Eric's Technical Outlet

Learning the hard way so you don't have to

Resume and Job Interview Tips

I have now added “candidate interviewing” to my list of duties. There is no magic way to get a job, but there are a lot of really quick ways to ensure that you don’t get one.

Resume/Cover Letter

  • The primary purpose of your resume is to get you a callback. It is not your autobiography. We get lots of applications and we are busy people. I’m not going to be any more attentive to the content of your resume than through the first half of the first page. Every line past that dramatically increases the probability that I’m skimming and not really seeing the words on the page anymore.
  • Unless you’re applying for a very high-end specialized job, you don’t need a twelve-page resume. You don’t need a four-page resume. You probably don’t even need a two-page resume. If you do use multiple pages, make sure absolutely every single line is relevant. If I’m on page two, I’m already irritated at the quantity of reading that I’m being expected to endure, so it had better be worth my time.
  • If you’ve gone onto a second (or further) page, make every effort to fill it up. Glaring quantities of white space looks like you can’t manage your information properly.
  • If you haven’t caught on by now, this is your blatant command to be succinct. Analyze every word for what value it adds to the resume. Multi-line paragraphs are to resumes as holes are to battleship hulls.
  • By default, Word does not spell-check words in ALL CAPS. When I see a previous job title line like “COMMERICAL EQIPMENT BIYER”, you’re not getting a call. Technology is a tool, not magic, and certainly not a replacement for your own efforts. If you’re applying for a job that even remotely connects to “skills with Microsoft Office”, whether it’s a technology job or an editing job, then the resume is not a good place to prove to a prospective employer that you cannot handle the work or the tool.
  • We read cover letters. Every employer and interviewer is different in terms of the level of importance they place on the cover letter. Some just skim it; others pore over it like teenage girls with the latest “Twilight” novel. You should always assume you’re applying for the latter; even if they don’t look at it that closely, they’ll still look at it. Unlike your resume, paragraphs and exposition belong in a cover letter. This is the place where you can provide information that an employer is free to ignore. Keep it to one page, though.
  • You are trying to place yourself within the context of an employer, therefore your cover letter and resume should do the same. The cover letter should be addressed to the organization beyond the address and salutation portion. Serious negative points are applied if you leave in the name of the last employer you applied to. I happen to be fairly forgiving if this only occurs once in a single cover letter/resume combination, but doing it twice, or worse, using two companies other than mine in the same set, ensures that you won’t even be considered.
  • Leave the canned wording in the can. My “No” pile is filled with “I look forward to discussing my qualifications in more detail than the attached resume can provide.” I hate that line because 1) that’s EXACTLY why interviews exist in the first place and 2) it makes me wonder what else you copy/pasted from someone else’s example. You don’t have to generate a completely original work of art at each go, but at least try to look like you’re willing to get your own job. Yes, we’re a “dynamic fast-paced growing organization”, but that’s also the only type of company that has any job openings, so that’s a pretty pointless thing to use as an entire line on your resume, now isn’t it? If I’m posting a job for a “Help Desk Technician at ACME”, then your objective line, if you must include one, should read “Help Desk Technician at ACME”. If you’re submitting your resume through an online system that doesn’t allow you to customize your resume per-employer, then just make the objective line read something like “Network Administrator/Windows Administrator”.
  • Don’t say “references available on request.” I translate that as, “I could round up references if you make me but otherwise I’m just too lazy”. Either include your references or don’t.

The Interview

  • Dress above the anticipated dress code, never at or below. There are very few jobs for which you can overdress for the interview.
  • Ask questions. If you can’t even pretend to be interested in the job, we won’t even pretend to hire you.
  • Be more formal than the people who are interviewing you. If they hire you, you can get to be their buddies later.
  • Be aware of the entire scope of the job you’re applying for (ask if you’re not sure – in fact, I would love it if a candidate ever asked me what else was in the job besides what was in the ad). When we interview for a help desk technician, it’s great to hear all about how this guy was building computers out of Dr. Pepper cans when he was 7, but I also need to know how the candidate will work with frustrated callers and document work.
  • Never refer to yourself in the third person with a definite article. Your pals may call you “The John”, but if I hear you call yourself that in an interview, that’s about where your application will wind up. Generally, as the prospective employer, I’m the most important in the room, and I will brook no intrusions upon my superiority. Your arrogance challenges that and is therefore entirely unwelcome.
  • Of course you’re nervous, but avoid filler words (“um”, “uh”, etc.). They make you look stupid. If you can’t think of what you want to say, look pensive and pause until it comes to you. That gives you the opportunity to take a deep breath, which will calm you down, which will help you come up with what you want to say a lot faster than “uhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh”. Practice!
  • Bring something to write on and take notes. This is also a good cover for when you’re trying to think of something and don’t want to use filler words.
  • Bring copies of your resume and cover letter. I print out a copy to talk to candidates with, but sometimes other members of the IT team or management duck in to listen in, so try to have a copy available for them to look at. At a dead minimum, have a copy of it for YOU to refer to. I always ask questions right off the resume.
  • Bring your list of references. The list should be distinctly segregated between personal and professional references. You absolutely must include a way to contact each person. For the professional references, put in a couple of words for your connection to that person (i.e., Manager at Dick’s Mule Barn).
  • It doesn’t hurt to look on the Internet for examples of common interview questions and prepare yourself to answer them, but don’t get overly prepared. We need to know that you can think without guidance and you must sound sincere, not programmed.
  • I don’t care what your buddies or your ol’ Uncle Joe or some guy you found on the Internet says, if I ask where you see yourself in five years and you answer that you’ll either be doing my job or my boss’s job, then you’ve seen the last of the inside of this organization. That attitude doesn’t tell me that you’ll work hard to earn promotions; it tells me that you’ll play politics and backstab people to get ahead. In case you hadn’t noticed, my job is currently filled, and I don’t want anyone around me who has any designs on it. To answer that “5 years out question”, speak in the abstract (“I’d like to be managing a team” or “I’d like to be responsible for a data center”) and be honest. What we’re trying to learn is if you’re currently working toward a career goal or if you’re just piddling on the way to retirement or if you haven’t yet figured out what you want to be when you grow up or if this job application is just a stopgap against foreclosure or loss of unemployment benefits; we’re not interested in getting involved in a competition with someone who claims s/he wants to join our team.

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