Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Resume Overview: The Basics

This is the intro to perfecting your resume. The most common type is the standard chronological resume. The basic sections are, in order:

Overview (optional) – If you can briefly summarize your pertinent experience, e.g., “Project Manager with 8 years of experience in X, Y and Z, then it’s ok to have this section. Don’t include an Objective section that details what type of job you’re looking for. Recruiters don’t care what you want, they only care if you match the position they’re trying to fill. Make it easy for them to find the skills and experience they’re looking for.

Work Experience – in reverse chronological order. Include company names, locations, job titles, dates (month/year), and key accomplishments/highlights. Unless you’re just getting started in your career and don’t have a lot of work experience, this section should be the meat of your resume and will be covered in more detail in a later post.

Education – if you’ll be graduating from school soon, put Education before Experience, especially if it’s a degree that’s highly relevant to your job.

Additional Information – certifications, activities, interests, talking points to build rapport with your interviewers. Don’t give a huge list, only the most important or interesting ones. No one reads long lists.

This is so basic, but proofread! It’s all about first impressions and a typo or grammatical error signifies someone without attention to detail. Some companies will throw out a resume based on these details. Remember they’re going to make snap judgments about you unless you have someone on the inside who can vouch for you.

Key words – many companies nowadays scan through resume submissions with key word searches. Make sure the relevant ones for the job you want are sprinkled throughout your resume. The Overview section is a good place to do this, if the necessary key words don’t appear elsewhere.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Do interviews make you nervous?

I’ll be posting a lot of info/tools to help you prepare for interviews, but if the thought of an interview gives you sweaty palms, think of it this way. Unless you desperately need a job immediately to put food on the table, it’s a mutual interview.

Sure, you want to make a good impression, sell your qualifications and show your eagerness and enthusiasm for the job. But it needs to be a good fit for you too: you’re also interviewing them to see if it’s the right place for you. You don’t want to get into a bad situation and hate your job. In my experience, having a good boss is a huge predictor of what kind of experience you will have. You can work for a great company with a great culture but if you work directly under a tyrant, life will be hard.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Questions Are Your Friends.

In networking, meeting new people, interviewing, or participating in meetings, the ability to ask good, thought-provoking questions is a skill that will serve you well. Say you meet a honcho at a company you dream of working for. Asking interesting questions instead of the standard ones people always ask will make you memorable.

So, how do you ask good questions?

Ask open ended questions. So instead of, Do you like xyz?, ask, What are your thoughts on xyz?

On that note, ask for people’s opinions. We all have them and many of us are happy to share. Example: What do you think it takes to be successful in [industry]?

If you’re at a networking event or social function and don’t know who people are, a good, safe, all-purpose starter is always: How do you spend most of your time? That way, whether the person is a high-powered executive or a SAHM, it’s worded so it doesn’t diminish their contributions. So what do you do? sounds like you’re only interested in what kind of job that person has, which may or may not be true. When you ask how people spend their time, they can also respond in a variety of ways, and if you happen to have a shared interest, you're more likely to find out about it this way.

In an interview, you’ll almost always be given the opportunity to ask questions, typically at the end. ALWAYS have questions for your interviewer. Not having any shows lack of interest or lack of preparation. Remember, don’t ask anything that can be easily answered on the company website.

If you need to make small talk, you can always ask someone where they're from, or read the news and bring up current events or an interesting article you read.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

The Basic Guide to Networking

Besides official networking events, at the core of networking is the informational interview. You can't realistically contact someone you barely know and ask for a job outright. Instead what you should do is simply ask for information. It sounds much more palatable to people and it’s much easier to get someone to just talk to you than to hand over a job.

You might have heard about those fabled MBA alumni networks that hook you up with a great job. Well, it’s part truth, part myth. Those who don’t get jobs through on-campus recruiting do their job search by contacting alums for informational interviews. If you make a good impression, the person just might pass you onto someone else or, best case scenario, if the company happens to be hiring, they’ll put your resume in the hands of a hiring decision maker.

Where to start?
Research your industry and develop a list of target companies. Then look for your contacts who work in those industries or companies.

Who do you know?
  • The obvious: friends, family, acquaintances and everyone they know. Ask around.
  • Old co-workers. It’s a small world in some industries.
  • Alumni from your schools – most colleges, grad schools, and even some high schools keep records of alumni including current industry and company info. Many people expect to have fellow alums contact them. Some schools keep lists of alums by industry who’ve agreed to make themselves available.
  • Contacts from social networking sites such as Facebook and LinkedIn. Many alumni networks have groups on these sites.
  • Members of any industry/trade organizations you belong to. If you’re not a member, look into joining one. Many of these groups are also on LinkedIn.

Sunday, October 31, 2010

What’s Your Story?

When you interview at many companies, especially medium to large ones, your interviewers will have forms to fill out on your candidacy, your qualifications, how you fit in with their culture, etc. Make it easy for them to fill out the form and you’ll be helping yourself too. Show them that you’re the right fit for the company and the company is right for you. Explicitly make the connection for why they should pick you, why you want this company and job, why now. What is it about your background, qualifications or skills that makes you different from other candidates?

Your answer should never make any assumptions or comparative or negative statements about other candidates (examples: I’m more quantitative than everyone else, I have more attention to detail, I work harder, etc.)—it’s unprofessional, makes you look bad, and you really don’t know who else is being considered for the spot.

This same advice also goes for if you’re applying to schools. Answer why this school, why now, how it fits into your overall career/life goals, and of course why they should pick you.

Be Sure!

I watched a biography of Donald Trump and it said the driver of his success was that he’s always very sure. Of course this is a gross oversimplification, but there’s definitely truth in that, especially when it comes to getting a job. Believe in yourself and what you have to offer. Rehearse your story. Say it with conviction.

Pay attention to your body language. According to body language experts, most of what we communicate is through body language and only a small percentage is through the actual words we use. Yes, you say, that’s because they believe in what they’re selling and they want everyone else to buy it too. True, but what would you think about a candidate who has bad posture or talks with her hand in front of her mouth? You’d think she wasn’t very sure of what she was saying, right?

In interviews, words carry a lot of weight, but delivery is equally key. Practice in front of a mirror, tape yourself answering interview questions, or have a friend do a mock interview with you and get their honest feedback. By practicing, you’ll feel more confident and that will come across in your body language too.

If you get a question about something you don’t have a lot of expertise in, make an educated guess or offer an opinion. Never just say you don’t know. Example: I’m not an expert in turnaround management, but based on my understanding, my opinion is x.

Bottom line: Companies want to hire people who love what they do and are sure of themselves and their ideas.

Networking: The most effective way to get a job or just learn more about an industry

If you’re trying to get a new job or break into a new industry but don’t know where to start, networking will probably have the biggest payoff for time spent. The downside is that to some, it might carry negative connotations of being overly schmoozy or insincere. Or maybe you’re one of these people who just doesn’t like asking favors of others (like me).

But networking is really nothing more than talking to people, asking for information, advice and/or perspectives, getting to know them a little and letting them know you. If you can converse comfortably, then you can network. Remember, people like talking about themselves. Ask for their thoughts and opinions on their industry, how their career path led them to their current position, what their long-term goals are, what advice they have for people trying to break into that industry. People love to give advice.

Think of it this way: would you give someone a little bit of your time or possibly help them if you were in a position to do so? When you get your job through networking, pay it forward and help someone else.
If you’re more of the shy and reserved type, don’t think too much before approaching someone at a networking event. The more you stand around thinking about approaching them, the more nervous you’re likely to get. Your hesitation might come across as lack of confidence and that can ultimately hurt your chances. Just take a deep breath, smile, have some good questions ready and jump right in with a firm handshake.

Friday, September 3, 2010

To those taking time off from work to raise kids (or pursue other interests)

This is my very first post on my very first blog. If you're out of the workforce but want to go back someday, planning is everything, so keep that in the back of your mind and do what you can now to prepare for your comeback.

Do something. Anything.
If there's a chance that you might go back to work someday after taking years off, the best advice I have is to do something you can put on your resume. Try to avoid a large, multi-year gap on your resume. Freelance, volunteer, work part time, just do something that will enable you to talk about your accomplishments and contributions when you interview for a job again someday. The goal is to show that you’ve kept up your skills and remained productive, even if you didn't maintain a full-time job. Remember, interviewing success hinges on your ability to tell good stories about what you’ve done and learned, and how those things uniquely qualify you.

Update your resume.
Since more people are returning to the work force after taking time off, the functional resume format is becoming more popular vs. the traditional chronological resume. The functional format will be covered in future posts. Some recruiters prefer the traditional format, but functional might work better if you have a gap in your work history.

Keep up with your old professional network.
We all know the best way to get a job is by networking, and that the majority of available jobs are not posted online but rather filled through employees' connections. So keep in touch periodically, meet up for lunch, drop a note to say hello or send an article of interest to a particular person to stay on their radar.