Interviewing for a Job

It’s part art and part science.  But you can definitely improve your interviewing skills if you want to.  I’ve interviewed hundreds of job candidates throughout my career and used that experience to assemble a series of blog posts.

Here’s the make up of this blog post series:

See my related blog post series on Job Hunting and Resume Writing.

Resume Writing

There are plenty of books and websites with advice on this subject.  I’ve reviewed thousands of resumes during my career and due to the amount of my career that has been spent in marketing, I take a special interest in the art form of resume writing.  So I wrote a series of blog posts on the topic.  I can’t guarantee it will get you a job but I can practically guarantee that you’ll find some ideas to improve your resume.

Here’s the make up of this blog post series:

See my related blog post series on Job Hunting and Interviewing.

Job Hunting

Often times you come across new job opportunities while you’re gainfully employed and without even looking for them.  But what if you find yourself in a situation where you need to proactively look for a new job?  How do you go about it and what are some of the tricks of the trade?  I published a blog series on this topic and hope it’s helpful to your endeavor.

Here’s the make up of this blog post series:

Also read my related blog post series on Resume Writing and Interviewing.

For Military Veterans

For military veterans newly transitioning into the private sector, I highly recommend this blog post by Craig Cummings titled “A Military Veteran Transitioning to the Private Sector Needs to Act Like a Startup


Interviewing Tip #7 – Follow Up

Our society seems to have drifted away from formal Thank You’s.  But this isn’t the time to ignore the tradition.  You should ask each interviewer for a business card, mainly for the purpose of sending a thank you note.  I personally find it hugely respectful and professional when I receive a written Thank You card but I believe it’s OK to send an email thank you.  In the email, you want to 1) thank them for taking valuable time from their schedule to meet with you  2) reiterate your interest in their company and the role they are hiring  3) remind them of something you discussed about yourself that uniquely qualifies you for the job/company.  In closing your email you can show your willingness to have a follow-up phone discussion or in-person visit, if needed.

See the rest of my series on Interviewing Tips here.   I also have a related series for Resume Writing and one for Job Hunting.

Interviewing Tip #6 – Asking for Feedback

It’s not out of the question to ask how you did at the end of the interview.  But the way you ask is important.  You don’t want to say, “So, do you think I’ll get the job”.  Instead, you could ask, “Do you mind if I ask if you have any initial observations or comments about the interview we just had?”.  Another slightly more aggressive approach would be to ask, “Is there anything about the interview we just had that would cause you concern about my ability to perform this job well?”.

See the rest of my series on Interviewing Tips here.   I also have a related series for Resume Writing and one for Job Hunting.

Interviewing Tip #5 – Asking Questions

In my previous post I described who should be talking during the interview.  Remember that during the face-to-face interview you are hopefully interviewing the company as much as they are interviewing you.  So, absolutely have a list of questions that you would like to get answered.

Your list of questions can be as long as it needs to be, even though you will probably only ask 1-2 questions per interview.   If you are interviewing with multiple company representatives, then split the list based on the most appropriate person to direct the question to.  And some of your questions possibly should be directed at multiple interviewers to compare their responses later.

Be very mindful of the fact that your questions tell a lot about you.  So don’t blow them.  In other words, don’t ask a shallow question whose answer is front and center on the website homepage.  This will just show that you didn’t dig very deep with your research.  Instead, ask a question that digs deeper into the strategy of the company or industry.  Or ask a question that demonstrates you’re seeking to advance your career over time, not just find a job with a paycheck.  Here are some ideas:

  • Ask the hiring manager how they would describe their management style.  One way to ask the question is “How would your employees describe your management style?”  You can also go a step further by asking what their employees like best about working for them.
  • Ask how your interviewer would describe the culture of the company.  This is a great one to ask 2-3 interviewers to see if you get common responses.
  • Ask a question about the impact or significance of a competitor’s recent announcement or some new relevant government legislation.
  • If the company is private (not publicly traded), ask about the company’s financial health.  This could relate to recent revenue growth rate and/or profitability.
  • Ask questions about your potential career paths or opportunities for more responsibility in the future.  This shows ambition and shows you’re seeking a career-building opportunity rather than just a paycheck.
  • Ask how success will be measured for the role.  Related to this, you could ask if there’s someone currently in the same role that’s performing especially well and what is it that helps make them so successful.
  • Ask what the biggest challenges your hiring manager’s team (or their broad department) is currently facing and how the role you’re interviewing for can help the most towards those challenges.
  • Ask what your hiring manager likes the most about the company and how much longer they can see themselves working for the company.
  • Ask if the company has any core values or principals that it operates by and uses to make difficult decision.  As a follow up, you could ask for any recent examples that come to mind where the core values especially came into play.
  • If you get a slight negative vibe from the interviewer or can’t quite tell how the interview is going, ask if they any concerns about you as a candidate for the position.  If they do, you’ll have a moment to address it right then and there.  As long as you’re diplomatic in the way you ask this question, you’ll be fine.  But if the interview is going really well and you’re getting strong positive vibes, you might not want to ask this question, and certainly wouldn’t want to end with this question.

Don’t ask questions that can be answered with a simple yes or no.  Instead, ask what are called open-ended questions.  These questions might start off with “How would you describe ….”, “How does the company go about …”, or “What methods does the company use …”.

Some interviewers like to start the interview by allowing the candidate to ask a couple of questions.  So be prepared for that.  But don’t take over the interview.  Instead, start with 2 good questions and then give an opportunity for the interviewer to take the steering wheel.  With most interviews, the interviewer gives the candidate a chance to ask some questions towards the interview.  And you should always be ready to follow a particular answer of yours  with a related question from your list.

Finally, feel free to glance at a pre-written list of questions and take brief notes during this part of your interview.  It shows that you are paying attention and actually care about the answer, even if you only write a few words down with each answer.  Having a simple note-taking portfolio and pen helps with the look of being a serious interviewee.  It’s also customary for the interviewee to ask the interviewer if they mind if notes are taken, even though the answer is always “yes”.

See the rest of my series on Interviewing Tips here.   I also have a related series for Resume Writing and one for Job Hunting.

Interviewing Tip #4 – Puff Ball Questions

There is absolutely no excuse for not being ready for the most commonly asked interview questions.  Knock these out of the ballpark by being prepared ahead of time.

I’ve created a list of questions commonly asked during interviews and you can download it here: Interview Questions to be Ready For.  Don’t necessarily memorize your response word-for-word, but definitely know which points you want to make and practice this a few times via role play with a friend or family member so that your answers are easy to recall.

Start with Throw-Away Interviews

The very first couple of interviews you have are not going to be your best.  That’s because even if you did some practice interviews with friends, you haven’t done it for real when the stakes are high.

Because of this, don’t interview first with the #1 or #2 company on your wish list.  Instead, find a company or two that has a desirable open role but aren’t companies you’re dying to work for.  That way, you can get some practice with your answers.  Immediately after the interviews, critique yourself and identify the opportunities for improvement.

Behavioral Interview Questions

There’s a developing trend towards including questions that help assess culture, while also helping the employer learn how you think and react in certain situations.  These aren’t puff-ball questions, but they’re important enough that I want to describe the topic a bit further to help prepare you.

Below are some examples of behavioral interview questions.  Do an Internet search to find more.  These questions often start with “Tell me about a time when . . .”.  What the interviewer wants you to do is describe the situation and then explain how you handled, or reacted to, the situation.

  • . . . you had a really crappy manager.  What made them crappy and how did you handle the situation?
  • . . . you had a teammate that was negatively impacting the performance of your team.
  • . . . you were given an impossible deadline for a task/project.
  • . . . you were given an impossible goal/target to reach.
  • . . . you were the only member of a project team that felt strongly about something related to the project.  (in other words, everyone else disagreed with you)
  • . . . you strongly disagreed with a strategy that your manager or company executive announced to you, your department, or the company.

In many cases, your interviewer isn’t looking for a specific answer as much as wanting to understand how you think and operate.  Your answer should mostly involve storytelling, but without taking 5 minutes to answer the question.  Provide a little background so the interviewer understands how it matches the behavioral interview question they presented.  Then describe how you handled the situation as well as how things worked out in the end.

If the company you’re interviewing with has stated core values, you should know that your answers will be measured against their fit to those core values.  This is actually so important that during your initial phone screen interview or first in-person interview, try to find out what the company’s core values are.

The “Compensation Expectation” Question

There’s one common question I’d like to cover directly in this article because it seems to be stressful for most people.  “How much are you looking to make?” or “What is your salary requirement?”.  Many people try to wiggle out of answering the question with responses like these:

  • I’m just looking to make whatever the market rate is for this type of position
  • Salary isn’t the most important thing to me.  I’m evaluating opportunities based on a broad range of factors.
  • At my last job I made $xxK

There’s nothing terrible about the above responses, but what about something like this: “Salary is only a part of my overall selection criteria, but I’m most strongly considering roles that pay in the $x to $y range”.  There are some advantages to this approach:

  1. You highlight the fact that it’s not just about the salary
  2. You hint that you’ve either gotten other offers or are expecting some
  3. You suggest an acceptable range, which increases the chances the company’s budget for the role will be within the range

After that bold sentence, you could continue by describing other factors that are part of your selection criteria.  Company culture, opportunities for growth, company benefits plan, stock options, daily commute duration, and other things could all be a part of your criteria.

Getting Stumped

Sometimes you’ll get a question that really forces you to think on-the-spot for a good answer.  First, don’t feel pressure to immediately blurt out an answer.  It’s totally OK to initially say something like “That’s a really good question.  Let me think about it for just a second.”  That alone buys you some very valuable time.

You might get asked to describe a time when you performed a particular task or addressed a specific situation but, unfortunately, you’ve never encountered it.  Your best approach to this is probably to admit that you haven’t previously encountered that situation/task and then either  1) tell them about something that’s the most similar to the task/situation they asked about  2) tell them how you believe you would go about addressing the situation.

You might get a question that isn’t looking for a precise answer but rather gives you an opportunity to demonstrate how you think.  Imagine a question like “How many jelly beans do you think could fit in my empty trash can?”  I can think of two ways to answer the question:

  • “I imagine considerably more than 2,000 could fit but I’m fairly certain 10,000 would overflow.  So my estimate is something in the 5,000 range.”
  • “I imagine about 100 jelly beans could fit in one cup.  It looks like your trash can has a volume of about 3 gallons.  With 16 cups per gallon, it means roughly 5,000 jelly beans.”

The second answer shows more analytical thinking than the first, but you get the idea.  The interviewer cares less about your answer and more about how your brain processes analytical challenges.

In the rare event that you get a question that literally leaves you stumped with no response, first ask to come back to it later in the interview.  If, when that happens, you still are drawing a blank, just let them know you’re sorry but you don’t have a really good answer at the moment and would love to follow up via email if that’s OK.  Then, while driving home think about a possible good response.  If you come up with something, include mention of it when you send your thank you email.

I hope this information is helpful to your job search.  See the rest of my series on Interviewing Tips here.   I also have a related series for Resume Writing and one for Job Hunting.

Interviewing Tip #3 – Who Should Be Talking?

It’s very common for the interviewer to have a standard set of questions they want to cover first.  If so, then let them proceed.  But, at the same time, you should find the most appropriate way to get your interviewer talking –especially if they are the hiring manager (or the hiring manager’s boss).  The more you can get them talking, the more you will learn about the company and the job.  You will get invaluable insights into whether this is actually the company you want to work for.  And if you are fortunate enough to get more than one job offer, you will want these insights to assist with your decision-making.  One good way to get the interviewer talking is to ask them a suitable related question immediately after answering one of their questions.  But be careful about this if you detect they are the type of interviewer that wants to get through their question list first.

Conversely, you’ll come across interviewers that just want to talk about themselves and their company.  That’s great for getting additional insights to add to your research but terrible for when the recruiter or hiring manager asks what they thought about you.  You’ll need to cleverly figure out ways to jump in with comments that relate to what they are talking about but related to you and your accomplishments.  The ideal scenario is when you find yourself in a balanced interview with dialog and questions in both directions.

Finally, be ready with a list of questions that will give you valuable information on the role, company, industry and competition.  It’s OK to have these typed/written and stored in your interview binder.  You don’t have to memorize them.  But while asking these questions, inject some commentary that demonstrates that you’ve done your research.  You’d be amazed at how many candidates don’t do research, or if they do they don’t incorporate it into their interview.  This will really help you stand out.  And feel free to take notes.  It shows you’re taking this seriously.

See the rest of my series on Interviewing Tips here.   I also have a related series for Resume Writing and one for Job Hunting.

Interviewing Tip #2 – Attire

While I can’t say precisely what to wear for the specific company and job you are interviewing for, I can give a solid rule of thumb.  Assess the dress attire standard your role would follow once in the job and take it up one notch for the interview.

If you would typically dress in jeans and a t-shirt for the job, then consider interviewing with casual slacks and a polo shirt.  If you would typically dress in casual slacks and a button-up collar shirt, then interview with nice slacks, a dress shirt and either a sport coat or a tie.  You get the idea.  I’m obviously giving examples for men, because that’s what I know best.  Women should follow this same general approach using their categories of work attire.

I also recommend mostly ignoring the advice of any existing employees at the company.  They might tell you, “Don’t worry about dressing up for the interview, because we’re pretty laid back here.”  Instead, just take it up one notch to come across as professional and serious.  Don’t upgrade from jeans/t-shirt all the way to a suit & tie, because that’s too much of a jump and might cause you to feel really out of place.

See the rest of my series on Interviewing Tips here.   I also have a related series for Resume Writing and one for Job Hunting.

Interviewing Tip #1 – Phone Screening

OK, so you made enough of a positive impression with your job application or unsolicited email (see related post) to get a response from the company.  This will usually start with a request for a phone interview.  It’s the company’s way of conducting a second round of filtering (following the resume filter) to make sure they only spend face-to-face time with the most viable candidates.

The main thing I’ll say about the phone screening interview is shame on you if you don’t have all of your most important research information in front of you during the interview (see related post and this one too).  In addition, you should have a cheat sheet of your personal accomplishments right in front of you.  Maybe this is just a highlighted version of your resume.  Finally, some of the recommendations in the following posts of this series are also excellent preparatory tasks for a phone screening interview.  But remember three key things.

  1. The only reason the company is doing the phone screening interview with you is to decide if they want to bring you in for a more comprehensive fact-to-face interview.  So don’t turn it into your interview of the company (that comes later).  You should be prepared with a couple of questions about the company in case you’re given the opportunity and to show that you’ve done your research.  But make sure they get what they need first.
  2. Take full advantage of the fact that there is a phone line in between you and the interviewer.  You can have every cheat sheet known to man at your fingertips.  Just be organized.
  3. Eliminate things that could distract or disrupt the interview.  Have a dog at home that likes to bark when people walk by your house?  Put him/her in the bedroom.  Have a land line phone at home?  Use it instead of your cell phone for better clarity.

See the rest of my series on Interviewing Tips here.   I also have a related series for Resume Writing and one for Job Hunting.

Job Hunting Tip #5 – Getting Aggressive with Unsolicited Outreaches

If a target company has a job posting that is a fit, then obviously you should follow the stated process for submitting your resume and then try to reach someone personally in the HR department, or better yet use your personal network to get to the hiring manager.  But if this isn’t the case, and you can’t seem to get any friendly introductions, what should you do?  Well, once choice is to keep waiting to see if something shakes loose.  But if you reach a point where you need to get more aggressive, then it’s time to take matters into your own hands.

My recommendation in this case is to reach out to some appropriate person in the company on your own.  It is important to reach out to the right personal at the right level.  In other words, if you are seeking a sales rep position in a 2,000 employee company, you should not reach out to the CEO but rather the Sales VP or maybe a regional Sales Director.  You’re going to get the names of these people from LinkedIn, the company website or your personal network.

The best method of doing this is email.  Even if you don’t know the email address of the person you want to reach out to, it’s not hard to figure out.  Check the website Contact page and the bottom of any company-produced press releases to see if any person’s email address is listed.  For example, if the target company is Ipswitch Incorporated and you see a press contact (John Doe) listed as, then you can pretty well predict the company’s email nomenclature.  If you can’t find any such clues, then with about 90% odds of success, you should try the following three approaches:

Continue reading “Job Hunting Tip #5 – Getting Aggressive with Unsolicited Outreaches”

Job Hunting Tip #4 – Build Your Research Files

Once you have your first and second lists of target companies and their related industries, it’s time to gather even more information.  Not only will this help you confirm your assessment, but it will better prepare you for your approach to the company and also a possible interview.

There are several ways to conduct your additional research:

  • Friends and colleagues – Start reaching out to them and letting them know which industries you are targeting and which companies you’re initially interested in.  Ask them what they know about any of the companies and find out if they have any contacts that could prove to be valuable.  Lunches and happy hours with your colleague and their contact can provide invaluable inside information.  If you are seeking an executive-level position, you’ll want to expand this exercise to include background checks on the CEO and the investors.
  • Internet Networking Tools – Probably the best example is LinkedIn.  If you are already a member, then you have big leg up.  LinkedIn has a function that allows you to search on a company name to see which direct members of your own LinkedIn network also have people from the target company in their network.  Secondly, does the target company use social media tools like Twitter or Facebook?  If so, it’s time to become a follower, subscriber, friend, etc.
  • E-mail Alerts  – Google, Yahoo and others have a function that allows you to enter keywords to get automated email alerts any time a press release or trade article is published with those keywords in the context.  Many of these will be company-issued press releases, which you can also get from the company’s website but would need to check regularly to see if something new was produced.  But even more valuable are analyst reports or trade articles about the company.  For future reference, make a file for all of this information or at least capture the important information in a document with web links to the get to the full content.
  • Blogs and Message Boards – Find out if they exist for the industry or even the company (ideal).  Read through them, printing out postings of interest.
  • Analyst Research Reports – If you don’t happen to have login credentials with analyst firms like the Gartner Group, Yankee, Forrester Research or The 451 Group, seek out friends or relatives that might.  Typically you can search these sites for industry or company-related reports and even see the abstract for the report.  This will give you a wish list to pass on to your friend or relative.
  • SEC  Reports – This is really just for publicly traded companies.  Search the SEC’s EDGAR site and other  public sites where annual financial reports and 10K/10Q reports are filed.  Much of this you can get from the Investor Relations link on the company’s website, but you might find other interesting things on EDGAR.

Continue reading “Job Hunting Tip #4 – Build Your Research Files”

Job Hunting Tip #3 – Narrow the Focus

The first order of business is to define the perfect job, with the word “job” encompassing the industry, company characteristics and job function.  If you already have experience in a given industry, perhaps you want to continue leveraging your skills and experience.  Or perhaps you’ve been in the same industry for so many years that you really need a change of scenery.  In any case, try to hone in on a short list of industries (perhaps 2-3) that get you the most excited and seem to have good growth potential.  Then, do some basic research to confirm your assumptions.  With the Internet as a tool, find out what the analysts and major trade associations are saying.  Who are the leaders in the industry?  Are they totally dominant or is there room for smaller companies to take a foothold?

Once you have a short list of industries, it’s time to target companies in that industry.  Assuming you already know which city you want to work in (whether it’s where you already live or some place you would like to relocate), find out which companies have their headquarters there or at least some meaningful presence.  The exception is a territory sales job, which are spread all over the place.  Using the Internet again (company’s website, trade articles, local online business journals), gather information about these companies.  Some recommended data points to gather are listed below:

Continue reading “Job Hunting Tip #3 – Narrow the Focus”

Job Hunting Tip #2 – Balance

In Tip #1 I discussed the importance of treating your job search like a job and spending at least 3 hours per day on this new job.  So what are you going to do with the rest of your time when your spouse, friends and colleagues are working all day?  You have an opportunity staring you in the face.  Surely you have things you’ve wanted to do but your crazy work schedule prevented it.  Weave these into your daily/weekly schedule.  Better yet, set some targets and goals around some of the items so that you can celebrate when you achieve them.  You’re likely to get regular rejection with your job search.  So it will be great to have accomplishments to balance this out.  Here are some ideas to get you thinking:

  • Fitness – If you’re not at the weight you want to be at, make this a focus.  Is there a sport you’ve always wanted to learn?  Give it a try.
  • Hobby – Maybe you have one that hasn’t gotten as much attention as you would like
  • Kids – If they are in elementary school, why not have lunch with them once per week?  If they are older, now you can go to every game, performance, etc.
  • Projects – Do you have family videos that you’ve been meaning to compile, edit and produce on DVD?  Have you been talking about cleaning out the attic or garage for years?  Have you wanted to install a compost pile or water retention system?  Now is your time.
  • Volunteer – There are infinite ways to volunteer.  And giving back will definitely make you feel good about yourself and will give you a bigger picture reflection of your situation.

See the rest of my series on Job Hunting Tips here.  I also have a related series for Resume Writing and one for Interviewing.

Job Hunting Tip #1 – Hunting for a Job is a Job

My first advice is to treat job hunting as a job itself, especially if you are out of work and need to get back into the workplace.  Too many people feel that glancing through the classifieds, searching some online job posting sites and letting a few
friends know they are looking for a new job is sufficient.  But my strong recommendation is to introduce some discipline, planning and focus into the process.  Here are some ideas to consider:

  • Get up at roughly the same time you would for a regular job and go through your normal work day morning routine.  In fact, do better than that by eating a better breakfast, seeing the kids off to school or whatever you weren’t quite able to do when you had the pressure of being in the office by a specific time.  The main point is to not sleep an extra 2 hours every day and get yourself into a new rut.
  • Dress in business casual attire.  You can decide how far to go with this but the main intent is to put yourself into a serious work frame of mind.
  • Spend your full morning each day of the work week, up until lunch, in your new job – searching for a job.  If you’re following the various tips in this job hunting series, you should easily be able to spend 3+ hours per day.
  • Let your family know you’re “at work” during this time period each day.  For those of you that have worked from home, you know the drill.  But for those of you that haven’t, you don’t want to be interrupted with things that wouldn’t have been important enough to call you at work to discuss.  That’s the litmus test.
  • Set weekly targets for yourself.  How many email outreaches and/or phone calls are you going to make?  How many new companies are you going to investigate?  Keep track of progress and even consider assigning points to various tasks and accomplishments if you the analytical type.

The concept is simple.  Until you find a job, your job is finding one.

See the rest of my series on Job Hunting Tips here.  I also have a related series for Resume Writing and one for Interviewing.

Resume Writing Tip #10 – Optimizing for Search Tools

Most companies with revenues of $250M or more will use some sort of applicant tracking system, most of which have automated resume search and scoring capabilities.  Just like doing a Google search for something is expected to return results that most closely match your request, these tracking systems search through submitted resumes looking for pre-determined words and phrases.

So how do you go about optimizing your resume for these search tools?  Here are some suggestions:

  • Identify Key Words/Phrases
    The job descriptions for the positions of interest are loaded with the employer’s desired skills and traits for that specific position.  These are almost certainly scored by the automated search tool.  Any words and phrases that seem to appear in a majority of the postings you’re applying for should be embedded into your standard resume.  But don’t stop there, consider creating custom resumes for postings that happen to use some unique words/phrases, especially if they are used multiple times in the posting.  Also keep an eye out for industry-specific terms, buzz words and required or desired certifications.
  • Natural Use
    Remember that after hopefully scoring high enough through the automated search process, your resume will land on a human’s desk.  As you weave in the desired words/phrases, make sure to do so naturally.  In other words, the narrative should seem logical to the reader and not obvious that a bunch of desired words were jammed in.
  • Skills Summary Section
    If you decide to incorporate a skills summary section (see related post), this is a great place to work in the desired key words and phrases, especially those specifically related to skills and certifications (rather than leadership or personality traits).
  • Fonts, Formatting and Special Characters
    Be careful not to go too crazy with fonts, formatting and special characters because they can throw off the automated search tools.  Stick with the standard set of fonts, don’t incorporate borders/boxes/images and where you have bulleted entries use standard bullets (rather than some fancy graphic).

See the rest of my series on Resume Writing here.   I also have a related series for Job Hunting and one for Interviewing.

Resume Writing Tip #9 – The Post-Interview Audit

If you haven’t searched for a job in a while, then you’ll be updating your resume and using it without knowing how good it is.  Of course, you should get advice from family members, friends and former work colleagues.  But there’s another hugely valuable audit tool to gauge the effectiveness of your resume.  It’s the post-interview audit.

After conducting any sort of interview using your newly updated resume (including phone interviews), immediately pull out your resume and ask yourself the following questions:

  • What did they specifically notice from my resume?  If they use phrases like “I saw that you _____.  Tell me more about that.”, then you know they got the information from your resume.
  • What did they not ask you about that you were really hoping and expecting they would?  Potential formatting problems and an opportunity to use the Quick Glance Test described in a related blog post.
  • What did they misunderstand?  In other words, they asked you a question and you found yourself clarifying their initial observation or conclusion.

You should do this following your first few interviews and after any interview that went especially well or especially poorly.

See the rest of my series on Resume Writing here.   I also have a related series for Job Hunting and one for Interviewing.

Resume Writing Tip #8 – Upper Management Positions

If you are interviewing for a position on the senior management team, there are a couple of additional resume sections that can help if you have the background and experience to populate them.  Such sections include the following:

  • Board Positions (including advisory boards)
  • Mergers & Acquisitions – describe each one, including the value and your involvement before and after.
  • Funding and Capitalization – describe each occurrence that you had involvement in
  • Conference Speaking Engagements

Another dilemma for executives is the length of the resume.  This problem can be solved by having two versions.  The complete version that has all of the items in the list above and a fair amount of detail throughout should be called your Curriculum Vitae (CV) while the 3-page version should be called your Resume.  Your initial solicitations should be done with your Resume.  But in your solicitation, make it known that you have a more complete CV available upon request.  In fact, put this at the end of your resume in place of where you would otherwise put “References available upon request”.

See the rest of my series on Resume Writing here.   I also have a related series for Job Hunting and one for Interviewing.

Resume Writing Tip #7 – The Quick Glance Test

Here’s a great exercise that I tell everyone to perform.  Give your completed resume to a friend or family member that has not seen it before.  The less they actually know about your professional background, the better.  Tell them that you are going to give them a short amount of time to glance over your resume and then ask them to tell you what they remembered.  But don’t tell them the amount of time you are going to give.  Give them exactly 20 seconds to look at it. Then ask them what they saw or what they remembered.  They better have noticed at least 3 of the key things you want to be noticed or else you have a formatting problem.  This will most likely be company names that you worked for or job titles.  And possibly/hopefully something from your Skills Summary section, if you included one.

Then give them 40 more seconds to see if they can pick up most of the remaining hot points.  For a hiring manager looking through a stack of resumes, the first 20 seconds of reading will determine into which pile your resume goes (investigate further versus not a fit).  I’m not exaggerating.  A hiring manager with a stack of 30+ resumes has no choice but to spend about 20 seconds in their initial sorting exercise.  The ones that end up in the good stack will get a further look (the additional 40 seconds) to decide if they are a “definite phone screening interview” or just a “maybe for a second round if the others don’t work out”.

See the rest of my series on Resume Writing here.   I also have a related series for Job Hunting and one for Interviewing.

Resume Writing Tip #6 – Optimizing Your Word Selection

This is critical, especially the action verbs that you choose to use.  For example, if you accomplished some particular objective, why use a verb like “met” when you could use “achieved” or “exceeded” instead?  Also, typically you should start out each sentence with an appropriate verb rather than hide the verb in the middle of the sentence.  Consider the following:

Good management verbs

  • Directed
  • Managed
  • Oversaw
  • Led
  • Supervised
  • Assigned
  • Chaired
  • Founded

Good administrative verbs

  • Designed
  • Developed
  • Established
  • Negotiated
  • Executed
  • Implemented

Good accomplishment verbs

  • Achieved
  • Exceeded
  • Closed

Good adjectives to describe yourself (cover letter, etc)

  • Resourceful
  • Innovative
  • Action-oriented
  • Self-motivated
  • Creative

Good words to describe your soft skills

  • Negotiate
  • Persuade
  • Prioritize
  • Collaborate
  • Mentor
  • Delegate
  • Troubleshoot

Try to avoid (too passive)

  • Participated
  • Facilitated
  • Arranged
  • Influenced
  • Analyzed
  • Responsible for (except for the typical sentence immediately under your job titles that explain what you were responsible for)

See the rest of my series on Resume Writing here.   I also have a related series for Job Hunting and one for Interviewing.

Resume Writing Tip #5 – Education versus Work Experience

If you have already had two or more jobs, realize that college is enough behind you that your Professional Experience section should go before your Educational information.  Also, the further college is behind you the less you need to include about it.  In other words, after 8 years and 2-3 jobs you only need to mention the name of the college and your degree (major and minor, if you have both).  You do not need to mention GPA or various areas of concentration (unless they are important to the career you are going for).  And if you graduated with honors, that’s always worth mentioning.

See the rest of my series on Resume Writing here.   I also have a related series for Job Hunting and one for Interviewing.

Resume Writing Tip #4 – The “So What” Rule

Hiring managers want to understand the positive impact people had in their various positions as much or more than the actual roles & responsibilities they had.  I find that, way too often, people spend too much space listing all of the various aspects of their job responsibilities (what they did) without stating what they actually accomplished for the benefit of the company they were working for.

I recommend following the “so what?” litmus test.  After reading each section of your resume, assume the readers are saying “so what?” to themselves.   Make sure you are answering this question for each job.  Give some real quantifiable results that you produced.  Increasing revenue, increasing market share, reducing cycle times, reducing costs, etc. – and by how much?  Anything that can be quantified to show that you actually made a difference rather than just performed your job function.  Look at the following two examples and decide which is more compelling to someone that doesn’t know you.

  • “Managed the central Texas sales region made up of six account reps and three sales engineers”
  • “Grew revenue 35% year-over-year within the central Texas sales region and achieved in excess of 125% of quota three years in a row”

If you are a member of the senior management team, it is OK to describe growth-related achievements of the company itself (revenue growth, etc), even if you were not the VP of Sales.  You were a member of the management team that led the company to these results.

See the rest of my series on Resume Writing here.   I also have a related series for Job Hunting and one for Interviewing.

Resume Writing Tip #3 – Skills Summary Section

For someone fresh out of college or someone that only has a couple of jobs under their belt, this would not be appropriate.  But if you have taken a path that has enabled you to develop a diverse set of skills, you might want to put this smack dab at the beginning of your resume.  Similarly, if you are competing for a General Manager or executive-level position, you probably need to show diversity.

When developing a Skills Summary section, be careful about the order you put the skills in and even the ones you choose to list at all. They should match the type of job you want.  It’s fine that five years ago you had a job as an HTML programmer and LAN administrator.  But if you are going for a marketing management job, you won’t want to overload the Skills Summary section with a bunch of high-tech skills.  Since this section is almost always situated at the very beginning of your resume and will be the first thing the reader looks at, some people will decide to read further strictly based on this section.

Finally, don’t mention specific employers or job titles in your Skills Summary section.  Skills are areas of talent like business development, sales, M&A or financial.  The layout for this section could look something like this:

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See the rest of my 10-part series on Resume Writing here.   I also have a related 5-part series for Job Hunting and a 7-part series for Interviewing.

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Resume Writing Tip #2 – The “Objective” Statement

This is purely my personal opinion, but I think they are a complete waste of space.  I liken them to the “What would you like to change in the world?” question in a beauty pageant.  There are only two possible answers: “Achieve world peace” or “Solve world hunger”.  It’s the same with an Objective statement.  Having read thousands of resumes over the years as a hiring manager, I always completely ignore it.  It’s common to try and fit your resume onto two pages (or three if you have 12+ years of experience).  So the space taken by an Objective Statement just isn’t worth it.

See the rest of my series on Resume Writing here.   I also have a related series for Job Hunting and one for Interviewing.

Resume Writing Tip #1 – Formatting

I put a lot of effort into formatting of resumes.  After you get your basic content correct, I recommend putting a lot of attention into the formatting.  Look at spacing, font size, readability, margins, indention, etc.   Especially make clever use of line spacing, bullets and bolding.  I recommend avoiding underlining and italics if possible.

Basically, section titles (ie – Professional Background, Education, etc), company names and job titles are the first thing you want someone to see upon initial glance.  So these should be bigger and bolder than the rest of the text.  At the other extreme, the actual years of service at a particular company (ie – “1999 – 2003”) is one of the least important pieces of information, so it should carry the smallest font size within the document.

One other trick is to hold your resume at arm’s length to see if the important section titles and information are readable and easily discernable from the rest of the resume.  Also see my related post explaining a “quick-glance” test related to identifying formatting problems.

See the rest of my series on Resume Writing here.   I also have a related series for Job Hunting and one for Interviewing.