By Robert Leone
Managing communications and outreach for a large USAID-funded Global Health program and, in retirement, my current volunteer work as a Career Coach at the San Francisco Main Library and at The Job Forum has given me the opportunity to advise thousands of job seekers on a wide variety of career issues. I’ve put together what I think are some of the most useful pieces of information that I’ve gathered over the years and condensed them in this article. I hope you’ll find them helpful.
Job descriptions: Usually, a job description from a company is a wish list so don’t be intimidated if you fall short of what a company or organization is asking for. However, you should be in the ballpark otherwise it won’t be worth your time to apply. For example, if they are looking for someone that has ten years of experience and you have seven, go for it! If you have two-to-three give it a pass. But you need to build the best case you can for yourself so make sure that you identify what is important in that job announcement, and if you have those skills and experience focus on those, providing some detail. Recruiters at many companies look at referrals and inside candidates first. Also keep in mind that senior level positions take longer to fill.
How frequently to switch jobs: There is a new normal for switching jobs (although this may be changing again). More people have been changing jobs more frequently (6 months to 1 or 1.5 years.) BUT, how much of an impact can you make in such a short time? This could be considered a red flag. BUT if you stay at a company too long that can also be a red flag. You may seem stuck and not moving forward with your skills and experience. In either case, communicate the positives.
Questions to ask during an interview: What are the next steps in the process? What if anything in my background is unclear (gives you a chance to clarify rather than leaving it unspoken). How does this role further the company mission? What are your expectations for this position in the first six months? Put yourself in the hiring manager/recruiters’ shoes. Based on your resume and interviews would you want to hire you? Keep in mind that negotiating is a skill that you can use on the job, use it as needed in your interview. It’s OK to ask-how many candidates are you looking at and are there any internal candidates? (You may not get an answer, but it shows that you are thinking through the process.) Keep in mind that you are being evaluated from your first contact with a recruiter on out. Everything you say, do or write matters.
Tips for early career job hunters: For early career candidates employers will want to know if you can successfully make the transition from the academic world to the working world where results are key; provide examples. As you progress in your career, your early education (including where you went to school, your GPA, etc.) becomes less and less important and what you have achieved in your professional work becomes more and more important. In other words: What have you done for me lately?
Are cover letters needed: A cover letter is an opportunity to showcase your writing. Include in brief your knowledge of the company/organization, your key skills that relate to the specific job, your interest/passion for the work. Don’t use a template cover letter where you just change a few details, and you don’t provide any real information.
One very important pointer for resumes: On your resume, SHOW DON’T TELL. Anybody can say they have excellent communication skills, are detail oriented, collaborate effectively, etc. Provide examples. Also, in order to make it through the key word search use language from the job announcement even if it’s slightly different from what you have been using. If you are making a career change/pivot note what you’ve already done to start that process.
How to succeed: Be proactive in your job search. Don’t just answer ads online. Research companies and organizations that you want to work for and don’t just look at what they say about themselves. Check out sites like Glassdoor and set up media alerts. Reach out to as many people as possible for advice. Expand your network and keep in touch. Also, you don’t always have to be asking for something, think about what you have to offer.