we have an adequate reception area), you don’t take the paper napkins without asking. I mean, puh-leeze. After you’ve interviewed with the client, you don’t contact them direct – we KNOW they give you a card sometimes. It’s instinct. They didn’t mean you to use it till you got the job. You don’t call them to ask how the process is coming along – if we haven’t told you it’s because THEY haven’t told US yet. You don’t call up to negotiate a better salary than they offered. All of these scenarios annoy the clients. I could go on.
These are not examples that happen often, thank goodness, but often enough for us to be letting you know that there’s an etiquette to working with agencies. We are the intermediaries, here to help the clients fill the jobs, of course, but also to help the candidates find the right job. We can help with the awkward questions you can’t ask early in the interview process, about vacations, operations, salary requirements, why you left your last job (“I toyed with killing him. How do I say that in a positive way?”)…and so on…..
We’re here to help – you, the client, ourselves, the economy — ok, that last one was a bit pretentious. Please remember that we’re not an annoying obstacle between you and employment. We’re an integral part of the recruitment process for many of the jobs out there.