A professional career coach, Marcy has helped hundreds refine their resumes, improve their interviewing skills, and advance their careers.
Follow These Steps to Get Your Next Job
Job hunting is no fun. In fact, it's frightening, discouraging, often self-defeating and pretty much pure torture. As a manager and employment coach, I've discovered ways applicants can get their resumes noticed and shine during interviews. Here's a quick primer on what not to do, how to avoid irritating the hiring manager and how to shine as a candidate.
On Top of the Pile: Tips to Get Your Resume Noticed
Your first challenge is to get your resume through the screening process. This is NOT a step to ignore. Years ago, the rule was "one page" for resumes, but the trend has changed. Two pages (sometimes even more for special cases) are fine. But, every hiring manager I've worked with has emphasized a few crucial points:
- Put your most important information at the top of the resume. If you have a background in the exact field the job posting lists, or better yet, a success in that area, rework your resume and put it at the top. The term "above the fold" in journalism is not just a trite phrase—that's the real estate on your resume that will get read first. Often, it is the only portion a manager really notices.
- Use a summary of yourself rather than a "Career Objective." Why? Semantically, it presents you as someone with experience rather than someone who is still trying to get somewhere.
- Don't write a book! Managers and recruiters have shared war stories about epic novels submitted as part of the application process. Stick to a length that allows space to sell yourself, but have pity on the poor person screening 300 resumes; keep it brief.
- 4. Avoid first-person language. It's your resume, you don't need the word "I" or phrases such as "While there, I blah-blah-blah."
- Give clear examples of your successes rather than a "job description" of positions you've held. All managers know the list of duties various positions require. Did you outsell the rest of your team? Did you come in under budget or before the deadline? Did you increase (sales, productivity, customer satisfaction, etc.) by a measurable amount? List those eye-popping accomplishments above the fold!
- Keep applying! Major corporations don't look through archived applications when they post openings. Managers have told me it's important to reapply if you haven't heard anything in a month or two. Some firms get thousands of applications a day—you'll keep yours fresh if you keep submitting over time.
How to Write a Good Cover Letter for a Job Application
Yes, Virginia, they're still in use. Based on what I'm hearing from hiring managers, they're a key component to getting the right job. So many applicants fail to include this courtesy; when managers get cover letters, it stands out. The cover letter can personalize you (but continue to avoid the diary-like narratives mentioned above), it can help show the manager why you should get an interview, and it can highlight your professionalism.
A Few Tips
- Don't use a template letter for all applications! Managers can tell you've just done a cut & paste on a worn-out letter you've used before. Remember, you want to land an interview—devote the same amount of time and thought to the cover letter that you'll spend preparing for the interview. (You do prepare, don't you?)
- Let your personality show. The cover letter is one place you can inject some of yourself, so take advantage of it. Don't be flippant or unprofessional, of course.
- Use the letter to emphasize how well you're suited for the job, the corporation, and the goals of the organization. Do some research to learn what the company has planned for the future and mention how you can fit into that plan.
- Connect your history with the position. if the company or position doesn't sound like a good fit for your background, explain why your work history and experience is related to the job. Managers look for "connections" in resumes, and if yours doesn't jump out as a match, they'll put it aside. Show them how you're a match!
- Briefly discuss other connections. either connections in your skills (even hobbies), or from your personal network. For example, if you know Joe in their Accounting Department, mention this, and say you've always heard from him that it's a great place to work. Be sure to run this by Joe, of course, before adding it to your letter.
Now—get ready for interview time!
Top 10 Most important Interview Tips
I run a professional networking group and teach career workshops. All too often, candidates do not see how they come across in interviews, so we videotape mock sessions and provide professional critiques. Here are some common pitfalls:
- Self-Introduction: Generally, the hiring manager or team will invite you to introduce yourself. Make it brief! I've seen people ramble for five or more minutes while they tell how many kids they have, mention their pet dog, give details about every job they ever held and leave the hiring team with glazed eyes. Develop a brief introductory statement (30-second rule) that highlights your career and mentions your desire to work at their company. The rest of your story can be woven into your interview answers. Except for the kids and the dog; leave them at home.
- Eliminate Negativity: You are looking for a job. Chances are, in this economy, you may be among the millions who lost your last position due to cutbacks. Don't let discouragement creep into your voice or your words. Today's hiring managers know the economy has been rough and they know there are very talented people looking for work. You can use that to your advantage. Aside from the ironclad rule to avoid bashing your previous workplace, don't use terms such as "I'm just looking for whatever I can find," or "My last job didn't work out," or "I'm looking around for something that will pay the bills." Yes, I've actually heard those terms during interviews!
- 3. No Perfume or Aftershave: I know, I know—if you're a woman, you almost feel naked without it. If you're a guy, you think it makes you more appealing. Save it for your next date or that dinner out with your spouse. I interviewed a young woman once who, out of insecurity, had poured on the cologne before coming in. The minute she walked in, the room was filled with the overpowering smell, to the point of distraction, and even to the point of triggering my allergies. I got through her interview, but I confess the main memory I have of her is the perfume. Whatever else she could have brought to the job was eclipsed by the strong odor she brought into the room.
- 4. No Clutter, of Any Sort: Think "minimalist" in what you wear and what you carry with you. Too many people literally have to unpack themselves when they take the interview seat. Keep it simple and non-distracting. No flashing or dangling jewelry (chances are, they're not hiring you for your dangling earrings), no sexy or too-tight clothes, and no extra baggage. Briefcases or portfolios are fine, if they have a purpose. If you carry a handbag, leave it discretely at your feet so it doesn't distract the interview team.
- Dress Appropriately for an Interview: Yes, the entire staff wears jeans every day. Well, you're not on the staff yet. If you abhor suits or feel it would be too stuffy for the work environment at the firm, use "business casual" as your guideline. This shows respect for where you want to work. It's also less distracting than the logo on your favorite T-shirt, the tattoos that might show in short sleeves, the faded knees in your jeans, or the cute ruffles on your blouse.
- If It Makes Noise, Either Turn It off or Leave It at Home: Phones, iPad, jangling jewelry, kids, all of it. Yes, really; I said kids. I just thought I'd mention it, in case someone wonders if it's okay to bring their 'really well-behaved baby' or some other progeny to the interview. You're smarter than that, I'm sure, but others have done it (and weren't hired, I might add). Turn off the cell phone. Better yet, leave it in your car so you don't forget to silence it. Do not wear jewelry that makes noise (multiple chains, charm bracelets, dangling earrings). All those trappings distract the hiring manager from his or her goal, which is to see whether you're a good fit for the job.
- Keep Answers Brief: Don't launch into a long narrative with every answer. Weave key details into your answers, but leave them wanting more. After the first minute or so, the team will tune out what you're saying and after you leave, they'll trade comments such as "Boy, he sure is a talker!" or "I thought she'd never shut up!"
- Give Specific Examples: If you hear phrases such as "Tell about a time when you . . ." or "Give an example of a situation where . . ." it means the hiring team is looking for real experience in your answers, not hypothetical ideas of what you would do in certain instances. This one tip can add many points to your interview score! The interview team likely has a scoring form, and part of the score for each answer hinges on whether you can give specific (preferably recent) examples of how you've actually done the job. Avoid answers that give theory or hypothesis, such as, "I would handle that situation by . . ." or "It's important to always do (whatever) in that situation." Practice talking briefly about some of your accomplishments and use those examples.
- Ask Appropriate Questions: Usually, the hiring team will ask if you have any questions. Here's your chance to shine in a new way! If you've researched the firm, you can ask an intelligent question about when they hope to launch the new Wonder Widget you read about, or how their new Miracle Program is working. You can also ask what their goals are for the position and, if you'll be managing others, whether other staff members have applied (explain that you want to be sensitive to them if you're brought on board).
- Focus on What You Can Do for Them, Not What They Can Do for You: Managers who have spoken at our networking group have repeatedly said they're tired of getting applicants who want to know, "What's in it for me?" I once interviewed a woman who was reentering the workforce after several years devoted to motherhood. While she wasn't the strongest candidate, as a mother, I wanted to give her a break and interview her. When I asked if she had questions, she replied, "We've talked a lot about what I can do for you, now let's talk about what you can do for me." I bit my tongue to avoid saying, "Well, I can show you the door." That wasn't the only reason she didn't get the job, but it certainly didn't help matters.
After the Job Interview: Write a Thank-You Letter!
What you do after the interview can add points and raise your stock as well.
Send a follow-up letter that thanks the team for their time (another nicety that too many applicants overlook). Thank-you letters stand out; the hiring team will pass them around and say, "Look, that last candidate actually sent a follow-up letter!" In the letter, you can remind them of how well suited you are for the position and mention a few new facts that may not have been discussed during the interview.
One hiring manager I know says he does not hire anyone who doesn't send a follow-up letter. That ought to be reason enough to send one, each and every time!
If you haven't heard back from the hiring team after a week or two, don't be discouraged. It takes forever (trust me) for positions to be approved, posted, screened, interviewed, and filled. A delay of a few weeks isn't unusual, and it's perfectly acceptable to check back with the hiring manager or HR to get an update on the status of the position.
No interview is wasted time. Every interview gives you practice and potentially expands your network of contacts. I have personally interviewed candidates who were not hired for one reason or another (usually there was another candidate who was a better fit for the job) but who stood out in our minds and was later recruited for another opening. Managers often refer good candidates to other departments, and it is not unusual to wish you had more than one opening when you have two or more strong candidates for only one position.
Now, it's your turn! Get out there and land that job! Stay tuned for more posts about job searching, interview coaching, salary negotiation, and other tips on getting the job you want!
This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. Content is for informational or entertainment purposes only and does not substitute for personal counsel or professional advice in business, financial, legal, or technical matters.
Marcy Goodfleisch (author) from Planet Earth on May 07, 2012:
You just made a great point, alocsin, about what interviewers remember. No socks? That will be the lasting impression the applicant gave. Great example!
Thanks for reading and commenting!
Aurelio Locsin from Orange County, CA on May 06, 2012:
Excellent suggestions. I remember one interviewee coming in without wearing socks. That's all we could talk about after work -- not his qualifications. Voting this Up and Useful.
Marcy Goodfleisch (author) from Planet Earth on April 19, 2012:
Hi, JEFLIN - thanks so much for reading, and for your kind comments!
JEFLIN on April 19, 2012:
Thank you for the tips and advice
Marcy Goodfleisch (author) from Planet Earth on March 20, 2012:
Good luck, krsharp - I will be pulling for you! Thank you for your comments!
Kristi Sharp from Born in Missouri. Raised in Minnesota. on March 20, 2012:
I'm currently interviewing after being at the same job for 16 years and I'm so out of my element! Thanks for the helpful tips!
Marcy Goodfleisch (author) from Planet Earth on February 29, 2012:
Thank you for reading and commenting, Chin Chin - I hope you never have to use the tips, but I'm glad you found them useful!
Marcy Goodfleisch (author) from Planet Earth on February 29, 2012:
Thanks, Savanahl - I'm glad you found the hub helpful. I know so many people who are looking for work, and I finally decided to compile the tips in one place, so I could pass them along to others.
Chin chin from Philippines on February 29, 2012:
Great advice from you, Marcy. I'll read this again when the need arises that I have to go apply for a new job once more. Thanks.
savanahl on February 29, 2012:
Great information and very easy to read. If I should ever have to enter the work force again I'll be armed with some really great pointers. Thanks for sharing.
Marcy Goodfleisch (author) from Planet Earth on February 03, 2012:
Hi, Michael - thank you for your generous words! We are glad to have you on the site - you've already published some great hubs, in just a short time. I appreciate your comments here!
michaelwhitehouse from Southbury, CT on February 02, 2012:
That is some excellent advice. Your writing makes me see the level style and informativeness I aspire to achieve on here.
Escapes on January 22, 2012:
Great advice and well-worth a try especially during this difficult economy where finding employment is not easy. I think I will update my resume and tailor my cover letters based on the job. Wish me luck! Gave a well deserved tweet!
Kenneth Avery from Hamilton, Alabama on January 19, 2012:
Very good,Marcy! In fact. GREAT read. Informative. Professionally-presented. And a NEEDED HUB for all job hunters. I voted UP and Away on this hub. You deserved it for your obvious hard work. This brings back the memories of my days of job hunting in 1975. I went from working in factories, to my dream job, working for a newspaper. I spent 23 years with one paper. My local paper and learned from ground-up just how tough newspaper work really is. Im now disabled with Accelerted Fibromyalgia and Neurothopy, both incurable. I look forward to corresponding with you from time to time. And Im honored to follow you, Marcy. And Id love for you to do two things: READ A FEW OF MY HUBS if you want a good, clean laugh. And BE MY FOLLOWER. Id really appreciate that. Hope you have a great day. Sincerely, Kenneth Avery from a small northwest Alabama town that looks a lot like Mayberry, that sweet town on the old Andy Griffith Show. Take care and keep the great hubs coming.
Marcy Goodfleisch (author) from Planet Earth on January 18, 2012:
Thanks, G60dundee! I hope this helps!
Gordon Bannerman from Waterdown, Ontario on January 18, 2012:
Great advice contained within a well-written, concise article. Clearly, after reading this, my CV needs some work ... Many thanks