Both of my daughters are now at an age where they are starting to consider their careers in earnest, and as a result, I’ve been fielding lots of practical questions lately about the job application and interview process. This week I thought I’d share some of that advice for those of you who are also on the job hunt. Please feel free to chime in and add your own tips and advice in the comments section!
First Impressions. Start with a strong resume. In most cases, your resume is the first thing a potential employer will hear or see about you, so it’s crucial that it represents you well.
Don’t “pad” your resume with inflated accomplishments or experiences. It’s not true that “everybody does it.” Not only is it wrong, it’s also just a bad idea and will probably do you more harm than good.
Avoid distracting fonts or designs. Triple-check for typos, errors, and consistent punctuation, and then ask a few other people to do the same. Do not skip that step! I can’t tell you how many times I’ve come across typos in resumes, even at the very highest levels, and typos make a terrible first impression. This is one kind of error that is 100% preventable.
Write a specific and thoughtful objective statement tailored to the job you’re applying for. This is the biggest mistake I come across on resumes. Whenever I see an objective statement or cover letter that seems overly broad or generalized, I know immediately that the person either doesn’t understand their own strengths and gifts, or they haven’t done their research into the job opportunity. Either way, it’s a bad sign.
Show your persistence. Just because you’ve submitted your application and resume, that doesn’t mean your work is done! By following up with a phone call or email, you can help yourself stand out from the other applications by demonstrating your interest in the job and also your persistence. If I were advising my daughters Annie and Rose, I would tell them to call every two to three days to get the initial interview. After that point I would say to follow the instructions of the person they met with, but don’t let more than two weeks go by without some follow-up contact like a phone call or a thank you note, etc.
Interview with confidence. Once you land an interview, it’s time for the serious homework! Learn everything you can about your potential employer and what they do, especially as it relates to the position you are seeking. Look for relevant news articles, talk to people in the business, spend time on their website, and investigate their social media presence. If appropriate, try to get a sense of the company and its products/services in person. If you’re interviewing at Target corporate headquarters, for example, visit a few Target stores in your area. Make some observations that you can refer to during your interview.
If you get stumped by an interview question, it’s okay (and probably best!) to say “I don’t know.” But if you do that, it’s very impressive if you follow-up after the interview showing that you have worked to find the answer.
When it comes to family/life boundaries, I wouldn’t address it in an initial interview unless you’re actually asked directly about it. You always want to be honest, but that doesn’t mean you have to share everything about yourself right away. Focus first on the value that you bring to the company. Once they want you, then you will have the opportunity to share what it will take to make the relationship a win-win. You can do so in a positive way by emphasizing your commitment to the job but making it clear that you are seeking an environment that focuses on results and not face-time. If the company puts too much emphasis on face-time, there’s generally not enough flexibility to accommodate family boundaries.
As intimidating as job hunting can be, I try to remind my girls that it can also be somewhat nerve-wracking from the other side. Managers learn very quickly how critical it is to have the right people in the right jobs. Making a bad hire can be hugely disruptive to your team, and it can cost countless hours, energy, and resources. So, however anxious you are about landing the right job, know that your potential employer is just as anxious about finding the right person!
More than any single qualification or experience on your resume, an interviewer needs to know that you understand the job and understand what strengths you bring to it. If you can convey those two things with confidence, you’ll be a long way towards landing that next job.
What are your best tips for job seekers?
Looking for more executive wisdom from business expert Diane Paddison? You might also enjoy Ahhh, You’re Wearing THAT?
Diane Paddison has held several executive positions for corporations, including Chief Operating Officer for two Fortune 500 companies, Trammell Crow (now CB Richard Ellis) and ProLogis. She is currently the Chief Strategy Officer at the commercial real estate firm Cassidy Turley, and the founder of 4WordWomen, a national nonprofit designed to connect, lead and support young professional Christian women to fulfill their God-given potential.
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