Saturday, June 11, 2011


We're getting pretty fancy over here. Check out the new blog (I moved all the old posts as well) at wordpress.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

How to Find Your First Job

It's very intimidating to try to find your first "real" job after college. I remember going to the Career Planning office at my college and pouring over job descriptions in a big binder and realizing that I might be qualified for....nothing! After developing a resume that highlighted my event planning experience, I decided to steer in that direction - particularly through applying for an event-related position at my alma mater - interning at the Alumni and Parent Relations Department. It was just a summer job but it bought me a little time to figure things out.

I won't bore you with all of the details of how I made a career out of a glimmer of an idea about event planning...but I will try to provide you with some ideas about how to pursue that first job.

1. Look at what is right in front of you: Your college! There may be job opportunities or internships that would be right up your alley or at least buy you some time and help you pay some bills while you figure out what you really want to do!

2. Employment Agencies: My husband started his career through working at a temp agency that placed him at a non-profit, where he discovered a knack for marketing and is now at an online marketing company. Employment agencies get paid by companies for finding them great staff members. They WANT to find a job for you because they get paid about 30% + of whatever you make per hour. Just look up your local agencies online and send them an application. They'll typically bring you in for an interview and then work on finding a job for you among the companies that they have contracts with. It's a great way to get into some companies and can turn into a permanent position. A lot of companies are doing "temp to hire" positions lately, so this can be a great direction to go in!

3. Online Job Postings: I suggest using a variety of online websites to look through job postings. Some people look down on it, but I think craigslist is a great resource. Most companies post there and I like being able to specify by area and use key word searches. Look at the local newspaper's websites for job postings as well. If you have a favorite company, set your schedule to check their website for job openings weekly. is a good site for non-profit jobs. Other great sites are, and yahoo hot jobs.

4. Networking! Tell everyone you know that you are a new grad in need of a job. For more info, refer to this post.

Happy hunting!

Friday, June 3, 2011

Promotion Fridays

I'm starting a new series that will post each week titled "Promotion Fridays". While I'll still focus on how to get a job in my blog on the other days, I have realized that many people desire to be promoted but don't quite know how to get there. In fact, I frequently witness employees who deeply desire to be promoted but behave in ways that result in them being out of the running. Therefore, I've decided to devote one day a week on tips about how to get promoted.

Why trust my advice? In the 3 jobs that I've held over the 6 years that I've been in the work force, I've been promoted 4 times. However, the credit really goes to my father who prepared me to perform in a way that would make me easily "promotable". You see, since I was little, the number one thing my father told me (after "I love you") was "Be your own boss". In each job I've had, my dad and I would discuss how I wanted to grow, with the hopes of one day "being the boss." So these Friday postings will largely be nuggets of his advice that have served me very well. I realize that not everyone has fathers who are as knowledgable about getting promoted, so you will all get to benefit from his wisdom! Thanks, Dad!

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Showcasing Your Skills Through Your Resume

Sometimes your title or position at your last job could hold you back from getting your dream job. In these situations, it's helpful to focus on the skills required to get the job you want, and showcase how you've demonstrated those skills in your previous positions.

I'll give an personal example. In my most recent job search, I knew I wanted to be in development (fundraising) for a non-profit. Although my main duties in my previous position all related to fundraising, my title was "Director of Media and Special Events". I would even attend conferences on development in that position and people would see my title on my name tag and ask me why I was there!

In order to showcase the skills a Development Director would need, I divided my work in my previous position into three categories: Development Experience, Management Experience, and Special Events Experience. Not only did it expand my resume to more accurately and positively depict my skills, it allowed me to specifically highlight certain criteria I fulfilled that I knew a hiring manager would be looking for.

This is also a good way to approach a career change. Since you'll need to find ways to show that your experience is transferable, you might as well start with crafting a resume that emphasizes those skills you know apply to your desired career. And don't forget to explain the reason for the career change in your cover letter!

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Informational Interviews

Informational Interviews were quite the hot topic a couple of years ago but I hear less about them now. However, I believe that for the new grad, these interviews can be very enlightening and sometimes give you a good "foot in the door" at a company you'd love to work for.

What is an informational interview? More than anything, I think of it as a "reverse interview". Instead of getting asked a bunch of questions by an employer to see if you are a good fit for their company, you get to ask a bunch of questions OF an employer to determine if they are a good fit for you.

How do you get an informational interview? Do you have a dream job in mind? Call them up! Google the department you want to be in. Usually a Linked In profile will pop up for an individual you'd want to speak to. A little too scary? This is also a great time to work your network! Start asking your friends and family if they know anyone in _____ industry who might be willing to discuss their job with you. Inevitably, people will want to help you out and put you in touch with people who will speak with you.

What should you ask? Since you are taking up some of this person's time, it's crucial that you prepare your questions in advice. Remember, almost everyone likes to talk about themselves, you just need to ask the right questions. Ask them about their career path, how they got this position, if anyone mentored them, what their favorite part of their job is, what they dislike, what challenges they face, where they think the industry is headed, what do they wish they'd known when they were in your position, what advice they have for you....Clearly, there are a ton of questions you can ask, so make sure to create a list.

Don't forget to follow up! At the very least, send a thank you note. At the most, send cookies. Better yet, bring homemade cookies in an adorable box with you. Yes, I was on the receiving end of cookies last year and was very impressed with her forethought. Remember, this is a chance to build your network and possibly get a job, so don't forget to follow up in a gracious way.

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Don't Talk Yourself Into Taking Jobs

In my last job search, I ended the selection process three times with different organizations because I knew that I didn't actually want to work that job every day. At the time, I knew that I still needed to find a job very soon but my husband was very supportive and encouraged me to wait for the right position. As he told me the other night, a job is a long term relationship. It requires commitment. In the same way that I as a hiring manager have to pay attention to every "red flag" with a candidate, you as the candidate need to focus on every possible sign that this may not be the job for you.

A few red flags to look out for: If you don't "click" with the hiring manager (usually your new boss). This is a big one. Another: you would only work in that job because it would be a good "step up" from what you are doing now. Wait for the right job. It's not worth it to work a "place-holder job" - you won't be satisfied and it's not fair to the employer.

There some similarities to dating here. Don't focus so much on being liked that you forget to think about what you want. Don't morph yourself into who you think the employer wants to hire. If your skills and talent isn't a great fit for the company, move on. The worst thing you can do is talk yourself into doing a job you don't want and pretending to be someone you aren't. As Shakespeare himself said "To thine own self be true."

Thursday, May 26, 2011

How to Use Your Network to Get a Job

"Networking" has become quite the buzzword lately. There are stats out there that say that 60+% of all jobs are obtained through networking. Everyone is trying to expand their Rolodex in order to find that one person who knows that one other person who knows of that perfect job me it can sound like a bit of a crap shoot. I have never gotten a job through networking, although it has helped me get an interview. I've only once hired someone I knew outside of a work context and that was for an internship several years ago.

Here's my theory on networking - if you know HOW to use your network and can follow up an initial introduction with a solid resume and interview, than you may land a great job through it. Otherwise it's just people exchanging business cards and engaging in some awkward mingling.

I don't think having a BIG network is all that important. You can have 1,000 Facebook friends and still be out of a job. I would rather have a couple "connectors" (to use Malcolm Gladwell's phrase from the book "The Tipping Point") who I can rely on. I'll give you an example - my best "connector" is my mother-in-law. She's lived in the same community for practically her whole life and seems to know just about everyone. Not only is she universally liked and consistently charming, but she is not afraid to make introductions. In fact, she thrives on them. I have never seen someone work a room like this woman. I'm a bit skeptical of the purpose of chambers of commerce but she once brought me to a local chamber meeting and I couldn't believe what I experienced. She already had at least 5 people she had planned to introduce me to and had already let some of them know I would be attending. She stayed by my side the entire night and took me to each person saying "This is so and so, he might be a good contact for photography for your company, let me introduce you." She had a purpose for each introduction and expertly orchestrated each meeting. I felt like I could have just handed her a stack of my business cards and she could have represented me all by herself. You see, you don't need a ton of casual acquaintances you have to maintain minimal but consistent contact with throughout the year. Plus, who has time for that anyway? You just need one Jeanne Schwass. The one interview I've had because of networking? Yup, it was through her.

Now, the second step to successful networking is that you have to have a purpose and know how to use your network. That means, telling the right people what you need and how they can help. Otherwise networking becomes a very vague and fuzzy activity. When we were first planning to move to this area, I emailed my mother-in-law my resume and told her what kind of job I wanted. And she was off! She told friends from church, she sent emails to our family and her work contacts, and she updated me on her progress. You see, connectors are thrilled to help and love the joy of sharing the gift of their network with others.

NOTE: When you are trying to obtain a job through utilizing your network, it's all the more important that you handle yourself professionally and respectfully. Because your behavior reflects on your network and you may have some personal connections to the hiring manager, it's critical that the situation with the utmost care. Send thank you notes for interviews, be honest about your interest in the position, and always follow-up in a timely manner. You don't want to damage your reputation through your conduct regarding job interview. And ALWAYS thank your connector and praise her in your blog! :)

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

My First Cover Letter - Enjoy!

I had planned on publishing a post about crafting a resume out of nothing (ie, no work experience) today...but while looking through old emails I came across the first cover letter I ever wrote. I'll admit, I'm a little embarrassed at some of the things I wrote in it - it's clear I didn't quite know what I was doing and probably didn't have anyone proofread it for me. But after listening to me read it aloud tonight, my husband commented (after he stopped chuckling at me), that "hey, you would totally hire you!" And he's right. I get a lot of applications from eager young graduates who are new to the job world and this is just the kind of cover letter that makes me smile (and yes, giggle a little). So, I've decided to share my cover letter with you...along with my observations and comments having read it today (those will be in red). Enjoy!

from Kate Retzer
date Wed, Jul 6, 2005 at 10:05 AM
subject Community Campaign Coordinator

Jennifer Gann, (Wow, first AND last name, huh? And no salutation? Feels a little direct to me now!)

I read about your position in the Santa Barbara News Press (Wow, back when people still posted jobs on newspapers websites!) and am very interested! I think my particular skill set (where on earth did I hear this phrase? I feel like "skill set" is a much more common term now) and interests would be a strong fit for your organization.

I am a recent graduate from Westmont College, where I graduated with a 3.68 GPA, and am currently assisting in event planning in the Alumniand Parent Relations department. (Graduate where I graduated? A little redundant. And I can't believe that I share my GPA. Oh, sweet little innocent college one really cares about your GPA unless it's much higher than that! And I'm surprised that I didn't talk more about that internship - that was definitely the most relevant experience that I had.) While at Westmont, I truly developed my event planning skills through job shadowing with the Campus Pastor, coordinating section and dorm events as a Resident Assistance, and directing "Preview Days" as a Housing Ambassador Intern with the Admissions department. (There's some embellishment happening here. While I interned with our campus pastor, I really don't think a job-shadowed him or learned anything about event planning in that position! Gotcha, 21 year old Kate.)

I am a classic multi-tasker (WHAT? CLASSIC? As opposed to what? A modern multi-tasker? Do I plunk away at a typewriter while answering a rotary phone??) and love having specific projects to plan and details to manage. (This would be a good time to talk about a particular success. Although maybe I didn't have any yet!) I love working with others but am also a self-starter (one of my dad's favorite terms...nice) and able to handle projects without needing to be constantly monitored (when I read this sort of thing now in a cover letter it makes me think the person is a little defensive. Today I'd phrase this a little differently.) I am young and enthusiastic (AW, I can't believe that I actually said that I was young in my cover letter!! But there's something very endearing and fresh-faced about still makes me smile.) but also have the experience to plan successful and creative events (not really, but I'm trying to create a lot of experience out of a few semi-related projects!).

I look forward to hearing from you and hope that we can meet to discuss the position soon. Thank you for the opportunity. (Solid wrap-up, if I do say so myself...)

Kate Retzer (Aw, my maiden name! I miss you, Retzer!)

I guess the moral of the story is that we all have to start from somewhere! The best part of this cover letter? I forgot to attach my resume and had to send a follow-up email to her! Tee hee - whoops!

(Oh, by the way, I got the job - I guess this letter wasn't all bad, after all!)

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

The Other Other Side: Advice for Hiring Managers

So this blog is all about giving you an understanding of the other side of getting a job, from the perspective of the hiring manager. However, lately I've heard from several people who are in the process of filling a position and would like to know what I look for when I am interviewing people.

To be quite honest, for me, it all comes down to two factors: trusting my gut and paying attention to every detail. I only have a couple of brief opportunities to access a candidate, so while I'm observing all of someone's positive attributes, I'm also assessing every possible red flag. Here's some possible red flags that catch my attention:

Red Flags:
1. Arrives way early or late to the interview
2. Wears casual attire
3. Misses sections on our employment application
4. Forgets to bring resume copies
3. Bad-mouths former employer/boss
4. Vague answers to questions
5. Can't give me precise numbers or dates
6. Doesn't take notes when I tell them about the position
7. Doesn't have questions to ask
8. Doesn't express enthusiasm for the job
9. Obviously hasn't done any research about the position or our company

Trusting My Gut:

I usually am more willing to take a chance on people when I'm hiring for entry-level positions. I know it tends to be a younger profile candidate and they are learning how to approach professional life. I'm willing to train entry level candidates how to be great employees...but when I'm hiring for mid-level managers, I really trust my intuition. I will wait until I find that right person and usually I can tell if this is the right candidate within 10 minutes of our first conversation. It's just a gut reaction that I can't explain. Something feels right and I know this is the person for the job. Several times I've hired people when I didn't feel 100% in my gut that they were right for the position and I've always regretted these decisions. So I will continue to trust my gut and hope that you do too!

Monday, May 23, 2011

How to Create a Resume I'll Read

Let me preface this by saying that this post is purely based on my preferences and my experience (as is the entirety of this blog, in fact). Other hiring managers might like a flashy resume in a scripty font. Other hiring managers might like a long list of your skills with just a brief mention of your work history. Other hiring managers might want to know that you like to shop and garden in your spare time. not.

I prefer clean, simple, straightforward....yet detailed and precise resumes. Sections I could do without: 1. Objective (just seems like a throw-away section to me), 2. Skills (I never read this, I prefer to read about your skills in your cover letter and deduce your skills from the accomplishments listed on your resume. 3. Other activities. Amuse me with stories about your hobbies during our small talk before your interview. I don't want to read about how you have 3 kids on your resume.

Crucial Details: 1. Education (degree, school, and major - I don't need GPA unless it's awesome), 2. Resume organized by your most recent position (Company name, location, your title, your dates of employment) 3. Specific duties listed under each job title (Don't group these all together and then give me a separate list of the jobs you had. It's counter-intuitive and seems a little confusing to me).

Helpful Extras: 1. Trainings you've attended - particularly if you're trying to get a job that's a step-up for you! Showcasing the training you've received can help fill in the gaps in your resume. 2. Volunteer positions you've held - again, this can speak to your additional experience.

A word about length - stick to a page when you first graduate from college. After a few jobs you can increase it to two pages.

That's my intro into resumes - got more questions? Hit me up in the comments section!

Thursday, May 19, 2011

The Fine Line of Follow-Up

There's a fine line in how you follow-up after an interview. I've interviewed candidates and then never heard from them again. I've also had candidates who called me literally every day, left me messages constantly and tried to fake out my assistant in order to get through to me. These are candidates I WOULD have hired...but then they sort of creeped me out. So here's some general rules:

1. Send a thank you email after your interview. Send it to everyone who interviewed you (ask for everyone's card at the end of your interview so you have the contact information). Reiterate why you are interested in the position based on what you learned through the interview.

2. Send a hand-written thank you note as well for extra bonus points.

3. If you don't hear back after one week, call or send an email to inquire about the next steps.

4. Then stop. If you haven't heard back after that, you didn't get the job and will likely receive a letter or email soon to inform you. If you are still in the running, the hiring manager won't keep you in the dark.

ONE EXCEPTION: If you have a competing offer on the table, let the hiring manager know ASAP. This is crucial information for me. It often takes about a week for me to get approval for hiring from my VPs and knowing that we could lose you usually gets me approval within a couple hours.

In short, follow up with me afterwards but don't become a stalker.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Practice-Jobs or Get Thee an Internship!

As a part of my Wednesday series for new grads, today I present "Practice-Jobs or Get Thee an Internship!" I never had an internship when I was in college. I was involved in a number of extra-curricular activities that helped me craft a decent resume after graduation. However, I have regretted not taking the opportunity to get some extra work experience through getting an internship. When we lived in Santa Barbara, each year I spoke at the internship class about life after college. I always congratulated the class on getting a leg up by choosing to spend a little less time on campus their senior year, and a little more time adding to their resume and work experiences.

Why get an internship?

1. Extra Experience - I've alluded to this already but obviously, an internship gives you some extra experience to put on your resume and reference when you attend interviews. Look for internships that give you the opportunity to focus on a particular project, not just make copies and get people coffee.

2. It might turn into a job! When hiring interns, I typically conduct a fairly rigorous screening and interview process. If an intern impresses me, I do everything I can to find her a position at our company. At the very least, I become a glowing reference for her. You see, there's always a fair amount of guesswork when it comes to hiring. I can only tell so much through a couple hours in an interview process with you. But if I've had the opportunity to work with you directly for a couple months and you impress me (even if you don't necessarily have all of the qualifications a position might require), I'd rather hire you than take my chances on the unknown.

Stay tuned for next Wednesday's topic "How to make the most of your internship"!

Monday, May 16, 2011

How to Prepare for an Interview

Congratulations! You've crafted a straightforward and compelling cover letter and resume. Next, your confident voice and lack of obvious mental instability during the phone screen has qualified you for an interview. Now what?

Time to prepare!

1. Memorize your resume. This sounds easy enough, but be sure you can name the details of your most impressive accomplishments in an articulate manner.

2. Practice your answers to the typical interview questions. Best qualities, what you want to improve, what you have to offer, etc etc. You can google "interview questions" for some more ideas. I like this list as well. Make sure you have a good answer for why you are looking for a new job. Ahem, I can't stand my boss does not qualify as a good answer. More on this in another post.

3. Research the company. Check out their website. Memorize their mission statement. Think about where they might need to go in the next 5 years. Consider how you can contribute to their success.

4. Prepare your questions. I love when candidates ask me why I like working for my company. I love when they ask about opportunities for advancement internally. I love when they ask where we are headed as an organization. I hate when candidates have NO questions to ask.

Pretty simple, right?

Exiting Gracefully

This post does not have to do with getting a job, but since I've had a couple employees resign recently, the right way to exit a job is on my mind. I understand that people need to change jobs sometimes. Generally, I think the two year rule is a good one (ie, if you want to leave on good terms with a company, stay for at least two years), but lately, at least one year is decent for me. I deal with a lot of new grads, so it's typical that they decide that non-profit is not for them and/or want to make more money. I understand. It's not for everyone, and you have to be really committed if you are going to work this hard and not be paid more for it.

However, there is something to be said for the WAY you exit a company. Here are some general rules.

1. Tell your direct supervisor first. Lately, I've been the first to get the call and not the direct supervisor. This gets awkward when I assume the direct supervisor knows and unintentionally break the news before the employee does. It's fine to call another "superior" directly, but make sure you tell your supervisor first - it's more respectful to him or her.

2. Give at least two weeks notice - longer if you need to finish a project. I've hired several people recently where I had to wait a longer time before they started working for me because they felt that they needed to complete a particular project before they left their current position. I RESPECT THAT! In fact, I sometimes wish my former employees were that committed to how they completed their work for our company.

3. Finish strong. It's tough to make the last couple of weeks at your job very productive. You've started to disengage and mentally move on. Try your hardest to finish strong. Complete your files, create notes, do your best to pitch in and help your co-workers. Why should you do this? Other than the fact that it's the (ahem) right thing to do while you are still being paid? Finish strong because it increases the chances you can get a good recommendation and someday, maybe get re-hired, should you decide to re-join the company. We have several people who have left our company for higher paying jobs and returned because they enjoyed the work they did here more. A big part of why they were re-hired was because of the WAY they left.

The way you leave a company reveals a lot about your character. So make the tougher choice and exit gracefully.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Interview Tips: Ask for the Job

I spent the week after I graduated from college at home with my parents. My father has been quite the entrepreneur and employed a lot of people over the years. One day I asked my dad if he would tell me what I needed to know to get a job and be a successful employee. Frankly, a lot of what I write in this blog is somehow related back to that one conversation. Thanks, Dad!

My dad told me that when hiring for a position he typically gave the job to the person who asked for it. Literally told him he or she wanted the job. The one who said "I really want to work here, I hope you'll let me prove myself to you." Now as a hiring manager, I can't tell you how much this continues to ring true. At the end of the first interview I conduct with a new candidate, I will ask "What's your interest level in this position on a scale of 1 to 10?" Lately I've heard several 8-9 scores. If the ranking is less than a 10, I always ask why they chose that number and inevitably the reasoning is pretty shallow and they just didn't want to seem too eager. I'm NOT impressed by this.

I'm a busy person with an open position to fill. So if you want this job, TELL ME! There's something SO appealing about someone who says "I am really excited about this job and I hope you'll give me a chance to meet with you again". Conversely, there's something so UNAPPEALING about the person who says "Well, I mean, I'm really interested but I'd like to meet the office staff and um...I still have some questions about it." Now, if that's how you really feel then please, be honest. But if you actually want the job, tell me! I seriously hesitate every time someone tells me that their interest level is less than a 10. Jobs at my company can be demanding and you have to WANT it if you are going to succeed here and do your best work for us. So let's not play hard to get.

I remember when I was applying for an resident assistant position at my college. This was a fairly competitive position and I really wanted it. I ended up having a second interview with a resident director who I really wanted to work for and I believed this was my last chance to sell myself. At the very end of the interview, I looked him in the eye and said "I really want to be an RA for you. I really want this position and I will do my very best to be a great RA." A week later I found out that I got it. I never asked my interviewer (who became my boss) if my plea made a difference but I have a feeling it did. As a hiring manager I am looking for people who really want to work for me and my company.

So next time you go on an interview for a job you would kill for, take my dad's advice and ask for the job!

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

I just don't want to work in an office.

Announcing a new topic series called..."I just don't want to work in an office". In case you haven't figured it out yet, this is designed for seniors in college and new graduates who are trying to navigate the process of finding and keeping the right job.

I remember being a senior in college and suddenly realizing that I needed to get a job. Not only did I not know what kind of job I wanted but I also had no clue how to get hired. Almost everyone I knew was in the same predicament...with one striking similarity: none of us wanted to work in an office. The idea of four walls and a desk, watching the clock slowly tick by...maybe it was an office's similarity to a classroom that made this so unappealing to those of us stricken with senioritis.

But here's the thing....we're grown ups now. This isn't recess, there are no swingsets...and the reality is that most work requires some sort of shelter from the elements. I think what we all really meant was "I don't want to be stuck working in a BORING office job." Now this resonates with me. I have certainly endured painful hours of trying to create meaningful work out of mindless tasks, watching the clock slowing change from 4:59 to 5:00. No one likes that. But that's not to say that working in an office has to be boring. It's a matter of which office and what you're doing. I've spent the last 2 years working in hopping, busy, productive, creative office environments and have loved (almost) every minute of it. You just need to find the right office AND the right job!

This series will be about filling in some of those gaps that your wonderful (or not so wonderful, as the case may be) education may have left behind. Some of these topics overlap with the general focus of this blog, but my hope is that this series will particularly equip newcomers to the job market with the tools they need to get a job that moves them towards a career.

I'll continue this series each Wednesday so stay tuned for next week's topic "Practice-jobs or get thee an internship".

Don't be....too early.

Timeliness tends to be a big issue when it comes to hiring at my organization. At the special request of a co-worker, I'm dedicating a post to the all important issue of arriving at the appropriate time for interviews.

Obviously, you should do everything in your power to show up on time - preferably about 10-15 minutes early. We often have paperwork that you will need to complete when you arrive, and if you get here early you can get started right away and we can actually start interviewing you at the designated time. However...please do not arrive more than 15 minutes early. When I used to hire for temporary positions, every week candidates would arrive at least AN HOUR EARLY. I'm sorry, that's ridiculous. It makes it look like you have nothing better to do and we feel a bit uncomfortable with you waiting in our office for that long. Even 20 minutes early is a bit much.

Personally, I feel a bit self-conscious when a candidate arrives - I want to make sure we're all on our best behavior around you and that you are greeted and treated well. But I also have work to do and being forced to close my office door so I can make phone calls while you hover in the next room is...well, awkward.

Now, it's fine if you plan ahead and arrive at the PARKING LOT early! In fact, I think you should plan to arrive at your interview location at least 30 minutes early, but wait in your car until 10 minutes before. This will give you a chance to calm your nerves, review your research and jot down potential questions ahead of time.

And obviously...don't be late! Or if you realize you may be late, pull over and call the office immediately to let them know and apologize. If you just show up late, I might not have time to interview you at all...and you've given me a very poor first impression of you. Remember, hiring managers know that the "you" that you present us on the day of the interview is probably the best version of yourself. So if the best version of yourself is late....well, don't count on getting the job.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Do Yourself a Favor and Wear a Suit

I guess I could leave it at that. But clearly, that's too short for a blog post so I'll elaborate.

Confession: 2 1/2 years ago I interviewed for 2 jobs wearing a dress instead of a suit. I didn't get those jobs. Now, I'll never know if there was a relationship between my apparel choice and the rejection that later followed...but shortly after that experience I went out to Banana Republic and bought a new suit. I didn't get the next job I interviewed for, but I did get my dream job a couple months later.

Candidates wear a suit to their interviews with me about 30% of the time. About 60% of the time they wear something along the lines of business casual - black pants, dress shirt, a knit dress. About 10% of the time they wear something borderline casual or obviously stained. When I used to interview temporary employees for a phone job about 10% of the time their cleavage was so abundant that I admit I was completely distracted by it.

Here's the don't HAVE to wear a suit. But anytime a candidate comes in wearing a suit I immediately think to myself "wow, she puts herself together well...seems professional ...seems respectful...could take her to a meeting with a big corporate sponsor." That's exactly where my brain goes. You see, I only have about an hour to size you up for the first time and by wearing a suit, you are giving me a chance to picture how professionally you could present my organization.

Now, I understand that buying a suit can be an expensive undertaking, especially for a new grad. However, the most important thing is that it fits and you feel relatively comfortable in it. (I say "relatively" because I find most suits pretty constricting and still feel like I'm playing "grown up" when I put one on). There are lots of great deals at places like Macy's and TJ Maxx where you can find suits that will more than suffice. At the very least, invest in a grey jacket and a black jacket that you can mix and match in case you have multiple interviews with the same company.

Remember, wearing a suit can't hurt and sure could help. So, just take the guesswork out and wear one!

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Sweaty Handshakes and How to Avoid Them

Now, let me be clear. I won't decide NOT to hire someone because of their sweaty handshake. In fact, I've hired quite a few people whose dripping grips required me to wipe my own palm. But while I may have hired these individuals, I don't think either of us has forgotten the awkward interactions we had after experiencing these uncomfortable physical interactions. Plus, as much as they may have seemed enthusiastic and confident before or during the interview, the sweaty handshake left a lasting impression that they were incredibly nervous and "out of their league". So, take a couple tips from me on how to avoid such moist moments.

The initial handshake: You'll likely be shaking someone's hand when you first come in the door for the interview. So scout out a bathroom ahead of time or pack a wet wipe for a last minute cleansing before you walk in. Now, you may need to fill out an application and wait a few minutes, so try to just focus on your paperwork and whenever possible, unclench your hand to let it air out a little. Once you see the hiring manager headed your way, take a moment to wipe off your hand on your pants under the table before standing to shake. No need to rush up so quickly your chair falls over. This has also happened to a few unfortunate candidates I've interviewed recently.

The post interview handshake: It's all about timing for this one. You need to learn to spot the "wrap-up". Here's some cues to watch for - 1. When the interviewer asks if you have any questions (which you will have prepared in advance - see a future post on this topic). 2. When you are told the next steps in the interview process (note, if they don't go into this, perhaps the interview didn't go so well). 3. Paper arranging/stacking.

At the first sign of the "wrap up" start airing out your palms again by letting your hands hover over your pant legs away from sight. Then start some casual and secretive pant wipe offs.

As long as you watch for the signs of impending handshakes, you will avoid presenting your potential employer with something that feels like it was yanked out of the ocean.

Cover Letters 101

If you've been around me for the last 6 months, you've probably heard me vent about the lack of cover letters in the job applications I receive. There's a LOT I could say about cover letters but I'll keep this post to the importance of simply...WRITING ONE! For my company, we specifically request a cover letter to accompany the employment application. However, despite this stipulation, I still only receive a cover letter about 50% of the time. You know what I do when I don't receive a cover letter? I typically don't even read the application. Why? Because if you can't follow these simple instructions then why should I hire you and then expect you to follow my simple instructions? Because if you won't bother to explain to me why your experience is a good match for the position, then why should I try to make the case for you on my own?

Seriously. I have at least 15 other applications to read today, so you just made my job a little easier.

Your cover letter doesn't need to be long - but it does need to be about what you have to offer ME. Create a generic letter with a few sections you can easily update depending on the position. Take a little time to specify why your skill set and experience match the posted job description. If you don't live in the area, explain your reason for applying for this job in my area. If you are a recent grad with minimal experience, be honest about that and explain why I should take a chance on you. If you are trying to get into a completely new field, tell me about your transferable skills and why you're looking to make a change. Ask at least 3 other people to proofread your letter before you send it. Double check that you are sending the right cover letter to the right hiring manager. I sure get a lot of cover letters intended for the American Heart Association or Susan G. Komen. Guess what? I don't keep reading those either.

You see, as a hard-working manager with more on my plate than fits in a 8 hour work day, the mistakes you make in your cover letter make it really easy for me to toss your application and cut right to the next one. So, do yourself a favor and write a cover letter that neatly explains why you're a good fit for this position. I promise that a well-written cover letter will never hurt your chances for a job...but not writing one could very well prevent you from even getting a phone interview.

Tell me a little about yourself...

Hiring people is a big part of my job. Everyday I sift through 20-40 applications for various openings, trying to find the rare gems who can use spell check proficiently enough to earn a phone screen. I often wonder how many hard-working, qualified people I pass over because of their narcissistic cover letter ("I'd be a great fit for your company because I would get to do a lot of new things that would advance my career") or vague resume (I'm looking for titles, company names, dates, and duties, people!). I'm sure they mean well. Maybe no one ever told them that employers want to know what you have to offer them, not the other way around.

And then there's the interview. I conduct a thorough phone screening but you'd be surprised at the number of candidates I couldn’t wait to meet in person who NEVER SHOW UP TO THE INTERVIEW. Or the ones who stroll in five minutes late. Or wearing a jean skirt.

Nothing I will offer on this blog is rocket science. But I'm realizing that presenting yourself effectively is not always common sense, plus my friends and family might appreciate a refresher course from someone on the "other side of the table". The purpose of this blog is to help my readers learn how to present themselves from the application process through job acceptance in a way that's honest but also appealing. Maybe you'll also get to hear some snippets of the cover letter horror stories I share with my co-workers everyday... "Oh my gosh, get in here, you aren't going to believe this one!" Don't let this be you.