1) What should I do if I've been fired from my previous job?
If you are in the unfortunate position of being in the job search after being fired from your last job, there are several ways to handle the situation to minimize the damage.
Start by contacting the HR department of your previous employer to find out what information they will be sharing if they are contacted for a reference. Here’s why: In many cases a former employer is likely to share only the dates of employment and/or positive feedback.
This is especially true in corporate environments since there are liability issues that can arise when they say negative things that could be interpreted as false that then harm a former employee’s future job prospects.
If you know that a previous employer is going to provide a negative reference, then build a reference list of professional contacts from previous work experiences that you know (because you verified) will be a more positive reflection of your work ethic and character.
Your resume and cover letter should not raise the reasons why you were asked to leave the position. If you are asked to fill out an application specifying why you left your previous job, it is okay to be vague and keep it to something along the lines of “Poor fit for my skills” or some other honest but broad classification.
You do, however, need to be prepared with a truthful but positively framed narrative for why you were fired if asked during the job interview. It is important that your story shows that you have reflected on the incident and learned something. You can contextualize your narrative in order to provide background details that frame the position as a bad fit for your particular set of skills, ambitions or personality style. This allows you to turn to the current position, framing it as a stronger fit for you, thus ending on a high note. If you come off as denying any responsibility, it won’t look good.
Keep your story short, unemotional, factual, and frame it as a moment of personal growth and/or a blessing since it got you more oriented towards work that is ultimately more in line with your career goals such as the job you are currently applying for.
2) How can I stand out when there are so many candidates out there?
Focus on your strengths and how to best convey them:
- Build a personal brand. Depending on the job sector that you are applying for, being able to showcase a strong personal brand provides a valuable edge. In terms of the job search, this means framing your key personal and professional attributes to a few cogent ideas that are then built into your all aspects of your application and online presence to provide a consistent and compelling “story of you.”
- Tailor your application materials to each position you apply to. Recruiters look for qualification, fit and level of interest. If you make the effort to tailor your job application to address these three points, it will show. Most recruiters appreciate an application package well put together.
- Keyword optimize your application materials. If you are applying to a large organization, you may be competing against hundreds of candidates with a similar experience profile. For the initial round, job applications are often sorted by a computer these days (often referred to as applicant tracking systems or "ATS"), using a complex algorithm designed to fit text on the page to the qualifications listed in the job description. Learn about optimizing your resume in order to make sure you are getting through this first hurdle.
3) What is the best way to land an internship?
See if you know someone that has already done an internship where you are applying, reach out and talk to them about the experience. If you know them well, they may be able to give you some tips on what the program is looking for or even make a call to someone they know on the inside on your behalf.
If your campus has an alumni office, sometimes they are able to put you directly in touch with someone at the organization which can add up to a big advantage when it comes to getting noticed. In addition, get the word out among your family members to see if you have a connection through them that might help get your foot in the door.
Finally, apply to several internships to increase your odds and follow up carefully with each one. Keep in mind that internships are very competitive and determination is key to landing top notch opportunities.
4) How can I avoid discrimination during a job search?
There is no way to eliminate the possibility that your age, gender, race, disability (in areas not relevant to the position) or religion may be a deciding factor in the decision not to hire you. Although illegal, discrimination during the hiring process is exceedingly difficult to prove since all an employer really has to do is list other reasons why you were not selected for the job.
However, with awareness of the reality of discrimination, you can do your best to minimize the potential damage of it by being strategic with your application materials as well as your interview techniques.
For example, if you are over 40 and worried about ageism during your job search, consider including only your last 10 years of most relevant work experience rather than going back much further and alerting people to your age on your resume. Likewise, you do not need to include a date on your degrees, awards or other accomplishments.
Regarding job interviews, one way to head off inappropriate inquiries from hiring managers is to be ready to address some questions that might be asked. Preparing answers ahead of time will help you stay in control of your narrative. You won’t be as shaken or bothered by the exchange.
Finally, one of the most important things you can do to try to avoid discrimination is to seek out companies that have a strong track record of promoting diversity within their ranks. In fact, many companies that are invested in finding top talent already realize that discrimination in hiring won’t attract or retain the best people. Look for evidence of programs promoting diversity on the company website, mission statement and programs in the community that they support.
5) What are some key mistakes I should avoid?
Looking for work is difficult and you will inevitably make mistakes or wish you've done some things differently. However, don't blame yourself for your mistakes. Instead, learn from them. Here are some mistakes that you should definitely avoid:
- Jumping into the search before figuring out what you really want. Many people in the job search make the mistake of sending their resume to just about every job opening in their area without taking the time to really think about where they want to go with their career, and what that next step might look like. Don’t be desperate for a job. Take the time to figure out what jobs are the right fit for you. You’ll be happier and a better worker this way.
- Taking a passive approach. Many people wait for a job posting to show up and only apply to those. However, this “passive” approach misses a great deal of opportunities that may never be advertised. Thus, the importance of networking and having your name out there. Networking gives you an edge in that you may uncover hidden job opportunities. Beyond this, the next edge that you get is that your reference may drop in a word for you, instead of your application only being one amongst many.
- Sending out the same resume and cover letter to multiple job openings. It cannot be emphasized enough that you must customize your application materials to the specific positions you apply for. First, most of the initial sorting of applications are done by computers looking for a precise match to the job description. Second, your ability to communicate your qualifications, fit for the job (and company), and how the position fits in a larger narrative about your career trajectory, is critical to stand out among a field of competing candidates. Generic applications are easy for recruiters to spot – you don’t want to be “that guy.”
6) How can I get back to the workforce after taking time off?
Taking time away from the workforce is relatively common. Whether you left because of parenting responsibilities or to seek additional education in your field, restarting your career can be intimidating.
Start by updating your resume or CV which includes your gap period along with any additional skills, education or relevant experience you picked up along the way. For example, if you engaged in volunteer work, be sure to positively frame that experience with an honest but thorough review of any leadership, organizational or promotional work that you performed. Your cover letter offers another opportunity to frame your time away from paid labor as productive.
Networking with your former colleagues is another important investment of your time. It will allow you to find out about current opportunities to jump back in as well as get you up to date with important changes in your field that you may need to be aware of in order to shine in your next interview. This will also give you a chance to check in with potential references to give them a heads up that they may be hearing from prospective employers.
7) What do employers look for when they hire someone?
When looking for their next team member, the first thing that employers will use to filter through applicants are found on the resume – including your education, experience and skills that meet the qualifications needed for the job. A clear, professional and well laid out resume will be tailored to the job you are applying for, highlighting in similar language each of the most relevant aspects of your specific qualifications.
However, when you find yourself in the interview phase of the job search, your personal qualities, interpersonal skills and overall fit for the organizational culture are the determining factors. To prepare to shine along those lines, think through your life and find specific, real life examples to show that you have the following qualities:
- Passionate about the job itself and clear about how it fits into your overall career plans.
- Capable of honest self-evaluation of your strengths and weaknesses.
- Positive attitude and problem-solving abilities.
- Interpersonal communication that makes you a great member of a team and/or leader.
- Ability to incorporate constructive feedback and a desire to learn and grow professionally.
- Proactive and self-directed where appropriate.
- Have a track-record of meeting challenges with determination and ultimate success.
- Share core values with the company culture and mission statement.
8) Should I quit my job and find a better one?
In most cases, it is better to search for your next job while holding on to your current job, even though it might be a difficult position to be in. First, having that all important income will be one less stressor during the new job search, definitely worth putting up with a terrible coworker or a moody boss for a few more weeks to months.
Second, when you seek a new job while currently employed, it can make you look more attractive to potential employers likely to see you as ambitious and driven instead of desperate. When you can frame your job search as an opportunity to find a better fit for your skills and career goals rather than as a means to pay the mounting bills, it is a better bargaining position for salary negotiations as well.
Third, staying in your current position gives you the opportunity to find the perfect fit for your next job, making sure that you make the most of the transition rather than landing in yet another job that isn’t a strong match for your skills, personality or career goals.
9) Why can't I find work?
There are many different reasons why you may not be getting the response you expect from potential employers during your job search. We have compiled this list of the top 5 reasons, but you may want to take time to talk with a career coach who can lend their expertise to your specific situation, particularly if you rule these top reasons out.
- Pay attention to the drop off point. If you are not getting interviews, then your resume and/or cover letter likely have issues. If you are getting the interview, but not an offer, then it could be your interview presence or your references that need some work. Keep good records to try to isolate where you might be going wrong.
- You are not tailoring your application materials to the position. If you are sending out the same resume and cover letter to different job openings, chances are you are not doing enough to customize your application to the job itself. Remember, you only need one job. Apply to less positions, but maximize your chances for each of them.
- Location, location, location. You may need to look beyond your current geographical region since employment levels vary greatly across the nation. If you are not able to adapt your skillset to a new employment sector, a move may be the only way to stay in your particular niche.
- Update your skills and/or education. You may need to pursue training in order to be attractive to employers. If you are not able to list recent on the job training and/or higher education on your resume, you may be overlooked as out of date with the current labor force in your sector.
- Your specialty may be in decline. As the larger economy ebbs and flows and technology advances, different sectors of industry can shift dramatically. It may be time to look outside of your specific area and leverage your transferable skills into an entirely new career path.
10) I have multiple offers. Which one should I take?
If you have more than one offer on the table to choose from, congratulations! While choosing between two offers can be stressful, there are certainly worse problems to have. The key is to be fair and systematic in your decision so that you can make the best decision according to your priorities.
In order to make sense of two different offers, it is important to compare more than just the salary. Using the information from your follow up questions, or from your own independent research, make two separate lists that consider the following traits for each position:
- Job responsibilities (and how excited you are to get started!)
- Upward mobility within the company
- Flexibility of work and deadlines
- Degree of autonomy
- Location (factors such as traffic, parking, and distance)
- Company culture
- Work environment
Be sure to follow up quickly and professionally with the other company once you have secured your position with the company you chose. It’s a simple matter of courtesy and keeps the door open for future opportunities.