the job search – part two

In part one of the job search series, I talked about websites to use to search for open positions, and provided some tips for crafting your cover letter and resume.  Now, let’s discuss staying organized during your search and preparing for the interview process.

Get Organized
When I began the search for my first student housing position, I applied to every entry-level position across Canada.  I literally applied for jobs from coast-to-coast and everything in between.  As you can imagine, this was a lot of information to keep track of.  I had a “job search” white board that I kept on my desk, and wrote down the name of each position I applied to (along with the institution and hiring manager).  This gave me a quick visual of positions I had applied for and could easily cross them off the list as necessary.  This is one way to keep track of your search, but there are so many more options as well!

Keep a Binder
I like to print out job descriptions, highlight the key areas and responsibilities and write right on the page what experiences I have in each of those areas.  If you’re applying for multiple positions, keeping track of all of those print outs can be difficult.  Streamline it, and put each job description/posting in a section of a binder.  Use tabs/dividers to separate each posting and include any relevant material to each job.  Keep this binder in an easily accessible space.

Use a Spreadsheet
If you prefer to keep things online, consider creating a spreadsheet to keep track of your job search. Some suggestions for headings/categories are: Name of the position you’re applying for, the institution, the application deadline, the date you applied, interview date and time, and a notes or miscellaneous section.  Customize your spreadsheet to best suit your needs!

Here’s a sample of a job search spreadsheet:

Like most things in life, being organized means less stress and the information you need will be at your fingertips.  Use a system that works for you.  If you’re not overly tech savvy, stick with what you know.

Interview Preparation
You’ve taken the time to write a flawless cover letter and resume, and you have landed an interview.  First and foremost, congratulations! Today’s postings typically see hundreds of applicants, so to be narrowed down for an interview is an accomplishment in itself.  It’s like what the celebrities say during Oscar season: “It’s an honour just to be nominated!”  Landing an interview is like being nominated for an Oscar.  While you might not get a shiny statue at the end of the process, you may just land your dream job!

So, where to start? Each individual will prep for interviews in their own way, but there are some standard practices that you should include in your preparation:

Get to know your future employer
Jump on to the institution’s website and take a good look around.  Many departmental websites share information about important projects and initiatives so make note of these.  How do these impact the role you are interviewing for?  What is the mission of the department and the institution?  Is there a strategic plan in place?  What recent news releases have been publicized? While some of these documents can be quite lengthy, reading them gives you a good sense of the institutional core values and goals, and will show the hiring committee that you’ve done your homework.

Read through the job description once again.  Consider the key areas and responsibilities and anticipate what types of questions the hiring committee will ask.  Reflect on what experience you will bring and consider the approach you will take in your new role.  Student affairs interviews are notorious for behaviour based questions (“tell me about a time when…”) so take the time to think about your past experiences, what you contributed to the task, what you learned and if faced with the same situation again, what would you change.

I know it sounds silly, but practising what you will say during an interview can help to calm your nerves and give you more confidence on the day of.  I sometimes have a tendency to give too much information, so taking the time to talk it out before the big day helps to channel my thoughts and focus on what it is I really want to get across.  It’s also not a bad idea to do a mock interview with a friend or colleague.   Once you get past the giggles, you’ll find that this can help you to understand how the interview panel will perceive you and make adjustments as necessary.

Dress for success
An interview is a professional affair, so you should take the time to consider what you will wear and how you will present yourself.  If you’re professional attire is more Kesha than Michelle Obama, take that as a sign.  If you have the financial means, invest in a solid interview outfit.  If you’re on a tight budget, check out the thrift shops or talk to friends/relatives who are willing to lend you clothes for the big day.  The most important thing is to feel amazing in what you’re wearing.  If you don’t, this will come out in the interview.  Interview attire can vary from institution to institution, but I try to err on the side of being a little over dressed.  My go-to interview outfit? A skirt suit, collared shirt, light jewellery (simple white gold earrings and necklace) and sensible heels (you never know how far you’re going to need to walk).

Being prepared for an interview will increase your confidence level, help you to focus and instil a sense of readiness.  After all, Alexander Graham Bell did say: “Before anything else, preparation is the key to success.”

For further reading on these topics, check out these resources:
Sample behaviour based interview questions
List of potential Student Affairs specific interview questions (scroll to the bottom of the page, click on “potential interview questions” under the Interview Questions heading)
Dressing for Success at Your Job Interview

In part three of the job search series, I’ll talk about the interview, the follow-up and negotiation.

What tips do you have for staying organized during the job search, and preparing for an interview?