Get a Job in 5 Steps

Seems like the economy, or more specifically the job market, is top-of-mind these days. Many people are looking for work. I overhear statistics like, “For every job opening there are over 100 applicants.” That can be disillusioning certainly, but there’s a secret in that statistic that should be encouraging, if you know how to exploit it. I know several smart folks who are actively looking for work. I fully expect they’ll have good jobs lined up in a couple of weeks. I also know several other folks who are wanting a job, but they’re going about securing one in all the wrong ways, and consequently will soon be blaming “the economy,” or the “poor job market,” or “the government” for their failure to get a job.

As it turns out, I believe there’s a way to get a job in 5 fairly straight-forward steps, but it means turning the flawed approach to job seeking upside down.

The problem is their pattern for getting a job is flawed: Write up a resume listing what you’ve done at other jobs, your education (however relevant or not), and top it off with a flowery and obvious “objective” statement. Find job listings, and for every job listed, send an email (either blank or with only a generic sentence or two) with the resume attached. Then wait for the phone to ring.

One of the reasons there are over 100 applicants for any given entry-level position is because those entry-level positions are getting resumes submitted from just about every unemployed person looking through the job listings. Imagine you’re an employer trying to fill 5 open positions. Now also imagine you only have about an hour a day to devote to reading resumes since you still have to do your normal job. Reading and sorting resumes is boring and tedious, so maybe you’ll only do it about 4 out of the 5 work days each week. And you’re not going to want to do it for more than a couple weeks before just picking the best of what you’ve seen so far and hoping for the best. That means each resume is going to get less than a minute of review. Is your resume have a quality that will bring it to the top of a pile of 100 resumes with less than a minute of review time?

Like I wrote before, I believe there’s a way to get a job in 5 fairly straight-forward steps, but it means turning the flawed approach to job seeking upside down. Instead of looking at the job search from the submitter’s perspective, look at it from the hiring agent’s perspective. Instead of trying to reduce the amount of time you spend submitting yourself to any given job so you can submit to many, try making the decision of the hiring agent easier. Make yourself the “no brainer” yes decision.

Clean-Up Your Online Profile

The first step in any job search is to clean-up your online profile. Most hiring managers know how to use Google. Check that what they’ll find on Facebook, LinkedIn, or wherever is not going to damage your chances. You don’t have to make the Internet think you’re some sort of perfect saint who never has any fun. But you should avoid flame wars, don’t be overly political (left or right) or religious (pro or con), and try to be nice generally.

Resume as Excuse for More

So many, I might hazard to assume most, believe the resume is the key that gets them the job. Not true. The resume is your excuse to call the hiring manager. It’s your excuse to push by telephone and email for an in-person meeting (i.e. interview). The interview gets you the job, not the resume.

What is a resume? Some, maybe most, think it’s a biography, an accounting of what you’ve done. That’s true, but a good biography is themed, targeted, and filtered for its target. Your resume shouldn’t list what you’ve done like a job description but rather like an explanation of the value you gave your employer. Don’t say you were in charge of such-and-such project. Talk about how you lead a project that resulted in such-and-such benefits for the company.

Remember that the resume is a calling-card only. So intentionally don’t list everything. List what’s going to be the most impactful. With that in mind, please never ever use an “objective” statement. Your objective is to get the job.

Use color. In flipping through 100 resumes, the one that has modest, professional highlights in color will catch the hiring manager’s eye. Nothing gaudy; but if there’s a horizontal rule, consider making it blue. (Always keep the background pure white, though.)

Don’t worry about keeping the resume to a single page. 2 pages is fine, but remember that the hiring manager will likely never read anything in detail and will only actually glance at the first half of the first page. Regardless, spell check and grammar check. Then do that again. Ask a friend to check it. Then check again. Then again. Really.

In the age of technology people applying for technology jobs, a trend has developed of building an online resume that’s more of a web media introduction than a resume. These range from interesting to really impressive. If you have the skills, go for this approach. However, remember that even this web media introduction is still only a calling-card. Don’t expect it will do the job of getting you a job on its own.

Research the Company

Make a commitment that for every job for which you apply, you research the hiring company. By research, I mean read some of the content on the company’s web site. Try a web search for news related to the company. If it’s a company that might appear on Yelp, read the Yelp profile.

This is important for a couple reasons: First, it gives you enough information to write a custom cover letter that speaks to why you’d be a good fit for that particular company. Second, when you’re in the interview, you can ask intelligent and informed questions when the hiring manager asks you if you have any questions. I cannot overestimate how important and impressive these two things are to hiring managers.

Telephone and Email Follow-Up

As I mentioned before, the resume is a calling card, which means you need to follow-up by email and telephone. Every industry and in some ways every company is a little different. But generally, if you submit your resume by email on a Monday, wait until Wednesday, then try a telephone call. Just say you’re verifying your resume was received. Tell them why you want to work for them and the company. (Remember your research so you can give specific reasons.) Then ask if they’ve got 10 minutes for you to come in over the next day or two. They may say yes, in which case you’ve got your interview. They may say no, in which case you say thanks and send a follow-up email repeating the thank-you. Then call them again in a couple days or so unless they told you explicitly not to.

Act the Part

When visiting the company, act the part. Dress for success. The general rule is to dress just ever so slightly better than the best-dressed person at the company or department. Showing up in a comfortable t-shirt and jeans isn’t going to send the right signal.

At this point, I’m sure there are many folks screaming at me in disagreement, about how in some cultures, casual is king. Yes, that can be true. But let’s say you’re interviewing for a team that all wears t-shirts and jeans. If you wear khakis and a simple button-down shirt, are you going to be disadvantaged? Nope; not likely. I’m a pragmatist, and so I dislike that dress matters. But it does. Ignore this truth at your own peril.

In the interview, be positive. Say nothing negative about anybody or anything. I’ve interviewed some folks who have made me feel depressed because they’re so negative. Don’t be arrogant. Don’t be rude. Be nice. Be confident.

Last and absolutely not least: remember ABC. Always be closing. Ask for the job. You’ll almost always hear back some sort of stall. “I’ve got 3 other candidates I need to interview, but I’ll let you know.” Ask how the interviewer thinks the interview went. Say you’re curious because you’d like to learn how you could be better, even if you don’t get the job. Hiring managers love employees who are looking for ways to self-improve. Thank the interviewer. Then after you get home, send an email thanking them for the interview. Then call them in a couple days if you don’t hear back.

The basic theme here is to imagine yourself as the hiring manager. What would catch your eye about one candidate over another? What would impress you about any particular candidate? What are you looking for in an employee? With those questions answered, you can become the ideal candidate.

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