As if looking for a job wasn’t already hard enough… imagine looking for a job when some industries have completely shut down, others are on major hiring freezes, and the rest include jobs that under pay, overwork or both. Not to mention, in this imagined situation, that the world has also been on lockdown for almost an entire year due to an international pandemic. Oh wait… that’s kind of what’s happening right now. Basically… it’s even harder to find a job than anticipated right now. But fear not, dear readers. Just because the world is full of uncertainty does not mean preparing for a job interview or beginning your job search isn’t useful.
Over the last few months I had the chance to talk to a variety of professional women who hold leadership positions at their respective companies. From CEOs to start-up entrepreneurs to fashion editors, the list of women professionals that I spoke to is impressive beyond belief. The good news? The number of women in professional leadership positions is only growing. And thus, so is their advice for the rest of us.
No matter what industry you’re hoping to break into or what job you’re hoping to land, these tips from 5 of my most esteemed mentors, teachers and bosses will be sure to help you out. So sit back, relax, and enjoy learning what 5 professional women are looking for in their next hire… and then stop relaxing and go do something to crush that dream job interview!
1. Proactive Outreach
As many companies pause hiring for a while, proactivity will be your best friend. If you want to get noticed by your dream-job company, or any company for that matter, you must put your own foot in the door. Don’t wait for the perfect-for-you job opening to be posted. Find the professional women, man or person you want to work under… and reach out. Let them know you are interested in working for them. Ask questions about their experiences, jobs, day-to-day, things they hope to do with the company in the future. Create a personal connection with those you hope to work under and let them know you hope to do so.
A great way to do this is to email them and ask to set up a coffee date or (nowadays) Zoom or phone call. Use it as an infoview (informational interview), where you can ask all you have always wondered about them and their career. Tell them you would love to be considered for an open job in the future, and ask if there are any coming up… or if they know anyone in the industry who is looking for a new hire.
Reaching out to them before a job opens shows real proactivity and initiative. These are two characteristics many of the professional women listed as a crucial sign of a good hire; so show them you’ve got it!
2. Commitment and Team Experience
High School resumes are basically useless once you’ve entered college or the work force. But some little details from your early life can actually be really helpful, especially when applying to entry level jobs. When looking over my resume with an old boss of mine, I told her that I figured it was time to take off “Varsity Volleyball Captain” and “New York City Marathon Finisher” from my achievements category. She immediately corrected me. It was in fact not time to take those things off, but lean in to them.
Playing a varsity sport, leading a group of 10+ people, completing a feat like a marathon… These are not added to a resume as not-so-humble humble brags, but to show commitment, leadership, passion. It takes work to garner a leadership position, no matter how minuscule that position may seem compared to the job you’re applying to.
Professional women and many others in a hiring position understand the work and time that must be put into (seemingly personal or small) accomplishments. It takes a lot of compromise and effort to function on a team. It takes patience and self-belief to run a marathon or train for another large goal. So talk about the times you really committed to something- whether it be that championship title at high school states or the hours you spent leading a dog-shelter program after school- and explain why those commitments you made prove your soon to be commitment to the job you’re applying for too.
3. Genuine Company Connection
While it’s tempting to apply for every job on the market, having a meaningful and genuine connection to the company will go a long way. Many professional women in hiring settings will ask you why you want to work at the company. This is the time to emphasize everything about the company that you love. Before the interview or meeting, or even in your cover letter, explain your connection to the work they do.
If you’re applying to a food service company, explain your love for cooking, the ways food has brought you and your family together, how you have navigated the food space to benefit your life. If you are applying for a job at a publication, explain to them how much the publication has influenced you. Tell them about the article you read that totally changed the way you look at things or the values they share that completely align with yours.
A deep and genuine connection to the company and the work they do will help position you as a passionate and worthwhile candidate. And chances are they’re really passionate about it too. Use this as a connection with them. Because a connection with the individuals working at a company are just as important as connections to the company as a whole, if not more-so.
4. Creative Cover Letter
Many companies receive hundreds of resumes and cover letters in their application pile. And according to one of the professional women I spoke with at length, a boring cover letter has a big fat ‘NEXT’ written all over it. In fact, if she sees a cover letter with an obviously structured format and no personal touches, she often won’t look at it at all.
Her biggest piece of advice: write a personal story. Write a cover letter personal to you. Explain your own experiences, how they have perfectly prepared you for this job; and talk about the ways in which you see yourself fitting into the company.
You don’t need to follow a super strict format in order to come across as professional. A whole-hearted letter to the company in a personal, yet sophisticated way is your best bet at getting noticed by the hiring staff.
5. Be True to Yourself- It’s a Mutual Agreement
I know, it sounds cheesy, but it’s also really important. It’s important that you get hired for who you are, not who you claim to be on your interview or resume. Speak confidently, but be calm and collected and (maybe most importantly) honest. Ask questions you have about the company and any concerns you have, too. And an interesting piece of advice from a Fashion Editor mentor of mine: dress nicely, but don’t try to look like someone you are not.
An interview is definitely a chance for the company to see if you’re a good fit, but it’s also a chance for you to decide the same. Far too many people are miserable in their day jobs because the environment is unhealthy, unhappy, or simply not a good match for them.
In order to decide if you really fit in with the company, their employees, and what they stand for, you have to be true to yourself. That way the hirer will get to know you as a person and professional, and you’ll get to know them too.
With the trying times we are living through right now, it is pertinent that new hires are adaptable to company change, different ways of working, and taking on roles and tasks that they might not have originally signed up for. So be ready and willing to try out a different role for a day if it’s needed, bring new ideas to the table in line with our ever changing world. Adaptability is a crucial characteristic looked for by many professional women.
7. Follow Ups
Not required by any means, but was a tip mentioned by more than one of the professional women I spoke with about their hiring process. After an interview, send an email or a handwritten letter. Thank them for taking the time to meet with you, reiterate why you would be a great fit for a job, and show some personality in what you send. Decorate the card, send it with a flower, whatever you do as your followup is great and shows a greater wanting for the position than many others might have.
Landing a job right now is no small task. But there are ways to get your foot in the door, get to know people in the industry, and understand where you and the company stand. And these are all things that will ensure you are looking for jobs that are right for you, while helping you to put your best, most professional (and personal!) foot forward when it comes time to do so.