What can I do to get an interview?
May 19, 2009 2:04 PM   Subscribe

What can I do to get an interview?

I was laid off from my first "real" job after just under a year. I'm now actively searching for a new job. I'm being a little picky so far, admittedly, because I'd really like to do something along the lines of what I was doing.

I've worked a very long time on my resume. I think I have a decent cover letter and make sure to tailor it to whomever I am applying to.

So far, I've applied to about 40 jobs. I use sites like Monster, Dice, Craigslist, etc. and apply either through those sites or through the company site directly. I generally get a "we got your application" automated mail, but that's usually it. I received two "you didn't get the job" automated mails. Sure, some of the jobs I'm applying for "require" a little more experience than I have. Other jobs, I read what they're looking for and think, "Perfect!" and then I never hear back.

When I was applying for jobs last year, I ended up getting most of my interviews through contacts in those companies. This time around, though, everyone I know is in companies that aren't hiring (or aren't looking for what I do).

So, what can I do do get an interview? My girlfriend recommended finding a "real" person from HR or whatnot to email and be like "hey, I just applied for this job, I really want it" but places don't generally list email addresses. In some cases, I have 2nd Degree LinkedIn connections with either people in HR or people with whom I would be working. Should I try to "Get Introduced Through A Connection"?

FWIW, I'm in the computer industry, so the whole "go and get an application in person and hand it to the manager" thing doesn't really work. Hell, these days even people at job fairs mostly just say "go see if there are openings and apply online".

Posting anonymously because I'd rather not give potential employers a starting point to try and dig stuff up about me. Throwaway email: gimmebackthatfiletofish at g mail dot com.
posted by anonymous to Work & Money (23 answers total) 19 users marked this as a favorite
I don't know if this is good advice, but it can be useful to find a person in HR (or in your department) a few days after applying to let them know you applied, and to verify that they received your resume. Having a real person on the line, even if it's just to verify your name, might help if they're going through a ton of applications.
posted by puckish at 2:14 PM on May 19, 2009

I'd say definitely try to get introduced through a connection. Friend or friend-of-a-friend would work best. Perhaps ask if you could take them out for coffee or a bite to eat and chat? Try to make it as personal as possible. This will definitely differentiate you from the other candidates.
If this simply isn't an option, join some industry groups on LinkedIn and see if you can network that way, emailing & Skyping, etc.

Keep pushing forward, and something will turn up - perhaps not where you expect it to. I'd say cast a wide net and be open to all opportunities (within reason) - you've got nothing to lose except time, and potentially a lot to gain. It sounds like you have a good idea of what you want and have taken solid steps in the right direction. Good luck.
posted by xiaolongbao at 2:19 PM on May 19, 2009

I'll recommend patience. I don't mean to rain on your parade, but I've applied to over 300 jobs in the past six months. You'll get something, don't worry.

Ask everyone you know if they have connections. It's important.

If you have anyone who works in HR or does hiring, ask them to look at your cover letter - it needs to be unique but professional. The most succesful cover letters I've seen have some humor in it, and address the position and company directly. Don't just write one cover letter and send it to everyone - believe me, I would see right through the "I respect your organization" etc when they clearly didn't research us.

Good luck!
posted by OrangeDrink at 2:25 PM on May 19, 2009 [1 favorite]

I don't want to be "that guy" but you've got less than a year's experience. Maybe you should be less picky.
posted by JaredSeth at 2:25 PM on May 19, 2009 [11 favorites]

I'd add that there's nothing wrong with taking a job that's less than dreamy for a while - working in a coffeshop or a computer parts store is actually great networking, and you won't go broke in the meantime. You can always quit, but don't shoot yourself in the foot by waiting for the perfect opportunity.
posted by OrangeDrink at 2:34 PM on May 19, 2009 [1 favorite]

I'm with Jared, don't be picky. But I'll just tell you that the carpet bombing resume technique worked for me. I hit like 150 jobs applied for before i got some real interviews, and ended up finding a really good job that was great experience. Keep at it! Most people don't apply for jobs like this, so you've got an edge.
posted by Mach5 at 2:38 PM on May 19, 2009

Good suggestions so far; I have just a bit to add to the mix.

Unless you're pursuing jobs in some pretty small companies, it's likely that an HR person is receiving and screening your resume/cover letter before the hiring manager ever sees it. Especially in a computer-related field, much of what you do is Greek to an entry-level HR person.

To pass that hurdle, a very specific style of cover letter often does the trick. Basically, the bulk of your cover letter should be in the form of two columns. In one column you list the stated requirements of the job and then, in the other column, line up your specific qualifications or experiences or whatever that fulfill the requirement. Keep this to short bullet points; these HR folks generally make a decision about your submission in less than a minute.

It's also quite possible that the resumes are scanned by software that picks out key words and phrases. (You will know vastly more about how this works than I could ever hope to know, so please be patient with me here.) If your resume doesn't contain the key words and jargon they are looking for, you will not pass beyond that initial screening. So, make sure your resume is also customized to the job you are applying for.

Beyond that, it really does take patience, even moreso due to this lousy economy than usual.
posted by DrGail at 2:45 PM on May 19, 2009 [7 favorites]

Quite a few jobs out there are spoken for when they get posted and many more of the good ones never need to be posted in the first place, so don't take it personally and just keep knocking on doors. I'm making better headway through the people I know than I ever will being one of hundreds of "cold" resumes on a desk somewhere.

Your contacts might not have a job for you, but they have contacts. And their contacts have contacts. And so on. Good luck!
posted by futureisunwritten at 2:45 PM on May 19, 2009

If there's a specific company you're targeting, find a way to go around HR.

HR typically only hires people if and when they get told to hire, by someone else who actually has authority. Otherwise they just act as a buffer between the jobless hordes and the jobs inside.

If you want to apply to the IT department of a company, for example, then somehow find the name of the IT department manager. it can be as simple as phoning reception and asking for the name and formal job title of the IT manager; if you're asked 'why?' by the receptionist you can say you need to send him/her some information. .

Then send your resume in directly to that person.

Keep in mind too, with your admittedly limited experience, there are other jobless folks who have more experience than you, who are still out of work and competing for the same jobs you're applying for. So you may need to broaden your expectations.
posted by thermonuclear.jive.turkey at 2:47 PM on May 19, 2009 [1 favorite]

Not sure what the time frame you're looking at here (i.e. how long its been since you got laid off/started applying to jobs) but I'm just going to echo everyone else - give it time. Sometimes places take a few weeks to get back to you, or your job may not have been posted yet. I was laid off about 2 months ago - and have applied to probably a few hundred+ jobs (no joke). I've heard back from a number of them - and am in the middle of the interview process with a few - but the hiring processes just take a long time.

Also - widen your scope - you might find tangential jobs in related industries that you can enjoy doing and that fall within your skill set as well.

Just remember these are hard times for everyone - its not you. Do your best, look for jobs, and just keep in mind it'll take some time (I think the average time for a newly laid off worker to find a new job is something like six months these days). Sounds like you're a good, hard working candidate - if so, a job will come along.
posted by jourman2 at 2:58 PM on May 19, 2009

Apply for anything that is remotely related to your interest area, and consider broadening your horizons a bit. I was underemployed (temping) or unemployed for about a year before I found a good fit just a few weeks ago, and found that the practice of applying to lots and lots of jobs gradually helped me get better at it. Through craiglsist, idealist, and the temp agency, I applied for and got interviews for jobs that I felt I didn't really want. It was good practice for when the right job did come around -- I was getting good at talking about myself in the right way and more and more comfortable in interviews, so I nailed it when it counted. Getting the interview is a big hurdle, getting past that to the next round and getting hired is also difficult, so make sure you're ready.

Applying for tons of jobs also helped me forge some relationships that led to good networking opportunities (as orangedrink points out, just getting yourself out there is important). When I got turned down for jobs that I thought I would have been great at, I asked for feedback and advice. A few times I found that I had been considered a good candidate but that other applicants had had more experience. In those situations people who had turned me down for a job were usually still willing to help me out finding other opportunities, and once I even got some good pointers on my resume and interviewing technique.

Basically, I started to get good interviews when I started treating job applications like a job that I had to do -- I worked at them every day, even when I didn't want to. I applied for tons of jobs that I didn't completely want to do. I went to interviews that seemed like dead ends. Eventually, the process worked for me and I found a job that works for me.

It's hard! Be persistent and learn from your experiences. Keep at it and your work will pay off.
posted by cubby at 3:04 PM on May 19, 2009 [1 favorite]

Purely anecdotal, but nthing searching beyond your preferred scope. The first time I got laid off was during the major recession of the early 1980s. I'd been at the same company since I was 16 years old, starting out as a telex operator, and then moving up within the communications department. After I got laid off, I scoured the classifieds for jobs in marketing/communications, answered endless ads that were simply personnel companies trying to add resumes to their files, and networked as best I could with folks in my industry, but everyone other company was cutting their staff, too. (Obviously, this was in the days before the Internet, before home computers, when you had to pay 10 cents per copy to run off your resume.) I was getting desperate because my unemployment insurance was about to run out, so I started answering ads for clerical help in all of the local newspapers (not only the Detroit News and Free Press, but the very local papers like the Macomb Daily and Oakland Press, etc.) I spotted a two-lined classified ad looking for a telex operator, which had been my entry-level position some years before, but I was desperate and called. It was a tiny company (whereas previously I'd worked for a Fortune 500 company) and the salary offered was about $2,000 less annually than I'd been earning. But they did offer Blue Cross, so I took it thinking of it as an interim solution until I found something better.

I ended up staying there for 11 years. There were several benefits to working for a tiny company - when the boss was pleased with your work, he'd give you a raise. There were no performance reviews, or having to have paperwork processed and approved through various departments. Also, because the company was small, the boss noticed my initiative, and it was only a year or so before he had me help him out with some sales accounts, and then I eventually got involved in purchasing as well as sales (and still sending telexes, since it was a very small company). Nevertheless, even though at first glance it was a job I ordinarily wouldn't have applied for if I hadn't been desperate, I probably would've never gotten the opportunity for advancement that I had once I accepted the job, learned about the industry and applied myself. I never ever pictured myself as being knowlegable in the steel industry (since my previous experience and my degree was in communications/marketing), but those 11 years at that tiny company not only benefitted me financially, it also gave me a huge scope of hands-on experience in things like shipping/receiving, transportation, material handling, and even the metric system. Back when I'd first gotten laid off in 1981 from an advertising department, I never would have imagined that learning all about the intricacies of buying, selling and processing steel would be such a boon to my resume.
posted by Oriole Adams at 3:39 PM on May 19, 2009 [2 favorites]

I think your girlfriend is on the right track. In addition to finding a real person in HR to contact, you could also try to find real people in the departments you're targeting--even if you don't reach the individual doing the hiring, you might get in touch with that person's boss or someone who could be an advocate for you in the company.

If you want the name of a contact person in HR or any other department, use LinkedIn and Google to get a likely name--i.e., you see on LinkedIn that Joe Smith is VP-Marketing at Acme Co. and you just applied to Acme's marketing department, you call Acme and ask for Joe Smith, then tell him your story ("Hello Mr. Smith, my name is Anony Mous and I submitted an application for the web marketing position at Acme through Monster.com. I wanted to follow up by phone with someone in that area. Would you the correct person to discuss this with?"). You can also try to get this information from receptionists or operators ("Hi, I'm trying to reach someone in web marketing; do you know who the best person to contact would be?"). They may not be able to disclose that information due to company policy (some places won't transfer you to "marketing"--you need to ask for someone by name), but it's worth a shot.

It's true, people don't generally list their e-mail addresses with this sort of thing. But it's easier than you'd think to get people on the phone. Whether or not they'll talk to you is another question, of course, but as long as you're respectful and do a little homework beforehand, this might well be your ticket in.
posted by Meg_Murry at 3:55 PM on May 19, 2009

It's a really, really bad economy. It's not you; it's the economy. Use your friends and family to build a network, and ask people to help you get interviews.
posted by theora55 at 4:34 PM on May 19, 2009

My company had a couple of positions posted recently, and I found it deeply frustrating to receive a flood of calls from job applicants trying to go around the regular hiring process to get their feet in the door. This tactic may be successful for some, but you may just end up annoying someone enough that they mark you off the list. I advise you to pay close attention to the application instructions in the job posting. If they say no calls/no emails, make sure you don't disqualify yourself by calling or emailing anyway.

At my company, the most successful applicants are the ones who write great cover letters. Your letter should tell the company that you know what they do and are interested in it, beyond the generic "respect your organization" type stuff. You should tell them why you are interested in the job, why specifically you will love the job and be an enthusiastic and productive employee. Most importantly, your letter should tell them what you have to bring to them. If you can delineate how hiring you will benefit them, you might just get a call back. Also, make sure you include specific software/hardware/certifications/skills so that you pass any machine read tests.

But yeah, mostly, it's not anything you can do. It's a tough economy. Keep trying, network, work at job seeking like it's a job, and eventually it will pay off.
posted by faustessa at 4:53 PM on May 19, 2009 [8 favorites]

I sympathise, I went through a similar situation a few years back where I ended up being unemployed for 4 months and it was very disheartening. My advice is to *not* let youself get to the point of being disheartened in the first place. My advice for...

Getting an actual interview

Consider writing up a quick one-page document with a photo of yourself and some other photos of you with family / engaged in sports you like etc. Make it a personal approach so your potential employees can feel more like they know you. This approach works well for everything from job interviews to getting dibs on rental properties.

Staying sane and motivated in the interim

I second the other suggestions here to get out of the house and get even a temporary low-paying job. There's not much more demoralising than being stuck at home day after day with no real plan, just waiting to hear back from job applications. You could also consider volunteering - anything to get you out of the house and feeling like you're doing something productive out-of-the-house even just a few days a week. Plus it's brilliant for networking! You could also try temping agencies.

Spend some of that free time working towards specific goals such as fitness, personal hobbies, or your own business.

I hope that helps. All the very best!
posted by katala at 5:03 PM on May 19, 2009

I think the key here is patience, perseverance and keeping your eyes open for any opportunity.

On a side note, here's my own personal axe to grind but I find it so unhelpful when people suggest to the unemployed* that they look for a coffee shop job or fast food. As though there aren't unemployed, skilled baristas out there with YEARS of experience who are also looking for work. As if the fast food manager wants someone who is biding their time until they can get back into the professional workforce when they can have a compliant teenager or a hard working retiree who has been shut out of the regular system. As if that idea hasn't already come across to them! By all means, be open to that if you can since you can dump those jobs in a heartbeat if something opens up but I think you just have to keep going. Things really, really suck right now and I think it's best to keep motivated to get that job that you've trained for. You'll know when you need to turn to another source to keep going but I feel like getting rejected from fast food places isn't really a morale booster either.

*burned in the dot-com implosion; feeling the burn now
posted by amanda at 5:19 PM on May 19, 2009 [3 favorites]

Networking. If you're introverted and don't like networking consider it one of life's challenges to be surmounted. There certainly are other ways to find work but an aggressive networking campaign is likely to be the most successful
posted by dfriedman at 5:44 PM on May 19, 2009

Everyone upthread is right; it's the economy, plus 40 resumes is nothing.

When I was about to get laid off with the dot-bomb implosion, I applied to maybe 5-6 jobs a day, 5 days a week, for over four months (in the realm of 350+ resumes sent out) and got a total of 3 interviews.

One happened to be my dream job. The day before my company was due to let me go (I had managed to stay on by structuring and supervising everyone else's layoffs), I got hired at the place I'm at now. So, that is what you should expect; it may sound unrealistic, but applying for 100 jobs to get 1 interview in an economic crisis like this is unfortunately what it's going to take, I think.

I work in the tech industry and know several people who have been out of work for more than a year with more than 15 years' professional experience. Two are temping through agencies, three decided to try freelancing/running their own businesses out of their homes and personal computer setups for as long as possible because they simply cannot find permanent, full-time jobs with benefits any more.

Good luck, and stay on target.
posted by Unicorn on the cob at 7:29 PM on May 19, 2009

Great advice so far (I was in the same situation) and I want to add what worked for me since I recently got hired at my "dream job:"

1. Make "job hunting" your part-time job. If you were laid off without cause, file for unemployment insurance and take 3-4 hours out of your day to find openings or sharpen your resume or cover letter. Have grammatically literate friends proofread both. If no openings arise, consider learning new skills (programming languages, in your case).

2. Network. Network as hard as possible! Entry level employees are particularly suffering, so use every edge you have.

3. Some advice on the cover letter: they want to know what you can do for them, not what you'd take from them. Make sure you emphasize how your can contribute immediately. Be sincere and clear, and convey enthusiasm if you have any.

4. I don't like the idea of calling HR managers up (they generally hate it) but sometimes you find a polite person who will help you along the way. One lady contacted me to tell me I submitted a resume with an inaccurate objective (I sent an employer in DC a "work in CA" objective...) and she later tracked my application as it circulated to various departments.

Above all: it's the economy, not you. Your inability to find work has nothing to do with your skills. Good luck!
posted by achompas at 12:05 PM on May 20, 2009

I think a lot of job requisitions for software companies that you see posted to craigslist/monster/etc. already have a candidate lined up, but are required to post the positions publicly for legal reasons. There's a whole lot of red tape involved with hiring in public companies, so I wouldn't get too discouraged. Keep carpet-bombing places with your resumé. 40 really isn't a whole lot.

The surest way to get a job in the tech field is through a contact who can vouch for your technical abilities. You didn't specify you were a programmer, but if you are, get your butt working on open source and personal projects. It's a great way to meet people who will think of you when a position is free.

Also, less than one year of experience in the field is nothing, you need to be less picky. Work for a crappy website or startup if you have to.. I assume you have bills to pay. The longer you go without working in the field, the bigger the hole in your resumé will be, and they will ask you what you were doing at the time.
posted by cj_ at 2:04 PM on May 20, 2009

I would also recommend trying to go around HR and I'm saying this as an HR person who used to be in charge of hiring for a medium sized software company. There is really nothing more annoying to an HR person who just spent three days going through a large pile of resumes than when the hiring manager walks up with this one resume they got from a friend/neighbor/randomly and says, "bring this guy in" but it is effective.
posted by magnetsphere at 10:25 AM on May 21, 2009 [1 favorite]

In some cases, I have 2nd Degree LinkedIn connections with either people in HR or people with whom I would be working. Should I try to "Get Introduced Through A Connection"?

Yes. I know people who have benefitted from this - colleagues who have had terrific resumes, applied a lot, gotten no calls or interviews, and then contacted 2nd or 3rd degree connections via LinkedIn - and then GOT an interview. Definitely worth a try.
posted by kristi at 11:36 AM on May 23, 2009

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