Job hunting is one of the hardest tasks you face in the business world. Writing resumes and cover letters and making first impressions on company after company is tiring, and rejections, however politely phrased, sting badly. It’s hard to put yourself out there day after day trying to find the perfect fit. Or even a good fit. Heck, sometimes we’d settle for a fit that’s just “okay” if it will get us in the door of a company we want to work for.
We’ve recently hired some new representatives for the Graduate Admissions office, and so we’ve had this on our minds. We’ve seen some stellar applicants, and some that make us wonder how they could possibly have thought we’d offer them a job based on their behavior and/or resume. I’d like to pass a few bits of (very basic) advice on to any job-hunters out there. A lot of it seems like common sense, but based on the number of applicants who did not do any of these things, I guess it’s not as common as you’d think.
Give the employer what they ask for in the application. If they want you to apply online, using a certain form, or in a certain way, do it! Applications that come in through other routes are likely to be ignored, as employers have a process they use to vet potential employees, and their application procedures feed into this process. Also, if you don’t follow directions in the application, why would an employer think you’d follow them on the job?
First of all, be on time. If you show up late for your interview, the employer will assume that you’d be late for the job, and unreliable in other ways. I’d recommend showing up five to ten minutes early, but no earlier than that.
The interview begins long before you enter the conference room or employer’s office. Remember that every single person you meet, from the receptionist to the CEO, is likely to be asked their impression of you. Make sure you treat everyone courteously and professionally.
Make sure to ask questions. Many people, going into an interview, think of it as a one-sided sales job — sell themselves to the company. Remember that if it is to be a good fit, the company must also fit your needs. Make sure that you find out about everything that is important to you during the interview so that you don’t have to ask basic questions later.
One exception to the previous note is salary. Don’t ask about the salary during the interview unless the employer brings it up. Once they offer you the job, you can negotiate the compensation package, but during the interview it shows that your focus is more on your wallet than your ambitions.
At the end of the interview, remember to ask for the job. You want to make sure that the employer knows that the interview further ignited your interest in working for the company and that now, more than ever, you want to work for them. A statement like, “After hearing more about this position, I’m really convinced I would be a good fit, and I hope we can be working together soon.” shows the employer that you used the interview as a way to learn about the company as much as they used it to learn about you.
Unless you have fairly extensive work experience, limit your resume to one page. I know it’s tough to get everything you want to say about yourself in that limited space, but employers typically spend very little time with each resume before making the decision to interview or not — and the more concise your resume, the more information can be read in that little time. If you do have extensive experience, you should still limit your resume to two pages. Let’s face it, anyone with enough experience to need more than two pages for a resume probably isn’t looking for job hunting advice at this stage in their careers.
It’s good to have a resume that stands out from the bunch, but don’t go overboard. Crazy colors, scented paper, and funny fonts (I’m looking at you, Comic Sans) have no place in a resume. Stick with good quality white or very light cream paper, basic fonts, and a simple, easy-to-read format, and you’re more likely to be taken seriously.
Hygiene / Dress:
Make sure you are clean, neatly dressed, and — this is important — deodorized! I can tell you for certain that employers will turn away otherwise qualified applicants who look sloppy or smell bad. Nobody wants to have their company represented by someone who looks (or smells!) slovenly or unkempt. On the same note, avoid strong perfumes and colognes. Any scent, however pleasant to you, might be cloying to the interviewer, and some people are sensitive enough to scent that a strong perfume or cologne could trigger a headache — something you certainly don’t want to leave an interviewer with!
Always dress for an interview one step up from the way you would dress for the job itself. If the job requires a tie, wear a suit. If it’s a blue jeans-and-t-shirt job, go with business casual for the interview.
Hopefully, you’re already doing everything I suggested in this post. I didn’t suggest anything particularly novel or unusual. But after seeing dozens of applicants for this most recent set of positions in Graduate Admissions, and seeing how many of them did not follow even the basic advice given above, I couldn’t help but wonder how they could have missed such common-sense practices as those above.
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