Tag Archives: jobsearch

Document your Advanced Microsoft Word Skills

I frequently see resumes from job applicants claiming Advanced Microsoft Word skills. When such a high level of proficiency seems highly improbably given their previous work experience and education, I am very skeptical. When I have doubts and the answer is important to me, I ask questions. I want to know what specific things you can do on the job tomorrow.

Document Your Advanced Word Skills

Advanced Word Skills – Really?

Many job postings ask for advanced skills beyond what is essential, but that doesn’t really matter. When you are asked in a job interview some sort of vague question about your Microsoft Office skills, you still need to nail it convincingly.

That is the reason I created the checklists that are now available in the MS Office Skills Checklists section. By making sure that you know exactly what advanced skills are, you can avoid an awkward conversation that doesn’t answer the question. You don’t want either error. You don’t want to be embarrassed when you learn that you actually don’t have any advanced skills. Pretending you have skills that you don’t makes for an entertaining movie, but I think the thrill of the experience falls short of that in real life. 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

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

A Dream Job is Not a Luxury

What Color is Your parachute?

What Color is Your parachute?

I was puzzled. I had in my hand one of the first editions of “What Color is Your Parachute” by Richard Bolles, (much like the one at the right) long before it became the best-selling career book in history. Unlike other career guides, it didn’t start off with resume or interview skills. Instead, Bolles asked you to complete a series of exercises that produced “one piece of paper” that succinctly described your dream job. That is where I was puzzled. In his stories it was normal to precisely describe your ideal job and then methodically set out to land precisely that position. That couldn’t have been further from my own experience to that time or that of anyone I knew. In my world “beggars couldn’t be choosers”. Unless you had scarce skills that we were in high demand, you were grateful to be offered any job. If it wasn’t what you wanted, you just adapted.
After I completed the exercises, I had identified 8 characteristics of a dream job. I no longer have that one piece of paper, but I recall one particular requirement that seemed especially unrealistic. I wanted to commute less than 30 minutes of my home, which limited my options to our small city. The kind of job I wanted was typically found in the much larger city an hour away. I filed the little piece of paper and forgot it. After I had been hired, I happened across the list and compared my dream to the present position. To my astonishment, 7 of the 8 desired characteristics had been satisfied, including a 20 minute drive time! Did creating the list help me to get that job? I couldn’t tell you, but I no longer considered Bolles’ promise to be a pipe dream.
What kind of boss do you prefer? Would you rather work alone or as part of a team? You will be asked these questions in a job interview and you may be tempted to provide an evasive response. After all, you reason, you can adapt to whatever circumstances you encounter. In today’s job market it is essential that you credibly and persuasively communicate to an employer that you are already a good fit for that position. It is precisely when there is the glut of applicants for the position that you must distinguish yourself. The question of whether you prefer to work alone or with others is standard. If you haven’t sorted that out in advance you will likely give the unconvincing answer that you imagine the interviewer wants to hear.
So knowing yourself well is not a luxury in a competitive job market. It is more valuable than ever. Thank you, Mr. Bolles.

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 Flickr.com 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.

Why I Distrust First Impressions (Part 2)

My first impression on meeting someone new is a very unreliable guide for the important decisions. In the workplace and even in the church, we often need to ascertain who is dependable or trustworthy. In my recent training, I have learned in some depth about the implications of our differing temperaments. I began to wonder whether I might simply be less skilled than others in employing first impressions for hiring and other important decisions. Perhaps I am, but I was intrigued a few years ago to encounter an excellent book by “America’s top jury consultant, Jo-Ellan Dimitrius, who can literally read a person like a book”. She wrote “Reading People: How to Understand People and Predict Their Behavior– Anytime, Anyplace.” As a jury consultant, her livelihood depends on adroitly culling those prospective jurors who are likely to view the accused adversely. Her excellent advice is invaluable for anyone who needs to assess individuals. Despite being a highly skilled and experienced predictor of individual behaviour, Jo-Ellan defers a decision as long as possible, because she knows there is always one more vital piece of highly relevant information that she doesn’t yet know. Thank you Jo-Ellan!
When I meet a client, I notice a limp handshake or a broad confident smile just like anyone else and I find that interesting but far from conclusive. So I endeavour to watch and wait and grant others the benefit of my doubt (thanks, golden rule!). When I coach individuals including jobseekers, my first impression of them provides nothing more than tentative information that I can share to their benefit when appropriate.

A future entry will address the challenges we have with those we experience as “difficult” in the workplace and other environments. I have identified more than 15 distinct reasons that my coworker might seem to be “House” or “Jezebel” in my workplace. Many of them have nothing to do with me but neither do they neessarily indicate an evil nature in the other person. For now, consider that every one of us is likely to be a “difficult person” to someone!

Do you record your first impressions in ink or pencil? Let me know!

Why I Distrust First Impressions (Part 1)

What makes you cringe? For some, it is hearing the president of the United States say “gonna”. For me, it is when workshop facilitators advise jobseekers that the impression an applicant makes in the first 5 or 10 seconds seals the fate of the hapless interviewee. A weak handshake is sufficient to end the interview. A broad smile can ensure an immediate offer.

I don’t cringe because that is bad advice; I accept that it is true. I cringe because worthy jobseekers whose strengths can’t be coached are rejected based on criteria that can be easily coached. Now, I have interviewed far fewer applicants than an experienced HR manager, but I learned a long time ago that first impressions are often very misleading. I understand that the emphasis on “fit” provides clear decision rules.

However, the idea that important decisions about people’s lives are made on criteria that can easily be coached seems just seems wrong to me. And, as Richard Bolles, author of What Color is Your Parachute told us more than 25 years ago, that is a very good argument for directly contacting the hiring manager (yes, networking) instead of emailing hundreds of resumes.
I jumped to instant conclusions just like everyone else until the first night of an evening class 30 years ago. A fellow student I’ll call Jezebel exhibited all the qualities I found most objectionable. When the instructor numbered off people into groups from the front 1, 2, 3, 4, 1, 2, 3, 4, and so on, I hoped (OK, prayed) I would not end up in Jezebel’s group. I actually groaned aloud when I saw that I also would be in group #1. To my great astonishment, I grew to admire and enjoy Jezebel as we worked together on a group project and we formed a friendship that I would not want to have missed. I try to suspend judgment on people until I have some significant need to make a decision. I simply do not trust first impressions.

Mayor Hazel McCallion

Mayor Hazel McCallion

If you are not from Southern Ontario, you may not recognize the lady in the yellow jacket. At age 91, Hazel McCallion is very competently serving as mayor of a city of over 600,000 citizens. Some have been foolish enough to misjudge her based on their first impression. Oops!

So far, I have shared my own thoughts, but in part 2 I will pass on the wisdom of “America’s top jury consultant, Jo-Ellan Dimitrius, who can literally read a person like a book”. She doesn’t make important decisions on first impressions. Check in and find out why!