Generally speaking, my posts are for people who are already working professionals. However, after a couple of spectacularly bad initial interviews (not even making it to a technical screen), I’m starting to think it may be prudent to offer some advice to the younger set hoping to become working professionals.
First, I’ve been young and unemployed before too. I’ve been suddenly and unexpectedly unemployed, once in a bad location with limited opportunities (so I knew I was going to have to relocate), and once at the worst possible time (based on my situation in life at the time). It sucks, and there’s absolutely a sense of desperation to fix that situation ASAP. So I understand the urge to send your resume to every company that will accept it because I’ve done that too. But remember this – phone screens are scheduled in advance and devices capable of Googling the companies they’re with are ubiquitous – there’s no excuse for responding to the question “How much do you know about (our company)?” with “I’ve sent out a lot of resumes and can’t remember which company did what.” Google them, sometime between the email setting up an initial screen and the phone call. You don’t need to be able to quote their last 6 quarterly earnings calls (if they’re publicly-traded) or deduce their sales and marketing strategy from their press releases, just show that you read the “About Us” page on their website.
Another important thing to remember is not to apply for jobs that you can tell aren’t in your wheelhouse (or in an area you want to develop). Even if you get past the initial resume-filtering, any interview is going to be a clear-cut waste of time, time you could have spent applying to, preparing to interview with, or actually interviewing with a company where your skillset is more in-demand. I’m not saying that you should only apply for jobs where you’re experience is an exact match for what’s listed in the description (because then you’d never apply for anything), but at least make sure you’re close. My general philosophy with trying to figure out if I’m close enough to a posting’s requirements is this – if my experience “rounds up” to what the post is asking for then I’ll apply. As an example of my point, if you’re largely a front-end developer, don’t apply for a back-end job. Or more simply, don’t listen to this recruiter.
One thing you can do to avoid a situation where you’re interviewing for something way more outside your skill set is to be asking questions at every step of the interview process. I know you’re not going to get a lot of technical answers from an initial phone screen with HR, but you can still probably get the basics – front-end vs. back-end, if there’s a “standard” technology stack or programming language, and so on. You may need a job, but to be more specific you need a job you’re qualified for and won’t hate. If something is going to be a terrible job, find out quickly so you can focus on more productive leads. Most importantly, by the end of the interview process you should have a pretty good idea of what the day-to-day of the job entails, and if not, you should probably run away (it sucks, but anything is better than a job you hate).
This should really go without saying, but I came across this article while planning to write this so I guess it does – don’t shoplift from the company with whom you just interviewed. In fact, here’s free life advice – don’t emulate anything from a news story whose headline starts with “Florida man.”
There’s something else you should keep in mind during the job hunting process – employers are the ones with the money which means they’re ultimately the ones with the options. There’s a lot of articles out on LinkedIn and other career websites about how job candidates should take the interview process as an opportunity to interview employers, how employers need employees at least as much as employees need them, etc. There’s some truth to those articles, but at the end of the day, the people with money can afford to wait to see if there’ll better options, or to for something that’s a more perfect match for them, or in short pass on anything that comes up. So while it’s important to find a place that won’t treat you terribly, and you shouldn’t just say “yes” to job offers that aren’t good, also keep in mind that the onus isn’t on you to impress them, not the other way around.
Job hunting can really suck, and it can seem like you have to put on a show of being the perfect candidate, but the reality is if you follow a few basic fundamentals you’ll be more successful than not. Take a few minutes to Google companies you’re scheduled to talk to before you interview with them, make sure you’re not applying to jobs where your skills and experience are completely out of line with what the company is looking for, and make sure you’re asking good enough questions that can confidently say whether a potential job would be a good fit for you. In short, actually try to impress companies that are hiring (and yes, you do need to be trying to impress them).