Tips to Fine-Tune your Job Application

February 23rd, 2012

This week, we take a moment to focus on a couple quick tips that you can incorporate into your job search tactics.  On the agenda today?  Voicemail greetings and email addresses.

By now, we have all likely been witness to the creative voicemail greeting run amuck.  For example, how many times have you called someone, and they seemingly pick up the phone and say “hello,” prompting you to start talking.  Seconds later, you hear something like “I’m just kidding.  You’ve reached my voicemail…”  Right.  Your friend was never on the line, and now you’re feeling frustrated and a little sheepish.

Another classic is the voicemail greeting that utilizes fun gimmicks, like polka music or children who are adorable but impossible to understand.  While individuality in voicemail greetings has a place, the job-hunting process may not be the opportune moment for you to unveil your creative genius to the unsuspecting public.

Also, think carefully before you decide to use music in place of the traditional ringback tone.  You know what we mean.  It begins with an automated voice that says, “Please enjoy the music while your party is reached.”  And then the caller hears some sort of music blasted at about 10 million decibels.  Even if the music itself is not offensive in nature (but it frequently is), it’s often played too loudly and seems to go on for an interminable amount of time.  Suffice it to say, the safest route is to stick with the default ringing sound.  You can always change it back later!

So going back now to the voicemail greetings—especially the prank greeting.  If that has the potential to annoy friends, imagine what effect it could have on potential employers.  Honestly, some of them will hang up the phone without leaving a message and will not call back.  That’s a bit harsh, we know.  But it’s very true.

The safest route is a basic, simple voicemail greeting.  If it’s your cell phone, just change the settings for now; you can always change them back later!  For home answering machines, you can change the recording, or you could even consider giving only a cell phone number on resumes and applications.  Voicemail greetings are yet another huge opportunity where you can control the impression you leave.  Make it count!

And this brings us to email addresses.  While this is a subtle touch, it is definitely something an employer notices as he or she types your address to send you an email.  If your primary email account is something like spunkysnowbunni48@xxxx.com, you may wish to change that to an address that is more basic and conservative.  Even if you have to create a new email just for the job search, they’re free these days.  A few extra minutes of your time can absolutely save your impression!

Part Two: “Tell me about yourself”–How to Master this Interview Question

February 16th, 2012

This week, we complete our two-part series on the interview question, “Tell me about yourself.”  Let’s finish up our discussion by reviewing tips for the experienced professional and also some final thoughts on the question.  But first, here are some key points to remember from last week’s intro on the subject:

  • When the interviewer asks you this question, it is essentially your cue for an elevator speech.
  • Pack your thirty- to sixty-second moment full of as much value as possible!
  • There is no one formula that works for every interview!  Use the tips in this two-part series to generate some ideas and create general content and flow to your answer.

Experienced professional
How you navigate this question depends on how your background is constructed and also on the job for which you are applying.  Did you notice again the concept of customization?  Yup, it’s just all over the place these days!  In any event, you may choose to focus on the position where the bulk of your experience comes from and elaborate on that.  This could be a good tactic if that experience is recent and is directly applicable to the job for which you have applied.

As another option, you may want to highlight the path you have taken over the years from one position to the next.  This approach is better if perhaps you haven’t had the direct experience needed for this position but the position fits in well with your overall career path.  Again, if your path has involved lots of moving from one company to the next, your interviewer may want to get an idea of how long you plan to stick around.

Neither option is wrong, and they are certainly not the only two methods you have at your disposal.  The “right” answer really comes down to what you think will most impress the interviewer and what will make you stand out as the ideal candidate.  Undoubtedly, you worked hard to build all the experience you have.  Now make it work for you!

Some final thoughts
As always, we cannot emphasize enough the fact that the job search has many gray areas, so there is no one correct answer that satisfies this question.  In fact, you may find that your answer changes from one interview to the next based on the interviewer, your mood, and/or the position in question.  This customized approach is helpful because it not only allows you to tailor your answer to the situation, but it also tends to make your answer feel less rehearsed.

And while you’re filling the room with your eloquent words, remember that this most likely is not the best time to point out flaws in your resume.  You may need to explain a gap in employment, but don’t go out of your way pointing out other issues or reasons that you aren’t qualified for the job.  Take this chance to shine. Rest assured that the interviewer will question you on anything he or she feels the need to explore.  And this may seem obvious, but we’re going to point it out anyway!  Be sure to omit anything that resembles a soapbox on politics, religion, or any other similarly personal topic.

Last but not least, we have subtly alluded to the fact that this question gives you 30 to 60 seconds of talk time for your elevator speech.  Now we’re going to state it plainly!  It’s important not to go on for too long.  It can be very easy to misjudge elapsed time while under the pressure of an interview. If you read our blog on interviews, then you are already practicing all your interview responses out loud.  So the next time you practice talking about yourself, just bust out a timer and see if you’re keeping it to one minute.  If not, tweak things a bit and keep working on it.  You’ll get it!  And when you have it nailed, you will have become a master of this very intimidating interview question.  Good luck!

“Tell me about yourself”–How to Master this Interview Question

February 9th, 2012

The dreaded interview question—“Tell me about yourself.”  We’ve all had it, and many of us have bombed it at one point or another.  For the next two weeks, we look at some tips and find out how to tackle this monster.

When the interviewer asks you this question, it is essentially your cue for an elevator speech, which is THE opportune moment for you to fascinate the interviewer with your mad skills.  So, naturally, your goal is to pack your thirty- to sixty-second moment full of as much value as possible!

What should be in your elevator speech?  Well, if you’ve been reading this blog weekly, you likely noticed a recurring theme—customization.  There is no single answer that works for every situation.  But before you begin banging your head against the wall in utter frustration, rest assured that there are some general ideas for you to consider and incorporate into your answer.

To get you started, we’ll use this week’s and next week’s blogs to take a look at some ideas and thoughts for sample categories of interviewees.  This week, we’ll explore responses for recent graduates and applicants who have a moderate degree of work experience.  Next week’s blog will discuss what to do for more experienced candidates and will include some final thoughts and general tips.

Recent college graduates
This assumes that you do not have much work experience—or at least experience that pertains to the job for which you are applying.  Get creative and build your arsenal of qualifications!  You may want to highlight internships you had, or maybe you’re a brilliant multi-tasker who held down a job while in college.

Think about your coursework.  If you brainstorm, you can likely find some transferable skills from classes taken, like marketing knowledge from business classes or writing skills from advanced history courses, for example.  Are these the same as having experience in the field in which you’re applying?  In many cases, not really.  But at the moment, this is what you have to work with, so maximize your assets.  Also, consider including career goals and where you hope to be in the near future.  Having a sense of direction is definitely a plus, and even experienced professionals often miss the boat on this!

Some experience
In this case, you have something more to work with compared to a recent graduate.  Maybe you’ve had 2 or 3 years of experience at one or two positions.  In any case, you have the luxury of including applicable experience as part of your elevator speech.  Since you’ve already studied the job description before the interview (subtle hint:  please study the job description before your interview), you have an idea of what the employer is looking for.  So now you can conveniently highlight your experience as it relates to the position and radiate in your moment of brilliance.

However, like the recent college graduates, you are still in the beginning stages of your career and may want to throw in some details about your goals and future plans.  In addition, you are likely in the situation where you are leaving (or just left) a job because you’re ready for the next step in your career.  Your interviewer may naturally be curious to know how long you plan to stay with your next company or job.  And last, if you have some experience but are trying to change careers, see tips for recent graduates.  Instead of finding transferable skills from your education experience, you would work to find those skills in your previous position(s) held.

Tips on How to Keep Your Job

February 2nd, 2012

Since we often focus extensively on tips for job seekers, how about some tips for those who currently have a job?  Making yourself a star employee is a great form of job security, and it’s all in your control.  Here are a few areas worthy of some honest self-evaluation to see where you may be able to tweak your workplace demeanor and grab the attention of your employer in a good way!

Time is of the essence!
So here’s something simple and straightforward.  Be ready to start your work on time!  This doesn’t mean walk in the door on time; it means walk in a few minutes early, grab your coffee, get settled in, and begin your work at 9 am—or whatever your start time happens to be.  By the way, when you walk into work barely on time or late carrying a Dunkin Donuts coffee, your supervisor instantly realizes that you chose to stop for coffee instead of showing up promptly.

And the same goes for the end of the day.  Wrap up and leave on time.  Be careful about closing up shop and shutting down fifteen minutes before the end of your shift.  And remember, if you’re beginning work late and ending work early, your employer will notice, and these minutes add up!

Ready to ask for additional assignments?
Instead of asking your supervisor for more work, why not be 110% proactive by searching out your own opportunities for additional assignments?  Of course, if you just started your current job, you may need some more time to get settled in and see how everything works first.  But once you’re part of the company’s fabric, you likely can find things on your own.  This approach shows some REAL initiative and will definitely not go unnoticed!

The lowdown on gossip and chit chat
Of course, gossip is always something to stay away from.  When word of it finds its way to your employer (which it will inevitably manage to do), your reputation suffers.  Take the high road and avoid gossip, instead choosing diplomacy.  And in terms of chit chat, it’s normal to take a little bit of time for some idle chit chat with the coworker in the next cubicle, but be careful with going overboard.  Just use some self-awareness to realize how much time you spend doing this.  After all, in your employer’s mind, time is money!

Attitude is key
If interviewers and employers could shout this from rooftops, they would!  Skills are excellent.  Experience is an asset.  But even the most talented employee is not very useful if he or she has a rotten attitude.  So take a deep breath, get grounded, and find the best in yourself and your coworkers.  Be courteous and patient.  You’ll probably notice that other people tend to respond positively to great attitude and will mirror it back.  And if they don’t, who cares?  Regardless, you will have yourself in a positive, healthy place, and negativity from a coworker here and there won’t be able to tear you down!

And last…do your job!
Now this seems to go without saying, but how many times have we thought to ourselves, “I don’t feel like doing this today.”  Or “I don’t get paid enough for this.”  Well, the reality is that the job must get done at some point, and you’re the person who has to do it.  You can either just get through it in a timely fashion (and impress your employer by being proactive), or you can keep putting it off until someone notices and has to follow up with you about why the task is not completed.