A job is a position one holds for pay. The job may or may not be related to personal preferences, plans, or long-term goals. The person or company that hires you has certain responsibilities as your employer, and you have responsibilities as an employee.The basics of a job are thatEmployer’s responsibilities. Your employer or supervisor should
Employer and Employee Responsibilities
Your basic responsibilities as an employee are
Pay you the amount agreed upon at the time it is due.
Pay any required amounts to Social Security, Medicare, and unemployment insurance on your behalf. (See Withholding and Other Deductions.)
Provide you with complete and correct documentation of all payments made to you and on your behalf.
Provide working conditions that are as safe and clean as the work permits.
Provide the tools and equipment agreed upon at the time of hiring. (Some jobs require you to bring your own tools or equipment. This requirement should be clarified when you are hired.)
Provide any specialized job training or instruction needed for you to do the job appropriately, especially training agreed upon before you took the job.
Generally treat you and your co-workers with respect.
- If you are delayed, or ill, or an emergency prevents you from working, you are expected to notify your supervisor as soon as possible.
- If you can’t carry out a specific assignment, you need to explain why you can’t.
- If you have back problems, it’s not a good idea to take a job, like waiting on tables, that demands a lot of lifting.
- If it’s hard for you to tolerate undeserved hostility, you should stay away from “customer service” jobs.
- If your writing skills are weak, editing and proofreading are not for you.
Getting Along with Your Boss and Co-workersYou may find the ideal job, working with friendly, pleasant colleagues and a responsive, supportive supervisor. More likely, once you start working, you will find some pleasant people and some more difficult people. For your own success, it pays to do your best to get along with your boss and co-workers, even difficult ones. For ideas about how to manage these personal difficulties, see Boundaries and Relationships and Communications Skills.
Career PlanningA career, as opposed to a job, is an occupation or profession that you hold for the long term, although in today’s swiftly changing world, many people have several careers. Because people are more likely to do well and be happy in occupations that suit their personalities, career choices may make a critical difference in your life.
Some people enter on careers by chance or happenstance. You may take a job because it’s a job and you need the income. If you find that it suits you, you’re likely to stay with it as time goes on. Other people have clear ideas about what careers they want. But many people don’t have a strong pull or commitment in any direction. For those people, and for people who dislike their work and want a change, the first step is to learn more both about possible careers and about themselves.
There are multiple career-advice sites on the Internet. Many sites are commercial and will want you to pay for their services. The few listed below are free or low-priced, but far from the only options.You can find local sources of guidance about choosing a career at a U.S. Department of Labor-sponsored Web site, as well as through the other options listed below.
Identifying Your Aptitudes and PreferencesInformation about yourself can help you choose a career. Are you
There are careers for all these types—and many more.The process of learning about yourself is called a self-assessment. Self-assessment not only may help you discover what occupations you are most likely to find satisfying and rewarding; it also might help you learn who you really are, particularly if you have spent many years in a cult or high-demand group where your natural talents and preferences were suppressed to serve the interests of the leaders.You can find free career aptitude assessments at many sites, such as
A “people” person, outgoing and sociable?
A “lone wolf,” who works best alone and undisturbed?
A detail person, who takes care to get the little things right?
A “big picture” person, who focuses on ideas and leaves the details to someone else?
For a small fee, you can also use a self-directed test form. The basic Form R is written for people who read at ninth-grade level; or you can use the Form E, designed for people who have limited reading skills. There is also a Spanish-language version.You also may be able to find free career counseling through your state or local employment services.
Learning About Possible CareersYou may have an idea about what kind of career you would like, but not know much about the specifics. Or you many have several different possibilities in mind—jet engine mechanic? teacher? long-distance truck driver? Before you make a decision, you will need to find out
If you have thought about particular occupations and want to know more about them, a good place to look is the government’s career guide to occupations . There you can find information about
What these occupations actually require people to do,
How well they pay,
What qualifications are needed, and
Whether there are likely to be openings for newcomers to the field.
As always, the more information you can collect, the better off you will be. If you have friends or acquaintances in occupations you are interested in, ask them
Occupations in a variety of industries
Earnings and job prospects
Working conditions, and
Links to information about the job market for a given occupation in each state.
For some occupations, you may be able to begin work in the field with few qualifications, giving yourself the opportunity to find out how doing that work feels from the inside, and getting additional job training or credentials while you work.
What their daily tasks are,
What they like about the work,
What they don’t like about it, and
Whether or not they think you would fit in.
Making a Career DecisionAlthough it is important that the career you choose is one that you will enjoy, several other considerations should go into your decision:
Some careers are extremely difficult to break into, or are unlikely to pay enough to live on. Musicians, for instance, often find they must hold jobs in other fields and treat music as a hobby or part-time job.
Are there likely to be jobs open in that field?
Will you need to relocate to get a job?
If you need additional job training or credentials how will you get them? What will this cost? (For information about this, see Education.)
How much will an entry-level job in your chosen field pay?
What benefits will you earn or be entitled to?
What is likely to be your long-term income in this field?
Will that income be enough to meet your needs and wants?
While you will probably benefit from the advice and experience of people who know you well, it is critical that you make your own decision about a career. It may be an easy and obvious decision, but
If your first choice of career is in this kind of field, you might want to look for a related career, such as teaching in your field.
But if you basically don’t like teaching, or you don’t like working with children, a teaching career is probably not for you.
An entirely unrelated second choice of career, like accounting, might be a better move.
Take your time, think it through, and, if possible, try a related activity before you commit. Hopefully, your decision will lead to a rewarding career.
This is a decision that will affect a large part of your waking life for years to come.
The decision may involve expensive or long-drawn-out training.
It may require moving to a strange new part of the country—or the world.
It may require financial sacrifice, or standing up to resistance if you choose a nontraditional occupation, such as a female fire-fighter or a male nurse.
Finding a JobFinding a job may be easier or harder depending on where you live, your skills and experience, and the general state of the economy. How long and how carefully you look for a job also is related to the kind of job you are seeking.A good place to start is a site sponsored by the U.S. Department of Labor, which offers comprehensive information about all aspects of job-seeking, including local offices throughout the country where you can
Not all centers have all services, and for some services you will need to make an appointment in advance.
Use the phones, computers, and other equipment
Check for job openings
Find job-training programs
Get help with resumé writing
Access special services for military veterans
If You Need a Job Immediately
- Many businesses simply put a “Help Wanted” sign in the window.
- Or you can check the mall’s Web site for job listings.
- These jobs may be low-paying, unskilled positions, such as stocking shelves or janitorial services—but they pay regularly. Small, individually owned businesses are riskier employers, more likely to pay employees irregularly or hedge on safety than large regional or national chains.
If you live in a metropolitan area that has a local unemployment office, you may find some promising openings by checking their listings.
You can also check the Web sites of large local employers like hotels, hospitals, or universities.
Another option is to register at an agency that specializes in temporary employment. “Temp” agencies specialize in filling short-term employment needs, including some that call for technical and professional skills.
- There is usually a small fee for registering.
- The agency will probably test you to confirm your skill levels.
- Some temporary jobs may eventually become permanent.
- Or you may find that the agency offers an ongoing series of temporary jobs with only brief gaps between jobs.
You can find a good description at essortment.com.
Although jobs like these may require only a simple application form that you can fill out on the spot, it helps to prepare a resumé beforehand. Basic information about your qualifications and previous employment is then readily at hand, and you can just copy it on the company form, rather than trying to remember it all under the pressure of someone waiting for you to hand it in. You can use the chart, Information for Prospective Employers, to assemble the information you will need. It’s also important to prepare references ahead of time.
Jobs to AvoidNo matter how urgent your need or how tempting the money, it’s wise to avoid certain jobs:
Jobs for which you don’t have required credentials or licenses. If your employer knowingly cheats on this, he’s probably willing to cheat on other things, like paying you.
Jobs that require commitments you can’t meet—for instance, 24-hour, on-call availability if you have small children you may not be able to find care for.
Jobs that pay significantly more than the local average for the tasks described. There’s a reason for this, and you need to know what it is.
Jobs that want you to invest money up front for materials and supplies. You may end up spending more for the supplies than you earn on the job.
Finding a Long-Term Job If it takes a long time to find the best job you can, don’t get discouraged. Although you may have good skills and experience, circumstances that are beyond your control may result in a long search, and require dozens of contacts to land a job.
The first step is to find an opening that fits your needs and capabilities. Here are some of the many ways to find job openings:
Be sure to let friends, relatives, and acquaintances know you’re looking for a job. One of the best ways to find a good job is to get a tip from a friend or family member who
If you have left a cult or high-demand group, you may be in touch with former members who can help, or there may be family members outside the group who know of openings. The crucial point here is that they must know you and know you are looking
knows both you and the employer,
can reliably tell you that this is a good place to work, and
knows that you can do the work well.
To be sure you are making as many networking connections as you can, it will help to keep a list of everyone you contact, along with the date you contacted them, what kind of contact you made (phone, personal, email, etc.), and any response you receive.
Your first networking contact might be in person or by phone. You can then follow up with an email or postal letter stating your interest, skills, and qualifications. Even people who know you well will find it helpful to confirm what they already know, and perhaps learn some things they didn’t know. They can forward concise, written information to anyone they think might be interested. Doing this will be even easier if the information is in a single letter devoted only to this subject, so your networking connection can simply forward the whole thing.
Here is a sample networking email or letter.
Whether you send this as an email or a postal letter, it’s important to include full contact information in the body of the letter. If you send it as a postal letter, you can use the business form described in Cover Letter.
Networking contacts may suggest people you can contact on your own, using their name as an introduction. In that case, you can send a letter to the contact suggested, enclosing your resumé, explaining the connection, and asking for information and ideas about finding a job. See a sample of this kind of letter.
It’s a nice courtesy to send a copy of this letter to the person who suggested the contact (remember to show their name as a “cc” at the bottom of the letter). Whatever the outcome, remember to let your networking person know you have followed up, and thank him for the introduction.
“Help wanted” notices
Local and neighborhood newspapers have print and, in many cases, online advertisements of job openings. Since these are local sources, most jobs will be in your area, a useful way to limit the search.
Public libraries often have print listings of local and federal government job openings. The reference librarian may also be able to help you with an online job hunt.
Job exchanges in local employment offices and union halls may list openings on bulletin boards or in newsletters.
Supermarkets, car washes, and other spots frequented by large numbers of people sometimes have open bulletin boards with job listings.
Store and restaurant windows may have “Help Wanted” signs. These may be tedious, low-paying jobs, but they may have promise for the future or provide some immediate financial relief, and they’re often yours for the asking. On the assumption that some income is better than no income, you might want to consider this kind of job as an interim measure while you get longer-term plans sorted out.
There are many ways to hunt for a job online. Although the Internet should never be your sole method of job hunting, it offers a trove of information that can help you learn about openings in your area, salaries and working conditions, and other details. You can get access to a computer through your local public library (see Getting Information) if need be. You might want to try several or all of the following:
- www.Monster.com is a nationwide job-listing site. There is no need to register, and you can immediately get a list of openings in your area by occupation. You can also post your resumé as a job-seeker for prospective employers to view.
- www.careerbuilder.com is another nationwide site that will give you lists of local openings and offers to post your resumé. CareerBuilder also offers searches by industry and job category.
- http://hotjobs.yahoo.com/ also lists openings and will post your resumé.
- www.indeed.com is an indexed site where you can enter a job title and your location and get a list of openings in your area.
- www.Craigslist.com has jobs listed by location and category.
- www.CareerOneStop.org is a government-sponsored site with links to state employment services.
Most of these sites also offer advice on resumé writing and other aspects of the job hunt. Since they earn their money through advertising, you will need to check in advance whether an offered service is free, or what it charges.
- Check the Web sites of large local employers, since many post job openings on their company Web sites. Don’t overlook places like hospitals and universities that hire many employees in positions not directly related to their primary areas of service.
- Check Hoovers lists of companies by location, with general information about each. This site charges for some information, but its basic lists are free.
- Careers in the military. You can go to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics for information about careers and job training in the military. There is a section on the recruitment process and information about getting a free aptitude test; there are also options for delayed entry, and ways to maximize chances of getting your preferred assignment.
Social networking sites, such as Facebook, Twitter, or LinkedIn (for professionals, including those with technical and computer skills) may also list job openings. To use those sites, you must register and provide some personal information, like your date of birth.
Freelance jobsFreelance jobs for people who want to work as independent contractors are also an option. Because many of these jobs are part-time, or can be done from home, freelance work offers possibilities for students or at-home parents. They may be a good way to get a work history and some experience in your chosen field.
As a freelancer, you work independently, generally on a project-by-project contract basis.
Pay may be hourly or by the job.
Your employer does not withhold taxes, Social Security, or Medicare from your pay, and does not offer benefits such as vacations or health insurance.
You may be asked to work on a given job at a particular location, but, in general,
You are expected to provide your own workplace, equipment, and supplies— another expense to factor into your bid.
Online freelancing sites
You can find listings for freelance jobs in many of the places cited above.
In addition, however, you might want to check out some of the Web sites that are dedicated to freelance work.
These sites match jobs and “providers” with those who are bidding for the jobs.
They help track hours worked and keep records of payments.
Categories of job listings include IT skills, customer-service skills, writing, editing, and proofreading, among others.
www.odesk.com offers online tests for some skills, with certification after passing. Odesk guarantees payment. There is no charge for providers.
www.elance.com deals in Web and programming skills, design and multimedia, administrative support, sales and marketing, finance and management, legal, and engineering and manufacturing. It also offers online tests and posts results on the freelancer’s resumé page. Elance charges both employers and providers about 6% of job payments as fee.
www.sologig.com lists local as well as national openings. It includes categories for engineering, sales and marketing, law, IT and technical, finance, healthcare, construction, clinical and scientific, energy, and “other.”
Applying for a JobApplying for a job involves many steps. This section discusses the process, including how to prepare an effective resume and related cover letters, and how to practice for and conduct successful interviews with potential employers.
The Hiring ProcessWhen you find an opening that
the next step is to apply. Depending on the type of job, local custom, and the particular company or agency involved, hiring can be
matches your skills and abilities,
offers acceptable pay, and
appeals to you (for whatever reason—hours, location, tasks)
as simple as a direction in an advertisement: “Show up at 7:00 a.m. tomorrow ready to work,” or
a complicated, long-drawn-out process with skills or knowledge tests, physical exams, and multiple interviews.
Prospective employers often search the Internet for information about an applicant. Before you start your job search, check online for any intemperate outbursts or inappropriate postings you might have made to social networking sites, and remove anything you’d prefer a prospective employer not to see. Check for personal information, like your credit rating, and be prepared to explain unfavorable reports.
Some jobs, especially entry-level jobs, don’t require a resumé, but simply an application form. The information you will need for a job application, a resumé, or a job interview is very similar, so it will help to prepare and organize the essential information outlined below, whatever the process.
Organizing Essential Information
Thinking systematically about your knowledge, skills, and experience may also give you insights into your own talents and preferences.
This table lists briefly the kinds of information prospective employers will want in each situation. A more detailed description for each item follows the table.
Information For Prospective Employers
|Social Security number|
|Proof of eligibility to work|
|Certificates and credentials|
|Awards and achievements|
|Fitness for job tasks|
|Involvement with the law|
This usually means first, middle, and last names. A job application form may ask you to designate whether you are Ms., Mrs., or Mr. In a resumé, don’t add these honorifics to your name.
Street and number, city, zip code, and state. Remember to put an apartment number if you live in an apartment, and “c/o” if you are staying with someone whose name is different from yours; otherwise, the mail carrier might not deliver it.
Though not absolutely essential in all walks of life, an email address is important to facilitate communications in many lines of work. If you have access to a computer (see The Public Library), you can subscribe to one of the several free email services, such as Gmail, Hotmail, or Yahoo Mail.
If you don’t have a phone, try to find a friend or relative whose number you can give a prospective employer, so you can receive phone messages.
Social Security Number
Most job applications will request this information, but protect your confidentiality by leaving it off your resumé. Circulation of job applications is controlled within a company, while your resumé may go off to dozens, if not hundreds of unknown people and places. If you don’t have a Social Security card, see Documents and Papers for information about getting one.
If you are asked to submit a photo with an application, get a small “passport” photo taken at a camera shop, unless “ID” is specifically requested. You are more likely to need the ID at a job interview or just before you are actually hired. Information about getting a photo ID is in Documents and Papers.
Proof of Eligibility to Work
Employers must confirm that their employees are legally in the country and entitled to hold a job. U.S. citizens can use a passport, birth certificate, or naturalization certificate. Non-citizens must produce an authorization to work. You can find details in Documents and Papers.
On job applications, enter the highest level of education you have attained, whether high school, college, or occupational certification.
Certificates And Credentials
Some job applications will ask you to list every institution of post-secondary education you attended. This means anywhere you studied after high school.
Some application forms will also ask the major topic of study and any degree or certificate you received. The format on a resumé is usually to list the credential first, then the institution, then the area of study.
If you have lost a high school diploma, consider replacing it.
If you list them all when you are preparing for a job hunt, you can then select those that are useful to a given employer for each application.
professional or occupational licenses,
course or specialty certificates, academic degrees, or
any other documentary evidence of your qualifications.
This is the place for everything you have ever done that translates into work experience, both paid and volunteer—babysitting, mowing lawns, harvesting tomatoes, even handing out leaflets or cleaning houses (your own doesn’t count). Write them all down on a background sheet, along with approximate dates when you did them.
If you have left a cult or high-demand group,
You may be asked if you were ever fired from a job, and, if so, to explain. Since most job applications also ask you to sign a statement that all the information you have given is true, lying will expose you to immediate dismissal if it is detected.
You may have marketing and sales skills, an unusually good memory, or other skills arising from your experience in the group, even though you don’t have a credential for them.
For the sake of simplicity, it’s best to designate unpaid work as “volunteer,” even though it may have been coerced.
- “There were some personal difficulties on that job, although I’ve gotten along with everyone in every other job I ever held”; or “To this day, I’m not sure why—it was never clearly explained to me.”
- Detailed explanations, like “My employer took a dislike to me because I spilled hot coffee in his lap,” or “My supervisor wanted the job for his nephew” tend to sound like whining or outright misstatements.
Awards and Achievements
If there is a straightforward explanation, like “I was struggling with serious health problems and I missed a lot of days,” you are probably best off telling the truth and adding a reassurance that the problem is resolved and you are now able to work full time without difficulty.
In preparation for resumés, applications, and interviews, it’s good to be as inclusive as you can by making notes of every certificate of achievement or award you can remember. Achievements includeLater, if you are preparing for a particular opening, you can select which of these is meaningful for the job in mind.
Objective or “Career Objective”
Employment experts no longer advise that this should be a prominent part of your resumé. You may be asked for this information on an application form.
Fitness for Job Tasks
Whether or not you list it on a resumé, thinking through the question of why you are interested in a given job will help you focus on whether or not you are a good match for the job.
It’s helpful to be honest about this. Your goal may be to find shift work that leaves critical hours free for school. You don’t need to tell a prospective employer that you enjoy chopping onions or hauling heavy cartons; but it makes sense to say that the work hours fit well with your schedule, or that you’d like to learn about a particular business or occupation from the ground up.
Prospective employers are legally allowed to describe the tasks and chores required by the job and ask whether you have any health problems that interfere with your ability to perform them, but that’s about all. For more about this, see Listening in the section on the interview.You are not required to share specific information about illnesses or health problems, although for some positions, employers are allowed to require a physical exam by a company-authorized physician after they hire you.
For some positions, you will be required to consent to drug tests on an irregular basis without advance notice.
It is against the law for employers to discriminate against a job applicant because of a handicap that does not materially affect job performance. For example, a person confined to a wheelchair is not disqualified from a job that can be done sitting down.
Prospective employers for some jobs, especially those paid by the hour, simply state up front what they will pay. Others offer a range of pay, depending on qualifications; and the prospective employer may ask you to state your payment expectations, either in an application, or in person. If you do some homework, you can find the average pay in your area for a particular position. This will tell you whether or not you are getting a fair offer. You will also be able to negotiate realistically with a prospective employer if you think an offer is low.To find out what other employers in your area are offering for comparable positions to people with comparable qualifications, you can look on the Bureau of Labor Statistics
web site of the U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational Outlook Handbook, which lists average earnings for hundreds of occupations nationally and shows differences by state.
If you check the federal government’s job openings you can learn exactly what the government pays for a given job in a particular location, if it happens to have an opening in your field.
Then you will know if a prospective employer’s offer is low, average, or high. If you want to negotiate for higher pay, you can explain why you think the offer is low. You might not get the increase requested, but if you state your case politely and respectfully, you are not likely to lose by the attempt.
The reference librarian at a local public library can suggest other resources for your area.
You can also discuss this issue with friends in the same occupation, and with a job counselor if you are working with one.
Involvement with the Law
For many positions, this topic will come up either in a job application or an interview. A truthful answer is advisable, since many prospective employers will eventually require a police, FBI, or other clearance. However, it’s not necessary to disclose run-ins that did not result in formal charges, traffic offenses (unless relevant to the position), or other trivial citations, such as jay-walking.
A job application may ask you to list as references the names and contact information of two or three people not related to you, who can attest to your qualifications and competence.
Remember to collect this information and have it with you when you are filling out an application or appearing for an interview.
References’ names and contact information are not listed on a resume, though you should note that they are available on request.
It’s important to get permission beforehand to use the names of people you list, and
Verify your references’ contact information, such as whether they prefer to use their home or work phones.
If you are applying for different kinds of jobs, you might want to offer different sets of references.
When you give out reference information, contact your references to let them know to whom you gave their names and contact information.
Thank your references afterward.
Resumés and Cover LettersOnce you have all this information collected, the next step is to compose a resumé (pronounced REH-zuh-may).
A letter, called a cover letter, goes with the resumé. The cover letter is personalized. It’s addressed to a specific company, and it states briefly why that particular company should consider you for a specific opening.
A resumé is a marketing document that you send, usually by email, to try to persuade prospective employers to interview you.
Your resumé needs to be clear, specific, and easy to read.
The resumé is a general document that you can send to dozens of prospective employers, although you might want to modify it slightly for different types of jobs.
Resumé. This is a critical element of your application. A human resources person will check it over to see if you meet the company’s needs and, because there are usually many applicants for each job, to see whether there’s an easy and obvious reason to eliminate you. A disorganized appearance, mistakes in spelling and grammar, or difficulty sorting out your experience and qualifications will count against you. Therefore, you need to work very carefully in putting together your resumé.
For examples to help you understand how important this is, and for laughs, check out this compilation of typos and other errors.
Keep in mind that the resumé is about your future, not your past. You need to show a prospective employer how you would fit in that company.
Try several different drafts to decide which you like best.
Review the resumé repeatedly before you send it out.
Focus on getting the information down in clear language, in order of importance.
Be especially careful about grammar, spelling, punctuation, and typos.
If at all possible, have someone else review the resumé for content, organization, and appearance.
Resumés generally have a straightforward set of contents:
- Heading: Your name and contact information (address, phone number, email).
Qualifications: Credentials like licenses or
certificates and experience that matches the prospective employer’s
requirements. Individualize this section as needed to emphasize how your
skills fit the job description.
- Experience: Jobs you’ve held that demonstrate your fitness for the position you are applying for.
- You might want to vary this section to focus it tightly on one type of work, or
- You might want to spotlight what a variety of skills you have.
- People generally list the beginning and ending month and year for each job, beginning with the most recent job and going backward to the first.
- Education: If you have completed formal education after high school, note
- the name of the institution,
- the degree or certificate you received, and
- the year you received it.
- Accomplishments: Awards, certificates of specialization, publications, and other information that reinforces your skills and qualifications.
References are not usually listed on resumés.
For detailed information and guidance, you might look at
If you select a prepared electronic format, it’s best to avoid unusual or elaborate fonts and formats, which may not transmit accurately to other—especially older—computers.
Describing time in the group
If you were in a high demand group for a year or more as an adult, and did not hold a paying job, received only nominal wages, or were paid in kind (like room and board), you will need to account for that time. It’s simplest to list such work as “volunteer,” and give it a reasonably accurate title and task description. For instance:
You can expect to be asked about these details at an interview. See the section Preparing for an Interview for suggestions about how to answer these questions.
- Household manager: Responsible for maintenance, cleaning, shopping, and meal planning and preparation for household of x persons, including part-time supervision of y children. [Replace x and y with appropriate numerals.]
- Missionary: Traveled to (or worked in) x countries performing outreach activities, assisting individuals with social (or medical) needs, and providing religious instruction when invited to do so.
- Fundraiser: Skilled at one-on-one personal solicitations. Planned and prepared solicitations, identified and developed relationships with prospective donors, and trained others in fundraising skills.
- Agricultural assistant: Worked in all areas of agriculture, including soil preparation, planting, tending plants, harvesting, marketing, and care of cows. Operated and performed maintenance on farm machinery.
A cover letter accompanies all resumés transmitted by email or postal mail. The purpose of the cover letter is to introduce yourself to the person addressed and get him to look at your resumé. Cover letters are written in business format, no longer than a single page, and consist essentially of three paragraphs:
You can find dozens of sample cover letters online. Here is a good basic template.
- Why you are writing;
- How your skills and qualifications fit the company’s needs; and
- A thank you for the prospective employer’s consideration, and any follow-up you intend.
As with resumés, take care to be sure your cover letter is free from typos, and spelling and grammatical errors. Try reading the letter aloud to help you notice overlong, unclear, or repetitious sentences.
- Cover letters work best if they are individualized, with a different letter for each prospective employer.It’s important to show that you know something about the company’s products or services;
- A cover letter can be more personal and immediate than a resumé; and
- Taking the time and effort to individualize your letter is likely to pay off.
Preparing for an InterviewA job interview is a personal encounter that determines whether or not you move forward to the next step of the process—a job offer, testing, or another interview. The better prepared you are, the better your chances of moving to that next step. Some employers may ask for a phone interview instead of, or in addition to, an interview in person. Preparation for either of these opportunities is the same.
Dealing with stress and anxiety
The more important the job is to you, the more likely you are to feel stressed and anxious about the interview. In addition to all the usual things you do to reduce stress—exercise, relaxation, social activities (see the section on Stress)—preparation will help. If you are prepared, you will have good reason to think the interview will go well. The elements of preparation are
- Information gathering,
- Information processing, and
Information gathering involves learning about both the company or organization and the job. Even if you are applying for an entry-level job, or if you think the job is yours and the interview is merely a formality, it makes sense to learn what you can about what you’re getting into. If you jot down notes as you explore, both about what you find and what you are looking for, it will be easier to organize and remember what you learn.
For information about a type of job, google the job title, followed by “job description,” (for example, “server job description.”) Go to several of the sites that come up to get a rounded sense of the work involved.
- You can get information about a prospective employer by visiting the organization’s Web site,
- checking local newspapers and magazines,
- searching online (see Getting Information), and, especially,
- talking to present and former employees if you can find them.
Here are some of the topics you are seeking information about:
- The organization
- Is this a well-established organization? a risky start-up? a family business?
- What are its products or services? Are they useful? practical? Have you ever used them? If so, what impressions do you have about them?
- How many people does the organization employ?
- What are the chances for advancement?
- Is there a lot of employee turnover, and if so, why?
- Do you personally know anyone in the organization, at any level?
- Might there be conflicts (i.e., your spouse works for a competitor)?
- The job
- What are the tasks and activities?
- How well and in what ways do the tasks and activities match your qualifications and experience?
- What is clear about the job description and what is unstated or vague?
- Is the pay offered about right, unusually high, or unusually low? (If the pay is not within the average range, you will want to know why.)
- What are the work hours? Will overtime be required?
- Where is the work located? Will it involve travel?
Once you have information, you can think about how it applies to you.
Practicing for a job interview
- Start with the practical issues:
- Is this organization financially sound? Can you count on getting a regular paycheck?
- Are you comfortable with its goods or services? (For instance, a devout Catholic might not want to work for a company that makes birth-control devices.)
- Do present and former employees recommend it as a place of work?
- Are there elements in the job description you don’t understand or are unsure about?
- Do the work hours fit with your availability?
- Can you readily and reliably get to the workplace at the times required?
- Qualitative issues. Practically everyone at one time or another has taken a job simply to put a roof over her head and food on the table. But the more the job fits your abilities and personality, the more likely you are to do well and succeed. And the more realistic you are about what you’re getting into, the better your chances of coping well with even uncongenial situations. So it’s worth your while to think about the qualitative aspects of the job:
- If there are areas where your qualifications are weak, what can you offer as a balance? (for instance, “I don’t know classic shorthand, but I’m proficient at speedwriting.”)
- How would you feel about spending the required hours each week working at these tasks and activities (for example, do you enjoy interacting with people, or do you find it difficult and tedious)?
- What might be the physical, mental, and emotional challenges for you?
- Which of the tasks required for this job do you like best? least?
- Your questions list. Now that you’ve learned as much as you can about the organization, turn to your notes to sort out unanswered questions. This is a good time to make a list of questions about the job and divide them into categories:
- Questions that you need to answer for yourself, such as
- Whether the work hours fit your schedule;
- How convenient it is for you to get to the workplace;
- How you would manage any difficulties; and
- When you could start work if you’re offered the job.
- Questions you can’t answer until you are actually on the job. If you’ve identified this kind of question, you won’t expect it to be answered during the interview.
- Good questions to ask during the interview include
- Aspects of the job not covered in the job description, such as the team you would be working with;
- Training and supervision;
- Opportunities for advancement and promotion;
- Questions that show you have learned about the organization and thought about what you might bring to it.
Anticipating the interviewer’s questions, thinking up good answers, and practicing those answers are major parts of preparing for an interview. Expect questions such as those below, depending on the nature of the job and personality of the interviewer.
The sample answers given here may help you get a sense of what the interviewer expects. It’s advisable to adapt and personalize your answers, rather than memorizing and reciting them word for word.
- Why are you interested in working for X Company?
Try to show some of the things you’ve learned about the company in your answer:
- “X company is a leader in Y (field), and I want to work for the leader.”
- “I’m looking for a smaller company where I can work more independently.”
- “X seems like a well-run company with a good working environment.”
- How do your training and experience qualify you for this job?
Repeat specific points from your resumé, and briefly highlight less obvious advantages:
- “I also learned a lot about working with the public from my job as a server.”
- “As a missionary, I learned how to make my way in new places.”
- What strengths do you bring to this job?
Describe personal characteristics:
- “I’m neat and punctual. I understand how important it is to abide by the safety rules.”
- “I persevere. I’m not discouraged by difficulties and objections.”
- “I’m an ideas person. I enjoy starting something new.”
- What weaknesses do you think will get in your way?
Some people recommend answering this one with a covert self-compliment, like
- “I get over-involved in my work and it hurts my social life.”
Another possibility is to state honestly a shortcoming evident from your resumé and explain how you plan to remedy it:
- “I haven’t had the formal education that most people in this job have had. That’s why I’m in school now.”
- What are your career goals?
The truth, including
- “I’m interested in exploring [career related to opening you’re applying for]. I think I would really enjoy it.”
- “I want to use my [skills, experience, talents] in [this career area].”
- “I just want a good, steady job that I can do well, with a good employer.”
If your resumé shows many job or career changes, expect questions about why you left or changed career directions. If cult activities underlie these switches,
- “I was traveling a great deal—I wanted to explore the world, but everywhere I went I had to earn my living doing what came to hand.”
- “I was volunteering with a [church, spiritual group] and doing whatever needed to be done.”
If there’s a straightforward reason, explain:
- “There was a recession, and I just had an epidemic of being laid off because I was always among the most-recent hires.”
If there are gaps of several months or more, expect questions about the gaps.
- “I was taking care of my sister’s children when she was fighting cancer.”
- “I was very interested in Buddhism, and I was studying at a Buddhist monastery.”
- Were you ever fired from a job?
If the answer is “yes,” it’s advisable to say so, adding why the circumstance isn’t likely to recur in the case of the present company:
- “I had a lot of absences. I was struggling with an undiagnosed illness that since has been diagnosed and cured.”
- “I wasn’t able to handle the changing shift work. I know now that I have to work regular hours.”
[After describing physical demands, or particular working conditions of the job, such as irregular hours or the need to wear a uniform:]
- Are you able to meet these requirements?
Take a few moments before you answer, so the interviewer will know you’re really thinking about this. Especially if you’ve learned something new about the job during the interview, actually do think about it.
- Do you have any questions for me?
This is the time to take out your list, review it to see what questions remain unanswered, and ask them. Remember, an interview is a two-way street. In addition to persuading the interviewer that you would be good for the job, you need to find out whether this job would be good for you.
- The interviewer will have a copy of your resumé or application and will run through it, asking questions along the way: This certificate in Building Maintenance—what kinds of plumbing repairs did you learn? Or I see you taught in India—what was that like?
- Review your documents for openings like these, and practice answers to them.
Practice actually asking and answering interview questions, if possible, with a friend acting as the interviewer.
- If you don’t have anyone to help you, practice by yourself, actually speaking the questions and your answers. The difference between your intention and the impact of the spoken word or tone of voice might surprise you.
- Also, the repetition of speaking, rather than just thinking, your answers will help you remember them and make you less likely to forget a prepared answer during the interview.
- It helps to plan ahead. Make copies of any documents you’ve been asked to bring to the interview: certificates, driver’s license, references, and so on, so you don’t have to give up the originals.
- Also make two extra copies of your resumé, one for you to consult and one in case the interviewer has misplaced his (it happens).
- You might want to make a checklist for yourself of everything you need to bring.
- Collect all the documents in an envelope the day before your interview. Put the envelope where you can’t forget it as the result of haste or nerves.
The InterviewYour resumé and cover letter, and perhaps a phone conversation have shown there’s a reasonable match between the employer’s need and your abilities. Now the interviewer wants to check you out personally. Interviews can last anywhere from five minutes to more than an hour, but experts say the interviewer makes a preliminary decision about you in the first few seconds after meeting you.
With these exceptions, the guidelines below apply.
- Since the prospective employer can’t see you (unless you’re on Web cam), you need not worry about being properly dressed. However, it’s important to treat the phone call like an appointment, dialing punctually at the time requested. If the interviewer initiates the call, be ready to pick up the phone.
- Remember that, since you’re unseen, you’re entirely dependent on your voice to sell the interviewer. Lying down or lounging makes it harder to project, so plan to sit upright in a comfortable chair, or stand.
- Be extra careful not to interrupt while the interviewer is speaking.
- Take as much time as you need to compose your answers.
- If you are on Web cam, dress as if you were interviewing in person, right down to the shoes. Should you need to get up or move around for any reason, everything on view should fit the occasion.
Experienced interviewers can learn a lot just by looking at you. Here are the things they will look for:
- Punctuality. It’s important for most employers that employees arrive on time. Job coaches recommend that you arrive about ten minutes early for a job interview.
- Arriving much earlier suggests over-anxiousness or poor planning.
- Arriving on the dot suggests too much dependence on good luck.
- If your bus schedule or other transportation system requires a very early arrival, you can find a place outside the business, like a shop or newsstand, where you can linger until close to the appointed time.
- Neatness and cleanliness. No one wants to hire a slob. Is your hair combed? Your shirt tucked in? Have you bathed recently? If possible, check your appearance while you’re waiting. Travel to the interview may have caused buttons to come undone, smudges to accumulate, or hair to blow the wrong way.
- Appropriate dress. For an interview, correctly dressed is best, but over-dressed is better than under-dressed.
- Applicants for office jobs, sales and marketing jobs, and professional jobs should wear suits—men with ties and dress shirts, women with business shirts or blouses—and dress shoes, not sneakers or flip-flops.
- Applicants for jobs focused on physical activity should wear neat tops and pants.
- Tight shirts and pants are not appropriate for the workplace. Baggy shirts and pants look sloppy on men and women alike.
- Unless you are specifically instructed to wear them, blue jeans, tee shirts, torn or ragged clothes, nose rings, do-rags, and counter-culture paraphernalia do not warm the hearts of most human resources personnel.
- If it’s “Come ready to work,” check ahead and wear whatever the correct work apparel is, including safety boots, if needed; or, for jobs such as waiting table, the requested color and style of top and pants.
- Attitude and manner. Your body language—how you sit and stand, how you greet the interviewer, your facial expression—can convey confidence, competence, timidity, hesitation, interest, impatience, and a host of other qualities. If you are asked to sit and wait, try to display calm and readiness. Watch yourself for signs of tension, such as fidgeting, frowning, and wringing your hands. Stand to greet the interviewer, smile, introduce yourself, and shake hands.
You also will be getting a first impression about whether or not you want to work at this place.
- Readiness. Turn off your cell phone while you’re waiting. Have your list of questions ready, as well as paper and pen to make notes.
- Is the place clean? orderly?
- Is a receptionist or other greeter friendly and polite?
- Is the interviewer prompt to greet you, or are you left sitting for half an hour without explanation?
Let the interviewer take the lead.
- Some interviewers like to start with a few minutes of small talk—the weather, recent news, a sports event. Others will plunge right in: “Tell me why you think you should get this job.”
- Listen carefully to questions. Try not to compose an answer in your head while the questioner is still speaking, because you might miss an important part of the question.
- Feel free to take a moment and think before you answer, especially if the question is not simple.
- If you’re not sure, clarify: “I’m not sure I understand the question—are you asking about what I would bring to this job from my years of teaching?”
- Questions about your personal life should have a direct bearing on the tasks required, such as ability to lift heavy weights, or to work night shifts.
Even in a job interview, the only personal questions you need answer are those with direct bearing on the job you are interviewing for.
An interviewer should not ask, “Have you any health problems?”
Should you face this question, you can counter with a request for details:
“Could you describe the kinds of problems that might interfere with doing a good job in this position?”
An interviewer is entitled to list the tasks called for and ask,
“Do you have any health problems that would limit your ability to carry out the demands of this job?”
If you don’t understand the relevance of a personal question, follow up:
“I’m not sure how my marital status relates to this job?”
and then address only the relevant issue:
“I have reliable child-care arrangements, and I’ve arranged an emergency backup plan for working hours.”
Conclusion and follow-up
When the interview is over, thank the interviewer and leave.
“Thanks for seeing me. It’s been very informative and I appreciate your time.”
The interviewer may be on a tight schedule and may not appreciate being delayed with last-minute questions or effusive gratitude. However, it is not out of place to ask when you might expect to hear from the company if the interviewer hasn’t mentioned it before.
Send a follow-up letter thanking the interviewer in writing, and mentioning the highlights that are most likely to distinguish your candidacy.
Make a note of the date when you expect to hear from a prospective employer, and when that date passes, feel free to call or email and ask if you are still under consideration. If for some reason you don’t have a firm date, wait at least a week before inquiring.
If You Are Laid Off: Unemployment InsuranceIf you lose your job through no fault of your own, you may be eligible for government payments called unemployment insurance. These are state programs that provide some income to tide you over until you find another job. The amount you receive and the length of time you are eligible differs from state to state. You can find basic information at the federal Department of Labor site. Although some people hesitate to apply for this coverage, thinking that they will find another job before things get desperate, it makes more sense to apply immediately, in case things do get desperate. It takes two to three weeks for the payments to start, and you can always cancel if you get a job in the meantime.