As you may know, the first rule of writing good fiction is, “Show me, don’t tell me.” The idea is that you can’t say a character is resilient, thoughtful or brave, you need to show the reader that the character is these things.
Somehow this idea has not translated into our other writing, particularly in the context of applying for jobs. For example, how many of us have seen cover letters in which a candidate describes herself as “a real go-getter,” only to have that rÃ©sumÃ© collecting dust on our desk three weeks later — three weeks during which that “go-getter” of a candidate didn’t pick up the phone?
How else might a go-getter distinguish himself from the pack? Well, recently I walked out of New York’s Grand Central Station to find two young people dressed in business suits standing on the sidewalk and handing out copies of their rÃ©sumÃ©s. What were their stated objectives? Entry-level jobs in finance and marketing. Their qualifications? The usual for people just starting out: captain of the swim team, internship at a local retail store, a summer at the local copy shop. In addition to hard copies of their rÃ©sumÃ©s, however, they had also blown each up to a poster-board size and created video rÃ©sumÃ©s and posted them on YouTube — the URL for these was at the top of their rÃ©sumÃ©s. Seeing these actions told me more than any video: They were creative, gutsy and self-confident. You can bet that if I had been at a financial or marketing firm with — or without — an opening, they would have been hired on the spot. They brought being a “go-getter” to life.
Another gap in candidates’ descriptions of themselves is revealed via a technique that human resources professionals use to weed out those who are not truly committed to working for a particular firm. They stop the interview halfway through and say, “I just don’t think you’re the right fit for us” — regardless of the candidate’s experience. One of the HR professionals with whom I spoke says it’s amazing how many people actually say, “I actually didn’t think so either, but I just thought I’d come in …”
Um … how not to wow.
How do I recommend you handle this situation, should you encounter it? First, make sure you don’t look down, lean back or reveal your discomfort through your body in any way. Smile. Inhale. Speak on an exhalation. Say, “I understand how you may think that, given my lack of experience with X/my checkered past/how long I’ve been freelancing, but I think you’ve underestimated how committed I am to working for your firm. If I may, I’ll take you through my thinking one more time.” That’s a response that, physically and verbally, should reassure the most hardboiled of HR professionals.
Another misstep I heard about was the story of a candidate who touted his laser focus/unparalleled dedication throughout his lunch interview, only to take out his PDA and begin returning calls as his host paid the check. My guess is that he was either uncomfortable with sitting in silence, or wished to convey his busyness or importance. What I can tell you is that his choice backfired — causing the HR director to move him from the top slot to the bottom of the list.
Albert Schweitzer, the famed theologian, philosopher and physician, said, “Example is not the main thing in influencing others. It is the only thing.”Â Nowhere is this truer than in a job interview, where what isn’t said is often far more important than what is.