A handful of the people I get to interview absolutely shine. What are their secrets? Amazingly, it boils down to using a little charm ~ taking authentic interest in both the job opportunity and the people with whom they’re interviewing.
What they do differently:
They use their manners (please & thank you, and they’re on time).
They do their research. Not just the superficial kind, like what the company does and its revenue numbers. These people have a ready answer for WHY they want to work here. You can too: Google ‘press releases’ & follow threads. Look at Glassdoor. Review the company’s LinkedIn profile. See who you know that works there. Check out key leaders (in addition to the ones you’re meeting).
The best-prepared candidate I ever had the pleasure of interviewing did this: she aligned her desire to work for an innovative company with specific data and examples of what my employer has been doing to innovate. She was well-prepared, articulate, asked great questions, and wasn’t afraid to laugh a bit.
She was a knockout, and we hired her from overseas on the basis of a couple of really great calls. Whether it’s on the phone or in person, take a genuine interest in the person (people) you’re talking to.
My star candidate noted that I love to travel, an interest she shares. Review your interviewers’ LinkedIn profile(s) before you speak with them. See if you have common connections or interests.
They ask good questions in the interview (because they are also interviewing the company, in a charming and gracious way).
If it’s a phone interview, they answer the call like they would at work (ie. an energetic ‘Hi, this is x’).I’m amazed at how many people answer the phone FOR A SCHEDULED INTERVIEW with ‘Hello’? They know it’s going to be an interview, and still they sound like they were sleeping when they picked up.Also, stand up for the first part of your phone interview. You’ll automatically sound more compelling. And SMILE once in awhile ~ people can hear it.
They treat whoever’s at the front desk kindly. At Robert Half, I used to ask our receptionist how people treated her. You’d be amazed at how many weren’t very nice. When I pick someone up from the front to take them to their interview, I notice when they remember to say ‘thank you’ to our receptionist.Also (this is so common-sense I almost didn’t include it, except it happened again this week): KNOW your interviewer’s first and last names so the front desk doesn’t need to figure out who you’re there to see.True ‘from the front’ recruiting story: a leadership candidate came in yesterday to interview. She asked for‘Scott’. No last name. Don’t be that person.
They follow up with a well-crafted ‘thank you’ email referencing something unique ~ maybe a shared laugh from the interview or a common interest that popped up. Send it within 24 hours. Keep it short, sweet, and relevant.
Put each of these tips into practice &
you’ll stand out, too!
Wondering how to polish your professional brand?
Here’s a link to my calendar for a free 15-minute brainstorming session.
what’s “old”? some insights (and tips) on DEFLECTING age bias
A vital, intelligent middle-aged woman with much to offer recently told me: “A friend who works in HR said I should plan on this being my last job.”
I’ve also heard this: “I’d like to look for a new job, but I’m worried about companies passing me up because of my age. So I guess I’d better just stay put.” Or, “I’m pushing 50; I need to be careful.”
There’s real fear coming from the 50+ crowd. It’s understandable, given past trends of jobs being outsourced or companies getting rid of tenured workers in favor of younger (read: less-expensive) ones.
So we pull back, not wanting to talk about that elephant in the room, age. Notably, OUR age. We start believing that we need to settle, gratefully accept what we have, sit on the sidelines, be passed up or passed by, lucky just to have a job. Never mind stepping out and looking for a new one ~ with all our experience, we still might not get hired.
is this true?
Not so much: SOME (GOOD) news
According to this article from CNBC, the unemployment rate for 55+ workers is lower than the general unemployment rate by almost a full 1%.
And studiesare showing that mental and emotional abilities peak at different times. It’s not like we thought, a burst of brilliance at age 30 followed by the inevitable slow decline. There are plenty of role models for hitting one’s stride later in life: people who changed careers or built businesses and made it big later, celebrities who got a slow start, people who didn’t follow a traditional path (if there still IS one).
The rules have been kicked to the curb. People are marrying + having kids later, living longer, waiting to retire (if they do at all) and reinventing themselves along the way. PLUS there’s a shortage of workers. A pretty rosy picture, all in all.
Still, if you’re “of a certain age”, it pays to be a bit crafty. Be bold, be unapologetic, but be mindful of the possibility of age bias.
In other words, don’t give them any ammo.
Your resume: avoid phrases that lead with decades of experience (“25+ years”) or long-in-the-tooth descriptors. Instead of “vast”, for example, use “deep” or “extensive” or “rich”. Also, don’t go back for decades with your work history. Especially in tech, the last 10 years or so is plenty. Add a “Prior Roles Include” section if you want to capture relevant earlier titles.
Address the “older workers are more expensive” conversation (at the appropriate time): seasoned workers may be more expensive, but I’ve also heard it eloquently said, “I’m at a point in my life where money is less important: I’m an empty-nester, my kids are out of college, I have flexibility to choose the work I want to do.” This one can be a little tricky, though. Don’t lead with “I’m inexpensive” — you want to be fairly paid for your expertise.
Keep learning + adding new skills: find out what the hot ones are, then pick one up that’s relevant. Not just because I told you to. Be interested in it and have some kind of practical application for it. Udemy has skazillions of courses, cheap. There’s also YouTube (free) and all kinds of interesting problems to be solved in the world.
Mingle with all generations: add younger folks to your network ~ your peers may be retiring. How to find Gen Y’ers / Millennials? Go where they are: mentor, teach what you know, volunteer (find a hackathon or a social engineering opportunity). Bring Genesys Worksinto your company, get invited to your local high school to give a career presentation, hire college interns. Meetup.com and Evite are full of ideas.
Be mindful of your appearance: stay reasonably fit + at a healthy weight. Walk with a spring in your step (want to see how you look when you walk? have someone take a quick video). Hold yourself tall. Cultivate a personal style (that suits you) based on current trends. This includes shoes, glasses, hairstyle, makeup for gals, your pearly whites. Strike a balance, though. You’re not trying to look like a Millennial ~ you be the best version of you.
Listen to yourself: are you talking like a curmudgeon? Steer clear of topics like illness, surgeries, aches and pains, too many stories about the grandkids or decades-old events, how things were “back then” or “we always did things that way”. Your brain is always listening and will faithfully recreate whatever you focus on. The best part: you can reverse it! Don’t do this for them, do it for you. Read this.
Cultivate a youthful attitude: open-mindedness, focused in NOW, flexibility, curiosity, an appreciation of different perspectives and an interest in new ideas. “Old” is a mindset as much as it is a chronology.
I’ve heard that after age 50, we must choose whether we’ll engage with life or drift toward the sidelines. Even though stepping back might seem appealing, decide to stay interested and relevant, whatever that looks like for you. Put energy into learning, experimenting, and getting outside of your comfort zone regularly. Not just professionally, do this in your life.
Chuck Squires, a 35+ year veteran of Robert Half International, role models this beautifully. He’s retired, but stays connected through mentoring, networking, giving back to the business community. On vacations, he’s off hiking in the Andes or volunteering somewhere. His zest for living is infectious and inspiring.
“There is a fountain of youth: It is your mind, your talents, the creativity you bring to your life and the lives of people you love. When you learn to tap this source, you will truly have defeated age.”
— Sophia Loren
At any age, your network is your best professional asset (keep in mind, your network is the people who will help you, not your number of LinkedIn connections). Cultivate it with consistency, and be sure you’re helping others along the way.
A LinkedIn article popped up in my feed recently ~ the topic: could older creatives compete with younger talent? The headline photo: a middle-aged guy with a full gray beard. He was sitting on the ground, MacBook Air atop his thighs. Dressed sharp, wearing Clubmaster shades, muscles faintly visible under his rolled-up sleeves, sockless-in-oxfords-with-tanned-ankles. My god, he looked HOT. Experience and perspective + curiosity and energy are irresistibly intriguing.
You have much to offer: your unique perspective, your experience, your skills, your sensibilities. Stay in the game. We need you here.
some non-cringey tips for easing into the spotlight
Little kids announce their accomplishments so easily and charmingly (maybe because they’re so dang cute). They’re matter-of-fact and completely unselfconscious.
Most grownups, on the other hand, shun the spotlight . “Oh, it wasn’t just ME, it was a team effort.” “Interviews make me so nervous – I just hate talking about myself.” “Lead a training session? That’s WAY outside my comfort zone!” (= all real-life quotes)
Is this a Minnesota thing? A gender thing? In “Rebel Talent”, Francesca Gino says, “As we climb the corporate ladder, our ego inflates, and we tend to feel even more threatened by information that proves us wrong.”
Voicing an unpopular opinion in a meeting (especially a tense one) can be unnerving. Being the focus of attention ~ giving a speech, teaching a group of strangers or trying something new (like Improv) — alarms most of us.
But a job interview carries a multi-threaded threat: we’re talking about ourselves, with strangers, hoping for a job we really want and we’re the sole focus of attention.
Talk about anxiety! It’s enough to bring out the heart-pounding, stammering, I-can’t-think-straight version of ourselves that we don’t want anyone to see.
But consider this: if you don’t tell (or show) us, how else will we know?
You could even say it’s a little selfish to keep us in the dark. Your perspective, your path and your skills are unique. So for the good of all of us, step out of the shadows. It’s cringe-y (but-critical) to show up and help us understand.
It could be a job you’re interviewing for. Or it could be a project you’re about to lead. A new client you’re starting to work with. Or a LinkedIn article you’re about to publish. I know — the spotlight feels alarmingly bright.
Reframe it: you’re not asking (for approval, for a job, for the sale, for the audience’s attention) you’re advising (your skills are relevant, you’re the right person for this task, you’re sharing your perspective).
You’re the authority: No one else knows your experience, your point of view, the way you do. You’re the best one to tell this story.
Get comfortable: you know that person who matter-of-factly talks about their accomplishments? They do it without apology, which puts everyone else at ease. Be more like them. And (my favorite) most people think about us far less than we believe they do.
What? Get comfortable in the spotlight? HOW??
First, get clear. List your accomplishments. Something like, “I untangled the billing process and decreased my company’s reconciliation from 2 weeks to 2 days”. “I led the charge to consolidate my company’s backup tools from 8 to 1, saving $4.5 gazillion” (I made these up, but you get the idea). When I review work histories with professional branding clients, they’re often shocked at how much they’ve done, what they know, and the impact they’ve had. You know what you know. Own that.
Side note: in a job search, highlight accomplishments where you enjoyed doing the work.
Second, add context. Remember how we had to add facts to flesh out a persuasive speech in school? Do that here: add the details. ROI, time / cost savings, measurable impact on customers, improved scores, increased $ revenue. Make it real.
Third, practice. If you’re prepping for an interview, say your accomplishments out loud until they flow. Tell a mirror. Talk to your dog. Say them to your smartphone, on video. Sing them. And when you do trot them out in real life, remember to tell a (short) story or give details.
As you speak, watch for social cues. Has the data landed? If you’re getting a blank look, ask “Does that make sense?” or “Do you need more information?” If they’re good, stop talking.
Think less about your discomfort and more about being a good steward of the data you’re sharing. When you shift focus AWAY from your angst at “bragging” (or being the focus of everyone’s attention) and TOWARD helping your audience better-grasp your message, you’ll find your nervousness falling away.
Some clarity + a little practice will make stepping into the spotlight easier. It’s okay to slip up a little. Be prepared, but give yourself permission to be imperfect.
Don’t you just love hearing different perspectives & stories? All the more when the speaker admits to being a tad nervous or unsure?
It’s what makes work (and life) interesting. So play it loud and proud! We’re all ears.
Executing a great interview Part 2 in a 3-part series
Interviewing is a big topic! In part 1 , we covered interview prep. In this post, I’ll take you through recruiter-tested best practices for executing a great interview.
Good interviews begin with great preparation, followed by confident execution.
You wouldn’t believe how many folks ‘wing it’, taking a quick look at the company website and job description. By observing these guidelines, you’ll automatically stand out. Ready?
Be prepared! Taking time to do your homework is hugely important. It shows respect for the interviewers’ time and also helps you be on your game. You get one opportunity to make a good first impression ~ this is it! For more on how to ace your interview prep, click here to read part 1of this series.
Bring something to write on. Get a decent-looking $20 portfolio
at Target or Walgreens. Black or gray, preferably. Having a
professional-looking portfolio sets you apart from the people who show up
empty-handed or with a spiral-bound notebook.
In it, you should have a legal pad and pen (test the pen beforehand). Bring a
copy of your resume, too. We may not ask to see it, but having it available can
be reassuring if you tend to freeze up in an interview. Also, jot a few of your
key points and questions down on the pad. Use the pad to take a few notes, but
don’t spend a lot of time writing when you’re interviewing – it’s distracting.
Be a little early. Not 20-30 minutes early. Arriving
5-10 minutes before your interview is ideal. If you get here earlier, wait somewhere
else (in your car, in a nearby coffee shop, etc.) for a bit.
A word about scent. For an interview, leave the
cologne or perfume off. Noses become accustomed to fragrance, and yours may be
overpowering even if you can’t smell it. If you’re a smoker, is there a product
to magically erase the smell of that last pre-interview cig? We can smell it
even if you can’t. And pop a breath mint on your way in.
Know who you’re meeting. Ask for your interviewer using their
first AND last names.
Silence your phone. Better yet, shut it off before the interviewer picks you up.
Be nice to the front desk person.
Sometimes we check to see how you treated them. Don’t be that person who’s
charming to their interviewers but dismissive or rude to the front desk person.
Have a good handshake. Firm, with palms connecting fully. Make eye contact and smile. Don’t
squeeze too hard (or too limply). Don’t hang on too long or use your other hand
to grab the person’s arm (creepy).
Wait to situntil
the interviewer’s seated or asks you to have a seat. If you’re interviewing in
a conference room, choose a chair at one of the long sides of the table rather
than at either end of the table.
Smile. Your body will take the cue to relax a bit. Also, our brains work
better when we’re somewhat relaxed. And breathe. You don’t need to keep a fake
smile plastered on, but do check in to see what your face is doing.
Be authentic. If you get super nervous in
interviews, it’s OK to say so (once, at the beginning of the interview).
If you’re really excited about the position and/or the company, tell them! Mind
your manners while being real, of course. No swearing, no complaining about past bosses
or companies, EVER. Stay professional.
Listen to the questions. If you’re not clear about what’s being asked, say, “I’m not sure what’s being asked. Could you give me a little more detail (or an example), please?” Answer directly without rambling. Use relevant examples.
Watch the interviewers’ body language: are they nodding? Smiling? Then your answer has landed. If they’re looking confused, ask, “Did I answer your question? Do you need more information?” If they’re looking distracted or bored, it’s time to stop talking. Some companies use the STAR technique to interview candidates (we used it at Prime Therapeutics). If you’re not familiar, learn about it here.
Have some of your own questions. Choose 1-2 from this list (jot them down in your portfolio):
brought you here?
was your biggest surprise/challenge?
will you know you’ve hired the right person for this position?
would you expect me to accomplish in the first 6 months?
your timeline for filling this position?
would the rest of the interview process look like?
on what we’ve talked about, do you think I’d be a fit for this position? Or (my favorite):
you have any concerns about my experience that I can address while we’re
Aaaaaand make sure your questions are relevant to the interview. For example, ask job-specific questions of the hiring manager: “What technical skills will I use most?” “What will the person you hire need to accomplish in the first 30/60/90 days?” or “What’s the team like?” If you’re meeting with your prospective manager’s boss, go a little more strategic: “What is this team’s longer term goal?”
Save questions about time off, telecommuting or benefits for your Human Resources interview. In depth compensation and benefits conversations come at the end of the process, usually with HR.
Help the interviewer. Sometimes interviews go off track and the key points (ie. your skills and experience) don’t get discussed. No kidding, I’ve heard candidates say, “It was a great conversation, but we never even covered the job or my skills!”
If this is happening in your interview, it’s up to you to mention your experience even if they don’t. You’ve prepared some examples – mention them, politely, of course, before the interview is over.
When compensation comes up, say, “I’m looking for
competitive pay. Can you give me an idea of the salary for this position,
please?” In our initial talent
acquisition phone interviews, we always ask about salary expectations. We’re
just making sure we’re in the same range.
Later on, after all interviews are completed and you’re at offer stage, get
answers to all your compensation questions. Ask about the cost of benefits
& when they become available, whether there are bonuses and when they’re
paid out (and the company’s track record for paying them), typical merit
increase (usually 2-4%), education reimbursement, and paid time off.
Be prepared, same as an in-person interview.
You have to work a little harder to engage your interviewer, since you can’t
rely on physical cues. Make sure the phone connection is clear, you’re in a
quiet spot, and that you’re not driving or otherwise distracted.
Be standing when you answer the call.
There’s a physiology behind this: when seated, our diaphragms are compressed.
When we stand, our diaphragms help project sound more fully, making us sound
energetic and engaging. You can sit down after that, if you want.
Answer like you’re at your desk. “Hi, this is <your name>” not, “Hello?” Do your
best to sound professional, alert, and ready to have a great conversation.
Smile. A smile is noticeable over the phone. And be sure to thank the
interviewer and let them know you’re interested before you sign off (if you
are, that is).
Remember, you’re interviewing the company, too:
Pay attention as you wait for your interviewer. Do people seem energized,
happy, friendly? Is the front desk person professional ? How about the interviewers?
Do they seem prepared and intentional? Do they know who/what they’re looking
for? Are they forthcoming in sharing information? Is interview feedback
provided? Do you like them?
When the interview is finished, thank the
interviewer(s). You’ve just met a new connection, even if you’re not going to
work together. If you’re excited about this opportunity, say so.
can sign off by asking one last question, about timing. “When do you think
you’ll know about next steps?” or “When do you think you’ll have interview
feedback?” This reinforces your interest and will set the cadence for your
follow up, which I’ll cover in part 3, “After the Interview”.
Be prepared, be
intentional and be confident. You’ve got this.
Unless you have nerves of steel (or you regularly talk to strangers in high-pressure situations), interviewing is unsettling. I’ve worked with senior managers who are as nervous as a new grad at the thought of talking about themselves. It’s normal: questions are thrown at you, and while being judged, you’re supposed to answer them deftly. It feels like a high-stakes pass-and-shoot.
Good interview skills are useful throughout a career. Use them when you’re seeking a new job (internally or externally); when you’re interviewing someone else; they’re even useful when you’re lobbying for a new idea or cause and need all the influence you can muster.
Even those with high-demand or unusual skills (which means they could bomb the interview & still get the job) need to cultivate good interview aptitude. Someday that knowledge may be less captivating and good interview skills may just save the day.
Good interviews begin with great preparation.
When you take time to anticipate and answer some of the likely questions, you automatically give yourself an edge (and a little relief).
Know your why. What draws you to this company / this job?(hint: it shouldn’t be all about you) For example: Meh: “It’s a much better commute than my current role.” Good: “The job description seems like a good fit for my skills”. Impressive: “Not only is the job description a close match, but I noticed that your company is doing xxx and that aligns with my values.”
Research, research, research. I agree with Lou Adler, self-proclaimed recruiting and hiring guru, who estimates that research is 80% of a job search. Review the company’s website, but don’t stop there. Google the company and read press releases over the last couple of years. Check out the company’s LinkedIn profile. Look it up on GlassDoor. Has anyone you know worked there? What do they have to say? A candidate who’s done their homework stands out.
Get to know your interviewer(s). Review their LinkedIn profile(s). How long have they been with the company? What’s their (general) background / work history? Do you share LinkedIn connections? Do you and the interviewer have common interests / universities / previous employers? What can you learn about this person (in a non-creepy way)? Note: talking about what’s on their Facebook page is creepy. Don’t.
Take another look at the job description. Identify the top 2-3 skills. Now jot down examples of your experience as it relates to those requirements. If you don’t have experience with a specific required skill, what comparable skill/experience do you have? For example: Meh: “Yes, I’ve worked with x technology.” Good: “I have 3 years of experience in x technology while working at z company.” Impressive: “In my current company, I’m using x technology to do y. So far, we’ve been able to <insert a result you’ve achieved>” or “I haven’t worked with x technology, but I have done y with a similar technology, plus I pick things up quickly.” Here are some ideas on how to answer the most-common interview questions.
Put your interview attire together.
Try it on, even before you have interviews scheduled. The night before an
interview is no time to be caught without clothes you feel great in.
What to wear? I used to say that you can never go wrong with a suit (plus a tie for guys). These days, I think you can definitely go wrong with a suit. For example if you’re interviewing for a creative role, especially in ad agencies. A general rule: the higher the position you’re interviewing for, the more formal your interview attire, at least for the first meeting. Also, certain industries tend to dress more formally.
For an interview with a Big 4 accounting firm, for instance, only a suit + tie is acceptable. In corporate IT, you’ll do just fine wearing slacks (Dockers, for example) and a crisp long sleeve button-down or polo with a white undershirt peeking out at the neck. For women, slacks or a skirt and a crisp blouse in neutral/professional colors is fine. Shoes should be polished and well-kept and dark-colored (no white sneakers, please). Definitely wear socks. Remember, the focus should be on you, not on what you wear. Here’s a fun video about interview wear.
Do your mental prep: Olympic and professional athletes, top business people, and other high achievers spend significant amounts of time envisioning themselves doing well even before their event. You, too, can lay down the neural pathways to your success.
In a quiet setting, relax and close your eyes. In your imagination, go through the entire interview, from arriving at the company (looking sharp and being well-prepared, of course) to asking the receptionist for your interviewer. Now you’re with your interviewer(s). You’re answering questions, seeing them nod and smile and you’re asking a few great questions of your own. You’re connecting with the interviewer(s), feeling relaxed and competent. Things are going really well. They say something like, “You’d be a great fit here. We look forward to further conversations.” Before you know it, the interview’s over, and they’ve said they want you. You’re leaving now, thanking the receptionist on your way out. You feel the satisfaction of fielding their questions well. The fun of meeting someone new and liking them. The joy of acknowledging your nervousness and doing well despite it (because you prepared). Run through this mental movie multiple times before your interview. Seeing – and feeling – success is a powerful confidence builder.
Have you completed the steps listed in this article? Then you’re well on your way to a great interview (and you’ll be far ahead of most others). A little nervousness is normal. It’ll help you be mentally sharp.
If you’re more than a little anxious, though, you must tell yourself that everything will be fine. You’ve prepared yourself. You’ll do your best. And then let it go. Distract yourself, refuse to get stirred up by the moaning and ‘what if’s’ in your head. Keep your confidence high. If not this interview/this job, then something better. But you’re really ready for this, aren’t you? Well done.
In part 2, we’ll cover the actual interview (in-person and over the phone). Thanks for being here ~ see you again soon!
b) never (they’re old-fashioned);
c) to hammer home why you’re a perfect fit for the job;
d) a and c;
I know, right?
Back when resumes were snail-mailed, a cover letter was an integral part of the application process, a genteel ‘nice to meet you.’ Today’s online applications have kicked cover letters to the job-hunting curb. Mostly.
So when DO you use a cover letter? What should it say? And to whom should it be addressed?
use a cover letter when it’s not immediately apparent why you’re the right person for this job.
Location (you live out of commute range): use a cover letter to briefly address:
What brings you to our fair state? (ie. to be near family, partner got a job or grad school placement here). We recruiters are leery of relocating someone JUST for a job, especially when Minnesota has things like…winter;
Timing (will you find a job FIRST, then move? How soon do you expect to be local?);
Will you be visiting the new metro (ie. be able to interview) before your move?
Are you looking for a relocation package (we’ll ask anyhow)?
Job pivot : When you’re applying for a job that’s different than the ones you’ve held, help us connect the dots. Use a cover letter to address the reason why your skills/experience are a fit (tweak your resume, too).
Stepping down: From CIO to director, manager to sole contributor. Again, help us understand. Keep it short, acknowledging that you’re applying to a less-weighty role. Focusing on the value (experience) you can add while dialing your work responsibilities back, ie. “I’m ready to move from a leading role to a supporting role.”
That’s the ‘when’;
Some tips on what to say
Select 1-2 key requirements from the job description (don’t just match years of experience ~ find something juicier: talk about similar industry, company size, growth trajectory or how you’ve successfully tackled issues your target company may be facing);
Craft a couple of sentences about your experience as it relates to those requirements (ie. “with experience creating scalable processes within a rapidly-growing company, my background should be a good fit.”
Invite: “I’d welcome the opportunity for a conversation / interview / discussion. I’ve heard great things about <company / company’s transformation / other buzz>.”
And to whom
Do a quick LinkedIn search on the company you’re applying to. Can you figure out who the hiring manager is? If so, address it to that person and say something like, “Based on my research, it seems likely that this position reports to you.”
If you can’t figure out who the hiring manager is, see if the job is posted on LinkedIn. If it is, who’s the recruiter listed as ‘point of contact’? Use that name. If there isn’t a recruiter named, address your cover letter to ‘Talent Acquisition’ or ‘<company name> Recruiter’ or ‘Hiring Team’.
RE: <position title + job / requisition number from the company’s Careers page, if you have it>
Hi, <first name>,
I hope your week’s off to a great start. I’m very interested in being considered for the role of <insert job title> at <insert company name>. With my <insert relevant skill #1>, <insert relevant skill or industry experience> + <insert soft skill>, my background should be a good fit.
I look forward to hearing from you or someone on your team!
<your first and last name>
<your email address>
Want your cover letter to be read?
Keep it short, relevant and curious/confident (not ‘pick me! pick me!’).
There are no guarantees that your cover letter WILL get read, but when you’ve kept it tidy and trim, it’s much more likely.
I’m a word-nerd + recruiter who loves to help mid-career job seekers refine (or define) their professional brand.
Of course, there could be other factors why that interview didn’t come your way. But if you have a hunch that your resume isn’t opening doors, try taking a look at it with these 5 tips in mind.
1. Your resume is too long. But how long should it be? you ask. My answer: it depends. Generally, 2-3 pages (contractors’ might be longer because assignments are typically outlined). If you work in technology, tools change quickly, so while the work you did 10 years ago may be relevant, the tools have likely been replaced. A common technology mistake: listing every single tool or technology ever used. Trim it to the ones you know best. If you’re mid- or later-career, going back more than 10-15 years can make you look out-of-step.
A resume is an appetizer, not the meal.
It should whet the appetite, not overwhelm it.
2. Your resume doesn’t highlight your skills for THIS job. I know, I know. You don’t want to tailor your resume for every job to which you apply. To an extent, I agree. However, pay attention to the key requirements (from the job description) and call yours out. Especially if it’s not a clear match, if you REALLY want this job, and/or you don’t know the person receiving your resume (HR/Talent Acquisition).
As one of my hiring managers once said, “If they’re applying for a six-figure job, I expect them to tailor their resume at least a little bit.” You decide.
3. Your resume is hard to read. Take an objective look: have you used blocks of text? A block is anything more than a couple of medium-length sentences strung together. People tend to skim when reading resumes, so format yours with the reader in mind. Use bullet points, shorter sentences, and proofread it from their point of view.
Does it draw you in? Or is it overwhelming?
4. Your resume is poorly-worded or has inconsistent grammar/spelling/punctuation. I’ve seen resumes whose ‘responsibilities’ sections were copied from a job description. Or they’re written in a way that assumes the reader has familiarity with you and/or with what you do. It bears repeating: keep your reader in mind as you write your resume. Also, make sure verb tenses align (they should all be past tense, except for the job you’re in now). Spell check! Punctuate correctly. When you think you’re finished, have a picky friend review your resume.
Ask , “If I were the hiring manager, would I want to talk to me?”
5. It’s not long (or detailed) enough. Create context: how many people did you manage? What was your impact (# users, # facilities)? What was the $ savings / % growth / whatever you achieved? What’s the size and industry of your employer if it’s not well-known? Instead of writing ‘fifty million dollars’, use ‘$50 million’. Did you notice how the symbols also drew your attention in?
There’s a fine line between ‘too long’ and ‘too short’, but your resume shouldn’t just be a few Cheez Its.
Over the years, I’ve seen a lot of resumes. Most are perfectly fine and will do the trick (especially when you have a sought-after skillset). Some resumes are incredibly good, and some are really bad. But if you’re applying and not getting interviews, try these 5 tips.
A fortunate few never actually look for jobs: they’re recommended by superiors or recruited by former co-workers. For the rest of us, here’s a toolbox of best-practices to make job-hunting easier and more productive.
On your professional brand:
DO have a recently-updated resume. Especially if you’re a leader, have it reviewed and reworked by an expert
DO have a recently-updated LinkedIn profile with a clear, professional-looking head shot
DO make sure the dates and titles on your LinkedIn profile match your resume
DO ask for LinkedIn recommendations from people who know you and your work well
Michelle spotted a LinkedIn job posting that looked like a perfect next role. Wisely, she asked around and found a professional who could review and revise her resume + her LinkedIn profile. Feeling much more confident after the resulting profile update and resume had been delivered, she applied to the job.
On figuring out where to begin your search:
DO pick 5-10 companies you admire and for whom you think you’d like to work
DO your research on each company. Using LinkedIn, find a common connection and ask for an introduction
DO invite people in these companies for a quick cup of coffee near their office. Say something like, “I’d love to hear what you like about working at X. Can I buy you a quick cup of coffee?”
DO ask people you trust for a recruiter recommendation
DO spread the word: let friends and family know you’re looking for a new company
DO mingle: attend Meetups in your field of expertise (or ones that strike your fancy)
DO look for and join LinkedIn groups in your profession
DO expand your personal network by taking part in volunteer activities. Make sure to choose a cause that you truly care about
David is great at asking his LinkedIn connections for introductions. When he finds postings that fit his experience, he immediately looks to his network to see who can be an advocate. This has given him several opportunities to interview, as well as offering insights into these companies.
On applying to company websites:
DON’T rely only on applying to jobs online, unless your skills are in high demand
DON’T regurgitate your entire resume into your cover letter, if you’re using one. Keep it simple. Here’s a guideline.
DO try to find an advocate inside the company as well as applying online
DO tailor your resume to the job, highlighting the most-important skills
On staying the course:
DO look for a job before you actually need one. 411 is easier than 911
DON’T get impatient! Depending on your salary, it can take 6-10 months to find the right next position
DO take consistent action so you feel empowered
DO take good care of yourself physically and emotionally
Michael, who’d been off the job market for a couple of years, really enjoyed the networking aspect of his search. He took every opportunity to meet people. Along the way, he also made it his business to connect others and offer his help. His confidence, curiosity, and kindness added tremendous velocity to his search. Very quickly, he landed a great role with a Fortune 500 company and is now happily digging in.
On adding velocity to YOUR search:
DO find ways to help others along the way.
DO assume that things are working out for the best, keeping a positive outlook
DO stay curious and open-minded. That job that doesn’t seem to be a fit could end up being best one in your career so far!
DON’T allow yourself to get bitter, angry or desperate. These attitudes are repellent, and people pick up on them even when they can’t pinpoint what it is about you that is off-putting
Amy, who’s been job-hunting for 5+ months, is finding it hard to land one. It’s ironic, because the market in her city is hungry for people with her experience. She’s had phone interviews, but they never seem to result in face-to-face meetings. The problem? She’s tense and angry. The roles don’t pay what she expects to earn. Rather than adopting a curious and confident outlook, she’s bitter.
Your search can be a trial, or it can be an interesting and exhilarating adventure. By deciding to take the long view, asking for help along the way (+offering your help to others) and refining your job-hunting skills, you’ll be giving it the attention it deserves.
Happily, your results will reflect this.
Need some objective + experienced advice for your professional brand? I can help.
Love ‘em or hate ‘em, agency recruiters and search firms are a fixture on the job search (or hiring) landscape. But they’re not interchangeable and they do need some cultivation. Here’s a roadmap to save you some time and potential heartache.
PART 1: they’re not all created equal :: Things to know
Agencies have different focuses. Some search firms only recruit and place people with deep skills in a particular technology tool (ie. Office 365 or Salesforce). Others focus on a skillset (developers, scrum masters, etc). There are agencies that target midlevel (2-10 year) candidates and others that only work on executive search (senior- and C-level). If you’re new to working with agency recruiters, take a look at their ‘available opportunities’ to get an idea of their practice. Make sure their area of specialization aligns with your skillset.
They often have different lines of business: some work strictly on contract or contract to hire job searches, others only work on permanent placement. Find out what their ‘bread and butter’ is ~ and then, if their focus isn’t the same as yours, keep moving.
Just because a recruiter calls does not mean you need to work with them. Do your homework! For instance, if you’re looking for a perm/direct hire role, don’t waste time (yours or theirs) with a firm that only places people in contract roles, unless you’re truly open to a contract position.
In the direct-hire / permanent placement world, there are different kinds of searches:
Contingent (the agency doesn’t get paid unless they find a candidate that the client hires); usually non-exclusive and a race with other firms to present qualified candidates.
Engaged (the client company pays part of the agency fee up front), which generally gives the agency some exclusivity and traction with the client.
Retained (the client company pays the agency fee in installments, even if the agency doesn’t find a candidate). Essentially, the agency is getting paid for its time, and hopefully for a well-suited candidate. Retained searches are most-often used for senior- and executive level searches.
Why is this relevant? Because the agency’s influence depends on whether the client is using them exclusively or putting the search out to many firms.
Recruiters vary wildly in experience. The big firms like Robert Half and Modis hire inexperienced recruiters, train them up, and see who makes it. Recruiting is a tough and competitive game with a high turnover rate. Especially if you’re 10+ years into your career, be discerning. Work with a recruiter with 5+ years of experience (and proven success).
Just like the rest of us, agency recruiters have relationships of different degrees with their client companies. It’s worth asking how well they know a hiring manager and whether they’ve made recent placements with the company before agreeing to be represented there.
Here’s why: once an agency presents your resume to a company, the agency can charge a placement fee if you’re hired. Agencies typically claim this right for 6 – 12 months.
The problem comes when a company is NOT willing to pay an agency fee. If you’re competing against someone who comes in via the company’s Careers page or a referral, it could easily tip the balance in their favor.
So ask your recruiter: how many people have they placed with the client company? Who pays the agency fees: Talent Acquisition (which might say no even if the hiring manager agrees to consider agency candidates)? Or does the fee come out of the hiring manager’s budget (meaning s/he has decision-making power over paying an agency)?
An agency recruiter who’s invested in your success will generally have answers to these questions. They’ll also tell you if their relationship is strong enough to get traction on your behalf.
PART 2: How to work smart with your agency recruiter
NOTE: You are not the agency recruiter’s client ~ the hiring company is. You’re paying your recruiter zero dollars. Please don’t be that candidate who expects their recruiter to do everything. They’re not your agent, though a good and well-connected recruiter will often act as one for a top-notch candidate.
Unless you have sought-after skills (and even if you do), collaborate. Stay in touch (find out from your recruiter how often is appropriate). Ask about positions you’ve seen on the agency’s ‘opportunities’ page. Mention jobs you’ve seen posted on companies’ Careers pages to see if they’ve got a lead in.
DO NOT APPLY TO THE POSITION FIRST AND THEN ASK YOUR AGENCY RECRUITER FOR HELP ‘GETTING IN FRONT OF THE HIRING MANAGER’. Once you apply to a role directly, the agency cannot represent you at that company.
Give back: offer to help your recruiter by tapping your network, by introducing them to potential candidates, etc. If you’re a hiring manager who needs help filling a job on your team and you can use a search firm / agency, your recruiter should be your first call.
Don’t be needy. Calling for daily updates or expecting your recruiter to fix your resume / LinkedIn profile is asking too much.
Slow down a bit and ask questions, especially as you get close to an offer. It’s your future. Here is where an unscrupulous recruiter (who’s getting paid to place you) might not be 100% forthcoming. If you have niggling doubts, address them. Ask for a final phone call with the hiring manager or HR if you’re not clear on things. Better safe than sorry.
You can work with different agency recruiters. However, you cannot (generally) be represented by more than one agency to the same company (even for jobs in other departments) within the same 6-12 month period. Once your resume is inside the company, that’s the agency who’ll get the fee if you’re hired.
A longstanding relationship with a trusted recruiter provides a lens into the marketplace, even when you’re not looking. As with any relationship, it needs attention, care and feeding.
Consider it an investment in your craft
to have a good recruiter on speed dial.
A story I’ve heard more than once: a posting for the perfect job appears. You apply. Astonishingly, you get a call and an interview request shortly thereafter. You go in. The office is gorgeous. The people seem to be exactly the kind you’d like to work for (and with). After the requisite number of interviews, they tell you an offer is forthcoming.
You’re elated ~ this came together so effortlessly! It seems like a great next step. You’re ready to give notice and climb aboard this new train.
Is this the real thing? Or is it too good to be true? Of course you do your research, like reading Glassdoor reviews.
What constitutes a red flag? Here are the most-common:
You didn’t meet or talk with your new leader or future peers (true story!).
The reason the position is open is vague or hasn’t been explained to your satisfaction.
You’re not a senior leader or C-level exec, but you’re asked to come in for an inordinate number of interviews (>3).
You’re going to be in a leadership role, but your request to meet with your future team without your prospective leader in the room is denied.
There isn’t a clear set of measurable expectations for your success (ie: “If we fast forward 3-6 months, what should I have accomplished in order to be on track?”).
The offer, the position, the speed with which it all came together is amazing, but you still have this niggling feeling that there’s something you’re not being told.
OR things move quickly at first, but then drag out for weeks or months, with a lot of unexplained communication gaps.
The salary is okay but the bonus potential is fantastic. However, they can’t quite come up with the track record for bonus payouts, confirm when bonuses are paid or describe the parameters / requirements for qualifying.
There’s disturbing press about the company or negative word on the street. You inquire, but your interview team is not forthcoming about what’s being done to address it or fix the problem.
You ask about the company’s mission / vision and the C-level exec says, “I guess we’d better get one.”
Some general guidelines for your due diligence:
Meet with 360 degrees (subordinates, peers, leaders). Extra credit if you have friends on the inside and/or vendors with a trustworthy lens into the company (ie. do they pay their bills?)
Get a satisfactory answer for why the position’s open, especially if there have been several people in the role within the last few years.
Know what will be expected of you. Corollary: make sure your leadership is invested in your success.
Trust your gut. If you have doubts, slow down and find out why.
If the bonus is a large part of the compensation, know what you need to do to achieve it and what the payment history has been.
None of these red flags mean you should automatically decline an offer. They ARE indicators that you need more data. Asking too many questions during the interview process makes some folks uncomfortable ~ they worry that their chances of being hired will be clipped.
You’re vetting your future company to the same degree that they’re vetting you. If you can’t satisfy your curiosity without getting kicked to the curb, is this a place you want to work?
And…what other opportunities are you letting go of for this one?
Questions are good.
Red flags can also be good.
Answers are better. Get them before you make big decisions.