Why Simply Applying Online Isn’t Getting You Anywhere

February 18th, 2011 § 1 comment § permalink

I have been doing a lot of job searching online, but feel like emailing my resume is ineffective. I’ve been considering physically going to the company and handing in my resume in person. What are your thoughts on this?

You’ve certainly got the right sentiment regarding your job search but I doubt that most building security desks would let you into their tenant’s offices without an appointment. What your question really looks at is how we can be more proactive (a recurring theme of Holla) when seeking opportunities during our search.

Applying for jobs online has simplified the process for candidates in almost a detrimental manner. When the baseline effort required to submit a resume is easy as signing up for an account at TheLadders.com or Monster, one can apply for a hundred jobs in 15 minutes plus a few seconds per posting. The inevitable result is a recruiter on the other end of a job board pipeline that flows endlessly with unqualified candidates. The small percentage of legitimate candidates for the position can be easily passed over as the pipeline continues to flood. Just the time required to review so many resumes occupies time that could be better served speaking to more in first round phone screens than is actually possible. With so many individuals all vying for small slices of a recruiter’s time, being proactive, creative and aggressive with how you contact a potential employer can provide a significant competitive advantage.

Submitting via a job board is not really emailing a resume.

The question from today’s job seeker indicates that “emailing” his resume has produced little in the way of positive results. It is safe to assume that by “emailing,” he really means “submitting via a job board.” There is a very real difference between the two. Resumes submitted through a job board all arrive in the same format: consistent subject lines with the title and candidate’s name, a table of information in the body and a resume attached. Glossing over these similar emails in one’s inbox is just one reason why job boards are ineffective. The difference between really emailing a resume and just submitting via a posting will put your details into an inbox where they’ll stand out – not some Outlook sub-folder that’s combed through once every few days. A little extra effort to ensure your resume gets to the eyes of a hiring manager can significantly increase response rate during a job search.

Begin by scouring the description you have available for clues as to who the hiring manager might be. Often these posted specs include a phrase like, “Working for the Vice President, Financial Reporting, you will be responsible for…”  that will tell you exactly the name of the individual you should source to present your resume to. Researching the individual’s actual name is easily the most difficult part of your research. Using tools like LinkedIn and Spoke to uncover names and titles can be very effective but isn’t perfect or complete. You’ll locate some people but not others so set your expectations appropriately.

With the hiring manager’s name at hand, determine their email address. Visit the firm’s website and write down their URL domain. It’s likely that email addresses are “something@comanydomain.com” and the only other detective work required is determining the formatting of the “something” before the @ symbol. Using the wildcard symbol when searching Google can help you uncover this information. Search for “*@companydomain.com“. The results should boldface email addresses for various company employees that appear on the web. Skip through “info@domain.com” and “sales@domain.com” as these won’t help you reach individuals. It’s finding several addresses listed publicly that follow a “firstname_lastname” or “f.lastname” format that will allow you to contact directly the hiring manager you seek.

When you can’t locate the title of the manager, use an educated guess to drive your research or if all else fails, the same resources should allow you to locate with greater ease the proper HR contact for the position. While an email to a hiring manager would be more likely to increase your chances for success, taking the time to send directly to HR will also make your application more visible amongst the crowd.

Don’t squander the opportunity you’ve just created for yourself.

Assume that the result of this hard work and creative effort is that someone in a position of power takes time from their day to carefully read your cover letter and resume. Since you’ve taken the time to present yourself directly, make absolutely sure that the presentation you’re putting forth is the best one possible. Your cover letter should be carefully crafted, specific to the job you’re applying for, and contained both in the body of the email and as a separate Word or PDF attachment. Your resume should be properly formatted and have a legible filename that includes your full name and the position you’re applying for.

Since the candidates sourced from job boards are, on the whole, very sub-par, the expectation a hiring manager has for an individual who seeks them out directly is significantly higher. Make sure that you beat that expectation with a well-targeted application for the firm’s opening.

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How to Get Past the Phone Screen, Every Time

February 16th, 2011 § 1 comment § permalink

I’ve been getting a decent response rate to my applications, but I seem to be getting weeded out during the phone interviews. Could you provide some information about how to get past these gateway phone interviews and what the interviewers are really looking for?

With hundreds of applicants for each opening, the initial phone interview has become a crucial tool for professional recruiters. Expect a phone screen to be much shorter than an in-person meeting – 20 to 30 minutes at most – and to touch superficially on a large number of topics as rather than delving deeply into a few. Usually conducted by an HR or recruiting professional, it’s nearly guaranteed you’ll be asked these three key questions that are the pillars of every interview.

Tell me about your experience.

This topic has been covered elsewhere but it always bears repeating. Know backwards and forwards each job, accomplishment and bullet point you list on your resume. When asked something such as, “do you have experience with the Great Plains accounting software?” the correct answer is not simply “yes.” Articulate about everything you’re asked by the interviewer. A great deal of what eventually will determine your success or failure in the phone screen is attributable to your general manner of speaking, something that goes beyond avoiding “like” or “um” when considering a question. Truly “knowing one’s experience” comes from the detail and context provided in your answers in addition to simply being well spoken. » Read the rest of this entry «

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Tough Interview Questions: Reasons for Leaving

February 15th, 2011 § 4 comments § permalink

What are decent answers to the “Why did you leave your last job?” question? Mine are always a bit complicated, and I never quite know how to respond, particularly in a situation where I hated the company and just had to get out.

Any recruiter or hiring manager will want to know why you’ve left previous positions. An answer to that question divulges quite a bit of information about a candidate – what their motivations are, how seriously they act to achieve their career goals, and whether title, comp or responsibility are most important in their search. Unless you were involuntarily terminated, each career move you’ve made should be supported with well-considered reasons that every proactive job seeker should be prepared to discuss during the interview. Without basic preparation for this very important question, you can easily say something that can hurt your chances of being successful in landing this role.

Never mention compensation as the primary impetus for looking elsewhere.

We’ve all got a job to do and each of us is compensated differently for it. Whether you’re enthusiastic or disappointed with the compensation you currently receive or for a role previously held in your career, never mention this as the primary reason you chose to leave that opportunity. Even if money was the true and sole guiding factor in pushing you away from that employer, there are better ways to present this to a hiring manager looking for a self-motivated, technically apt team player. No manager wants to constantly worry about a perpetually-dissatisfied, money hungry employee. If there truly were no other reasons outside of comp that caused you to look, focus not on the opportunity left but the opportunity gained, like in this example:

While I enjoyed my role with Widgets, Inc., I was primarily drawn to the increased responsibilities that were afforded to me at Gadgets Limited. The prior role required me to spend most of my time working only in CAD, developing technical schematics for their products and provided limited exposure to the product development lifecycle. I was interested in and ultimately accepted the role with Gadgets because it allowed me to gain a greater understanding of the entirety of product development, not just the technical aspect.

Perhaps the role at Widgets Inc. paid more and that was why you were interested. While that’s certainly valid, it’s not the impression an interviewer wants to have of you – the forever dissatisfied and jumpy individual who is less career-minded than they are money hungry. There are always other and, frankly, better reasons to discuss what motivated you to change jobs.

Be careful to not speak ill of a former employer.

When laid off or forced out of a previous employer, it can feel natural, even satisfying, to talk negatively about your experience there. Despite this, it is imperative that you refrain from casting your former or current complier in a negative light. Why, you might ask? If I’m not currently working there, why would being honest about my negative experience hurt me during an interview with a different company? The answer is simple and so obvious it’s easily overlooked. If hired by the company you’re interviewing with, what would prevent you from spreading potential falsehoods and a general feeling of distaste about them when you actively look next? A manager knows that while many hires are successful and result in successful, long-term employees, just as many do not. Having former workers floating on the market while continually spreading bad press about the hiring manager and their firm is something that no company wants. If you’ll speak ill of one employer, it’s a guarantee that you won’t be shy with your feelings no matter which particular company is the target of your distaste.

Relate the career moves you’ve made to a desire to advance your career.

Above all else, we should look for new careers when we feel we’ve gained all there is to benefit from our old ones. Searching for a new opportunity should be driven by a desire to manage a staff, learn a new product or service, or work in a different industry sector. Telling an interviewer you’re interested in a job for the challenges it presents is a good answer to a question, but weaving motivation behind that into your career history strengthens the impact. Managers want to hire employees whom they can challenge to continually do better and reward that by offering you advancement, new opportunities and increased compensation. Only when an employee’s progress outpaces a firm’s recognition and reaction of that success should an individual look elsewhere for employment.

Much that is said when speaking of past employers relates back to a candidate’s character. You must be restrained when criticizing former employers while being tactful and polite when relating stories about delicate situations. Strive to convey that you are a successful potential employee who works to beat the expectations of the company that employs them.

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Top Of The Class and Without a Job to Show For It

February 13th, 2011 § 1 comment § permalink

This question comes from a recent graduate that expected to receive his degree on top of the world. The realities of today’s competitive landscape in New York job market were a shock to him and tell a disappointingly common tale.

I graduated in December at the top of my class (Summa Cum Laude) with a bachelor’s degree in finance from a respectable state school. I now live in the NYC area, and am having absolutely no luck with my job search. I must have applied for about 100 jobs by now, and I’ve only received 2 call backs. Can you offer me any advice? I’m starting to become discouraged (although this may be a bit of an understatement at this point).

As a recent grad, it can be difficult to understand why, despite impressive accomplishments, the market for you seems limited. Entry-level hires will always be a cost to an organization – coming in with only your education, most practical skills for the job will have to be developed at the employer’s cost and time. With both being limited resources in a down economy, the number of roles appropriate for college graduates is far fewer than the top candidates coming out of the nation’s best schools.

» Read the rest of this entry «

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Preventing Unemployment from Affecting your Marketability

February 13th, 2011 § 0 comments § permalink

Is there a point at which employers perceive a person as less valuable or less employable because they’ve been unemployed for a long length of time?

Unfortunately, a negative perception of the unemployed, however slight and never voiced, will always exist. Even today when many are without a job through no fault of their own, we are inclined to look differently upon those who have been laid off. As a terminated job seeker, it can be very easy to accept defeat before even beginning as a result of your situation. It is important to turn that frustration into positive energy and a stronger will to succeed. When channeled properly, this will help you not only help you to stay focused during your search, but will give the appearance of you as a confident, determined candidate during the interview. » Read the rest of this entry «

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Preparation That Will Get You Past the First Interview

February 13th, 2011 § 1 comment § permalink

The interview process most large companies employ today begins with a first round “character” meeting conducted by a Human Resources representative, followed by in-depth interviews with multiple hiring managers in stages two and beyond. Most corporate HR departments are understaffed and lack an understanding of the technical positions they recruit for – two reasons why the recruitment agencies they partner with are such a key resource for them. Today’s question focuses on getting past the first round with HR:

I’m a C# developer who has a first interview coming up with a traditional manufacturing company. They don’t do a lot of hiring in this area and my first round is with an HR generalist. Any tips for making sure I don’t botch this?

Understanding of some basic core interviewing skills can move you past this first round. It is also helpful to understand that the HR representative, who will be your first impression of the firm, might not be the best individual that the company has to maximize that impression.

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Discussing Desired Salary During the Interview Process

February 11th, 2011 § 0 comments § permalink

Salary should never be the primary reason why we take a particular job but it often is the primary reason why we look to leave. Easily the most sensitive issue surrounding staff acquisition and retention, salary negotiations and re-negotiations need to be handled carefully with arguments that are based in fact. Discussions regarding compensation usually arise in two parts of your relationship with an employer – during the interview process and during the formal or informal performance review. Today let’s discuss how to approach salary negotiations while you’re being courted by a potential new employer.

There is a reason why seasoned recruiters use the term “opportunity” when discussing a particular role as opposed to “job.” The pursuit of money only serves to cloud one’s judgment and is a superficial motivation to discuss when an interviewer asks about the reasons for a move. In the initial stage of an interview process, either the phone screen or the first round in-person interview, it is best to steer away from any discussion regarding desired compensation. Letting your interviewer know what you are currently making is enough to provide the context surrounding your skill set and how well you fit their open position. If pressed about “coming up with a number” that you are looking for, make clear to the interviewer that your reason for seeking other opportunities isn’t tied solely to money:

Mr. Interviewer, I’d prefer to keep today’s discussions focused on my qualifications and the role you have open. I’m happy to talk about what I’m currently earning and as to what I’d be looking for, I simply hope that if I’m the right candidate for this opportunity, I’d be fairly compensated for my work.

By placing a hard salary number out in the open or, even worse, providing a range, you’ve set an expectation too early in a process without any leverage or rapport with the hiring manager. Giving a range to a potential employer can separate your desires with the hiring manager’s expectations even further apart – you’ll be thinking that they can offer the high end of the range and they’ll certainly only hear the low end. When you tell an interviewer that you want to make the best use of their limited time by focusing the conversation on your skills, experience and interest in their firm, you’ll come off as concerned mainly about how the job can help your career and not your wallet. Enthusiasm should be derived from the opportunity and not the paycheck.

The appropriate time to discuss compensation during the hiring process is after a relationship has been established and mutual interest exists from both sides. Knowing the right time to have this discussion isn’t enough to ensure that it goes well – you as a job seeker need to be well-prepared to best represent yourself when discussing wages. There are two main ways one should ready themselves for this negotiation:

  1. Set your expectations appropriately. Nothing puts a hiring manager off more than an individual with a greatly inflated sense of their value on the open market. According to the 2011 edition of the Conference Board’s annual salary survey, salaries will increase by an average of 2.5% this year. Not 20%, 15% or even 10% – an average increase barely outpaces the 1.5% inflation rate from 2009-2010.* Approaching an interview with blazing guns and the expectation that simply by changing jobs you’re entitled to a 20% salary bump is unrealistic and will be off-putting to the interviewer. In order to set your expectations realistically, additional preparation and research is required and that brings us to our next point.
  2. Research and inform yourself of what the market bears. Use fact to guide your negotiations. Understanding where your current compensation falls in context of the market as a whole will allow you obtain, within what’s reasonable, the best offer possible. There are several ways to gather competitive salary information. The most reliable source would be individuals who you work with, have worked with in the past or those you know through networking who perform similar work at competing firms. Since most people prefer to keep their salaries private, we have to look outside for additional sources as well. Agency or third-party recruiters have the breadth and depth of experience to assist with your research. Speak with a recruiter you know or have worked with in the past or ask for a referral from a friend. Recruiters will typically have multiple openings for similar jobs at various firms and can give you a good sense of the salary range at your skill level. Finally, various websites like Glassdoor.com and others exist to provide anonymous salary survey information on positions that run the gamut. Since the data from these sites comes from individuals and lacks an independent method for verification, these sites should serve only to confirm what you’ve gathered from other professionals. Having concrete data will allow you to “price” yourself towards the high end of a known range without asking for too much or selling yourself too low. Assume that HR for the hiring company has access to similar data and they are very aware of what market rate is for your position.

With your expectations reasonable and a good knowledge of what individuals in similar roles make, you can confidently discuss what you’re looking for and have the competitive information you’ve gathered at hand to back up your wishes.

* Source: http://www.conference-board.org/press/pressdetail.cfm?pressid=3957

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Over-Educated and Under-Experienced

February 10th, 2011 § 1 comment § permalink

Degrees like an MBA or JD can in many instances help to land you a great career opportunity but the real danger of being over-educated exists as more and more people choose to go back to school. Today’s question comes from a job seeker who wonders if he attended too much school for his own good:

How does one discuss their past if their work experience is limited but education is advanced? I always feel like interviewers want me to explain how my previous jobs have primed me for the current position (and I can only answer honestly and in a limited capacity). Am I just flat-out not qualified?

Education is important but experience is what makes an individual successful in the corporate world.  There is a reason why top MBA programs take few (if any) students coming straight out of their undergraduate education. They understand that advanced studies provide the greatest rewards only when there is the context of real-word experience to enhance it. If you speak with MBA graduates a few years out of school they’ll tell you that the classroom, even through case study, can’t prepare you for the gamut of decisions to be made and situations you’ll be placed in when working in a real job.

A 2006 survey of S&P 500 CEOs reveals that at that time, 62% of them had earned at least one advanced degree, more than half of those being MBAs. The same survey also provides some interesting insight into how where you go to school might affect your success. I was surprised to find that while the Ivy League is present as the most commonly attended undergraduate institutions in the top 200 companies of the S&P index, Rutgers and University of Wisconsin are the most common universities attended by CEO’s of the bottom 300 of that same index. A degree can certainly improve your chances for success but even at the very top run of the corporate world there are many self-made men and women.*

Regarding a situation like the one you have described, interviewers are most often put off by a sense of entitlement that can, depending on the individual, accompany the advanced education. If you’re highly educated but lack practical experience, there’s no obfuscating this fact. Your resume shows exactly the balance between years of education and the time you’ve spent in the workforce. Assuming the interviewer has read your resume, why then, would they ask a question that has no good answer? What they’re really looking to see is how you handle this. With experience comes maturity and though you may lack the practical experience they’re looking for, you demonstrate life experience with maturity in an answer that would sound like this:

Mr. Interviewer, the practical experience I can draw on for this role is admittedly limited as I’ve spent the last several years pursuing my [MBA/JD/etc]. First, let me address my internship experience during my schooling that I feel is relevant.

This beginning to a lengthy answer serves to properly set the interviewer’s expectations. With limited truth to speak to, leaving any potential for the expectation that you have significant relatable work experience will only serve to disappoint the interviewer and hurt your chances of moving forward with the hiring process. After speaking to your internship or any other real corporate experience, continue as such:

I also think that there are specific and significant portions of my recent degree program that can relate to this role.

Provide specific examples of your coursework, providing the context surrounding the course itself and, if possible, speaking to deliverables you produced while in that class. This piece of an answer in particular requires good preparation. The parallels you’re drawing here are not from real work to the role but to education which was not what had been asked. Irrelevant fluff here will only serve to hurt your case.

Finally, close the loop on this question/concern by bringing back your interest in this specific role:

I applied for and am interested in this role particularly because my research on ABC Company tells me that this is one of the more junior positions you would hire for within this department. While I believe that I will be able to draw on both my internship and educational experiences, there is still a lot I need to learn. Despite the advanced degree, I’m realistically looking for a more junior position so I can build my practical skills. I also feel that, given the opportunity, I can use my advanced education to outperform expectations of an employee at my level.

Often when a question is asked there is more to be learned from how an interviewee considers the question and frames their answer. Simply saying, “I really don’t have a lot of experience,” is a much shorter way to summarize the above and, at its base, covers the same basic point. How you talk about a lack of experience and, most importantly, the maturity you can exhibit in understanding your own shortcomings can demonstrate to the interviewer that you are well-prepared to take on new challenges.

* Source: SpencerStuart 2006 CEO Survey: http://content.spencerstuart.com/sswebsite/pdf/lib/2005_CEO_Study_JS.pdf

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Tough Interview Questions: Why do you want to work here?

February 9th, 2011 § 0 comments § permalink

Often the most basic interview questions pose the greatest difficulty for interviewees.

Why do you want to work here? Why do you want this job?

Something so simple as one’s motivation to be present for an interview seems like it would be intrinsic knowledge and many job seekers make the false assumption that preparation for a question like this is unnecessary. That is certainly not the case.

As I’ve said before, most non-technical questions are designed to trap you – the interviewer is looking not for a positive response but rather for something they can use as a reason to not hire you into that particular role. Your carefully considered answer needs to address the question properly without being too open, too forward or, simply, saying something incorrect.

All that said, let’s delve into the questions:

Why do you want to work here?

Well, why do you? What is it about the company that attracted you in the first place? The worst answer sounds like “I’m here because I needed a job” or “a friend referred me to you so I figure I would go on the interview.” If that’s your genuine answer, you shouldn’t be there in the first place. There’s a reason that good recruiters refer to their open roles as “opportunities” and not “jobs.” A job is something you punch the clock in to earn a paycheck. An opportunity is the chance to develop yourself and your skills in the workplace. Not being able to articulate your interest in the company immediately shows an interviewer that you’re treating this as a job and you’ll probably find that interview wrapping up quickly.

A proper answer to this question should contain several elements, all of which link back to your experience and career desires. First, address the company itself.

I am highly interested in a role with ABC Corporation as they are a well-regarded and serious competitor to my prior firm of XYZ Corporation. Having worked in the same sector as your business, I have learned and appreciate the strong reputation you have for work in this area.

You can also seize this opportunity to impress the interviewer with your knowledge of the company. In addition to the above answer which is fairly general, adding something along the lines of the quote below will demonstrate that your truly did proper research on the firm and understand why they are well regarded in the sector.

I also appreciate the significant advances that ABC Company has made within this particular sector. I was particularly impressed by the release of your Widget 2.0 product because…

Finally, you want to relate the company directly back to your experience. This is closely tied into the “Why do you want this job?” question.

I think ABC Company offers me the greatest opportunity for professional and personal advancement based on my prior career accomplishments. Because ABC is [larger or smaller] than my current firm, I’ll have the ability to [take on more responsibility or benefit from the diversity of a large organization] that will help me to meet the goals I’ve set for myself.

It’s crucial with questions such as these to show that you’ve done your research on the company you’re interviewing with. Combining knowledge of the company with a pitch that utilizes the information you’ve gathered to draw parallels to your own experiences will produce the most refined and impressive answer to this open-ended question.

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Tough Interview Questions: The Brainteaser

February 9th, 2011 § 1 comment § permalink

How heavily do riddle exercises factor into today’s interviews? Let’s explore the topic.

Software engineering interviews often feature engineering brainteaser questions. Twice in recent months I’ve been rejected from consideration, being told I didn’t do well enough on one of these questions.

Do you have any advice to give for dealing with this situation?

“Brainteaser” questions serve an important purpose, particularly in technical interviews – they allow an interviewer an insight into your critical thinking skills outside of your comfort zone. Why would an interviewer really care which switch turns on which bulb or how to fit 3 quarts into a 5 quart jug? With questions like these, the answer is less important than the process. Don’t misunderstand me – many of these questions do have one correct answer that it’s important you figure out and convey – but the outcome is far less important than the process.

A skilled interview uses brainteasers because they want to find out how you think and process information. Particularly in a technical field like programming or electrical engineering, the outcome is obviously important but it’s an understanding how small details comprise the entire program or circuit board that make a great technician. Just as in practice, during the interview when asked one of these questions, walk the interviewer through the small details you considered to reach your answer.

I’ll use an example from an interview I had many years back for a technical role:

You pick up the receiver of a telephone and don’t hear a dial tone. What do you do?

There’s no “answer” per se but what the interviewer wants to hear is your thought process and how you’ll break down this problem into stages of issue and resolution. My answer was checking connections working forwards from the handset to the phone and finally to the wall jack and beyond. That demonstrated how I could isolate different stages within the process that could have caused the issue and knew how to escalate from a small problem (phone’s broken) to a potentially larger one (our phone service is out!).

The key takeaway here is that an answer is important but to successfully answer a question such as this you must be sure to clearly articulate the process and, most importantly, think aloud.

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