If you want to succeed in a competitive career in a tight job market, you need to learn to think like the boss. Here are four things that they wish more candidates knew – and four they hope you don’t find out.

Four things the boss wishes you knew

    Attitude is important. We surveyed Canadian employers last year about what would make them choose one equally qualified candidate over another. For most respondents by far, the deciding factor would be for the candidate who showed the most enthusiasm for the role.

    Demonstrate your passion for the job in the interview, and then keep it up on the job. Nobody wants to work with a constant complainer. Negativity will hold you back. The boss wants a positive team who are engaged with their work and enjoying the experience.

    Too many candidates arrive at the interview looking like they’d rather be someplace else, but they need to land a gig.

    You have to show up. If your boss can’t find you or count on your to be working when they expect you to, you aren’t going to last. Many workplaces offer flexible scheduling, opportunities to work remotely, and paid sick leave. These are great. Just don’t take advantage.

    I’ve seen people who had the option to work from home occasionally just stop coming in altogether. People actually forgot they worked there. At one company I worked at, this was so rampant that the perk was cancelled altogether for everyone when entire teams just stopped showing up.

    Punctuality is a part of this. Your boss notices when you arrive and leave work. If it seems like work is the last place you want to be – taking frequent sick days, leaving early, showing up late, the company will happily accommodate your desire not to be there.

    Results matter. There are always lots of reasons or excuses why something couldn’t get done or be completed on time. When you were in school, a note from mom might have bought you a little more time to get an essay done. On the job you’re paid to deliver results, and your boss is counting on you to get it done. Save the creativity spent on conjuring excuses and use it to find innovative ways to get the job done instead.

    Be more than accountable. You should take credit for your accomplishments, own up to and learn from your mistakes, and generally be accountable for achieving the objectives outlined in your job description. But that’s just the starting point. Doing just what is asked of you makes you expendable. Your boss is trying to build a team of stand-out high achievers. It’s by going above and beyond that you become successful. Your job description is the starting line, not the finish.

Knowing what’s important from your employer’s perspective can help you to be more successful on the job. However, here’s what they’d rather you weren’t aware of.

Four things that the boss really doesn’t what you to know

    They do have favourites. A survey by Georgetown University’s McDonough School of Business showed that the majority of managers and bosses do have favorite employees. And a staggering 96% of time, these are the most likely people to be given promotions.

    Even though they acknowledge that this practice leads to poor decision making, when bosses are choosing who to bump up the ladder, they’re not considering abilities, accomplishments, or seniority. They’re picking their golf buddies.

    They prefer employed candidates. It’s not fair, but the bias exists. Some employers think that employed candidates are more valuable than unemployed candidates. There is always the chance that unemployed candidates are out of work through some failing in their skills, work-ethic, or personality. (Now this is not a fair assumption, and it’s usually not the case, especially in a tight job market like we have seen in any parts of the country since the recession, but it is something that crosses the minds of some hiring managers.)

    While you’re currently employed, someone out there is already willing to pay you for what you do. It’s an unspoken recommendation from one employer to another. If you’re out of work – they think – there’s the possibility that the problem is you. Unfortunately the longer you go between jobs, the worse this perception can get.

    This is why I recently wrote “The best time to quit your job.” (It’s when you’ve already lined up your next one.)

    Personality trumps qualifications. Employers may set out with good intentions to hire the most qualified person for the job, but at the end of the process that’s not who they pick. A study conducted by Northwestern University sociologist Lauren Rivera showed that rather than hiring people with “superior cognitive or technical skills,” employers were much more likely to select candidates that they can relate to, that had similar backgrounds and interests to themselves.

    “Of course, employers are looking for people who have the baseline of skills to effectively do the job,” says Rivera. “But, beyond that, employers really want people who they will bond with, who they will feel good around, who will be their friend and maybe even their romantic partner. As a result, employers don’t necessarily hire the most skilled candidates.”

    Companies do have black lists. The biggest pet peeve of hiring managers is receiving applications from candidates who are just not relevant or qualified for the job they are hiring for. A recent survey of 1,500 recruiters and hiring managers found that such unrelated applications was the biggest turnoff for 30% of them. (And of that group, 43% said they would go so far as to ‘blacklist’ those candidates from any other jobs as well – by suppressing their names from even coming up in future searches.)

    Companies also have unofficial ‘black lists’ of current employees they’re hoping to offer an inversed employment paradigm to. You’ll know you’re on it when you start to receive written warnings about minor infractions. This could be a sign that your employer is protecting themselves from wrongful dismissal claims by building up a paper trail of official warnings about workplace behaviour or performance in advance. Also, watch out if you’re suddenly asked to document everything you do – or train someone on things that are normally your sole responsibility.

If you find yourself in a work situation where you would rather make excuses than accomplishments and dread showing up – or where the boss is nitpickingly documenting your mistakes and you’re obviously not on the ‘favourites’ list, it’s time to change jobs.

Remain polite and professional at all times. Don’t burn bridges, but quietly start your job search on your own time. Being a ‘currently employed’ candidate, you can game the system by putting one of the preferences in your favour.

And if you’re out of work, remember – enthusiasm and attitude can go a long way to helping you stand out from the crowd of other applicants.


Peter Harris
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