Showing up late for your job interview is not a marketable skill

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It was with heavy-but-understanding hearts that we received our front desk assistant’s news: she was giving her two-week notice.

Surprisingly, we weren’t surprised.  The commute across town in rush hour traffic and subsequent gas expenses were killing her, she said.  A previous familiar workplace a few minutes from her house guaranteed her full-time hours, compared to our 30-hour workweek.  She couldn’t turn it down.  I couldn’t blame her.  I might’ve done the same.  We wish her the very best.

Where did that leave us?  Back at Square One.  We knew that at some point, this day would come; after all, everything is temporary if you give it enough time.  In offices like ours, people come and go.  It’s not personal, just business.  It’s part of life.  But that doesn’t make it suck any less.

So, back to the drawing board.

Over the years, we’ve learned that even in a recession, good help is hard to find.  This goes doubly true when your payroll budget is smaller than most because you’re the sole practitioners, having no one else with which to share the costs.  Craigslist has been by far the best bang for the employment advertising buck.  We’ve found several excellent people through that service.  They were carefully selected, however, after kissing a lot of frogs and wading through a lot of lost causes.

Several hiring cycles ago, we received roughly 60 initial inquiries.  Of those, half did not follow the (extremely simple and straightforward) application instructions.  Of the remaining 30 applicants, 12 weren’t a good fit (their priorities were grossly incongruent with ours), 15 were simply looking to get paid to warm a seat and didn’t really care about the job itself, one didn’t return a phone call for an interview, and another one scheduled an interview, seemed all excited about it, but then just plum no-showed when the appointment time rolled around.  Which left exactly one shining star.  Out of 60.

This time was not much different, except that the numbers were greater.  We had roughly 120 applicants.  The bigger the pool, the better I feel, because of the laws of hiring statistics.  Of those, we sent employment applications to 60.

We received about 25 application packets by the deadline we gave.  Of the 25, all but 8 were rather unrealistic in terms of salary.  Of the 8, we scheduled 7 interviews (one never called us back).  Of the 7 we scheduled, 5 showed up (never heard from the other two).  Of those 5, we liked 4.

Of those 4, we scheduled second interviews; 2 called us back and were interviewed a second time.  A third called us back several days after the deadline we gave, apologizing and kicking herself, but unfortunately, she’d knocked herself out of the running, because the other two interviews were already finished and a decision had been made.  Which again left one, this time out of 120.

People, we need to stop whining about how there are no jobs available.  There are.  In fact, there are numerous companies looking to hire decent people right now.  Granted, many of these jobs are service-oriented and not too glamorous.  There may not be much upward mobility available.  But it’s a job.

And let’s face it: America is becoming a largely service-oriented economy, with 80% of its jobs being service-related.  For all the complaining going on, one would assume the job climate was downright anemic, but it’s not.  Want a piece of the action?  Since it’s obvious that many people don’t possess any once-expected traits of common sense and they’re not making up for this deficit by pouring over career advice blogs or other job assistance resources, I thought I’d throw some suggestions out there.

First, applicants need to stop blanketing every job ad posting with a generic one-size-fits-all email about how you’d be an “excellent fit for my corporation”.  It’s okay to write “To whom it may concern”, especially if we didn’t advise you who to address a cover letter to.  However, a doctor’s office typically does not refer to itself as a corporation or agency.  Tailor your resume, cover letter, or other letter of introduction to the specific entity and nature of the job for which you’re applying.

Next, take the time to read the job ad and follow its directions.  Reading the job ad saves all parties involved the hassle and frustration of dealing with a poor fit.  As a doctor’s office, we look for someone who is mature, nurturing, caring, motivated, and above all, patient-centered.

We specifically look for someone for whom this type of work is a calling.  You can’t fake that; the charade won’t last long.  If you’re simply looking to warm a seat, taking phone calls, and pass on messages, there are plenty of other places for whom the size of your heart and your ability to empathize and think on your feet is less important.

Another example involves people who want to climb a corporate ladder more aggressively.  The position we advertised is a front-desk/office manager position of a small, young, low-volume practice.  Upward mobility isn’t exactly in the job description.  Don’t waste your time applying here, because you probably won’t be happy.  If our ad does appeal to you, then by all means, apply; we’d love to consider you.

But please follow directions.  When we ask for a short letter of introduction that consists of 1-2 paragraphs telling us a bit about yourself and what interests you about natural healthcare, don’t email us 2 sentences about how you really really care about people.  Caring is a nice quality, but if I can’t get someone to follow directions during the best-foot-forward application phase, how can I trust that my requests will be followed once that person is sitting behind my front desk?

Please, please take the time to proofread and spellcheck your submission.  All major internet browsers and word processing programs now underline misspelled words.  Microsoft Word even has some grammar-checking thrown in.  Nothing makes a worse impression than sending off a kindergarten-looking email that consists of a single run-on paragraph, completely lacking in punctuation, capitalization, and proper spelling/grammar.

It’s a good idea to double check that you’re giving an impression that is not too one-sided or self-centered.  This applies both to cover letters and interviews.  Every employer understands you’re there in order to score a means to support yourself and your family.

We get that.  We know you’re not here for us.  But again, the job ad for our particular available position specifically stated that we were looking for someone for whom this is a calling, someone truly interested in natural healthcare and making a difference in the world helping sick people.  It’s somewhat of a turn-off if all the introductory email touches on is “this job would be great for me as a single mom”, “I love the hours”, “I want a Monday-through-Friday workweek”, etc.  While it’s perfectly acceptable (at least to us) to be honest and mention one of the above quotes, one inquiry we received had all three and more, without any expressed interest in natural healthcare or providing a service to anyone.

Employers care about your skill set and what you can do to benefit the company.  The only reason a job is offered is if the employer stands to make more money from your presence than they pay you; that’s not harsh or greedy, that’s just factual self-preservation of the business.

Good employers even care about who you are as a person, since they’re about to trust you and work alongside you.  They’ve thought ahead one step further, to realize that you’re their face, their representative to the public, and they’re high-caliber enough to care about what kind of person they hire to represent them.  But employers can see straight through someone who only wants a cushy salary, a posh job description, and a fat benefits package, and it’s a reddish flag.

What actually gave me sort of a half-empathetic, half-sarcastic chuckle was an application that came through that listed 10 years as a Domestic and Childcare Coordinator.  It didn’t take long to realize that she had been a stay-at-home-mom for the last decade, knew that the lack of work history would hit her in the gut, and wanted to cover up the fact that as someone who’d spent the last decade out of the workforce, she’d be completely out of touch and thus, at a significant competitive disadvantage.

Ladies, being a stay-at-home-mom is quite commendable.  Your kids are probably much better off having had a parent at home than both parents working.

However, this does not count as actual job experience or legitimate employment, unless you’re applying for a nanny or caretaker position.  I know you worked 24/7 on raising your family.  But it’s not a job, because you were not accountable to anyone else.  You weren’t expected to work on projects, produce results, or meet deadlines beyond a well-baby visit to the pediatrician.

The truth is, if you were out of the workforce for 10 years, that’s 10 years that the world went on without you.  During that time, the world morphed and evolved.  The rules of the ballgame changed, even if slightly.  Staying at home was great for your kids, but not your career.  At the very least, you’re going to have to play serious catch-up.

Next order of business: when you turn in your application, we might be interested in you.  If we are, this means we’re going to take things to the next step, which is usually an interview.

Chances are, we’re going to call you in person to schedule said interview.  If you know you just dropped off an employment application, please have your phone on.  Have the battery charged. Have the ringer turned up.  Have your phone beside you.  When it rings, answer it.  If an employer has a list of candidates to interview, they’re going to look most favorably on those who answered their phone in person, with a bright, coherent voice, and a friendly demeanor.  And those who answer in person get first pick of the interview times, as opposed to those with whom we had to leave a voicemail.

When interviewing, be on time.  If someone cannot get to a job interview on time, during a time when they’re showing the best side of themselves, what is it going to be like when I’ve got errands to run and I’m trusting them to open the office on time and hold down the fort?  Lateness, especially without an apology/explanation, is disastrous.

Also, be yourself.  Honest-to-Universe, I had a young girl sit across from me at my office table today and flat-out tell me that her weakness/worst trait was that she is a perfectionist who tries too hard.  I thought for sure that cliche had been banished from all employment/career advice literature the world over.  I remember using that line in the ’90s, at age 19, during my first real interview.

Fifteen years later and people are still spewing it.  Which is exactly why I ask the question.  I’m very well aware of such strategies (listing exaggerated strengths as your so-called weaknesses), and so is about every other employer that has paid 30 seconds of attention to hiring advice.  I want to know if you’re bullshitting me.  I want to know if you’ve been out of work so long or so often that you’ve scoured the job advice boards, trying to boost your odds by hitting generic, cliche, benchmark words, such as “team player”, “people person”, “detail-oriented” and other such cornball phrases that hold very little truth underneath.  The candidate we selected for the job gave an honest answer to the same “what are your weaknesses” question; she was actually very forthright about having ADHD.

While that doesn’t make for the most optimal front desk match, as the job requires focus, I’d rather deal with honesty and work around a problem than continually wonder what else the cliche-reciting person is hiding.

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