Category Archives: Job Search

Research the Employer Before the Interview

When you don’t research the employer before the interview, your superficial research downgrades your answers to every question, disappoints prospective employers and shortchanges you. Take the time, leave your comfort zone, and learn everything you can.

As John headed back to his car after a grueling interview, he was elated. Always optimistic, he usually thought it had gone very well. The panel of interviewers seemed to like his responses to their questions, and he had a good feeling about his chances.

Finally, it was coming together for John. He was proud of the fact that he had taught himself the ins and outs of the plant manager role with a small town manufacturer before it was sold a year ago. Now he felt ready for a big break, bringing his skills and knowledge to a national firm. This position brought a higher salary, opportunities for promotion and improved benefits, just in time for the baby coming in a couple of months.

Thorough Research Before the Job Interview is essential

Research Before Interviews

Back inside, Sherman was puzzled. Something was lacking in John’s answers. John undoubtedly had solved some challenging problems with a shoestring budget. But it was harder to visualize him working in the department. His stories placed him in an environment entirely unlike this one. No more walking into the president’s office and demanding immediate approval for new equipment. If he was hired, could John adjust?

John is oblivious. The very idea that his limited knowledge of even basic differences between his former employer and this new one could undermine his credibility would never occur to him.

For that reason, John didn’t sell himself as effectively as he might have.

Good research distinguishes you from less prepared candidates

The first time I was asked what I had done to prepare for an interview, I was startled by the question. During my academic career, that would never be asked. The truth was, I had done very little to learn about the organization. It simply never occurred to me that I was expected to research the employer before the interview! Frankly, that sounded like a lot of unnecessary work.

The power of thorough, in-depth research to distinguish you from the other applicants, and to overcome biases cannot be overstated. There would have been concerns about John’s suitability just from looking at his resume, but careful preparation of responses that were designed to suit the actual workplace of the prospective employer would have reassured the interview panel.

Possibly even if John did know that he needed to adapt his answers for this specific company, he might have dismissed the idea of spending that much time in preparation for one interview. So the payoff needs to be high. Continue reading

Communicate Your Microsoft Excel Skills Clearly and Succinctly

In the middle of a job interview, you sense that things are going smoothly. Everyone is smiling, lots of encouraging nods, and most of your initial nervousness has faded. Then a question that you hoped they wouldn’t ask rears up in front of you.

Microsoft Excel Skills

Microsoft Excel Skills

Some job interview questions are designed to throw you, questions that you can’t specifically prepare to answer. For those questions, you can learn and practice how to respond when they show up. Find a list of such questions and practice responding.

“How strong are your Microsoft Excel skills?” is not one of those questions, but it’s not very specific. And when you answer it vaguely it is obvious to you that it is obvious to the interviewer. And there is no excuse not to have a very specific answer to that question. Continue reading

Job seekers must fully address employer concerns

Sanjit P., a banker from India, Paul M. a newly unemployed tool and die machinist, and Andrea S., a former accounting clerk, may not appear to have much in common. But all three are frustrated job seekers looking for employment in Southern Ontario and all face difficulties in the job market for what is essentially the same reason. Too often, prospective employer concerns about hiring them are significant barriers that never are addressed.

Address Employer Concerns

As I have mentioned in a previous post, all these worthy job applicants see is a total lack of response.

Morning after discouraging morning, they send cover letters and resumes to posted employment opportunities.

Evening after discouraging evening they wonder what they need to do differently.

In each of these (fictitious) stories of typical job seekers, one significant piece of information stands out to an employer like a red flashing light and sends the application to the trash.

Know the Precise Employer Concern

Sanjit worked as a banker for 15 years but it is hard to tell from his application exactly what his responsibilities might have been and he is applying for a much more junior position than a banker with an MBA and 15 years of Canadian experience would consider. The employer concerns are that he will not accept the work environment and more junior duties that go with entry-level employment opportunities and that he will need significant training to get up to speed in the job. He will not be able to “hit the ground running”. Continue reading

Prospective employers want you to communicate your qualifications clearly

If you submit 10, 20 or more job applications every week without response, you are not alone and it’s your job to figure out why.

Are you treating the job search as a numbers game, like telemarketing? If I just send more applications, sooner or later it is inevitable that I will rise to the top of the pile. Or do you believe those who say “nobody gets hired from online job postings”. If that was true, how long would employers continue to accept online submissions? Not very long.

magnifying glass

Communicate Your Skills Clearly

Not every opening that is posted online is filled from online applicants but some are. If you aren’t among the winning pllicants, it may have something to do with how you are applying, but you may be perplexed as to what to change.

Do you understand the hiring process from the perspective of an employer that receives thousands of applications? Often its a junior staff member who reduces the pile to a manageable number. It’s easier than you think. Just discard applications that don’t mention the key words related to the required qualifications. Then calls are made to conduct an initial screening interview or to schedule an interview. So what if that prospective employer called the top 20 applicants but your phone didn’t ring? And what if that happened 50 times every week? Continue reading

Microsoft Word 2010 Basic Skills Checklist for Job Seekers

I have been delighted by the response to an earlier post Job interview questions on Microsoft Office skills, which I wrote when I discovered that very little material is available to help job seekers communicate their Microsoft Office skills.

It is not at all unusual for job postings to include the following item in the qualifications section.

Because it wasn’t easy to find a simple list of what skills would be included in “Advanced Skills”, I decided to step in to make a contribution. In that post I addressed the need for a simple checklist of skills with Microsoft Word, and other Office software at the basic, intermediate and advanced level. The response to that post has been remarkable. Today I am further addressing that need by releasing the first in a series of checklists in the resources section of this site. Please feel free to pass any of these checklists along to anyone who can benefit from this tool.

Word 2010 capture for blog

The full Microsoft Word 2010 Basic Skills Checklist is available in the resources tab above or by clicking on the hyperlink. Also available are the Microsoft Outlook 2010 Basic Skills Checklist and the Microsoft PowerPoint 2010 Basic Skills Checklist.

Enjoy and let me know if it is helpful!

6 Job interview questions a blogger should welcome

We all dread certain job interview questions, but with a good answer ready you can actually look forward to any question.

Successfully launching a blog is not easy and just the fact that you have a blog that is in any way career related gives you a conversation starter and icebreaker. But your blog can provide much more than that. Here are a few questions that you can respond to by drawing from your blogging experiences:

Provide an example of your problem solving skills:

If you have successfully launched a blog and sustained it for a significant amount of time, you have solved many problems. So every time you solve a significant problem, write down a short description. Note the nature of the problem and the implications it has for your blog’s availability or effectiveness. Describe exactly your problem solving process. what you did to solve the problem (e.g. use Google, phone a friend etc.). Specify clearly the outcome of the action you took and what you learned if anything. Tell the whole story in less than 60 seconds if possible in a way that is easy to understand. Continue reading

Consider blogging your way out of a career rut

Establishing a blog related to your career can cure a lot of ills. Feeling stuck in a rut is just one. It has never been easier and the benefits have never been clearer.

12 benefits from a career-related blog:

  1. Blogging  gives you, not your employer or anyone else, total control over the heart of career management, your personal brand.
  2. Here’s your chance to broadcast the experience and wisdom you have accumulated in your professional career. You can answer those questions that no one ever asks or provide the advice to a newcomer that you wish someone would tell them. Continue reading

Do your job applications fall on deaf ears?

If you submit 10, 20 or more job applications weekly with no response, you are not alone.

Are you treating the job search as a numbers game, like telemarketing? “If I just send enough applications, it is inevitable that I will reach the top of the pile eventually.” Or do you believe those who say “nobody gets hired from online job postings”. If that was true, how long would employers continue to accept online submissions? Not very long! Someone is no longer unemployed. Why shouldn’t it be you?

Is Your Approach Working?

Is Your Approach Working?

Not every opening that is posted online is filled by an online applicant but some certainly are. If you aren’t hearing back, it probably has something to do with your qualification or how you are applying. But how can you know what to change? It may help to understand the hiring process from the employer’s perspective. When a position is posted, there may be thousands of applications. Often a junior staff member or a computer program screens on predetermined minimum qualifications. Now the pile is more manageable. Calls are then made for an initial screening interview by phone. So what if the prospective employer called the top 20 applicants but your phone didn’t ring? And what if that happened 50 times every week? No phone call, no interview, no job. Continue reading

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

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.