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I haven’t had to actually apply for a real job in over a decade. Recently, I’ve decided to make a career change, but when I went to dive into the application process, I quickly learned that it’s not like it used to be. You can no longer just write up a blasé resume, stuff it into a brown envelope, walk into the place of business and say “Hi! I’d like to leave my resume for the manager, please.”
Today, it’s all about searching online, typing up a fantastic looking resume or CV, knocking the employer’s socks off with a catchy cover letter, and showing your skills even before you step foot into the interview. You make it exciting and fresh so that you hope to stand out, press that ominous “submit application” button and cross your fingers, realizing that you are most likely 1 of 150 that applied for the position.
Then you wait. And wait and wait and wait.
It seems like nowadays, fewer employers are in a rush to hire for the position. It could be because they’ve become totally overwhelmed with the onslaught of applications that it just takes months to sift through them all. Back in the old days (you know, before the internet was a thing), a manager would personally receive maybe 20 applications for the job being advertised. Today, 150 is a low estimate. They’ve had to create new pre-screening positions called “Recruitment Managers” to go through all of the applicants and dwindle them down to the best 10 or so, then you might be lucky enough to be one of the 10 that gets the “pre-interview” before the recruiter decides if you’re fit enough to talk to the actual person in charge of doing the hiring in a face-to-face interview. Wow, that was a mouthful.
How do I know this all? I’ve just gone through it.
So how did I stand out in a time when employers are literally able to fill a bathtub with applications? Maybe I shouldn’t give away my secrets, because I don’t know if I landed the job or not yet, but I’m going to share with you what my route to getting that face-to-face interview was. If you do this, your chances of being able to sell yourself to the Director are likely to increase.
Step 1: Jazz up your resume.
There’s more to you than meets the eye. You have a plethora of skills that you have learned in previous positions that you might not even be thinking about. Study yourself and make sure to list all of those skills. You can’t expect to stand out when your resume has no color on it, nothing exciting to look at. At the very least, include your best profile pic. Just do a quick search on your favorite web browser for “Resume Styles” and you will be inundated with hundreds of exciting layouts and designs to adapt and make your own. Consider the type of job you’re applying for. If it’s something in advertising or graphic design, be sure to make it as dynamic as your work portfolio would be. If you are applying for a professional government job, stand out, but just a little bit, because in a case like that, they are going to be most interested in your computer/business skills, not your design skills. Make sure you have a “Highlights of Qualifications” section which goes through the major qualifications at a glance and special projects you’ve been involved in. You can also add an “Ongoing Training” section so that the employer can see how eager you are at continual learning. Employers love go-getters and someone who is always learning new things, taking courses, etc. looks a lot better on paper than someone who completed schooling and then just became a couch potato.
Step 2: No More Boring Cover Letters!
Right now, culture is extremely important in the workplace and you want to show that you can fit into the culture of the place to where you are applying. Does the employer make mention of a youthful vibe in the job advert? Pay attention to the “special qualities” they might have posted and don’t be afraid in the cover letter to be dynamic. Use the cover letter to draw the employer in, make him or her see those special qualities, and help them wrap their brain around why the skills you have are going to be essential to their job posting. You actually CAN have a personality. You can also have a bit of a sense of humor. You can express pride in your abilities and even if you don’t have that Bachelor’s Degree, you can sell your 20 years of skills and experiential training to convince someone that this job belongs to you. Be bold, confident and respectful in choosing your words. It used to be “Here I am, I have experience with blah blah and blah de blah (and you make reference to your resume), I look forward to hearing from you soon.” Now it can be so much more than that. Still, keep it to a couple of paragraphs, but don’t be so afraid of saying too much about yourself. I was recently told by a Director of an organization that he really loved my cover letter. Well guess what... I was wordy, I was excited, and I really sold my skill set. I didn’t have the big fancy degree, but I was one out of 100 that was selected for a phone interview and then I went on to the face-to face with the Director. My cover letter got me noticed by three people, the three that mattered. So make yours count too.
Here’s one of my secrets, listen up big here. Also submit an example, just a little teaser, of what you are capable of; something that can be saved in PDF format and attached with your cover letter and resume. For example, if you are going to be a Third Grade Math Tutor, spend a few minutes drawing up a lesson plan, or outcomes report to submit with your package as a “sample of my work.” It will impress.
Step 3: Phone interview? You’ve GOT this.
When they email you to set up a phone interview, be polite and courteous and available! When they call you at your determined time, be alone, have the tv off, turn your computer off, put your cell on silent, and make sure that you’ve gone and had a toilet break prior to the phone call. Have a glass of water handy. Ok, so that all goes without saying, but this may not have. DO YOUR RESEARCH. Go familiarize yourself with the company by reading all that you can about them online. Do research on a site like Glassdoor which will allow you to see actual company reviews. Go to their website and read it ALL. While doing so, write notes. Prepare a document with questions that you will need to know the answers to that you can ask during that phone interview. Best yet, pre-write your answers to questions you THINK they will ask you. You likely are not doing this over Skype or Facetime. It’s just over the phone. You can be in your jammies, but for goodness sakes, come to this meeting prepared. If you think they’re going to ask you how your work history applies to this job, have that written down in point form in front of you. That way there’s no bumbling, no pausing to think involved. You look like a genius because you are quick on your answers and able to keep the conversation flowing. Confidence is rewarded here, and so is being personable. It’s okay to add in a little side chit chat, to develop a rapport with the interviewer. You want them remembering you at the end of that phone call.
After that phone call is over, you should have a way of contacting that person back. The next day, email them expressing thanks for the interview and it’s even okay to reference one of those chit-chat topics you discussed to bring back the memory of the rapport you worked hard to create.
Step 4: I’m not surprised… You’ve got an interview! You’re rockin’ it!
There’s nothing worse than showing up somewhere unprepared. Review the heck out of your resume, know it all; the timeline, the skills at each job, how they apply to this new position. You have to walk in there like you own the place, with full confidence that this job is going to be yours, and the only way to do that is to know yourself, your skills and your work history. If you’re anything like me, you can’t really remember what your first three jobs were, but hey, they might be relevant, so know it. Here’s one of the BIG secrets that I’m going to share with you, so pay extra attention here. The few days before your interview, think about how you could make a portfolio to bring with you and then dive right into that and get it into a presentable format at home. If you are going for a job as a Social Media Manager, have a list of sites you already manage, complete with printouts on the insights for the work you’ve been doing thus far. If you’re a coder, you’re going to bring samples of code that you’ve developed and have some screenshots of websites that are running your code. Game designers are, of course, going to provide the interviewer with a snippet of their graphic design and even allow the interviewer to try out the game… yes, I did just say that you could expect some game play at that interview. Office jobs of any sort have requirements for certain computer programs that are assets. Develop some printables to take with you from each of those programs to prove that you know what you’re doing on the computer. If you’re going for a teaching job of any kind, bring sample lesson plans with you. Think about the job expectations, and prove that you can do it with a portfolio that you professionally present at the start of the interview. This shows how confident you are in your ability to rock the job.
Step 5: The Actual Interview
Don’t be late. Look up where you’re going ahead of time and show up at least 10 – 15 minutes before the start time. Do all of those first necessary things like shaking hands, introducing yourself, and so on.
[Side note: Did you know it was okay for me to have coffee or water in the interview? Gone are the days of needing a mint so you don’t end up with such a dry mouth that you can’t form words. ]
While in that interview, nothing else in the world matters. Actively listen to every word the interviewer is saying and respond thoughtfully to everything. There’s nothing worse than having to have them repeat the statement or question. You can listen properly and then answer thoughtfully because you’ve memorized all of your work history, read about the company, and know how to apply your skills for the job at hand. Keep talking. The longer you talk, the more they get to know your personality and how you will fit into their organization; although you don’t want to be a bumbling idiot either, so do know when to stop. Be courteous, confident, and downright delightful. You might need to dig deep for that delightful bit, but it actually does exist in all of us. Did you also know that it’s a great thing to share some personal information such as family life; it makes you relatable and gives them something to connect with you on. Smile, don’t be afraid to show some enthusiasm for the workplace and position, make some eye contact (but don’t stare, because that’s creepy), and at the end, be thankful and remain confident that when you hear back from them, it will be with good news: “I can’t wait to hear back from you in a couple of days, once you’ve talked to my references and can confirm that I’m a perfect fit here!”
The next day, send the interviewer an email (yes, I know this sounds repetitive, but you’ve spent so much time getting this far, you want to be even more memorable with this person than the phone interviewer). I think too many people leave out this step and then they become forgotten if the interviewer had any other interviews after you left the building. So don’t be afraid to put yourself back into that little corner of their mind.
Step 6: Interview’s over. Now you can breathe and be thankful.
Express gratitude for having been given the job to the Universe. Okay, so you may not want to follow that step, but the key here is that we can manifest what we put out there. So if you tell yourself you’ve got this job offer, you’re more likely to receive what you put out there. If you walk away from that thinking you bombed it, you probably did. If you walk away with an “I win” type of mentality, that’s going to get you farther.
Step 7: There are no more steps to standing out. Now you just wait.
The next week will be the longest week of your life, so do yourself a favor and plan a few extra things to make the days go by quickly. Wait patiently. You’ve done all you can do to get to this point. If said interviewer calls you and says you did it, you’re in, you can literally jump for joy and get ready, get set to start your new life. Now you have to have courage to go into Day 1 with zest and vigour and conquer it all. Congrats! If said interviewer calls to say you didn’t get the position, you have to keep the lines of communication open. It sounds something like this: “Thank you so much for our lengthy interview. I felt like I’d be a wonderful fit for the position, and I know we had a great connection. I learned a lot about your company and I would love it if you would hang on to my portfolio for future positions that come up that you do think I’d be great for.” This is your opportunity to say that you would like to stay in touch and be considered for future listings. So take advantage of that. Definitely don’t go all sour on them and be all: “You’re missing out, pal. I could have changed everything there for the better.” That will only hurt your future reputation.. or your reputation around town because, really, people talk.
I hope you enjoyed my guide to succeeding in a job application. It’s up to you now to go out and: Rock The Job Search!