The complete job search guide – how to land a job at a great company

When I graduated from college I sucked at job search and spent six miserable months unemployed. From the lessons I learned then and over the last 15 years in business, I’ll teach you to be better than 99% of all other job seekers and land a job at a great company. Below, you’ll find those lessons distilled down into a step-by-step guide complete with e-mail templates and telephone scripts.

Job search was the last thing on my mind when I graduated in 1992 – I went to the beach instead (Ocracoke island, NC) and spent six months ignoring all the talk about an approaching recession. Not too smart, but still, the memories are priceless and I’d do it again.

paying the bills during my job searchWhen winter came and my money ran out, I started searching for a job in Virginia Beach and it didn’t go well (foolish grasshopper). While I searched for the real estate job I really wanted, I worked a succession of crappy jobs which lasted about three weeks each and made me feel like a loser (working as a busboy, garden center helper, time-share sales rep, etc).

I became depressed.  This was the sort of depression where you stop talking to friends or family – I was in a black mood. My dream of becoming a real estate developer or builder was fading. Real estate was sinking all across the country, but that wasn’t my biggest problem. It was this:

How could I have known what mattered to a recruiter at a great company? Did it ever cross your mind that you could get whatever you want from people if you could hear their private thoughts? Well in job search, it would be true – you would breeze your way through the job search process if you knew what recruiters and hiring managers were thinking.

I sucked at job search because at 20 years old, I’d never run a company or managed people. Until you’ve recruited and managed people yourself, the whole business of recruiting will appear simple. You might think “I’m a hard worker with a good education and experience – what’s so complicated?” Keep reading and you’ll find out.

deeply depressed during unemploymentMercifully, after six long, humbling months, I landed a job as a bank analyst. It was a copy of What Color Is Your Parachute? that saved me. I pored through it, completing all the exercises and it worked. When a good opportunity came along, I was prepared and landed the job. Though it wasn’t the job I wanted, it was a great company and gave my career a good start.

If you haven’t studied and practiced job search skills, you should assume you suck at job search. Here’s why. At great companies:

  • bosses and recruiters like me will notice little mistakes that are totally off your radar.
  • we’ll assume those mistakes are signs that you’d suck at the job you’re applying for.
  • you won’t get good feedback and will assume the problem is any factor but you.

Sounds harsh… yes. And I know there are jobseekers so desperate they’ve considered suicide. Here’s why tough love is the right approach.

First, change is hard. Improvement is hard. I’m sharing from my personal experience, so if I’m passionate, think of it as reality coaching. A good coach is someone who tells you the plain truth with the intensity to grab your attention and hold it.

Second, the surest way to fail at job search, is to think about yourself and talk about what you want from an employer. I want you to forget yourself and get inside the mind of the hiring manager (that’s me). I want you to hear what it sounds like in our heads.

You’ve probably already guessed it’s not pretty… Competition in business is fierce and everything that can go wrong, will. We’ve made every kind of mistake, especially in hiring – we hire people who cannot perform the work, people who can, but are dishonest or have no interest in it, people who say all the right things but never do anything, and so on.

Nothing we do in business is so difficult as recruiting the right people. And yet recruiting problems are just the first layer. Natural disasters happen, too, equipment fails, hackers attack our websites, employees get sick, they divorce, they burn out, customers go out of business, business models fail, costs go up, competitors rise, etc. etc.

It’s a manager’s job to take on the turbulence, to tame it and out of the chaos deliver a reliable product or service. We recruit because we dream that all the problems are solvable. We recruit to lighten our load – because we need help. That’s why the most effective message you can send is this: “You’ve got problems I can solve — let me show you how!”

Third, we’re in a crisis of massive proportions – a perfect storm. It started with the baby boom parents who built up their kids’ egos creating the ‘entitlement generation‘. The kids came into the workforce just as the Internet and government policy enticed businesses to get work done cheaply overseas.

So, we outsource to China, India, Russia, Argentina, or take your pick, and we don’t find the entitlement there.  As if we needed more encouragement to hire overseas, our public education system has bottomed out. Fortunately for employers, they’re automating the intelligence out of many brick-and-mortar jobs just in time.

hiring "A players"As a result of all this, we have too many Americans without challenging jobs and with toxic resumes showing strings of jobs they worked in for less than 2 years. Ironically, business leaders are “desperate” to hire workers with skills and attitudes our job seekers don’t have.

Fourth, great companies aim to hire only top-tier talent today – we’ve entered a winner-take-all age. Harvard Business Review and all the brilliant management gurus advise us to recruit and employ “A Players” only. Throw everyone else overboard! This is what they say it takes to compete and win.

We only need a couple great companies in every market – one e-commerce company like Amazon who can send us any book on Earth or toothbrushes and Q-tips on a schedule every six months.  Amazon’s competitors are going out of business and this process is repeating itself across markets. Every year that goes by, it gets more profitable to win and more painful to lose. When companies win today, they (and their employees) earn millions and billions. Where do you want to ride out this wave?

company mission statementWhat is a great company?  If you put in the effort to learn what I’ll share here, you get to decide what ‘great company’ means to you in your life – your definition, your choice (profit-sharing, open book, telecommute, etc). If you can’t do it, get used to working for one crappy company after another and long hours, high stress, low satisfaction and few rewards.

Do you want to work in a great company with a great future? You’ll need to be great and show your greatness in a job search and on-the-job. Here’s what you need to learn and do to turn your work life into a source of pride and satisfaction:


How to land a job at a great company.

  1. forward
  2. prospecting
  3. cover letters
  4. resumes
  5. blogs
  6. interviewing
  7. references
  8. networking
  9. working smart

Forward

Job search sucks – you’re being evaluated! You’ve got to laugh about it and ask others for help. Mostly though, you need to do everything right to avoid wasting your time and burning yourself out. Here are five general principles that will take you there – apply these in every aspect of your job search. Finally, if you have questions not answered in this guide, please ask.

1. Know yourself. Know what you are good at and what you enjoy. Search out positions that will engage you fully – nothing will make job search easier for you.

2. Understand that cultural fit is an important factor in every hiring decision and you are being scrutinized for it. If you fit, you’ll be hired.

3. Get feedback from someone who will tell you the cold hard truth about your clothes, your grooming, your speech, your handshake, your blog/website and your writing. This needs to be someone who understands the culture you want to be hired into (not necessarily your best friend). Don’t know the right people? Meet them through informational interviews or get professional help.

4. Show up ready for battleupbeat and energetic.  This is make or break for your job search. It may not be easy, but it is doable.

5. Use checklistsunderstand the process and keep this checklist in front of you.

 Prospecting

Spend about a third of your time on job boards but no more. Remember that employers make roughly 33% of their hires using job boards (so 66% come from other sources).

1. Know what you want and go after it. We want passion. If you’re just looking for a place to park your rear so you can pay your bills, we’ll pick up on that and will take a pass on you.

2. Go to companies and cities that are thriving. There is always low hanging fruit somewhere in our $15 trillion economy. Hunt it down. Listen to Gisel:

. . . I left my job in June during the current recession. I tried applying for jobs online and nothing worked. . . . I grabbed my local newspaper and found an article that listed the top 100 employers to work for and the runners up. I created a spreadsheet that listed my top 4 characteristics that my future employer should have and then plugged in the companies that had these. . . . I used [LinkedIn] to find HR persons in the companies that I wanted to work for and sent them a request to connect.  The majority of the persons accepted my request and to make a long story short – I obtained 3 job interviews using this method and LinkedIn as a job search tool. . . . next week I will be starting my new job! -Gisel

too many resumes from posting jobs3. Use old-fashioned mail and the telephone. Start by sending a value proposition letter to the CEOs of companies you’d like to work for. Make cold calls. Most jobs are not advertised and the competition for those hidden jobs is much lower than the extreme competition you’ll face on job search engines.  You’ll never network your way into hundreds of companies in the same amount of time it takes to get off a letter campaign.

4. Do some free work to prove yourself if a company you really want to work for says they are not hiring. Or offer to work for a time as a contractor. Show your passion for that company.

5. Show that you won’t go away or give up if you really want to work somewhere. Don’t make yourself a pest (ask the recruiter how often), but continue to check-in periodically. Be like a dog with an old shoe – don’t let go. And don’t try to remember it all in your head either, use tools like JibberJobber and startwire.

Nothing in the world can take the place of Persistence. Talent will not; nothing is more common than unsuccessful men with talent. Genius will not; unrewarded genius is almost a proverb. Education will not; the world is full of educated derelicts. Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent. The slogan ‘Press On’ has solved and always will solve the problems of the human race.

-Calvin Coolidge, 30th President of the US

Cover letters

A good cover letter is like a sip of cold water in the desert to a recruiter sifting through his inbox. A good ‘cover letter’ is really what we call a ‘value proposition’ letter and can even stand alone with no resume and trigger an immediate phone call or e-mail. Here’s a detailed blueprint for writing one. Not a gifted writer? Consider asking someone to help you.

1. Talk about the needs of the employer. Don’t talk about what you want from the job. When I read your cover letter, I’m looking into your mind. Nine times out of ten, what I see is self-absorption and those applications go right in the trash.  If you’re self-absorbed, you don’t listen well, you’ll have weak people skills and trouble living by your boss’s priorities.

you must meet the strength requirements2. Keep it short. No more than three paragraphs with three or four sentences each. If it’s long, you look unfocused and self absorbed. Short and sweet piques my interest in you when you say the right things.

3. Keep it focused. How can you help me? Why would you want to? What’s special about my company? How do your skills and experiences fit with our needs? What’s the most similar work you’ve done in the past? Answer those and you’ve nailed the cover letter. Don’t ask questions like “Can you give me me more info about this position?”

4. Be authentic. Speak in your own words and you’ll catch my attention. Sound like everyone else and I’ll know you copied and pasted from someone else’s resume.

5. Follow instructions. RTFM.  If you are responding to a job posting that outlines a couple of steps for applying or requests you complete a task, follow the instructions carefully or don’t bother responding at all. We figure you’ll flat out suck at the job if you can’t or won’t follow some simple steps to apply.

Only about 2 out of 10 applicants will follow directions, so if you can and do follow the instructions, your chances of being contacted will skyrocket. If there is some test of your skills involved, 2 out of 100 may follow the directions.  Your odds go way up if you are one of those two!

One possible exception – if asked for your salary history, you may want to hold back. We will screen you out immediately if your history or expectations don’t match our opening.

Resumes

Your resume is a tool for connecting with a recruiter – not a list of work experience, not a puzzle for the recruiter to figure out. Here’s what you need to do it right, or, if you have a professional help you, this is how to evaluate their work:

1. Make it easy on my eyes and brain. Less is more. A clean uncluttered resume will stand out and show you put some thought into what’s most important, that you have an eye for detail, and have thought about the reader’s experience. Include a short objective statement which summarizes your cover letter. Sometimes the screener is not going to see the cover letter you spent an hour writing – so the objective is your chance to boil it down into a couple lines. It’s also a good opportunity to match keywords from the job description (see item 3 below).

2. Sell yourself by talking about your accomplishments. Don’t list responsibilities. In 5 or 10 seconds, I want to know what you’re good at and proud of. I want to know what impact you had in your previous jobs. Impact is about your skills and abilities, not a laundry list of your experience.

3. Sell yourself by showing what’s relevant. Your resume is not your work history – it’s a tool for connecting with the recruiter/hiring manager. To make that connection, your resume should include keywords from the job description. In 5 to 10 seconds I want to see you are a good fit because you’ve done similar work and can solve my business problems. Make it crystal clear. Make every single word earn its place on your resume. Leave your street address out.

Include important details. Give me numbers! How many people did you supervise? How many clients did you manage? How much did you sell? I can tease these things out of you, but will be very impressed if you deliver them before I ask.

4. Are you over the hill? ‘Overqualified’? Don’t call attention to it. Only go back 10 years in your work experience. Consider leaving the dates off your education and tone down your responsibility level as you can. Most recruiters will be wary of a candidate with 20+ years of experience or significantly greater level of responsibility in prior jobs.

Yes, you have to tell the truth and we’ll figure out your full story eventually, but your chances of having a conversation with the recruiter are better if your resume doesn’t scream that you are old and overqualified. I know, it’s unfair and it sucks – read the next section about blogs if you want to change your luck.

we do not have a bias against younger applicants5. No abbreviations or industry jargon. No typos. Abbreviations or acronyms that I don’t recognize are a red flag that you lack situational awareness and empathy and is a clear mark against you. Typos, misspellings and grammatical errors are a sure way to get your resume deleted. Why?

You put your best foot forward in your job search, right? So if you’re making easily avoidable mistakes, you’re going to be a pain in the ass when you’re working for me. So use spellchecker and read everything you write out loud. You’ll catch many more mistakes, if not all of them.

Networking

Most jobs are not advertised — so how are the ‘hidden jobs’ filled?

People like me always start by asking around informally: “Hey, we’re going to add another PHP developer, do you know anyone?”  You get recommended for these positions when you have a healthy professional network – lots of friends in good places.

But, there are many ways that networking can go wrong and it’s natural to fear it. We fear the awkwardness of approaching someone cold, we fear being rejected and fear we’ll sit at an event talking to someone we already know the entire time. We fear getting stuck with someone who talks too much. If you have fears about networking, this is for you:

1. Put yourself in the pole position – volunteer with a trade association or business network so that it’s your job to coordinate invitations to speakers. Smart, successful people will come to you and you’ll meet everyone you want to! You can also create a website and interview your heroes for it.

your job search fear2. Embrace your fearyou will be rejected a few times when you start growing your network. So what! Accept it and set a goal to meet three new people at the next event you attend. Embracing rejection and failure is the key to succeeding in anything. Think of a kid learning to ride a bike, he wails “I’ll NEVER learn” and you laugh. Right?

When you send 10 e-mails inviting people you want to meet to lunch, expect 8 or 9 to reject you. You only need the 10th to say yes to change the course of your life. Try not to take the rejections personally. I decline 99 of 100 invitations. I’m over-committed and have health limitations, but that’s about me, not you – so brush it off.

3. Start doing informational interviews. They work as Steve will tell you:

The informational interview works! 5 years ago I called my now current supervisor and started asking him questions about the company, the department I am now in, its roles, responsibilities, challenges, and other pertinent information. We talked for at least an hour. We exchanged contact information, and I spoke with him one other time afterwards when I inquired about specific software that is used. 5 months later I received a call inviting me to apply and interview for the job. I was hired in 2007. -Steve

A. Make a list of 10 people you’d like to meet. Start with:

  • people who have a job title that interests you (preferably with some connection to you, college alum are best)
  • people who work at companies where you’d want to work
  • people who are doing interesting things you want to learn about

LinkedIn is a good place to start your research as Gisel points out:

LinkedIn is a very useful tool . . .  I used this tool to find HR persons in the companies that I wanted to work for and sent them a request to connect.  The majority of the persons accepted my request and to make a long story short – I obtained 3 job interviews using this method and LinkedIn as a job search tool.  I began this new process in December and next week I will be starting my new job! -Gisel

B. Send an email like the example below (using your university email address if you have one) or choose a template here that fits you better:

Subject: Eric – request to chat from a UVA alum

Dear Eric,

My name is Jason Hall and I’m a recent UVA grad also living in Boulder, Colorado. I found you via LinkedIn and am writing to see if you have 15 min. to chat with me about internet business which I can see from your profile and website you know a lot about. I’d really value the opportunity to hear how you got where you are and ask you for advice.

If you are free, I’m available during the following times:

  • Fri 2/12 from 3 to 6 pm
  • Sat 2/13 from  noon to 4 pm
  • Mon 2/15 from 6 to 8 pm
  • Tue from  2 to 4 pm
  • Wed from  1 to 4 pm
  • Thur from  4 pm – 6pm

Thank you,
Jason
(303) 422-6762

C. Why this works:

  1. The subject line calls attention quickly with my name, it’s short and easily readable on a smart phone, makes a personal connection with my school, and has clarity (no tricks or confusion).
  2. In the body you make two connections – you are in the same tribe (University) & same city.
  3. This is easy to say ‘yes’ to, your request has a short limited scope, you took time to share your calendar with specific hours when you will really be available (and on your A game, not just waking up or eating lunch).
  4. You used a polite salutation and included your phone number (you may get a call right away, so send the e-mail when you have the next half-hour free).

D. What to talk about on the call:

  1. Ask if it’s still a good time to talk.
  2. Thank this person for his or her time.
  3. Give a short introduction of yourself and why you contacted this person.
  4. Be positive so you are associated with good feelings.
  5. Get the ball rolling with something like this: “So, I’m really interested to hear your story – how you got where you are and if you have any advice for someone like me…”. But, if this person writes a blog, make sure you’ve read it first and mention it! If it sounds like you want me to personally tell you on the phone what I’ve spent hours writing in my blog, I’ll think you’re a jerk.
  6. Shut up and listen, don’t interrupt.
  7. Ask: is there anything you wish you had known when you are starting out?
  8. Ask: is there anyone else you think I should talk to?
  9. End the call on time even if you know the person is enjoying the call. You want to be perceived as an efficient communicator and don’t want to leave the person feeling drained. If you asked for 15 min., end the call at 15 min.!

E. Keep in touch!

  1. Send a quick thank you e-mail after the call.
  2. Understand that you may not have much to offer a successful expert who’s willing to give you time he might otherwise bill at $200 an hour or higher.  What you do have to offer is good karma – show him how he made the world a better place.
  3. Send periodic updates letting the person know how you implemented his advice and how it worked out. Let him know his impact on you and the end of the story. That’s priceless.

 Blogs

Great companies all want to hire the same “talent”. We want to hire smart, high-energy, passionate workers with an edge, who execute well, care more, and energize themselves and people around them.

“Whoa! Is that all?” you ask. I’m sorry, but it’s true, that’s what we want and that’s what you are trying to communicate in your cover letter, your resume and interview – that you are the cat’s meow!

The problem with recruiting is that many job seekers (and now you) know exactly what I’m looking for and precisely what I want to hear. That’s why I do two-hour long interviews using Brad Smart’s TopGrading process. That’s what it takes to reliably screen out the pretenders.

If you are one of those with genuine smarts, energy, leadership, passion, caring and ability to get things done, the absolute surest way to demonstrate that is with a blog. When you’ve been writing regularly for six months, a year or longer, we know for a fact you aren’t faking anything.

A good blog is solid gold for your credibility and has the potential to push you to the top of the candidate list. But, be careful – your blog can also get you screened out. Here’s a blog checklist you’ll want to review.

Interviewing

Want to be first on the short-list after your interview? Do more preparation than any other candidate. But, that’s not always enough, because walking away with a job offer is all about driving the sales process. Just about everything you need to know is here, but if you aren’t a natural, consider getting help from a coach also.

was really hoping you'd fit in here1. Research the company, the position and the management. You can look great on paper, sound great on the phone and answer every question well, but if you have not bothered to research me and my company, I won’t hire you because I know you’re not really interested in the job. How could you be without knowing who we are and what we do?

Cultural fit is an important factor in every hiring decision and researching the company allows you to dress, look, and speak like the team. True, fit is in the eye of the beholder, but do what you can to fit in (if it’s comfortable for you). Do your research to discover if we’re a good fit for each other and try not to show off in the interview. If you’ve done the research, just relax and let it show naturally.

If you don’t do the research, you can’t ask intelligent questions, so you’ll also fail below in item 12.

2. Know clearly why you want to work for my company. It matters to me because I’m looking for someone who’s going to be with me for years through thick and thin. If you don’t know why or it is not a compelling reason, we’re not a good fit for each other.

3. Know what you are proud of in your life and career. Tell me about the impact you’ve had in your prior jobs. Think of a few stories you can tell that illustrate each key point you want to make about yourself. Tell me how your experience and skills relate to the position I’m recruiting for. Talk to me about the similarities between your previous experiences and my needs. Talk to me about your ideas for having an impact in my company. How will you save or make money for my company?

4. Know how you will answer the most common and most difficult questions you may be asked. Every interviewer is going to ask you about your weaknesses and failures. If you’re perfect or the best you can do is “I’m impatient”, I’m not going to hire you.  Never met a talented person without a few character flaws and who hasn’t made some interesting mistakes. Questions you should be able to answer without babbling include:

  • Why should we hire you?
  • Tell me about yourself. How would you describe yourself?
  • What is your greatest strength? weakness?
  • What motivates you?
  • What are your salary expectations?
  • Describe (for each position you’ve held) a low point/mistake/difficult situation and how you overcame it?
  • What’s the hardest thing you’ve ever done? Funniest thing that’s ever happened to you at work? Biggest disappointment?
  • What would you like to be doing 5 years from now?

5. Proofread your resume and any other materials you plan to offer the day before the interview. Read everything out loud to yourself – you’ll catch more errors that way, if not all of them. Wait a day or two and proofread it again. Ask at least one other person to review your resume.

6. Bring copies of your resume and a notepad. Take notes if appropriate.

7. Be likable with good hygiene.  Never smoke a cigarette before an interview and be aware that body odor or bad breath will ruin your interview before you even get started.

8. Be likable by making a connection: First, the basics – be on time, turn your phone off, shake hands firmly, make eye contact, smile and use the interviewer’s name (last name is safest unless asked to use first). Be confident and positive – don’t badmouth previous bosses because, as a hiring manager, I’m likely to identify with your ex boss.

Remember to smile genuinely at everyone, not just your interviewer. Everyone you meet counts — remember all their names.  If you treat me differently from my  team, that’s an important red flag.

Second, look for something you have in common that might build rapport, someone you know in the company (check Facebook and LinkedIn), favorite sports teams, hobbies, etc. Research the interviewer online before the interview and look around the office for clues when you arrive.

9. Read body language. Most interviewers don’t like to give bad news and will only tell you what you want to hear even when they’re trying to get rid of you as fast as possible.  Our body language gives us away, though. Our voice lies, but the body always tells the truth. We cross our arms, avoid making eye contact or fidget when we’re internally conflicted or just bored. Read the body language and if it tells you your interview is not going well, find out why!

When your interview is going well, your interviewer may be leaning forward,  arms and legs uncrossed,  hands open,  jacket unbuttoned, with good eye contact. This is the same good, open, engaged posture you want to display yourself.

10. Don’t babble. Stay focused on the answer to each question and be careful not to go off on tangents. Don’t give a lot of details initially – that’s babble. Trust me to ask you good follow-up questions. Don’t jump to fill silences unless asked to. Sometimes I want to think during an interview - let me.

11. Avoid soundbites and buzzwords. If your answers sound scripted and I sense that you are dropping buzzwords to impress me, I’m going to associate you with all the candidates I hired that talked a good game but couldn’t deliver. Don’t do it! Speak from your experience about your experience – keep it honest and authentic. That will impress me.

12. Ask good questions that show you care. If you ask something you could’ve learned in 60 seconds on our website, you’re unlikely to get the job. If your questions are mostly about compensation, I’m unlikely to hire you. The questions you ask reveal your interest level in the position and the depth of your research. They also help me understand your previous work experience.

Ask me difficult questions – express your concerns about my company freely. Most likely, you’ll impress me with your critical thinking and authenticity.

Early in the interview, ask your interviewer to describe the qualifications of the ideal candidate. You want to confirm what you think you already know about the job before leading the interview in the wrong direction.

Good questions are open-ended and can’t be answered with a yes or no.

Ask your interviewer for feedback during the interview – “How do you see me fitting in at your company?” or “On a scale of 1 to 10 (10 being the best), how do you think I’d do in this position?” The rating question sets up a good follow-up: “What could I do to score higher?”

Asking for feedback during the interview may be uncomfortable for you, but, ‘closing the sale‘ as it’s called, shows strength and maturity on your part. Best of all, you get information you need if not a job offer.

13. Send a thank you e-mail the same day you interview. If you interview with me and fail to send a quick thank you, it’s game over, no matter how perfect a candidate you are in every other aspect. It’s not about my ego, it’s just business.

We look for people with 1) high interest in working for us and 2) a sense of urgency who 3) will treat everyone inside and outside the company with care. The ‘thank you’ (or lack of it) is a perfect test of those characteristics for us. In your thank you note, take the opportunity to include any materials or references you think may be helpful.

Here’s a real-life example from an online chat I had today:

Keith: Hi Eric, I was wondering if you made any decisions regarding the Customer Support Position?
Eric:  hi Keith, did you send me an e-mail by any chance?

Keith: no, I thought you had my resume
Eric: Yes I did have your resume and would have loved to hire you, but needed more communication from you. Looking for somebody with a sense of urgency and who will take good care of customers. That means a lot of communication. After our second interview I sent you an e-mail asking for references also…

Keith: ok, I don’t think I got that email
Eric: I suppose not, anyhow thanks for your time and best wishes.

Keith: ok, same to you

14. Leave something for the employer to remember you by or be just another face in the crowd. Be fascinating or forgotten.

15. Contact your interviewer regularly for updates, until you are hired or rejected. Unless you are asked to do this less frequently, once a week will work nicely. Remember that contacting your interviewer is a display of your ability to manage a process and follow through. You’re showing skills you may be hired for.

References

When you apply for a job at a great company, your references become much more important in the hiring process. I’m not talking about letters of recommendation.

I’m talking about a key role for your references. If you want to be prepared for the toughest process you may encounter, this is what to expect. First, pretend your name is John and I’ve just interviewed you asking the same questions for each of your previous employments:

  • What was your boss’s name?
  • What was it like to work with him/her?
  • How do you think he/she will rate you on a scale of 1 to 10 when I ask?
  • What will your boss give as reasons for that rating?

At the end of the interview, I’ll ask for contact information for each of your previous bosses (and maybe some coworkers) discussed in the interview. I’ll ask you to give them each a heads-up and permission to contact them. When I reach them, these are the questions I’ll ask:

  • In what context did you work with John? (conversation starter, memory jog)
  • What were John’s biggest strengths?
  • What were John’s biggest areas for improvement back then?
  • How would you rate John’s overall performance in that job on a 1 to 10 scale? What about his performance causes you to give that rating?
  • John mentioned that he struggled with [something] in that job. Can you tell me more about that? (next I’ll ask for examples)
  • Is John one of the best people you’ve ever worked with?

I’m looking for people who consistently get ratings of 8, 9, and 10 across my reference calls. Anything lower is a warning flag I want to look at more closely. One 6 isn’t necessarily a deal-breaker but I will want to understand why it exists.

Recruiters know that people don’t like to give negative references. They want to help former colleagues, not hurt them and they want to avoid conflict. They want to feel good about themselves and try to avoid nailing anyone with a reference.

This is why a reference who hesitates (“if… then…” qualifiers or um’s and er’s) is probably trying hard not to say something that will harm you or put him or herself at legal risk. Faint praise in a reference interview is a nail in the coffin.

A good reference on the other hand will overflow with enthusiasm and clear admiration. There won’t be any hesitation or hedging about it. There is a spark that tells the recruiter, he’s found an ‘A player’.

Now that you know our tricks, the million-dollar question is – do you know what your references are saying about you? If you don’t, it’s time to find out!

Ask

If you read all the way through and you still have questions about job search, you deserve an answer! Please ask here.

Work smart

rules for success in job searchWhen you’ve followed this guide and landed a job with a great company, you’ve set high expectations. Your boss now thinks you’re an “A Player” so you want to deliver. Specifically, your boss expects you to work smart — don’t assume you know what that means! Find out how to avoid career-killing mistakes (and get promoted) with my detailed nuts and bolts guide to working smart.

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  • Angie_Lissett

    Change is indeed hard. I arrived at this country 10 years ago and since then I lived a completely different life. The new language, the new people and the new teachings all combined were just very exhausting. Yet with all the various challenges, failures, lessons, tears and laughs, I have learned to not fear the obstacles along my path but instead be prepared for them.

    As a result I have learned to adjust myself to certain things. After all change leads to improvement. As I prepare myself for college it is very complicated to have time for each thing and everything all at once; such as open houses, scholarships, projects, final grades, as well as working and of course working out. However by realizing this I was able to become more aware of my wrongs and change them into rights.

    This advise was given previously on this page and I will make sure to use it as I start hunting my future job as an accountant.

  • Delia

    This was definitely a great read. Even though I’m only still in college and not yet graduated, reading this helped me prepare for what may come after I finish graduate school. I haven’t yet had this problem, but I’m sure I’ll run into something like it in the future!

  • Noemi Negron

    This article was so helpful to me, I can already see the changes in how I will present myself when applying for any position whether it be a job, internship, or some other leadership option that crosses my path. A problem I have struggle with in the past is building a strong resume. I am very curious, and eager to learn new things so I have always tried a new type of job when it came time to choose a new option. For example, I was a lifeguard, now i work at an animal preserve and at a farmers market. So I definitely enjoy the variety of how I spend my time, but it also makes me seem inconsistent if I do not emphasize my experiences and achievements more efficiently. during an interview there is not time for the potential employer to hear about your life story and all of the wonderful things you have achieved, so our resume Must include something special so that they want to take the time to get to know you, and hear those stories. After reading this article I realized that there defiantly is a way to over simplify and essentially lose credit for all of your hard work. So now I have made my resume something that truly shows how proud I am of my accomplishments. Instead of feeling inconsistent because of my variety, I feel as though it shows how versatile my skills can be.

  • Alex Cumberbatch

    My first paid job was not even close to the first I applied. I had worked in a car shop, at a camp, and around the neighborhood, but never made more than a few cents. I’ve always worked, but getting paid from an established business was a whole new monster. At 16, I had already applied and been rejected from four different establishments, mainly because of my inability to interview well.

    For the job I actually got, I handed my resume to the manager of a Mexican Restaurant, and in return he offered me a job on the contingency I could work during the day of High School graduation three days from then. In my eyes, that meant I did not have to interview, so I took his proposal and worked every day till graduation, and the entirety of the summer afterwards. Now he is a major part of my network and enjoys flaunting the story of how his barely trained busser took on the Friday rush on his own. Although I’m still terrified of interviews, I find myself using my network as the backbone of my persona.

    Because of this, the part of the article that caught my eye was the Interviewing section; it seems as though everything listed as something to avoid has plagued most of my interviews. The babbling, the clarity in direction, and multiple others are things I lacked and will definitely utilize from now on. I think one of the most important is the preparation and knowing the direction you want to go before you even ask for an interview. I love economics, so I’m not sure how well I would do with a company that does not share some level of respect or appreciation that I do. I’m sure if I follow this advice, I could actually find myself a good job.

  • Rob Swanson

    There were two main issues I experienced when putting together my resume: confidence in myself and what I have accomplished, and “spinning” what I had accomplished to stand out to potential employers. In retrospect it’s not surprising I had these issues. Sometimes phrasing is all the difference, and learning to properly present “who you are” on a one-page document takes practice. I had instances where I applied for the same position multiple times and all I did was change the way I presented the same information and one got me an interview and the other did not.

  • B.Huntley

    The topics discussed in this article are very insightful and
    make job searching techniques as clear as crystal. During the fall of 2014 I
    was searching for a part time position while in college. I followed some of the
    techniques listed such as a clear and simple resume. My resume was short and to
    the point avoiding unnecessary clutter. I checked for grammatical errors and
    other mistakes while making sure the format was easy for a potential employer
    to read. I had prepared reliable references, I knew the details of the
    positions, and what I was good at. I also had a friend who currently works at
    the store I was applying at and was sure that I would obtain the job. With this
    confidence I forgot about one of the most important aspects, Interviewing.

    I received a date and time for a phone interview and I made
    sure I would have no interruptions. During the interview the manager asked me very
    similar questions described in this article such as why I wanted to work for
    them. I had no solid answers and I hesitated constantly, repeating “um” and “uh”.
    I know I could perform the job, but my lack of preparation gave the opposite
    message. After hanging up the phone I knew for sure I had absolutely no chance.

    From this experience I made sure to focus my attention on
    interviewing skills which eventually helped me land a job at a local community
    college as a tutor. From reading this article I have learned there is many
    different and vital aspects to a successful job search. I know that I will
    revisit this website time and time again to resolve any questions or concerns I
    have related to applying for a job.

  • hthoma23

    Working at a couple of different job locations during my 20 something years of life has had its ups an downs- but mostly ups. Of this article, the section that stuck out to me most would be the interviewing process. After finishing my English Education degree from Kennesaw State University, I was in search of an English teaching position at any school, really, and the interviews were the scariest part. The process that I went through to obtain the interview, I think, is one of the most important pieces.

    Firstly, I would send letters (in adorable cards) to all of the department heads of the schools in which I had applied online to wish them a great semester. (Most times the department heads are found online and are apparent). Then, I would search each school out and e-mail them my cover letter and resume. Following,I would include my number, e-mail, and then just follow- up with them and let them know that an e-mail had been sent to them including my resume and cover letter.

    Usually, this urgency and intense proactive strategy catches the eye of the interviewer and the school itself. It is not so much the interview itself, but the planning and the persistence before the interview takes place.

    Next, the interview. Do not get too stressed out- I used to and I would be so stressed I would make myself sick. Thirteen interviews later for teaching positions, I feel like I have the interview process down pat. Knowing where you are interviewing shows you are educated – so research the location in which you are interviewing. It not only shows you care, but that you take initiative.

    Following, have questions for the interviewer. You do not need to sell yourself too easy, but also do not make it seem like you do not want to job. Ask them questions that show interest, but also questions that will benefit you. Make eye contact, smile, and seem personable. No one wants to hire someone who they cannot relate to.

    Lastly, send a “Thank you” letter- and not just when you get the job or a follow-up interview. Send one the same day to show that you appreciate the opportunity.

    Be you and you will be just fine.

  • Luis Alvarez

    I believe that one of the main mistakes I have made in the past while trying to get a new job is not preparing enough and not allowing enough time to research the company and what the position is all about.
    Companies want to hear that you know the fields of whatever position you are applying for. They are looking for a candidate that is confident and have an attitude of accomplishing any task at hand.

  • Dietrick Sooter

    When I’m doing a job search I feel over whelmed at times. It seems like I’m not good enough or i get nervous and feel that I’m no doing something right. The application process is my weak point. I tend to be more effective in person. It gives me a good sense of what the job setting is like and how the other workers characters are displayed on the job. Recently i had an interview with a school district for subbing. I was not satisfied with how the interview went, therefore i passed up the job. I want to be comfortable and enjoy my job. Not just throw myself into the first offer that comes.

  • Maja Compton

    I went to an interview once, where the manager asked me the same question over and over, even after I answered the question numerous times. I know he was looking for a specific answer, but no matter what I said it apparently was not the answer he was looking for. Has anyone else ever ran into this issue before? He just kept asking why should he hire me? I gave him numerous reasons, but no answer was good enough.

  • Stefanie Mercado Altman

    When graduating from college, I approached the prospect of
    getting a job with some trepidation. I was particularly reticent about showing
    my “worth” since I was not used to touting my “credentials.”

    Interview after interview, I learned the hard way that I had
    to be my best advocate. Job hunting forced me to come into my own, praise the
    level and quality of the work I was able to do and to persuade employers I
    would be a great asset to their company. I put myself through rounds and rounds
    of interviews with different companies, across various fields, honing my
    interviewing skills and becoming more confident in describing my value to a
    prospective employer.

    When reading this article, I particularly resonated with the
    “Interview” excerpt, especially with the bullet point of being “proud of your
    life and career.” I’d always come prepared to my interviews with extra copies
    of my resumes to avoid a mishap; I always made sure to research the company
    beforehand so if they asked me what they did, I could answer effectively; I
    always made sure to follow up in a timely manner and thank my interviewer for
    their time. However, the one aspect of my interviewing skills was that I
    struggled with demonstrating confidence in my abilities and talents.

    To this day, I still have difficulty being proud of the work
    I do. For future interviewees, to be proud is to not be boastful. There is a
    big difference. Taking pride in work shows you honor what you do and you know
    it makes a difference for your organization.

    What has worked for me, as I went from interview to
    interview, was standing in front of the mirror and practicing saying what
    aspects of my work ethic I was particularly proud of. I got to see how I
    physically looked when saying the words and my expressions. Over and over, as
    with anything you practice, I got better and more comfortable. I suggest this
    technique for anyone else who also feels awkward when speaking. When you know
    what you look and sound like when you speak you’ll feel a lot better.

  • Jessica Vazquez

    I can definitely relate to this. I have been trying to find a job myself, to help pay for college expenses, and there are so many obstacles that need to be overcome. It is very challenging and competitive, trying to seek out a job. This has helped me understand the fundamentals of resumes, interviews, and applying for different job opportunities. I will refer to this in the future as I continue to search for a job suitable for me.

  • Tiffany Lawrence-Arrowood

    I really enjoyed this article. I am always so confident prior to the interview and my mind goes blank once I get in there. I research and come up with questions and answers before I go but always forget once I walk in. I also like the section about “interviewing.” The dialogue about the email and giving your secret about wanting an email after the interview was brilliant.

    I am going to print this and keep it in my office at home. Next time I go to an interview I want to be able to look back and review this article. Thank you again for a great article and great advice.

  • Emily Gunness

    Interviewing was the section that caught my eye. Over the years I have applied to many jobs and I don’t seem to have a problem landing an interview but when it comes to the actual interview I freeze up. I can get very shy around people I don’t know and this is where I have my problem. I have great answers to interview questions but when I actually get asked them in an interview, its like I have no brain. This section really helped me assess myself and figure out what I do wrong and it also gave me some really useful tips on how to be a better interviewee. Thank you for this article.

  • ephayzee

    A lot of this is true. I learned most of this through experience in the work place and seeing it written out is kind of funny to me because of that. I think the best way to really learn is to gain experience and go through the motions. The more you know is always better!

  • Sebastian Becerra

    I have not yet have to go through a more “professional” job search, but about a year ago as I was trying to find a better job on my campus (trying to escape the whole part-time retail, fast food, etc. scene) I can remember going through the whole process. Obviously the whole apply, get called, go to one interview process isn’t just true anymore, each possible employer has their own hiring plan structured differently, so one must realize that and get ready.

    What really helped me though, with every interview I had (I had one at the NASA office on my campus, another at a student services dept. and finally one at where I landed my job. And I’m glad I did.) was to not be such a drone.

    90% of the kids I know would just go through the motions of job seeking and of course for some it would work, but not for the majority. What I mean by this is that they write their resume in the most plain, careful way, JUST LIKE EVERYONE ELSE, and then they go to the interview wearing a plain old blue or grey suit or pant-suit, answer the questions safely without being at least a bit adventurous, not that you have to say something edgy or potentially offensive, but just be different and a bit more full of life.

    This is the kind of stuff I did and well.. It just worked :D

  • brandy.dickey

    My life has been one exciting adventure although, I didn’t always feel this way. I was born to an alcoholic drug addicted Mother who was also Bi-Polar. I didn’t have the opportunity to grow up in a loving household or to be taught who I am or how to be. Life has managed to teach me some very hard lessons about moving forward regardless of circumstances or how I felt in the moment. Life moves whether you choose to or not.

    One of the hardest lessons for me to learn was knowing who I am. I lived with dysfunction so I was dysfunctional. I didn’t believe in myself and if I didn’t who would? I applied for many jobs but no matter what I was always the wrong person for. They liked my charisma, attitude, the way I looked but they always said something was missing. It took many years to figure out it was confidence that I lacked not skills, presentation, or education. I was applying for entry level maid jobs, I even applied to dig ditches once. Still, until I knew who I was and had confidence within myself, no one even offered me a job.

    I researched the companies I applied for, making sure I knew what they were looking for, but this didn’t seem to make a difference. I was the wrong fit for their company. I was always the wrong fit and couldn’t figure out why. I became homeless and lived in my car and on the streets for several years. I knew how to survive but I didn’t know how to be a success. I became pregnant and life took another turn, I was also diagnosed with Bi-Polar disorder. No medication I took helped with the depression or all the ups and downs. It was a rough road.

    Years latter I was on AFDC and SSI and had given up trying to look for a job. Who would want a single mom with no skills and a mood disorder? I knew I was supposed to be successful I just didn’t know how. I went to counseling and again tried medication this time it worked! It was like the fog of depression had lifted and I knew it was now or never to do something with my life. I asked my counselor, “When I apply for jobs why do they turn me down? saying something is missing or I’m not a good fit.” She explained that employers want confident, self-motivated, team players and I still wasn’t where I needed to be. She recommended school and I am currently working toward becoming a Licensed Marriage Family Therapist. I have so much life experience that can help so many people. It was my turn to give back.

    Everyday I show up to school with an upbeat attitude and a smile on my face. Sure it’s hard being a single mom of two, Bi-Polar, living on $515. a month but I can offer this world a smile and maybe it will smile back on me. I’m becoming that positive confident person people want to hire. I have 5 years left until I obtain my Masters and licensure but I can and will do this. Never in my life have I felt this more.

    Daily, I’m using skills such as getting to school on time, participate in group efforts, seek help when I don’t have the answers and learning about who i am. My life was stuck in turmoil and I was unable to get out by myself. I learned no one stands alone you must ask for help when needed, even if your afraid of the answer.I realized I don’t have to be perfect I just have to move forward even if it’s small steps. Moving forward and remembering who you are will get you on track for a better life. I may not have my dream job yet but I am very confident that when my time comes I’m going to have just what’s needed and I’m going to be a great fit and asset for the right company.

    Sincerely,
    Brandy Dickey

  • Olya

    I loved that article and fully agree with it!
    Not long ago my friend and I were thinking of building our own business. I was the one who had to informally interview people and look for the once who could join our team. I can relate to authors thoughts about changing the whole outlook on that process. After being on the other side, I could totally understand what companies really want and how they feel when looking for a candidate. I agree, that when applying for a job a person should forget about themselves and look at the situation from companies perspective.

  • DeCarlo Brown

    When I started my job search I was completely unprepared. I gained a degree in Latin American Studies because I loved the history, politics, and culture of the region. When searching for a job after graduation I faced a stark reality. I did not know of any jobs in my field of study. Because I concentrated so much on getting through my degree I had neglected to plan ahead and build a professional network. My job opportunities were limited to world I let build around me. Job search sites and postings all were unrelated to anything I had experience with during my time as a student. It was only when I sought help from my friends and mentors that I was first introduced to how to network and second why it was so important.

    These professional colleagues helped me on my path to a great career. They imparted harsh truths and opened up possibilities I hadn’t even considered. The tools above help to build towards attaining a job and building a network of your own but, more importantly it gives you tools to build and maintain a professional reputation for excellence. Your reputation will take you further than any job skill or professional network. Its the combination of what you have done and what you might be able to do. Take control over your reputation before it’s built for you.

  • Kassie Smith

    This article reminds me of a few things I
    have learned over the past ten years. I know I sucked at job searching when I
    did not fully grasp how to sell myself to potential employers during
    interviews. This after all is a part of the job search. After not being
    selected for a few positions and feeling depressed about it, I found myself
    talking to people about what I was doing wrong during my interviews. I was not
    doing enough research or practicing for interviews although my resume was good
    enough to land me the interviews.

    I needed to improve the way I answered
    questions. I needed to change my mindset and my confidence before I went into
    an interview. I needed to take some advice from people who specialized
    in job searches and hiring. One of my mentors gave me loads of advice on what
    to expect from interviews where there was a panel and to definitely ask
    questions during an interview. I do remember leaving an interview once where I
    did not ask the hiring manager a question and I am sure that one thing put me
    on the bottom of his list for getting a call back.

    If you notice you are not getting the
    positions you want you need to make some changes in the way your job search
    strategies. If you did not get a position when you applied for it before you
    really should not give up. If the same position opens up again you should apply
    for it again. Something else I find useful after an interview is to write a
    personalized thank you letter to everyone who was in your interview. This may
    not work for every organization, you have to pay attention to the culture of
    the company.

  • Nataly Briceno Guerrero

    My biggest mistake has been not to spend time working on my resume and a good cover letter. I got a phone called from a recruiter pointing out high school grammar mistakes. I was pretty ashamed of hearing this person talking over the phone and telling me how bad it makes me look have something that shows that I don’t care about my presentation. Since then I have been rechecking grammar and specific and short resume. It has helped a lot.

    Nataly

  • Brynly W

    As current college student searching for a job, each point made helps me to see the way the working world functions. Searching for a job to help me pay for living expenses, school expenses, and general expenses has been a long road and full of ups and downs. Often times places either are not hiring or don’t have many openings that allow for a school schedule. The advice given from this post will really help me to find a way to put myself out there and get the positions I want and to help my confidence in finding a job. For a person who has little experience in the process of finding a job, this really helped to answer many of the questions I have had.

  • Mike Prete

    With these job searching lessons, one of the main lessons that sticks out the most for me to relate to is the lesson on interviewing. About two years ago, I was interviewing for a job at my county’s correctional facility. I had already made it past the first two stages and was then at the third stage – the personal interview. I was sitting face to face with the main human resource worker for the sheriff’s office. I could have used the interview lesson from this during that interview. While being questioned, I continued to discuss only myself, which included personality traits and accomplishments. While not all bad, I failed to mention what I would be able to do for the agency and did not talk about how I could be an asset to them.

    I feel as if I would have followed these guidelines more closely, the interview would have went much smoother and I would have had a much better shot at landing that sought after career.

  • Hanna

    So, I am wondering, I have been a stay at home mother of 3, we have a 12 acre mini farm where we raise chickens, fainting goats, have 2 horses, are looking for a feeder pig and steer, as well as have cats and dogs. With that being said, I am also prior military, have my AAS in medical billing and coding, and I am graduating in May 2015 with a B.S. in Health Systems Management. I really want to find a position that will allow me to home school my children while taking care of our farm, I love medical coding, my question is how do I get my foot in the door? I haven’t worked outside of my home since 2010, aside from my military reserve obligation which was once a month, plus annual training. I would love some advice, please and thank you.

    • http://www.internetinc.com/ Eric Shannon

      In a perfect world, you would search out work from home medical coding positions and could get right to work that way. It’s worth a try. if that turns out to be difficult however you may find it after you’ve worked in an office doing medical coding for a year, you can transition to working from home with the same company or find another company that will hire you based on your experience with the first company. Good luck Hanna, I’m envious of the farm!

  • Kristen Schmidt

    For me, the second lesson, “Surest way to fail at a job search is to think about yourself and talk about what you want from an employer” has had the largest impact on my applications as well as my work as an employee. For about a little under a year I’ve been recruitment and hiring manager for a work study program on my college’s campus. I read and review applications, as well as interview potential hirees. For me, the red flag on an application is when an applicant speaks about what they want the program to do for them, rather than what they can add to the program.

    While it is important that applicants show me that they can learn and grow within the program, the process of hiring is not about them at all. I’m looking to hire people who will be a good fit within the program, and will add to the quality work that we do. Discussing nothing but yourself and what YOU want US to do for you shows me, as a hiring manager, that you are selfish, and not a team player. Instead, the applicants who get hired immediately off of their applications, without an interview, are the applicants who highlight their strengths as well as the assets that they will bring to the program. Something most applicants don’t understand is that receiving a position offer is a privilege, not a right granted to them because they filled out an application.

    I take this lesson into account when I apply to any position. Not only do I repeatedly thank anyone I come into contact with for their time, but I tailor my application, resume, and interview to what best suits the program that I will be applying for. I won’t waste an employer’s time unnecessarily tooting my own horn, or discussing only what I want out of this job. Employers are looking for what you can add to what they already have, not the other way around.

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About the author

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In 1997, Eric Shannon launched the first job board for bilinguals who speak English/Spanish at LatPro.com. Eric still serves as CEO of LatPro Inc., developer of JustJobs.com. He lives in Boulder, CO with his wife and two girls.

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