Volunteerism: 6 Thoughts to get You to Yes!

Volunteering can do a lot more than fill the time (and your résumé) while you search for a paying gig. Here are six considerations to make volunteerism work better for everyone. As I write this, I also hope that it inspires you to help now.

Get into it. If you decide to volunteer, work hard to make a difference. Non-profits that give you the chance to contribute have very limited resources, including time. They don’t need someone who is not committed. They need help.

Match your volunteerism to your skills. If you are an accountant, look for opportunities to use your accounting skills. Are you a marketing person? That non-profit could probably use you to improve its social media program. The idea is this: you can make a large impact by doing what you do best. Someone needs to work the serving line at the soup kitchen – and that role is very important – but many can do that job, while few can audit the 2013 financials. What is the opportunity cost of a certified project manager cleaning pots in the kitchen while she could be managing an important initiative?

TIP: Check www.Catchafire.org for skills-based pro bono opportunities (I have done two projects through them, and they are great!). www.Volunteermatch.org is another resource for skills-based volunteer opportunities. Are you a member of a faith community? Check there, too. LinkedIn offers a new volunteerism page. Finally, some towns and cities have local volunteer opportunity directories. There is a lot you can do!

Getting out of the house will help you. One of the bigger problems of unemployment and under-employment is the isolation and feelings of inadequacy that come with it. Find a role that gets you out into a professional setting where you can interact with other people. The contact will help you and the organization, and it will give others the chance to learn more about you. Obviously, you will build your network, too.

Positive feedback fuels motivation. Think about it, who doesn’t like some recognition for a job well done? Here is a not-so-secret: non-profits can’t give you money, but they are very appreciative of all volunteers. They will tell you how much they value you, and that will make you feel great, and that will make you want to do more – and do it better – in every area of your life.

You will have fresh stories. Good stories are the secret to a great résumé and interviewing experience. When you can tell about an accomplishment in a compelling, convincing, high-energy way in an interview, the hiring manager will sense your genuineness and credibility. That can only help. Won’t it be better to have a fresh 2014 experience, rather than a stale story from a few years ago, when you sit and answer the questions?

Treat your volunteerism like a job. Your professionalism and skills use will make a difference in how you see yourself and how you sell yourself for a paying job. If you are using all of your professional skills to benefit the non-profit organization and its constituents, you will feel much better about selling the experience as valid and relevant when you market yourself for a paid position.

This could be #7, but I thought it too obvious to treat it that way. No matter how tough your situation , there are others in much tighter spots. They need your help. Go do it, and get ready to make your own list about the value of volunteerism.

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One Failure, One Weakness

Everyone hates interview questions that focus on failure. We don’t like to admit to our weaknesses. We are trying to sell ourselves, after all, so why would we want to discuss any of that? The uncomfortable reality, though, is that you will likely be asked one or two questions that get you talking about something other than your victories. You need one failure and one weakness story ready to answer these questions and their variants.

The good news is that you really only need credible examples of one failure and one weakness. Most interviewers are not going to keep drilling for negatives. One great answer to illustrate each kind of question will serve you well, and you can spend the rest of your time and energy preparing your victory stories.

You might hear the questions like this:

“When did you fail to achieve your goals?”

“Tell me about a time that you missed a deadline.”

“Tell me about a time you had to bring bad news to your boss?”

“What are you not good at?”

“What weakness are you working on?”

Answering these questions is easy if you know how. Actually, it is a lot like answering a more positive question in that you want to tell a story with a positive outcome. The difference is that you are starting with a negative and explaining how you learned from it, made changes or compensated, and how you have learned and grown from the experience.

For example, you might say something like this:

Early in my tenure with my current company, I was given a project to revamp our customer follow-up processes. My boss estimated that it would take about two weeks to complete, but he gave me three weeks. My mistake was that I delayed starting the project for a few days. When I dug into the details, I realized that it was more like a four week project as there were people and resources needed that were not immediately available. (Failure Admitted)

After that experience, I made an important change. Now, I review the details of every project that comes my way as soon as it is assigned. I work to identify resources, potential roadblocks and any other concerns right away. (What you learned)

I never made that mistake again. I recently completed a $200,000 budget project two weeks early and was recognized with a “Chairman’s Thanks” award. (Example of Improvement)

To explain a weakness, give an example of how it manifested itself, what you learned, how you compensate or changed, and an example of success. Use the above framework to craft this answer.

Everyone makes mistakes and nobody is great at everything. Smart people reflect on and learn from them. If you can tell this story well, you will have nothing to fear from these interview questions. Think, prepare and practice for success.

There is a lot more interview advice available right here!

See Question 1: Tell me about yourself. — Question 2: Why do you want to work here? — Question 3: Tell me about your greatest accomplishment.

Question 4: When have you failed? — Question 5: Why did you leave? — Question 6: Where will you be in five years?

Bill Florin is a Certified Employment Interview Professional and President of Resu-mazing Services Company.

Question 6: Where Will You be in Five Years?

Five Years From Now?
Five Years From Now?

Who doesn’t love to hate this question? I have heard from two clients recently that they have been asked this question very recently. Both are in different parts of the country and in different industries. If you haven’t prepared for it, you should. Here are some ideas to help.

This question is not about you predicting the future. It is about you doing some research about the company and understanding enough about your career and the industry to give a reasonable answer that makes sense in the environment you are trying to enter.

The Goal: Make a reasonable case for your career path with your new company.

Here are three things that you must know.

First, what does advancement look like for people in your profession? If you are an entry-level staff accountant, where have other people been after five years? If you are a new registered nurse with a bachelor’s degree, where have other people with the same education and experience been in that time?

Second, what is the structure and what are the titles within the targeted company? Many organizations have particular job titles. It will benefit you if you can weave these titles into your answer. It will have you speaking the company language and seeming like you belong.

Finally, discover what the company is working on and write yourself into the story. If the company has been in the news because it is launching a new long-term initiative, describe how you can contribute to the success of that program over the coming years. Paint a picture that links your success to that of the company in a tangible way.

Nobody expects you to nail your forecast. They do expect you to have clear thoughts about what you want to accomplish in the context of your (hopefully) new employer’s world.

Be sure to check out the “Questions” series:

Question 5, Question 4, Question 3, Question 2, Question 1, What Are You Good At?

Follow “Work” to stay up to date with the latest in career development and management.

Bill Florin is a Certified Professional Résumé Writer and Certified Employment Interview Professional and is President of Resu-mazing Services Company in Monroe, Connecticut, USA.

Confidence & The Casting Call

Anytime job seekers are thrown into a non-traditional interviewing environment, stress levels rise and anything can happen. If the experience isn’t one-on-one, heart palpitations and sweaty palms result. I heard from a client this past week who participated as a candidate in a group interview, and he did very well, winning an individual interview and the job. Here are some things we can learn from his success.

If you are faced with a casting call experience like this, where it is you and a crowd, be prepared to tell your story quickly. Those who rise to the challenge in this setting and make a strong positive impression are the candidates most likely to make it to round two.

Second, know your material and your success stories well. If a question is thrown to the group about results, accomplishments or anything else that you should be able to talk about, be ready to respond without hesitation. You want to get your story out. Be alert! Be sharp!

Third, and most important, be confident. Your confidence will come across in both your verbal and non-verbal communication. Speak clearly, with energy, and make eye contact at some point with all of the interviewers. Sit up in your chair, smile and show some enthusiasm. Be the person that the interview panel will notice.

These sessions are designed to do two things. They allow for efficiency and an easy way to eliminate people from consideration. The quiet person in the back of the room is going to get cut. They are also designed to get you to show your personality and confidence (or lack of both).

You have a lot to tell and accomplishments to be proud of or you wouldn’t have been invited to interview. Turn the confidence up, get your stories ready and shine. Make the impression that will want the panel to bring you back for more.

Bill Florin, CPRW is the President of Resu-mazing Services Company.

Awareness & Adaptability

Here is the tough truth about interviewing: every interviewer, company and day is different. The personalities of the people in the interview – whether in person, on the phone, or by video conference – will sway the encounter. You may have done all of your research and feel that you know the questions you are going to face, only to be disappointed and surprised by an unanticipated angle or a completely different line of questions. That’s where your awareness and adaptability become critical.

Awareness of Your History. Having a detailed awareness of your career history and accomplishments is mandatory. Only you know your story. If you have carefully reviewed your history as you wrote or refined your resume and have updated your LinkedIn profile with your best stuff, you have made a tremendous step in the right direction. By thinking about and reflecting on your accomplishments for these career marketing activities, you will help yourself to have the awareness, memories and stories ready to go for an interview.

Awareness of the Organization’s Culture. This important step is one that is often overlooked by job seekers. Most companies share a lot about their culture and priorities in very open and public ways. Read everything on the company’s career/employment web sites. If possible, get to know people in the organization and learn from them. Then take the step of thinking about how you can best craft your stories in a way that will resonate with your interviewer. Here is an example. Target Corporation lives by the motto “Fast, Fun & Friendly.” If you know this, you could consider how your career stories could be told in a way that show your quick and determined action to resolve a business problem or to exploit an opportunity while staying focused on customer service or employee engagement.

Adapting to the Question. You will have to take your stories and adapt them quickly during an interview. For example, you may be prepared with three stories of accomplishments and you might even have some thoughts of the order in which you would like to tell them. Your interviewer may ask a situational question that changes the order of your stories and the angle you take. Only by knowing your stories well will you be able to adapt. Your interviewer may ask, “Tell me about a time that you saved your company money and please be specific.” If you have a story that fits the question, you can tell the interviewer about the situation, your specific actions and the outcome. If you don’t have the stories memorized and ready, you may stumble through this question and give a weak or poorly told example.

Adapting to the Atmosphere. As mentioned earlier, every interview will be different, and you need to be ready. You could face a one-on-one interview, a small group or a large panel. The interview may be conversational or very formal. It might even include numerous introductions and short interactions. Your emotional intelligence receptors must be on full alert to understand the dynamic and to adapt as needed. By knowing your material and your stories very well, you can devote more of your energy to this critical element and less to the hard work of recalling your stories.

You need to know your stories and must be ready to share them in detail and in a way that addresses the question you face and in a way that is appropriate for the environment. Make the effort to review and reflect on your performance so that you will be ready to adapt as needed. The work that you do will be worth it.

Other articles to help you prepare to interview:

Question 5: Why did you leave?

Question 4: When have you failed?

Question 3: Your greatest accomplishment?

Bill Florin, CPRW is the President of Resu-mazing Service Company.

Question 5: Why Did You Leave?

Chances are that this will be asked sooner rather than later in your next interview. It’s a natural and obvious query, especially if you left your last job without having a new one. Here are some pointers based on different situations.

Layoff. This is the easiest of the bunch, especially if the job loss happened because your employer failed or shrunk. I recently worked with a client who was caught in the 6,000 person layoff from BlackBerry maker Research in Motion. If this is your situation, no worries! Tell the story in a sentence or two. Then describe how you can apply what you learned in your last job to help your new employer. If it was a large layoff – either in absolute numbers or as a percentage of the company workforce – tell the numbers. 6,000 is a big number. 10 is a big number, too, if the company only had 18 people.

You Quit – Personal/Medical. People quit for many reasons. Family and medical issues, spouse’s job change, changes in family status (e.g. divorce) and other personal reasons are all drivers in the decision to leave. If this is your story, tell the truth, but be brief.

Here is an example of what to say: “I had to deal with some medical issues in my family that required full-time attention. That is now behind me and I am ready to focus my energies on my career once again.” Note how this positions your story. You are telling the interviewer that there was a medical (or family) issue, but you are not saying that it was you. A professional interviewer will take that answer and move on.

Here’s what not to say: “I was diagnosed with cancer and when through six months of radiation and chemo treatments.” Do not share these details! Your interviewer does not need to know and you do not need to share.

Be concise. Be brief. Keep it high-level. The more detail you are giving, the worse you are doing.

You Quit – It was the Job/Boss. This will require some creative thinking, with the requirement that you do not lie. Employers dig and dig, checking with your references and reviewing social media. Have you ever complained about your boss or job on Facebook, your blog, LinkedIn or in some other public forum? If so, you have to assume that the employer has already seen it. Deal with it.

Did you outgrow the position? Were you being challenged and allowed to contribute to your potential? If not, these are valid reasons for seeking other opportunities. Try this: “I realized that I had developed to the point that I needed to seek opportunities that were not available in that company. Rather than trying to find a new job while being employed there, something that would have distracted me and would have been unfair to the company, I decided to leave and launch a full-time search for my next position where I can contribute my best every day.” You will have to put this is your own words, of course, but this should give you a launching point for your thoughts.

Was your boss a jerk? Keep it to yourself. Never speak poorly of your past company or the people, no matter how much you may want to.

You Were Fired. If you were fired for performance, you are going to have to do some work. Is it possible that your performance suffered because of one of the issues above? If so, maybe you need to think about the experience, how your personal issues may have contributed to your termination, and what you learned from it. Guess what? People who have been fired find jobs. The trick is to learn from the negative experience, reflect upon the situation and what you did or didn’t do that led to that outcome, and what you can do differently in the future.

Here is one possible answer. “My performance was not what it should have been as I was dealing with some family/personal concerns. Frankly, I don’t blame the company for letting me go. I am happy to say that all of that is behind me, I learned a great deal from it, and I am excited to get back to work.”

Don’t forget that your whole career is much more than your most recent experience. If you had a solid history before, use that. “My most recent position was a stretch that didn’t end the way that I wanted, but I learned from it and have so much to offer from my entire career, including promotions and career advancement. Let’s talk about how I can contribute and make a difference here.

In the end, you have to decide on the story you will tell and the words that will sound best.

Finally, keep smiling and answer the questions honestly and directly. You can anticipate these questions, so you must prepare and practice your answers. Preparation will keep your stress under control and you will seem more confident to the interviewer. Be ready!

Here are other useful interview question articles. Good luck in your search!

Awareness & Adaptability: Be ready to pivot. Know your stories.

Question 1: Tell Me About Yourself

Question 2: Why Do You Want to Work Here?

Question 3: Tell Me About Your Greatest Accomplishment

Question 4: When Have You Failed?

What If There’s Just One Question?