More often than not in the current job market, companies are overwhelmed by the sheer volume of applicants that come to them online. While systems that track applicants and pull applications based on key words are helpful for managing the influx, the odds of your resume coming to the attention of the hiring manager can be very slim. So what is a talented, well-qualified applicant to do? Below are a few of my favorite tips for catching the eye of your next employer:
Network. The single most important thing any job seeker can do is network. Start by identifying your target companies and industries, then identify friends, family members, former colleagues, alumni etc. at those organizations and request an informational interview. The trick isnot to ask the contact for a job, but to take the opportunity to learn as much as you can about the company, the culture, the hiring process, the department that interests you, etc. By doing this, you build a network of connections in the companies you are most interested in pursuing for employment.
Leverage Your Network. When a position does appear online, reach out to your networking contact at that company. Let them know you applied online, and ask them if they would forward your resume and cover letter to the hiring manager.Busy managers are much more likely to review resumes forwarded by a trusted colleague rather than digging through the mountain of online applications. And throughout the process, be sure to keep your contact posted on your progress, and always remember to say thank you. Personally, when I am hiring, I always start with the resumes referred by a colleague.
Focus on Key Words. Be sure your resume and cover letter use key words from the job posting, as systems will often search based on those key words. Try to have as many key words early in your resume such as the summary and core competencies sections to increase your visibility within the system.
Beware of formatting. Ensure that there is no formatting, such as underlining, that will cause the system to reject your resume. As a general rule, companies will never tell you that your resume fails to make it into their system. Keep the formatting very basic to ensure that it is accepted, and remember that you can have a different format for when you share it in person.
Above all, it’s good to keep in mind that it is still people who make the hiring decisions – not job application systems. You need to be proactive and use your network to get your resume into the hands of the hiring manager. Don’t just sit back and expect the system to do the work for you. As with most things, you get out of them what you put in, so approach the process thoughtfully for the best results.
One of the most frequently used interview questions is the standard, “tell me about yourself.” It can take other forms such as “walk me through your resume” or “what do I need to know about you?” but the interviewer is handing you an opportunity to tell your story. How you answer this single question can have a significant impact on the overall outcome of your interview.
You are the expert on you so this should be an easy question but many people struggle with it. They are not comfortable talking about themselves and focusing on their accomplishments. It is important to remember that this is what your competition for the job is doing so you need to be well prepared to address this question.
Remember, the interviewer is focused on your professional story, not your life story. Do not begin with when you were born! Resist sharing the details of elementary school, junior high and high school. The interviewer really doesn’t need to know about your parents’ divorce, problems with your siblings or other life details. Focus on your professional life. Focus on the highlights.
Focus on your career and tell your story emphasizing key skills and accomplishments. This is an opportunity to highlight the things you are most proud of in your career and also to focus on what is most relevant to the hiring manager’s needs. Don’t use your entire response talking about how successfully you worked on your own if the hiring manager needs someone who can work as part of a team.
Use this as an opportunity to explain your career transitions. What did you accomplish in the specific job and what skills did you develop. Why did you leave and what did the new opportunity bring as challenges. Tell your story focusing on your continued growth and development. Focus on key skills you developed or enhanced.
This should not be a half hour, rambling response. Practice answering this question so you are prepared to do it professionally and succinctly. Make the interviewer want to ask follow-up questions and learn more about specific projects.
How you leave a job makes a lasting impression with those you worked for and with at the company. Since you will likely need a reference from that job at some point in the future, you want to leave on as positive a note as possible. It is also an amazingly small world these days and you could easily cross paths with those former colleagues in the future. Best policy is to NEVER burn any bridges.
How do you tell your manager and colleagues you are leaving?
Be sure to tell your manager before telling anyone else. Give your manager the courtesy of letting him/her know first.
Be honest without being overly negative or critical. Tell them a bit about the exciting new opportunity and what you will be doing. Give them highlights of what caused you to consider other alternatives.
Once you have notified your manager, submit an official resignation letter for HR. State that you are leaving and share the date, not the reasons.
If required, schedule a formal exit interview with HR.
Thank you manager for the opportunity you have had there and what you have learned. Ask if he/she would be a reference in the future.
Ask how you can best spend your last two weeks – suggest documenting processes and procedures, documenting outstanding projects, training others on the team.
Always give at least two weeks notice. If you are higher in the organization and have been there many years, you should give a one month notice.
Ask your manager if it is ok to tell your colleagues.
When telling your colleagues, stay as positive as possible. There is little be gained by bashing the manager or the company and it could seriously hurt you in the future.
How should you spend your last two weeks?
If your current responsibilities are not already well documented, prepare as much documentation as possible.
Compile a list of any outstanding projects or issues.
Provide a list of where to find critical files on the computer.
Organize and label for your files so others can find what they need easily.
Work with your manager to identify any training you need to do with colleagues to provide coverage.
Coordinate with your manager how you should notify customers or vendors you work with to ensure that they know who to contact once you leave.
Don’t leave any personal items in your desk or your office. Leave your work space clean and well organized.
Participate in an HR exit interview if requested.
Clarify how you want to be contacted if there are questions once you leave – home email? Phone?
What do you do your last day?
Ensure that everything above has been completed.
Turn in any keys, ID tags, passwords, etc.
Update your voicemail and email with appropriate contact information for whoever will be covering.
Address any outstanding questions with your manager and colleagues.
Graciously say goodbye and thank you for the experience.
Hiring managers often face a mountain of online applications so they are looking for a quick, efficient way to review the applicants and narrow down the pool of candidates to identify potential interviews. Unfortunately many candidates make it easy for the manager to move their application to the no pile very quickly. What at the doing wrong to move to quickly to the no pile? Often the manager need look no further than the cover letter.
No cover letter provided. The message to the manager is “I am not interested enough to take the time to prepare a customized cover letter.” If you are not that interested, why should the manager waste valuable time on you? It also forces the manager to do extra work by trying to determine how your experience aligns with the job. With numerous applicants in the pile, why expend the extra effort on you?
Typos and other errors. You can write all day about your excellent communications skills and attention to detail but it is more important to show the manager these skills. Typos or grammatical errors in your letter can earn you a quick trip to the no pile. Managers will use your cover letter as an example of your writing skills.
All about me. Your cover letter should focus on the value you bring to the company and specific position and how you can make a difference for them. It should not be about what you want or need. Do not start every sentence with I or every paragraph with I. Vary your sentence structure. Read your finished letter from the perspective of the hiring manager to ensure that you address how you can meet their needs.
Too casual. It should be a business letter, your name and address on the top in the same format as your resume, date, address block, salutation prior to the body of the letter. Demonstrate your professional writing skills in your cover letter. It should never be more than a single page. Sincerely is the acceptable close, never fondly or other approaches. Use “Dear Mr. Smith” not “Dear Joe”, or “Dear Joe Smith”. Your letter should contain an introduction, body and then a strong close. Do not just summarize your resume. Focus on your transferable skills. Avoid jargon or overly casual and informal language.
Failure to customize. You need to customize every letter to the specific needs of the company and the specific requirements of the position. Show them why you are a strong candidate for this job. Most hiring managers can spot a template letter and it will quickly move it to the “no” pile. Do not make careless errors cutting and pasting from a prior letter. Getting the company name wrong or using the incorrect job title is a clear signal that you didn’t invest time in customizing the letter and that you are not paying attention to the details. Demonstrate your knowledge of the company as well.
A strong customized cover letter increases the chances that you will be invited for an interview.
At this time of year, I receive questions about students preparing for internship interviews. That is certainly something we have some experience with at the D’Amore-McKim Graduate Career Center. Our MBA students do a six month corporate residency after their first year of classes and we held more than 450 interviews to kick off the process on February 5.
While all general interview advice on this blog applies to internship interviews as well, here are some specific considerations.
Do not fall into the trap of thinking you can wing it because it is “just an internship.” This is a significant career opportunity and you must take your preparation seriously. Research the company. Practice your answers to typical interview questions. If possible, talk to students who did internships with this company in the past to gain their perspective. The more prepared you are, the more confident you will be for the interview.
Identify Questions to Ask the Interviewer
One of the best ways to demonstrate your interest in the opportunity and the company is to identify thoughtful and insightful questions to ask the interviewer. This clearly demonstrates your level of preparation as well. Try to ask questions that are timely and relevant to the position the student is applying to for the internship. Just days before our interviews one employer announced the acquisition of a major competitor. Students needed to be aware of that but those who were most successful asked specific questions about how the acquisition would impact the supply chain strategy since they were interviewing for a supply chain position.
My favorite questions to ask an interviewer are the ones that make them envision the candidate in the job. Examples could include: “What would your primary goals for me be in this six month assignment?” “How would you measure my success in this position.” “What would you expect me to accomplish in the first 90 days in this role?” The answers will be enlightening but the subliminal process of visualizing you in the role doesn’t hurt either.
What Not to Ask
Do not pressure the interviewer about the likelihood of converting the internship to a full-time job. They know that is likely your goal but there are two major considerations: first you have to perform well on the job and fit with the team so they would consider hiring you. Second, they need to have a business need and budget approval for a hire. They may not yet know what their headcount is for next year. Don’t expect them to give you an answer they don’t have. Being too focused on conversion can leave them with the wrong impression. View the internship as a valuable learning experience. Absolute worst case, you have relevant work experience to add to your resume and references to back it up.
Demonstrate your follow-up skills and your professionalism by sending a prompt email thank you to each interviewer, personalized of course. Within 24 hours, send each interviewer a personalized, handwritten thank you note. Thank them for their time and demonstrate your interest in the opportunity. Refer to something you learned from each interviewer. This is a significant opportunity to differentiate yourself from other candidates.
Starting a new job is the perfect time to make a good impression. You want the employer to be confident that they made the right decision in hiring you for the position. The first hundred days in a new job can be one of the most critical times of your career. Here are some recommendations based on feedback from our employers.
Be Punctual – This is a way to show you are serious about the job. You can worry about flexibility later after you have proven yourself. Always arrive a few minutes before starting time so you are ready and eager to begin your day. Managers notice when employees are not punctual. If something comes up and you need to ask for some time off, give as much advance notice as possible. Try to minimize the negative impact on your work deadlines and offer to make up the time if appropriate. Always be mindful of critical work deadlines.
Show Respect – Honor the culture of the organization you have joined and respect those in authority as well as your peers. Put your cell phone on vibrate and avoid taking personal calls except in an emergency. Do not use company property for personal reasons – this includes the internet. Follow the company’s dress code. Take the lead from your manager. Don’t gossip or participate in the office rumor mill. Also show respect of their current processes and procedures. Don’t start out telling them their systems are antiquated and their processes don’t make sense. Learn the systems and processes first. Listen to why they do things the way they do. There may well be significant opportunities for improvement but you need to invest the time in understanding the status quo and earn some credibility before you start proposing changes.
Open Communications – Identify your supervisor’s communications style and preferences and work to accommodate that style. Also identify the style and preferences for your colleagues. Discuss any concerns you have with your manager. Provide your supervisor with progress reports. Avoid surprises – such as a project not completed on deadline. Let them know in advance if there are issues. Keep your manager advised of any concerns that could impact results and deadlines. Set the pattern for open, frequent communications early. Ask for feedback regularly so you can fine tune your performance to ensure you are meeting or exceeding expectations.
Ask Questions – Do not make assumptions. You are learning the company and the role. Ask questions to be sure you understand. Clarify requests to be sure you understand what you are being asked to do. Inquire how your work supports the department’s goals and the company’s objectives. It is not a sign of weakness to ask questions. Don’t waste time and energy doing the wrong things because you didn’t ask.
Take Notes – Take notes so you don’t ask the same question again. Review your notes and apply what you have learned when faced with similar tasks or issues. Keep a record of your accomplishments – details of projects competed and impact on the organization, skills you developed or enhanced, knowledge you gained. They know you are new and you will need to ask questions as part of the learning process but they will quickly grow frustrated if you keep asking the same questions.
Be Fully Engaged – If possible ask what you can do prior to your start date to learn more about the company, the team and the position. Do your homework researching the company, competitors, industry etc. Demonstrate your energy and enthusiasm. Remain positive. Show you are hungry for a challenge. Pay attention to both quality and timeliness of your work. Look for ways to exceed expectations.
Identify Solutions not Problems – When you encounter problems, try to find possible solutions. Identify unmet business needs and ways you can help meet them. When identifying a problem, always offer at least one reasonable solution.
Listen – Learn as much as you can by listening to others as they talk about the industry, the company and the department. Listen carefully to instructions for assignments and clarify as needed. Pay attention to deadlines, guidelines, and procedures. Always ask for feedback and think about how you can apply what you learned going forward. Seek continuous improvement.
Earn the Challenging Assignments – Employers don’t give the most challenging project to the rookie in most cases. Demonstrate with your early assignments that they can count on you to deliver high quality and timely work and you will begin to earn more challenging assignments.
Show initiative – Look for ways to exceed expectations. Identify unmet business needs and determine ways you can help. Offer to assist a busy colleague with a big project. Volunteer for a project that needs a home.
Be Flexible and Adaptable – Accept all assignments cheerfully and give every assignment your best effort. Be open minded about new ideas, new procedures and different work. Anticipate change and embrace it.
Curiosity – Ask open ended questions to demonstrate your interest. Offer ideas and suggestions for possible improvements. Seek opportunities to learn more about the company and the industry.
The manager hired you instead of all the other candidates because he/she believed you could make a difference on their team. Show them from day one that they made the right decision.
What is a successful professional to do if they are very good at their current job but aspire to climb the ladder and to take on new challenges? It is not always necessary to look externally to get ahead.
Honest Assessment of Skills and Gaps – Before any next step in your career, it is critical to do a very honest assessment of your skill set and your gaps. What are the critical skills for success in the position you aspire to? Which of those skills are particular strengths? Which areas require more work? Are there major gaps where you might need additional training and/or experience? Look at performance reviews, ask trusted colleagues for feedback, ask your mentor and your friends for input. Gather comprehensive data on your strengths and areas for develop. Define a specific plan on how you will address the gaps in the year ahead. When opportunity knocks you want to be sure you are ready.
Have a Mentor – Everyone needs a mentor or a personal board of directors to help them navigate their career. This should be someone more senior than you are in position and often age as well. Learn from their experience and perspective. Ask them for honest and actionable feedback. Use them as a sounding board as you build you skills assessment and as you navigate the journey to your next career move.
Train and Develop Your Replacement – The organization values your contributions in your current job very highly. That’s great, but you don’t want that to stand in your way of future advancement. Often people get so focused on how to get experience and visibility to lead to that next job that they forget to worry about who will do their current job. Identify a rising star on your team and start training them on how to be successful in what you are currently doing. Provide projects which offer learning experience as well as visibility. Nurture this person along and make sure your boss knows you are working to train this person to someday do your job. Some people worry this will show the boss they are not needed but in fact it can be a shrewd move. Many managers are hesitant to take you out of a job you are doing well for fear of what will fall apart. Help them start looking for your next opportunity because you have your current responsibilities covered. You will be more available for special projects if there is someone who can cover your day to day responsibilities.
Open and Honest Conversations – Have open and honest conversations with your manager about your longer term goals. Ask for input on what you need to develop to be qualified for the next step. Ask for special projects or assignments that would add experience and increase your visibility as someone who can do more than the current job. You have to be patient and respectful. This isn’t about demanding anything it is asking for help throughout the journey. Sometimes it is a position you aspire to that your manager might have never considered but after talking about it they keep visualizing the possibility. Engage them in helping you advance your career.
Define and Implement a Plan – Define and document a specific plan of how you plan to achieve this goal. Having a goal is not enough. If you don’t know where you are going, you’re going to have a tough time getting there. Identify target companies and/or target positions. Commit to networking activity levels. Define specific activities and timeframes and hold yourself accountable. A great goal that sits on the shelf has little possibility of success. Define your plan and execute it well, keeping track of your accomplishments and milestones. Whether your next step is in your current organization or in a new company, you have to develop and implement a plan to increase the likelihood that you will achieve it.
Network, network, network While networking is critical to an external job search it is also critical for your advancement internally. It really is all about who you know and who knows you. It is the single most important and effective step you can take in your career development. The majority of jobs are filled through networking in this economy. Talk to people you know. Ask them for introductions to other key contacts. Even when you are seeking a more challenging role in your current company, talk to people in the new area, talk to people who interact with that group. Learn as much as you can about what is required for success in that role. Understand how that role interacts with the rest of the organization. The more you know, the more effective you can be in the process. Also the more people who know you are interested, the more likely you are to be considered for an appropriate opportunity.
Be Realistic – You may have a dream job in mind but realistically assess whether that is a possible next step from your current position. Often there is a step or two between your current role and your ultimate desired position. Learn enough about your dream job to identify critical next steps as part of your preparation. Do they value someone who has worked in more than one division or functional area? Is a foreign assignment critical to reaching executive levels? Understanding what they will be looking for in the senior position can help you be more strategic in determining your next step or two. Keep the end goal in mind, gather intelligence from your network and effectively execute your plan. This significantly increases your likelihood of success.
Just because your next opportunity may be within your current organization doesn’t mean you can take short cuts in the process. Define your goals and execute well to achieve success.