In a job search, paying attention to the little things is the big thing

job searchI know someone who has her job search figured out. She's identified an enviable opportunity, she knows whom to talk to and she plans to play up her credentials, which include management of some impressive projects and notable connections in a big city far away.

Too bad she hasn't figured out that the holder of this opportunity will stop listening to her as soon as she starts describing how brilliant she knows she is – because he won't care.

Her accomplishments are impressive, no doubt. But if she really knew this man – and devoted the same level of zeal to her research about his needs as she's spent thinking about what to say about herself – she would know that all he cares about are her local connections. If she's not bright enough to know how to talk to him, she has not yet figured out that she won't be hired, regardless of how smart she is.

In this job market, being smart and bright are two disparate things. Bright is not proving to a potential employer that you can do the work – that's being smart, which many people are. Bright means paying attention to the people skills that will determine whether you fit in, and hiring managers I've met agree those details play just as big a part in whether you will be chosen.

These are the kinds of seemingly benign skills learned from parents or grandparents that include displaying good manners, communicating appropriately and showing a willingness to learn.

I have no doubt that when I first moved to Colorado from California I inadvertently alienated a few people during my first interactions because I hadn't yet paid close attention to these cues. The cut-to-the-chase "What do you do?" carries little judgment in the Bay Area, for example, but risks alienating many people here, who consider this direct approach callous and rude. (Thank you to those gracious friends who clued me in to this fact.)

In Denver or Boulder, that question may not come up – and if it does, more likely you'll first be asked where you live, how you spend your time outside work and what you did last weekend. It's a small detail, but our personal and professional lives are made up of these details. We'd better learn them.

I continued to listen as the aforementioned woman elaborated on her awards, her promotions and her interactions with people in the metropolis she no longer lived in. She couldn't wait to share these things with the company owner in question, who she was sure would hire her on the spot.

Weeks later, after their meeting, she couldn't understand why he hadn't called. She was smart, she wondered aloud.


Laurie Huff is a former newspaper reporter and has been looking for full-time communications work for more than a year.
Read Full Story