Job Talk Column: Buying and Selling in the Job Market
by Heather Acerro
In your resume, cover letter, and interview, you are selling yourself to your potential employer, but don’t forget, you are also buying the right job for you. How can you tell if a job will be a perfect fit? And once you find the ideal job posting, how can you be sure that the employer knows that you are the ideal candidate to fill it? Read on for some tips on buying a great job and selling yourself.Buying
If you were buying a new car you would follow a certain process. You might talk to your friends and relatives about their cars. You would evaluate your current car, determining what you love about it and what you would like to change. You would also spend a lot of time researching the wide variety of cars on the market. Once you narrowed down your search, you would actually get out there and test drive available models, check out your favorite colors in person and then, finally, you would start looking for a good price.
Think of your job search in the same way. If you take a new job, or your first job, you are making a big investment. Sure, you will earn a salary, but you are investing your time and sharing your valuable skills with an organization. Really, it isn’t just a job, it is a step on your career ladder, so make sure that it is a sturdy one and that it is the step you want to be on. Plan to spend considerable time and energy hunting down the perfect workplace.
Start with pen and paper and make a list of job requirements. Think about what you want in your new job. Even if it will be your first job there are things that you are looking for, whether it is a certain type of environment that is appealing to you or a chance to use a particular skill set. Do some soul searching. What do you love about your current job? Even if this is not a job in a library, it can tell you a lot about what you enjoy. If you love bibliographic instruction more than anything, your ideal job should include a chance to teach. What are your hobbies? What aspects of those do you enjoy? Do all that you can to understand yourself and why you are drawn to a certain type of employment or activity. Think about the big questions, such as the type of library you want to work in – school, public, academic, medical, corporate - but don’t forget the little questions too. Do you want an office with a window? Do gray cubicles make you sick?
Once you have a clear idea of what you want in your new position, you need to prioritize. It is unlikely that a job will meet all of your requirements, so you need to decide which requirements are essential to your happiness. Don’t compromise on the items that are at the top of your list, but be willing to negotiate on the bottom few.
Now that you know exactly what you want and need for your next career step, start consulting the job lists. Talk to your friends and colleagues and describe your ideal job. You will be amazed by what you can discover through networking. Analyze job postings looking for the same keywords that you have on your list of requirements.
Once you have a job posting in hand, move on to research. You need to know the community and the organization backwards and forwards. Spend time on the organization’s website reading as much as you can. Pay attention to the mission statement; is it something that you believe in? Is there a history page, where has this company been? This will help you to determine where it may be going. Sometimes you can even find training documents or staff handbooks which provide you with a lot of information about the culture of the organization. Check for library statistics and annual reports; although these are mostly made up of numbers, they can give you a general idea of the library.
Don’t forget to consult newspapers, magazines and professional journals in your search for information about the library. Libraries are always being written up for innovative programming, materials collections, stellar librarians on staff, and more. If you can’t find anything, this also tells you something about the organization, so don’t think of that as a failure.
Finally, if you are within driving distance, be sure to visit the library. Spend time there exploring the collection and interacting with the employees as a customer. Hang out for a while so that you can get a real feel for the environment.
Once you have gathered all that you can about the organization, take the time to analyze your data and decide if the organization meets your expectations. If you decide that it is not the place for you, start back again with the job listings. It can seem like a waste of time to research and analyze, but it will pay off when you find the perfect job for you.Selling
You have the job posting for the best job in one hand. Now pick up a highlighter with your other hand. Work through the posting highlighting all of the adjectives that you can find. Next, grab a pen and underline each of the listed qualifications. Now analyze your skills and past performance and determine whether the adjectives describe you and if you meet the minimum qualifications. Be honest with yourself, this is an important step. If you find that you come up short in too many of the areas, you may need to reconsider whether this is the right position for you.
If your skill set matches the keywords that you found on the job description, start working on your resume. Just as each job opening and each person is unique, each resume should be unique. You need to tailor your resume for this particular opportunity and as your job search continues you will need to do this repeatedly. The best way to prepare for this task is to create a resume document that includes all the information that you may need. List all of your work experience, skills, accomplishments, associations, awards and anything else that you can think of that illustrates who you are.
Once you have this document ready to go, tailoring a resume will be easy. Just plug in the items that demonstrate each of the qualifications that you underlined on the job posting. For example, if the job requires “three years of supervisory experience” include information about the four years that you spent supervising volunteers at your last job. Work through all of the qualifications on the job posting to build your resume. Use some of the information that you gathered during your research to add a few extra items that you think the hiring manager would like to see, but don't go overboard. A good guideline is to keep your resume to one or two pages. When you have your resume ready to go, have someone through the free Resume Review Service provided by NMRT review it for you.
Your cover letter is a bridge between the job posting and your resume. This is where you need to illustrate the adjectives that you highlighted earlier. If the job posting mentions “excellent customer service,” write about the customer service award that you received in 2008. Use this letter to demonstrate your interest in the job, your enthusiasm for the work environment and to highlight your accomplishments. If you received a grant, created a successful program, or revolutionized a system, this is the place to mention it. Don't repeat the qualifications listed in your resume. Instead, use this space to shine. It is best to keep your letter to one page.
Once you have sent off your excellent cover letter and perfectly tailored resume, things are in the hands of the hiring manager until you get a call for an interview. Interviews are wonderful opportunities to meet new people and explore organizations. Being friendly and open with everyone at the library, including the security guard at the front entrance and the secretary who greets you, will make a great first impression. Keep in mind that you are not the only one on the spot; you are also interviewing your potential employer. Relax, be polite and smile throughout the process, but don't be afraid to be yourself. The interview team is made up of people who you will be working with and if your jokes fall flat in the interview, they probably won't fly in the office on a daily basis either.
Take a copy of your resume with you so that you can refer to it throughout the process. Make sure that you discuss things that truly demonstrate your skills, abilities and accomplishments. Also take with you a list of questions for your employer. The research that you did earlier can pay off as you ask questions about future programs or current policies, not only will this give you important information, but questions show the interviewers that you are interested in their organization. After the interview, it is always nice to follow up with a thank you note.
If everything went well, the next step might be a job offer. Congratulations, you have found the perfect job for you! Or did you? Remember, just because you are offered a job does not mean that you should accept it. Sometimes there is something that doesn't feel right about the organization. Perhaps the answers that you got during your interview were unsatisfactory. Don't think of passing up a job as a failure, a worse fate would be accepting the wrong job and being miserable. Before you accept a position sit down with your list of job requirements and weigh them against all that you have learned about your potential employer. If everything matches up, good for you and your new employer!
On the other hand, you may receive a disappointing call or form letter informing you that you have not been selected. Don't be discouraged and don't give up. Think about the application and interview process and imagine where you could have done better. Consider calling the hiring manager to ask for feedback on your interview performance. This is a wonderful learning process and upon reflection you might begin to think that perhaps that wasn't the right organization for you after all. There will be many more opportunities in your future, and the next job posting could be a better match for you. Even in a slow economy, a bad job is still a bad job.
Remember, just like buying a car, you wouldn't run out and jump in the first one that you see and drive away. Take your time in your job search and find the right one. You will be happier in the long run to find yourself in a workplace that means something to you.
Heather Acerro is the Assistant Manager of the Children's Services department of the Allen County Public Library in Fort Wayne, IN.