People don’t like conflict. I don’t either. Hate it. Makes me cringe cringe cringe.
The one exception: When avoidance of an awkward conversation is actually hurting the other person because they aren’t given the benefit of the straight talk to have a teachable moment and learn and grow and change and be better equipped To Get a Job.
So, here are a few things that I’ve heard hiring managers grumble about — but not want to say directly to candidates. I hope it helps.
1. If you TELL SOMEONE you’re going to do something that involves them and then you don’t (or just pretend like a request or a promise or an assignment never happened), you will never be taken seriously.
Sure, you can get away with it at a certain level in your career. But if you are starting out and building a new relationship and you make a promise or an offer or ask if you can write something and then don’t — even if it’s a small thing — and then you just don’t follow through, you’ve just made a lasting impression in someone else’s mind that will be permanent. That you are a flake.
Which IS NOT to say if you do screw up that you then need to send a million apologetic emails that are burdensome and require the other person to reply to those. Just follow through or say when you can’t. Same thing with errors. Just show your awareness. Always. If you seem oblivious and flaky and inconsistent and like you avoid reality to avoid owning up to your errors, none of these are good qualities.
(And for the love of all that is good in the world, keep all your emails short. Long emails are a burden. Short is powerful. Don’t keep initiating interaction with a hiring manager with open-ended questions. Work is not a dating situation where you want to keep it going. Respect someone else’s time who is in a hiring position at all costs.)
Just remember: Every interaction is a shit test when you are just beginning a professional relationship with a hiring manager. A small bit of flakiness is shorthand for your longterm worth as a potential employee. If you are flaking at this early stage of the game, what would you do when you’re actually comfortable?
2. If you are sloppy and make typos in what you are emailing, you will never be taken seriously.
Do you know what spelling errors or not knowing the difference between “its” and “it’s” is shorthand for? That it’s actually hard for you to be literate. That it requires extra effort on your part. That it doesn’t come naturally. This is not a good look if your job has anything to do with written communication.
3. If you “waste favors,” you are communicating that you don’t prioritize well.
Here’s a hypothetical. Say a Powerful Fashion Editor is your mom’s best friend. She could do HUGE things for you if she thinks you’re worthy of that trust and recommendation — and essentially, placing her reputation on the line for you. Obviously, she is also very hooked up IN GENERAL. She can probably get into any fashion show or restaurant in New York.
So let’s look at this. How do you approach this relationship? If your answer is not “very carefully,” you are treading in very dangerous relationship obliterating territory.
I have seen so many times people “waste their favors” with powerful people (the mooch who asks for a freebie to a nightclub again and again until the owner just stops responding — and honestly, the owner could have done much more important, meaningful and long-lasting things than just a comped admission, except now the mooch has blown it and looks like a pesty gnat because a FAVOR is never a way to BUILD a relationship, it’s just a favor).
So instead of being very, very, VERY delicate with a relationship like this, the mooch bothers the person with requests for completely unimportant things. Like, in my initial hypothetical, what if you then asked if a Powerful Fashion Editor could get you into a fashion show. Really? That’s how you want to play it? She might be willing to make that happen, but keep in mind, she will most likely never take the time to hook you up for far more helpful requests — like giving you a recommendation for a job. Don’t waste your favors or make yourself look bad. It’s like the Todd Barry joke about fans emailing him for directions to the show. Or the David Cross joke about the industry friends who will do whatever they can to avoid having to pay for $25 tickets to a show.
In every interaction you have with someone, you are showing how you value their time, and if you are willing to make adjustments in your own comfort level so that their needs are prioritized.
Ask yourself: Do I make someone’s life easier or more stressful?
Really answer that when it comes to people who you are seeking jobs from.
There definitely ARE appropriate points in your career when you’ve earned your laurels and being vague or writing typo-laden emails is excusable because of the skill set you are bringing to the table — but when you are starting out and have not proven your worth, it is not a smart move.
4. If you take forever to write back when an employer expresses interest, you are communicating that you are not a speedy worker or at the very least, don’t care about giving this impression.
I’ve introduced several candidates to people in hiring positions. If they take a full day to reply with their resume and their interest, I die a little inside. In the age of Twitter, how the hell do you expect this to impress anyone? I’m all for being offline and not addicted to technology, but when you’re in a position where you want to be hired, show your speed — or you are effectively showing your slowness.
5. Speaking of the age of Twitter, depending on the job you are searching for, many jobs nowadays seek a strong presence online.
Buzzfeed actually includes an “established social media presence” in its job descriptions. Other companies use Klout scores in their decisions to hire. Do you know what yours is? Mine has recently hit 82, the same as comic TJ Miller and journalist Kurt Andersen, a metric which I recently included in a bio for a press trip to show my appeal as an influencer to go on a trip to Morocco. This number alone is far more powerful than any flowery language I might include. Employers love stats, from traffic growth to Twitter followers to budget tightening. Showing your worth with metrics not only demonstrates a knowledge of said metrics but that you are savvy and hard science rather than goopy and amorphous in your promises and professions of greatness. Here are a few ways to increase your Klout if this interests.
And it goes without saying: If your industry values discretion and extreme under-the-radar-ness, then having a strong presence online is a terrible idea. If you aren’t sure which is the case for your industry, ask a leader or mentor in the field. They will know.
6. Always say thank you and demonstrate gratitude right away.
Do you know what makes people want to help you find a job or even hire you or do continual favors for you? Gratitude. Entitlement is the death knell of the hiring process. Are you one of those people whose way to deal with the world is to show that you can fit in immediately and you make jokes like, “That corner office will be mine pretty soon.” Unless you are doing a Ricky Gervais bit, this is not so smart. Humility and gratitude will not only probably make you happier, but it will also help you in your career. Even better? Humility and gratitude even when the circumstances aren’t always the most fun.
Do you know what is truly impressive? If you don’t get a job or opportunity, but you write the thank-you-letter regardless — and you are sincere.
It makes me cringe to think of a few young people I know who have proceeded to “tell off” someone who didn’t hook them up with a job. Good lord. It’s a small world. Be classy. Be the bigger guy. Show that you can take it.
7. If someone invites you to a party to network, recognize when it’s a hookup — and be grateful.
When I know people are searching for jobs and I want to help them, I try to extend invitations where they can meet people. If you don’t come to events like this because you want to go out and party at the bars, God bless you, but I’m not going to waste my time listening the next time you opine about how hard it is to find a job. I already extended you a hookup and you couldn’t even be bothered to show up because it might cut into your party time. What would you be like as an employee?
8. Don’t be a helpless flop.
Do you project sad-sackness? Do you have a sob story of what’s gone wrong? Job interviews and networking aren’t the time to get into it. Do you hate yourself so much that you radiate poor self-esteem and say things like, “Well I was late. Story of my life!” Well, hell, if you hate yourself this much, why would someone want to hire you? Your employer isn’t looking to fix or save you. They’re looking to be supported. In every communication make it clear that you are someone who makes people’s lives easier. Don’t freak out. Be calm. Show that you can anticipate and prioritize and get it done. Everything is chill.
9. Be tech literate.
This is more on the level of “don’t be helpless.” I’m 37, not 17 or 27, ages where tech literacy is much higher and comes easier. I spend outside time on Lynda.com to make myself literate and more efficient. Show initiative. Figure it out. Google it. YouTube it. You’re only helpless if you think you are. Make a to-do list. You can do this.
10. Be aware of the impression you make.
Are you posting a bunch of crap and liking everything in sight on Instagram and Facebook and Twitter but not meeting important goals? Do you worry too much about trying to best-friend someone rather than impress them professionally? Don’t make the mistake of thinking that someone who is in a hiring mode wants friends. They don’t. They want a friendly beneficial working relationship. They want you to follow through on your work — not for you to write some comment on their Facebook. Does that make sense? Care about the important deliverables, not in fudging the fact that you haven’t delivered with some friend-check social media move.
These are my 10 brutal commandments. What am I missing? I sure know I could have used it when I was younger instead of people who hurt me more than they helped me by blanketing me in “niceness.”