The Science of the Job Search, Part II: 5 Ways to Fight Racial Discrimination

I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.

— Martin Luther King, Jr.

Today is the first day of Black History Month; last month, we celebrated Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday. 50 years after his death, how much does race still matter in America?

race-religion-hireability-job-search.png

Race (still) matters, a lot. After analyzing 4,068 job applications, outcomes and applicants, we discovered two things:

  1. Job applicants with obviously ethnic names were 2-9x less hireable than those with apparently white names, including Asians (a supposed “model minority”); and,
  2. Some resume tips were clear disqualifiers or equalizers for ethnic applicants, either forcing their hireability to zero or creating a (roughly) equal playing field.

Let’s break it down, shall we?

Resume Disqualifiers and Equalizers

#5: Follow Basic Resume Etiquette [+871% BOOST]

resume-etiquette-race-disqualifier.png

In our last post, we mentioned several resume tips around “resume etiquette”: not using personal pronouns in job achievements, starting sentences with action verbs, etc.

For non-white job-seekers, not following basic resume etiquette was a near-strict disqualifier. Whether because it reinforced racial stereotypes, suggested poor communication skills or something else entirely, ethnic applicants who didn’t follow these basic tips had a 0.7% interview rate (vs. a 6.1% chance if you had followed them).

Resume Tip: Although it’s important for everyone, following resume etiquette is necessary (but not sufficient) for people with ethnic names. Make sure you don’t include personal pronouns. Start each job achievement with an action verb. And so on.

(There are actually several resume rules that go into this. If you want to instantly scan your resume for etiquette mistakes, upload your resume to TalentWorks — it’s free.)

#4: Having 2+ College Degrees [+45% BOOST]

going-back-to-school-racism-resume-tip-equalizer.png

Growing up, my dad always told me: “Kushal, you have to be twice as good to get ahead.” As I got older, I realized I wasn’t alone — every Asian, black, Hispanic family tells their children this:

You were taught that you were good enough, but you might have to be twice as good given you’re black. — Condoleezza Rice

As an African-American, you have to work twice as hard as anyone else if you want to get by. — Barack Obama

You have to be twice as good as them. — Olivia Pope

Dad (and Condoleezza Rice and Barack Obama and Olivia Pope) were right: you really do have to work twice as hard to get by. Non-white job applicants with 2+ degrees had the same hireability as the average job applicant, 87% of whom had only 1 degree.

Education was an equalizer, in the sense that people of color quite literally had to have twice the education as (almost) everyone else to have an equal shot as them.

Job Search Tip: Except in very specific circumstances, our position is still that it’s not worth going back to school for that second degree, regardless of your race. There are faster, more effective ways to level the playing field (see below).

#3: Using Specific Numbers to Demonstrate Your Impact [+65% BOOST]

specific-numbers-racism-resume-tip.png

Another equalizer, but an actionable one this time: Applicants who used specific numbers to demonstrate impact had the same shot as the average job-seeker.

Resume Tip: Especially for people of color, quantifying how you specifically made an impact with numbers will help remove subconscious subjectivity and let you play on an objective level-playing field (+65% boost).

#2: Don’t Overuse “Team Player” Words [+67% BOOST]

dont-be-team-player-race-resume-tip.png

This is also an equalizer. People of color who used the right number of teamwork-related words had a roughly similar hireability to the average job-seeker.

Why is this important? Well, if you read our previous analysis closely, you’ll see that “team player”-oriented words were words that diminished your achievements and experience. If you’re a person of color, hiring managers seem to need you to be extra explicit about what you achieved.

Resume Tip: For people of color, being explicit about your specific contributions is especially important (+67% boost). As above, it likely helps cut through subjective, subconscious bias and puts you on an objective (level) playing field.

#1: Using Industry Buzzwords [+113% BOOST]

industry-buzzwords-racism-resume-tip-equalizer.png

This is the final and most impactful equalizer. Applicants with ethnic sounding names who mentioned the right frequency of industry buzzwords, specific skills and expertise didn’t just perform equally as an average job-seeker, they actually outperformed them.

Why is that, you might ask? If you take a step back, there seems to be a clear pattern emerging from the above. When people with ethnic-sounding names — people who might otherwise be subject to subconscious, subjective bias — are specific about their past achievements, they seem to instead be objectively evaluated on the same level-playing field as everyone else. That doesn’t mean that they’ll get the job or even the interview — it just means they start playing on the same field as everyone else.

Resume Tip: Make sure to include specific skills, industry buzzwords and expertise in your job achievements (+113% boost).

Summary

Although it’s hard to get inside hiring managers’ heads on this topic — so much of this is subconscious, including for me — two clear patterns seem to emerge above. For people with ethnic-sounding names,

  1. Hiring managers seemed especially quick to dismiss ethnic applicants based on small errors, possibly because they reinforced specific ethnic stereotypes; and,
  2. Demonstrating specific expertise or accomplishments put ethnic applicants back on an objective (level-)playing field.

As with most things involving race, subconscious bias and discrimination, you’re working on a knife edge here: do too little and you’re nothing, do too much and you’re blackballed; you have to do the right thing in exactly the right amount. Balancing the hundreds of variables that go into this is hard, for humans.

But, it’s easy for machines: our AI can simultaneously optimize 1,000+ variables. To be 100% transparent, we’re just getting started with these sorts of (discrimination-related) issues at TalentWorks, but our existing AI-driven tools can already help a lot:

  • ApplicationAssistant will automatically identify jobs you’re objectively qualified for, so you can emphasize your objective qualifications and worry less about discrimination,
  • ResumeOptimizer will instantly scan your resume for potential issues to help level the playing field — the 5 issues above, in addition to dozens of others.

Epilogue

As an Indian-American living on the West Coast, I’m lucky to have rarely felt explicitly discriminated against. (I have lots of stories from when I was younger, but that’s for another time…) Growing up, I argued with my parents dozens of times about how their experiences with discrimination must be a thing of the past.

But, here’s the rub. The numbers don’t lie—

Even if you’ve never felt explicitly discriminated against, the clear, measurable impact of implicit discrimination has probably hurt you, even today.

What irks me about many of the studies done on discrimination is that they don’t tell you what you can do. “So, you’re telling me I’m screwed. Well, great. Now what do I do?” For our project, I wanted to make sure we gave you some tools to do something about it.

Whether you use ResumeOptimizer or ApplicationAssistant or not, I hope the tips and tools above help you live your life so you’re judged by the content of your character (and not by the sound of your name or color of your skin).


Methodology

We used the core dataset, analysis and visualization from The Science of the Job Search, Part I.

To calculate which resume optimizations were disqualifiers, we looked only at non-white subgroups and filtered for optimizations where its absence resulted in a <3% interview rate. For equalizers, we filtered for optimizations where its presence resulted in an interview rate within 1 standard error of the overall mean. The above graphs are plotted with bokeh on Python.

[*] For the statistically-minded amongst you, this is a good sanity check that we weren’t making dumb over-fitting mistakes.

Why Are We Doing This?

With ApplicationAssistant right now, we can boost the average job-seeker’s hireability by ~5x. But, what makes ApplicationAssistant work has been an internal company secret until now. We’re fundamentally a mission-driven company and we believe we can help more people by sharing our learnings. So, that’s exactly what we’re going to do.

Creative Commons

We’re not only sharing this but also sharing all of it under the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike license. In other words, as long as you follow a few license terms, this means you can:

  • Share: Copy, redistribute the material in any medium or format.
  • Adapt: Remix, transform, and build upon the material.
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Hiring Managers Tell All: 10 Resume and Cover Letter DON’TS

You know what I love about our team here at TalentWorks? We’ve been on both sides of the job search. We’ve been the job hunter who refreshed our inboxes more times than we care to admit, waiting for news, and we’ve been the hiring manager who has seen way too many cover letters addressed to…the last company a candidate applied to. We’ve talked about how frustrating the job hunt can be from the candidate’s perspective, but now we’d like to share what turns us off as hiring managers and can send your application to the “no” pile.

Here are 10 resume and cover letter DON’TS from the TalentWorks team.

Resume DON’TS:

1. Don’t let something as banal as an email address get in your way. We get it. Deathmetalharry666 was a great handle when you were sixteen—and maybe it still is. But it doesn’t need to be on your resume. Neither does your current company email address, your mom’s email address, or basically any email that has us asking questions you probably don’t want us asking. Keep it simple and professional.

2. Hardworking. Organized. Great communicator. Those are nice qualities, but those pesky applicant tracking systems don’t care. They want juicy keywords, like “Microsoft Excel”, “Google Analytics”, etc.. Don’t give us a list of adjectives that could describe anyone. Tell us what you do, what programs you know, what specific skills you have—and most importantly—what problems you’ve solved with those mad skills? As they say in the fiction world—show, don’t tell.

3. Don’t turn bullet points into bullet novels. Delete all adjectives and adverbs. Think of them like potato chips—delicious empty calories that hurt you more than they help you. We don’t need to know the events leading up to the achievement or what the weather was like that morning—we just need to know the end result (i.e. Developed a new onboarding program that improved employee retention by 42%).

4. Don’t share your love for long walks on the beach or knitting. Save that for the dating sites, unless your hobbies really are relevant to the role you’re applying for. Remember that hiring managers can get hundreds of resumes for one job. When we’ve got two hundred resumes to go through and 12 different projects we’re working on, we skim and look for relevant qualifications and achievements. The more you make us work for it, the crankier we get.

5. Don’t get all creative on us (yes, graphic designers, we’re looking at you too). Don’t get us wrong—we want to see your creativity on the job. But we want your resume to be easy to read and understand. So, please save the script fonts for your mom’s birthday cards and avoid using tables or complex templates that may look like a hot mess in another program. Tip: Submit your boring looking resume to the bots, and bring your fancy resume to your in-person interview.

Bonus: Don’t forget to proofread. Sometimes we miss a typo—it happens to the best of us. But multiple spelling and/or punctuation errors make us question your attention to detail.

Cover Letter DON’TS:

1. Don’t address your letter to the wrong person or company. This should go without saying and yet… This tends to happen when candidates are copying and pasting cover letters, and they hit send before changing the name up top. Oops. Yes, we notice and yes, it may just be the reason you aren’t getting that interview.

On that note…

2. Don’t send the same cover letter to every company. We can totally tell. Yes, your experience is going to be the same—but the reason you’re applying to a specific company should be different. Your opening paragraph should address the company you’re applying to and why you are passionate about their mission. Any achievement or skill you outline should be relevant to the role you’re applying for. In short, what makes us a match made in heaven?

3. Don’t apologize for yourself. There’s a difference between being honest about your skillset and focusing too much on what you “can’t” do. Your cover letter should be all about the positive. Your greatest achievements. Your strengths. The challenges you have overcome. If there is a skill you haven’t mastered, wait until the hiring manager brings it up and then be prepared to tell them how you plan on conquering it. For example, you can tell them you’d be happy to take classes or necessary trainings.

4. Don’t come off as too arrogant. Confidence is great. We love it when you know your strengths and can clearly articulate how you can help solve our problems. But avoid statements, like “I’m the best candidate you will ever find” or “I can move mountains in two seconds flat”. Nobody can move mountains in two seconds flat. You know it (we hope) and we know it. Also, don’t make presumptuous statements, such as “I look forward to working with you.” Considering we haven’t even talked to you yet, this makes you sound kind of, well, loony.

5. Don’t tell us your life story. And definitely don’t tell us your life story in passive voice. We think it’s fantastic that you volunteer at the local animal shelter and love your kids. And, if we decide to move forward with you, we’ll look forward to learning more about you. But right now we just want to know how you can help us solve our problems. So, make sure every word on your cover letter counts. Eliminate unnecessary adjectives or details and use an active voice.

Do you have any resume or cover letter tips to share? What worked for you and what didn’t? Feel free to share in the comments below!

 

 

 

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The Science of The Job Search, Part I: 13 Data-Backed Ways To Win

It’s the New Year! And what does that mean? Fireworks, champagne and New Year’s Resolutions. It turns out fully 63% of people’s New Year’s resolutions are about jobs: negotiating that promotion, quitting that job you’ve always hated, or getting that new job you’ve always wanted.

But, as we all know, getting a job is hard. Clearly, there are jobs out there. And clearly, some people are getting those jobs. In fact, although people have a ~2% interview rate for online job applications on average, some TalentWorks subscribers have a 40%+ interview rate!

job-applicants-interview-rate-histogram.png

We call these folks our “A-List Talent.” What’s so special about them? What’s their secret? And is there anything you can learn from them?

We analyzed 4,000+ job applications and job applicants from the past few months and, using some fancy math and a bit of elbow grease, identified 13 key factors out of 100+ possible factors that drove up our A-List Talent’s interview rates. So, without further ado, let’s get to it: What can you learn from our A-List Talent’s super-high hireability to (finally) get that job you deserve in 2018?

Factors you can’t control

#3: Go back to school. [+22% BOOST]

going-back-to-school-job-search.png

Having a 2nd degree boosts your chances of getting an interview by +21.9%.

Why is this something you can’t (easily) control? I don’t know about you, but not everyone can put their life on hold, spend four years and tens of thousands of dollars of school in the hopes of getting a better job… four years from now.

Job Search Tip: Except in rare scenarios, you should not go back to school for a 2nd degree just to improve your job prospects. When you factor in opportunity cost, you usually come out behind — it’s just not worth it.

#2: Be older. (Or younger.) [+25% BOOST]

age-discrimination-job-search-tip.png

Age matters. A lot, sadly. Your chances of getting a job at age 20 are pretty bad. At 30, they’re OK. At 40, they’re getting bad again. It might be illegal, but age discrimination is very real.

The best age to get a job is between 28 and 35. During this time, you get a +25.1% hireability boost over everyone else. Up to age 28, your hireability is increasing by +9% every year. After age 35, your hireability drops by -8% every year.

But, here’s the rub: this is inferred age. Hiring managers (subconsciously) guess your age based on your graduation date, how much experience you have, etc. If you don’t show your graduation date, they can’t tell how old you are. If you only have your most recent 2-3 jobs listed, they can’t tell that you started working in the 1980s.

Resume Tip: Don’t list your graduation date if you’re older than 35. If hiring managers can’t guess your age, they can’t discriminate against you based on it.

#1: Be a woman. [+48% BOOST]

women-men-more-hireable-job-search.png

Resumes with obviously female names had a +48.3% higher chance of getting an interview. For example:

Ashley
Dana
Evelyn
Iris
Monica
Zoe

This effect was initially very surprising to us, but when you think it about it, it’s really not. Dozens of studies show that women often don’t get what they deserve (basically) because they don’t ask for it. This shows that, when women do ask for what they deserve, they’re often recognized for it.

In the past several months, women across the country have become more vocal about their rights, from standing up to sexual harassment to supporting each other in the workplace. Between the clear (data-proven) benefits of hiring women, that women are outperforming men in school, and the fact that most recruiters are women (who want to support other women), it makes 100% sense why women might be getting a boost when they apply for jobs.

Job Search Tip: To all the women out there who might question themselves, undervalue their contributions, or wonder if they truly deserve it, push through the discomfort and demand what you deserve (the job, the raise, the promotion). You miss 100% of the shots you don’t take but, at least with job applications, when you do take that shot, you’ll get a +48.3% boost over the competition.

Factors you can control

#10: Play buzzword bingo. [+29% BOOST]

adding-industry-buzzwords-resume-tip.png

Buzzwords, keywords, acronyms, industry jargon — call them what you want, but they serve a purpose. Beyond the usual reasons, they help you get past automated screening tools used by many big companies. But if you go overboard, the actual hiring manager might think you’re a tool (even if the robots don’t notice).

Resume Tip: Name-drop a buzzword every 3-6 sentences. Folks who dropped an occasional buzzword saw a +29.3% boost over others.

#9: Demonstrate results with numbers. [+40% BOOST]

concrete-numbers-resume-tip.png

I’ve personally hired 100+ people over my career and, during that time, I’ve probably personally reviewed 10,000+ resumes. Even if a resume passes your sniff test, the hardest thing is separating what’s real vs. what’s pink, fluffy, sugar-y cotton-candy-coated horsecrap. Quantifying how you made an impact with numbers goes a long way towards helping hiring managers tell them apart fast.

Resume Tip: Every 3 sentences, use at least 1 number to demonstrate your (concrete) impact. Folks who did that saw gain a +40.2% boost over their competition.

#8: Apply on Mondays. Don’t apply on Fridays. [+46% BOOST]

apply-on-mondays-job-search-tip.png

Enough said.

(Why are there so few applications on Fridays or Saturdays? ApplicationAssistant automatically optimizes dozens of variables for you, including when it applies for a job on your behalf.)

Job Search Tip: Apply on Mondays (+46.0% hireability boost). Don’t apply on Fridays or Saturdays.

#7: Don’t be a “Team Player.” [+51% BOOST]

This one’s a little counter-intuitive, so hold on.

dont-be-team-player-resume-tip.png

Everyone talks about how important teamwork is. And how our whole economy is becoming about sharing. And collaboration. Lots of it. It’s very cute.

When it comes to actually hiring someone though, the most collaborative candidates get penalized by -50.8% by hiring managers. If that doesn’t make sense, consider these

  1. Owned, analyzed and delivered on-time financial reports for business sub-unit A to management team on monthly basis.
  2. Collaborated with full analyst team to create monthly financial reports for management team.
  3. Assisted management team by creating monthly financial reports as a supporting member of the analysis team.

Who would you hire? (Or call for an interview?) In the 2nd and 3rd case, I have no idea what work you did (vs. free-loading off your team). Finally, many collaborative words also have passive, subordinate, weasel-word undertones.

Resume Tip: Don’t mention more than once or twice that you’re a “team player,” “results-driven collaborator,” “supporting member”, etc. This is associated with a +50.8% hireability boost over the competition.

#6: Take charge with leadership words. [+51% BOOST]

demonstrating-leadership-resume-tip.png

The converse of avoiding weasel words is also true. Adding strong, active, leadership-oriented words also helps you. Some of the words we detected as strong, active words:

communicated
coordinated
leadership
managed
organization

What I want you to get from that: You don’t have to be the CEO of your company to be a leader, and leadership doesn’t always mean managing people or huge budgets. Even if you’re just an intern somewhere, you can still demonstrate leadership traits by proactively communicating with co-workers. And your future bosses want to know that!

Resume Tip: Incorporate 1-2 leadership-oriented words every 5 sentences. Job applicants who used strong, active, leadership-words saw a +50.9% boost over the competition.

#5: Don’t use personal pronouns. [+55% BOOST]

personal-pronoun-resume-tip.png

People who used even one personal pronoun in their employment section (not the objective or professional summary section) had a -54.7% lower chance of getting an interview callback.

Resume Tip: Don’t use personal pronouns in your employment section. Ever.

#4: Include a Key Skills section. [+59% BOOST]

industry-buzzwords-total-number-resume-tip.png

You can’t name-drop enough skills, buzzwords and acronyms to get to the optimal number of skills without one.

Resume Tip: For most [*] people, you should add 15-20 skills, buzzwords, acronyms, etc. to your resume. This is associated with a +58.8% boost in hireability on average.

[*] There’s actually a really interesting effect going on here. There’s a clear, second sub-population of special folks for whom 30-40 skills, buzzwords, acronyms, etc. is the right number. More on that later.

#3: Apply in the first 4 days. [+65% BOOST]

We’ve already talked about being first-in-line for a job.

Resume Tip: Applying early gets you a +64.7% boost over your competition on average. (Although it can make up to an 8x difference for a single job application, most people aren’t applying at the worst possible time.)

#2: Apply between 6am and 10am. [+89% BOOST]

We’ve already talked about this too.

Resume Tip: Applying between 6am and 10am gives you an +89.1% boost over your competition. (As above, your competition isn’t applying at the worst possible time so you don’t get the full 5x boost every time.)

And, finally, the #1 most important factor you can control?

#1: Start your sentences with (distinct) action verbs. [+140% BOOST]

action-verbs-resume-tip.png

If you did anything worthy at a company, you’ll have done something. If you start the sentence describing what you did with an action verb, you’re off to a strong start. And if you describe the different things that you did at that company with different action verbs, you’ll have finished strong.

Say what? In short, say this:

Developed a world-positive, high-impact student loan product that didn’t screw over people after 100+ customer interviews.

Not this:

After 100+ customer interviews, the world-positive, high-impact student loan product was developed by me.

Resume Tip: Describe your job achievements with different action verbs. This one resume tip is is associated with +139.6% boost in getting more interviews.

(Why so few people in the baseline? Our ResumeOptimizer will automatically scan your resume and suggest places where you should use action verbs.)

P.S. A (small) corollary —

Getting a job you deserve is hard, yes. But, it’s not as hard as you think. And I can prove that.

Many folks think to get a better job they have to fundamentally change as a person, gain new skills, learn new habits, network for weeks, etc. And, sure, all of that helps.

But, look again at the #1 most effective tip: it’s about changing the words on your resume for a +139.6% boost. (And not even all of the words — it’s literally about changing the first word of each job achievement.)

On the other hand, look at what a second degree buys you: a +21.9% boost. It’ll cost you tens of thousands of dollars and years of effort, but you’ll get 6.4x more impact for something that’ll take you a few minutes.

Why am I spending precious sentences trying to prove this to you for a blog post that’s already pretty long? Because it’s January 6th. And you probably haven’t made good on your New Year’s Resolutions yet. We know two things:

  1. Every week you procrastinate your New Year’s resolution means you have a 24% lower chance of succeeding at it.
  2. The #1 most-important step to completing a task is to start it. (No, seriously. These folks have studied it.)

So, don’t procrastinate. Don’t put it off. It’s not some crazy, big life improvement project to (finally) get that job you deserve. Instead, it’s about making sure you apply at the right time, changing a few words, or adding a few numbers. Go get that job you deserve today! You can do it!

(We can help.)

Summary

So, to summarize: Go back to school. Be a woman. Be older. (Or younger.) Sorry, bad joke. Play buzzword bingo. Demonstrate results with numbers. Apply on Mondays. (Don’t apply on Fridays.) Don’t be a team player. Take charge with leadership words. Don’t use personal pronouns. Include a Key Skills section. Apply in the first 4 days. Apply between 6am and 10am. Start your sentences with (distinct) action verbs. (Phew! Trying saying that five times fast.)

Easy peasy. You got this, right? Great. Now do that for every job you have to apply to and we’ll pretty much guarantee that you get the job you deserve.

Or, you can sign up for TalentWorkswe’ll just take care of it all for you! (No, seriously. [*]) Let us help you keep your New Year’s Resolution.

[*] For most things, we can just automatically take care of it for you. For instance:

  • Our AI-driven ApplicationAssistant automatically optimizes the day of week, time of day & delay of your application so you don’t have to worry about keeping track of 100+ applications.
  • Our ResumeOptimizer will instantly scan your resume for all of the potential issues above in addition to dozens of others.

And our A-List Talent? Sure, some of them might be in especially high-demand fields but, more often than not, they’re people who’ve put in a few minutes to optimize their resume for their job search. You should too!


Methodology

Underlying Dataset

We took a random sample of 4,068 jobs, applicants and outcomes from recent activity on TalentWorks. For each case, we parsed their resumes with our ResumeParser, and annotated various applicant traits including gender, ethnicity, age, etc., and whether they had followed each of 70+ optimizations from our ResumeOptimizer.

Analysis

Using partial least squares decomposition against interview rate, we then identified 16 principal components from the above dataset. Finally, we hand-selected a subset of the top factors in the first two principal components as the final 13 key factors.

Visualization

We regressed the impact and estimated standard error of each factor across its domain using a composite Matern kernel. The results above are plotted with Bokeh on python.

Why Are We Doing This?

With ApplicationAssistant right now, we can boost the average job-seeker’s hireability by ~5x. But, what makes ApplicationAssistant work has been an internal company secret until now. We’re fundamentally a mission-driven company and we believe we can help more people by sharing our learnings. So, that’s exactly what we’re going to do.

Creative Commons

We’re not only sharing this but also sharing all of it under the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike license. In other words, as long as you follow a few license terms, this means you can:

  • Share: Copy, redistribute the material in any medium or format.
  • Adapt: Remix, transform, and build upon the material.

EDIT 2018-01-07 11am: Holy batman, viral post! In just 3 hours, we’ve been deluged by 100,000+ people wanting to learn more about the science behind the job search. Trying to get to everyone’s emails and comments ASAP.

EDIT 2018-01-07 2pm: We’re 6 hours and 250,000+ people in — wow! We’ll definitely be publishing a follow-up to this.

EDIT 2018-01-10: Since I simply couldn’t keep up with everyone’s comments, I wanted to address a few good technical questions that came up below and on Reddit:

  • We’re not trying to claim causation here. This was a 100% retrospective, correlation-based study. Although RCT-based studies are the gold standard and can establish correlation, they also require much more time and resources even after you know what to study. We’ll definitely be spending the time and money on teasing out causation in follow-up studies, but there’s still a lot of value in retrospective studies and we felt holding that back in a world where 51% of all 20-somethings are under-employed was just irresponsible.
  • We’re also not claiming that any one factor above fully explains the observed variance. In statistical terms, any single factor is independently a relatively weak predictor of your hireability [*]. However, when you account for multiple factors jointly, they are fairly strong predictor of hireability. Put another way, the coefficient of determination R^2 of the first two principal components described above is 0.719. For visualization simplicity above, we only graph one factor at a time.

[*] This makes sense, right? If you’re a Harvard MBA, we’re not claiming that applying on Fridays means you’re going to be forever unemployed.

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Looking Back on 2017: What I Learned on My Job Search and How I Plan to Rock 2018

2017…what a year. I can’t say I’m sorry to see it go! When my husband and I were both laid off over the summer, I had no idea how we were going to bounce back. Luckily, it wasn’t as bad as it could have been. We both found new opportunities within a couple months, which I’m very thankful for. 2017 will go down as the year I took the biggest risk in my career yet, and I’m still not quite sure how it will turn out. I guess I’ll find out in 2018.

Here’s what I learned during the great job hunt of 2017:

  • When they say the pay is “competitive”, sometimes they mean it’s competitive on Mars.
  • I got comfortable with saying “no”. Sometimes it even resulted in a better offer.
  • I started asking the questions I used to be too afraid to ask, such as how do you handle conflict as a manager? Regardless of the response, I got the answers I needed to make the best decision possible.
  • Sometimes they ask for a unicorn, but they’ll settle for a pony.
  • It’s okay if they don’t like what they see in me—having to be someone I’m not at work is way too stressful.
  • Being a comedian is probably not in my future, but I still love to make people laugh.
  • I need to work on listening to my instincts. There were a few times I ignored them this year (because I wanted them to be wrong) and ended up having a negative experience. Denial has never gotten me what I wanted in life.
  • If an employer is treating me poorly during the hiring process or they make commitments they don’t keep, I can walk away.
  • Sometimes what seems like a dream job is far from it. And sometimes a “boring” sounding job can be so much more than expected. I can’t judge an opportunity too soon.
  • I need to work for a cause I believe in—that’s when my best stories come out of me.
  • My cover letter and resume can always be better—even when I think I’ve nailed it this time.
  • Some employers will give you feedback when you ask how you can better present yourself (whether it’s your resume, portfolio, or interview skills). I asked for the first time this year—and the answer was almost never what I expected.
  • When describing my accomplishments, I embraced the importance of data and statistics and dropped the pointless adjectives.
  • Being a woman in a male-dominated profession (video production, in my case) is still an uphill battle. But it’s not one I intend to give up.
  • Being a woman with ADHD is a challenge. It’s also a gift—my imagination has no bounds, people.
  • Rejection still sucks—it will always suck—but the faster I move on, the faster I get over it. There will always be other opportunities.
  • I found myself disappointed a lot this year. Maybe I need to re-adjust my expectations or maybe I need to fight harder for change. More than likely, it’s a little of both.
  • Taking two part-time opportunities with two very different organizations isn’t exactly conventional, but the conventional route hasn’t taken me where I want to go so far. So, why not?

As I said above, I’m taking the unconventional route, splitting my time between two very different organizations—a start up and a large non profit—and writing for the awesome folks at TalentWorks. But I plan to go into 2018 with an open mind. I’m excited about all the possibilities. What stories will I dream up? What will I learn about these new industries I’m in? How many new people will I get to know and work with this year?

So, how do I plan to rock 2018? 

  • I’m going to keep asking questions. Why are we doing things this way? Can we do it better or more efficiently?
  • Being an introvert, it can be hard for me to develop new working relationships. But in 2017 I learned just how important those working relationships can be. I plan to make an extra effort to get to know my colleagues this year.
  • I’m going to push back when I need to, even when it’s intimidating.
  • I’m going to make it a point to learn something new.
  • I need to practice better self-care and set boundaries. In particular, this means not checking work email or thinking about work issues when I’m off the clock and making exercise, wholesome meals, and proper sleep a priority. I’m more productive at work and at home when I have “me” time.
  • No matter how well things are going, I know I can lose my job tomorrow. It’s time for me to start taking “saving for a rainy day” seriously.
  • If I find myself needing to hunt for a job, I’m going to be more selective about the roles I apply for. Unless I need a survival job, I’d rather wait to find the right job than take a role that’s wrong for me.

What about you? What did you learn this year in your job search that you’ll apply in 2018?

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All I Want for Christmas Is My Dream Job

With one rough year coming to a close and a new year ahead, a seemingly blank canvas, I’ve been doing a lot of dreaming. A lot of assessing where I am, how I got here, and what I want for my future. But I’ll leave that assessment for my next post.

Right now I want to dream with a mug of hot cocoa next to me. Care to join me in a little self-indulgence?

Most of us have to work for a living—there’s no escaping that. And, let’s face it, there are a lot of crappy jobs out there. But what if you could hop on a computer and design your dream job? What would it look like? What would you be doing? Sometimes, when we allow ourselves to dream, no holds barred, we realize what we think we want and what we actually want are very different.

My “dream” job looks different this year than it did last year. I’d been managing creative departments for a few years, and I was hoping to finally land my coveted role—Creative Director. Things didn’t go as planned. And you know what? It changed me. In fact, it changed my entire outlook on what I thought I wanted.

So, what does my dream job look like now?

  • I’m be doing what I love most in life—inspiring and being inspired. I’m a storyteller at heart, but I’m a restless storyteller. It’s not enough for me to just type words on a page. I want to create entire visual experiences. My dream job would involve telling stories through design, video, music, and photography.
  • No more 60-hour weeks. I want work-life balance, even if it means a salary cut or taking a less glamorous job title. A title is just that—a title. Being able to experience life on my terms, with those I love most, is more important than anything else.
  • I’m working for an important cause—anything involving animal rescue is a big passion of mine. But I’m also passionate about helping and inspiring others with disabilities and promoting youth literacy. I want more kids to read and I want them to dream big. If I can help make that happen, I will.
  • I have time to keep writing books for kids and young adults. The letters I get from young adults who’ve been helped in some way by my books inspire me to keep growing and keep dreaming. There are so many stories inside of me left to tell.
  • The people I work with don’t have to be perfect. We all get grumpy. We all disagree—life would be boring if we agreed all the time. But I like my team to be passionate about what they do, creative, and open to new ideas and perspectives. I thrive best in open communication environments where we are free to speak our minds and share our best ideas. We can laugh at ourselves and we aren’t afraid to be goofy just for the hell of it. Where people say – what can we do to make this better instead of this is just how things are. Change is possible if you want it badly enough.
  • A guacamole bar would be nice. Just sayin’.
  • A flexible work environment that lets me work where I’m most productive. Sometimes that’s having a brainstorming session with my team (in person), sometimes it’s at home, and sometimes it’s on top of a mountain. As long as the work gets done and we’re successful, does it really matter?
  • A manager or leader who has faith in me and my strengths. They give me autonomy and creative freedom in my area of expertise until I give them a reason not to.
  • Hiking meetings. Who says we can’t have a meeting, enjoy nature, and get some great exercise at the same time? Talk about efficiency.
  • Lastly, I’d like to bring my beloved cat (and best coworker ever) to my place of work.

Your turn! Tell us what your dream job would look like?

 

 

 

 

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2 Interviews I Totally Biffed and What I Learned from Those Moments

We all have those interviews we look back on and think—if only. If only I’d taken ten minutes to review the company website. I might’ve said something better than “um” when they asked me what I knew about them. If only I didn’t forget my portfolio. If only I’d sold my skills more. We all make mistakes, just like we burp at the most inopportune times. But, in my book, mistakes make us more interesting. I grow a lot more as a human being when I make them.

Here are 2 of my not so glamorous interview moments and what I’ve learned from each experience.

Interview 1: When I showed up with my shirt inside out.

Yes, I actually showed up to an interview with my shirt inside out. Granted, it was one of those dress shirts, where the “inside” isn’t immediately distinguishable from the “outside”. I mean, it’s something you’d notice if you weren’t running fifteen minutes late and didn’t grab the first thing out of your hamper.

But I was running late, because… Okay, I didn’t have a good reason. I simply got distracted and lost track of time. So, I showed up at 8:59am (the interview was at 9), short of breath, because it was one of those maze-like office buildings and the suite was the last door I came to. You know, just like when you’re late for a plane, your gate is pretty much guaranteed to be at the end of the terminal. I discovered my shirt was on inside out, tag hanging out and all, right before the interviewer appeared to greet me.

Can you imagine how I came off when we shook hands? I watched their lips move, but all I could think was—oh my god. My shirt is on inside out. Have they noticed? Just how bad does this look? Should I ask to use the restroom or will that make everything worse? It’s probably rude to ask that now and make them wait. I was so inside my own head, I didn’t even realize the interviewer had asked me a question. Now they were looking at me expectantly.

Me: I’m sorry – what was that?

Interviewer (looks at me like I grew an extra head): Did you find us okay?

Me: Oh, yeah!

As you can imagine, the interview didn’t go as well as I’d hoped. I was so distracted by my shirt that my normally cool and confident demeanor was replaced by nervous rambling.

What did I learn from this experience?

The importance of preparation, for one thing. These days, I make sure to pick out my interview outfit the night before and have it ready to go. I also put every interview on my Google calendar and have notifications turned on (I set mine to remind me thirty minutes before I have to leave). That way, when I get caught up in a project for a client, the latest book I’m working on, or even just a text conversation with a friend, I get a reminder to stop whatever I’m doing and start preparing to leave. So, if you’re easily distracted or have ADHD like me, you may want to consider setting reminders for yourself, even if it seems tedious or unnecessary.

When I come to an interview prepared, my mind is clearer and I just feel more confident.

Interview 2: When I let myself get rattled.

Sometimes interviewers don’t ask you the questions you expect. They throw things out at you to see how you respond. It first happened to me early in my career. We were having a standard interview until…

Interviewer: How many gas stations do you think there are in the city of Seattle?

Me: Um… I don’t know?

Interviewer: Take a guess.

Me: A hundred?

Interviewer: (smirks) Do you know the population of Seattle?

Me: Six hundred thousand or so?

Interviewer: So, you think there are a hundred gas stations in a city of six hundred thousand?

Me: I…honestly don’t know.

Interviewer: Well, how did you come up with that answer?

Me: The fact that I can never find a gas station when I need one?

Interviewer: (laughs) No, seriously. How’d you come up with that?

Me: Uh… (mind goes blank)

In that moment, I felt foolish. My answer must have been completely off the mark—why else would the interviewer look so amused, I thought. I didn’t realize that it wasn’t about the answer—it was about my thought process. But I’d let myself get rattled to the point of being speechless. For the rest of the interview, all I could focus on was how that one answer had completely did me in. Not surprisingly, I didn’t get a call back for a second interview.

Look, I don’t agree with that particular style of interviewing, even though I can see its purpose. I think it’s demeaning and not a great predictor of future performance or how well the candidate will fit into the role. I feel the same way about assessments. Not everyone tests well or fits into a neat little box. But some companies (and hiring managers) believe in them, so we, as candidates, either need to deal with them or refuse to move forward with companies that require them. Unfortunately, the latter isn’t an option for a lot of us.

What did I learn from this experience?

I realized that any interview I go on can have a curveball (or five) thrown at me, and I needed to learn how to take the unexpected in stride. It’s not about how fast I can answer a question. If I need time to answer a question, I ask for it. The world isn’t going to end if I don’t have the right answer. Like in the above example, it’s not even always about having the correct answer. It’s about how you handle the situation. Staying calm and having confidence in myself has made a huge difference in how frequently I get called back for second interviews.

How do I stay confident? I remind myself of my strengths. I also do my research on the many types of questions employers can ask and prepare myself for them. For example, when I schedule an interview with a company, I look them up on Glassdoor. Sometimes, under the Interviews tab, there are quite a few “reviews” from other candidates about their interview experience with the company, including what questions the hiring manager asked. This can often give me a clue about what to expect.

I’m always going to make mistakes. Some interviews just aren’t going to go well, no matter how much I prepare or how much experience I have under my belt. Maybe I didn’t sleep well the night before or I don’t mesh at all with the interviewer. Beating myself up over it isn’t going to do me any good. The only thing I can do is get back up, have a good laugh at myself, and move on to the next opportunity. After all, I want to find the right one for me.

Now it’s your turn. What interviews have you totally biffed and what did you learn from the experience?

 

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The Worst Types of Interviewers on Your Job Search: #3 The Flighty One

We’ve met The Downer and The Egomaniac. Well, hopefully you haven’t had the pleasure in IRL. If you have, my condolences. Have a piece of dark chocolate with me and laugh it off. As with most things in life, a bad interview can be a learning experience. At the very least, it’s a lesson in how not to interview when you’re on the other side of that desk.

Today, we’re going to meet another “worst type” of interviewer. The Flighty One.

Have you ever had an interview that went like this?

Interviewer: (Texting on cell phone) Hey—have a seat! I’ve just got to answer this real quick.

Candidate: Sure thing. (Sits down and waits)

Interviewer: (texting)

Candidate: (waiting)

Interviewer: (still texting)

Candidate: (staring at the parking lot outside. watching cars back up and drive away. so fascinating.)

Interviewer: Okay! Sorry about that. Sometimes people are so impatient. (rifles through the mountain of papers on desk) Hmm… I haven’t actually had a chance to go over your resume, Jenny. Why don’t you tell me about you?

Candidate: Well, my name is Jane, and I just graduated with a BA in Human Resources Management. I’ve been working part time as a human resources assistant at–

Interviewer: (cell phone rings) Sorry, Jenny. I’ve got to take this really quick.

Candidate: Oh, okay.

Interviewer: (hangs up after a five-minute conversation about weekend plans) You worked at that law firm on 7th, right?

Candidate: No… I’ve never worked at a law firm.

Interviewer: (laughs) Oh, sorry. I’ve been staring at resumes for days. I can’t even see straight! You’ve been in retail for a while—is that correct?

Candidate: Nope. That’s not me either.

Interviewer: Okay, Jenny. Let’s start over. Tell me about you!

Candidate: My name is Jane. Would you like me to spell it for you?

Oh, the things we wish we could say in these moments. The Flighty One might seem like a fun person to be around, if only they could remember your name. Can you imagine what they’d be like as a boss? Even if a hiring manager has interviewed twenty people that day, they should make knowing who you are (or at the very least your name) a priority. Making you wait while they take phone calls (unless they truly are urgent or emergencies), calling you by the wrong name, or not bothering to review your resume beforehand are all signs that hiring you isn’t a priority. You are just someone and they need to hire someone. And when they hire that someone, they will continue to be someone (until The Flighty One remembers that someone’s name—but don’t hold your breath). Someone will be given expired login credentials for every account, resend emails multiple times (because The Flighty One does not do searches), take on urgent projects that stop being projects a day later, and constantly remind The Flighty One there’s no front desk person because they haven’t hired one yet. This is how I imagine it, anyway.

Here are ways I’ve dealt with The Flighty One in an interview:

  1. I tell them I’ll wait while they review my resume. The last time an interviewer told me they hadn’t reviewed my resume yet, I handed them a copy of my resume and said I’d wait while they reviewed it. They gave me a strange look—but, hey, at least they stopped calling me by the wrong name.
  2. I’ve told them we could reschedule the interview, if they needed to. When a hiring manager is taking phone calls or stopping and starting our interview multiple times, I’m not afraid to ask if they want to reschedule. Yes, their time is valuable—but so is mine. They’ll either take me up on it or suddenly realize how they’re coming across. Okay, well, sometimes this doesn’t work at all—and they’ll say, no! Now is fine. In which case, you could consider walking out when they take their next phone call?  In all seriousness, sometimes forgetfulness and lack of focus is a sign that the hiring manager is overworked. There is the chance that, once they get some very needed help, they will learn your name and even appreciate what you do.
  3. I ask how busy they are. When I’m not sure if a hiring manager is oblivious or just overworked, I ask if they’ve got a lot going on and how the new hire might be able to help them. Sometimes it’s clear they are dealing with a difficult situation, and I need to cut them some slack. And other times…
  4. I vent to trusted friends and family. Let’s face it. The interview process can be brutal, and some employers can treat you very poorly throughout the process, from ghosting you after an interview to calling you by the wrong name. It’s normal to feel frustrated and angry. Sometimes you just need to get it all out!
  5. Onward and upward! When I have an interview with a hiring manager who doesn’t know my name, I try not to take it personally. Because it’s not about me—it’s about them. Maybe they are a really nice person who is horrible at multi-tasking and time management. Maybe they fully intended to review my resume, but the day—once again—got away from them. The best thing I can do is keep applying and scheduling more interviews. After all, some hiring managers not only know my name, they’ve looked up every book I’ve published and are full of positive feedback about my work. That’s always a pleasant surprise!

 

Have you ever had an interview like this? How did you respond? Feel free to share your story below!

 

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Yay-You Got a Job Offer! Now What?

You finally got the call. Maybe it’s an offer for your dream job, or maybe it’s for a job you’re less than excited about. Either way, you’ve got a big decision to make. Hopefully, you have at least a few irons in the fire—meaning you’ve been interviewing with other companies. When it comes to the job hunt, you want to have as many options as possible. Job offers can fall through for various reasons.

Early in my career, I’d accept job offers the moment they were offered to me. I was afraid they’d be offended and pull the offer if I said I wanted to think about it. And they just might. Some employers get pretty huffy when you don’t accept right away. But, for me, that sends up a huge red flag, and I’ve worked in enough not-so-great situations to pay attention. If they’re being this rigid now, what will they be like when I start working for them? Plus, why would they want you to make a rash decision? It’s better for both parties when you’ve had a chance to think everything through.

So, now that I’m older and wiser, here’s what I do when I get a job offer:

I let them know I’m grateful for the offer and that I’d like some time to think it over. Asking to think over an offer is not an unreasonable request, regardless of how an employer reacts. They will do what’s in their best interest, so you need to do what’s best for you. The length of time I ask for depends on the situation. If I’m more interested in other jobs I’ve interviewed for or I’ve received another offer, I ask for as much time as possible—but never more than a week. Most employers I’ve dealt with are at least willing to give me a couple days.

I contact other employers I’ve interviewed with and let them know I have an offer. Like I said, options are good. I don’t want to be asking myself what if or feel like I’ve been too hasty in accepting an offer. Seeing if there’s any other interest helps me feel like I’ve explored every possibility. If nobody else is interested, that makes my decision easier. But sometimes I do have other interest, which makes things a wee bit more complicated.

I ask for the offer in writing, information on benefits, and a copy of the employee handbook. A written offer doesn’t mean the job is a guarantee. But it does allow you to see all of the terms in writing, so there are no misunderstandings. I always ask for benefits information, so I can compare it with competing offers (if any) or just make the most informed decision possible. I also request the employee handbook, if the company has one. This can actually tell me a lot about the company culture. Are there a gazillion rules that remind me of grade school? If so, I’ll pass. Does it talk to me like I’m an adult who deserves the benefit of the doubt? That’s a definite plus.

I think about what is most important to me in a role and negotiate based on that. You can ask for the stars and the moon, but that doesn’t always mean you should. Remember salary is just part of the package, and it’s not the only thing you can negotiate. It’s good to do some research on what other people in your role are being paid, particularly in your area. Payscale.com is a great site for this. Salary isn’t the most important factor for me—although it’s important to me that I’m being paid what I’m worth. Let’s say I get two offers for jobs that interest me equally—Offer A and Offer B.

Offer A: Pays 50% medical insurance and gives 10 days of PTO. No remote work allowed.

Offer B: Offers 5k less than Offer A. Pays 100% of medical insurance and gives 20 days of PTO. Allows me to work remotely 1-2 days a week.

Work-life balance matters a lot to me, so I’d actually take Offer B. Those insurance premiums can add up, and the extra two weeks off makes a huge difference. Plus, I don’t have to deal with commuting every day of the week (yay for less stress), which will help me save on gas.

Would I still try and get Offer B to come up on salary? Sure. I’d ask if they could match Offer A. And sometimes, I get a nice surprise and they do! But sometimes they simply can’t or won’t go any higher. At that point, I try to negotiate other perks, such as more PTO or remote days (if they don’t offer them). The worst they can do is say no. Well, I guess the worst they can do is rescind the offer, but—frankly—I wouldn’t want to work for an employer who responded that way to reasonable requests. And that’s the key. Keep it reasonable. Don’t ask for 100k when the market rate for your role is 50k. Don’t ask for paid summers off, a new car, and a trip to Hawaii. Use common sense and be ready to tell them why they should pay you more.

I ask any final questions I have. Now is the time to ask anything else you’d like to know. After all, this is a big decision. When I’m debating between job offers, these final questions will often swing me one way or another.

Remember—you need to look out for you. Know your worth and stand by it. Ask the questions you need to, and take heed if an employer refuses to answer them. If you’re feeling anxious or uneasy about an offer, trust your gut. It’s easy to shove those feelings away, because you want and need an opportunity to work. I’ve totally been there. But I can’t say ignoring my instincts has ever worked for me. On the other hand, a job that fills you with excitement and anticipation is worth checking out, even if it’s not perfect. I dare you to show me a job that is!

How do you handle job offers? Share your story below!

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8 Ways to Rock Your First In-Person Interview

So, you dazzled them during the phone interview, and they’ve invited you in for the next step… An in-person interview with the hiring manager. First off, congratulations! It’s not easy to make it even this far, so pat yourself on the back for all the hard work you’ve done to get here.

It’s time to remove the cat slippers and those soft thermal pants and slip into something stiff and uncomfortable aka professional attire. Nobody said the job hunt was easy. You’ll have to assume the employer is interviewing at least a few other people—maybe it’s five or maybe it’s fifteen. It really depends on the job and the people in charge of hiring. Either way, from a purely statistical standpoint, the odds of getting the job are still against you.

I don’t get an offer for every job I interview for (far from it), but in the last two months, I’ve gotten six job offers, and I’ve made it to the final stages with several other places. This wasn’t always the case for me. Getting to this point, where I got to choose between multiple offers, has taken a lot of work and growth on my part. And let’s just say I’ve made a few mistakes along the way (which I’ll save for another post).

So, how have I helped improve my odds over the years? Here are 8 things I do to try and rock my first in-person interview.

1. I do my research and come prepared. I actually do research before I apply, so I can personalize my cover letter. It’s also a great idea to visit the company website and learn what they do before a phone interview or prescreen. By the time you’re invited for an in-person interview, though, you really should come in knowing your stuff. What does the company do? What is their mission? Where do they need help and how can you help them? You should also bring extra copies of your resume, because it’s very common to interview with multiple people. Show up prepared and ready to offer suggestions, and you’ll most likely have a leg up on other candidates.

2. I aim to show up ten minutes early. I know there’s conflicting advice out there. Show up early—but not too early. I think people stress way too much over this. Just get there before your appointment and don’t be ridiculously early. You can always wait in your car or go for a walk to kill time—no biggie. Ten minutes works for me, because it gives me enough of a cushion to get lost (which happens even with the robot lady yelling at me to turn left, turn left!) It also gives me enough time to decompress in the waiting area, but not enough time to overthink anything.

3. I keep it real. Your personality and how well your interviewers relate to you can have a huge impact on whether or not they decide to hire you. People can tell when you’re faking it, and it makes everyone in the room uncomfortable. Early in my career, I tried to be the person I thought they wanted me to be. I acted all bubbly (I’m so not a bubbly person), and I said things, like, sure, I love talking on the phone (I’d rather clean bathrooms). The end result was what you’d expect. If I landed the role, I was exhausted and miserable trying to be someone I wasn’t.

Look, sometimes you need that survival job. So, do what you’ve got to do. But don’t stop looking for something that’s a better match for you. It might take some patience and persistence, but your happiness is important. Unless you need a survival job, it’s better to let hiring managers see who you really are. I’m a laid-back person (with a goofball streak), and I tend to be a calming and grounding influence on a team. I also love making people laugh. Some hiring managers love that about me, and others want someone who is more extroverted and energetic. And you know what? I’m glad we can figure that out during the interview. It’s much better to land on a team where they need me—not someone else. Also, don’t lie about or exaggerate your qualifications. I know it’s tempting when employers post ads, demanding a superhuman set of skills. But here’s the thing. I’ve seen this come back to bite many people. If you haven’t mastered a skill that is important to the job, you’re going to be stressed out of your mind trying to fake it, and they’re going to figure it out. A better way to handle the situation is to say something like, “I don’t have a lot of experience in that area, but I want to learn more. I’d be happy to take some trainings.” Remember—taking the wrong job makes it that much harder to find the right job.

4. I try to make it a conversation instead of an interview (if possible). Some interviewers are more open to a back and forth dialog than others. Sometimes they must stick to the list of questions in front of them. I go with the flow here and take my cues from the interviewer. Are they super serious and just wanting answers? Have they joked around with me? Are the questions more casual and conversational? Regardless of the situation, I do try and ask questions when I have the opportunity. More often than not, this can turn a stiff and formal interview into more of a conversation, which is a lot more pleasant, and it (hopefully) makes you more memorable.

5. I try to give thorough but focused answers. I’m a rambler by nature, and most interviewers really don’t like it when we ramble. It makes us seem nervous or unsure of ourselves. I’ve worked on this pesky habit of mine by recording myself answering questions. Is that a completely dork thing to do? Probably. But it’s a dork thing that works for me, so I’ll take it. If you’re a rambler, an um—uhher, or you turn into a deer-in-headlights, I recommend doing this. Make a list of common interview questions, hit record on your cell, and practice your answer. Make sure your answer is easy to understand and completely focused on the topic at hand. It might take you three tries—or a hundred (nobody has to know), but at some point you’ll get there. Need an example?

A not-so-good answer:

Interviewer: Tell me about a time you dealt with a really difficult customer. How did you handle it?

Me: Well, uh… Um… Oh, wow. I don’t know. This is hard. Okay, well. Yeah… There was this one time when a lady was seriously pissed about her credit card being declined. And her hair was, like, sticking straight up. I mean, it was winter and super dry in there. They always had the heater way too high, and we were constantly getting shocked. I mean, constantly. Oh, and it made my co-worker’s asthma way worse. He had to quit. So, yeah, anyway, she was really pissed. I stayed calm and told her there wasn’t anything we could do. Oh, and I offered to call her bank and let her talk to them and then we were able to figure it out.

A better answer:

Interviewer: Tell me about a time you dealt with a really difficult customer. How did you handle it?

Me: Sure, give me a moment to think about that.

Interviewer: Of course.

Me: Okay, one time a lady became very upset when her credit card was declined. She was yelling and causing a scene. I listened and told her it’s happened to me too and I get how frustrating it can be. I offered to dial up her bank and let her talk to them—and she calmed down and took me up on it. They’d flagged the transaction as suspicious activity, so she was able to clear it up. She thanked me for being so patient with her.

If you need a moment to think about an answer, don’t be afraid to say so. It’s much better to take a moment and compose yourself. Otherwise, you risk giving them a play-by-play of your every thought.

6. I’m not afraid to share my strengths. I used to have a hard time selling myself. I was afraid I’d come across as arrogant—and it’s better to be humble, right? Not so much. Confidence sells. Which plumber would you hire? The one who says, “I’m pretty sure I can fix the leak. I mean, I’m not the best plumber on the planet or anything. But I try really hard, and I can give you a great discount.” Or the one who says, “The fittings on your pipes are faulty—they were recalled a few months back. I’ve got a lot of experience replacing these and can recommend some good options.”  There’s a way to share your strengths without coming across as cocky. The trick is to show, not tell. Don’t just say “I’m the best marketer ever.” Talk about the challenges you faced and how you conquered them.

7. When I am invited to ask questions, I ask these questions. Remember to always have questions. You are there to assess the company and the role as much as they are there to assess you.

8. I reiterate my interest in the role. If I’m still excited about the role after our conversation, I make sure and let them know. I also tell them to feel free to reach out to me if they have any further questions.

What interview techniques have worked well for you? Tell us your story below!

 

 

 

 

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Job Seekers: Don’t Underestimate the Phone Interview

It finally happened. An actual human being sent you an email about a job you applied for. They say the magic words—we want to learn more about you. Let’s schedule a call. In larger companies, this email may come from a recruiter or HR person, and the call is a prescreen for the hiring manager.  But sometimes, especially when you’re dealing with a start-up or a smaller company, the email comes from the hiring manager. Regardless of whether you’re speaking with someone in HR or the hiring manager themselves, it’s still an interview. Their first impression of you. You need to stand out from all the other candidates who’ve made it to the prescreen stage.

In my younger job seeker days, I didn’t prepare as well for phone interviews as I should have. My goal was to pay my rent, and I didn’t have a lot of experience under my belt, so I focused more on the quantity of jobs I applied to instead of taking my time to research each company and figure out if I’d be a good fit. I assumed that the HR person would fill me in on the nitty gritty details. After all, it was just a prescreen. They didn’t expect me to know everything about the company, right?

Yeah, don’t be like young me. Take the initial phone interview as seriously as you would a first in-person interview (but you can totally wear your pajamas). In fact, since they can’t see your body language and facial expressions, a phone interview is a unique beast. Sarcasm, for example, might not be perceived as such, and your enthusiasm might not come across as well.

So, how do you rock a phone interview? Here are 5 things I’ve done that helped me move on to the next stage:

1. I’m more selective about the roles I apply for. I get it. When you need a job, you need a job. And those applicant tracking systems seem like they take years from your life. You figure the more jobs you apply to, the better your odds of finding something quickly. Who has time for research? But this method can lead you to landing the wrong role and looking for another job much sooner than you’d like.

Read the job descriptions thoroughly and pay a visit to the company’s website. If they sell vacuum cleaners, and you have a vacuum cleaner phobia, you probably want to skip applying. It’s a waste of their time and yours. It’s also important to make sure you are passionate about the company’s mission or at least have an interest in the products or services they offer. Enthusiasm is a lot easier to demonstrate…when you actually have it.

2. I express why I’m interested from the start. I actually do this in my cover letter—mention why I’m specifically interested in the company I’m applying to and highlight any relevant background I have. But I make sure to reiterate this early on during the phone interview. Here’s an example:

Interviewer: Hi, Tara. Is now still a good time to chat?

Me: Definitely. I’m glad we have a chance to speak further.

Interviewer: Great! What do you know about us so far?

Me: Well, I know you save the lives of a lot of animals every year, and you’re struggling to reach a wider audience. That’s why I’m so excited about this opportunity. I’ve volunteered at shelters for years, and I’ve been a foster mom many times. Promoting animal welfare is important to me. There are so many stories to tell and get out there. I want to make sure you and the animals you rescue are heard.

When you’re passionate about the service or product an organization offers, people can hear it in your voice. You won’t have to fake excitement (which most interviewers can pick up on right away), and authenticity goes a long way.

3. I research what the company does and try and determine how I can help them. It’s never too soon to let a company know how you can help solve their problems. In fact, your cover letter is a great place to mention it. The phone interview might be shorter and less in-depth than a second or third interview—but it’s also 2017. They do expect that you’ve at least visited their website and have a basic idea of their mission and what they do. In the vast majority of my phone interviews, “what do you know about us?” is often one of the first questions they ask. Like I said, I got caught off guard by that question early in my career—and it was a cringe-worthy moment. You see, I tried to be all sly and go to their website while we were on the phone. Only I mistyped the web address and went to the wrong site (with an almost identical name). I bet you can guess how that went. Preparation, my friends. It really is a good thing.

4. I’m not shy about asking questions. Even if I’m talking to a recruiter, I prepare a list of questions. Usually a recruiter can’t answer technical questions about the role or go in-depth about what your day-to-day might look like, but they can answer more general questions, such as what the culture is like, company goals, and why the role is open. Having a few initial questions during your phone interview is a genuine way to show your enthusiasm and interest. It’s clear that you’re prepared, and you’re assessing them as much as they’re assessing you.

5. I reiterate my excitement about the role and ask about next steps before hanging up. If I’m still interested in the job after our conversation, I let them know before we say goodbye. And since it sucks to be left hanging, I also ask about possible next steps and what their timeline looks like. Usually they will say something to the effect of “We need to confer with the hiring manager, but you can expect to hear from us by the end of the week if we’re moving forward.” Fair enough. Granted, there can often be delays—so don’t get too discouraged if you don’t hear from them when you were supposed to. Delays in the hiring process are so very common.

You can’t control the outcome of any phone interview you have, no matter how much you prepare and dazzle them with your ideas. You can only control what you do. So, prepare as best you can for that first phone call and let the conversation take you from there. Sometimes I could tell a role wasn’t a good fit within the first couple minutes. And you know what? I was straight up about it. For example, if they brought up salary right away (some employers bring it up first thing), and it was a lower range than I could accept, I’d ask if they could come up to my range. Sometimes the conversation ended there. That’s cool – no hard feelings. Then there are the cases where you feel a connection immediately. It’s more of a conversation than an interview, you talk about your favorite moments from Buffy (this has happened to me a couple times), and the benefits are killer (come on, that always helps, right?)

At the end of the day, trust your gut and how you feel after hanging up. Is your stomach knotted up with anticipation and excitement or do you feel queasy? If it’s the former, I’m keeping my fingers crossed you’ll be invited to move on to the next step soon! Otherwise, keep applying and moving forward—you want to work for the employer who gets you and loves your ideas.

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