Quintessential Careers: Q&A with Jeanne Knight

Questions and Answers with Career Expert Jeanne Knight

Please note: On a somewhat infrequent basis, Quintessential Careers asks noted career experts five questions related to their expertise and publishes the interview in the current issue of QuintZine, our career e-newsletter. Those interviews are archived here for your convenience.

Jeanne Knight is a career and business coach.

Q: What are the top 5-10 skills that most employers are really looking for these days? What are the key skills that make job seekers employable?
A: Although we’re in an employer’s market, the skills that companies require in candidates differ little from what they looked for a few years ago. Sure, it seems that applicants need to meet 110 percent of the job requirements just to get an interview. But even if a candidate has all the requisite “technical” skills, there are other skills that are vital to the success of an organization. Several key skills and qualities that will help make job seekers employable include:
  • The ability to communicate articulately and concisely, both verbally and in writing
  • High energy and enthusiasm for the job, the company, and their profession
  • The self-awareness to articulate their strengths, as well as those areas of “weakness” they’re working to improve
  • An understanding of, and enthusiasm for, a company’s culture
  • Proficiency at working effectively in a diverse team environment
  • An understanding of the “customer” and how their work impacts and serves that customer
  • Competency with required technologies – computers, software applications, the Internet, etc.
  • The proven ability to identify challenges, take action, follow through, and produce results
  • Self-initiative, dependability, trust, integrity, genuineness, and a strong work ethic

Q: What are some of the best ways that job-seekers can show employers they have these sought-after skills and qualities? And how can job-seekers compensate for skills they don’t have?
A: Many of these skills and qualities can be highlighted in a resume by carefully crafting accomplishments and composing a summary section that emphasizes these traits. They can also be described in a cover letter with supporting achievements and testimonials from managers and colleagues. In addition, they can be weaved into those all-important “success stories” and enthusiastically conveyed during an interview. Most importantly, the more you network and cultivate relationships with other professionals and hiring managers, the more you have the opportunity to exhibit these qualities in person and impress people enough to consider you a viable candidate or referral, regardless of what’s on your resume.

If you feel lacking in some of these qualities, or haven’t had a chance to exhibit them, you have some options. Computer skills can be learned, so taking a class or two may be worthwhile. Even seemingly shy or unassuming people can learn to reveal a “quiet enthusiasm” and passion for the job and the company. Volunteering for a cause that allows you to exhibit your self-initiative and follow-through skills allows you give back to your community while adding a valuable entry to your resume. And working with a trusted friend or coach to improve your communication skills and practice exhibiting these qualities during interviews and networking activities could be priceless.

Q: What do you feel is the most disturbing trend in job-hunting today?
A: What disturbs me most about today’s job market is how often I’m hearing that employers aren’t contacting candidates after an interview to tell them they either want to continue with the process or that they’re no longer interested in the person’s candidacy. Searching for a job in this market is tough enough without a job-seeker getting his or her hopes up after a seemingly successful interview, only to never hear back with a “yay” or a “nay.” We all understand that managers have been left understaffed and overworked in the wake of recent layoffs. But more and more candidates are going on first, even second interviews, and never hearing back from a hiring manager, leaving them to wonder, “What happened?”

What should a job-seeker do? I suggest they use the same strategy successful sales people do… always make sure you have other opportunities in the pipeline. As soon as you return from an interview, carefully compose a thank-you letter to each person you interviewed with reaffirming how your skills and expertise will help them achieve their goals. And then immediately move on to other aspects of your job-search campaign. Continue contacting people in your network. Go to professional meetings and networking events. Research companies, and see if you can network your way in. Talk to people� get out… don’t sit and wait for the phone to ring. Continuing to keep busy and seeking out other job leads will help curb the “after-interview anxieties” and ensure you don’t leave all your eggs in one basket.

Q: What’s the best way to uncover job leads — or do you advise multiple methods? What’s the best combination of methods and what percentage of a job-seeker’s time should be spent on each?
A: Interestingly, even in this tough market, I’ve seen job-seekers get interviews and job offers through all of the common approaches — networking, online job boards, headhunters, and direct contact to companies. So my advice to job-seekers is to use every method available to you and leave no stone unturned. You never know where or how you’re going to learn about a job opening, so focusing solely on one method to the exclusion of others could cause you to miss out on some exciting opportunities.

With that said, although each method has its place in an aggressive job-search campaign, networking is still the best way to publicize your job search and learn about unadvertised job openings. The majority of a job-seeker’s time should be spent talking to people and cultivating relationships. Effective networking can result in a meeting arranged with a key executive, an endorsement conveyed to a hiring manager, a resume personally delivered to a hiring manager, or an invitation for an interview before a job opening hits the streets. Networking should make up more than 50 percent of a job-search strategy and be a daily ritual — making that call to a friend or associate you haven’t seen in a while; attending professional association meetings; going to company, college, and high-school reunions; talking to parents at your child’s soccer games or PTO meetings; attending holiday events and gatherings; and chatting with neighbors. Since you never know who knows who in this world, getting out every day and talking with people everywhere you go is the most effective way to get the word out, meet hiring managers, and uncover those all-important job leads.

Q: What’s the biggest mistake job-seekers make that your advice could correct or prevent?
A: As a former director of human resources, I’ve interviewed hundreds of applicants, and I’ve always been surprised by how many people walk into an interview under-prepared. So many candidates don’t seem to take the time to carefully identify their skills and past accomplishments, and how they can help a department tackle its challenges and achieve its goals. Even if they’ve done their homework, they can’t seem to convey their background and expertise articulately and concisely and with energy, enthusiasm, and confidence. I’ve seen too many people who were perfectly qualified on paper miss out on the opportunity of a lifetime because they weren’t able to articulate their skills and qualifications in a way that “sold” me that they were the right candidate for the job.

In preparing for interviews, I suggest job-seekers reflect on their “success stories” and practice sharing them in a way that “sells” their qualifications and speaks to the requirements of the position and challenges of the organization. Thoroughly researching the company and being prepared to ask thoughtful questions that convey their knowledge of the company’s strategy, goals, and direction is crucial. And they must be ready to answer the tough, “Tell me about yourself” and “Walk me through your resume” questions with enough enthusiasm and information to create interest, but without rambling. Careful interview preparation and practice is key in this market if job-seekers want to stay ahead of their competition.

Jeanne Knight, career expert Jeanne Knight, credentialed as a Job and Career Transition Coach, is a career and business coach based in Boston, MA. Her passion lies in helping people achieve their professional dreams. With a background that spans over 20 years as a Human Resources leader and executive, she has coached hundreds of individuals — recent grads, individual contributors, managers, and executives — and helped them develop and implement the strategies that have led to success in their careers, their businesses and their lives. Jeanne is an active member of the Career Masters Institute, the National Resume Writers Association, the Career Counselors Consortium, and the Graduate School of Coaching. Her resumes will appear in two upcoming books, Expert Resumes for Healthcare Professionals and Gallery of Best Resumes, 3rd Edition. She can be contacted through her Website.

Check out all our interview with career experts in Quintessential Answers: Q&A’s with Career & College Experts.

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