Demystifying the Job Search: Advice for landing the job you want
by John P. Stein, CFA
Senior Vice President
Lehman Brothers, Inc
I am very pleased and honored to be a contributor to Dean Reid’s essay series on personal excellence for the College of Business. Though I graduated from JMU in 1997, I can vividly remember late nights studying at Zane Showker, football camp every August, and double punches at PC Dukes. James Madison is a special place for every student to prepare for the next stage of life, so enjoy every day.
Since leaving JMU, I have spent the past 11 years in New York City working for Lehman Brothers in the Capital Markets division. In that time, I have held several positions within the credit business, most recently in derivatives. In addition to my direct responsibilities, I am also heavily involved in recruiting undergraduate and graduate students from top universities all over the country. I have interviewed many candidates over the years and I want to share some of what I have learned to help JMU students better prepare for the hiring process.
During the assessment, candidates should consider obvious criteria that prospective employers use during candidate evaluation, and then formulate a plan to address each one. Employers desire a mature candidate who possesses leadership, communication, analytical/problem solving, and time management skills. You must be able to demonstrate these skills through a pattern of action and initiative. So, let’s consider each one.
Develop an Aggressive Marketing Plan
Once you have formulated your defensive strategy, it is now time to develop an aggressive marketing plan. Let’s start with the obvious: the resume.
The Resume. Remember that employers review thousands of resumes each year, so you cannot assume that yours will stand out unless it is truly distinctive. Speak favorably about your experiences. If you don’t think your background is worthy, nobody else will. Highlight your strengths and be prepared to confront your weaknesses head on. However, do not inflate your experiences in any way. If you have something on your resume, you need to be able to defend it. If you cannot, you should leave it out. Also, recruiters have absolutely zero time and tolerance for spelling, grammatical, and formatting errors. If a candidate doesn’t care enough to thoroughly check his or her resume, then it is safe to assume his or her work quality will be equally poor. Resumes with these errors often fall straight into the trash. A poor resume can undo years of preparation in two minutes. Take extra care and solicit opinions from others to make sure your resume is perfect before you send it.
Personal Contact. Let’s move on to personal contact. Take every opportunity to speak to as many people as possible in your desired industry. Be aggressive about contacting people and always follow up on every communication. Don’t fall into the “open communication” trap for time sensitive items. For example, voicemail, email, and faxes are all forms of open communication. Don’t assume that someone received the communication unless you get some sort of response. This may sound trivial, but it is hugely important. You don’t want to miss a deadline because you assumed someone got your message or email. Besides, if you follow up an email with a call you will be able to speak to someone in person. Attaching your face and voice to a resume will help set you apart from others, and it will also show your initiative. Be careful not to go overboard here, there is a fine line between being assertive and being annoying, so use your judgment.
The Interview. Now let’s address the interview itself. Three words, relax, relax, relax. Your extensive preparation should give you confidence during the interview. Maintain your poise even if you are asked a question that you don't immediately know the answer to. Take pause and think about it; it is better to say, "I'm not sure" than to fire off an answer that is not well thought out. Honesty is a sign of maturity, but don’t be too hasty to concede defeat. You should be able to reason your way through almost any question. Be confident and maintain good posture. Speak clearly and concisely, and avoid any slang. Say “yes” not “yeah.” Avoid canned responses such as “my biggest weakness is I work too hard…” etc. A candidate’s maturity and confidence will impress the interviewer, but don’t overdo it. Remember, the interviewer knows more than you do, so be careful not to seem arrogant.
Follow-Up. After the interview concludes, your job continues. Be sure to write a thank you note (or email) to every person you met. Include something personally relevant in each note you write. It could be something that you learned about them or something that happened in your interview. In any case, making the note personal will help the interviewer remember you. Keep in mind, while you may remember everything about your interview you cannot assume that the interviewer will. You may be one of many candidates interviewed that day, so you need to take every opportunity to remind people who you are. You want to be remembered; you want to get hired.
It is my hope that some of these insights will help each of you in your search for the perfect job. Remember this, “It is not the will to win that is important, it is the will to prepare to win.” Get started now.
John P. Stein, CFA
Senior Vice President
Lehman Brothers, Inc
B.S., Quantitative Finance, JMU
MBA, Stern School of Business, NYU