Each of us is a unique individual with different education, upbringing, and experience. When looking for a position, you need to think about your Unique Selling Proposition, that is, what makes you special, why should that prospective employer hire you?
Since most of us are not big self-promoters, we tend to forget about all the things we have done, especially the good things. To help you remember why you are worthy of hiring, you need to develop (and keep up to date) a “Personal Inventory”, a list of what you have done, what you have learned, things you have accomplished in your life and career.
Your personal inventory will include your education, work experience, community service, sports or academic activities, in short, all the things you have done that make you special. It is also a good thing to note the things you like to do as well as those things you’d really prefer to do. Do you like to travel, do you like to be in control, and so on.
With your inventory in hand, you will find that creating, updating or customizing your resume, getting ready for an interview, or even identifying your true career interests will be something that you can do quickly and effectively. So start today by developing this important part of the foundation of your career search. Your career search will be more effective if you Create Your Personal Inventory.
It is very rare to see companies who don’t have a website today. What better place to learn about a company than the place where they try to put their best foot forward? You can find out where they are located, if they have multiple offices, the markets they serve and typically key employees/owners. Review this information to determine if the company is truly a target employer for you and if so, note the key information that you find there.
Interviews or other contacts with target employers are your chance to let them know you are interested in joining their team. When the opportunity presents itself, share information with them that demonstrates you have done your homework. Further, this is the chance to let them know why they should hire you, how your education, background, and experience fit with the mission, vision and values of the firm.
In a competitive job market like we’re in, you typically get only one first impression. Make it a good one. Take the time to Know Your Target.
There is nothing that damages your credibility more than a typo or incorrect grammar. There is simply no excuse for not taking the time to review your resume, cover letter, or even email correspondence. The good news is there are great software options that can help you with the review process. Most word processors, as well as the editor in your email program, can help you get it right. Be sure to turn on “Spell Check.” It doesn’t matter if it checks as you type or when you are ready to send, but use the tool.
Make sure that you handle homonyms correctly. Words like “dear” and “deer” may be spelled correctly, but clearly have different meanings. Unfortunately, most spell or grammar checks won’t catch these types of errors, so read carefully to see if you have any of these types of issues.
Since you are probably customizing your resume and cover letters, make sure that you get the salutation right, as well as the right company. It’s a real turn off to a recruiter to get correspondence addressed to another person or to the wrong company. Here again, a quick review will bring this issue to light. Consider keeping a log of those to whom you have sent resumes or job applications. You can use this to check your correspondence before it goes out.
Your career search is one of the most important activities you will have in your life. Make sure you take the process seriously. There are not too many do-overs in job applications. If you feel you need another set of eyes to review your work, get help. You want to be considered for the position, so Get It Right.
When you get the opportunity to meet with a recruiter or representative of an employer, make sure that you dress appropriately. Every prospective employer is watching every move you make. Whether it’s a career fair, on-campus interview, or office visit, prospective employers are trying to determine if you are a viable candidate. Don’t let your appearance drag you down.
Unless told otherwise, more dressed up is better than less. A proper business suit shows that you are interested and ready to start work. For women, a pants suit and jacket or skirt and jacket is fine. If you wear a skirt, make sure it’s not too short. Not only can it be uncomfortable in a business setting, but it looks unprofessional. Go with the minimum of make-up and avoid perfumes. They distract the interviewer from focusing on you as a candidate, and they start to think about you and your personal habits. As for men, a suit and tie are a must. And make sure your shoes are shined. Watch your hair style and if you have tattoos or piercings, this is a good time to keep them out of sight. Don’t give the interviewer any reason not to focus on you, the candidate.
Recognizing that a proper suit may be a little expensive, try to have at least one “interview suit.” With accessories, such as a scarf or tie, you can change the look, even if you meet with the same person more than once. This is an investment in your future. Don’t be afraid to make it.
You are networking and interviewing to get that great career opportunity. You always want to look your best to show others that you are ready and eager to start working. So make sure, you Always Look the Part.
One of the most common mistakes job seekers make is only having one version of their resume to show to everyone. If you truly are willing to consider only one type of employment situation, then one version of your resume is enough. But if you are willing to accept, or at least consider, more than one role, then you need to develop multiple versions of your resume. Note this is not suggesting that you use “untruths or lies”, but rather focus your resume presentation on what you think the reader is looking for, what is most important to them.
Mary, a non-traditional student, has worked as a credit analyst in a bank for a number of years. She has gone back to school and gotten her accounting degree and her number one goal is to get a job in accounting. So what is the first major heading on her resume, her work experience? Wrong! If Mary is hoping to land an accounting job, she needs to lead with her education. This is the basis of her search for a new career, and it is the first thing a potential employer will be looking for. Her work experience would come next, and is important, but unless she is going for a position that requires credit analysis, it is less important that the fact that she now has the academic training to be an accountant. The converse would be true if she was looking for advancement in her banking career. In that case, her work experience would be the lead.
Your opportunity to show what you know and what you can do may occur in a small window of time. Be ready to show who you are and why someone should hire you. Most readers of resumes spend very little time studying them; they are typically looking for something very specific. Be prepared. Focus your resume on the reader and what they are looking for. To get considered for that dream job, Make Your Resume Focused.
If you have worked through your personal inventory, as suggested in number one above, you already have a great deal to talk about. And if you have taken the time to learn about your target, as suggested in number two above, you have the basis for making a good impression in that you have truly shown your interest in the position you are discussing.
Think about your strong points. Why should this employer hire you? Why are you the answer they have been looking for? Be prepared to offer details or examples that demonstrate your strengths.
Examples of strengths often mentioned:
I am well organized (your room, your day, your office).
I work independently (projects completed, self-study).
I work well on teams (projects you contributed to, other situations where you were an effective team player).
The next challenge is dealing with the tough questions. I know of one employer who deliberately asks questions that come from pretty far left field to see if applicants can “think on their feet.” For these, all you can do is the best you can. There is no preparation, other than what we have already discussed.
Typical tough questions might include:
Where do you see yourself in five years?
Why are you interested in our company?
How does our firm fit into your long-term career plans?
Tell me about your most significant weakness.
And then there are the behavioral questions:
Tell me about a time. . .
When you didn’t get along with your supervisor, how did you handle it?
When you were on a team and the other members weren’t pulling their weight?
When you had a problem with a co-worker and how did you handle it?
When you were in a leadership role and had to make a tough decision?
You get the picture. Behavioral questions attempt to elicit from you what you would do if a difficult situation arises at work and what they can expect from you. They may also demonstrate your maturity, as well as the way you go about solving a difficult challenge. You can prepare for these by thinking about your current or previous employment (or school) and listing out situations you have had to deal with. Think about how you dealt with it, and maybe how it could have been a better reaction on your part. A proper answer will give the situation and your response to it.
The other tough questions come from an analysis of your resume. Depending on what has happened in your life, the interviewer might observe:
A lot of job changes in a short period of time.
Large gaps of time between jobs.
You are currently unemployed.
You need to have a good answer to each of these questions, if they apply to you. They will be obvious to the recruiter and are fair game to ask. Each of them could be very important in the final hiring decision.
You don’t want your answers to sound rehearsed, but you want them to present you in a way that the recruiter will consider you for the position. Taking the time to get your thoughts together will pay off when you have the opportunity to talk about you. Take advantage of your time to shine. Be prepared – make it count.
Think about what is important to you. What do you like to do? What are you good at? If you are honest with yourself, this information will help you develop a career road map you can follow. And as with any road, it’s not always straight or smooth. But if you know where you want to go, it’s much easier to keep on focus and stay on track for your career journey.
As an example, let’s take someone who has a finance degree and wants to pursue a financial analyst position. Typically, only larger firms have need for full-time financial analysts. And they tend to be in larger cities, many times in money centers. This job seeker needs to decide on a couple of major issues. One, do they want to live in a larger city? Two, do they want to work for a larger company? If the answer is “yes” to both of these questions, then the search needs to focus on businesses in larger metropolitan areas with a number of corporate home offices. Using a search tool like Google, job hunters can start to find job postings as well as companies that meet their criteria. By having targets and goals, you are much more likely to get a position that is really what you are looking for. And you are less likely to waste time chasing job postings or companies that are not what you really want.
Life is unpredictable. Your career journey may have many twists and turns that you never expected. Certainly, the last few years have been anything but predictable. But those with a plan and a goal have been better able to deal with these difficult times than those who did not. Know Where You Are Going, and it’s easier to get there.
If you are going to graduate soon and don’t have that dream job lined up, you need to come up with a plan. The first option is to find a job, not necessarily something right down the line of what you would like to do. If you make this election, be sure to think about how this job will improve your skill set and, ultimately, your employability. Take the opportunity to really hone a skill during this time. For example, if you take a job as a server in a restaurant, this is an opportunity to work on your customer service skills as well as your ability to sell. What a great opportunity to improve your important skills.
At the same time, don’t stop your job search. Keep working on finding something more in line with what you really want to do. The only way you will find the job in the career field you want is to keep on trying. If you elect not to accept a position that doesn’t get close to your chosen career path, then you need to take steps to improve your marketability. First and foremost, looking for a job is your job! Every day have a plan and execute against it. Schedule your time and do it. It is the most important thing you can do at this point, so don’t be a slacker.
This is a perfect time to look for a certification in your field which doesn’t require formal employment experience that an employer might value. An example would be studying for the Certified Financial Planner certification while looking for a position in the financial sector. Or, an accountant studying for the CPA exam when looking for a position in public accounting.
Get involved in other organizations. One good one is Toastmasters. Most cities have one or more, they are relatively inexpensive to join, and a great place to network and work on your presentation skills. This kind of practice will help you with your confidence and presence in an interview.
If you are near your Alma mater, consider reaching out to the career placement center on campus. They may have job openings, know of career fairs or other opportunities. Other things they can help you with are your interview skills, mock interviews, handling the tough questions, and making sure your resume effectively presents your skills.
In challenging times like these, you must have a plan and execute, execute, execute! When it’s tough out there, make sure you respond.
Guidance to help keep your resume relevant and focused:
-Lead with what you feel is your greatest strength on your resume. If you are a recent graduate, put your education first and highlight your successes in school. GPA, rank in class, major, minor, and special projects are key items to focus on. If your work experience is most relevant, lead with Professional Experience. This would certainly be true if you are looking for a mid-level position. And if you are changing careers, but have special skills, that section would be first.
-Once you have the lead section, prioritize the other sections of your resume that supports your efforts to start or continue your career. Try to keep it to one page, and don’t waste a lot of space or ink on too much detail. Too much detail will only get you into a box. Rather, use highlights of performance or success and leave the excruciating detail to a later conversation.
-Don’t talk about your goals or objectives in your resume. Let your cover letter do that for you. Exception: If looking at your resume and the reader can’t figure out why you applied, then an objective or opening paragraph may help explain why you are applying. This might happen with a career change or new educational certification or progression.
Many times, your resume will be the first time a potential employer will become aware of you and your abilities. Make sure your resume shows you in a positive and applicable light. Get Your Resume Right to get results.
There are a couple of approaches you can use to deal with these situations.
One. Make it a strength. “I had to drop out of the workforce to help my mother. Family is very important to me.” Or I was a server at a local steak house and got some great client service experience.” Or “I was fortunate to work for XYZ manufacturer for 10 years. I got great experience from my time with them and unfortunately, a down turn in their business forced them to reduce their staffing.”
The other issue that may get you is moving from job to job or “Job Hopping.” If you have been going to school and working, the answer usually is pretty easy to offer. “I went home for the summer and worked.” Or, “I needed to find a job that better fit my school schedule.” If you have moved from a number of companies in a relatively short period of time, you need to be prepared to discuss why. Keep it positive, stress what you learned and why the next move was a logical progression in your career. Bad things happen to good people, but be prepared.
So when you have gaps in your resume or other things that don’t put you in the best light, be prepared to discuss why that potential employer should hire you, because Bad things happen to good people.
- Don’t list references on your resume UNLESS the reference is someone you would expect the reader to know and respect. Example: President Obama when applying for a job with the Democratic National Committee.
- Understand the difference between personal and professional references. Personal references are the people who know you and know you well, not necessarily in a business setting. They typically would not be your employer’s representative, like a supervisor. But they are someone who hopefully could speak to your character and other important characteristics. Professional references are previous employers. Many employers are concerned with the liability of giving a “bad” reference, so they typically give what I call “Name, Rank & Serial Number.” This is a confirmation of your name, your title, and your dates of employment. They may answer the key question, “Is this person eligible for re-hire.” Other than that, without a release from you, no other information will be released to you, at least not by the Human Resources department.
- Make sure you talk with anyone you would like to give as a reference before you give their name out. Tell them who you are applying for a position with and what the position is. And don’t give out someone’s name so many times that they feel like they are your personal assistant or fan club. And hopefully, you will get a sense of what they might say about you.
- Be sure to separate personal from professional references. And don’t give just one name, that just doesn’t look right.
- It’s ok to say please don’t contact my current employer. In fact, I’ve seen the name of current employer left off the resume to make sure they don’t try to contact who you are working for now.
So when you have to give references, make sure you put your best foot forward.
- Is your address, phone number and e-mail address current?
- Have you updated your employment section? If you have changed jobs recently, you should show the new employer. That’s especially important if you are in an interview and start talking about what you do at your current company and it’s not listed on your resume. This creates questions in the interviewer’s mind about how truthful you are regarding the “facts” contained in your resume. If you skip over a short, temporary assignment, that is up to you. But don’t talk about it in the interview or you have some explaining to do.
- If you put a career objective in your resume, have you made sure it’s appropriate for the employer you are sending it to? It’s bad form to say you want to work in manufacturing and then send your resume to a marketing organization. Or worse, say you want to work for Ajax Company, but send your resume to their competitor, Goliath Inc.
- How does your resume look? Consider the following:
- Is it more than one page? While a two page (or more) resume isn’t the end of the world, unless you’ve been in the job market quite a while, one page should cover whatever someone needs to know about you.
- How big is the print? If the font is smaller than 11 point, consider making it larger.
- Does your resume look too busy? Is there too much crammed on to the page? Vice versa, is there too much white (blank) space showing on the page? You might want a second opinion on this.
- Are you emphasizing the most important part of your background in your resume? For example, if you are, or will be, a recent college graduate, you education section is most likely the thing potential employers will give the most weight to. If you are applying for a marketing position, the potential employer will be looking for relevant experience.
Many times, your resume is the first impression that potential employers will have of you. Make the opportunity count and present yourself in the best light you can. Update your Resume!
Pulakos CPAs offers unique career opportunites for all of its team members. Find out if our accounting firm is a good match for your career aspirations and pursuit of excellence. Because at Pulakos CPAs, Performance Matters!