Pre-Interview Prep

Congrats!  You’ve received a call back and are scheduled for an interview.  What should you do now?

1.Return their call/email right away to schedule your interview. Right away doesn’t mean immediately 2 seconds after they contacted you but it should be the same day if possible.  Confirm date, time, location, and person(s) you are meeting once you connect.

2. Start your research.  Research the organization/company, the person/people you’re meeting, and any current events that pertain to the organization/company.  My very first interview out of college my interviewer asked me if I had seen the organization in the news recently.  Before the interview I went over the website but blatantly missed the section on press releases.  When I said no, he made a face and told me about the story that featured the org that was all over the news.

3. Review the job posting and know what the job requires backwards and forwards. Sometimes they’ll ask you to tell them about the job to see if you have a good grasp of the position.  If you fully understand all aspects of the position you can better articulate why you’ll be a good fit.

4. Review your resume.  Make sure you know what you’ve written.  It seems silly but sometimes people don’t remember what they’ve listed on their resume.   In the midst of a job search, when was the last time you actually read not skimmed  your resume?  Going over your resume will also allow you to identify and develop answers for any red flags. Do you have gaps?  Why was the length of time at that last position so short? Did you take a pay cut/demotion?

5. Get directions to your interview location and figure out travel time.  If possible print up alternate directions because you never know what can happen the day of.  If the location is unfamiliar, don’t feel shy about asking the person who’s scheduling your interview for directions.   Decide what time you need to leave and leave about half an hour earlier than that.  Lateness can lead to no interview or an interview where the employer has already decided they won’t consider you.  If you get there early, walk around for a bit until you have about 15 mins before your interview time.   Too early isn’t good either because they’re not ready for you yet.  Use that extra time to calm yourself down.

6. Make sure your suit is ready to go.  Yes your suit. Every adult should own at least 1 full suit.  Business dress varies by sector but that’s after you have the job.  No one will fault you for wearing a suit to an interview but there’s a chance that someone will fault you for not wearing a suit.

7. Print out copies of your resume if possible on resume paper.  When you get to your interview someone might ask you if you have a copy of your resume.  Most of the time they have your resume already, they just want to know if you came prepared.  Other times you might meet with someone else that hasn’t had time to review your materials.

8. Think of some questions to ask.  These questions shouldn’t be general information that can be found on the website.  They should deal more with the culture of the org, the goals for that program, the goals for your prospective supervisor etc.    You want your interviewer to know that you are engaged and interested.  If you really can’t think of anything at least ask them what is their time-frame for hiring for the position  and what are the next steps.

9. Practice your pitch (tell me about yourself) and some basic interview questions.  What are your major strengths?  What are your weaknesses?  A weakness is something that you have trouble with but are working to improve. “I have difficulty waking up on time for work” is not a good weakness (Yes, someone actually said this to me).   I like to “interview” in front of the mirror so that I can see what I’m doing with my hands and  faces when i’m describing something.

10. Get some rest!  You’re nervous and excited but try to get some rest.  You’ll do much better fully rested than if you’re up all night trying to prepare.


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?

Answering the Salary Question

Sometimes they’ll ask you to send your salary requirements within your cover letter.  Other times it’ll be a question on your application or they’ll ask you during the interview. Regardless of how they ask, they will ask.  

The discussion of salary is a dance between employer and potential employee. As the employer, I want to know how much you’re willing to take first.  That way I’ll know if I can get you for less or if you expect too much all together.  As the potential employee you want them to give you a number first for the same reason. You don’t want to give them a number that’s low and risk losing a higher salary and you also don’t want you to price yourself out of a position.

As a jobseeker, the standard rule is to say open. This allows you to see what they’re offering first so that you can determine how to negotiate.  Most employers will press you for a number after you say open so be prepared to offer a relevant range.  Your salary range isn’t an arbitrary amount that you think you should be paid.  This range should be based on research for different positions in your industry/sector related to your level of experience and education. 

Recently during a telephone interview I asked the candidate about her required salary.  The number that she gave me was about 20K more than we were willing to offer for the position.  It was also about 20K more than her current salary  More importantly, her experience and background didn’t warrant a salary that high even if we did have the higher amount in our budget.  She effectively priced herself out of that position.

As a job seeker you should know how much people are being paid for the kind of work that you want to do and you should be able to justify why you should receive that amount.  You should also be able to  realistically figure out where you would be within the range that you provide.  Let’s say the salary range for your position of interest is $40K – $55K.  If you have limited experience (entry-level to less than 3 years) without a Masters degree (if it’s preferred), expect to be on the lower end.  Concurrently if you have more than 5 years of experience plus supervisory experience and an applicable Masters degree, expect to be on the higher end.

Several factors go into salary offers: your current salary and salary history, program/organization budget, the outgoing person’s starting salary, possible room for an increase down the line (if your status might be changing in a few months with a new certificate or degree, there’s a chance they’ll offer you more at that time so they can start you off lower to make room for that increase), industry salary standards for that position, etc. Ultimately the employer wants to remain competitive but at the cheapest price possible. 

 In order to make sure that you’re still in the running, do your research and come to the table prepared.  If your range is on target for your field and you can provide concrete evidence that  XYZ pay rate is justified (i.e. skills/qualifications, educational background, increased level of responsibility, etc.), you’ll be able to settle on an offer that makes both you and the employer happy.

Websites to Research Salaries (Nice site.  You can evaluate your current salary to see where you fall within your field, evaluate offers, and research) can research specific positions to see national averages and generate salary reports. They also break things down by level of experience). (Most people are familiar with this site.  Besides salary information it’s also good to read reviews)

Cocky vs. Confident

At some point during your job search (or life in general) someone has told you that you need to be confident.  If you’re confident in your abilities you can convince others that you’re a walking ball of skills and education fit for whatever position you choose. Unfortunately the line between cocky and confident has become muddled.  What should be an assertive pitch reaffirming why you’re a good fit has become a condescending brag-fest.

A few years ago I had a young client that used cocky and confident interchangeably.  Some of it had to do with the tone that he used when he talked about himself and his experience.  The bulk of it had to do with his inflated sense of self that could not be backed up with an achievement or tangible skill.  His pitch was that he should be able to command 60K per year because he was management material.  Not a past manager, his point was that he had the potential to be a manager.  He didn’t have a bachelor’s degree and didn’t have any management experience but wanted an “office job” where he would be a supervisor.  We tried to work with him and suggested starting off as an admin, learning the ropes, etc.  He declined because he felt he was management material and wouldn’t accept anything less.

I admire the gusto and focus on an end goal but it’s also important to be realistic.  If you have a condescending tone and start demanding a position or salary that you are not qualified for without any type of back up to prove why you should even be considered, you do not come off as confident.  That’s kind of like walking into college orientation the first day and saying, “I want my diploma now.  I know that I will do great here so let’s just cut out middle man and send me off to graduation with a diploma in hand.”

Your goal is to highlight your accomplishments and relate them back to what you can do for the company/organization.  You want your interviewer to be impressed with what you’ve achieved but also to think about what kind of contribution you can make to them. It isn’t just an opportunity to talk about all the awards you’ve won, or promotions you’ve received.  What do these accomplishments really say about you as a worker?  What do they say about your commitment to service and advancing the company’s/organization’s goal collectively?

Go over your elevator pitch and practice questions with an (honest) friend or spouse and ask them to rate you on a scale of 1 to 10, 1 being cocky and 10 being confident.   People hire other people that they like.  Even in ultra-competitive fields where cockiness is seen as an attribute, no one is hiring you if they don’t like you initially.

Know Your Audience When You Market Yourself

With any piece of writing that will ultimately be seen and scrutinized by another individual, it’s imperative to make sure that you know your audience and market yourself accordingly.  Some positions want to see your creative side.  Others want to see a mature professional.

I posted for an Associate Executive Director position.  Below is an excerpt (unedited) from a resume I received:


• Hustler

• Confident

• Innovative

• Personable

• Self Driving

• Heavy Scheduling   


• Creating One Liners

• Learning Languages 

• Talking In Accents

• Photography

• Traveling

Offer me a job because … I ran out of milk … so I made cereal with coffee mate … holla at me Martha Stewart.

There might be a position out there where a sense of humor and the ability to generate one-liners is paramount as a job function, but for my position this wasn’t  the case.  Figure out the culture of the work environment before you interject one liners that reference coffee mate and Martha Stewart.


When Aggressive Networking Goes Wrong.

A job candidate sent his resume and cover letter on Monday morning.  On Tuesday, I received another copy of his resume and cover letter.  I also received a LinkedIn invitation on my personal account, in addition to his resume sent as a message to my LinkedIn account, an invitation to my supervisor’s LinkedIn account and the same message.  This was all by Tuesday afternoon.

I know that it’s good to cover your bases, but all of that activity in such a short amount of time was suffocating.  

He did not receive a call back.

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.