Thursday, March 09, 2006

Help Wanted (Part 1)

It's been almost a month since my reflections on HR interviews, and I've gone through a few more since then. My company's in the process of padding out a few more staff issues, and it looks like we'll be all set come April. That might be bad news to more than a few of the new graduates, seeing that a lot of them usually only start applying for jobs after the graduation ceremonies.

Going through my archives the other day, I found that I had previously drafted a blog article concerning tips for job-seekers. These, of course, weren't your ordinary, run-of-the-mill job application guidelines. Instead, these were lessons gleaned from years of watching applicants stumble, misspeak, misspell, turn off, break down or otherwise screw up their chances of corporate hiring. While that might sound overly negative of me, I can assure you what I don't make fun of these mistakes as often as I bewail the frustration that comes about when I first encounter them.

I'm not a Human Resources person, mind you, and I have little experience in HR matters that involve more than personally interviewing job applicants. While that might seem like a disadvantage at first glance, I've come to see it as more of a qualification in this case. To me, the mistakes seem more obvious, the subtleties seem greatly magnified, and the lessons seem all too easily forgotten once you sit down for your first interview. For some reason, most people seem to be able to either write a good resumé or conduct a good one-on-one chat, but not both.

There's still plenty about the Human Resources aspect that escapes me, but I like to think that I have enough hands-on experience in the matter to be able to identify particular trouble spots for people. At worst, then, I'd just be another source of possible advice.

Onward, then, to some of the less obvious aspects of job application:

1. Do NOT mention proficiency in a language unless you know how to use it.
You may think that this is obvious, but I still run into a problem case every now and then. Either an applicant professes an expert command of the language in an error-riddled resumé, or they submit a well-edited personal profile and proceed to fail miserably at the interview. The worst case I ever encountered involved a cover letter with the most atrocious grammar I had ever read, submitted by a young man who gave himself a "10 out of 10" in English skills.

The truly abominable part about experiences like these lies in the fact that I'm a writer. While my English is probably still leagues away from the practices of the true linguistic scholars, I still hold deep resentment for anyone who mangles the language and claims that they're using it right. Geez Louise.

2. Every HR person in the world probably knows that if an applicant mentions that he or she has "basic" knowledge in something, then he or she knows next to nothing about it.
This is true, yes. "Basic" knowledge in a skill, as far as we know, might as well be the same as having no experience with it at all. To be quite frank, most people only list down their "basic" skills in their resumés in order to pad things out.

Don't get me wrong, though. While there's nothing unethical about padding out one's resumé, there's a good chance that any skill level you list as "basic" will be quickly shunted off to the side and ignored. If you have relatively significant knowledge or experience with a certain item, then make sure that you don't simply write yourself as having a "basic level of skill" with it. In fact, it's probably best that you cite your previous experiences or learning programs there -- anything that would make it substantial enough for interviewers to take notice.

3. No religion, please, unless it's relevant to the position or the company.
Yes, you're a religious person. Yes, you have "God-fearing" clearly spelled out on your resumé. Yes, you're an active member of your church organization. But if none of that has anything to do with the job you're applying for, then why bother putting that down on paper? I mean, it's not as though people will hire you for your religious beliefs.

Some people will probably argue that a mention of their faith would act as a testament to their devoutness or dedication, when in reality it doesn't do much. Words on paper are sometimes just words on paper. Dedication is measured by practice and noted by observation, for the most part. You don't claim steadfastness, you demonstrate it.

What irks me the most in this regard is that some applicants tend to sing praises to the divine regarding their considerable skills and technical advantages. The business world, however, is an extremely realist setting. A company won't care if your talents are God-given or if you just happened to make a deal with the devil. If you can do the job, then you can do the job. End of story.

4. Do NOT apply for a position that you have absolutely no business applying for.
Every company has some darn good reasons for listing the qualifications for an open position. Sometimes they want an applicant to hit the ground running, so to speak -- they want the new employee to start immediately on some overdue project or service. Sometimes the job in question has certain requirements for the sake of safety or quality (you don't hire an auto mechanic to perform gastrointestinal surgery, for example, and vice-versa). Sometimes the job will have certain prerequisites that are only found in applicants of a specific background.

Whatever the case, the job requirements are there for a reason. Do not apply to be a programmer if you don't know how to program. Do not expect a small company to pay your relocation costs if you're applying to them from another country. Do not send your resumé to a "women-only" ad if you happen to be male with no plans of a sex-change operation. Doing so would simply be a waste of paper for you.

5. The phrase "willing to be trained" has little or no meaning whatsoever.
I see this phrase a lot, and I never understand why people put it in their personal profiles. Isn't this supposed to be a given, after all? I mean, as long as you're applying for a job, aren't you silently agreeing to the fact that you will learn new skills and gain new experiences during your period of employment?

You can say that you're "willing to be trained" all you want, I figure, but the fact of the matter is that every single applicant is willing to be trained. Ironically, mentioning the phrase doesn't let you stand out from the rest of the pack -- instead, it makes you blend in even more. And if by some chance you don't want to be trained at all... then why are you applying for the job in the first place?

6. Do NOT create a resumé that deviates from the accepted norm.
One of the funny things about most designers is that they're very creative. Really creative, I mean. In fact, sometimes they're so creative that you just have to wonder what they're thinking.

I've seen cover letters enclosed in pink folders and decorated with pastel-and-pencil artwork. I've seen job applications laminated and sealed inside confidential envelopes. I've seen resumés printed on construction paper, collated in hemp binding, and sprinkled in scads of clip art. I've seen all three, yes, and frankly, I'm all too tired of seeing them crop up.

The problems with such "expressions of creativity" are twofold: First, they're difficult to place on file. For that matter, if we can't file them properly, then we simply won't... if you know what I mean. Creative execution be damned.

Second, such artistic works may indicate an attitude that does more harm than good. If a company is looking for a graphic designer, they're most likely looking for someone who can fire off good design work within a reasonable project deadline. In that case, a souped-up resumé that implies a certain level of obsessive-compulsiveness may not be the best thing to hand in...


These items are by no means the only guidelines I have to discuss. In fact, these considerations barely even scratch the surface. There are plenty of things that one can do wrong when it comes to looking for a job. I've seen too many of them done, and in some cases, I've even done them myself.

If you're looking for a further breakdown of things to avoid when you're applying for a job, I'll be posting a second part to this article. Human Resources, as with many other endeavors, isn't an exact science... but we can always map things out as we come to them.

Come to think of it, I actually have at least two more applicants to test and interview over the next two days. Hopefully they won't come up with any new problems. My instincts, after all, have had enough trouble detailing the ones you read here now.


Zam said...

Hmm.. Useful tips for when I actually start applying for jobs. But well, the experience must be brain/nerve wracking! But the overly creative applications, um, there isn't a need for that so might as well do away with it. I can't believe there are really those instances! Whew!

Sean said...

Zam: I'm not trying to scare anyone, you know. :) I've actually run into instances worse than the ones mentioned here, although I couldn't glean any helpful advice out of them because of their particular strangeness.

With that said, does anyone out there have any strange job-hunt stories to share? If you do have one, send it over via e-mail. Maybe we can collate them or something.

gail said...

I think you're being too hard on the applicants! :)
I used to be in HR, handling recruitment and I've seen a looooot of these little horrors. The way I see it, these items you presented are a bit too trivial.

Sean said...

Gail: For that matter, I'm not an HR person to begin with, so that's probably the best disclaimer I can give.

These items are most definitely trivial, but they just happen to be peeves of mine. Most places will probably let these slide, so applicants really shouldn't worry too much. I'm just glad that I'm getting these off my chest. :)

gail said...

sabagay nga, nakakapuno nga minsan yung mga kaliit-liitang bagay. :) it's much better to rant.

Sean said...

Gail: It's better to rant in moderation, now that I think about it. :) We're all human, I suppose.