Interview Questions: Ask this…don’t ask that

 

UnhappyThere is advice everywhere you turn about how to prepare answers to questions you’ll be asked in an interview.  There is less said about questions you should ask…and not ask.

It is my contention that interviewers learn as much about you from the questions you ask as from the answers you give to their questions.  It is crucial that you have intelligent, well thought out questions to ask.  Never say no to Do you have any questions for me?

Your questions should indicate that you understand the role and are knowledgeable about the organization.  Picture yourself in the job – what would you want to know.  I like organizational questions.  Can you please tell me about your organization – how many employees and what are their roles?  You’re asking for a verbal org chart.  What would you say are the strengths of your team?  What’s working well?  Where are the weaknesses, areas where you can use some help?  Depending on the answer, this is a good time to explain how you may be able to help them in those functions.  What other departments does your team [or this role] interact with and how is that going?

Another excellent way to convey what you know about the organization is to preface your question with something you’ve learned from your research.  I understand that name-of-company has made a number of acquisitions in the past year. How have these impacted your team?  From what I understand, your leading competitors are X and Y but that you are gaining market share. What would you say is your competitive edge?

There are some questions that you should not ask, specifically something negative like, I’ve noticed that name-of-company’s stock has been declining steadily.  What’s wrong?  If you’ve received an offer or getting close to it, then you can do more due diligence prior to making a decision.  I advise my clients not to ask about company culture and I receive a lot of pushback.  I ask them what it is they really want to know.  Companies like Google that have distinct cultures they’re proud of have made it well known and/or will offer it to you without your asking.

Are you wondering about benefits and perks such as a game room and catered meals?  Are you wondering if working long hours is expected on a regular basis?  You already know that neither of these are questions you should ask in an interview. What’s more important is how the interviewer will interpret your question.  There’s too great a chance there will be a miscommunication.  Learn the culture by doing research, both online and talking with people who work or have worked there.  Even better, make it a point to pay attention to what’s going on in the office when you’re on site.  Ask the people you meet what they like/don’t like about working there.

Overall, you should stick with questions like those above that relate to the job and company.  You’ll come across intelligent and thoughtful.  Good luck!

 

KRON InterviewMauri Schwartz is President/CEO of Career Insiders, a career management and talent acquisition consulting firm. She speaks frequently at business and professional conferences and career panels. Her favorite client update is, “I did everything you told me to and I got the job!”

Career Insiders’ Talent Acquisition services are focused on executive and senior management level positions in sales/marketing, finance, technology, corporate legal, and HR.

Mauri has an MBA from the Haas School of Business, University of California, Berkeley and a BS in Mathematics from Tulane University. Career Insiders has been certified by the City and County of San Francisco as as a Small – Local – Woman-owned enterprise S/L/WBE.  Contact Mauri directly at Mauri@CareerInsiders.com.

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Get Your Groove On!

Interview

Get Your Groove On and Ace That Interview!

Yes, I mean it.  After you’ve prepared as much as you think you can for that critical interview with the Executive Director, what can you do to calm down?  I propose two ways to eliminate the anxiety that creeps in and prevents you from performing at your best.  Music and comedy.  I’ve never seen these recommended anywhere else, but they work…trust me.

While on your way and/or while you wait in the coffee shop next door (remember my admonishments in previous postings not to arrive too early), listen to some of your favorite upbeat music, whatever makes you feel the best.

Most of us have experienced the incredible, mood-altering power of music.  Dozens of research studies have shown that listening to music can lower blood pressure and reduce anxiety.  One even found that listening to music works as well as a massage at lowering anxiety!

The Mayo Clinic points out that music can have effects ranging from reducing feelings of physical pain to boosting memory.  A doctoral thesis from the University of Gothenburg reveals that listening to music every day lowers stress. The thesis was based on the results of two studies which showed that people who listened to music also felt positive emotions.  Other studies show that listening to music improves cognitive performance and helps people execute better in high-pressure situations.

Personally, I like to listen to comedy because laughing always makes me feel exceptionally good about myself.  As the old saying goes, laughter is the best medicine.  “As a powerful antidote to stress, nothing works faster to bring your mind and body back into balance than a good laugh.  Humor… connects you to others and keeps you grounded, focused, and alert.”

These are all qualities that make for a strong interview performance.  Use one or both, but not simultaneously, before your next interview and revel in how much better the outcome is.

 

KRON InterviewMauri Schwartz is President/CEO of Career Insiders, a career management and talent acquisition consulting firm. She speaks frequently at business and professional conferences and career panels. Her favorite client update is, “I did everything you told me to and I got the job!”

Career Insiders’ Talent Acquisition services are focused on executive and senior management level positions in sales/marketing, finance, technology, corporate legal, and HR.

Mauri has an MBA from the Haas School of Business, University of California, Berkeley and a BS in Mathematics from Tulane University. Career Insiders has been certified by the City and County of San Francisco as as a Small – Local – Woman-owned enterprise S/L/WBE.

Contact Mauri directly at Mauri@CareerInsiders.com.

What can you do about ageism in hiring?

It is quite often that a mid- to late-career client asks me how far back in their work experience should they go in writing their resume.  The person will say they have heard to put only the most recent 10 years, some say 15.  My most common answer to clients’ questions regarding resumes, interviews, etc. is “It depends.”  ED001406

I don’t believe there is one right number.  I think those who advise a set number of years, such as 10 or 15, do so because it is simpler to recommend a one-size-fits-all than to advise on an individual basis.  There are many guidelines that are common to nearly all job seekers, but everyone has something that calls for special attention.  In addition to these particulars, other variables include how much experience is deemed appropriate for a specific industry, company, function, or job level.

Unfortunately, age discrimination does exist, primarily against older workers, but often it is against younger employees.  If it is age discrimination, which we all know is illegal, it is usually nearly impossible to prove.  For older workers, I have found that in most cases, the issue is not tied to an age number.  It may be the expectation that a more senior candidate will require a higher compensation than someone earlier in their career.  Or, there is a concern that an older candidate may be approaching retirement, and so will only stay employed for a few years.  However, the average job tenure among employees of all ages is less than five years (last recorded in 2012 by the US Department of Labor), and just over three years for those younger than forty.

I think the primary reason may be that the employer assumes that someone who is older has tired, stale ideas and ways of performing the job and has less energy and enthusiasm. These are factors that you can and should eliminate with your actual behavior, body language and voice during an interview, even when it is on the phone.

But, you must first get the interview which means that you do not want to give them any reason for discarding your resume on first glance.

For those who have been out of college at the undergraduate level for 12-20 years or more, I would omit graduation dates.  In general, 12-18 years of experience is the time span I recommend, depending on the variables mentioned above (industry, company, function, job level) as well as how pertinent the particular experience is to the position you seek.  My advice is to include only achievements that are relevant to your targeted role, even in your more recent experience.

 

Mauri SchwartzHi my name is Mauri, and I am the President of Career Insiders, a career management and talent acquisition consulting firm. I speak frequently at conferences, job fairs, and career panels. I have been invited to speak at NCHRA’S Annual HR West Conference. I consult with career centers at universities including UC Berkeley’s Haas School of Business, Tulane University, Mills College, and others, and contribute regularly to publications such as TheLadders RecruitBlog. I am what some might consider a professional “people person.”

What Shall I Wear

Dress for Success 1At a time when hardly anyone dresses for anything anymore, it’s hard to know how you should dress for an interview. The old rule used to be to wear a suit (men and women) for any business interview. We all know that’s not the case anymore.

Just the other day, I purchased tickets for an evening cabaret performance in San Francisco, and this is how they described their dress code: 

We ask that our guests do not wear shorts, baggy, torn or ripped jeans, athletic gear, sandals, ball caps, chains, or sweatshirts or shirts with hoods. Cocktail attire is recommended or nice denim.

Cocktail or nice denim? What a choice! And I can’t tell you the last time I wanted to go out dressed in athletic gear! For this venue, it seems that any reasonable outfit will be fine.

It’s a bit trickier when it comes to interview attire. And it totally depends on the situation, mostly the company and its industry. Most companies have adopted a casual dress code and you may see employees dressed in jeans, especially in the tech industry. However, you should not go to the interview in jeans or shorts. The best rule of thumb is to dress up one or two levels. Business casual clothes are most often appropriate – nice slacks/skirt, with a button-up shirt/blouse or an appropriate sweater. Add a nice jacket for an appropriate addition and in many cases, a tie, for men of course.

For most traditional business situations, you’ll want to dress up a notch, a jacket for sure and sometimes a suit. This is especially true for companies in finance, management consulting, and others with customer facing roles. Recently I delivered a presentation to a group of employees in a large financial services corporation, a very traditional, conservative environment. I was sure to wear my nicest suit and carefully observed attendees’ clothing.

All of them were dressed in “formal” business attire. The men wore dark suits with white or light blue shirts and fairly conservative ties. The women were also dressed in “formal” business attire, and it was noticeably fashionable, almost every one. Not trendy, but up to date and appropriate for the occasion. This included a few dresses, mostly with matching jackets.Dress for Success 2

As part of your research in preparing for the interview, conduct an investigation to determine their “dress code” by asking a friend if you know someone who works or has worked there, or by calling HR.

It is most important to wear clean, pressed clothes and freshly polished shoes. In deciding between two choices that meet these criteria, choose the outfit that you feel most comfortable in. I hope I don’t need to say that you must not wear anything that is sexy or shows skin between your neck (or a bit lower) and knees. Basically you want the interviewer’s attention to be focused on you and your qualifications, not your cleavage or clothes, jewelry, etc.

Dress for Success 3 Additional tip: Since many people have allergies/sensitivities to perfume, be careful with fragrances. Most body and hair care products are scented. Choose products that are fragrance free or have a very faint fragrance.

 

 

KRON InterviewHi I’m Mauri, President/CEO of Career Insiders, a career management and talent acquisition consulting firm. I speak frequently at conferences, job fairs, and career panels. My favorite client update is, “I did everything you told me to and I got the job!”

Career Insiders’ Talent Acquisition services are focused on executive and senior management level positions in sales/marketing, finance, corporate legal, and HR. Please contact me for more info.

 

Ace the Phone Interview

Interview - comks12851 - $50

Congratulations on getting that interview!  These days it takes hard work to get even that far in the search process.  That is unless you have expertise in some esoteric programming stream processing framework like Storm, S4 or Samza.  Huh?

Anyway, back to the issue at hand.  First, consider a phone interview pretty much like a face-to-face meeting. Prepare in detail just as you would normally.  Dress the same too.  Create a private space without noise or distraction to take the call, one where you know you will get the best phone reception.  Be ready a few minutes ahead of time and operating on all cylinders – be at your best.

The nice thing about phone interviews (that are not Skyped) is that you can have some notes in front of you, but be very careful not to have too much. You don’t want to be in the position of making noise by shuffling papers or taking too much time to answer because you’re searching through your notes to find it.

Use your computer to help you, one with a big enough screen to be useful.  Not your phone; it’s not big enough. I highly recommend that you bring up the person’s LinkedIn profile so that you can talk to the person directly. It’s not ideal in that the facial expression is fixed and you won’t be able to read body language, but I believe you can still tell a great deal just from a photograph.

And don’t forget to prepare ahead.  You can download a free copy of my proven Interview Prep Guide from the Resources page of my web site.  Good luck!

Get Organized!!

Get organizedMy advice is always to customize your resume for each job opportunity, but how can you keep track of everything?  Create a document folder for each position that you submit a resume for. In this folder include the resume version you submitted for that job plus a copy of the job description, cover letter, and any other related documentation or correspondence. Be sure to save a copy of the full job description rather than just the url to the online posting as the posting may be removed from the company’s web site at any time.

Name your documents in such a way that they can be clearly identified – by the company’s recruiter and/or hiring manager as well as by you. For the recruiter/hiring manager, document tiles should include your name and the type of document; ie resume or cover letter. Don’t overlook the fact that this simple title is a mini writing sample, and so you should make sure that there are no spelling errors. Even if you’re careful to keep the right resume version in the proper folder, you may want to add something that identifies the company and/or position. Here are some examples:

  • Schwartz, Mauri – Resume (Google)
  • Schwartz, Mauri – Cover (Google-VP, Finance)

You may add a date if you’d like but it’s much less important.

  • Schwartz, Mauri – Resume (2013)
  • Schwartz, Mauri – Cover (2013-0718)

Finally, you should create an Excel spreadsheet to track your job search progress and include the following information.

  • Company Name
  • Job Title
  • Person Contacted/Person to Contact
  • Contact Info
  • Action Taken
  • Date Action Taken
  • Next Action to Take
  • Date of Next Action to Take
  • Notes/Comments

It’s important to keep your tracking spreadsheet up to date. I’ve found that clients who do this make more progress in their search if only because they have a written plan which specifies what they need to do next and when. In this way, they keep themselves accountable.

Here’s a lagniappe: If you use Word’s Tracking feature to show changes you’ve made or those made by someone else whom you’ve asked to proofread your resume, don’t forget to turn tracking off before sending it out! (A lagniappe is a word use chiefly in Louisiana which means “a small gift given with a purchase to a customer, by way of compliment or for good measure; a bonus.”)

Mauri in Orange BlouseHi my name is Mauri, and I am the President of Career Insiders, a career management and talent acquisition consulting firm. I speak frequently at conferences, job fairs, and career panels. I recently was invited to participate on a panel discussion at NCHRA’S Annual HR West Conference. I consult with career centers at universities including UC Berkeley’s Haas School of Business, Tulane University, Mills College, and others, and contribute regularly to publications such as TheLadders RecruitBlog. I am what some might consider a professional “people person.”

Job Search Etiquette

Interview Recently, a recruiter friend of mine told me that her client was preparing to extend a job offer to one of her candidates after a round of successful interviews.  As news of the offer was being communicated to my friend to forward to the candidate, the client received an email from the candidate thanking her for the opportunity to interview.

Proper etiquette, right?  However, in the candidate’s message, she came across as arrogant, rude, and careless as her message included misspellings and grammatical errors, and related in detail all the processes that she would change in her first few weeks on the job. Naturally, the hiring manager was offended, changed his mind and rescinded the offer. This story caused me to think that it would be good to talk more about job search etiquette.

Here are four key areas of interaction to consider when conducting a job search, or any time for that matter.

1)      Networking

  • Offer to help; focus on the ‘give’ side of a 2-way ‘give and take’ exchange.  When you make new contacts at networking events or when you reach out to your existing contacts, think first about how you can help them in their endeavors, whether they be career related or not. Keep in mind that supporting someone in an endeavor automatically makes that person want to return the favor. I call this Networking Karma.
  • Be respectful of your contact’s time and make it comfortable for that person to say yes. Don’t ask for a job; ask for advice. Everyone has advice and is happy to give it. Furthermore, you are paying her a compliment by implying that she is an expert.
  • Everywhere I look, career experts are advising job seekers to ask for informational interviews. I agree with the concept but disagree with the wording of the request. An informational interview conjures up a 30-60 minute meeting which resembles an interview but for which there is no open position that can be offered to you. This can make your contacts feel somewhat uncomfortable, first about committing so much time and then for feeling that you expect more than they can give.
  • I’m not saying this is actually what you expect, but it is the thought process that often occurs. So I say ask for a chat, which is defined as an ‘informal conversation or talk conducted in an easy familiar manner’ and implies a much shorter amount of time, for which it will be easier to get a contact to commit.

2)      Face to Face

  • Everyone knows that you should be on time for a meeting; do not keep your contact waiting. If you are meeting that person in her office, you should also beware of arriving too early. Since you are a guest in her space, she may feel responsible for meeting with you earlier than planned and uncomfortable if she can’t. If you’re sitting in the reception area for a long time, you also make other people in the office uncomfortable, and you will end up feeling awkward as well. Arrive only about 5 minutes before your designated meeting time.
  • Be prepared, know what you want to discuss and be clear about what you would like for this person to do for you. Don’t make them figure it out. Don’t shove your resume in front of her and expect her to figure out what type of job you should seek.
  • Listen and be patient, pay attention to what the person is telling you and show your appreciation for her insight without countering every suggestion with an excuse.  I really don’t have to say that your cell phone should be off and out of sight, do I?

3)      On the Phone – Pretend this is a face-to-face meeting and follow all my recommendations above. If you are leaving a voice message, make it short and to the point. Follow it up with an email if you have a lot to say. I have a colleague who not only shows up early for all our meetings but calls a couple of minutes in advance of our scheduled phone appointments. This drives me crazy, and I recommend that you call one or two minutes after your scheduled time to give the other person a chance to be ready for you.

4)      In Writing – There will be numerous occasions to send thank you messages. Always do so immediately after meeting with someone, whether it is for an interview or networking. When you’ve landed your new position and your job search is over, don’t forget to go back again and thank all those people who have helped you in any way. Whatever type of message you are sending – thank you notes, cover letters, or other correspondence, be polite and make sure that you thoroughly check for spelling and grammatical errors. Do not use text-like abbreviations such as BTW, FYI, etc. And don’t use texting or twitter to convey any of these messages. Texting is okay when the other person has used texting to contact you, but still beware of using texting abbreviations.

Here’s an extra tip:  When using a formal salutation that includes Ms or Mr, follow it only with the person’s last name. I am continually surprised by the number of people who will begin a letter with Dear Ms Mauri Schwartz when the correct way is Dear Ms Schwartz.

Mauri in Orange BlouseHi my name is Mauri, and I am the President of Career Insiders, a career management and talent acquisition consulting firm. I speak frequently at conferences, job fairs, and career panels. I recently was invited to participate on a panel discussion at NCHRA’S Annual HR West Conference. I consult with career centers at universities including UC Berkeley’s Haas School of Business, Tulane University, Mills College, and others, and contribute regularly to publications such as TheLadders RecruitBlog. I am what some might consider a professional “people person.”

What is the hardest interview question?

InterviewWhat do you think is the hardest interview question? Attendees of my interview preparation workshops cringe when asked any of these:
• Tell me about yourself.
• Why should we hire you?
• What is your biggest weakness?

Which one is the one you hate the most? Is it one of these or something entirely different? Please tell me how you really feel!

Write it down
You should thoroughly prepare in advance for an interview. That means writing, yes writing, down answers to questions you may be asked. No, you don’t get to skip these in preparation because they’re difficult. Not having prepared answers just makes it even more difficult to answer them. Conversely, having a clearly thought out answer ready when asked will put you way ahead of the competition.

Tell me about yourself
You wonder, what do they mean? How far back should I go? No, the interviewer does not want to know that you grew up in a small town in Alabama with three sisters and a brother. What they want to know is, what have you done previously that shows me that you will be successful in this job at our organization. In other words, why should we hire you?

Match your strengths to the job
When preparing for an interview, carefully match your achievements and expertise to each of the responsibilities and requirements on the job description. For each item on the job posting, write…yes, there’s that word write again…write one to three complete sentences that describe what you have accomplished that fulfills that specific responsibility or requirement. Make sure your sentences are clear to someone on the outside and not full of insider jargon.

Complete sentences
Make sure that your sentences are complete with the right subjects, verbs, nouns, and adjectives and that they are not just a few bullet points. When you are relating these stories in the actual interview, this trick will keep you from rambling. One of the most common failures in an interview is the tendency to ramble. Not only do you convey that you cannot communicate well, you are also likely to say something you shouldn’t say.

Just like a politician…stay on message!
After completing this exercise, go back through the job responsibilities and review your company research. Then determine what your message needs to be. What are the 3 to 5 characteristics about you and your background that you need to convey in the interview no matter what? Of course, these characteristics should relate directly to the job for which you are interviewing. If you have an achievement that makes you proud but it is in no way relevant to the job, do not include it in your list and do not bring it up in the interview as an important attribute. Stay focused on what the interviewer needs to know about you in order to decide to hire you for this job.

This message is similar to that of a politician. Everyone remembers that President Obama’s campaign message was “change” and specific areas that he would change. That is precisely why he was elected. Change is what the voters wanted. A job interview is your opportunity to convey that you can deliver what the interviewer and/or hiring manager wants.

It’s all up to you
It is your responsibility to ensure that you convey this information during the interview no matter what questions you are asked. You don’t want to leave an interview and realize that you didn’t have a chance to discuss one of your message points just because the interviewer didn’t ask you. You must figure out a way to insert all of your message points into the conversation.

Tell me about yourself
So, back to the initial question. If you are asked this one, what better opportunity could you have for delivering your message? No need to worry if you’ll have a chance to slip them all in one by one. This is the best chance you’ll have to deliver your message.

Why should we hire you?
By now, you understand why these two questions are the same, and you are ready for them, no longer fearing them, but hoping for them.

What is your biggest weakness?
Stay tuned. I’ll address this question in my next post.

Mauri in Orange BlouseHi my name is Mauri, and I am the President of Career Insiders, a career management and talent acquisition consulting firm. I speak frequently at conferences, job fairs, and career panels. I recently was invited to participate on a panel discussion at NCHRA’S Annual HR West Conference. I consult with career centers at universities including UC Berkeley’s Haas School of Business, Tulane University, Mills College, and others, and contribute regularly to publications such as TheLadders RecruitBlog. I am what some might consider a professional “people person.”

Do Unto Others: Don’t Drop the Ball

BU008623

One of the most common complaints that job seekers have is the silence that frequently follows resume submissions and interviews.  I can’t even count the number of times I’ve heard one of these statements.

Ÿ “I sent in my resume 2 weeks ago but haven’t heard anything in response.”

Ÿ “The recruiter reached out to me to see if I might be interested in a specific position.  After a brief conversation, she said she’d talk to the hiring manager and get back to me.  That was 3 weeks ago and I haven’t heard from her since.”

Ÿ “Last month I interviewed with the hiring manager and it seemed to go well.  I was told that I would be contacted in a couple of days to schedule follow-on meetings with his staff, but it’s been radio silence since.  I even called the recruiter and she hasn’t responded.  I just wish someone would tell me something one way or the other.”

I find it incredible that the recruiters involved in these situations fail to communicate to the candidates.  The common wisdom is that if you don’t hear anything, they’re not interested.  So what?   If this is the case, the recruiter should have the common decency to contact the candidate to let him know that he will not be considered further, preferably by phone but at the very least by email, including an indication of the reason for rejection.  This show of respect will allow him to move on to other opportunities and perhaps adjust his search strategy, grateful for the feedback.

But to the ever hopeful job seeker, silence doesn’t always equate to rejection.  Many things could be happening.  The hiring manager could be on vacation, traveling for business, caught up in an office emergency.  Any number of issues may have occurred to slow the process down.  Communicate this to the candidate, providing status updates with a revised timeframe for continuing the process if applicable.  Even if you don’t have any substantive information yourself, notify him of that.  He would much prefer to know even if the news is negative.  Avoiding contact, not responding to emails and phone calls, is not acceptable procedure.

Sure, we’re all busy and time can easily slip away from us, but this communication doesn’t need to take long.  I think we may have become too complacent and fail to realize just how important these common courtesies are, both in terms of etiquette and the effect they have on your personal and corporate brands.  Perhaps it would be more obvious if you think of yourself as an employee working on the other end of the business, in marketing or sales, and consider each of these applicants as a customer who will carry away an impression of what it is like to work with you and your company.  Behave as if you expect to see yourself reviewed on Yelp or Glassdoor…and as you would like if you were in their place.

Mauri in Orange BlouseHi my name is Mauri, and I am the President of Career Insiders, a career management and talent acquisition consulting firm. I speak frequently at conferences, job fairs, and career panels and have been invited to speak at HR West 2013 in April. I consult with career centers at universities including UC Berkeley’s Haas School of Business, Tulane University, Mills College, and others, and contribute regularly to publications such as TheLadders RecruitBlog. I am what some might consider a professional “people person.”

The 3 Question Cover Letter

Cover Letter Image I will start by saying that the vast majority of cover letters are never read. Yes, that’s right. With recruiters and hiring managers sifting through hundreds of resumes, in the interest of time, most of them go straight to the resume. This is even true when the job posting specifically requests one. That said, you should write your cover letter as if it will be read because you have no way of knowing whether or not the person reviewing your application will be one of the few who do.  And many decision makers will go back to read the cover letter if they like the resume.

Even those who will read your cover letter do not have the time or inclination to read a page-long essay, so keep it succinct, not more than half a page, and three, possibly four, paragraphs. Each paragraph should answer one of these three questions, in this order.

Why you?
Where ‘you’ is the company. Introduce yourself and in two or three sentences, convey your interest in the company, the specific position, and even the hiring manager if appropriate, with enthusiasm. Your explanation should include information that shows you have done your research. Some hiring managers who do read resumes tell me that they have more than once rejected an applicant whose cover letter is so generic that it could have been sent for any job at any company. They want to see at the beginning that you’ve taken the time to distinguish them from the rest of the pack, to see why you think they are special. Keep in mind that this will be their first impression of you, and you know what they say about first impressions. At the same time, be careful not to be overly solicitous.

Why me?
Where ‘we’ is you. In this section, tell the reader why you should be considered for the position, why you are special. Choose two or three of the company’s highest priority requirements and write a sentence or two that describe your achievements that will illustrate to the hiring manager that you possess the required qualifications. Don’t just tell them you have the experience. Show them by describing key accomplishments, your actions and the results. To keep your resume easily readable, your paragraphs should only be five or six lines long. Therefore, you may need to use two paragraphs for this segment, thus extending your letter to four paragraphs, but still only half a page in total.

What next?
This last paragraph will be the shortest and simplest, refers to the next step in the process, and may be the one area that is generic. It generally tells the reader that you want a chance to discuss your qualifications and indicates the next step to be an interview.

Most cover letters these days are actually the body of an email message with your resume as the only attachment. However, if a cover letter is specifically requested or you are delivering a hard copy, create a separate document and use the formal business format including your return address, the name and address of the person to whom you are writing, a salutation or greeting, followed by the body of your message.

At the end you want to include a complimentary close, “Thank you for your consideration,” and your first and last name.

For the salutation, it is polite to write “Dear Mr (or Ms) Brown,” rather than use their first name. If you do not know the name of the person who will be receiving your letter, exclude the salutation completely. Don’t use phrases such as “To whom it may concern,” “Dear sir or madam,” or “Dear hiring manager.” Similarly, don’t use the first name and the last, as in “Dear Mr John Brown.”  Believe me, I’ve seen it all.

Finally got an Interview? Don’t screw it up!

Interview - comks12851 - $50

A client recently approached me to help her prepare for an interview with an organization that she had been trying to get into for the past six months. She was very concerned that she perform well because she knew she wouldn’t get another chance…and rightly so.

In today’s job market, it is so difficult to land an interview that you need to make sure you do a good job.  As they say, you only have one chance to make a first impression.  Here are some good tips.  Study the job description carefully and identify the four or five most important criteria.  What skills do they need the most?

For each of the criteria that you have defined, write a couple of sentences that indicate how you fulfill that requirement.  Describe one or two achievements that most illustrate your ability to carry out that function.  Be sure to write complete sentences, not just notes. This way you will be comfortable speaking in full sentences during the interview. Make your statements concise and be sure to highlight the positive results of your actions.

Don’t take these notes into the interview but practice reading them, keeping in mind that you need to stop when you reach the end of your answer.  I emphasize this because it will help prevent you from rambling which is one of the most common interview mistakes.  You will want to deliver the information and stop.  It will then be up to the interviewer to move on to the next topic or ask follow-up questions.  Select accomplishments that are among your most significant, ones of which you are proud.  However, be sure to use examples that are most relevant to the specific position.

Remember that this is not about what you want; it’s all about what they need.  Refrain from bringing up experiences that are not germane.  This will only cloud the issue with extraneous information.

If you have properly prepared this framework, you can use the information to respond to a variety of questions.  For example, if you are asked, “Tell me about yourself,” the interviewer does not want to hear you recount your life history or even your professional history from the beginning to the present.  By the time you get to the most recent / most relevant information, you may have lost their attention.  Tell them the aspects about yourself that show them you will do their job successfully.

If you are asked, “Why should we hire you,” this is another ideal time to respond with the key points in your framework.  If you are asked to describe your strengths, make sure they correlate directly with these same points.

Throughout the interview, show enthusiasm for the job and the company even if you aren’t sure you will accept an offer.  At the conclusion, be sure to thank them and let them know you are interested.  If the information is not provided, ask them to tell you what the next steps in the decision process will be and when you should expect to hear back.  Also, ask for business cards so that you can write a thank you letter as soon as possible after the interview, preferably the same day and by email so that they receive it immediately.

Good luck!

(Please email me for a free copy of my Interview Prep Guide)