What I’m about to say is aimed at those looking for IT work, but has applicability to many fields. In the past few years, I’ve interviewed network engineer and technician candidates, DPW workers, and police officers (I wear a lot of hats), and am always taken aback by these common mistakes.
Customize the Cover Letter and Resume For The Specific Position
“I look forward to bringing my skills to your company”. It’s easy to print off a stack of cover letters and resumes to send out as needed, but you have to put yourself in the role of the person reading your materials. If I’m hiring, I want to know that you’re ambitious and interested enough to personalize your documents to match the specific job you are applying for, and that you didn’t just send me what amounts to a form letter.
Name “your company” by name. Mention specific facets of the job description in your cover letter that jazz you, and tweak the resume for the specific desired position. If you’re looking for years of good employment, spending an extra hour honing your documents before you apply is just a good investment in time.
Lose the “We”- This Discussion Is All About You
If I ask “can you describe what your current role is in doing _________ on a daily basis?” do not start your answer with “We do blah blah blah”. I don’t care what the entire organization does at your current job or what they did at your last one, if you’re between jobs. Long dissertations on what solutions are used in another work setting are of limited value. Drop the “we”, and tell me about YOU.
Back to the question- can you describe what your current role is in doing ______ on a daily basis?
Bad answer: We have Cisco switches and Avaya Voice over IP.
Better answer: I’m part of a group that keeps up the LAN and VoiP environments, and I personally do routine switch configurations that include everything from basic settings to QoS, ACLs, VLANing and TFTP backups.
You’re selling yourself, not you and everyone you currently work with. The nuance is significant and takes self-discipline to get across.
At the Same Time, Remember That IT Is Usually a Team Sport
None of us are an island. Saying “I really like working alone” can be quite off-putting. The relationships and interactions that we have with others at work are themselves assets to be nurtured, and talked about at the appropriate time during the interview. Yes, you want to focus on your own strengths, skills, and experience, but as you weave a conversational tapestry, make sure that there are plenty of examples of how you work well with others and value your current team and others that you work with.
Embellishing Is Risky- Don’t Claim Competencies That You Don’t Have
Here’s a flash- taking a C++ class in college three years ago does not make you proficient in C++.
If you dump every technical thing you were ever exposed to into a bulleted list of “skills” to try give your resume weight, it’s guaranteed to come back and bite you. References to things you saw somewhere along the line might get you in the door for an interview, but when you sheepishly admit “well, I did a project on that in school and don’t really remember the specifics” as your only experience with the “skill”, the interview team will automatically wonder what else you’re overstating and likely be wondering about your honesty.
Stand behind your legitimate skills and experience. Other things that you’ve been exposed to are fair game for conversational fodder. For example: “I did some of that in a class in school and did well with it, but haven’t had the opportunity yet to get more experience. But I’m certainly capable of building on my limited exposure to it.” Instead of being trapped in stretched-truth, paint an honest picture and confidently state your belief in yourself to learn what you don’t yet know.
EVERYONE IN THE WORLD HAS A CCNA Book- Finish the Damn Thing!
If you’re going after a network position, you need to be aware of the danger of anything that sounds like “I’m working on my CCNA”. Everyone looking for a job in networking is “working”on their CCNA. My Amish cousin Eunice and her poodly dog are working on their CCNAs. The interviewers have heard it all, ad nauseum.
If you haven’t set a date to take the exam, you really want to tread lightly on this one. About as far as I might go, if I truly was working on my CCENT or a CCNA and hadn’t yet set a date for the exam, is something like this: “I have about 75 hours in on CCNA prep (and say which discipline). I’m confident in these areas____________, but need to finish _______ and hope to test by such and such a date.” Just having an old study guide that you never read doesn’t earn you the right to truthfully say “I’m working on it”, and it will come out that way during the interview to the detriment of your employment prospects.
Give Yourself a Gift- Develop a Forward-Looking World View
Things in the connected world are changing fast these days, yet if you’ve worked in the same place for a number of years you likely have been isolated from many of those changes. But this doesn’t mean you have to, or should, accept that you’re out of touch with where networking is going from the 10,000 foot view. Even if your current employer hasn’t bought new hardware in 10 years and you’re still running RIP everywhere, to sound “fresh” in an interview, you have to have a conversational sense of:
- How mobility is upending Ethernet for access medium of choice in a growing number of spaces
- What cloud-enabled networking and services are all about, from a “Cloud 101” level, at least
- What the promise of SDN amounts to, and how it differs from legacy networking
- What the current wired and wireless standards and technologies are
- How anything and everything is moving to the network, and what the Internet of Things is expected to be about
- Contemporary network security concerns
Put another way: even if your current IT environment is technologically stagnant, you can’t allow yourself to be. You WILL be asked about things that are current but not relevant to your current job situation, and are expected to still have a clue.
Find some good journals and blogs, and at least broaden your own world view as best as you can. When you interview, you’ll at least be able to keep up with questions that are bound to be asked- and you’ll gain an education along the way.
In closing- keep it real, but remember that you can improve your own reality. Keep it about YOU, while stressing that you work well with and value others. Embellish at your own risk, and know that it WILL come back to bite you. And never stop growing and refining your bigger world view.