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Posts Tagged ‘interview’

How to Evaluate a Job Offer

Friday, June 8th, 2012

By Alison Green

In this economy, it’s easy to feel like you should jump at any job offer that comes along—but doing that could land you in a job that would make you miserable and could even harm you professionally. So in your excitement over receiving a job offer, don’t forget to evaluate whether this is really the right opportunity for you. Here are crucial factors to consider before you say yes.

  • Evaluate the salary. You likely have a salary range in mind, one that’s based on market rates and that you’re willing to accept. If the offer is below this range, now is the time to try to negotiate a higher salary.
  • Evaluate the benefits. A generous benefits package can make up for a lower salary, especially if you’re saving money on health care, permitted to work a flexible schedule, or getting more vacation time than you’d anticipated.
  • Evaluate the culture. If the workplace is formal and you prefer a relaxed environment, or if it’s an aggressive, competitive culture and you’re more low-key and reserved, this might not be a comfortable fit for you. You’ll spend a large portion of your waking life at this job, so make sure you’ll be happy there.
  • Evaluate the manager. Remember the old saying that “people leave bosses, not jobs.” No matter how much the work appeals to you, a terrible manager can make coming to work incredibly unpleasant. Make sure the manager is someone you’ll be glad (or at least willing) to work with.
  • Evaluate the job itself. Be honest with yourself about whether the work is something you’ll excel in. Stretching yourself is good, but you don’t want to bluff your way into a job you’re not actually qualified for. If the work doesn’t play to your strengths, you’ll struggle and could end up harming your reputation or even getting fired.
  • Look at the big picture. How will this job fit in with your overall career path? Will it move you forward in the right direction, or take you on a detour you’d rather avoid? Even if it’s not the path you expected to take, could this job become a stepping stone to a position that excites you? What will be your next logical step when it’s time to move on?
  • Ask any outstanding questions. Do you have a good grasp on the manager’s style, the culture, and exactly what you’ll be expected to achieve? Do you know what the typical hours are and whether much travel will be involved? If not, now is the time to ask.
  • Listen to your gut. Unless your instincts often steer you wrong, you should pay attention if your gut is setting off alarm bells. If something doesn’t feel right, whether it’s your interactions with your prospective boss or the details about your daily responsibilities, pay attention.

And remember to always get every detail of a job offer in writing. Otherwise, you won’t have much recourse if you start the job and notice that the insurance premium you thought would be covered actually isn’t, or that the relocation stipend you were promised suddenly shrinks. Getting these details in writing covers you in case there’s a misunderstanding later, and it guarantees the agreement will stick even if the person you’re dealing with leaves the company and her replacement doesn’t know anything about the special deal you negotiated.

How to Format a Cover Letter

Friday, May 4th, 2012

By Miriam Salpeter

Once job seekers compose a strong, targeted resume, the next important step is to write a cover letter to help enhance their chances to land an interview. Sometimes, it’s difficult to know exactly what to include in the cover letter, or if it should be excessively formal or focus on connecting personally with the reader. The best tips: be sure the cover letter addresses the hiring manager’s needs (as detailed in the job description) and doesn’t include any mistakes to cause the reader to question your ability to do the job—for example, if you say you are detail oriented, but have misspellings in your letter.

It’s important to craft a well-written note, but never rely on the cover letter alone to tell your story. Be sure to include all pertinent information in the resume, including why you are well-qualified, and any discrepancies, including short job stints, job hopping, etc. The cover letter supports your resume, but the resume needs to do all of the heavy lifting, since many hiring managers will only look at you cover letter if they believe your resume makes the cut.

Quint Careers reports, “Studies over the past several years suggest that somewhere between a third and half of hiring decision-makers do not read the letters.” Despite this statistic, hiring managers who expect a cover letter will penalize you for not including it, so your best bet is to write a strong letter to accompany your resume.

What should you include in your cover letter? It’s important to be clear about the job of interest, but it’s boring and a little old-fashioned to start a letter, “I’m writing to apply for the XYZ job, as advertised on ABC.” Start your letter with a “hook” to show a little personality and enthusiasm for the job. This could include a sentence or two to help demonstrate a connection between the organization and you. For example, if applying to Home Depot, “Every weekend when I was growing up, my dad and I donned orange aprons and planned out our Home Depot runs to get materials for our home improvement projects. As a life-long customer, it’s exciting to think about using my finance and accounting skills to work at Home Depot as a Finance Analyst.”

Your letter’s content should not simply repeat the information in your resume; use this as an opportunity to briefly share details an employer might want to know about you. Quint Careers’s research includes an employer “wish list” for cover letters. They want to know (succinctly):

  • How did you find this position? Did someone refer you (always include this information), or did you meet the hiring manager at an event?
  • Why are you applying? Why are you qualified?
  • What do you know about the company? If you’ve done research about the company or organization, demonstrate it in the cover letter.

Other important aspects to incorporate:

  • Strong writing skills; your cover letter is a de facto writing sample.
  • Easy-to-read formatting, including bullet points and white space, and keep it to one page. When you apply by email, your cover letter is the body of the email with your resume attached.
  • Details from the job description; make a direct connection between your skills and their needs.
  • Tailored content; make sure the letter does not seem generic or as if it was written for any audience.

Format your cover letter with the following information:

  • An introduction, including the “hook” or story mentioned above and the name of the job you’re applying for.
  • Several paragraphs outlining your qualifications. Consider pulling out three main points (umbrella topics) from the job description and use each one as the basis of a paragraph describing your qualifications. Make a point to indicate anything unique or special about you that would help make you most qualified for the job.
  • A concluding paragraph indicating when you plan to follow up and suggesting your availability. For example, if you are an out-of-town candidate, you may add, “I will be in the Boston area early next month, and hope to have an opportunity to meet you then. I will be in touch the week of ___________ to follow up if I don’t hear from you sooner.”

A strong cover letter may make the difference. Don’t underestimate this important job-search step.

What Makes a Good Cover Letter?

Friday, May 4th, 2012

By Alison Green

At a time when most job seekers are wondering how to stand out in a crowded field of applicants, too many are overlooking one of the most effective ways to grab an employer’s attention: the cover letter.

Cover letters customized for the job are a powerful opportunity to make a compelling case for yourself as a candidate, totally aside from what’s in your resume. That because for most jobs, picking the best candidate is rarely solely about skills and experience. Those obviously take center stage, but if that’s all that mattered, there would be no point in interviews; employers would make a hire based off of resumes alone. But in the real world, other factors matter too—people skills, intellect, communication abilities, enthusiasm for the job, and your personality. A good cover letter effectively conveys those qualities.

A good cover letter also does the following:

  • It shows personal interest in working for a particular organization and in a particular job, which makes it both more believable and more compelling. People respond when they feel a personal interest from you.
  • It engages the reader in a conversational tone; it’s not stiff or overly formal.
  • Perhaps most importantly, it provides information about the writer that will never be available from a resume—personal traits and work habits.

What a good cover letter doesn’t do is simply summarize the resume that follows. After all, with such limited initial contact, you’re doing yourself a disservice if you squander a whole page of your application on repeating the contents of the other pages. Instead, a great cover letter will provide a whole different type of information. For instance, if you’re applying for a secretarial job that requires top-notch organizational skills, and you’re so neurotically organized that you alphabetize your spices and color-code your bills every month, most hiring managers would love to know that about you. And that’s not something you’d ever put in your resume, but the cover letter is a perfect place for it.

Approaching your cover letter in this way practically guarantees that you’ll stand out from your competition because only a tiny fraction of candidates tailor their cover letters like this. After all, imagine screening resumes and having 200 basically qualified candidates, with little to differentiate them from one another. Wouldn’t you give an extra look at the one person who expressed a genuine enthusiasm for your company and didn’t just send you a generic form letter?

This approach does take longer than sending out the same form letter over and over, but a well-written cover letter that’s individualized to a specific opening is going to open doors when your resume alone might not have. These account for such a tiny fraction of applications that you’ll stand out and immediately go to the top of many hiring managers’ piles. Because of that, it’s likely you’ll find that five truly personalized, well-tailored applications will get you better results than 30 generic applications.

Now, there are certainly some hiring managers out there who will tell you that they don’t care that much about cover letters. But there are so many who do, so it’s well worth your effort to stand out in a crowded field.

Acing the Interview: Secrets of a Hiring Manager

Wednesday, October 5th, 2011

By Alison Green

Job interviews are nerve-wracking, and job seekers often agonize over what the interviewer is looking for and how to best present themselves. As someone who has interviewed thousands of candidates, here are eight interviewing secrets from the other side of the desk.

1. The small stuff counts—sometimes a lot.

Candidates often act as if only formal contacts, like interviews and writing samples, count during the hiring process. They’ll send flawless cover letters but then follow up on their applications with poorly written emails with spelling errors. Or they’ll be charming and polite to the interviewer but rude to an assistant. Hiring managers are noticing all of this, so it’s crucial to pay attention to the little things, too.

2. Interviewers can tell who did their homework.

The difference between candidates who spent time preparing and those who didn’t is stark. Before any interview, candidates should spend time on the employer’s Web site, getting to know the company. Read enough to get a good feel for its clients, work, and general approach. You want to come away able to answer these questions: What does this organization do? What is it all about? What makes it different from its competition?

3. Candidates should ask questions too—and they should be good ones.

The interviewer wants to know that the candidate is interested in the details of the job, the department, the supervisor’s management style, and the culture of the organization. Otherwise, the candidate will come across as not that interested or not that thoughtful. Good questions at this stage are clarifying questions about the role itself and open-ended questions about the office culture. Save the questions about salary and benefits until the employer makes an offer.

4.  Being likable, matters.

Interviewers are human. We want to work with people who are pleasant to be around. So be friendly and try to really show interest in the people you’re talking with.  Don’t feel you have to hide your personality, or be so formal that you become stiff or impersonal.  We want to get a sense of who are.

5. Enthusiasm matters, too.

Job seekers sometimes worry about looking desperate. But it doesn’t look desperate to express your interest in the job or check in to ask about the hiring timeline. However, enthusiasm does cross the line if you are calling more than once a week, calling earlier than the date by which they said they’d get back to you, or sounding like you’re eager to take any job as opposed to one in particular.

6. Be prepared with stories.

As you talk with your interviewer, look for ways to share specific experiences from your past that illustrate how you might approach this job. Give concrete examples of times that you’ve used the skills they’re looking for, so that your interviewer can almost “see you in action” —something that hypothetical answers don’t allow.

7. Avoid cliché answers.

If you’re asked about your weaknesses, don’t offer up clichés like “I work too hard” or “I’m a perfectionist.” Interviewers have heard these answers hundreds of times, and you’ll come across as disingenuous. Instead, talk about a real weakness, and then follow up with what you’re doing about it. For instance, you might say something like, “I realized in college that I wasn’t as naturally organized as I wanted to be. So now I make lists religiously, and I check them every morning and every afternoon to make sure that nothing is slipping through the cracks and all my priorities are correct. I haven’t lost track of anything since I started this.”

8. Treat the interview as a two-way conversation.

It’s easy for candidates to feel that an interview is an interrogation where they’re the only one being judged. But the most successful interviewers are two-way conversations in which the employer and the candidate have an honest discussion of the needs of the role. But your interview won’t be a two-way conversation if you’re just waiting for the employer to deliver a verdict. So remember that you should be assessing them right back, by gathering info about the job, about the manager, about the company culture, so that you can figure out if this is a job in which you’d do well and be happy.

The Truth About Resumes and Job Applications

Monday, April 4th, 2011

By Louise Kursmark

Do you have to include every job you’ve ever held on your resume? The short answer is no.

The more thoughtful response is that you want to include information that positions you appropriately for the jobs you’re seeking, showcases your valuable skills and experiences, and doesn’t raise red flags in the employer’s mind. If you need tips and templates for creating the ideal resume to represent you, check out Job and Career Accelerator’s Resume Builder for a pain-free introduction to the basics or to polish up your latest draft.

So it’s perfectly OK to omit a 3-month summer job if it doesn’t add value to your resume. It’s fine to leave off unrelated positions even if they were full-time and of lengthy duration. But whatever you do, make sure you’re prepared to discuss any gaps or omissions during a job interview without sounding defensive or evasive and without dwelling on irrelevant experiences.

A job application, however, is not the same as a resume. Job applications are legal documents and usually state that the application is a complete record of your employment. So you do need to include all of your jobs and other experiences that you might have chosen to omit from your resume.

In a nutshell, your job application = the whole truth. Your resume = the truth. Just remember these simple guidelines and be prepared to discuss any part of your past with a potential employer.

How to Find and Land a Perfect Job

Tuesday, March 1st, 2011

By Miriam Salpeter

Finding and landing the perfect job depends on a number of factors. There is no “silver bullet” method that works for every job seeker, but there are a number of undeniably important aspects that, when done well, can make a difference for struggling job seekers. This article includes tips, information, and resources about an array of key topics for job search success, including how to conduct relevant self-assessments, how to research the market to determine promising job paths and industries, innovative methods to expand career networks, tips to effectively prepare for an interview, and advice about how to vet people serving as job references.

Self-Assessment

Many job seekers overlook self-assessment. Without fully exploring interest inventories and skill suits, many flounder and apply for inappropriate positions. If career coaching is not an option, consider suggesting that patrons investigate free online tools to help identify what they may want to do next. These assessments may trigger ideas and help get some job seekers out of a rut.

Job & Career Accelerator’s Occupation Matcher

Patrons of any library subscribed to Job & Career Accelerator can explore a wide variety of occupations and discover new opportunities by using the Occupation Matcher. The Occupation Matcher walks users through 180 questions that reveal occupations that best match their backgrounds and goals. Each user also gets a list of occupations based on his or her interest score and employment preparation level.

MAAP – Motivational Appraisal of Personal Potential

http://www.assessment.com offers a partial report and five matches for free, and offers more comprehensive assessments for a fee. The free report may help encourage a job seeker to research a previously unexplored field.

Myers-Briggs Type Indicator

This assessment provides a four-letter composite about a person’s personality. It assesses people as either introverted or extroverted, intuitive or sensing, thinking or feeling, and judging or perceiving. Many believe these indicators can help steer job seekers into positions best suited to their tendencies. Candidates may try a free, shortened assessment here: http://www.humanmetrics.com/cgi-win/JTypes2.asp and learn about a few potential career directions.

Research the Market

Understanding the current job market is important, and many traditional reference tools, such as the Occupational Outlook Handbook, may help job seekers decide on appropriate next steps. Another terrific resource to help people learn about up-and-coming fields is U.S. News & World Report’s annual “Best Careers” article. Using “best company” lists, such as Forbes’ list of best places to work,  may be useful. Glassdoor.com is an online site where people share information about where they work; it offers an insider’s look at companies that may interest job seekers.

Expand Networks

The most effective way to land an interview is via a referral. The more people who know a candidate, the more likely he or she is to benefit from a referral that results in an opportunity.  Social networking provides opportunities to significantly increase the number of people who know about a job seeker. These are some of the best online tools to use to expand a network:

LinkedIn. The number one professional, online place for job seekers, this is a must-have social network. After completing a profile, job seekers should visit Groups to identify active online communities who share their interests. Alumni organizations, professional associations, and personal interest groups may all be good launching points to meet new people.

Twitter. While not always considered a professional network, Twitter is diverse and offers a wonderful tool to meet and expand a network of people with shared interests. One useful Twitter tool is “Twitter Chats.” Twitter chats occur when people who share goals or interests come online to share information and resources via Twitter. Leaders name chats using hashtags (#) to make them easy to search. One chat for job seekers is #JobHuntChat, Monday nights at 10-11 eastern time. Job seekers may find chat topics covering an array of interests here.  Anyone is welcome to join chats to ask questions, meet people, and grow their networks.

Interview Skills

None of these other tips matter if job seekers are not properly prepared for resulting interviews. The best advice for jobseekers: research the company. Use obvious tools, such as company websites, their YouTube channels, Twitter feeds, and LinkedIn Company profiles. Additional resources to learn about companies include:

Answering questions well is key to interviewing well. Job seekers should not try to memorize answers to lists of interview questions. Instead, suggest they prepare several stories to illustrate past successes, describe interpersonal relationships with colleagues and supervisors, and detail one or two negative situations they managed to salvage. Usually, having strong stories covering these topics will help them address most typical interview questions. They should be sure to follow an outline for the stories that includes the problem, the action they took, and the result (PAR).

References

Unfortunately, an unprepared reference may signal the end of a successful job search path. Job seekers should fully prepare and vet the people who will serve as their references.

They should ask permission to provide someone’s name as a reference ahead of time, and provide their recommenders with updated job search materials and information about the position. Be sure to tell the person about the interview, and suggest specifics the employer may want to know.

Follow-through, Follow-through, Follow-through: One Click Access to Managing a Search

Wednesday, December 8th, 2010

By Alison Green

Once a job candidate sends off a job application, the next step isn’t just sitting back and waiting – there’s plenty they can do meanwhile to increase their chances of getting an interview. But following up and following through in the right manner is crucial, because follow-up done poorly can be an application killer.

Here are some do’s and don’ts for following up on a job application:

1. Be Thorough. In addition to sending an application to the email address specified (usually an HR address or generic jobs email address), job-seekers can also track down the email address of the hiring manager and send an application to him or her as well. If an Internet search doesn’t reveal who the hiring manager, a simple phone call to the company’s main switchboard often will.

2. Maximize LinkedIn. Following up is where LinkedIn really shines: Job-seekers can see if anyone in their network is connected to someone who works at the company they’re applying to – or if anyone is even a few degrees away from someone who is. Depending on the connections, a job-seeker could do any of the following: ask for background information on the job, ask for a proactive referral or introduction, or ask directly for an interview.

3. Explore the Internet. Job-seekers can search online for blogs written by people who work at the company they’re targeting to. If they find one, this can be a great in. Let job-seekers know they should read some of the posts, then contact the blogger with complimentary feedback on his or her work. Once a rapport is established, job-seekers can then mention they’re applying at the company and ask what it’s like to work there. In some cases, this can lead to an introduction to someone involved in the hiring.

4. Follow up appropriately. A few days or a week after applying, job-seekers can follow up with the hiring manager to reiterate their interest in the job. It’s important to do this well, however. Note that many hiring managers despise the common job-search advice to call “to schedule an interview,” which can come across as overly aggressive and even presumptuous. A good-follow call or email might sound something like this: “I submitted my application for your __ position last week, and I just wanted to make sure my materials were received. I also want to reiterate my interest in the position; I think it might be a great match, and I’d love to talk with you about it when you’re ready to begin scheduling interviews.”

5. Enthusiasm, not desperation. It doesn’t look desperate to express interest in the job or check in to ask about the timeline. But enthusiasm does cross the line if a candidate is calling regularly, sounding eager to take any job as opposed to this one in particular, or appearing as if this is the only option they have.

Alison Green writes the popular Ask a Manager blog, where she dispenses advice on career, job search, and management issues. She’s also the co-author of Managing to Change the World: The Nonprofit Leader’s Guide to Getting Results and former chief of staff of a successful nonprofit organization, where she oversaw day-to-day staff management, hiring, firing, and employee development.