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Applying for a New Job: Tips from the Trenches

Applying for a job can be extremely daunting. J. Samia Mair shares some tips to remember when chasing that dream job.

The day began with great expectations. It was my first day of work after my second year of law school – a pivotal time for law students as law firms tend to hire most of their new attorneys from their summer programme. I had been fortunate enough to be hired by the largest and most prestigious law firm in Maine, which touted the first female partner in the state. If I were offered a position after the summer, my third and final year of law school would be far less stressful.


I check in at the reception desk and am escorted to my office, far too lush for someone of my age and experience. I get a brief orientation from personnel and am told that “accounting and parking will come by around nine o’clock to talk with me.” I sit in my comfortable, leather swivel chair and turn to admire the view. What other wonderful perks might I get? I think to myself. Around 9:00 a.m. an older woman, somewhat dowdy, enters my office. She is wearing a button down blouse loosely, if not sloppily, tucked into her nondescript dark shirt. Her greying hair is tied back in a ponytail, not neatly, and she looks as if she is ending not beginning her day. Without introducing herself, she says “hello” and I respond, “Good morning. Are you from accounting?”
“No,” she says.
“Oh, then you must be from parking,” I say innocently, aware of the time.
“No!” She responds as she abruptly turns and leaves my office.


I am not quite sure what has just happened so I venture out of my comfortable, now uncomfortable, surroundings and ask one of the secretaries who that woman is walking down the hall. She tells me. She is the first female partner in Maine, famous and revered! I want to throw up.


Starting a new job is exciting but can also be stressful. But you have to get hired first. Except for the well-connected or lucky, most of us have to go through the application process, which usually involves submitting a resume and a personal interview. Below are a few tips about applying for that “dream” job.


Resume tips
Aesthetically appealing: Your resume is what makes your first impression so it better be good. Your potential employer should want to read the resume before reading a word. It should look neat, crisp and on thick paper. If you email it, you need to be sure that it will print out properly formatted.


Grammatically correct: Needless to say, you don’t want grammatical errors or misspellings on your resume. You need to proofread it several times and have other people review it as well. Our eyes often fill in what we are expecting to see.


Tailored to the field: Different types of employment often have different standards with respect to what is expected in a resume. Thus, for example, a resume for a legal position might look very different and highlight different aspects of your education and experience from a resume for a teaching position or an architecture firm. In fact, some fields don’t even call a resume a resume but a curriculum vitae (C.V.). Know what your field expects and tailor your resume accordingly.


Tailored to the particular employer: You need to research your potential employer to know what the company or service is all about and to determine exactly what they are looking for in the position offered. Your resume should highlight those aspects of your education or experience that meet the employer’s needs. One way is to have a summary section at the top of the first page of the resume to bring your qualifications immediately to the employer’s attention. You may also need to rearrange sections of your resume or edit section headings (e.g., education, work experience, volunteer experience, community service, awards) to highlight what you believe is most important for the employer to see.


Don’t forget volunteer work and community service: Too often people discount their volunteer work or community service and fail to include them on their resume. These experiences demonstrate commitment and social concern.


Interview tips
Look the part: You have already researched the company for your resume so you know all about the company or service and what the position available entails. When the interviewer sees you, you want that person to think immediately that you would fit right in. For example, if you are interviewing for a professional position you should show up in a suit or its equivalent. It is better to err on the side of overdressing as it shows respect for the position and the interview. Of course, this does not mean that you compromise your deen. You still dress modestly and wear your hijab, even if you think no other Muslim works for the company.


For tips on dressing for an interview, head over to the Looks section for our article, ‘5 How To’s of Interview Dressing.
Be confident: Put your game face on. Most people are nervous when they interview no matter how outgoing they are. But as the saying goes, don’t let them see you sweat. Do a mock interview or two with a family member or friend. Think about what questions you might be asked and practice answering them. Most likely, the interviewer will ask you if you have any questions. Prepare a few intelligent questions ahead of time. Remind yourself that the worst that can happen is you don’t get the job. Alhamdulillah will be your response because Allah I knows what is best for you and your deen.


Be enthusiastic: You want to show the interviewer that you are excited about the position and ready to start. You don’t want to overdo it or manufacture fake enthusiasm. Indeed, if you do not feel enthusiastic you might want to reevaluate if this is the job for you.


Be likeable: People want to work with people whom they think will be easy to get along with. If you come across as demanding, complaining, or difficult to please, you will likely not be hired, no matter what your credentials are.


Be yourself: The first time I donned my hijab for my colleagues I was a nervous wreck. I was giving a presentation at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta. I had a mantra that I repeated to myself over and over again on the plane and as I walked to the lecture: I am a strong and beautiful Muslim woman. I am a strong and beautiful Muslim woman. We are who we are and we have nothing to hide – in fact, we have much to offer if we embrace our Islamic values. So, if our colleagues are going to “happy hour” after work, we will not be joining them. But we will be honest, hardworking, dedicated employees exhibiting excellence in whatever we do.


Follow-up: After the interview send a letter or email thanking the employer for the opportunity to interview and your willingness to provide additional information if requested. Reiterate your interest in the position. Remind the employer what a great employee you will make.


“So, what happened in Maine?” you might ask. I return to my office and my heart is beating rapidly. What to do? What to do! I think to myself trying to control my panic. I soon realise that there is only one thing to do and I am not looking forward to it. My hand is shaking as I push the buttons to call the partner whom I have just insulted. She answers and I introduce myself. She does not sound particularly happy to hear my voice. I apologise and explain why I had thought she was from accounting and parking. I admit my embarrassment and apologise again, hoping that she will understand. Did I get an offer for employment at the end of the summer? I did. Did I take the job? That’s another story.



J. Samia Mair is the author of five children’s book, the most recently to be published a chapter book, The Great Race to Sycamore Street, and Zak and His Good Intentions (expected 2013). She is a Staff Writer for SISTERS Magazine and Discover, The magazine for curious Muslim kids and has published in magazines, books, anthologies, scientific journals and elsewhere.