I've spent the last several weeks traveling throughout the country for my company's career expos. These are one-day events that enable professional women in all fields to connect face-to-face with top employers.
By and large I'm always very impressed with the people I meet. They've got stellar work history and solid academic credentials. But that doesn't always mean they know how to present themselves when seeking new opportunities.
Although I run into many women who carry themselves with great confidence, more often than not I'm drawn to women who appear nervous and fidgety. I discovered years ago that those behavioral traits don't necessarily mean that a woman is any less qualified in terms of knowledge, skills and experience than her peers who are perfectly poised.
Just because you're good at what you've been trained to do in your chosen profession, doesn't mean you're good at the job search process. The biggest pitfall is the "I'll take anything" syndrome. It's an equal opportunity offender across gender, education, ethnicity and experience.
Candidates whose searches for employment are taking longer than they would have hoped find themselves lowering their standards. Women, especially, will reveal their sense of panic by approaching recruiters and saying, "I'm willing to consider any positions you might have available right now. I'd be happy to take anything. I just need a job."
When I ask these candidates to explain their rationale for using such opening lines -- whether I'm in Chicago, Altanta, Tampa, Fla., New York or Washington, D.C. -- they tell me they're at their wits end and really do just need a job. Their bills are piling up, their rent is overdue, and their credit cards are maxed out. I can relate; I've been there too.
They truly believe they're coming across as flexible and accommodating. They think it's a good thing that they're willing to do anything an employer might ask. And on the surface, that makes sense. It sounds akin to a team player -- someone who's willing to pitch in and help out as needed.
However, in the hiring process, that "I'll take anything" attitude tends to backfire. Candidates are often seen as desperate and unfocused. And nobody wants to make a sympathy hire nor do they want to hire someone with all sorts of baggage that may impact their performance.
To these people -- and to the new crop of college seniors who are nearing graduation -- I say dare to be picky. Be willing to define who you are, what you offer and what you seek. In a competitive job market, it's perfectly acceptable to pursue multiple positions simultaneously. You can have diverse interests that could take you in a number of directions. But when you're facing an employer -- or any valuable networking contact -- it's important to exude a sense of focus and desire.
In the next month, my travels will take me to Los Angeles, San Diego, Boston, Dallas and Houston. My greatest hope for the people I'm sure to meet is that they mask any sense of panic or desperation. Just by standing tall and confidently sharing their professional hopes and desires, they'll separate themselves from their competitors who lose out on great opportunities because they lack that simple vision that helps pave the way to success.
To connect directly with Tory Johnson or for other information on career advancement, visit www.womenforhire.com