Job Hunt Basics for New Entrants to the Job Market
By Gary Santana, Bluegrass Community and Technical College
The job market can be tough. Perhaps you’ve got the credentials that qualify you for a good position, but getting from here to there is not going to be easy. Those credentials (your certificate, diploma, or degree) that you’ve worked so hard for are now really just a hunting license to go out and look for a limited number of jobs amidst the hundreds and maybe thousands of other people with the same credentials. To stand out from the crowd you are going to have to market yourself to your perspective employers. There are a lot of things that you cannot control in the process, but you can maximize those things that you can control.
The job application
At some point in the process, usually the very first or the very last thing, you will have to fill out an application. Your application is going to be your representative to people that you’ve never met. Whoever is reading it will make decisions about you, your character and your abilities; if their first impression is that this is someone who is sloppy, incomplete, or can care less about the job then your chances are cut to slim right off the bat.
1. I encourage people to ask for two applications, one to use as a first draft and one for the final copy. Make sure that you keep the final copy clean and wrinkle-free.
2. Fill in all blanks; if something does not apply, write in N/A instead of leaving it blank.
3. Make sure all of your dates and places are correct and in order. Note that on applications and résumés everything is listed in reverse chronological order, listing the most recent first then working backward.
4. On applications they quite often ask something like ‘salary desired.’ I encourage people to write in ‘neg.’ or ‘negotiable’.
The cover letter
If you are submitting a résumé, you will need to accompany it with a Cover Letter. The purpose of the cover letter is to introduce you to the potential employer and convince them to read your résumé. If an employer has a position open and gets 50 – 100 résumé responses, they are not going to want to read through each and every one of them. So your cover letter will briefly tell them who you are, what you want, how you qualify, and how to contact you. This can be done in four or five brief sentences and may determine whether your potential employer goes on to examine your résumé.
The next step is to submit that résumé. It will tell them your potential employer who you are, your education and/or qualifications, your experiences, your work history, any professional organizations that you are involved with, any awards you may have received, and that you have references. Résumés are a crucial step and can make nearly all the difference. This is not an area to ‘cut corners’; I would encourage you to take a community education class on résumé writing if it’s available. Also many colleges such as ours have a person in student services who has the duty of helping students write a good résumé. There are also many books/manuals out there that show how to build one. My two least favorite methods, although they can be effective, is to buy a computer program that will put one together for you or hire a professional resume writer. Finally, some do’s and don’ts about resume’s; do use high quality résumé paper with a ‘water-seal”; also it is a plus to use the same paper for your cover letter. Use paper that is white or a very light color such as ivory, beige, light gray or light blue. Do keep the length to two, no more than three pages. Finally, do be 100% accurate in your information.
Editor’s note: “Fudging”—stretching the truth or actually making up information—while seemingly either inconsequential or a falsehood you can’t imagine ever being caught at, could actually, In our computer age, be discovered way down the line and ruin your career.
Do Not put down any type of identifying numbers, such as birth-date or social security numbers. This was common practice at one time, but in these days of identity theft, it is no longer done.
Do Not list your references… simply put ‘references available upon request’; this lets the employer know that you do in fact have them if they later want them.
Do Not let the résumé get stained or wrinkled.
The Interview Process
Remember the purpose of the résumé is to get the employer to offer you an interview. When that happens, there are tasks that need to be done. The interview process can be divided into three stages… the ‘pre-interview’ the ‘interview’, and the’ post-interview’. In the pre-interview you are simply preparing for the interview. You must dress appropriately; males need to dress in black, navy, or gray; khaki is acceptable also for a ‘service industry’. Females customarily can have a little more color but not too much. Be conservative with jewelry if you choose to wear any; cover any tattoos if need be. Know a little about the company beforehand… there are five questions that you will be asked in some form or another, so prepare answers to them beforehand. Most likely you will be asked the following questions in some form or another:
Also in the pre interview you need to scout out the location of the interview. It is traditional to arrive for the interview at least 10 -15 minutes ahead of time. Do not be late… If something unexpected happens (for instance being stuck in traffic due to a previous car accident), call ahead if possible. When you arrive, let them know you’re there, sit down and relax.
When someone comes to get you for the actual interview, smile, look them in the eye, and give them a good firm handshake as you say hello. The handshake is very important; it tells the person meeting you about your self confidence. It should be a good firm ‘palm to palm’ grip. This is especially true for females.
You may be interviewed by one person or several people at once. You say hello if need be and have a seat wherever they put you. They will begin to ask you questions and you merely answer them as confidently as you can. Remember to maintain good eye contact with everyone in the room, project your voice well, don’t ‘squirm’ and try not to ‘talk with your hands’. Attempt to appear confident but not arrogant; never talk bad about anyone nor blame anyone for anything. Also to remember that their standpoint is, “what can this person do for me/us?” Just as they are ‘sizing you up’ you are sizing them as well. Perhaps you don’t want to work for that company; if you have this feeling you can always decline the offer of employment. At the end of the interview they will probably ask you if you have any questions. Try to have at least one, it shows interest. If you had one but they somehow covered it, you can just say so here and then ask, “…if any come up, may I call you?” When the interview is over, smile, shake hands, and thank them for the interview as you exit.
Finally comes the post interview which is simple yet many people neglect it; it can be the deciding factor in hiring. Simply put, you merely send them a ‘thank you’ 24 – 48 hours after the interview. You say ‘thank you’ for the interview and ‘I look forward to hearing from you.’ This can be done by email, but again I am partial to a handwritten ‘thank you’ card.
Understand that job hunting sometimes is a ‘numbers game’ and that the best person for the job doesn’t necessarily get it. There are so many other variables in play that you may have done everything right and still not get the job. If that’s true, try to honestly look at how the process worked, both the positive and negative, make the necessary adjustments, and move onto the next one. Eventually it will happen for you.
Gary Santana is Associate Professor/Counselor and Area Coordinator of Student Development and counseling at Bluegrass Community and Technical College in Lexington, Kentucky.