I thought that this week, I might offer some tips on these two essential parts of getting jobs. I have been on both ends of resumes and interviews for many years, but I wanted to give a employer’s perspective on these topics. I have hired about 40 people in my career as a manager, mainly software engineers, and I think it is helpful to look at them from the employer’s point of view. If you are applying for a job, you will almost certainly be one of many people applying for it, so how can you stand out?
First of all, I look for more than just technical credentials. Invariably, I look for employees who are reliable, have the maturity to follow rules and policies, will work well with members of a team, and when things start to go wrong, have the wherewithal to start doing something about it. I also want employees who will contribute to the broader life of the department, and be an asset to the organization.
Prepare yourself in your current job by developing these traits. It may sound obvious and even silly, but get in the habit of getting to work on time, and if you cannot (and it happens to all of us) make sure someone knows about it. Same goes if you are sick. Make sure you follow policies. Become an asset. If asked to help organize seminars, or be on an organizing committee, do it. Don’t say “I’m too busy.” Everyone is. It’s important to learn how to contribute when you are very busy. Make sure at least one of your references can speak to your attitude to work. I am going to ask about it.
Let’s move on to resumes. Their only purpose is to get you an interview. Your resume should be positive and reflect your achievements and the impact of your work. If you have a paper with huge number of citations, say so. If you have, say, developed software on a very tight schedule, and it has developed a large user base, say so. This information is more important than the exact nature of the software itself. One of the most unpleasant aspects of resumes is that they are often pre-screened by HR departments, who look to see that the resume addresses all the job requirements. You should assume that this will happen, and so you may need to tailor your resume to the job description. Just what you wanted, more work. But if you take the time to do this, your chances of getting the interview are so much the higher.
Well, you have the interview, now what? When you walk through the door, you need to be seen as someone who means business. It doesn’t matter if you know that everyone wears T-shirts and jeans (as I do), wear a business suit. If you don’t have one, buy one. Think of it as an investment in yourself. Don’t try to look cool by, say, wearing a T-shirt and dark glasses with a suit (yes, someone I interviewed did this. You might look cool in a night club, but you’ll look like an idiot at an interview. Context!). Don’t worry about being nervous. It’s normal, and it means you are taking the interview seriously. Most interviewers are happy to see a few nerves. And it is better to look nervous than cocky, which is the kiss of death. Make sure you have a good answer when asked why you have applied for the position. Don’t say “well, I need the a job.” Investigate the company, and respond by saying what great things you can bring to it to make it an even better place.
Finally, when you get home exhausted after the day’s events, put your feet up and have a relaxing glass of wine. You’ve earned it. But before you do that, write a thank-you note to the interviewer(s). So many people forget this. I found it hard to separate the two best candidates for a position once. One sent a thank-you note, and one did not. Guess who got the job?