Landing a job is hard work. The grind starts long before you walk into the office for an interview. There are a ton of smart and talented people, so you need to get an edge by building a network of insiders who can help you stand out.
Here are the essential steps to success, from the moment you set eyes on a company to walking away with an offer.
If you want a job, ask for information, and if you want information, ask for a job.
Start by using LinkedIn — Facebook isn't appropriate for job networking — to connect to potential future co-workers and bosses. Do this long before you expect an interview. Search for people on LinkedIn, read their complete profiles, and see who is connected to whom. Do you know anyone who can personally introduce you? If you have a good LinkedIn profile (clean, professional, and more than 500 contacts), many people will accept. Make sure you endorse your contacts for all their skills; it's a small favor and they'll know you really checked out their work. Reach out via LinkedIn messaging or by using their contact info to ask if they have time to grab coffee with you or chat via phone. Tell them you're interested in a job like theirs, knowing more about their career, and figuring out how they got there. The best tips you can get to acing a particular job interview come from people who actually aced the interview.
Next, start finding out everything you can about the company and whether you can bring your expertise to bear on a particular issue. Are you in marketing? Figure out one good idea to increase sales that you could work on. Are you an engineer? Identify potential places of improvement in the industry or at this particular company. Share your interests.
A few tips on how to make your resume and cover letter awesome: 1) Leave out personal information like marital status, number of kids and pets, and unrelated hobbies. 2) Have a relevant skills section if you want to mention programming, writing skills, or language skills. 3) Cut out the "objectives" section and just list experience and a sentence or two per job. 4) Make sure it looks clean and doesn't have spelling or grammatical mistakes. 5) Tailor it for each job. Don't describe your extensive music experience on your physics resume. 6) But don't leave out some of the unique stuff you do because that's how you'll be remembered. I once spent an entire legal interview chatting about my figure-skating skills and my novel. Mention serious hobbies somewhere.
At this point, you've got a formal interview with someone because your resume is awesome and you know all about the organization you want to work for. Hopefully the interview is with someone you've either met before or know tons about. Either way, plan enough time to visit everyone at the office whom you've met before to say hi. That lets everyone know you could be one of them.
Read everything you can about the company, make sure to ask targeted questions, and plan what you're going to wear and take with you the night before.
Figure out one thing about yourself that you have to get across in the interview. Think about how the interviewer is going to remember you and talk about you to the hiring committee. For example, "The girl who motor-biked through Europe," or "The guy who won the spice-eating contest." Yes, make it fun. I can guarantee that you will not be remembered as the "person with the 3.9 GPA at Yale." You'll be remembered as "the preppy jerk."
Sometime in the morning, maybe while showering or eating breakfast, think through some of the interview in your mind, the questions they might ask, the jokes you might say, and how they'll answer. Runners use this technique before a big race to trick their mind into thinking they've done this before. Imagine that things go really well.
Dress for success
Make sure you're wearing something comfortable and appropriate. Don't go to Google dressed in a suit, for example. Don't dress in something you'd hate to wear every day. Don't cover your tattoos — if the job is going to want you to do that, you don't want the job. Wear makeup if you want to and not if you don't, whether you're a man or a woman. Look like the best version of you, but look like you.
When the interview starts, shake hands strongly. Maintain eye contact. Smile naturally.
During the interview and when meeting people, make sure you're not too formal. Joke around, as long as they are clean jokes. Share stories. Relax. Let it be a conversation that goes where it goes and adapt based on the type of interviewer you have. Don't be on your phone, eat, drink, chew gum, or be violently distracting, but also don't sit bolt upright and run through starchy, memorized lines. Never lie.
Here are some common questions and how to answer:
"How are you?" Do not say, "Fine, thank you." Try "Awesome!" or "Perfect" or even "I've had a tough week, actually, but I'm super excited about this job."
"Tell me about yourself." This is an excuse to mention that one special thing you came up with yesterday. Keep it short, sweet, and funny. Mention your skills through stories. If you can, it's better to be spontaneous every time you answer it. The worst thing you can do is march through a memorized elevator pitch. "I'm a born and bred Silicon Valley girl with no respect for rules, protocol, or professionalism" could be a great way to start, for example. Or it could cost you the job. Know the company.
"Where do you see yourself in 5/10 years?" Don't lie. I can't stress that enough. If you're the type of person who doesn't plan ahead, say that, and explain why. If you want to run for Congress, write for The New York Times, or spend a year traveling the world, own up to it. Your dreams and goals are part of what make you who you are. Just keep it PG. And explain how this job gives you the skills to achieve those goals. If all those skills are green bills of paper, then you're probably looking at the wrong job, and plan on sugar-coating the truth a little.
"What questions do you have for me?" Make sure to ask a couple specific, not Internet-searchable questions about the company that are genuinely important to you. Questions about coworker culture are good. Never ask about money, hours, or vacation. Then end with, "If you're hesitating about hiring me for any reason, what is it so that I can clarify that part of my resume?"
After the interview
Send personalized thank you notes to everyone you've met at the organization and mention something you talked about in the interview in the thank you note to the interviewer. Follow up with your closest contacts in two weeks, if you haven't heard back yet, and let everyone know if you get the job. Keep in touch always.
After you get an offer, you can bring up financial, time, location, and job mobility issues.