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It's Not Always Your Qualifications that Land You a Job

It's Not Always Your Qualifications that Land You a Job

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By Dr. Marie Gould Harper
Program Director, Management at American Public University

Two women were in front of me while I was in the checkout line at the grocery store. One woman had a daughter, and the other woman had a daughter and son.

It was the daughter with a sibling who caught my attention. She was physically striking and I could see her personality shine out. She seemed like a child destined to be someone special.

The other little girl appeared to be in awe of the mother of the two children. This little girl looked shy and she just stared, especially at the other mother.

I was intrigued by how fascinated she was with that other woman. I wondered why. Most children reach out to other children, not to adults.

In the parking lot afterward, I told the mother of the two children that she must be quite an excellent mom if other children recognize that quality in her.

The Importance of Standing Out to Recruiters

I spent the same amount of time observing that special mother as a recruiter would spend with a job candidate during an interview. Based on my observation, that awe-inspiring mother appeared to be a little introverted. She liked to be around people but in the background. She was not a person who needed to be in the limelight, but she could handle it if she were pushed into that arena.

I was able to size her up in a few seconds, which is exactly what recruiters do during the interview process. Every so often, employment candidates call me and ask, “Why didn’t I get the job? I was qualified.”

My response always is, “Most people who get an interview ARE qualified.” Recruiters don’t ask unqualified people to come in for an interview; at least I don’t. However, there has to be something about you that is unique so that you stand out in the crowd.

A participant at a recent conference I attended mentioned that he got a job based on an extracurricular activity – a sport that encouraged meditation – that was not part of the job description or what the company did. But as a result of the candidate’s extracurricular activity, the hiring manager became his advocate for the position.

Why is that relevant? For two reasons:

  1. The candidate had shown a unique quality or ability that caught a hiring manager’s attention and was important to the hiring manager.
  2. A unique quality can be a “game changer” when the skill set of all candidates are equal.

When everything is equal among candidates, it is not uncommon for a recruiting team to look at other aspects of a candidate’s resume or observable characteristics that stand out in the interview.

Creating Trust Matters – Especially in Job Interviews

Amy Cuddy, a psychologist at the Harvard Business School, has spent over a decade studying first impressions. Her research supports the notion that most of us make snap judgments about people based on two questions:

  1. Can we trust that this person has good intentions toward us?
  2. Is the person capable?

Dr. Cuddy’s work suggests that 80% to 90% of people make first impressions based on their answers to these two questions.

How does this relate to interviewing for a job? We assume that hiring managers make decisions based on a person’s competence, and that candidates will focus on their skills and talents during the interview process.

However, Dr. Cuddy’s work supports the notion that trust is the most important factor in how people evaluate you. Until a candidate has gained that trust from the people who make hiring decisions, competence is irrelevant. If the interviewer doesn’t trust a candidate, competence could be seen in a negative light.

Lessons Learned from My Experience as a Job Seeker

Over the years, I have learned some lessons about the job search:

1. You may not get the job you want, but you will get the job you are destined to have.

I once interviewed for a job that I did not get, although I believed I was the most qualified candidate. About eight years later, I interviewed for a job at the same company. Although I probably was the least qualified for the position, I got the job. When I look back, I realize that I was more successful in the job I was hired for than if I had been the successful candidate for the first position.

2. Never leave a job when you are unhappy. Leave when you believe you have done everything you could do in your current situation.

When you are unhappy, you are vulnerable to make the wrong decision and jump from the fire into the frying pan. If you are going to leave, leave on a high note.

3. Interview to be a part of the enterprise versus simply an employee in a job.

A job can disappear. However, there could be other opportunities at the same organization if you have taken the time to position yourself properly and learn the business. Show that you can adapt to change and have the skill set to make the shift.

4. When you are a passive job candidate, you are more relaxed, authentic and selective about the types of opportunities you are willing to take.

If you can prevent it, never look for a job when your back is against the wall. If you become unhappy, believe you are about to be terminated or know that your organization is about to downsize, consider moving before things become emotional versus logical.

Some people underestimate how their mental well-being comes through in an interview. Recruiters and hiring managers can pick up on it.

Remember, there is a time and a season for everything. When you believe you are ready to move on, make sure that:

  1. Your head is in the right place.
  2. You are presenting the “best you.”
  3. Recruiters and hiring managers can see the whole you and all the gifts and talents you offer their organizations.

Good luck with your job search!

About the Author

Dr. Marie Gould Harper is the Program Director of Management at American Public University. She holds an undergraduate degree in psychology from Wellesley College, a master’s degree in instructional systems from Pennsylvania State University and a doctorate in business from Capella University. She is a progressive coach, facilitator, writer, strategist and human resources/organizational development professional with more than 30 years of leadership, project management, and administrative experience. Dr. Gould Harper has worked in both corporate and academic environments.

Dr. Gould Harper is an innovative thinker and strong leader, manifesting people skills, a methodical approach to problems, organizational vision and ability to inspire followers. She is committed to continuous improvement in organizational effectiveness and human capital development, customer service and the development of future leaders.

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