The Quick Rise, Long Fall, and Mediocre Levelling of Online Applications

Levels Panel

There is no denying it: If you peruse employment or HR related topics on LinkedIn or Forbes, folks are discussing online applications – both grimly and with disdain. If further proof is what tickles your fancy, then look no further than the job seeker cursing at their laptop. Online applications are the way of the future … and NOBODY likes them! This has been the case since Dawson’s Creek premiered (hold your sheepishly sarcastic applause – there’s more!)

The downside today is that standard online applications are increasingly becoming the key reason why companies miss talent and job seekers miss nights of peaceful rest. Luckily, we have solutions. We always do.

Here are three reasons (with accompanying and multiple solutions) that explain the annoying truths of the online application process:

1. The length of a standard online application is often a contentious discussion in our industry.

Is the dawdling pace required to complete an application meant to deter applicants without patience, without basic computer skills, or without the determination to keep cutting and pasting points from their résumé into drop-down bars? BusinessNewsDaily goes so far as to differentiate the time candidates are willing to spend as both generational and dependent on experience. Those with more experience and demonstrated results are less patient than those who are fresh out of school. If time is money, then those used to making that money and the decisions behind it would prefer to get down to business than cut and paste.

However, if you’re serious about your job search you should have a schedule in place where ALL of your job search activities have designated allotments of time. If you plan ahead then you’re psychologically ready to commit an afternoon or a few hours to this process. In other words, don’t go in planning to complete your online application in 20 minutes. 

2.  There is no “non-valuable” position, ever.

Of course, this is not to diminish any type of work; however, while completing online applications for entry-level positions today, one might question why these applications require the same psychological testing as an Airline Pilot or Secret Service Agent. Truthfully, the personality testing speaks to the demands of every position in the 21st Century. If you’re upset that an employer has standards, you’d be wise to look at your own. As mentioned in point 1, be prepared to spend some time completing the psychological assessment.

Note that some online assessments will try to trick you by unexpectedly changing a question posed in the affirmative to a question posed in the negative (this tests your attention to detail). Be sure to read each question over at least twice to ensure you’re not answering on ‘autopilot.’

Example:

  1. What are your strengths?
  2. What are your weaknesses?
  3. Describe three attributes that your ideal employer would not possess.

3.  The technology still isn’t where it should be.

It would be one thing to simply upload your résumé and answer a number of standard questions. It’s another thing to prepare your résumé like a proper job seeker should —that is, customizing it to fit the posting, the position, and the culture of the company to a tee — only to see fragments of what you’ve written disassembled in some sort of format that only a whirling dervish could make sense of.

The other sad state of application technology is when truthful answers cannot be entered because the website won’t allow them. A number of firms have been accused of institutionalized racism when addresses were asked to be entered, but those without a Canadian postal code could not be accepted. And most likely before talk of prejudice began, the job seeker was already lamenting the unlikely need for this information as references aren’t usually asked for at this point. Again, it takes time and if you haven’t allotted it during your job search schedule, you should start doing so.

The best ways possible to circumvent or at least complement your online application is to consider a number of best practices related to accessing the hidden job market. (FYI: This should already be part of your job search schedule).

Key Strategies:

  • Connect with an employer regardless if they are hiring or not. This requires a bold leap, but is easier done when you have crafted in advance a “pitch” to explain how you’d assist and add to the goals of their business.
  • Network beyond HR professionals. Attend Board of Trade and Chamber of Commerce functions and trade shows/conventions where you can meet with staff of all designations. Tip: Be prepared to offer something so that you don’t present yourself as someone just looking for a job — bring ideas and answers!
  • Media research with Google news alerts combined with social media contact is good, but be sure to have insight and ideas to offer, from simple advice to interesting articles. You look best when you present yourself as a trusted resource.

This article provides additional tips. Remember to stay positive — the online application process will improve, and the demand for this change will make it so!

Jason Douglas Smith is a Training Application Coordinator with The Career Foundation, and has successfully directed clients in not only developing personalized job search strategy plans, but in circumnavigating the rigorous demands of applications for Provincially funded retraining. When not working, this self-professed Futurist can often be found reading, writing, and barbecuing in his native Burlington.   

Imagine Bringing Your Mother to a Job Interview

Mom Warning

Could you imagine having your mother sitting beside you in an interview?

You are trying to show that you are the best candidate for the job, and beside you is the one person in the world who knows you better than anybody else. Everything you have ever done wrong is stored in the vault that she calls a brain.

Let’s look how your mother might answer some of the more common interview questions.

Interviewer:  Please tell me about your greatest strength.

Your Mother:  She is great at sneaking out at night, taking the car without permission and hanging out with people I warned her about.

Interviewer:  There is high independence required in this role, please give an example that demonstrates how responsible you are and how you work with limited supervision.

Your Mother:  He can’t even put his dirty socks in the hamper or put his clean underwear in his drawer!

Interviewer:  Can you please tell me about a time you worked effectively within a team to finish a project with tight timelines?

Your Mother:  She said she couldn’t stand working with her team and that her boss was “out to lunch”? The project was doomed to fail, but everyone was too dazzled by the presentation to notice? She can’t even play on a soccer team, there was one time she punched one of her teammates in the nose.

Interviewer: Where do you see yourself five years from now?

Your Mother: Probably sitting on the couch in my basement playing video games. He is so unmotivated; he only applied for this job for the discounts.

Let’s face it, we all carry baggage and have our faults. You are far from perfect and that’s OK, because nobody is perfect. If you’re nervous, that’s normal. If you stumble through an answer, that’s normal. If you leave an interview and realize there was a better way you could have answered one of the questions, that’s totally normal! You and everybody else make mistakes all the time.

Your role in a job interview is to sell yourself. You are simply highlighting some of your best traits or experiences. Yes, that means sometimes you will leave out less desirable things. Are you lying? No, you are marketing. A soft drink company does not tell you the acid in their drink can rot your teeth or your stomach lining. They tell you the drink tastes great and show you pictures of nice looking people having a good time. They highlight the positive features, just like you will do in an interview.

Try to take some pressure off of yourself. Yes, you will make mistakes in your interview and you may feel like you were talking about somebody else. But, so will everyone else that is competing for the same job. Hopefully, they will bring their mother to the interview with them … then they won’t stand a chance!

The Death of Administrative Positions

Death of administrative positions

It’s more than troublesome to see how many job seekers want to work in an office – without giving much thought to what the office actually does. I’m not talking about what office workers in an administrative capacity do; I’m talking about what the company and industry does. I suppose, however, these are now one-in-the-same. Administrative duties do exist, but they are part and parcel to other needed skills and knowledge required in the offices of 2017. Administration is no longer limited to answering phones, organizing meetings and making coffee.

As such, I have officially declared an end to all ‘general administrative’ positions! It’s official: there are no more office jobs and they have left the building. Or rather, the office jobs have left the office.

Here are 3 reasons why general administrative positions are dead (with thoughts on how to thrive and survive in this administrator-less economy).

1.) COMPANIES NEED ADMINISTRATIVE WORKERS WHO SPECIALIZE IN THE CORE PURSUITS OF A GIVEN INDUSTRY.

The era of slaving over the proper filing of files and redirecting phone calls is over. Don’t take my word for it – ask Former President Eisenhower’s personal secretary, instead. The mentality of 1950s/1960s “My Job Title = What I do” ended when those decades did. In 2017, it’s not enough to be competent in Excel and Word. You need to fully grasp and know what that industry is about before you apply for an administrative position within it. An administrative position in government will require you to know government programs and policies, as well as the specific government programs and databases that administer them. An applicant for an administrative position in an accounting office – not even in an accounting role – stands a better chance if they know QuickBooks. A SCUBA gear company would be better served by an administrative worker who knows what a buoyancy compensator is and so on.

2.) TOO MANY JOB SEEKERS BELIEVE THAT LIFE IN AN OFFICE IS EASIER. AS SUCH, THE NUMBER OF APPLICANTS OUTWEIGHS THE NUMBER OF POSITIONS AVAILABLE.

Nothing is ever easy and if that’s what you prefer, keep your expectations minimal. When general administrative positions do appear, they then disappear just as quickly as they were resurrected. There are more people looking for these positions than there are positions themselves. As such, the market is saturated with generalist job seekers and therefore the pay is often much less than what folks want. It stands to reason in an age where general computer use is the norm: companies will pay more for administrative personnel who specialize in areas specific to their industry and have the transferable skills and knowledge to do more than provide clerical support alone.

3.) IN THE AGE OF MULTI-SECTOR MULTI-TASKING, ADMINISTRATIVE PERSONNEL BARE THE BRUNT OF NEEDING TO BE AN EXPERT IN EVERYTHING A COMPANY AND INDUSTRY DOES.

Modern administrative personnel require not only the ability to efficiently process all of the technical aspects of an industry while simultaneously being the first point of contact to the public, but must also assist in the delivery of every aspect of an operation by connecting each part of that operation to each other. A good administrative officer must know how all the pieces fit together. One might be well advised to approach a cover letter and later an interview with the expectation that you are able to do this. Speak to these abilities rather than how fast you type.

Transformers magazine cover
The Transformers aren’t all dead, but those unwilling to adapt and transform as needed, could soon find their careers and office aspirations becoming extinct.

And you wanted to answer phones and make coffee…

The good news is: There are solutions and you most likely have them!

Résumés and cover letters need to target the specific industry and explain a greater depth to the position sought after. You might surprise yourself at all of the transferable experience and skills you have. If you understand that basic computer skills are not enough and that the position will require a great more depth, then you are already near the finish line! If administrative work is what you want, you’d be well advised to follow these four simple suggestions. (1) Research the company, (2) be ready to talk the talk of that industry, (3) understand the overall goals of the company, and (4) make your case as to how you could assist each different department in the role you’re applying to!

Sort of like a “Double-Double”. 😉

Jason Douglas Smith is a Training Application Coordinator with The Career Foundation, and has successfully directed clients in not only developing personalized job search strategy plans, but in circumnavigating the rigorous demands of applications for Provincially funded retraining. When not working, this self-professed Futurist can often be found reading, writing, and barbecuing in his native Burlington.   

4 Simple Steps to Explaining “Gaps” on your Résumé

Mind_the_Gap_TCF

There is no “right way” to explain a gap between positions on your résumé. It’s a roll-of-the-dice how an employer perceives that gap when they first see your résumé, and is as likely to be scrutinized and judged when they ask you about it in an interview. The key to surviving this “red flag” is keeping your answer honest, positive, and without reason for further discussion – which is ultimately more scrutiny.

1.  Start with a skills-based functional résumé!

These résumés can’t hide a gap, but they do lead with pertinent skills before revealing when and where you have worked.  The intent is to win the heart and mind of an employer by directly answering why the employer should hire you within the first half of the first page. With the emphasis on what you know and what you’ve done, the hope is that this is where your interview is focused. However, be prepared to deal with the gap in the interview.

2.  Positive and complementary activities between positions

Don’t pretend to be Superman undertaking Superman things unless you actually did save the world. Beware trying to over-compensate with larger-than-life illustrations as it may not convince the interviewer. Simple and real examples (if they are in fact real) are the easiest way to explain how you’ve been keeping busy while unemployed. Training and certifications are best. Volunteer initiatives or projects in the arts are great. Being a “Home Coordinator” is good. Travel is cool, too!

3.  If you’ve moved or recently immigrated, then welcome! (And use this to your advantage).

This is the best-case scenario. If you’ve relocated then use that. Complement it with positive experiences in your new location, the energy you’ve put into understanding and adapting to the local labour market, and your enthusiasm to be where you are now.

4.  Honesty with heroic doses of genuine sincerity

Some have used humour and some have simply said nothing, and the latter is as bad as chattering at great length on any topic not relevant to the position you’re applying for. If you must indicate the reason you were let go, then do so in the most positive way. This could entail referring to changes to the labour market and company restructuring; and while these aren’t necessarily positive, they can be communicated in a tone that demonstrates your genuine appreciation for your previous role and employer.

Keep your answer short and DO NOT provide any additional information that might raise suspicion from the employer. This leads to additional questions – none of which will be focused on what you could do for that company. Add a sincere “I’ve been actively job searching, and in a labour market as competitive as ours is, I trust you’ll understand why I’m so excited to be meeting with you today.”

Jason Douglas Smith is a Training Application Coordinator with The Career Foundation, and has successfully directed clients in not only developing personalized job search strategy plans, but in circumnavigating the rigorous demands of applications for Provincially funded retraining. When not working, this self-professed Futurist can often be found reading, writing, and barbecuing in his native Burlington.   

5 Benefits of Seasonal Contracts

Contract

With hiring season around the corner, the job market is booming with temporary and seasonal opportunities (particularly in manufacturing and production positions). Here at The Career Foundation, we’ve seen an ever-growing number of temporary positions cropping up as we roll into spring. In light of this, we decided it might be time to evaluate the many benefits of temporary and seasonal employment opportunities.

Let’s start with the most obvious benefit of seasonal contracts: The income.
Temp assignments can provide a good source of supplementary income alongside your primary job, or they can simply provide income while you search for opportunities more in line with your career goals. Either way, money is never a bad thing.

Temporary contracts can allow you to “test drive” a position without having to make any long-term commitments.
Perhaps you were thinking a certain field or job is right for you, but you wanted to try it out before committing to a full time, permanent position. If this is the case, a seasonal contract might be the right fit for you.

So, your test drive went well and you’d be interested in a longer-term commitment to the company?  You have a shot!
Well, consider it a good thing that a lot of companies offer temp-to-perm opportunities to their successful seasonal employees. In many cases, companies will offer permanent positions to employees who stood out (positively) during a seasonal contract. Don’t fool yourself into thinking you’re the only one doing a little test-driving – always be sure to go that “extra mile” so employers will want to keep you just as much as you want to stay!

Seasonal contracts can also be a good opportunity to update your skill set, while preventing any questionable gaps from popping up in your resume.
Even if the seasonal opportunity isn’t your ideal, more work experience ultimately leads to a robust resumé and – so long as you’re not crowding it with an abundance of three-month stints – this can be beneficial to your future job search endeavours. If you find you have way too many short-term jobs listed on your resumé, bulk them strategically under a separate “Freelance” or “Contract Work” section.

Temporary contracts give you an opportunity to network and make new contacts. Developing a broad range of professional contacts can be very important, so even in a temporary contract it’s important to conduct yourself in a professional and friendly manner. You never know when you might need someone to be a reference – or if you’re going to have to work with someone again. Thus, it’s always good to leave a positive impression, even if your working relationship is a short one.

Next time you’re considering passing up a job opportunity due to its seasonal nature, you might want to reconsider. Seasonal contracts can have all the perks of permanent positions (including good pay rates and sometimes even benefits packages – ooh la-la!), as well as some benefits that you just don’t get from a permanent gig. So don’t shy away from giving some of those seasonal roles you glazed over a second gander.

Kaily Schell is an Office Administrator and Customer Service Specialist with The Career Foundation. When she’s not streamlining agency records or supporting just about all of the foundation’s committees, she can be found nibbling rice cakes at her desk or chasing her colleagues for last-minute reports.

How do You Nail That Telephone Interview?

Think about how you answer the phone. Do you have a practiced opening or do you just simply use “hello”? Whatever your opening is, rest assured that employers are already evaluating. You may think that a telephone call is just to inform you of the where and when for an interview, but many times, employers are taking notes as well.

It is an unrealistic expectation for you to always be ready when picking up calls from unknown numbers, but here are a few tips that can help you win some points:

  • Answer the phone appropriately. This means “hello, _____ speaking” or just “hello”. No “sup”, or “yeah”, or “uh huh”. These little non-committed grunts are not professional and they are immediate turn offs for employers.
  • Don’t be pressing keys or doing other things on your cell phone. If your setting has not been customized, it is likely that the employer will hear whatever you’re doing or they’ll be bombarded with noises of consistent key pressing. Not professional.
  • Listen for the interviewer’s name and remember it. Also, ask the interviewer how they’re doing, this will show them that you are courteous and warm.
  • Really listen to the interviewer and let them finish their sentence before you jump in with your answer. Calm your nerves by practicing deep breathing.
  • It is also unrealistic to expect that you have your resume on you at all times, but it is advisable that you know your resume. Often, employers will ask you questions about your resume, knowing what they’re referring to will set you on the right path.

Does this mean that you’re always available for an employer no matter the date, time, or location? No. If you’re not available, then you’re not available. Instead of picking up a phone call when you know it’s going to be cut off, or if you were somewhere loud, then let it go to voicemail. No employer will appreciate repeating themselves again and again or being cut off abruptly.

On that note, it is also vital that you have a professional voicemail. State your name and ask them to call back; nothing with songs, or jokes, or obscure, inappropriate references that will only confuse employers and leave them wondering about your professionalism.

It is always preferable for you to make the first telephone appointment, but if you picked up an employer’s call and really could not carry on the conversation, just let the employer know. There is no need to come up with an excuse or tell them your life story to explain why you’re not available. Sometimes, just simply letting the employer know that you’re not at an ideal location and didn’t want the conversation to be interrupted will suffice. Reschedule for a later date and time, and make sure that you definitely will be able to make it.

Just remember that employers are screening candidates based on their telephone manners and the kind of first impression you give over the phone. Keeping in mind to be professional and courteous will help you along the way of landing that job!

Social Media and Job Search

With the increasing dependence on technology, mobile devices, and social media platforms, job search is a whole new game! In 2015, more people will use social media, mobile devices, and social media on mobile devices to look for their next position. In an age when technology is a must, employers and employees alike are exploring and researching potential candidates. Social media accounts could be what employers use to decide between two equally qualified candidates; at the same time, social media accounts could be why you’re still not getting any calls for interview!

The most important thing is to make sure that your social media accounts are presentable. Is there anything on there that makes you cringe? Then it’s probably time to take that down!

Look through your statuses and comments. Is there anything that’s grumpy or inappropriate? Maybe it’s a harmless “inside joke”, but how would it appear to an employer’s eyes? Looking through statuses and comments is an easy way for potential employers to find out a little bit more about what you are like in everyday life; therefore it is advisable to make sure that all public posts are monitored and polished.

Clean up your photos. They say a picture is worth a thousand words. What kind of story would an old, inappropriate photo tell the employer about you? If your friends are tagging you in incriminating photos, maybe it’s time to update your preferences so you won’t be tagged in an unwanted photo unknowingly.

What about the groups you’re in and the likes that you’ve added? Being part of a pro-active group could boost your eligibility in an employer’s eyes, but being part of a group that contradicts the position you’re applying for may hurt your chances of getting the job. Likewise, clean up the lists of things that you “like” or are “interested” in; for example, having alcohol as your all-time favorite thing in the world is probably not going to be favourable when you’re job searching.

And remember to check on everything that could link to you! Do you have an old Youtube account you forgot about? Or was there a blog that you started long ago so you could rant about your last job? You may have forgotten all about them, but the links you once posted are still there! Regardless of the age of the content, if it may raise eyebrows, then it is probably wise to close that chapter and remove that connection!

Or maybe you just don’t want employers looking at your social media at all! In that case, it’s time to up your settings and make everything as private as possible!

With that said, don’t be intimated by social media! In fact, if you use social media correctly, it could just be the perfect avenue for you to land that dream job! A perfect example of using social media to land a job is Nina Mufleh, whose application for AirBnB went viral after she posted it on Twitter: http://www.nina4airbnb.com/  Not to mention she promptly received an invitation for an interview!