THE BLOG

Job-Seeking in Tough Times

05/25/2011 02:25 pm ET

In the media/entertainment business these days, so many qualified applicants are chasing so few good jobs it's enough to drive you into selling real estate. Oh, wait, there aren't any jobs there, either. This week the New York Times laid off more than a hundred editorial staffers, Conde Nast -- in the wake of closing four titles last week -- announced cuts at Architectural Digest and Bon Apetit and the LA Times lurched through its umpteenth round of firings.

But there are always opportunities out there. In order to prevail you'll need the focus of Tiger Woods, the patience of the Dalai Lama and the pushiness of Sammy Glick. Herewith, a few do's and don'ts from someone who's interviewed thousands and hired hundreds.

THE SEARCH

Read every want ad. Call everyone you know and get them to call everyone they know. Think big but not too big. Apply for jobs you might actually qualify for -- don't waste time shooting for a top marketing position if your marketing experience extends only as far as Ralph's Pretty Good Grocery.

YOUR RESUME

Don't undersell yourself.
I once got a resume from an applicant for a senior management post -- we'll call him Jack Smith -- who'd spent his career as "Vice President/Jack Smith Enterprises." If he didn't have what it took to appoint himself president of his one-man band, I wasn't interested.

Don't oversell yourself.
No checkable lies or contradictory claims. Don't say you're a PhD but still working on your BA, or give dates of prior employment that, when added up, indicate you started working when you were a toddler. For every David Geffen who benefited from the big lie, there are ten John Bebers who lost out. Who's John Beber? Exactly!

PRE-INTERVIEW

Do not drink multiple cups of coffee or take a bite out of your kid's Adderol in advance of your interview. Speed combined with anxiety can result in lengthy disquisitions on the meaning of being. If you must medicate, consider a beta blocker.

Sit mindfully while you wait in the lobby. A job interview is a kind of blind date, where that first moment -- even if it's the boss walking by the waiting area to use the facilities -- can be a deal-breaker. Sit comfortably with your spine in an upright position and pretend to read something related to the job you're seeking.

THE INTERVIEW

At the outset, do shake hands with the interviewer, but then make sure to let go. A death-grip will not earn points. Once the handshake is completed, no close talking, arm-touching or shoulder-clapping.

Project confidence but not arrogance. Explain what you can do for the company, not how much you need the job. Do not tell your prospective boss you want her job. If she says she's looking for someone who wants her job, don't take the bait. Avoid desperate sentences like, "I would do anything to get this job."

If asked to name your greatest strength, do not say "I'm a people person." For a weakness, do not under any circumstances say "I care too much," "I work too hard" or "I'm a perfectionist."

When the exec asks you if you have questions, ask two pre-rehearsed ones -- no more, no less. Pay attention to the answers. (After I had explained a job opportunity in detail to one candidate, he asked me to describe the job opportunity.)

If you're hoping to get hired by Daily Variety, LA Weekly or Huffpost, don't ask about the frequency of publication.

THE CLOSE

Don't count on glowing references to put you over the top. Everyone likes everyone, or at least they say they do.

Follow up the interview with an enthusiastic thank you note or email, even if doing so makes you cringe. If it's an email: no emoticons, ee cummings-like lower casing, lol's or fwiw's. Don't say "u" when you mean "you." No exclamation points unless you're applying for a sales position, in which case put one at the end of each sentence. No jokes, no irony, no rambling displays of your erudition.

When you reach the finals, do what it takes to close the deal. I once had a promising applicant for controller ask to reschedule her follow-up interview because she couldn't find a parking space. That wasn't the kind of controlling I had in mind.

When asked why you left your previous job, don't lie but don't supply grisly details. Resist the temptation to discuss your history of suing employers for wrongful termination.

Finally, if you're offered the job, take it on the spot -- in this environment an offer can disappear faster than a puny severance package. And if your boss turns out to be a monster, there's always this:

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