Tales from Timnath: How Not to Get a Job

Partners Mentoring Youth

Phil Goldstein

While unemployment in Northern Colorado’s not generally as high as the national average, recent circumstances mean more folks than usual find themselves out of work. If you’re seeking work or your offspring will soon enter the workforce, then this column might provide a primer for how not to get a job.

After a 30-year career in intercollegiate athletics administration, where I hired then supervised many support staff and coaches, I joined an executive search and consulting firm. In a typical search engagement our firm handled every necessary function, including drafting the job description; advertising the opening; screening inquiries; conducting initial interviews; instructing the hiring authority on evaluating candidates; and reference and background checking. On any given search, I’d easily read 100 resumes and cover letters, interview 20 applicants, conduct 50 reference checks and initiate finalists’ background checks. So when I say I’m familiar with reasons why applicants do or don’t get hired, I speak from the experience of an average of 75 employment searches a year.

The real make-or-break evaluation of candidates starts by reading their resumes and cover letters. Like all search consultants with many applications to evaluate, I spend no more than 30 seconds on my first reading, sufficient time for deciding if the candidate’s worthy of further consideration. Even in that brief time, I can gauge experience and glean enough nuances of content and style for advancing or rejecting the applicant. Then, at each subsequent step throughout the evaluation process, other subtle and not-so-subtle elements play essential roles. The following’s a checklist of circumstances that can derail a candidacy, all from my actual searches:

When crafting a resume and cover letter, thorough but concise writing’s a virtue. For someone just entering the workforce or with minimal job experience, a one-page resume’s sufficient; your resume may exceed 2 pages only if you have 30 years of experience in multiple professional fields. A resume should leave something to the imagination—we’ll ask if we want more detail. And grammar, spelling, punctuation and formatting should be perfect as well, no matter the profession. One ‘there for their’ or ‘lead for led’ (mistakes I see every search) and… reject.

And don’t exaggerate—we can see through that easily. In one search for an athletic director, with successful direct supervision of others a priority, a candidate indicated he oversaw “over 1,000” people. His explanation for that improbable number: he served as the liaison to the leaders of the marching band, cheerleaders, concessionaires, ushers, custodians, etc. He didn’t understand direct supervision. Reject.

Another candidate, when asked if she actually engineered a particular resume-cited accomplishment, sheepishly acknowledged, “Well, I was in the meeting where it was discussed.” Reject.

Some candidates send out many applications, but it’s potentially a huge mistake not individualizing them. The cover letter of an otherwise viable candidate for a head football coaching job stated, “Becoming the head coach at Princeton would be my dream job.” Unfortunately, he’d applied for a position in the state of Washington, not New Jersey. Reject.

The worst sin of all is knowingly falsifying application materials because we will catch it. I recruited someone who seemed like the perfect candidate for a head coaching job at a prestigious northeastern institution. She got offered the job pending completion of a background check, where we learned that she’d lied on her resume about earning a college degree. When confronted, she tearfully explained, “If they thought I was good enough to be offered the job, I figured not having graduated wouldn’t be a problem.” Reject.

Then there’s the initial interview I conduct via phone. All it takes is one ‘me and him’ or too many ‘you knows’. Reject.

A two-day growth of beard is alright on a fella’s off-time, but don’t come for an interview that way. Reject.

There’s also a protocol for selecting your references. We need references who can attest credibly and directly to your character and job performance. In almost every search I hear some absolutely useless responses like, “He’s a really nice guy,” or “I’m told she’s good at her work.” Reject.

Good luck with that job search, and your questions are welcome.

Phil Goldstein writes Tales from Timnath periodically for North Forty News. Phil is a 10-year Timnath resident who serves the Town of Timnath as chair of the Timnath Planning Commission. Phil is finally using his journalism degree after getting sidetracked 47 years ago. The views expressed herein are Phil’s only. Contact him with comments on the column or suggestions for future columns at NFNTimnath@gmail.com.


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