That’s why I want to share eight tips I just heard from insiders at iRelaunch's fifth annual Return to Work Conference, at Columbia University in New York City. It was a sell-out crowd of over 500+ professionals (primarily mothers) looking to reenter the workforce following a career break. (To learn more about upcoming iRelaunch events, visit the site’s calendar.)
While some of the presentations were tailored to comeback moms, the insights shared at the refreshingly honest panel discussion, “Job Search Advice From Employers,” applied to all job seekers. The four panelists who spoke about what gets their attention and where job applicants go horribly wrong: Kathleen Kennedy, Head of Americas Recruiting Delivery for UBS; Joe Lopes, Global Recruiting Business Partner, Market Data for Bloomberg; Wilma Nacion, Recruiting Leader for two practices at PWC and Janet Kraus, CEO of Peach, a startup described as “Mary Kay for lingerie.”
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Here are eight of their top tips for job hunters:
1. Respond quickly to job postings. Employers receive hundreds, sometimes thousands, of responses to their postings. So the sooner you respond, the better your chances of getting seen.
“Being the first really can put you at an advantage," said Lopes. "Once that response comes in, we only have so many people who can handle the flow.”
2. Focus on a short, manageable list of prospective employers. It will be far easier to learn about, and respond quickly, to job postings when you do this. You’ll also be able to do a better job researching them and interviewers will appreciate that you’ve done your homework.
So develop a target list of employers and really work it: Visit their websites often; sign up for their job alerts; get Google alerts to receive breaking news about them; follow their HR folks on Twitter. (For more information about developing a targeted job search, I recommend you read Steve Dalton’s book, The 2-Hour Job Search.)
3. Always customize your resumé to include the keywords in the job posting. The panelists agreed: No matter how stellar your experience, your resumé stands little chance of getting read if the post’s keywords don’t show up.
“We get thousands of resumés,” said Kennedy, “so we sometimes start searches based on the keywords in the job specs. If we get enough good candidates that way, we don’t even look at the other resumés.”
So make your resumé keyword friendly. Where it’s possible and accurate, sub in the employer’s lingo, phrases and terminology for yours.
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4. Work your network to get your resumé into the right person’s hands. “The more touchpoints you have into a company, the better the chance you have of getting a response,” said Lopes. Nacion concurred, urging applicants to find ways of getting referred into their target employers. “We love and encourage employee referrals at PWC. Referrals go to the top of the pile,” she noted.
Take advantage of sites like LinkedIn to find contacts in your network who work at, or have worked at, your targets. The panelists agreed that your contact doesn’t have to work in HR, as long as he or she will pass on your resumé to HR or to the appropriate hiring manager.
5. Plan your day around the interview, not the other way around. Recruiters can sense when you’re tossing off your interview time in between other obligations — and they don’t appreciate it. “Setting up your day to comfortably accommodate the interview is worth it,” advised Lopes. “If you try to squeeze it into things, it adds stress to an already stressful situation.” Try to build in as big a time buffer as you can.
(MORE: What Job Interviewers Look For)
6. Ask “meaty” questions. All the panelists agreed that asking sharp questions can help turn around an interview. Kraus is a fan of “big, meaty, strategic questions” that help stimulate the conversation.
For example, you could ask the interviewer: “What is it about this place that makes you excited about coming to work every day?” Don’t ask basic questions that can easily be answered on the website, the experts advised.
7. Project enthusiasm. Yes it’s cliché. But, as a career coach, I hear this sentiment from every employer I speak to and the panelists stressed the importance of enthusiasm, too.
Employers want to hire people who are passionate about their jobs. “I want to see enthusiasm and excitement for what you’re doing,” said Kraus. “I gravitate to that.”
8. If you’ve had a gap in your career, discuss it proudly. Whether you took time off to raise children, care for a loved one or pursue an entrepreneurial dream that turned sour, explain why you did it and why you’re glad you did it.
“I cringe when I hear someone apologize about a gap,” said Kennedy. “There is no need for that. This is your choice. This is your journey. You took time off to do something that was very important to you.” Added Kraus: “I don’t care about the gap. I’m more engaged with what you’ve done with your life and how you fit into my company.”
Lopes agreed and provided this useful reminder for job seekers: “The way a company reacts to that period of life should be part of your assessment of that company. At the end of the day, you want to work for a company who appreciates you for who you are.”
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