I was helping a client prepare for an interview recently. Her biggest worry was that she gets so nervous during interviews that she has problems engaging employers. Sometimes her nerves are so bad that they hurt her ability to understand and answer questions. This client has great experience and education. None of that helped her.
I asked what she was thinking about that made her so nervous. She said, “I just want the job so badly, and I’m afraid that they won’t hire me.” At that point, I showed her a different way to play the interview game. Start with your strengths. If you know what makes you a valuable employee, you will have something positive to tell the employer, a way to sell what the employer needs. Most importantly, I practiced interviewing with my client so she understood that she has power in the interview process. She now knows how to ask questions, negotiate salary, and turn down a bad offer.
Interviewing for a new job, especially one that you want, will always bring some feelings of nervousness and anxiety. The challenge is to control them. The best way to do that is to know your strengths and demonstrate how they will help a prospective employer. You feel better during interviews, and you’ll be more likely to get the offer.
When I ask clients to name their strengths, they often point to broad qualities or skill sets, such as, leadership, communication skills, and flexibility. Too often that’s where they stop. The trick to good personal branding, networking, interviewing, and resume writing is to take this kind of strength and project it to the different audiences you interact with. For example, a senior sales professional and an office manager both need good communication skills, but they are different. Sales representatives present, negotiate, and train to sell. Office managers negotiate to buy products and train employees in job skills. They might also lead meetings. Whenever you are promoting yourself as a professional, think about the person or group you are addressing. What do they need to know about you? What is their biggest concern? Give them what they need to know, and they will give you the kind of respect that opens doors.
One of my clients (We'll call her Mary) is applying for an internal promotion. To complete the application, Mary needed to put together a portfolio that included her resume and a letter of intent. Before sending the package, Mary called me and asked if she needed a cover letter. At first, I said no. Then Mary explained her reasoning. She wanted to included a cover page that broke out what she was sending and a small expression of enthusiasm. Then it hit me: Mary wanted to take the extra step to stand out from her co-workers who are applying. I loved the idea. She is showing that she wants the job. There was no downside to doing this. Either the person receiving the packet will be impressed or they will ignore the sheet. If it makes an impression, a few minutes writing a cover sheet could make Mary stand out. Whenever you can take such a step in a job search or any other type of communication, do it. Show that you care.
Every job posting asks for a combination of experience, knowledge, skill, and education. Another way to think about this is "weight." The employer wants to know that you can carry the load of a given job. For example, an entry level job will ask for less weight than one that looks for 3-5 years experience or a background supervising or training employees. In writing your resume or presenting yourself at an interview, you need to be able to show how and why you are qualified to do the job. Look carefully at job posts for positions you are seeking and identify the kind of weight the employer is seeking. Show that you can carry the load.
One of my clients, let’s call her Jane, has recently had four rounds of interviews with a company she really wants to work for. The interview process has covered over a month, and in that time Jane has not applied for another job or done any networking. When I asked her why she’s been so passive, she said that she wants to put all her effort into getting the job she wants.
There’s one problem with Jane’s strategy: What if she doesn’t get the job? Every job search is different, but to get a job quickly, it’s important to stay focused and keep applying for new positions and networking. Jane has wasted over a month. If she doesn’t get the job she’s currently interviewing for, she will have to start her job search from scratch. It’s important to keep momentum going until you’ve received an offer you want to accept. Even if you are confident that a company is going to offer you a position, keep pursuing other opportunities. You have nothing to lose. You can always turn down interview. Better still, you might receive a better offer.
I’m reading a book on career management that dismisses resumes as “historical.” While it’s true that resumes summarize work history, their more important function is forward looking – to show why you are qualified for the kind of job you want, not the one you are leaving.
Many of the clients that ask me to review resumes fall into the historical trap. They focus on their most recent jobs and are very detailed in discussing that job. Being overly specific often makes it hard for an employer to see how a candidate fits their needs. This problem is even worse when a job seeker uses the language of her old company, language that only someone who works for that company would understand.
I frequently recommend that clients find 5-10 job posts and send them to me. I review them to understand the requirements and skills employers are looking for. I also track the repeated “key words” that are so important. By looking at these documents, I am able to focus the resume on the jobs my clients will apply for.
The key to a successful job search is to keep looking forward. You should only discuss your past to the degree that it shows how you are qualified for your next job or career move. In writing your resume and interviewing for jobs, keep your focus on what your next employer needs. It’s all about the future – and finding a better job.