Looking for a job can be a drag, but if you take it step by step, and work on perfecting each job-getting strategy, it does not have to be an exercise in patience.
The job scene isn’t quite as dire as it was a few years ago, but that doesn’t mean getting a job is a snap. There are the interminable interviews to schedule, the justification for your existence to talk about, and the post-interview waiting period to endure. Although it can be a drag, the whole experience doesn’t have to be an overwhelming exercise in patience. Just break it down, step by step, and work on perfecting each job-getting strategies. With that in mind, here are 10 tips for a happy jobhunt:
1. Write your résumé as a poem, not a novel.
Many people misunderstand what a résumé really is. They make it too long, too detailed, and not eye-catching enough. There’s value in detail, and being able to describe every aspect of your current duties is ideal for performance reviews. But your résumé isn’t about what you’ve done as much as it is about what you can do in the future, based on your experience. It’s like a carpenter showing his clients the houses he’s built. He’s not going to talk about what each project involved–he’s just going to say, look, I did a great job here, and I can do the same for you. Keep the résumé a page if you can do it, two pages if you have to, and distill descriptions down to experience that translates well into other positions.
2. Spell check. Really.
When I chat with HR folks, the spelling thing always comes up. More accurately, the misspelling thing. The fact is, the spell check feature on a word processing program won’t catch everything, especially technical terms. Poor spelling or grammar is a red flag for most hiring managers, who interpret the errors as indifference or sloppiness on the part of the candidate.
3. Change your résumé if it isn’t working.
You’ve sent out résumés for months, and no one’s calling or answering your e-mails. It could be chalked up to a tough economic climate, but the fault could also lie with the résumé. It’s tough to overhaul a résumé once it’s written, but sometimes it’s what works, so be willing to do it again from scratch, or hire a professional résumé consultant that has done work in your specific field.
4. Go on informational interviews.
When the phone isn’t ringing, pick it up yourself and work the network. Although informational interviews don’t use the same skills as job interviews–you should be asking more questions than answering them with informational talks–you’ll still be keeping up with what’s happening in your field. Plus, you can chat about what you’ve learned during a job interview. Referencing what other people have said show that you’re tapped into the IT community, and have a number of resources readily available. That’s awfully tempting to a hiring manager looking for a well-connected guru.
5. Use e-mail wisely.
Not surprisingly, IT folks love e-mail. It’s fast, it’s easy, and it’s efficient. Because of this, many IT managers don’t mind getting an e-mailed interview request, even when they’d hate to receive a similar request by phone. But ultra-professional e-mail communication rules exist in these circumstances. You’re not asking a colleague what he thinks of Cisco’s new line, or dropping a note to a friend with an invitation to stop by whenever he’s free. An e-mail interview note should be short, about a paragraph or two, and should condense your cover letter’s sentiment: this is who I am, I’m interested in working for your company, and I’d like to interview for the position you have open. Cut and paste your résumé and indicate that it’s below your signature. Also, be aware of any words that might stick your e-mail into the spam filter. For example, graduating “magna cum laude” is a notable achievement, but that middle word could keep your message from being seen. Change it to “with honors.”
6. Dress the part.
It’s true that looks shouldn’t matter–experience and insight should raise us all above petty concerns like whether someone wears a tie or a skirt to an interview. But we’re not in that lofty intellectual environment quite yet, unfortunately. So, until we reach that higher realm of existence, dress nicely for the interview. For IT positions, you don’t necessarily have to wear a three-piece suit, but make an effort. A clean, professional and well-groomed look gives an impression before you even open your mouth.
7. Research the company, and refer to it when speaking.
Often, people think an interview’s purpose is to see if the candidate can justify why he or she should work at the company. While that does happen, it’s not the reason that the interview is called. Instead, it’s to see how well candidate and company mesh. What will you do for them, and what can they do for you? The way to know is to really research the company–look up revenues, acquisitions, management changes, product directions, and other information. Ask questions based on what you’ve learned to get a deeper understanding of what the company’s about. If you ask a question just for the sake of asking a question (as some interviewing books suggest), you’re wasting your time and the interviewer’s. Showing that you already know about the company before you walk in the door and referring to the information shows you’re thorough and motivated.
8. Look ’em in the eye.
Sure, it’s an oft-repeated piece of advice. But indeed, it does work. Study after study has shown that it leaves a good impression and colors an interviewer’s perception.
During a round of job interviews a few years ago, I noticed a peculiar phenomenon. People seemed to be speaking to me, but I had no idea what they were saying. I was so focused on trying to remember what I wanted to say and attempting to look casual yet professional at the same time, my ears simply shut down. As a result, sometimes I looked like I had no sense of humor because I didn’t join into a round of good-natured joking, or I seemed flighty, because I repeated information that the interviewer had just said. A good tactic for lessening the temporary interview deafness is to go into the talk with three to four main speaking points, some questions, and that’s it. Don’t have a long checklist in your head about what you want to cover, and be prepared to be open to whatever the interviewer is saying. Think of it as a well-structured chat, and go with the conversational flow.
10. Follow up.
Here’s another old chestnut: send a thank you note. Like the direct eye contact, it’s a piece of wisdom that’s been around for decades. But also like that insight, it works. People have put in the time to interview you, and they should be thanked for it in writing. Just for a bit of extra polish, put it in actual writing on a card, rather than sending an e-mail.
As all of these tips show, it takes a bit of extra effort to make the job hunting experience easier. But the effort will be apparent to hiring managers as well, which makes it worth every extra second. Now go pick up those nice interviewing clothes from the dry cleaners, eh?