Lately I've been fortunate to be able to visit many area schools to talk about the opportunities for new candidates at startups and how LaunchSource can help candidates get great jobs at high-growth companies. During those conversations I've been pushing 4 basic things everyone can do to look good to hiring managers. These 4 traits are applicable to candidates of any experience, but often are less obvious to entry-level candidates, so I wanted to share them here for everyone.
I should probably preface this blog with a quick fact about LaunchSource. At LaunchSource we speak to thousands of job applicants. Year to date, we have spoken over 2000 candidates from the nearly 18,000 applications we have received. Through our process we're able to, rather quickly, sort out who is ready to begin a professional business career and who is not. Time and time again we see the same basic mistakes that could disqualify an otherwise great candidate. So, no matter how great a candidate you may be, make sure you show it by following these four basic rules:
Professionalism all the way through the process
Most tech startups have a generally laid-back culture. People wear jeans to work, often t-shirts are ok, maybe sandals, and sometimes there's beer on tap right in the kitchen. But that doesn't mean they're not running a professional operation. When you're interacting with a potential employer always act very professional. Let me tell you two quick stories.
Story 1: Dressing up
I was asked by a student one time if he should match his wardrobe to the company culture. He had been on an interview and a hiring manager had laughed at him for wearing a suit to the interview because the rest of the company was very casual. The answer to his questions is "no." Always act professional. Why? Showing up in a professional outfit says "I prepared for this meeting, and I take this opportunity seriously."
If you're ever faced with a situation where someone comments on your state of overdress just state the obvious. In this case I suggest something like, "I know that you have a more relaxed culture, but this is a job interview and I wanted to show you that I'm serious about this potential role." Pretty simple, and no sane person will ever disqualify you for that. However, think of the opposite situation. If you underdress, you could be disqualified the minute you walk in the door.
Easy solution to always looking good: Have an interviewing outfit dry-cleaned and ready to go before you even have an interview. It costs about $20 and will be better than anything you can do with an iron at the last minute!
Story 2: Acting the part
A candidate was on a job interview at a high growth startup. Things were going great, the candidate was getting along well with the hiring manager. As they toured the office, the manager offered the candidate a beer in the kitchen. Thinking everything was cool, the candidate accepted. "Are you going to have one with me?" the candidate asked. To which the hiring manager replied "No, this is a job interview."
OK I know that last one sounds a little made up, but it's not! And more importantly it's the type of situation where you always want to err on the side of professionalism. So just remember: during the entire interview process, keep it professional. Once you're hired you can have as many beers as you want, they might even let you pick out the keg!
Timeliness is extremely important to hiring managers. They're busy, and by the time you read one of their emails, they're probably already on to the next thing or communicating with your competition for the job. Being timely with your responses can give you the edge in any job search. You've likely got a smartphone with access to email, so use it! We recommend a maximum 24 hour turnaround for communications.
If you're working at another job and notice your potential new employer asked you for something, duck into a bathroom and reply to the email or phone call - even if it's just to tell them that you'll send whatever they're asking for when you get home. This shows that you're dedicated to your current job, but can still communicate in a timely manner. Just don't forget to follow through when you get home!
This one is something all your teachers have told you at every level of education:
Proof read. Proof read. Proof read.
I can't stress this enough. Grammatical errors and typos look really bad especially when the job you're applying for is centered around communicating with potential customers. Have your roommate/parent/sibling/stranger-on-the-subway look at your email and resume before you send it. Read it out loud to yourself slowly word by word, read it again to your cat or dog or anyone that will listen. Have them read it back to you.
Come on, you want to get this part right don't you?
Hot tip for writing clear emails: Try to break your text blocks up so that no text block is more than 4-5 lines long. It makes it easier to read and actually helps you be a more concise writer.
Get a Professional Email Address
I'm not saying to get rid of your .edu address, or the address you've used since you signed up for AIM in 1998, but don't use them for applying to jobs. Instead go for something like Firstname.Lastname@gmail.com. There are plenty of good free email services out there, so just pick one.
The reasoning behind this is many hiring people will do a search on their inbox for past communication with you. If your email is easy to remember (like your name) it just makes it easier to find. If its some crazy reference to your hobbies, it doesn't look professional. Additionally your .edu address will eventually be turned off sometime after you graduate and you could lose contact with a potential employer.
Lastly, enable the "Undo Send" feature (or as I call it, "The Oh S**T Button") if you're using gmail. In your gmail settings under "General" you'll be able to see the undo feature and time countdown before your email sends. If you're like me and get send button anxiety, this is a great way to fix a mistake you noticed just as you lifted your finger off the send button.
So there you have it. If you follow these four rules you'll likely be ahead of at least 50% of the rest of the applicant pool. If you want some more tips on preparing for your career, check out our free career preparation course!