Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Job Hunting Tips!

I may have mentioned that I'm taking night classes. The goal is to achieve my Human Resources Management certificate, which will then lead to fame and fortune...or at the least another step in my career path. I'm not quite sure why I have a career path, because it doesn't feel like a "me" thing...I'm a bit too sketchy and disorganised. Until now I've mostly had a career meander, but since 2012 is the year of "Get 'er done," career path it is!

Last night we discussed recruitment and selection, which is an area that's interesting to me, especially the selection part. I have a hunch that I might be good at that, so I'm interested in learning more. One of the things that interests me about selection is that to be good at it, to be able to discern the best fit for a position based on very little evidence, you need to overcome your own bias and be able to analyze and weigh data appropriately.

We discussed some types of bias, like the "Halo/Devil Effect", where one event or characteristic colours the interviewer's perception of the entire candidate. For example, if the person I'm interviewing went to my old high school, and I have fond memories of my old high school, I may ignore evidence that demonstrates the candidate is not a good fit and focus only on the good stuff. Or the bad stuff if I hated high school. I think I actually suffered from this the first time I had a chance to interview people for a position a few years ago: one of the two candidates gave a good interview, but he made one comment that made him appear lazy, even though it was clear to me that he was not lazy. Just the way that he phrased it rubbed me the wrong way, and I used that gut feeling to convince myself this candidate was not right for the job. The person we hired was a disaster, though, and I wish I'd done my part in the process differently.

We talked about other things in this vein, some of it I remember from my old psych courses, like the primacy and recency effects, where the first and last people that you interview in a day tend to be the most memorable, and the comparison fallacy, where we tend to compare candidates to each other rather than to the requirements of the job, which could lead you to make a bad hire just because a mediocre interview happened to follow a string of bad interviews and so seemed great by comparison.

One of the principles of an interview method we talked about (behaviour-based interviewing) that I really liked was the idea of seeking contrary evidence, where the interviewer becomes aware of an assumption or conclusion they've made about the candidate, and intentionally looks for examples that contradict it. Say, for example, I'm interviewing someone and I start to suspect that they have a problem with following process. Instead of asking questions to confirm this idea, I should be asking questions to probe for evidence of when they did follow process. The idea is to not let my own biases guide the interview, which could pigeonhole a candidate and give me a one-sided picture of their abilities.

It's early days yet, but if I were to specialize in diversity under the HR banner, selection would be a great place to start. Last year I read a book by Anthony Stewart, You Must Be A Basketball Player, about racism and prejudice in academia, and it discussed a few of the ways that our own processes and systems in our institutions can help to support bias, which leads to universities with entirely white Humanities departments, even in communities and populations where you might expect - all things considered equal - a higher proportion of people of colour. How we select people in the job interview process is certainly one of the areas that hidden biases can have a real, negative impact on peoples' lives, especially minorities of all stripes. I believe that skepticism is a valuable tool in fighting social inequality, so it's interesting to see some of these concepts being used in the hiring process.

BUT you aren't reading this post for my musings on bias and selection! You are reading it because it says "Job Hunting Tips!" in the subject heading! And I put that there, because the last half hour of our class was dedicated to the instructer giving us tips on how to pursue a position ourselves! Most of this is somewhat common sense, but it's always useful as a refresher.

First, the resume: the resume should not be too long (less than 3 pages), should be HONEST, and should have absolutely no mistakes. I've been guilty of the occasional typo, so let someone proofread your resume.

Second, the cover letter: the cover letter should address the position, and include specific examples. So, if the job posting says "looking for people with strong organisational skills", include your abilities to organise in the letter and provide an example of how you've used those skills at work (eg "I redesigned our filing system to improve efficiency" or what have you). Bonus points go to cover letters who show that the candidate is familiar with the company and has actually done some research.

Which leads to the interview. The biggest tip? Be prepared! Look up the company on the internet, look at its web site, look for recent news articles about accomplishments and achievements. From the job posting, try to anticipate the types of questions you'll be asked, and again, have specific examples of situations to demonstrate key skills. Practice answering these questions with a partner.

At the interview itself, keep your hands free: playing with a pen, keys, etc, can be a distraction. If offered coffee or water, you may want to decline, because if you're nervous, you might spill. If it's a panel interview, make sure you're making eye contact with each of the interviewers, even when they are not the one asking the question. If you're the sort to take notes, keep in mind that having your head buried in your notebook during an interview could leave the wrong impression. Keep your hands dry so as to give a good handshake! And dress one notch above what you expect to be wearing to work in this position. For a business casual-type environment, for example, I would dress in my best work-wear, and would wear a tie and blazer, even if that's slightly more put-together than I would be required if and when I start the job.

After the interview, you can send a thank you note, but play this carefully. It should be brief and to the point, and isn't an opportunity to "do-over" questions you think you flubbed. Oh, and WARN YOUR REFERENCES, let them know that you are interviewing, for what positions, and what skills you'd like them to highlight.

Simple, eh?

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