Lessons From My Job Hunting Expedition

by golbguru on November 30, 2007

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. :)

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{ 45 comments… read them below or add one }

1 moom 11.30.07 at 5:56 am

The more expensive clothes feel better to wear and do look better. But there is a “sweet spot” somewhere in there and obviously beyond a certain price it isn’t worth paying. I used to have a cheap suit and then got a good one and it was so much more comfortable to wear… same with jackets etc.

2 Caro 11.30.07 at 6:40 am

Adding to #11, remember that what you do/say online that is associated with your name can be part of the research that a potential employer does on you. Common practice these days is to do searches in Google based on your name and/or your email address. And remember that all it takes is one site that links your real name with your “internet name” to cause all that to be fair game as well.

I know some hiring managers who spend a lot of time doing this with candidates and take great glee if finding things that can be potentially embarrassing.

3 Super Saver 11.30.07 at 9:35 pm


Quite a good list. I think many apply to being on the job as well as during interviewing.

From my experience, I would add that some interviewers are also looking for how a candidate potentially might make a big difference in a project or in the company. I know I was as an interviewer :-)

4 thewild1 12.01.07 at 1:06 am

Wow, that is a great observation you made about the unprepared interviewer. I never thought about that before, but now that I think of it, it seems so much more clearer.

5 dimes 12.01.07 at 1:56 pm

I’ve never felt that a lot of the people who interviewed me knew what the best way to interview someone was.

6 Mrs. Micah 12.02.07 at 3:38 pm

I really learned that it’s who you know on my last interview. After I got the job they told me they’d already planned to hire me (unless I was a nutjob in the interview) because the friend who recommended me does such a good job. So I made her dinner afterwards. :)

Not burning bridges is also really good advice. I’ve been told by the job I just left that they’d take me back (in fact, they asked on the last day). So if this doesn’t work out, I can at least ask. It’ll depend if they found someone to replace me, of course, and if they like that person. But despite my frustrations I was really friendly because both bosses could be good contacts!

7 Double Journey 12.03.07 at 12:27 am

Wasn’t clear from the post, are you looking for a job or have you found one yet? Just curious. I recently just finished my job search, and I’m about to move back to LA to start it. I’ll be blogging about my experience job hunting over the next week or two if you care to read it. If I can give you any advice, I would love to, that’s what my site is about anyway :)

BTW, the question “So tell me about yourself.” does not always indicate unpreparedness. I often lead with this question in interviews because I want to see how well someone communicates on a subject they clearly know something about, themselves. It’s an easy question and it gets the person relaxed. I always spend at least 45 minutes on the person’s resume before I actually step in a room with them.

8 MoneyNing 12.03.07 at 3:54 pm

I love #8 because it’s amazing how optimism in your tone of voice helps in interviews! :)

9 Tim 12.04.07 at 2:50 pm

clothes matter for some professions. It isn’t necessarily how much a suit costs, but the fabric and the tailoring. I see plenty of $2k suits that simply look like crap, b/c they aren’t fitted well. I think $400 for a well tailored suit is the happy medium (often you can get these on sale for $200). The fabrics are better (cheaper fabrics wrinkle and simply do not hang as well). again, having the suit properly fitted/tailored is key.

10 fathersez 12.05.07 at 6:03 am

This is well written and thought out.
I am guilty of a number of issues you have asked us not to do. Burning bridges etc.

But the beauty is that my daughters who should be in the job market by mid next year will find this guide most useful.

I, personally and I am sure, my daughters thank you for this article.

11 Tom 12.07.07 at 4:23 pm

Great post. I currently run a company and look for resumes online. A lot of these tips, you hit it right on the head.

I tend to use broad keywords and it’s not just the education I’m interested in but how the person expresses him/herself. If you know your stuff, brag to me!

12 dan 12.08.07 at 8:57 am

as much as i don’t really like my job, i hate the idea of having to look for a job. best of luck in your search.

13 Willy 12.11.07 at 6:42 pm

I would add that I think being a smart job searcher can really help you interview well. If you do a good job of researching jobs while you look for them, you’ll be much more prepared when you walk into their office. You’ll know what they do, you’ll know what they’re looking for, and you’ll know what to expect. You can really tailor the way you do all of the things you listed by being a perceptive job searcher.

14 Brandon 12.14.07 at 3:36 pm

@ Double Journey: Actually, I prefer to make the applicant as nervous as possible. Literally, the first question that I ask is, “if I were to tell you that I’m certain that you’ve already failed the interview, how would you feel and what would you do?” I want to see how someone reacts to pressure when they’re at their worst. Granted, I hire for sales positions, but this principal should apply to many fields.

15 Shoqy 03.13.08 at 4:31 am

I have been searching for a job for quite some time now. My biggest problem at the moment is getting an interview. Personally i find interviws easy as i am a very confident guy and in the past when ever i have had an interview i have got the job the next day. I do believe your appearance and body language plays a major role.

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17 Valentine 07.23.10 at 8:12 am

Very nice and useful info on job hunting.
A comment on the request, “So tell me about yourself.” It is part of the ploy. I’ve been asked many times. I learned the best response is, “What would you like to know?” What they want to know is not about your personal life but what work you’ve done, how you deal with stuff, positive things from your past, overcoming obstacles and crises. One instance I use is when a printer ruined a $1,000 job that was due the next day. Did I freak out? Did I scream at the person? No. I remained professional and came up with a plan although inside I WAS freaking out. Hope this is useful to you.

18 Property Marbella 06.16.12 at 1:48 am

Be yourself. do not try to imagine yourself into something you are not, they see through you immediately. Honesty and sincerity, you’ll most advanced and they depend more on you as an employee.

19 Healthcare Training 07.12.12 at 8:33 am

main importent thing in interview is communication and then your skill you are perfect in your skill and your knowledge so you have to more confidence so you can selected.

20 Estate Agents in Enfield 07.19.12 at 7:47 pm

it is important Wow, that is a great observation you made about the unprepared interviewer.

21 Letting Agents in Enfield 08.09.12 at 7:47 am

its wonder it is important that is a great observation you made about the unprepared interviewer.

22 Hårtransplantation 08.21.12 at 6:35 am

When you are searching for a job, you should before an employment interview, check and learn as much as possible about the company, history, present and future. that’s 10 points right away.

23 Business Training 08.30.12 at 8:57 am

it`s good idea i impressed with you

24 Estate Agents in Enfield 09.10.12 at 7:36 am

in job interview a keyword is very important for highlight to the inspector . you highlight some special word in which you are expert to tell him answer and good smiling confidence and punctuality is more important

25 Mini vibrator 10.25.12 at 11:05 pm

Thank you for providing good information about how to write resume.

Keyword is the very important to any content and the resume is the first impression of our so one qout is famous ” First impression is the last impression” so resume is very important.

26 Mini Vibrator 10.30.12 at 10:28 pm

Acoording to metime period is very important to any industrise to hire new employee.

I face this problem in my life .

I live five month without job for this time problem so every fresher consider this point in your interview so this is very useful to find your best job.

27 Au Pair Australia 11.25.12 at 11:12 pm

This is very Beautiful information about interview.

-Keyword of Resume is Very important.
-Communication skill is very important Than intelligence.
-Formal Dress And Clean Save is Required.
-Luck is very important For your Rejection and Selection.
-Don’t Leave your Old job untill you don’t get new company job Conformation latter.

28 Maritime Security 01.02.13 at 11:08 am

Experience Matters Every Where…………rather than theoretical imagination……..which catch from books……….

29 Maritime Security 01.08.13 at 9:47 am

Its not important how much you well in speaking but more matters how understand and judge by the person listening you.

30 Maritime Security 01.18.13 at 7:48 am

There is always luch=k behind the person but we have to make effort to achive it.

31 Maritime Security 01.26.13 at 7:34 am

This article comprises of very Intellectual observation during Interview its not a simple to segregate observation in such manner.It helps me to fill my void regarding attaining interview.

32 Picture Framing Manchester 02.09.13 at 9:38 am

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Convey interest in the organization and knowledge of the position.
Ask relevant questions about the job or department.
Present a list of your references and any letters of recommendation or
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End the interview with a firm handshake and thank the interview panel for
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33 Ship security 02.13.13 at 10:54 am

An internally enthusiasm also help to create confidence during facing interview.

34 Xenon Hid Conversion Kit 04.09.13 at 7:55 am

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35 SAT 04.24.13 at 10:43 am

Yes absolutely i am agree with this article.I am most impressed by point 4 it is absolutely true that one can also reject in interview even he or she is eligible for job if another person in competition may have strong relation ship and identity.

36 receitas 05.03.13 at 8:28 am

Quite a nice list of things to be aware when you are looking for a new job! One other tip is not try to hard to be nice and impressive because it might not seem very genuine.

37 3 Star Hotels at Delhi 06.02.13 at 8:51 pm

I would add one point. Make sure you know exactly why these great people should join your organization. I’ve seen companies totally miss the mark because they focused solely on money. Find out what motivates the high performer and base your offer around that.

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