Even if employed, it's never a bad idea to stay abreast of hiring trends. If you're unemployed or looking to transition, it's even more important to better understand the process.
I've read different opinions on providing professional references with your resume; some experts say not to bother while others say go for it. Even if a posting doesn't require professional references--always provide at least three (on a separate page labeled "Professional References"). Why? Because it's like you saying to your future employer, "I'm fully prepared and fully confident." If you're looking for a managerial position, include the names of at least five people. Who do you choose? If providing three, try to have several people who have supervised you and one colleague. For five, include 2-3 previous supervisors, 2-3 colleagues and at least one subordinate (if applicable). If you recently graduated from college and are looking for your first job, it's acceptable (and expected) that you include a few college professors--but once you've been working for 5-10 years, avoid listing college professors--unless you earned a graduate or post-graduate degree during those 5-10 working years.
It's important to list people you KNOW will speak highly of you. If you find you don't know three people who can do that, you're going to have to work harder at networking...a lot harder.
Let your professional references know you are applying to new positions. Why? Because when they're called, and they will be, it's important that your references are prepared to say GOOD things. When you contact your references about a recent application, it gives you the opportunity to explain what you're applying for, highlighting the qualities you feel make you a good fit. If you're applying to lots of different jobs over an extended period of time, send each of your Professional References an annual update along with an updated curriculum vitae or resume--making sure to THANK THEM for their efforts.
If you're applying to jobs that request letters of recommendation, be sure the letters are dated the same year in which you are applying to the position. Always give your recommenders 60-90 days to write and mail your letter; provide a self-addressed (appropriately!) stamped envelope as a courtesy. When you send your recommenders the SASE, be sure to include a brief note of appreciation and include an updated resume. You may also want to provide a summary for the benefit of your recommenders, highlighting the education, experience and expertise most valuable to your job search--things they will undoubtedly touch on if such a summary is provided. Also, it's appropriate to check in with the recommender after 30-45 days from when they would have received the materials; life does get in the way sometimes, despite best intentions. And it's your future--only you can be responsible for it.
Cover letters can be tricky--keep it brief, sticking to how your education and experience fit within the qualifications listed for the job. Be as specific as possible, avoiding overuse of pronouns like "I," "me" and "my." And be sure there are no grammatical errors on either your cover letter or resume. Employers are looking for reasons not to interview you--and you can't take that personally. It's just common sense in 2011. When unemployment is as high as it is, you can be assured that at almost every level of employment, there is going to be a saturation of willing and eager applicants. Standing out from the crowd may be as easy as using appropriate grammar. If you don't have a Doctorate in English--no worries, send your letter off to three friends/relatives you trust, asking each to proof-read your letter for you. Give people at least one week to look it over properly--no rush jobs! You won't give or get quality by rushing--may not even be worth mailing out your application if you can't get organized enough to prepare materials well ahead of any deadline.
In terms of your resume, be aware of disciplinary expectations; if you're an engineer, your resume will look vastly different than say, a professor's curriculum vitae. Always put your name and contact information at the top of the page. Always list your education first, beginning with your most recent degree--include the degree, university and year you graduated. If you've been working for more than 10 years, you can leave off your GPA. If you're a recent grad or looking to work in education, include the GPA ONLY if it's substantially higher than a 3.0. Understand, though you may have worked hard for that 3.0, there will be more people with higher GPA's applying for the same position. And you don't want to provide prospective employers with reasons to throw your resume in the slush pile. My personal advice is to only include a GPA if it's a 3.5 or higher. A 3.5 shows you're a hard worker but well-rounded. A 4.0 may give the impression that you're either too-smart and or too-introverted to be a "good fit" for the company--it may also look forced or unrealistic. Highlight your GPA if it ranges from a 3.5-3.9 (out of 4.0). It may be sufficient to simply list "cum laude," "magna cum laude," or "summa cum laude"--that way, no one is daunted, threatened or otherwise turned off by the specifics of your grade point average...people don't always know exactly how to translate Latin Honors so it's fairly innocuous.
After listing your education, create a section with your experience--listing your job title, company, and years you worked there--beginning with your most recent work experience. In a separate section, you can list your specific skills. It's often good to also include a brief section on your community service...what community service? Yours! That's right, 2011-ers, to get a job today it's a good idea to show that you care about your community. It's a positive on any resume--regardless of discipline. Stick with things you did in the last year, going back no further than five.
Once you master the application process, so begins the interviews! When you get to this stage, it's really, really REALLY important to be prepared...for anything. Find out as much as possible about the people and spaces involved--knowing the room lay-out ahead of time may make you feel more relaxed once there. If you can find out the people you'll be interviewing with, you can do quick internet searches to get some insights on who they are and their contributions to the particular company--and through that--what types of questions they may ask you during your interview. Like with any public presentation--whether you're speaking in front of 1 or more strangers--you need to practice, practice, PRACTICE! Try to anticipate possible questions based on the job qualifications and both think and speak your answers so when you are asked a similiar question at crunch time, it flows more easily; be sure to take notes on issues you may not be as familiar with but feel will be discussed in the interview. Put the notes on a pad of paper you'll bring with you to the interview. This will allow you to discreetly view information you may need to make the interview a success while also showing your interviewer(s) that you are fully engaged in the total process.
Look out for the UNEXPECTED question. There's always one--something that throws you off or makes you uncomfortable. Remember, at EVERY level, employers are looking to weed you out--simply because they have to find some differentiation between candidates. Never take it personally. Speaking of which, you should be aware that in 2011, many companies will be receiving an estimated 100-300+ applications for a SINGLE job opening. They have their pick of whoever they want from that pool. You will never be the only candidate for a given job. Most companies can have up to 20 potential candidates; but what's more likely, if you've made it to the (in-person) interview stage, is that your competition boils down to 2-3 others. While that may sound like favorable odds, think again:
If, by the end of the interview, no one mentions when to expect the next call or a specific time frame, it makes the potential for non-hire more of a possibility. Try to evaluate what may have went wrong--also looking at what you did particularly well--and give it about two weeks before checking in with human resources. Regardless of how you feel the interview may have went, send a brief thank you. If you were interviewed by up to two individuals, write those people thank you notes or send a brief appreciative email. Maybe you were interviewed by a committee--usually anywhere from 5-10 people--you can send brief emails to thank them for the opportunity. If something did go wrong, like the unexpected question, a well-written thank-you may prompt your interviewer(s) to revisit your materials--the caveat is, it's likely to happen regardless of how well you feel your interview went and can work against you. So proceed with caution when it comes to post-interview contact. Sometimes, interviewers will give you their card. That's an invitation to communicate post-interview. If you didn't get that kind of social cue, you may want to further evaluate post-interview comunication. It's a risk--and most of the time, it pays off. However it can sometimes backfire--making you look pushy or aggressive--and that's not the impression you want your interviewer(s) to even remotely believe.
Key words and phrases to include in your materials--even suggest for your recommendation letters--include "supportive," "collegial," "integrity," "dedicated professional," "innovative (or) innovator," "team-oriented leader," "resourceful," and the always popular "talented multi-tasker." Using specific words are really important. If someone refers to you as a "hard-worker," it can be misconstrued that perhaps you're not the brightest penny and so compensate through diligence. Using words like "persevere" and "tenacious" can also have the ring of desperation. While words like "generous" may seem positive, it can also connote collusion--because the word "generous" is so often used in sarcasm, it may not be the best descriptive.
Ultimately, during any job search for any reason, be confident, act comfortable, at-ease, relaxed, and be appropriately friendly. Know your tells and avoid them. Fidgeting is totally off-limits. How do I know all this? Your Pop Culture Professor has been around the block a time or three...I actually winked at an interviewer once--it wasn't meant to be flirtatious and was part of my normal facial expression-pattern when using a particular phrase, but it was still totally out of place. Just remember that you can only do your best in any interview situation; you will make a mistake--at least one--and you need to forgive yourself, learn from it, and move forward.Not every interview-blooper means you're out of the running. Some are more forgivable than others, but every interviewer gets that you're under pressure--no one is expecting robotic-perfection. I would normally advise something like "Be yourself," here but honestly, though you want to look natural during an interview--it may not always appear quite so natural when "being yourself" includes some less becoming behaviors. Put your best foot forward--the better prepared you are, the more at ease. It's okay to have anxiety. Get lots of sleep a few nights before and eat well. Stay hydrated. The day of the interview, allot time to exercise about an hour BEFORE you get ready. Pumping more oxygen to your brain is never a bad thing and the endorphin-release will make you feel more confident. Be sure you wear a clean, pressed suit in a muted-tone of gray, olive, or brown--if you wear a very dark charcoal, navy or black, hair flakes will show more easily on your shoulders. Keep jewelry to a minimum. Wear sensible shoes. Manicure your hands--you use them more than you think. If you're a nail biter, you may want to find a way to break that habit. It's a tell that you're an anxious person and that's not something you want to portray when looking for a new or better job.
Good luck with your future employment! And look for more 21st Century Etiquette Series essays in the coming weeks....