How to Get Hired | 35 Key Steps
BY BRANDON VAGNER, CPA, Ph.D., & WALLET WIT FOUNDER
Let’s get you hired! Whether you’re looking for your dream job or just any job, the steps I outline in this article on how to get hired are massively important.
In my previous corporate life, I recruited every year for top talent coming out of college. From that experience and my own personal experiences getting hired, I was able to develop this listing of 35 key steps you should be taking to get hired.
Every year, millions of people hit the job market for various reasons. Even more people will hit the market this year because I’m writing this article during the onset of the COVID pandemic when millions of people are out of work. That means there is a lot of competition out there and you need to be an expert with the hiring process to ensure you are the one getting hired. Let’s dive right in and start going through the key steps to get hired.
Article Table of Contents
- Step 1: Get in the Hustle Mindset
- Step 2: Prepare a Professional Looking Resume
- Step 3: Start Practicing Your Elevator Pitch
- Step 4: Get Groomed
- Step 5: Dress for Success
- Step 6: Purchase a Professional Padfolio
- Step 7: Complete a Mock Interview
- Step 8: Tap Into Your Network
- Step 9: Speak with a Recruiter in Your Industry
- Step 10: Select 10 Companies You Would Like to Work For
- Step 11: Apply for Open Positions
- Step 12: Clean Your Car Inside and Out
- Step 13: Research Companies of Interest
- Step 14: Attend Career Fairs
- Step 15: Attend Events & Interact
- Step 16: Send Professional Thank You Emails to Get the Interview
- Step 17: Come Up with Questions for the Interviewer
- Step 18: Be Prepared for Behavior Tests
- Step 19: Be Prepared for Odd Questions
- Step 20: Practice Top Interview Questions
- Step 21: Reinforce Your Confidence
- Step 22: Know Exactly Where Your Interview Is Located
- Step 23: Arrive to the Parking Lot 45 Minutes Prior to the Interview
- Step 24: Turn Your Cellphone Off Prior to the Interview
- Step 25: Walk in 15 Minutes Early
- Step 26: Be Friendly to Everyone
- Step 27: Relax
- Step 28: Give a Strong Interview Introduction
- Step 29: Mind Your Interview Manners
- Step 30: Send Thank You Emails After the Interview
- Step 31: Be Responsive
- Step 32: Don’t Just Focus on the Money
- Step 33: Negotiate When Appropriate
- Step 34: Learn From Every Interview
- Step 35: Keep Your Spirts Up
- Final Thoughts
Step 1: Get in the Hustle Mindset
When it comes to getting hired, you have to hustle! You have to be willing to really put yourself out there and be seen by as many people as possible. I’ll give you tips on exactly how to do that a little later in this article, but you have to first get yourself in a hustle mindset. Let’s go!
Everyone in their life has known a go-getter or two. Think about those folks and how hard they would be working to get interviews. Those go-getters really bust their butts to make things happen for themselves. For example, there is a lady I know of who was recently laid off due to the economic downturn and was forced into the job market at one of the worst times possible. Her ability to out hustle everyone else landed her a new job within 2 months of being laid off.
That lady submitted her resume to 78 different companies, completed around 12 interviews, was turned down 11 times, but then got hired by a large organization doing exactly what she wanted to do. Even if you are not a go-getter, do the best you can to be a go-getter during your hiring process. Think about how hard this lady and the go-getters you know would be working to get hired. That needs to be you!
Step 2: Prepare a Professional Looking Resume
Preparing a professional looking resume is more art than science. No, I don’t mean your resume should have artistic elements. What I am saying is that preparing a resume takes careful crafting. This is why it’s so incredibly important to gain insights from a resume expert. I’ve personally performed hundreds of resume reviews and can attest to how critical a high quality resume is. If you think your resume needs work, I highly recommend checking out these resume templates to get you started.
Based on my recruiting experience, I can tell you a good resume won’t guarantee you get the job, but a poor resume will guarantee you do not get the job. Get that resume looking great!
Step 3: Start Practicing Your Elevator Pitch
You have to be able to quickly communicate who you are, what you do, and what you’re looking for. This is also known as the elevator pitch. If you got on an elevator today and needed to quickly make a pitch to a hiring manager, could you do it?
When you are on the job market, you have to be ready at any time to give your quick pitch. Your golden opportunity to sell yourself might come at a completely unexpected time. That said, start practicing your elevator pitch so you can be ready for that opportunity when it arises.
Step 4: Get Groomed
You might be shocked to discover just how important it is to be well groomed during the hiring process. Make sure you have a fresh haircut and are clean shaven. Always shower and get yourself nice and fresh every day during your job hunt. This might seem like a no-brainer to many, but you would be shocked what I’ve seen.
This is the best spot to mention cologne and perfume. If you’re going to use it, make sure it’s just a little. You don’t want to overwhelm the interviewer with either your cologne or perfume.
Step 5: Dress for Success
You don’t have to spend a ton of money, but you have to make sure you have the basics covered when it comes to dress. For any type of official hiring event or an interview, you should be wearing a suit with a nice pair of dress shoes. If you can afford a nice dress watch, you should be wearing that as well. For you gentlemen out there, you should also be wearing a tie. For you women out there, a skirt suit is acceptable. Just make sure you wear closed toe shoes. I’ve also been told many recruiters prefer to see simple jewelry if you’re going to wear any.
If you can’t afford a new suit, you can typically pick one up at a local discount store. The key to suits is the fit. If you took a model and had them go find a used suit for under $100 and had it tailored, they would more than likely look just as good in that used suit as they would a new one. Don’t feel like you have to spend a fortune on a suit, but make sure you get one and it fits right.
I knew an executive once that looked for one very specific thing when candidates walked through his door. He wanted to see nicely polished shoes on the candidate. If their shoes weren’t polished, they weren’t getting the job. His theory was that a person’s attention to detail with regards to their shoes was a direct reflection of how their attention to detail would be at work and potentially their level of work ethic.
When it comes to the color of your clothes, I highly recommend sticking with a black or blue suit and a white shirt. Be mindful of the message you’re sending with the color of your tie. For example, red signifies power and blue signifies calm and relaxed. Your tie color is often a strategic choice depending on what type of job you are going for.
Step 6: Purchase a Professional Padfolio
My wife and I used the same padfolio for a decade. If either of us had an interview, it was going with us for a couple important reasons. The first being that you should always be carrying copies of your resume even if you have already sent it to the company. You need a nice professional padfolio to carry those resumes in. You might also want to take notes for many different reasons. Your padfolio is a perfect place to keep a pen and paper to facilitate note taking, if needed.
I would recommend sticking with black as the padfolio color. Don’t go crazy with the color. Hot pink may not be the best idea. I recommend this affordable padfolio from Target.
Step 7: Complete a Mock Interview
A mock interview is a test run. It gives you the opportunity to practice before going into your actual interviews. If the mock interview is done right, it will be a recorded session. That recording will give you the opportunity to see exactly how you conducted yourself during the interview. This is incredibly powerful!
Even if you have been through the interview process before, it’s a good idea to do a mock interview to help you get back in the interview process. If you have completed steps 1-6, you’re ready to do a mock interview.
Most colleges have mock interviews available to their students. If that’s not an option for you, then google mock interviews and your city/town. See what is available in your local area. At the very least, have a friend or family member perform a mock interview and record yourself.
Step 8: Tap Into Your Network
Have you ever heard the phrase “it’s not what you know, it’s who you know.” No matter how you feel about this, there is a level of truth to it. Many people get hired through their professional network.
It’s easy in today’s digital world to tap into your network. All you have to do is get on LinkedIn and message your contacts. Regardless of how you access your network, make sure you do. Specifically, make sure key people know you are on the market and looking for opportunities. You would be shocked at how many people get hired as a result of doing so.
Step 9: Speak with a Recruiter in Your Industry
Recruiters are typically free for candidates. A recruiter usually gets paid by the hiring company looking for a well-qualified candidate. Don’t underestimate the power of having a good relationship with a recruiter.
If you don’t know a recruiter within your industry, just do a google search for one within your local area or the area you’re interested in moving to. I’d recommend having coffee with a few of them and really getting to know them. Keep in mind they are the gatekeepers between you and the opportunities their clients have available. You need to take your interactions with them as serious as you would an actual interview.
Step 10: Select 10 Companies You Would Like to Work For
Your career might take a lot of different twists and turns over the decades, but to the extent you can try to have a game plan, you should. That said, I would recommend having a goal of where you would like to be in 5 to 10 years. Then try to figure out what companies will best facilitate achieving your goal. Make sure to factor in the quality of life all the companies of interest offer.
Step 11: Apply for Open Positions
The application process can be a lot of work depending on the companies and positions you are applying for, but start applying to as many as you can that fit what you’re looking for.
This is a good place to remind you to keep your head up during the entire process. If things aren’t falling into place as quickly as you would like, try your best not to get discouraged.
Step 12: Clean Your Car Inside and Out
Remember earlier when I said how your appearance is a direct reflection of your attention to detail and potentially your work ethic? Well, your car is no different.
Check this out. Some companies will tell you where to park your car for your interview and when you’re in the building they will go to that parking spot and look through your car windows to get an idea of how clean you keep your car (inside and out). They are not looking to see an expensive or fancy car. Most could care less about that. They simply want to see how organized and clean you are.
Also, a hiring manager might ask if you would be willing to drive them to lunch. That gives them the perfect opportunity to get a look inside your car. You don’t want the cleanliness of your car to be the reason you get passed up on for a job. That said, get to cleaning.
Step 13: Research Companies of Interest
I can’t stress enough how important it is to research the company of interest prior to attending a career fair, speaking event, and especially an interview. Recruiters and hiring managers want to see that you’ve done your homework on their company. Simply go to their website, read recent press releases, read their company history, and do a google search to see if they have been in the news lately. By doing so, you should be able to easily carry on a conversation about their organization and portray why you are interested in working for them.
Step 14: Attend Career Fairs
Career fairs are so incredibly powerful. Every company in attendance is looking to hire and it gives you the opportunity to put a face and personality to your name. You should be attending every career fair you can!
Here is a pro tip for you. Make sure you get business cards from the people you meet. You’re going to need their email addresses to send a thank you email.
Step 15: Attend Events & Interact
Career fairs are great, but it’s important to also seek out other opportunities to interact with people at the company you’re interested in. Many companies have people speak at various events or conferences. At the university level, recruiters are constantly on campus to speak to student organizations. You need to be attending events such as these and, most importantly, interacting with the speaker afterward. It’s as simple as thanking them for their time, asking them a well thought out question, and requesting their business card.
Here is an example of how powerful smaller events can be. I had a gentleman approach me after I spoke at an event. He quickly introduced himself and proceeded to ask fantastic questions. He impressed me so much that I requested his resume right then and there. To my surprise, he actually had one in a professional padfolio ready to go. This guy was extremely well prepared and it showed. So much so, I sent his information up the chain and put in a recommendation for him the next day. He was hired by our Chicago office within a couple weeks. That’s a perfect example of how a go-getter can get the job of their dreams.
Step 16: Send Professional Thank You Emails to Get the Interview
While in the corporate world, I interacted with about 60 people annually at a career fair. Out of those 60 people, I typically only received 2-3 follow up thank you emails. Assuming the candidates who sent the thank you emails left a good impression when we met in-person and they also met the minimum job requirements, I immediately forwarded their thank you email to the hiring manager and recommended they be extended an interview.
Due to competition, getting the interview is not always easy. That’s why it’s so important to do these little things to set yourself apart. I know for a fact I’m not the only one who places a heavy weight on follow up emails. Many recruiters do.
WARNING: You will be judged on your writing skills. Make sure your emails are professional and you proofread your emails.
Example Thank You Email to Get the Interview
Good Morning Taylor,
Thank you for taking the time yesterday to speak with me about opportunities at ABC Company. I very much appreciate all the great information you provided, and think ABC Company would be an amazing place to work. I especially enjoyed learning about your organization’s commitment to training and advancement pathways.
As we discussed, I’m interested in an entry level marketing position at your Chicago location. I’ve already completed the online application process and look forward to hearing back.
Thank you again, and have a great rest of your week!
Step 17: Come Up with Questions for the Interviewer
In a previous step, I mentioned you need to be researching the company of interest. Prior to your actual interview, perform that step again to help generate an extremely well thought out question for your interview.
You should also be thinking about a question or two specific to the role you’re interviewing for. Hiring professionals want to see that you’re engaged and also capable of asking questions. Nobody wants to hire someone who doesn’t ask questions.
Step 18: Be Prepared for Behavior Tests
Companies are smart and they find ways to determine whether you’re going to be a good fit. For example, I just mentioned how important it is to ask questions. There are ways companies can figure out whether you ask questions or not. I’ll give you a perfect example of one type of behavior test you might run into.
I know of a company that likes to provide a list of words to candidates prior to the interview and they ask the candidate to circle every word that describes themselves. This list is something like 50 – 100 words long. Many of the words are ones you would recognize and know what they mean, but a large percentage of them are uncommon words you more than likely would have no idea what they mean. They are looking to see whether the candidate asks them for definitions of those uncommon words. If candidates don’t ask questions and act like they know everything, they will perform an analysis to see how consistent their common word selections are with the uncommon word selections. If there are inconsistencies, they know the candidate didn’t know what some of the words meant and simply were not willing to ask questions. That candidate is then eliminated from the interview process based on their lack of questions.
Step 19: Be Prepared for Odd Questions
Interviewers like to see how quickly you can think on your feet and respond to an odd question. We all know curveballs frequently arise in the workplace, but not all people handle curveballs well. This is why an interviewer might try to throw you a curveball during the interview process in an effort to gauge your ability to handle it.
I knew a guy that loved to ask how long it would take a bowling ball to sink to the bottom of the ocean if dropped from a boat. That’s a pretty odd question, but to answer appropriately you would need to ask him for more information. To be clear, he’s not looking for a right answer. He just wants to see your thought process and how you arrive at your answer. You would need to know things like how deep the ocean is where the ball is being dropped and how much the ball weighs. If you answered without asking a question or two, then he would assume you either don’t have great critical thinking skills, aren’t willing to ask questions, or just can’t think quickly on your feet.
Early in my career I was asked in an interview to describe “a bad choice I had made.” Stop for a second and think about all the ways that question could cause an interview to go sideways. I wasn’t prepared for that question, but came up with the best answer I could at the time that might possibly get a laugh out of the interviewers. My response was “I’ve certainly made some bad choices in the dating department.” The two interviewers laughed so hard and I was past that tricky question with no harm done.
Step 20: Practice Top Interview Questions
There are definitely common interview questions you should be prepared to answer. For example, would you be prepared to respond to the following interview question? “Describe a time when you faced a challenge in the workplace and how you handled that challenge.”
If you want more practice interview questions, check out this most common interview question article.
Step 21: Reinforce Your Confidence
Listen up… Confidence radiates! It’s easy for us all to focus on our faults as we enter the job market, but we really should be focusing on what we do well and our track record of success. Have confidence in your abilities and the value you bring to the table. It’s incredibly important to portray confidence during your interview process. Interviewers want to see confidence in candidates.
It might sound cheesy, but give yourself a pep talk every day during your job search and especially leading up to your interview. You can’t rely on others to do this for you. You have to do it for yourself.
Step 22: Know Exactly Where Your Interview Is Located
Know exactly how to get to your place of interview. Some people drive there the day before just to be sure so they are not late the day of the interview.
Step 23: Arrive to the Parking Lot 45 Minutes Prior to the Interview
You can’t be late to an interview. That’s why I always say to plan to arrive at least 45 minutes before the interview begins. You can just sit in your car and practice if you get there early.
If for some reason traffic is horrible, you need to have a contact number to call and inform them you left 45 minutes early to account for bad traffic, but unfortunately traffic is going to cause you to be late. Hopefully they will understand.
Step 24: Turn Your Cellphone Off Prior to the Interview
Businesses are losing incredible amounts of money to employees who spend time on their cell phones while at work. As a result, interviewers are extra mindful of candidates cell phone usage. You don’t want them to get the impression your phone is going off every 2 minutes because of text messaging. Not to mention, it’s just rude and distracting if someone’s phone is going off during an interview. All that said, just turn the cell phone off prior to your interview.
Step 25: Walk in 15 Minutes Early
Interviewers like candidates to arrive on time. Being punctual says a lot about a person. That said, there are a lot of interviewers who think you’re late if you’re not 15 minutes early. So, give a good impression and make sure to walk in 15 minutes early.
Step 26: Be Friendly to Everyone
Hopefully you already are a friendly person, but sometimes people’s nerves cause them to do strange things. Be extremely friendly to everyone you meet throughout the building. Some employers will purposely make you wait in a room with an administrative assistant just to see how you treat him/her.
General Life Rule: Just be nice.
Step 27: Relax
Try your best to relax and just enjoy the interview.
Step 28: Give a Strong Interview Introduction
A strong interview introduction is one that incorporates a firm handshake, eye contact, and a quick introduction of yourself. Let them see that confidence through a strong introduction. First impressions are EXTREMELY important.
Step 29: Mind Your Interview Manners
Only sit if the interviewer asks you to have a seat.
Sit up straight in your chair.
Never chew gum or have anything in your mouth during the interview.
Unless you have a medical reason, I wouldn’t take any drinks or food into the interview.
Don’t fiddle with anything in your hands.
Answer their questions directly without going off on tangents.
Ask the interviewer the questions you prepared prior to the interview.
When the interview wraps up, shake their hand and thank the interviewer for their time.
Step 30: Send Thank You Emails After the Interview
Again, don’t underestimate how powerful thank you emails are. Especially, during the interview process. Let’s say you go in for an in-office interview and you meet five people within the organization, but only one of those people conduct your official interview. Make sure you send thank you emails to all five people!
To the extent you can include a personal element in the email, try to do so. People like to know you were listening to them and have the ability to make a personal connection.
Example Thank You Email to Send After the Interview
Good Morning Taylor,
Thank you very much for the opportunity to interview for the entry level marketing position. I really appreciate your time and insights provided during the interview. ABC Company seems like a wonderful place to work, and I hope I have the opportunity to work there.
Thank you again, and good luck in that half marathon this weekend!
Step 31: Be Responsive
During the interview process, you need to monitor your email closely and respond as quickly as possible. The last thing you want to do is seem disconnected or unorganized. If you don’t monitor your emails and respond a week later, that sends a strong negative impression to the hiring manager. There really is no excuse, and it can cost you the job offer. Just watch your emails and be quick to respond.
Step 32: Don’t Just Focus on the Money
Many people lose out on job opportunities because they’re too hyper focused on how much money the position pays. If it’s not clear in the job posting how much the position pays, don’t ask during the interview process. Information on the amount of pay will come with the job offer. Some hiring managers are really turned off when candidates start asking questions about money.
When the job offer is finally made and people learn about how much the offer is, sometimes things begin to fall apart. When you’re in a really competitive market and/or a poor economy, you sometimes have to be willing to suck up your pride and accept a lower than ideal offer. It all comes down to supply and demand with regards to your negotiating success likelihood.
Step 33: Negotiate When Appropriate
When it comes to negotiating, it’s important to know your worth and the current job market. For example, I had an organization offer me $40,000 less than my market value during a time where only 20% of the demand was being met. Meaning, job candidates were actually in the power position at that time. That said, this place was known for low balling and they did it because they knew they would likely end up getting a candidate to accept at lower than market value. Think about it like this, even if I negotiated them up $15,000 from their initial offer, that would still be $25,000 under my market value. They were hoping I would feel like I won by getting them up $15,000 from their initial offer, but in reality they would have won. I stuck to my guns and they ended up coming up the full $40,000 to market value. I ultimately didn’t accept their offer because of other reasons, but it goes to show you negotiating is possible and it can make a huge difference.
Step 34: Learn From Every Interview
You can learn something from every interview you go on. There are always take-a-ways and you’ll be tested uniquely during each one. The key is to learn from each experience and apply what you learn during the next interviews.
If you make a mistake that costs you the job, don’t worry about it. It happens to the best of us. The good news is you’ll have another opportunity to interview and land a job that might even be a better fit. Just make sure you learn from those mistakes and don’t repeat them.
Step 35: Keep Your Spirts Up
I want nothing but the best for my Wallet Wit readers and community. I hope you land that dream job of yours, but it could possibly take some time. Don’t get down if things don’t go your way early on in the process. The only thing you can control is how you conduct yourself during the interviews and how you react to the news whether it’s good or bad. If you get bad news, you still should be thanking your interviewers for their time and keep your spirts up!
I know a lot of very talented people who have been denied jobs. I’ve had to deal with rejection myself. At the end of the day, you do have value and you will find a job. Unfortunately, sometimes people get passed over even when they are extremely talented. If you get a rejection, use that as motivation to work even harder going forward, but don’t dwell on it or beat yourself up over it. Rejection is part of the career journey.
Once you get the hang of the interview process and master all the prep work, it should be an enjoyable process for you. It’s an opportunity for you to meet some great people and have conversations about the value you can bring to their organization. You’ll be surprised how much your professional network will grow just going through the interview process. Even if you don’t get the job, I highly recommend connecting on LinkedIn with everyone you meet. There may be a future opportunity for you.
Best of luck during your job search! You got this!