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The Job Quest

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When it comes to hiring, this kind of economy makes it a buyer's market. Hiring managers are deluged with applications for each job opening they post — so it's that much tougher for any one applicant to stand out. Nobody knows this better than Alvin Hom. As senior manager of human resources and staffing at Pacific Biosciences, Hom and his team handle the first pass of all applications sent to the sequencing startup, which has been hiring people in droves. GT checked in with Hom to get some advice on the best way to handle those early steps — applying for a job and then (with luck) handling the first interview. A good rule to keep in mind, he says, is to remember that "job seeking is a full-time job. You really need to focus a lot of time and energy and seriousness to [it]."

First impression

For most people, the first point of contact is the submission of a cover letter and CV or résumé. "Some of the worst things I see are just really sloppy CVs and cover letters," Hom says. While these documents are always important, in these days of rampant competition for any available job, the stakes are even higher. "Especially now when you're competing against so many other qualified candidates, if you have a sloppy cover letter and résumé presentation, your chances are greatly diminished," he says.

"Sloppy" can mean a number of things to hiring managers: poorly edited, poorly thought out, and overly general are the most common complaints. Be sure to spell-check your documents, give them a careful read on your own, and then ask one or two friends or colleagues — people who will give you candid feedback — to look at them as well. You may think a typo is silly enough to be permissible, but "it looks really bad, in the mind of a hiring manager, if the person is trying to make the very best first impression they can and they're not even careful enough to correct spelling mistakes," Hom says. "How are they going to perform on the job?"

Cover letters are delicate things and should be treated as such. When you're sending out batches of applications, make sure you send the right cover letter to the right person (Hom says it's not uncommon to receive letters addressed to his counterparts at other companies). And take the time to target your letter for the company and the job to which you're applying. "If the cover letter talks to a specific job that they're applying for, that will help the candidate's chances of rising to the top," Hom says.

In person

Once you have risen to the top, the next hurdle is keeping your nerves at bay while getting through the first interview. What's most important, says Hom, is to "relax and be yourself." (He recommends showing up 10 minutes early, giving you time to get situated and calm down a bit before the meeting begins.) While it's natural for an interview to make the candidate feel nervous, "if they're qualified for the job then really everything they've been doing makes them an expert at the position," he says. Do your due diligence ahead of time and have intelligent questions ready to show that you've brushed up on what the company does, he adds. As for dress: what's appropriate attire at one company may not be at another, so ask about company culture when you're setting up the interview. When all else fails, "it's always safer to overdress than to underdress," Hom says. And when the interview's over, send a thank-you note — e-mail is fine — to show that you're really interested in the job. "Following up is very important," says Hom.

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