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Archive for December 2009

Dec/09

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Interview Check List

applyInterviewing is hard enough, so we created a quick check-list you can use to make sure you are ready to rock and roll.

The CareerAde Interview Check List

The week before the interview:

  • Read annual reports, company websites etc to research the company and the open position you are interviewing for
    • What do they do, what is their revenue, who is their biggest competitor, what were their most important recent announcements, what has their stock price been doing etc.
  • Develop your main talking points
    • Concisely articulate the 3-5 reasons why you should be hired for this job / what you have to offer compared to other applicants
    • If there are any inconsistencies in your application (e.g. unexplained time off, career change etc), developing logical and clear explanations
  • Develop your responses to the most typical interview questions
    • What are your strengths and weaknesses?
    • Why should I hire you?
    • Why are you interested in this job, this company?
    • When have you shown <attribute expected in the job, e.g. leadership>?

The day before the interview:

  • Re-read your research on the company and the open position
  • Rehearse your main talking points and answers to the most critical questions
  • Figure out and prepare what you want to wear
  • Print out driving / travel directions
  • Figure out when you need to leave the house to make it to the interview on time
  • Go to bed on the early side to give yourself 7-8 hours of sleep

The day of the interview:

  • If you are working, try to take the day off to concentrate on the interview
  • Have a good breakfast / lunch so that you will not be hungry during the interview but also do not eat too much so that you are lethargic and ready for a nap
  • If you are a lower energy-type person or tired, have a coffee before the interview!
  • Get to the interview location with some time to spare, especially if you may need some time finding the location
  • Enter the employer’s office building 10-15 minutes before your interview – they will need time to get you to sign in, call interviewer etc
  • Showtime!

Here is a PDF version for you to download and print

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manageSo you got lucky and got multiple job offers and now need to choose? Or you got admitted to multiple grad schools and don’t know which one to pick?

Here is what you do.

Pick criteria

First, you decide which the most important decision criteria are, e.g. location, pay, health benefits, retirement, commute, career prospects, your confidence in succeeding etc. Don’t overdo it, just pick the 4 or 5 that matter most to you. Actually, if you have a family, a significant other, that you want to involve in the process you should discuss the criteria and their relative importance with them.

Weight the criteria

Assign an importance weight ranging from 1-10 to each criteria (1 for lowest, 10 for highest). For example if commute is not a big issue, give it a 2, whereas if you are very concerned about salary give it a 10.

Score each job

Then score each job option on a range from 1-10 along each criteria, depending how well they perform. For example if one job has a horrible commute give it a 1 but give the job with a reasonable commute a 5, and the one with a real short commute a 10.

Put it all toghether

Then put everything in a table, multiply each score with its criteria weight  and then add up the score for each job option. The highest score should be the best pick.

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If the highest score feels wrong, rethink your weighting and scores.

When discussing this with families, significant others, this approach is very helpful as it is based in numbers and easily understood. If you still disagree it will quickly lead you to discuss and agree on what is important to everyone involved.

Good luck!

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spot10 most common resume blunders

Resumes are one of the most critical tools you will need in your job search. Most people have a good understanding of what belongs into a resume. However, I am often amazed by the mistakes applicants make in their resumes. To help you avoid them, I made a list of the most common blunders.

#10 Not making your resume electronically compatible

Today most resumes are submitted electronically. If you are lucky, you get to send in a file, like a word document or a PDF. In that case, you should aim to have your resume in PDF format – only then can your guarantee that it will print looking the way you intended it to. Word documents often turn out differently on different printers, and that wonderful 1 page resume you crafted may get printed on two pages. However, there is a high chance that you need to submit your resume in plan text format – e.g. by copying and pasting into an entry box . In that case you need to make sure that the plain text version is still readable – e.g., if all your line breaks are messed up, the printed version will look very different from what you think it should.

#9 Not making it power-readable

When I scan an applicant’s resume, I only spend very little time on it – often less than a minute. A resume that is power-readable – major points stand-out, clear formatting that leads the reader, nice large fonts, etc – will allow me to absorb the key points in that short time. A resume that is poorly formatted with large, winding text blocks, key points hidden away and a confusing layout will not allow me to get the message

#8Making it way too long

A short resume with few words is always more powerful than a long, over-detailed one. For most business-type jobs, you should keep it to one page. Even if you had more than one job. Even if you have so many college awards you want to list out. Older applicants with eons of work experience can get away with two pages, but I personally wonder why someone cannot provide their most critical marketing message to me in one pithy, simple page. Some technical jobs may be exceptions – you may need to list the litany of tools, programs, languages etc you have mastered.

#7 Being too wordy, insistent on squeezing too much in

Even on a one page resume – and maybe especially there – people try to squeeze in way too much. Stick to the most salient points. Think carefully about what you want to say and then emphasize that. Don’t be redundant – don’t repeat stuff multiple times. The fewer words you use, the easier it is to read.

#6 Doing a shoddy job

Recruiters will assume that you have invested serious time crafting your resume. If you resume looks like a bad hair day – bad formatting, incomplete sentences, etc. They will assume you are not able to invest the necessary effort in the jo either and won’t hire you. Your resume should look slick, crisp and professional.  Doing a nice job formatting your resume is important – recruiters expect computer literacy at all levels today. If you lack the skills acquire them as soon as possible.

#5 Typos, spelling mistakes

Avoid typos at all costs. They reflect poorly on you. Especially if they are wrong words instead of typos. For example, instead of writing “there” where “their” would have been appropriate. Your word processor will not point out those kinds of mistakes, and they are worse than mere typos. Typos just indicate that you are too careless or lazy, whereas wrong word choices indicate you lack the education and training necessary to write a simple letter. Have friends and families proof-read your resume.

#4 Disclosing legally sensitive facts about yourself

In the US anti-discrimination laws force employers to treat all potential employees equally. However, by adding certain facts about yourself on your resume you could make discrimination possible. For that reasons most companies reject ANY resumes that include information that can be used for discrimination, especially race, religion, health / disability, age, marital status. To avoid this, your resume should only  include:

  1. Your name and address
  2. Your education history
  3. Your work history
  4. Relevant skills (computer skills, languages etc)
  5. Your interests, hobbies

#3 Not tailored to your audience

As we will discuss in greater detail elsewhere, every employer will look for something different. Different experience, skills and interests. You need to make sure that the specific resume you send in emphasizes the points that specific employer is interested in. Don’t send in a computer programmer resume to a landscaping company. Using the same resume for all job openings for every job application is easy. But it also is utterly ineffective – so don’t do it!

#2 Not highlighting your most critical selling points

One of the recurring themes on this website is that you need to figure out what your marketing message, your elevator pitch is and then relentlessly push that message. Your resume must deliver that punch line very clearly and effectively. The message must jump off the page, not be hidden away. You want to hit the reader with a 2×4 across the head with the message. This is the only purpose of the resume. Don’t miss it.

#1 Lying

Never, ever lie on your resume. Would giving your resume to your current boss, your best friend or mom make you turn red? Feel sheepish? Then you are pushing it too far. If you do lie, exaggerate or fib, you will get caught eventually. And that will kill your application or worse get you fired. When I was a young manager my boss hired a new programmer who was supposed to work for me. He advertised some very specific programming skills in his resume and in his interviews, but when he actually started working for me it turned out that he had lied. He had zero programming skills. He was the 1st guy to let go by our group in over five years. But he had it coming and no one felt sorry for him.

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applyI spend some of my time at my day job interviewing candidates. After a typical interview, I write up my notes on the candidate.  I look for many things such as analytical ability, whether they seem like the genuine article or if they are all smoke and mirrors, whether they have proven drive and commitment in the past and their communication skills.

Looking through my notes, one of my most typical issues I get excited about in a candidate is when they have great energy.

What is personal “energy”?

Energy in this sense is the ability of a person to convey that they are keen to move to action, to get things going. Someone with high energy conveys that with the use of body language, speaking skills and messaging. They are attentive, contribute to the discussion, are friendly and outgoing. They are not slow, boring, lethargic, quiet, afraid, nervous etc.

Why is energy attractive in a candidate?

High energy candidates typically convey a sense of vitality and confidence. They are self confident movers and shakers. In careers that involve a lot of personal interaction, they will typically be more effective and likable in working with their peers or clients than people with low energy. They are more likely to excel at leadership and team work.

Low energy candidates are often rejected in the interview process as they likely will struggle in such interpersonal situations.

What can I do make sure I project high energy?

Be aware of your body language – sit upright, don’t slouch, don’t cross your arms, look your interviewer in they eye – especially when you are being asked tough questions; make good but not excessive use of your hands and arms when talking.

Talk loud and clear – increase your speaking volume until you are being heard loud and clear; don’t mumble or be so soft spoken that people have to ask you to repeat yourself; make sure you annunciate carefully; if you tend to talk fast, slow down a bit, if you talk slowly, kick it up a notch

Smile, laugh and enjoy yourself – nothing conveys high, positive energy than honest cheerfulness; try to be chipper without overdoing it; keep smiling – show your teeth; all of this is much easier if you are actually having fun, so try to enjoy it, go with the flow, cherish the challenge

Get going – get enough rest the night before, drink a coffee, exercise in the morning, listen to music, do whatever it takes to get yourself going

How can I tell if it is working?

People often mirror what they see across the table – if your interviewer seems lethargic and about to fall asleep, you likely are not projecting enough energy – amp it up! If your interviewer pushes away from you and seems a bit worried, you might be overdoing it. Practice having higher energy on your spouse, friends and family. See if it works for them. If they think you seem weird, you are overdoing it – learn how to dial it in just right and then use it in your interview.

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prepWe think the setting your goals is the critical 1st step in your job search. You need to define success before you suit up and enter the battle.

At the end of the job search process you need to have ended up in a career that suits your true needs. The process below you help you figure out which career to pursue

For all of what we talk about below, please understand that the answer will be different for each individual. What is right for your best friend will not necessarily be right for you.

In finding the right career there are many different issues you need to consider, but we think it boils down to two key issues: will you enjoy the career and will it move you forward on your journey.

Enjoying your career

This is quite simple in theory but often difficult to get right. We think that you can only really succeed at what you do if you derive at least some enjoyment from it. The more you enjoy it, the better. But you don’t have to absolutely love it. You have to enjoy it well enough to get you out of bed, push you through a tough spot and make you feel content when you have a quiet moment and reflect upon your life.

So how do I find a career that I might enjoy?

  1. Write a list of activities you enjoy (dealing with people, helping people, tinkering with complex machines, etc). High-light the ones you enjoy the most.
  2. Next do the same for activities you really hate (dealing with rude people, not being your own boss). Again, high-light the ones you enjoy the least.
  3. Next, work with these two lists to brain storm careers that maximize the activities you like, and minimize the stuff you hate. Don’t do all of this by yourself, ask you best friends, family members – especially those you think are open minded and have a broad horizon. Also look up career lists (we will post links to these elsewhere on this site) or talk to career advisors.
  4. At the end of this process you should have a long list of potential careers – maybe 20-30- that you think you might enjoy.

Moving you forward

Next, you need to narrow down your career list to those that make sense. You might really want to be a fighter pilot, but if you are too tall to sit in the tiny cockpit it doesn’t make sense to throw too much effort into entering that specific career. You also want to make sure that the specific career moves you forward, helps you achieve your underlying ambitions.

How do I find a career that moves me forward?

  1. First, take the long list of career options that you might enjoy. Quickly identify those that you believe you do and likely never will qualify for. You might not be sure about this, but in your gut you should have a pretty good sense. Please consider the following:
    1. Education and training: do you have or can you reasonably get the training you need?
    2. Physical fit: are you healthy or fit enough for this career
    3. Basic talent: if this is a career that requires talent – is your talent sufficient. You might really want to be an NFL quarterback, but do you realistically have the talent to succeed?
  2. Weed out the careers for which you don’t qualify. If there are careers that you could qualify for if you invested some more effort (e.g. by getting a grad school degree), keep them on the list
  3. If you are unsure about a career, find someone who can talk about it. That person’s knowledge will be critical later down the road when you launch your application process in earnest, so invest the effort and find someone in your circle of friends that can help.
  4. Next, spell out your ambitions, your life goals, e.g. being able to live in comfort while still living in Manhattan, being able to raise a family, being able to retire at 50, etc.
  5. Work out what it would require for you to meet that ambition along the following dimensions (and any others that might be unique to your situation) and for the following time periods:
    goals
  6. Fill in the chart, and then compare it against the remaining options on your list. Kill options that clearly don’t get you to your goals. When in doubt talk to people who know the career and can help you fill in the gaps, e.g. salary expectations etc. If you end up killing all ideas you need to a.) look for more ideas and b.) revisit your goals and see if they are reasonable.
  7. If you are left with more than 10 careers, you should amp up your goals – call them aspirational – and redo the filter step to narrow the list down to 2-3 careers.

Now you should be ready to begin your job search in earnest. You have identified 2-3 careers to focus on in your search that best fit your goals and aspirations while still being grounded in reason as you qualify or with some effort could qualify for these careers.

Also, you have now spelt out the criteria that a specific job in a given career needs to satisfy – it is the “Year 1” column from the work sheet above.

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War stories are real stories from the job search “trenches”. They aim to amuse and teach us, either from our successes or our failures.

The Story

When I was a young buck fresh out of college, I went to a big career fair where I got to interview with a number of companies on a single day. The most important interview that day was with IBM.

I walked into the room for the 30 minute interview, expecting the typical 1:1 interview format. Instead, there were 3 interviewers in the room at the same time – all seated a long table facing a lonely chair in the middle of the room.

The interviewers were one guy from the operational side of the business (the hiring manager),  a lady from HR (recruiter) and a professional interviewer also from HR (he did nothing but interview people).

The whole concept of the interview, I think, was to figure out how people would handle under pressure. I was asked to take a seat, and looking at the my interviewers, I felt like I was facing a firing squad: none of them smiled, they all had a poker face and very reserved body language. Oh boy!

They bombarded me either with very specific questions (why did you study that subject at that school) or very open ended questions (tell me about yourself). All the while, they kept their dead-pan but severe expressions. After a few minutes of this, I started to fight back by grinning widely and making small polite jokes – just a little self-depreciating banter and sly comments, nothing crazy.

I slowly chipped away at them – the HR lady was the 1st to give in – after 5 minutes of my light humor, she cracked a smile and after that visibly relaxed and seemed very open. The professional interviewed scowled at her and hit me with even harder questions. Then the operational guy cracked and started grinning too – but the crusty professional interviewer kept the pressure up till just before the end of the interview. When he finally smiled after one of my funny comments, the entire room relaxed and I got a strong feeling of: “you passed the test”.

I got invited back to a second interview and was offered a job. Mission accomplished.

The Lesson

I think there are two main lessons here:

a.) In many interviews, people try to test you along some dimension. In this case it was coping with adversity and communication skills. When in an interview, try to recognize what you are being tested for and then try to prove that you pass the test.

b.) Humor is an important tool in interviews. You will often come across tired, grumpy or bored interviewers – you might be the 10th interview of the day. A little well placed humor will break the ice, kindle their interest and make your stand out. The key here is finding the right tone and amount here. Don’t tell inappropriate jokes or say things that don’t fit with the flow of the interview

Interviewer: “Where did you go to college?”
You: “Did you hear the one about the blonde in the elevator”

… BAD IDEA

Instead, try to weave in small nuggets that highlight your humor and that fit the conversation

I: “Where did you got to college?”
Y: “XYZ University and I still have the college loans to prove it <chuckle, grin>”

… Much better.

If you have any good war stories, please email us and we will post them here.

(Photo: rangerofawesomeness)

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