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New Fantasy & Science Fiction

How Do You Get the Job You Want?

editorial by David M. Switzer

I remember learning in Psych 101 that an interview is not the best way to find the best person for the job. In fact, it's not much better than picking a random person off the street. Yet many positions are filled based on an interview (we humans are nothing if not stubborn). If you have the time, you could volunteer for a company in the hopes that they will then hire you -- that worked for one friend of mine. If you have the inclination and ability, you could create your own job -- maybe it's never occurred to you to start your own business, but you might want to give it some thought.

But I'm going to assume that you want a job at a company or organization. Looking for a job is not fun, but sometimes it's what you've got to do. Whether your employer has foolishly decided to let you go or you've decided it's time to find something better, the process can be extremely frustrating. I've got some tips I learned recently that I think will make things go more smoothly.

For more information on choosing a career, searching for a job, and succeeding in an interview, I highly recommend What Color Is Your Parachute? by Richard N. Bolles (also see The most startling piece of information in this book is that the methods people most commonly use to find a job are the least effective. Answering ads, sending out resumes, and going to an agency do work for some people -- but very few. For example, Bolles says mailing out resumes "by the bushel" leads to a job for 8 out of every 100 job-hunters who try it.

The most effective way to find a job is to figure out what company you'd like to work for, figure out who at that company has the power to hire you, and go there and speak to them. This obviously takes work -- but just ask yourself how badly you want to find a job sooner rather than later. Bolles says, "This method, faithfully followed, leads to a job for 86 out of every 100 job-hunters who try it."

Other things you should be doing are asking friends and relatives for job leads, and using the placement office at the school you attended. It's tough out there, and you need all the help you can get.

Nobody likes rejection, and not getting a job makes you feel pretty lousy. You may feel angry about the situation, and if so you need to deal with that anger. Find someone you can talk to, and try to look ahead to the future rather than back to the past. While you're looking for a job, make sure you do the things that you need to do to keep your spirits up. One thing you might do is volunteer for an organization you believe in.

Finding a job might take longer than you think, so you should realize that and prepare for it at the outset. Bolles says, "one out of every three becomes an unsuccessful job-hunter simply because they abandon their search." Don't give up.

I tried to get a job the old-fashioned way, and I'm guessing many of you will too, so here are some tips on three aspects of the process: resumes, cover letters, and interviews. My #1 tip is: be specific. Tell the employer what you've done in the past that will show them you can excel at this position.

Your resume will be looked at on average for 30 seconds to determine which pile to put it into. Be consistent with your formatting. Choose a serif font (like Times New Roman) because it's easier to read. Bold headings to make them stand out. Avoid underlining as it's harder to read.

The first thing on your resume should be your "career objective," which should merely be the title of the job you're currently applying for -- this is just because employers may be hiring for more than one position.

The second thing on your resume should be your "summary of qualifications," tailored for the job you're currently applying for. Put the most important thing first -- determine what's most important by reading the job description carefully. Tell them the number of years of experience you have, and indicate what relevant training and skills you have.

Group your work experience so that the most relevant experience is first. If it's all of equal relevance, use reverse chronological order. In as many of your bullets as you can, you should have these four things: a skill you demonstrated, a task you completed using that skill, a tool you used to do it, and the result. If the result is quantifiable, all the better. Most of your bullets should be one or two lines long.

Your resume should be one or two pages -- your goal is to get an interview, in which you can fill in details. Don't repeat the same word too many times -- use your thesaurus.

Something you should always send with your resume is a cover letter. Note that your resume has to grab the employer's attention, though -- that's what they'll look at first. You should always address your cover letter to the person who's hiring, or at least their title if you can't find out their name.

You might start with a quotation from a former employer that's relevant to the position you want -- something to grab their attention. Tell them why you're applying to their organization -- let them see that you know something about them. Mention names of people you know who work at their organization, if any. Highlight things that are relevant to the position that don't fit in your resume, but don't repeat your resume.

You might have a tendency to write a bunch of statements that start with "I" -- try to turn some of those around and start them with "You." Keep it brief -- again, the goal is to get an interview.

Most interviewers will decide within the first five minutes whether or not they're going to hire you. However they phrase their first question, you should tell them how your personality, academic career, work experience, and skills make you the perfect person for this position. And then expand on that later in the interview.

Maintain eye contact a "normal" amount of the time. Don't stare at them the whole time, but don't stare at the floor the whole time either. Watch your posture, and don't fidget. Employers will expect you to be nervous, though, so don't worry too much about it.

You need to have answers prepared for a wide variety of questions, because you don't have much time to think during the interview. You might write down your answers in order to remember them better -- but don't read them during the interview.

The interviewer may even say something silly like "Tell me about yourself." If they do, don't tell them your life story -- just the parts that are relevant to this position. Keep your answers to 90 seconds -- after that, the interviewers have stopped listening. Give them some reason to hire you instead of the other people they're interviewing.

Get a friend to pick some random interview questions from a list so that you can practise answering them. Ask your friend to time your answers and to point out if you say "uh" or "um."

Don't say anything negative about anyone, even if your former employer was the pointy-haired manager in Dilbert. Many interviewers are looking for any reason not to hire you -- don't give them one. The bottom line is you want to show them you have the skills that will help solve their problems, whatever they are.

If you're asked for references, make sure you prepare your references for the call. Give them a copy of your resume, tell them about the position you want, and remind them of particular things you'd like them to mention.

"If you would work for another, this job interview process -- competitive and unscientific though it may be -- is your only doorway to getting a job," says Bolles. "So, you're going to have to participate in the whole dumb and Neanderthal ritual, no matter how much it offends your simple common sense."

You are in control of your job search. If you want the best chance of finding a job sooner rather than later, read What Color Is Your Parachute?

Thanks to Tanya Gillert at the University of Waterloo.

Dave Switzer recently read all four of Dan Brown's novels -- The Da Vinci Code was the best, combining non-stop action with intriguing ideas. He also read Starfish by Peter Watts, The Eyre Affair by Jasper Fforde, and On by Adam Roberts -- each of which made him want to read more by that author. He reread The Essential Calvin and Hobbes by Bill Watterson -- this must be the best comic strip ever made, because every single one is hilarious. Dave's favourite music to listen to these days is The Nylons' Play On and Howard Shore's three Lord of the Rings soundtracks.

Cover artist From superhero comics to the illustrations of Frank Frazetta, Matt Stawicki has always had an interest in fantasy. Since beginning his professional career in 1992, he has created many images for a wide range of products and clients including video gamecovers, collectible card images, book covers, collectors plates and fantasy pocket knives. The paintings of noted illustrators like N.C. Wyeth, Norman Rockwell and Maxfield Parrish are among his traditional influences. Also the films of Walt Disney, George Lucas and Steven Spielberg are sources of inspired imagery. In the last few years he has moved to doing most of his work in "digital paint."

Last modified: August 22, 2009

Copyright © 2004 David M. Switzer

Crystalline Sphere | Challenging Destiny | Issue #19 | Editorials