30 Minute Job Interview Seminar, Part 1

I’ve been interviewing potential hires for close to twenty years now and a number of years back, I had a long unemployment stint myself. I think it’s fair to say that I have quite a bit of interview experience on both sides of the table. I’ve been recruiting a few positions here at Screaming Circuits recently. At times it’s gone quite well, and at other times it’s been pretty frustrating.

There aren’t really that many things to think of when attempting to get a job. Most should be pretty basic. Sadly, though, it’s frequently those very basics that candidates miss on. There are a million books on the job searching process – yes, a million. Not one more and not one less – and there are day long and multi-day seminars and classes all over the place.

I’ve thought about putting together a nice seminar to help folks with this, and I still might someday. As I ran the seminar planning though my head, it occurred to me that there’s realistically only enough material for about 30 minutes. And that would be:

1:00 – 1:05: Introductions and overview
1:05 – 1:20: Actual content regarding a successful interview
1:20 – 1:30: Questions and answers

And there you have it. That’s about all there is. Unfortunately, few would likely pay for a 30 minute seminar so seminar organizers fill the rest of the day with ancillary information that probably just confuses people and dilutes the actual message. If I were to spread the half-hour out into a full day, I’d likely just repeat the 15 minutes of actual content over and over and over again. Perhaps, each time, in a different accent.

The problem with human nature and attention spans is that (according to me, anyway) you can at most retain about three items from any seminar or presentation. Here’s a big hint to anyone delivering a seminar or presentation: It doesn’t matter what YOU want to say. It only matters what your audience WILL hear. Pick the three most important aspects of your topic and do a great job of explaining and supporting those three things. That’s all you get.

If you’re still reading, here’s my 15 minutes on the subject of job interviewing:

Step 1. Get yourself into the interview

Write a cover letter. I’ll state that one more time in case you didn’t get it. Write a cover letter. And don’t just say “I read about your job opening and I could do a great job so here’s my resume.” That’s not a cover letter. That’s just an awkward opening sentence. I don’t know that it matters if the opening sentence is awkward. I think they all are, but the cover has to be more than just an awkward opening.

Start your research (see #2) now, so you can write an intelligent cover letter. Talk about something really cool that sets you apart from everyone else. Explain how you will just drop into this position like it was made for you. You don’t need to go on and on. Make it brief but compelling.

Don’t just repeat your resume. The cover letter is designed to make someone read your resume and give you a phone call. Just repeating resume bullets in the cover letter doesn’t help, so put in some original and valuable content.

Pull out one thing – your proudest moment that can be related to the position you are applying for. Expand on it. Tell why you are so proud of it and how it demonstrates your fitness for this job. Don’t just say “This makes me a great fit for this job”, state why it does. Let the moment prove that you would be a great fit.

Don’t forget your grammar and spelling. I’ve heard plenty of technical folks state that spelling and grammar aren’t important, because function should lead form. That’s not quite it. Nor is it form over function. Form should not get in the way of function. That’s my rule.

Using bad spelling and poor grammar will get in the way of clear communication. Doing so will create an impression that you have poor attention to detail and that you will find communicating with fellow human beings to be a challenge. Spelling and grammar do count. You don’t get a pass just because you’re a technical expert.

And finally, actually read the job description. The “requirements” may just be more of a wish list then a set of hard and fast requirements, but at least be close. Don’t apply for a programming job if your resume only discusses your experience as a sales person (I’ve had that happen).

Moderate variances are okay if your cover and resume are otherwise strong. But if you do have a big difference in experience from the job description, look elsewhere and spend your (and my) time on positions you have a chance of getting. If you have that big experience gap but really, really feel that you still qualify, use your cover letter to explain why you fit, and, ideally, rewrite your resume too.

Check out my 30 Minute Job Interview Seminar, Part 2.