Critical Section


Job Seeking Advice

Saturday,  05/24/03  10:26 PM

I have a friend who's seeking a job after having run his own business for many years.  I'm not the greatest job seeker in the world nor the most experienced, so this could be quite wrong, but here's my advice to him...

First, you need a resume.  This cannot take over one day to produce.  After you have one, send it to five people you trust who have done a lot of hiring, and ask for their feedback – tell them to be very critical.  Iterate after you get the feedback, then do it again.  After two iterations you've probably reached the point of diminishing returns.

If you have no idea where to start, get some samples from friends, preferably ones who do a lot of hiring.

Some thoughts about resumes:

  • Resumes will never get you a job, but they will keep you from getting a job.  The goal of a resume is to get you an interview.  Don't put anything in a resume which would give you a “no”.
  • Resumes should be short and interesting.  Nothing is worse to a hiring manager than a stack of long boring resumes.  Eliminate extra words.
  • Resumes for experienced job seekers have a certain form – typically reverse chrono.  Stick to the form.  Check spelling.  White space is good.  Colors and graphics are bad.
  • Word documents are expected.  Check in advance how it looks when saved as text – sometimes people do that.  Some jobs sites require a text resume.  After you've iterated into a resume you like, maybe create a text version which is a little cleaned up for these situations.
  • Describe what you've accomplished and how.  Use verbs.  Be specific.  Emphasize creativity and problem solving skills.  Lists of projects are more interesting and illuminating than lists of skills.  Avoid an alphabet soup of “capabilities” without context.  You want to mention as many technologies as possible (sometimes people are looking for a particular skillset, and if you don't appear to have it, they'll treat you as a “no”), but do it in the context of projects you've done.
  • Emphasize projects and experience related to the job you're seeking.  For example, if you are looking for a position as a network engineer, stress network stuff, if you're looking for a position as a programmer, stress that.  You may be applying for two kinds of jobs so you might want to have two resumes – sub-optimal for you, but better for your chances of being hired.  Great experience doing non-relevant things is not usually a plus.
  • Since you've run your own business, you want to indicate the projects you've done and the companies you've done them for…  If there’s a business you don't want them checking on, you could mention it euphemistically (“a leading women’s clothing manufacturer”).
  • Related to the previous – be clear about what you're looking for.  This is the way people figure out if you're a match for their position.  If you give a mushy description you won't match anything.  If you're looking for two different kinds of positions, you might need to have two resumes stating two objectives.

General stuff:

  • Give one phone number – preferably your cell – which has an answering machine.  The recording should confirm that it is you.
  • Give one email.
  • Give your street address. People want to know where you live because they want to assess your commute.  They can't ask about this, so anticipate.  { If you talk to a company far away, you should volunteer whether you're willing to move or discuss the commute. }

Objective:

  • Again, it is important to be clear about what you're looking for.  You might have more than one goal – that’s okay – but it is easiest to have one goal to describe.  For any one company / recruiter / contact you have to pick one objective and stick to it.
  • Practice explaining your goal in a few sentences.  You're going to be saying this a lot, you should have it down.
  • Practice explaining your situation.  Why are you looking for a job, etc.  This plus your goal is going to be your standard spiel for every phone call, so you want to have it down.
  • Know how much money you want/need to make.  Be clear about this in your own mind.  People are going to ask about your salary history which of course for you will be tough to give, so you'll have to give them something instead.

Staying organized:

  • Looking for a job is a job.  Like any job, organization is helpful.  There are two ways to find jobs, 1) via websites and recruiters, and 2) via your personal network.  Posting your resume on Monster and the others is essential.  Do it.  All prospective employers and recruiters are going to be checking these sites.
  • Make a list of all your personal contacts who might possibly be a lead for a job.  Use a spreadsheet, paper binder, whatever.  For each contact, keep track of the next thing you need to do for that contact.  Send them an email?  Call them?  After you've contacted someone, update the “next thing you need to do”.  If you asked Ms. Z to check her rolodex, then the next thing you need to do is call her a week later to follow up.  Sometimes a lead is run into the ground, then there is no “next thing”, but most of the time you can always call after a while to check in.
  • As contacts give you other contacts, add them to the list.  Keep track of the relationship.  It is much more powerful to say “Ms. Z suggested I call you”.
  • As you get emails, save them and log them.
  • As you get phone calls, log them.
  • As you do interviews, log them.

Approaching contacts:

  • Unless you know there is an open position for which you may be a candidate, it is always better not to ask for a job directly.  Instead, describe what you're looking for and ask if people can recommend someone you should talk to.  If they have a matching need, they'll definitely jump in with interest, but if they don't then they don't have to turn you down (which is easier for both of you).
  • If people give you contacts, make sure it is okay to use their name.  It is powerful to say "Ms. Z suggested I call" as long as it is okay, because Mr. X is very likely going to call Ms. Z before getting back to you with interest.

Emails:

  • Some of your prospecting and communicating will be done with email.  Make sure your emails go out formatted, plaintext emails are ugly.  Spell check and reread.  The goal of an email is to get to a phone call, keep them short and punchy.
    • Be super careful not to clone an email and forget to change the salutation or company name.  I've done this and man is it embarrassing.  Measure twice cut once.
  • Don't treat an un-replied-to email as a rejection.  It is really easy to ignore an email compared to a phone call.  If you don't get a reply to an email, call.

Phone calls:

  • A lot of your prospecting is going to be done over the phone.  If you have a choice between sending an email and calling, make the call.  If you can't reach someone, then leave a message saying you're sending them an email, send them an email, and call back later.
  • It is really helpful to call your own machine and give your spiel, then listen to it.  (Painful, too!)  In an hour you can tune this into something you're proud of – then it will improve as you use it from there.
  • Smile.  There is research that shows that people who smile while talking on the phone come across friendlier.  I know it sounds hokey but there it is.
  • Walk around.  People generally think better on their feet.

Interviews:

  • Interviews are super critical.
  • Smile.  Right away.  Research shows that the first five seconds of every interview are the most important.
  • Be yourself.  Yeah, everyone says that, but it's true.  Don't try to be the person you think the interviewer is looking for, just be you.  Remember most interviewers are nervous, too, they're trying to do a good job of interviewing.
  • Practice.  If you can, get someone you know to “interview” you, and give feedback.  Try to anticipate tough questions (“what happened to your consulting business”).  Don't interview with the company you really want to work for first, practice on some you don't care about as much.
  • Learn.  After each interview, critique yourself.  What went well?  What went badly?  What would you do differently?
  • Learn as much as you can about a company before you interview there.  Obviously visit their website and stuff like that.  One trick someone told me which really works is to call a receptionist and ask her all about the company.  If she’s new, ask her to transfer you to someone who’s been there for a while.  If they ask just tell them the truth, you're interviewing there tomorrow and you want to learn as much as you can ahead of time.
  • You're going to get technical puzzles.  It is all the rage in technical interviews.  I suggest reading “How would you move mount Fuji”, it is a great little book about puzzles in interviews. (I just read it, click for my review.) There are also websites about technical interview questions – Google for them. The most important things about puzzles are not whether you solve them, but how the interviewer feels about you. Talk out loud. Be decisive. Ask questions. Don't get stuck. Try to figure out the form of the answer.
  • The worst kind of interview is when the interviewer spends the whole time talking about themselves or their company. Then they don't learn anything about you. Try to derail this by interesting relevant anecdotes about you. If they are off talking about their great code management system, tell them about one you used. Or whatever.

Mental attitude:

  • Looking for a job sucks. It is hard work and very discouraging.  You have to get through 100 “no”s before you get to a “yes”.  Give yourself credit for persistence.  Celebrate little accomplishments.  Try to do stuff each day which moves the whale along the beach – phone calls, emails, web surfing, practicing your spiel.
  • Leverage friends.  Call them, tell them how you're doing.  Hang out.  Be honest.  We've all been there, we all know it sucks, it is helpful to share.  Don't get down on yourself - your friends will help you with this.

Final suggestion – start a blog. It is a good way to make yourself more “visible”, and posting stuff may be cathartic.  Everyone has a level of personal revelation they're comfortable with, you don't have to be any more open than you want, but you'll find it is amazingly beneficial.

Good luck!

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