As a job developer/job coach over the past five years with JVS Toronto’s newcomer employment program, I have placed over 200 internationally trained professionals in our 2 month unpaid coop placement program. Based on my observations and experience, I have identified the following seven criteria for employers to create a successful internship program that align with Nathan Parcelis’ (June 2014) insightful article on Seven Habits of Highly Effective Intern Programs:
We are excited to have a guest post from a JVS Manager, Petra Kukacka, who shares her unique perspective, as an employer. Welcome, and thank you, Petra — we know this will be very useful to our readers.
So, you are looking for a job, and I am looking to hire. It seems we have something in common. Even if you were a plumber and I ran a dog training company, we could still learn from one another’s experience on opposite ends of the spectrum where you are seeking and I am hiring. Unfortunately, we seldom get the chance to meet and share our experiences, which is unfortunate; I can’t help but feel that, as a result, we both miss out.
As a job seeker, you are probably constantly hearing advice and opinions about how to go about the job search. Network, social media, action words, customized resumes, personnel/ employer/ labour market research, follow-up calls… it is a full-time job.
When I was a job-seeker myself, not long ago, I remember that it was not just a full-time job. It was one of the hardest jobs that I had ever done and will likely ever do. It comes with serious occupational hazards attached to it like anxiety and stress associated with a lot of uncertainty, not the least of which is the uncertainty around what the ‘other side’ (that is, employers) is thinking.
Today, as someone who works alongside a team of professionals to make hiring and staffing decisions, I often think “if I had known then what I know now”, some of the anxiety wrapped up in the job search could have been avoided.
So what exactly do I know now that I didn’t know then? It’s simple: employers are under pressure to make good decisions. This means that they are vulnerable and, while it can’t be compared to the vulnerability or pressures experienced by job-seekers, it helps to know that the ‘other side’ doesn’t have the entire upper hand. Consider that the employer is putting effort into the search, as well, from beginning to end. If we don’t, we get a pool of candidates who do not fit the needs of the job and we land back at square one, having wasted time and effort. In the non-profit sector, where I work, line managers are often shouldering the bulk of the responsibility for developing and issuing the posting, setting up accounts to receive applications, screening applications, calling prospective candidates, pre-screening, preparing interviews, assembling an interview team, consulting with HR to stay updated on protocols, and performing the interviews. This, while maintaining operations in short-staffed situations.
Given the amount of work that is involved, it is no wonder that the stakes are high. Let’s look at some examples of how you might take advantage of this situation by doing some myth-busting:
MYTH #1: Employers these days have the pick of the crop
The notion of a candidate who stands out head and shoulders above the rest is outdated. I have yet to come across a candidate that satisfies the vision in my mind of an ideal employee. That is not to say that I have bad employees — quite the opposite. Rather, this is due to the fact that jobs are evolving and workers are often asked to take on more responsibility for different aspects of a role or project. This might mean sharing different task areas like communication, administration, budgeting, evaluation, data entry and operations. In such an environment, it is hard to nail the ‘ideal’; for example, some employers might emphasize team work and communication over certain skills, or education/training. I don’t want to imply that meeting requirements is not important, of course it is, but don’t hesitate to highlight other ways that you might contribute to a position, team or an organization. Look for your niche — try to find your edge which makes you uniquely interesting to an employer.
MYTH #2: There is too much competition, what’s the point?
Related to this, and reinforced through statistics, is the going notion that work is scarce and that we are flirting with a recession. The implication is that the market is over-saturated and competition is fierce. From my experience, I would agree that competition is fierce, but all that means is that the race is more difficult to ‘call’. The way to exploit this and create an edge is to focus your candidacy on the one or two solid credentials you have that really set you apart. The outcomes of these ‘races’ today are rarely black-and-white. Imagine that decisions are being made based on photo-finishes rather than the clear victory of a front-runner lapping their opponents. This is probably where candidates falter the most – they believe that they are competing with the perfect candidate and cling to the hope that their edge rests on the perfect candidate just coming off the flu and unable to remember past employment history due to fatigue and exhaustion.
I never seek someone who is perfect; instead, I always look for someone I can work with and who can work with my team. Because of the pressure I am under, I have put the time and research into selecting one candidate and have faith that they likely have what it takes to do the job. Seek out activities that help you build confidence and try to focus on what particular and specific qualities you will bring to the position. Confidence will be your greatest asset, in that neck-and-neck final stage of the competition.
MYTH #3: Employers spend seconds on your resumes
It is a myth that employers spend mere seconds with resumes. Sometimes, in rare situations, we agonize and um and ah for days over a single applicant. Consider that, after quickly weeding out those whose skills or experience don’t match the requirements (usually at least 50% of applicants), the second and third rounds of review are quite careful. What we are doing during those rounds is not looking for flaws, but rather looking for potential.
So, please know that candidates are never invited to interview on a whim. A lot of time, thought and energy has gone into a careful selection process. So if you get the interview, it’s yours to lose. Interviews may be intimidating, but in a way, the employer is already in your corner.
MYTH #4: Employers have already decided candidates before the interview starts
This couldn’t be further from the truth. As I just described, I have spent hours examining different candidates, to try figure out who I want to meet or follow-up with. Indeed, the interview is where candidates win and lose. I don’t want to put undue pressure on readers out there, but I have also run into far too many candidates who squander their opportunities when called for the interview. Think of it this way: if you spent agonizing hours preparing your resume, you should probably spend at least two times more preparing for the interview. What you should know is that the employer has probably spent some time working up an image of you in their head, they may have even done some research on you, but most certainly they gave enough care and consideration to warrant asking you to come in. So, while resumes are important, interviews are more so and you must not overlook preparing for them.
Employers know when you haven’t prepared, when you haven’t put the thought in or done your research. Preparing can include visualizing, talking to yourself, talking to others to test your knowledge and assumptions. See if you can carry a conversation about the position, the nature of the work that is required, and try answering questions that you think someone in the job might need to be able to answer. Put yourself in the shoes of the new employee for that position – then (and only then) have you begun to prepare. Polish how you represent yourself. Preparing requires research, practice, and taking a genuine interest in the work and the employer: what is their history, what makes them unique, what sets them apart from their own competition? You should be able to recite this off the top of your head. Many candidates are quite adept at doing this to produce winning resumes and cover-letters, but I can count on one hand the amount of times I have seen that preparation follow through to the interview stage.
MYTH #5: Interviews are no fun
OK – this isn’t entirely a myth, the interview format is extremely unfortunate because it makes it so difficult to cut through and get to know a person. Nevertheless, if you can approach the interview in a way that ‘makes it your own’, employers will pick up on this. If you have to do something unpleasant, the fact remains that you have to do it, so find out how to own it. It’s not a party, but if you can inject some enjoyment into it, your positive attitude will shine through and that counts for a lot.
These are some common myths and observations, based on my personal experience. For the most part, myths hold people back. I hope sharing these perspectives will help you to become the candidate with an edge and that it will help to put you at someone’s door. Who knows, maybe it will be mine and we will get a chance to meet, after all.
Petra Kukacka is a Manager with the Local Immigration Partnership at JVS Toronto