Posts Tagged ‘Skills’

The Best Questions to Ask During a Job Interview

Thursday, November 7th, 2013

A job interview is a two-way street. The employer asks questions to determine if the interviewee is an ideal fit for the job, and the smart candidate uses the interview to assess how he would fit in, if he would be able to do his best work there, and how well aligned his goals are with those of the employer.

Candidates must ask questions to determine if the job fits their career path and objectives. The fact that this is a two-way interview is often lost on many job candidates, especially in this period of high unemployment, when it seems like employers hold all the cards. While you don’t want to be too choosy, you must be prepared in advance to ask any and all questions that will lead to the best possible match for you.

There will come a time in the interview—usually toward the end—when the employer gives you the opportunity to ask questions. Not everyone takes it. However, if you are interested in the job and don’t have any final questions, you risk being perceived as someone who is not truly interested, and that’s too big a risk to take.

So when the tables are turned and you’re invited to ask questions, do it. Remember that hiring managers appreciate an engaged conversation and value an inquisitive mind. And asking questions says that you are savvy enough to take the additional opportunity to sell yourself and allow you to showcase your knowledge about the company and its industry, and to steer the interview into areas where you excel.

Asking questions will only work to your advantage, of course, if they are the right ones. Asking a bad question is worse than asking none at all. So what are some of the best questions to ask during an interview? Here are a few examples and how you can best read between the lines to understand what the responses mean:

1. How has this position evolved since it was created?

Getting a brief history on the role should clear up whether the position has expanded over the years or has been a dead end for employees.

Interpreting the response:
If the interviewer says the position has expanded beyond its original scope (and is continuing to do so), that signifies an opportunity for growth within the company. If the position has stayed static for years, don’t expect to blossom there. Depending on your career ambitions, the latter response isn’t necessarily bad.

2. What have past employees done to succeed in this position?

Knowing how the organization measures achievements will help you understand what the expectations will be and whether you have the skill set to meet them. But don’t undermine your past accomplishments just because your route to success doesn’t match up with the one embraced by the company. You also don’t want to be too narrowly defined by what other people have done. Because you’re a different person, you may approach things a little differently.

Interpreting the response: You may hear a description that highlights the positive and negative attributes of your predecessor. That could be a good indicator of the company’s culture. Typically, what one person has done to be successful is what the organization tends to do to be successful.

3. What have you enjoyed most about working here?

Your prospective boss can relay what he or she values most and what led to his or her personal success with the organization. Then you can internally ruminate about whether you share the same values and can envision yourself working there.

Interpreting the response: Your interviewer may commend the company for everything from benefits to year-end bonuses. On the other hand, if they’re struggling to come up with something positive about why they like working there, chances are good that you’re not going to be able to come up with anything positive after having worked there either.

4. What is the top priority for the person in this position over the next three months?

This question is helpful so you know what to focus on if you do get the position. Without a clear expectation, you won’t know what to accomplish or how to make the right impression during your first days on the job.

Interpreting the response: You may be told that you need to complete 15 tasks rather than two or three. If these are all big initiatives that they want you to handle, probably not that doable.

5. What are the qualities of successful managers in this company?

If you’re interviewing for a managerial position, you’ll want knowledge of the skills and core competencies the company treasures in a leader. If excellent people skills and multitasking top the list, emphasize how you’ve demonstrated those traits throughout your career.

Interpreting the response: You may get a response along these lines: “The best managers in our organization are independent thinkers, are good teachers and completely aligned with the direction the company is going in.” If he or she can’t name a single star in the managerial stable, that’s problematic and speaks to an organization short on progress and promotions.

6. If offered the position, can you give me examples of ways I would collaborate with my manager?

As an entry-level staffer, you may want to work with management as a means to showcase your skills and move up. But there’s a distinction between simply taking orders and actively working with a superior who is grooming you for something better. Finding out how an organization utilizes people at the staff level is key. Is it a dictatorial environment or a collaborative one?

Interpreting the response: The employer may be short on examples or dismiss the notion of working with management altogether. Prod further and find out why that it is. There may be a legitimate reason behind why the company doesn’t promote collaboration.

7. What are some challenges that will face the person filling this position?

You owe it to yourself to know what you’re up against. It just gives you a reality check. The drawbacks may differ depending on whether the position is managerial or entry-level. As a manager, you may oversee a department that runs on a shoestring budget. As a lower-level staffer, you may work odd hours or get stuck with assignments that lack substance.

Interpreting the response:
The interviewer may point out the least offensive parts of the job. But if he or she denies any downside whatsoever, that should raise doubts about his or her credibility. Any boss that tells you there are not challenges, they’re lying. It’s just that simple.

8. Do you have any hesitations about my qualifications?

Asking a question like this lets the interviewer know that you’re secure enough to openly discuss your vulnerabilities. It also signals confidence and the ability to be coached. Coachability is a hugely attractive attribute as far as interviewers are concerned.

Interpreting the response:
At your urging, the interviewer may voice concerns about a lack of training in certain areas or gaps in employment. Rather than gloss over your shortcomings, address them and put up a respectful and reasonable defense. You may be able to come up with a satisfactory response, you may not. But at least you have the chance.

Top Ten Mistakes to Avoid on Your Resume

Thursday, September 5th, 2013

It’s deceptively easy to make mistakes on your resume and exceptionally difficult to repair the damage once an employer gets it. Often, in order to weed out candidates for openings that receive hundreds, if not thousands, of applications, a simple spelling error is enough for HR to send a resume straight to the recycle bin. So prevention is critical, whether you’re writing your first resume or revising it for a mid-career job search.

Before you send your resume out, make sure to check it against the following list. If you can avoid these common errors, you’ll be one step ahead of the competition in this very competitive job market.

1. Misspellings and grammatical errors are killers. Spell check then proofread by reading each word aloud. Then have your document reviewed by a career coach or a friend or family member. It’s hard to catch your own mistakes, so having someone else read your resume for you will help.

2. Incorrect or Missing Contact Information: Double-check even the most minute, taken-for-granted details on your resume — sooner rather than later. If you’re not getting any bites on your resume, it may just be that your phone number or email address is incorrect. And if you’re tempted, for some crazy reason, to leave a phone number or an email address off your resume, think again; an employer might come across your resume years down the road and if you don’t have all your contact info there, you may mess a great opportunity. At the very least, don’t make it any harder for a recruiter or a potential employer to get a hold of you.

3. Not including keywords that match the job posting. Your resume should include as many of the same keywords that appear in the job listing as possible. If your resume doesn’t have the right keywords, it most likely won’t get noticed because you won’t appear to be a fit for the job (not to mention, you won’t have much luck getting through the robots).

4. An outdated resume will make you look obsolete. Your resume should be updated for every job you apply for. Be sure to update your skills and education sections, as well as your work history. And if you’ve added certifications or training, be sure to add that as well.

5. Including Too Much Information: Don’t tell your readers everything about each job. Focus on the highlights; keep your document to 2 pages max (you’re unlikely to get anyone to read further anyway, if they’re interested). Use formatting techniques like bullets and short paragraphs to enhance readability. Limit your resume to the last 10 – 15 years of work experience if it would otherwise go on for too long. Remember: you don’t need to include everything you have ever done.

6. Leaving Off Important Information: You may be tempted, for example, to eliminate mention of the jobs you’ve taken to earn extra money for school or to bide time during the recession while looking for something better or more long-term. Typically, however, the soft skills you’ve gained from these experiences (e.g., work ethic, time management) are more important to employers than you might think. And if you create an employment gap by removing jobs, it might make things worse.

7. Writing position descriptions that don’t show what you accomplished: Avoid job descriptions which simply list your duties or responsibilities. Instead write active statements that showcase relevant skills and accomplishments. Make sure the employer can easily see how you added value in your role.

8. Lack of Quantifiables: Related to Number 7, job seekers often omit quantifiables that would substantiate claims about their skills and accomplishments. Instead, they take refuge in murky language like “improved performance” and “led a winning team.” Use numbers or percentages to reflect the improvements you’ve achieved. CPAs can point to specific processes made more efficient and to specific amounts of money saved. IT professionals can list expertise with specific software packages and applications, as well as successful deployments and business-cost savings due to technology enhancements. Operations professionals can talk about cost controls and productivity

9. Graphic Crimes: Photos on resumes are a bad idea since resumes inspire enough snap decisions without having your picture on them. Resume readers are making go or no-go decisions all the time so it’s safest not to give them a reason to pass over your resume by having a superficial reaction to your photo. On top of that is the technical reason for keeping photos off a resume: Namely, graphics files tend to choke applicant tracking system software. Finally, legal issues lead many human resources departments to reject all resumes containing photos to avoid accusations of discrimination.

10. Attempting One Size Fits All: Whenever you try to develop a one-size-fits-all resume to send to all employers, you almost always end up with something employers will toss in the recycle bin. Employers want you to write a resume specifically for them. They expect you to clearly show how and why you fit the position in a specific organization.

Creating an Impressive CV

Thursday, March 21st, 2013

The curriculum vitae is a professional document designed to present the entire scope and content of a professional’s career. This format is mostly used in medical or academic professions (and also overseas) so as to highlight research projects, journals, citations, etc. The format of a CV is similar to a professional resume; however, the CV is often much longer, being far more comprehensive, and generally includes details that a resume would not.

The CV allows for a more free flowing format and style than a standard resume, and each profession or field has variations on what’s included. There are certain standard features, however, that a CV should have, and certain strategies you should use to artfully present your information, including:

• Highlight the most relevant and sought after qualifications, skills, projects, and research right at the beginning, in order to grab the attention of recruiters and hiring managers.

• An educational summary in reverse chronological order is recommended. For fresh or junior applicants, it is important to mention academic grades, internship credentials, awards, and dissertation summaries. For experienced and mid-career professionals, it is more important to mention citations and academic and research papers written or quoted, with clear mention of the journal or university to ensure the credibility of the claim and to augment the achievement.

• Brief summaries of the challenges and outcomes of important projects and research assignments is also important. The placement of these summaries should not disrupt the overall flow of the document.

• Unlike a resume, it is common to mention recommendations and references directly on a CV, alongside awards and medals. Make sure these are relevant to the position and don’t be afraid to name drop if you have recommendations from important people in the field.

• Avoid the temptation to overuse academic jargon unless it is relevant and helpful for explaining your credentials.

• A neat and crisp presentation is essential. It is not considered professional to add lots of colors, unusual fonts, or graphics to the document. Be judicious with your use of bullet points: while they are helpful for organizing content, too many will break up the flow of the text and make the document appear much longer than it actually is.

• While there is no defined length for a CV, and details are essential, do not allow the document to become too long. A very long CV does not reflect clarity of thought and busy hiring managers may only have a minute or two to read it. It is therefore important to highlight and emphasize the skills and background that clearly illustrate why you are the best candidate for the role.

• As this document represents the overall scope of your career, and is likely the first thing an organization will see, it is important that it contain honest, consistent, and accurate information. Make sure to spell check the document to ensure that no inadvertent errors have slipped in and be sure to avoid the temptation to expand or inflate your achievements.