Candidate References

The hiring process can sometimes be long and anxiety-laden for both the candidate and hiring manager. The candidate thinks: do they like me? Am I on the short-list of candidates? Will they ask me to move on to the next round? The hiring manager thinks: will this candidate be able to perform this role? Are they a good cultural fit for the company? Will they accept the offer if we were to extend it to them?

Careful Selection
These questions sometimes aren’t all answered until a hiring decision has been made, however, speaking to a candidate’s references can offer perspective and insight into a candidate that the hiring manager might otherwise not get just by speaking to the candidate directly. For this reason, candidates should be careful when selecting references to present to either a hiring manager or recruiter.

Get Permission
It is customary to have a former supervisor or coworker agree to serve as a reference for you before you distribute their contact information. This allows them to be prepared when being contacted by a prospective employer on your behalf but it also gives them time to think and bring memories of you and your work to the forefront of their mind.

Having someone agree to serve as a reference largely ensures that they will speak positively of you and want the best for you and your career trajectory. However, you should still give careful thought to who you want representing your work, knowledge and skills. A lukewarm reference, while not terrible, won’t put you a notch ahead of another candidate of equal standing that supplied spectacular references. Also, a reference from so far in your past will have the safe effect. While not a deal-breaker, this might bring up more questions than reassurances for the hiring manager, such as: why didn’t the candidate supply a person from the recent past? Is there a reason the candidate went so far back in their job history? Has their work or temperament shifted?

The Icing on a Cake
Reference checks and conversations can be viewed like the icing on a cake. Usually by the time a hiring manager or recruiter speaks with a candidate’s references, an opinion has already formed of the candidate based on their resume, cover letter and direct conversations with them. Maybe writing samples have also been provided and they’ve met multiple members of the team. Now, the references come in and solidify an already favorable opinion of a top candidate.

Worst Case Scenario
Instead of being the icing on a cake, reference checks could also be a bad litmus test of a candidate, if not handled properly. If a candidate passed along reference contact details thinking it was just a formality and didn’t take the time to touch base with the reference and that person either didn’t want to serve as a reference or spoke negatively of the candidate, this candidate’s chances of getting offered the job are slim to none. This scenario applies to recruiters as well as direct hiring managers. If a candidate is working with a recruiter and the recruiter (or HR representative of the staffing agency) has a negative conversation with a reference, the odds are good that the recruiter will not want to represent this candidate for a job.

Hidden Benefit
A positive benefit of having conversations with people you would like to serve as references is that you get to keep in touch with people that have either shaped or been a part of your career journey. If you used to interact with someone during every business day, both of you would enjoy updating each other on your professional life.
Reference checks are an important piece of the hiring puzzle and one that should be given adequate thought and attention.

The Key to the Cover Letter

When looking for a job due to unemployment, current job dissatisfaction or finding openings at a dream company, drafting a separate cover letter for each prospective position may seem daunting and time consuming. Many applicants may keep stock cover letters depending on company or job industry, but they are doing themselves a disservice by not crafting a fresh cover letter each time, no matter how long it may take. The importance of doing so lies in the purpose of the cover letter.

The typical first step in applying to a position, either through a recruiter or directly, is submitting your resume and a cover letter. Unlike the resume, the cover letter is meant to speak directly to the hiring manager and or HR professional as to why you want the position, what you will bring to the position and company, and your overall motivations and experience as an employee and person.

It also indirectly serves as a writing sample, which is an important factor to keep in mind.

Your qualifications, skills and most important experience are included in your resume, so the cover letter is your opportunity to showcase additional attributes about yourself that the hiring manager wouldn’t otherwise know. They are looking to get a deeper glimpse into the person behind the employee that would be in their office. Are you a dedicated volunteer for a specific cause or charity? Do you ski in the winters or surf in the summer? Are you a spin instructor or have an interesting hobby after hours? These details will all contribute to the picture you are painting of yourself.

While those details will certainly help craft a conversation during the phone and or in-person interviews, and will help HR professionals identify with you as a person, the central piece of the letter should focus on your motivation and desire to do the specific job applied for at this specific company. The job title and name of the company should be included as well as specific aspects of the job description and why you would be the best person they could hire.

The key to all of these details is that they be portrayed in a genuine and heartfelt manner and that you match everything back to the position and company. This will make the hiring manager feel like you greatly desire their particular position, not just a new position.

Every company wants to make careful hiring decisions and hire employees that really want to work on behalf of their mission and endeavors. Eloquently portraying that you do, and will do so effectively, will help them see you as their next great hire during the hiring process.

The Phone Interview

After applying to multiple positions and attending networking events, your efforts are finally paying off: you’ve been asked for a phone interview! While this is an exciting first step in the hiring process, it can also be fraught with risks.

Don’t fall into the following traps:

Too Casual

This means in both speech and demeanor. Since you are on the phone likely in a comforting environment to you, it is easy to slip into old habits of casual language as if you were speaking with an old friend or even a longtime coworker. Just because you are not being evaluated in person doesn’t mean the interviewer isn’t picking up on your social cues. Perhaps they are picking up even more so since they only have your voice and language on which to base an opinion.

Make sure you dress professionally as it subconsciously will make you speak and present yourself in a more commanding way. If you feel like you are dressed for a professional environment, you will speak as if you were in one!

Have good posture and use facial expressions as if the interviewer was sitting across from you. It may feel funny at first, but the inflections in your voice will be come through the phone and will make you seem more engaging.

Not Using Your Resources

Since you are not in person, you can have your research and resume laid out in front of you for reference. Don’t forget to glance at your resume to jog your memory of work experiences and sills you can use in conversation. If you have research on the company printed out, bring company news, historical company facts, etc., into the conversation so the interviewer gets the feeling that you are interested in their job, not just any job.

Unprofessional Environment

If you are taking the phone interview at home and have noisy pets, make accommodations for them before the phone rings. Perhaps bring a dog to another floor of the house or make sure the cat has enough food and water prepared.

Don’t have the tv on in the background and limit the possibility of background noise as much as you can. For example, don’t sit next to an outside window in case the neighbor’s landscaper decides to show up.

If you are taking the phone interview at your current office and have ducked into a conference room, make sure it is either formally reserved or the door is shut/ locked so you don’t have fellow employees entering the room. That would not only be uncomfortable for you but for them, as well!

No Follow Up

Even though the prospective company did not host you in person, the interviewer still devoted time out of their day to get to know you, your experience and skills, and decide if you could be a good fit for them. Sending a thank you message is important as it recognizes this time investment and their consideration of you for their company.

If you devote ample preparation time and avoid these pitfalls, you will likely see yourself preparing for the next step in the hiring process: the in person interview!

The Importance of Punctuality in the Job Process

We’ve all either experienced this dreaded scenario or know someone who has: a utility provider says they will be at your home between a certain window of time and either arrives at the last possible minute, late, or not at all. The anxiety and frustration you or the person you know felt is not only unfortunate but avoidable.

The Reasoning

Punctuality is supremely important in all aspects of life, especially the job process. Once you decide to work with a recruiter or submit your resume directly to a job posting, being accessible, responsible and timely is of supreme importance. This is because from the first time a client receives your name for consideration, an opinion is starting to form, subconscious or not.

As a job candidate, you want to do everything in your power to give yourself the best shot possible at what could be a great job opportunity, which in turn will elevate other aspects of your life, such as work-life balance, commute, salary, etc.

The competition is always high in the job market for qualified candidates and you don’t want a time management issue to be the reason someone else beats you to an offer.

Helpful Tips

If you have a phone interview scheduled for 10:00am, be completely prepared with your resume and other pertinent materials and waiting with your phone at least 10 minutes prior. This will give you a chance to mentally prepare, calm your nerves and be ready for the phone to ring at 9:57 in case the interviewer is a few minutes early.

When you are going to an in-person interview, plan to arrive at the location a half hour early. Don’t enter the office until 5-10 minutes before your interview, but arriving at the location will ensure you are in the area in enough time to take into account any weather issues, transit delays, traffic volume, missed exits, etc. If the office is in a suburban location, waiting in your car will allow you to compose yourself and go over your materials. If the office is in an urban setting, sit in a nearby coffee shop. This approach will also help you get a sense of the local area that you are considering spending a large chunk of your daily time!

After the interview, either phone or in-person, sending a timely thank you note will leave a nice impression. More guidance on thank you notes can be found here.

Taking the same approach of subsequent interviews will solidify you as a punctual and responsible candidate who would be an asset to their company not only for your skill set and experience but for your personal qualities.

Throughout the duration of the process, whether you are working with a recruiter or a company directly, being in close contact if and when last minute issues arise or you have to withdraw from the process for any reason, will only leave a favorable impression of your memory. You want to avoid a recruiter and or client being blindsided by a decision or problem that could have been communicated sooner.

Happy job hunting!