Friday, April 30, 2010

Toughest (and Most Common) Interview Question

"So, tell me about yourself?"  You've probably been faced with this question every time you've been interviewed.  You may not have even known it was part of the interview.  It seems like such a harmless question...on the surface.  On the other hand, your first impression rides on this question.  So, how should you answer?

Let's start with what NOT to do.  They don't need your family history, your birthplace, your age, marital status, number of kids, dogs, fish, goldfish...  They don't need to know about any "issues" you are currently facing, why you left your last job, your political or religious views, or anything else that might seem controversial.  Basically, don't waste your first impression by giving details that do not show why you are the PERFECT FIT for the company and the position.

What you DO want to tell them is: Who you are, What you can do, and How you are going to make their company better.  Some call this the "Elevator Speech".  Simply put, if you were riding an elevator with Donald Trump, and you knew that you only had the length of that ride to convince him to give you a job, what would you say?

Let's break down the pieces just a bit.

Who are you?  This is your name, possibly your degrees, certifications, strengths, and any particular skills or abilities that set you apart from your competition.

What can you do?  Give 2-3 BRIEF and SPECIFIC examples of recent successes you've created...a team you lead, a project you completed, an process improvement you developed, etc.  Your comments heat should not be theoretical.  Nothing about what you hope to do or think you could do.  Just the facts.

What are you going to do for the company?  This is where you need to be able to tie your abilities to the needs of the company.  This also means that you have to do some research ahead of time so you know what the company is looking for.  You might also mention how you positively relate to the company's mission or core values to show that you are the right type of person for the job.

You should be able to answer these questions in 30-60 seconds.  It should come across as confident, but not rehearsed.  It should be prepared well in advance of your interview and practiced on a regular basis.  You should be able to present your elevator speech at a family barbecue just as well as you can at a formal interview.  Let's be honest, more jobs come from networking opportunities than from formal interviews anyway, so you might as well give a good first impression at social events too.

Practice, practice, practice.  This needs to be a habit that you add to your list of successful career search activities. 

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Strangest Interview Question Ever

Everyone has faced an awkward interview question at some point, but I distinctly recall the one that threw me for a loop.  Not only was this question odd, but it was totally unrelated to the position.  In fact, it was unrelated to just about anything that I could think of.  It was one of those questions where your initial response is probably something like, "Excuse Me? Apparently I didn't hear you right."

While sitting in the room with an elected official and two other company leaders, I was asked, "If you were a character from the Wizard of Oz, which one would you be and why?"  I wish now that I could go back and see the look on my own face when I realized how ridiculous that question was.  How was this job related?  Well, apparently this particular elected official was from Kansas and had a bit of a fascination with the Yellow Brick Road.

So, what could I do?  I stalled for a moment with phrases like, "Hmmm.  Wow.  That's and interesting Question" so that my brain would have a few seconds to formulate a response.  Then, I gave the best HR related answer that I could come up with.

I suggested that of all of the characters, I most identify with Dorothy.  My rationale, I explained, was that Dorothy did not initially have all of the skills and personnel required to achieve her goal.  She developed a team of individuals, each with differing strengths, to assist her in getting home.

I then went on to discuss how great Human Resource Management assembles teams with complementary strengths, all working toward a common goal and how no one individual has all of the necessary talent to make a business successful.  In hindsight, I am actually pretty impressed with my answer.  I am not sure how heavily that question weighed in to the hiring decision, but I am happy to say that I landed the job.

So what is the learning experience in this?  For me, I now realize that there is no way that you can ever be fully prepared for an interview.  You can have good answers prepared for the most common questions, but at times you will need to be ready to think on your feet.  It also taught me that the more questions you practice answering, the better you get at applying good interviewing techniques to difficult situations.

In the next few days, we'll look at some of the more common, and often tricky, interview questions along with some tested tips to help you get through them.  Until then, feel free to post any interesting or difficult questions you've faced into the comment section.  I'd like to add them to our discussion.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Resume Tip: What Are My Skills?

When developing your resume, regardless of the format you choose, you need to be able to clearly define your skills. This can be integrated into your work experience section of a chronological resume, or as a stand-alone section of a functional resume. The difficulty lies in deciding what to list…what am I good at? What is most important? What is too much information?

To me, the best place to start is the job description (hopefully it is available online or on paper). Read through the job description carefully and take a note of anything listed in the description that can be identified as a skill. For example, if the job description says, “Must be able to juggle competing deadlines in a fast-paced environment”, then jot down “Juggle competing deadline” and “fast-paced environment”. These are key phrases that you will want to identify as skills within your resume. Rather than trying to come up with great things to tell them, use THEIR words to tell them what they want to hear.

If the job description is not available, there are other ways to identify the key skills for a position. provides an Occupation Profile tool that is very helpful. By entering in the job title that you are researching, and identifying the state that you are applying to work in, you will be shown a list of key “knowledge, skills, and abilities” required for this type of position. You can use these keywords to begin identifying additional skills for your resume.

Identifying skills on your resume can be time consuming, challenging, and require some creativity. However, I have found that putting time and effort into this process significantly increases the odds that your resume will be reviewed and set aside for an interview. My theory is that I would much rather put together and submit 5 solid, well-written resumes than 100 overly general resumes that don’t get a second glance.

Again, resume writing gets easier as you practice. Unfortunately, about the time you get really good at it, you’ll need to stop writing resumes. You’ll be too busy with work!

Friday, April 23, 2010

The Basics of a Great Chronological Resume

So you are ready to put together a resume. You’ve determined (hypothetically) that the chronological resume best displays your skills as they relate to the desired position. Now the question is, where do you start?

In the header, you’ll want to include contact information. Don’t be shy…you want your prospective employer to have plenty of ways to get in touch with you. Include full name, home address, phone number (home or cell, whichever you are most likely to answer), and an email address. A note about email addresses…the pseudo-cool email address you came up with in high school may not give the best impression. If your email address of choice is, RUN (don’t walk) over to hotmail and create a new one. I find that gives a much more professional feel.

Next, you have a choice. You can start with an objective statement, or move straight into your experience. If you choose to include an objective, keep it short and to the point. Also, keep it focused on the goals of the company, not on your personal career goal. Bad example: I want to begin a new job with a good company that appreciates my talents. Good example: To contribute to the strength and growth of a professional health care organization where my talents can be used to promote improved process efficiencies and create a culture of excellence. has some additional examples of how to write a great objective statement.

Next, we’ll include work history. People often ask, how many years should I go back. On a surface level, I would say no more than 10 years. However, a better answer is, as far as you need to go back in order to demonstrate that you are a strong candidate for this position. A note of caution, if we are going back 30 years to identify the necessary skills, we may have chosen incorrectly when we decided to use the chronological resume format.

For each position, include the name of the company, your title, the city and state, and the dates that you were there (Month and Year). You’ll want to include a BRIEF description of your role as well as 3-5 of your biggest accomplishment while you were there. Again, a note of caution, your accomplishments listed should have a direct correlation to the position you are applying for. If it’s completely unrelated, it does not make you any more or less qualified for the position, so it just wastes precious space on your resume.

An additional tip, when you are listing your work history, try to include key words from the prospective company’s job description. If they want a motivated self-starter, show them when you were a motivated self-starter! There is no reason to avoid replicating their language.

After your work history, you need to include education, certification, licensure, or other qualification requirements for the position. Here, I would move away from chronological order and simply list the most impressive accomplishments first.

Occasionally, I still see people list their “interests” on their resume. PLEASE DON’T. This is not the time to express your love of long walks on the beach, country music, or contact sports.

This should give you the basics of a great resume. Ideally, it either stayed on one page, or filled two pages. Try not to go beyond two pages. Also, if it ends up sitting at a page and a half, either find another half page of accomplishments, or cut it down to a page. Leaving a page half blank looks like you ran out of stuff to say and gave up.

Sound like a lot of work? It is. It can take quite a while the first time, but it gets much easier as you prepare your second, third, fourth…eventually, it just becomes habit. Success is a habit. Work is a habit. Keep practicing these proven job search techniques and you will be on your way to your next position!

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Chronological, Functional, Combination…Which resume works the best?

The answer, of course, is chronological…well, unless something else would work better. There are many different types of resumes and templates out there and each one has a purpose. To answer the question “Which one works best?”, we really need to answer some questions about you.

First of all, what sort of job are you looking for? If you are looking for something in the same career path as your most recent position, the chronological may be right for you. However, if you are giving up your life of fire-fighting to become a librarian, the chronological resume may not be the way to go. You need a resume that draws a logical connection between your past and your desired future.

Another question that needs to be answered is, “Are there any gaps that need to be hidden?” If your work history has been spotty, a functional resume might help you display your skills without bringing attention to your work history. On the other hand, if your work history has been solid, there is no reason to hide your employment history. We need to make sure that we are painting your abilities in the best possible light so that you get noticed.

Some basic generalities…A chronologic resume still seems to be the most traditional and widely accepted resume format. This means that IF you can justify using a chronological format, then this is the route to go. Other, less traditional resume styles should be used when the chronological resume is not an option. has some great resume templates available if you need a place to start. As always, if you have specific questions about resume formatting, feel free to post them in the comments.