Monthly Archives: July 2012

Word Cloud: for effective interview strategies


Used Wordle for Job Search

Used Wordle for Job Search

Your  job interview vocabulary may matter much more than you expect. I’ve seen first-hand how powerfully the words you use in a job interview affect the impression you convey to the interviewer. significantly more than I believed. Recently I was privileged to participate in a series of mock interviews. The impact of vocabulary was especially noticeable in their responses to behavioral questions. One interviewee omitted entirely any reference to the specifics of the detailed job description that she was provided.

I was astonished, given that several similar positions were listed prominently on her resume. During subsequent interviews, I observed specific vocabulary more closely. Applicants responding to behavioral questions using the same vocabulary as those included in the job description clearly gained credibility by doing so. Very simply, you just believed as you listened to their words that they were already in the position. The incremental impact was especially strong for interviewees who had previously worked in a different field, but made the effort to prepare.  On reflection, it became clear to me that effective interview strategies pay close attention to the vocabulary of the job description. It sounds very simple, but I think it is commonly overlooked. Continue reading

Before Tiger Woods, there was Benjamin Franklin


Benjamin Franklin Mastered Deliberate Practice

Benjamin Franklin Mastered Deliberate Practice

Tiger Woods raised the bar for professional golfers by committing himself to a lifetime of deliberate practice. Almost two hundred years earlier, Benjamin Franklin set out to be a “tolerable English writer” after his father pointed out deficiencies in a letter he had written to a friend:
About this time I met with an old volume of the Spectator. I had never before seen any of them. I bought it, read it over and over, and was much delighted with it. I thought the writing excellent, and wished, if possible, to imitate it. With that view, I took some of the papers, and making short hints of the sentiment in each sentence, laid them by for a few days, and then, without looking at the book, tried to complete the papers again, by expressing each hinted sentiment at length and as fully as it had been expressed before, in any suitable words that should come to hand. I then compared my Spectator with the original, discovered some of my faults and corrected them. But I found I wanted a stock of words, or a readiness in recollecting and using them, which I thought I should have acquired before that time if I had gone on making verses; since the continual occasion for words of the same import, but of different length, to suit the measure, or of different sound for the rhyme, would have laid me under a constant necessity of searching for variety, and also have tended to fix that variety in my mind, and make me master of it. Therefore I took some of the tales and turned them into verse; and, after a time, when I had pretty well forgotten the prose, turned them back again. I also sometimes jumbled my collections of hints into confusion, and after some weeks endeavored to reduce them into the best order, before I began to form the full sentences and compleat the paper. This was to teach me method in the arrangement of thoughts. By comparing my work afterwards with the original, I discovered many faults and amended them; but I sometimes had the pleasure of fancying that, in certain particulars of small import, I had been lucky enough to improve the method or the language, and this encouraged me to think I might possibly in time come to be a tolerable English writer, of which I was extremely ambitious.
He was less than 17 years old. I was reminded of this story when I read “Talent is Overrated” by Geoff Colvin. He and other writers recently have argued that high levels of competence are not achievable on talent alone. Colvin uses Mozart and Tiger Woods as examples.
In this regard, the opposite of Tiger is not a beginner, but a “duffer”. A duffer is just not a mediocre player, He is a mediocre player who actually plays regularly for many years but will never become more proficient. Employees who hold the same job for a long time may have been able to rely on the employer to schedule training to satisfy the evolving requirements of that position. When they are suddenly unemployed, they lack the skills demanded by other employers.
Benjamin Franklin found the time for these pursuits by rising early, before he began his day’s work in the printing shop.
I invite you to read more of his inspiring autobiography here.

Image from

Do you work in your career or on it?

In his best-selling book “E-myth”, Michael Gerber offers advice to Sarah, an entrepreneur who is overwhelmed by the challenges of operating her small business. During one conversation, he advises her to work “on her business, not just in her business”. Sarah was told by everyone that she was so good at baking pies, she really must open a pie shop. Now she absolutely hates baking pies. Gerber says “she took the work she loved and turned it into a job.

While Sarah’s story and Gerber’s book are clearly oriented toward owners of small businesses, I’m sure Sarah’s lament resonates with employees. If you love golf and are good at it, the idea that you “should” be a golf coach can sound quite reasonable. If the photos that you post on are well received, others may express surprise that you don’t become a photographer. (neither of these describe me) However, the skills and temperament needed in addition to the technical competencies for success as a professional photographer, golf coach or baker of pies are not at all trivial to acquire, even if you work for someone else as an employee.

Those demands may explain why more employees don’t venture into self-employment. The need to market yourself constantly to ensure a continuous stream of income is one of those demands that many avoid.
However, it turns out that the demands of sustaining continuous employment are converging with those of entrepreneurship. In today’s employment marketplace, you need to “think like a CEO of your own career”, as William Bridges wrote 15 years ago in “Creating You & Co.”

Some of us find ourselves thrust unexpectedly into a situation where we need to market ourselves in ways that we never anticipated. We are suddenly on the job market and very much unprepared, with a very long list of “should haves”. But you can’t “should have”. It is harder to expand that list of accomplishments that is so essential for your resume when you don’t work there anymore. You need to do that before you leave.

Gerber says that when sometimes after an entrepreneur experiences significant initial growth, then scales back. In his words, a “business that got small again is a business reduced to the level of its owner’s personal resistance to change, to its owners Comfort Zone, in which the owner waits and works, works and waits, hoping for something positive to happen.” In the same way, we can continue to work “in” our career/job, hoping for a positive outcome. Working “on” our career means proactive initiatives that take us out of our Comfort Zone.

Job Application Typo Deserves a Prudent Response

I knew the strategy the friendly Volvo salesman had in view when he suggested I take the car home overnight one afternoon in 1984. He hoped I would become so emotionally attached to this nice Volvo 240 sedan that I couldn’t resist the purchase. That wasn’t a risk, I thought. This wasn’t an emotional purchase, like the Monte Carlo was. Anyway, I was fickle with cars. I could, if necessary, purge those passions the Volvo had aroused by test driving a 5 litre Mustang GT in the morning.

So I took the car home and did the usual. Calmed down my son who feared I had lost my mind and reassured my wife that I hadn’t promised to buy anything. The sensible Volvo did have a certain appeal so we set out for a drive in the country. The fuel gauge showed empty so I stopped in at the gas bar near our home. To my astonishment, the car refused to start after I added $10 worth. It turned over but it just would not start so we pushed the immobilized new Volvo to a safe corner.

The next morning I dropped off the key with directions for the tow truck driver. After work I waited for the salesman to finish talking to someone else. He wondered if I was ready to make an offer. “What was wrong with the car that it wouldn’t start?” I asked. “I have no idea” was his markedly inadequate response. I was astonished. Could he not see that I needed reassurance that a stranded Volvo surprised him more than me? I mean, you didn’t buy a Volvo 240 in those days for its pretty face. If it wasn’t safe, reliable and sensible, there wasn’t much left. Kind of like a medicine that tastes like crap and doesn’t do anything for you. When he called a few days later hoping I was ready to buy, he still didn’t care what had left me stranded.

I thought about this story this week when I was researching (OK, Googling) for my last post about how much a typo matters. A senior executive said that he would still interview a candidate whose application contained a typo but would ask about it in the interview. Her response at that moment would carry far more weight than the fact that the typo wasn’t caught.

Things will happen in the course of your jobsearch. You will forget someone’s name. You will arrive late. In the interview, you will be asked a question that everyone in the room knows you didn’t prepare for but should have. Those things shouldn’t happen but inevitably they will. Pay attention to the reactions of those who are interviewing you. If they seem surprised by something, address their concerns directly. Follow up later.

When the salesman under responded to the breakdown of a car that purports to be reliable, it seemed to me that it must not be particularly unusual. The Volvo had a great reputation, but he had first-hand knowledge of Volvo reliability, so I accepted his assessment. I needed to hear that the breakdown was more surprising to him than it was to me. When you are a jobseeker, the interviewer needs to know certain things. Like you do get that spelling Frank’s name as “Frnak” on your cover letter somehow contradicts your claim to have outstanding writing skills. Don’t wait for Frnak to bring it up in the interview. If Frnak was ticked off, you wouldn’t be having the interview. So take the lemon and make some lemonade. Tell Frnak that your sister-in-law has a Volvo with 350,000 miles that has never let her down once. Or whatever story seems relevant.

Typographical Error may trash your job application


Can One Error Cost You a Job Offer?

Can One Error Cost You a Job Offer?

You just hit “send”, and an error that was invisible a nanosecond ago looks like it’s in a 50-point font. Now you fear that a single typo will be judged so harshly that you’ve blown this opportunity.

I spent 5 years directing the research department of a professional accounting association. We printed more than 15,000 copies of our 300 page research studies in one print run for distribution to our members. Thousands of hours annually, in a pre-PC era, were devoted to ensuring that no errors survived our scrutiny. So how did I respond to typos in the applications I reviewed? I hired very bright people because I needed to know that they could understand difficult subject matter and communicate effectively with authors and the practicing accountants who served on review committees to vet the content of our various publications. Luring bright accounting graduates away from public accounting firms isn’t easy. I already had Cecil, an outstanding proofreader. People who can find typos aren’t scarce. So a typo would be discussed in the interview, along with other deficiencies that had been circled in red, but one lone typo wouldn’t discourage me from inviting an otherwise strong candidate to an interview. But a cavalier response to my mention of any error would definitely concern me.

I rarely received more than 20 credible applications but that wouldn’t be the reality today. Let’s suppose you and 500 other candidates submitted your applications by email in response to a typical job posting. The first screening will be performed by a junior staff person who is looking for a handful of key words or a software program that does the same. If your application didn’t nail most of the qualifications the job posting specified it will be rejected at that stage anyway. If your application is forwarded to a hiring manager and the rest of your application is very carefully prepared, your sole error may be noted but considered alongside other factors. If the duties of the position involve writing for external parties or you have claimed outstanding writing skills as one of your qualifications, it’s likely to be taken more seriously.

So if you don’t hear back from them, don’t sweat the typo. It’s not the typo that sent the application to the trash. It was your weak application. The process that creates a well-tailored application doesn’t start the afternoon of the submission deadline and leaves time for careful proofreading. It’s rare that an amazing resume/cover letter contains a typo. And there’s never more than one.

Keyboard error image courtesy of Shutterstock.

Career Risk Management Begins Before Your Career Choice

As a child, I heard stories of sadder-but-wiser bargain hunters who drove 100 miles to Toronto from our small town in response to newspaper ads offering new cars at huge savings. Sometimes the advertised vehicle wasn’t available, perhaps never existed. Or everything from the spare tire to the wheel covers was extra. Like the con man, the high-pressure salesperson fought vigorously to “cool out the mark” by redefining the situation. If that is done skillfully, the customer will purchase a vehicle from the same dealer that tricked him, even paying close to the same price as was offered by the dealer back home. Even worse, now he has to go to that dealer for service, with the big-city dealer’s sticker on the trunk lid.

Career Bait and Switch

What A Social Worker Really Does

My social worker friend spends 60% of his time satisfying ever-increasing requirements for documentation of the work he does is in the other 40%. It’s not just that he resents not getting to do more of the kind of social work that initially attracted him to the profession. It’s also that he, like many people whose passion for helping others and giftedness is suited to social work, strongly dislike the nature of the documentation duties and resent the emphasis those duties have in performance evaluation. It can feel like somebody did a “bait and switch”, when the nature of your daily duties differs radically from the expectations you had when you were first attracted to their profession. By the way, I realize that the load of paperwork is only one issue frustrating social workers today but it does feature prominently in the accompanying photo.

Did anyone really do a “bait and switch” by providing distorted or incomplete information about careers? Yes. Educational institutions at all levels have a vested interest in attracting top students to their programs and are now often partnered with professional organizations that need to add new members. Objective information can be difficult to find. The career risk is entirely borne by you. So it’s your job to manage it.

To be sure, you need to accept some of the blame for your conclusions. Most adults realize that no job is without unpleasant elements but without careful research that awareness remains vague. You can’t accurately assess how much those elements will bother you 5 or 15 years from now if they remain vague. Most of us don’t research our careers very carefully. The head of career services at a local university told my career counselling class that most students spend more time planning their spring break than choosing a career. Sometimes, like the car shopper, we fall in love with our mental image of the anticipated future and we don’t want dis-confirming evidence.

To manage this aspect of career risk, thoroughly investigate any line of work that requires extended preparation before you actually get to practice. To avoid “bait and switch”, arrange multiple information interviews with people in the field. Don’t just ask them for advice on how to become an accountant or social worker or nurse. Find out what aspects of the job other people really enjoy, what they really dislike and pay careful attention to those answers. Find examples of people in your chosen field whose temperaments similar to yours. If you can’t find any, that might be a red flag? (In job interviews, ask them to describe someone who was outstanding in the position and someone who really wasn’t cut out for the job. Make good notes of their answer! Ask yourself whether those less desirable aspects of the job will make your life miserable or even sabotage your performance. Most of us will have several careers over a working life. We need to become proficient at choosing our work, one key component of managing career risk, as well as performing our chosen work.

However, what I learned from Tilda Shalof is that we can be exactly in the profession where we belong but find aspects of our work that we don’t do particularly well and/or we strongly dislike. Those aspects can distract us, but they don’t have to if we choose otherwise.

Source of photo:

Career Success Without a Perfect Fit

She knew she wanted to be a nurse since the age of 6 when she served as the primary caregiver for her ill mother. She considers herself a born nurse but struggled to achieve her career goal and would have abandoned the journey long before if she had listened to the advice of others. The dean at the University of Toronto shook her head in frustration as Tilda Shalof walked across the podium to receive her nursing degree. She was undoubtedly born to be a nurse but that did not mean that her career was one uninterrupted series of remarkably successful steps. It took hard work and an unrelenting commitment but 25 years later Tilda has written 4 books about her experiences as a nurse and speaks regularly about serious problems in healthcare that we otherwise would never hear about.

My first acquaintance with Tilda’s story was when Carolyn Weaver interviewed her on Bio Library. She had completed The Making of A Nurse, the second of her four books, following The Nurse’s Story. She told Carolyn about her realization one day that there were many skills and qualities that she would need to acquire if she was to become an excellent ICU nurse. She was the only university-trained nurse in the unit, surrounded by experienced, competent nurses whose training was hands-on, not theories from a textbook. Additionally, her supervisors and colleagues doubted that she had the right temperament for success as an ICU nurse. Tilda could have transferred to a less demanding unit in the hospital. There was a severe shortage of nurses, it would have been easy, but she stuck it out. She was determined to become that excellent nurse and she certainly did.

I had never before that day heard anyone articulate that simple idea so clearly. Tilda’s statement confronted my preconceptions that if you identified your calling, you could achieve excellence in that area with easy-to-moderate struggle. It wasn’t so much that she refused to accept that she didn’t fit. We all know people who aren’t particularly good at what they do. The Peter Principle said that was actually normal. It was that Tilda took personal responsibility for addressing her deficiencies. In her mind, staying with ICU nursing implicitly meant a commitment to becoming an excellent nurse, because that was the only way she could provide excellent patient care. Read her books and then tell me that you are not grateful that she stuck with ICU nursing!

I am reminded of Tilda Shalof every time I meet someone with a dream who is surrounded by others who want them to be more “realistic” and choose an easier path. Maybe when we ask whether we are a fit for the career of our dreams we are asking the wrong question. Maybe the better question is whether we are willing to do what is needed to become fit for that career! A number of writers now tell us that we can achieve above average competence in most skills with deliberate practice. As to our temperaments, we can learn to moderate our natural tendencies. More about that later.

Job interview questions on Microsoft Office skills

Job interview questions on Microsoft Office skills

Job interview questions on Microsoft Office skills

As I reviewed a resume recently with a young person in preparation for anticipated job interview questions, I encountered the following item in the qualifications section.

  • Advanced skills in Microsoft Word, Excel, PowerPoint and Access

Given her limited work history, I knew prospective employers would doubt that her Microsoft Office skills were at the advanced level she claimed. I asked if she could prove advanced skills. Could she demonstrate those skills if requested during a job interview? Not only did she not have a way to prove that she had Advanced Microsoft Word skills, but she could not name one such skill. She was not prepared to handle what were highly predictable job interview questions in her line of work. Notice that I didn’t say she didn’t actually have advanced skills, but that she wasn’t ready to support her claims.

Exactly What Are Advanced Microsoft Word Skills Anyway?

Do you know what skills a prospective employer would expect if you claimed on your resume to have Advanced Microsoft Word Skills? How would you answer job interview questions about your proficiency in Microsoft Word? Could you prepare a table of contents, footnotes and endnotes for a document with 20 chapters and 200 pages? How about “managing and tracking document changes, using highlights and comments”? I’m not asking whether you could run to the library on the way home and grab a book on Word skills. I mean if at the end of a job interview, they stuck you in a room with a computer, could you demonstrate those skills right now? What about Microsoft Word 2010?

Most Intermediate Microsoft Word skills, such as creating and formatting complex tables, would be a stretch for many of us unless they had been previously required in our employment. It’s not a question of whether you could easily get up to speed on these skills if you turned out to need them after you were hired. Most of us could do that. But what if many of the jobs you are looking for all say that they want Advanced Microsoft Office proficiency but you don’t yet have them?

Show Your Microsoft Word Skills with 5 Simple Strategies

  • Use research tools, including information interviews with current company contacts to identify exactly what the employer does require for the position you are seeking.
  • Come prepared to the job interview with checklists that honestly reflect your current skill levels with Microsoft Office suite. Include that one page in your portfolio. Some organizations ask for advanced Microsoft Office suite skills for every job posting, but it’s not likely they actually need them. If possible,
  • Revise your resume to honestly describe your current skills, such as Intermediate Microsoft Word and Microsoft Excel and Beginner Microsoft PowerPoint and Access. That should seem more credible than a claim of advanced skills across the entire Microsoft Office Suite. Unless your previous employment required very sophisticated skills or you have extensive training, that simply is not credible. You definitely can’t expect them to take your word for it.
  • Upgrade your skills regularly: Over time, keep adding to your skills as part of your job interview preparation. You don’t need to wait until a prospective employer gives you a reason to add the skill. Free training, including videos on YouTube and books at your local library, is widely available,! When you can demonstrate another skill, upgrade your skills list.
  • Create a demonstration document that you could bring with you to the job interview or even email in advance. For example, find a simple text version of a classic novel or other public domain document. Reformat the document, demonstrating the full range of Intermediate and Advanced Skills in Microsoft Word 2010. Create a new PDF file with an index to examples in the document of each of the skills you are claiming. Bring that PDF file with you on an inexpensive USB drive that you can leave behind at the end of the interview!

Prepare for Job Interview Questions on Microsoft Office Skills

Job seekers need to arrive at the job interview prepared to respond appropriately for all predictable questions. To do that, reassure a prospective employer that you have the up-to-date Microsoft Office skills, especially if those qualifications wouldn’t be indicated by previous work experience. The checklists in the MS Office Skills Checklists section of this site can help you to credibly communicate.

Does all this sound like a lot of work? I’m not suggesting that it isn’t, but it may set you apart from the competition. Don’t just claim your qualifications. Use the checklists to prove them!

Do you have other suggestions? Please let me know!

Check out this Slideshare presentation on how these checklists can benefit you!


Jobseeker – Are You an Obvious “Poser”?

Savvy employers have always looked for reliable short-hand methods for identifying a “poser” – the one who talks a good story but doesn’t really know how to do the job.

Rusty HammerIn the early 50s, my father worked as a carpenter on construction projects in Halifax, Nova Scotia. Unemployment was high and would-be carpenters approached the foreman virtually every morning. He didn’t ask for a resume, he just asked ask to see what was in that toolbox that each one brought to the job site, hoping to work that day. Anyone with a toolbox full of shiny new tools was summarily dismissed as an obvious “poser”. Brilliant! The tools of an experienced carpenter are well worn.
Here are a few lessons we can learn from this simple story:

  • Know the typical indicators that hiring managers in your field use to screen applicants. Conduct information interviews with people already working in similar organizations, the one you’re applying to if possible. Don’t just guess. Be sure.
  • Once you know “well-worn hammer” for your field, demonstrate it. Today’s hiring manager may have had more formal training in modern interview techniques, but is just as busy as that foreman. That places employs simple “rules of thumb” to eliminate unsuitable candidates at a premium.
  • Prepare thoroughly to avoid elimination. If they don’t like to see shiny new briefcases, borrow one that has seen a little use. If they care more about attitude than grades, practice that smile!
  • Build a portfolio of completed projects as evidence that you really do know how to use a hammer and bring it with you to the interview.
  • You may dislike some of the decision rules that you encounter. You might think they’re unfair or arbitrary, even idiosyncratic! That’s OK. When you have their job, you’ll get to have your own arbitrary policies!

In his new ebook, “’Headhunter’ Hiring Secrets”, Skip Freeman advises jobseekers that today’s employers are looking for reasons to exclude you from consideration, not to include you. Hoping that a kindly foreman will overlook your shiny tools ensures that you stay excluded.

Photo from phidauex on

The Parable of the Telemarketer

The Parable of the Telemarketer

Harry Jones is one of my neighbours in a 30-story condo building. Harry resents calls from all telemarketers, but he becomes especially rude when someone calls him asking to send a sales rep to provide a quote on a new roof. There are 15 floors above Harry. If the roof leaks, at least 15 other people will know before it bothers Harry.

One evening earlier this week, the following telephone conversation took place between Harry and Shelly, a woman calling on behalf of NVR Leak Roofing.

Shelly:      Mr. Jones, our crew will be installing a new roof just down the street and I’d like to send our estimator to provide you a free quote.

Harry:       What was your name again?

Shelly:      It’s Shelly, Mr. Jones.

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