Published on January 5, 2017
Jerry Burdick IT Director at Port of San Francisco
Outstanding! I applaud your interest and want to help you nail the gig. I'm sneaking up on 22 years in the industry, and I find it as vibrant, challenging, engaging, and fun today as it was way back when. The good news is that there are lots of job opportunities. The difficult part is that there is even more interest. So, how do you stand out from the rest of the crowd to land an interview?
There's the sticking point. I promise you that hiring managers want to give you every chance. In spite of the nerds-in-the-basement mystique, IT is a people business. Regardless of the task - helping a user log on, replacing a mouse, optimizing a database, or designing a data center - we want to find the right people to tackle it. For example, when I interviewed for my second IT job, my manager didn't ask a single technical question. I was floored, but her logic was clear. "I can buy you a book to fill in the skill set gaps, but I need to know if you can adapt, work well with my team, and offer great service to our customers." That was a big lesson. Today, unfortunately, I see far too many application packages that don't make it past an initial glance. Don't be that person! Give me a reason to consider you, and I'll make it happen. Make it too easy to dismiss you, and we'll never know.
Alright, wheels on the ground. Here are some tips to make you look your best and help ensure your application gets the attention it deserves.
Have your homework done.
- Polish that resume. Be honest about your skills, education, and experience. Don't be shy about your accomplishments, but do be concise. Have mentors and peers alike review it,
- Freshen your list of references. Make sure phone numbers and email addresses are current and accurate. Make sure everyone on that list knows you're looking for a job.
Sometimes an opportunity leaps at you when you don't expect it, but do your best to have this squared up and ready to go ahead of time. Seeing a job posting and then having to spend a week revising your resume and tracking down your old boss is an obstacle at best, and a deal-killer at worst. Be prepared. And when that opportunity does appear...
Read the job announcement/posting thoroughly.
- In fact, read it twice. Does the job description speak to you? Does it match your interests, and can you see yourself succeeding in the role? Take notes, jot down questions.
- Check the Qualifications. This can be confusing. Words like minimum, ideal, years of this, years of that, substituting education with experience and vice-versa. Find the common ground, and be honest with yourself. For example, if you don't have a minimum of five years of hands-on Oracle support experience, maybe that Senior Oracle Support Analyst opening isn't for you. But if you can mate minimal experience to ample enthusiasm and a willingness to study on your own, carry on.
- Double-check any Requirements. Don't ignore this section! Again, be honest with yourself. If a background check is listed and you're wanted in two states, be candid. If the job requires a valid driver's license and yours went south after that DUI, be candid. If the job schedule is 8-5 M-F, but you're a night owl without an alarm clock, yeah...be candid. The tough part here is that, in the hiring process, the honor code is assumed and many of these details are addressed at the tail end as an offer letter is being composed. Going that far down the path only to see it explode is brutal on everyone. (Note: none of this means, "don't apply." But it does mean that you should ask questions first. Every announcement/posting will offer contact information for this purpose.)
- Logistical Stuff. Don't ignore the small details. I mentioned work hours above, but it's important. IT, by nature, often extends beyond 8-5. Consider other variables. Dress code, corporate culture (yes, that means do your research on the hiring organization), and of course, the commute. If the job is in San Francisco and you live in Manteca, do you have a plan and does it really make sense? All of these things matter.
Alright, so you found a job listing that really speaks to you, you can make a case that your qualifications are in line, and that all requirements can be addressed. This is awesome! Now it's time to really dig in.
Submit a COMPLETE application package.
I can't emphasize this enough. The job posting will have details on how to apply. Follow them to the letter.
- Cover letter. This is important. If it's bad, it'll be read by one person. If it's good, you just inched closer to that interview, and it'll be read by many people. I once got some great advice from a recruiter, which I'll paraphrase here. Your resume should tell your story up to today. What you've learned, where you've worked, and what you've accomplished. Your cover letter should tell what happens next. Explain why the job (and the organization) interests you. Concisely elaborate on the value you'll provide. Be enthusiastic. Use spell check. Seriously. Use grammar check too. If you include names or titles, make sure they're correct.
- Application. It seems kind of old-school, but if there is an actual application, fill it out completely. Unless specifically stated in the instructions, don't assume you can type, "Please see my resume," and call it a day.
- Supplemental Questionnaire. More and more job postings utilize this tool, and it's great for everyone. It gives you the chance to brag about your skills and accomplishments at a level of detail much deeper than your resume. It also gives you the opportunity to really state your case if you happen to be short on some of the qualifications. On the other side, it allows the hiring manager (or committee) the chance to get to know you better, to gauge your thought processes, measure your organization and communication skills, and to address any gray areas that otherwise appear black-and-white. Rule #1: read the instructions carefully. All of them. The ones at the top of the questionnaire as well as the ones specific to each question. Don't leave out any detail. Here's a secret - fully answering the question, even if you're short on experience or specific skills, is much more valuable than a simplistic, wavering, and unfocused answer which touts amazing chops yet ignores the request to cite time frames and identify hardware components. Rule #2: devote all the attention necessary to this task. (It will take longer than you think. If it doesn't, you're doing it wrong.) In fact, do a first draft, let it rest for a day, and revise it. And don't forget to check spelling and grammar.
- Review, review, proofread again, review one more time....then submit. Read the posting again, and check off all of the items you addressed in your application package. If you can, have a mentor take a peek too - not necessarily for content, but for spelling and grammar. When you're confident, check once more. When you're really confident...submit!
One last note, and good luck!
Why is the entire package important? Here's an example. In my public sector environment, the completed supplemental questionnaire is often the only element I see before a list of potential candidates for interviews is generated. It's only at that point I get to see cover letters and resumes. In large private sector organizations, this can be reversed, and the cover letter and resume are the only tools used to define that initial "cut." In small organizations, it may just be the cover letter that qualifies you. The point is that you may not know which segment of the application package will be judged, let alone when in the process it happens or who will be responsible for it. By dotting all of your i's and crossing all of those t's, you're doing everything in your power toward that next step. GOOD LUCK!