Practice, Practice, Practice! … And don’t forget networking.
I remember making so many mistakes and not representing myself well. Basically, all the bad habits that I now advise against, I once did. So how is it that I was hired by five previous employers? I either knew someone at the organizations, or one of my references had a direct connection.
I recall my first job, after achieving my bachelor’s degree in recreation and tourism, as a naturalist at a camp in Ohio. Looking back my résumé was very minimalistic and did not sell my skills fully, but they called me because I already had a background in camps and I was an alumnus from the same university as two of the directors at the camp. Already networking was working to my advantage because they knew the program through which I graduated. The interview went very well because of my camp knowledge and then when my references were checked, I was told that as soon as they saw the name of one of my references they were ready to hire me.
The same thing was true for my second job after undergrad, as a campus minister.
I was in the middle of a massive job search and had applied to multiple places within the bounds of my recreation degree. Even though my résumé hadn’t changed much, I was still interviewing for about one position out of every 10 that I applied (not the best statistics, but enough to keep me from losing hope).
Those few job interviews before the big one for the campus minister position helped me to ease the butterflies and learn from my past mistakes. Before applying, I already knew about the position and the specific organization where I was interviewing because I did an event planning practicum with them four years prior.
Again, networking played a key role in achieving this job position. I knew the top boss personally and some of the others on the search committee from my previous involvement. It also helped that the boss was the one who encouraged me to apply.
I wouldn’t have known they were hiring and she wouldn’t have known I was job searching if I hadn’t contacted her for a reference. This is just one example of why you need to tell everyone in your networks where you are professionally and especially if you’re job searching. The majority of jobs available are in the hidden job market and you’ll only learn of them if you take advantage of your networks.
Practice, Practice, Practice
This is what I recommend to students more than anything else. I don’t just mean practice for the interview but practice to increase your skills in any given area.
Even though my interviewing skills were not the best, I had a lot of skills to offer each job position.
By the time I was ready to move from my campus minister position to graduate school in mental health counseling, I had honed many transferable skills and also learned from previous jobs what I liked and disliked. This not only led me to the decision for graduate school but also to my primary interest in helping college students and a secondary interest in career development. I was learning from my mistakes, and wanted to help others by sharing my lessons with them.
So what did I do right this time around for my current job?
I made sure I gained specific related skills and experience, not just transferable skills.
I finally went to the university’s career center for a résumé critique. (Not only did I receive excellent suggestions for my résumé, but life lessons on how employers perceive résumés and that its main function is to advertise and sell me.)
I also practiced, in front of a mirror, for my interviews and followed up with thank you letters.
Practicing by gaining experience and preparing for interviews was essential this time around. I didn’t know very many people in the collegiate systems yet, so the only way I would be hired was through what I could bring to the office.
You may still be wondering what mistakes I made. Here are a few common mistakes from which anyone can recover:
- Answering interview questions incompletely
- Answers should be 30 seconds to 2 minutes long
- Try adding an example if you need add more information
- Under representing yourself on the résumé
- Tailor your résumé so it’s relevant to the employer
- Add more information to the skills bullets by describing how, why, and what you did
- Taking all the freebies at the job fair
- Engage in a conversation with the employer first. They’ll usually offer you the fun free stuff once you’ve made a good first impression.
- Don’t forget to send an email or thank you note after meeting someone at a job fair, networking event, or interview.