So how do you get one?
On Monday night, the Vermont Young Professionals hosted a panel discussion at Champlain College in which four HR directors and recruiters addressed that question in front of an audience of 30 or so students, job seekers and professionals. Heather Adams of MyWebGrocer, Ken Ballard of Spherion, Mark Heyman of Logic Supply and Kurt Nielsen of Green Mountain Coffee Roasters offered anecdotes and suggestions for Vermont job seekers based on their personal and professional experiences.
Here's what they had to say:
1. Work your connections. "Networking is huge," said Heyman, who pointed out that he has found all of his jobs through personal connections. Nielsen noted that, after finding his first job, he relied on friends and acquaintances to point out opportunities. "I never did a job search," he said. "It was all people I knew." It helps, he said, to pay it forward by passing on tips to your friends.
2. Remember that Vermont is a small place. "You represent yourself wherever you go," Ballard reminded the audience. "You're always interviewing for a job." Heyman estimates there are just one and a half degrees of separation here in the 802, which means that, even if you're working an entry-level, service-sector job, chances are you'll meet people you'll encounter in your future professional life. Be on your best behavior. On the plus side, business and community leaders are more accessible in Vermont. "You really do have access to a lot of decision makers at any point in your career," noted Heyman.
3. Stay connected to your ideal field even if you're not working in it. If you've been laid off, or if you're looking for a job just after graduation, find ways to volunteer or stay involved in your area of expertise. And maintain your technical certifications. That'll make re-entry easier.
4. Do your homework. If you're applying for a job, study your potential employer's website. Figure out who will be interviewing you and read their profiles on LinkedIn or on the company blog. Get a sense of what motivates and interests them. Ballard also recommends scoping out the office a day in advance. Pay attention to what employees are wearing, and make an effort to fit in. "Learn as much as you can," he urged.
5. Proofread your cover letter and resume. And have someone else proofread it, too. Recruiters are often sifting through dozens or even hundreds of applicants for any one job. They may only spend five to 10 seconds looking at your resume. If you've made a typo, misspelled someone's name or blasted a generic email to multiple jobs, you're headed for the "no" pile. "We're forming opinions right away," said Heyman.
6. Be succinct. Don't write a cover letter that's a page and a half long. Be specific in your descriptions of your past work experience, but break it up into bullet points or numbered lists. Quipped Nielsen: "Four paragraphs compressed together? I wouldn't read that if it were my own kid's resume."
7. If you're applying from out of state, make it clear in your cover letter that you're eager to move to Vermont. HR directors might be wary of the time and complications involved in relocating you, so it's a good idea to try to put them at ease.
8. Psych yourself up for an interview. Show that you're excited about the job. Nielsen used to listen to the Ramones and the Romantics before doing interviews. "I think I portrayed a fair amount of passion and energy," he said.
9. Ask questions. "You should be interviewing us as much as we're interviewing you," Nielsen instructed. And make sure, if you talk with multiple people, that you ask questions of each of them. It's OK to pose the same question to multiple people. And don't just use the questions you find in some interview book. Craft queries that are thoughtful and challenging, and relevant to the company.
10. Don't be too eager to ask about growth opportunities. Adams suggests waiting until at least the second interview to ask about moving up the ladder. All of the panelists stressed the need to focus on the job you're applying for first.
11. Don't be annoying. You want to stand out as a job candidate, but not in the wrong way. "If you're a pain in the neck now, you're going to be a pain in the neck when you join the company," said Nielsen, so it's unlikely you'll get the gig. Don't send multiple emails to confirm receipt of your application. If you have to check in, be polite and diplomatic; don't demand answers on your status. Heyman offered a story about an applicant who applied late on a Thursday afternoon, then emailed first thing Monday morning asking for confirmation of his application (which he had already received via an automated email). When Heyman didn't immediately respond, the candidate called him and left a voicemail on Monday. He called again on Tuesday. "By Tuesday, I hated him," Heyman said. If you email and don't receive a response after a few days, said Adams, it probably means you're not in the running. Busy hiring managers won't always let you know that you didn't make the cut.
12. Don't get discouraged. "Believe in yourself," offered Nielsen. And remember, "the more 'no's' you get, the closer you are to getting a 'yes.'"
Images courtesy of Mark Hall.