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I used to work at an agency that helped unemployed adults get back to work.  Recently, I remembered a co-worker and I laughing uproariously with a client over a comment she made.

The client was trying to get a job at a well-known coffee shop.  She’d just come back from an interview and was telling us how ridiculously difficult the application process was.  She was frustrated and surprised because she was not looking for an upper management position.  She wanted to get a job behind the counter, making coffee and working the cash register.  Why was the employer being so demanding in terms of education, experience, and skills?  “It’s just coffee!” she exclaimed.

In this campaign season, much is being said about the income gap.  Less is said about employers imposing unreasonably high standards upon job applicants.  Employers forget that they’re just trying to hire a worker, not get married.

As you watch the candidates and come to a decision, it’s something to think about.

Rhonda Harrison has just completed her studies at CUNY SPS to earn her post-graduate certificate in Adult Learning & Program Design. She is a social worker with a background in workforce development and currently works as an Advisor at a community college.

“It’s a bad economy.”

“We’re in a recession.”

“You gotta take what you can get.”

“Nobody is hiring anymore.”

“Those old jobs are not coming back.”

We are hearing a lot of negativity about the job market these days. The fact that the unemployment rate is hovering around 9% nationwide is not helping our general lack of optimism. While a 2010 map of unemployment shows a more reasonable unemployment rate of 2.8% for Billings Country, North Dakota, it shows a much more chilling realization for Imperial County, California where the unemployment rate was 27.6%. As anyone will tell you, this is an animal we’ve never seen before, and most of us are not quite sure how to deal with it.

In May, an article was published about the new rules for the job interview. I found these rules such as “research, research, research” and “ask questions” to be somewhat refreshing. Many of the online articles that give advice such as “always write a thank you note”, is somewhat dated and doesn’t work in every case. I’ve also discovered that these articles have gotten so many hits, that it seems everyone is taking this advice. If everyone is using the same advice, you can no longer fully distinguish yourself. If the employer can’t remember you, then why hire you?

I am not pretending to be an expert on the job interview process, but I do have some insights that I picked up during my own search. Hopefully, these “rules” will be useful to some of you.

There Are No “Rules” For Every Job Search

This one is pretty hard to swallow. Most people just want to know what to do and how to do it. There are no hard and fast rules. Every industry is different and every company is different. Sometimes the hiring managers have the final say, and sometimes it is human resources. The person reviewing your work may not necessarily know the exact qualifications needed for the job and how to screen them. Some hiring managers appreciate thank you notes and some have no time to read them. Some allow follow-up phone calls and some prefer email. Your best bet is do to as much research as you can, and use networking sites such as LinkedIn to learn more about the company as well as the kinds of people that they normally hire. Are you similar to the typically hired employee? Does the company value diversity in interests and education? It is your job to find out these small details and make them work for you. It could give you an advantage over someone else who does not know these little bits of information.

Grammar and Tone Speak Volumes

Everyone knows that a well written cover letter and resume will help you not get disqualified as easily as poorly-written ones. Hiring managers get hundreds, sometimes thousands of applications for a single position. Having documents that are not perfect will work against you. However, many people forget about the tone that they use when write cover letters. Your voice and personality can really shine through when you use the correct words. Syntax and semantics can also reveal a lot about you. Do you write as if you are confident or entitled? Are you apologetic for circumstances in your work history or ready to prove yourself? These are subtle differences that can make all the difference in how you are perceived by a hiring manager. Be careful with your written language.

Don’t Fool Yourself Into Thinking Interviews Are A Simple Process

So you landed an interview. Fantastic! Your work is not done. Depending on the industry and the amount of applications you may be subject to multiple interviews. This could be a good thing or a bad thing. It could indicate that they really want you or it could mean that they have several close candidates and they are unsure of who to pick. I was recently subjected to four interviews with nine different people over the course of several weeks. No one can tell you whether you should keep granting a company interviews or give up and move onto another company. It really is up to you. Use your discretion or your gut before turning down multiple interviews. It may not necessarily be a bad sign.

Know What You Can Offer The Company

Unfortunately, it is an employer’s market. It’s a potential employee buffet, and the employer can interview as many people as they want, and decide not to fill a position if they don’t find the right person. It’s up to you to let the company know what you can offer them. Are you good at driving up sales? Let them know that. Are you especially frugal and can save the company lots of money? They need to know that. Do you have some innovative ideas that can help them open up to a new market? They want to hear that from you. Don’t offer up too many of your valuable ideas, so that they get free brainpower from you and you receive nothing in return. It is a give and take atmosphere, but at the end of the day, it’s still business. They have something to offer you, and you have something to offer them.

Know What is Important to You About Compensation

Do you need to make a lot of money to pay off bills? Do you need health insurance to take care of yourself or your family? Do you need time off? Will flexible hours allow you to take care of a special needs child or an ailing family member? You need to know what your priorities are, and if a company can meet them for you. You should aim to be flexible, but it still is a business transaction. If work/life balance is important to you, do not be so quick to settle on a job if it will take away from that. While we cannot always have everything we want from an employer, it is important to maintain your health and sanity, not to sacrifice everything.

Just Be Yourself

This can’t be stressed enough. These days, an employer can easily find out if you are lying about your qualifications. These things are so easily checked that you should not waste their time nor yours. You should always be on your best behavior when on an interview, but don’t fake it. Employers want the most for their money, and if you have the qualifications it will help. But if your personality does not match up with theirs or their company culture, then they will be hesitant to hire you. Giving the most accurate yet best presentation of yourself will do you more favors than not. Always remember, just because an employer can’t hire you for a position, doesn’t mean that their other hiring manager friends at other firms can’t.

Ebonye Gussine is a graduate student in the Master of Science in Business Management & Leadership Program at the CUNY School of Professional Studies.  She loves writing, reading, and is an avid fan of John Steinbeck’s works. In her spare time she sings off-key and travels to new places.