In your new portfolio, you have ten copies of your resume printed on fine-quality paper. Your diploma is hanging on the wall at home and there’s a brand new suit hanging in your closet. You’re ready to strut into your first post-grad interview or are you?
Have you researched company history and job titles? What does a communications manager do, anyway? Didn’t you already apply to GQ? Or was that a different job posting?
Navigating the application and interview process involves more than your best business suit and a perfectly-crafted resume. It takes a lot of effort and clear organization to make sure you’ve followed through with every company you want to pursue.
It can get very confusing when you have dozens of applications out and multiple interviews in one week. You don’t want to risk walking into an interview talking about a competitor’s product because you forgot that you were at Dove and not Olay.
To help you gain traction at your interviews, I’d like to share a method of organizing a job search into 5 simple steps.
Step 1: Conduct Your Initial Research
When you find a company that looks interesting, open up a word doc or pull out a piece of paper, label it with the company name and take notes to remind yourself why you want to work for them. Is there a rock-climbing wall in the break room, free coffee or — my favorite — an amazing vacation package? Jot down anything that strikes you as important in your initial review of the company.
Step 2: Create an ‘Applied’ Folder
When you’ve finished your initial research phase, it’s time to apply for the position. Use the information from the job application to make a note of the following in a new top sheet of paper or at the beginning of your document:
- Company name
- Location(s) of position
- Application date
- Method (how did you apply?)
- Job ID# (if applicable)
- Points of contact (who have you spoken with and what are their positions?)
Clip a copy of the submitted resume to complete your personal record. House these packets in a folder labeled “applied.” Why is this important? Entering the work force isn’t always easy. Many graduates hunt for a position for months. If you’re still in school, now’s the time to start prepping for your battle. Keep in mind that most people don’t start their career with a dream job.
Finally, if you’re using different resumes for different positions, make a note of which resume you used and clip a copy of the cover letter to the application packet.
Step 3: Make a ‘Needs Research’ Folder
Once you get an interview, retrieve the packet from the“applied” folder and prep it for my “needs research” folder. At this point, it’s wise to spend some extra time researching the company. You might have applied over a month ago, so make sure to revisit the information you have about the company, confirm everything, conduct further research and record any new information you find.
Update the sheet with the date, time, and place of the interview. Add any contact information, the name of the interviewer (this isn’t always provided) and any other important information. Organize this folder by the date of the interview.
Step 4: Keep a ‘Researched’ Folder
Probably the most important step before your interview is to reread the job description and make sure you understand what they’re looking for. You don’t want to walk into an interview expecting an assistant editor position, but then realize you’ll be more of a mailroom clerk. You’ll disappoint yourself and the interviewer. Plus, you could ruin your chances for using the interviewer as a contact for future positions within the company. To make sure you’re ready for your big interview, follow some of these tips:
- Research the industry. Know the company’s competitors as well as their strengths and what makes them successful. Proving that you know what’s going on in the field will show that you’re ready to hit-the-ground-running at their company.
- Dig deeper in the company’s website. Make sure you know details about their culture and core values. This is one of the most important parts of your research and can also come in handy when answering interview questions – a lot of companies are asking questions to assess cultural fit these days! You should also follow their social accounts to watch community interaction and gain insight into their day-to-day office musings.
- Use Glassdoor.com to get a list of possible interview questions the company asks. Every question listed might not prove to be relevant, but odds are good that you’ll get insight into what to expect at your interview. Plus, you may stumble upon one of these oddball interview questions and have time to think of the perfect answer before heading into the interview!
- Prep for basic questions such as, “Why do you want to work for us?” These questions make up the bulk of most interviews, so you don’t want stumble over them. You should also prepare for the unexpected questions by
- Google the company to check for recent news reports. Look for information about new CEOs, a product making it big or even drastic changes in stock. You don’t want to be caught with a question about the company you don’t have an answer for!
Think back to your college years. You’d always read over your notes to help you retain information the night before a major exam. Use your “researched” folder in the same way.
You’re well prepared for the interview once you know what qualities the company is looking for and you’ve practiced your responses in the mirror. Move the company packet to your “researched folder,” put on your best suit and head to your interview.
Step 5: Create an ‘Interview Completed’ Folder
After you’ve won over another interviewer, make a few final notes on the application packet. Clip relevant business cards, make notes about your interview and any interaction that might be important, and record any additional steps you may need to take.
If the interviewer asked something that you didn’t know how to respond to, make a note of it, look up an answer and record what you find. It might serve you well as you navigate through a future interview process.
Don’t forget to send a thank you card. Even if you know the interview didn’t go well or that the job just wasn’t for you, never burn a bridge. Expanding your business contacts is vital to your future career growth. Here’s an example: Say you interviewed at Forbes Magazine three months ago, but didn’t land the job. Next time they’re offering another interesting position, you’re more likely to be remembered because of that thank you card.
After the interview, move the application packet to an “interview completed” folder.
Research and preparation goes a long way toward showing your interviewer what you’re capable of. Stay motivated and organized and you’ll likely stay a step ahead of the competition. Creating application packets to prep for upcoming interviews is a useful way to stay organized, and it will serve you well into the future. Even if you’ve already landed a job after graduation, the job search may not be over. Keep your network open and stay in touch with your contacts – you never know where the future may lead you.
Sarah Landrum is a Penn State graduate, writer, and founder of Punched Clocks. Passionate about helping others find happiness and success in their careers, she writes about all things career! For more great tips on navigating the job search follow her @SarahLandrum