Recession-proof tips for a successful job hunt

Looking for a job? Here are some resume-writing and interviewing tips that can expedite your search — and help you land a job.

The resume

First, your resume should be concise — no more than two pages — and easy to read. Repeating keywords used in the job description will help ensure that your resume passes the employer’s first cut. Make sure your job titles stand out. Recruiters should be able to quickly notice the positions that you have held in the past.

What if you’ve never actually worked before? Specify any practical experience you gained from volunteer work or an internship. Did you take a related college course that might indicate you have the required skills or knowledge for the job? Some employers might consider your grade point average as an indicator of your ability to learn quickly and is often considered a predictor of future performance, especially in the science and technology fields.

Use your Internet search skills to find a resume layout that will present your information in an attractive and concise format. The Internet is also a great place to research potential employers. You will want to be well-acquainted with the company’s leadership team, including its board of directors, and its founding principles or mission.

Your resume will probably require a cover letter, particularly if the specific job you seek asks for one, but also in the event you need to clarify information in your resume — for example, if you majored in music, but are applying for a technology job.

Your resume should not contain any slang or acronyms, and must absolutely have no misspellings. Do not include references to your ethnicity, age, married status, familial status or sexual orientation, as such information has the potential to invite personal biases. Your resume should be all about your competencies, period.

The interview

To prepare for the interview, conduct mock interviews in front of a mirror or with the help of a friend. This rehearsal will help you internalize your answers and provide practice with keeping eye contact and answering a range of questions likely to be asked during the real interview.

Be sure to include some tough questions, such as: What’s your greatest weakness? Be honest, but be prepared to indicate how you have rectified any deficiencies — for example, “I used to have trouble managing my time when juggling multiple projects, but now I use technology to help keep me organized.”

If the workplace dress code where you are interviewing is “business casual,” then you should be dressed a step up from that. A suit is always acceptable. Wearing neutral gray works well for a number of different complexions, and blue is also a great color. A man should never wear black as it comes across as being too formal. And, ladies: No bare legs or large overpowering jewelry, like chunky necklaces or dangling earrings. And this is not the day to try out a new hairdo. You want the interviewer to remember you, not what you are wearing.

Make sure to turn off your cell phone — please, no texting! — and have adequate notepaper and a pen or two. I always tell my clients that the interview actually begins as soon as they walk out their front door.

During your interview, stay alert and engaged. This is your opportunity to obtain detailed and vital information about the company and whether it will be a good fit.

Make sure to answer any question that is asked, but don’t volunteer information. If the interviewer begins your interview with, “So, tell me about yourself,” have a concise answer that directly speaks to your having the requisite job skills.

If it’s a sales job, the interviewer might be looking for someone with the ability to communicate well, set goals, stay on track, and handle rejection. Your answer might be: “I am an extrovert who interacts well with people. I like to set goals and keep them, and I’m very persistent.”

Other approaches might be to talk about where you last worked — what inspired you most, or how you handled a challenging project — or to indicate why you want to work for that particular company. It’s permissible to ask, “Where would you like for me to start?”

At the end of the interview, if you are asked if you have any questions, you should always ask at least one. Prepare at least five questions ahead of time, so that if several are answered during the course of the interview, you will still have more in your arsenal.
Ask the interviewer how you did (“Do you think this job would be a good fit for me?”). Under no circumstance should you ever walk out of an interview saying, “I think it went well.”

Never discuss salary during a first interview. If asked what your salary requirements are, respond with, “If you feel I’m the right fit for the job, I’m sure you will make me the best possible offer.”

The follow-up

After the interview, follow up with a thank you note; a handwritten note will help you stand out from the other candidates. This is your chance to: indicate what you learned about the job; reiterate your matching qualifications; and to ask about next steps.

So, the interview went well and you are asked to provide references. What are you to do if you’ve never worked before? You might consider obtaining a reference from the supervisor where you volunteered, or asking a college advisor who knows you and your work well. It is important to note that professional references should never be from a family member.

Beginning the search

Despite the recent recession, a number of Massachusetts industries are considered “recession-proof.” The state Office of Business Development has reported that the Commonwealth is on the leading edge of several key economic development industries, including creative industries, defense and homeland security, financial services, information technology, life sciences, manufacturing, maritime commerce and renewable energy. Stimulus monies will also continue to fund jobs to improve the city’s infrastructure, and we don’t know yet what evolving “green” technology jobs will be generated.

It’s important to think of your job search as a great adventure. If you use the above recommendations, I’m sure your job hunting will go smoothly and you will be well-positioned to get the job. Good luck!

Kim Dukes-Rivers is the principal and owner of Diversity Staffing Pros LLC, one of Boston’s newest and most experienced women- and minority-owned diversity placement firms. The firm is located at 4 Copley Place, Suite 145, at Copley Plaza in Boston’s historic Back Bay.