Lessons we can learn from Sam Pointon

When I was six, I thought I was going to be a teacher. This may have had something to do with being around teachers all day. Teaching isn’t on my radar now, but I could see myself in some kind of educational role. No matter what I end up doing, it’s important that I have fun and demonstrate drive on the job, for life is too short not to have fun.

Sam Pointon is learning this lesson very early on. He’s the director of fun at the National Railway Museum in York. This in itself is remarkable. What’s even more remarkable is that he was only six years old when he got the position, and he applied for the regular director position at first. Sam’s application shows his passion for trains and his determined attitude, traits anyone should have (well, maybe not always with trains). The hiring folks were so impressed that they made up a position for him.

We job seekers can learn a couple of things from Sam’s application, even if we’re not in elementary school anymore.

1. Stand out. Sometimes it’s not about the material in your resume or cover letter, but how you present it. Sam obviously didn’t have a resume, but he showed off his interest in trains with style. You (and I) can do the same. What makes you stand out against the other candidates? Surely that’s better than the “blah blah this is what I’ve done” BS.

2. Don’t worry if you don’t seem qualified. Sam obviously wasn’t qualified. If you’re passionate, apply! (And show why you’d be better, of course.) I’ve done this for several positions and gotten interviews. None of them worked out, but they remember me.

In case you’re wondering, Sam still has to go to school. Going to school and having a cool job? I’d take that, even at that age.


Buzzwords: not just from candidates

Today LinkedIn posted a list of the top ten buzzwords users mentioned in their profiles. The top ten in the USA are:

1. Extensive experience
2. Innovative
3. Motivated
4. Results-oriented
5. Dynamic
6. Proven track record
7. Team player
8. Fast-paced
9. Problem solver
10. Entrepreneurial

These results don’t surprise me a bit. When job searchers hear about their resumes and cover letters being scanned for those buzzwords, they feel the need to stuff their resumes with the same buzzwords that employers use in their job descriptions. Don’t believe me? I have a couple of job descriptions in front of me right now. Let’s take a look. The first one is relatively buzzword-free, though it does mention motivation and being a team player in the traits needed for this position. I’m proud of you, large company. I expected you to be the one filled with the most buzzwords.

The second position is at a small company that’s looking for a dynamic person. Uh-oh. One sentence in and they’re already speaking buzz. Luckily the rest of the job description is (mostly) buzz-free, partly thanks to the qualification listing.

But the third job. Oh, the third job. Let’s take a look.

“…work in a vibrant environment that fuses the dynamic worlds…”

Hello, buzz. I didn’t miss you.

From the qualifications section and in the same bullet point: “self-starter, innovative thinker”. Wow, they managed to cram two buzzwords in one bullet! I’m not sure whether to give them a cookie or take it away.

And another one a bit further down: “Ability to work in fast paced growing environment.”

Wow, that’s four in one job description. One buzzword that should get an honorable mention is “detail-oriented”. I’ve seen that in so many job descriptions that the term has lost its meaning by now. Of course employers want people who check for the little things. Assuming being detail-oriented isn’t a critical part of the job, it shouldn’t have be said. If employers stop using these buzzwords constantly, then maybe prospective employees will stop using them as well when introducing themselves, and everyone can start being more genuine when looking for a good fit.


Someone’s always more qualified than you

Last month I interviewed at a company to work in their internationals parts department. I didn’t have any experience in mechanical parts, but I spoke French, and this was the important part. How many people in my tiny town, or even in the not-so-big city I live in, speak French? The interviewers told me that the person they hired a few months ago didn’t know anything about the field when she came in and had to learn everything the fun way, so I figured mechanical knowledge wasn’t a huge deal. I did about as well as one could in the interview, and the interviewers even told me that they liked me.

Still, I wasn’t expecting to get hired. Maybe it’s because promoting people at random can happen with no ill effect, so why not hiring?

I didn’t get hired. (Obviously, or I wouldn’t be writing this.) One of my interviewers called me to tell me about a week ago. The person they hired happened to be a native French speaker with experience in the field. In other words, the perfect person for the job. I wasn’t that surprised when I found out that this person got hired instead of me.

Still, this brings up a very important lesson in the job search. You are never the most qualified person for a job. This is doubly true if you have limited work experience, and it’s particularly true when everyone is looking for a job. As much as I complain about ridiculous qualifications for jobs that are not that hard to do, some employers put those out there because there are people with a Ph.D. in environmental chemistry who speak English, Arabic, and Mandarin Chinese. That’s why they’re the idea candidate. The ideal candidate always exists, and it’s probably not you. Not on paper, at least.

So what are we great but still not quite ideal candidates to do? We rely on the other thing we have going for us: fitting in. It’s great if we can do the work, but doing the work and fitting in with the company’s culture is even better at some places, especially in team environments. No one wants to be that cranky coworker who never says hello to anyone, so show that interviewer that you’re not only qualified, but you’re a great fit.


Job queue: almost clear

Accomplishment of the day: My job queue is almost clear. Considering it was in the hundreds of items on Wednesday, this is definitely an accomplishment. There are only two items left, and I can’t do anything about them until Monday since the site those jobs are on is down.

Jobs, consider yourselves applied to. This means I can spend tomorrow doing job stuff at a more reasonable level while balancing it out with non-job things and apply to a more reasonable number of jobs per day starting next week. I have finally exited the frenzy of NaNo life, even if I haven’t been writing at a NaNo pace for four days. Maybe December should be National Apply To Jobs Month? Wait a minute; that’s every month for me until I find a job. Still, setting a quota for jobs to apply to every day isn’t a bad idea. Maybe I should do that.


Employers should put their best foot forward, too

One of my recent hobbies is making fun of job descriptions and wondering what went through the employers’ minds when they wrote them. The poor grammar makes me doubt the honesty in the “excellent writing and communicatino [sic] skills” requested in the job description. The job that called for an operatiions [sic] assistant (yes, I really did see this in the job title today) made me wonder what was going through the employer’s mind when they posted the listing.

If advice all over the job searching community is about putting your best foot forward, then don’t employers deserve to do the same? At the very least, they should show that they care about the things presented in the job description as much as they’d like the candidate to. That job description could be the first impression that a candidate has of a company. If the candidate cares about correct grammar and spelling, that candidate might eliminate the company from consideration after seeing an obvious error in the job description. Employers, please proofread before releasing jobs to the Web. Your candidates will thank you.