August 14, 2012
8 job-search tips from the other side of the desk
Several days ago, I had the pleasure of hosting an event where three local hiring managers agreed to share their thoughts on the job-hunting process with a group of my clients going through career transition. These three individuals -- a senior HR executive, a top local recruiter and a chief financial officer -- have been intimately involved in hiring multiple employees recently.
They passed along some outstanding insights about how candidates can increase their odds of success. Here are the top eight takeaways from the conversation:
1. Employers and recruiters want you to succeed. They're not trying to trip you up or give you a hard time just for the sake of it. They're actually hoping you'll arrive to an interview fully prepared, knock their socks off and demonstrate convincingly that you can do the job. They want to fill the position quickly and successfully, and move on to the dozens of other priorities they have on their plates.
2. Follow-up is critical. All three of the panelists agreed that job hunters should make a point to follow up with each person they interviewed with shortly after any hiring conversation. In these follow-ups, you should thank each person for their time and reiterate a few key things you learned from the discussion. As for the method of follow-up preferred, the group seemed equally OK with an email or a handwritten thank-you card.
3. Cover letters still count. While one panelist pointed out that a bad cover letter can definitely derail a candidate, it was generally agreed that an outstanding letter, personalized to the company and needs of the position, adds value and increases the applicant's chances of success. Such letters also provide insight into the person's writing and communications skills for positions in which these qualities might be important.
4. Networking is huge. Surprisingly, at least to me, all three representatives said they unfailingly post all of their open jobs on their corporate websites, versus occasionally hiring people under the radar. At the same time, they agreed that it made a big difference if a candidate came recommended by a trusted third party. So don't be shy about getting the word out to your friends, allies and advocates about the types of opportunities you're seeking. A positive referral can definitely tip the scales.
5. Preparation is crucial. Some of the funniest (and saddest) moments of the meeting came when the three panelists shared examples of job candidates who came to interviews without having their act together or taking the time to understand exactly what the company did. There were stories shared of applicants, believe it or not, who stated that they didn't support the organization's mission or care much for the company's products. Or who couldn't resist answering their cellphone. Basic mistakes to avoid, you'd think -- but apparently not.
6. Employment gaps aren't fatal. Thankfully, all three panelists confirmed that they don't necessarily consider a choppy job history an insurmountable barrier to landing an interview. While they said they notice significant gaps in a person's work history and tend to have tough questions about them, they also realize that many talented people have encountered career turbulence in recent years through no fault of their own. They simply expect candidates to have a good explanation for each of the gaps.
7. Changing careers is difficult. When asked whether companies were open to hiring people from non-traditional backgrounds, one of the panelists explained, "Most people screening resumes these days are fundamentally trying to cover their you-know-whats. They will rarely take a chance on a candidate who would be a big stretch in terms of the stated job requirements, since this will make them highly susceptible to criticism if the hire doesn't end up working out."
The panelists said that the key in these cases, however, is to submit a bold cover letter explaining why you'd be a great fit for a job -- even if you don't have the perfect pedigree on paper -- and again, to leverage networking connections and get somebody the employer trusts to vouch for you.
8. Know your jargon. The recruiter on the panel emphasized the notion that buzzwords shouldn't be a foreign concept to most professionals. "I hate to say it, but if you don't already have a strong command of the current language and terminology used in your field, that probably means that you're not qualified for the position," he said. So if you've fallen behind the curve in terms of your own occupational or industry jargon, catch up!
Karen Burns is the author of The Amazing Adventures of Working Girl, a career guide based on her 59 jobs over 40 years in 22 cities.
Kristen Fife is a senior recruiter, career mentor, blogger and resume consultant based in the Seattle area.
Lisa Quast is a certified career coach, mentor, business consultant, former corporate executive and author based in the Seattle area.
Randy Woods writes about job-search tools, networking techniques and other tips to help you land your dream job.
Matt Youngquist is the president of Career Horizons, a career counseling firm.
Natalie Singer is a Seattle writer, editor and small-business owner.
Michelle Goodman is the author of "My So-Called Freelance Life" and "The Anti 9-to-5 Guide."
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