Lately, many of my friends were looking for a new job. I was eager to help as I have some experience in finding great workplaces and I am actively recruiting people to my current team (Netacea). Depending on who you ask, getting a job might be an art or a game. If it's the latter, there are rules and strategies to make you "win". Most of them are rooted in the values that are desirable to the employers. But some are just a result of following patterns that people involved don't even understand. I'm here to share some insight into the process.
I am not writing this article to help you "hack" the system and manipulate your way in. Looking for a new job is stressful enough. I want to give you enough information to help you show your true capabilities. I believe that if you're making an effort reading this article, you may care enough to be a solid professional.
This article is based on my primarily good experiences in the tech industry, but should help in other fields as well. One of the people I have helped quite recently with their resume and a cover letter got a job in a wonderful specialty coffee shop within a few days and genuinely loves it.
Choosing where to apply
If you know what you want to do professionally, focus on factors important to you. This may be salary, company culture, mission, flexibility, benefits, growth opportunities. Whatever that is, search for companies based on that. When it comes to compensation, use online resources and personal connections to find out what people in similar positions make.
If you're still trying to figure out what you want to do or feel like there's nothing you really like to work on, there's a longer path ahead but you can make a good experience out of it. In this case, focus on finding whatever career path matches your skills, ideal lifestyle and pays the most. You will most likely be able to find satisfaction in being valuable to stakeholders relevant to whatever area you choose. And if you earn enough, it will be harder for you to despise your profession.
I can see two ways to approach this. First starts with jobs and companies. Look for job listings that match your preferences in terms of working environment and salary. Then narrow down to the ones that have requirements matching your skills or something you may want to learn or feel like you can learn quickly. Don't worry about ticking all the boxes. This is important, look at them more like a wish list, not a show stopper. If you feel like there's a skill with a level you're almost on or you're able to learn it quickly, don't worry.
The second is to start with your skills. Write down everything somewhat interesting you did in the past. Art projects, weekend builds, ongoing conversations with friends, school assignments, work accomplishments. Try to find what about you made you do well in those circumstances. You will discover areas you didn't know you're good at. Look for jobs where these skills are valued. Sadly, job boards usually don’t let you search this way, so you may find yourself reading tons of job listings before you get an understanding of what types of jobs in what companies are there for you.
It is also a good idea to ask your friends "what do you think I'm good at?". You will be surprised. Also, talk to the people around you about your plans, so you can get suggestions and potential recommendations for new jobs. This can work better than all the other techniques mentioned here.
The quantity of applications matters but it's not the whole story. Especially when you're at the beginning of a particular career path, it pays off to apply to multiple places to find the one that will give you a chance. It's pure statistics. And I am talking about a hundred applications, not ten. The first job's (in a particular industry or a niche) role can be just to get your foot in the door and an interesting entry in your CV. That said, there's a lot of value in putting more effort into applying to your "dream places". Reaching out to companies that you like but don't have open positions that match your interest is also a way to go. They may get your message at the right time, perhaps just as they start to think about growing their team.
Resume / CV
Here is my resume decalog:
- Use a minimal, black and white or single color accent template. (Google Doc Resume template is just OK)
- Don't include your photo for jobs that don't require looks. If you're an attractive person you can be more confident with it but keep in mind that you might get judged for it as well.
- Always customize the resume to the job you're applying for. Remove irrelevant items, move information that you think is most applicable to the particular job to the top.
- Make sure your resume includes enough keywords to let the recruiter tick some boxes. List all of the tools you know how to use, coffee making techniques, programming languages, etc.
- Have a detailed baseline resume that you will remove things from for particular jobs.
- Mention initiatives other than education and experience. Describe interesting projects you were involved in.
- You can alter your previous position names. Sometimes companies hire you on the wrongly labeled positions in order to pay you less. Make sure the title reflects what you actually did.
- Under each job, describe accomplishments (or what you were good at), not only responsibilities. Also parts of the job that may be relevant for the next one. If you're applying to the office job and your previous one was a shop clerk - mention the times when you were handling ordering new stock, communication with the suppliers or scheduling shifts.
- Don't include your birthdate if you feel like it may put you at a disadvantage. In most countries it's illegal to ask about age during interviews. You may also remove dates from the education section.
- Keep it short. If you can make it one page, do it.
Cover letter, reaching out directly to business
Nowadays, it is rarely required to write cover letters. At the same time, you have to write something in the email to say hello. Or send an instagram message to a business you'd like to work for. In my opinion, writing a short personalized text can get you a long way. Describe in a few words how you can add value to the place you're applying to. Sprinkle it with your top skills and willingness to learn. Also add some reasons why you'd like to work there.
With both email text and resume - have a friend proofread them, use spell check in your text editor. Nothing shows a lack of attention to detail like a typo in your CV.
Three sentences in the CV describing why you're a great fit for the job are really helpful. This is the document that is shared internally when you apply to the company.
Some people hate them, some people love them. The culmination of the game. Keyword bingo. There are right answers.
- Be on time. If it’s remote, make sure you test the app used for the interview beforehand.
- Be honest - straight up lying gets you nowhere. You'll either get caught during the interview or at work later on.
- Admit lack of knowledge but show willingness to find solutions. Never answer "I don't know" and stop there. "I don't know how that works but it reminds me about the time when I...". Don't bore them to death though!
- Ask supporting questions. Don't say you have no clue only if you don't understand what the question was about.
- Interviews don't necessarily check how brilliant you are but how well you fit with the team. You can get a lot of points by showing that you can be collaborative and supportive.
- Tell us a few sentences about yourself.
- Why are you switching jobs?
- Why do you want to work at our company?
- Show them that you read something about them!
- What was one time where you screwed up and how did you handle it?
- What was one time when you did something really well? What were you proud of?
- What are your biggest strengths and biggest weaknesses?
- What is your dream work environment?
- Situational questions - imagine your more senior coworker does something that is going to cause harm to others. He doesn't listen to you pointing out the error. What do you do?
- Do you have questions you want to ask us? This serves two purposes. One is showing if you care enough. Ask about the work domain, let them feel listened to, shine, show their knowledge. The second - actually ask about things you care about and watch for red flags. "Do you like working here?" is a good one.
- Where do you see yourself in 5 years
- Tell us about your hobbies in English - classic question for non-native English speakers if the interview isn't in English already.
That sums up my general knowledge about job search. Is what I describe here the best way to test a candidate? Not necessarily but this text is not about how I run interviews or what I think is the most effective. With that said, questions above can give a recruiter some insight into a person's approach to work.
The recruiting game is an odd one. A lot of people rightfuly complain about out of touch processes at some companies. Complaining gets you nowhere, so give it a go, apply to jobs and hire better in the future. I sincerely hope this article will help you get involved with companies you feel passionate about. Or make good money, feeling fulfilled. Or preferrably both. Good luck!
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