What Should You Bring to Your Interview

Yourself, on time which is no more than 15 minutes early.   I’ve had people arrive for an interview an hour early.  I’m assuming they’re thinking, “what’s the harm in being early,”  or “the earlier the better.”  I’m thinking, “why is this crazy person here an hour early?”  The truth of the matter is that I have blocked off a certain amount of time to interview you.  Arriving early kind of forces me to rearrange my schedule to accommodate you which changes up my whole day and quite frankly makes me grumpy.  My first impression of you might not be good.   It’s always better to be early than late but if you find yourself extremely early, walk around the block. Go to a Starbucks and calm yourself down.  Do not bumrush your interviewer because they are not ready for you.

Copies of your resume and cover letter.  When I asked an interviewee for their resume, they replied, “don’t you already have it?”  Sometimes interviewers ask to see if you’re prepared, sometimes it’s because they honestly can’t find it.  Other times a new person might come into the room to jump in on the interview that hasn’t seen your resume.  Regardless of the reason, you should have copies just in case and refrain from providing a smart answer when questioned.

A pen.  It seems trivial but you should always have a pen.  Sometimes we’ll give you an application without a pen to see if you’re prepared.  Sometimes we might be out of pens.   You should have pen at all times because you never know when you’ll have to take notes.  It’s always helpful right after the interview to go someplace and take notes so that you’ll know what information to add to your thank you letter.  A pen helps when doing this.

A printed list of professional references.  This has two parts. First, you should have at least three professional references.  What is a professional reference?  Preferably someone has worked with you, managed you, and can attest to your professional demeanor and work ethic.  Some employers don’t mind peer references but for the most part, they want to talk to someone that has managed you in some capacity and can tell them how well you performed your job duties.  The second part is the actual printed list.  We’ve all been there.  You’re filling out the application, get to the reference part then pull out your cell phone to try to find numbers and email addresses.  Do yourself a favor and compile this info beforehand.  (Make sure you’ve already contacted these people to let them know that you’re listing them as a reference).

Questions for your interviewer.  These shouldn’t be questions with answers that can be readily found via searching on their website. Try to focus on questions related to the culture/environment of the company, goals and expectations for the candidate that they hire, upward progression within the organization, etc.  Interviewers like to know that you are engaged and most importantly interested in their company and the work that you could potentially be doing so ask them about it.

A smile.  It sounds corny but it’s extremely important.  Sometimes I’ll interview someone and they are so nervous that they don’t smile.  Not smiling and being short with answers makes them come off as extremely cold.  I don’t want to work with a cold person.

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Staying Motivated During Your Job Search

Staying motivated during your job search is probably one of the most difficult things to do.  Sending out countless resumes without any response (or very little response) can really take a toll on you and make you start to doubt yourself and your abilities.

1. Daily affirmation – It may sound a little corny but I used to start my day off with a reminder of an accomplishment I achieved or an area where I excelled.  Sometimes I needed that reminder so as not to fall in the slump of self-doubt.  Sometimes you may need a quote to get you going.  Either look for your own inspirational saying or go to a site like this that does it for you http://www.louisehay.com/affirmations/.

2. Keep a work schedule.  Initially when you’re out of work you can easily fall into the slump of staying up late and sleeping in.  At first it kind of feels like a vacation but after a few weeks the days start to blend together and you just start feeling down. Don’t fall into this trap.  Keep a work schedule.  Wake up before 9am and go to bed at a decent hour.

3. Pick up a hobby (an inexpensive one) and a library card.  Remember when you were slaving away working 60 hours a week and didn’t have time to knit or where too tired to read that book?  Do it now!  If you don’t have a library card, get one (it’s free).

4. Work your networks.  If you graduated from college or grad school there are probably free listserves and alumni groups in your area.  Talk to your friends!  Do not be afraid to tell them what you’re looking for.  You never know who they might now or what positions may be available.

5. Check out free (or low cost)  webinars, workshops, and events in your field of interest.  These events are a great opportunity to remain aware of new developments in your field and can also serve as gap fillers if it’s been a while since you’ve been employed.  Employers understand that sometimes it takes a while to find something but they want to know what you’ve done during that off time that relates to what you’re interested in.

6. Volunteer!  Preferably in your field of interest but if that’s not possible try and find something that can create the opportunity to acquire transferable skills.  Is there a church or community group looking for better organization? Help them create an online filing structure or database.  Something that won’t take up a lot of your time but can still add value to resume.  You never know, you might be able to spin your work into a paid short-term position.

7. Don’t get discouraged if you don’t hear back from employers. Many positions that are posted are already filled by internal candidates so the posting you see is basically just protocol. It sucks but it doesn’t mean that you should stop applying.   Increase your minimum number of applications per week to make up for the duds.

8. Most importantly, don’t give up and don’t let your job search define you.  If you’re taking the time to research tips and job search strategies, you’re definitely doing something right.  Things will turn around eventually.  Stay positive and keep up the great work!

To suit or not to suit

Some people have asked me if it’s necessary to wear a suit to an interview.  My personal opinion is that every adult should own at least 1 full suit and said suit should be worn for interviews.  It’s true that various sectors are more laid-back than others and might have a more relaxed office dress-code but you can take advantage of that once you’ve been offered the job.

You never know who you will encounter during your interview and what their personal preference will be.  People make snap judgments when they first meet you, especially when you’re going in for an interview.  What if you interview with the one guy in the office that although there is a business casual dress-code still believes in business professional attire everyday?  That person will probably think to himself, “I would have worn a suit to an interview,” and now you’ve started off on the wrong foot.

Aside from that, there are various degrees of business casual all subject to your employer’s personal opinion.  At one job I was told that business casual meant having a blazer everyday.  I kept a black blazer on the back of my chair.  At another job I was told that I just had to look “neat and professional,”  (slacks, skirts, collared shirts, etc.).  The point here is that what was considered business casual at one place wouldn’t have been at another.  Do you want to take that chance at your interview?

Can you recover from a Nic Cage resume bomb?

By now I’m sure most have seen the Nicholas Cage resume faux paus.   A job seeker attached a picture of Nicholas Cage instead of her resume and cover letter.  Hilarity ensued for those that read the story but for the actual job seeker (if she’s real), she was probably mortified.

No one has ever sent me a picture of Nicholas Cage (yet)  but I have received a few questionable attachments.  Some job seekers have sent drafts of their materials, resumes and cover letters in track changes, resumes and cover letters in a non-compatible format,  papers or other writing assignments and my favorite, a blank word document.

Usually if I have time, I’ll contact the applicant and let them know that the resume they sent was actually blank.  I do this primarily because they’ve probably been sending that word doc entitled “resume 2012” for some time now without any response and won’t understand why until they actually open that word document.

How does one recover from this?

Step 1: Apologize profusely and point out that your faux pas in no way reflects the quality of work that you would provide as an employee.

Step 2: Make a joke (if you’re funny).  Depending on the sector and type of position they might welcome your sense of humor.  Make sure your joke is appropriate (and funny).

Step 3: Move on.  We tend to look at the closed door for so long that we let other opportunities pass us by.   You sent a blank document to a prospective employer.  Is this the only position that you’re applying for?  No!  You’ve apologized and provided the correct information.  If they get back to you, great! If they don’t, that’s great too.  There are plenty of other positions that you can apply for.  Mistakes happen.  As a job seeker and employee you’re supposed to be perfect but the reality is that mistakes will happen.  The most important thing is that you accept responsibility for your mistake and make an effort to correct it.

To prevent situations where Nicholas Cage and his crazy eyes can make their way to your job application, set up some safe guards.

-Entitle your documents something that accurately describes what they are, “M.Honeypot_resume 2012.”

-Once documents are attached, open them and review them to make sure they’re correct.

-If you have gmail, set up a send delay just in case you spot something that shouldn’t be sent to a prospective employer.

-Save your emails as drafts and come back to them in a few hours. Sometimes a fresh pair of eyes can spot mistakes.

-Don’t save gifs of Nicholas Cage and his crazy eyes.  (Probably the most important thing to do).

For those who have not seen ithttp://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/07/09/accidental-nic-cage-resume-picture_n_1659343.html

Post-Application Follow Up

As a jobseeker, follow-up seems necessary.  You’ve sent in your application and days or even weeks have passed and you haven’t received a reply. Is your resume stuck on an admin’s desk?  Did someone accidentally delete it? There must be some explanation as to why you haven’t received a phone call.

As an employer, the honest explanation is that we’re not interested.  If i’m screening resumes and I see a gem amongst the rubble of poorly constructed cover letters and resumes, I contact that person.  If I want to interview you, believe me you will absolutely know.

I know that it’s difficult to just relax and move on the next possible position especially if you haven’t received any confirmation of receipt but it’s probably in your best interest and will benefit you in the long run.  

Don’t resend your resume and cover letter because they will know that you resent it.  They’ll figure either you’re just applying to so many jobs that you’ve lost track of where you’ve already applied, or that you’re trying to follow up without really following up.  

Don’t send your resume and cover letter via multiple means.  Most application instructions will say email, maybe fax, possibly (but not likely) mail.  Choose one and stick to that one.  If I haven’t called you when you emailed me your resume, I’m not calling you when you fax it in and mail a hard copy.  I’m definitely not speaking with you if you physically bring your materials to my office and ask to speak with me to discuss the position.  (This has happened more than once).

Don’t call inquiring about the status of your application.  If someone is interested they’ll call you.  No need to have that awkward phone conversation where you say your name and they have no idea who you are and you remind them that you applied and they try to let you down easy by saying it’s either filled or they’re still screening.  I hate those convos.

Definitely do not email asking, “when will I be interviewed?” Interviewing isn’t a courtesy extended to all applicants so don’t assume that it will be extended to you.  If they want to speak with you, believe me they will.

Don’t follow-up a few days after you’ve sent in your application.  Things do happen. Resumes can get lost or deleted.  Someone might be on vacation and hasn’t gotten to your beautiful masterpiece.  I’ve had several people email their resume on a Friday and contact me on Monday asking about their status.  Let some time pass. Ideally if you absolutely must follow-up, a polite check-in reiterating why you’re a good fit and conveying your interest can be ok after a few weeks.   

Regarding follow-up after an interview, I’m all for that but again make sure you’re polite, clear, and concise. Use your follow up to address any concerns that might have come up during the interview and to convey interest and enthusiasm in the position.   A crafty way that someone followed up for a position we were recently trying to fill was by sending in an article that addressed a job function and discussion topic that came up during the interview.  I thought this was really smart because it showed that she was thinking about the position and what she could do in that role and it showed us that she was still interested without being abrasive or pushy.

To some extent, you shouldn’t think about applying for a job differently than dating.  The same crazy red flags apply.  If you give a guy/girl you just met your number on Thursday and by Saturday you have multiple missed calls, facebook, twitter, and google plus invitations, and a handwritten letter at your door, would you go out with that person?  Most likely not.  A potential employer feels the same way.

Length Does Not Equal Substance

When I look back at my resume after my second job I wince.  The content was good but the resume was entirely too long.  As a college graduate with one previous full time job, internships, and campus jobs, there was absolutely no reason for my resume to be more than one page.  

Remember in college and high school when you had to write a paper of a certain length and you were stumped?  You started adding all of these extra words, definitions, reiterations, and what not to achieve whatever the goal number of pages was.  Some teachers/professors might have commented that you had too much fluff.  Others might have let it go.  Either way, your resume is not the same thing.  There shouldn’t be any fluff present. You don’t get extra points for fluff.  You don’t get an interview because of fluff.  No one cares that you attended XYZ conference in 2001.  Did you actually facilitate a workshop at this conference? No, you were a participant in the conference.  Leave it out unless you received some type of certificate that the employer is interested in.

As a screener, I’ve seen many job candidates fall into the same trap; you want to make sure to include every bit of relevant information (or what you deem relevant) so that the employer knows all about you and will be convinced that you are a good fit.  What actually ends up happening is laundry list that alienates the reader.  I’ve seen resumes from candidates with bachelors and masters degrees that are well over 2 pages long.  The actual part of the resume that details their past work history usually doesn’t start until page 2 or 3 and no duties or skills are listed just titles. By the time I’ve reached the page with information that i’m interested in, I honestly don’t want to read anymore.

Most employers spend about 30 seconds skimming your resume.  They look for keywords, titles, specific qualifications or training, education, etc., and start making piles of people to call back, throw away, or people to revisit at a later time.  Yes these employers are skimming but at some point they actually go back and read your resume.  If you can make it through the first cut, someone will actually read what you’ve written to get a better idea of you.

Page length will vary depending on your level of experience and type of job sought.  If you’re applying for a senior level VP position, and have more than 20 years experience, you can fill 2 pages with quality information that will provide a good summary of your skills and background.  It will also depend on specific instructions given by the employer.  They might ask you to include workshops, papers you’ve authored, grant proposals you’ve written, etc.  In this case include the information they’re asking for but make sure all other information is relevant to the position that you’re applying for (i.e. no fluff).

For most people just starting out or even mid-career, 1 page should be enough.

5 Steps to Revamp Your Job Search

1. Review your template resume and cover letter.

Does it accurately describe your skill set?  Would you interview someone with that resume?  Have a few people critique it for you.  After looking at your resume over and over again you might not catch any mistakes.  Most likely you also won’t be able to tell if something is worded awkwardly or doesn’t make sense since you know exactly what you meant to say.

2. Make a list of jobs that you’re qualified for and interested in.

We’ve all done this before.  You start looking for jobs and you say, “Admin Assistant 1 – I can definitely do that job.  I’m not really interested in the position but I’m overqualified so that means they have to at least interview me right?” Or, “Program Developer Northwest Region – Hmm I don’t have the 15+ years of experience and Masters degree that they require but I do have a few of the other requirements, they must at least speak to me.”  Before you start your search, evaluate your skill set, qualifications, and your interests and generate a list of positions that you would actually accept if offered.  This will help when you start plugging in search terms.

3. Make a schedule for your job search.

Looking for a job is a job itself.  Sending out a resume or two every couple of weeks won’t be as effective as dedicating time each day/week for your job search or setting up a goal number of positions to apply to each week.  Depending on your status (unemployed and searching, employed passively searching, employed actively searching, etc.), think about what is doable with your schedule.  If you’re unemployed and searching you might want to dedicate 30 hours per week to maximize results.  If you’re passively searching, maybe 5 applications per week is good enough for you.  If you’re employed and actively searching, you might want to set aside 2 hours each day.  Whatever works for you, put together a schedule so that it becomes part of your routine.

4. Familiarize yourself with search engines.  

There are search engines for every sector.  There are also these aggregate sites that compile results from all search engines including private websites (Simply Hired, Indeed). Figure out which ones you’d like to use and start your search.

5. Customize your resume and cover letter for each position that you apply for.

Earlier I mentioned a template resume and cover letter.  Once you have your template, customize it depending on the posting.  Depending on your interests, you might not have to make too many changes (i.e. if you’re interested in being a coordinator for children and youth programs the skill set will most likely be the same).  Make sure that keywords and specific qualifications mentioned in the posting are present in your resume (if you possess them of course).  The meat of your cover letter should be specific to the position that you’re applying for as well.  It may seem tedious but employers want to know why you’re a good fit for them.  Of course they understand that people are applying to many positions but they don’t want evidence of that.