Just like clockwork, the Labor Department will release its monthly report on the nation’s job situation this week. Employers likely added 225,000 jobs in August and the unemployment rate should remain at 6.2 percent. Despite a slow start to the year, the economy has produced an average of 230,000 jobs per month this year, which puts it on track to be the best year since 1999 for job creation. Adding to the good news, weekly jobless claims are hovering at eight-year lows; and small businesses are feeling more confident in the overall economy, the future of their own businesses and have made important steps forward in hiring. As a result, now may be a great time for disgruntled workers to tune up their resumes and to restart their job searches!
Fortunately, I recently reconnected with an old pal, Sheila Curran of The Curran Consulting Group (CCG). I knew Sheila when she ran career services at Brown University, but she has gone on to bigger and better things, starting her own company, which provides holistic and cost-effective administrative strategies to higher education.
When I asked Sheila about how job applicants can stand out, she provided great advice. “Examine yourself: identify what you like, what you hate and what you’re good at. Then, think like an employer…when talking about your experience, focus on the requirements of the job, and put your relevant qualifications front and center on your resume. Your cover letter should make it easy for an employer to visualize you in the job…Your goal is make the application materials shout out ‘I have the qualifications, the experience, and the enthusiasm you need. I can add value.’
Obviously, you need to stress these attributes both in your resume and during the all-important interview. About that interview…there are concrete ways to improve your interviewing skills. You will find that the more you do it, the better you will get, but here are some tips to make the process a smoother one:
Research before you interview: learn everything you can about the company, the competition and the industry. You should not only review the company’s website, but you should also utilize your (and your parents’ and friends’) network(s) to identify people you know at the company who can provide additional information.
Check out the company’s LinkedIn and Facebook pages, review their latest advertising campaigns and establish Google alerts as soon as you learn of an interview so you can start to get updates. If you know the name of the interviewer, do a quick check on him or her (again, social media can be helpful here) and try to find common ground (school, interests).
Practice interviewing: Stand in front of mirror, or better yet, have a friend conduct a mock interview. (If you are a recent grad, it may be helpful to ask a friend of your parents to conduct the interview.) You are not trying to memorize a script, but attempting to get comfortable telling stories about yourself that can bring to light why the company should hire you. Don’t forget to make eye contact and also try to perfect a firm, but not painful, handshake.
Prepare Smart Questions: When the interview is over and you are asked, “So, do you have any questions for me?”, DO NOT SAY NO! Prepare at least three questions that show that you are interested in the position and in the person conducting the interview. Remember that people really like to talk about themselves and while the interview is a chance for the company’s rep to get to know you, it also a chance for you to learn more about the person, the job and the company.
Here are a few options:
- Tell me about your career path…how did you get to the position you are in?
- What’s your favorite part of your job?
- Describe the corporate culture here—has it changed since the recession?
- What part of the company is showing the most growth?
- What paths for growth does this position offer?
- Based on what we discussed, where do you see me fitting in?
- What do you think differentiates your culture from your competitors’?
Finish strong and follow up. Conclude the interview with enthusiasm and interest in the position. Before you leave, ask the interviewer what the next steps and timeline are. Email a thank you note less than 24 hours after the interview and try to make the note specific to the conversation you had. Remind the interviewer why you are excellent candidate and how much you would like to continue the conversation. This may be a little old school, but I also recommend sending a neatly hand-written thank you note soon after the interview…to people of a certain generation (like me!), a note via snail mail is a wonderful touch.