No one needs to be reminded how competitive the job market is. What we do need are more ways to rise to the top of the candidate (Olympic sized) pool.
As of January 2014, there were nearly 4 million job openings in the U.S.
Here are some effective tools for getting hired.
1. Network Your Way to The Interview
With so many qualified applicants gunning for that job you must have, you need to stand out. If you didn’t network your way in, network your way to the interviewer once you get the call.
The simplest way? Ask the interviewer if there’s anyone available you could talk to about the opening. Then impress that person—you’ll already be ahead of most of the pack.
Otherwise, use all the tools at your disposal: LinkedIn, Facebook, your personal network, trade organizations, and so on.
Connect to that person (probably a future coworker) with a short email. Demonstrate some sort of connection (same alma mater, professional membership, interest in books, etc.) ask to speak for a short amount of time, i.e. Do you have fifteen minutes we could meet for? I know you’re busy.
Then make sure you stick to the time limit you set.
2. Breath Check
It’s common sense to come to the interview well groomed, right? That includes a fresh haircut, clean facial hair (men), light makeup (women), and appropriate clothes.
Even if the environment is casual, dress in a suit. It’s best to have two or three suits to be prepared for the next round(s).
The suit should fit well, be the appropriate length (pants to the ankle, skirts should go below the knee), and be spotless.
You don’t want to be remembered for your scent—good or bad. Eat mild food the day before (just say no to garlic breath), avoid heavy fragrance, and if you smoke, make sure you don’t smell like you do.
3. Your Pitch: Tell Me About Yourself
The classic first interview question and your prime opportunity to paint yourself as the dream hire. This is the time when you get to give your personal marketing pitch.
Make sure you cover:
why you’re passionate about this job,
the experience (and/or education) that has prepared you,
what makes you the perfect person for the job,
and that you know (as much as humanly possible) about this job by matching your pitch to the interviewer’s needs.
The trick: be clear, rehearse but don’t sound like you did, and keep it under two minutes.
4. Use People’s Names
We all love flattery.
Two ways to flatter a new acquaintance:
Listen and listen well; don’t just wait for the next breath so you can talk about yourself, ask questions.
Use her name; it’s the easiest way to make a first connection.
5. Shift the Interview to Your Skills
Any time you’re asked a question, answer it directly and then shift the topic to one of the things about you that makes you perfect for this role. Make sure to always use concrete examples. Brag about yourself in as humble a manner as possible.
For example: On my past teams, I’ve been called “The Closer,” because I keep my focus on the end goal and use it to guide my work.
6. The 20 Second to 2 Minute Rule
Make sure your answers are the right length during the interview. You should aim to keep your responses under two minutes, but not less than twenty seconds. This will make your answer memorable—not too short and forgettable nor too long and lost in a sea of unnecessary details.
An excellent way to make this second nature to you is to practice common interview questions and time yourself.
7. Know How to Answer “Describe problems you’ve had with your past bosses.”
You want to bond with the interviewer and this might seem like your chance to share your war stories. Turns out it is not.
It’s not possible to tell a “bad boss” story without unintentionally implicating yourself. Whoever is listening is going to wonder what role you had in making this negative situation.
Instead, stick to an honest but neutral answer, such as:
I’ve had many bosses and have been lucky not to have one I couldn’t work with. I’ve learned a lot from each of them. For example (insert your great boss story).
8. Know How to Answer “Why did you leave your last job?”
Another tricky question, this one. Stick with the same rules above—leave out the negative, focus on the positive, while staying honest (at least mostly). What are your reasons for leaving that anyone can relate to?
Think: room for growth, new challenges, fits better with your career plan (which you should also be prepared to talk about), this company drew you because…
9. Ask Informed Questions
Know the potential workplace like your life depends on answering questions about it. Read the website, research the business online, know the industry, talk to people who work there, and get your hands on the mission statement. During your research, you’ll probably find you have plenty of questions for the interviewer.
But, just in case, some excellent (research-free) standby questions are:
What priorities do you have for this position?
What have others done to succeed in this position?
What do you like best about working here?
10. Don’t Talk Salary Until the Offer Stage
If the question comes up early, they’re probably worried they can’t afford you. Gracefully dodge this question with a response like, “It’s an important question and I think I’ll be able to answer it better once I know more about the position,” or “I’d like to talk about that once we know I’m the right fit for the job, but I’m so excited about this job I know salary won’t be an issue.”
However, make sure you research the job well enough to know the salary range. If forced, go for the high end of the range based on your qualifications.
Whatever you do, don’t ask first. You don’t want to open that door and hand over your negotiating power. If the salary is too low, keep your head in the game and count the interview as opportunity to practice for your next one.
If the employer falls in love with you, they’ll have a hard time letting you go. The best way to make this happen is to be graceful even when things fall through. Successful people often get better job offers than the one they interview for.
11. The Million Dollar Question: Do you have any concerns about me as a candidate?
It takes courage and shows initiative. It’s also your chance to learn the interviewer’s thoughts. Then address the issue, show him why it won’t be a problem. If the interviewer denies any issues but you’ve sensed one along the way, bring it up now.
This is your chance to erase doubts and underline your strengths.
12. Clean Up Your “E-Resume”
This isn’t actually your resume; it’s the electronic record that piles up when someone conducts an online search on you. Be assured that potential employers will do this.
Beat them to it. Search for yourself and scrub away anything unflattering: pictures from college, your best friend’s bachelor/bachelorette party, over-revealing blog posts/comments, anything that will make you look problematic.
*Bonus* 13. (Insert) Your Tip
Ever had that during-the-interview stroke of genius? Get a tip from an insider?
Also--how have you answered the bad boss question?
Leave a comment and let me know.
Dying for more? Some excellent articles for further reading:
Networking Pro 2.0: Brazen Careers
Dress for Success: Jacquelyn Smith for Forbes
The 2 Minute Pitch: Five O'Clock Club
The Two Minute Crash Course on Job Interviews (and oldie--2005--but a goody): Job Hunters Bible
What Bad Boss? The Nest
Why I left, well... Forbes
Questions? Why, yes I do. Money.UsNews.com
My What Now? (What employers probably will already know about you). LifeHacker.com
Know one of these people? They hate their jobs, but they aren't looking for a new one.
Why? Because, they tell you, there are No Jobs out there!
I won't argue the job market isn't suffocatingly difficult these days. But it isn't true that there are no jobs.
According to the Job Openings and Labor Turnover Survey (JOLTS) program, we had nearly 4 million job openings in the U.S. this past December (2013).
So really--there are jobs! When someone tells you otherwise, tune her out. The most important thing to keep in mind when considering the competition is you must be the most desirable candidate.
There are so many ways to do that. The more you do to set yourself apart from other candidates, the more air there is to breathe. Keep reaching for the top.
Joey: If you ask me, as long as you got this job, you’ve got nothing pushing you to get another one. You need the fear.