Landing the perfect job relies on a number of factors including your ‘hire-ability’ in the eyes of a potential employer. The following article highlights the many ways you can promote yourself effectively, find the perfect job and ensure that it will be the right fit for you.
A well-written resume is an important component of your overall job marketing package. Its purpose is to present your qualifications clearly and succinctly to prospective employers. Coupled with an individualized cover letter, the resume helps the employer quickly assess your potential value to his/her organisation. A resume rarely gets you a job; its purpose is to entice an employer into offering you an interview. Therefore, it needs to be clear, concise and written with the employer’s needs in mind.
Whether you’re writing your resume for the first time, or updating it for the 20th time, it can be an overwhelming experience. Thoughtful preparation can help to ease the anxiety. Begin by assessing your technical and personal qualifications. Next, consider specific types of employers you are interested in and the employee qualifications they are seeking. Then write a resume that describes your qualifications in terms of an employer’s needs. Sounds complicated – right? Let’s break all that down into more workable terms.
Knowing who you are in terms of your skills, abilities, interests, values and personal qualities helps to convey a specific message to an employer. If you have not yet processed this information, you should make an appointment to see a career advisor (teacher, persons in the industry that you are interested or a mentor). If you have a clear understanding of your assets, then you are ready to categorise the data for your resume.
In the identification section, you will include your name and address.
Including an objective is optional on a resume. It is a good idea, however, to have one in mind when writing to an employer. The optimal place for stating your objective is in your cover letter. If you are unclear about what you hope to achieve, then it is best to omit the objective on the resume. Notice the differences in the objectives cited below.
Poor: To obtain a position at a bank.
Better: To use my accounting experience at a bank.
When drafting your resume, think big. Write down all the jobs, volunteer work, internships, work experience etc. that you’ve had. Put dates and supervisor’s name down. You should list all the tasks, accomplishments and duties that you performed, even the mundane ones. Include your educational background, starting with the most recent. List dates and diplomas or degrees, study abroad, awards and student activities.
Including interests on a resume is optional. If your work experiences are limited, you may want to include an interest section. Also, if your hobbies show you in a special light, you may want to add it to your resume (i.e. someone who regularly runs 10K races can show an employer she has persistence, dedication and time management skills.)
For now, list any special skills or qualifications you possess which may enhance your assets (i.e. computer or language skills). Remember, you need to tell an employer about those qualifications that are unique and will be an asset to the organisation.
A reference section should not appear on your actual resume. References are important because they give employers an opportunity to hear from other professionals about your qualifications. It is important to ask, beforehand, those people whom you would like to speak on your behalf. In that way, they can think about what they will say and will not be caught off guard if a prospective employer contacts them. You should also send each of them a copy of your resume. They can give you feedback about its content, may be able to offer advice about specific job opportunities and may use it as a guide when called to be your reference.
WHAT IS A RESUME?
A resume is a summary of a person’s business or professional qualifications, educational background and work experience for a particular position. The purpose of a resume is to market capabilities, qualifications and credentials to potential employers.
There are three basic types of resumes: chronological, functional and combined. A chronological resume lists your work experience in reverse chronological order beginning with your present or most recent position. Include the name and address of the company, the dates of employment, job titles and a description of your responsibilities in order of importance.
A functional resume emphasizes your responsibilities and duties instead of your employers, employment dates and job titles. This format is useful to draw attention away from work areas you do not wish to highlight and is commonly used when changing career fields.
A combined resume is a hybrid of functional and chronological resumes. This format is especially useful for Individuals who have a long work history. It highlights aspects that are most relevant to a desired position as well as summarizing the career history.
- You should use a chronological resume unless
- Your employment history is erratic or extremely long
- You are seeking to change career fields
- You are attempting to return to a previous career occupation
- You possess an unusual combination of skills that you wish to emphasise rather than a linear progression of your career
The First Step in Writing a Resume
The first step in writing a resume is to assess your skills. In order to sell yourself to a potential employer you need to communicate your strong points, skills, and accomplishments. Make a list of your personal strengths. Your resume needs to communicate how your personal strengths will benefit the employer.
Elements of a Resume
Personal Information: Include your name, address, phone number and e-mail (if you have one).
Objective: An objective statement is used to define the position you are applying for. It should be a clearly written, concise statement that communicates your career objectives.
Experience: List your work experience in reverse chronological order, most recent experience first. If you are applying for your first job list any odd jobs, volunteer work, and other unpaid work experience you may have performed in the past. College students should include any work-related experience that helped finance their education. Give a description of the job function that details and demonstrates your skills.
Skills: Skills can be listed in the experience section, where the job description is given or in a separate section. Some high school students list their skills at the top of the resume. Highlight skills to the job opening.
Education: State your high school/college and dates of attendance. Give your date of graduation if you have graduated. Or, you can give the year of your expected graduation. If you are a good student you can list your grade point average.
Extracurricular Activities or Accomplishments: This is a miscellaneous section where you should list achievements, awards and activities.
References: Have a separate sheet ready with names and phone numbers of references. Make sure you contact your references and ask permission to use their names first.
It is not required to keep the elements of a resume in the above order. You can put Skills and Education at the top of your resume. If you have skills or accomplishments that are very relevant to the job you want, list them first.
- Do target your resume for the job you are applying for.
- Do keep a copy on disk.
- Do use a laser printer, (for professional-looking copy.)
- Do stress accomplishments. Include figures to substantiate your claims
- Do use strong action words: Weak: worked on integrated circuits…Strong: designed integrated circuits…
- Do make the resume attractive and well organized for the eye
- Don’t forget to proofread for errors.
- Don’t mention salary.
- Don’t volunteer too much information up front. Include only enough information to encourage an employer to find out more.
- Don’t include references. Reference
- Requests are generally made when there is an actual hiring interest.
Upon completion of your draft for your resume, it would be wise to focus on a particular employment environment where you plan to pursue a job.
Learn as much as you can about the organisation – i.e. its general philosophy, product or service, unique employee qualities, working hours etc. Then you can gear the content of your resume towards the employers needs. Information interviewing (or networking as it is called) can be accomplished by talking with friends, relatives, faculty or people who work at a particular company. You can ask your contacts almost anything you want to know except “do you have a job for me?”
WRITING A COVER LETTER
The principle function of a cover letter is to inform the potential employer about the type of position you are seeking. The cover letter is your opportunity to sell yourself and at the same time add a personal touch to your resume.
Most cover letters can be written in three paragraphs using less than 200 words. Here is a brief format outline:
1. The first paragraph introduces your purpose for writing. Perhaps you got the company’s name from a networking contact or from an ad or trade article. The first paragraph is a good place to mention it.
2. The second paragraph briefly summarizes your experience as it relates to your prospective employer’s needs. It should answer the basic question of “why should the company hire you?”
3. Like any good sales pitch the final paragraph should propose a course of action. Use this paragraph to propose an interview or better yet indicate you will be contacting your potential employer to arrange an interview.
The following guidelines are designed to enhance your effectiveness at interviews. Even when a detailed job description exists, the employer’s perception of the “ideal candidate” is likely to be based on the qualities, skills and experiences uncovered in the interview process. With this in mind, you should be prepared to address how your capabilities are best suited to meet the job requirements.
Approach the interview with self-confidence and a determination to win the job. The fact that you have been chosen as a candidate is an indication that the employer believes you’re capable of doing the job. That perception applies to all other candidates as well. Your job, at the interview, is to set yourself apart from those other candidates.
Setting up An Interview
Most, if not all, interviews will be set up in a telephone conversation with the hiring manager or his/her representative. You can begin to assume control of the process at this point and set yourself apart from other candidates. The following actions will help you do both:
Arrange time and date
Identify the participants
Find out how long the meeting will last
Request information on the company/position
Preparing for the Interview
The more time you spend on developing a game plan, the less likely it is you’ll be surprised at the interview. If you’re properly prepared, it will be apparent to the interviewer and it will impress him/her. The following step-by-step action plan will help in this effort:
Research the company and industry
Develop probing questions
Rehearse responses to interviewers’ questions
The art of Interviewing
You should view the interview as a sales presentation. Your goal is to sell the product (you) to the buyer (the prospective employer). The following are control techniques that will enhance your effectiveness at converting interviews to offers:
Arrive on time
Dress for the part
Pay an appropriate compliment
Match your qualifications to their needs
Ask feedback questions
Close the interview positively
TYPES OF INTERVIEWS
Interviews fall into two major categories: screening interview and a decision interview. The screening interview is usually a meeting designed to weed out the applicants. These interviews are generally conducted by the human resource office or outside search firm. The purpose is to find out whether your background matches the profile of the ideal candidate. Hiring decisions are rarely made at the first interview.
The second interview, or the decision interview, is normally conducted with the supervisor. During this interview you are more likely to be presented with more detailed questions related to the actual job description. Most supervisors are also interested to learn how you will perform these duties and whether your personality matches the work environment.
Many employers are not trained interviewers. They may not present you with highly structured list of questions designed to evoke certain responses. Often job applicants feel the need to ramble on about their entire work experience. Volunteering information can get you into trouble. Near the end of the interview most employers will ask “do you have any questions for me?” At this point you can probe to find out if your past work experience is a factor in the hiring decision. If you believe there is important information about your work experience that would play a role in the hiring decision you can address it at this time.
Standard Interview Questions
When preparing answers to these questions ask yourself: Is my answer a logical one? Am I addressing the question? Does my answer highlight positive personal characteristics? Is my answer well thought out? Listed below are several standard interview questions. In addition to these questions you should be prepared to respond to specific questions about your area of expertise. Answering questions effectively requires preparation.
- Tell me about yourself?
- What are you looking for in a job?
- What are your short-range objectives?
- Why did you leave your last employer?
- Why do you want to work for us?
- What interests you about the position?
- Why should we hire you?
- What do you know about our organisation?
- What do you feel are your strongest points?
- What do you feel are your weakest points?
- Tell me about your greatest accomplishment?
- Where do you see yourself in five years?
- In 10?
- Have you been interviewing with other companies?
Tips on Answering Questions
1. Answer only the question that is asked in a short concise manner. Don’t ramble.
2. Silence is often a technique interviewers use to get you to explain your answers. This can often get you in trouble. Don’t be afraid of silence.
3. Beware of interviewers who repeat the last four words of your response to a question followed by a period of silence. This is a technique used to get you to depart from your prepared answers.
4. If you are faced with a question you don’t have an immediate answer for, turn the question back on the interviewer to buy yourself some time.
5. Maintain eye contact at all times and be aware of the messages you may be sending as a result of your body language, tone of voice and inflection.
After the Interview
Every interview should be followed up by a letter to each individual you meet. Use the letter to express your enthusiasm for the position, highlight areas where a match exists, overcome concerns and reconfirm the next step in the process.
Rarely, if ever, will employers base hiring decisions on a single encounter with prospective candidates. Second meetings are usually held to obtain clarifying information, secure additional staff input and to make sure the “personality” match is appropriate.
Generally, the same principles that apply to the initial interviews apply to all subsequent meetings. You should, however, have gleaned sufficient information from your first meeting to enable you to make the match an even stronger one. Additionally, it is far more likely that serious discussions about money, time frames, relocation, references, etc., will be discussed. Consequently, you should be prepared to handle these questions. Once again, planning and preparation are the keys.
If you’ve been successful in your interview efforts there will come a point when the interviewer will attempt to “sell” the job and the company to you. At this point, as the buyer, you’re in the driver’s seat. You need to be absolutely sure that you’re making an intelligent decision in your best interests, both short and long term. One way to do that is by asking protective questions.
Sample Protective Questions
Protective questions are designed to:
1. Give you the information you need to make an informed decision.
2. Keep you from making a bad decision.
Here are some protective questions:
- What happened to the last person who held this position?
- Who must approve my decisions?
- To whom does the position report?
- How and when is performance evaluated?
- To what position might I progress based on successful performance in this assignment?
- What is the career track within the company?
- What is the company’s termination policy?
- What is the company’s policy with respect to tuition assistance, maternity leave, etc.?
The answers to many of these questions may be provided during the course of the interview.
AVOID THE PITFALLS
People are not hired for a variety of reasons. Below are factors that have been identified as causes for employee rejection:
- Poor personal appearance
- Overbearing – overaggressive – conceited – “superiority complex” – “know it all”
- Inability to express oneself clearly – poor voice, diction, grammar
- Lack of planning for career – no purpose and goals
- Lack of interest and enthusiasm – passive, indifferent
- Lack of confidence and poise – nervousness – ill-at-ease
- Over emphasis on money – interest only in best dollar offer
- Unwilling to start at the bottom – expects too much too soon
- Makes excuses – evasiveness – hedges on unfavourable factors in record
- Lack of courtesy
- Lack of maturity
- Condemnation of past employers
- Lack of social understanding
- Fails to look interviewer in eye
- Limp, “fishy” handshake
- Sloppy application form
- Wants job only for short time
- Little sense of humour
- Lack of knowledge of field of specialisation