Friday, November 26, 2010

Cut it Out, Harry Potter! My Career Advice

I recently took a long, hard look at our economy and realized that perhaps my cosmopolitan travelling posts aren't very practical right now. Who can dream of currently vacationing in Detroit? Only the lucky few. I don't want to depress my readers with far-off places that they'll never see, I need to help my readers with sensible tips and pointed advice. And so, dear readers, welcome to my first "Cut-throat Careers" themed blog, sure to help you land that dream job, earn that corner office or at the very least, not get fired from your current job.

I'd like to walk you through the steps that I take upon finding a job that strikes my fancy (note--though I currently already work in my dream job, I apply for jobs on a regular basis to keep my skills sharp).

Step 1: Find a job that strikes your fancy.

In my case, it was a prestigious position working at the Ontario Science Centre's summer exhibition entitled "Harry Potter: The Exhibition." This exhibition was going to be one of the most exciting Harry Potter exhibits ever to hit the world, full of props, costumes, artifacts, all kinds of things that Harry Potter fans care about. The OSC was seeking out talented individuals who would be able to lead the groups of visitors around the various Harry Potter stations (magic, flying, broom game thing, wizards, etc.) and answer any questions. The guides were also required to speak in British accents to remain in character and to wear cloaks. Now, I've never read/watched Harry Potter but I knew this was the chance of a lifetime. I immediately sent over my cover letter and resume.

I knew that this could possibly be me.

Step 2: Work that Cover Letter!

Cover letters are important. We all know this. But how many of us really take the time to craft a memorable and impressive one? I've always believed that employers hate reading the same generic, placating cover letters that many career books advise you to write. In my cover letters, I usually take the opportunity to tell a story about my little brother, share my most embarrassing moment, explain what I would do if I was rich or an animal, etc. Of course, when you're taking liberties like these, you MUST ensure that it's tailored to the position you're applying for.

Please see my below example--my cover letter for the Harry Potter position.

You will note that this cover letter is very specifically tailored for the position, with plenty of references to Harry Potter, yet with a few personal tidbits thrown in there as well. It's important to strike a balance to show that you care very much about the job but also about yourself as well.

I bet Dumbledore and Harry Potter wish they were many leagues under the sea.

Step 3: Perfecting the Resume

Resumes are important. We all know this. Resumes are so important, in fact, that many people get a little overwhelmed and try to pad their resumes. There's no need to do this--I'm sure you've accomplished many wonderful things in your lifetime. You just haven't thought to list them on your resume!

See my Harry Potter resume below:

Upon a careful reading, you'll notice how I have subtly highlighted my skills that will be of most importance in this Harry Potter position. The "Profile" section of your resume is your first chance to explain a little about yourself. Try to choose a wide variety of relevant skills and interests that will grab the employer's eyes. For example, I have revealed that I am an avid reader (much like Harry Potter!) and am single with no children (also like Harry Potter). Employers will subconsciously pick up on these types of traits and want to hire you.

Harry Potter: single with no children.

Now, as for the Work Experience section, this is where employers just want to make sure you've worked for people that you're not related to*. List all of the places that you've ever worked at and remember, no job is too small to list. To be honest, I think the "Work Experience" and "Education" sections are the most boring parts of a resume and most people just skim over this stuff. Keep it simple and humble because chances are no one's going to read it anyway. And, believe me, you'll get your chance to brag soon enough.

Harry Potter can do all kinds of magic but he's still a pretty humble boy.

*Note: It's still okay to list your mom as a reference.

Step 4: Time to shine!

Many people have trouble when it comes to the "Achievements" section of the resume. I happen to find it incredibly easy. Remember to have an open mind with this section--almost anything can be considered an achievement! It's best to list every award that you have ever received, any moniker ever bestowed upon you, any sort of experience you have with any type of activity, celebrities that you resemble, etc, etc . Don't forget to consider your ancestry an achievement (I mentioned that I am part British, as Harry Potter is quite obviously at least part British) and if you own any pets or children.

Harry Potter looks British to me.

Equally important is the "Future Accomplishments" section (also often called "Projected Accomplishments"). Here's where you ruminate on all the things that you believe you COULD accomplish in your life. You could accomplish all sorts of things, like becoming a doctor or learning the keyboards or buying a bunch of cats or having practically no cavities--really, almost anything! Try to be honest, though--do you truly see yourself winning the John Newberry Medal for a distinguished contribution to children's literature? If you do, then yes, put it down. If not, try something a bit more realistic, like writing an sci-fi version fanfiction script of The Wire. Your employers will admire your ambition and be impressed by your (future) talent.

I usually like to throw in one more category, often "Astrological Sign," sometimes "Sport I'm Best At" or "Favorite Song Lyrics." This is kind of like a wild card, bonus tidbit to leave you lingering on the employer's mind when he/she goes to bed at night.

Harry Potter is a Leo.

Step 5: Going Above and Beyond

Even if your cover letter and resume are stellar, it's always best to provide some kind of supplemental material to really make employers remember you. I try to include some kind of homemade trinket, usually a collage or two (2), IOUs or gift card. If I could make wood sculptures, then I would do that. For this position, I thought they might be receiving lots of collages so I went a different route and included a supplemental list of books I read in 2009.

Including a book list has multiple benefits. Firstly, it proves to your potential employer that you're literary and therefore intelligent, and b.) it displays a bit more of your personality. Chances are your employer will have read one of the same books and then you have something to discuss during the interview. In the case, I was hoping we would have shared an appreciation for 777 Great Clean Jokes so we could both have a laugh. Humor is very important in the workplace.

Harry Potter and his schoolmates love to laugh.

Step 6: Follow that thing up!

You know how after a first date you're supposed to call your date to make sure they got home okay, then to see if they want to have dinner with you again the next night, then to see if they want to meet your family for Christmas, then to see why they've stop answering your calls? Well, it's exactly the same concept when applying for a job. FOLLOW UP IS KEY!

I'd recommend following up your cover letter, resume and supplemental material with an email/phone call/visit to ensure that the employer received it. It's best to ask for a cell phone or home number (or both, if you really care about the job) so you can reach them with any urgent questions, like how much you'll get paid or if you can take Halloween and your birthday off.

One warning regarding the follow up--beware of automated email replies. Don't make the same mistake I did and assume that the automatic reply after emailing in your resume is the same as being hired. Apparently it usually is not.

You know what, emails that appear in your inbox so fast it's like magic are confusing; it could happen to anyone.

Harry Potter would have known.

Though I was not hired or contacted further to work the Harry Potter job (I believe they may have found the headshots I also sent perhaps a bit too intimidating for the wizard-loving crowd), I can say with some confidence that if you follow my six (6) steps, they will perhaps lead you to more career success than you can handle.

Let me know how that promotion goes for you! Tell Mr. Trump I say hey.


  1. What a great idea to include future accomplishments! How much do you charge to fix up someone's resume? I need your magic touch.

    Also-Ontario Science Centre's loss!

  2. how fast are your hand movements though?


  4. V, I'll help you with your resume for sure. Slide it under my door or meet me in the living room sometime and I'll see what I can do.

    Jordache, thank you, that is an excellent point I forgot to mention. Agility and strength are skills that should definitely be stressed in both the cover letter and resume. My hand movements are moderately fast; I'm working on it.

    HJT, nice vid, I also enjoy Harry Potter's work on Extras.