Alright, my fellow job hunters, you’re probably champing at the bit to get started with your job search. After all, you’ve written several good resumes, each tailored to particular jobs or fields you’re interested in pursuing. You’re probably ready to hop on CareerBuilder, Monster, and any similar sites for your field and just start blanketing every company looking for employees with your resume, right?
Well, hold on there a few moments before you get too far ahead of yourself. First of all, submitting resumes without cover letters (or with impersonal cover letters) and otherwise not showing much interest in the specific job for which you are applying is unlikely to get you much notice. There are plenty of job applicants out there, and you need to make sure that you stand out. But we’ll discuss more on that particular issue in future Job Hunting Success entries. (For now, check out some of the other sources on how to write a cover letter if you just can’t wait.)
For now, let’s look at some of the other things you need to do before you get too far in your job searching process. As tempting as it is to jump right in, you’ll save yourself lots of time, aggravation, and missed opportunities if you take the time to make sure you’re really ready for your job hunt, by ensuring that you:
1. Get Your References Lined Up: At some point in the job filling process, your would-be employer is probably going to ask for several people who have worked with you in the past (or can otherwise vouch for your work skills, such as professors for those of you just getting out of college). You don’t want to find yourself at the end of a fantastic interview, only to realize that when you’re asked for references, you have no idea who to suggest.
Instead, you need to make sure that you have a pre-screened list of people (usually at least three, although in some cases you can get away with two), who have worked with you in the past and are able to speak about your work abilities. It doesn’t hurt to get a few letters of recommendation, either, although in my experience, most interviewers will want to contact your references to get such letters themselves. Also, you MUST check with said people beforehand to make sure that they are willing and able to provide you positive references when questioned by human resources (HR) workers; there are few things that can throw a bigger wrench in your job hunt than having one of your references refuse to talk to someone seeking to hire you, or worse, saying that you were horrible worker who did everything wrong. Either of those results would be a good reason to find a different reference.
2. Prepare Your Contact Information: In our modern world, chances are that you have plenty of ways for potential employers to contact you, from phone and email to fax machines and postal addresses. That’s definitely a good thing for the most part, but it can sometimes be tough to figure out what contact information to put on your resume and otherwise pass onto your would-be employers. What contact information should you include?
Let’s start with the very basics: don’t give contact information for your current job when you’re hunting for another position. The last thing you need is potential employers calling while you are talking with your boss, or HR noticing that you are getting emails from your company’s prime rival. Besides the potential for causing endless trouble at your current job (and possibly ending it, making your job hunt all the more urgent), you’d be putting your ability to contacted in the hands of someone else, meaning that your employer could potentially cut off your access to your job offers, right at the worst possible time.
Instead, stick with personal contact information: a personal phone number (either a home phone or your cell phone; make sure both are capable of taking messages, as you may not always be answer the call during normal business hours) and a personal email address (which domain to use is probably not that big an issue, although if you are looking for a tech-related job, you might want to avoid any ‘Compuserve’ addresses or similar out of the loop websites). If you provide those, there will plenty of ways for a future employer to contact you with an offer or two.
3. Ready Your Interview Questions and Answers: When you have your job interviews, there will be all kinds of things you need. Copies of your resume (and you did make sure to make copies of the same resume you used for this particular job, right?), your cover letter, and your references are all helpful, as is a notebook and pen to jot down the information you get during the interview process. If you haven’t worn a suit or other interview-appropriate outfit since the Bush administration (particularly the first Bush administration), you might want to consider getting a new suit for your upcoming interviews. You should also bring the would-be employer’s contact information; in spite of your best efforts, it might prove impossible to make your interview time for any number of reasons, and you’ll need to call . (If that’s the case, you should call the moment you realize that you’re going to be late; if you call minutes before your interview is scheduled to begin, or worse, show up late with no warning at all, you’ll find yourself in a much tougher spot with the interviewer than if you call ahead.)
One of the biggest things you’ll need to do is prepare for interview questions, both answering them, and asking them yourself. It’s a major part of any interview, and as such, there are lots of references available. Let’s cover a few of the most commonly asked questions, to help get you ready:
-Tell Me About Yourself – While not technically a question, it will likely be among the first things that your interviewer asks, and you should be prepared. This should not be taken as an excuse to list everything that has happened to you since the fourth grade, but to briefly cover your education, work experience, and any qualifications you might have for the job. It’s always good to know as much about your interviewing company as possible, so you can point out parts of your history that relate to their field.
-Why Did You Leave Your Last Job/Why Are You Looking for Another Position? – This one is a tough because it’s so easy to start ranting about your horrible last boss or talking about how you weren’t getting paid enough and needed to bail. Resist those urges; your interviewer will just picture you telling the same thing to another interviewer when you leave this position, likely in just a few months. Instead, focus on how you want to advance your career and your skills, and perhaps on how your last company turned out to not be a good fit for you (not recommended if you were there for five or more years). If you were fired, give the reason why honestly and optimistically, stressing what you learned and how you intend to prevent making the same mistake in the future.
-So, Do You Have Any Questions for Me? – “No” is not a good answer to this question, and neither is “What, exactly, does your company do?” You want to ask questions that show that you know a lot about the company, care about what it does, and look forward to being a part of the company for a long time. There are suggestions out there of questions you can ask, and it’ll be a good idea to set aside a few pages in your notebook to write down some good ones to ask at the end of the interview, trying to tailor them to your industry and the particular company. Besides being a way to stand out from the crowd and demonstrate your interest in the company, you’ll also get to learn more about it.
You might think that this is getting a bit ahead of the game; after all, we haven’t even covered how to start applying for jobs yet, so why are we looking at interview questions? But it’s good to start thinking about these things now, as it can help you tailor your resume more to help you answer these nigh-inevitable questions and provide you with some insight into what your potential employers will be looking for during interviews. Plus, it’ll also help you avoid being caught unaware if you end up in an impromptu phone interview with an interested employer.