There are so many guides, so many opinions, and lots of hype in the employment arena. Here are the tried-and-true things — the major concepts — that make one candidate shine above another.
The Custom Employee:
(1 a) Create a custom resume for each potential employer, providing a custom cover letter that demonstrates a skills match with the posted job requirements. It’s easy to track: save each resume with the employer name and date (employer_name_YYYYMMDD.docx) on a flash drive.
- Keep that flash drive with you.
- Build your documents in Word 2007 or Word 2010 or in “open document” format to be sure you can email to anyone when needed.
- Ensure impeccable spelling and grammar on your resume and cover letter, and further ensure use of the right/winning words.
- Your resume shows a phone number that will always be answered during most hours of the day, with an email address and your address.
- (hint: If you’re trying to get a job in the next town and are willing to do the daily commute, invest in a private mail box (UPS Store, for example) address so that you appear to be more local.)
- Note: always keep your resume updated!
(1 b) Your resume has a summary paragraph matching your skills to job requirements and which simply and clearly states your overall life goals.
(1 c) It shows educational and vocational experience and certifications (institution, year, level of degree or type of certification). The length of prior employers is limited to fit on the page. Don’t recall your whole life if you are over 50. Provide, as an example, that past 20 years maximum.
(1 d) It has current references that can be called or emailed and who are reliable character references.
(1 e) It is a SINGLE PAGE, double-sided if absolutely necessary (multiple page = turnoff). It shows simple formatting and it has simple bolded titles and minimal artwork (perhaps a crest, a watermark, and on decent paper).
(n. b.: If you show your year of graduation or show “years and years” of employment, you reveal an approximate age, so DO NOT REVEAL the date of graduation if you are concerned about age discrimination! In like fashion, if you’re unemployed for a long time, for whatever reason, keep the resume focused on your skills and keep the prior employee list dates accurate but show reason for leaving and your activities since your last employment.)
(2) Keep a LOG of your employment search activities: websites (passwords & usernames, too), emails, dates, online applications, interviews, and impressions/results. For security, please keep all this information in a password-protected document. Suggestion: Excel.
(3) I am impressed when an applicant has a custom personal website (or Facebook Personality page) with appropriate information, examples, links, photos, and videos to describe that person’s abilities. Keep lifestyle and personal things off your website or FaceBook page.
(4) Only apply for jobs which match your skill sets. Under-qualified applicants are easy to weed-out via in-depth questioning. Know the jargon of the industry, and if you’re not sure, be honest and ask questions for guidance during the interview.
(5 a) It’s the Internet. Newspapers, journals, and word-of-mouth may work for some locations or days of the week, but the days of printed ads are fading.
(5 b) Be at the right place at the right time…The best hiring website I’ve seen and experienced is Craigs List, but beware of scammers. The legitimate job openings will NOT ask for your identification or credit check before a personalized interview. Monster is okay, but it is complex to navigate. Be willing to canvas a downtown or high-traffic area for window signage.
(5 c) The dreaded online application takes a long time. Be prepared to re-type the same information, over and over, for those companies that you truly wish to impress. Online applications are necessary evils in today’s society, but be sure everything online matches the resume. Be prepared, take a deep breath, and follow the Nike motto: “Just Do it!”
(5 d) If there is a blemish in your past, seek to clear it, whether on credit reports or in criminal background. There are legal ways to approach all these issues, they’re neither expensive nor difficult, and it often pays to try to clear them before beginning a job search. Remember: most everything drops-off after seven years. Do it yourself: Avoid the “services” that often promise much and charge accordingly. Otherwise, disclose truthfully and see what the employer will allow.
(6 a) The professional: Have a clipboard, with pen, pencil, highlighter, laundry marker, dry erase marker, and paper pad. Always have a resume in your hand. Have a business card stack, too.
(6 b) Dress for success: humble, stylish, not overbearing, no weird accessories or things that distract. Smile politely. Your hair is neat and clean, men: no 5 o’clock shadows and well-groomed facial hair! Everyone: a hairstyle always makes one feel better. Avoid any perfumes or colognes. Shower and use deodorant!
(6 c) Yes, it’s 2013, but unless you’re going for a tattoo artist position, HIDE tattoos beneath clothing and remove visible piercings. An older and wiser person once said somewhere “you have but one chance to make a first impression.”
(7 a) You are on-time, and preferably, ahead-of-time to fill-out the inevitable application.
(7 b) Everyone must practice a decent, non-overbearing handshake (no wet fish either!). It is odd how a handshake, a simple smile, a head nod, or a VERY minor bow make impressions upon the perspective employer. These show both respect and humility at the same time, and both must be present.
(7 b) Often, employers hire based on first impressions and attitude. The “can-do” non-pretentious attitude gets the job. Confused looks, verbal “um, huh, well, um” garbage are turnoffs. Make answers short, clear, to the point, and again—use “the jargon” if you can do so without sounding awkward or appearing to be “trying too hard.” Also, if there’s a white board or poster board, never hesitate to use this media to discuss key concepts, if the employer is willing to allow you this latitude. Such presentations demonstrate your presentation style and self-confidence. Tablet computers are sometimes good presentation tools as well, depending on the situation and mood.
(7 c) If you’re not sure you can accommodate the posted work schedule, and you need a job, go for the job anyway. Work around the schedule by creatively re-arranging your personal life (you might have to “cowboy/girl up” for a while to prove yourself). If you need a job, you need one! You may also find that the employer will flex once you’re hired to help you make the cut (hint: that happens in our shop all the time, but the approach must be “can you help me with this schedule problem,” not “I need to make a change.”).
(7 d) For those in the long-term-unemployment category, I’ve seen and heard candidates offer “for free—try me for a week-or-so” kind of ideas. This shows the employer there’s no financial downside for a week or two trial run, and it also demonstrates that a candidate is willing to go the extra mile to win the job.
The ending thought: it is all about presentation and attitude. This “touchy-feely” concept is difficult to describe, but if you’ve ever met someone at a party or elsewhere that impresses you and holds your attention, that’s what we’re describing here. There’s that “winning” attitude, and it isn’t overtly snide. Rather, It’s both humble and impressive: meekness is great power and ability under great control.