Updated on 03.23.07

17 Essential Tips For Getting That Dream Job

Trent Hamm

The interviewYou’ve just walked out the door at college and now you’re seeking a great job, one that will build the foundations of a long-term career. Or, you’re looking to move on to new challenges in life and are looking for a position that fulfills you. No matter what the reason, hunting for a job can be a very intense and challenging experience.

Having interviewed for several positions (and actually getting all but one of them – and the one I didn’t get I was massively underqualified for) and then having interviewed people applying for positions, I’ve seen what really works and what doesn’t in terms of the job hunt. Here are seventeen essential tips for getting your foot in the door and then maximizing your chance of getting that dream job.

Tap your contacts. Do you know anyone who works for the organization already? Do you know anyone who might know someone who works for that organization already? Try to get ahold of people already in the organization and see whether or not they can put in a good word for you somewhere. This works best in smaller organizations where people generally know each other and wear multiple hats.

Make some new contacts. Don’t be afraid to stop by the office at some point in advance of your interview to talk to people. When interviewing for the job that was the biggest “leap” for me, I actually stopped in several times and chatted with an administrative assistant, and she wound up helping me get my resume in the stack to be interviewed. I also actually happened to have had a couple conversations with the person who wound up interviewing me as well.

Make your resume clean, simple, and error free. If you’re not completely confident about your spelling and grammar, find a technical writer who can review your resume for you. Don’t mess this up. I’ve personally read resumes of people who were otherwise qualified but were apparently unable to distinguish between “their” and “there” or misspelled words in such an obvious fashion that it made me shudder. These resumes didn’t make the cut.

Read, study, and practice How to Win Friends and Influence People. I’ve waxed ecstatic about this book before: this is the best book I’ve ever read on how to present yourself well to others. It’s broken down into actionable items you can practice, and these items really work. Knowing and using the material in this book will set you apart from people who do not.

Do your homework on the company. Google the company and find out as much as you can about their mission. Read a recent annual report. Try to relate the position you’re interviewing for to these overall corporate goals.

Do your homework on the interviewer. If you know the name of the person interviewing you (or the names of people interviewing you), Google them as well and see what you can find out. Anything that you can find that can establish rapport with them will give you a big leg up. At one job I interviewed for, I found that the person interviewing me was actually known in the chess world and by asking about that I made his eyes light up and we spent most of the interview discussing chess and experiences in competitive gaming. Needless to say, this interviewer gave me a big thumbs up.

Dress appropriately for the interview. For almost every job, I recommend a suit that fits well. There’s really not much of an excuse for going in wearing less unless you have a very clear reason for doing so.

Be clean, and value your personal appearance. I’ve discussed the value of basic grooming before, and it’s never more true than it is on interview day. Be clean, be sober, and be rested. And don’t overdo the cologne or perfume.

Look the interviewer in the eye when you meet him/her. This shows confidence, indicating subtly to the interviewer that you feel as though you belong in the room. People who fail to do this often indicate that they’re highly nervous or feel inadequate about being there.

Shake hands firmly (but not a death grip). Do not just touch hands with people when shaking with them. This will doom you to many. Instead, grab their hand and shake with some firmness, but not with a death grip. You may even want to practice some with someone you trust; I’m not ashamed to say that my father taught me how to shake hands properly when I was in high school.

Cut the profanity and slang out of your language. Get rid of the f-bomb and the awesome right now. All they will do is make you appear less educated and eloquent to the interviewer. Don’t even go there if they drop such language, because that may be a test of some sort. Save that stuff for your social circle.

It’s not about you, it’s about them. Whenever you interview, keep in mind that it’s about them, not about you. It’s not what the company can do for you, but what you can do for the company. Try to relate your assets to the overall mission of the company. The stronger connection you can make, the better.

Get the interviewer’s business card – or the business card of everyone who interviews you. This isn’t so much important for you long term, as you’ll either work there and interact with these people or you won’t work there and they’ll fade away. However, it is vital in the short term as it is a way to continue a positive interaction.

If you can, note something positive about each interviewer on the back of their business card. I have even gone so far as to excuse myself for a moment and then noted some things on the back of the card while out of the room. It codifies what you’ve noticed and learned during the interview. The most important thing to note are things that the interviewers discuss with obvious pride or importance.

Close positively. Whenever an interviewer leaves you, shake their hand and thank them for their time. Look them firmly in the eye again. This leaves them with a positive impression of you.

Send an email thank you as soon as you can after the interview. The next time you’re at your computer (or Blackberry or email device of choice), fire off an email to each person you interviewed with thanking them for their time. Mention that you’re excited by the prospect of working for the organization and how you think it’s a great fit.

Send a handwritten thank you within 24 hours of the end of the interview. This should be a handwritten rewrite of your email thank-you. Don’t use identical language. You should also work in anything you noted on the back of the business card if appropriate. I’ve written at length about how to write a good thank you note.

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  1. Him says:

    I agree with everything except for the last one. I believe that a professional-looking typed snail mail thank you letter should be sent, not a handwritten one.

    Handwriting makes it too personal when I think it should all be on a business/professional level.

  2. Nishant says:

    Another nice read. I didn’t realize that people swear or use profanity during interviews. hmm

  3. Brett McKay says:

    I’ve got to a hold of a copy of How to Win Friends and Influence people. I’ve always kind of dismissed it. Looks like it has some good advice.

  4. jamesonandwater says:

    I see the “drop by the office” and “phone a friend’s contact” advice everywhere, and to be honest either of those gestures would be treated as irritants where I work. Everyone here is drop-dead busy and cold calls or drop-ins would be more likely to put you at the bottom of the pile, unfortunately. (I work in construction management).

  5. Laura says:

    I think this is great advice – the one I hadn’t thought of before was to Google my interviewers. Why not? They’ll Google me to see what they can dig up. You should do it too, and not just to help establish a rapport. You’re interviewing them too, remember that. If you don’t like what you find out about them, then don’t work for them!

    The one thing that did send up a red flag though was your comment that you’ve gone so far as to excuse yourself from an interview to make notes on a business card about your interviewer. While I’m sure you used your judgement, I would certainly not recommend this strategy. I think it would be perceived by most as arrogant and rude. You should wait until the interview is over and you’re alone to make any notes.

  6. Alex says:

    I agree with the most of the things written here.
    I interview a lot, because I’m a consultant, and the more you interview, the more you realize that interviewing process is about keeping it simple and being yourself (or at least the best version of yourself).

    Also, I interview a lot of people too, and I strongly disagree with the following:

    1) “….gone so far as to excuse yourself from an interview to make notes ….” – Wow, if someone did that while I was interviewing them, I’d label them as a weirdo at the best! You usually have 30-60 minutes per person in an interview. Do you really wanna spend that limited amount of time by leaving the room???

    2) “Send a handwritten thank you within 24 hours of the end of the interview” – this never made any difference. A short and polite thank you email is good enough. Again, sending a handwritten note is an indication of possible boundary issues….

    3) “Don’t be afraid to stop by the office at some point in advance of your interview to talk to people…” – most of the companies won’t let you roam their offices without having an appointment. And, again, even if you could just drop by to an office as you please, and I’m one of your interviewers, I wouldn’t talk to you before the interview. Because, if I do it for you, I’d have to do it for all other candidates. And that would just double time and costs associated with interviewing process. And yes, I’d think you’re weird.

  7. jake says:

    I took a project management class and the instructor was a consultant for companies that wanted psychological evaluations to go along with their normal interviews. It was his job during the interview to try to bring out the true person so-to-speak.

    One example he gave was when he was consulted by a Airline company to hire managers for their airports. One of the questions he asked was, “If a man came up to you, and he was middle eastern looking, with a full beard what would you do?” He said many people gave wild and unprofessional answers, like one women who said she would have notified security and another man said he would have kept a close eye on that person.

    The instructor’s answer was, “How do you know what to do when we haven’t even trained you yet? How do you know what to say when we haven’t even told you what your job is? What if your job was to handle middle eastern clients?”

    He also gave examples where one women was so nervous she took out a nail filer and started filing her nails. She did not catch herself until she realize that all the people interviewing her were staring at her hands.

    Another example was a man’s cellphone went off and he actually told the interviewers to hold one second while he read his message. This was when he was in the middle of answering a question.

    Most of the tips he gave are mentioned in this article and what he emphasis was be professional. Answer questions in a professional manner. Also to be truthful in your answer, people will know when you lie, many of these interviewers have been trained to catch lies, and the questions they ask are made to expose those lies.

    Along with practicing your interview questions, practice your body language. There is a saying that 50% of the time people pay more attention to your body language than your words. Practice with a buddy to catch weird actions that you would do under nervous situations, like rubbing your neck or shaking your legs. I use to constantly touch my chin when I was answering a question, now I try to keep my hands in front of me and sit straight, I only use my hands to emphasis a point, then they go right back in front of me on the table.

  8. Helen says:

    Having contacts inside the organization is very helpful. It can give you a quick reference about the company. I was jealous to some of my friends for having contacts at some organizations. They easily got their job because of their contacts’ help.

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