Posted by Tim Stobbs on November 20, 2008
Well for what ever reason lately there has been a fair amount of posts on resumes and interviews on several blogs I read. So I’m going to present a few of my observations on the process of getting a job based my last two sets of resumes and interviews. Since in both cases I only applied for just one job and got the job both times.
People for some reason tend to forget a resume’s sole purpose is to get you the interview. The interview is what gets you the job. Yet the cover letter’s sole purpose is to get someone to read your resume. So let’s start at the top with the cover letter.
The Cover Letter
The cover letter is used to get the reviewer to actually read your resume. Write the typical opening which goes:
I’m applying for the position of X, which was posted on the career section of your website on Nov 19, 2008.
Then mentally before you write another word finish the sentence: the most important thing I have to tell you is. Then write it down and that is the start of your cover letter. Then tell them the second most important thing followed by the perhaps followed by a third. You need to keep these brief and show just enough material to get them to read the resume. Remember that is the sole job of the cover letter. Then close out the cover letter by remembering to ask for an interview and provide your phone number and email address. I know that should be obvious, but I’ve seen cover letters that don’t actually ask for an interview!
So now you need to do a good resume to make sure you get that interview. In general resumes and cover letters for each job application should be unique. You should careful read the job description and customize the application package to what they are looking for. This isn’t cheating and your don’t have to tell them every little thing about your life. So keep the resume short. With the exception of CEO’s sort of level jobs your resume should never exceed two pages (with the exception of your references can go on page three).
Anything longer than that and your shooting yourself in the foot. The average person when skimming resumes to get a short list of candidates reads each resume for a total of about ten seconds. Yes, it really is that short! So you need to keep your resume short and address want they are looking for to get into the ‘interview’ or at least the ‘maybe’ piles.
Once you have your list of important things from your cover letter then write the resume to reflect those items. If your education is the most important put it at the top but if your job experience is more useful put it up at the top instead. Just because you typically do education first doesn’t mean you have to! Also keep in mind if you have lots of experience you might want to consider a blanket statement of you have been in the field for X number of years and then only give a select list of previous jobs. Remember we need to keep this short so if you’ve had 10 jobs over the last 15 years you have to find a way to cut some out. Otherwise you can’t keep the resume under two pages.
Then make sure you use actual numbers of what you did in your job descriptions. If you did presentations mention for how large of a group. Ten people is one thing, but doing it for 65 or 650 is a lot different! Also if you increased sales, say by a % or dollar value what ever looks better. Don’t forget to list your skills. Typically categories include: communication, computer and technical. Be honest with your skills and list your level of skill. Words like familiar, component, and excellent give people at least a sense of how good you are at things without going into too much details. Also remember to be specific. Saying ‘I’m familiar with word processing’ is vague. Saying ‘I’m familiar with MS Word and Wordperfect’ is much better. Don’t bother saying you can use Firefox or Gmail. Most people expect that, but feel free to mention it if it directly is mentioned in the job description.
The step back and look at the resume from the point where you can’t really read the text. Now does it flow? Is there some white space and do the bold and italics and section headers to guide your eye down the page? You want to make sure your ten seconds of review make it easy for the reader to find the information they want. If you not sure how to do this just cheat and look at any list style blog post on a bigger blog. They almost always have a great layout.
Now hopeful you get that call or email stating they want to bring you in for an interview. When that happens make sure to get the name and phone number of who called you and confirm the location and time of the interview. If you can’t find the interview location, it’s a good idea to have a contact to call.
Now these people are taking the time to talk with you. So it’s time for you to return the favour and do some research on the company (if you haven’t already did some when you applied). Dig up the last annual report (if possible) and read it. You will be surprised to find the amount of information that can be useful in those documents. It can tell you the companies major concerns in the near future and their plans to deal with it. It also makes sure you have something to say when the usual “So what do you know about our company?” question comes up. Being able to list their sales numbers, number of employees, some customers and locations is often useful if you can tie it into the job your applying for.
On the day of the interview make sure you show up around 15 minutes early. Being late to the interview shows a lack of planning or disrespect, either is sure to bad for your chances to get the job. If they offer you anything, take water as it you likely be talking a lot for the next 45 minutes to an hour. You are going to have a dry mouth so get a drink in while you can.
Now when they bring you into the interview make sure to dry your palms. You are likely nervous and sweating and you need to dry your palms to make sure that first hand shake does not feel like grabbing a wet eel (Trust me I was on the other side of it once and it does leave a bad impression). When you do get in the room make eye contact and shake everyone’s hand as you are introduced to them and try to remember to smile. Smiling is very useful as it usually gets other people to smile back and that helps to reduce your fear response and helps you relax a bit.
Speaking of relaxing. Try to do that during the interview. It’s hard I know. I tend to personal do this by reminding myself I don’t need this job. I’m not going to go hungry or lose the house as I still have my old job and the world won’t end. Yes I want this job so I’m going to try and relax to present a good face.
When they are answering questions, try to think before you talk. Force yourself to pause prior to answering a question. They will expect this, so take advantage of it to organize your response. Then when you do talk make sure to speak clearly and avoid talking too fast. Keep track of what your saying when you talk. If they want three examples of something, make sure you give three. You don’t want to lose your train of thought when giving a longer answer to a question.
When arranging your responses I try to make sure I treat it as a mini story. It should have an beginning, middle and end. Your beginning should introduce the situation your describing, the middle should tell the details, while the end provides the conclusion or outcome of the situation.
Recall during the interview, that if everything is equal between another candidate and yourself in terms of qualifications they end up hiring people based on personality. They want to know how well you will fit it with the existing staff and their clients, so be yourself.
Also at the end, if they ask if you have any questions, make sure you ask what the next step in the hiring process is. You ideally want a date out of them on when they will make a decision. That way you won’t be left hanging if you didn’t get the job. Make sure to thank everyone for bringing you in for the interview before you leave. Being polite is always a good idea.
Well I hope this monster of a post is useful to you. If you got your own ideas on what works for you please share it in a comment.