Climbing the Job Search Ladder

Climbing the corporate ladderThe job search process is like climbing a ladder. The purpose of each step on the ladder is to get you to the next step. The overall goal is to reach the top of the letter which is the job offer. Understanding the ladder including the details of each step and what follows each step is critical to reaching the job offer at the top of the ladder.

First Rung: Keywords that Attract Employers

Whether you post your resume online or apply via a company's web site, keywords are what ensure your resume is seen. Employers search for resumes using keywords the same way you search the web. Keywords are how you get noticed by a recruiter. But what keywords do you need? The answer to that question varies by industry and job. A good way to start to learn is to run a job search for your target job and save it as a JobScout. Your JobScout will email you new jobs matching your criteria each day. As you review each of these jobs, you will become familiar with the language and keywords used in the industry. You can then ensure your resume contains those keywords that match your experience.

If you use the right keywords in your resume, you will reach the next rung where your resume appears in search results. Then it is up to your resume title to help you continue the climb.

Second Rung: Your Resume Title

The second rung of the ladder is your resume title. Once your resume appears in search results, the goal of the resume title is to get you to the next rung. That next rung is the employer clicking through to read your resume.

Your resume title applies only to the online portion of your job search. But the fact of the matter is, job searches, like much of life, have moved mainly online. When you post your resume, you are usually asked for a title. This title is shown to employers when your resume matches their search criteria. This title is the one chance you have to get the employer to click through and read your resume. A bad title leads to no clicks on your resume and you get stuck at the bottom of the ladder. A good title convinces employers to click through to read your resume. The goal of your resume title is to get your resume read. That is the next rung of the ladder.

What kind of titles are good and bad? We have an entire article that describes what makes a good resume title. I encourage you to read it. But in summary, the resume title should communicate the value you will deliver to the employer. It should be a very concise summary of your skills, achievements, and experience. A bad title is “Joe Smith's Resume.” A good title is “IT Project Manager delivering results on time and under budget.”

Third Rung: Your Resume Communicating your Skills and Accomplishments

Congratulation on reaching this rung. Your resume had the right keywords and a compelling title led to the employer clicking through to view your resume. It's a bit disconcerting to realize how much effort it takes just to get your resume viewed. But now it is game time. The employer is viewing your resume, and you want to keep climbing that ladder to a job offer. Now it is time for your resume to shine.

To succeed at this rung, your resume must communicate the value you will bring to an employer. This value includes your skills and experience. But, most importantly, this value includes your accomplishments. The employer wants to know what you have accomplished elsewhere in order to better judge what you might accomplish if they hire you. In order to build an effective resume, you must first identify your accomplishments, and then communicate them.

The whole goal of the resume is to convince the employer you can bring value to their organization and to get them to include you in the limited number of candidates that make it to the next rung: the phone screen.

Fourth Rung: Phone Screen

The fourth rung of the job search ladder is the phone screen. To make it here, your resume must contain the keywords necessary to be found, a title that results in a click through, and then the resume must communicate your value in terms of your skills and achievements.

The phone screen is often a winnowing process where an employer attempts to winnow out the wheat from the chaff. They want to make sure you really have the skills listed on your resume and that you have basic professional communication skills. The next step in the process is the in person interview. That step is costly for the employer. In that step they dedicate significant employee time to talking to you, and they may incur travel costs to get you to their location. So the phone screen is designed to ensure they do not waste their money bringing a dud in for an in person interview.

As a side note, when I say “phone screen,” I mean “phone screen.” It may also be a “skype screen.” But at a bare minimum, you must have voice contact. Interviews using chat technology are often scams. And no legitimate employer hires you on just a phone call.

The goal in the phone screen is to convince the employer you are worth bringing in for an in person interview. The first step to achieving this goal is to be able to intelligently discuss every part of your resume. The interviewer will have your resume in front of her. You should do the same. You should rehearse more detailed explanations of every resume bullet. Often in the phone screen, the interviewer is digging into various bullets to ensure they are accurate and not wildly over inflated. You should be ready to discuss each bullet in detail. The interviewer may also ask a variety of well known interview questions. Prior to the interview, you should rehearse your responses to common interview questions. You should also be ready to ask relevant questions about the company. To do this, you have to conduct a bit of reconnaissance to prepare for the interview.

If you succeed in the phone interview, you will reach the next rung of the ladder: the in person interview.

Fifth Rung: In-Person Interview

Making it to the in-person interview is no small accomplishment. Congratulations! But with each rung of the ladder the competition and stakes are higher. So you must be ready.

The first step to success is to dress appropriately for the interview. If you have any doubts as to whether a suit is appropriate, google for information about interviews at your target company. There are some exceptions, such as Silicon Valley tech companies where suits are not appropriate. But usually, a suit is the right answer.

The next steps to success are to leverage the skills related to rehearsal and reconnaissance you learned in the military to ensure you are ready for common interview questions and are ready to ask intelligent questions about the company and the industry. You must rehearse answers to common interview questions and conduct reconnaissance (or research) to understand your target company, industry, and job so you can ask relevant questions.

But to succeed at the in person interview, you have to build a real connection. My favorite approach is the consultative interview where you get the interviewer to talk about challenges they face related to the job you are interviewing for. You then collaborate on possible solutions. This builds confidence in your ability to contribute to the team in a positive way and shows how you work with people. Convincing the interviewer that you can contribute to helping them solve their problems and that you work well with others is critical to getting to the next rung of the ladder: the job offer.

The Job Offer

Congratulations! You've made it to the top of the ladder: the job offer. Let's review how we got here:

  1. Your resume contained keywords to ensure employers find it

  2. Your resume title was compelling ensuring employers click through to read it

  3. Your resume communicated your skills and accomplishments and answered the question “why should I hire you?” This resulted in the employer calling you for an initial phone screen.

  4. You rehearsed answers to common interview questions and to questions about your resume and your experience. As a result, you passed the phone screen and were invited to an in-person interview.

  5. You dressed appropriately for your in-person interview, researched the company and the role so you could ask relevant questions, continued to rehearse answers to common interview questions, and built a real connection with the people who interviewed you. As a result you were offered the job.

Now that you understand the rungs on the job search ladder, it's time to land that job!

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