Job Search Advice

Pay it Forward…

(excepted from PA Times, November 2006)

By Ann Hess Braga

I have spent a long time earning the appropriate degrees in traditional school settings. Very little in my years of education prepared me for the nuts and bolts of running a city department or the responsibility of screening and hiring professional and support staff. Individuals who are coming out of school, with little more than summer jobs or internships, find the job search process challenging, to say the least.

Many new professionals neglect to mention their “non-professional” job experience in their resumes and during interviews. In so doing, they risk submitting an incomplete resume and losing the opportunity to highlight assets that could be valuable to potential employers. New professionals face a host of challenges and I hope these hints help.

It’s Not about the Title, Stupid!

We all know that job titles do not reflect reality; if they did, my title–Staff Director –would better convey the responsibility of putting a wad of duct tape on the end of a wooden pole and reaching into the copy machine to get paper out. It needed to get done.

Before entering the professional world, I worked at a department store, McDonalds, a plastics factory and as a resident assistant in the dorms, among other things. Each job, in addition to life experience, added to my skill set. The path has not been direct, but everything has had value–maybe not seen at the time, and not usually identified in the title or job description.

Having looked at nearly 2,000 resumes, including my own, I know that job titles do not mean much. I now look for how the skills learned in the applicant’s past, tangible and intangible, translate into the position I am trying to fill in the organization where I work.

What to do? – RADAR

  • Re-examine your resume and identify the skills you have developed, not just the jobs you have held. The skills you list may be concrete, such as use of computer programs, or they could be the ability to work with a diverse group to arrive at consensus.
  • Assess your life experience for skills; not everything is learned “on the job.”
  • Dissect the job description to match skills you have with those directly or indirectly listed in the advertisement.
  • Analyze the organization through web sites, press clippings, and discussions with those who live there if you are thinking of moving. ASPA members in the area can be a wealth of information.
  • Reflect the job and organization needs in your cover letter or email to show how the organization can benefit from you. Also, include your thoughts on how you can benefit from the organization.

INTERVIEWS–Adopt the SHOW ME principle: demonstrate it, don’t simply say it.

Take it from someone who has conducted a lot of interviews: you should avoid using these phrases in an interview or on your cover letter/resume.  If you do use them, provide an example as a part of your statement, not after prompting.

  • Don’t say “I am a team player, or “I work well with others.” Instead, give a specific example of the different types of roles you have taken in projects or assignments, and the results.
  • If you want to say “I am a people person,” instead discuss how your past experiences have provided you with opportunities to meet, work with, or lead individuals with different working styles, as well as educational, life, cultural histories.
  • “I can multi-task.”  Discuss, with specifics, how you have dealt with multiple tasks and assignments, what you do to organize, and how you deal with the challenge of getting everything done at once.
  • “I know how to resolve conflicts.” Discuss the tools and skills you have developed, with examples.

And finally, when asked if you have any questions, never say “I have no questions.”  Asking questions conveys to interviewers your interest in the organization. They need to hear it!

Ann Hess Braga works for the City of Boston and has served as a member of the American Society for Public Administration’s National Council.