Dress to Impress at Your Interview

We are frequently asked by candidates what the appropriate attire is for a job interview. The “anything goes” fashion rule that applies in some workplaces does not apply for most job interviews! Of course, “best practice attire” for both interviews and work differs significantly depending on location, industry and position.

While suits and ties are no longer expected, conservative dress is still our recommendation. There is never a second chance to make a first impression! The outfit you select to wear for a job interview is a big part of that first impression so don’t miss the opportunity to make a positive impression.

Prior to an interview, research the company you want to work for. By looking at employees’ photos on the company website, you can often see what dress is appropriate. If you know employees at the company, ask them about the dress code. If you are working with a staffing company, ask the Staffing Manager or Consultant who is sending you on the interview what they would recommend you wear.

Our basic guidelines are:
• Wear a conservative outfit. Be sure the outfit fits—too tight or too short outfits are not a good choice. For women, pants and a conservative blouse are always a safe choice. Suits and dresses (preferably with sleeves) are also appropriate choices. For men, slacks and a dress shirt with or without a tie are safe choices. For most jobs, slacks and sometimes jeans and a polo shirt are appropriate. Tee-shirts with or without messages are not recommended.
• Wear conservative shoes. For women, either flats or heels are appropriate. For men, casual shoes are fine and in many cases, athletic shoes are fine. Flip-flops are not a good choice for anyone!
• Avoid perfume, cologne and fragrant after-shave lotion. Many people are sensitive to fragrances and a sneezing interviewer does not make for a positive interview.
• Jewelry and scarves are appropriate and can add a professional touch.
• Visible tattoos and piercings are sometimes a negative so know the company culture.
• Unique hair colors and styles may also make a negative impression so, if practical, a conservative color and style is recommended.

Some may feel that it is not fair to be judged by what you wear or how you look. That may be true, but the reality is that you are judged by the first impression you make. Employers want employees they will be proud to have represent them. Following these recommendations will help you be the one selected because you will make a positive first impression. And, don’t forget, to use a firm handshake!

Julia Aguilar

Strong Job Applicants Often Receive Multiple Job Offers

It is definitely an applicant’s job market as San Luis Obispo’s unemployment rate remains around 3%. Employers are disappointed when their “first choice” of candidates receive multiple job offers or has accepted another job before their offer is made.

June may ease the job market for employers slightly as students enter the workforce following graduation from high schools, community colleges and four-year colleges. Also, as wages rise because of minimum wage increases and the continuing low unemployment, people who are currently employed are beginning to look for jobs that pay more, are more enjoyable, or better fit their career or personal goals.

A recent survey by Robert Half found that approximately 59% of job seekers received two or more offers at the same time when applying for jobs. The study further showed that most candidates make a decision on accepting a job within two or fewer days. We find that many applicants are ready to accept the right job as soon as it is offered.

Reasons job seekers in the survey chose one job over another included:
• Salary
• Benefits
• Advancement potential
• Commute
• Responsibilities or challenges of the position.

For employees, think about the reason you are changing jobs. Is it for more money? Is it to shorten your commute? Is it to find a job where you will enjoy coming to work each day? Is it for schedule flexibility? Consider your reasons carefully as you evaluate which offer to accept or whether to keep searching!

For employers seeking to fill open positions, be cognizant of the fact that top tier candidates will likely receive multiple offers. The offers may come quickly, particularly for skilled and/or experienced candidates. Decide who you want to hire as quickly as possible, make the best offer you can justify and, hopefully, you will hire your “first choice” for your position.

Julia Aguilar

It’s Time for Sports!

One of the most enjoyable times for parents is watching their children participate in sports. There is the pressure of hoping your child will get a hit or catch a ball in softball and baseball, make a hoop in basketball, score a goal in hockey or score a touchdown in football. Then there is the great joy when you see their successes!

Sports teach children from 5 years old through high school and college to be team members, to celebrate victories and to endure defeats. Friends from Little League through college remain friends for a lifetime both for players and for their families.

As employers, we need to be supportive of sports for the good of both parents and players. Allow scheduling flexibility whenever viable. Flexibility could include allowing employees to leave early on game days, approving make-up time if requested, allowing remote work schedules on game days, etc.

Employees will be more productive if they are not stressed over getting to a game in time or missing a game. Children will be delighted to see their parents in the stands cheering them on.

And, if you are as lucky as we are at SLPS, you will even receive Snapchat updates when players get a hit, make a great catch or strike out the opposing team!

Julie Aguilar

Were You Laid-Off or Fired?

Too often, applicants write on their applications or tell interviewers that they were fired from a prior job when they were actually laid off. Fired typically means that an employee was involuntarily terminated for cause. Laid off typically means that an employee was involuntarily terminated because of a reduction in staff.

Being fired means that an employee failed to meet performance standards, attendance standards or violated a Company Policy. Violation of Company Policy typically includes such misconduct as falsifying work time, violating any safety, health or security procedure, violating the Company’s drug and alcohol policy, carrying firearms or any dangerous weapons on Company premises, violating the Company’s anti-harassment policies, participating in horseplay or practical jokes on Company property, theft or careless damage to Company property or insubordination. Being fired is usually the employee’s fault and is usually permanent.

Being laid off means that there was a reduction in staff due to changes in the company structure, a workload reduction or budget constraints. Sometimes a lay-off is temporary and the employee will be called back to work if conditions change. Being laid off is not the employee’s fault. While a lay off may feel like a firing, it is not and it is important to accurately indicate on applications and in job interviews if you were laid off. Do not confuse the terms or casually comment that you were fired if indeed you were laid off. It may well make the difference in whether or not you are considered for certain jobs.

Julia Aguilar

Hiring the Slightly Under-qualified!

Those of us who work in recruiting are acutely aware of the severe shortage of qualified candidates for many skilled positions. With a local unemployment rate around 3%, many positions go unfilled for extended periods of time. Positions in Accounting, including Accountants, Accounting Managers, Payroll Administrators, AP Clerks, AR Clerks and Bookkeepers are particularly difficult to fill with the fully qualified candidate.

Positions remaining unfilled can lead to frustration from the overworked employees attempting to cover one or more empty positions. This can lead to turnover and morale issues for current employees. It also can lead to an overworked manager. Of course, being overworked can lead to unintended mistakes or late reports. Corporate managers or business owners are then disappointed. The impact of unfilled positions can indeed impact an entire company!

Actions to consider include:
1. Promote and train a current employee who has interest and knows parts of the position.
2. Hire an outside employee on a temporary basis to assist with special projects or certain tasks until the long-term employee is hired.
3. Outsource projects or duties that can be effectively accomplished by a third party at a reasonable cost.
4. Recommended Action: Hire the slightly under-qualified candidate who has some or most of the skills needed. Recognize that the new hire will require more time to train as well as more supervision in the short term. Odds are high that this will be a successful hire – just takes a bit of patience.

Strong candidates are hired quickly; companies are competing for both the fully qualified and the slightly under-qualified candidates. Make a decision on the spot if you interview someone that you believe can be trained for the position in a relatively short time. If you think someone could likely be trained to fill your open position, but are not confident enough to make a direct hire, use a temporary service to hire the employee during the training while you make an evaluation. Too many good hires are lost due to delayed decisions! Give training the “slightly under-qualified” a try!

Julia Aguilar

Loss of Trust – Words from One of My Most Respected Early Mentors

Years ago, Byron Campbell, then the Publisher of the LA Daily News, took a big chance by promoting me from the HR Director of a small sister newspaper to the VP of HR for the LA Daily News. I was one of the first women to be given the opportunity to represent a large LA newspaper in negotiating union contracts. I transferred from managing a team of two to building a team of thirteen. I was also the only female on an executive team of eight led by Byron. I had a lot to learn and, fortunately, my boss was a wonderful, kind, smart mentor!

One of most helpful words of advice I received from Byron was: “When the trust is gone, you need to end the relationship.” Of course, you always follow the appropriate legal and management guidelines for ending work relationships, but you find a way to reach a mutual agreement on ending it because you truly cannot function efficiently without the trust of members of your team, whether your team is your department or the executive team of the company. Of course, you first investigate to make sure that your loss of trust was not due to a correctable misunderstanding or other valid, correctable issue. If, indeed, the trust is broken and cannot be repaired, solutions include the options of a transfer, voluntary termination or involuntary termination with or without an agreement depending on the situation. As Byron told me so many years ago, “When trust is gone and cannot be regained, it is time to end the work relationship.”

Julia S. Aguilar

“Less than Perfect” Applicant may be “Just Right”!

In 2011 and 2012, I wrote blogs about the difficulty finding “the perfect candidate” even in times of high unemployment. In today’s world of extremely low unemployment, “the perfect candidate” is definitely more elusive.

That’s one of the reasons clients use our services to “try out” potential employees prior to making their hiring decisions.

Interestingly, some of our most successful long-term hires and placements have been from the “less than perfect” candidates.

I’d like to repeat two personal success stories in which “less than perfect” candidates exceeded everyone’s expectations:

In the 90’s, the company I managed had a rigid required typing score before someone could be hired for an inside sales position. One applicant had the right personality and skill set except for her typing skills. Unfortunately, she could not meet the required typing score until those giving the typing test allowed her to take the test over and over until she finally passed…or so they finally confessed to me a couple of years later! This “less than perfect” candidate has worked for the company for 25 years and has enjoyed outstanding sales successes over the years.

Twenty years ago, my brother turned 40, sold his auto parts business and called Big Sis to ask for help with preparing a resume for a position at a large manufacturing plant. He had been self-employed since high school as a farmer and later as a small business owner. The obvious questions/concerns for the prospective employer included:

Could he work for a “boss” after being his own “boss” for 20+ years?

Could he possibly be a team player after years of owning a small business?

I knew his only chance of success was to get to the interview. His work experience would not get him there! We concentrated on preparing a resume and cover letter that addressed the likely concerns, including the reasons for being interested in the position and the company. We listed non-work team activities on his resume that he had participated in over the years, including racing cars, playing football and adult softball.

We were disappointed when he was not among the first group to be selected. Just a week later, he called to tell me that additional hires were being made and he had a second chance. He was called in for an interview and hired based on his personality, his attitude toward work and teams and on his experience with non-work team activities. He has been promoted several times, and continues to be one of the most popular and respected team members in his company. He plans to retire from his position in a few years after more than 20 years of service with the company for which he was not the perfect candidate!

Though an individual needs to have the basic skills, experience and personality fit for the job, the “less than perfect candidate” sometimes becomes a long-term, valued employee. Don’t rule out valid candidates without giving them a chance to explain why the job they are applying for is the right one for them at this point in their lives.

Julie Aguilar
Principal, CSP

Excellent Customer Service Starts at the Top

Excellent customer service is reflected in the mission statements and policies of many companies of all sizes and from all industries. Recently, I have experienced both exceptionally good and exceptionally poor customer service.

Here are a few examples of each which represent different industries and different parts of our country:

1. After numerous transfers and almost two hours on the phone attempting to arrange TV service for my son in his new apartment, an installation time was finally confirmed. Then came the surprise, “Unfortunately, the apartment complex does not allow satellite dishes to be installed.”
Sure would have made for a better customer service experience if this information had been checked and shared during the first five minutes. Point: Don’t continually transfer customers by either Chatterbox or Customer Service Representatives unless the information needed is available. Customers indeed get tired of repeating the same request and the same information. It is particularly frustrating when the issue cannot be resolved, but a lot of time has been taken.
2. I was in an extremely long line at a bank during the lunch hour; two tellers were working while a number of staff members were seated at their desks without customers. I thought it was because it was the lunch hour until I overheard two customers discussing that it was always this way at this branch no matter what the time of day. Point: When a customer service issue is this obvious, reevaluate staffing assignments and lunch/break schedules.
3. I ordered sweet potato fries at one of my favorite restaurants. This restaurant is part of a highly rated chain and one at which I’ve enjoyed many delicious meals. The fries were lukewarm at best when served. I ordered the fries again the next night after mentioning to the waiter that the fries I had eaten the night before were not hot. Again, the fries were lukewarm and appeared a bit stale/old. I asked the server about the fries and she said, “Not many orders for sweet potato fries are placed so the ones served have often been setting for a while. You only receive hot sweet potato fries if there are none already cooked and a fresh batch has to be prepared for your order.” Point: Even well-run national companies fail to meet their established standards if local management fails to support or fails to understand the standards.
4. I recently stayed at the same hotel for two weeks. The staff was excellent: Front Desk clerks welcomed you, remembered your name and quickly responded to any questions or special requests. Point: I will always remember their attitude and their helpfulness and will likely stay at the same hotel chain again and again.
5. During the same hotel stay, I used Uber two or more times each day. The Uber app works exceptionally well, most drivers were professional and provided excellent service, any mistakes were quickly corrected. Point: Uber has well trained contractors and their app is extremely easy to use. Both factors contributed to their excellent service.
6. A hospital where my son had hand surgery (the reason for the hotel stay) provided the best possible customer service. At check in, the Patient Services Representative had been in her position for 22 years and clearly enjoyed her job, admired the doctor and the hospital. This was a large facility which ran right on schedule, made patients and family feel welcome and comfortable, answered questions with ease, provided excellent care from check in through surgery and follow-up appointments. Point: There is an obvious reason that this is one of the most highly-rated hospitals in the country. Staff has been well trained and given the authority to provide excellent service to patients and their families.

It is my belief that excellent customer service starts with top management at each business or operation. It is important to hire the right people, provide direction and training for all staff positions, provide adequate compensation and benefits to ensure employees know they are appreciated and give employees the authority to make decisions on the spot to accommodate customer needs whenever reasonable to do so. Excellent customer service does indeed pay off for all: customers, employees and the business!

Julia Aguilar

Father’s Day

In 2016, my brothers and I celebrated the anniversary of our father’s 100th birthday. My father (Daddy Roger) was one of the smartest and kindest people I’ve ever met. He often quoted Shakespeare, could solve any math problem and wrote wonderful, amusing letters. He was fascinated by the stars in the sky and by space exploration. He played 12 musical instruments by ear and entertained us many times picking the guitar and playing the mouth harp. However, he could not carry a tune and that is one trait he passed along to me. My mother even once told me while I was singing a hymn in church that I sung like my father and I’m sure that was not a compliment on either of our voices.

He taught all of us to be interested in politics. I don’t think any of his six children have ever failed to vote in an election. I recall him always reading the Richmond Times-Dispatch and the Reader’s Digest.

He turned down a college scholarship because he didn’t want to leave his hometown girlfriend who later became our mother. Our parents were married for forty years and died just four months apart. I have no doubt that my mother died of a broken heart following the loss of her “boyfriend”.

Never once did he give me, his only daughter, any inclination that girls were in any way inferior. He assumed I would go to college and enjoy a successful career. Okay, so he did once tell me he didn’t want me to have any children because he didn’t want me to go through the pain of childbirth. He assured me that with five brothers, the sisters-in-law could provide all the grandchildren he needed! I solved this by marrying someone who already had two children.

As I wrote last year, Mother’s Day can never be neglected. Father’s Day does not often get the same attention. This is a good time for all to remember and to thank our fathers for all that they did to enrich our lives.

Julia Shell Aguilar

Mother’s Day Blog

Many of us were fortunate enough to not only have mothers who helped to make us strong, but aunts as well. My father’s sister, Juliet or JuJu, was the perfect aunt throughout my first 40 years. First of all, we shared the same first name though my parents modified “Juliet” to “Julia”.

When I was a junior in high school, I was dating a soldier from the local military base. I overheard a conversation between my mother and JuJu in which my mother expressed great concern that I would get married instead of going to college. I recall overhearing my aunt telling my mother, “Let me take care of it.” The following week, my aunt invited me to tour three colleges that she thought I might like to attend. We toured the colleges and drove throughout the Commonwealth of Virginia for a week. I decided on the trip that I thought Radford College would be a good choice.

Shortly after our college tour, I learned that my boyfriend was to be discharged and would return to Vermont in a few weeks. Taking no chances, JuJu invited me to join her and her children on a three-week trip to California knowing that “Bob” would be gone when we returned. We enjoyed a wonderful trip on which JuJu made sure we used a Duncan Hines Book of Recommendations to determine where we ate and AAA and Best Western Books to determine where we stayed. We toured many historic and fascinating sites and enjoyed glorious evenings of swimming and talking.

As a country girl from Virginia, it is fair to say that the two trips were life-changing for me. I did attend Radford College and was even a bit familiar with California when many years later, my husband was transferred to San Diego.

Happy Mother’s Day to the aunts, mothers and grandmothers who made us strong women!

Julia S. Aguilar