In my last article, I talked in detail about the first phase of my job search at the beginning of this year. For this post, I would like to spend some time pointing out lessons that I learned the hard way about job searching, in the hope that others will not have to learn the lessons the same way I did. I spent over a month applying for jobs and learned many lessons about applying for them during that time.
First and foremost, I learned humility, and how important humility is to finding a job. Let’s face it, when applying for a job, you’re holding up a cardboard sign that says “will work for food”. Obviously, there are many differences, but in the end, you are asking someone to give you money, for which you are willing to trade your time and expertise. In the case of many entry-level positions, not even your expertise are required. I started my application process with the attitude of not being willing to accept anything less than a certain hourly wage. A job has to be able to meet you and your family’s needs, but in really hard times, you have to realize that any job is better than no job. Even if a job does not meet your family’s financial needs, it is a stepping stone to something else.
That is the second thing I learned: no job will be worse for your financial situation than being unemployed. My pride was making my family’s life worse every day because I wouldn’t even apply for a job that paid less than we needed. Admittedly, there was also a level of pride that told me my time was worth a certain amount, and it chafed to think of working for less.
But probably the most practical lesson I learned during the first part of my job search, was how to properly apply. Some jobs simply ask you to email your resume to them, while others have 45-minute questionnaires on their website to fill out in addition to manually adding your work history and education and basic application information. Some places prefer you to bring in a hard copy of your application, and others you can only apply for online. But here are a few things I’ve learned about applying.
A resumé is an entire sheet of paper that can be filled with information with no other purpose than explaining why you are perfect for a certain job. With that in mind, your resumé can and should drastically change for every job you apply for. A supervisor at a call center is looking for different things than a hiring manager at a local home depot. Consider your resumé your own personal billboard, television commercial, and business card rolled into one. When I took the time to make my resumé perfectly adapted to the job I was applying for, the percentage (and quality) of jobs that I was asked to interview for went up significantly.
A resumé is a list of pertinent facts and information to show you are qualified for a job, but it doesn’t give much of a chance to go into detail on some of those facts, and it certainly doesn’t leave room for your personality to show through. Cover letters fulfill those purposes. If you have an interesting tidbit on your resumé that could use more explanation, bring it up in the cover letter. Cover letters, like resumés, really should not be “cookie cutter”. A potential employer can easily tell who changed one or two words on a cover letter and sent it, and who sat down and wrote a unique letter making their case for why they would be a good fit for a job.
Use your cover letter to flatter the employer; the employer doesn’t want to think that they are just another application on your checklist. The employer is passionate about what they do, or they wouldn’t be in a hiring position, and they want someone who also really wants to be involved. Also use your cover letter to let your personality shine through, a classy joke somewhere in the text of the cover letter is usually very appropriate. Talk about why you want to work for that company, and what unique things about you or your history make you the best person for the job.
Those ridiculously long personality questionnaires and tests that employers have as part of their application process are stupid. There is no doubt about that. But their intended purpose is to filter out people who don’t really want the job that badly. The philosophy is that the person who really wants to work at Target, for example, is the one who is going to go through the effort of taking the mandatory personality test. There is a lot that can be learned about a person based on the way they respond to those questions, and decisions on who to interview are often made based on differences in the answers to those questions.