A Weekly Q&A Column About Professionalism, Etiquette and Problems in the Workplace
by Sue Morem
Dear Sue: Some time ago you responded to a question about interviewing. I disagree vehemently with your response. The person was asking for pointers on how to "sell" himself in an interview. Your response made it sound as though the only thing that matters is making a good impression and having the right image. Does ability have no place in the process? I refuse to believe that image and impression are the only things that matter!
Any fool can tell you that what really matters is who you know, not what you know. And I have found that work experience is all that an employer looks for or cares about.
I have a college degree in finance, but no employer will give me chance. If you recall the movie Tootsie, there is a scene in which Dustin Hoffman's agent tells him, "No one will hire you." It is happening to me -- no one will give me a chance. I am thoroughly disgusted with ever having received my degree.
How do you get experience if no employer will give you the opportunity to get experience? I will hail you a genius if you can answer this million-dollar question.
Sue Says: I am sorry for the difficult time you are having, and I do know how very frustrating it can be, because I have been where you are. In fact, everyone has -- we all had to start somewhere.
I disagree with your assumption that who you know is all that matters. It can be very helpful to enlist the help of people you know, but it isn't a good idea to rely on others entirely. If you are sending out resumes, but aren't getting interviews, perhaps you need to redo your resume. If you are getting interviews, but no job offers, perhaps you need to enhance your interview style and technique.
While work experience is a plus, and in some positions may be more important than others, it is not the only thing an employer looks for in a candidate. For every position that is available, there are many people who have experience. If experience were the only factor, it would be a simple process to hire someone. An interview would not even be necessary. A degree is required for certain positions. Thousands of people have degrees, so how does a prospective employer distinguish one applicant from another? Do you think that exceptions are never made? These are guidelines for hiring and a means of screening job candidates.
Do you think someone with experience, but without people skills, enthusiasm or good communication skills is a viable candidate for a job in which these things are important?
A prospective employer wants to see who you are, how you handle yourself, and determine if you fit the image of the company and the position. Don't underestimate the power of the impression you make, the image you project and the attitude you convey. Your appearance, body language and attitude speak volumes about how you feel about yourself. If you walk into an interview without confidence, it will show. You need to do whatever you can to change your attitude of defeat and develop a renewed sense of confidence in yourself and your abilities.
In addition, although you may not have direct job-related experience, there may be ways to utilize the experience you do have. For example, when I was looking for my first job as a sales rep, everyone wanted to hire someone with sales experience. I didn't have it. But I was convinced I could sell, and worked at persuading potential employers to give me a chance. I remember using my experience as a waitress as a tie in to sales. I believed and professed that my experience as a waitress helped me to develop the ability to work well under pressure, deal with a wide range of people and personality styles, and achieve one of the highest ticket averages because of my sales ability. It worked and someone finally gave me a chance.
Be creative and find something in your past that you can use as experience. Be persistent. There is someone out there who will give you the opportunity you seek. Don't rely on your degree or others to get you that job, rely on yourself. When you are convinced you are the right person for a position, you will be able to convince someone else.
There is no single answer to your question. I am not a genius, but I am smart enough (and finally experienced enough) to know that anything is possible. You will get a break. Make it your job to convince prospective employers that you are the right person for the job. If what you lack in experience, you make up for in spirit, you may finally get the break you need. I know you are tempted to tell me it won't work, but your approach isn't working for you now. The only thing you can do is to try something new and answer that million-dollar question for yourself.
Sue Morem is a professional speaker, trainer and syndicated columnist. She
is author of the newly released
101 Tips for Graduates and
How to Gain the Professional Edge, Second Edition. You can contact her by email at
firstname.lastname@example.org or visit her web site at
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