A number of years back, I spent a lot of time preparing for an interview at what would have been a solid career move for me. I did everything right – wrote the cover letter and customized my resume. I researched the organization and spoke with a former employee and a few folks that had clients of the company. I was ready. And it showed. I got the interview. In fact, I made it through the first two rounds and was well prepped for a third and final with the hiring manager – the president of the company.
I arrived at the reception desk five minutes early, which in my mind is the perfect time to make my appearance. Well, my interviewer was not in the office. After a few phone calls, including one to the president, who at the time was on the other side of the country, we determined that I had arrived five minutes and one week early.
Don’t do that.
I’ve been interviewing folks for more than two decades. I’ve also had my time in the job seeking community. I think it’s fair to say that I have quite a bit of interview experience on both sides of the table. I’ve seen candidates interview quite well and I’ve seen the opposite. The funny thing about it is that performance in an interview doesn’t always reflect on the person’s actual fit for the job. Those missed perceptions can be the fault of either party. Never take an interview for granted – always treat it as a high priority, regardless of which side of the table you are sitting on.
Even with that level of importance, there aren’t really that many things to think of when attempting to get a job. Most should be pretty basic. Sadly, though, it’s frequently those very basics that candidates miss on. That’s what I’m going to cover.
There are untold numbers of books, websites and videos covering the job searching process and there are day-long and multi-day seminars and classes all over the place. Yet, regardless of the number of unfilled openings, getting hired is often a difficult, disheartening and hit or miss prospect.
I’ve thought about putting together a nice seminar to help folks with this, and I still might someday. As I ran the seminar planning though my head, it occurred to me that there’s realistically only enough material for about 60 minutes. And that would be:
10:00 am – 10:10: Introductions and overview
10:10 – 10:30: Actual content regarding a successful interview
10:20 – 10:40: Repeating myself
10:40 – 11:00: Questions and answers
And there you have it. That’s about all there is. Unfortunately, few would likely pay for a 60 minute seminar so seminar organizers fill the rest of the day with ancillary information that probably just confuses people and dilutes the actual message. If I were to spread the hour out into a full day, I’d likely just repeat the 20 minutes of actual content over and over and over again. Perhaps, each time, wearing a different pair of shoes.
The problem with human nature and attention spans is that (according to me, anyway) you can at most retain about three items from any seminar or presentation. Here’s a big hint to anyone delivering a seminar or presentation: It doesn’t matter what YOU want to say. It only matters what your audience WILL hear. Pick the three most important aspects of your topic and do a great job of explaining and supporting those three things. That’s all you get.
On to the interview…
Well, first, you’ve got to get the interview. Here are a few thoughts on that:
Step 1. Get yourself into the interview
Write a cover letter. I’ll state that one more time in case you didn’t get it. Write a cover letter. And don’t just say: “I read about your job opening and I could do a great job so here’s my resume.” That’s not a cover letter. That’s just an awkward opening sentence. I don’t know that it matters if the opening sentence is awkward or not. I think they all are, but the cover has to be more than just an awkward opening.
Start your research now, so you can write an intelligent cover letter that puts you into the context of what they need. Talk about something really cool that sets you apart from everyone else and how it is relevant to the job opening. Explain how you will just drop into this position like it was made for you. You don’t need to go on and on. Make it brief but compelling.
Don’t just repeat your resume. The cover letter is designed to make someone read your resume and give you a phone call. Just repeating resume bullets in the cover letter doesn’t help, so put in some original and valuable content. And put in some results if you can: “…my work on that project directly lead to a 12% drop in quarterly expenses for my department.”
Pull out one thing – your proudest moment that can be related to the position you are applying for. Expand on it. Tell why you are so proud of it and how it demonstrates your fitness for this job. Don’t just say “This makes me a great fit for this job”, state why it does. Let the moment prove that you would be a great fit.
Don’t forget your grammar and spelling. I’ve heard plenty of technical folks state that spelling and grammar aren’t important, because function should lead form. That’s not quite it. Nor is it form over function. Form should not get in the way of function. That’s my rule.
Use of poor spelling and incorrect grammar will get in the way of clear communication. Doing so will create an impression that you have poor attention to detail and that you will find communicating with fellow human beings to be a challenge. Spelling and grammar do count. You don’t get a pass just because you’re a technical expert. One only needs to pop over to Reddit to see the results of using the wrong “there, they’re or their” to see that spelling and grammar are important.
And finally, actually read the job description. The “requirements” may just be more of a wish list then a set of hard and fast requirements, but at least be close. Don’t apply for a programming job if your resume only discusses your experience as a sales person (I’ve had that happen).
Moderate variances are okay if your cover and resume are otherwise strong. But if you do have a big difference in experience from the job description, look elsewhere and spend your (and my) time on positions you have a chance of getting. If you have that big experience gap but really, really feel that you still qualify, use your cover letter to explain why you fit, and, rewrite your resume too. In fact, you should always customize your resume for the job you are applying for, unless it’s a resume you’ve used for an identical opening.
Read Part 2 here.