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Apply Yourself 

A thorough, professional approach will make you stand out in a crowd of applicants.

With a tight job market in an economic downturn, having top interview skills and a good résumé are of paramount importance for those wanting to stand out in the crowd of applicants vying for a position. While it is true that different jobs call for different qualities in applicants, there remain some universal rules when it comes to résumés, interviews and other steps toward securing a job.

Résumés

Depending on the job, employers may ask applicants for different materials to supplement résumés such as cover letters, portfolios or writing samples. But many employers from different fields can agree on what makes résumés stand out " in good and bad ways.

Human resources directors advise applicants to make it compact by keeping résumés to one page, and to avoid being redundant. They also caution against any forms of résumé 'padding."

'The first rule of thumb is to keep the résumé to one page to try to keep it concise," says Mark Karcher, Gambit Weekly's human resources director. And for listing previous jobs, he says to 'put a brief summary of what the job is, but don't include a laundry list (for the description). We don't need an all inclusive list of what you did in your previous job."

These directors say that certain résumé trends are going out of style, especially that of including an objective.

'I rarely (advise applicants to) use an introduction or objective," says Michelle Crockett, federal sector technical recruiter for Diamond Data Systems, an information technology company. 'I'd rather see their skills."

Karcher agrees: 'I assume if someone is applying for the job, then (getting) the job is their objective."

As for the résumé's content, the directors say to be direct and honest about past employment. If you have changed jobs frequently or there are long gaps in between jobs, explain that in your résumé. Don't omit dates of employment in an effort to conceal this information.

'You shouldn't be a job hopper, but if you think I just won't pick up on that (by omitting dates), you're not really fooling anyone," Karcher says. 'I find (unexplained gaps in employment) a turnoff. If there's a reason, go ahead and note it on the résumé."

Most people are reluctant to admit that they were fired from their last job, but it's best to be honest about it.

'Be able to explain why you left your position and tell the truth, because it always comes back," Crockett says. 'If you were fired, let them know and be honest. Hiring people are more willing to forgive in a tight market."

Extra tips for writing a résumé:

Don't try to stand out with colored paper and flashy fonts. Stick to white, letter-sized paper and to the generic 12-point Times New Roman font. 'If [a resume] is difficult to read, you're apt to look at something else," Crockett says.

Re-read your résumé before sending it. One of Karcher's biggest pet peeves is seeing spelling and grammatical errors in résumés and cover letters. 'I cannot stress this enough: proof everything," he says. 'This is your first opportunity to represent yourself."

Include accurate contact information: Include phone numbers and email addresses where employers can definitely reach you. Check your email and answer your phone often " if you don't, the position might already be filled by the time you get around to it. Crockett says she has seen job applicants omit contact information altogether. '[Including contact information] sounds like it would be elementary, but it truly is something folks don't do," she says.

Interviews

A job interview doesn't just start when the applicant shows up " it begins days before the actual interview, and ends weeks afterward. Human resources directors have tips about how to prepare for an interview, how to act during an interview, and the proper etiquette for following up after the meeting.

A few days before going in for the interview, research the company and the position it is offering. It may be important that the employers like you, but it's also important that you like the employer and can see yourself working there.

'Research the company, visit its Web site, Google them " try and find out any information that can be referred to in an interview or for your own interest [to make sure you're] on the right path in pursuing this position," Karcher says. 'It sounds odd, but I've had interviews where it seems like the person forgot what they were there for. Try to get a sense of what you're walking into."

Right before the interview, be prepared. Come armed with confidence, knowledge about yourself, and your own questions for the employer.

'(Before your interview) read your resume," Crockett says. 'Have a story (to tell) about something you did, when you felt you stood out at each position."

As for what to wear to an interview, Crockett says it's simple: 'If you wouldn't wear it to church, don't wear it to an interview."

She says that the best investment someone on the job market can make is a navy blue or black suit. Even if the office culture seems to allow for more casual attire, it is better to be overdressed than underdressed. The same goes for tattoos and body piercings. Even if the employer allows them, it's best to have them covered for the interview.

'I think [tattoos] are much more mainstream now, but your personal life should be separate from your job," Crockett says. 'I do think, depending on the corporate culture, [tattoos] could possibly be frowned upon."

During the interview, listen to the questions being asked and be direct in your answers. Karcher doesn't like applicants to be too loquacious.

'[One of my pet peeves] is applicants not answering the question that was just asked, and not allowing the interviewer to proceed and get a word in edgewise," he says.

After the interview, Crockett says to 'follow up, follow up, follow up" through a call or thank-you note. It's best to let the employers know that you're interested in the job.

'The last thing you should say (after the interview is) "I am very interested in this job. When should I expect to hear back from you? What is your contact information?'" she says. 'Email a thank-you note or mail one. A stamp goes really far in today's world. It shows you took the extra step."

Jill McLaughlin, director of human resources and safety at Interior Exterior Building Supplies, advises that if you are interested in the job, let the employer know.

'A follow-up is good. The next day, email or call to say you're interested," she says. 'I tend to lean towards people who do that because it lets us know they are interested."

Extra tips for interviews:

Be prepared to fill out a job application. Karcher says many job candidates arrive not having all of the information asked for on an application. You will likely need to fill one out before the interview, so be sure to bring information such as names and phone numbers of references and past employers.

Don't focus on wages and benefits in the interview. While Karcher says to come armed with questions for the employer, don't focus on wages and benefits " it makes it seem like that is what is most important to you.

Follow the directions. Read the job listing carefully, and do exactly what it says. 'If we ask for it, do it. Not only if you want to," Karcher says. 'If the ad says "No phone calls please' and you call, it looks like you can't read."

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