Put your best foot forward in a job search

The past month, for the first time in my career, I got to sit on the other side of the interview table, and it was quite an eye-opening experience. After polishing up my soft skills in grad school, I feel pretty comfortable with the interviewing and just generally with the job search process. While most people seem to understand the main aspects of applying to jobs, there were so many issues that kept repeating themselves that I had to highlight them.

What does this have to do with personal finance? I’ll admit, it’s tangential at best, but one of the best ways to increase your savings rate and reach financial independence is to increase salary. To do that, you need to have the leverage to negotiate, and that comes from having a lot of job offers or blowing the minds of prospective employers during the interview process.

In no particular order, here’s a list of small changes that can have a big impact in your job search process:

  • Don’t have any errors in your resume.

This seems so straightforward, but I just spent the past month reading resumes with simple errors like ‘marketing mater’ instead of ‘marketing master’. There were plenty of grammatical errors that made me cringe. While I tried to allow for some room in egregiousness, my manager threw out any resumes with errors, on principle.

Pick a consistent format! Periods or no periods, both are fine and common but don’t switch it up partway through. Also, PDF that shit. I’ve seen too many Word docs get reformatted weirdly.

  • Know what position or role you’re applying for, and why

There were so many people I talked to that looked great on paper, but, in an initial interview, couldn’t properly articulate why they wanted the job. Because I was interviewing candidates for a position I would be working directly with on a daily basis, this was a huge no for me. Less experienced candidates who could express actual excitement and interest about the company and the work automatically made it farther into the interview process.

Whether you’re graduating, changing industries, or just really need to leave your current position, it really doesn’t matter. Employers may ask why you’re unhappy with your current situation, but it’s a trick. The correct answer is to pivot into an explanation about why you’re excited to work for their company. Employers know that they’re not the only ones you’ve applied to in your job search, so make them feel special in your answer.

  • Consider putting a summary in your resume

This isn’t necessary for if you’re straight out of school, but a few sentences at the top of a resume were extremely helpful for me in screening candidates. Because my company’s recruiter is extremely overwhelmed, I was given roughly 300 resumes to look at, no cover letter attached. For my own sanity, I spent no more than 10 seconds per person to screen for first round candidates. If you have an unusual background that doesn’t quite fit the role you’re applying for, tying it all together with a couple sentences makes a huge difference. This is still something that should be accounted for in a cover letter, but recognize that cover letters don’t always make it to where they’re supposed to go.

If you’re going to put in a summary or an objective, do it right. I came across a memorable resume objective that simply stated: “To obtain the role of an analyst.” There are soooo many things wrong with that! If you don’t have anything interesting to note, better to leave out a summary entirely.

Not sure what to put? Summarizing top skills and capabilities is great, especially if your job descriptions don’t bring them out fully. You shouldn’t regurgitate the skills listed out at the bottom of the resume. Instead, cherry-pick the ones most relevant to the role you’re applying for. Any resumes that did this were instantly considered for first round interviews, regardless of background or skill level.

  • Send a thank you note afterward

If you don’t have the contact info of the people who interviewed you, email the recruiter for them. It doesn’t have to be a fancy email, and a handwritten note sent via snail mail certainly isn’t necessary. Just a few sentences restating your interest and a thank you is more than enough. This opens the door for you to inquire about status updates (after a reasonable time has passed), which is good for both parties.

  • RELAX

An interview with a prospective employer is a serious thing. That said, if you’re interviewing with prospective co-workers, take a moment to crack a joke and show your real persona. Personality fits are a big thing that I look for. Would I be happy working next to this person? How will s/he handle group projects? Be serious about the interview, so long as it doesn’t overshadow who you are. After all, it’s just a job, and none of us actually want to be a part of this rat race.

 

There are plenty of other things that help with the job search process, like:

  • Getting an internal referral
  • Networking
  • Taking on an internship to gain relevant experience

However, those all require larger time investments than the resume and interview tweaks I described above. Ever heard of the 80/20 rule? I believe this applies to your job search, too. Maximize the time you spend applying and interviewing, and you’ll be just fine.

Have any of you encountered other interviewing faux pas? I’d love to hear them below.

Comments

  1. This is a great post! Wish I read it when I was just out of college and confused as heck.

    I was so nervous in my first interview I actually went to the bathroom to cry haha. I was 16 and hormonal so… I’m sticking with that excuse.

    A summary page for you resume is a neat idea. Maybe add a splash of color and decorum to the page as well.

    1. Author

      Thanks, Lily!
      I actually cried after my first interview, too… but I was about to graduate from college so I can’t hide behind my age as an excuse.
      Color and visual elements are useful tools, but only if a) they improve resume readability and b) the position itself has room for creativity.

  2. So much yes to the second point – people underestimate actually showing enthusiasm and having an answer for why they want the job. If you do these two things, you’ll be heads and shoulders above the rest.

    Other faux pas:
    -Spelling my name wrong
    -Not following my instructions when applying (and I put a lot of instructions because I want ppl to be detail oriented)
    -Not customizing their cover letter and resume for each job
    -Bad writing skills

    But the very one thing I always look for is whether or not the person is a self-starter. It doesn’t matter how inexperienced the person is. If they’re proactive and smart, I can teach them anything. I was running late to get an interviewee from downstairs, and she actually figured out a way to come up to ME, instead of waiting around. She was the best intern I ever had.

    1. Author

      Yes to all of those things!
      Following instructions is important, especially for entry-level roles. After all, being able to follow instructions is a basic requirement. It really is the small things.
      The first hire I ever made amazed me during the interview by informing me she had registered for an excel refresher course and gotten her Google Analytics certification between finding out about the interview and sitting down with me. Talk about being a self-starter!

  3. I’m still so embarrassed by this because I’m always OCD when it comes to my grammar and always proofread over everything! But I mentioned in my resume one of my responsibilities was to manage the team on shift, and without noticing, I left out the ‘f’ in the word ‘shift’. Luckily this resume never went to a prospective employer but it did go to a very well connected man my brother knew and he pointed that out. I was horrified. But had to laugh at myself to shake of my embarrassment.

    Other than that, definitely tailoring every resume and cover letter to the job is so important. Employers know if you’ve just copy pasted your cover letter from another job application.

    Amanda 🙂

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