There is a behavior that we rarely hear about when it comes to job searching and that’s consistency. So often we emphasize grander notions such as knowing who you are and what you want, or the more practical details of actualizing your goals, such resume and cover letter writing. And networking, which is of utmost importance.
It’s true, a successful search is difficult without answering the bigger questions, perfecting your job search materials, or building a responsive network.
Yet, what separates those that succeed from those who don’t frequently comes down not to these elements but the idea that lies in between – the consistency with which you approach executing your plans.
Consistent action is defined by regularity and commitment. Its bedrock is the understanding that even when your most well laid out plans go up in flames, you keep going. When you make the choice to be consistent, you make a pact with yourself to take committed action regardless of how you feel on a given day.
It may be easy to commit when you feel hopeful and optimistic. You probably won’t have much trouble motivating yourself at the beginning stages of the job search. You’ll know what you have to do. Updating your resume and on-line presence must come before any outreach and usually is a step that can be completed independently. Reaching out to people you know for informational interviews is a low-risk proposition and relatively straightforward. You’ll meet for coffee to gather intel on your company of choice. You’ll mine for additional networking contacts.
You’ll feel that you are making progress.
But inevitably you’ll hit a bump. Perhaps your outreach to your extended network goes unanswered, or worse yet, you’ll go through rounds of interviews only to get passed over.
You’ll have a bad day. Maybe a series of bad days. No big deal, you’ve been through worse, you’ll tell yourself.
But then another “no” is in your in-box. Slowly, you start to lose motivation. Your resolve to keep going begins to waver. Before long, a few weeks go by and the job search is officially on hold.
But, wait, this isn’t how you intended it to play out.
And no, the story doesn’t have to play out that way.
After all, remember, you’ve made a commitment to yourself at the start -- to stay consistent and keep going no matter what.
So, you shake the negative stuff off.
You tell yourself that even if you need to take some time to recover, your best shot at success is to continue the outreach as soon as practically possible.
You have a plan and a schedule that you’ve been following all along. A daily commitment -- to research companies and e-mail prospective contacts for x number of hours. A weekly goal – to attend 2-3 networking events and target 7-8 new contacts per week. And yes, your other projects need your regular attention – a personal portfolio, a website, or another on-line tool to showcase your professional attributes.
You consistently maintain the pace towards these goals despite the setbacks and despite other life challenges that always tend to creep in the way. You follow through in a dedicated way and keep yourself accountable by setting concrete deadlines and making your commitments public. You enlist trusted friends, a mentor or a coach to help you stay accountable as well.
Your intentions and your actions are aligned.
You keep taking steps forward. You are slow and steady. It’s not a race, but I think we all know how that story ends.
A resume is the most important document in your job search toolbox. Whether you are networking or applying on-line, sharing your resume is a way to introduce yourself and your story. When a resume lands in a hiring manager’s inbox, it is often the first impression they will have of the prospective applicant. And we have all heard the saying “first impressions are the most lasting.”
Unfortunately, job seekers frequently fail to spend the time making sure their resumes are optimized for best results. Even more than that, they make regrettable mistakes that cost them the opportunity to progress in the job search process.
In my years as a career coach, I have seen hundreds of resumes and have identified the 5 most common mistakes that a job seeker needs to take care to avoid.
1. Resume Is Longer Than 2 Pages
The hard 1-page resume rule is now a thing of the past, having given way to an acceptable length of 2 pages. If you have at least 5 years of experience under your belt, you no longer have to cram the details of each job on one page, stretching those margins until the words begin to run off the page. Phew.
2 pages give much more wiggle room to include all of the necessary information. Still, almost half of the time, I will see resumes that exceed the suggested 2-page maximum. Most times, the applicants are mid-level professionals that could comfortably fit all of the relevant details to 2 pages but choose to include unnecessary information that is irrelevant to the requirements of the position.
If you are wondering whether to include certain details or not, a good rule of thumb is to read over the description of the position you are applying to and pick out top requirements in the experience preferred section. Then, match your background and experience to those requirements, using key words and including select bullets that best describe your relevant experience. Take out any information that does not showcase your relevant skills.
2. The Summary Section is Missing
You’ve drafted a copy of your resume, congratulations. You’ve included your Experience, Education, and Additional Qualifications and you are about to write an Objective Statement.
Just like the 1-page rule, the Objective Statement has gone to the graveyard. Instead, you will want to include a summary of your skills and your value proposition. After all, the employer’s main concern when they read through a stack of resumes is to identify a candidate that is the best fit and who can hit the ground running from the start. Having a summary of your skills up front gives them a quick snapshot of what you can do for the company and what you’ll add to the team. Want to stand out from the crowd? Focus on what value you bring to them, not the objectives you’ve set for yourself.
3. Resume Includes Personal Information
Your resume tells the story of your professional experience. It gives a hiring manager a glance into your professional life and it, hopefully, shows you as a desirable candidate that fits the criteria the employer is looking to fill.
The criteria set by the employer must be blind to personal considerations, particularly protected classes under federal law, such as race, color, religion, national origin, sex, age, veteran status or disability.
Including personal information on your resume is not only unnecessary but not advisable, as it opens you up to potential discrimination. Surprisingly, I continue to see resumes that include pictures and personal information about the applicant such as age, sex, race and nationality.
Want to be given the same consideration as everyone else? Do yourself a favor and take any personal information off your resume.
4. The Style is Too Creative
I have seen blue resumes, resumes with graphics and funky fonts, and resumes that include visuals instead of the description of the applicant’s hobbies.
They have been fun to read but they have not made the kind of impression I think the job seeker was hoping to make. It’s true that creativity is a prized attribute in a job applicant. Your ability to come up with creative solutions to your employer’s problems will always be in high demand and you are well served to highlight those talents.
That said, formatting a resume with a creative slant may tell the employer a different story. Why risk your chances when it is a known fact that the majority of hiring managers prefer a traditional resume format?
Unless you are a graphic designer, in the world of job searching where you don’t know who is looking over your resume on the other end, it’s best to take the risk-averse path. After all, you can always showcase your creative strengths down the road by sending in a portfolio of work, or highlighting your achievements during the interview.
5. Resume Has Grammatical Errors and Typos
Last but not least, perhaps the most common mistake is having typos and grammatical errors in the text of your resume. Even one resume typo can decide your fate between being chosen for an interview or not.
The good news, though, is that this is typically the easiest problem to correct. Just make sure to read over the resume at least a couple of times, focusing specifically on the grammar and spelling. And when that is done, ask a trusted friend or a mentor to do the same. A fresh set of eyes is always best to catch those tough to spot inconsistencies and errors.
Finished? Then take a deep breath and congratulate yourself for a job well done. Creating a well-written resume is the important job you have to do before your real job starts calling. And with a great resume, it won’t be long until you get that call!
A job search is always stressful. Add to that the practical challenges of staying on top of multiple job listings, resume versions, interview dates and contacts, and you can easily get overwhelmed.
Organizing your search will keep your head above water and increase your chances of success. After all, wouldn’t you feel more confident and prepared having all of your ducks in a row?
Unsure of how to get started? Here are some tips on getting and staying organized.
1. Get Clear on What You Are Looking For
With seemingly endless listings posted on-line, it’s easy to spend hours just sifting through. And with so many job search boards that scream for your attention, you can easily get sucked in to doing research that ultimately leads nowhere.
This is why it is so important to get clear on what you are looking for before you get started. While networking, not applying on-line, should always remain your primary focus, you will save valuable time with each type of outreach if you can pinpoint the types of organizations and roles you would like to work in.
Having in mind a job description can help with creating a strong elevator pitch and will be invaluable when searching on-line, narrowing your focus to what’s important. Just remember: you don’t have to fit the requirements of the job description 100% in order to apply. 70-80% fit is perfectly acceptable.
2. Create a Plan and a Schedule
Would you like to have a new job in 6 months or less? Or do you have another timeline in mind? While you can’t be sure exactly when you will land a job, it is in your power to keep a confident attitude, hope for the best and establish a system that will help you achieve a positive outcome.
Your step-by-step efforts will depend on the amount of time you dedicate to the search.
If you are working full-time and have other responsibilities, it may be harder to find chunks of time to focus on networking, researching and applying for jobs. But whether you are currently employed or have more available hours in the day, you will benefit from setting and sticking to a job search schedule.
You may want to start by thinking of the days and times that you are most productive and break up those days into specific tasks you’d like to tackle.
For example, you may block off mornings to update your LinkedIn profile, resume or draft cover letters, send e-mails and do outreach mid-day, and meet for lunch-time informational interviews. Alternatively, perhaps you prefer to do the on-line research in the morning, write and prepare documents in the afternoon and network in the evenings.
Whatever your preferred schedule, lay it out and then stick to it, setting weekly goals to keep you moving forward.
3. Organize Your Documents
The time has gone when you could comfortably submit one version of your resume to multiple positions. Today, you are expected to customize your resume, preparing different versions that fit the description of each role. Cover letters, of course, must be thought out and customized as well.
With all of these documents to keep track of, it is easy to displace parts of your application packet. Yes, It’s true -- virtually all of the communication with the company contact or recruiting manager is now electronic, and a messy disorganized desk may be a thing of the past. But keeping your electronic files in order is just as much of an art form, and certainly no less necessary if you want to keep a cool head for when the phone rings and the hiring manager is on the other end.
To keep accurate track of each application, create separate folders on your computer for each company and role you have applied for, keeping appropriate versions of your resume, cover letter, and related materials in relevant subfolders.
4. Build a Spreadsheet
Now that you’ve applied to multiple positions, things can get messy. Even if you have a grasp on all your files, you’ll need a system for keeping track of all the details so that you can appropriately follow up.
One of the easiest ways to accomplish is to the create a spreadsheet in Excel or a simple multi-column table in Word. You’ll want to include basic information such as:
Brief description of position applied for
Contact details (name, e-mail, phone number)
Deadlines (for any follow up information requested)
Interviews (details of where to go and with whom to meet)
Date(s) followed up
Status of the application (if you’ve been rejected, waiting to hear back etc.)
5. Use A Job Search Management Tool
If you are struggling to get organized and need more help, you are in luck. There are a number of job search management tools available on-line, many of them free, that will help you keep track of all your important data.
Perhaps the most well-known of them is JibberJobber.com. With JibberJobber you can keep track of the jobs you applied for, keep a tab on companies of interest, and manage relationships and follow-up opportunities, all in one place.
JibberJobber is free with an option to upgrade to premium features for a nominal annual fee.
Ultimately, whether you use an off-the-shelf system, or create your own, you’ll feel more in control of the job search process if you stay organized. As everyone knows, preparation breeds confidence and a confident job candidate is always in demand.
So what are you waiting for? Set your schedule, manage your files, and pretty soon you won’t need to update the Job Status field anymore!
If you ask most job seekers when they are least likely to look for a job, it’s now.
It’s that time of year between Thanksgiving and New Year’s when our lives go in overdrive. It’s a joyous time but it’s also frenzied and stressful. Family obligations, holiday preparations, and social events fill our calendar. Each day our in-box explodes with additional requests for our time, money or both.
Add to that a job search, and it is all enough to make you want to crawl into a hole and hide.
The prospect is tempting. But while you can’t rightly put on hold family commitments, you can choose to hold off on making headway on your job applications until the holiday dust settles.
Wouldn’t it be better to pick up in January? Less stressful? More effective?
Less stressful. Definitely.
More effective? Who knows.
Perhaps December is not the time to whittle away hours editing and fine tuning your resume and cover letters. But it’s a perfect time to get yourself out there and network.
Another party invite that you will have to shuffle commitments for? Dry cleaner closed and no dress to wear? Shudder to think of small talk to make? All your babysitters suddenly out of town?
Why bother? It would be so easy to say no.
Say no and you can be reasonably sure you will be sitting on the floor watching Hotel Transylvania for the xxth time, wrapping presents and drinking egg nog straight out of the box. Lights out by 10 p.m.
But say yes? And you will be sparkling in your brand new heels, phone in hand, Uber on dial, not sure when you’ll be back.
Only one goal to pursue: Fun.
Make fun, not networking, your goal and suddenly tables turn. You are having drinks, telling jokes, building bonds, making friends. And who ever said no to that.
Maybe you’re still job searching in January. Maybe you aren’t. Either way, you’ll be richer in the end.
Losing a job can be a traumatic experience. In our culture, work is not just our livelihood, a paycheck and a means to independence, but also often a way we define ourselves. We may be teachers, actors, marketers, brokers, doctors, or lawyers, each of us doing our part to make a difference in the world. So, when we suddenly find ourselves without a job, our ability to retain a sense of self can be compromised.
But being in-between jobs does not have to spell out doom. While it may be easy to wallow in self-pity and want to disconnect from the world, or on the flipside, want to dive right in to a frantic job hunt, there is another way to move forward. It involves stepping back, taking a breath, evaluating your options, and seeing the unintended break for what it really is – a blessing rather than a curse.
Yes, it’s true -- in the days immediately following job loss, it will be hard to keep a positive perspective, let alone take the steps necessary to keep yourself going forward. And it’s ok to give yourself permission and time to unplug.
But soon you’ll want to toss the negative thoughts that keep you spinning in one place. Easier said than done?
Not if you make a conscious choice to focus on yourself.
Acquiring this perspective requires us to be proactive – to fill our days with activities that will nourish us and sustain us long-term. Yes, some days that won’t be possible – you’ll want to sleep till 1 pm and you likely will. But if all you ask of yourself is to try and do at least one thing a day that’s new or fun and self-focused, you’ll find it that much easier to keep your spirits up through the almost inevitable roller-coaster of job-hunting down the road.
Need some help getting started? Here is a list of ideas to get you moving again that will rejuvenate your soul.
Journal and brainstorm future possibilities
Whether you are a writer or not, journaling is way to connect with parts of ourselves we may have forgotten. Sit yourself down one day with a pen in your hand and see what comes out. For some, it may be feelings. For others, free-flow thoughts about their past or present. Yet for others, it may be ideas about what you would like to achieve in your next chapter. Don’t box yourself in but keep it positive – you may be surprised by what you put down on paper. Perhaps you’ll make some new discoveries…but at the very least you’ll sharpen your penmanship!
Set an exercise goal
Did you always want to join a sports league, run a race, climb a mountain or try a new exercise regimen, but just never got around to it? Here is your chance. When you set a specific exercise goal, you’ll have to create a schedule around it and commit to meet small (daily) training objectives. What better way to get your endorphins pumping and focus on something positive and rewarding at the same time!
Plan a trip
Whether you choose to go far away or just for a weekend get-away, planning a trip can be fun and filled with anticipation of positive experiences. And it’s guaranteed to re-focus your energies and get you out of the house – giving you physical and mental distance that you may need.
Volunteer for a cause you care about
Giving back to a cause you care about is decidedly one sure way to continue living your truth. It’s a way to connect with what’s important to you and to make a difference in your community. And the icing on the cake is what countless research has shown over and over again – giving, whether it’s time, money or skills, makes us feel good. There is no better argument for starting today.
Take yourself out
You may not be feeling up to a dinner, theater, concert, or a movie out. But treating yourself to these small pleasures can be deeply healing – particularly when we get to enjoy them with our partners or friends.
Learn something new
Feel like you’ve been stuck in a rut? Here is a perfect antidote – learning something new -- a language, an instrument, knitting…whatever! Stretch your brain and watch as out-of-the-box ideas start to flow.
Connect with friends and old colleagues
Last, but certainly not least. Lean on your friends and old colleagues for support – they want to be there for you, whether to offer a listening ear, job search advice, networking assistance or simply to share laughs over cocktails. And isn’t it what it’s all about anyways?
So you decided to change careers. You are sure it’s the right next step. You have taken the mental leap. Now you just need to get the ball rolling. You need to re-write your resume.
Drafting resumes is never much fun, but it can be an especially daunting prospect when you are changing careers. Where to begin? How to present yourself in a way that grabs the prospective employer’s attention? After all, while you may be starting over, someone else is out there with a long list of desired experience looking for the same job.
Yes, it may be an uphill climb, but don’t dismay. You have just as much if not more to offer. And you will be sure to stand out when you write a strong resume that tells your unique story. Here are a few ideas to help you get started.
Highlight transferrable skills
You have a portfolio of skills that you’ve built in the course of your career and many of them are transferrable. That is particularly true for soft skills, such as leadership abilities, organizational and presentation skills, team building and facilitation, among others. Most jobs these days require you to be familiar with a full suite of computer programs such as Word, Excel and PowerPoint which will also easily transfer to another role.
Take a good look at your past experience – both professional and otherwise – volunteer positions, hobbies and internships count as well. What have you done, what roles have you had, and how may that experience overlap with what you want to do next?
Having a hard time? It may help to look at the job descriptions of the positions you seek. Shifting to business development from legal recruiting? What are they looking for in the new job? Surely, you will see that you’ll need to possess superior interpersonal and communication skills – skills you’ve had years to hone as a recruiter.
Begin with a summary section
Many job seekers make the mistake of neglecting to add a value proposition or a summary statement at the top of their resume. Typically, it looks like a short paragraph where you discuss what you bring to the table. What value do you add? What are your top skills and how are they relevant to the role?
Are you an “experienced business development executive with a strong track record of cultivating new and existing relationships, executing marketing strategy and maximizing business performance to increase sales. Proven leadership abilities, strong communication, presentation, and negotiation skills. Ability to manage multiple projects under tight deadlines”?
Or, perhaps, you are a “versatile Program Manager with 10+ years of experience in the nonprofit industry. Strategic thinker conceptualizing and executing large-scale programs from start to finish. Lead international and cross-functional teams to implement strategy and improve processes. Strong operations experience and ability to manage complex milestones and adapt to shifting priorities.”
Whatever your area of focus, a summary statement immediately shows the prospective employer whether you may be a fit for the role. It is a good way to begin any resume, but it may be particularly valuable to individuals shifting careers. The onus is on you to help the hiring manager connect the dots between your past experience and future ambitions. A concise and clear value proposition does just that.
Use a combination resume format
If you’ve been in the workforce for a while, you’ll know that a chronological resume format is the most widely used. Listing your experience in reverse chronological order, with the most recent experience first, helps the employer to quickly understand your work history and establish potential fit.
However, when changing careers, you may benefit from a format that takes the focus away from the linear timeline and shifts it to your most relevant background and skills. Enter the functional or combination resume formats where you highlight relevant positions and skills and minimize experience that’s less applicable.
In a functional format, you put your key skills and accomplishments front and center and keep the details in the experience section to a minimum. It is often recommended for career changers, but I would caution against taking out too much information. Employers don’t like to play guesswork about what you have done and where you’ve been and will typically see this type of resume for what it is – a way to cover up for experience you may be lacking.
So, instead, I recommend you use a combination format – which is a mix of the traditional chronological resume and functional resume formats. A combination format allows you to summarize your skills and key accomplishments up front, while listing your work history in reverse chronological order at the end.
Take out unnecessary information
You’ve put together a summary statement, highlighted your skills and re-formatted your resume to identify your most relevant accomplishments. Wait. The resume is now a bit long!
Take heart -- it’s ok to leave out information you feel is no longer relevant to a new role. There is no need to list every responsibility if the task does not showcase your preferred talents. If this ever comes up in the interview, by all means, give more detail. And then, go on to talk more about your transferrable skills.
A couple of days ago, on Twitter, I read a post by a job seeker and fellow blogger I follow. She was elated. She had just gotten the job of her dreams and she couldn’t wait to share it with everyone.
I had seen her prior posts and the despair of feeling rejected and unseen as she slogged through the painful job search.
But this time was different. She felt victorious.
She did it. And she did it without having networked. At all.
Instead, she chose to do what countless other job seekers do, usually with no success. She submitted hundreds of applications on-line and waited for a reply. Statistically, this approach at best yields a 20% success rate, whereas targeted networking is said to produce vastly different results – with an 80% success rate of finding a job.
When her efforts resulted in her dream job, she was in happy disbelief. Despite the countless hours spent on targeting her ideal positions and putting her best foot forward, she wasn’t immune to self-doubt.
But now she could celebrate and she could tell the world “if I could do it, anyone can!”
Well done, I thought as I read this. Well done. Still, would I advise another job seeker to try this approach? Statistics are statistics and networking is still king in the world of job searching. Reigning advice on the subject is quite clear – get out of the house, meet people -- you’ll be much more likely to maximize your chances than if you do it hidden behind the screen.
Yet, so many people are averse to networking. Why?
Networking gets a bad rap because no one likes to force unnatural connections while trying to sell themselves. It just doesn’t feel right.
Still thinking about this, I clicked on another link. It was another career related article by J.Kelly Hoye, a business columnist, networking expert and author of a new book, “Build Your Dream Network.” She was recalling a young woman who had sent Hoye a follow-up email after attending one of her talks.
The woman was writing to express her gratitude. She had had an aha moment after having gone to Hoye’s event primarily for, in her own words, the “free food.”
She regarded networking as many of us do – the “you fake it till you make it” kind of deal. So, she made herself go to one event after another, but as she claimed, usually with disastrous results. She would fake a smile, attempt to speak to as many people as she could and by the end feel like a complete failure. She thought of herself as a fraud, and apparently, everyone else seemed to agree.
But, as she went on to explain in her email to Hoye, she was approaching networking all wrong.
Networking is not schmoozing. It is, as Hoye described in her talk, and goes into more detail in her book, about adding value to others, being of service, being generous and authentic.
It is about building relationships that are meaningful, focused on giving, and are long-term. The most impactful kind of networking usually happens long before you need a job, a referral or help with a new business venture. It happens over time as you choose to regularly nurture and maintain both your deeper and your broader connections.
It happens over coffee or lunch with ladies from your book club, when you send an article of interest to a former colleague, or help to connect an old friend who’s relocated to your community. And yes, it also happens at networking events when you make it your goal to listen to and help others rather than expecting assistance from them.
It is certainly a more natural way to go. It will never completely erase the discomfort of job searching or making any kind of career change. And perhaps it will seem not quite as triumphant in the end. But it will make it less painful, less lonely, and infinitely more meaningful.
The other day I had a conversation with a woman who had to quit her job because of her husband’s relocation. She liked what she did and was good at it, but wasn’t unhappy about leaving. Having worked in one industry for many years, she was getting bored and ready for a change. The relocation presented a perfect opportunity to pursue her other interests and build a new career.
I loved her attitude and her go-get-‘em approach. She was well on her way with setting the wheels in motion with the personal side of the move – finding a new house, getting the kids into school and seeking out local resources to help with the transition – while wrapping things up back home. And despite the challenges of moving to a new city, without a network of friends and associates, she was beginning to do the legwork required to move forward professionally.
She wanted to get a better sense of which direction to pursue, but it wasn’t stopping her from taking action in the meantime. So, she tapped her network of local friends, connected with a career coach and brainstormed the professional avenues available to her. She wanted to get it all settled within a few months.
She was a doer.
I have spoken with many people contemplating career change and through those encounters I’ve observed a distinct difference in how individuals approach their transition. There seem to be two separate camps – the doers and the thinkers.
The doers, as the name implies, take action. They are inspired and motivated by completing a series of tasks in pursuit of actionable goals they want to realize short-term.
The thinkers also set and pursue goals but they first take shape as an idea which is then refined and improved through contemplation and analysis of pros and cons before being acted upon.
Ultimately, all of us do both, the doing and the thinking, of course, but depending on our personalities it seems we are naturally predisposed to one or the other approach.
Are there are benefits and drawbacks to both?
In the case of doers, action tends to spur action, so they generally accomplish more in less time. As they complete tasks and move forward, they get immediate feedback from their actions that they can then incorporate into their thinking. On the other hand, doers can waste time and energy taking ineffective steps that lead nowhere.
Thinkers are driven to perfect their ideas but can be bound to inaction. While they may ultimately come up with the “right” way to do things, too much thinking can lead to perpetually refining your ideas and plans, but never accomplishing what you dream of.
Do you know which one you are -- a doer or a thinker?
Being aware of our preferences can help us maximize our chances of success when we contemplate important life decisions like a career change. Armed with this knowledge, we can work to ensure we take a balanced approach. If you are more of a doer, it may mean spending some time to think through and strategize before taking action. On the other hand, if you prefer thinking to doing, it may mean pushing ourselves out of the comfort of safe contemplation to take more real-time risks. Either way you slice it, we become more capable problem-solvers when we broaden our range.
Just one side note. If you are a thinker, like me, try not to overthink this. Making progress while learning from mistakes is always preferable to sitting safely in one place.
Remember the job-hunting days when you would send in a few applications, wait a week and get a call back to come in for the interview? It didn’t require a lot of heavy lifting to make a change. It was a simpler time – but those days are long gone.
Today the process is more arduous. It’s not just a matter of completing a couple of steps – often you will be asked to pass not one or two, but three or four interviews just to make it to the final round. And as a start, assuming you’ve met the basic requirements of the position and your resume has been hand-picked out of a hefty pile, your first conversation with the employer will almost inevitably be over the phone.
Yes. Get ready for the first screen: The Phone Interview.
Perhaps you are not overly concerned. It’s just a quick and friendly chat to say “hello, I am interested”, right? It shouldn’t be a big deal.
Really. But it has become just that. In today’s competitive market, getting the phone interview is in and of itself considered an accomplishment – and as an emotional yardstick of sorts – validating your job searching efforts. Practically speaking, it is the entry point that will lead to further conversations about the position.
Make a good impression and you can start ironing your suit. The in-person meeting is likely not too far away.
But while you dream of knocking them off their feet in your face-to-face interview, here are 6 tips to help you make it through a successful first round.
Most phone interviews last about 30 minutes. It’s not a lot of time to delve deep, but it’s enough time to show the interviewer that you’ve prepared and done your research. You have to be ready to talk about your background and experience without stumbling over your words or sharing inappropriate or unnecessary information.
The interviewer will ask general questions to get to know you and what qualifications and experience you bring to the role. They’ll also tell you about the position. This is your opportunity to get to know them. Doing some research about the company and the role ahead of time will help you formulate the right questions and show that you are eager to learn more.
Statements such as “I’ve read that you’ve gone through a recent reorganization and are looking to fill some gaps. Can you tell me more about your vision for the role and how you’d like for it to evolve over the next couple of years,” will set you apart as a thoughtful and forward-looking candidate.
2. Go over the details
Well, it should be a no-brainer, but you’d be surprised how easy it is to mess up the details. Did you check the time of the interview? Is it in your time zone?
This is an embarrassing tidbit from my past, but once I called into an interview 3 hours early. Then, having no one pick up, I e-mailed the interviewer to ask if the interview was still on! Guess what? It was. In 3 hours. Pacific Standard Time.
It’s unlikely you’ll make the same unfortunate mistake, but still it doesn’t hurt to double-check the logistics. Check the time. Also, make sure you know who is calling whom. And come to think of it, double-check the name of the interviewer. It’s possible there was a last minute change they e-mailed you about and you forgot to write it down.
3. Find a quiet place
Some of us naturally need peace and quiet in order to think and do our best, while others can take a work call, while drying the dishes, feeding the kids, and writing a novella, all at the same time. Whether you fall into the first or the second camp, when it comes to phone interviews, it’s a good idea to play it safe and eliminate the distractions.
Even if you are a star multi-tasker who has successfully fielded calls in the car or with the kids downstairs watching television, why worry that something might go amiss?
Find a quiet place in your house where you can concentrate on the call. Have a sitter entertain the kids in their play space, or better yet, send them all out for ice cream. Put the pets in another room. Close the door and turn the ringer off on your cell. The landline is always a better bet for important calls, assuming you still have one! If not, find a quiet spot in your house where you can be fairly certain the cell phone reception will not cut out in the middle of the call.
4. Look professional
Think it’s overkill to put on a fancy suit for a phone interview? Perhaps. But sporting a professional look, whether it’s a freshly pressed shirt, a nice dress or pant/skirt coordinates, can make a difference in the way you approach the call. Studies have shown that what we wear and how we look affects how we feel. Want to be perceived as a professional? Then you must dress the part. Surely, you’ll find an opportunity to relax in your new pair of Peter Pan pjs very very soon.
Yes, it’s just a 30-minute phone interview – and less pressure than an in-person meeting – but it’s still significant and, unless you take these kinds of calls daily, likely a bit stress-inducing. Is there something you can do to manage the stress ahead of time, without having to squeeze in an emergency yoga session?
The usual strategies used to lower blood-pressure can do wonders to help calm the nerves, and you can easy do those at home in just a few minutes. Breathe, stretch, or walk around the house before the call and feel your blood-pressure begin to drop.
6. Organize your space
Now that you are in your quiet space, looking sharp and feeling relaxed, is there anything that you may have forgotten? Once you get on the call, it will be handy to have your key documents nearby – the resume, the cover letter, a print out of the job description, and a notepad with any notes you may have jotted down while doing prior research. You’ll likely need a clean piece of paper to write down any new information, and a cup of water in case your throat gets dry.
After all, you want to sound as confident as you can without loosing conversational rapport with your interviewer. This is your 30 minutes to show that you are a good fit – a prepared, detail-oriented, organized professional – ready to take on any challenge!
Yes! You got a tip about the perfect job. It’s a role you’ve always dreamed of. You know you have the skills, experience, and enthusiasm for the position. Now you just have to write the perfect cover letter – one that grabs them, persuades them, and makes them want to pick up the phone and schedule an interview…tomorrow!
You grab your computer and start typing away.
Date. Salutation. Now what?
Not a writer? Been a while since you wrote more than a few lines in a rapidly fired text? Or just a bit rusty? Wondering what is the latest and greatest in cover letter writing advice?
Here is the good news.
The norms around what constitutes a good cover letter haven’t changed all that much in recent years. Yes, it is still required and expected by hiring managers and recruiting professionals. No, you shouldn’t just write an abridged e-mail version (unless specified as the preferred method in the job posting). Yes, it must be professional (I know you want to get creative…but please, not here!) and be convincing -- to get to the next stage you have to show that you are the best candidate for the job.
Sounds doable, or still a bit confused? Don’t worry. Just follow these 4 general guidelines and you’ll be sure to draft a stand out letter that gets your foot in the door in no time! And if you are still struggling, take heart -- a professional cover letter writer is only a phone call away.
1. Do Your Research and Get to Know Your Audience
You will have a much easier time writing, and getting your point across, if you first get to know your audience. Of course you’ve read the job description. But do you know how the role fits within the overall framework of the company? What problems will you help them solve? What are their pain points?
When you know your audience, you are able to better customize your message. And that is something you always want to do when you are applying to a new position. It may be tempting to submit the same cover letter to multiple employers, but beware – it’s easy to see through – and it’s a sure way the letter ends up straight in the waste basket!
What you are looking to do is make a connection, ideally as soon as possible. Show the company you have invested time in getting to know them. Always try to address the letter to an actual person (hiring manager, department head, or at the very least the HR person who made the posting), instead of typing the standard “To Whom It May Concern”.
Customize, speak directly to your audience, and address how you will solve their problems, not the other way around!
2. Tell a Story that Grabs Attention
People are drawn in by other’s stories. And what better way to draw the hiring manager in than to tell them a story that they connect with.
It’s easy to rattle off a list of your accomplishments and skills, or just regurgitate whatever is on your resume. It’s harder to tie those into a coherent storyline. But that is exactly what you want to do. Show how your background, skills, and accomplishments fit in with what the company needs. Create a short narrative that shows how what you have done (use a couple of specific examples!) led to tangible results and, preferably, quantify those results. Then, indicate that you can achieve those kind of results in the new position.
3. Be Enthusiastic and Honest
What’s the best tone for the letter? I think this goes without saying. Excited!
Hiring managers are looking for people who’d love to work at their company. If you are feeling lukewarm about the company or the position, do yourself and them a favor, and keep looking. Faking it in the cover letter can only take you so far as well. Eventually, if you make it to the interview phase, your true feelings will be much harder to hide.
So, convey enthusiasm and be honest. When you are authentic and genuinely think you’d be a great addition to the company’s team, writing the words on paper will come that much easier. And not only that, but you will be able to genuinely carry over that message when you do score the interview.
4. Be Brief
Research shows that over 70% of managers prefer a short cover letter, about half a page or just a bit more. A full page is considered the limit. Hiring managers are busy people and don’t have time to read through lengthy applications. Most positions receive 10s if not 100s of cover letters and resumes. That is a big pile to get through!
Save the hiring manager some valuable time and get straight to the point.
You are the best person for the job, and in three short paragraphs, this is why it’s obvious!