Monday, February 12, 2007

Beyond the Resume: Getting an Interview and Surviving it!

When you right after college, and are in the quest to find your first job, the first thing you do is to mass email resumes to every email that resembles hr@...... That i feel is the first big mistake that you can make.

If you are reading this article, and have not read the article on creating a resume, then i recommend that you read this first.

Firstly, do not mass mail organizations for your email will either end up in junk or get deleted. Organizations have peculiar, fragile, and vulnerable personalities. They like to think that you have thought about why you want to join them seriously and expect some demonstration of that dedication in your applications. It’s like asking a girl/boy to start a relationship with you. If you ask any random person (will you be my bf/gf), then s/he is most likely going to reject you on the grounds that you did not make her/him feel special. Organizations are no different in wanting to feel special.

If you are working with an agency/job bank then ask the agency all the relevant questions you can think of about the organization. Remember they will give you lots of information provided that you ask. Further, look at the organizations website and if possible try to get any brochures or other marketing material from the organization.

Sometimes we tend not to take this step seriously. Time and again, i have been asked at the interview “soo…. Tell me/us what you know about my/our organization”. If you find this happening to you, heres your chance to tell them that you know in-depth about their organization. It will help them gauge that they are special and not just another ‘item’ on your list. Besides, it’s a golden opportunity for you to do some well deserved ego-stroking.

When you get the first call inviting you for an interview, then try to ask them about the interview process, how many interviews will there be, and with whom. Find out if there are there any: technical areas to cover? tests to perform? Where will the interview be? And if you don’t know where their office is, then its okay to ask for directions and/or land marks.

Questions to ask
Think of what you would like to ask the interviewee. You have choices to make as well. Some questions that worked for me in the past include

Where do you see me fit in your organization?
Whats the working culture of the organization like?
What would be some of the challenges of working here?
What am i expected to accomplish during the first year?
How will i be evaluated?
What does the future look like for this company?

While they are assessing you, you have to make up your mind if you want to work for them too. Questions also served as a tool for persuasion (think self-generated arguments in social psychology). Regardless of your motivation to ask questions, do no forget that you are being assessed with regards to your enthusiasm, your curiosity, your eagerness, and your level of insight.

If you do know something that is not so good about the organization, do not put the interviewer on the spot. If you don’t like the organization, don’t join it. Remember, your goal is not to bash the poor interviewer ego. Stroke, don’t bash.

I like visiting the organization a few days before the interview. You can play the “i am lost” card. This clandestine visit can help you visualize the company culture.

At the interview
Make sure to dress appropriately. For example for interview with corporate companies, make sure you were corporate attire but dress down for social service organizations.

Some of the standard questions you may be asked are:

Tell me something about yourself
What has been the most disappointing time in your career?
What are some of your strengths and weaknesses?
What has been the most rewarding time?
What benefits can you bring to the business?
What are your long term goals (ie. What do you want to do in 3, 5, 10 years from now)
Why did you apply for this job/company/Division? Why this career?
What can you offer to us? What do you think we can offer you?
What are something’s that have given you the greatest satisfaction? Least satisfaction?
Could you tell us of some instances of how you react under pressure?
What do you like to do in your spare time?
What other jobs did you apply for?
What courses did you like best? Least?
Why did you choose your major? Plans for graduation?
What can a psychology major do for this organization/position?
How did you finance your education?
Did you do the best you could in school? Why or why not?
if you had a chance, what would you change about your education?
What 3 things would you like to achieve, that you did not get in your education?
How do you describe your ideal job?
Have you ever experienced conflict? How did you deal with it?
Have you worked in a group?
What qualities do you think that a successful manager should have?

Some pointers:
So if you think about the questions, they can vary from the easy to the rather difficult.

Some items that have helped me survive them were: Use humor appropriately (humor about yourself and NOT about the organization); Know that you have limits to how much you want to reveal about your self; Know that you may not know any thing; Remember be enthusiastic (at least during the interview)

It may be a good idea to get to your interview 20-30 minutes early. Remember, that they do know that you may be anxious, but will be impressed by your attitude to what you are doing to deal with the anxiety. And yes, this means getting to a place early allows you to deal with your nerves. It gives an opportunity to chat with the receptionist, get a feel of the work culture, and generally get an image of what it would be like to work for them.

While at the interview, give time for some small talk. Complement them if the office looks beautiful. Do thank them for giving you the opportunity. Introduce yourself confidently yet be friendly. Smile.

Non-verbal behavior (such as gesturing and eye contact) should be culture appropriate. This is why it will be useful to come to the company 20 minutes early.

Relate your experience with the role they are interviewing you for talk about your experience. Its ok to be chatty, but don’t over do it.

Some do’s and donts:
Never swear even if the employee does so. Yes, i do have a foul mouth, but i would never dare swear at an interview.

Never make negative remarks about your current or previous work experiences. If you cant talk about it without being negative, then it helps to say that you cant talk about it because of the personal nature of the encounter.
Never reveal secrets that belong to the previous work place. Keep in mind that modern organizations need you to be ethical in your behavior. Hence, if they push you to tell them, then tell them that its confidential. Remember your goal is to demonstrate that you are self sufficient and responsible individual and NOT a blood sucking secret leaking fool.

End the interview with your positive points on why you would like the job and how you feel that you are right for the position and the company. Remember they are looking for someone that wants to work for them and can show that ability.

Finally – Enjoy the experience. You may ‘booboo’ the first experience. But, that’s just it. Its your first, and don’t let that wack your mood because its just the first.


Kuther, T. L. (2006). The psychology majors handbook (2nd E.d.). Wadsworth: NY

N.B. I find the cited book extremely useful. Specially if you are a psych major like myself. It has important information about what you can be doing after your first degree in psychology. It should be given to every psych student out of undergraduate school.

Friday, February 09, 2007

The paradox of consciousness

I was reading a book by Merlin Donald, titled “A mind so rare”. Donald provides some insightful views of the human consciousness ie. Our capacity to be aware of ourselves. Ofcourse, my short definition does not justify his writing, as he has dedicated 350+ pages for the expanded explanation of the human consciousness.

I would like to quote a quote that was inside this book. Its written by a certain Marcus Aurelius. It reads

"Were you to live three thoudsand years, or even thirty thoudsand, remember that the sole life wheich a man can lose is that which he is living at the moment; and furthermore, that he can have no other life except the one he loses. This means that the longest life and the shortest amount to the same thing. Fot the passing minute is every man’s equal possession, but what has once gone by is not ours. When the longest-and the shortest-lived f us come to die, their loss is precisely equal. For the sole thing of which any man can be deprived is the present; since this is all he owns, and nobody can lose what is not his"

Have a good weekend all :)

Sunday, February 04, 2007

Selling yourself: Building your Resume

The last few months have been about job hunting. I had been editing, re-editing, and double editing my resume for nearly every job that I have applied for. In the process, I encountered many events. Interesting replies from potential employers, emails that were never replied from potential employers, and Malaysian government bureaucracy about hiring expatriates. Those juicy topics are best suited from another day cause I am not in the mood to bitch right now.

I want to tell you today about my experiences in putting together a resume. Firstly, I feel a resume should not be seen as a product goal but rather as a product process. This means, that your resume needs to grow with you. Each day, you take the chisel, and chop off bits, add little portions, and trim the edges. Thus, a resume should be a description of your life as it grows. I would consider it appropriate to consider a resume as something that evolves.

What are some of the things that helped me get the most out of my resume?

The sole purpose of the resume is to represent your skills, abilities and experience enough for the organization to contact you about a matching job which they might want to consider you for. This is essentially your marketing brochure, your personal advert, your marketing tool if you like. It is what helps you secure interviews. Just like all other advertisements, your resume is going to be one of many first impressions of you that a potential employer is going to have.

While building your resume, keep it to 3 pages or less and make sure that the layout is logical, simple, and covers all about yourself. Your resume should ideally be tailored for the position that your are applying for. This includes matching relevant information such as your experiences, referees, and skills. Typically I have applied for two kinds of jobs and maintain 2 resumes for each industry (one in Human Resources and one for the Human Services industry).

I have listed below some sections in the resume which i think are important. They are not arranged in any particular format or order, but reading it should give you an idea as to some of the things that you should include.

Personal Information
You might want to cover the following areas in your resume. Personal Information includes your name, address, contact numbers, e-mail. I also like including a profile which explains in one paragraph my strengths, type of work i am are looking for, any major achievements.

I have seen some resumes with information such as marital status, passport or national identity card number, number of children, insurance policy number, fathers car registration number, the number of times i have been to the church/mosque/temple/synagogue/(place where you pray if you belonged to a cult)/..insert any other strange information. Believe you me, that this information is not necessary. Keep your personal details short and expand on the rest. People want to hire you based on your skills and competencies, and not on how long your arm is (unless you are in…. lets not get there)

Education and Professional Qualifications
With regards to educational qualification, I like to include the most recent information. For example, if you have just finished an undergraduate degree, then state that and avoid information about your kindergarten and secondary school information. If you really want to highlight your secondary school because you studied at the school for little wizards then do your thing at the interview.

With regards to professional qualifications, awards received, or special training projects that you may have completed, i like to separate them with information about my formal education. Remember, they don’t have to be under one heading, just make sure they are inside your resume somewhere.

Technical Summary
You should include a summary of your technical skills, knowledge in computer applications, computer languages etc. Organizations tend to like candidates who are IT literate.

Work History
I like to use a reverse chronological order (most recent job first). Also, remember to indicate the year/month you started and ended each job. Ensure that you do not have unexplained gaps in your work history. Indicate some of the main tasks and responsibilities at organization that you worked for. Keep in mind, remember all the achievements (major projects, tasks, awards, etc) that you have completed along the way.

Organizations like people who are able to demonstrate that they lead a healthy work-life balance (if they don’t appreciate the balance, then don’t work for them). Describing what you do at your free time will help the potential employer see what kind of person you are. Do you support a charity? Do you take photographs? Do you dive? Tell them, people are better able to size you up more holistically.

I like to include contact information about the people who are able to be my referees. I typically have four of them listed in my resume. Two from the academic world, and two from the work world. But before you start slotting someone’s name inside your resume, make sure you inform that person and have his/her permission to do so (Psych students remember informed consent)

Look at the use of heading sizes, fonts underline some of the areas you want to stand out. Get your friends, to proof read it before sending it. From the tons of feedback that you get, change as you see fit, and get on the way grooming your resume. The cycle of edit – feedback – edit should ideally continue for as long as you want to update your resume.