Your Best Job Search/Interview Tips

I know I’m not the only one out there who’s looking for work. Since I am a recent graduate, I am looking for a job to kick off my career. Experienced Dopers, enlighten the rest of us with your job-seeking and interviewing wisdom!

I was under-employed for a long time and have some insight. I wasn’t a recent graduate and had some pretty solid work experience, but I was stale and I had a lot of variance in my roles. First, job searching must be treated like a full time job. It’s temping to do it casually in the evenings and when you’re bored, especially if you have another stream of income or savings like I did, but that does not work. Set your alarm and work 30 hours a week at it, especially during normal working hours.

The biggest piece of advice I can give is to locate and attend as many job fairs as is practically possible. The new paradigm for job searching is frankly broken, employers tend to have a passive approach and the internet wall makes it far to easy to ignore incoming resumes. Even for companies desperate to hire people, they will often be lazy about checking their job boards and inboxes. It’s just human nature. Additionally the AI built to scan resumes for keywords also greatly misses the point in many cases for many jobs which aren’t easily indexed it’s next to useless. So, because of this, you absolutely need to contrive ways to get in front of people in real life to present yourself. Job fairs allow you an opportunity to ask questions and learn about companies, these companies might have jobs or departments which you would never have considered before. You’ll find jobs which you would never have thought to apply for. Additionally, you’ll get business cards and meet HR people who can actually inform you of when you are not qualified and will follow up if you’ve been disqualified so you don’t waste your time. So, in absence of real networking with personal and professional references, job fairs are golden in this anti-personal job environment.

Also, consider spending time hiring a resume writer. You might think of yourself as a good writer, but having a second set of professional eyes can be very useful. Often resume writers can act as sounding boards to brainstorm search tactics and business to investigate. They aren’t typically cheap, and some are only going to do the bare minimum to help you so you might need to meet with a few before you settle on one. I met with a consultant in my college’s Alumni center and a private one who was highly recommended on Yelp. The one from the University was pretty unhelpful, she knew a lot more technical detail about my field and might have been a more polished option but I had the impression that she just wanted to interview me and then write a resume accordingly. The private guy was much less structured. In many ways he was ill fit to help me since he wasn’t nearly technical enough to understand my industry and frankly I was more proficient with Word than he was, but his process was very beneficial. He interviewed me and asked a lot of really pertinent questions. He probed at a lot of the holes in my resume and found ways to spin them. He asked about jobs I’d been interested in and in explaining why they appealed to me he sculpted my resume around it. I ended up rephrasing everything he provided me in a rough draft and applying a lot of formatting to modernize it but it was a collaboration that worked well. He had the right point of view and helped with the flow, he got rid of all the confusion that my original had. Then I punched up the technical details and when we were complete I had something much more appealing to employers.

That’s pretty much it. Work at it full-time. Go to job fairs and find ways to speak with people in-person. Take every step as seriously as you would a very important business meeting. Over prepare. Over dress. Over communicate. Send polite emails written like professional correspondence. Always be on time and prompt in response to calls or emails. Be enthusiastic and positive but always be honest. Ask challenging and thoughtful questions, “yes” or “no” is never enough of an answer. Interviews aren’t about “not screwing up” they are about starting a conversation that helps you both decide if it’s a good fit. If you ask probing and pertinent questions about the job or company they’ll immediately realize that you can A) bring new thought to the company and B) are interested in this job, not just any job. Never be hesitant to ask for help. Get resume advice and assistance. Work with a mentor or an advisor while you search to keep you motivated, accountable and to offer insight from a different point of view. Jobs are all about collaboration, job searching is no different. College is over, you’re on the job right now, you’re just not getting paid yet.

For most job interviews, for most people entering the workplace, go to the interview looking and acting like a professional. Well groomed in a conservative manner, proper business attire, carry a conventional briefcase or bag, have pen, pencil, and notepad ready, speak clearly and distinctly while looking the interviewer in the eye, use complete sentences, smile occasionally but focus on what the interviewer is saying or asking, don’t blurt out responses, be polite. If you want someone to focus on your actual qualifications and potential, you don’t want them to worry about whether your mature enough for the job, or are ready to enter the working environment.

Now there are exceptions to this, where you don’t want to appear too conservative, but for most jobs and situations it’s the way to start.

Realize that interviewing is probably the part of the process that you need to worry about least. Once you’ve been invited into the office for the interview you’ve already been approved as a candidate and you’re one of 2 or 3 candidates in most cases. At that point they are primarily concerned with personality fit and checking for any hints of exaggeration in your resume, Worry about “how to interview well” when you cross that bridge, getting interviews is a bloody triumph these days.

The resume is still king. Make sure you have an awesome one. With online applications becoming more and more common, keyword searches are pretty much standard. There’s tons of useful resume sites on the web and at the library.

One thing I’ve found is that you most likely won’t find your dream job right away. Consider your career a dart board with the bullseye your dream job. Find jobs that contain key aspects of your dream job [for instance, if you wanted to be a project manager for builidng solar plants you might starty by working on construction at a commercial building, then leading a construction team at a school, then moving over to doing residential solar construction, then leading a team for a small solar plant, then finally nailing your dream job]. The process may take years and you may find that your initial dream isn’t what you thought it would be and pick something else. The key is always finding jobs that contain at least some of the aspects of your dream job.

Networking is also important, so feel free to discuss your career aspirations with people who have jobs you’re interested in and ask how they got where they are. Not only will you learn about what it takes to get your dream job, you’ll have people who are actually in jobs that you are interested in who know who you are and that you are looking to work in jobs they’re interested in. Now, when a job at their company comes up or a job that they’re interested in appears, but can’t take for some reason, they might think of you.

Finally, when you land an interview, research their company and their industry. Companies are typically impressed when you can ask about some of the challenges the company might be facing and if you can provide some advice on where you think the company could go.

For instance, if you can tell them what your top five priorities would be if you landed the job, that would be really impressive.

Good luck with your search!!

I posted this in a recent thread about interview tips:

I was the hiring manager for 2 positions last summer. For the people who made it to the in-person interview, I was amazed at those so many acted totally blase about the whole thing. No questions for us, no statement why they were a great fit, no “big finish” with “I want to work here and this is why.”

If you make it to the in-person interview, I would recommend taking notes during the interview for a summary. Come prepared with 1-2 questions (personally I like, “tell me what my typical day would be like” or “what do you think is the greatest challenge of this role.”) Use the answers to close with a powerful statement like “based on your description of this job, I am a great candidate because I bring X , Y, Z skills. Thanks to X, I can easily tackle the greatest challenge and I look forward to the opportunity. I want this job.”

My other advice would be not to babble endlessly. Take a second to think of how you want to answer the question, answer, then stop. We had several people who would just burble along, past the point of making any sense.

I just want you to know that I remembered that advice and started using that technique. I believe it has strengthened my interview skills considerably, so I thank you.

I think I have a pretty solid resume. I’ve had several interviews lately, but nowadays organizations are doing second and third interviews. After a phone interview and during the resulting face to face meeting, the hiring manager told me that 200 people had applied for the position. I really want that job though. I hope they call me back.

I’ve heard the advice to make job searching your full time job, but I wonder how realistic that is when I can only find 3-5 jobs per week to apply to.

And leave your cell phone in the car!

If not possible, put it in flight mode. Or turn it off. Do not, REPEAT, DO NOT look at it during your interview.

I must have had at least 5 people over the past 2 years do this… the damn thing vibrates, and they look at it to see if it’s a message, text, tweet, whatever. Really?

Oh, and learn about the company and ask a few questions. Don’t say “No” when you’re asked if you have any questions, and if you do have questions, don’t make them about pay. Or when you’ll get paid. Or when your first paycheck is. Or if you can get an advance on your first paycheck (yes, somebody actually asked me that during a job interview.)

If they ask if you have questions during an interview NEVER say no. Ask at least one of “What does it take to excel in this position/with your organization” or use one of Glory’s good questions above. If you have no questions, they will assume you don’t care.

Be professional. This doesn’t have to mean humorless and rigid, but it doesn’t mean not flighty, not too familiar. Dress appropriately, whatever that means for the job at issue. If you know who is interviewing you but don’t know how to pronounce the name or if you can’t pronounce the name of the company/organization, call ahead and ask a receptionist. (This would rarely matter, but it could. I did hiring for a business with a funky name and I felt a tiny bit of annoyance when people would show up and be shocked at the pronunciation or act like I was joking.)

Sit with energy. I know that sounds really stupid, but sit as if you are in control of your body and ready to stand up and take action. (ETA: Not like you’re ready to bolt out the door!) Don’t slump or slouch or fidget. A little pen twirling or something wouldn’t bother me, but don’t tap or bounce because it may make the interviewer anxious even if they don’t know why.

Make eye contact, but don’t get into a staring contest. Don’t read directly from notes but don’t focus your pinpoint laser vision on the interviewer. It’s really uncomfortable to feel like someone is just staring at you like a snake about to strike, and if you, again, make the interviewer anxious they might not know exactly what the problem is but they won’t like you.

Smile, nod, pay attention, react, tailor what you say on the fly. Be an active participant, an active listener. People can generally tell when someone is bored or not listening or at least they will read certain gestures and eye and head movements as signs of boredom or disengagement.

Generally, when people are hiring they are looking at least as much for a person as for a resume. They want to like you, they want the whole team to like you (or if it’s the case of just them, it’s even more important). They want to trust you. You don’t have to be perfect. You can be a little nervous. You can stumble a bit over words. It’s okay to feel somewhat goofy. Just try to be warm, approachable, and human.

First, what is your field? I think the answer may vary.

Many companies have special hiring programs for new graduates. For us we have a special allocation of jobs to be filled by New College Grads (NCGs) and NCG resumes get pushed out to hiring managers by HR. The bad news is that some companies are very picky about where they recruit from. NCG status lasts a couple of years, so even if you are already graduated you qualify. If your university gets recruited from ask your placement office for the names of recruiters from companies you are interested in and send them an email.

I am now actively recruiting for one job for me and 5 for other people. We’re pretty specialized, so it is tough.

Every job you apply for should be a multi-hour process. Researching the company. Looking for networking opportunities with that company online and with friends. Learning about the role generally and with other companies and finding compares and contrasts. Finally crafting a on-point cover letter to suit what you’ve learned and revising your resume for each application to varying degrees to highlight specific skills that belong at the top of that job description.

Also, if you’re only finding 3-5 listings a week then your focus is WAY too narrow and you might be unemployed for a long time unless you are a rock star candidate. Find more stuff to apply for, even stuff that you don’t think interests you initially, upon learning more you might surprise yourself. Remember, sometime job postings and job descriptions are written by harried HR managers with little specific information. It’s often a challenge to deduce what a job is by reading them. Don’t always assume the people you’re contacting are competent or professional. There’s nothing wrong with having a lot of phone interviews for which you aren’t interested. It’s good practice and you can always say no, frankly interviewers would appreciate it, use it as an opportunity to learn about industries and companies. That phone interviewer might end up recommending you to another department that has an internal posting not yet made public. Ask.

If you don’t have enough to do to keep yourself busy for at least 25 hours a week you aren’t giving yourself a fair shot. These are the people that just give up and go to unemployment. You’re selling yourself, sell, sell, sell. Salesman don’t go home when they finish calling the guys at the top of their list, they go searching for creative ways to find buyers in new markets. Do the same thing, find a buyer, their money all spends the same. Recent college grads are having a tough time these days, and it’s because they think that they shouldn’t have to work hard to find a job and they think they’ll get to do exactly what they want to do right away. You’ll probably have 3 or 4 jobs before you settle into something are even marginally happy with long term. This is the first job, leave no stone unturned, it’s one step in the process.

You need to have three tiers of jobs in mind. The first is your dream job, something that would be amazing and fulfilling in every way. The second is a good job with decent pay and benefits but that doesn’t necessarily get you excited every morning when you are getting ready for work. The third is a job that doesn’t necessarily seem like a good fit but pays enough to cover your expenses and won’t make you hate yourself at the end of the day.

If you are reading a job description and it seems like it fits in one of these categories you need to apply for it. In my experience when I was looking (and when my husband was looking when he was out of work) you should be applying for a minimum of 20 jobs a week. If you are applying for significantly less than that you are only applying for jobs in the first category. Applying only for dream jobs means you may be looking for years before you are hired somewhere. It also means that when you finally do get that interview that goes great and they make you an offer you have nothing else in your hand to negotiate with if you need it. Being able to say, “I’d love to work with your company but I do need to follow up with three other companies about offers they’ve made” will give you a lot more confidence to ask for more money or additional benefits if you want them. Better yet, it means that when you get offered your dream job and they hire you and 6 days later decide that you don’t fit into their company after all that you may already have other interviews and offers on deck. This happened to me once. My husband once got hired for a position and walked in on his first day to find that the company accidentally hired 2 people for the position and he was told that he wasn’t the one they were keeping. Shit happens and it is better to know that you have some back up options in place if you need them.

Does your college have a good system for helping find graduates jobs? Look in to it! I was lucky enough that my university had a superb online system for applying for jobs.

How technical is the field you want to go in? If you are in any sort of technical field (engineering, computer science, math, science, statistics, etc) you need to go find examples of technical interview questions and practice them. And practice is the best way to get good at them, because even if you think you’re really smart you can choke hard on something you should know if you haven’t practiced. Practice phone interviews, in-person interviews, doing problems on a whiteboard.

If you’re not in a technical field, then the above posters have great advice for standard job interviews.

The problem with applying for 20 jobs a week is that everyone else also applies for 20 jobs a week and hiring managers are up to their asses in resumes that have little to do with their jobs and which look like all the other resumes. Now, if you need to work in a field which hires more or less identical bodies, and if you have no skills that stand out, it is probably a good idea because if people pick interviewee at random maybe you’ll get picked.

If however the jobs that look promising are in any way specialized, and if you have talents (which all Dopers do by definition) why not search the web for a contact in that company, and call and send an email saying you are interested in a particular job and would like to be put in contact with someone who could tell you more. You should have a good story ready for why you are a good match for the job in question. This will take longer than 2 hours a job to do, but you’ve got a much better chance.

BTW, I am happy to report that the NCGs I have phone screened and who get interviews have mostly taken the time to Google me and the others who have contacted them. Smart move. It won’t get them the job, but it definitely raises them a notch in my estimation. Some have actually looked at some of our papers and know what we do. If you can ask intelligent questions about the job you will look smart.

If you write a thank you note (handwritten, of course) I guarantee you will stand out among everyone else that interviewed. Almost nobody does it anymore … ones that do get remembered :slight_smile: Write one to everyone who interviewed you, even if they’re silent during the interview.

I am quite enamored of this blog: Ask a Manager She gives a lot of good job hunting advice, and I credit her advice on cover letters for getting me my current job.

My field is social work. I graduated with an M.S.W. last May. I’ve been actively looking since November. I am not a clinical social worker, though I have applied for some case-management type jobs. My experience is mostly in non-profit administration and development.

I am so far beyond looking for my ‘‘dream job’’ at this point that I don’t even really consider it a possibility. I just want to work at a non-profit somewhere.

I appreciate all of this advice, truly. I have been stepping up my game considerably, but I may have to work even harder. This is a special challenge for me because I am very introverted and social networking is not my cup o’ tea.

Wonderful tip - I will certainly do that.

I worked for the Red Cross for a while - I started out volunteering my computer skills, mostly just to get something on my resume, then they hired me a few months later. More than half the employees there started as volunteers. Even if they don’t have a job for you, they make a great start for a network.

I’d suspect that managers of non-profits are out there a lot drumming up money, so you should be able to identify some managers at places you want to work. Think about what they need to make their non-profit work. Address that, as best you can, or ask questions about it if you get a hold of some of them. Clearly that isn’t about making money,but about serving the clients.

One thing I don’t like to see in resumes is an objective of “increasing my skills in X.” That’s a fine objective for a person to have, but I’m not going to hire them for it. My goal in hiring someone is to make my life easier and to help meet my objectives. Part of which is making that person look good and giving credit.
Anyhow, the purpose of that little rant is to approach all interviewing and job hunting from the perspective of what you can do for them, not what they can do for you. Should be easier for you than most people.

And I think the handwritten note idea is good. For you. I work in Silicon Valley and it would be considered quite quaint.