A couple of weeks ago, I described a particularly interesting interview that I faced during my ongoing job hunt. Throughout the entire job search process, I had several other interesting learning experiences and thought it may be appropriate to condense some of them in this blog post.
Below is a compilation of some salient points that resulted either from my personal experience or from discussions with friends, peers, interviewers, and current and former bosses. Although, this is a fairly long post, it is certainly not intended to be any kind of a “comprehensive guide” for job search - so feel free to voice your opinions (positive or negative) on the subject.
1. Keywords in your resume are important: This was a disappointment to me, but this is what I have observed (perhaps people in different industries have different ways of doing things) - your resume is essentially worthless without some keywords relating to the position you are applying for. This is especially true if you are posting your resume through a mass online resume posting service (like Monster.com, CareerBuilder.com, or through company websites).
Keyword search is the first filter that many employers will use - I personally don’t like it, but that’s what makes it practical for employers to sift through thousands of resumes. The only time you could probably get away without keywords is when you communicate personally with someone higher up in the hiring ladder - because of which you will bypass the initial filtering process. However, keep in mind that once you pass through the initial filtering process, keywords don’t hold too much importance. So, pay attention to keywords but don’t get too hung up on them.
Usually, the title of the position your are applying for and the corresponding job description provide enough clues as to which keywords you should try to include in your resume.
2. It’s not just about how brilliant you are, it’s also about how well you communicate: Communication issues can be real deal breakers. I personally know at least two extraordinarily brilliant persons who didn’t make it to even a single job in the industry because of communication issues (of course, it is implied that their jobs required communication between employees - I understand that this may not be really necessary for certain jobs).
Many employers place a lot of importance on good verbal and written communication. In my case, at least two companies asked for a few writing samples before considering me for on-site interviews - and later, made it sufficiently clear that they need this initial writing filter because, in the past, they had terrible experiences with people who couldn’t even compose simple emails properly and someone had to communicate with the customers on their behalf.
Unfortunately, communication problems don’t have instant remedies (unlike keyword problems) and are hard to correct; you really need some dedicated efforts very early on.
3. You don’t need $500 suits and jackets to make an impression: Seriously, I don’t know who has the time to look at the richness of your suit fabric or the brand of your leather shoes during an interview - unless you are interviewing for Martha Stewart or something. Dress decently and neatly, shave, and comb - that’s about it.
May be I am too insensitive or something, but from a distance of about 2~3 feet, I absolutely can’t figure out any difference between a $500 blazer and a $99 blazer - I have quite literally tried this experiment several times in our town mall.
Formal clothing is supposed to invoke a sense of professionalism and to boost your confidence (I don’t completely get this, but that’s what everyone says). I don’t see why expensive clothes would make it easier in achieving those objectives.
4. It’s not just about what you know, it’s also about who you know: I am not sure what percentage of resumes are rejected in the first cut, but I have a feeling that most resumes do not make it through. It always helps if you know someone in the hiring organization who can take your resume directly to the next level by bypassing the initial cull.
Also, in some organizations, open positions are first circulated among the employees before they are made public - if an employee recommends your resume at this stage, you will have a much higher chance of getting noticed. Of course, after the initial boost, the rest depends on how well you handle the hiring process.
5. Timing is very important: This is something I am learning the hard way. The way things are going with my job hunting process, I think I missed the “prime time” by a couple of months. Most industries have a particular “season” in which the bulk of the hiring takes place. Try to find that sweet spot well in advance and plan accordingly. Bigger organizations usually have a lot of time lag between the time you submit your resume and the time they actually read it and act on it.
6. Luck plays an important role: With this, I am just acknowledging the fact that there is a strong luck factor in determining whether you get a certain job or not. By making some wise choices you may be able to influence this factor a little bit, but you certainly cannot eliminate it completely. As such, a successful job hunt deserves a little humility (especially when you talk about it to your friends/peers who may not have been equally successful).
7. Don’t burn your bridges behind you: The most obvious “duh” suggestion here is to not leave your current job unless you get a written confirmation about your new job - whenever possible. Word of mouth is not a confirmation. Also, let your job search anxiety be your own problem - if you are not sure about leaving your current job, don’t start harping on your efforts to find a new job; uncertainty leads to anxiety which in turn leads to panic. In short, make sure that you are in a position to continue with your current job peacefully in case your job hunt ends unsuccessfully.
8. Keep smiling and be positive: This advice comes from my advisor. He probably realized that I am a little bit on the cynical side and sometimes can’t resist the temptation of a casual sarcastic remark. Negative attitude doesn’t help. People like happy people. People like positive people. Keep your sarcasm restricted to your blogs and comments on blogs (note to self).
9. Maintain good relations with your potential references: This is especially important for students (strained relations between students and their academic advisors are not uncommon). References are taken seriously in this country and all your good work can turn out to be useless if you can’t get your professors to say a few good words about you.
If you are not sure whether your boss/professor will strongly recommend you for a job, don’t give his/her name as a reference. If you don’t get along too well with your boss, try to cultivate good professional relations with other people in your department so that you can forward their names as references if needed.
10. Improvise: Be prepared to improvise on what you want to say/do during the interview, depending on how the interviewer is reacting to what you are saying/doing. It helps to watch your interviewers closely - it’s not too difficult to see that you are boring them to sleep; when that happens, you need to bring your boring activity/story to an end and switch to something more interesting. On the other hand, if you sense that your interviewers are showing interest in a certain topic, try to feed them more of it and convert it into a selling opportunity.
If you are more of a planning type of person, instead of relying on your improvisation skills, have a plan B ready (or maybe even plan C and plan D).
11. Other things that can cause embarrassment: A few of my on-site interviews culminated in the companies asking for background information (and for my permission to pull up my background information from third-party sources). To my chagrin, I had to mention something unexpected over and over again - a speeding ticket! Yes, a speeding ticket is considered a criminal conviction (albeit a minor one) and you may probably need to present some explanation if you have a whole bunch of them. I wish I had this wisdom before I got the ticket.
I don’t think people can deny you a job based on your speeding tickets (or may be they could, I don’t really know), but it sure is embarrassing to exhibit your lack of driving discipline to your potential employers.
Apart from the general discussion above, here are some pretty useful tips specific to the interviewing process; be sure to take a look.
Another observation, that didn’t find a place in the above list. It’s about interviewers who start interviews with this: “So, tell me about yourself“. More often that not, in my case, it has turned out to be a sign that the interviewer has not prepared well for the interview. It sounds to me like a filler when you don’t have any intelligent questions to ask. Observe your interviewers closely after they throw that “tell me about yourself” at you … in all likelihood, while you are trying to construct a history of your life for them, they are probably reading your resume for the first time.