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"Out with the old, in with the new," isn't that what they always say? The same thing applies to your résumé. Chances are you applied for hundreds of jobs in 2009, only to be ignored or rejected. That means that something has to change. Last year, 25 percent of employers said that on average, they received more than 75 résumés for each open position; 42 percent received more than 50 résumés. In addition, 38 percent of employers last year said they spent one to two minutes reviewing a new résumé and 17 percent spent less than one minute, according to a survey by CareerBuilder. "Human resources managers serve on the front lines of a company's recruitment efforts and are often the gatekeepers of the interview process. Because they can receive a large volume of applications, you may only have a matter of seconds to make a lasting impression," says Rosemary Haefner, vice president of human resources for CareerBuilder. "You should always have a current résumé and portfolio ready to go, because you never know what the next day will bring, whether it's a weak or healthy economy." You want employers to see you differently this year. Here are 10 ways to get your résumé noticed in 2010: 1. Start from scratch A new year means a new résumé. Even though it might not sound like fun to rewrite your whole résumé (it probably won't be), give it a try. Obviously, if you didn't get any bites last year, something was a little off with your current résumé. Rearrange some sections, try a different format and use a different font. Just switch things up a little bit and see what happens. 2. Use a different format Many job seekers don't realize that there are different formats to use when writing a résumé. The most common form is chronological, which lists each job you've had in reverse sequential order, so you start with your most recent job. This form doesn't work for all people, though. For example, if you've done a lot of job hopping in recent years or if you haven't had a job in a long time, a functional résumé is a better option. A functional résumé focuses on your skills versus your work experience. For this, you would list a pertinent skill for the job to which you're applying, followed by a list of accomplishments that demonstrate that skill. If you don't have relevant skills or a strong work history, you could use a combination résumé, which combines elements of both a functional and a chronological format. For a combination résumé, you should list your applicable skills and the accomplishments that demonstrate each one. Below that, you'll list your work history, starting with your most current job and working backward, but you won't list your job description. Doing this allows you the chance to play up your skills while proving your solid work history.
3. Ditch the empty words and vague phrases Many job seekers fall prey to a common mistake that irks most employers: using cliché keywords. In a 2009 CareerBuilder survey, employers cited these common phrases as overused and often ignored by hiring managers:
People person: 39 percent Go-getter: 38 percent Team player: 33 percent Hard-working: 29 percent Multitasker: 28 percent Self-starter: 27 percent Results- or goal-oriented: 22 percent
These words are just empty fillers that don't say anything about your achievements. For an accountant position, for example, keywords might include "accounts payable" or "month-end reporting" -- words that actually say something about what you can do. Look over your résumé and find where you have listed generic qualities about yourself and replace them with keywords that match the job to which you are applying. 4. Make your achievements stand out Many job seekers list their job duties on their résumés, but not their accomplishments. Although your past duties are important, employers care more about your ability to produce results. Try separating your daily functions from your achievements by first listing your job duties in a paragraph format, and then incorporating a bulleted area below that is titled "key accomplishments" to list your successes. 5. Quantify your accomplishments Applicants often don't know the difference between quantifying results and just stating a job responsibility. A job responsibility is something that you do on a daily basis; a quantified achievement is the result of that responsibility. By quantifying results, you show employers what you can actually do for them. So, if your current résumé is a block of words and you don't have one number in there, whether it's dollars, percentages or comparative numbers, you need to make some revisions. 6. Include a summary or objective Including a summary on your résumé is one of those steps that many job seekers forget to take - and if they do remember, they usually include the wrong information. Employers want to know if you're a good fit for their organization, so writing something like, "To gain experience in X industry," doesn't say much about you or what you can do for the employer. Your career summary should portray your experience and emphasize how it will help the prospective
employer. It should be specific and include explicit industry-related functions, quantifiable achievements or your areas of expertise. 7. Fill in the gaps Most people will tell you to wait to explain any gaps in your work history until you get to the interview. But there's a good chance that you won't get that opportunity if there are gaps in the first place. If, for example, you were laid off at the beginning of 2008 and are still unemployed, try using the functional résumé format we explained earlier. Or, if you feel comfortable doing so, explain what you were doing during lapses between jobs. The employer will know you aren't trying to hide a sketchy past. 8. Keep it simple How many times do we have to tell you? Do not, by any means, format your résumé with crazy fonts or colors or print it on fluorescent paper. Find an uncommon, yet attractive and simple layout to catch the employer's eye, instead of his wastebasket. 9. Double-check for the basics Silly as it sounds, many people get so caught up in formatting and proofreading that they don't check for the most basic information, such as an e-mail address, phone number and permanent address. Double-check that your résumé has this information -- none of your hard work will pay off if no one can get ahold of you. 10. Check for consistency Take a look over last year's résumé and make sure there are no inconsistencies. If you decide to include periods at the end of your sentences, for example, make sure they are at the end of each one. If you chose to list your job duties, followed by an accomplishment in that duty, make sure you do so throughout your résumé. Use consistent fonts, sizes, bullets and other formatting options. Employers will notice your attention to detail and assume your work quality is of the same standard.
6 Serious Résumé Blunders
Résumés are tricky: If done well, they can put you in the running for a job; if done poorly, they end up in the hiring manager's recycling bin. They should be easy since you're just talking about yourself. No one knows your work history, qualifications and skills better than you. Unfortunately, they are hard work. Making years of experience fit on one or two pages is no easy task. Yet, while there is no one way to craft the perfect résumé, there are some moves guaranteed to hurt your job hunt. Here are some résumé blunders you should avoid at all cost.
1. Forgetting the employer Although the résumé is about you, it's not for you. After all, if you were the intended audience, you wouldn't bother sending it out. The résumé is meant to show prospective employers why you're the perfect match for the job. They want to see the skills, experience and qualifications mentioned in their job postings. If you have skills that don't line up exactly with the position but you know are transferrable, make that clear in the résumé. Don't assume they'll infer what you mean, because if they don't, you won't be considered for the job. 2. Not using keywords Keywords, like career summaries, are signs of the time. Today, many employers use software to scan submitted résumés for keywords that suggest an applicant is a good match for the job. Although you won't know which exact words the software is looking for, a job posting can give you a good idea. Incorporate phrases and terms from the posting, and see what words reappear in several industry ads. Concrete terms such as "infrastructure development" and "strategic planning" will fare better than generic phrases like "hard worker" and "team player." 3. Using an objective instead of a career summary An advantage of updating your résumé regularly is that you can not only update your skills and accomplishments but also its format. For example, just five or 10 years ago most résumés included an objective at the top. These days, the career summary has taken its place. Like an objective, the summary should give the employer an idea of who you are, except it allows you to focus more on your experience than on your goals. You can briefly mention your career highlights, including past roles and your strongest skills. 4. Not proofreading Typos and grammatical errors on a résumé are the textual equivalent of showing up at an interview chewing gum and wearing tennis shoes. A résumé full of mistakes suggests you care neither about the quality of your work nor the impression it makes. An employer wants someone who produces exemplary work and will be an excellent representative of the company. 5. Lying Embellishing is a common practice that rarely impresses hiring mangers because they've seen it all. They know "childcare leadership executive" means "baby-sitter." Outright lies, however, have no place on a résumé. For one thing, it's not hard to verify any information you put down, so you could get caught at any point between submitting your résumé and getting a job offer. Plus, it's a small world, and the truth has a way of coming out when business associates bump into one another at conferences. If your boss mentions your name to your supposed former supervisor only to be told you never worked there, you could get fired. 6. Not keeping up appearances Before an employer even reads your résumé, he or she forms an impression based on how it looks. It's a snap judgment that can't be avoided -- after all, don't you immediately zone out when you receive an e-mail that's one huge block of text? Make your résumé visually appealing by using bulleted lists, plenty of white space and subheadings. Also, avoid fonts that are full of
distracting swirls and colors. It doesn't matter how well-written your résumé is if no one wants to read it.
5 Steps to an E-friendly Résumé
Today's Internet-driven world has changed the way we look and apply for jobs. Gone are the days of handwritten cover letters, typewritten résumés and hand-delivered job applications. Given the increasing number of online job boards that require Web-based applications, many employers don't want a hard copy of your résumé. Instead, they'll ask you to submit an electronic résumé, either online or via e-mail. Electronic résumés are plain text or HTML documents, which can also be included in the body of an e-mail for job applications online. It may not be as attractive as your word-formatted résumé in all its bulleted, bold-text, fancy-font glory, but it gets the job done. Why you need one When an employer asks you to submit your application materials via e-mail or online, your résumé will be entered into an automated applicant-tracking system. These systems don't care what your résumé looks like physically, which is why it's imperative you reformat yours so the database can read it. The system will scan your résumé (along with hundreds of others), keeping those with keywords similar to the company's job descriptions and discarding the rest. Make sure you keep a hard (and visually appealing) copy of your résumé on hand – not all employers are up-to-date on the latest technologies and may still require a paper copy. Plus, you'll need one to give to employers at all of your interviews. Here are five easy steps to format your existing résumé into an e-friendly work of art. 1. Remove all formatting from your original résumé. Unfortunately, the same formatting that makes your résumé nice to look at makes it almost impossible for a computer to understand. To remove the formatting, open your word-processed résumé and choose the "Save As" option under the "File" tab on your toolbar. Save the document type as Plain Text or Text Only. In the following dialog box, choose the option to insert line breaks. 2. Use Notepad, WordPad or SimpleText to reformat. Close your original résumé document and reopen the text version using editing software like Notepad, WordPad or SimpleText. Your text version should be free of most graphic elements, like fancy fonts, lines and bullets. Text should be flush with the left side of the document.
3. Stick to a simple font and style. Use clear, sans-serif fonts, like Courier, Arial or Helvetica. This way, the computer won't mistake your fancy lettering for a jumbled word. Use a 12-point font; anything smaller won't scan well. Also, stay away from italics or underlining. Rather than using boldface type, try using capital letters to separate sections like education and experience. Instead of using bullets, use such standard keyboard characters as an asterisk or a dash. Instead of using the "Tab" key, use the space key to indent. Make sure all headings – like your name, address, phone and e-mail – appear on separate lines, with a blank line before and after. 4. Apply keywords. Applicant-tracking systems scan résumés for keywords that match the company's job descriptions. Fill your résumé accordingly with such words (as they pertain to your experience), but remember that using the same word five times won't increase your chances of getting called in for an interview. Place the most important words first, since the scanner may be limited in the number of words it reads. Use nouns instead of verbs. For example: "communications specialist," "sales representative" or "computer proficiency" is better than "managed," "developed" or "generated." Additionally, avoid abbreviations as best you can. Spell out phrases like "bachelor of science" or "master of business administration." 5. Test it out. After you've reformatted your résumé into a text document, make sure it really is e-friendly. Practice sending your new résumé via e-mail to yourself, as well as friends who use a different Internet service provider. For example, if you use AOL, send it a friend who uses MSN Hotmail. Send your e-résumé pasted in the body of an e-mail, rather as an attachment. Have your friend alert you to any errors that show when they open it, like illegibility and organization. After getting feedback, make any necessary adjustments.
Dealing With Gaps in Your Résumé and Cover Letter
Rare is the job seeker who doesn't have at least one gap in his or her work history. From being laid off because of a merger to taking time off for travel to caring for a newborn child, there are many reasons professionals may spend time out of the workforce. Still, job candidates often fear that prospective employers will view a gap as a scarlet letter. You can allay the concerns a hiring manager may have if you address the issue appropriately in your résumé and cover letter. Following are tips for minding a gap:
Avoid the nitty-gritty details. Be truthful about why you've been out of work, but don't go on ad nauseam about your trials and tribulations. For example, if you vacated a position to tend to personal matters, consider offering a brief sentence or two in your cover letter explaining the circumstances. This job seeker efficiently and succinctly addressed a résumé gap: "I have served as an in-home caretaker for my ailing mother for the last year. Fortunately, she has recovered and is once again self-sufficient, and I now am ready, willing and able to re-enter the workforce." On the other side of the coin, this person's explanation invites questions instead of answers: "My long period of unemployment had to do with a variety of time-consuming events, in particular, an IRS audit of my financial dealings." If you were fired or left a job on bad terms, explain the details during the employment interview, if asked. Explain how you remained connected. It's wise to describe how you stayed sharp and kept up with developments in your field during your time away. For example, did you attend any industry-specific conferences or seminars, join a professional association or take an online or classroom-based continuing-education course. Did you work with a staffing firm as a consultant or temporary professional? If so, include that information in your job-application materials. Demonstrating that you remained professionally engaged will show that you have both initiative and up-to-date skills. Don't overlook transferable skills. Even if you didn't spend your time away from the office focusing on your career, you may still have gained experience that gives you an edge in the employment market. For example, after a decade-long absence from the traditional work world, the following candidate took a lighthearted yet savvy approach to describing her time as a stay-at-home mom. "As Domestic Engineer, I'm responsible for managing the lives of my husband and six children," she wrote. "My position requires organization, diplomacy, honesty, communication, patience and self-motivation." While written with tongue in cheek, the applicant highlighted skills that employers find valuable. Consider noting in your résumé or cover letter any activity you took part in that allowed you to hone your professional abilities. If, for example, you served as president of your homeowners association, you likely enhanced your organizational, budgeting and conflict-management skills. Citing these types of "unofficial" positions shows that you haven't been stagnant or let your skills become rusty. Life can take you in unexpected directions, and prospective employers understand that most workers will have periods in their careers when they're out of work. To address an employment gap, be proactive. That way you'll ease any concerns a hiring manager might have right away. By demonstrating that you've remained connected to your field and committed to building your skills while out of work, you'll reduce the chance your résumé falls through the gap.
5 Easy Ways to Improve Your Résumé
Ah, the wisdom of teen movies. Remember in "Clueless" when Cher and Dionne gave Miss Geist a makeover in the faculty lounge? All it took was a few minor adjustments to turn the disheveled teacher into "not a total Betty, but a vast improvement." The same principle can be applied to your résumé.
Look at your résumé: Would you still be compelled to read it if it wasn't your own, or would the vast array of typos, unusual fonts, long sentences and obscure language turn you away? While your résumé may not be a full-on Monet (meaning, up close, it's a big old mess), it may simply need some minor tweaking in order to get noticed. Take these five small steps to see big results. 1. Spell check... the old-fashioned way. Spelling and grammar errors can be the kiss of death for résumés: They show employers that you don't pay attention to detail. Computer spell-check programs don't always pick up these errors, so make sure you proofread it yourself before handing it in. For insurance and a fresh perspective, have a friend look it over, too. 2. Put it in reverse chronological order. Organize your résumé to reflect your most recent job at the top and include dates of employment. Employers tend to prefer these over functional résumés, which can be great if you're switching career paths, but otherwise make it difficult to determine when you worked where and can hide employment gaps. 3. Simplify your language. Keep your sentences short and don't worry about fragments.
Leave out personal pronouns like "I," "my" and "me." Saying, "I performed" this or "I demonstrated" that is redundant. Who else would you be talking about if not yourself? Omit the articles "a," "an" and "the." Instead of "Coordinated the special events for the alumni association," simplify it to say, "Coordinated alumni association special events." Take out terms like "assisted in," "participated in," and "helped with." If you assisted in managing client accounts, simply say, "Managed client accounts." You can explain later what this role entailed. Change passive statements to active verbs. Saying "Coordinated client meetings" instead of "Ensured client meetings were coordinated" adds punch and clarity to a job description. Exclude words like "responsibilities" and "duties" under job listings. Your résumé should focus on accomplishments, not tasks.
4. Eliminate clutter. Format your résumé for consistency and easy reading. Bold, italicize or underline important headlines (just don't do all three at once -- that's overkill). Create a bulleted list -- not a paragraph formation -- for job descriptions Use a standard font like 11 point Times New Roman or Arial. Fancier fonts are not only harder to read, but they may become garbled in an e-mail format. Combine series' of short, odd jobs into one listing. (For example: "1999-2002 Barista -Village Café, Starbucks, Seattle's Best...")
5. Read it aloud. Reading your résumé aloud will help you identify areas that need improvement or clarification. If something doesn't sound right to you, it won't sound right to a hiring manager.
How To Handle Short-Term Jobs On Your Résumé: 5 Tips
Based on today's ever-changing job market, it is not unusual to see short-term jobs on a résumé. But short-term jobs, which could be contract positions or permanent jobs, might raise a red flag for employers. Here are some tips for listing them on your résumé: Don't Lie The first rule of thumb when applying for a job is to never lie on your résumé. If you put information on a document and submit it for consideration for employment, it better be valid information. There is nothing worse than being offered a job only to have that offer rescinded when your background is thoroughly checked. Don't Bad-Mouth The second rule of thumb when applying for a job is to never bad-mouth a previous employer or company. Bad-mouthing creates negative feelings in an interview or conversation and will almost always cost you the job offer. Keep your negative opinions to yourself. Leave It Off With these rules in mind, let's look at the various ways you can allay an employer's fear about short-term positions on your résumé. One oft-forgotten method of avoiding concerns over shortterm employment is to leave that job off of your résumé. While not always the best solution, this is one possible way to avoid any concerns. If asked about the gap in employment you can say that you worked a short-term contract job that did not contribute to your overall experience and you did not want to record it on your résumé.
Referring to Contract Positions Short-term contracts are easily explained by either mentioning that you took the position to get experience in a certain area or by explaining that no matter what, you must always work and this was the only position available at the time. You can further qualify the second reason by saying that you are responsible for providing for your family and will do that, no matter what. While not the greatest way to explain a short-term contract, it does allow you to demonstrate to the prospective employer that you are willing to do whatever it takes to get the job done. Referring to Permanent Jobs While these types of jobs are harder to explain away with a simple statement, there is almost always something you can come up with about the job that would warrant you leaving. Things like software piracy, illegal activities and sexually abusive superiors are reasons that any employer will understand. However, do not use them lightly. You can also use reasons like: after evaluating their business model, I was sure they would be out of business in six months, the corporate culture was one that did not coincide with my attitude of teamwork and mutual achievement, and my job responsibilities did not match what I was hired for and I did not sign up for a secretarial position. All in all, you need to evaluate the position in question and find the most viable and least offensive reason why you left the company. Once you decide, use that excuse consistently in all of your correspondence with potential employers. You never know when one hiring manager might know another from a different company.
When You Need a Cover Letter (And When You Don't)
Including a cover letter with any application or résumé seems like a no-brainer. But do companies and hiring managers still look for cover letters? Knocking on the door For many hiring professionals, cover letters still provide a valuable framework that impacts how companies view your résumé. According to a recent OfficeTeam survey, 86 percent of executives thought cover letters were a valuable resource in the hiring process. "The cover letter is the elevator pitch for your résumé," declares Jodi R.R. Smith, president of Mannersmith, a Massachusetts-based etiquette consulting firm. "It's your best bet for grabbing the recruiter's interest so that the recruiter wants to review your résumé." Smith says that even with changes in technology, a written introduction is beneficial. "Bold job seekers can use the body of their e-mail as a cover letter and their résumé as the attachment." Showing off your skills Karen Renzi is co-owner of the New York-based marketing and design firm Beyondus. Though design applicants are often required to submit a multipage portfolio as well as a résumé, Renzi
says she still prefers to see a cover letter. Renzi outlined several reasons why she and husband Alessandro, who co-owns Beyondus, look at cover letters in the application process: To demonstrate attention to detail and ability to follow instruction. "We explicitly list a cover letter as a requirement on all job postings," Renzi declares. "Résumés submitted without cover letters are usually discarded without even being reviewed." To gauge interest in the opportunity, versus desperation for ANY job. "The more personal the letter is to our business, the better. You wouldn't believe how many times we've seen letters that are glaringly obvious canned messages," Renzi muses. "Sometimes candidates even leave in other companies' names or positions." To measure writing, communication skills and professionalism. Renzi thinks this is an especially important test for applicants and looks carefully to see what strengths -- and weaknesses -- their letter may reveal. "Can't string together a thought? Don't know how to use spell check yet? We expect our team to come prepared with those basic skills; we don't want to be grammar teachers." When you don't need a cover letter Though most industries and most companies seem to prefer a cover letter, there are some situations where they are generally not a requirement. "Generally, information technology clients with whom I've worked aren't interested in cover letters," shares Alan Guinn, managing director of Guinn Consultancy in Bristol, Tenn. He says that retail businesses are mixed on their requirements. Most part-time positions, including parttime retail jobs, don't require a cover letter or a résumé. Many hiring managers in creative industries, including film and graphic design, also have varying requirements. They often prefer to see samples from the applicant's portfolio when they take their initial look at a candidate. They are often looking for a display of practical knowledge. Guinn recalls a scenario where he screened applicants for a pharmaceutical marketing group. "We were more interested in their ability to generate marketing ideas than a cover letter. One candidate sent a PowerPoint presentation, another sent a marketing plan, and a third sent a mocked-up tri-fold brochure." Both the client and Guinn found these to be far more effective than a cover letter. What's your next step? If you're unsure whether you're required to submit a cover letter, check the specifications of the job to which you're applying. "You shouldn't send a cover letter if the employer or recruiter has specifically told you that no letter is necessary," suggests Lauren Milligan, founder of Illinois-based consulting firm ResuMAYDAY.com.
Otherwise, you should play it safe and include a cover letter. At the very minimum, some form of communication should accompany your résumé, even if it's only a basic letter acknowledging the recipient and thanking him for reviewing your submission.
10 Résumé Killers
Writing a résumé isn't exactly a speedy process. First there's the brainstorming. Then, you have to write -- and rewrite, and rewrite -- your educational and work histories until your résumé perfectly boasts your background. Plus, there's all that proofreading. Even though your résumé took you hours to write, hiring managers will typically spend less than one minute reviewing it. If your résumé has any glaring errors, however, employers will waste no time deleting it. To ensure your résumé gets proper attention, avoid these 10 all-too-common blunders: 1. Not bothering with a cover letter. Cover letters are so important to the application process that many hiring managers automatically reject résumés that arrive without them. Make the most of your cover letter by expanding on a few of your qualifications, explaining any gaps in employment or providing other information that will entice the employer to read your résumé. 2. Assuming spell-check is good enough. In a 2007 survey, 63 percent of hiring managers told CareerBuilder.com that spelling errors are the most frequent mistakes they see in résumés. Spell-checkers can pick up many typos -- but they won't catch everything (manger vs. manager, for example). Always proofread your résumé several times, and ask a friend to give it a final once-over. 3. Being too generic. In the same CareerBuilder.com survey, 30 percent of hiring managers said résumés not tailored to the position was the most frequent or annoying mistake. Always customize your résumé and cover letter for each job and employer to which you apply. This way, you can tailor your materials to show how you will be a perfect fit for the position. 4. Focusing on duties, not accomplishments. Instead of writing a list of job duties on your résumé, demonstrate how each duty contributed to your company's bottom line. For example, anyone can plan the company fund-raiser, but if you note that your fund-raiser brought in 50 percent more money than the previous year's event, the hiring manager will be more impressed. 5. Having a selfish objective. Employers are trying to determine whether you're a good fit for their organizations, so everything on your résumé should point to your experience. A summary of qualifications that conveniently displays your accomplishment and background is far more effective than a generic objective statement ("To gain experience in..."). 6. Giving your résumé format a little "flair." Unusual fonts or fluorescent pink paper will certainly make your résumé stand out -- in a bad way. Keep your résumé looking professional by sticking with standard white or cream-colored paper, black type and a common font like Arial or Times New Roman.
7. Guesstimating your dates and titles. With the proliferation of background checks, any "upgrades" you give your titles or stretching of employment dates to cover gaps will likely get caught -- and you will be eliminated from consideration. 8. Tell everyone why you left. Never put anything negative on your résumé. If you left the position due to a layoff or you were fired, bring it up only if asked. 9. Include lots of personal information. It's fine if you enjoy fly fishing on Sunday afternoons, but unless your hobby relates to your career, it doesn't belong on your résumé. The same goes for your height, weight, religious affiliation, sexual orientation or any other facts that could potentially be used against you. 10. Going long. Your high school job scooping ice cream probably isn't relevant to your career anymore, so there is no reason to include it on your résumé. Your résumé should be no more than two pages -- and no more than a page for most professionals -- so only include your most recent and relevant work history. Take it from hiring managers: 21 percent think a résumé more than two pages long is the most frequent and annoying résumé mistake.
Q & A: References 101
While résumés and cover letters get a lot of attention, your professional references are equally important in the job hunt. After all, the information these contacts share could prompt a hiring manager to extend a job offer to you or cross you off the list of potential candidates. To help you develop and maintain a stellar reference list, here is a collection of 10 frequently asked reference-related questions: Q: Do I need to include the phrase, "References Available Upon Request" at the bottom of my résumé? A #1: No. If hiring managers want to review your reference list, they understand that you'll provide it to them. Q: How many references should I list? A: Hiring managers typically expect job seekers to provide three to five references. Q: Whom should I use as a reference? A: Former managers, colleagues, direct reports and fellow members of professional associations are all excellent reference candidates. The best references know you well and will provide an inquiring employer with a positive overview of your performance on the job, while offering specific anecdotes that speak to your best skills and attributes. Also, remember that your references are a reflection of you. Choose people who are professional and have strong communication skills. It's equally important that a prospective employer can easily track down your references. Select people who are responsive and available. Regardless of all the wonderful things references would say about you, they won't do you -- or the hiring manager -- any good if they don't promptly return phone calls.
Q: I'm just starting my career and don't have much of a work history. Whom can I use as a reference? A: Employers understand that job applicants fresh out of school don't necessarily have a robust list of professional contacts. That being said, some hiring managers will still request a reference list. In addition to former bosses, consider asking a professor, mentor or leader of a school organization to provide a reference. Just make sure you identify someone who knows you well and will give you a positive recommendation. It is not advisable to list family members or friends because of their obvious lack of objectivity. Q: Should I contact people before listing them as references? A: Absolutely. Ask your contacts for permission to include their names on your reference list. You also should inform them of the jobs you're seeking and the skills required for those roles. Be sure to send your references an updated résumé and verify their contact information. Q: Do I need to provide anything beyond the reference's name, job title and contact information? A: While those are the basics, you'll help your cause by writing a brief explanation of how you know the person, how long you've known the person and why you chose to include him or her. Example: "I worked closely with manager John Doe for five years. As my supervisor at XYZ Corporation, he promoted me three times and nominated me for the firm's salesperson of the year award twice. He can attest to my strong sales skills and team-building abilities." Q: How should I format my reference list? A: While there are no hard-and-fast formatting rules, it makes good sense to use the same font style and point size you used in your résumé and cover letter. In addition, be sure to include your name and contact information on the sheet. Q: Do employers really check references? A: While some employers won't check a single reference, most do and may even contact every person on your list. In fact, some employers will go so far as to ask your references for the names of other people they can contact. This is just one of the many reasons it pays not to burn bridges with anyone you deal with in a professional capacity. Q: How should I respond if a prospective employer asks to speak to my current employer, but my supervisor is unaware that I'm seeking a new job? A: Simply state the facts. Explain that your manager doesn't know you're interviewing for other jobs, and that you'd prefer that he or she not be contacted. As an alternative, you might give the prospective employer the name of a trusted colleague at your company. Just remember that no matter how discreet you are, there is always a chance your job search will become public. This is the risk all employed job seekers must weigh. Q: If an employer calls me for a job interview, should I give them my reference list during the meeting? A: Don't walk in and immediately give the list to the interviewer. However, it is beneficial to have your reference list on hand. If the interviewer makes a request, closing the meeting by handing him or her your reference list shows that you are highly organized, prepared and confident that people have great things to say about you. Your professional references list can play just as pivotal a role in securing a job offer as your résumé and cover letter, so carefully consider with whom you put potential employers in touch and maintain communication with these contacts. You should always be thinking about the individuals you would include on your reference list should you enter the job market unexpectedly and maintain a strong professional network to ensure you have the widest pool
from which to choose. After all, you never know when a positive word from a professional contact will give you the slight edge you need to land the job you seek.
10 Interview Questions Decoded
Anyone who's ever spent time in a job search has probably walked away from at least one interview knowing right away that he botched it. Quite often, people who do feel confident about their last interview know they still could have answered one or two questions much better than they did. The problem behind such scenarios is that too often, job seekers misunderstand or underestimate what they're being asked during an interview, according to Jack Warner and Clyde Bryan, co-authors of "Inside Secrets of Finding a Teaching Job." A question such as, "Do you have any more questions for me?" may seem innocent and simple enough to answer, but candidates who give a weak response are usually the ones screened out of consideration for the job. Job seekers should be aware that every question an interviewer asks is an opportunity to sell themselves as the most outstanding, must-have candidate for the job. In their book, Warner and Bryan identify some of the most popular interview questions, reveal what interviewers really want to know when asking them and offer tips to help job seekers develop a savvy response. These questions include: Tell us about yourself.
What they're really asking: What makes you special? Why should we hire you? Tips: Prepare several selling points about yourself. Give a quick "elevator speech" that overviews your experience and achievements.
What are your greatest strengths?
What they're really asking: How do you perceive your talents and abilities as a professional? Will you be an asset to our organization? Tips: Sell yourself. If you don't promote your strengths, nobody else will. Prepare six or seven responses. Be "confidently humble."
What are your greatest weaknesses?
What they're really asking: How honest are you being about yourself with us? How realistic are you?
Tips: Present your weakness as a positive. Don't talk too long or emphasize your downfalls.
Why are you interested in working here?
What they're really asking: How dedicated are you? Do you have a passion for this type of work? Tips: Keep your answer simple and to the point. Stay away from such responses as, "Many of my friends have worked here." This response isn't very impressive.
Why should we hire you?
What they're really asking: Can you convince us you're "the one?" Can you sell your "product?" Tips: Make a powerful statement about the value you'll bring to their organization. Toot your own horn, but be wary of sounding arrogant.
Where do you see yourself five years from now?
What they're really asking: Will you be here for only year a before moving on, or are you committed to staying here for a while? Are you a stable person? Can you set goals for yourself? Tips: Be aware that they might not want to hire someone who will be around for only a year or two. Feel free to say that you have one goal at the moment: to be the very best employee for that particular job.
What are some of your hobbies?
What they're really asking: How well-rounded are you? What do you do outside of work that might transfer positively into the workplace? Tips: Emphasize any hobbies or activities that may relate to the job. Help the interviewer learn more about you and perceive you as a person, rather than a job candidate. Therefore, don't just answer questions, respond to them.
Would you be willing to pursue an extra certificate or credential?
What they're really asking: How is your attitude? How flexible are you? Tips: Tell the interviewer how important professional growth is to you. Understand that the person who will impress the interviewer the most is the one willing to do the extra work.
What were you hoping we'd ask today, but didn't?
What they're really asking: Is there anything special about yourself that you want us to know?
Tips: Consider this a "show and tell" opportunity. Use materials from your portfolio to convince them how valuable you'll be to their organization.
Do you have any questions for us?
What they're really asking: Are you prepared to ask questions? How interested are you in this position? Tips: List five or six questions on an index card. Ask at least one question, even if all of your prepared questions have been answered. Never say, "No, you've answered all of my questions."
Warner and Clyde remind job seekers that it's important to sound natural and thoughtful when replying to such questions, saying, "Don't let your responses sound 'canned' or rehearsed. It's important to make the interviewer feel as though you've given serious thought to their question and are genuinely interested in the job."
How to Answer: 'Why Should I Hire You?'
"Why should I hire you?"
This is the classic question most of us hear during an interview. It's often preceded by the phrase, "I've already interviewed another person for this position who looks perfect." Then comes the killer question, "Why should I hire YOU?" Sometimes the most innocent interview question can prove to be the key to the empire for some, while it can be the swan song for others. The next time an employer asks, "Why should I hire you?" see the question in a new light -- as an opportunity to shine and pull ahead of your competitors. Be careful to avoid clever retorts or comedic one-liners here. Your interview is serious business and a wrong answer will send you packing. This is the one question that interviewers like to ask because the answer can separate the contenders from the also-rans. Give a wrong answer and the large "game over" sign flashes above your head. What hiring managers really want to know is, "What's special or different about you?" or "How are you different than all the other candidates who have applied for this position?" With this in mind, a good way to approach your answer here is to launch into your best "story" that answers this question: "Will you go the extra mile?" Why is the employer asking why he or she should hire you? Because there are only five areas of interest he or she is concerned with:
1. Your skills 2. Your knowledge about the company 3. Your manageability 4. Your affordability 5. Whether you can go above and beyond your job description. In this day of "lean and mean" operations philosophy, employers are looking for employees who can think bigger and perform duties beyond their jobs. Realize that there will always be competing candidates with a higher skill level, more experience, more education and training or even a smoother interviewing style. The one equalizer though, is the ability to demonstrate how you have risen above and gone that extra mile to accomplish an important task, complete the job or realize an important goal. Here, you recount that story of exactly how you worked 60-hour weeks, acquired new skills or did whatever it took to distinguish yourself and meet the challenge head on to successfully make the sale, save the project or rescue a client. If you can put a dollar value on the result, your story will only be that much more dramatic. Knowing this ahead of time, it's wise to put in the time beforehand to work on your answer to this question. Pick your best example of how you went above and beyond in your job. Work on your story to perfect it. Set the scene, describe the challenge and describe your role and the successful conclusion. Use this as an example of how you use your particular set of skills in an extraordinary time to "give it your all" and produce a clear benefit to your employer. Since no other candidate can duplicate your own personal story here, you'll make a memorable impression. Not only that, but quite possibly you'll pull yourself ahead of that "perfect" candidate who preceded you.
How to Answer 10 Tough Interview Questions
There's no worse feeling than when you're in an interview and the interviewer asks you a question to which you don't know the answer. The best way to handle this dreaded debacle is to go into the interview prepared. Familiarize yourself with a few common difficult questions and arm yourself with answers prepared ahead of time. Check out these tough interview questions and some suggested responses in order to avoid an interview disaster: Tough question No. 1: "Tell me about yourself." This is usually the opening question in an interview and it's the perfect moment for you to toot your own horn -- not to tell your life history. Your answers should be a quick rundown of your
qualifications and experience. Talk about your education, work history, recent career experience and future goals. Suggested answer: "I graduated from University X and since then, I have been working in public relations with an agency where I have generated millions of PR hits for my clients. While I've enjoyed working on the agency side, I'm looking to expand my horizons and start doing PR for corporate companies such as this one." Tough question No. 2: "Why did you leave your last job?" This is your chance to talk about your experience and your career goals, not to badmouth a former boss or give a laundry list of reasons for your exit. Instead, focus on what you learned in your previous position and how you are ready to use those skills in a new position. Suggested answer: "The company just wasn't a good fit for my creativity, but I learned that organizations have distinct personalities just like people do. Now I know where I'll be a better fit." Tough question No. 3: "Where do you see yourself in five years?" Let the employer know that you're stable and you want to be with this company for the long haul. Keep your aspirations to take over the firm with which you are interviewing, own your own company, retire at 40 or be married with five children to yourself. Suggested answer: "I want to secure a civil engineering position with a national firm that concentrates on retail development. Ideally, I would like to work for a young company, such as this one, so I can get in on the ground floor and take advantage of all the opportunities a growing firm has to offer." Tough question No. 4: "What are your weaknesses?" The key to answering this age-old question is not to respond literally. Your future employer most likely won't care if your weak spot is that you can't cook, nor do they want to hear the generic responses, like you're "too detail oriented" or "work too hard." Respond to this query by identifying areas in your work where you can improve and figure out how they can be assets to a future employer. If you didn't have the opportunity to develop certain skills at your previous job, explain how eager you are to gain that skill in a new position. Suggested answer: "In my last position, I wasn't able to develop my public-speaking skills. I'd really like to be able to work in a place that will help me get better at giving presentations and talking in front of others." Tough question No. 5: "Why were you laid off?"
This question will become more common as the economy continues to slow down. It's a tough question, however, especially because many workers aren't told exactly why they were laid off. The best way to tackle this question is to answer as honestly as possible. Suggested answer: "As I'm sure you're aware, the economy is tough right now and my company felt the effects of it. I was part of a large staff reduction and that's really all I know. I am confident, however, that it had nothing to do with my job performance, as exemplified by my accomplishments. For example..." Tough question No. 6: "Tell me about the worst boss you ever had." Never, ever talk badly about your past bosses. A potential boss will anticipate that you'll talk about him or her in the same manner somewhere down the line. Suggested answer: "While none of my past bosses were awful, there are some who taught me more than others did. I've definitely learned what types of management styles I work with the best." Tough question No. 7: How would others describe you? You should always be asking for feedback from your colleagues and supervisors in order to gauge your performance; this way, you can honestly answer the question based on their comments. Keep track of the feedback to be able to give to an employer, if asked. Doing so will also help you identify strengths and weaknesses. Suggested answer: "My former colleagues have said that I'm easy to do business with and that I always hit the ground running with new projects. I have more specific feedback with me, if you'd like to take a look at it." Tough question No. 8: "What can you offer me that another person can't?" This is when you talk about your record of getting things done. Go into specifics from your résumé and portfolio; show an employer your value and how you'd be an asset. Suggested answer: "I'm the best person for the job. I know there are other candidates who could fill this position, but my passion for excellence sets me apart from the pack. I am committed to always producing the best results. For example..." Tough question No. 9: "If you could choose any company to work for, where would you go?" Never say that you would choose any company other than the one where you are interviewing. Talk about the job and the company for which you are being interviewed.
Suggested answer: "I wouldn't have applied for this position if I didn't sincerely want to work with your organization." Continue with specific examples of why you respect the company with which you are interviewing and why you'll be a good fit. Tough question No. 10: "Would you be willing to take a salary cut?" Salary is a delicate topic. In today's tough economy though, how much a company can afford to pay you might be the deal breaker in whether or not you are offered a position. Suggested answer: "I'm making $X now. I understand that the salary range for this position is $XX - $XX. Like most people, I would like to improve on my salary, but I'm more interested in the job itself than the money. I would be open to negotiating a lower starting salary but would hope that we can revisit the subject in a few months after I've proved myself to you."
Eight Worst Things to Say in an Interview
Interviews are nothing if not opportunities to drive yourself crazy. Just remind yourself to look good, appear confident, say all the right things and don't say any of the wrong ones. It shouldn't be so hard to follow these guidelines except you'll be on the receiving end of an endless line of questions. Factor in your nerves and you'll be lucky to remember your own name. Don't fret. If you walk into the interview prepared, you can make sure you know what right things to say, and you can stop yourself from saying the following wrong things. 1. "I hated my last boss." Your last boss was a miserable person whose main concern was making your life miserable. Of course you don't have a lot of nice things to say; however, don't mistake honesty, which is admirable, for trash-talking, which is despicable. "If you truly did hate your last boss, I would be prepared to articulate why your last organization and relationship was not right for you," says Greg Moran, director of industry sales and partnerships for Talent Technology Corp. "Then be prepared to explain what type of organization is right for you and what type of management style you best respond to." 2. "I don't know anything about the company." Chances are the interviewer will ask what you know about the company. If you say you don't know anything about it, the interviewer will wonder why you're applying for the job and will probably conclude you're after money, not a career.
"With today's technology," Moran says, "there is no excuse for having no knowledge of a company except laziness and/or poor planning - neither of which are attributes [of potential employees] sought by many organizations." 3. "No, I don't have any questions for you." Much like telling the interviewer that you don't know anything about the company, saying you don't have any questions to ask also signals a lack of interest. Perhaps the interviewer answered every question or concern you had about the position, but if you're interested in a future with this employer, you can probably think of a few things to ask. "Research the company before you show up," Moran advises. "Understand the business strategy, goals and people. Having this type of knowledge will give you some questions to keep in your pocket if the conversation is not flowing naturally." 4. "I'm going to need to take these days off." "We all have lives and commitments and any employer that you would even consider working for understands this. If you progress to an offer stage, this is the time for a discussion regarding personal obligations," Moran suggests. "Just don't bring it up prior to the salary negotiation/offer stage." Why? By mentioning the days you need off too early in the interview, you risk coming off presumptuous as if you know you'll get the job. 5. "How long until I get a promotion?" While you want to show that you're goal-oriented, be certain you don't come off as entitled or ready to leave behind a job you don't even have yet. "There are many tactful ways to ask this question that will show an employer that you are ambitious and looking at the big picture," Moran offers. "For example, asking the interviewer to explain the typical career path for the position is fine." Another option is to ask the interviewer why the position is open, Moran adds. You might find out it's due to a promotion and can use that information to learn more about career opportunities. 6. "Are you an active member in your church?" As you attempt to make small talk with an interviewer, don't cross the line into inappropriate chitchat. Avoid topics that are controversial or that veer too much from work.
"This sounds obvious but many times I have been interviewing candidates and been asked about my personal hobbies, family obligations, et cetera," Moran says. "Attempting to develop a rapport is essential but taking it too far can bring you into some uncomfortable territory." 7. "As Lady Macbeth so eloquently put it..." Scripted answers, although accurate, don't impress interviewers. Not only do they make you sound rehearsed and stiff, they also prevent you from engaging in a dialogue. "This is a conversation between a couple humans that are trying to get a good understanding of one another. Act accordingly," Moran reminds. 8. "And another thing I hate..." Save your rants for your blog. When you're angry, you don't sway anybody's opinion about a topic, but you do make them like you less. For one thing, they might disagree with you. They also won't take kindly to your bad attitude. "If you are bitter, keep it inside and show optimism. Start complaining and you will be rejected immediately," Moran warns. "Do you like working with a complainer? Neither will the interviewer."
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