How to convey enthusiasm on the job hunt?
October 19, 2012 11:47 AM   Subscribe

I just moved to a big city after graduating college in August. I'm not sure exactly what I want to do, and I'm not the most ambitious or confident person, to say the least. I have a somewhat untreated case of ADD, but I don't take my meds anymore; I'm finding coffee and exercise are much better. Anyways, I have gotten two different pieces of negative feedback on my phone behavior with people who had the potential to give me a job; they both basically said I sounded unenthusiastic. What is a good way to remedy this?

There's a larger problem here, my lack of confidence and ambition, but I know I can do this... fake it til you make it.

I guess I had thought the phone conversation was more casual, an exchange of information, but I do understand they are screening for whether I'd be a good candidate. The lady I last talked to said more than once "Now, you went to college, right? So (insert something impressive you did/learned)" which really put me on the defensive.

Also, how do I handle the networking from here on out? If people get this kind of feedback, are they still going to want to help me? Or should I just stop expecting it after something like that. I cannot let this job hunt demoralize me or crack my already-fragile self esteem; I need to make this work. I AM intelligent, attractive, engaged, and capable, and in-person I tend to make a good impression.
posted by bluelights to Work & Money (27 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
You could take some courses at Dale Carnegie to strengthen those skills that you are lacking.
posted by Dansaman at 11:50 AM on October 19, 2012

Phone interviews are interviews. You need to prep for and treat them as such. it's about your ability to find rapport and simultaneously sell yourself as a candidate.

People will still want to help you if you can go back to them and say "Dear Sheila, Thanks so much for your feedback following our phone conversation of (date). I took your advice to heart and have put a lot of work into my telephone interview skills and my strategies for taking better advantage of those opportunities. I just wanted to thank you for your helpful candor."
posted by DarlingBri at 11:53 AM on October 19, 2012 [3 favorites]

I recommend reading 60 Seconds and You're Hired. It's short, it's cheap, and it has great advice.
posted by griphus at 12:00 PM on October 19, 2012

Response by poster: Thanks for your answers. But this feedback never went back to me, it went to the person who made the contact. So I meant, the intermediary person who made the contact -- how do I handle networking with them?

Also, how do I know if what I'm doing is a phone interview? The people I spoke with wouldn't be directly hiring me. I don't think they were interviews per se. Regardless, something put them off.. I had also just woken up both times. Maybe that's a factor as well.
posted by bluelights at 12:01 PM on October 19, 2012

Are you on the phone with someone from the company? You're doing a phone interview. Even the receptionist that transfers you to the person you wish to speak might be asked what you sounded like.
posted by griphus at 12:03 PM on October 19, 2012 [2 favorites]

So I meant, the intermediary person who made the contact -- how do I handle networking with them?

Honestly, I think you've sort of screwed that pooch.

Also, how do I know if what I'm doing is a phone interview?

If you're looking for a job and someone you're speaking to is in a position to help you with that, treat it as a job interview, because a hiring network amounts to much the same thing. Get up earlier, drink some coffee, and bring your A game so you can be engaged in the conversation.
posted by DarlingBri at 12:04 PM on October 19, 2012 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: My intermediary contact said (secondhand to my family member who originally knew her) that she understands why this feedback occurred, though, as (in her words) the woman I spoke with is a "ball of energy." What if I shot her an email explaining/apologizing etc.? I think she still might be willing to help me.
posted by bluelights at 12:08 PM on October 19, 2012

People aren't just robots with speech recognition subroutines.

...they both basically said I sounded unenthusiastic. What is a good way to remedy this?

Sound enthusiastic next time. In fact, you should be enthusiastic. Believe it or not, a smile can be heard over the phone.
posted by General Tonic at 12:13 PM on October 19, 2012 [2 favorites]

Someone I know has a similar problem to you. I don't know about ADD, lack of confidence, etc. but due to being young and post-college, he assumes that the default way to behave with others is to sound "casual". To not come off like you want anything too much, or like you're too enthusiastic, or like you're bragging or cocky.

And as such, he has a lot of trouble getting jobs. Because he doesn't get that every conversation you have with anyone at all about a job is something like a job interview. Even if it's talking to a connection about a prospective job, a casual conversation with someone who could potentially offer you a job, stopping by a place of business to pick up an application, etc. etc. etc. If you're talking about the possibility of a job -- no matter how remote -- you should treat it like a job interview and behave accordingly.

What does that mean? It means you should take yourself seriously and be open about the fact that you want the job! If someone in this sort of "casual" situation asks you what you want to do, you should have a positive answer and not waffle about how you don't really know. If someone asks if you'd be interested in a job doing X, you should say YES enthusiastically. If you're talking to someone who is potentially in a position to hire you, you should behave accordingly. If you're stopping into a place of business to find out about a potential job, you should dress nicely and carry yourself with as much confidence as you can muster.

If you don't ask, you won't get. If you give off the impression that you don't care or aren't interested, they will choose someone who cares and is interested.
posted by Sara C. at 12:13 PM on October 19, 2012 [6 favorites]

Do not apologies and for God's sake don't explain. It just comes across as making excuses and being unable to take responsibility for fucking up.

I would suggest the following...

Dear Sheila, Thanks so much for the chance to chat with you on (date). I've taken that experience to heart and am investing in my telephone interview skills and my strategies for taking better advantage of those opportunities. I just wanted to thank you for your time and the experience.

...except I assume you have already sent a thank-you email, and so that opportunity has passed. Learn from it, move on.
posted by DarlingBri at 12:13 PM on October 19, 2012 [3 favorites]

Also, regarding "networking" in the future, my best advice is to act enthusiastic and be open about what you want in your everyday life. Especially at work.

I'm an aspiring screenwriter who makes money working in TV and film production. For a long time, it was really hard for me to tell people that I was a writer. Which meant that when jobs that involve working with writers (and producers, directors, and other people on the creative side) came up, nobody thought of me for that sort of work. Not because they explicitly thought I'd be bad at that, but because they already had a ton of people in the back of their minds who were being vocal about wanting those kinds of jobs.

When I started to speak up about wanting to be a writers' assistant, people started thinking of me that way, and now I'm a writers' assistant.

Don't sit around hoping that someone will see certain qualities in you. Tell them what to see in you.

(I know this can be hard if you don't know where your passions lie, but the same is true if you want to be a bartender, or work in the accounting department rather than customer service, or whatever it is that you do for a job.)
posted by Sara C. at 12:21 PM on October 19, 2012 [4 favorites]

Regarding "sounding enthusiastic", do you have a "professional" voice? The voice you use when discussing professional opportunities and topics? You should practice that with a friend or a family member. Your professional voice should sound a little different from your regular voice in that you are peppy, bright, upbeat, friendly, and engaged in a way that might sound a little overbearing for regular use if you're like me, and it sounds like you are. Pretend you're in a TV commercial without sounding like you're pretending to be in a TV commercial. That's where the practice comes in.
posted by bleep at 12:32 PM on October 19, 2012 [1 favorite]

My hubby wants to add that the number 1 thing is to smile while you're talking. People can hear the positivity in your voice.
posted by bleep at 12:35 PM on October 19, 2012 [4 favorites]

I'm not sure exactly what I want to do

And that's coming across. Are these job opportunities ones that you care about? Or are they just... something... because you don't know? You need to figure out what you actually want to do and look for jobs that you will give a damn about. Or, if you just want a job, then you should get enthusiastic about the fact that you have a job opportunity and get that enthusiasm to come across. Basically don't "fake it" per se, but find something you can be enthusiastic about, even if it's just that you're getting an interview!
posted by DoubleLune at 12:36 PM on October 19, 2012 [6 favorites]

While you work on reprogramming your overall interaction, here's a simple thing that can make a big difference:

At the same time that you register a log of all they say to you, and process that for subsequent comment, also keep an instantaneous reaction, kind of like those approval graphs of the debates on CNN.

The instant that you receive positive information, about a plan, an achievement, a good break of luck -- without hesitation, say quietly, "Nice!" It never gets old if you don't overuse it.
posted by StickyCarpet at 12:37 PM on October 19, 2012

I have a deadpan, sort of dry demeanor, to the point that people sometimes think I'm being sarcastic when I'm being sincere. So for job interviews, I have to deliberately go way the other direction. I feel a little fake doing this, but I've gotten positive feedback on my enthusiasm even from people who hired another candidate.

Open your mouth and enunciate clearly. Smile when you talk--even on the phone. Practice you're "I'm interested and actively listening" face--and yes, use it on the phone. Work on some segues (filler-ish comments like "That's an interesting idea" or "You know, that reminds me of a situation..."). These help me pretend I'm having a fascinating chat--not that I'm just waiting to answer a never-ending series of HR-mandated questions.
posted by serialcomma at 12:51 PM on October 19, 2012

What is the physical set-up when you're on the phone? Physically prepare for the call - get dressed, be fed/watered/awake/combed/etc. For me it helps to be either sitting up at a desk, with a pad of paper in front of me, or standing/walking in my house, so my voice will be energetic. Think ahead about what kinds of questions you want to ask, what information you'd like to get from the call. Make notes to keep yourself on track if your mind wanders. Do not make a call when you're in a distracting environment.
posted by LobsterMitten at 12:52 PM on October 19, 2012 [1 favorite]

When you are on the phone, stand up and smile. Don't do anything else when you are on the phone other than talk on the phone, take calls in a private place where you won't have other people distracting you in any way. If you get a call at a time when those things can't happen, ask for a moment or ask to schedule a time to talk.
posted by yohko at 12:53 PM on October 19, 2012

You had just woken up? Did you not know that you were going to be speaking with this person ahead of time?
posted by radioamy at 12:59 PM on October 19, 2012 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Great answers, especially by Bleep... my dad is an advertising executive, and he told me crafting a "pitch" and practicing it over and over, even if you don't believe it, makes all the difference. Like when he works with clients and makes them repeat a phrase 100 times until it sounds authentic, same thing. I just need to organize my talking points, do them in front of a mirror, etc.
posted by bluelights at 2:04 PM on October 19, 2012

Response by poster: Oh, and if anyone wants to interject any other advice for someone in my position, please let me know. It's more multi-faceted than this phone issue. I'm 21 and just moved to Boston, I haven't made friends yet, etc. It's really a difficult time in life, but it's also so exciting.
posted by bluelights at 2:08 PM on October 19, 2012

If your dad is an ad exec and you haven't sat down with him (or got him on the phone) for an extended period of time and asked him explain the best way to go about doing any of this, for the love of god do so. I can't think of a person better suited to explain how all this works than an ad executive. People honest-to-god pay for the privilege.
posted by griphus at 2:24 PM on October 19, 2012 [6 favorites]

Tangentially... If you're looking for a job in a more techy/creative industry where people are working from home or the road often, next time, see if you can schedule a Skype video interview instead of a traditional phone one. Just being able to read people's faces helps a long way in making a better connection to your interviewer.

Also, yeah -- prepare. Doesn't matter if they say they just want to "have a quick chat." It's an interview. If it helps, make sure you are at a desk with business clothes on, notepad in hand, and a glass of water to sip 10 minutes before the person will call. And take notes!
posted by thirdletter at 4:03 PM on October 19, 2012

Best answer: On a slightly different note from what others have said above (all of which is good advice), were you prepared with a plan for what sort of conversation you wanted to have with these people, and what questions you wanted answered?

One thing that I think can happen to new grads (or people looking for their first job in general) is that they're used to being passive and having someone else be in charge of leading conversations. However, the people you talked to were probably doing a favor for your intermediary contact, who likely told them something to the effect of "Hey, I have a family friend that just moved to your city and is interested in your field, can you do me a favor and talk to them?" If you got on the phone and didn't have any questions ready, or a pitch for who you are and what sort of job you're looking for, it could be that they were left hanging, wondering what in the world they were talking to you for and unsure of what to say. I could really easily see that leading to feedback like "not enthusiastic" because they might have read you as not really participating in the conversation--after all, they were expecting you to LEAD it and instead you were mostly silent/waiting for them to say something.

I bet your next phone conversation will go a lot better if you:

(1) prepare a little introduction of yourself so they know a bit about you ("my name is bluelights, I just graduated with a degree in basketweaving and moved to this city, and I'm really interested in finding a job that would let me pursue my analytic skills / people skills / love of fashion / whatever");

(2) tell them WHY you are talking with them ("my intermediate contact mentioned that you work for Big Company A that does basket-selling. I've been struggling to figure out what sorts of entry-level jobs are available in this field or other fields that might be a good fit, and it's really hard to tell from company websites what those jobs are actually LIKE or how to land them"); and then

(3) have some questions for them, even really broad ones, to guide the conversation ("can you tell me a bit about how you got into this field?" or "is this a good field for an entry-level person with a passion for working with people?" or even "can you give me any advice about finding a good first job, either in your field or elsewhere, because I am feeling totally lost here and you seem really successful").

People love to be helpful, people love to give advice--but you can't expect them to come in and take charge, you need to actually ask them for it.
posted by iminurmefi at 4:31 PM on October 19, 2012 [4 favorites]

The lady I last talked to said more than once "Now, you went to college, right? So (insert something impressive you did/learned)" which really put me on the defensive.

I'm not quite sure what this sentence actually was: I think you're saying she was trying to get you to talk about interesting/impressive things you'd done? I assume this because that's what people want to know when they interview you. If she actually had to be this blunt about it, you're doing it wrong. You're talking to people who might give you a job, I don't care if it's over the phone, in person, or by semaphore. You are trying to impress them. They are expecting you to be trying to impress them. Anything less than you actively preparing a list of possibly-relevant impressive projects and talents and experiences you have in order to bring them up whenever possible is being unenthusiastic.

And if coffee/exercise is how you think you're treating your ADD? Make sure you have your coffee and exercise before having important conversations!
posted by jacalata at 5:28 PM on October 19, 2012

There's a book called "Knock 'Em Dead" which has a section on calling/cold calling potential jobs. It basically helps you deliver a pitch/script for talking to employers.

Additionally, make sure you are fully, neatly dressed, sitting alertly and smiling when you talk on the phone. It makes a difference in your tone of voice.
posted by Elysum at 10:35 PM on October 25, 2012

Response by poster: Update: I ended up getting a phone-based job.. solely based on my phone interview. They were really impressed. So, fuck the people this post was originally based on. :)
posted by bluelights at 11:28 PM on February 3, 2013

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