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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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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