In this edition of the Geospatial Frequently Asked Question (G-FAQ), I continue the discussion started last month on finding your first geospatial job with a focus on tips for the pre, post and during interview stages. For this article, Katie and I drew on our hiring experience at Apollo Mapping so it is very much the story of a small business and its hiring patterns.
With that said, I address these core questions in this two-part G-FAQ:
What can I do while I am training and/or in school to prepare me for my first geospatial job? What can I do to stand out during the application process? What do we look for when we hire at Apollo Mapping?
How to Stand Out Before, During and After Your First Interview
Finding your first job in any industry can be an intimidating task that can be made easier if you break the process into smaller steps.
(1) The first step in the process is identifying the jobs you want to apply for. Make sure you choose jobs where you meet or come close to meeting the minimum academic and/or work experience requirements. Many jobs will have a long list of skill sets the employer is seeking. Do not let this discourage you in the application process – there is rarely a 100% ideal candidate so as long as you meet the majority of the criteria set forth, I say add it to your list! As a final note, it will always be easier to get hired in the same geographic area that you live in if, for nothing else, you have more flexibility with your availability when interviewing.
(2) Now that you have found the list of jobs you are interested in, it is time to get started with your resume. In my eyes, this is the single biggest item that will help to get your foot in the door for your first position. Reason I say this is that for most/all of the positions you will apply for, this and your cover letter are the only two documents a perspective hirer will see while they decide on the list of interviewees. Now I am certainly not an expert when it comes to writing a resume, (for that, I suggest you check out the list of resources in my Free for All! for the month) but I have seen quite a few so here is what I can suggest to make yours stand out.
Make your resume concise, I recommend no more than 2 pages, and 1 page is even better if it shows off your complete skill set. A potential hirer does not have tens of minutes to read over a single resume. Next, when you describe your job experience, try to be as explicit as possible and use an active voice. Check out these examples to get a sense of what I mean. If you had sales managerial experience, here is a bad way to describe your experience as it is vague:
I increased sales in my territory.
Here is a better way to say the same thing but now with some details a perspective employer would appreciate:
Sales increased by 150% in my territory during the three years I managed the accounts, from $100,000 per quarter to $150,000.
Here is another example for those would might have been in the food industry, first the wrong way:
I trained new servers.
Here is a better way to describe the same job experience:
Responsible for training four new employees in two years – each are still working at The Restaurant and are considered top servers.
For each job you apply for, I suggest that you tweak your resume slightly. Not all jobs require the same skill set, so your resume needs to reflect that. You need to illustrate each of your work experiences with the skill sets you learned, matching them to the skills advertised in the job posting. This can be a laborious process but it is worth it if it shows you are the (near) ideal candidate for the job.
(3) With resumes in hand, it is time to work on cover letters. You need to create a custom cover letter for each of the jobs you are applying for. I suggest one that is no more than three paragraphs with the first being a short intro and the last a summary paragraph. In the middle paragraph, make sure you address three reasons why you are the ideal candidate for the job. Be sure to relate the skill sets the employers are looking for to the academic/job experiences you have had. In the past, the cover letter, was (well), a letter; but now, since you will likely apply over email or online, this becomes the email you send to the hirer or part of the forms you fill out.
(4) You’ve been called in for an interview, congratulations! Now it is time to prepare so you impress your interviewer. Besides the obvious hygiene tips all of you already know, I have always said it’s not where you went to school but what you learned when you were there. So before you go interview, spend a little time brushing up on the basics that might be relevant to the job in question. Showing mastery of a topic during your interview is one sure way to impress whoever you talk to. Another important step is to come prepared with ideas about how you can shine in the position. Most job postings give you enough information to get you thinking about what the hirer expects in a candidate before you show up. For example, if you are applying to do sales, be prepared to explain what you bring to the table to win over clients. Or if you are applying for a customer service job, be prepared to prove how you have used these skills in former job experiences. In short, be prepared to tell people why they are missing out on a great candidate if they do not hire you.
When Katie and I have interviewed applicants, here are the characteristics we look for:
- Motivated to work on their own
- A mastery of the basic job requirements
- The ability to think on their feet quickly
- A willingness to learn
(5) Now here is the final step, you are walking out of the interview and you feel like a champ. You think things went really well and you have a great chance at getting the job. Well if that is the case, make sure you follow up and show interest in the job. When you do, perhaps add a detail about yourself that was not covered in the interview.
As a final note to those job hunters who made it this far through the G-FAQ, all of us handle challenges differently and finding a job is just that, a challenge. As such, pick and choose what you like from this and other similar pieces, combine it with your own ideas and then get out there, make it happen and land that first geospatial job!
Do you have an idea for a future G-FAQ? If so, let me know by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Brock Adam McCarty