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A Hire Level of Service:
Astute Applicants Bring Service to the Table

By Craig Harrison

(As published in the California Job Journal, July 11-17, 1999.)

In a competitive job market your rating as an employee increases if you can demonstrate your commitment to customer service ÷ even before you're hired. In fact, as a job applicant you have ample opportunities within the hiring process to demonstrate your mastery of basic customer service precepts. By seeing yourself as a service provider you will find many ways to distinguish yourself and impress your prospective employer.

The same tenets which apply to customer service are valued in employees: good listening skills, attentiveness to others (superiors, co-workers and clients), a problem solving disposition, and a desire to please or satisfy, in part by going the extra mile.

Customer service simply means service to the customer. You, as the job seeker, should treat your prospective employers as you would valued customers; see yourself as a service provider ÷ by meeting needs of your interviewer, yours too can be met.

Get into the head of your 'customer.' Think in terms of what the hiring manager and human resources representative is looking for. Employers want employees who are good communicators (who can listen as well as speak effectively), anticipate the needs of others, and are solution oriented. You'll score points by anticipating their questions, concerns and needs and delivering thoughtful responses to them.

Anticipate. Always bring several copies of your rŽsumŽ, even if you already sent one in the mail. There's nothing like the satisfaction of having anticipated and successfully responded to any situations which arise: Instead of being shocked when you enter the interview room and face a panel of questioners, simply smile and let them know you've brought extra rŽsumŽs for everyone. Score one point for you!

Why not have your references in hand to present, when asked? You can respond by giving your interviewer(s) immediate service, and with a smile. Bring samples of your work with you if possible. Bonus points if they're items your interviewer can keep! Run out of business cards? Deduct one point. They're not heavy ÷ why not carry extras?

As a hiring manager I was once scheduled to interview a candidate over the lunch hour. This candidate, anticipating my low blood sugar level, brought a pair of apples along. She joked about whether an apple for a hiring manager was as effective as giving one to a school teacher. We both laughed. Small gesture, but indicative of a thoughtful approach. Score one point for her.

Asking Questions. Questions clarify others' concerns, and subconsciously let them know they've been heard. Many are afraid to ask questions for fear of appearing stupid. In fact, a question to clarify or reveal important distinctions demonstrates you listen well, grasp subtleties and can read between the lines. Asking questions to clarify shows you care.

Going the Extra Mile. Greg Marcuse, Principal of Marcuse & Associates, a San Rafael financial recruiting firm, advises clients "not be short sighted when budgeting time for your interview. Often, when an interview goes well interviewers want to introduce candidates to other managersor key player(s)." He advises job seekers to make themselves available to do so; says Greg, "it's in their best interest to not only arrive early, but stay late!"

Value Added Interviewing. Some employers offer interviewers hypotheticals: "How would you handle this situation?" Others give out a first assignment prior to hiring to see if you can walk your talk. For those who don't you can still impress. Here's how:

Listen for problems your prospective new group or department is experiencing·then fill those needs and solve those problems via your follow-up letter.

I knew a candidate who was interviewing with a department embarking on converting their computer system from one platform to another. After her interview, instead of just sending the obligatory thank-you note, her follow up note also alerted them to a website which addressed this conversion. She also enclosed a printed tip sheet of issues relating to this conversion. Score four points ÷ one for listening, one for initiative, and two for providing a solution.

Perhaps the company in question is missing a procedure or policy which you've created, developed or administered at a previous job. Your follow-up note can offer this suggestion for addressing their problem. Meanwhile you can share your experience at implementing it, and its beneficial results. Give yourself one point for demonstrating your expertise, another for your resourcefulness, and one for the value added. You've just given your interviewer a taste of lagniappe ÷ 'a little something extra.' You've cared well for that company·that's good customer service!

Uncommon Courtesy Gives You an Edge. Extend courtesy to all you come in contact with÷ the receptionist, telephone operator, administrative assistants and future co-workers. How better to demonstrate you can work effectively with different personality types then to start by wooing and wowing each person you come in contact with. They'll help persuade the hiring manager you will be a welcome addition, a good fit and easy to work with.

Surprise·your interview consists of a panel. Two are dressed in business attire, a third in jeans and a T-shirt. Do you tend to regard the under-dressed person as window dressing, instead addressing your attention to the perceived decision maker(s). Be egalitarian and give each good eye contact and address each in your remarks. Treat questions from each with equal respect. (Incidentally, the underdressed panelist is the boss's boss, who happened by the office on his off-day.) Score one point for finessing the panel. Deduct two if you don't ÷ you may be regarded as elitist and not a team player. This scoring reflects life. As in many customer service situations, you lose more by mis-stepping than by doing what's right.

Build Your Reputation Immediately

Your word is your bond. Demonstrate its worthiness from the moment you initiate contact with a company. If your cover letter says you'll call Friday, do so and acknowledge you are following through on your promise. Create opportunities to do what you'll say you will do. In your interview, is there a referral for a product, service or document you can give your interviewer. Tell them you'll provide it by the end of day or end of week. Then do so. Score two more points: one for the referral, one for meeting your self-imposed deadline. Congratulations, you've just demonstrated you're a person of your word. People naturally infer, if she made this little deadline, she's more likely to make the big ones. As for the other candidates, they haven't demonstrated anything yet.

Remember, in a competitive world, little things make the difference·but the difference is no little thing. Get the competitive edge by demonstrating your customer service orientation as a job seeker. And once you get the job, remember to "hold serve." Advantage÷You!


Craig Harrison is a professional speaker, corporate trainer and communication coach who helps individuals and organizations 'aspire & achieve!' His areas of expertise: customer service, communication and humor.

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