At the risk of sounding like a crusty old crank – and let’s face it, it’s a descriptor that isn’t all too far off some days- the generations younger than me are getting more and more entitled. Perhaps it is that they are the output of helicopter parents who structured every minute of their time (unlike my upbringing, which was of the “free range” variety), but I worry about our future knowing this is who we are relying on to care of us as we age. I’m terrified, actually.
I’ve been watching the workforce get younger and younger over the years, while impressively I seem to remain the same age. Funny how that happens. I’m forced to contend with the fact that I have to hire, train, lead, inspire and develop this younger crowd. It’s no small task, and there are days I wonder how I will manage to pull it off.
I would estimate that in my 24 years in the adult workforce, I have probably interviewed no less than a few hundred people. Interviewing and hiring is actually my favorite thing to do, and arguably it’s what I do best. I’ve often said – and I have sincerely meant – that the only important thing I have to do is hire well. The rest will follow, and I know this because it’s been proven time and time again. And so when I am in the midst of a search, which is honestly almost always, I take it very seriously.
Part of my strategy in hiring is to simplify what I am looking for. That is not to say that I will simply accept anyone – quite the contrary, actually. Anyone who knows me knows that I am famous for quipping that “I only hire stars.” But how do you find a star, a proverbial diamond in the rough? You find them by knowing exactly what matters. And for me, I really only care about two qualities for any key candidate: a positive attitude and an ability to learn. That’s right, kids. Yes, you have to have the right qualifications to get in the door. But more letters behind your names or rings in your tree trunk won’t get you far with me. Because truthfully, once we get you in the door we can teach you anything. Almost anything, that is. We can’t teach you how to have a good attitude or a desire to learn.
What I’ve noticed over the years, however, is a complacency -an entitlement I want to call it – that is disconcerting. It’s as if no one really cares. If I bring you in for an interview, I want you to treat it like it’s a big deal. It’s like going on a blind date. You are checking me out, and I am doing the same to you. We have to establish if we could have a good thing going, if we should take this to the next level.
So now’s the part where you should sit up straight and listen. Because it’s everyone’s favorite part – the part where I dispense unsolicited advice. If you want a competitive edge in your job search, you don’t even have to work that hard. This because no one is working hard. So to stand out, you just have to be a little better than the rest. My advice is this: Dress one step above what you would wear to the job. Show up five to ten minutes early. Be polite to the receptionist. Silence your cell phone. Bring a folder with clear, crisp, perfectly formatted and spell-checked copies of your resume and your reference list. Read the company website ahead of time and interject questions about company initiatives in the interview. Come with a list of your own questions and make sure they aren’t just about things that are self-serving. Be bold, but not arrogant, in selling yourself. And, here is the one thing that will set you apart from almost everyone: Send a thank you note within one day of the interview to everyone who was part of your interview process. I swear, give me a hand written note that makes me feel like it is your goal to be part of my team, and I’m practically a puddle. Because it almost never happens.
Now I’m guessing you just read all of my unsolicited advice, and you thought to yourself, “Well, duh.” Well guess what? Hardly anybody does all those things. Remember that every decision you make in the interview process – which really isn’t that big of an investment of your time – is an opportunity to impress, or not. Don’t be the girl that showed up to an interview with me with half (and only half) of her nail polish picked off. I took one look at her and knew she was not of the star quality I was looking for. It would have taken her one minute to clean up those nails with some polish remover and make them uniform and neat. But when I saw the mish-mash of a mess on her hands – which was the only thing I could see – I thought she either doesn’t care if the gets the job, or she’s so lacking in attention to detail she might not know the difference between Zantac and Xanax. Next!
And believe it or not, that’s really how it happens. You get one chance to make a first impression, and a whole series of chances after that to get it all right. It’s all up to you.