Want that Job? The Little Things Matter More Than You Think

June 25, 2013

little things matterOver the past few weeks, I’ve been watching my husband as he applies for university jobs. He’s had two years’ teaching experience (including graduate level classes) as an adjunct professor, and now he’s ready to try for a full-time job. His teaching evaluations have been overwhelmingly positive, and some of the students he’s worked with have done great things, like present at conferences and have their papers accepted for publication.

Because academia moves slow sometimes, he’s only now just hearing back from some of the jobs about moving on to the next step in the hiring process. And this is the part of the process where things will start to get a little dicey. That’s because, according to a recent column from USA Today, at this point it stops being about his skills and experience, and more about how he “seems” to the people doing the hiring.

Little Things That Matter When You Apply for a Job

According to a column written by career consultant Andrea Kay, employers are looking at the little things that you do during the hiring process. Some of the things she says can leave a bad impression on potential employers include:

  • Becoming defensive about your past.
  • Being slow to respond.
  • Using excuses to defend your slow responses.
  • Complaining about something during the interview.
  • Sharing too much information about your personal life.
  • Asking about salary, benefits and (perhaps especially) break times.
  • Sending writing samples (including cover letters and resumes) with errors.

Kay points out that these things indicate that you are careless and, perhaps, disinterested. When one of the universities my husband applied to sent him an email asking him if he was still interested in the position and ready to move to the next phase, he didn’t wait two days to write back. He responded within a few hours, and he did so in an upbeat manner.

The little things you do send subtle signals to your would-be employers, giving them clues about how you might “fit in” at a company. If you send the wrong vibe, an employer is likely to choose someone else over you.

Part of this also has to do with your attitude. It can be hard to strike the right balance in the way you present yourself. You want to be honest, but you also don’t want to belabor problems you might have had in the past. You want to present yourself as confident (since some studies indicate that confidence can go a long way toward giving the right impression), but you don’t want to cross the line and be seen as arrogant.

It’s a hard line to walk, but it’s one that you have to get used to as you begin searching for a job. You want to make sure that your attitude conveys an interest in the job, as well as a positive attitude. Employers want someone who’s a go-getter, and someone who can help morale as well as get the job done right.

As you look for your next job, take the time to consider how you might appear to a potential boss. And remember that the little things matter a lot.

What are some other little things that matter when you’re looking for a job? Leave a comment!


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Miranda writes about personal finance almost every day. An experienced freelance writer, she's covered your money online and in print from every angle and is always looking for new ones.

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