1. Confessing the irrelevant. When you introduce yourself to someone new, it is not necessary to include "I've been laid off" or something similar within the first few seconds of your introduction. Perhaps you feel the need to be honest, or maybe it makes you feel better to say this. No matter the reason, remember, you don't have to be unemployed to look for a job.
Sharing this too early in the conversation can distract the listener and result in not paying attention to the rest of your message. These are some of the thoughts people have when you tell them you're unemployed:
"Poor thing, this is a terrible time to be unemployed."
"Wonder what they did to get laid off?"
"How are they ever going to find a job right now?"
"Wow, it stinks to be you!"
The fix: Focus your introduction on why you're great at what you do and what makes you unique and memorable. Summarize how you have helped previous employers by highlighting specific skill sets or including an example of a problem you have solved. Remember, this is a marketing campaign. You want to communicate a distinct message that will catch attention for the right reasons—you are talented at what you do.
What you really want to say: When asked what you do, keep it short and snappy. For instance, you could say: "I help nonprofits gain greater awareness in the community by building partnerships with similar organizations. This collaborative approach grew membership by 25 percent last year."
2. Interview mishaps. In an interview, either over the phone or in person, you can send the wrong message by putting too much emphasis on your own needs and wants. Here are two examples:
Interviewer: I am afraid you wouldn't be content with the salary we could offer.
Job Seeker: It is less than I used to make but I could probably make it work within my personal budget.
Interviewer: We're excited to offer you the job. Would you be able to start in two weeks?
Job Seeker: Well, I suppose I could get things wrapped up in two, maybe three weeks.
The fix: Don't be afraid to tell the employer what they want to hear. Your interest in the job comes across in the words you use and the tone of your voice. Be the most enthusiastic you can be, and be convincing. If they feel you're not interested in the job, you're unlikely to get an offer.
What you really want to say: In the first example, you could politely ask the interviewer, "What would make you think that?" You could go on to explain why you're interested in the position and provide a specific example of what you will do to solve the employer's problem. Money usually isn't the only concern in hiring.
In the second example, the job seeker has been unemployed. Therefore, any answer short of, "Give me a week and I'm ready to start" or "I could start tomorrow if you needed me that soon" could send the message to the interviewer that there is hesitancy or lack of interest in the job.
3. Generalities don't set you apart. You've heard you should use keywords from the job posting in your resume. However, you must select the right words to get the interview. None of these statements differentiate you from the hundreds of other candidates; they are trite, and even worse, unsubstantiated. And by the way, aren't these minimal work requirements?
The fix: First, use the right type of keywords, such as specific job skills and technologies. Second, include specific benefits or outcomes of your work. Develop and use STAR stories.
What you really want to say:
Say What You Really Mean
Speaking in generalities or only in terms of what is important to you does not work in your favor. As you craft your answers to questions, pay attention to what the receiver of your message really cares about. Incorporate both their interests as well as your own in terms that are sincere and truthful.
Hannah Morgan is a speaker and author providing no-nonsense career advice; she guides job seekers and helps them navigate today's treacherous job search terrain. Hannah shares information about the latest trends, such as reputation management, social networking strategies, and other effective search techniques on her blog, Career Sherpa.