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Job Seekers: Cut Through the Noise

February 24th, 2017

As you sift through job boards and personal contacts, reaching out to employers and sending out resume after resume, you’re confident that your credentials will speak for themselves. You’re great at what you do, and you have the track record to prove it. You also hold all (or most) of the necessary education and certification requirements that your target employers are looking for. They need a Masters in Education? You have it. Bachelors in Geology? Check. Fluent French speaker? Check. License to practice in the state of Indiana? Check.

But there’s just one problem: everyone else who applies for this job will also hold these credentials. So how can you set yourself apart? What can you do to stand out in a crowded field of dozens, or even hundreds, or qualified applicants? Here are a few distinguishing moves.

Lean on your connections.

Check Linkedin and Facebook, and the company’s personnel directory to find out if you have any contacts at all (even friends of friends) within the organization. Any name you can drop or testimonial you can request will instantly separate you from a crowd of faceless resumes. No matter how thin your connections may seem, use them. Don’t miss an opportunity.

Leverage your overlaps.

The company needs a BS in Accounting, and you have that. Great. But you might also notice that the company is opening new offices and expanding its consumer market in South America. And it just so happens that you speak fluent Portuguese. Could this help you land the job? Maybe. Should you mention this skill in your cover letter? Yes, absolutely. Some of the other applicants will have language skills. Most of them will have accounting skills. Very few will have both.

Use your formatting skills.

Your resume should have a visual layout and a calm, pleasing sense of design that allows your message to shine through. Keep your font size and line spacing relaxed, not tiny and crowded onto the page. Instead of packing in volumes of text, rewrite your phrases and sentences. Summarize your points elegantly you can say more while using fewer words.

Use color to your advantage.

Add a dash of color to your resume document by coloring your heading text, the outlines of your text boxes, or the separations between your lines. Choose a color that represents your brand and personality. If you feel passionate about your work, use red. If you’d like to seem cool and collected, use blue. If you’re going for a creative vibe, try green.

For more on how to give your resume a certain special flair that can help you stand out and get noticed, contact the job search experts at Merritt.

Teamwork is Important, But What About Personal Motivation?

February 10th, 2017

You have a slate of interviews lined up with promising candidates, all of whom look great (or at least pretty good) on paper. They all have a record of accomplishments, promising backgrounds, and educational credentials that fit the bill. So when you sit with them at the interview table, you’ll want to delve into the areas that don’t typically show in a resume. First and foremost, you’ll want to know what it’s like to work with a given candidate each day, and how well that candidate will get along with coworkers, clients, and other contacts. You’ll need a team player, for sure.

But you’ll also need a candidate who can keep working hard (and keep doing the right thing) even when the team isn’t around. Is your candidate able to work alone? Can she show initiative and keep herself busy, even without constant oversight? Can he strive to excel even when there’s nobody cheering him on? Here are a few ways to assess personal motivation during an interview.

Stay open ended.

Use open-ended behavioral questions that allow candidates to speak freely and describe themselves on their own terms. For example, if you’ll like to know how well a candidate functions without oversight, frame your question like this: “Have you ever worked in an environment with very little supervision? Tell me about that time.” Or you can try: “What do you typically do during the day when you’ve finished one project but haven’t yet received instructions for the next one?” Avoid any question that can be answered with a yes or no, or with a single word.

Ask for tales of adventure.

Start a few of your questions with phrases that involve superlatives, like “During X period of time, what was the hardest thing you had to do…”, “What made you the most proud…” or “When did you feel the best/worst/most alone/most engaged/most disappointed/ most frustrated….?” These kinds of questions can help you in two ways. First, they offer some insight into a meaningful episode in the candidate’s background and how well he works with others. And second, they can reveal a candidate’s sense of scale and life experience.

Talk about introversion and extroversion.

Discuss the spectrum of introversion and extroversion and ask the candidate to position him or herself on that spectrum. Chances are, after she answers, she’ll keep talking and tell you a little bit more about the social environments that she tends to find draining and energizing.

Be honest about the position.

Half of your interview will involve listening, and half will involve speaking, explaining, and describing the position at hand. If this position will require very high levels of solitude and personal motivation, just say so. Pay close attention to how the candidate reacts.

For more on how to find candidates with the right personal traits for your open position and your workplace, reach out to the Hartford accounting staffing professionals at Merritt.

Boosting Your Personal Brand on Paper

January 20th, 2017

Showcase your personal brand during your job search! Let your potential employers know who you are and what you stand for using just a few words, and make sure your message resonates and lingers in their minds long after they’ve moved on to the next applicant in the pool. Here are a few simple branding moves that can help you stand out.

Calm formatting

Your formatting and visual choices can speak volumes about your candidacy. A well-presented resume can tell the world that you have an eye for design, you understand the visual aspects of sales and marketing, you understand and respect your reader, and you have the professionalism and experience to know which moves work and which ones don’t. Start by keeping your text and your lines relaxed on the page. Don’t use tiny font or crowd your statements together. Instead, summarize your statements so they say everything they need to say without taking up too much space.

A dash of color

Some employers print out resumes in black and white in order to pass them around, or they transmit them by fax, in which case your color decisions may not come through. But that’s okay; use color anyway. Keep your color palate limited to two, black and one other (or three at the most). Stay stylish and understated, and choose a color that reflects your personal statement. Keep in mind that reds suggest passion, blues represent a cool head, yellow implies a sunny disposition, green means creativity, orange means friendliness, and purple implies dignity.

Simple themes

Simple themes and statements are easier to remember, so if you had to simplify your entire resume and cover letter into one sentence, what might that sentence be? What about five words? What about one word? You don’t have to do anything specific with that word, necessarily, but you should know what it is. Take that single, simple word and build the rest of your brand around it.

Give yourself a hook.

Your target employers have clearly stated in the job post that the position requires a master’s degree in accounting. They also have a bilingual, multinational client base. This means they’ll hear from hundreds of candidates with a master’s degree. But how many of these candidates will also speak Spanish? If you can offer a valuable skill in addition to and apart from what your employers will find in the rest of the applicant pool, leverage that skill. Give it a prominent place in your profile.

Use strong branding to keep your resume and cover letter at the top of the list and at the forefront of your employer’s attention. For more on how to do this, contact the Connecticut job search experts at Merritt.

Making Performance Reviews Less Formal

January 13th, 2017

Performance reviews have become a necessary evil in the white collar workplace. Nobody enjoys them, the consume valuable time, and by mid-year, any lessons they’ve imparted (on either side of the table) have usually been long forgotten. But year after year, eternally hopeful HR experts strive to reshape this process, believing that it CAN somehow be rendered meaningful and fulfill its promise as a critical management tool. There’s a reason for this eternal hope: reviews really are valuable. They allow managers and employees to connect on a personal level, and they provide structure for what might otherwise be a delicate and awkward conversation. Most employees want to know how they’re doing, and most managers want to tell them. This is just a difficult bridge to cross, and it rarely leads to genuine and lasting improvements in performance.

So if you’re struggling to get more value out of your review process, try this move for 2017: Reduce the formality of your meetings. If you relax the atmosphere, both parties will be more inclined to share honest and genuine feedback. Resentment will drop (on both sides), and self-editing will give way to real talk that can make a real difference.

Encouraging Informal Reviews

Ask your managers to spend a specific amount of time on each review. Encourage them to fall neither under nor over this amount. The upper limit should prevent managers from overthinking and overworking each word and metric in the review, and the lower limit should prevent them from blowing off the process entirely. Provide similar brackets for employees as they complete their self-evaluations.

Don’t schedule your meetings too far in advance or give them too much symbolic weight. Managers should simply block out one day (or two) for all of their reviews, and structure the day as they choose. Employees should not have to forego hours of work or miss key deadlines to accommodate this minor event.

Praise and encouragement should always take precedence over negative feedback, warnings and threats. Ratios should fall at 51/49 at the very least, even for employees who are in dire need of course correction.

Meetings should be cordial and professional, and they should provide employees with a chance to demonstrate their better natures. If they’re praised, their graceful receipt of the praise should be acknowledged. If they’re lectured, coached, or accused, they should be given an opportunity to tell their side of the story or suggest an action plan that works for them. No one should ever feel like a trapped animal or a scolded child during a review. At the same time, employees should never feel embarrassed or put on the spot by well-intended praise. The meeting should feel like an adult conversation, nothing more or less.

For more on how to navigate the delicate social currents of your company’s annual review process, reach out to the Connecticut staffing experts at Merritt.

Recruiting Top Talent in Today’s Economy

December 23rd, 2016

The challenges recruiters face today are very different than the ones they faced ten years ago. Specifically: In today’s market, talent is available, widespread, and mobile. Most employers are no longer limited by geographic constraints, since employees can work remotely. And a single job post can travel the world in a moment. Talent is out there—But in our modern world, the challenge involves finding it, recognizing it, and reaching it before your competitors do. Here are a few things to keep in mind as you move forward with your staffing strategy.

Set clear goals.

Of course you’ll have a specific set of goals for each open position you set out to fill. But the overall development of your staffing program should also be broken down into clear, measurable and achievable goals that can help you stay on track and in motion. Where would you like to take your program in one year? How about three years? What will you need to do in order to get there?

Choose the right staffing partner.

If you partner with an experienced, established staffing firm with a wide network of industry connections, you can trust your partners to handle the heavy lifting while you keep your attention focused on running your business. Great staffing pros have strong listening skills, they’re pro-active, they know how to spot top candidates (and red flags) in your field, and they know how to attract talent by pitching the benefits of your company. Choose a partner who can work with you and make your needs a top priority.

Help your staffing firm to help you.

Once you choose a partner, make sure your recruiter (or recruiting team) has a full grasp of your business model and what you need from the candidates who will step into your open positions. Some positions are more complex than others, and some needs hold a higher priority than others. But if you keep the channels of communication open and active, you’ll avoid setbacks and misunderstandings. While you’re at it, provide clear and detailed feedback if your recruiters are presenting candidates who don’t quite fit the bill.

Work with your temps while they work for you.

Leverage one of the strongest benefits of a staffing partnership: The opportunity to test the waters with candidates before making a long-term commitment. As you bring workers in a temporary or temp-to-hire capacity, check in with them frequently to assess their feelings and the state of the relationship. If all goes well, and they seem happy and interested, you can make moves to bring them on board after their contract period ends.

For more on how to team up with a staffing firm to make the most of today’s talent marketplace, reach out to the Fairfeld County recruiting experts at Merritt.

Is Procrastination Costing Your Company Big?

December 9th, 2016

Procrastination and distraction can easily derail any one of us, and no matter how naturally organized we may be, we’ve all felt the pull of these productivity drainers at one point or another during the course of our careers. The temptation to procrastinate rises up when and where we least expect; intelligent people are more likely to succumb to it, and—for reasons that defy science—the projects that excite us and inspire our passion the most tend to be the ones that we’re most likely to put off…probably because these projects can seem overwhelming and the bar of expectation we set for ourselves can be unrealistically high.

But if you have serial procrastinators on your team, or employees who procrastinate for so long that their deadlines come and go before they begin to buckle down, then it may be time to take action. Here are a few things to keep in mind.

Talk to your procrastinators; don’t scold them.

Don’t assume that your most incorrigible procrastinators are lazy or uncommitted—In fact, the opposite may be true. But this doesn’t excuse behavior that can undermine your company and alienate your clients. Sit down with your worst offenders and ask them to explain why they’re having trouble getting started. Ask what you can do to remove the obstacles from their path. Encourage them to be honest about their hang-ups, and make it clear that you’re here to help, not to punish.

Avoid swooping to the rescue repeatedly.

If you talk to your procrastinators, and coach them in good faith, and swoop to the rescue when they’re in a crunch, then you’re doing your job as a manager. But if you find yourself bailing out the same person over and over again, or constantly shifting the workload away from a distracted employee and burdening his coworkers at the last minute, it may be time to consider a transfer, or a formal evaluation and performance improvement plan.

Hire non-procrastinators and stop the problem before it starts.

The best way to solve any specific performance or behavior problem is to avoid it in the first place, and recognize red flags during your candidate selection process. Create a list of interview behaviors, resume giveaways, or questionable statements that may suggest your candidate has an issue with deadlines. If you see any of these red flags, ask follow up questions. Keep your questions open ended, for example: “If you have to choose between submitting quality work and keeping a deadline, and you can’t do both, which do you prioritize and why?” Or, “Tell me about a time when you faced a really tough deadline and had to make some hard decisions.” Listen carefully as the candidate answers.

For more on how to spot signs of trouble—or signs of brilliance—during the candidate selection process, turn to the Westchester County staffing team at Merritt.

Written and Verbal Communication for Job Seekers

November 11th, 2016

As you work to grab employer attention and win over potential recruiters and hiring managers, your knowledge base and specific job skills will play a strong role. You’ll have to have a demonstrate your ability to handle the sales tasks, clinical techniques, or technical aspects of your daily round. But your hiring managers will pay just as much attention to your communication skills. Can you send a message clearly? Can you provide and accept instructions? Can you win others over to your point of view? And most important of all: are you easy to get along with in a workplace setting? Can you use your words to earn the trust and respect of those around you? Here are a few ways to highlight your strengths as a speaker, listener, writer, reader, and team member.

Recognize that your documents represent you.

Your resume and cover letter don’t just highlight your education and background; they also give your reviewers an excellent example of your skills as a written communicator. If you think they’re only searching for facts and won’t look closely at your grammar, style, and wording, think again. Get all the editing help you need and make sure your application is flawless before you submit.

Your voice matters.

The first impression you make will come from your written application, but the second will probably come from your phone persona. When your employer calls to speak to you, keep your posture straight, speak clearly and smile as you talk (your listen can detect the expression on your face). Keep your voicemail message simple and professional.

Your emails also matter.

During the early stages of the selection process, you may exchange a few emails with your employers to confirm their acceptance of your resume, answer some screening questions, and set up an interview time and date. As you answer, think carefully about every line. Recognize that your tone and your attention to detail can actually make or break your chances at this early stage. Start your relationship off on sound footing.

Polish your interview skills.

Before the date of your scheduled interview, don’t just mark the meeting on your calendar and forget about it. You may see yourself as an experienced interviewee and you might expect your experience, education and skills to win the day for you. But a little practice never hurt anyone, a few sessions with a friend can help you relax and take tough questions in stride when your big day finally arrives. Practice pausing for two full seconds before you answer a question, and practice maintaining relaxed eye contact and a friendly, assertive posture.

For more on how to speak well, write well, and use your communication skills to lard your target job, reach out to the Connecticut staffing team at Merritt.

Preparing Your Staff for the Addition of Temporary Employees

November 4th, 2016

Your new temps are on the way! Which is to say, you’ve sourced, reviewed, and hired a team of temporary employees who will step into your workplace at some point during the next few weeks. Your temps won’t stay long—by nature—but while they’re here, they will be making important contributions and keeping the gears of your enterprise in motion. They might be replacing staff members who are on leave, or adding extra pairs of hands for the busy holiday rush, but no matter what roles they fill, everyone will be happier and more productive if their presence in the office is understood and respected. Here’s how to make that happen.

Provide your current employees with clear timelines.

Your teams should know exactly what day the temps will arrive, and your best estimate of how long they’re going to stay. New coworkers, temporary bosses, direct reports, or office mates should never appear by surprise.

Generate some hype.

Before a new temp arrives, share a few details about the person with the members of her team. Let them know a little bit about the temp’s background and interests, and encourage them to find common ground and icebreaking conversation topics.

Pave the way.

Every new employee should step into a functional workspace on day one, but this is especially important for temps, since the ramp-up period may be very short. If the temp will only be contributing to the company for three weeks, you don’t want the first week to be swallowed up by paper work delays, unavailable work stations, and computers that aren’t functioning yet.

Clarify assignments.

In order to welcome, onboard and train your new temps properly, you’ll need the help and cooperation of your current teams. So make sure each person knows exactly what to do and how to do it. Who will be meeting the new person in the reception area? Who will be taking them to lunch on day one? Who will sit with them to explain the company database? And who will fill in for each of these people while they’re temporarily pulled away from their own responsibilities? Make your expectations clear.

Thank your teams in advance.

The onboarding and transition process can be unpredictable, so thank your teams in advance for their patience and cooperation. While you’re at it, thank them (also in advance) for their welcoming and friendly approach to the newcomers.

Thank them again in retrospect.

Working with temporary employees can be time consuming at first, since they often have questions and require assistance during their first few days and weeks. Thank and reward the full-time team members who go the extra mile to answer these questions and provide this assistance.

No matter how long your temporary employees stay with you, encourage and cultivate a climate of mutual respect. For tips and guidance, reach out to the Connecticut staffing experts at Merritt.

Questions to Ask During Your Interview

October 28th, 2016

As a nervous, hopeful candidate stepping into your scheduled interview, you might think you’re here to answer questions, not ask them. You might imagine that you’re in the interrogation seat, and your employers are the ones who have something to gain by learning as much about you as possible. But that’s only half true. Your interviewers need to gather the facts so they can make a smart hiring decision, but you also have a decision to make. To find out if this job is right for you, turn the tables during your session and make sure you get some answers to these key questions.

Where can I go from here?

You want this job, but of course you don’t plan to settle into this position and keep it until you retire. You have long term career plans that will eventually take you beyond this role, and ideally, you want to work for a company that can help you reach your destination. Can this organization provide opportunities, exposure, training, and room for a promotion—or several? Will your managers coach you and support your plans, or will they work to keep you in your chair? Now is a great time to find out.

How would you describe this company’s culture?

Culture matters, and the atmosphere and energy in this office can influence your job satisfaction, your health, and of course your career growth. Don’t lead the interviewer as you ask; just encourage him or her to speak from the heart and describe this workplace in their own words. Read between the lines as they answer, and know what you’re looking for. What kind of culture will best help you thrive and contribute?

What kinds of qualities will I need to demonstrate in order to succeed here?

Will this job require excessive travel, social interaction, solitude, public speaking, repetition, or constant disruption? What kinds of traits will help you accomplish your daily tasks and form strong relationships with your coworkers and clients? Will your competitive edge help you, or will a more collaborative attitude serve you well as you work to find a place for yourself here?

What will I need to accomplish right away?

Starting on day one, what kinds of problems will you be solving and what kinds of challenges will stand in your way? Will you have a clear set of goals for your first day, week, or six months? If you don’t, that’s okay; you’ll just have to set your goals on your own.

For more on how to make the most of your interview and land the job that’s right for you, reach out to the professional staffing team at Merritt.

Soft Skills Top Candidates Possess

October 14th, 2016

The best candidates in your applicant pool are likely to demonstrate a set of skills that are difficult to measure (often called “soft” skills for this reason). These skills can serve as a strong predictor of long term success, and if you’re watching carefully, they’re often easy to spot. If you see a candidate who can handle the day-to-day demands of this specific role while also bringing these intangible benefits to the table, don’t let that candidate get away.

Listening skill.

For almost any position, you’ll want candidates who can speak boldly and articulate their thoughts and opinions. Employees who can charm, persuade, and motivate using words can boost your reputation as well as your sales numbers and can help any company grow and thrive. But there’s one thing that’s more important—and harder to find—than good talkers: good listeners. Listeners are the candidates who understand your words, process your intentions accurately, and remember the things you say. They can read nuance and inflection, and they truly care about the success of any given interaction.

Friendliness and approachability.

Again, skilled communicators all have one thing in common: They really want to want to understand and be understood. They have a personal desire for connection, and they work hard to reach out and to make themselves available to others.

Executive functioning skill.

Great candidates can do several things at one time (multitask), and they have strong memories. They can break off one conversation, pick up another, and return to the first where they left off without missing a beat. They can handle the complexities of scheduling, budgeting, teamwork, and leadership all on the same day, and sometimes during the same minute.

Culture-building.

The best candidates can read a person’s mood, but they also read the mood of a room, or an entire workplace. They know the difference between a toxic conversation, culture or mission, and a healthy one. And they know how to set a personal example and steer the ship in the right direction.

Fearlessness.

When change needs to happen, the best candidates face it head-on. They aren’t afraid to speak up for what’s right or stand up for a person or an idea. Ask your candidate to describe a moment from the past in which she demonstrated courage by taking action against the status quo.

Resilience and determination.

What happens to your candidate when she experiences a setback? What happens when he doesn’t get what he wants or doesn’t experience immediate results? Choose the candidates who get up when they get knocked down—the ones who aren’t phased by minor obstacles and who don’t take rejection personally.

For more on how to recognize signs of success in your applicants, turn to the staffing and hiring experts at Merritt.

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