"I've been out of college for a few years now, and although I've had a couple internships, and a lot of office experience, it's rare for me to even get a call back from publishing companies for an interview. When I do, I'm always "one of their top candidates, but they found someone with more experience," for an entry-level job. Do you have any pointers about what you find jumps out at recruiters about a candidate?"
Thanks for reaching out, and I'm glad to offer some pointers. Before I get into the details about how you can jump out during the interview process, I just want to make sure that you're still getting interviews because, as you get further and further away from having a current/recent/stable job, it will be harder to get to the interviewing round. So, a few things to keep in mind for the pre-screening round:
- When you submit your resume to a job listing, make sure the format of the file is something like "Firstname_Lastname_Resume.doc" and your cover letter is something like "Firstname_Lastname_Cover_Letter.doc". For a good job, a recruiter is probably looking at 50+ resumes and cover letters so you increase your odds of discovery when you make it easier for them to search your name in the stack.
- For any job that requires specific skills like Excel, Microsoft Word, SQL, or anything like that, make sure those skills are on your resume. Most recruiters use a program that scans your resume for specific keywords. The more you have on your resume the more you’ll stand out.
- As always, make sure your cover letter is genuine, interesting, and unique to each job you apply for. If you need more information on this, check out this post I wrote a while back on what are the signals of a good cover letter.
Assuming you have all that covered and you're getting interviews but just not getting offers, here are a few things I would brush up on:
- Before the interview, make sure you study up on the company you’re interviewing with. The best thing you can do in the interview is show that you’ve done your research on the company, what they’ve done, and where they’re going. In doing so, you’ll be prepared for more challenging questions, and when they ask you “Do you have any question for us”, you can have a few ready so that they know you’re really interested in the position.
- Before the interview, you should also research the people you’re speaking with. If you can find unique information about the people you’re speaking with (e.g. hobbies, their undergraduate school, foundations or charities they’re apart of, etc.), you can pepper these into the conversation and create a more organic conversation rather than an interrogation like most interviews turn out to be. An example of how this played out for me was when I had my first interview at Hachette. I was incredibly nervous, but during the interview, I saw that the person I was speaking with had the same type of watch. I pointed it out, and the awkward interview completely changed. We started talking about brands we liked and then transitioned to TV shows we were watching. Rather than bombarding me with questions, we were just chatting and found out that we had a lot in common, which is really what you’re trying to do in the interview. In the end, I didn’t get an offer at Hachette, but a few months later, the same recruiter called me back, and asked if I was still looking for a job because they had another opening I would be qualified, and he wanted to make sure that I knew about it because we had gotten along so well. If you can prove that you’re a normal person and you fit in well at the company, you’ll check off the culture fit box of their application and have an ally for any future openings.
- On the day of the interview, make sure you shower and dress well. I firmly believe that you can never go wrong with a suit no matter where you interview at. Also, make sure you have a well-fitting suit. Nothing looks worse than a guy or a girl that looks like they’re wearing their wearing someone else’s hand-me down. If done properly, you’ll check off the professional box of their application.
- During the interview, be attentive, eager, and highlight your qualifications, but don’t come on too strong. It’s important to remind them how hard working you are and how excited you are to have the opportunity to interview for a job with this company. But, you don’t want to look like the crazy guy or else the hiring manager will question your personality fit at the company.
- Lastly, before the interview ends, make sure you get the contact information of everyone that you’ve met and send them a follow up email. Thank them for their time, emphasize your gratitude to have interviewed for the position, volunteer to provide any additional information if they need it, and if there were any questions that you fumbled over during the interview, now is your time to provide a better answer. An example of how important this last step was when I completely bombed a question during my interview, but I emailed them before the day was over and gave a much better answer after I had time to think about it. I found out later that they were actually pretty concerned about my qualifications after the interview, but this email assured them that I could do the job. It’s actually what helped me get a second round interview, which I ended up getting an offer for and where I started my career.