If you’ve been on the job hunt before, you know that a stellar resume and solid-gold experience are really only part of the process. Everything else hinges on how you present yourself in writing and in person. Hiring managers aren’t shy about sharing tips for job-seekers—after all, they have a huge interest in finding the best person available, and they want you to be that person. It’s a win all around when you get hired, so it’s in your best interest to take their recommendations to heart. So what do you need to know? Let’s walk through some of the most important strategies on how to get a job. .
Before You Apply
Don’t just dive in without a plan–disorganization will make both you and your job search process scattered and messy.
Be focused (and realistic) in your search.
If you’re looking to move up in your field, don’t apply for jobs that are a total reach for you, experience-wise. Make sure you’re applying for jobs that you can plausibly do with your experience level and skills. (The Muse recommends having 80% of the job requirements if you’re reaching.) If you’ve only had one three-year job out of school, applying for a CEO position because it came up in a keyword search is not going to be a productive use of anyone’s time. If a job calls for five years of experience when you have four years plus the requisite skills, that’s more reasonable. Just prepare to emphasize the skills and qualities that qualify you to do the job. Don’t apply indiscriminately for jobs in your industry and wait for something to stick.
Know the job and the company.
If you get stumped by a basic question like, “So what attracts you to this company?” in the interview, things are not going to go great from there. Doing some super-basic research ahead of time is the bare minimum of the prep you need to do when you apply for a job opening. Not only can it help you form your interview talking points, but it could also set off any red flags early in the process. If you’re really interested in a marketing position at GiantCorp, but find out that you’d be marketing baby seal poison, that might not jive very well with your longtime ASPCA volunteering. It’s a waste of your time (and the hiring manager’s) if you go far down the path for a position or a company you’re really not interested in.
Also know the company’s culture.
If you’re looking for a company where you can wear jeans a few times a week and have a strong work-life balance, then you’re not going to be very happy if you accept a job at a place where you’re expected to wear formal business attire for your 75-hour work week. This can be tough to scope out ahead of an interview, but if you poke around the company website and check sites like Glassdoor, it can give you a glimpse into what it’s like to work for the company.
Tailor your resume.
This goes back to the first point, about not taking a one-size-fits-all approach. The recruiter or hiring manager is looking for The One, the Candidate to Rule Them All—not a vague outline of a person. Your job is to make them see how well you fit into this role, not every possible job opening. Before you apply, make sure your resume is massaged to match the job description, and you’ve played up your skills and experience accordingly.
List job-specific skills on your resume, especially software.
This is kind of an extension of the tailoring, but it also works even if the job description doesn’t ask for specific software proficiency. This is a quick, easy way to convey very specific information to the hiring manager. If you decide to hold out until the interview to talk about your Excel ninja skills for a job that lives and dies on spreadsheet analysis, it might already be too late, with your resume in the “nope” pile. It’s also an easy way to get past automated resume readers and keyword searches.
Congrats! You’ve made it to the next step. The prep work is done, right? Not so much. This just opens up a whole new set of expectations.
Be confident—and show it.
There’s always a chance that the interviewer will see past any nerves and decide that you’re supremely qualified, despite your nervous rambling or lack of eye contact. (I say this with love and respect, as a fellow introvert who has always struggled with interview confidence.) But you can’t really bet on that—you need to be as confident and clear as you can be in the interview. Practice your talking points (skills, experience) ahead of time, so that pauses can’t be misconstrued as “stalling for time” or its insidious cousin, “making stuff up.” Practice your interview handshake and eye contact, as well as your body language. And try to relax. The stakes may feel high, but you want the interviewer to see as much of the real you (awesome professional edition) as possible.
The interview arrival sweet spot is 10-15 minutes ahead of your scheduled time. That gives you time to check in with someone (a receptionist, building security, etc.) and sit quietly for a minute to collect your thoughts. Being late is a no-no, but so is being too early. It’s awkward to sit around, and it’s awkward for your interviewer if he or she knows you’re just sitting around for 20 minutes while they wrap up another interview or try to get something done before your meeting. If you find you’re about to arrive at the place really early, kill time outside. If there’s a coffee place nearby, grab a small cup of your preferred beverage (maybe even a lucky scone). Catch up on headlines. Review your interview prep notes. Then, when you’re down to ten minutes ahead of game time, head into the building.
Dress the part.
Even if your pre-interview research tells you that everyone wears fashionably ripped jeans and concert tees to work at this place, dress up for your interview. Going too casual telegraphs that you don’t take this very seriously. You will never go wrong wearing with a clean, ironed, well-fitting suit for your interview.
Don’t be snarky or inappropriate.
Tone is super-important in your interview. You want to be approachable, and light jokes are fine—especially in the small talk phase at the beginning, or later in the congeniality competition. However, keep it light, and never make jokes at the expense of the interviewer, or the company.
Just don’t. Don’t exaggerate your Spanish skills on your resume, because you might walk into an interview with someone who spent three years living in Barcelona. Don’t suggest that you practically ran the place at your old job, because a quick call to someone at your old company could contradict that right quick. It’s okay to play up skills and experiences, but always be sure you can back them up with specifics and references. If you get caught lying, that’s pretty much an automatic dealbreaker. Even if it’s a little fib, it throws your whole resume in doubt.
If you don’t have any questions about the job, the day-to-day, or the people you’d be working with, the interviewer may get suspicious that you don’t care, or that you don’t really see yourself in the role. Up to now, it’s likely that you’ve only seen the posted job description—and those are usually bare bones at best. This is your chance to learn more about what the job is actually like, and figure out how you see yourself fitting in.
After the Interview
Your job isn’t done when you walk out of your interview. For better or worse, you’re being judged on your post-interview behavior–stay on your best and classiest behavior all the while.
Send a thank you note.
Even if the interview went terribly. Even if you said a lovely and poignant “thank you” to the interviewer as you left the room. Send the thank you note. It’s a nice touch, and lets the interviewer know that you’re still engaged and vested in this process. If you can drop a quick handwritten note in the mail, great—people appreciate that personal touch. At a bare minimum, send an email that same day.
Don’t pester anyone for a response.
Whether you’re a kid or you’re a grown professional anxious to get word about your future, “Are we there yet? How about now? Okay, how about…now?” is not a good look. After the interview, give the company room to breathe. They might be meeting with other candidates, or going through an internal review/approval process. You won’t win any bonus “hire me” points by checking in with HR (or the interviewer) every single day. Before you leave the interview, ask the interviewer if there’s a time frame for next steps. If that time passes and you’re anxious, you can send a brief email asking if there’s anything further they need from you. If you don’t hear back after a month, especially if your check-in email went unanswered, it’s safe to assume this just wasn’t to be.
Remember: even when this job hunt feels like an impersonal process, there are always humans behind it reading your resume, and trying to get a sense of who you are. They see the good, the bad, and the ugly come across their desks when it’s time to hire someone new, and have a vested interest in making sure you fall into the “good” category and become an asset to their team. It may feel like a bit of a chore to have a checklist of actions to make yourself more appealing, but it’s totally worth it in the long run.