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02 June 2013

Useful Tips for Job Applicants (From a Former Manager)

Cartoon created by 
Rob San Miguel (GoAnimate)
Two months have passed after graduation and I assume that most new graduates have found jobs already.  If the government is accurate in saying that the Philippine economy actually outperformed the rest of East Asia during the first quarter of 2013, then logically, more jobs should be available for our fresh graduates. 

I was a manager of a learning center for five years.  Our business is seasonal so we have many job openings during certain months of the year.  During my tenure, I interviewed hundreds of applicants and I encountered many kinds of applicants, perused many resumes and hired people who looked good on paper but ended up performing poorly.  I also hired people who seemed unqualified at first glance but they outperformed new employees from Ivy League schools. 

For fresh graduates who are still unable to find jobs or for those who took a two-month break, here are some tips you may find useful when applying.

Contents
  • The Resume
  • The Attire
  • The Interview
  • The Post-Interview and Your Word of Honor
  • The Problem with Ivy League Schools

PART ONE: THE RESUME

“First, you are your résumé. Period.”

Submit a sloppily made résumé with even just one grammatical error, or misalignment of words, then expect your résumé to be placed at the bottom of the heap. Managers are busy.  If you cannot make a decent résumé, how can we expect you to do the more intricate task? Your résumé should stand out. It should look professional but it should not be overdesigned. Your résumé should say, “I made an effort to make this unique but still following professional standard.” Fonts also matter. Choose a more professional looking font.  Arial and Time New Romans tell me the applicant is unimaginative. Comic Sans means the applicant has a mentality of a child.  Segoe UI or Century Gothic tells me the applicant is unique, an individual but he can be a team player.  But seriously, my advice is to follow the basic format of a résumé and add something uniquely individual.  A boring résumé means a mediocre employee.

Never entirely copy a résumé format from the web or from Microsoft Word or any other application. Get some ideas but always make your own.  If you copy paste your résumé, then what else will you copy paste once you are hired? “Thanks for applying. Don’t call us. We’ll call you, which, of course, means we won’t. “

Your résumé should be one page only, and remove unnecessary information that will just clutter your résumé.  In the past, when I received a two or three-page résumé, I did not read it immediately. I chose other single-page résumés first.  We call this time management.  I could go through many applicants if I just chose the single page résumés first.  Sometimes, I asked my assistant to review the résumés and just give me those that he thought were worth having a second look. Believe me when I tell you, you do not want your résumé to fall in the hands of the assistant.  Do you remember “The Devil Wears Prada?” Andrea (Anne Hathaway) was eventually hired because Miranda Priestly (Meryl Streep) interviewed Andrea personally. However, before Miranda could interview Andrea, the first assistant Emily (Emily Blunt) had already decided Andrea was not qualified and was ready to dismiss her.  If Miranda had not seen Andrea, she would have gone home jobless.  You thought this only happens in movies. Oh no! It happens a lot in real life. It happened in our office.  It will happen in the company that you will apply for. (1)

Managers focus on your qualifications, primarily on your job experience, then your education and other seminars and training you have taken.  Consider the job you are applying for, and put the job experience and the training at the top of the list.

Put a decent picture and not anything that look like your Facebook profile photo.  For God’s sake, are you applying for a job or do you want me to click “like?”

Some managers consider letters of recommendations important. In my case, I used to just quickly glance at it.  Perhaps it is just me but letters of recommendations did not impress me unless they were extraordinary.

In a country where nepotism is king and so-called “backers” can get someone a job, I find it unfair that an applicant who applies for work alone, solely relying on his or her own merit, will lose a chance just because one applicant knows someone in the company.  People; let us all join the latter days of enlightenment.  Feudalism belongs in the nineteenth century.  It is bad enough we Filipinos cannot get rid of political dynasties, let us not bring that kind of antiquated practice in the modern work place.

 My tip: It does not hurt to include a letter of recommendation especially if you got one from an important person known for his expertise and integrity. If you want to attach a letter of recommendation with your résumé, make sure the letter is well written.  If you are your résumé, then the letter of recommendation also speaks volume about the person recommending you.  If the writer included specific details about your work ethics, personality and performance, it means he knows you well and his words are reliable.  However, if his letter is very generic and full of general statements, then the letter is just a piece of paper.  It may seem unbelievable, but a letter of recommendation that has a line like “Hiring Miss Cruz is the best decision that I have ever made,” or “If you do not hire Mister Juan, you have my deepest gratitude because it means I can entice him to return to our company.” People who make these declarations put their reputation at stake and so, your interviewer will be curious enough, at least, to interview you. 

Bottom line, with or without a letter of recommendation, your résumé is still your first ticket to get through the door, literally and figuratively speaking. 

Up to now, when I receive résumés from applicants, I do not pay attention too much on the name and the gender; I quickly go over the job experience and encircle the important information.  If the applicant does not have any job experience yet, I look at his college degree, his extra training, and his extra curricular activities.  Some managers that I know still put emphasis on schools. Yes, I know it is harsh, but some employers are still prejudiced.  Do not get mad.  Turn the managers’ prejudice to your advantage.  I will discuss more on this in part five.  If you did not graduate from Ivy League schools, put your job experience or your training ahead of your educational background. 

If you have many extra curricular activities in school, put those above as well.  Extra curricular activities matter especially if you are applying for a job that require multi-tasking. Managers will most likely hire a student who had many extra curricular activities and still managed to maintain satisfactory grades.  This means the student can balance things.  It is easy to get high grades if all you do is attend your class, unless you have a very specific major like microbiology and the like. 

If you have high grades, include your grade point average.  If you won awards, include them as well. Place the most important award on the top of the list; for example, “Most Outstanding Student Leader 2010 to 2012.”

Why did I use to encircle some information in résumés when I was a manager? During the initial interview, I looked at the applicant’s résumé again and I focused on the information that I had encircled. It was faster that way.  I hardly remembered your references or your university.  During the interview, the applicant is on his own. Therefore, never put anything in your résumé that you cannot defend to the death.  If you wrote that you are a team player, then be ready to explain that and give some specifics.  It is all in the details.  Details are what get people hired.

Next Part Two
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(1) For those finicky grammarians out there, it is already acceptable to end a sentence with a preposition. However, just in case, another way to write this sentence is: “It will happen in the company for which you will apply.” (This footnoting is an example of unnecessary meticulousness that will flabbergast your interviewer so do something similar to this.)

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