An edge for discouraged job seekers

Q. I'm in my 20s and I'm discouraged about how to give myself any advantage in such a competitive tough job market. Are there strategies you recommend to clients who are struggling to get the attention of potential employers?

A. Yes, surprisingly the most powerful strategies involve old-fashioned courtesy, social skills and, perhaps most important, integrity and responsibility. If you can demonstrate these behaviors, you'll make yourself absolutely stand out in any crowd of job applicants.

Here are some of my top tips on getting the attention of your future boss:

--The latest you should be for any appointment (phone or in person) is 5 minutes early. Your punctuality expresses respect, enthusiasm, and a willingness to work hard.

--Write a hand-written thank you note after any interview. You would be shocked at how few applicants ever express gratitude for an employer's time.

--Make certain that if you commit to doing anything for a potential employer, you do exactly what you told him or her you would do. Call at exactly the minute you said, get the resume changed with exactly the information requested, and bring exactly what the future employer asks for to the interview.

--Do not spend any time letting the employer know what they can do for you. An interview is where you get to prove you can solve the problems of the organization considering paying you. They will be underwhelmed if you use your time to let them know what you believe you are entitled to.

--Listen surgically to find out where the pain is for your future boss or organization. Make it clear you have the skills to fix this pain. Many job applicants are so nervous about impressing the interview committee they fail to hear the problem the company needs them to resolve.

Surprisingly, looking people in the eye, smiling, dressing well, and all those things your mother told you to do are becoming rare in corporate America. The younger you are -- the more infrequent it is that job candidates use these skills.

Some job candidates may even decide an interview is a good place to express individuality. Employers know quirky people are often high maintenance and no employer is seeking to hire a high-maintenance employee. You can wear pink hair and nose rings when you leave work. You can wear pink hair and nose rings once you own the company. In the middle, you need to look like you fit in if you want the best job opportunities.

During a lengthy search, people can feel that looking for a job is a useless maze of self-esteem hell. To counterbalance your pain about your job search, remember that employers really are desperate to find someone who can do an excellent job.

Employers often feel despair that they will find anyone who can show up on time, do what they say, and work hard. You may think these simple attributes can't possibly be enough to make you stand out but if you talked to employers you'd be surprised how many candidates don't hit this "normal" employment bar.

A last golden piece of advice is to get skilled at repeating back what job interviewers say to you. Very few people in corporate America have the experience of knowing anyone who intently listens to what they say. Very few people in the world can resist liking a skilled listener. During the interview, take the time to summarize in your own words what you hear the interviewer saying and you will have a fan for life!

The last word(s)

Q. Don't people who blow up at work realize acting like a jerk may wreck their career?

A. Yes, but they are more afraid of taking responsibility for fixing what they are mad about than alienating people at work.

(Daneen Skube, Ph.D., executive coach, trainer, therapist and speaker, also appears as the FOX Channel's "Workplace Guru" each Monday morning. She's the author of "Interpersonal Edge: Breakthrough Tools for Talking to Anyone, Anywhere, About Anything" (Hay House, 2006). You can contact Dr. Skube at http://www.interpersonaledge.com or 1420 NW Gilman Blvd., #2845, Issaquah, WA 98027. Sorry, no personal replies.)

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