Getting Started: Job Interviews That Get You Hired (page 4)
Gathering Your Resources, Networking, and Embarking on Your Job Search
IT SHOULD COME to you as a tremendous relief to learn that looking for a job doesn't need to be a daunting proposition. In fact, the process can be exciting and fulfilling. And, ultimately, it is a process you can control. Many of the skills and disciplines that you learned in college, and that served you as a student, will come into play when you start looking for a job. In other words, you should feel confident not only that you are equipped to find the job you want, but that the process itself will be an enlightening and memorable one.
The most important step in the job-search process, of course, is to land an interview. But for many recent graduates, this step is the hardest. One of the biggest obstacles is the erroneous belief that getting an interview is a matter of chance. In fact, the process of getting an interview is more like solving a statistics problem than it is a matter of luck: The more resumes you send, the more likely you are to get an interview. It's as straightforward as that. It also means that the more resources you use, the better your chances will be of getting an interview for the job you want.
The process that leads to a job interview may actually start with an interview: an informational interview that you conduct to gather information from a human resources manager, recruiter, or a network contact.
What are Your Resources?
Before you begin to devise your strategy to find a job, you need to consider the resources available to you:
- What are they?
- How can they be best used or accessed?
- Which ones will bring you the highest degree of success in landing an interview?
The next sections of this chapter offer some guidelines on how you can make the best use of newspaper ads, career centers, recruiting firms, and the Internet in your job-search process.
Most people begin their search with a careful look through the advertisements in the Help Wanted section of a newspaper. This is one of the easiest and most useful ways of researching interview possibilities.
However, want ads can be misleading. In the career world, the best jobs often don't reach newspapers, which means that you get a limited sense of the jobs available. Also, because employers are conscious of the cost of advertising, they tend to put only bare bones information in their ads. Therefore, if possible, try to obtain additional information about the company and the job advertised. Most companies large enough to advertise in a major newspaper will probably have a website, so start by Googling the name of the company to see what you can find. Essentially, what you want to discover is what the company's products or services are, how large it is, what its annual revenue is, and so on. By researching advertised positions ahead of time, you can eliminate jobs unsuitable to your needs.
Better yet, try to talk to someone who already works for the company in which you are interested. Your college career center may be able to give you the name of a recent graduate who has gone to work for the company, particularly if the firm recruits on campus.
You may also be surprised to find that you already have a connection to the firm. This is where your network of peers, or people you know who are already in the working world, comes in handy. Ask your parents, friends, relatives, and peers if they know anyone who can tell you more about a certain company or field. You will enhance your chances of making the right choice about a company and presenting your credentials most effectively if you talk to someone who already works there.
It is a good idea to call someone you know at the company for which you are interested in working, but it is not a good idea to call the company if you do not know anyone working there. Most newspaper help-wanted ads actually specify, "No phone calls, please"—so do not ignore this request. Obviously, a company that is advertising in a major newspaper is likely to receive hundreds of resumes, so its HR department (or even its receptionist) could not possibly be able to handle hundreds of phone calls from eager potential candidates. Therefore, you should respect and honor that request, try to find information about the job through some other source, and then simply mail, e-mail, or fax your resume (however the ad specifies).
By the time most college or university students have reached their junior year, they are familiar with the career center on campus, where they can either access information about jobs from a database or receive guidance from a career counselor. However, information about the kinds of jobs available is sometimes limited by the relationship between a college or university and certain employers. For example, some schools are known for a certain specialty, such as placing their graduates in nonprofit organizations or in financial services. Consequently, they tend to attract employers mostly from those areas.
The key here is to understand your career center's objectives. With whom does it have relationships? If you are not interested in any of the employers that come to your campus, you will need to investigate other options.
Even if your career center does not focus on industries that interest you, it may still be a useful resource. Most career centers have resource centers or small libraries in which you can find brochures, contact lists, annual reports, and other information. Your career center should have information about public sector jobs, such as the FBI or other government positions, and it may have industry-specific information, such as a list of all the law firms in a particular state. Career centers may also conduct resume or cover letter workshops. Finally, career counselors should be on hand to give you advice on finding jobs and preparing for interviews.
Another on-campus resource is your school's alumni office. Often, this department keeps a list of alumni and their current careers. It's worth the effort to go through this list. If an alumna works for a company that interests you, you may have found a key person to put in your network. Networking will be discussed, in detail, later in this chapter.
The best thing about recruiting firms is that they advertise jobs that are actually open. And they are highly motivated. Recruiting firms earn their income from the placements they make. Therefore, they are eager to find the right person for a job.
The downside is that recruiting firms generally like to make placements happen as quickly as possible, because more placements mean more revenues for the firm. Also, because recruiters are hired by a company, they are trying to find the best person for the job in question, not the other way around; in other words, they are not working primarily for you, helping you find a job. If you have the right qualifications for the job they are trying to fill, they will be delighted to recommend you to that company and arrange an interview. It's more expedient for recruiters to match round pegs with round holes—people who have the exact experience listed in the job description in front of them. If your employment experiences are not an exact match for the positions available, you may have difficulties using a recruiting firm.
For instance, suppose you and your friend, Amy, are both interested in an administrative position at a small public relations firm. You ran a summer camp for children out of your backyard, while Amy spent her summer working as an administrative assistant at a large law firm. Even though the two of you may have developed similar organizational and interpersonal skills, Amy will be a more appealing candidate to a recruiter, simply because her office experiences will be perceived as a closer match for a job calling for "at least three months of administrative experience."
The bottom line is: Do investigate recruiting firms and work with them, but don't use them exclusively.
Using the Internet is another good way of getting your resume "out there." However, there are some important things to keep in mind about the Web. First, competition is extremely stiff; most of the large career sites boast of millions of users per month.
You should also note that your resume might need to be written and presented in a particular way. If you are submitting electronic resumes to individual firms, you will have some leeway in terms of format and style. Many companies accept electronic submissions of resumes created in word-processing programs like Microsoft Word or WordPerfect. If you use one of these software packages to create a resume, pay careful attention to the format in which the finished document needs to be saved before sending it to an employer. Most employers prefer to receive resumes in ASCII or Rich Text Format, although some may accept.doc files (documents saved in Word format).
Many career-related websites provide a resume template. The majority of online resume templates that you will see on various job-related sites (and on sites hosted by individual employers) follow the same basic format as a traditional chronological resume. You will be prompted to enter each piece of information (from your resume) into specific fields, and most likely will be limited to a certain number of fields.
Rather than targeting out specific companies, some people allow the companies to seek them by posting online resumes that can then be scanned by any firm looking to recruit new employees. When employers scan resumes on the Web, they look for specific keywords.
Keywords are the backbone of any good electronic resume. If you don't incorporate keywords, your resume won't be properly processed by the employer's computer system. Choosing the right keywords to incorporate into your resume is a skill that takes some creativity and plenty of thought. For example, each job title, job description, skill, degree, license, or other piece of information you list within your resume should be descriptive, self-explanatory, and among the keywords the potential employer's applicant tracking software looks for as it evaluates your resume.
The keywords you incorporate into your resume should support or be relevant to your job objective. Keep in mind that employers generally scan online resumes for nouns rather than verbs. Whereas traditional resumes tend to use strong action verbs, a scannable resume should include precise, specific nouns. Also, you should avoid using abbreviations and symbols in scannable resumes: Type "Doctor" instead of "Dr." and "percent" instead of "%."
If you plan to circulate your resume electronically but don't know how, get advice from a friend who does, or seek assistance from your college career office. You might also want to get a copy of one of the many books on this subject, such as Learning Express's Resumes That Get You Hired. A good resume book will provide step-by-step descriptions for writing any type of resume, including online resumes. Finally, the Web itself is a great place to look for tips. Many career websites will provide detailed information about the best ways to use their services. Exhibit 1–1 lists a few of the largest.
Choosing a Strategy for Getting an Interview
The best strategy to get a job interview is to use all strategies. Don't just rely on ads or your college career center—avail yourself of any opportunity or resource that might bring you closer to your goals.
After a couple of months of experimenting with different methods of getting interviews, do what any president of a corporation would do: Analyze the results. If you've made little or no progress with ads or the database in your college career office, you need to reinvest your energies in more successful strategies. This might involve using a combination of new and old networks, reworking your resume (to give yourself an edge on the Internet), and using the services of more than one recruiting firm.
You also might want to try new ideas, such as:
- Going to events sponsored by companies or industries that interest you—such as nonprofit fundraisers—with the express purpose of meeting new people with whom to network.
- Volunteering for a few hours each week in your area of interest; for instance, if you are interested in education, you might volunteer at Literacy Volunteers; those interested in healthcare might volunteer at a local hospital, and future accountants might devote their time to the Association for Accounting Administration.
- Making business cards to hand out while networking (including a private phone number with voice mail and an e-mail address).
Recognizing the X Factor
On the other hand, some strategies for getting interviews in certain fields are known to be particularly effective. For instance, Internet and technology companies are more likely than other types of firms to use online career sites (such as monster.com or hotjobs.com) to recruit employees. So, if you're interested in working for an Internet firm, check online sites for job listings. However, if you're more interested in working for a small, traditional accounting firm, you might be better off networking or applying for a summer internship with a particular firm.
But no matter the field in which you are interested, it helps to know that a number of variables—or unpredictable factors—come into play when looking for a job. The business world has its own rules and idiosyncrasies. For example, you might think you have a good shot at a position in a particular company, but someone else, who seems just as qualified as you, may have an even better chance. Why? The other candidate may have a personal reference from someone who already works at the firm or may have presented his credentials more effectively during an interview. This is another excellent reason to spread your net as far as possible, so you can increase the number of interviews you land. The more interviews you have, the more likely you are to get hired!
One of the most fruitful resources to tap is the people you know: college peers, friends and family, or people from your past, such as high school teachers or community leaders. Even the contacts you made in certain clubs or activities in high school can help. For example, it might be possible that the former editor of the school literary magazine or newspaper is now in a position to help you find a job in publishing. The beauty of asking people you know to be resources is that they are easy to talk to and know something about you and your strengths; they will also be genuinely interested in helping you.
Once you begin networking, you may be surprised to discover how many connections you have. Your Aunt Rita's tennis partner may just happen to have a son who knows the editor of the magazine for which you're dying to work. Or, your high school principal might tell you that his wife has an opening for a paralegal at her law firm. And even if all of your friends work in the computer industry, you may find that some of their friends are artists, editors, accountants, brand managers, or investment bankers.
The biggest obstacle to using networking as a resource is resistance. Many people, even seasoned executives, are shy about networking. To them, it seems like asking for help without giving anything back. But networking really isn't about asking someone for a job—it is simply a means of getting information and gaining a little visibility for you at the same time.
One drawback to networking, at least in the beginning, is that it restricts you to the limitations of other people's connections. If they don't know many people, or if the people they do know aren't in a position to help you, your research will be limited.
Despite some of the obstacles associated with networking, it's important not to underestimate the value of talking to the people you know about their careers. Even if your high school principal's wife, the attorney, isn't looking for any new paralegals, she may be able to talk to you about the field of law, in general, or the job of a paralegal, in particular. These discussions can help introduce you to industries with which you are not familiar or eliminate certain fields from your list of possible career choices.
So, talk to the people you know. Next, make a networking list based on the people they know. Then start making calls. See Chapter 3 for more information about networking; the following sections, though, will help you get started.
"I don't think I would have gotten my job if I hadn't put so much time into networking. I was very interested in working in a museum, but those jobs are hard to find, and you have a much better chance of landing one if you have some connections. I must have called everyone I knew—and everyone they knew!
It took dozens of calls, but I finally found the contact I was looking for: My uncle's golf partner's wife was a curator at a large, metropolitan museum—and it turned out that she was looking for a personal assistant! If I hadn't invested the time into making those calls, I never would have found this job."
—NATHANIEL, PERSONAL ASSISTANT
Putting Together a Target List of Contacts
Before you make calls, brainstorm and make a target list. A target list contains the names of the people you know who might help you get a job in the field in which you are interested.
Fortunately, making such a list isn't hard. Start with your own family. Who are the people your mother, father, or siblings know? You will be surprised how many good connections they have. If your mother teaches in a high school, don't assume that she doesn't know anyone that could help you. After all, she knows the principal and other teachers—and these people may have spouses or friends who may be working in the field or industry that interests you.
Take your list of network contacts and a pen wherever you go. A name that you suddenly think of while you're stuck in traffic or waiting in line may prove valuable.
So, think creatively and don't make the mistake of eliminating names before you've written them down. Put everybody you can think of on your list, and again, resist the temptation to edit the list before you start making calls. Don't forget to include addresses, phone numbers, and job titles whenever possible.
In fact, now would be the ideal time to devise a system for network record keeping. It doesn't matter if you use a computer, Palm Pilot, index cards, or a notebook, as long as you keep your list up to date. This network is an invaluable resource that you will replenish and revisit again and again over the course of your professional life.
Now, go back to the first person on the list—your mother, say—and write down all the names and information she gives you. Encourage her not to edit the names on her list! She may be just as surprised as you are by how well connected—and potentially useful—some of her friends and colleagues are.
Networking Advice for the Shy
- Practice, practice, practice. Rehearse what you'd like to say before dialing a number or going to a meeting. Write down sample openings or questions and practice saying them.
- Listen up. If listening is your strength, then use it. Pay close attention to what your contact says and use the information you get as fodder for more questions or segues into further discussion.
- Take it slow. Give yourself lots of time to work on finding a job. Begin networking with the people with whom you feel most comfortable—family and close friends. As you get more networking practice, you will feel more comfortable contacting individuals you don't know as well.
Remember that your target list is not for one-time use. Keep it alive and active by constantly adding names. It's not unusual to have as many as 75 contacts at one time, but don't feel daunted if you have only six people in your network. By the time you finish brainstorming with family and friends, that number might jump to 30 or more.
An important thing to remember is that getting a job is a full-time job; so don't be surprised if you make ten calls—or even dozens of calls—every day. You can run through your list quickly at this rate, which is why it is important to keep replenishing it with more names and numbers; ask everyone you network with for additional contacts: Most people should be able to give you at least one name (and number) of someone new to call for information, even if that person doesn't know of any available positions. Of course, you will be answering ads, going to your college career center, and checking in with your recruiter at the same time.
Questions to Ask during an Informational Interview
Now that you have a target list, analyze it carefully. If you know the industry or field in which you want to work, prioritize your list: Determine where the greatest opportunities for employment are and check off those names first.
But before you contact anyone, establish what you want—the kind of information for which are you looking. Do you want to make contact only for information or, ideally, would you like the connection to result in a job? Of course, as mentioned earlier, networking really is all about information—getting in touch with people who don't necessarily have a job to offer, but who are willing to share their knowledge about the industry or field in which they work. You might want to ask:
- What types of jobs are available in this field?
- What are the salary ranges for those jobs?
- What sort of day-to-day duties are involved in the job?
- What qualifications are necessary to enter this field?
- Will I need more training to get a job in this particular area?
- Based on my credentials, would the company see me as a viable candidate?
In all likelihood, these questions will lead to more questions when you speak with your contacts. Always be sure to ask whether your contact can put you in touch with another individual who might be willing to discuss his or her job with you.
Networking is also about visibility—getting yourself out there. If you learn about an actual job opening through your target list, you are ready to start interviewing. (Chapter 5 has more specific information about the interview itself.) Whatever you decide, think carefully about what you want to say and the questions you'd like to ask. Then write them down.
Getting Ready to Call Your Contacts
When you are ready to make contact, there are at least three good ways to go about it:
- Call the person yourself
- Write a letter or e-mail to the person
- Ask the person who referred you to call, write, or send e-mail
If you've never networked before, a safe way to start is to call someone with whom you feel comfortable. Decide how to open the phone call before you actually dial. Some possibilities include:
- "Hello, Ms. Walker. My name is Elliot Bruno. I'm George Bruno's nephew. I'm interested in learning more about the field of equity research, and my uncle suggested that you might be a good person to talk to. If you have the time, I'd very much like to meet for a few minutes sometime next week."
- "Hello, Ms. Walker. I'm Elliot Bruno, George Bruno's nephew. I'm interested in pursuing the field of equity research, and Uncle George mentioned that you work in that field. Do you have a few minutes to discuss your job with me?"
- "Hello, Ms. Walker. My name is Elliot Bruno. My uncle, George Bruno, worked with you at Harmon & Associates. He suggested that you might be willing to talk with me about your job doing equity research. I'm interested in pursuing a job in this field, but I'd like to learn a bit more about it. Is there a good time to call you and chat for about 15 minutes?"
If you're feeling a little shaky about calling someone you don't know, write a letter or send an e-mail. This will give you more time to develop your thoughts and ask important questions. A typical letter might look like the example shown in Exhibit 1–2.
If you feel especially insecure about contacting someone on your list, ask the person who referred you to write or call for you. This will break the ice, making it easier for you to follow-up with a note or phone call of your own.
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