Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Professional Dress Attire in the Workplace

How do you define appropriate Professional Dress Attire?
For an interview? For your job?
What you wear to an interview is very much different then what you may wear to your job every single day. In all honesty, it depends on your employer and their dress policy. I would encourage all of you to check with your current employer on defining proper dress attire. Some employers have different guidelines depending on the season.

No matter what, it's always best to ere on the side of caution, especially if it’s your first day on the job!

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

What was your toughest/worst interview question to answer?

For me... I have to go back a few years...okay A LOT of years. Back to the days when email just came out and YAHOO! was the #1 search engine. I was as eager as could be and thought that I could get any job I wanted. That is until I had my first interview. In fact, this was my very first "grown-up" interview. Keep in mind, I really did not have a Career Advisor to talk to as a resource, all I had was family and friends to coach me through this nerve-racking experience.

My degree was a Bachelor of Arts Degree majoring in Psychology. Typically the jobs I applied for were in the area of Social Work. My very first interview was for a well known non-for-profit organization and I was interviewing for an entry-level social worker position. I showed up on time, nicely dressed with my portfolio in hand. As I was waiting for my interviewer to come and get me, I kept rehearsing over and over again in my mind how to answer the "typical interview questions." Eventually, I got into the interview and I was feeling really confident. I was saying to myself, "Yea, I got this." I WAS thinking that until I was asked "the question" that did me in! What was this horrific question in which my immediate response was a blank stare followed by a few stuttering grunts?

Here it is: "What is your weakness?"

WHAT? HUH? I prepared for all possible interview questions, but that one. How do I handle it? What do I say? Well the blank stare slapped on my face said it all to the employer and the longer the time passed the more I felt pressure to blurt out anything. "Come on' Erin...quick...think...say something...ANYTHING or this guy is going to think I am a stuttering moron full of nerves!"

I finally mustered a response that was just barely audible. By the look on the employer's face, I knew I blew it. Arghhh! Why on earth did I just say that as my weakness? Can you guess what I said? Keep in mind...I was interviewing for a Social Worker position. You know, dealing with the public, dealing with kids....dealing with PEOPLE!

And I brilliantly replied "I am not a patient person." WHAT? If I only knew then, what I know now. If I could just go back in time and tell myself "NEVER BE THAT HONEST" with a trick question like that! Can you believe it? What an awful answer. I kick myself for saying that, but now realize if it wasn't for that one nervous response of mine, I wouldn't have this story to share with all of you. Only after the interview I realized why I was no longer being considered for the position. This was a learning experience for sure. Heck, we all have them...mine was just pretty embarrassing. I quickly went from an over confident soon-to-be graduate to a humbled graduate desperate to find a job in my field of study! Oh, and I have more to share with you...but those will have to wait for another blog.

Now, it's your time to share...what was the worst or toughest interview question that you answered? And what was your response?

Thursday, April 9, 2009

What is your "professional" life quote?

I think in one form or another, we all have some sort of life saying or life quote that we live by. I want to know, what is your professional life quote? Well, for what it is worth, here is mine:

"Presentation is the essential key to succeeding in life."

While it’s simple, it's also deep. I came up with this quote almost 8 years ago when I first began my career in Human Resources and then went into Higher Education. I was in my early 20's back then when I came up with that quote and quickly realized that the world initially judges you by your appearance. And when I say appearance, I don’t mean just your outwardly physical appearance. Your appearance can incorporate several other things in which people initially judge you or learn about your character. This can be through your résumé, your online portfolio, even your MySpace or Facebook account represent your "appearance" to the public eye! While some of us hate to think that this is true, unfortunately in this day and age it is the reality.

Let me give you a quick analogy. Let's say you go to a restaurant and on the menu you see this food choice: "Filet mignon perfectly cooked to your liking, gently wrapped in bacon and lightly sprinkled with blue cheese crumbles; accompanied with savory Portobello mushroom risotto along with a delectable mix of wild vegetables in a light lemon sauce." Now let's say you see this next description on the same menu: "Steak cooked as requested, with some bacon and blue cheese on top with a side of some fancy rice and veggies." Okay, assuming the price is exactly the same, which one "sounds" more appealing? Which one in turn do you think will appear to look and taste better? If you are following where I am going with this point, hopefully you would say the first dinner choice is the better of the two. But, let's say to be fair you decide to order both, just to compare the difference between how the two are presented. The first comes out hot and is adorned on beautiful fine china with the food perfectly plated….like a piece of art! You stare at this presentation of food and immediately appreciate the time and efforts the Chef took in order make the food look scrumptious. Now the second plate of food that you order comes out. This plate was presented to you and immediately you notice a chip in the cheap "faux china." The food must have been served to you late, because it’s no longer hot. The food looks like someone just through it on there without any effort of proper presentation. Looking at the two dishes in front of you, essentially the same food just presented differently, I can tell you that I know which one you would naturally decide to be your dinner selection.

Now, let’s put this analogy to the professional working world. Your résumé is that first marketing piece, that first selling point to employers. Your résumé is your opportunity to "present" your skills and your attention to detail. If you have a well thought out, organized and structured résumé, I am sure from the beginning your résumé will stand out to potential employers. On the flip side, if an employer is faced with two different résumés in front of them and one looks better than the other, chances are that employer will naturally be pulled to look at the "better of the two résumés". All because of the mere presentation and layout. Of course this is not always the case, but why risk your chance of not being interviewed? If you have a strong looking résumé from the get go, then you are instantly bettering your chances to get that interview.

Moving on to the interview process scenario (yes, I do have a point of this blog). So now, an employer is faced with interviewing what appears on paper to be two very qualified and organized candidates. Both candidates come to the interview. One arrives 15 minutes early and comes dressed in a full suit and tie, nice dress shoes and is holding a leather bound portfolio. The other interviewee arrives on time, but is dressed casually in a polo shirt and khaki’s. While he doesn’t appear to look bad and he is well groomed, in comparison to the first interviewee this guy appears as though he is not being professional. Through the employer's eyes, the employer immediately and sub-consciously formed a judgment on these two individuals based upon how they came dressed to the interview. Based on the above scenario, who do you think the employer would hire based on just the initial presentation alone? Right, I would feel the same way, too.

My point about this blog is that no matter what you do or what you wear or even what you say...people are already forming a judgment about you. It stinks, I know, but in the professional world of looking for a job it’s your job to remain professional in everything you do! It's just how it is...

Okay, so what are some of your professional life quotes? What does it say about you and your character? Does it help BRAND you? Let's hear them.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Great blog for my Techies out there!

Here's a great blog I recommend to follow regarding some great tech advice:

Happy Reading!

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Does the recession have you down in your job search? Don't let it!


I am determined that the word "recession" freaks everyone out these days! I think we can all agree how in one form or another that we live and breathe "the media." Whether it's through TV, Magazines, or from the Internet; we cannot escape the negative hype associated with our economy these days. Unfortunately, in the industry that I am in, "the media hype" on the recession is not making my job any easier.

My graduates are coming back to me more and more lately, telling me they need my assistance because they were recently let-go from their employer. My current students that are coming up to graduate, are down in the dumps and are fearful of their ability in finding a job in their field of study. Both groups are feeling the pressure and stress of finding employment in this current job market. Here's what I tell them.

While, yes I agree that the recession is affecting the beautiful Hampton Roads Area, it is certainly not as bad as other areas and states that are really feeling the pinch of the recession. Currently the Commonwealth of Virginia's unemployment rate sits at 6.6% as last reported in February 2009 (see This is lower than the overall national unemployment rate of 8.5% (see Okay, so while this isn't great, it certainly could be worse...a lot worse. Keep in mind back during the days of the Great Depression, the unemployment rate sky rocketed to 20% and above and some reports even say it reached as high as 30%! Wow, now that was some scary times for sure.
Now that we have some history and an idea of current unemployment rates, why is it then that my graduates and students are so nervous about finding a job?!?! Are there jobs out there? Are there even jobs that my students/graduates qualify for? Is there hope for them in landing their "dream job"?

My friends, the answer is a hopeful one...YES, YES and YES! But, it certainly doesn't go with out a little bit of some "elbow grease" in finding these opportunities. You see, I do this for a living. I breathe networking with employers. I cold call, I send emails, I attend social networking gatherings...I do what needs to be done for the sake of my students/graduates. After all if it wasn't for them, I might find myself out in the unemployment lines one day! Am I working more now on trying to find openings for them more so then ever before? That’s affirmative. Am I worried about finding qualified positions for my folks? Sure, some days I worry, but I know they do exist.

I continue plugging away calling my employers and navigating through various career websites in an attempt to find a position for my folks. Just the other day, I was working on making cold calls off of a local chamber of commerce business directory. While I admit, the employers I spoke to were not currently hiring, many of them were glad I called and asked for me to check back in with them in a month. It’s simple, I don't give up. No matter what the media is saying about the unemployment rates or our falling economy, I keep pushing on for the sake of my hopeful students/graduates. They are the drive behind my creative ways of finding jobs for them all while hopefully teaching them how to do their job search on their own.

Here's the thing though, with the extra efforts that I do and have put in, amazingly I am able to find openings for them! Hey folks, there are jobs out there! REALLY! They are truly out there! I will even "pinky swear" you! Here's the deal, you (my highly motivated recent graduate), will find yourself in a fierce competition in order to obtain these jobs. No joke! The feedback I receive from my employers is that my recent graduates have to "kick it up" in the interview process if they even want to be remotely considered to the "flooded" job market of qualified professionals. SAY WHAT? Yes, it's true! The employer's can afford to be picky. They want the best of the best, they want the candidate who will work 50+ hours a week, with prior experience, holds a Bachelor's Degree and ideally has an industry certification (pending on the profession). So, what does that mean for my students and graduates?

My advice? Do what you can to market yourself and your talent. Make a BRAND for yourself and get known by your instructor’s, neighbors and friends. Looking for a job is a full-time job in itself. While in college, take the time to do an internship. Your internship will not only provide you with real-world hands on experience that is needed, but may provide you with a solid letter of recommendation! Treat that internship as though you were going to work in The White House everyday. Be professional, show up early and make sure to give the employer a reason as to why then need to hire you after you finish your internship. If it doesn't lead to an actual job offer, then you certainly may be able to get some exemplary references from that employer.
Next, make sure your résumé reflects your skill set and experience pertaining to your degree track. Your résumé (which is another blog in itself) is a marketing tool for employers to screen candidates prior to scheduling interviews. Your résumé needs to stand out from the rest, right from the beginning.

If needed, you may want to consider getting some industry specific certifications. Of course, this all depends on what area your degree is in. Next, you may want to consider making an e-portfolio and some business cards. Finally, look on your own as well. It would be great if I could always take all of the credit for my graduate's success in matching them to one of employer's openings, but in all honesty...I can't. Get out there and post your résumé on different job sites and make sure you update your resume regularly OR you will get lost with all of the other people posting their information. Make sure to build your network of family members and friends. Let them know you are in need of a job in your industry!

Guess what? In doing all of these things, even in this tight job market, you will see it is possible for you to find a job. You may have to work harder and utilize all of your resources. Heck, it may even take a bit longer than it did a few years ago in finding a job. But, it will happen, especially if you are doing everything you can. Really, it will happen! I pinky swear you!