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Tips For Job Applicants

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This is the first blog entry in what will hopefully become a series, where I share some of the things I've learned in life, in the hopes of helping ADISCers.

Today's topic is: how give yourself a leg up, when applying for a job.

One of my responsibilities in my professional life is sorting incoming job applicants into three piles: "yes", "maybe", and "no".
Most of the time, I am considering candidates who are roughly college-age.
Some have completed college, some are studying now, and some did not go.

Since ADISCers tend to be around that age, I suspect some of you may benefit from my tips about how to avoid the "no" pile.


Tip 1: Target your application

Roughly 80% of applications I see are cookie-cutter.
The applicant is obviously sending the same application to every job they're interested in, or, worse, every job in their area.
When I read an application which doesn't mention the target company by name, I immediately draw the conclusion that this applicant does not really care about getting the job.
Applications which are written to appeal to a broad audience end up appealing to no-one.
If you're applying for a job, tailor your application for that job.
Do some research on the company.
Are they a small company? Highlight other small companies you've worked at.
Do they ask for skill performing a certain task? Highlight cases where you've performed that task, or similar ones, in the past.
Do they mention people skills? Highlight situations which demonstrate that you have those skills.

The key here is showing that your application is highly relevant to the position you're applying for.
The more you can demonstrate that you have the specific things they're looking for, the better your chances are.
Don't be afraid to search many places for job listings. Newspapers, online, etc.
Applying to the best-fitting jobs from many sources is far better than applying to all the jobs listed at a single source.


Tip 2: Spellcheck & proofread

Approximately 20-30% of the applications I'm used to getting have either not been spellchecked, or not been proofread.
As a result, they contain silly errors, like "graduated 20009".
Not spellchecking/proofreading is a sure-fire way to make an applicant appear sloppy.
Always spellcheck, and then proofread, any application that you submit.
If you have a trusted adult friend, it can be helpful to ask them to read your resume, too.
I did this when applying for jobs, and the advice I got made a big difference to me.



Tip 3: Follow the instructions - especially regarding cover letters

Around 30% of applications I see are rejected because our job ad said to include a covering letter, and they did not do so.
Applicants should always read the job ad carefully, and follow its instructions precisely.
Hiring managers do not have time to deal with applications from people who can't read the listed requirements.



Tip 4: Prepare references in advance

Typically, when I am considering hiring someone, I talk to everyone that person has worked for (e.g: all their previous bosses), for the last eight years.
Many companies are not that strict. Still, remember that your current boss' opinion of you will matter long after you leave your current job.
Always, always, ensure your boss is happy with you.
Where possible, ensure that there are multiple people (especially senior people) you can call on for references.
You will be thankful you did - when you get an interview for that dream job, and your references are the thing that gets you in the door.
References don't have to be past bosses. They can be college-level teachers, or anyone who knows well what you're capable of.
Just make sure you have them, and that they speak well of you. Ideally, that they speak well of your ability to do the jobs you're applying for.


Tip 5: Consider other places

The current economy is tough to find a job in.
Your odds of finding a good job are vastly increased if you widen your search to other parts of the country you live in.
Do not do so blindly (would you really be happy living in a very hot/cold location?) - but do think about where you'd be willing to live, and consider searching for similar jobs in those areas as well.
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Comments

  1. Grutzvalt's Avatar
    I have the skills in IT and Graphic Design to land a job and I have more than a little willingness to learn! You should hire me.
  2. bomb851's Avatar
    Good post! I can benefit from this since I am currently looking for a job. Also, since I'm young and foolish I need all the advice I can get.
  3. whip's Avatar
    I guess this is a cultural thing. But I am always hesitant to add references. Mostly as you'd be hard pressed to get a phone call from them, as I have a knack of working in fast paced environments where everyone is constantly behind, so not always at their desk.

    I still don't feel it's very professional to use references. Since when was it in the previous employers interest to help promote their ex-employers career to competitors. You're generally judging someone by their previous employer who might not do justice for a decent reference. Feel free to challenge this, but I still am in a dilema about this, will it promote or hinder me?

    and 8 years? Do you really have the time for that? In 8 years I am expecting to see around 6 previous employers for a smart kid. Then again, depends on the industry but in todays business I don't think people will be able to hold the same job longer than 2 years.
  4. Near's Avatar
    I personally never give references unless specifically asked (I do mention they are available on my resume, and I bring a few hard copies with me during every interview). And in the 10 (give or take a few) interviews that I've had in the last year I've been asked for them a grand total of never. Might have something to do with the fact that I was always interviewing for temp positions, though.
    I also make a point of always asking people if they want to be on my reference sheet, just to make sure they don't mind being called by prospective employers.

    Something that I personally always do is dress up for interviews. It's actually funny: the job I had last summer, I show up for the interview in clothing that would be acceptable at a black tie event, yet by my second week of work I was wearing a t-shirt (I wore an XKCD shirt to work more than once), jeans and sandals.

    I can also vouch that having a spelling mistake on a cover letter can, err, hinder getting a job (all the cover letters I sent out when I was looking for a job for last summer had the same spelling mistake. Result? I got one interview for a job that actually required a cover letter, and the job I actually ended up getting didn't require sending a cover letter ^^').
  5. LBcub's Avatar
    A resume is a good place to get your foot in the door. However for many extremely competitive areas of business your resume could be printed in solid, smeltable gold and recruiters would never get around to look at it. One of the recruiting events I went to, the receptionist had a stack of resumes going from the desk, about chest height nearly up to her chin. I can almost guarantee no resume in that pile was ever looked at.

    At that point the more important thing is less about what's on your resume, and who you give your resume to. The receptionist or the front-facing recruting site rarely nets in many full-time employees where I work, hiring is mostly done by direct referrals of senior employees to the hiring staff. If you manage to get a referral, the resume process is more of a formality and as long as there aren't any glaring errors you will get an interview. Having an eye catching resume is a really good step, but actually networking in your field is vastly more important in my opinion. Even if no one will give you a direct "give me your resume and I'll push it through to management" you can often get valuable information about particulars to tailor your resume so it has the highest possible chance of being picked up by someone with the power to schedule an interview. Keywords to put front and center in your resume, particular things recruiters at a particular company would like to see on a cover letter, more specifics on exactly what you might be hired for beyond what is posted on the general job site, perhaps the timing of when to apply such that your resume has a better chance of being looked at etc.

    I can't tell you how many very talented people I know who have a resume that meets the criteria above, are qualified and still don't have jobs, or don't have the job they deserve because they just aren't extroverted enough to make sure their resume got put in the right hands.

    This is even true in a less restrictive sense for almost any job market. I was helping a friend of mine get a job at a supermarket, while he filled out the application I went to go seek out the store's manager and chatted him up for a bit. Doing so got me some useful information on when the best time to turn the application in would be, it so happened the whole chain had a hiring freeze that would be lifted in a week and a half later, if he put his application in then it would be on the top of the pile and had a better chance of getting noticed. I passed this on to him and he did end up getting an interview and job from that.

    Long story short: anyone interested in obtaining and keeping a job should invest heavily into communication skills. Writing an awesome resume is often only one piece (and depending on the market, possibly a small piece) of what is needed to secure a job, especially if you have a particular company in mind.

    Responding to Near's comment, attire is also something you'll want to do some recon on as well if you get the interview. Depending on the field you *can* overdress for an interview, an easy example is if you dressed up in a tux for almost any interview people will most likely find you exccentric unless your job recquires that sort of attire. The best thing to do is again meet and observe the people who work at the places you want to work at. My rule of thumb is to dress as well as the nicest dressed person you've seen who works at the job you want. That ensures you're definitely in "formal" attire for the interview, but you don't look out of place. For instance, I attended a seminar on interview processes in my particular field, and one of the guys on the panel noted that if you wore a tie to your interview, everyone who interviewed you that day on the first line of their feedback would say "he wore a tie..."
  6. LBcub's Avatar


    Quote Originally Posted by UnMarth
    I guess this is a cultural thing. But I am always hesitant to add references. Mostly as you'd be hard pressed to get a phone call from them, as I have a knack of working in fast paced environments where everyone is constantly behind, so not always at their desk.

    I still don't feel it's very professional to use references. Since when was it in the previous employers interest to help promote their ex-employers career to competitors. You're generally judging someone by their previous employer who might not do justice for a decent reference. Feel free to challenge this, but I still am in a dilema about this, will it promote or hinder me?

    and 8 years? Do you really have the time for that? In 8 years I am expecting to see around 6 previous employers for a smart kid. Then again, depends on the industry but in todays business I don't think people will be able to hold the same job longer than 2 years.
    I feel like whoever was your previous employer would have to be a real jerk to not give you an honest reference. A couple things about doing it though. If you're moving to a new company, make sure you give your current company lots of notice, it's best to have full disclosure and if you're looking around at other places or are talking to another company, let your management know asap. Don't be snarky or a dick about leaving, and try to have a good relationship with your management. If you leave on good terms and make sure people know you put them down as a reference you surely can find some people who worked at your former company that would be willing to see you succeed and would vouch for you.
  7. h3g3l's Avatar
    For me, one immediate "do not hire" decision comes with their resume: if a candidate lies on their resume, and lies in the interview, they'll be unable to be truthful on the job.

    I had a guy say he was a SCO Ace and all sorts of other things (Solaris, *NIX, etc.) ... I threw him a soft-ball question: "what's a superblock? How about an inode?" He had no idea. I had stuff to finish, so I excused myself and let the Solaris admin take care of him.

    That guy was not invited back or offered a job. Turns out this was all the stuff he thought he would learn over the next few years.

    My tip? For the love of God, don't lie or have anything on your resume that you cannot back up.
    Updated 17-Feb-2011 at 12:47 by h3g3l
  8. stevieab's Avatar
    I have been amazed when I have helped out at interviews at the people who have completely sold themselves short even though they have more than enough education and experience. No more the case than with graduate recruitment where everyone is on the same playing field relatively speaking. In no other situation is it more about selling yourself, and if you dont make yourself heard and produce compelling answers to questions then you will not stay on the list.

    Do not be shy and get enough practice to make yourself not freeze up or get nervous in interview situations.
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