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Quick Guide to Interviewing

Candidates interviewing with a company for the first time often ask if I have any basic pointers for them.  I’ve put together this quick overview that you can read the night before the interview to maximize your chances of getting an offer.

First of all, MAKE SURE YOU ARE PREPARED.  That means read the job description, research the company, make sure you are well groomed and dressed your best going into the interview.  Arrive 20 minutes early in case there’s unexpected traffic, walk in exactly 10 minutes early in case you want to do a “once over” in the mirror, and bring a portfolio with copies of your resume and any questions you want to ask that you are worried you’ll forget.  If you are nervous, practice smiling and introducing yourself in the mirror at home until you can do it naturally.

YOUR GENERAL APPROACH is to (1) SMILE AND RELAX, (2) be enthusiastic and excited about the role and opportunity, (3) “sell yourself” by speaking in terms of what you can do for them, not the other way around, (4) keep a very positive attitude (i.e., don’t say anything negative about current or past bosses or employers), and (5) build a rapport with each interviewer.

WHEN ASKING QUESTIONS, keep in mind that there are 2 objectives.  One is to find out for yourself exactly what kind of company, role, culture, and situation you are getting yourself into.  The other objective is to convey to the interviewer(s) that you know exactly what you are getting yourself into.  If your interviewers believe you are qualified, they know you are fully aware of what you are expected to do, and you tell them you want the job and are excited about it, they are going to be more confident that you are a match and that they aren’t going to have any problems motivating you to perform.

MAKE SURE YOU ARE PREPARED FOR THE DREADED BEHAVIORAL QUESTIONS before you go into the interview.  Behavioral questions are tough not because they are tough questions, but because our brains are not designed to retrieve information that way.  It’s like when someone asks you where you want to go for dinner or what movie you want to see and you either can’t think of anything or it takes you 20 minutes to come up with something acceptable.  It’s the same with behavioral questions so make sure you are armed with answers to a few scenarios in advance.

MAKE SURE YOU ARE PREPARED TO ANSWER SALARY QUESTIONS.  Talk to your recruiter and make sure you are on the same page going into the interview in case they ask you the question.

At the end of the interview, get business cards and EXPRESS GRATITUDE for their time and consideration and follow up with each interviewer by sending a THANK YOU NOTE.  It is best to put a hand-written note in the mail that same day so it arrives the day after the interview.  If you don’t have time to send a hand-written note, an email will suffice.

Good luck!

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HR Phone Interviews: What You Need To Know

If you’ve applied to a position with a larger company, either through a recruiter or on your own, the next step is most likely a phone screening with someone from Human Resources.   You may be a perfect fit for the position and the strongest candidate, but if you start looking to the in-person interview and fail to prepare for and perform well on the call with HR, it might be game over for you.

To make it to the next step, you must first understand the purpose of that call.  HR is a necessary component of the hiring process and must follow a strict internal protocol to track all applicants, weed-out the time-wasters and present only the qualified candidates to the hiring managers for consideration.

If they want to speak with you that means your resume is good enough to consider (more resume tips here), whether you are clearly the only qualified person for the job out of 100 candidates or if you’d be a stretch and they are hoping you can convince them you’re good enough.  If you’re perfect, it may be simply a formality so that they can check the box and move forward.  Whatever the case, you need to understand the basics of the phone screening so you are prepared to do your best.

There are 3 objectives for the phone screen:

1.  To confirm that you are qualified (i.e., your experience lines up with the job description and possibly that both your current salary and salary expectations are in-line with what they have deemed acceptable).
2.  To make sure your motivation for pursuing their opportunity is acceptable.
3.  To make sure you are able to communicate effectively and that you present yourself professionally.

Knowing this, you can prepare by doing a few things.  First, you’ll want to review the job description (and the company and industry profile, as they may test your knowledge to see how prepared you are) and be able to clearly communicate how your experience and career path lines up with it.  Next you need to have your story down about why you are pursuing the opportunity, which should generally be about how your employment would be a win-win because of what you can do for the company and how the job aligns perfectly with your career path, and not about how you are running away from a negative situation with your current employer and what they can do for you.  Finally, prepare to be outwardly positive and enthusiastic about the opportunity and express gratitude to the interviewer for his or her time and consideration.

While this may seem like (and may very well be) common sense, taking the time to review the game plan will only improve your performance during the call and therefore increase your chances of meeting the hiring manager and getting an offer.  Best of luck to you!

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How to Interview

Whether you are 20 years into your career and have been actively looking for a job for the last 6 months, or you’re fresh out of college and testing the market for the first time, you’ll want to go over your game plan before every interview.  The following is what I recommend.

Appearance

Don’t take any chances here.  Make sure your hair is groomed, shave if you don’t have a nice looking and well-groomed beard, and shine your shoes.  Regarding attire, generally you will want to go with business attire.  That means jacket and tie for men and a business suit for ladies.  If, however, you are applying for a job at a company with a very casually dress code, you may want to ditch the tie but keep the jacket.  Try to get some kind of indication of what to wear from either the employer or the recruiter.

Preparation

Research the company as much as possible.  I’d organize my research in these categories:

  • Industry.  Gain a broad understanding of the health of the industry and any current trends.  If not performing well, is it cyclical?  What niche does the company have within the industry and how does it differentiate itself from the other players?  Google search for info.
  • Operations.  Your goal is to be able to explain to someone that is not in their industry or even in business how the Company makes money, where it has operations, what companies it is affiliated with, where it’s customers are located, and who owns them.  You’ll also want to check to see if they’ve been in the news recently and why.  You can probably find most of this information on their website, but you can also check Wikipedia or simply do a Google search.
  • Financial.  You will definitely want to know how well they are performing financially.  Morale is usually not good at shrinking companies but that doesn’t mean you should write those off either.  If the company is public or a large private company,  you may be able to find their financial reports on the company website.  Otherwise, for public companies try Yahoo Finance or Edgar Online for SEC filings and look for their 10-K.  For private companies, your best bet will be your city’s business journal or a Google search.
  • People.  Try to find out from your recruiter who you are interviewing with and if they know anything about them.  If not, try Linkedin.  There’s a good chance your interviewer(s) will have a profile that may give you a lot of ammo to use in the interview in order to build rapport.
  • Reputation.  Check out glassdoor.com, indeed.com, and/or a handful of other company review sites to see what employees have to say.  Glassdoor and Indeed appear to be the most dominant in St. Louis.  If it’s a smaller company and there isn’t much volume you may want to be take those comments with a grain of salt.
  • Job Description.  Go over the official job description and note examples of how your professional experience and qualifications make you uniquely qualified for the role.

Think of questions to ask your interviewer.  As you research the company, write down smart questions in order to fill in the blanks.  You will want to take these questions with you when you interview.  I like to group questions into the following categories:

  • Questions that help you gain an understanding of the Industry
  • Questions about the business operations including how they make money, what products or services they offer, how they are positioned in the market, where they have operations and customers, who their competitors are, etc.
  • Questions about the organizational chart of the department and company
  • Questions about the Company’s financial health and outlook
  • Questions about the Company’s strategy
  • Questions about the Company’s culture
  • Questions about the interviewer(s)
  • Questions about the job
  • Questions about any big projects and the goals of the department over the next year
  • Questions about future plans for the position
  • Questions about employee learning and development
  • Questions about the opportunity and how the role fits into your career trajectory

Be ready for any question.  The best way to do this is not to memorize your answers to 100 possible questions, but to memorize answers to a handful of overarching questions (listed below) and come up with stories about yourself that will allow you to improvise.  If one of those stories is about the path you’re on professionally, including where you’ve come from and where you would like to go and how their Company and opportunity fits perfectly into that story, you will easily be able to answer questions related to why you are leaving (or left) your employer, why you are interested in their job, where you see yourself in 5 years, why they should hire you, etc.  Regarding the common and cliche questions in which an interviewer puts you on the spot and asks you to recall a time in which you encountered a problem or a problematic coworker, etc., and what you did about it, that may be tough to recall even if you have a lot of experiences worth noting because its really a test of your memory, and asking such an open question about a past event is difficult to recall simply because your memory doesn’t get triggered very effectively by those kinds of questions.  Therefore, as you prepare you will want to think about unique/tough/challenging/etc. work situations you’ve encountered and learned from.  But if you are thrown a curve ball and struggle to recall a specific situation, one solution is to respond by giving an example of how you would have handled the kind of situation they are asking about because, after all, the question is a test of your judgement and character in difficult circumstances, not of your memory.

Some specific questions to prepare for ahead of time:

  • Examples of your experience doing the tasks listed on the job description.
  • What are your biggest career accomplishments?
  • What are your strengths?
  • What are your weaknesses?  The interviewer is not looking for you to discuss one of your strengths disguised as a weakness.  They are asking if you have the self-awareness to know what one of your biggest weaknesses is, and the courage to admit it, face it head-on, and put a plan in place to improve in that area.
  • Tell me about yourself.
  • What are the 3 main criteria you look for in a job?
  • Questions about salary, including how much you’re currently making and how much you want to make (more on this below).
  • What do you know about the company?
  • What do you know about me or what do you know about my background?

Finally, visualize yourself relaxed and smiling, connecting with the interviewers, positively answering any questions they throw at you, and receiving a generous offer.

What to bring

  • Portfolio with pen and paper in case you need to take notes.  You won’t necessarily want to write down the answers to your questions but you may need it for something.
  • Copies of your updated resume for each of your interviewers and yourself.  These will most likely not be needed but it’s best to be prepared.
  • Copy of the job description.
  • List of questions to ask (see recommended questions above but create your own).  It is appropriate to bring a list of questions to ask so you don’t forget anything.  It shows that you are prepared and don’t want to forget anything.  You may find that once you get there you don’t need them, but it’s best to be prepared.

Arriving

Plan on arriving 20 minutes early and walk in exactly 10 minutes before the interview.  You may need this extra time because of unforeseen traffic or unfamiliarity with the company’s location.  When you walk in 10 minutes early you’ll also have time to do a “once over” in the bathroom to make sure you’re put together and show your employer that you are punctual.

The Interview

In general, you want to position yourself as confident, friendly, grateful for the opportunity and the interviewers’ time and consideration, and show curiosity about the role and the exact work you will be doing while at the same time selling yourself and expressing why you are the best candidate for the job.  You want to show that not only can you do the job and do it well, but also that you are professional and that you will be pleasant to work with, so make sure you smile, make solid eye contact, and genuinely express gratitude for their time and consideration (but you can overdo it so you want to avoid repeating yourself – ideally, one good time at the beginning and a “thank you again for your consideration” at the end will suffice).

Keep in mind that your objective in interviewing is to get an offer and the most effective way to do that is to express enthusiasm and sell yourself as THE candidate for the job.  So how do you sell yourself?  Talk in terms of what you can do for the hiring manager/company and don’t seek out information about what they can do for you.  There will be time for you to get the information you need after you’e convinced them that you’re the right candidate for the job.  Early in my recruiting career I convinced a passive candidate to interview with a great company for a position that he perceived as a lateral move even though the compensation was higher than he was currently earning.  He reluctantly agreed and approached the interview as if he were investigating the company and wasn’t sure if he wanted to work for them in that capacity or not.  He didn’t sell himself.  After the interview he was extremely excited and told me he would take the offer if it came.  Unfortunately, the hiring manager was not convinced that he wanted the job badly enough and would therefore be unhappy in the role so he ended up choosing another, less qualified candidate.  Needless to say, my candidate was extremely disappointed.  Don’t let this happen to you.

To start, let the interviewer lead the conversation.  There will probably be some small talk to begin with, and you want to be an active part of that, but let the interviewer be the one to start the interview.  During that small talk you can look for ways to build rapport by asking the interviewer something about his or her background or tenure with the company (this is one of the main reasons why it is good to research who’s interviewing you ahead of time).

How to answer questions.  Answer the questions directly and explain why you answered the way you did.  In general, if you are trying to express how skilled you are at a certain task, you want to break it down into some objectively quantifiable term.  For example, if I ask you how good you are at golf, and you say “I’m decent”, that has completely different meanings if you are talking to Tiger Woods or to someone who plays twice each year.  It could mean you are a scratch golfer or you are a 30 handicap.  But if you say, I’m a 10 handicap, everyone knows what that means.  So when you try to explain to the interviewer how much experience you have in a certain ERP system, for example, you can say “I do these specific tasks in SAP, which takes approximately 30% of my time on a monthly basis, and I spend 4 days each month-end doing X.  And I’ve worked in that capacity for the past 15 months.  Because of that, I would say I’m at an intermediate skill level with the system and I would rate myself a 7 out of 10.”  If the interviewer asks about Excel, for example, you can tell them how much time you spend in it, the kind of activities you use it for, and describe the most advanced knowledge you have of it: “I am skilled at using all the major functions of Excel . . . VLookups, Pivot tables, etc.”  Or whatever it may be.

The two objectives in asking questions.  There are 2 objectives to asking smart questions.  First, by the time you leave the interview you want to know exactly what kind of situation you’re potentially getting yourself into so you feel good about whatever decision you make when the offer comes.  You’re investigating where and who you are going to the spend the majority of your waking hours with for at least the next couple of years.  Have the self-respect to do your due diligence.  The second objective in asking smart, thorough questions is to let your employer know that you know exactly what kind of situation you’ll potentially be getting yourself into for the foreseeable future.  It sends the message that you care about your future and if asked to investigate something for your boss you’ll come back with the answer.  Asking smart questions often times separates the winning candidate from the rest of the field because it is an expression of professional curiosity, a very attractive trait.


Stay away from the topic of compensation or benefits.  You obviously want to be offered the highest starting salary possible but you can shoot yourself in the foot if you don’t approach this right.  You goal is to get through the interview process to the point where the hiring company let’s you know that they want to make you an offer.  At that point, the negotiation scales tip in your favor.  Prior to that, if you let it be known that you are at the higher end of their target salary range or slightly above it, they may cut you loose if they’re not yet convinced that you are the right person for the job.  So how do you handle the topic of compensation?  If you are working through a recruiter, you should already have an idea for the salary range so if the topic of compensation is brought up, you can say something like this: “Based on what my recruiter told me, it sounds like we are in the same ballpark.  I’m more concerned about making sure the opportunity is there for me and that I’m the right person for you.  If we get to the point where we both think my employment would be a mutual satisfaction of needs, I’m confident the compensation will work itself out”.  Unfortunately, however, it is almost impossible to dodge the question of “how much are you currently earning?”  By refusing to answer you are showing that you don’t trust them and that you may be difficult to work with.  So if are asked that question, here is some advice on how to answer under a few different common situations:

  • Ideal situation of 5-15 % increase to make a move: If the salary range is slightly above (5-15%) above your current salary, it matches your comp expectations and you are asked point-blank how much you’re looking for and/or how much you are currently earning, you can tell them “currently I am making a base of $XX and incentive comp (cash bonus, equity, etc.) of $XX.  I expect a reasonable increase to make a move and if we get to the point where it makes sense for me to work here, I’ll defer to you to make a fair offer.”
  • Total target comp package is lower than your current one.  “Comp is not the most important factor to me.  I’m more concerned about being in a fulfilling job at a great company, and I believe your company and the role you’re looking to me to fill fits that criteria.  I would consider working within your salary range if we determine I’m the candidate for the job.”  If you are in a good financial situation and can explain that to the interviewer, do it.  I’ve placed a candidate who took a cut because he was compensated to travel 75% of the time and was earning above market value.  I’ve also placed a candidate whose husband was making a lot of money and she was working for the challenge and fun of it so she took a cut.  The hiring companies needed to know that information to get them comfortable with the candidate taking a decrease.
  • Target comp is significantly above your current comp package (25% or more).  The reality is, you may not be able to get an offer in the range the hiring company is targeting if you are currently earning significantly less.  It depends on the situation.  One reason is employers want want to incentivize their employees to work hard, so by paying someone a lot more money than they are used to earning there’s a fear that they may become a little too comfortable and not produce as much as they would if they were hungrier.  This is why sales professionals are paid lower salaries and higher commissions.  The primary reason, however, is that employers have leverage over you and a stronger position to negotiate a salary that is lower than they are willing to pay, and by asking for too much you will be perceived as unreasonable.  You have to ask yourself if you are really willing to pass up a great job with a reasonable salary simply because the hiring company is willing to pay more for another candidate.  If not, then you should readjust your expectations.  There are, however, situations where it is entirely possible for candidates to make a 25%, 30%, or even a 50% or more increase over their current comp.   For public accountants going into industry, for example, it is typical to see a large increase in salary.  It is simply what the market demands for such skilled and technical professionals because the gap between them and the next best candidate is pretty wide.  It is also common for a very aggressive company demanding a lot out of their key employees to pay well above market rate because of the hours and expectations (and therefore, sacrifice) the job demands.  If you are in either of these situations and you are asked directly how much you are earning and how much you can expect to earn, you will have to justify your expectation for a large increase, which shouldn’t be difficult because you are simply asking for market rate, and most of the time they will understand that a large increase is appropriate for the situation.

Closing the Interview

In closing the interview, you want to tie up any loose ends for both parties and get and idea about what to expect moving forward.  To do that, I would ask your interviewer(s) these 3 questions, in this order:

Question 1: “I think I have a good idea of what this role entails, but I don’t know what I don’t know.  Were there any questions you think I should have asked but didn’t?”

Question 2: You want to give the interviewer the opportunity to address any concerns or areas of uncertainty related to your candidacy, but you don’t necessarily want to draw attention to any areas of weakness.  If you think you have an area of weakness that the interviewer will bring up, make sure you think about what kind of response you would give him to convince him or her that it really shouldn’t be a concern.  I would ask this: “Is there anything else about my background that you would like to hear more about or would like for me to clarify?
Question 3: “I want you to know that I’m very interested in this opportunity.  What are the next steps and when should I expect to hear back.”

As you are leaving, shake each interviewer’s hand, smile as you look each of them in the eye and thank them for their time.  Make sure to send each interviewer a thank you note no later than first thing in the morning the day after your interview.  A hand-written thank you note is best, but email is good as well.  It is appropriate to ask for a card while you are there but if you are unable to get one and are working through a recruiter her or she may be able to forward an email on your behalf.

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1 Simple Formatting Trick to Produce More Interviews

As a professional recruiter, I have seen thousands of resumes and I am absolutely certain that more than once I’ve missed out on a great candidate because of a resume that was not formatted thoughtfully (I blame myself but I am only human).   In fact, not understanding the power of formatting is one of the most common mistakes I see people make on their resumes.  The reason is because most people think it’s a matter of aesthetics or personal preference and that whoever they send their resume to is actually going to read it in detail.  THE REALITY IS MOST HIRING MANAGERS AND RECRUITERS DON’T READ RESUMES unless they get their attention during the initial 5-10 second scan,SO A VISUALLY ACCESSIBLE FORMAT CAN BE THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN GETTING A JOB VERSUS NOT EVEN GETTING AN INTERVIEW.

 

HOW MOST PEOPLE APPROACH THE ISSUE OF FORMATTING

Most people look at formatting a resume as a way to make it appear nice and neat and have some kind of structure and flow to it.  Those things are definitely part of it, and an important part.  You certainly can’t present a resume that is visually difficult to follow and appears that the author took no effort in thinking about it from the reader’s perspective.

So resume authors make nice sections and bold the names of their employers, italicize titles, and underline the headings of each section (Professional Experience, Education, Summary, etc.).  And that is the extent of their thinking on the matter.  It makes for a nice and neat presentation, and it is absolutely essential, but does it get the attention of the hiring manager or internal recruiter who doesn’t have a firm grasp on the job or who the ideal candidate is?  Remember, whoever is screening resumes is probably dealing with an overwhelmingly large volume and after looking at three resumes in a row their eyes glaze over.  The possibility of an all-star candidate falling through the cracks is very real.

HOW EVERYONE SHOULD APPROACH THE ISSUE OF FORMATTING

Let me propose an alternative approach.  Keep the clean lines and easily distinguishable sections that make your resume inviting, but use bold, italics, all caps, or underlined words or phrases to DRAW THE READER’S ATTENTION TO THE KEY THINGS ON YOUR RESUME THAT THEY ARE LOOKING FOR PER THE JOB DESCRIPTION.  Use these tools to walk the reader through your resume after you’ve caught their attention at the top of the first page.  If they’re looking for a Master’s Degree in Accounting and 5 years of experience with a public company, list that as the headline of your resume in your Summary or Professional Profile section and bold those words so they see it immediately.  Is there a specific experience requirement that a viable candidate must possess that you just happen to have?  Highlight it.  Did you get promoted faster than your peers or have an accomplishment that you’re proud of that may give you the edge over another candidate? Underline it.  Did you work for a company that is relatively unknown but by doing so means you would be a logical choice for the job you’re going after because of its size, industry, or award-winning reputation for leadership development?  List it in all capital letters.  Or whatever.  Find a way to make it stand out while also looking uniform and nice.

YOUR GOAL IS TO WALK THE READER THROUGH YOUR RESUME SO HE OR SHE CLEARLY SEES THAT YOUR SKILLS AND EXPERIENCE MATCH WHAT THEY THEMSELVES HAVE SAID THEY VALUE PER THE JOB DESCRIPTION. 

If you take the time to tailor your resume to the job description of the job you are targeting (assuming you can do so truthfully) and you use this formatting trick, you will not only get more interviews but you will also make a strong first impression on the hiring manager or recruiter, which will give you momentum throughout the entire hiring process.

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How to Notify Your Employer That You’ve Accepted Another Job Offer

Accepting a new job can be extremely exciting.  It’s a fresh start and usually means you’ll be earning more money, have more responsibility, and get a clean slate to work from.  As soon as you sign your offer letter, however, you may get a sinking feeling in your stomach when you realize the next step is to notify your boss, which is not unlike breaking up with a boyfriend or girlfriend – you know it’s best for you but they aren’t going to like it.  It helps to know ahead of time the possible paths that conversation can take so that you’re prepared for whatever he or she throws at you.  The following is an overview of what you can expect.

You’re going to be nervous turning in your notice, but that’s natural.  This is simply you ending one chapter in your life and starting another one.  There’s going to be 3 phases to your meeting: the beginning, middle, and end, which is your action, their reaction, and your response to their reaction.  Stay professional and unemotional.  Start by simply telling your boss that you’ve decided to leave the company for an opportunity that you couldn’t pass up, and your last day will be on such and such date.  Then wait for his or her reaction.  There is one of 3 ways the meeting will play out.

One way is that your boss or bosses will accept your notice.  Most professional firms know that it is selfish to try to keep you from making an adult decision such as changing jobs.  They’ll accept it, let you finish out your work, and wish you luck while throwing a party for you on your last day.  Thank them for understanding and make it clear that you’ll do your best to help make the transition go as smoothly as possible for everyone.

Another way it could play out is that they react in a negative way.  They might make a negative comment, say you’re making the wrong move, or try to put you on a guilt trip.  They might ask how you could leave them with so much work to do, or tell you that it is unprofessional of you to walk away right now.  That kind of reaction, whether they realize it or not, is a way to manipulate you into staying there.  Your departure affects your boss personally not only because he or she will have to figure out the staffing change and possibly get their hands a little dirty doing your work for a temporary period of time, but their performance is evaluated on how well their staff does and if they are happy and productive.  You can simply respond by saying that you realize it is an inconvenience, but it is the best move for your career and one you couldn’t pass up.  Then make it clear that you’ll do your best to help make the transition go as smoothly as possible for everyone.

The third way it could go is that you break the news to your boss and he gives you a counter offer.  This can be a difficult decision, but only if the reason you’re leaving is because you’re not getting paid enough.  If that is the case, there are dangers with accepting a counter offer that you might not realize until afterwards.  Your relationship will not be the same moving forward. It will affect your employer’s perception of you.  They may completely understand but they may think you’re not loyal and that it’s just a matter of time before you make a move.  So there’s a real possibility that it could strain the relationship.  If, on the other hand, your reason for leaving is because of something that has nothing to do with money, like a lack of opportunity or a negative work environment, remind yourself once again of that issue and simply respond by saying, “no, thank you.  I appreciate the offer but I’ve made up my mind.”

Legally, you are not obligated to tell your employer where you are going or how much you are making.  You can say “I’d prefer to keep that information confidential at this time, but once I get started with my new employer I’ll drop you a line and give you an update”.    Or you can tell them where you’re going.  It’s up to you to decide that based on the relationship you have with your boss or bosses.

In closing, while this advice may seem like common sense to people who have been there before, if this is your first professional job change out of college, turning in your notice can be intimidating.  By knowing the road ahead you can control the outcome and leave on good terms.  Best of luck to you!

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3 Principles of Writing a Winning Resume

 As an executive recruiter I spend a significant portion of my time proactively meeting with potential candidates for my clients.  Some of these people are “fee worthy” candidates – meaning they fall within my recruiting niche – and some are not, but almost all of them ask me for resume advice.  And I’m glad they do because the majority of them could use it and I truly enjoy helping them, whether I get paid or not.  But since it can take up a lot of my valuable time, I wanted to write this article for candidates I cross paths with so they can quickly gain a fundamental understanding of the key principles of writing a winning resume.   There’s much more to it, of course, but this is a great place to start.

Principle #1: Get Inside the Head of Potential Employers

The first and most important principle is to get inside potential employers’ heads.  How do you do that?  Well, broadly speaking, companies hire people for only 3 reasons: (1) to make the company money (i.e., increase the bottom line); (2) to save the company money (i.e., increase the bottom line); or (3) to increase efficiency/save time, in order to free up resources to make more money for the company (i.e., increase the bottom line).  So as you can see those three reasons are really all just one reason.   Employers want to know that you clearly understand that your role falls into one of these 3 subcategories of driving profits.  Therefore, when you’re writing your resume think in terms of not only responsibilities but the impact your efforts have made on the financial performance or efficiency of your employers.

To get inside employers’ heads for a specific job, read the job description.  They are telling you exactly who they want.  Tailor your resume accordingly.  Use the same buzz words.  Prioritize your experience to match what the employer appears to value most (if that is in fact the case).  I’m not suggesting that you lie.  Be truthful, but be selective.  My guess is that once you’ve done this exercise – assuming that you are qualified for the job and that it really is a logical next step for your career – you’ll notice that your resume paints a more accurate and relevant picture of you as a professional.

Principle #2: Make your Resume Visually Accessible

If you’ve ever had to read more than 1 resume in a single sitting, you’ve probably discovered that you don’t actually read them.  You scan them to determine if you want to read them.   So imagine that it’s you sitting in the recruiter’s seat and staring a stack of 100 resumes and pretend that the first half of the first page is all you’re going to read.  How can you sell yourself in such a short amount of space?

I recommend starting with a “Professional Profile” section that describes you in 1-2 sentences that are highly tailored to the job you’re chasing.  For the accounting and finance professionals I work with, an example for someone going for an Accounting Manager or Controller job might be “CPA with 3 years of middle market public accounting audit experience, followed by 4 years of progressive corpoarate accounting operations experience at a growing $600M manufacturing company”. It’s concise, objective, and straight-forward.

I would follow up the “Professional Profile” section with a “Professional Qualifications and Skills” section.  This section is very key because all those buzz words the internal recruiter (who, by the way, probably has no first-hand experience doing the job for which he or she is recruiting) is looking for from the job description are going to practically jump off the page.  You do this by using 1 to 2 words per skill or qualification and listing them in either an imbedded table with rows or columns or in bullets arranged in 2 or 3 columns, depending on how many you’re listing.  Using the accounting and finance example again, some buzz words might be “CPA, Big 4 Auditor, GAAP, Month-end Close, Financial Statements, Internal Controls, etc.”

By following these first 2 principles you should have the attention of recruiters and hiring managers and be well on your way to an interview.

Principle #3: Assume the Reader Knows Nothing

Now that you’ve gotten the attention of a recruiter or hiring manager, they’ll want to take a closer look at your experience, which you’ve listed in chronological order starting with the most recent.  One common mistake I see it that resume authors assume everyone knows who their employer is and what they do.  There are hundreds, if not thousands, of companies in any major US city that gross well over $100M/year.  While that may seem like a lot of money, unless you’re working for a very famous and probably public company or a B2C business, chances are pretty good that the vast majority of people living in your city will know little more than the name of your employer.  Unless they’re in sales working that market, they won’t know what the company does or how big it is.  It needs to be explained so the reader knows you’ve been working for sizeable, legitimate operations.  The best way to do this is by using objectively quantifiable descriptive terms.

Here’s an example: “ABC Company: A $200 million privately owned manufacturer of refrigerated vending machines headquartered in St. Louis with customers throughout Central and North America.”

After gaining an understanding of the company or companies where you’ve worked, the recruiter or hiring manager will want to know how you fit into that organization and exactly what you did there, both in terms of responsibilities and achievements.  Ask yourself the following questions.  How many people were in your department? Who did you report to?  How many direct and indirect reports did you have?  What were the scope of your responsibilities in terms of dollars?  How big was the budget you were managing?  What were the scope of your responsibilities from an operating standpoint?  Were you at the corporate level or business unit level?  Were there any major initiatives that you worked on that had a positive outcome?  What were your biggest achievements and how did that impact the bottom line of your employer?

To summarize, if you incorporate these three principles into your resume you will effectively answer employers’ questions about whether or not you have the skills and qualifications they’re looking for without them even having to ask.   The calls you receive will be to bring you in for interviews rather than to screen you with qualifying questions.  Your first impression on a hiring manager or recruiter will be that you’re a candidate who “gets it” and are qualified for the job, which will be exciting to them after sifting through the resumes of 100 unqualified candidates.  And that excitement will create momentum that will follow you throughout the interview process.