I know that many of us are suffering in the current economic climate. It’s disheartening to hear news casters constantly discuss the high unemployment rate in America and the world over, and I know how frustrating it can be to not get called for interviews, even getting turned down for jobs that are below your experience level. I live in a state that has one of the highest unemployment rates in the country. I couldn’t afford to go to college, and since leaving home I have experienced periods of what seemed like endless disappointment, times where I was unable to find even the simplest of jobs.
Then, something changed: I got good at playing the game. Yes, the game — just like everything else in life there are rules and cheat codes, and it’s possible to win.
The most important thing to know is that employers are just people. You can’t think of the person conducting your interview as some deity with the power to make or break your life. In fact, they might need you just as much as you need them! Despite the tough competition for jobs, this is a fact.
Let me illustrate this: I have worked in positions where I was in charge of interviewing and helping hire new employees. You would be amazed at how few resumes I received that stood out or even seemed moderately good. Despite the bad economy, at least five women who I ultimately decided to hire changed their mind about the position at the last minute, putting me right back at square one. At times I was so desperate to find someone, I would choose someone who didn’t seem perfect for the job and just hoped for the best.
Employers don’t want you to know this, but they struggle to find good employees. Despite their cool and professional facade, they are probably almost as frustrated as you are. I have seen this frustration at work time and time again. By knowing this you can win them over.
This is the first part in a multi-series guide on how to find a job, ace your interview, build your resume and more.
Part One: Finding And Applying For Jobs
There are numerous ways to find out about job opportunities. For jobs in small stores, such as in the food or retail industries, a good place to start is by going in person to the store locations and passing out resumes. This is something that I have done time and time again at local malls. However, there are a lot of people doing the same thing, so you have to ensure that you stand out as someone who is smart, poised and professional.
Go in Prepared
When you go around to stores, even just to collect applications, you should dress to impress. Don’t overdo it – a knee-length dress, jacket (like a blazer or leather jacket) and flats is a good way to go. Or you could opt for nice, dark-wash jeans with a button-up blouse. Always bring a portfolio folder with resumes inside, ready to go (your resume should be tailored to the type of job you’re applying for, which we will discuss later).
Talk to the Person In Charge
The first person you encounter is likely to be an employee, not someone who has the power to hire you. There’s usually no point in handing your resume to just anyone, you want to speak directly to the person in charge. This can be intimidating to ask, especially if you don’t have a lot of professional experience, but you have to remind yourself of how much you want this job and how great you are! Ask to speak with the location’s manager. If they ask why, tell them that it’s in regards to an employment opportunity. They don’t need to know anything more than that.
Have a Genuine Conversation
This is your chance to make an amazing first impression and be remembered. When you meet the manager, introduce yourself, shake their hand (firmly!) and make sure to get their name. By repeating their name back to them in the conversation (by saying “Bye Stacey!” as you leave, for example) it shows that you really care about the position and you are relating to them on a personal level. Also, people simply like hearing their own name.
If the manager doesn’t seem busy, initiate a real conversation with them. Ask them if they’re currently hiring (even if they say no, they might be hiring soon), tell them a little bit about yourself (summarize any related experience you might have), tell them what you know about their company (doing some research beforehand is helpful) and why you would specifically love working there (it’s okay to lie a little on this part). Make sure to act casual and comfortable, like you’re talking to a favorite teacher or a friend’s parent. It’s always a good idea to laugh a little and smile a lot.
Once you obtain your application or give them your resume, you need to remember the name of the person (or people) you spoke with! When you contact them to follow-up (you must follow-up) you want to call and ask for that person.
Confidence goes a long way in situations like these, even if it’s false confidence. As they say, “fake it till you make it.” If it goes well but you never get a call back, oh well. You have to remember that there are so many opportunities out there, and it doesn’t mean you did anything wrong or that you’re not good enough.
Applying for Jobs Online
Although I always recommend applying for jobs in person, you can also find out about job opportunies via the internet. Lots of big-name establishments (like Starbucks and Nordstrom, for example) run their application process through their websites. This is an easy way to apply for jobs in your pajamas. However, be warned that some applications have long, detailed questionnaires that could take over an hour to complete. Make sure you think like an employer when you answer their questions, imagine the kind of person you would want to hire if you were them. When given the option to write additional details about your goals or experience, make good use of that space. Show them your personality, describe examples of your great work ethic and tell them why their company is special to you. Remember that they want to hire people who want to work for them. If there is an option to include a cover letter, always do it! (I will explain later how to compose the perfect cover letter.)
Job Hunting Websites
There are also an abundance of “job hunting” websites where employers post ads when they are looking to hire. Personally, I have found five jobs using Craigslist. Craigslist is an incredible tool, especially if you live in a city where a lot of people use it. You can filter jobs by your industry of choice (be it retail, office administration, salon, film, web design and many other options) and find postings by people who are generally looking to hire immediately. You can read specifics about the job and it’s requirements, then send a resume if you think you’re a good fit.
Stand Out Online
When replying to job ads, it is crucial to stand out just like in any other situation. These people might be receiving up to hundreds of resumes from interested candidates (however, take comfort in the fact that few of the applicants will seem like a good fit). The way to stand out is to include a personalized cover letter in the body of your e-mail, with your resume attached. The cover letter should be addressed to the company or hiring manager and explain in a few short paragraphs why you are the perfect person for the job. Make your subject line something professional, such as “Interest in Administrative Assistant position at (Company Name) (or “your firm/company/salon/etc” if the company’s name is not available).” Sign off with “Sincerely,” followed by your name and contact information.
Include Your Social Profile
Linking to a social profile (not your personal Facebook or Twitter where you talk about how drunk you were last night or how much you love your cat) in your resume and/or cover letter can be extremely helpful. I advise anyone seeking employment to make a profile on Linked In. Linked In is an amazing social site where you can post your resume and include whatever professional information you want. You can upload a picture, which will add a face to your name (use something like a headshot) and then add professional contacts to keep in touch and network with others in your industry.
Keep in mind that job hunting websites are full of liars and scammers, people who might want to get you to sign up for a service (such as a credit check service, this is a popular scam), get personal information from you, or have you help deliver illegal money to others. Be wary in your search and never agree to anything suspicious.
Don’t Give Up!
Two years ago I had been unemployed for over a year and was in desperate need of any job I could get. Since then I have worked at three different jobs and one professional internship. I am currently working in my chosen field and am making reasonably good money doing it. You would be amazed at how quickly your life might change with effort, ingenuity, confidence, and a little luck. Don’t give up hope!
I will be continuing this series on “The Secrets to Getting Hired” with more articles on the many facets of getting a job. If you have a question or if there is something specific you want me to address, leave a comment below!
Written by Veronica Leigh