I’ve been interviewing for a position at my company for a few weeks now and I can’t help but notice how frequently some (what I would assume) basic concepts of getting a job are completely ignored. I was recently browsing social media when I came across someone complaining about the difficulty of finding a job. Their gripe with the process was someone telling them to try harder. The person argued, “How do I try harder? Do I type my resume harder? Do I hit submit harder? etc.” It made me chuckle. This sparked a response where I decided to write a quick guide on landing a job. Let’s start with the resume:
- Use proper grammar. This should be obvious, but apparently it isn’t.
- When writing your job experience, talk about your accomplishments using keywords: “Created..” or “Designed…” or “Implemented…”
- Keep your accomplishments short. I don’t have the time to read paragraphs.
- Be specific if you can. Writing”Created a distribution report for management” isn’t interesting. What is interesting, though, is if you write something like “Created a distribution report that reduced costs by $30,000 per month by exposing overpriced product purchases.”
- Keep it at two pages MAX. Even if you have 30 years of experience, you don’t have to talk about every job. I want to know about your most recent experience. Your older jobs will be brought up in the interview should you get one.
- Write a cover letter that is tailored for the position. I’ve seen everything from a full page to a few sentences. Regardless, it shows me you’re more interested than the majority of candidates who don’t write one at all.
Now we need to determine where you are on your career. Skip to the section most relevant to you.
Out of High School / College with no experience.
First off, congratulations on your graduation. You were probably told the job market would be wide open once you got that diploma. However, you’ve found yourself unemployed and you feel like no one is even looking at your resume. Can you guess why you feel like that? Because, it’s true. You haven’t proven anything. Nearly 40% of all Americans have a college degree according to a 2014 Census, which means there are millions of people competing with you that have a degree AND experience. You may have also noticed that many “entry level” jobs you’re applying for requires experience. Now you’ve reached a catch-22: You can’t get an entry level job without experience, and you can’t get experience without an entry level job. However, this isn’t entirely accurate, but you won’t like the solution.
First off, your expectations for your first job are probably too high. You need to lower your expectations and apply for any internship or job. These could range from being a mail clerk, fast food, barista, sandwich artist, waiter/waitress, valet parking, etc. What these jobs tell future employers can range from abilities such as customer service and work ethic. The hardest jobs you’ll have are typically the first jobs you have.
Thankfully, some of these jobs can be gained through a simple application, but why stop there? You can start writing a resume despite the lack of experience. Here are some ideas:
- Relevant coursework – What classes have you taken in relation to the job you’re applying for?
- Volunteer Work – Volunteering offers a lot of skills, so talk about what you’ve accomplished
- Skills – Are you familiar with Microsoft Word or Excel? What about Adobe Photoshop?
- Additional Skills – Do you know another language? Additional skills are definitely useful.
- Hobbies – Not everyone looks at these, but it tells me a lot about the type of person I’m hiring. For example, a person who plays video games likely has the ability to critically think and problem solve. A person who hikes is adventurous. A painter, writer, or musician has a creative personality.
Most of the resumes I dig through have years of experience. What I can’t understand is why many of them have the problems I mentioned at the top. One person had 20 years of experience and one page with horrible grammar, and another had 20 years of experience with six pages. Honestly, your best bet is investing in one of those resume mills (Resume Prime, Resume Genius, Resume Edge, etc.) and having them write it. Notice the word “investing” from the previous sentence. You’re investing roughly $100-$250 of your own money to increase your chances of getting a job interview. These companies have a standard template that they use and will give you a survey or brief phone interview to talk about your experience. They will then use common keywords that companies using resume scanning tools look for and mold them to your personal experience. They’ll typically produce a relatively good resume within three business days and will increase your chances of getting an interview because they’re specifically designed to do just that.
I would strongly suggest gaining interview experience. Find a mentor, someone you look up to, to interview you. If you’re still employed then ask your coworkers to interview you and get their constructive criticism. The more you practice interviews, then the more comfortable you will be when you get one for a job you want. I interviewed someone the other day that my company ended up hiring. It was very obvious they had little interviewing experience, but I extracted enough information out of them to understand that they were smart and well-equipped for the job. Had this person interviewed at another company, they may not have had as much success.
Strong experience and education
If you’re looking to go to that next step and become a higher power, you’ll need to understand what it takes to get there. Obviously, you’ll need a strong resume showing you’re capable of the job. Unlike a mid-level position, I highly recommend hiring a professional resume writer: one that is certified by The National Resume Writers’ Association. Costs for your resume or CV can range anywhere from $500 to $10,000 depending on certifications and other factors. The prices will typically hover around $2,000 – $5,000. It’s a large investment, but you’re seeking to make that amount of money in less than a month.
The best tip I have for interviewing is one you’ll probably hate the most: be yourself. Do not lie and do not fluff your experience. Why, you ask? Because eventually someone will find out that you either lied or are incapable of doing the job. Imagine what happens next: You may find yourself at the door looking for another job, only to have them ask you why you didn’t last at the previous employer more than a few months.
Have you ever heard of branding? If not, imagine a company like Google, Nike, McDonald’s, etc. By mentioning these company names you have a vision pop up in your mind immediately and you could tell me about them in a few sentences or less. Every person needs a brand – an image to sell themselves. I guarantee you’ll be asked a question like “Why should I hire you?” This is your time to sell your brand. Why you? What makes you unique? Prepare your statement and write it down before you even apply for the job, because it will be asked.
Avoid negativity and negative words. Do not talk poorly about your previous employer, even if you get asked a question about what you would change about them. Give them a good light. For example, if someone asks you what would you change about your previous employer, respond with something about how would improve their infrastructure or their services. Additionally, avoid phrases like “I couldn’t” or “I didn’t.”
A common pitfall question that people fall into is “What do you consider to be a weakness?” Talk about areas where you know you need improvement. Personally, I know I’m not great at expressing emotion since I’m an analytical person, but it’s something I’m working on. By not admitting a weakness you are admitting perfection, and thus you’re full of shit. But, you don’t want to provide a bogus answer either because they’ll pick up on that.
This should go without saying, but you should also provide specific examples. Here’s an example question that is extremely common: “How do you deal with pressure?” Provide an example of a previous project at work or school where you were under deep pressure. How did you handle it? Did you handle it well? Or did you flop completely? If you flopped completely, be sure to talk about what you learned from it. I know in the previous paragraph I said don’t be negative, but sometimes there’s a line when it’s okay as long as you talk about how you grew from it.
“Do you have any questions for us?” Yes, yes you do. You have a billion questions, but some you shouldn’t ask. You need to learn about the person interviewing you as they’re likely going to be your boss. You should figure out their personality, how they handle work, and what their expectations from you are. The more questions you ask, the more you can learn whether or not you want the job. The last thing you want is to spend all this time hopping into a job you find isn’t where you want to be. Here are some great questions:
- Describe a normal day for you.
- What would a normal day be like for me?
- How do you prefer communication?
- What are some of your “hot buttons?”
- What do you love most about your job? What do you dislike?
- How do you see me fitting in this role?
- Do you have concerns for me?
Finally, end with “what are the next steps?” Beat them to it because it shows you’re interested.
Some additional tips:
- Dress well – ever hear of first impressions? This goes beyond the suit or dress. Your hair should be clean and well-kept as should your beard (if you have one) and fingernails.
- Continuing from above, but be kind to everyone outside and inside the building. This is a good tip in life too. I had someone be very rude to me in the parking lot one day when I was returning from lunch. Imagine their expression when they realized they had an interview with me just a few minutes later (hint: they didn’t get the job).
- Research the company beforehand. This has a few benefits:
- You can impress them with your knowledge of the company.
- You can relate your previous experience to what the company does.
- They may ask you what interested you about their company during the interview.
Finally, arrive on time and be prepared to stay late, because you got this.