How to Optimize Your Job Search in 2020

Updated: Feb 4

Did your last job search result in this?


“After reviewing your application, we have decided that you are not the right fit for the position at this time. Thank you for your interest in our company.”


Remember that job search when you applied to your dream job, checking your email every hour for updates, and waiting for email alert to buzz? Ping! You pause, you think “this is it.” You prepare yourself to call your friends and family to brag. You click to open. Within a sentence of reading your stomach sinks to rock-bottom. You realize you received the infamous and soul-crushing automatic rejection.

This experience is one many modern job-searchers know too well. An experience that both Brad and I have had in our past. An experience we are glad to have put behind us.  When I say trust us, we know your pain, I mean it. 


The question you’re probably asking is how to avoid it? How can I avoid these emails, or at the very least, drastically reduce their occurrence? 


This guide will show you not only how to avoid these emails and optimize your job search, but how to write a resume, optimize your LinkedIn profile, how to write a cover letter, answer common interview questions, and interview like a pro!


Before You Start Your Job Search


Starting your job search by listlessly scrolling through Indeed, or browsing flashy resume templates is a recipe for disaster. Before you start you should consider where you would like to go and what your ideal career would look like. 


Consider asking yourself some questions like: 


“Why did I leave my former job, what about it didn’t I like?”

“Do I want to continue working in this industry?”

“I’m passionate about X but work solely in Y. Should I seek a change?”

“How much money do you want or need to make?”


Asking these questions may prevent future career disasters, a pointless job search, negative emotions during your interviews, or winding up in an organization that doesn’t meet your expectations. A new job is a big deal, take some time to process your motivations. 

How to Write an Effective and Competitive Resume


How Important is a Resume? 


Think of it like this, your resume is a marketing tool. When written well, it has the capacity to sell you. It is quite possibly the most important document you can have in regards to earning money and building a career. In fact, you can’t get a job without one. 


Employers WANT your resume because it helps organize the hiring process. Imagine sourcing for a popular position and having three hundred people apply for it by either walking in, calling, or doing some elaborate creative gesture. It’s unrealistic, time-consuming, and a pain for employers. The resume process helps them save money and streamline quality candidates. 


Ask yourself has the resume you’ve been submitting sell you as the best candidate? 

It probably could be improved, couldn’t it? 

Consider this:

  1. The average time recruiters spend looking at a resume is 6 seconds.

  2. The average number of people who apply for any given job is greater than 100.

  3. Only the top 2% of candidates land an interview.

  4. More than 70% of candidates are eliminated from online job applications by Applicant Tracking Systems.

Daunting, isn’t it? Don’t worry. I’ve written successful resumes in various industries for various career levels. I was able to hone in on what makes a resume SUCCESSFUL in any job search and will pass some of that knowledge to you! 


Getting Started: Know Your Mistakes! 


“But I thought recruiters wanted to know about my interest in craft beers?”

They don’t. Trust me. Leave your interests off and while you’re at it learn these biggest resume mistakes, most of which I come across professionally nearly every day.

  1. Resume is too long/descriptive.

  2. Dated and daunting formats.

  3. Directionless. (Think mass-sending.)

  4. Focused on duties and not accomplishments.

  5. Not Optimized for ATS’s.

  6. BONUS: Applying to jobs that you are not qualified for!

Let’s explore these topics…

Resume is too long/descriptive: Keep your resume to within 15 years of RELEVANT work experience. By referring to the qualifications and the language in the posting you should have a general idea of what is needed, at the very least, to be included in your resume. 


As far as length goes, under 10 years of experience, it should be a one-page resume, over 10 years can be two-pages. Executives and senior-level professionals can extend to a third page. These are not concrete rules, but guidelines, exceptions can exist. 


Dated and daunting formats: There are a lot of different resume templates and sample resumes available online but ideally you want to have a format that has readability, scanability, and sleek professionalism in mind. Take a look at the samples on our website to get an idea. My advice is to keep it simple, avoid excessive design/colors, and keep it professional. 


Directionless: The key to tailoring any resume lies within the language of the posting. Do yourself a favor and READ the posting and make a list of the skills, requirements, qualifications, and responsibilities. Then include them in your resume! Don’t just send out the same resume to every employer because although the position you’re applying for may be the same, I doubt their expectations are. 


Focused on duties and not accomplishments: An accomplishment focused resume states not only what you have done but how you did it well. The idea is to sell yourself to prospective employers by demonstrating how you can excel in the role you are applying for. Consider using the P.A.R acronym as a guide. Problem, Action, Result.


Example: Identified inefficiencies in production and implemented immediate manufacturing solutions resulting in increased line efficiency from 55% to 95% in two years.


Not Optimized for ATS’s: An applicant tracking system or ATS is software that provides electronic assistance for the recruitment process it also can filter out unqualified candidates. 

Learning how to create an ATS optimized resume requires more attention than a brief blurb. I have created a comprehensive section on ATS’s below. Skip ahead if you want! 


Applying to jobs that you are not qualified for: Please just don’t do this. I can assure you that barring some sort of divine intervention you will not be hired for a role that you’re not qualified for. 


A recent study showed that interest in candidates begins when they meet at least 30% of the qualifications. It continues on to say that meeting 50%+ of the qualifications is considered an ideal standard for applying. I agree with this. 


Apply to jobs you are at least 50% qualified for. The best resume in the world will not make up for a lack of fundamental skills, qualifications, and experiences. Streamline your job search as much as possible.


Quick Resume Tips


Here are a few tips to help you when you start writing your resume! 


Use a chronological resume: List your work experience from most recent to least recent (reverse chronological order). Functional resumes often raise red flags for recruiters and do not score very well with ATS’s. 

Margins: Aim for normal (1 Inch or 2.47cm) or narrow margins (0.5 Inch or 1.27cm). 

Fonts: Use basic fonts like Arial, Verdana, and Calibri. 

Use Consistent Formatting: All your titles should have the same font. Write your content in the same font throughout the resume. If you use periods and the end of the bullet points, do it for all of them etc. 

Avoid Using Personal Pronouns: Mainly “I, We Us, Him, Her, etc.” Most recruiters assume it is you who is writing the resume so you don’t have to say “I.”

Use proper verb tense: The position you currently hold or any ongoing tasks should be in the present tense. Past roles and all completed projects/accomplishments should be in past tense.

Bullet Point Length: If your bullets exceed two lines in length, they begin to read like paragraphs. Keep them short or you undermine the entire point of having a bullet.

PDF or .docx./.doc: When uploading your document and applying to jobs do so with a PDF document. The benefit of this is that it displays exactly how you present it as some formatting may be lost when you submit in .doc or .docx. 


Section by Section Play by Play


What should a resume be composed of? How should it be structured? What are the best skills for a resume? How do I align my resume with my job search? Almost every resume should be ordered as I have listed below: 

Contact Information

Professional Summary (Optional)

Brief Skills Section (Optional)

Professional Experience

Education (Required) Certifications (Optional)

There are exceptions to this (if you’re a new grad or student, see these tips for writing resumes for new graduates post) but this is the IDEAL way to section your resume as EVERY recruiter will be familiar with it. 


Contact Information:

Your name and contact information should be the first thing the recruiter sees when they scan your resume. It should be at the very top of your resume in a clear and accessible fashion. 

You should include your name, location (city, state), phone number, email, and LinkedIn (optional). 

That’s it. The only time you should include anything more is if the posting or employer explicitly asks for it. Pro tip: Use a professional sounding email because beachbum9669 isn’t going to get you far. 


Professional Summary:

The Professional Summary is your ‘elevator sales’ pitch. It is your opportunity to sell yourself as a prospective candidate and input crucial keywords. This should contain key accomplishments and fundamental career information (skills, value, metrics, education, etc.). 

The section should be anywhere from three to five lines in length. Any longer and you will bore the recruiter if they actually read it. But chances are, they won’t because it’s a massive block of intimidating text.


Skills Section: 

The resume skills section is a great way to ensure you are tailoring your resume to the position and including the proper keywords. Be sure to refer to the posting when creating this section! 

Don’t list every skill, ability, certificate, award, and mildly impressive fact you have as this list is meant to be short in order to highlight KEY areas. Recruiters will know if you are padding your resume so keep the section between six and twelve keywords.


Professional Experience: 

This is where the recruiter will be looking the most carefully. It is the content that is most likely to determine if you’re a qualified candidate for the role. The professional experience section tells the recruiter what roles you have had, who you worked for, when you worked for them, and what you did. It should include:

  1. Position Title

  2. Company

  3. Company Location

  4. Dates of Employment

  5. Major Duties and Accomplishments

Remember to include accomplishments! Every industry has different metrics for achievement so know exactly where and how you made these contributions and why they’re relevant to the position you’re hoping to attain. 

This is what will set you apart from the other applicants. Your resume should be accomplishment focused, so if you have the option of listing something as a duty or as an accomplishment, pick accomplishment. Always. 


Education and Certifications:

I always suggest writing the degree information out instead of using an abbreviation because it’s easier to understand. Here is an easy way to format it: 

Bachelor of Arts in English | May 2019 College Name, City, State

If you don’t have space to keep it on one line just place the College Name, City, and State below. 

You can create a separate section for your certifications or enter them within your Education section. List your certifications briefly, you do not need to include what organization you received them from unless it is integral to the certification.


Optional Headings: 

Awards, Volunteer Work, Publications, Patents, Research, etc. These should go below your professional experience and below your education. But this depends on your industry, your job aspirations, and your content. Use good judgment. 


Applicant Tracking Systems or ATS


Self-driving cars, virtual reality, and Elon Musk. This is the future.

Do you know what the future of job searching is? Applicant Tracking Systems.

As I mentioned earlier ATS’s scan resumes for key phrases, keywords, headings, contextual indicators, dates, and related content. The goal is to ‘score’ or rate the candidates and identify the most qualified candidates prior to human review. 


They are becoming increasingly more popular: 98% of Fortune 500 companies and a growing number of small and mid-sized businesses filter resumes. 

Here are a few secrets to beating an applicant tracking system:

  1. READ the posting and match the keywords!

  2. Increase the number of times you use important keywords. Without stuffing your resume. Why? Because once it does get to a human, they will wonder why you included ‘Photoshop’ 37 times. 

  3. Follow the instructions. If the company wants you to fill out an additional application, submit a cover letter, submit in .docx, etc. do it. Applicants who don’t will be eliminated. 

  4. If you’re using uncommon acronyms in your resume include the full spelling the first time you use them. This will help with ATS scoring. If it only appears in your resume once refer to how it is listed in the posting. 

  5. If they ask you to supply your LinkedIn account, apply through LinkedIn, or if they can reach you through LinkedIn it is in your best interest to supply the URL for you LinkedIn. Although not a dealbreaker your participation will help. 

  6. Spelling and Grammar: How does this affect ATS’s? Because if you’re misspelling keywords the ATS may not be intelligent enough to know what you are talking about. ‘Manger vs Manager or Supply Change vs Supply Chain’ 

  7. Use the right format. Complex and unusual resume designs will confuse how an ATS parses data. 

  8. Avoid using charts, graphics, rated skills, text boxes, complex bullet shapes, images, and photos. They may look neat but they are scrambled in the ATS scan. 

With these tips properly applied you should be able to breeze through most of the applicant tracking systems and streamline your job search. 


Finish it Off! 


It’s time to add the finishing touches to your new and improved resume. Make sure you do these things before you call it a day:

  1. Comprehensive Spelling/Grammar Check

  2. Save Your Resume! Be professional. Example: “Dan Reed Human Resources Resume.” 

  3. Ask your friends, family, professional network, or TopProspectCareers, for a free resume review to take a look. 

  4. Be Honest (Don’t lie on your resume). 

  5. Hire a Professional. If you’re still not pleased with your resume give us a shot! 

PS: Want more resume help? Check out our comprehensive resume guide Mastering a Winning Resume.

How to Write a Winning Cover Letter


No one reads cover letters in 2020! Right?


The truth is, studies show that 40% of employers won’t look at resumes if they don’t have a cover letter. Ouch, maybe you should have written one? 


Don’t worry, I can assure you that you’re not the first or the last person who has neglected to write a cover letter. 


In truth, you could probably make a convincing argument of why it is not worth your time to write a cover letter for each application. But, ill get to that. First consider this, cover letters set the tone of an application and will motivate the hiring manager to read the enclosed resume. 


It allows you to demonstrate your interest in a position, your professional brand, and exactly why a prospective employer should consider you over the next candidate. A cover letter is a unique document that represents why YOU, as a person, are a good fit for the role. Your cover letter should be tailored with each employer in mind! 


“But what if I just want to apply to as many places as possible, I don’t have time to write a cover letter for each employer.” 


It is better to have a cover letter that is generic than not having one at all. I highly recommend writing one that allows you to swap key information easily so you can tailor it for each application without much effort. Feel free to ask us for some help because we are experts at writing cover letters that demonstrate your unique ability but are easily changed to match each application.


A few key things to note about how to write great cover letters:

  1. If you know the recruiter or hiring managers name include it. 

  2. Don’t simply repeat your resume or professional summary, this is meant to be a more personalized document (written with personal pronouns in the first-person).

  3. Research the company. The cover letter should demonstrate WHY you want to work for them. 

  4. Include why you are the ideal candidate. Remember to tailor your career documents to the position you’re applying for.

  5. If you’re missing a qualification this is not the place to blurt it out. Focus on why you’re the best candidate. 

Don’t Say: Despite not having X I’m very experienced in Y.

Instead say: I’m very experienced in Y.

Don’t give them a reason to disqualify you. 

  1. Make sure your contact information and format are the same as your resume. A simple copy and paste will do this.

It’s important to customize each cover letter to the job that you are applying. You want to demonstrate different experience and career highlights based on where you’re applying. Following the guidelines I have covered will help you grab the recruiter’s attention and increase your chances of getting an interview. 


Want a cover letter template, cover letter sample, or want to know the best cover letter format? Contact us. We will write you a winning cover letter!


LinkedIn Profile Guide


When did you last update your LinkedIn? Believe it or not, when you’re applying to jobs recruiters and hiring managers are going to attempt to find you online. If your LinkedIn profile has been neglected it can harm your candidacy. 


I’m going to go through a handful of ways you can optimize your LinkedIn profile and get ahead of the competition. 


Use a Professional Photo:

Remember people make judgments so presenting yourself well matters. Make sure your profile photo is a professional representation of you. This should not be a picture of you on a night out or at a wedding with a drink in your hand! 


In addition, you can also change your LinkedIn background photo to something more original. But once again, make sure it is still professional. Take a look at mine: 

Use a custom URL: 

Make it easy for people to find and connect with you by customizing your profile’s URL. Follow this article to help you. 


Optimize Your LinkedIn Headline: 

LinkedIn’s default is to use your current job title as your headline. This can limit your ability to appeal to recruiters because it may not be the best reflection of your career expertise. It can also limit your SEO results because you’re limiting the content to one role. Consider writing a few skills to ensure you are being rendered in as many searches as possible. For example: 

Sell YOU in Your LinkedIn Summary: 

The summary section is your chance to sell yourself and develop a convincing professional bio. This should not be the same summary you used in your resume, it should be longer, more detailed, and composed of compelling points that will generate interest in you. 

I recommend using short paragraphs, bullet points, and varying lengths of sentences to not bore the reader. I can assure you that no one is going to want to read a giant chunk of text. Here is a LinkedIn summary example: 

The section also allows you to include images, videos, articles, and links. I recommend taking advantage of this because it can further enhance the appeal of your profile. 

Work History: 


Luckily, you should have already taken the time to optimize your resume so generating this content should a breeze. Essentially, when creating the content for your LinkedIn profile you should follow many of the rules associated with writing an effective resume. However, unlike a resume, you can include more information, more jobs, and a more comprehensive depiction of your professional story. 


You may also want to consider adding media to your roles if it makes sense. Examples of your work, videos of speeches, articles you have written, etc. I include some samples of my work for example: 

Add LinkedIn Skills: 

Remember to add relevant skills to your skills section. You should also ask colleagues, friends, and family members to endorse your skills. The more endorsements you have the more validated your ability will be.


Keep your skills updated as your transition and grow in your career. Remove outdated skills and try and keep your skills relevant to your current career aspirations. 

Make connections:


Yes, it’s that easy. Taking the time to connect with colleagues, friends and other professionals is the PURPOSE of LinkedIn. Once you have access to your account, search old classmates, co-coworkers, teachers and managers. The LinkedIn algorithm favors those with more connections.


Engage:

Don’t have a passive account. Use LinkedIn to search for opportunities in your field or to make inquiries. Use it to pose questions to your network and don’t be afraid to reach out to strangers you feel might be beneficial to speak to.


Recommend:

This is one of the great features of LinkedIn. You have the capacity to leave recommendations for those in your network. In essence, a recommendation is a reference or testament to the merit or work ethic of someone you worked with or know at a professional level. This increases your exposure and rest assured people will be much more likely to leave a recommendation for you.


Update:

When you complete a new course, change jobs, reach a new milestone or gain a new skill, let everyone know. It’s much better to be an active user on your account as the LinkedIn algorithm favors your account in addition to looking much more inviting to other professionals.


Turn On Your Resume For Recruiters: 

LinkedIn gives you the opportunity to privately signal to recruiters you’re open to new job opportunities. To let recruiters know you are ready for new opportunities, you must turn “On” your signal. To do so, you must have a LinkedIn account. Once you have one, go to your home page and click the “Jobs” tab on the toolbar. When the “Jobs” window opens, select “Preferences” at the top of the page. When the window opens, you will see a slide button. Simply move the button to the “On” position and fill out the short questions about your career preferences


Remember LinkedIn is NOT a resume. It is a professional networking tool that works best when you are active and engaged. Those who properly utilize LinkedIn are always at an advantage.


With these tips in mind you should be set to maintain a highly reputable LinkedIn. If you want help, check out our services where we can help create a fully optimized LinkedIn profile. 

Interview Like a Pro


The emails and phone calls start to come in. Employers are impressed with your resume, LinkedIn profile, and cover letter, and they want you to come in for an interview or speak on the phone. Yay! The easy part is over. Or is it?


Interviews, like resumes, pose unique challenges that many of my clients and job seekers have struggled with. There is a lot of advice on the internet on how to effectively navigate these stress-inducing situations but there is often conflicting information on just HOW to proceed.



 

“Make your weakness a strength.” “Give a firm handshake.” “Tell them you’ve never had a difficult situation with a colleague.” "Arrive four hours early and pretend you are already working there.”


Well, I’m not so sure about the last one, but the others are often common pieces of advice when it comes to handling interviews. As a part of this guide, I’m going to provide my knowledge as a former Human Resources professional and current interview coach on how to effectively interview. I will cover some of the most common interview questions and some general conduct to ensure you can ace your interview with confidence. 


Preparation


How do I prepare for an interview? Do I memorize my resume? Do I send a thank you email after the interview? What are common interview questions?


I get these questions a lot and I intend on answering all of them. But first, while your resume is important, if you were asked for an interview, guess what? They ALREADY know what’s on it. Meaning, that although you should know what’s on your resume you need to prepare for an interview differently. 


Interview preparation is key and there are many things that can help you prepare for a job interview but for the sake of brevity and to avoid repetition throughout the guide this part of the guide will focus solely on generalities. 


The first thing you should do is reread the posting and the job description, make sure you know exactly what the job entails and that you know what skills, qualifications, and experience is required for the role. 


Once you know, compare it to your own skills, see where they match up and see where they don’t. While you’re going through this try and think of specific examples from your past or current jobs where you have used these skills, gained experience in them, or demonstrated them in some capacity. 


In areas where you don’t match the job description prepare to have a response as to why. If you lack them does practical experience make up for it? Are you working to improve? I cover this more later but it is good to have an idea of where your blindspots are. 


Take time to RESEARCH the company, get more than a general feel. Try to dig up some background information, stuff about their strategic direction, and interesting news about them. Consider having a knowledge of what the company does, who it does it for, its history, its biggest competitors, its industry, and how it is structured. 


Finally, practice. Yes, it’s as simple as that. Take the time to practice what you intend to say. Of course, the interview will never be as straightforward as your practice session but it is important to have a baseline of preparation. This will help with your confidence and give you the ammunition necessary to answer the many questions that will occur over the course of the interview. 


Practicing out loud is the only way to ensure that you can talk about yourself in a way that is confident, engaging, and aligned with the position you are applying for. In addition, It is important to base your practice answers on specific examples opposed to specific questions. As many interviewers will ask the same question but word it differently. Having examples will prepare you better than memorizing answers to specific questions. 


Plus, you want to come off as practiced and confident not stilted and robotic. An interviewer can tell that what you have said is deeply rehearsed when it sounds like you are reading off a teleprompter. Develop strong answers but be ready to change on the fly in response to the interview, remain confident, optimistic, and enthused. 


Mindset, Confidence, and Body Language


Interviews make people nervous! 

I get it. 

But an interview is not only a test about your skills and abilities, it is also a way to see your personality.

Having confidence in your presence, answers, and conduct is a huge determining factor as to whether your interview will be successful or not. But is BEING confident easier said than done? 

Confidence isn’t whether you’re an introvert or an extrovert, quiet, shy, or funny, because I have seen individuals with all these traits be successful in interviews. Confidence is unequivocally owning who you are and being comfortable with it. 


Instead of mentally berating yourself because you’re not making the interviewers roll over with laughter, accept it. Don’t focus on what you believe are your shortcomings in an interview, focus on your strengths. Don’t try to be someone else, this will put you in your head and it will come off as nervousness. Remember, the company wants to interview YOU not the idea of you that you’re ruminating about that has been giving you anxiety. 


I highly recommend taking some time to re-calibrate your center before your interview. Take some deep breaths, practice a few breathing exercises, slow your heart rate, smile!


Then try and do these things during the interview: 

Eye contact: Practice making eye contact while listening and while speaking. Averting your eyes, or staring down at your resume will undermine your professional disposition. 

Smile: Yes, it’s what confident people do. According to Psychology Today smiling makes you seem courteous, likable, and competent. You want this. 

Body Language: Stand and sit in open positions. Keep your arms by your sides, not in your pockets, or crossed in front of you. Don’t hesitate to gesture with your hands. Just don’t go crazy, you’re not a mime. 

Talk Slowly: Don’t rush your answers. Breath, take pauses, you’re a confident professional! 

Firm Handshake: Yes, it matters. Studies show that a firm handshake is essential in making a positive first impression and a contributing factor to overall interview success.

Don’t Fidget: Try not to tap your fingers, play with your pen, ruffle your resume, tap your feet, etc. As it is associated with nervousness. 


Showing confidence in interviews will give you an edge over the competition and demonstrate to interviewers that you are competent and able to succeed in the role. If you demonstrate these methods you will appear composed, confident, and capable. 

The Day of The Interview


Aim to arrive 15 minutes early. More than that can be considered annoying. Make sure you know where you are going! If you arrive too early, hang out in your car, a café, or somewhere nearby. 


I recommend having everything you need for the interview packed and double-checked the night before. Copies of your resume, references, the contact info of your interviewers, directions, and anything else you were asked to bring to the interview. 


First Impression


The first impression matters a lot. According to research you have six minutes and 25 seconds to make a positive one. It can take interviewers just 385 seconds to decide if the candidate is right for the role.


A first impression can also dictate the entire flow of an interview. When you meet the interviewer for the first time remember to provide a firm handshake, smile, and be cordial. 

When you are waiting for the interview or arriving at the workplace be polite to whomever you encounter, smile, say hello. In addition, when you are waiting to fidget excessively, or tap your feet, slouch. Try not to glare at your phone the entire time either, in fact, I recommend turning it off well before you enter the interview. 


Your Outfit


This is a lot easier than it seems. 


You should wear something slightly more formal than what you would be expected to wear everyday while working there. This way you look appropriate but not intimidating. 


Figuring out WHAT is the daily dress code can be as simple searching their website. If you have no idea, consider examples of similar industries and follow that. 


Whatever you decide to wear, make sure it is clean, wrinkle free, and looks good on you. Don’t pour on perfume or cologne and research whether they have a scent free environment or not. Investing effort into dressing well will give you a boost of confidence and looking sharp will help give the interviewer a positive impression of you. 


Common Interview Questions


Every interview, every industry, every field, and every position will have different interview questions. However, there are a handful of common interview questions that come up that almost all of my clients ask me about. Such as: 

“Tell us about yourself?”

“What is your greatest strength?”

“What is your greatest weakness?” 

“Why do you want to work here?”

“Where do you see yourself in five years?”

“What is your greatest achievement?” 

 “How do you deal with pressure/stress?” 

“Have you ever had a disagreement with a customer, colleague, manager? If so, how did you handle it?” 


These questions are INFAMOUS with interviews. They are well regarded as the most common interview questions you will ever experience. However, what few people tell you is that your answers to these questions will provide you with the basis for almost EVERY interview question. Because having a well-thought out answer for each of these will give you the foundation to answer almost everything they throw at you.


I’m going to go through each of these and explain to you what the interviewer REALLY wants and how you should be answering. 


“Tell us about yourself?” 


Interviewee: Well, I like chocolate and pizza. Not together of course! Heh. And my dog Snowflake. 

Interviewer: {Cringes} Thanks, let’s move on. 

This is probably one of the hardest questions to answer, the one candidates get wrong the most often, and possibly the most important question in demonstrating how confident you are. 


In my experience candidates or interviewees who lack confidence or are not prepared to perform an interview will either ask for clarification about this question, ask if the interviewer means personal or professional things, or will say something self-deprecating like “well there’s not much to know.” 


This is not a question you should be pondering after they ask it. You should already have an answer ready for this! You know who YOU are. This is one of the few interview questions you can have a rehearsed answer for because it directly relates to you. 


Example: 

“Sure! I’m a professional career coach with over seven years of experience helping professionals with their career goals. After working in Human Resources, I decided that my passion was assisting others with navigating the modern job market. This passion has led me to learn the art of interviewing, recruiting, and job searching which is what attracted me to your [position name opening]. I know that your company wants to [you should relate it to their business] and I know my background puts me an ideal spot to help you. Plus, I love experiencing new cultures and I know the position requires someone who is willing to travel internationally. Is there anything else you would like to know?” 


Of course, this is just an example and yours does not have to resemble it in anyway. Regardless, let’s go through a few things you should do when answering this question: 

  1. Maintain Professionalism: The idea is to describe your professional self. Keep the personal details to a minimum unless it directly relates to the position. As I demonstrated in my example. You want to keep your answer relevant and related to the position you are applying for.This doesn’t mean you should blank face stare at the interviewers and list off your career accomplishments. You SHOULD inject some emotions into this answer. Be passionate about it, you’re telling a story about yourself make it enjoyable. For this reason, I often recommend starting off the question with a definitive “Sure! or Of course!” It demonstrates that you’re confident and ready to talk about yourself.

  2. Your Answer Should Reflect the Role and Company: The interviewer wants to know about you as it is relevant to the role you are applying for. Be sure you include specific points about why you would be the ideal fit for the position or the company within your answer.

  3. Keep it Short: This is a brief and enthused teaser to demonstrate your professional ability. Keep it between 30 seconds to one minute. Remember, the longer you ramble on the harder it will be to sound enthused and keep the interviewer’s interest.

  4. Be Practiced, Rehearsed, but Not Memorized: I know this sounds like conflicting advice but you want to practice and rehearse so you’re more confident giving your answer. However, you don’t want to recite it word for word like a robot because it will sound disingenuous. Think of it like telling a story, make some pauses for effect, improvise a bit, whatever it takes to come off as authentic.

  5. Keep it Positive: This is not a chance to dwell on your weaknesses, your past boss, or other problems that occurred in your life. Instead, focus on describing and impressing upon the interviewer the best version of you.

  6. First Impression: A first impression can determine consciously or unconsciously an interviewer bias. Remember, there is a chance you will be working with these people! Do you think they want to work with a meek, timid, and self-deprecating person who can’t say anything about themselves with pride or confidence? Probably not. 

I firmly believe this is one of the most important interview questions. You have to remember that interviewers are people too and chances are if you answer this question with passion, enthusiasm, and genuine interest it reflects upon them and will  alter their perception of you positively. This is your first impression, your chance to talk about yourself, your opportunity to set the tone of the interview! 


“What is your greatest strength?”


When the interviewer asks this question what they really want to know is how you’re going to do well in the role you’re applying for. 


A mistake a lot of candidates make is relying on cliched adjectives or outdated phrases to answer this question. “I’m hardworking, determined, trustworthy, punctual, etc.” Or “I take my work seriously, I always put my best effort forth.” 


These may be great qualities to have but you’re not answering the employer’s REAL question of why you would excel in the role. You can certainly start your answer with an adjective but if you do, try and tie it into an answer that is more telling of your professional ability.


Example:

“Determination. To give you an example, at my previous role I was given additional responsibilities in X when a colleague unexpectedly left the organization. At first, I struggled to maintain their quota. However, after a couple of weeks I had matched it. Within a month I had increased X by Z. At the end of two months I was not only reaching the quota but consistently surpassing it and did so until I left the organization.” 


If you don’t want to use an adjective just use a phase or word that relates to the position: coding, digital marketing, sales, etc.


The important takeaway is to provide a strength that relates to the position but also provide a real-world example to provide some context. 


“What is your greatest weakness?” 


Want a surefire way of ruining the course of your interview? Answer this question with “perfectionism.” I can picture the recruiter’s eyes rolling. 


The real purpose why interviewers ask this question is because they want to know if you can be honest, if you’re aware of your areas of growth, and if you’re willing to admit them. 

The ideal way of answering this question is to tell them something they already have assumed or know. If you’re missing a certain quality on your resume, as it relates to the posting, consider reflecting on that. 


The point is to be confident about the answer and speak as if it has very little bearing on you. Like you’re considering it as an afterthought not a glaring flaw in your character. Then make it clear you know what your weakness is and that you are working on improving. Give an example of how you’re growing and why you’re optimistic. 


Example:

“I would consider my greatest weakness public speaking. I will be honest; it makes me anxious. But since I started attending Toastmasters six months ago, I have improved exponentially. I’m still not quite where I want to be in terms of confidence, but with each session I get better. I think it’s important to be aware of areas of improvement so you can then work to correct them.”


While this advice may seem counter intuitive, it demonstrates that you’re honest, you have taken the time to read the job description, and that you’re willing to ask a question directly and not regurgitate some vague answer like almost every other candidate will. Speaking of which, avoid these: 

“I’m a perfectionist.” 

“None.” 

“I work too hard.” 

“I take on too much.”

These have all been used to the point of insincerity and the interviewer will instantly think less of you. If you’re really concerned that your weakness is going to ruin your chances you can always resort to stating something that is unrelated to the position. However, this can also come across as disingenuous but it is the lesser of two evils.

 

“Why do you want to work here?”


This is actually a question you should WANT to be asked. It provides you with an opportunity to demonstrate your skills, abilities, and experience in a way that relates to the posting. But, don’t forget to tie it into WHY you want to work at the company. 


Example: 

“When I was researching companies to apply to, I was looking for [this quality]. I wanted to be able to leverage my experience in X and my background in Y in a meaningful way. I also wanted to be able to contribute to an environment where I can grow professionally and really see how my work makes an impact. When I read on your website that you will be embarking on new projects to become a leader in X I knew I had to apply.” 


Will an answer like this always be possible? No. If you’re applying to a small company where information is sparse, chances are you will not be able to discuss the company much. In absence of specific company information try and talk about professional growth and new opportunities. Try and demonstrate an interest in more than just a paycheck. 


“Where do you see yourself in five years?”


This question is far too popular for its own good because the reality is, most people don’t know what they will be doing in five years. Why then do interviewers ask it? It is less about them wanting a definitive picture about your future and more about getting a sense of what the role/company means to you. 


While it’s okay to be ambitious, I wouldn’t recommend stating anything that comes off as arrogant or unrealistic. This is not about your personal life either. 

Examples: 

“In five years, I would like to be contributing to [company] in whatever capacity I can whether it’s as a [role applying to] or something different.”

“In five years, I could see myself using my skills and experience to train and help other people in the profession, and if the opportunity presents itself, maybe managing staff as well.” 


“How do you deal with pressure/stress?” 


Stress happens in the workplace. Believe it or not, interviewers do not expect you to sit there and tell them that you are immune from stress.


This question is not asking whether or not you experience stress but HOW you deal with it. As long as you have a well-thought out and constructive response to the question you will be fine. I also recommend including specific examples of how you deal with stress.  


Example:


“Whenever I feel like I’m experiencing an increase in stress at work I like to take a step back for a moment, take a deep breath, and re-prioritize my tasks. I think stress often comes from believing you have to do many things at once. But in reality, there are often staggered deadlines and less-urgent projects that can be dealt with later. But re-prioritizing, I can focus on the urgent tasks at hand.”


There are many other things you can do such as delegating, meditation, taking a break, exercise, using the stress as a motivator, etc. The idea is to demonstrate that you can handle stress or pressure!


“Why did you leave/dislike/leaving current/former job?”


Why do interviewers really want to know with this question? They want to know what to expect from you. If you will be demanding, hard on your employer, if you will criticize them behind their backs, or if your expectations of a reasonable workplace far exceed what they can deliver. 


The advice that I’m sure you have heard is don’t chastise your previous employer to avoid sounding negative. This is something I generally agree with. However, there is a caveat to this. The recruiter is asking you to say something negative or at the very least give a reason for why you left. It would make little sense if you describe your former employer as the greatest place in the world to work and are now leaving it. 


I recommend that you start with saying why your previous or current employer is great. Then delve into why you’re seeking new employment. 


Example:

“I will be honest; my last employer was a great atmosphere for learning. I had a lot of opportunities to gain new skills in my field and practice them in live environments. I felt like I was part of a well-working team that was able to accomplish a lot. 


But the longer I stayed I realized that the opportunities for learning decreased as the scope of the work stopped expanding. As someone who thrives on professional development, I want to be a part of an environment that fosters growth and learning at every stage of employment.”


This way you have demonstrated a clear reason as to why you have left but have done so in a way that isn’t off-putting. More importantly, you also demonstrate you are willing to learn and grow within a company. 


“Have you ever had to handle a difficult colleague/customer/manager?”

There are many variations of this interview question but it has the same foundation, when someone is being difficult, how do you deal with it? 


I can appreciate the temptation to answer this with “I get along with everyone.” 

But the reality is, there are times in everyone’s career where they have to handle a challenging situation. The idea is not to pretend that this doesn’t occur, because the interviewer won’t believe that. Instead, think about this question before the interview and try and recall an interaction where you disagreed with someone. You want to demonstrate that you can respond to these situations effectively.

 

When considering an answer, you should try and demonstrate if you maintained your composure, listened to the other person, attempted to deescalate it, or empathized with the other person. You should resist including points about how you antagonized, made the situation worse, or came off as adversarial when it wasn’t warranted.  It is also important to include how you may have been a contributor. Remember, it takes two to tango, as the saying goes. 


Example: 

“I had a situation a few months ago with a former colleague that I was assigned to do a special project with. We were falling behind and I decided to complete a few of the objectives that they were supposed to be in charge of. I made the mistake of doing so without asking their permission. The colleague took it the wrong way and said I was attempting to undermine them. They then threatened to abandon their part of the project entirely and leave me with the responsibility. 


I admit, I was annoyed. But I tried to understand where they were coming from and see their perspective. I don’t think their actions were warranted but instead of being confrontational, I apologized to them, and encouraged them to continue the project which they agreed to. In retrospect, I should have asked them first, but either way I’m happy I was able to effectively work through the situation.” 


The basic idea is to show that you can work with difficult people or handle difficult situations when they arise.


Read two Essential interview questions to get the job.


Ending the Interview


Generally speaking, the interview concludes with the interviewer asking “Do you have any questions for us?” What are the best questions to ask in an interview?


Saying “I have all the information I need,” or “how much do I get paid?” Are not recommended. Instead you want to show some genuine interest in the company, the role, the interview process, or your future with the organization.  


An effective way to demonstrate that you were paying attention during the interview is to phrase a question based off of the interviews content. “During the interview you mentioned that [company name] takes pride in their innovation, what qualities do innovative employees typically demonstrate?” 


There are no RIGHT questions to ask, but you do want to ask at least one strong question to show genuine interest.


Here are a few you can consider: 

“What is the team that I will be working with like?”

“What about my skills and abilities do you think makes me a potential candidate?” 

“Can you tell me more about the company culture?” 

“Why do you like working here?”

“What are the most important goals your company is currently trying to achieve?” 

Ideally you want to show the interviewer you have genuine interest, researched the company, or are interested in your future with the organization. If you fail to have a question it may come off as general disinterest, lack of confidence, or eagerness to leave.


I also HIGHLY recommend avoiding questions like these: 

“How many sick days do I get?”

“How much do I get paid?”

 “Is there a lot of overtime?”

“People on Glassdoor said the boss was an asshole, are they lying?”

Once you have gone through this questioning period, and they ask you is that all, I recommend asking “what are the next steps in the interview process?” Chances are they will do this automatically but it is important to get this information before you leave so you can engage in any necessary follow up. In addition, you won’t spend the next two weeks checking your email incessantly if they tell you they will call you in a couple of weeks. 


Leaving an Impression


A lasting impression can be as important as the first. After you have concluded the interview thank the interviewers and shake each of their hands if it is logistically possible. Don’t run around a 16-chair meeting table in order to do so. 


As part of your “thank you,” I recommend including a brief comment about working at the organization. Consider this: 

“Thank you for lending me your time and allowing me to represent myself in person. I appreciate the information you have provided me about your company and I really think my skills in X are a great fit for your Y position. I look forward to hearing from you and joining your company if I have met your requirements.” 


The sales pitch isn’t necessary, but it is a nice touch to close the interview and imprint a positive image of yourself on the interviewers for when they sit down to evaluate your interview. 


Sending a Thank You Letter 


Why is sending a thank-you letter important? Because it allows you to get your name in front of the interviewer AGAIN and leave a lasting positive image. Plus, it can be a strong differentiator between you and another competing candidate. 


The letter gives you another opportunity to sell yourself as a candidate. Use specific references from the interview and if you missed anything you wanted to touch upon during the interview, now is your chance to let them know. 


Overall, it is an easy gesture that can have a large impact on your candidacy. We provide a thank-you letter template as part of our resume package!  If you hire us to optimize your candidacy, we have you covered!


If you follow the advice I have outlined you will stop fearing interviews and begin to thrive on demonstrating your professional aptitude in a way that consistently leads to job offers. 


Conclusion


Searching for a job is a skill, the reason many get anxiety from job searching is because they have either had challenges in the past or believe that they will not be able to find a good job quickly. I get it, bills are mounting, payments approaching, uncertainty begins to creep in, and the process becomes daunting.


Job searching can be developed and improved upon. It will always be a challenge but with the right tools, skills, and preparation it becomes easier. This guide, if followed in its entirety, will provide you with the foundation to be a successful job-seeker. It provides the necessary tools and instructions to get you ahead of the competition. 


If you still are worried or concerned or do not have the time to dedicate to completing all of these tasks consider hiring us. We have a 100% success rate with our clients who have purchased these combined services from us. Whatever you decide, Top Prospect Careers wishes you all the best in 2020!