How to find a job.
Why am I qualified to tell you how to find a job?
At the beginning of 2003 my coworker showed me a NY Times article - Citigroup was going to lay off 1,000 employees in the New York area. Friday morning, I was escorted out of the building with a cardboard box for my personal belongings.
Citigroup offered us free career counseling services and I attended a 1 day seminar on how to go about looking for work - all of it was useless.
I started looking at ads and sending my resume out. I had no professional certifications. I had some experience in a management role - I'd hired and supervised 3 programmers. But I knew deep down that any job I applied for there would be a thousand other people applying for that job and someone was bound to have better qualifications than I did. My response rate reflected that - no responses.
I started selling stuff online & got pretty good at it. Through the grapevine, I got a job at a small media company and worked for them selling stuff online, but when the boss sold his assets & retired, I had to find another job. In 2007 when I started to look for work again I developed a strategy that worked amazingly well for me. I sent my resume out a half dozen times, got 3 or 4 interviews and was hired.
So what was this amazing strategy? Read on.
Let's start with your resume
I bet your resume sucks. Yeah, you heard me, your resume sucks. 95% of resumes out there suck so odds are yours sucks too.
What does a bad resume look like? It's written in the passive voice, it's vague and lists job responsibilities.
- Was responsible for widget production.
- Supervised oompa loompas.
- Managed sprocket development lifecycle.
You know what this resume looks like? A job ad. Re-read those 3 lines again and tell me whether or not those are things someone did, or those are things someone's boss expects them to do. The bottom line is, that resume tells me nothing about what you did on the job, it just tells me the things you were supposed to do on the job, and that anybody in that position would have done in that role - it's a job ad.
What does a good resume look like? It's written in an active voice, it's specific and it lists accomplishments.
- Increased widget production by 23% by implementing a system based on the Theory of Constraints.
- Improved oompa loompa productivity by 12% by randomly raising & lowering lights, taking advantage of the Hawthorne Effect.
- Launched the Sprocket 2.0 project on time and on budget by introducing an Agile Development framework.
I find that the best way to write a resume like this is to have a friend interview you about what you did on your job. It's much easier to tout your accomplishments by talking to someone than it is when staring at a blank piece of paper. Make sure you or your friend take extensive notes - and be sure to get the exact phrasing you used down. Don't be afraid of using a conversational tone in your resume.
I've read marketing books written in every decade since 1900 and there's one universal message, even in the oldest of these books - "Today's consumer is inundated with advertising. Your ad has to cut through the clutter in order to have any hope of reaching the consumer." A hiring manager sees plenty of boring resumes that list passive responsibilities. Make yours stand out by discussing accomplishments. The more specific you are, the more competent you will seem. Remember, you're selling yourself.
Your resume is a sales tool. People who tell you to leave the sales pitch to the cover letter and make your resume as generic looking as possible are out of their minds. Your resume should be crawling with proof of your awesomeness and your contact information. And that's it.
Let's find a job ad to respond to
Now that you have a killer resume, let's find a job ad. I don't go looking for job ads, I have the job ads come to me. I use a technology called RSS (Really Simple Syndication) and the job ads just show up on my computer. Thousands a day (I live in New York, so your mileage may vary).
For Windows I like RSS Owl..
For OSX I like NetNewsWire. In practice, it's almost exactly the same as RSS Owl.
See that orange symbol to the right? That's the RSS symbol. Wherever you see that on a web page, it means click that button to get a feed of everything on that page. It often appears in the browser address bar next to the address of the page your on. Click that button to get the RSS feed for that page.
Sometime the RSS feed link will appear on the page. Sometimes you'll have to select from several different RSS feeds. Whatever way you get it, once you have the address of the RSS feed (in the browser bar), copy it and paste it into the "New Feed" section of your feed reader. In practice you can usually just enter the link to a page that has an RSS feed somewhere and your news reader will find it.
Be sure to configure your feed reader to collect the amount of job listings you want - some may default to far too few feeds. If you have your feed set to show you only the 100 newest job listings, and there are 300 per day, then you're missing out on 200 job ads a day (assuming you check daily).
Also be sure to leave your computer on and connected to the internet. If there are 300 job ads a day, but Craigslist's RSS feed only shows the newest 50, you have to be sure your computer is on to get the complete list, then getting them just once a day isn't enough.
My technique is to collect as many job ads as I can and do any filtering/searching in the RSS reader itself, rather than performing a search & then capturing the RSS feed for that search. Why? Because going to a lot of job sites to perform the same search is tedious. By having the RSS feed perform the search automatically I get home in the evening and see (e.g.) "Project Management (231)" and I know there are 231 ads that mention Project Management. That's tremendously encouraging to know there are that many jobs out there. (I live in NYC, your results may vary). This does put more strain on your computer, but ultimately, I think it's worth it.
If you're busy, you can then configure your RSS feed to perform automatic searches so that you just click on one of your pre-defined searches and see all the ads with those keywords.
If you're not busy and job searching is your full time job, then in addition to this I also look at every job ad. It's actually easier than it sounds. Once you click on an add, you can use the up/down arrow keys to go from one ad to the next, and if you do it fast enough the ad itself doesn't load and you just get to skim the headlines. At my peak, I was able to look at 3,000 job ads a day... I think it took me 20-30 minutes to look through the ads and "star" the ones I wanted to come back to.
I entered a zen-like state when I did this and let my subconscious process the job headlines. I don't expect you to be able to do this, but if job hunting is your full time job, I do expect you to look through as many job ads as you can a day. You can cut down on the number of ads by cutting down on the number of job categories you get RSS feeds for (e.g. I'm sure I don't want a job in Accounting, so I can remove the Accounting feed).
Writing your cover letter
You've seen dozens, hundreds, maybe thousands of job ads today, and many more this week. Resist the temptation to blindly send your resume out to anything you're vaguely qualified for. Apply only for jobs you actually want and spend the time to write a good cover letter explaining exactly why
- You want the job.
- You're the ideal candidate for that job.
The subject line of your email should be the title of the job ad. Don't be clever here, make your subject line the exact thing they'll be looking for.
Unless you know the name of the person you're emailing, start your email with "Hi" or "Hello". "To whom it may concern" or "Dear Sir or Madam" could also work, but really, when do you see the word "Madam" used outside of a brothel? No matter what, the greeting will be awkward, so it's best to just get it over with quickly.
If you do know the name of the person you're emailing, feel comfortable using the person's first name. America is a first name culture and very few people enjoy the formality of being referred to by their last name.
I usually begin my cover letters with
I have x year experience in such & such an industry, most recently at ABC company where I...
Which is where you can launch into how amazingly awesome you are using specifics wherever possible. Talk about the things you accomplished on the job, what you're proud of and what you enjoyed.
Once you're done telling them how awesome you are, you want to tell them how awesome you think the job is, why your career choices have been made to go in the direction of doing exactly this type of job, or how even the things you do outside of work reflect your passion for (whatever it is the job requires).
If you've done your homework on the company (and you should), you can also talk about why you want to work for this company. Why this company, above all others, is the one you want to work for. Don't worry about overdoing it. You want to convey your passion for this job.
I have x years experience in widget manufacturing, most recently at ABC company where I was brought in as an intern and within two years I was supervising my department of 5 men. My team was awarded with the prestigious "Widget of Recognition" twice for exemplary widget production and we averaged a 4.8% greater widget production capacity than any of the 11 other widget teams.
It's no mistake that I've gotten into widget manufacturing. My father was a widget manufacturer (though in his day, they called them sprockets) and I take great pride in my work. My father and I used to tinker on old widgets in the garage and race them around the dirt track near my house.
ABC company is small, and I've accomplished a lot there, but my dream is to work for XYZ company. In 2006, when you were awarded with J. D. Power's Golden Widgie, I told myself that one day I'd work for you.
Attached you can find my resume. If you need to reach me, just respond to this email or call me at 212-555-1212.
Really, how could you not hire this guy? This cover letter is infinitely better than the wash of generic cover letters you get.
To whom it may concern,
I am writing you regarding your ad for a "Widget Technician". I am submitting my resume for your consideration. My qualifications closely match your job description. I am tidy, punctual, and detail oriented. I welcome the chance to talk to you further about this position.
Tips for applying to a job from Craigslist. - some of the best advice on cover letter writing anywhere ever.
Now that you've got an interview...
If you've done all that, you should have applied to relatively few jobs, but jobs you're really interested in, odds are you got an interview. So how do you prepare for the interview?
1. Dress the part.
You're on an interview, and an interview is a sales situation. You want to dress well - a suit (charcoal gray, no or subtle stripes), clean shoes. You want to send the signal that you're professional, and in this position you will be professional. That you represent yourself well, and you'll represent the company well. You can buy a suit relatively inexpensively at a store like Macy's, especially if you keep an eye out for the sales.
2. Practice your story
Practice the narrative of your career. You want to develop a handful of stories - situations where you faced some difficult challenges, but came out ahead. This way, if any tough questions come up, you can figure out a way to work them in to the narrative.
If you ever watch the Presidential debates, you'll see that the candidates do this. When they get a question that's a curve ball, they stall ("that's a good question"), then they address the question as best they can ("energy independence is a complex issue") and then they go back on script. By developing a handful of stories, you have something you can fall back on when your brain freezes because of an unexpected question.
3. Practice answering questions
If you go online you'll find dozens of interview questions. With a simple search I was able to find '100 interview questions' and I copied & pasted those questions into a text document and typed up the answer to all of them. When I had the chance, I practiced them out loud. Then I had my girlfriend read me some of the questions and I practiced answering them out loud - if I was embarrassed to say something in front of her, it's better to show that emotion at home than on the interview.
4. Be willing to admit weakness.
Everyone has faults and it takes a confident person to admit their faults. If you spend too much time obviously covering up your mistakes & faults, your interviewer will be forced to wonder whether or not you'll spend time covering up your mistakes on the job too.
At the same time, this is an opportunity to show growth. Explain what you're doing or what you have done to address this weakness.
You want to send a thank you email the next day. Remember, the interview is a two-way process. They want to know whether or not they want to hire you, and you want to know whether or not you'd want to work there. Something may have come up during the interview to turn you off to the company. I once went on a job interview that turned out to be a multi level marketing scheme and I walked out of the interview.
So the follow up email is to reiterate that you do indeed want the job - in fact you want it even more now that you've talked to them, and to let them know that you're available to answer any questions they may have (which they probably won't, except maybe to ask for your references if you haven't already supplied them).
Thanks for meeting with me yesterday. I really enjoyed talking to you and getting to know more about XYZ company and the position.
XYZ company sounds like a great place to work and I'm confident that, if offered the position, I'd make a great addition to the team.
Please don't hesitate to contact me if you have any questions.
Short, simple. It restates that you do indeed want the position and emphasizes the human factors - that it's because of your meeting that you now really want to work there.
If you have something additional to add - a work sample that was brought up during the conversation, then you can attach it, but I wouldn't add anything more than that.
If you don't hear back in a week, send a follow up email just to see how things are going. "Hey Steve, it's been a week since our interview and I haven't heard from you. I just wanted to make sure things were going ok over there. Let me know if you need anything. Cheers, Bill."
After that, wait for them to contact you and keep looking for a new job.
Originally written several years ago & shared with friends, posted for the world to see on January 29, 2012.
© Mark Wieczorek