Job hunting is a very burdensome, yet a very rewarding task. And, like many other challenging yet rewarding things, it, too comes naturally to some people while others largely struggle. But all of us that hyperventilate with the very thought of finding a job need not despair. There are a few things we can pay attention to that can ease out the hunting process and put the odds of landing a job at our favor. Below is a list of things I have compiled from my own experiences, as well as, from success stories of friends and colleagues. This list, by no means, is exhaustive, but covers important points that a lot of us often overlook.
You are NOT defined by your major
It is a common misconception to think that the scope of one’s work is limited to his/her major. The truth is, no body really cares about the major as much. The fact that you have chosen to finish 4 years of college and perhaps a few more years of graduate school already shows your commitment towards learning. What employers now want to see is if you can apply those 4+ years into one focused stream, for about 40 hours a week and be good at it. When I went for my masters, I had two choices: If I took Operating Systems and Algorithms & Complexity, I would have a Computer Science major. But keeping all other courses same, instead of those two, if I took Data Mining and Software Engineering, I would have an Information Technology major. That is how educational institutes roll. Do the hiring managers and the developers that interview you in the real world care about the difference between those courses, and thus your major? Nope. Much more important than your major, is your passion. Within my own family, I have seen a civil engineer reach the executive level of the banking industry and a chemical engineer turn into a senior database administrator. Not all of us are fortunate to find our passion by the time we choose our major, and that is perfectly fine. It is in fact even a greater achievement having chosen something that you are not passionate about, and yet become successful at it – it shows your commitment, and your accountability. College aside though, being successful and happy in your career is a different story – it is not only a delicate mixture of commitment and hard work, but also a very bold garnish of passion; and the employers know that.
Your school and your GPA is NOT the real world
It is awesome that you had a great experience at school and did some pretty amazing projects. But because of diverse majors and the vastness of materials covered, no school project will perfectly replicate a real world scenario, because of which, your GPA won’t really matter, unless it is unacceptably low. Even at places where it does matter, it is merely a criteria to filter some of the candidates out and select your resume for a phone screen – it will NOT get you the job. Generally, schools teach us discipline and time management, and that’s about it. Thus, your 3.8 reflects that you took classes, went to them, had a good relationship with your professors and were all-in-all good at the typical school experience. Your 3.8 will, by no means or form, guarantee that you will succeed at your job, unless you want to pursue a very academic or a research-oriented job, like a scientist or a professor. Most real world jobs are a combination of projects, processes, deadlines, iterations and communication. If you have those qualities, in addition to the passion and drive to continue to learn and get better, with the combination of some key skills, of course, you should be golden. So stop fidgeting about those academic details and awards and honors and all that. It is good to have them, but like I said before, it wont get you the job. For a Software Developer position, I would rather hire an IT major with a 3.2 GPA who has done 5 independent (possibly open-source) projects and has participated in a few programming competitions out of personal interest, rather than a hardcore Computer Science major with a 3.95 GPA summa cum laude, who is a leading athlete and also the president of some student association. Wouldn’t you?
Overestimating and Underestimating yourself
All of us have fallen victim to both. Sometimes we think that we are not very good at what we do, and the other times, we tend to think that we are the absolute best. When either is reflected in your interview or your resume, it immediately signals a red flag to your prospective employer. Someone who underestimates himself/herself too much, will in essence, lack confidence to make important decisions and will not be very effective at leading a team. It also shows that they always need a second opinion, and most of the times in the business world, there isn’t one! Overestimating, on the other hand, is an even bigger issue as a person who overestimates himself/herself has stopped learning and all forms of growth that comes with it. And from an employer’s perspective, there is no point hiring an employee that cannot grow with the company. Overestimation also hints at underlying issues with ill ego, inability to work with a team and failure to take criticism, all of which mean a straight no-hire. The best bet then is to be confident and proud about your achievements, yet be down-to-earth and open to suggestions from others. When this reflects on your personality, you exude confidence, command and accountability, at the same time, possessing humility and the ability to work as a team, which is a sure fire amongst employers.
The idea that your resume should be a single conservative page laden with dull shades of Times New Roman and unostentatiously round bullets, is all but obsolete. Resumes instead should be a vibrant caricature of your personality. It should make the employers look forward to meeting with you, not only because you are stellar at what you do, but also because you seem like an amazingly cool guy that they’d love to have coffee with. Would you ever want to have a coffee or go to a concert with a dull and boring resume? Obviously not, especially after having already looked at hundreds of similar ones that flew into your mailbox that same day! So the idea is to be unique, stand out, speak up, show your passion, your work, your ideas, your interests – show yourself. Have a traditional resume, but also link it to your blog, your Flickr, your Twitter, your personal website, your LinkedIn, your Instagram, hell, even your Facebook! As long as you are not a raging alcoholic or an addicted druggie, you should be fine. If these social sites collectively reflect a coherent passion, a little bit of beer here and there is totally cool – after all, we are all humans! This will give the employers a face and a personality to connect to, rather than just one boring piece of paper.
Where to apply, big or small?
To work for a multi-billion dollar company, a small established company, or a fledgling startup? Although I have worked for all three of these, there is really no right or wrong. It depends on the type of person you are. A big multinational will have very defined set of corporate structures and very little flexibility. It will also in most cases, pay the highest. But at the same time, you may also fall victim to mass layoffs at times of stressed economy. Big companies are more of a “yes” or “no” entities. They either have something in their corporate rulebook, or they don’t, there is no changing or bending for anyone. There is also an established hierarchy and the amount of creative input/control one has is very limited. At the same time, the amount of responsibility one person has is also limited as there are specialized positions for almost every function. A startup on the other hand, gives much more freedom on the creative end. But it also brings the stresses of being an entrepreneur – you will be the jack of all trades – enter data in the excel sheets, write code for a software, oversee finances, make sales pitches to prospective venture capitalists, even make coffee. It entails long hours and you wont even be sure whether you will receive your next paycheck. But at the same time, you could either start or quickly climb up the ladder to a decision making position and own something. If your company hits big, you may even drive a fancy new Aston Martin and live in some crafty downtown condo in a big city. Lastly, the small established company is perhaps the safest bet and the best of both worlds – it gives you freedom and creative input, and the ability to climb up the hierarchical ladders without the corporate mess of bigger companies or the uncertainty and stress of a startup. You may also have a better work-life balance but possibly a lower salary. So, the decision ultimately is yours on what kind of lifestyle suits you, or your family.
How to apply?
This is perhaps the most important and baffling question, even though it seems pretty obvious and straightforward. The process of applying for a job is not set in stone. But that being said, there are generally established routes that companies follow when they hire applicants. Hiring is as stressful to companies as it is to applicants. It takes a lot of financial investment, uses up productive time from the decision makers’ busy schedules and consumes a lot of time. So unless a company is hiring for multiple positions, they prefer to hire through internal resources, and as a matter fact, that is how most open positions are filled – through word of mouth. Someone knows someone, recommends him/her, and rest is the usual hiring process. So in essence, the most powerful tool a job applicant has at his/her disposal is “communication.” Talk to people, find out what is going on, ask for help, seek suggestions, take advice, improve your network. This is by far the best method of landing a job.
If this fails, only then should the usual application process be adopted. In that case, job boards, Craigslist, company websites, career services at your school, are all great choices. A word on job boards and craigslist though: Most jobs here are posted by recruiters, or the “head hunters” that are the middle-men between you and your coveted job. Try to avoid this extra step at all costs. It will only extend your application process, lower your salary and limit your negotiation power. One option that usually works, is to read the job description from these posts and copy-paste a part of it in Google. You will be amazed at how often you will find that those descriptions are simply copied from the actual company’s post with the company’s name changed to “our client.” So just find the actual post, go to the company website, apply directly and avoid the head hunters.
One other tip is to avoid recklessly shooting in applications to 30 companies on the same day. Trust me, you will possibly NOT hear back from any of them. Think of it from the other side. It will take an HR manager less than 10 seconds to figure out whether your application is generic and has been sent to 30 different companies or a very tailored version, one that is specific to their company and the position available. Remember, quality is always better than quantity. Applying to more jobs will NOT increase your chances of landing a job. So be specific, careful and take time to tailor your application to the position and the company your are applying for. Don’t just have a cover letter that you simply change the name of the company and ship out, have a general outline, but write the cover letter or change your resume to match what research you have done about that particular job. I typically take anywhere from 3 days to a week to apply for 1 job. That may always not be feasible, but at least take a day to apply – don’t just go on an application frenzy, it will not help.
Happiness is much more important than your career
We all want stellar careers, a fat paycheck and a handsome title. But in the end, what matters is happiness. I always tell my friends and colleagues, your work is only 8 hours out of a possible 24, the rest of which is also equally, if not more important. So pay good attention to that before you go on an all-out attempt to decorate your curriculum vitae with grand achievements and worthy mentions. It is a bit of a cliché , but eventually when you become a crippled old human being, it is the life you have lived that matters, not the 20-page resume that has been gathering dust somewhere in the attic.