I've been helping a friend job hunt, for her I have the perspective from both sides - I recently went through the job change process and then at my new job was placed on a hiring committee. So I've been compiling tips like these because it's hard to verbalize the things that seem to work. Here are some of my observations, hopefully useful.
1st - Best way to get your resume read? Customize it. Look for keywords in the ad, and put them in your resume, it is really as simple as that. That way, no matter if it's a person or a machine that scans you in, your resume stands out. To get past the 1st weed-out stage, state your years of experience clearly, don't make someone guess because they won't guess in your favor. If you have Windows NT Support experience and the job says "4 or more years", state that you supported a Windows NT environment in your professional experience where you worked at Company Z for 5 years. The summaries that are popular now on the top of resumes are great for the 1st cull where it's skimmed, but you have to back it up later in the resume or you'll be dumped. After that, it's your resume vs people that got to the same stage so it gets down to details. Also, cover letters are a must, even if doesn't get read you show that you're willing to make that extra effort - everybody hates writing those things, and employers know that.
And if you're applying for a Federal job and have to do the KSA's - be overly detailed. There really is an HR clerk somewhere sitting in a cube reading each line, after about the 20th KSA detailing how fabulous you are that clerk is going to pass you straight to the interview pool.
2nd - Read job postings carefully, the parts that say "required" really are, but the parts that say "would prefer" are negotiable. If you don't meet a negotiable point, then put in your cover letter what skills you have that makes up for it. And don't apply for everything just because it's under a familiar heading...if you're not qualified, don't waste your time and more importantly don't waste their time because they will remember you, and it won't be for a good reason.
3rd, I've read many of Oz's posts (rather difficult not to actually ) but I disagree with him here. From an employer perspective, if you can't articulate your strengths AND your weaknesses in a productive light then you don't belong with us. I seriously, absolutely no kidding, sat in an interview while someone listed 3 separate awful "weaknesses", and somehow managed to forget they had any strengths. Yes, this question is a standard that every interviewee should be prepared for - which is what makes it such a problem for those that didn't prepare. I used to have the mindset that it was pointless to have those questions in interviews, until I saw the reality of how unprepared so many people are willing to be.
4th, The best lesson I learned from my 1st interview on my job hunt is that I don't have to take the job just because they offer it! That interview was awful. They were disorganized, had set answers they wanted and had no interest in a unique perspective, and they were late - one of them showed up 1/2 way through the interview. By the time it was done I had won them over, but I walked out with an epiphany - it's a 2-way street, and I was never ever going to work there. I turned down their job offer, one of them actually spit on the table at me while he was shouting exactly what process of his I'd be following when I worked for him. But every interview thereafter I would constantly think "I don't have to work here. What makes HERE special?" It shows when people walk into an interview and know they have something the company wants, and it gives you a head start - the rest of the interview is where you prove it to them by being prepared for the stock questions and honest on the details!
BTW, I don't want to offend but I do want to point out - honesty is a big deal. If you lie, it will show. Even if you're good enough to get hired, it will show later and if getting a job and KEEPING it is important to you, don't lie. If you're lacking something be prepared! Talk about how you're going to fix it, #3 on the "7" list is really a sticking point for a lot of people.
5th, Stock question part II, "What makes you different?" The bad part about this question is that there is no real stock answer. Interviewers are sometimes looking for something here, and you usually don't know what it is yet because the question may come early on in the interview. Be honest, and if they egg you on in a particular direction follow their lead. But good ways to prepare for this? Take the question in context of the company. For example I worked at a university and was interviewing at a college, I told them what made me unique was no one would have to explain to me what a Provost was or that a Dean got special consideration. Another approach you can try, if you have the panache to pull it off, is to be creative - tell them you're the only one that would cater lunch in if they hired you . Be warned - you might actually get stuck doing it though! You could say you're an excellent baker and if they had ever tried your savory cheese filled braid they'd hire you without the interview, stuff like that...
Also, if you mess this one up? Or even any question. Don't be afraid to return to it. At the end of the interview say something like "Earlier you asked what made me unique and I'm not satisfied that the answer I gave really represents what I wanted to say" - it's a two-for... You get to revamp your answer AND show them that when you told them you worked at things until they were perfect (as a strength), you were serious.
6th and last, watch out for the "surprise" question and know what it's there for. I think it was Microsoft that made headlines because they would ask "Why are manhole covers round" to their prospective employees. They don't care why they're round, or if you get the "right" answer, all they want to know is how you react to the question and what skills you bring into play to get to your answer. How creative are you? How do you deal with unorthodox problems? Plus, toss it back if the opportunity arises, it's always fun to put the employers on their toes and more importantly it wakes up the sleepy ones -
"Manhole covers are round so the lid doesn't fall in, I made it a priority several years ago to find out the answer to that question. My nature tends toward being prepared, and I understand that you're looking for something by asking this question so maybe there is some other way I can put forth my best qualities, can we discuss what it is you'd like to see?"
This ties back to being confident in how you present yourself, overconfident is bad but try to show them that you're the one they want, and they need to listen to see why.
Anyway, sorry for being so long winded, I tried to give real examples, hope this was helpful.
Oh, PS - if they ask how soon you can be a contributing member avoid the cheesy cliche's and give a real answer "maybe a month to become familiar with your LAN layout, and the physical layout of your complex, so I would estimate 4 to 6 weeks", or something like that.
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