I have been blessed with a steady job the last 3 years. In this job I have grown a lot in my consulting and general professional skills. Recently I have been able to do peer level interviews on my company's behalf to add people to my team that come in near my pay grade. This by far has been one of the most interesting parts of my job in terms of learning about people and realizing how little I knew in college. So here are a few tips I have for people looking for work. A few notes:
- I am a government contractor and work for a consulting company, if you are in a different industry please take my notes with a grain of salt
- I am not an expert, just a guy who wants to help.
- You can get a job doing none of these, but they each help increase your chances and you almost always need to improve your chances.
To start, during an interview process it is assumed that the resume, cover letter and your appearance and interactions are the best version of you. This means that while there is room to make mistakes and be a human, if you look disheveled or have spelling errors it bring up questions about how you will be day to day.
Resume/Cover Letter and Preparation
Ok, to start if you have been in the industry less than 10 years keep your resume to 1 page. Let me say that again, 1 page. If it is longer than one page you either have lead an incredible life or have things you can cut and unless you have already cut half of your resume you are not the former.
Each job application should be catered to the job you are applying for. So start by getting the job description from the website and reading it several times. I recommend printing it out and marking the major bullet points the job description is looking for and then rewrite your resume to highlight how your past experience matches what the company is looking for.
When you are crafting your custom resume for this job use active voice. If you do not know what that is Google it. Googling (or DuckDuckGoing if you prefer) is always an important part of any knowledge worker (if you mostly work in an office and on a computer you are likely a knowledge worker) job these days so practice. And while you need to be honest if you were on a team convince them you did something. Often I have seen resumes where someone said they "learned" things or "were on a team." While not a resume killer to use once or twice they want to see that you were an active role in the project. They likely do not know you and this is your chance to convince them to talk to you.
Your cover letter is a place to do three things.
- Show you researched the company
- Highlight 1 or 2 things about yourself that should attract the company to you
- Share 1 or 2 things that you are excited to learn or grow in through working at the company further showing your understanding of the first two items.
Seriously, keep it short and on point. This is not a time to show how good of a novelist you are. Think Twitter but with good grammar than Facebook or Medium.
Come to the interview ready to interview the company as much as they are interviewing you. Think about questions you want to ask and stories you can use to illustrate any kind of question that might get thrown your way.
This will be easier in a bulleted list
- Arrive 5 minutes early, no more, no less. Practice the route to the company if you have to.
- Wear a suit or equivalent. It is better to be the best dressed person in the room than to be under-dressed.
- Have extra copies of your resume handy.
- Bring a notebook to take notes and bring prepared bullets for things you want to ensure you say and ask during the interview.
- Watch body language, look engaged, you can slump and dazed at the coffee shop after the interview is over.
- Say Mister and Miss, Sir and Ma'am until the interviewers invite you to use their first names.
- Always ask questions.
- Ask for a card at the end of the interview and send a thank you note. My rule is an email for phone interviews and a physical card for in-person and video interviews.
Questions to Ask
I recommend asking questions about the job, the company and the process. So be sure to ask what the management structure is like, how a normal day looks and similar questions. It is also important to ask questions about how the company is doing, is it growing or shrinking for example, to see if it is the kind of place you want to work. Finally you can always ask what the next steps will be.
These all show the interviewers that you care and have researched the company.
Pitfalls to Avoid
If you learn something in a previous interview or via the job description be ready to discuss it. What I mean is if the company talks about what they do know a little about it, if they say you need to know a piece of software and you do not research it so you can speak to it and show your engagement. Several times I have recommended one person over another because neither knew a critical piece of software, but one convinced me that they have already started learning it and know the underlying principles and the other barely knew what the software was. I think this shows more about the person than many people think when they are on the interviewee side of the table.
Do not be late. Ever.
Do not come 20 minutes early. This makes us feel rushed at best and annoyed at worst and it does not set the stage well for the interview. This is especially true in a small office like the one I work in.
Please spell check and grammar check your resume and cover letter and have at least one other person read them before you submit. Spelling and grammar mistakes do not reflect well.
Finally, know what protected classes are and do your best to answer carefully to avoid giving out this information to employers.
All of this matters, but my number one recommendation is to prepare your stories. You will always be asked what your strengths and weaknesses are and you will always be asked to give examples from your work. I recommend writing out a list of stories from your work and what they illustrate. If you need a few ideas, please use this list.
- A time when you had conflicting demands
- A time you had to deal with a difficult coworker or client/customer
- A time you disagreed with a supervisor and how did you handle that situation
- A time you had to repair a relationship
- A time you made a mistake and how you rectified it
- A time where you took a project from start to finish, what went well, what did not
- A time where you had to delegate work to others
This is just a start, there are more, but I think this will get you on the right track. I hope this helps. Please feel free to contact me on Twitter or via the contact form if you would like to discuss.
If you survived reading my ramblings, enjoy this video of puppets giving interview tips.