Notable Interview: Workopolis Chief Editor Peter Harris

Canada’s job market is looking bright. With an increasing number of companies prepared to offer paid positions for students, recent grads and young professionals with a few years of experience in the workforce, one’s focus shifts from simply identifying an opportunity to actually seizing it. The reality is that, despite the bright employment outlook for young people looking to establish their careers, many are letting careless mistakes before and during the interview process cost them the position.

We spoke with Workopolis Chief Editor Peter Harris about how young professionals can get a step ahead of the competition before actual face-time, which careers are currently in demand, and just how important your social media profile is to future employers. 

What are some repeated mistakes you see young professionals making during job interviews?
Hiring managers have frequently told us that the biggest mistakes younger candidates make at the interview are dressing inappropriately, showing up late or on the wrong day or time, and being overly aggressive when it comes to their expectations for the role they should have. 

We had one candidate show up for an interview here at Workopolis in shorts. Now this was a design role and it was summer. He probably could have worn shorts on the job – but at the interview it makes a terrible first impression. It looks like you didn’t care enough to make any effort to look professional.

How important is preparation before a job interview?
Most of the interview mistakes that we hear younger workers are making seem to be based on lack of preparation. This could be caused by the fact that when you’re looking for your first professional job, you know you have a lot to offer, but your actual job search skills themselves aren’t yet honed. 

Preparation for the job interview is the key to winning the job. And that would be our number one piece of job interview advice: do your homework

What are some things young people can do ahead of the actual face-time?
Find out exactly where the office is and how long it takes to get there – so you’re sure to be on time. Know the culture of the workplace and dress appropriately for the interview.

Don’t try to wing it. Think about how your skills and experience can apply specifically to the challenges of the industry you’re applying for – and prepare your answers and stories accordingly.

Know the details of the role you’re interviewing for and what some of the challenges are for the position, the company and the industry. Be prepared to ask smart questions. 

peterharris

How important is maintaining a professional social media profile?
Most recruiters (I’ve seen surveys indicating as high as 92%) check candidates’ social media profiles before interviewing or hiring them. So it is important not to have anything unseemly come up when they search you: aggressive or angry behavior online, foul language, excessive drinking or drug use, nudity, etc. 

It’s also important that the information on your social profiles matches what you’ve claimed on your resume. Don’t have the timelines call your credibility into question. 

For some industries, a lack of a profile can actually hurt you as well. That is because social media sites are such powerful communications and branding tools that not having a visible profile can make a candidate look not very savvy. It can be interpreted that they are technologically behind and not using the latest social tools, or that they have something to hide, or that they simply don’t understand the branding potential of social tools and have set their privacy settings to the extreme. (And that lack of understanding can hurt your chances for jobs in marketing, public relations, communications or many other tech-savvy fields). 

What are some common misconceptions young professionals have of the working world before entering the workforce themselves? 
Young professionals want a job where they can be themselves. And that is perfectly reasonable. People should work in places where they are a good cultural fit. Anything else tends to end badly. However, the job interview isn’t about the candidate and what they want. It’s about the interviewer. Younger applicants often fail to put themselves in the interviewer’s shoes and plan their strategy accordingly. 

Don’t answer questions with information about what you want from the job, but rather what you can contribute to help the employer be more successful.

If one candidate takes the time to put forward a polished professional appearance and a second similarly-qualified rival doesn’t, the first candidate will get the job. And it’s not even because of what they’re wearing – it’s about the level of respect and motivation that they show.  

Younger candidates often also have unrealistic expectations of what jobs they can land straight out of school. In most cases, employers want to see some experience on a resume – and that can mean having to take lower-level jobs and working your way up. 

Right now we have more resumes in the Workopolis Resume Database with 0-2 years of experience expecting over $100,000 in salary than we have resumes with 3-5 years of experience expecting similar wages. 

peterharris

What types of careers are in-demand right now?
That varies depending on which region of the country you are in. However, most regions are seeing a shortage of skilled trades workers such as carpenters, welders, plumbers, electricians, etc. 

The engineering fields are hot right now. There is also a constant need for healthcare workers – not just doctors and nurses, but also pharmacists, medical technicians, support workers and more.

In technology, there is a high demand for mobile app developers, user experience designers and information architects. Data analysts are also in short supply. 

Are young people today more inclined to launch entrepreneurial endeavours than the previous generation? 
Probably. Although I am not sure that this is a generational issue. We are seeing more and more people from across demographics going to work for themselves through freelancing, consulting, or founding their own companies rather that working for an existing organization. 

This is partly due to opportunity and necessity.

Opportunity: New technologies mean that less overhead is required to launch creative initiatives and bring them to market. It is easier for people to work for themselves than it used to be.

Necessity: Ever since the recession of 2008, unemployment has remained stubbornly high – and especially so for younger workers. Although the recovery has seen 163,000 new full-time jobs added to the Canadian economy since this time last year, there are still some worrying signs about the global economy out there. As a result, many employers are still reluctant to bring on new full-time, permanent staff. This has led to an increase in the use of contractors, temporary and freelance workers and consultants rather than new hires.   

peterharris

What personal advice can you offer young professionals who are entering an increasingly competitive job market?
When you’re just starting out, you should take any job and do it well. Candidates often undervalue their soft skills – and employers have told us that they are hungry for these.

The good news is that the employability skills that employers want to see evidence of can be demonstrated in almost any role. These are: positive work ethic, communication skills, team work abilities, customer relationship building.  

Any job is an opportunity to demonstrate these skills, to build up a reputation as a conscientious hard worker, as well as a network of people who will speak highly of working with you.

Once you’ve got that, send out a tailored resume prepared for every job you apply for in your field. Describe how your skills, experiences, and accomplishments can benefit the needs of the specific job you’re targeting. A one-size-fits-all resume doesn’t fit anything.

First impressions are now made long before people meet in person, so clean up your social profiles, so that employers will get a positive and professional first glimpse of you.

And beyond social networking sites, actually network. Like it or not, knowing the right people is always going to be an advantage when it comes to getting hired. What you need to have is a built-up set of professional connections who think highly of your work and abilities in your field, who would love to work with you or recommend you to others. This is achieved through the connections you make in school, while working, in your community activities and on social networks.

Can you offer advice for young professionals who are “stuck” in their career and are looking to make a change?
Take a look at everything you’ve done so far, on the job, at school and in your personal life. List the accomplishments that you have made and see if you can find a way to tailor them to the industry that you’re targeting.

Think about your skills that can apply across industries, such as project management, communication, research, and relationship-building. Are you a skilled and effective writer or public speaker? Have you lead a successful team or taken a project from plan to fruition? Can you manage a budget or schedule multiple tasks for a team of people? All of these skills and experiences can be applicable across industries. 

If you really don’t have enough skills and accomplishments to land an interview, then you’re going to have to go out and get some. Look for internship opportunities, volunteer work or short term contacts where you can pitch in on complex projects, develop your skills (especially the transferable ones mentioned above) and accomplish demonstrable success. You can also use these opportunities to increase your personal network.

Keep in mind that when changing fields you may have to take a step backwards to a lower position, in order to get in the door. It’s easier to work your way up from the inside than it is to land a high-up position when you’re coming in cold.