I haven’t been a recruiter for 3 years, and yet I still have former consultants and candidates who email me for tips prior to an interview. So, I hope you are on Santa’s “Nice List” because my holiday gift to the world is this guide to sealing the deal by rocking the interview.

I already posted the things I saw as annoying as a recruiter, so consider this an addendum to that post. Oh, and save the hate mail and angry comments- if you don’t like my perspective, sorry ’bout it! I’m just sharing my thoughts and experiences! Regardless of how controversial my ideas may be, I stand behind them as honest reality checks for any candidate. Assuming you have are marketable and have a desired skill set, these are small things you can do to set yourself apart from the competition.

How to find the job:

  • Monster, CareerBuilder, Hotjobs, TheLadders, etc are all wonderful sites to find job openings. I suggest you supplement that search by checking out the websites of every company you can think of within an acceptable driving distance from your home. Many companies spend so much money on their corporate website that they choose not to advertise outside of their own employment page.
  • Call recruiters. You may love them or hate them, but they always have a good read on the market. Be selective about the recruiter you use. There are tons of great recruiters and also many who will not treat you the way you expect to be treated. Don’t be afraid to fire your recruiter. It’s your job search, after all.
  • Network, network, network. Network every single day even when you aren’t looking for a job. I carry my business cards with me everywhere I go. I meet MBTI professionals EVERYWHERE! You wouldn’t believe how many connections I’ve made at hotels, airports, and bars! Pro tip: Be active on LinkedIn and Twitter!!!
  • Check your FaceBook and MySpace page and remove anything an employer wouldn’t be impressed with (half-naked pictures, marijuana leaves, your latest keg stand and beer bong pics for example). I also suggest you go a step further and Google yourself. Don’t leave any incriminating information on the web.

Once you have found the job you want:

  • Do some research. Do what you can to find out the name of the recruiter for the opening. You don’t have to be a stalker or anything, just call in to the HR department and ask. If they want to know why you ask, simply explain that you want to address the cover letter to the correct person. There is nothing that annoyed me more about a cover letter than seeing it addressed to “Dear Sirs” or “To whom it may concern.” The first is offensive and the second isn’t even trying.
  • When sending your resume electronically, don’t use a stupid email address such as “sweetiepie98@hotmail.com,” “drunkbynoon@gmail.com,” and “hotsexylady@msn.com.” If you do we will laugh at it, pass it around to our friends, and submit it to http://nothired.com.
  • Tailor every single cover letter and resume you write to the job at hand. If you’re planning on using one generic resume and cover letter you aren’t trying.
  • The cover letter should be less about you and more about how you will specifically contribute to the organization and job. Show off the research you’ve done by mentioning something extraordinary about the organization. Find a way to tell them that you want to work for them specifically, and not just anyone who will hire you (even though the latter may be true).
  • If you have something odd about your resume, take an opportunity to address it briefly in the cover letter. For instance if there’s a lengthy gap in your resume with a reasonable explanation, give one or two sentences in the cover letter to explain it.
  • Follow the rules. If the job posting requires a salary history and expected salary, then give that information. If you don’t follow the rules- prepare to be screened out.
  • If the job posting asks for required salary, do not say “negotiable” or “open to discussion.” Be honest, and give a $5-10k range and any specific benefits you absolutely require. Companies aren’t out to screw you over, but they also don’t want to waste your time if you expect $100k and the top they could offer is $50k.
  • Resume- one to two pages tops (though this is not really a rule but a personal preference since no one prints out resumes anymore). Don’t use funny fonts (i.e. no comic sans), too big/small margins, or get too detailed. Focus on the impact you made in your previous roles instead of just giving them your job description. Work with a recruiter to format your resume and include only information that relates to the job you are seeking.
  • I personally suggest you remove the awkward “Objective” section of the resume and opt for a “Career Summary” instead. A Career Summary is the 3-4 sentences that tell a recruiter about the highlights of your career. Think of this as an elevator pitch within the resume. If the recruiter only read 4 sentences on your resume, what are the key things you want them to know?
  • I also personally suggest you leave out the following: fraternity/sorority affiliation, religious group participation, political affiliation, etc. I have had many candidates who wanted to list this info because their volunteer work associated with the organization was important to them and showed that they are well-rounded. I get that, but figure out a way to write that without saying the name. For instance, in my sorority I participated in many activities to end Domestic Violence, so I focused on the charity work itself and not that it was through my sorority.
  • As I’ve blogged about before, leave out your Myers-Briggs type or anything else that can be misunderstood by someone who is uneducated on the topic.
  • Have at least 5 people read your resume to check for spelling/grammar issues.
  • Practice the interview with an HR-aware friend. Have them ask you questions and walk through your work background. There is no such thing as practicing too much.

You’ve got the interview

  • If you start with a phone interview, I always suggest you stand up and smile the whole time. When you stand up and smile, you give off a higher level of energy in your voice. Remember, the recruiter/hiring manager can’t see you to judge your expressions so be sure to vocalize your excitement.
  • Also, if you phone interview, take the call in a 100% quiet place. No kids, dogs, or tv noise is acceptable for any reason. I’ve interviewed from inside my car in the driveway because I know that was the only way I could guarantee no background noise.
  • If you have great cleavage that’s wonderful, but cover those puppies up! If you get a male interviewer he may not take you seriously and will most definitely be distracted, and a female interviewer will just be annoyed. I had a candidate one time that nearly burst out of her top. I remember that vividly, but couldn’t tell you her skill set to save my soul.
  • Don’t name drop. Just because you know someone who works at the organization doesn’t mean you’ll get the job. If you absolutely feel the need to share this information, use it in a subtle way. “For instance, I am friends with John Doe in Accounting, and he has had so many wonderful things to say about XYZ Company that I had to learn more about this opening.”
  • Don’t bring your cell phone in to the room. I know how difficult this may be, as it’s hard to tear me away from my Blackberry. However, if you leave it outside you never have to worry about accidentally leaving the ringer on.
  • Bring a billion copies of your resume. I have been to interviews where I expected to only meet 1 person and pretty soon I’ve been introduced to the whole team. Bringing extra resumes shows that you are always prepared.
  • No gum chewing.
  • Be nice to every single person at the company. The secretary/admin/receptionist is often the gatekeeper of the organization. If I found out someone was rude or dismissive of my front desk person, I automatically screened them out. I have the utmost respect for individuals in an administrative role because they often get the most tedious and frustrating tasks. They should be treated as respectfully as you treat a CEO.
  • Have a firm, dry handshake. A clammy and wimpy hand is such a turn off . I’m not saying this will ever make you lose an opportunity, but it’s so easy to have a strong (yet not Hulkamania-style) handshake, so why not check that off the list of first impressions?
  • Always be positive. Even if your last boss as an absolute a-hole, avoid being negative about the experience. Say something like “We had differing work styles and preferences and while I learned a lot about myself and others through that experience, I decided to pursue a different path in my career.” If the task was boring, don’t say the job sucked. Instead, say that “I learned a lot about XYZ and am grateful for the experience, and am looking forward to a new challenge.”

Always Be Closing- yes, you the candidate should be closing the interviewer

  • Ask the question “How do you see me fitting in with the team?” This shows the interviewer that you care about the team environment, want to work well within the team, and are already imagining working there. Also, you want the interviewer imagining you as part of the team, too, so psychologically they are committing to you in their minds.
  • Ask “What concerns do you have about me as a candidate?” Notice this is an open-ended question, which does not easily lend itself to being as easily brushed off as “Do you have concerns….” If he/she does have a concern you want time to address it. You want to take the opportunity to overcome any objections in the moment, not when he/she goes back to his/her office and second-guesses your abilities. This question also shows you are open to feedback.
  • Does my skill set/background match the expectations you have for someone in this role?
  • This is a no-brainer, but make sure you thank them for considering you for the opening, taking time to interview you, sharing information about the job; and always reiterate your interest based on what you’ve learned in the interview.
  • Don’t make yourself nuts over the next few weeks wondering when their decision will be made. Set some expectations by asking the following:
  • Who will be making the final decision on this position? (this lets you know if there will be a possible second interview)
  • What are the next steps?
  • When will you be making the final decision?
  • Will I be notified whether I am selected or not? If so, how, by phone, email, mail?
  • If I haven’t heard back by a certain amount of time, is it acceptable to call and check the status of the opening?
  • How long has this position been open?
  • Is this a new position, or was someone previously in this role (if the latter is true, then why did the last person leave- promotion, layoff, fired, left the organization, etc?)
  • What is the typical career path for this position?

These simple tasks can set you apart from the competition, ease the stress of the job search process, and impress the interviewer! Inevitible someone will disagree with what I suggest here (Lord knows I heard enough about that in my last post on recruiting). Differing opinions on interviewing is healthy. Every recruiter/interviewer has a different wish list and set of pet peeves. If you disagree with me, please share your perspective so candidates can learn from others as well.

Good luck!

HR Friends- what have I missed between this post and my last one about interviewing?

 Job Hunting Sucks: Learn To Interview Like A Pro

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