Monday, July 28, 2008

How to get an interview

This is only tangentially related to writing, and not at all related to fiction (I hope!), at least because I deal with this every day at work.

I'm currently working for a non-profit organization, hiring new staff (please ask me about this if you're curious, but I'm leaving it vague here to avoid any possible awkwardness). I pretty much run the application process in our office: I review applications and resumes to decide if candidates should be interviewed; I conduct preliminary phone interviews; I set up and sometimes conduct in-person interviews; I collect references (this is harder than it sounds; and I confer with my supervisor to make hiring decisions.

I've been doing this for almost two months now, and I feel I've gained some insight as to what makes an attractive application/resume, and what will get your application dismissed. Interviews are a little more difficult to box in, as there are more factors to deal with, but there too I've developed some pet peeves that automatically make me wonder if I am wasting my time. For most of these suggestions, I feel like I shouldn't have to say anything, but you'd be (unfortunately) surprised.

So, speaking as someone who currently hires people for a living:
  • Proofread your resume/application materials. Duh. Corollary: especially if you say you majored in English or Communications.
  • Tailor your resume to the job you're applying for. Seriously, if you are applying for a job as an after-school instructor I don't need to hear about your experience as a cashier at Panda Express. Being selective about which job experiences you list should also help you
  • Keep your resume short. I'll read two pages; I would rather not. I do not want to read three or four pages, especially because if your resume is that long, I'm probably having to hunt for the experiences that are relevant to the position you're applying for. Speaking of which,
  • If you include a cover letter with your application, it had better match the position you're applying for. Relatedly,
  • If you insist on printing an "Objective" at the top of your resume, it had better match or be related to the position you're applying. If you say you're looking for a data entry position with a company with international ties, I'm going to think you didn't care enough to change it, or that you didn't read the job description, which would be silly. Oh yeah--
  • Read the job description and memorize it. And if the company has a website, read the website, learn some details. In your interviews, when we ask you why you'd like to work for our organization, we're checking to see if you've done your homework. If you can't point out how this job with this organization is different than any other job (or even a similar job) with another organization, I'm going to question your ability to be thorough in general. I don't want to hire someone who is going to be half-assed about their responsibilities. As someone looking for a job, it's your responsibility to present a polished, professional image of yourself to the people who might be hiring you. Yes, looking for a job is hard, tiring work, but if you don't put in the effort here, for something that presumably matters to you quite a bit (getting paid), then why should we assume that you're going to put in the effort once we've agreed to pay you?
  • Your mom is not a professional reference. Neither is your cousin, or your best friend, except perhaps if you worked with him or her. List references that you can speak about you in a professional capacity, and who you are confident will actually bother to submit a recommendation.
Obviously following these guidelines won't guarantee you an interview/job, but it will probably at least keep people from thinking you're wasting their time.


Kevin Anderson said...

I'd also like to add that potential employers are not interested in what fraternity or sorority you were in or whether or not you held an office in the Greek system. They are also not interested in what church you went to and your pastor, priest or other such church elders are not professional references.

Unless of course any of that info is relevant to the job.

ayn said...

I've actually been having a problem where people don't mention volunteer experiences and the like which are actually more relevant to the position than their work experiences...which again is an issue of knowing your audience.