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Looking for 1st job? Get your basics down

| Saturday, April 5, 2014, 7:47 p.m.

Rick was like thousands of other college seniors hoping to get hired for his first “real” job. He was an average student, from a middle-of-the-road college, with a typical major (in Rick's case, information technology). He was not active in clubs or sports, but all through college, he worked part-time as a cook, a job that had virtually no correlation to his career pursuits.

His college career services office helped him put together a resume, but it was not generating interviews. His mother called me in desperation, and that's how I happened to meet Rick. Here's the advice I gave him. If you are a job seeker, no matter what your age, this advice will be relevant for you, too.

First, I explained that resumes are reviewed either by a computer in a nanosecond or by a human being in less than 10 seconds. That's why they must quickly hook the reader through keywords and powerful verbs, supplemented by compelling examples of one's capabilities. Each resume should be customized to match exceedingly well with the words in the job posting.

In Rick's case, his computer skills were his biggest selling point, so we led off his resume with a string of technology capabilities, followed by his fresh college degree. Next came Rick's work experience. His job as a cook was not relevant to his career pursuits, but we made it sound as if it were by including bullet points such as: “Assisted restaurant owner with efforts to attract younger customers by making suggestions to improve the website and by selecting background music on sound system that appeals to younger clientele” and “Recommended new lighting system to enhance the dining experience while reducing electricity costs.”

Once Rick had a solid resume, he got attention from potential employers. To prepare him for anticipated interviews, I instructed him to conduct Internet research on each company, its industry and its competitors, as well as the people slated to interview him.

Then, Rick and I practiced interviewing. His answers were uninspired and boring, so I coached him to respond with notable stories. For example, instead of saying his hobby was woodworking, we changed that to: “I've been doing woodworking since I was about 7, and when I was too young to have a job, I spent one summer making myself bedroom furniture, including a bed, two nightstands and a dresser.” That kind of statement creates an impressive picture the interviewer can't forget, plus it proves that the candidate possesses capabilities such as diligence, initiative and creativity.

For interview attire, I asked Rick to wear a suit and tie with an impeccably clean and perfectly pressed white shirt, and to carry a portfolio with his resume, a tablet and pens. Cellphone was to be left in the car.

I reminded Rick that the interviewer has already seen his resume and, based on that information, knows that he has the basic capabilities to do the job. Often, the interview is focused on determining which candidate has the “soft skills” and would be the best fit for the employer's culture: Who has the strongest verbal communication skills? Who would handle deadlines without panicking? Who would get along with the crotchety department secretary?

After a couple rounds of practice interviews, I pushed Rick out the door and wished him well on his first interview. A few days later, he reaped the reward for his efforts and signed the first offer letter of his career.

Chris Posti is president of Posti & Associates in Pittsburgh. She can be reached at 724-344-1668

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