10 tips for landing a job interview

Cool Blog Sociale - 10 July 2008 - I Heart Job Offers Resume T-shirt by BlackBirdTees A
from SOCIALisBETTER on flickr

My friend Patrick wrote about how to get the job once you’ve gotten an interview. Having been on the “other side” of the interview process (and currently going through it again), I wanted to first discuss how to land one. Specifically- what to do and not do when applying for a position. In no particular order:

#1- Write a Cover Letter

This is not an option. If i have a pile of 100 applications for one position, to go through i don’t have the time to comb through them all with precision. You’ve got exactly 30 seconds to catch my attention and your cover letter is how you’re going to do it.

When writing your cover letter, keep it to one page. Not that i’ve ever seen one go over one page, rather quite the opposite – one sentence, one paragraph, or no cover letter at all. Your cover letter isn’t a regurgitation of your resume- that is to say that your resume tells me what you’ve done when. Your cover letter should sell me on why this job… why you. This is your moment to shine. This is where you need to let your personality show through. Throw out that form letter you have in your hand and show me who you are and why you want to work here. Let your passion show.

Using buzz words from the job posting can’t hurt either, if they apply to you and your experience.

Cover letter pro tip: Do your research. Call the office. Find out the name of the individual(s) you should be addressing your application/cover letter to. Whoever is going to be reading it is who you need to address it to. Unless the rest of your letter or resume makes up for it, i toss all “To whom it may concern” or “Dear Sir/Madam” don’t bode well. That shows me, especially in a research field- that you didn’t care enough to find out.

#2 – Don’t tell me, show me

Don’t tell me you are an effective written communicator- show me by effectively communicating to me who you are and why you want this job. Don’t tell me you work well in teams- tell me a story that demonstrates that. Again, put down the form resume and cover letter and write something that reflects you. YOU. Also, be aware of contradictions- don’t tell me you have an eye for detail and then spell a word wrong or say that the school you went to is in Pennsylvania when it’s really in New York.

#3 – Pay attention to formatting

I don’t just think it’s my newspaper background and graphic design bent that makes me so annoyed by this, but you really need to pay attention to your formatting. Your resume should be one page. Not one and a half, or two or five. One. One solid page. It shouldn’t have 2 inch margins. Your indents need to be consistent and while you shouldn’t squish things together, you need to be aware of too much white space.

Don’t add graphics. Yes, show me your personality, but don’t use graphics or circa 1997 Microsoft clip art to do it. Sure, your header can be eye-catching, but the rest of your resume should be all business.

If you used a spreadsheet program to format your resume because you find it easier (i do, really – more control when MS word starts to drive me nuts), make sure you don’t have the cells outlined. I shouldn’t be able to tell what program you used to create your resume.

Oh, and spelling. Don’t have any misspelled words. Especially if you’re touting that you’re a “detail oriented person.” Have someone else look over it before you send it out. Staring at something as long as you’ve been staring at your resume can make you blind to things.

#4 – Choose the essential. Eliminate the rest.

A good motto for life, but also for resumes. If you worked at a deli in 1997 and you’re applying for a library job in 2010- don’t include the deli job on your resume.


This is a huge pet peeve of mine. Resume wizards since the dawn of computers have included this section. Don’t use it. Your cover letter should explain to me why you want this job, not the objective.

If you MUST use an objective (which, you don’t), make it specific to the job you are applying for. If you’re applying for multiple jobs, have multiple versions of your resume with different objectives. One sure-fire way to get me to throw your application in the recycling bin immediately is to have an objective that says something like “to work in a fast-paced environment with a team and in a job that will utilize and build my skills.” Or something completely irrelevant to the position you’re applying for. My favorite (actually seen) is “a full time job with a…” when the job they were applying for was a Part Time position. Trash.

#6- Do not use the thesaurus

I can’t tell you how many times i’ve read a cover letter or resume that was clearly jacked up on the thesaurus to make it sound more impressive. Just don’t do it. Use language that YOU would use. Maybe throw in some buzz words from the job posting (if they’re relevant and apply to you.).

#7- Don’t apply for things you aren’t qualified for

If the position you’re applying for requires a masters degree and you only finished high school- don’t bother. If you’re applying for a library position that requires knowledge of social media and you haven’t touched a computer since 1982 – find something else.

That being said, i have applied for things that i didn’t quite meet the description for- but it wasn’t a huge leap and it was something i thought i was a good match for in other ways. Sometimes it pans out. Sometimes it doesn’t. It’s in these cases though- where you’re applying for something you don’t match up with that you need to use your cover letter to catch their attention. It’s your cover letter that will make up for any potential lapses in your resume.

#8- Explain Yourself

Is the position you’re applying for located in California and you live in Idaho? You need to explain that in your cover letter. Is there a gap in your resume as far as work is concerned? Explain it. Does your experience not match the job (are you a former ER nurse looking to make the transition to libraries but your only experience is in nursing?) Explain that to me or your application will get trashed before i’ve given you a shot.

Anythings out of the ordinary or strange in your resume is going to need to be explained in your cover letter.

“If accepted, i plan on moving to California for this job.” “For the last five years i’ve been focusing on raising my children but keeping up with the field by volunteering at the local xx office.”

#9 – Make your resume relevant

You should not have one resume. You should have as many resumes as you have positions you are applying for. Sure, the major things will be the same, but one position might really stress social media and another might stress customer service. You need to frame your previous work in a way that reflects the job you are applying for. Don’t lie. And don’t stretch, but if you can use their phrasing and wording for something you’ve done- do it.

#10 – Not an academic? Don’t send me your CV

If you’re applying for a job that is not an academic one, do not send me your CV. I don’t want to read twenty pages including classes you’ve taught, articles you’ve written and projects you’ve worked on when frankly none of that is relevant. Send me your resume just like everyone else. You may be qualified but i’m not going to read that much to figure it out. If you want me to know you’ve written a million articles relating to what you’ll be doing at this job, mention it in your cover letter and send me a link in case i care to read any of it.

In short…

You can follow any resume and application advice you want but make sure to include only what’s relevant, write a personalized cover letter, let your personality show through, and most importantly, sell me on you and i guarantee you’ll get a second look, if not an interview where you can really show your stuff.

Did i miss anything? Share in the comments!

See also: In the Library with the Lead Pipe: What not to do when applying for library jobs and Seth Godin- Why bother having a resume?

15 thoughts on “10 tips for landing a job interview”

  1. I totally agree with #9! You can have many resumes as you like, but make sure you don’t fall into the trap of submitting generic resumes. That’s a total T-R-A-S-H. When creating a resume, include only those relevant skills that you acquired on your previous work and make everything look or sound more professional to make yourself shine to potential employers. Nice post to read on a rainy day, just to let you know I went ahead and bookmarked it! ;)

  2. @Carrie – thank you for your comment. the lowercase “i” is just my style here. you can be sure that any cover letters, resumes, or other professional documents of mine are fully capitalized in the right spots, grammar checked and perfection.

  3. If addressing the cover letter to an individual is so important, why doesn’t the job posting just list the person’s name?

    I find it interesting that the applicant is expected to put in all this time customizing their cover letter and resume for each position, yet they can be eliminated from consideration in a matter of seconds based solely on the aesthetic preferences of the person who reads their cover letter.

    1. @Bearish – though I did say that in the post (i updated it), i have never ditched an application based solely on who it’s addressed to. no points taken off for a “to whom it may concern” but points added for addressing it to a person. You’re right that it would be easier to include the person’s name on the job ad – but what fun is that? (:-)). I don’t know about anyone else, but when i’m applying for a job i always call the department, hr, something and asked who things should be addressed to- which helps when you want to call and follow-up if you haven’t heard yet. Bottom line- to each his own. and that goes for here too- things i do while applying and look for while reviewing aren’t what others do and look for. You have to know your audience.

  4. Great tips Julie! I would add to your suggestion to not apply for jobs you’re not qualified for with this: If you can make a reasonable argument for why you’d be great at the job in spite of the fact that you don’t meet the qualifications, go for it!! I’ve had personal success with this method and no of others who have as well. A well-written cover letter goes a long way to this end! :-)

  5. I appreciate the clarification, Julie, but I’d be willing to bet that it isn’t much fun for the person working in HR who has to answer all of the phone calls and emails from people who want to know the name of the person who is going to be reading their cover letter.

  6. @Pete – thanks for your adding your expertise

    @Bearish – you’re right, I hadn’t thought of that. However, i was always told to get a name and personalize it. A lot of the time, though, you can get information online. I checked out a few ad posts online just now and a few of them do have “address all applications to [name]” so it would be only for those that say to send to the HR dept where i try to clarify an actual human. :-)

  7. Enjoyed the post, Julie. Also enjoyed meeting you on Monday…Hope I followed your advice in my interview! Please let me know if you have additional questions.

    It’s interesting to note the differences between suggested resume formats for academic and public librarianship.

    Take care,
    Debbie J.

Comments are closed.