Team player. Friendly. Ambitious. Ethical. Articulate. Committed. Culturally aware. These are some of the key qualities local employers say they look for when screening applications and interviewing candidates.
Attitude. Inflexible. Job hopper. Aggressive. Self-centered. These are the qualities employers say might raise red flags about a candidate.
How do people who might otherwise be squirming in the interview chair demonstrate the qualities that employers want? To find out, California Job Journal talked to some of the decision-makers doing the hiring - the owners and operators of several Northern California businesses - to give jobseekers a better idea of the paths to pursue and the pitfalls to avoid along the job-search trail.
Be Presentable. It's all in your presentation, according to Robert Smiley, dean of the Graduate School of Management at the University of California, Davis. "The era of hiring people in blue jeans is over," he claims. It ended with the dot.com bust.
The image you project is not just about your clothes and grooming habits - presentation includes your speech, manners, posture, eye contact and more. "How well do they speak? 'I did good.' Ugh!" Smiley groans. "It sets you apart at an educational institution, particularly."
Share the Credit. Evidence of working as a team player can be reflected in your speech as well. A person describing a group's successful project, but failing to acknowledge the contributions of the other team members might overly emphasize his personal role by saying "I did this" and "I completed that," notes Mark Barton, lead IT recruiter for corporate functions at Hewlett-Packard.
"I'll ask 'How did you interact with your co-workers? How did you contribute to that project? How did you demonstrate those skills?'" Barton recounts. "If a person says 'We did this' and 'We were successful in completing this,' that can carry a lot of weight."
Know the Company. Being able to articulate knowledge about the company scores points. Candidates who prepare for the interview by researching the company's recent accomplishments, trends, and even weaknesses, can show the hiring committee they are looking for more than a job.
"I'll ask, 'What do you know about HP?' I'll hear, 'Well, you make printers,'" says Barton. "And my thought is, 'I'll see you later.'"
Attention to detail can make or break a first impression, declares Karen Bakula, president of Karen Bakula Co. Inc, a Sacramento PR firm. "The thing that immediately tosses that application into the wastebasket is if they don't spell my name correctly," Bakula declares. "If they don't pay enough attention to details when applying for a job, how are they going to pay attention to the details of the company?"
A 30-second phone call to confirm a person or company's name, title and correct address can move an application into the "call for interview" pile.
Explain Job Hopping. Gia McNutt, CEO of telecom Special Order Systems in Rocklin, echoes what many employers say when a resume shows a candidate hasn't lasted long at any one position. "If there's evidence of different job hopping - switching jobs every 12 or 18 months - that's not a good sign," McNutt feels. "There can't be that many instances where it's not a good fit."
That also can indicate dependability and quality of work, believes Larry Rugh, human resources manager for NEC Electronics Inc., describing a key requirement for production operators, one of his company's largest classification of employees. "It is a production line and we need to have people (who) will commit to being here whenever possible. When they're here, they're measured on productivity and quality and safety standards." Applicants must be prepared to explain a sporadic work history by offering a reasonable explanation.
School Helps, to a Degree. Most recruiters agree that formal education alone won't guarantee success, unless the position is one that requires specialized knowledge or a certificate. Education does indicate two qualities: perseverance and commitment.
"If we move beyond the basic skills set, we look at the educational investment an applicant has made in a field," explains Mary Jo Rogers, public affairs manager for Hewlett-Packard. "We're interested in all levels that someone has."
While listing an Ivy League institution on a resume can open many doors nationwide, it's by no means a sure ticket to landing a job. Not all employers will discriminate in favor of a well-known institution. Marla Kuresa, human resources manager for McDonough, Holland and Allen, points out that her law firm also seeks a connection to the capital region.
"A lot of times we're looking at someone from McGeorge or UC Davis and there's obvious interest in the area, as opposed to George Washington (University) or Harvard, where we'd look for a tie to the area," Kuresa notes.
Be Positive About Your Past, Unless . . . A turnoff is dissing a former or current employer. "Another 'no way' is if they disparage any place they've worked before," McNutt warns. "It's a professional (courtesy) to just say it didn't work out."
Kuresa agrees, somewhat. "There's a difference between disparaging and telling the truth," Kuresa believes. "You can tell the facts about why you wanted to leave without being gossipy."
Not disparaging an employer may be difficult when that employer has been publicly fried by both regulators and media coverage, such as the recent examples of Enron, Tyco International and Andersen Consulting. While recruiters tend not to ask employees about their involvement in such scandals, Barton finds most candidates offer up the information. "By no means would we rule out someone because they worked for Andersen Consulting, but any scenario where the company has been so hammered, it has to raise a red flag," Barton feels. "I have to ask which projects they worked on and what was entailed. Generally, employees are very open about it and say they were not involved. It also comes up when we ask about why they left their most recent position."
Expect Skill Testing. Surprisingly, most employers say they test an applicant's computer skills. Even for a nontechnical position, like a legal secretary, Kuresa says she can discern a lot about an applicant's flexibility and comfort level by how they perform under pressure.
"We need someone who has the ability to function in a changing environment," Kuresa emphasizes. She watches for warning signs - if perhaps a candidate left their last positions because of "just too many changes," or "if we talk about how we do things here and they seem resistant, wanting to do things the same way as they've always done. For example, if we use Word and they have used only Word Perfect."
Take a Trial Run. Smiley recommends job candidates go through mock interviews to ensure they present well. He points out that at UC Davis, before students graduate from his program, they must meet with and undergo videotaped mock interview sessions with alumni working in the field. Then they meet with career counselors and the professionals to dissect the session.
"They're ruthless," Smiley confesses. "But you have a clear idea from the videotape how you come across. Some of the things you can fix. You can teach yourself or be taught how to present well."
Such services are available throughout Northern California, including the Sacramento Professional Network and Sacramento Works career center. Both organizations offer workshops to enhance interview preparation and skills.
Applicants should also expect to undergo personality testing. Why? Because too many people have gotten too good at interviewing. For sales positions, Rocklin's McNutt says she administers a profiling test to determine a person's true qualities. Just because someone says they want to be a team player doesn't necessarily make it so.
"It could just be they're saying the right things because they are the things to say," McNutt figures.
Unfortunately, most experts agree that it's counterproductive to attempt to outsmart a personality test. Better, say the pros, to simply be yourself and answer the questions honestly.
Organizations mentioned in this article:
- Hewlett-Packard - HP.com, (650) 857-1501
- Karen Bakula Co. Inc - Sacramento advertising/public relations, (916) 442-0957
- McDonough, Holland and Allen - mhalaw.com. Law firm specializing in real estate, business/commercial, public agency and litigation. Sacramento (916) 444-3900
- NEC Electronics Inc - necel.com, Roseville (916) 798-4675
- Special Order Systems - team-sos.com, Rocklin (916) 632-8800
- UC Davis Graduate School of Management - gsm.ucdavis.edu, (530) 752-7399