ROY -- In today's tough job market, applicants are unqualified until they prove otherwise.
"It's the opposite of the court system, where you are innocent until proven guilty," said Pat Wheeler, Goddard School of Business Career Center coordinator. "When you apply for jobs, you have to prove yourself."
Wheeler spoke recently to community members gathered at WSU's West Center in Roy. Her topic, "Becoming the Candidate of Choice in Today's Job Market," drew in people interested in getting first jobs, changing careers, or advancing in their fields.
Wheeler suggested cover letter writers open with where they saw the job listing or heard of the opening, then quickly circle back to qualifications by saying, for example, "I am especially interested because of my experience as ..."
Turn an apparent drawback into an asset, Wheeler told one listener, newly arrived from another state. She advised the man, hoping for a job working in a school, to say his work in California had increased his ease in working with people of diverse ethnic backgrounds.
A woman who left her career to raise children was told to explain in her cover letter that she had been "dealing with family issues," because admitting to children would reveal a possible drain on her work time.
Don't wrap with the prediction you would be an asset to the organization, Wheeler advised. It's an all-too-common ending that often leaves human relations workers muttering that they will be the judge of that, Wheeler said.
Resumes should be one page. More is "the kiss of death," Wheeler said. Resumes should be tailored for each job opening, she said. Those who have been out of school more than three years should list education at the bottom, Wheeler said. For mature applicants, Wheeler suggests listing no more than 10 years of work experience.
A skills section of the resume should include all software expertise, Wheeler said. Skills such as leadership or selling ability should be backed up with specific examples in the employment section.
"Biggest mistake everyone makes is they don't quantify levels of qualifications," she said. "If you trained eight people, not one, say you trained eight people. If you increased sales by 40 percent, don't just say you increased sales."
A common interview style is called the behavioral interview, where those in charge will ask questions to assess reactions. Sample questions abound online. A few examples include "Give an example of a goal you reached and tell me how you achieved it," and "Describe a stressful situation at work and how you handled it."
Wheeler said to practice answers in advance, in front of a mirror. Answers should be two minutes long, she said, and should touch for 30 seconds each on the situation, the task, the action taken and the result. Concise answers help the interviewers assess the applicant's organizational skills, Wheeler said. Longer answers also may use up time that could be used answering additional questions, she said. In addition, if the interviewers are scoring answers on a one to four scale, answering fewer questions will lower the total score.
The final step is to ask for the job, Wheeler said.
"You can say something like, 'Based on the people I see today, I think I'm a good candidate. When can I expect to go to the next level?' "
Wheeler said she read recently that employers are becoming more interested in older applicants because of their work ethic.
"Don't let your resume date you," Wheeler said. "Some employers think if you're not up to date on your resume, how could you possibly be up to date in business?"