August 17, 2013

Eight tips on how to get a job.

Many people in our generation struggle to find meaningful, gainful employment. It's an issue. You finish college or university, have all the book smarts in the world, and are suddenly out there in the big, bad job market.

It's hard, I know. All the good jobs want experience, even the seemingly mediocre entry-level jobs want experience, and the only jobs you get offered involve minimum wage, uniforms, and customer service. And that sounds suspiciously like the kind of jobs you worked in high school.

Sure, now you can bartender, but once you've got that expensive piece of paper hanging on your wall in that inexpensive frame, you don't want to deal with that crowd. If one more person tells you to take off your wedding ring so you can earn more tips, you're going to use that shiny piece of hardware to gouge out their drunken eyes. One. At. A. Time.

That's what I'm here to talk about today. As both an HR professional* and former head hunter**, I've picked up some excellent tips to get you into the job market and working towards your future money-loving career.

Tip #1: Apply early, apply often, apply well.

If you're still in school but finishing soon, start applying for jobs. They might want to wait for you, but more than likely their hiring process will take a little while. I don't recommend applying more than a month in advance.

Along the same line, apply for everything. Your degree is in English but the doctor's office down the street is hiring for a receptionist? Administrative jobs are the "in" to the office world. So what if you only have half the qualifications? I guarantee that someone less qualified will apply, too. Medical terminology schmedical schmerminology. It's all English.

Make sure your cover letter is without reproach. Proofread it so many times that you've got it memorized, and I guarantee you'll find a typo or weirdly repeated sentence at least once. Or maybe that's just me.

Always update your resume. Every. Single. Time. Your claim of attention to detail gets second guessed when your goal states that you're looking to work in the music industry and you've just applied for a call centre job. And, for the love of your education, make sure you haven't made a typo in your phone number. If it's nine digits you're doing it wrong.

Tip #2: Have a contingency plan.

If you like not being flatout broke, apply for jobs in your field of interest that you're qualified for, jobs you're under-qualified for, and even jobs that you're over-qualified for. You need a job. They need an employee.

If it's been a month and you're still unemployed, take whatever you can get. If it's been a year and you're working at Starbucks, where all Political Science degrees go to die, go back to school. I'm not suggesting you need to take another four year program, I'm telling you to get some Accounting or Business Admin. courses under your belt. Not your jam? There are plenty of one year programs out there that will probably get you into the well paying work force faster than your four years did, anyway.

Tip #3: Make an impression on the phone.

When they call you for your interview, you want to make a good impression. It is perfectly acceptable to yell at the person on the other end of the phone. They'll understand.

For example, when applying for my current position, an unknown local number came up on my cell phone. As my mother has a history of breaking things, and strangers have a history of calling me to inform me she's on her way to the hospital (once is a history), I make it a point to always answer local numbers when possible. I answered my phone to a woman introducing herself and what organization she was calling from. I immediately proceed to inform her (in a firm, and slightly raised voice) that, in fact, she was calling my cell phone and  I was at work. There was a moment of stunned silence, followed by my horrified realization that the voice on the other end of the line was not, in fact, a canvasser. 

So, in my most apologetic and fearful voice I asked, "You're not calling to canvas me, are you?"

The answer was an unimpressed, "No..."

They ended up hiring me for a position that I enjoyed more than the one I applied for. That's how it's done, folks. I know what I'm talking about.

Tip #4: Dress like a pro.

Power shoes, people. Power shoes.

For example, mine are red, patent leather, with pizza toes. They have a 100% success rate at looking fabulous and getting me jobs.

Tip #5: Answer wisely.

If they give you a chance to read the questions before hand and take notes, you'd better do it. It's an opportunity to lay it all out there logically and censor yourself when necessary. Remember, do not mention eye gouging. 

If they don't give you the opportunity to look over the questions before hand, it's a test. They're trying to see how well you think under pressure. Don't worry, their standards aren't very high.

For example, I had a second interview last week. They had given me the questions for my first interview but not the second. When asked to define the importance of administrative procedures and give an example of how I used them, I froze. I'm pretty sure I looked like a fish, opening and closing my mouth with no sound coming out. I tripped out a response about correspondence logging, while what I really wanted to do was ask them what kind of bogus question that was. I mean, really, could they be more vague? And then when I thought I'd given a moderately passable answer, they'd ask more leading questions with no visible answers. 

If you find yourself in that situation, remain calm. Don't start sweating, and keep smiling (but don't be creepy). Most people start crying and rocking on the floor in the fetal position. As long as you stay in your chair, you've got the job in the bag.

Tip #6: Make small talk.

The period when you're being walked out of your interview is a good opportunity to let your interviewer know who you are when you're not in the hot seat. If they ask, tell them about your upcoming weekend plans, making sure to leave out the part where you mention how much you don't want to hang out with your dying grandmother. That doesn't look good.

If you have an interesting tidbit or connection to the organization, let them know. "I see you have a lot of fake trees around your office. I love fake trees. My uncle invented them." (Interesting factoid: Somehow, probably quasi distantly through marriage, I'm related to the inventor of the revolving door. And William Wallace, but who isn't?)

For example, when applying for my soon-to-be position I informed them on the way out of the interview that a former classmate of mine was the daughter of the former boss. I then proceeded to gently argue with the interviewer when she informed that he never was the boss, merely an employee. It's okay to be wrong, and it's okay to argue. It shows that you're just the right amount of confrontational and aggressive.

Tip #7: Manage your expectations.

Some organizations take a long time to get back to you, whether it's inviting you for an interview or, assuming you've already made it to that stage, letting you know the status of the competition once you have interviewed. Have you not heard back from them for three weeks? It might be because they're all taking holidays and/or too busy playing drunken Twister to get back to you right away. Or maybe they're avoiding calling you back because you scared them and they fear your eye-gouging retribution. (Bonus tip: Don't tell a prospective employer that you were fired from your last job for gouging customers' eyes.)

Tip #8: Keep managing those expectation.

So you got the job. Congrats! Wait, it's not your dream job? That's okay, you're not married to it. (Unless your dream job is to be a stay at home wife/mom in which case I guess marriage probably did play a role.) 

So your boss throws the phone at the fake office tree in your "dream job?" That's okay (the "dream job" bit, not the throwing). Dreams change over time. If you need to quit your job in the middle of the afternoon on a Tuesday, the day before your graduation ceremony, you do what you've got to do. Throwing stuff is never okay, and neither is lying or treating people like they're second class citizens.

There might be a bit of shame when you leave the office choking back tears in front of the receptionists, but you can sure as heck believe that they're fist pumping you and your bravery as soon as your now-former-boss leaves reception. Because you just stood up for yourself and your beliefs, and that's worth more than any amount of money. Plus, you look so good in your power shoes.

While you're managing your expectations, you still need to remember about that whole "money" business. Don't just sit around and whine because you no longer have your fabulous job, go out there and pay your bills. 

For example, when I finished school I got a job with a head hunter that I thought I wanted more than anything. It turns out my boss was insane and I'd spend my four days off stressing about my three work days a week. $15 an hour was not worth it. I was there for four weeks.

Sure, I went to my grad ceremony the next day unemployed, but guess what? I wasn't the only one. Everyone still worked at their mall jobs or had just come back from travelling. And you know what? I'd already interviewed for another job the week before. 

I ended up getting that job two days later and it was brutal. I got paid minimum wage to be a receptionist, and the plan was that I'd be there for four months, so that I could guarantee time off for our trip to Disneyland. I ended up being a "receptionist" that helped in the zoo of a play zone for sweaty little hellions and their neglectful parents. I also had to work the concession. Twenty-three years I went never having to work a grill or deep fry anything, and a matter of days after receiving my degree I was doing just that. For minimum wage.

I ended up getting a fab job elsewhere, within four weeks of starting there, in a nice office, with fabulous staff, watching a street called Douglas.

There's no shame in walking away from crap, but there is in being the unemployed university graduate with their nose in the air.

Trust me, I know what I'm talking. 

*AKA Someone who has worked with HR professionals and filled all their filing, screening, and spreadsheeting needs.
**AKA Research Associate/head hunter's stressed out assistant


  1. I WILL BE TWEETING THIS. So many people need to pay attention. Especially the bits about making sure your cover letter and resume are ship-shape and dressing for success. If I had a dollar for every mistake-filled resume I've seen, and every person who comes for an interview in a sweatshirt and jeans...makes me sad for society.

  2. I am going to bookmark this and keep rereading it :)


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