What Works in a Job Search? Part 2: Improve Your Self-Presentation

What does research reveal regarding how to navigate a job search well?  In my last blog post, I began to review the evidence found in Liu, Huang, and Wang’s extensive meta-analytic study of job search interventions.  They found that job search interventions work, and the best ones accomplish two objectives: (1) they help people improve their job search skills, and (2) they mobilize their motivation to do the hard work a job search requires.  Installment 1 in this four-part series explored effective strategies that are frequently deployed in job searches that end in success. In this second blog post in the series, I explore what it means to “improve your self-presentation” in a job search.

Improve Your Self-Presentation

Once you identify potentially good-fitting job opportunities and work to get your foot in the door, your odds of being short-listed or hired increase substantially when you present yourself well, both on paper and in an interview. Liu, Huang, and Wang found evidence that job seekers often leave out some of the most helpful information from their resumes or organize it in a way that makes it difficult for employers to quickly identify their strengths.

For example, highlighting experiences that illustrate interpersonal skills or leadership qualities and leading with a statement that summarizes key competencies you possess—especially those that speak to the requirements in the job ad—can significantly increase your odds of getting an interview. (Consult the PathwayU Tools section for more on preparing an effective resume and cover letter.)

Learn some of the most valuable #JobSearchStrategies in Part 2 of our 4 part series here: Click to Tweet

Of course, some employers no longer require a resume, looking instead to LinkedIn, their own online application form (which typically requests the same kind of information but in a format they prefer), or even just a cover letter alone. And you can count on prospective employers googling your name to learn more about you.

According to the late-career guru Dick Bolles, 91% of employers say they have looked up an applicant’s social network profiles, and more than two-thirds have rejected applicants after seeing what was there. Keep in mind, this works the other way, too—another two-thirds of employers say they offered someone a job after googling them and liking what they found.

If your digital footprint reveals you to be someone who gets along well with others, communicates well, has a broad range of interests, is highly professional and highly creative, and attends well to detail (like spelling things correctly and using good grammar), you’re in good shape. In contrast, if you shudder to think of what your mom might see if she googled you, you can assume employers will feel the same way she would.

For better or worse, interviews are a mainstay in the hiring process.  Evidence suggests job search interventions that focus on improving interview skills and reducing anxiety lead to improved interview performance and, in turn, a greater likelihood of receiving a job offer. Effective interview training often begins with very pragmatic tips on things like how to dress for an interview, the importance of making eye contact, leading with an appropriately firm handshake—all very important things to get right.

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It also typically walks through various types of interviews you may encounter, from phone interviews to group interviews to structured and unstructured in-person interviews. It continues with some tips for interview preparation, such as doing your homework on the opportunity and the organization and having responses ready for commonly-asked questions.

Savvy interviewees also are prepared to use the STAR technique, in which (whether directly prompted or not) they share stories that describe a Situation, Task, Action, and Result from their education or work history to highlight their strengths and illustrate how they will perform on the job. For example, imagine you are interviewing for a customer service position.

Somewhere in the interview, you might tell a story about a time you were charged with the unpleasant task of appeasing an angry customer (Situation), how you listened attentively to ensure the customer felt heard and understood before consulting with a sympathetic supervisor (Task), and how you then offered a reasonable solution to their concerns (Action), with the outcome of de-escalating the situation and helping the customer feel valued, even if still somewhat upset (Result). These kinds of interview tips and others are available in the PathwayU Tools section. Reviewing those, and arranging opportunities to practice your skills, will improve your performance.

When discussing self-presentation, it goes without saying (although I’ll say it anyway) that you have to approach the process with authenticity and integrity. Tailoring resumes, cover letters, and interviews to emphasize your fit to a position is part of “playing the game,” but it is absolutely essential to be completely truthful in what you are conveying to employers, both on paper (or online) and in an interview.

Truth-telling is, obviously, a moral duty in a job search. Furthermore, the consequences for fabrication and embellishment are severe, as Scott Thompson (CEO of Yahoo), Sandra Baldwin (President of the U.S. Olympic Committee), Kenneth Lonchar (CFO of Veritas Software Corp.), and George O’Leary (football coach at Notre Dame) discovered. All four were fired from their lofty positions and publicly humiliated after falsified information was discovered on their resumes.

Finally, effective self-presentation requires humility. Humility is a virtue that includes an accurate evaluation of the self (not thinking too much or too little of oneself), and a focus on others’ welfare at least as much as one’s own. I mention this virtue in part to stress that humility is not the same thing as modesty, which involves being self-effacing and unpretentious, often to a fault. In a job search, modestly downplaying your strengths will not do you any favors, but humility will exude a quiet confidence that will endear you to employers without compromising your integrity.

In part 3 of this series, I will present the burning question: What happens if I’m using effective strategies and have a solid self-presentation, but am still not getting hired?  The answer requires staying proactive, setting smarter goals, boosting your “job search self-efficacy,” and enlisting support.  For details, stay tuned!

This blogpost series is excerpted from Bryan’s latest book, Redeeming Work. Dik, B. J. (2020). Redeeming Work. West Conshohocken PA: Templeton Press.