In the past month, I’ve had several people contact me for help or advice in finding a job. Typically when I start talking with someone and looking at their resume, the fundamental problem I find is that they think about the whole process from their perspective instead of from the employer’s. If someone is looking at hiring you, they want to know if you are going to be productive for them. They want to know if you are going to be able to make them more money than what you will cost them in salary and benefits.
So how do you show an employer that you can be productive? Here are some tips:
1. Completed Projects
Finishing is hard. It doesn’t matter if you are writing a song, creating a piece of software, or making a work of art. Getting to the point where you can pronounce it “done” is very difficult. Some people don’t know how to do this. When I look at a resume for a new hire, one of the most important things I look for is their ability to complete a project from start to finish.
As an employer, I want someone who can get something from A to C. The fact that they can get from A through B isn’t all that important unless they can handle the home stretch. The last 20% of a project often requires 80% of the effort and it is the place that trips people up unless they have a track record of completing the last part.
To many, resumes only demonstrate the ability to start or work in the middle of projects, but not the important part of finishing something.
I was talking to a young software engineer last week who was looking for a job after completing college. I asked him what he had built recently. He mentioned a number of ideas for projects that he had thought about or started, but nothing that he had started and finished on his own.
My advice to him was to create something useful–no matter how simple–that he could point to and say “I built this because I wanted to solve problem X.”
2. Previous Value
Employers want to know what type of value you provided in your previous work. You want to demonstrate not only what you did, but how your contributions were of benefit.
Years ago, I did some classes on how to use Microsoft Outlook for the hospital where I worked. An executive who came to the class told me that what he learned in my class was saving him 20 to 40 hours per month over the way he had been using Outlook previously.
Prospective employers were much more interested that I had taught a class that had saved the top talent at my previous job 20 to 40 hours per month than they were that I knew how to teach a class on Microsoft Outlook. They were a lot more interested in the value I had provided in the past than the details of what exactly I did.
There are two reasons this is so important to an employer. First, just because someone says they sold typewriters doesn’t mean they were any good at it. Employers are interested in results, not just having a warm body in a position going through motions. The second reason is that employers want employees who see the big picture and understand how their work contributes to the company’s profit. Articulating your understanding of the “big picture” by showing a good understanding of the organization’s long-term goals can show a prospective employer that you are thinking beyond the minutiae in which others become entrapped.
3. Interaction with the Community
Demonstrating that you interact with a community around your skill set shows an employer that you aren’t just “putting in hours” without having any real interest in your work.
Another reason employers want to see you well connected is that well-connected people can solve problems much faster than lone islands. If you had to choose between two people and neither of them had solved a particular problem, would you rather have the one who has five friends who all have solved that problem or the one with no friends who are familiar with the problem space?
4. Continual Learning
Good employees don’t typically stay stagnant. The needs of a business are continually evolving. If you can show you have continued to learn new skills over the course of your career, you’ll stand out from those who haven’t. It shows that you have a track record of staying relevant in your field and that you aren’t planning on just “coasting” on the skill set you started with.
Being self-motivated can mean a lot of different things. For this definition, I’m referring to someone who you can give a project or task and when you come back to check on them, they have made significant progress and overcome obstacles all on their own. You leave feeling like you can wait even longer before checking with them again.
It is amazing how hard it can be to find self-motivated employees. Anything you can do to show that you are self-motivated and won’t require a lot of “hand-holding” as an employee is going to help your chances of getting a job. In particular, you want to show that you have the drive to overcome unknowns and move forward with a task.
There you have it. Five tips for thinking about your job search from the employer’s point of view. Keep in mind it all comes down to demonstrating that you have the skills and personality to be a productive employee and not someone they will lose money by hiring.
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