Before you meet a hiring manager, the chances are you will be contacting a recruiter. And before you meet a recruiter you'll have an email exchange and telephone conversation. Don't fall at the first hurdle – avoid these mistakes.
Never make grammatical or spelling errors. This applies equally to cover letters and emails as it does to resumes. Proofread your emails multiple times before hitting send, and be careful when you’re talking on the phone to avoid slang and a too-casual tone. In either case, misspelled words and grammatical errors will be perceived as a black mark.
“I've seen people have callbacks rescinded because their thank-you emails have been so bad or featured typos,” said Janet Raiffa, career coach, the former head of campus recruiting at Goldman Sachs and the former associate director of the Career Management Center at Columbia Business School. “The legendary case is the spell-check error where a student meant to write about being excited about the possibility of working for Goldman Sachs and ended up with ‘Goldman sucks.’”
Some recruiters are more casual than others and try to build a rapport with candidates by acting in a buddy-buddy manner and even cracking jokes. While it’s OK to adjust to the signals you’re getting and loosen up a bit, precision of language is paramount regardless of how well you seem to be getting on with the person who controls the hiring decision.
As the recruitment process plays out, candidates tend to let their guard down, according to Christian Novissimo is the managing partner of the accounting and finance practice at Lucas Group.
“Some start to build a rapport and all formality goes out the window,” he said. “Over the phone, be sure to use a proper greeting that’s not too informal, and pay close attention to the introduction and sign-off of your emails.
“A lot of people become informal and call people dude or bro, which is inappropriate. Save that for after you get the job and you’re closer to people, and always use proper grammar.”
For international students whose spoken English is better than their written English, they should ask a native speaker to check their email before sending it along to the prospective employer.
“I have also seen students have callbacks rescinded or not gotten offers because interview follow-up has made employers nervous about their lack of fluency,” Raiffa said.
Sending annoying emails and even stalking employers are other problems that are more common than you might think.
“Do not send an email to 50 bankers at the same firm asking for a job or an informational [interview],” Raiffa said. “That email may end up being forwarded by a partner to a recruiter, who will think it is an important referral, and then get upset when he or she discovers it was a mass-email.
“Limit yourself to a small group of people and then work to get referrals from them,” she said. “And if you don’t hear back right away, don’t follow up too soon or too often. Nobody likes stalkers."
Don’t reach out to a hiring manager or recruiter only to go AWOL after they respond, whatever the reason.
“If you get an email with a request to do something and it may take you time to do it, acknowledge receipt of the email, and let them know that you’re working on it,” Novissimo said. “If you got it and are working on it but they don’t hear back from you, they might think you didn’t get it or are ignoring them.”
Your communication style can support or sink your candidacy, said Amy Adler, a career coach at Five Strengths. Multitasking is a no-no.
“Don’t answer your phone [when the recruiter or hiring manager calls] if you are truly unavailable,” Adler said. “Hiring managers or HR executives who want to hire you will leave a voice mail, and it’s better for you to collect yourself and find a quiet place to return a call than to accept a call in the middle of a busy restaurant.”
With the technology that is available to us today, you may be tempted to respond to a recruiter or hiring manager using a mobile phone or tablet rather than a laptop or PC. Proceed with caution.
“You should always take the time to sit down in front of a computer and craft a well-thought-out email during the application process,” Novissimo said. “It’s not necessarily that you can’t send emails from a mobile device, but just because it says ‘Sent from my iPhone’ don’t think you can send an email with bad grammar, improper punctuation and typos.”
Whenever you take a call, find a place where it’s quiet.
“You always want to speak slowly and clearly, especially if you’re speaking to someone who isn’t in your field,” Novissimo said. “For example, if you’re talking to an HR person, don’t use finance terms that will be over their head. Speaking clearly and not too quickly is a critical part of an initial phone interview."
From the beginning of engaging with a recruiter, be honest and open about your situation, including the status of your relationship with your current or most-recent employer, as well as salary information. Concealing red flags or the fact that you've already applied to the firm are big no-nos and will ultimately undermine your relationship with the recruiter.
If there was a particular deal that you were a part of and you list on your resume, it’s natural to want to make yourself sound good. However, if you claim an important role in a transaction but can’t talk through the strategy or many specifics, then you will be found out in the phone screening or in-person interview – if you do eventually make it that far. Recruiters serious about hiring a candidate will always do a thorough background check that will expose any egregious truth-stretching.
Assume that your current firm is monitoring your call activity and email account.
“It should go without saying, but don’t use your current employer’s phone or email to call back or respond to a message,” Adler said.
“Have an email address that is proper,” Novissimo said. “A lot of us in our personal lives are goofy clowns with weird email addresses, but when you’re applying to jobs or responding to a recruiter, use an email address that includes your first name and last name or your first initial and last name, making sure that it’s vanilla and generic.'
It’s important to never cut people off when they’re speaking, but it’s equally important to not put a recruiter or hiring manager on hold if you have a scheduled call.
“I don’t care if it’s a million-dollar deal – if your call is scheduled, dedicate that time to the person you’re talking to,” Novissimo said.
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