Monday, March 2, 2009

Professionalism and Your Job Search

Careerbuilder is a great source for advice on your job search. Today they posted this great article.

Job Search No Place for Emoticons and Texting
Casual communication can hurt your chances
By Rachel Zupek, writer

"Hi! My name is Bob and I am a 22-year-old college dropout. ONE DAY YOU WILL BE REALLY UPSET WITH YOURSELF IF YOU DON'T SOLICIT MY SERVICES. I say that with the utmost humility ... I will be a marketing legend, but no one wants to listen now because I don't have a degree. That's fine. Just read this (see attachment) on your lunch break. And this is one of many."

Tracy Cote, executive director of talent at Organic Inc., a digital marketing company, received this letter from a job seeker and says it's the perfect example of a candidate who clearly did not consider his audience before applying for a job.

"Job hunters seem to be more casual now than in the past ... we all know we get better information from someone if we put them at ease," she says. "But, this opens the door to the inevitable too much information."

Hiring managers and recruiters like Cote agree that things like emoticons, text message lingo, instant message abbreviations, and even social networking friend requests are all part of a growing trend among job seekers: extremely lax communication.

"More and more job seekers these days are erring on the side of casual communication. The handwritten thank-you note [is] replaced by a short thank-you e-mail, often with typos," says Ashley Houston, director of recruitment for Constituency Management Group. "Job seekers are also relaxing their nonverbal communication, and this is represented in the way they dress, carry and conduct themselves in an interview. Of course it is nice to see a confident, relaxed candidate, but the candidates that come polished, professional and prepared are the ones that are going to impress."

Sarabeth McAuliffe, a corporate office manager for Family Credit Management Services, has interviewed thousands of candidates and has seen countless displays of informal communication in the application process.

"I have received handwritten cover letters, pink résumés and applications full of information far too personal to be sharing with a prospective employer. I had one candidate who drew smiley faces next to the employers on her application that she liked and sad faces next to the ones she didn't," she says. "These materials are the equivalent to a candidate wearing a shirt with a cartoon character on it to their interview -- which I have [also] had happen. How can I take that person seriously?"

A cultural divide
Some wonder if these informal faux pas are a generational issue. While people of all ages are capable of such behavior, younger generations are usually the guilty party.

"The Millennials are the most casual generation ever. Raised on a diet of text messaging, social networking and e-mail, their super-relaxed style of communication often baffles older professionals," says Mike Song, e-mail etiquette speaker and author of "The Hamster Revolution: How to Manage Your E-mail Before It Manages You."

Other experts argue that, in fact, older professionals are blameworthy, too.

"At this point, even my mother uses LOL and OMG, so I don't think we can say it's a generational issue," Cote says. "In fact, more mature candidates may actually be inclined to be more casual just to show how hip they are, while the younger candidates are still feeling out the interview game and are actually a little more cautious."

Candidacy killer
No matter how old you are, experts agree that casual communication like emoticons, text message lingo or even a thank-you note sent from your BlackBerry are sure-fire ways to destroy your chances of landing that coveted position.

"Emoticons just don't fit into the [job search] equation -- nor do abbreviated thoughts, acronyms or other text-message-type lingo," Houston says. "You can still be creative and unique with complete sentences.

Song agrees that applicants who are too laid-back in their communication are asking for rejection. He remembers one young woman whom he was about to hire -- until he received a thank-you note riddled with the sideways, smiling and winking emoticon.

"That, combined with an odd comment [during her interview] about liking the gel in my hair, made me wonder if she would be too forward or relaxed with colleagues and clients. I passed on her otherwise outstanding application," he says.

Outstanding application or not, you'll give off the wrong impression by using inappropriate messaging on your résumé, cover letter or thank-you note.

"[It's] like showing up in jeans and a T-shirt for an executive interview," Song says. "It screams out 'I'm not serious.'"

Houston says when she receives an application with casual communication, she can't help but think that the candidate doesn't have even entry-level business acumen.

"[It] makes me think that I will need to spend extra time with this candidate in order to get their communication and writing style up to speed," she says.

Thnk me l8tr
Are you obsessed with texting, emoticons and other casual communication? Here are a few tips from our experts to keep your habit under control in your job search:

  • Avoid it altogether
    "There is a time and place for text message lingo and emoticons, and corresponding back and forth with a potential employer is not one of them," Houston says. "Construct thoughtful and eloquent sentences and back up this verbal communication with a confident, polished and professional personal presentation."

  • Don't treat recruiters like your friend
    At the end of the day, recruiters are recruiters, not your friends, Cote says. Save the LOLs and happy faces for someone who is.

  • Play it safe
    You have no idea what hiring managers find charming and what they find annoying, McAuliffe says. In the job search, it's always better to stick to a professional representation of yourself.

  • If you have to ask yourself, 'Should I?' ... then you probably shouldn't
    This is true for most things, but especially in a job search, Cote says. "It is always smart to put your best foot forward, and that includes showing that you know how to write without using abbreviations and happy faces."

  • Actions speak louder -- and more professionally -- than emoticons
    "If you want to convey a happy and upbeat personality, use words and actions instead of font colors and symbols," McAuliffe says. "In your cover letter, tell the interviewer how excited you are to be considered for a position at their organization and how passionately you feel about the industry. If you get an interview, give a firm handshake, make eye contact and smile."

    Rachel Zupek is a writer and blogger for She researches and writes about job search strategy, career management, hiring trends and workplace issues.