I am pleased to announce the launch of a new résumé and career coaching site which is intended specifically for job seekers in the Portland, Oregon and Vancouver, Washington areas. NorthwestResume.com offers a comprehensive set of career advancement services, including Résumé and Cover Letter Writing, Interview Coaching, and Career Coaching sessions. These services are intended not only to help job seekers land interviews, but to help them discover the best path for their personal and professional happiness and to develop job seeking skills which will significantly increase their chances of being hired. Please let me know if you have questions about these new set of services. While the site is marketed to the Portland, Oregon area, job seekers from anywhere in the world are welcome to participate in these innovative and highly successful programs.
Many different emotions can come up when it’s time to look for a new job. Maybe you’ve left a company after a long period of service and are wary about making a big change; or perhaps you’ve been let go and are feeling fearful about the next stage of your career. While your résumé, cover letter and interview skills might be up-to-date, there’s another very important factor which may determine how quickly you are able to secure interviews or a job: your mindset.
Looking for a job is a job in itself; you need to be organized, you need to prioritize, and you need to take every application seriously. There’s no such thing as a casual job search; sending out ill-considered or poorly constructed applications is a recipe for failure and becomes a self-perpetuating cycle leading to low self-esteem and extended periods of unemployment.
Here are a series of tips to help you get in the right frame of mind for your job search:
Talk to someone. If you are feeling depressed about your last job or how your last job ended, do yourself and your family a favor and talk to a therapist, a priest/pastor/rabbi, etc.. Sorting out your unresolved career-related feelings is an essential first step in any job search.
Get organized. Create a file system (analog or digital) where you keep your various résumé versions, cover letters, thank you letters, past career counseling notes etc. You’ll need to be organized for an effective job search so you can save yourself a lot of time and frustration.
Get career counseling. If you haven’t done this before or if you have any doubts about your career direction, invest a couple hundred dollars (minimum) in seeing a professional career counselor. Career counseling will help you to further streamline your job search process by identifying your most likely future roles and how to approach them from an application perspective.
Shore up your network. Whether on LinkedIn or by rolodex, reach out to folks whom you respect, those who are in industries you are likely to pursue, and especially people who might be able to refer you to roles you want.
Only apply to jobs you really want and which you believe you would be very good at. It isn’t worth your time (nor the employer’s) to haphazardly send out applications, no matter how easy that may be in the digital age. Spend more time on fewer applications; you only need one full-time job
Customize your résumé and cover letterevery time you apply to a job. Your documents should reflect the specific requirements (and keywords) of each particular job.
Follow all of the instructions. Some job applications ask for very specific things, like a portfolio, an essay, or even the answer to a specific question within the job posting.
Follow-up! Your job is just beginning after you’ve sent out your application materials. You still need to send a thank you note, and follow-up with the employer if you haven’t heard back from them within two weeks. Be ready to sell yourself if you happen to get someone on the phone or on email (if the situation is appropriate).
Settle in. Landing a new job is hard work and it takes time. The process is sometimes tedious (particularly with antiquated job application sites), and sometimes nerve-wracking, but it will pay off
Stay positive You will get a job. Later on, you’ll leave that job and get yet another one. Focus on the good things in your life and try to visualize how great it will feel to get a job offer (yep, it’s going to happen!).
So, you’ve written a killer résumé, an inspired cover letter, and you’ve just received the news: “we’d like to have a chat!”. At this point, all of the work you’ve done on those documents has paid off, but now you have a different job: Make them believe not only that you are the person reflected in those documents, but that you are also the right person for the job. Most people don’t interview very well, either because they’ve never interviewed anyone themselves, they haven’t practiced much or because they haven’t taken the time to try to understand how it feels to be on the other side of the table and what they are looking for.
Mistake #1: Talking about yourself and what you want to get out of the job
This is the classic rookie mistake. Talking about yourself too much without speaking to what the employer needs is a quick and easy way to fail an interview. Of course, they want to get to know you better in order to assess how well you might perform in the role, but it’s best to let the interviewer take the lead in the discussion and to focus on specifically how your experience, skills, interests and personality will benefit the role, the team and the organization.
Mistake #2: Not understanding the company, the role, and the industry
Do your research. It’s not uncommon for an interviewer to ask you to summarize what the company does and why. It’s also a common pitfall to have weak answers when asked about the industry at large. For example, if you are applying for a role as a corporate attorney at a large company and you can’t converse about what’s happening in the news with regard to well known mergers and acquisitions in your industry, you’re probably not going to get a 2nd interview.
Mistake #3: Making yourself seem dull and uninspired
Active language is 100% better than passive language in nearly every interview scenario. For example: Imagine the interviewer asks you to briefly describe your career history. Saying, “…after college, I was hired into company x where I did y, and then I was hired into company z, etc….” is much worse than saying “after college, I looked for opportunities to do x and took a role at company y; I learned z which inspired me to look for opportunities working with….etc. ”. People who are running toward something vs running away from something (a bad job, a bad boss, etc.) stand out as people who can be counted on and people who will be good leaders (passionate, decisive, self-starters, clear on their motivations and goals, etc.)
Mistake #4: Not showing them that you would be a great co-worker
Research shows that one of the top factors in passing an interview is your personal likeability (as judged by the interviewer). Would they want to work with you? A cocky or abrasive attitude, a failure to smile at least a couple of times during the interview, or a humorless attitude in general may bias some interviewers against you. Remember that if you get the job, you’ll be spending 8+ hours per day, 5 days per week with this person indefinitely; it’s important to make a good impression.
Mistake #5: Not developing outstanding answers to the most common interview questions
Another classic rookie mistake. There are many resources online to find the most common questions, including this article from Forbes.com. Take a couple of hours to write out answers to each one and practice saying them aloud to a friend or family member. Bonus: The “what are your best/worst attributes” type questions trip up a lot of people.
Best Qualities: Don’t be too modest, but also don’t be cocky. Give a real example to illustrate one of your best qualities. You might try polling a few trusted current and past colleagues for help if you don’t have this information at your fingertips already. Here’s one good example for a role which requires good project management skills: “I’m a strong project manager. Last year, I led a project to implement a new computer system at my company. I controlled a $1million budget and delivered the project on-time and within budget while managing 20 stakeholders, all of whom were at least 1 level above me. We received a 95% satisfaction score from end users within 2 months of the implementation.”
Worst Qualities: Many people err on this one by actually saying shallow good things about themselves, such as “I’m a perfectionist” or, “I care too much sometimes.” Everyone has things they aren’t good at and should improve. Be candid without being self-deprecating. Here’s one good example for an entry-to-mid-level professional role: “I’ve struggled a bit with sharing my opinions in meetings in the past. Sometimes I worry that my comments could be perceived as rude or that they could disrupt the flow of the meeting, so I stayed silent. I’ve worked a lot on becoming more confident about sharing my thoughts in real-time, though, and have practiced with co-workers I trust. I’ve set a goal for myself to make at least 2 meaningful contributions in every meeting and I always ask at least one person for feedback after the meeting to make sure my comments were relevant well-received.” In this instance, the interviewer should be able to see a few things: a) Your are honest; b) You want to improve; c) You are taking meaningful and intelligent steps to improve
Mistake #6: Not being specific
This might be the most common interview mistake for professional-level roles. Imagine that the interviewer asks you something like, “How would you handle a situation where your team’s sales figures are looking worse and worse each month. How would you turn it around?” Here’s a bad response: “I would work really hard to improve those numbers; I would work long nights and weekends if I had to; you can count on me.” Here’s a better response: “First, I would drill into the numbers to understand where the bad performance was coming from. Is it isolated to a few salespeople or specific regions, was it related to a single product, or possibly being driven by changes in the industry? After speaking with the parties closest to the problem, I would develop a plan in collaboration with other sales managers to address the root cause and I would monitor and measure the changes closely to ensure that we really had discovered and properly addressed the root cause of the issue.”
Mistake #7: Not listening
Your interviewer will give you some subtle and not-so-subtle clues throughout the interview with respect to what (and whom) they are looking for. Listen carefully and you may be able to revise your stock answers in order to more directly address their specific needs and doubts. Pay particular attention at the beginning of the interview if they take the time to explain the role and the company to you; take notes if you have to. Here’s one example: Imagine that the interviewer mentions that they are looking for someone who can ‘hit the ground running’. That might imply that you would have little supervision or opportunities for training and would need to learn on your own, build relationships on your own, and otherwise ramp up quickly in the role. Tailor your answers to showcase how you have been a self-starter in the past and that you enjoy the challenge of learning a new role. Of course, if that scenario is scary for you, you might want to look elsewhere….
Mistake #8: Not asking good questions
There’s a good chance the interviewer will ask you at the beginning and/or the end of the interview whether you have questions for them. You must be prepared for this.
Good question examples:
What do you like most about working here?
What is the team culture like?
Does the role require travel? How much?
Can you tell me a little more about how the team is organized?
What are your team’s primary goals or success metrics?
What would a typical day look like for me in this role?
What are the key attributes which would make a person successful in this role?
Bad question examples (in some cases, it’s appropriate to ask some of these questions when you get an offer):
How much does the job pay?
When will I get promoted?
How many hours per week is the job?
Do you have flexible hours?
Can I work from home sometimes?
How much money does the company have right now / what do you think will happen to the stock price?
Mistake #9: Regurgitating your résumé
Remember: Your résumé’s job is done; it’s time to make your experience and skills come to life with great and targeted examples. You can assume that the interviewer has read your résumé (though it’s not always true!), so you should focus on telling rich, compelling and relevant stories to illustrate why your skills and experience translate well to the role you are interviewing for. Caution: Don’t take too long to answer a question; be smart but be brief The interviewer may have a long list of questions to ask you and will become frustrated if you ramble too long.
Mistake #10: Not being confident
If you don’t feel confident for an interview, practice until you do. Any seasoned interviewer will pick up on a lack of confidence right away and they will begin to feel like you do. As you practice, ask yourself (or a friend/family member) these questions:
Am I believable?
Could I answer follow-up questions?
Do I completely understand what they are looking for?
Do I understand what the company does or what the product is about?
What are the toughest questions they could ask me?
Are there any good reasons why they shouldn’t hire me?
What are my best stories and examples? What are the best opportunities (in terms of interview questions) which would give me a chance to tell these stories?
Do I feel relaxed and confident?
Am I telling the employer how I can help them and not just talking about myself and what I want?
What’s the worst that could happen? (hint: there are a lot of companies and a lot of jobs out there; the worst you can do is embarrass yourself and that has happened to us all at least once :)) Be bold!
The purpose of a résumé is to land an interview; end of story. If you get an interview, you’ll need to convince the employer to hire you. It’s incredibly helpful to keep this in mind as you write the résumé so you can focus on demonstrating that you meet the employer’s specific requirements for the role. If you are committed to pursuing a specific professional role, you’ll need to put in the time to make your résumé as close to perfect as possible. Résumé writing is an art, but there are technical elements which anyone can execute on if they pay close attention to the details:
Prove your successes! It’s not enough to say what you did, or even how you did it. The best way to write about your accomplishments is to describe a problem, how you addressed it, and what the quantitative outcome was. An example:
Don’t say this: “Sold home and auto insurance products and helped clients to understand benefits.”
Say this:“Sold an average of $1.2 million in home and auto insurance products per year over the past 5 years and increased new client base by 30% over the past 3 years by developing a free monthly insurance seminar.”
It has to look good. Make your résumé consistent and symmetrical (i.e. vertically and horizontally balanced); it takes a lot of work to make this happen on a line-by-line basis, but studies show that symmetrical, nice-looking résumés are more effective. Consistent use of punctuation and formatting is important to achieving this nice visual effect, but it also shows your ability to be detail-oriented and professionally polished.
Follow the basic rules. Most résumés should be two full pages, contain only one font, one font-size (11-12pt, except for your name at the top, which can be larger) with a Serif font (like Times New Roman), make very limited use of italics and bolding, contain some kind of summary (really, a sales pitch) at the top, a detailed work history, a list of relevant skills, and a list of your relevant education and training. Don’t get too creative with formats, colors, fonts, or quirky elements and keep the margins ample for improved readability and a cleaner look. There are good ways and bad ways to stand out
Know what the employer wants. Write your résumé to reflect the employer’s needs, not your personal story. Develop themes which allow you to market yourself to the employer in a way that makes them want you.
Make NO mistakes. You might get an interview if you have a single typo or grammatical problem, but not with two. Read your résumé forward and backward multiple times and ask a friend, family member, co-worker or neighbor to do the same. Then, wait 72 hours and do it again!