Resume Help/How to ask for a job


I'm a recent grad, living in the Silicon Valley (Palo Alto) since 2012, and for the last year, I have been supremely unsuccessful in landing a job. I've always been employed (fine dining here, swanky clothing store there, teaching private piano lessons, working at a talent agency) and I feel I do well on interviews. I research my companies, I'm kind, and confident, happy to be there and learned to only take interviews for jobs I'm actually interested in. I've got questions to ask at the end, send thank yous, I follow all of the rules to land a job. It's not a secret that my competition is stiff up against Stanford students (I went to a state college), and other Ivy League schools, the status of the job market is hard enough as it is since the economic collapse, and the friends and family policy of employment run strong.

I've been working with a staffing agency, doing entry level work that is completely unsatisfying, and has almost gotten me used to the feeling of "A job is a job" which is not really what I want to feel or be stuck with for years. I majored in the Humanities, and my interest are in the arts, politics, and education (hence my major.)

Recently, I took a temp gig at a non-profit that has a very prominent and prestigious Humanities Institute department. I love the work they do, the people there are great, and the scope of work, and visions of the institute line up with my own very well. I have pretty good work friendships with many of the people who work there, including the head of the institute. They've just recently expanded, so, it's thought that they are short-handed on employees right now.

One of my closer friends in the institute recommended I just go ask to work for them - because that's where I want to work. It seems simple enough, but, I just can't find the words or courage to do it. I think mostly the issue is I don't want to hear them say 'no' to me, on the off chance they did. I've heard 'no' so many times despite trying my hardest, that I must be a bit worn down from it.

I have about two more weeks here at the foundation, so I am running out of time to put myself out there. I don't even think they know that I'm a temporary person, they probably assume I'm permanent.

In short, what's the best approach to telling them I want to work for them, in a way that they won't say 'no' to me?

Thanks a lot,

Hi Jo,

I think in responding to your question, I'll begin with the cliche - "I have good news and I have bad news."  The good news is that asking the question you want to ask your employer is not as difficult as it first seems - if you do it the right way.  The bad news is that there is no magic bullet question that guarantees you won't get a "no."

Let's take the good news.  You don't say why you think that "it's thought they are short-handed " but you probably need to get hard information if possible rather than assume the rumor is true.  You are in a better position than most people to ask the question you want to ask.  You are already on the inside, you have done creditable (I assume) work, and you know the people there.  So, here's what I suggest you do: first, get brief letters from a few of the people you work most closely with who are full-time employees there.  The letters should be as specific as possible and clearly articulate the things you have accomplished or contributed to in your time there.  Second, you should draft a letter or essay of your own.  This should be of the SKA variety; that is, it should very briefly list the things you have done, the contributions you have made to the Humanities Institute Department, and, most importantly, the skills, knowledge, and abilities you expect to bring to a full-time job if they elect to hire you.  In other words, tell them WHY they need to hire you.  The fact that you want a job has to be a secondary consideration when you approach this kind of situation - this is primarily about the employer, not about you.  Third, update your resume to reflect the things you have done at this non-profit.  Be very specific and very brief.  Get an appointment with the person or people who make the decisions about what you want decided, and submit your documents in support of your request.

I fully understand the way "no" can be a grind.  But you have to put the negative out of your mind on every interview.  If you don't, your wariness will be apparent to whoever interviews you.  You need to be as positive, upbeat, and as energetic as you can.  This point of view and attitude is especially important in a situation like this.  You are essentially trying to sell this non-profit on creating a position for you.  In that context, you absolutely have to know what they need, what you can bring to the company, and why you are the best person to do what they need to have done.  When you are certain about this "what and why" and when you have all your documentation in order, then you will be in the strongest possible position to submit it to them in support of asking for what you want.  If you risk everything on simply "telling them you want to work for them," you aren't giving them sufficient motive for putting you on as a full-time employee.  Demonstrate to them that you have thoroughly thought this out and that you have researched the company to the point that you can pinpoint a need or needs that they have and that you are the person that can fill those needs.

I hope this helps.  If you'd like me to take a look at your documents once you get them in hand, attach them to an email to the address below and I'll get back to you in plenty of time so you will be able to approach them before your two weeks run out.  In a position like this, it's always good to have another pair of eyes look at what you'll give the employer and I'd be happy to help.

Best wishes,

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Ralph D. Converse, Ph.D.


I can answer questions about general job searches, resume construction, crafting an effective cover letter, and how to prepare for, and conduct, a winning interview. My speciality is the field of education, but I also have extensive background in business and administration. I know what works and what doesn't work and I can make your application package stand out from the rest ... because that is what you have to do.


I have interviewed for, and held, dozens of jobs in a career going back more than 42 years. I have taught at all educational levels including middle school, high school, community college, and university. In more than 42 years of experience on both sides of the job-search process, I have interviewed hundreds of applicants and have reviewed literally tens of thousands of job application packages. I am the author of 12 Mistakes That Got Your Job Application Rejected ... And How To Fix Them! I conduct workshops for job seekers in a variety of locations every year.

Music Educator's Journal, Teaching Music, Music and American Culture (forthcoming, 2013), Last Teacher Standing: The Job is Yours Now! and 12 Mistakes That Got Your Job Application Rejected ... And How To Fix Them!

B.A. New Mexico State University; M.Mus. Southern Illinois University; Ph.D. University of California and University of North Texas

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