Setting Interview Traps

gotchaHow can you get the interviewer to ask the right questions? You could try Jedi mind tricks. Wave your hand and say, “Ask about my performance review from 2011.” Or, you can write a résumé that improves the chances of the conversation moving in your favor.

A great résumé requires great strategy. Beyond its obvious function of getting you an invitation to interview, it needs to help influence the interview. It needs to convey results and accomplishments with just enough detail to get your future boss to ask for more detail.

Here is an example:

Your résumé says, “Saved $75K annually by re-engineering warehouse picking routines.”

Your interviewer might ask, “Tell me more about this. What did you change and how did you determine that this was the right thing to do?” When that happens, the trap you set in your résumé has been sprung!

When the question comes, you will have the chance to tell the story. Highlight your critical thinking and analytical skills along with how you influenced others, implemented change and created a more efficient business process.

Focus on results in your résumé and you will get to tell your best professional stories. Set those traps with great strategy and let your interviewer fall into them to your benefit. Leave the mind tricks to Star Wars.

See “8 Things” for résumé essentials.

Need some help with common interview questions? Start with Question 1.

Bill Florin is the President of Resu-mazing Services Company. He is a Certified Professional Résumé Writer (CPRW) and Certified Employment Interview Professional.

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Four Job Search Truths: Take Nothing for Granted

“Should I customize my resume for each job?”

“Do I really need a cover letter?”

These are two questions that I heard recently from people concerning their job searches. Let me answer your question with a question. “Do you want the job?”

If the answer is yes, then the answers are yes to both questions. And that’s just the beginning. Here are some harsh realities of the 2013 job search.

Networking is essential. If you see a job that you really want, work to identify someone in your network who can get you in invitation to interview. This might be a second or third level LinkedIn connection. It may be someone you know in the “real” world. It will be worth your time to find the connection, because your competition is working to get the advantage of a warm introduction.

It’s You Versus the Machine. I’m referring to the ATS (applicant tracking system) machine. Employers are flooded with résumés from people with little or no qualifications, so they set their force fields on “high”. You must (must, must, MUST) customize your résumé and cover letter to match the qualifications and requirements of the position. Don’t do it and your résumé will never be seen by a human. You will be filtered out and auto-rejected by ATS.

Sell Yourself with the Cover Letter. The letter explains why you are the best candidate for the job, what special skills you have that make you a cultural fit, and addresses any easily identified obstacles or objections. For example, if you are applying for a position in a different city, explain your relocation plans and that you will NOT be looking for relo assistance. Answer the obvious questions. Each letter should be different.

It’s Hard Work. There it is! Finding work is work. You must take the time and invest the energy into making yourself appear to be the ideal candidate for every position that you want. If you don’t, someone else will. Quality of your marketing documents beats quantity, but you need quantity, too. You are facing intense competition for every position.

If you aren’t making a full-time effort at finding your next full-time gig, you are not working hard enough. Make a plan to conduct meaningful job search activities every day. Then do them. Take nothing for granted and assume that the competition will be willing to do the things that you don’t feel like doing. Work hard. It will be worth it.

Here are some earlier stories to help you jump-start your search and find your next job faster:

8 Résumé Must-HavesStart Your Résumé Strong!Get Busy!Do What You Can

Bill Florin, CPRW & CEIP, is the President of Resu-mazing Services Company in Monroe, CT

Your Résumé Must Have These 8 Things

Are you nervous about your résumé format, concerned that it isn’t stylish and sexy enough to get you the interview? You aren’t alone. Here is a question that I just received, along with the answer that will benefit everyone struggling to write an effective marketing document.

Question: What are some of the best résumé formats you have seen?

Résumé formats are much less important than the information conveyed and the quality of the writing. If you have a good story to tell, nearly any document template will work. When I write for my clients, I start from the beginning every time and use fonts and layouts that best reflect the client’s personality, industry and career goals. Here are the must haves of your résumé:

  1. Use clear, readable font type and size. Print it and have a glasses-wearing friend read it. Is it clear and easy to follow? No? Redo it. Check spelling, grammar, punctuation and usage.
  2. Show contact information that makes you easy to reach. At a minimum, your name, phone and email address. Be sure that your outgoing voice mail greeting is professional sounding. Kill the ring back music. If I am a recruiter, I don’t want to listen to your favorite Stravinsky piece or Jay Z jam while waiting for you to answer. Be sure that your email address is professional, too. Create a new one if you have to.
  3. Start with a headline and concise professional profile. Avoid clichés like “results-driven detail-oriented professional with strong collaboration and multi-tasking skills.”
  4. Consider adding a “core skills” section to bullet your most marketable skills. Make it easy for a recruiter or HR person to see that you have what they are looking for.
  5. Use a chronological format for your work experience whenever possible. Your functional format is not fooling anyone, so why raise doubt by using this maligned format? Put your history out there.
  6. Limit the task descriptions that you use in favor of results and accomplishments. If you are an accountant, we know that you used GAAP and computers. Tell us how you led an audit that was supposed to take three months and got it done in half the time. Tell us how you created a new financial dashboard that was so well received that it is still being used today. Tell us why you are great. (See “Setting Interview Traps” for more on this idea.)
  7. Include relevant volunteer and community involvement information. If you are a sales person, your next boss might like that you are a member of civic organizations (you know people!).
  8. Finish it off with education and professional development. One exception: If you just graduated or are graduating soon, consider leading with education as it is your most marketable asset.

In summary, include information in an attractive, accessible way that will make employers want to talk to you. Make every word in your resume count, use a standard chronological format, and avoid gimmicks and fancy graphical flourishes. Substance counts much more than style.

Here are some tips on starting your résumé with power.

For some clean, professional sample resumes, see Resu-mazing Services Company’s samples page.

8 Job Fair Tactics

Job Fair Overhead Picture
Job Fair – Lots of People & Little Time to Impress

Have you ever gone to a job fair? Do you plan on it? If so, you have two choices. The first is to carpet bomb the place with your résumé. The second is to have a targeted approach and clear objectives. Guess which works better?

If you think that a run through the venue, where you will leave your résumé at every booth with a quick hello and a hand shake will bear fruit, you will be disappointed. If that is your plan, stay home and apply on line. As the recruiters and representatives at the booth receive these documents, they make quick decisions. There is the “no” pile and the “maybe” stack. Yours will not be where you want it.

Instead, have a strategy in mind and develop tactics that will give you a greater chance of success. Work to maximize the benefit of a face-to-face contact. Here are eight tactics.

  1. Research the companies and their jobs. Most job fairs have a website that lists the recruiting companies and the jobs available. Make a list of the ones for which you are qualified. Print it or carry it electronically. Work your list when you get there.
  2. Create a simple cover letter to go with your résumés. Each letter should be different and customized to each of the positions you want. At the least, include the employer’s name and two or three bullets on your qualifications relative to the requirements of the job posting. Use good paper and ensure quality printing.
  3. Have a concise introduction written and practiced. “Hi, my name is Bill Florin and I am here to share my résumé for consideration for the ____ job you are filling.”
  4. Be prepared to explain two or three things that make you qualified for the position. Again, you will need to research the job and review your talking points before approaching the recruiter.
  5. Have an answer for “What are you doing now?” Again, be concise. “My last employer went through a round of downsizing in the last two months, and I am looking to find a company that will benefit from my accounting expertise and drive for results.”
  6. Get business cards or other contact information if possible. Follow up immediately with a “Thanks, it was nice to meet you” email.
  7. Ask about next steps and the process to come. You will want to know this and set your expectations accordingly. You might not learn much, but it does not hurt to ask.
  8. Smile, say thanks, and move along. You don’t want to be a creepy job fair stalker, do you? Be good, be brief, and be gone.

Dress for success would be #9, but we don’t have to talk about that, right?

Hitting job fairs? Don’t forget these tips.

Nobody loves job fairs, but think about this: Would employers do them if they didn’t hire some of those attending? Not likely; they wouldn’t spend the time and money. Don’t be disappointed if you don’t have a lot of success, but as they say about lottery tickets: Hey, you never know.

What has worked for you at job fairs? What hasn’t? Be sure to share your experiences by leaving a comment. Don’t forget to follow “Work” and share it with your friends!

How’s Your Lead

All writers know that stories that are going to be read need to start with a great lead. Those first few sentences, the first paragraph, must grab the reader’s attention. It’s true for newspaper articles, online stories and longer work. It’s also true for résumés.

In On Writing Well, the classic on non-fiction writing by William Zinsser, the author says this: “The most important sentence in any article is the first one. If it doesn’t induce the reader to proceed to the second sentence, your article is dead” (p. 9).

How is the first sentence of your résumé relative to this high standard? Go ahead, read it. Read it out loud. Does it say anything about you that will make the reader want to continue? Is it a true description of you and your accomplishments, or is it vague, generic hash?

Recruiters will make a decision to continue reading based on the first half of the first page. You have only a handful of words and a small number of lines to make your case and keep yourself in the hunt for consideration.

Try this: print a copy of your resume without your name at the top. Give it to a close friend or family member who knows you well. Ask that person to read it. What’s the reaction? Is it what you expected?

The first 100 words or so are some of the most important in your job search. Are they as influential and hard-working as you would like? Does sentence one flow and encourage the reader to move to number two and three? If not, get the red pen, eliminate the goo and make it sharp. Every word counts!

Bill Florin, CPRW is President of Resu-mazing Services Company. If you do any writing, get Zinsser’s book!

Busyness and a Better Tomorrow

“Busyness that moves you towards a goal and a better place is a good busy.”

All right, this is not the most profound thing ever spoken, but it worked for a client yesterday. I started working with a new person and she is in a tough place. She left her employer of eight years in the spring for what she thought was a step up. It turned out the she signed on with a maniac for a boss, someone not opposed to micro-management and public humiliation. The boss seems to enjoy it.

What is an employee to do?

In this case, my client has endured so much abuse after so much previous success that she seemed paralyzed and felt trapped. Unable to think and afraid to say the wrong thing, she has become physically ill from the environment. Finally, she did something about it and called me.

As we walked through the steps of how I could help her, I learned more and made some suggestions for her to move her search forward. After the conversation she commented, “I’m going to be busy this afternoon.” That’s when I came out with the line at the top, and she liked it. Here’s why.

When we are faced with a difficult situation, one that seems limiting and hopeless, even a small step can make a big difference. One or two activities that lead away from today’s pain and towards a better tomorrow get the mind realizing that all is not lost. The abusive boss is not a permanent fixture. The employee is one day closer to firing that monster.

If you feel like my client, like your situation is terrible and you don’t know what to do, think and act. What do you have to do to improve your situation? What small step can you take today and tomorrow and the next day? If your goal is to find a new job, break it down into smaller pieces, including things that you can do now. Here are a few examples:

“Tonight I am going to take one hour to write down my accomplishments from the last year and the things that make me marketable.”

“This weekend I am going to update my résumé with my accomplishments.”

“Today I am going to reconnect with two colleagues from my last job to strengthen my network.”

Every action will make you feel better and more able to tolerate today’s situation while you lay the foundation for tomorrow’s change. Activity leads to options, options to hope, and hope to change. Plan your escape and get busy on those goals!

Volunteer Matching: A Firsthand Report

Much has been said recently about the value of volunteering. Job seekers, including those in my seminars and classes, ask the questions, “Should I volunteer and can I include it in my résumé and LinkedIn profile?” Yes, you should. Yes, you can. The harder advice to give has been how and where to look for volunteer opportunities. Here is one option that I share not as an interested observer, but as a participant in the process. I hope that it helps and informs your thoughts on what you can and should do.

A few weeks ago, I was having a conversation with a long-time friend. We were catching up on each other’s career stories when he mentioned a website called Catchafire. Had I heard of it? No. Henry explained that it was like a Monster job board for matching professionals interested in volunteer opportunities with social-good organizations needing help. It sounded interesting and I investigated.

Catchafire allows volunteers (PBPs : pro bono professionals) to identify causes in which they are interested (e.g. childhood education, women’s rights, etc.) and their skills (e.g. accounting, web design, copywriting). The site then offers open assignments that it thinks are good matches. The PBP browses the assistance requests and, if interested, applies for the job. I decided to try it.

Here are a few observations from having gone through the process. First, if you are going to do this yourself, be prepared to spend some time to set up your Catchafire profile. The fastest and easiest way is to import your LinkedIn profile. Second, be prepared for a screening and selection process that is not unlike applying for a paying position. When a PBP applies for a job, the requesting organization and Catchafire’s team will ask questions and request work samples. This is more than just raising your hand and getting the gig.

Catchafire is able to pay its staff and keep the computers running by earning a fee from the organization requesting the services of the PBP. It’s easy to understand why they want good people who can and will fulfill their commitments. The non-profit gets professional services at a greatly reduced rate, far below market value. The volunteer gets the satisfaction of working on a project that best matches her or his skills while doing something that matters, and maybe has earned another résumé bullet. Plus, there is the intangible benefit of making new connections and getting your name and work more widely known.

I have been accepted for my first assignment. The writing work begins in October. I will be sure to share an update, including information about the organization for which I am working, as the effort gets going. Check it out for yourself and maybe you can Catchafire, too.

Check out these two blog posts for a little more about volunteering: Energized by Work and Ready or Not. Enjoy!