We’ve all heard the expression: “Don’t sweat the small stuff, it’s all small stuff.” Great advice for those times in life when we let little things consume our attention, thus causing us to lose sight of the big picture. However, having interviewed and assisted thousands of military veterans seeking corporate positions, I have found that the competitive nature of the job search compels me to remind job seekers that small things can big things when a hiring manager has to decide between two well-qualified candidates. So let’s take a look at the top “small things” that are easy to fix and have the potential to make a big difference. I think you’ll find that no item is too small for me to describe.
1. Your outgoing voicemail message. I can’t tell you how many times I have been disappointed when reaching someone’s voicemail and hearing an outgoing message that leaves me thinking that person does not value my call. Think about it – if a potential employer calls you at a time when you are not available, you want them to hear a welcoming message. So some quick pointers:
- Make your message pleasant. I have called on individuals that are seeking a career in professional sales, but their voicemail message suggests they might want to consider a vocation that minimizes their contact with other humans. Example – [Gruff voice]: “This is Joe. Leave a message.” Your message doesn’t have to be cute or witty, just make it sound like you actually care about the incoming call.
- I discourage using the default message that your cellular company provides that just simply tells me the number I called. I am not calling a number! I am calling a real person. I want confidence that I am leaving a message with the intended person as opposed to a number that I may have copied incorrectly. I’m sorry, but sticking with the default message also hints that you are lazy.
- As a corollary to the last point, make sure your voicemail is actually set-up and the inbox is not full. I know times have changed and younger people rely on other means of communication such as texting, facebook, snapchat, etc. This point struck me when I tried to help a candidate after calling him and finding out that his voicemail wasn’t set up yet. When I notified him, what was his response? “Yeah, I know. If someone really wants me, they’ll text me.” He made me think like I was out of touch and didn’t understand that’s how everyone does it today. Maybe I’m just getting old, but there are still tons of dinosaurs like me that are hiring managers and they don’t have the nimble thumbs of a 20-something.
- Limit background noise. Find a quiet room – no dogs barking, no children crying, no wind rushing by.
2. Your odor. There are several degrees when it comes to smell.
- Annoying: Heavy perfume/cologne.
- Bad: Body odor.
- Worse: Cigarette smell.
- Worst: Using heavy perfume/cologne to disguise body odor or cigarette smell.
Keep in mind that even if you don’t smoke while wearing your interviewing clothes, if they mix with clothes that do in your suitcase or closet, they can easily pick up the smell, much like second hand smoke. If you have multiple interviews in one day, attempt to freshen up in between.
3. Your handshake. We all know to go for a firm handshake, neither a limp noodle nor bone-crushing. But have you ever really deliberately practiced your handshake with both men and women to perfect it? If not, it’s a good idea.
4. Your LinkedIn Photo. LinkedIn can be a valuable tool on multiple levels when searching for a career. You should anticipate that most employers will look you up on LinkedIn. Therefore, you should take care in selecting a nice photo for your profile. While it doesn’t have to be a professional portrait, those profiles with a high quality photo definitely stand out from the crowd. Frequent issues I have seen with profile photos:
- Not smiling and overly serious.
- Unkempt clothing (loose or wrinkled shirt, poorly tied tie, etc.). Wearing a suit is nice, but make it business casual as an absolute minimum. Military folks: get rid of the uniform.
- Shadows and poor lighting
- Low resolution / blurry
- Stretched (proportions out of whack)
- Unprofessional pose / setting
- Background “noise” or clutter
- “Glam” shot or a “poser” – my favorite is the guy with the whimsical stare off in the distance!
5. Typos in Resume. With today’s technology there is little excuse for this mistake. While an automated spell check isn’t a catch all, I’m amazed at the issues I have seen that would have been easily caught by a computer’s built in spell-check. Of course, never rely on just the computer. When proofing your resume, it’s best to do it from a printed version instead of on the computer screen. A technique I learned from an expert proofreader is to read the resume from the bottom to the top and from right to left. It’s tedious, but doing so makes spelling and other mistakes stand out more.
6. Immature Language. The interview process is important on so many levels. It’s not simply an opportunity to highlight your achievements and goals. It’s also an opportunity to show your language skills and how well you may fit into the company’s culture. As such, your language and word choice should reflect you as a career minded professional. That doesn’t mean you have to impress the interviewer with a sophisticated vocabulary, but being overly casual in your word choice can set you apart in a negative way.
- Avoid words that denote lack of maturity. Examples: cool, yeah, you know, like, kinda, dude
- We all know to avoid profanity, but even mildest forms are a warning sign to an employer. I remember an HR manager put off when a candidate described a new piece of equipment as “sexy.”
7. Your tie. This comment is naturally geared more toward men. There is no shame if you never learned to tie a tie correctly. But that’s the beauty of YouTube where videos abound on subjects like how to tie a half Windsor knot . And while you are at it, make sure your shirt fits well (not too loose in the neck or choking you) and that it is well pressed.
8. Your suit. Rookie mistake: make sure to remove all of the labels and use a seam ripper to remove the tack stitches from the jacket’s vents. Do this very carefully to ensure you don’t actually rip the fabric or neighboring threads. Also, keep the bottom button undone. When sitting down, unbutton the rest to prevent the suit from riding up. As silly as it sounds, you should practice sitting and standing in your suit so that it comes naturally when you do it.
9. Your email address. Use a professional sounding and easily identifiable email address, hopefully one that contains your first and last name. If you have a personal email address that is quirky or amateurish, then do not use it for career search purposes. Also, do not use your work email address because it indicates that you are using your employer’s resources (email account) to find a new job. We feel the same way for military email addresses. Never bothered to obtain a civilian email address? Don’t be stubborn – get one.
10. Not taking your phone interview seriously. I have done several telephonic interviews where it was clear that the other person wasn’t giving me their full attention. Maybe they were doing the dishes, feeding the dog, tending to children, or just simply wondering around their home to unleash nervous energy. No matter how hard your try, all of those activities are very noticeable to the person on the other end.
11. Your smile. I’m saving perhaps the most important for last. As I look back on the best interviews I’ve conducted, a common denominator has been the smile of the interviewee. I get it — we weren’t all born with an award-winning smile suitable for a toothpaste commercial. Nonetheless, a smile can be the most infectious habit there is. If you smile, it causes me to smile. If I smile, I feel good. If I feel good, I’m more likely to overlook all of the other small things.