PSA: Sarah’s Tips for Applying for Jobs – The Interview

In my last post, I talked about my personal pet peeves, as a hiring manager, for resumes. Based on the feedback I received, many agree or had an “a ha!” moment realizing they might have some tweaks to make to their own resume!

Once you have your resume in a good spot, it’s time to think about the interview. There is no one right way to approach an interview but it is important to do a little bit of planning ahead of the big day. As with everything in life, a little leg work goes a long way.

Think of an interview like a first date – you want to make a good impression in order to get another one!

Preparation

Prepare for the conversation. You don’t know what questions you’re going to be asked but you do know the interviewer will want to know what you’ve done in your work history. Have some examples ready that you think highlight your skills. Having more than 1 example in mind is best. If you use the same one for every answer, it will appear that you don’t have very much experience.

Be ready for anything. I once knew a manager who asked “Which is better, Bud Light or Busch Lite?”. Obviously it’s not really about your beer preference. What the interviewer is looking for is how you react to a curveball and how creative you can be in your answer. If you say, “I prefer Bud Light.” and leave it at that, you’re missing the point. Instead, get creative! Talk about the appropriateness of each one on different occasions and why, or equate each one to a project team member and highlight their strengths. Sky’s the limit (just don’t portray yourself as an alcoholic….in an interview or on a date).

Have conversation starters of your own ready. To be honest, it’s kind of a turn off to me when I open up the interview for the candidate to ask me questions, and they have nothing. There are a million different things you can ask, from company structure to culture to travel requirements to expectations. Have a handful ready! Also, I try to be conversational in interviews to put the other person at ease. But, if you’re really stiff or serious and can’t keep the dialogue going, you’re probably not going to work on my team.

Make sure you know where the event is taking place. Is it a phone or in person interview? Is it in the office or at a coffee shop or restaurant? If it’s over the phone, make sure you have the time blocked off on your calendar and are able to go to a quiet place where you’re free to talk openly. For the love of Pete, please do not participate in an interview from your desk at your current job (or for that matter in a mall, restaurant or park). You’ll be limited in what you can say, there will be background noise and, well, it’s just tacky. If it’s in person, make sure you know how to get there so you’re not late. Drive there the day before if you have to so that you can adjust for construction, detours, parking issues, etc. If it’s at a place with food or drink, plan ahead and know what you’re going to order. That’s one less thing to distract you when you’re there for real.

Research the other person. Find out who the interview is with, their name and how to pronounce it. If possible, find out their position in the company so you are prepared to interview with an individual contributor vs. a manager versus a C-level.

Don’t OVER prepare. Relax. You’ve done the prep work, you’re ready. Don’t psyche yourself out. Nerves or arrogance will all come through during the interview so do your best to stay calm and carry on!

The Big Date

The day is here! Your chance to earn a new job! How exciting! You’ve done all the right preparation steps and now it’s time to strut your stuff. No matter how prepared you are, you can still tank an interview by making silly mistakes. Read on for tips on dodging some potential landmines!

Dress appropriately. Regardless of the dress code for that company, YOU should look professional. I don’t care if the interviewer is wearing jeans and a t-shirt, you should dress up. Also, keep it conservative and neutral. You may have a killer hot pink shirt or sexy studded stilettos or fun suit coat with palm trees on it, but this isn’t the occasion to wear them. Save those for another time. If it’s something you’d wear to the club, don’t wear it to an interview.

Photo courtesy of Univ. of Hawaii

Introduce yourself first and say your name. I mentioned in my resume tips that if you have a hard to pronounce name, it’s a good idea to phonetically spell it out. Anything you can do to help the interviewer and avoid awkwardness is appreciated. Same goes for the interview. Answer the phone with, “Hi, this is Chris” so they know you don’t go by Christopher. If you’re in person, approach the interviewer with confidence and say “Hello, I’m T’Challa, nice to meet you” so they can hear the right way to say your name. If you just say “Hello!” and that’s it, I then have to ask, “Is this T’Challa?” and stumble over how to say it. This happened to me once and it was terribly awkward. I don’t like to feel awkward so we’re already starting off on a bad foot. Sounds like a little thing but believe me, it can go a long way.

Respect the time. Understand that everyone is busy and you only have a certain amount of time allotted to this interview. As such, keep your answers clear but concise. There is nothing worse then someone who talks on and on and on. I guarantee you lost the other person’s interest after the first minute or two and now they’re thinking about all the other work they have to do or what they’re going to have for dinner or replaying that episode of Walking Dead they watched the night before. Be especially mindful of time if they have specifically told you to keep your answers timeboxed. I will actually do this as a test to see if the person will honor the request and follow directions. If you don’t, shame on you!

Don’t be tight-lipped. While you don’t want to drone on and on, you also don’t want to give too short of an answer that misses the mark. I asked someone what they thought were the most valuable skills of a project manager and of those skills, which ones they were the strongest at. The answer I got was, “Communication and planning. I’m good at both.” While technically they did answer the question, they really didn’t give me much to go on. Why are those 2 skills important? What do communication and planning do to benefit a project? What in particular do you do in those two areas that make them a strength? There’s a fine balance between too much and not enough. It’s important to find that balance.

Remember those examples you prepped ahead of time? Break them out! The more you can share real life scenarios, the better.

Know your audience. I mentioned above that it’s important to know who you’re interviewing with. This is also good to keep in mind during the interview itself and with how you answer your questions. I once asked someone what they are passionate about and what they look forward to each day. Their answer? “A good day is when I don’t get an email from my manager.” As the person that could be their future manager, that answer was very off-putting. It also calls in to question why they don’t like hearing from their manager. Are they the kind of person who often gets in trouble by management? Do they need constant supervision? Do they not respect authority? None of these are the questions you want someone to ask about you so be respectful and thoughtful with your answers and your audience.

Be amazingly humble. As with everything, you have to find a balance between being confident but not cocky; humble but not incompetent. An interviewee told me last week, “I’m good at this. It’s what I do.” Bleck. You may be the most awesome person in the history of this profession but don’t brag to me about it. Prove it. Also, while admitting mistakes is admirable, I don’t need to hear in every answer what you’ve done wrong. Save those for the inevitable “What are your weaknesses?” question.

[A tip on the weakness question: find something that is a legit weakness but one that’s not super bad. Like don’t say, “I’m always late and never get to work on time” or “I have a tenancy to lose my patience quickly”. Neither of those can be spun in a good light. And wherever you choose, make sure you speak to how you compensate for that weakness.]

Remember those questions I said to prepare? Use them! Ask the ones that you feel make sense. This is your chance to find out about the job, the company and the manager. Ask them their management style. Find out the company culture. Learn what the expectations of you would be in the first 3, 6 or 9 months on the job. The interview isn’t just about them liking you. This is also your chance to decide if you like them.

When you’re all done, thank them for their time…and mean it. Walk away with your head held high and always leave them wanting more. A recent interview I conducted was like this. The gal was very personable, easy to talk to and it felt like I was chatting with an old friend. I didn’t want the time to end. That’s how it should be. Make them like you so much that they don’t have choice but you bring you back in.


Now that you know my interview suggestions, next time I’ll talk about ways to find a job, a long with tips for working with agencies.

PSA: Sarah’s Tips to Applying for Jobs – The Resumé

Applying for jobs. Writing resumes. Having interviews. We’ve all done it. We’ve all written one. We’ve all sat through those.

As a hiring manager, I’ve posted jobs. Read resumes. Conducted interviews.

I’ve seen some good. I’ve seen some great. I’ve also seen some bad and some REALLY bad.

I’m currently hiring and have spent the last week of my work life combing through resumes, scheduling interviews and doing phone screens. Throughout this process I’ve noted in my head pet peeves and irritations I have. Things that I see a lot of. I got to thinking, why do people do that?! Don’t they know hiring managers hate it? Don’t they see how it makes them look bad? Then I realized they probably don’t know that we hate it! So I decided to compile my list of irritants and share it with the world.

Keep in mind these are all solely my opinion and there could be others who would disagree with me. But I’d bet large sums of money that a majority of managers would back me up on most of these. So if you’re thinking about putting yourself out there and looking for something new, take a gander at these tips. They might just help you avoid a potential hiring landmine!

For this post I’ll focus on the resume only. In subsequent posts I’ll dive in to interviews and working with hiring agencies.

Resume Do’s and Dont’s

Don’t write a novel. Keep it to 1 page front and back. I don’t need your entire work history. I honestly only care about the last 10 years or so and I don’t have time to read page after page after page. Anything older than that is irrelevant now. When I am reading resumes, I only read the first 2 pages. If I don’t see what I need in those 2 pages, I won’t see it in anything after. Visa versa, if I see strong experience up front, I don’t need to read 4 more pages to confirm it. Do everyone and the planet a favor and keep it condensed (yes I print them out. More on that later).

Do list out your responsibilities at each job. I noticed this time around that there seems to be a new trend of resumes which list companies and projects only without saying what a person did on that project. That’s great that you were part of a team that enhanced the client digital experience! What an accomplishment for the team! But – what did you do on that team? I don’t care if your title says “Project Manager”. That can mean a million things to a million people. Tell me the specifics of that job. Did you organize and lead the work? Did you make decisions on the scope? Did you have people manager responsibilities? Did you bring everyone coffee and snacks? Did you order take out? I need to see details of your individual achievements and work responsibilities. Not down to the gnat’s ass but the relevant and good stuff. If I don’t know what you did, I can’t hire you.

Don’t copy and paste someone else’s resume and change the details. I can tell when a “cookie cutter” resume comes across my desk because it looks like 5 other resumes that I already have, with very generic tasks (“Communicated status”) and a lot of buzz words (“Led JAD sessions”). That’s an immediate no. Sometimes hiring agencies reformat your resume in to their template which can be a disservice to you if their template sucks (and because all their other clients have the same one). You end up blending in and you want to stand out. More on hiring agencies in a later post.

Also, Don’t use buzz words. Just don’t.

Do provide examples of how specific actions you took (see #2) led to a win for the company. Not just any win (i.e. “saved the company money” or “came in on time and under budget” <— buzz word alert!) but specific wins. Maybe by adjusting your meeting cadence you were able to free up time for resources and therefore exceed your stakeholders expectations for delivery. Cool! I want to know that!

Don’t inflate your title. I don’t really care or believe that you are the Sr. Executive Vice President of Business Analysis. Likely that role doesn’t even exist. Yes some companies (*cough* banks *cough*) hand out fancy titles like it’s National Donut Day but when it comes to your resume, just list out what you really are and what you really do. If you really ARE the Sr. Executive VP of Business Analysis and you’re applying for a regular old BA job, what does that say? Are you stepping down? Are you not good at the executive level you’re at? If I hire you, will you act like you’re better than everyone else? It raises a lot of questions of doubt that you don’t want a hiring manager thinking. Don’t plant the seed.

Do proofread. And than do it again. And then have a friend do it. And then have your really annoying and OCD friend who always corrects everyone elses grammar, use of terms and spelling do it. You know the one that replies to your Facebook post with comments like “it’s ‘to’, not ‘too'”. Nothing turns me off of a resume faster then one filled with avoidable mistakes. One or 2 I can maybe overlook if everything else is really good. Although in the age of technology, even that is pushing it. But beyond a couple, sorry your out. If you can’t even make sure you’re resume is quality, how can I trust that your work will be? [bonus points if you can find all the grammatical errors I made in the above paragraph. Did it drive you crazy to read it? Yeah, me too.]

Don’t use serif fonts. OK this might be my own personal pet peeve that doesn’t bother anyone else and it’s likely my graphic design background coming in to play. If you don’t know, serif fonts are the ones with the small lines at the end of the characters. To me, it looks dated and messy. Humor me. Look at the example below with the same sentence typed using Times New Roman (first one) and then Arial. Doesn’t Arial, the sans-serif font, look so much cleaner and easier to read? That’s what you want – to make it easy for someone to read how great you are. Keeping the font type clean will go a long way toward that.

fonts

Do provide guidance on how to pronounce your name, if it’s warranted. This will help if you make it to the interview stage (more on that in the next post). You don’t have to phonetically type out your name if it’s ‘Sarah’ or ‘Bob’ or ‘Susan’. I got those figured out. But if it’s ‘Porzia’, I might need help. Do I say it like the car (“Pour-sh-a”) or as it’s written (“Pour-zee-a”). If I don’t know, it could make things really awkward.

That’s it. That’s my main list. See – nothing too outrageous. Notice I didn’t suggest you videotape your resume or send in a box of candy with accomplishments taped to each piece. While that would be memorable (and yummy!), it’s not necessary. Simple is good. Less is more (unless you’re applying for a job with a movie production company or candy store).

Here’s a sneak peak in to my resume review process:

Typically I get a bunch of resumes coming in at once. I will print them all out. I know, I know. Killing trees. Maybe I’m old school but I like to write on them. I will jot down notes with questions that I might want to remember for an interview or note concerns I have. I also highlight key words that jump out at me because they’re skills I’m looking for. As stated before, I generally only read the first 2 pages due to time constraints (and a short attention span). Once I make a decision, I’ll denote “Yes” or “No” on the top. If it’s a no, I’ll write down a few reasons why so that I can give feedback to the candidate or hiring agency.

But before I do any of that, I cover up the name. This is something I’ve just recently started doing and found it very effective. Why do I block out the name you ask? Because I don’t want to be biased by it. I don’t want someone’s gender or ethnicity to influence my decision. Admittedly, I might give a woman more of a chance than a dude. Power to the chicks! But this would be wrong and unfair. So if I don’t know who it is then it puts everyone on equal ground.

So now you know what my pet peeves are for resumes, as well as what could make yours stand out. Again, these are all my own opinion, culled from years of reviewing hundreds of resumes. I hope they are helpful or at least got you thinking.

Now. You followed my tips and lo and behold got an interview! Congrats! But what bugs me in interviews? Click here to find out!

Up up and away

I love to travel. I also love to people watch. Flying gives me the opportunity to do both.

I’ve never been one to sleep on planes. I can’t relax enough. I get too keyed in to the noise around me….people talking and moving around in their seats, papers shuffling, rifling through bags, coughing, etc. Plus I get paranoid about people watching me or doing things to me. Hey, don’t judge.

Since I don’t sleep, I’ll usually read. Most of the time that’s enough to fill the time.

That wasn’t the case on my most recent flight though. I was on a flight from Omaha to Newark and it was about 3 hours. Not terribly long, but long enough. I read for about an hour. Closed my eyes for a few minutes but to no avail. A girl’s gotta try. So, that’s when the people watching kicks in. I watch and observe and put together stories in my mind as to what their lives are like.

First there was my seat mate. Here are the deets:

  • Early 30’s and married
  • Dress is casual but hip – dark wash jeans, salmon colored button up
  • Thin build with a shaved head.
  • He is reading a book on how to grow and stretch yourself on the job.
  • Old Timex watch
  • Unfriendly – never said a word to me the whole flight
  • Germaphobe. At one point, he bumped me with his elbow while getting his book out and immediately recoiled and wiped his elbow. A bit later, when handing the stewardess some trash, his arm grazed mine twice and he visibly shifted in his chair, wiped his arm, and I think he might have shuddered.
  • But, he has B.O.

Here’s the story I made up in my head about him.

His name is Ethan. He’s married to Alisha and they have 2 little kids. He has a job where he has to travel a lot, probably a consultant of some kind, and he’s trying to climb his way up the ladder. He wife buys his clothes because she wants him to be trendy and look good at work. He’s gotten used to it. The job requires him to interact with people to get sales. That doesn’t come naturally to him. He is introverted but forces himself to be extroverted at work. All that “show” is exhausting so he only does it when he has to. He doesn’t like all the travel but it’s necessary. Airplanes are full of germs. Hotels are full of germs. At least he gets a lot of Hyatt points. Also, flying makes him nervous… and a 3 hour flight? Deodorant failure waiting to happen. He senses that he’s a little ripe so he physically moves away from me on the plane. He’s embarrassed by it. Appearance and impressions are everything. Besides, what could he have in common with a tatted up chick? It’s best to keep reading until the flight is over.


On the flight home, I sat next to a lady who wanted to talk but was socially awkward. I tried to be nice and chat some but also give her hints that I wanted some space and not to be bothered. She did not get the hints.

  • Late 40s or early 50s, married with 2 older kids (she told me this)
  • Long blonde hair, partially pulled back. It’s starting to come loose though
  • She’s wearing peach pants and a matching cardigan, with a flowered shirt underneath
  • She has a half empty cup of ice in the seat pocket, a long with a big black binder and file folder
  • She’s looking at her phone but is turned so that she is leaning against the wall and holding the phone toward me me…almost like she is filming me with it
  • She squirms a lot

Here is her story:

Her name is Ellen. She works for a transportation company doing research. She travels around the country meeting with buyers. Her husband is an accountant and works a lot…all the travel has made them estranged. Her oldest is off to college and her youngest is starting high school. She has ADHD. It’s hard for her to sit still and concentrate, especially on a long flight. She tries to do some work but gets bored. She looks to see what I’m doing (which is reading) and turns so that she can read it too. She’s also very nosy. She’s curious about me so she starts asking random questions….how long have I been married? Do I have kids? Why am I traveling? Where do I work? When I turn back to my book, she shifts in her seat and tries to sleep. She’s tired from the week away but can’t quiet her mind. She thinks about home and her family. Her son will be working or out with friends when she gets home. Her daughter probably locked in her room watching TV. Her husband will be in his home office working. No one will even notice when she returns home. She’s lonely. She thinks about next week and how she’ll be traveling again. She needs a break. She turns to me and smiles a sad, tired smile and says she is glad to be home. It sounds forced and she knows it.


I wonder what stories people make up about me? Do they think I travel a lot? Do they wonder if I’m a badass because I have a tattoo on my wrist? Do they observe me reading and not talking and assume I am quiet and introverted? Do I look like a wife and mom? Do I look like someone in technology or in management?

I guess we never know what impressions we give off to others and how accurate their assumptions are. We’ll probably never know. And how easy it is to change those impressions by simply changing what you wear, what you do, what you eat, or how you act.

Who do you want to be on your next flight?

Night Crawler

There are many unspoken rules in life. Don’t interrupt people when they’re talking. Don’t ask a women if she’s pregnant when you’re not sure. Always answer the question, “Does this make me look fat?” by saying no.

There are also certain rules of etiquette that people just know. Especially when it comes to the gym.

Pick up after yourself.

Wipe down the equipment.

Use ear buds when listening to music.

Don’t count your reps out loud.

Don’t be a loud breather.

Did I mention pick up after yourself?

To me that’s the easiest and most basic of them all. When you get something out, put it away. Weights. Mats. Your ego. Whatever.

The gym I go to is at work. It’s an awesome perk we have and I feel very lucky that I have a convenient and cheap place to get a workout in. It’s also nice that they teach fitness classes in our gym, have personal trainers available, and have all the latest equipment. I’m spoiled and really have nothing to complain about.

Well, maybe one thing.

I arrive at the gym every morning around 5:30 am. Lately there has been a lot of stuff lying around or left behind. Monday I came in and found this waiting for me in the locker room.

Someone’s wet and gross dirty towel lying on the table. Sadly, this isn’t the first time I’ve found something left behind on my, er, this table.

[Sidenote: I’ve been working out and showering here nearly every morning for the last 5 years. I always use this table. Everyone knows that’s my spot and they all stay clear of it in the mornings. Kind of a sign of respect. I’m a creature of habit that way. When I establish something that works for me, I want to keep it. If someone else sets up camp there it just throws me all off but more on that in a later post.]

Anyway, I head out to the gym and in to the fitness room to find this:

3 pieces of equipment left out on the floor of the room. Perhaps this person was so wiped out after their workout that they simply had no energy left to put away the box and Bosu ball. Or maybe they tried to jump on that tall box and fell, hurting themselves so bad that they just couldn’t clean up.

Let’s fast forward through the week. Here is what I found in the locker room on Tuesday.

Towel is still there and now with the addition of a pair of socks. There are 2 problems here.

1. There are smelly used socks on my, er, the table. Next to the spot where I will be getting dressed and ready.

2. The fact that the towel is still there means that the cleaning lady left it behind. Which then leads me to wonder what else she didn’t clean in there. Its not like this is someone’s personal towel from home and she didn’t want to disturb it. Its clearly a gym towel because it’s white and cheap.

Sticking with the locker room, here’s Wednesday.

Dirty towel on the table? Yup.

Smelly socks? Check.

Oh whats this? A new addition! A second towel and on the floor!!

Thursday:

A water bottle! Also, items are now starting to migrate to my, er, this side of the table. Not a good trend.

The towel has now moved to the bench. Was this the sloppy persons doing or the cleaning lady. And again I wonder, if the cleaning lady can move it here, why can’t she move it to the hamper?

Oh, and what’s this? A half empty (or is it half full?) glass of water on the counter.

And finally, Friday.

Everything’s back on my, uh, the table and still on my side. This is getting ridiculous.

The gym was no better. Here’s what I walked in to each day of the week. I found it like this…

And this.

Oh, and this.

Here’s another one.

After weeks of this nonsense we have given the person who leaves stuff out in the gym a nickname – The Night Crawler. Why? Because obviously this person works out at night. And only a wormy sort of person wouldn’t pick up after themselves.

Let’s take a minute to psychoanalyze this person. First of all I think Night Crawler and Sloppy Locker Room Lady (SLRL) are the same person. Looking at the size of the weights left out (15 lb. steel bell, 15 lb. dumbbells, a light barbell) Night Crawler is likely a woman (or a really weak dude….but I’m going with a chick). My guess is a single woman who has the time and availability to exercise at night. Probably a millennial who either still lives at home with her parents or has a really messy apartment. Also likely is that Night Crawler has never belonged to another gym because I doubt other gyms that are staffed 24×7 would put up with this nonsense.

Is it stereotyping too much to predict Night Crawler is named Ella or Madison or something like that?

So now what? I could write an aggressive note on the mirror (“Pick up your stuff!”). Put a nice sign up (“Please be considerate of others and put away all equipment.”). I could come up with a fun poem (“Roses are red, violets are blue. If you can get it out, you can put it away too!”). I actually thought about reaching out to security and asking them to check the security camera recordings.

Or I could just deal. I don’t deal well when it comes to others being rude and disrespectful. That’s one of my biggest pet peeves. But it’s also not worth losing my serenity over.

So, I’ll continue to ignore and get ready around the crap left in the locker room, and put away the equipment left out in the gym. And I’ll hope that Ella or Madison learns the unspoken rules of life and the gym.

Because if I should run in to her someday and ask if this outfit makes me look fat, she better say no.