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First impression key to landing a job

Job interview

FARGO – Few times in a person’s life is a first impression more important than at a job interview.

According to a survey published by of more than 2,000 hiring managers, 33 percent claimed to know whether they would hire someone within the first 90 seconds.

A firm handshake may carry more weight than one might think. LeAnn Moos, chapter president of the Fargo Moorhead Human Resources Association and human resources manager at Animal Health Clinic, said it portrays self-confidence and maturity.

That is often what it all boils down for hiring managers: finding a well-qualified candidate who is confident and enthusiastic about working for their company.

Laying the groundwork

Written communication is an applicant’s first chance at a good impression. Few get a face-to-face interview without first submitting a company application or resume and cover letter.

Moos recently spoke to upcoming graduates in the career capstone class at Globe University in Moorhead and offered the following tips for successful written communication:

  • Always be formal in communication with potential employers.
  • If a resumé and cover letter are requested, customize them for each job application. Those addressed to the wrong person or company or with a job objective for a career outside the advertised field will be rejected.
  • When possible, address correspondence to the hiring manager rather than to “Dear Sir or Madam.” Doing so shows the applicant has done some research and put forth extra effort.
  • Applicants should use a professional email address, even if they need to create one solely for job applications. For example, does not convey the maturity employers are looking for in an applicant.

For those with little experience, Moos recommends highlighting skills gained at a previous job that are transferrable to the desired position.

Most jobs require some level of customer service. Anyone who has worked in food service or retail has that experience. Another example is how cash handling can be considered a form of accounting experience.

Myrna Hoekstra, director of human resources at Wanzek Construction, said one of the best cover letters she ever received was from a woman who wrote about how her life experiences made her a good candidate for a job.

The woman grew up in a disconnected family, married early, had kids early and ultimately went through a painful divorce. She explained what she learned through it all and how each experience could relate to the job. Hoekstra said the letter really showed how the woman saw herself as a victor rather than a victim.

The interview

A successful application is often followed by a phone call to set up the interview.

Moos advises applicants to be aware of their outgoing voicemail message or ringback tone. Those also reflect on the maturity of the job applicant.

Additional tips for a successful interview are:

  • Dress appropriately. Moos said most hiring managers have a story about an applicant’s dress code failure. She once had someone show up for an interview at a bank dressed in pajama pants and flip flops. The person was qualified enough to get the interview but was dismissed based on her unprofessional attire.
  • Do research on the company. This is the No. 1 piece of advice given by many hiring managers and college placement professionals. Come prepared with questions about the company and the position. “It just helps the conversation along and shows they are interested,” Moos said.
  • Be prepared to answer questions about your former employment. One of the most common interview questions is about why an applicant quit or was let go from a previous job.
  • Hoekstra said the key is to be honest. She said the best thing someone can do is explain what they learned from the experience. “Then I know they’re open to coaching, to learning, to growing, and are able to admit they had a part in it,” Hoekstra said.
  • Project a positive attitude and remember to smile. Moos said often applicants are so nervous they forget to smile. If they are well-qualified and prepared, they should be able to put their nerves aside.

Help is available

Most colleges offer some type of class that teaches students how to find and apply for a job.

Students are required to take the career capstone class at Globe University. Director of Career Services Jesika McCauley said it teaches students about the job search from beginning to end, from how to search for a job to writing resumes and cover letters to interview etiquette.

North Dakota Job Service has a number of resources available as well. The local office conducts an interviewing skill workshop every other Tuesday from 9 a.m. to noon that is open to the public. Job seekers can sign up by calling the office at (701) 239-7300.

Resume computer programs and handbooks, as well as guidance from staff, are also available at Job Service.