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The Other Side of the Table

I got to help hire a new employee in our office over the past few weeks. It was a fantastic opportunity to view the interview process from across the table. I received emails from applicants, read through cover letters and resumes, telephoned potential interviewees and interviewed the top candidates. It was eye-opening to hear how certain things came across when you’re the interviewer instead of the person being interviewed. Questions that were intimidating to me as an applicant seemed simple enough when I was across the table.

I was surprised especially in reading cover letters, at how small typos made me view the whole application in a bad light, even though I know how easy it is for them to slip through the cracks when you’ve re-read your letter 14 times already. Proof-reading and having a friend or family member look at it with a fresh set of eyes is crucial.

I think as an employer, the point of the cover letter became much clearer to me, as it is not only your first introduction to this person, tone, background, and all, but its their chance to explain discrepancies in their resume. I was shocked at how inadequate some cover letters were, and that little things like proof-reading your email responses and following up with a thank you really helped some people shine, and others fall by the wayside.

One thing my office manager shared with me, is how irritating it is for her to have to combine all documents from an applicant into one PDF document, and how much better it would be if each applicant sent all their documents in one file with their name as the title. I had never considered that when someone is creating files for 20+ applicants, that a little thing like that could make you so much more appealing.

Writing samples was another big surprise for me. I was really dismayed that certain applicants would send what were clearly internal documents from their work with their present employer. Unless you have express permission, I don’t think it looks good to send anything that has actions plans from your current employer to a potential employer. It shows a potential lack in judgement. I also was taken aback at how many “writing samples” were not a good representation of someone’s writing ability at all. In a writing sample, the employer is looking less at content, and more at your ability to put sentences together, for paragraphs to flow, and for there to be some maturity in word selection. Not to mention proper grammar and punctuation use! Yeesh.

All in all, what a valuable opportunity for me to be a part of the process. I think that when I next interview, I will be able to have a lot better grasp not only of how to present myself, but what to expect and and understanding of why I am being asked certain things. One more example in my mind of why starting at a small company was a great opportunity for me – I’ve hired an employee, edited and produced a quarterly newsletter, run a national annual appeal campaign, put out multiple press releases, maintained my company’s social media image, and am in the process of planning a major event and a quarterly board meeting. Whew! Wouldn’t have gotten any of those opportunities at a big name environmental group where I was an entry-level paper-pusher.

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