Telephone Etiquette in Your Job Search

In the course of your job search, you are likely to interact with employers by telephone and it is important to make a positive impression.  Here are some tips to ensure that you are making the most of your telephone interactions:

  • Be prepared.  Know in advance who you are calling and why.  Be candid and concise in stating the purpose of your call.  Provide enough information for the person to respond if you are leaving a voice mail.  If you are expecting follow-up calls from employers, have a list of contacts and the positions you discussed with them so you can have a meaningful conversation if they contact you.
  • If You Can’t Talk, Don’t Answer.  If you are in a crowded or noisy place, don’t answer.  Let the call go to voice mail and call the contact as soon as you are able to have a private conversation.  If you are in a meeting, with a group of people, etc. do not answer.  It is rude to the people you are with and you will not be able to give the caller your full attention.  If you recognize the number and are anxious to take the call, excuse yourself professionally and step away to have a private conversation.
  • Always Answer Professionally.  Answer your phone by saying “hello” and stating your name.  “Hello, this is …” is appropriate.  “Yo” or “Hey there” are not professional greetings.  Let the caller know they have reached you.
  • Update Your Voicemail.  Record a professional voicemail message on both your home phone and your cell phone clearly stating your name.  Employers often will not leave a message if they are not sure they have reached the appropriate person.  If you are going to be away or unable to answer your phone for a period of time, update your voicemail message to clarify your availability.  You don’t want employers wondering if you received their message.

Be Responsive.  If the employer’s call goes to your voicemail, call back as soon as possible and always within 24 hours.  It is important to call them back in a timely manner even if you are not interested in the position since you never know what else may be available down the road.  Demonstrate your best professional behavior throughout


Email Etiquette in Your Job Search

All of your communications with professional contacts such as interviewers, networking contacts, mentors, etc. send a message about your professionalism, attention to detail, respect for others and your communication skills.  Email can often be more challenging because you do not have the benefit of reading body language for a reaction.  Here are some tips to create a positive impression with your email communications.

  • Brand You.  Ensure that all your electronic communication is consistent with your personal brand.
  • Respect Others.  All communication should be professional and respectful of others.  General rule of thumb, never put anything in email that you wouldn’t want to see on the front page of the newspaper or in the hands of the company president.  If you have a delicate issue to address, it is best to do it in person.
  • Subject Line.  Be sure your subject line is specific so recipients know exactly what is contained.  Give them a reason to read it.
  • Use “Reply All” Sparingly.  Does everyone on the cc really need to see your response?
  • Contact information.  Be sure your full contact information is included at the bottom of the email so people know how to contact you if necessary.
  • Proofread.  Do not rely on spell check.  The word may be spelled correctly but it may be the wrong word.  Carefully proofread emails before hitting send.
  • Perspective.  Read your communication from the perspective of the recipient.  Is it clear and professional?  Do you provide all the information and context they require?  Is your tone appropriate?
  • Be realistic.  Don’t expect an immediate response.  People are busy and your email may not be their top priority.  Avoid being an email stalker.  Wait a couple days before following up by email.  If it is more urgent, give them a call.

Use email professionally and respectfully and it can help you build and maintain healthy relationships in the workplace and in your job search.

Interview the Interviewer

One of the deadliest mistakes in an interview is to have no questions to ask the interviewer.  It is critical do your homework in advance to have insightful questions prepared.  A lack of questions is viewed as a lack of preparation and interest.

  • Do Your Homework – Research the company in advance by reviewing their website and using other online research tools.  Review your networking notes to see what you have learned about the company from your contacts.  Prepare questions that demonstrate your interest in the company and your level of preparation.
  • Avoid Questions About Salary and Benefits – It can ruin your chances for success if you are asking about salary and benefits too early in the process.  Sell yourself and make them see that you can meet their business needs first.  There is plenty of time to discuss salary and benefits later in the process after they have decided they want you on their team.
  • Envision Yourself in the Job – Asking questions that envision you in the job helps the interviewers see you in the position as well.  For example, “How would you evaluate my success in this position after the first six months?”  or “What would be the first challenge you’d expect me to tackle in this position?”  or “What objectives would you expect me to accomplish in the first six months in this role?”
  • Demonstrate your Insight – Don’t simply ask about the recent acquisition you read about on the website, ask how this acquisition will better prepare the company to compete with a specific competitor, complete their product line, impact their entry into a new market, change the priorities for this department, etc.  Show that you are aware of the news but that you are already thinking about the implications.
  • Seek Insight about the Manager and the Team—Ask why the position is open, did someone take another position within the company or did they just leave?  Ask about turnover in the department and probe delicately for reasons.  Initiate a discussion about team dynamics and how the group works to accomplish departmental goals.
  • Don’t Leave Objections on the Table – If the interviewer has a doubt or reservation about your fit for the job, it is better to identify it and address it.  Ask the interviewer, “What questions or concerns do you have about my fit for this job?”  Once you know the concern, you have an opportunity to address it.

Demonstrate your interest in the position and the company by being well-prepared to interview the interviewer.  You will gain valuable insights while also demonstrating your interest and preparation

Top Ten Interview Mistakes

To ace your next interview you want to avoid these top ten mistakes.

  • Arrive Late – It is critical that you arrive for an interview a few minutes early.  If you don’t know where you are going, do a dry run in advance.  Allow time for traffic jams and parking issues.  Demonstrate your interest in the opportunity and your professionalism by arriving a few minutes early.  Being timely also demonstrates your preparation.  Use the few minutes you have in the lobby to gain your composure and focus.  In a true emergency, if you are running late, call ahead to let them know and give them an expected arrival time.
  • Dress Inappropriately – First impressions matter.  Demonstrate your interest by showing up in a professional business suit and polished shoes.  Avoid anything flashy or distracting.  Leave noisy jewelry and strong fragrances at home.  Err on the side of being conservative.
  • Ask No Questions – Your inability to ask the interviewer questions leads them to believe you are unprepared and uninterested.  Have insightful questions prepared in advance to ask your interviewers.  Clearly demonstrate your interest and preparation.
  • Demonstrate Lack of Preparation – Never ask, “So, what does your company do?”  Do your homework and research the company, the industry and the competition.  Prepare questions in advance.  This demonstrates your interest and your professionalism.  It helps interviewers take you seriously as a candidate.
  • Share No Examples of Your Experience—Don’t just talk about your project management skills, share an example of how your applied those skills and the resulting benefit to the company.  Briefly describe the situation, how you approached the problem and the results of your actions.  Always be prepared to support your claims with examples.  Have specific examples prepared in advance that you can share when needed during an interview.
  • Have No Response to Questions – Employers are looking to see how you think on your feet.  You need to be prepared to answer any question.  Review lists of commonly asked interview questions and be prepared to answer them.  If it is an unusual question, you can always clarify the question to give you a moment to think.  Have an answer and be prepared to justify or explain it.  With a case question, they are more interested in seeing how you think than in a specific answer.
  • Say “um” or “like” Incessantly—Communication skills are an important part of any job so demonstrate your ability to communicate throughout your interview.  Avoid the repetitive fillers such as “um” or “like” which can be very distracting in an interview.   You want the interviewer to remember you for your answers and your experience not how many times you said “um.”  Take a breath and compose your answer without fillers.
  • Fail to Make and Maintain Eye Contact – The lack of eye contact leaves the interviewer feeling the candidate is not trustworthy or confident.  Establish and maintain eye contact to convey your interest and confidence.
  • Focus on What You Want – This is not all about you.  Focus on how you meet the needs of the business and how you can make a difference for the company.  They really don’t care about your specific wants.  Think about what matters to them and your interview will be more successful.
  • Fail to Say Thank You and Ask for the Job—Don’t lose the job because you fail to end the interview by thanking the interviewers for their time and expressing your strong interest in the opportunity.  Let them know you are interested, don’t assume they figured it out.  Send a handwritten thank you note within 24 hours to differentiate yourself from the competition.

If you avoid these common interview pitfalls, you should be able to ace the interview and land the job.

Top Ten Cover Letter Mistakes

A well-written, customized cover letter can move your resume to the top of the pile but common errors on your cover letter can result in a quick trip to the “no pile.”  To avoid the dreaded “no pile”, avoid these common cover letter mistakes.

  • Overuse of “I” and “my”— Resist the temptation to start every sentence with “I” or “My”.  Your focus should be on meeting the employer’s need to address a business issue.  Vary your sentence structure and keep the focus on them.  Too many “I”s comes across as self-centered and cocky and demonstrates sub-standard communication skills.  Your cover letter is considered an example of your business writing so put your best foot forward.
  • Typos and Grammatical errors – Proofread your letter and least twice and have someone else read it for you as well.  Do not rely on spell check to identify all the errors.  Hiring managers expect your cover letter to be error free and will often immediately move a candidate to the “no pile” if there are errors in the letter.  The worst is a sentence highlighting your attention to detail which contains errors.
  • Form Letters – To be effective, a cover letter must always be customized to the specific position and company.  Hiring managers who read cover letters often can spot form letters very quickly.  Phrases such as “this position” and “your company” scream form letter.  Candidates often
  • Tentative Language – In your cover letter you want to be confident but not cocky.  Avoid tentative language such as “I think”, “I feel”, “seems like” or “I had to.”  Be honest but always project confidence when sharing your experience.
  • Inconsistent Bullets—It is acceptable to use bullet points in your cover letter to highlight the experience you bring to the job.  Ensure that bullets are consistent in format.  Don’t start some with verbs and others with nouns or mix tenses.  Consistency is important.  Also, don’t use the same bullet points as on your resume.
  • Arrogance—Avoid phrases such as “best candidate” and “perfect fit” when describing your capabilities.  You are really not in a position to make that assessment and it comes across to the reader as arrogant.  You want to be positive and confident but cocky is a turn off.  It is best to demonstrate your capabilities with examples.
  • Lack of Professional Format—A cover letter is a formal business letter.  It should have your contact information on the top with the same heading as your resume.  It should then have a date, an address block and a salutation.  “Dear Mary Jones” is not appropriate for a salutation.  It should read “Dear Ms. Jones”.  Failure to follow official business letter format gives the letter an inappropriate air of casualness.  Demonstrate that you are taking this seriously and that you can compose a proper business letter.  This is also a sample of your written communication skills for the hiring manager.
  • Failure to Connect the Dots—Hiring managers know what they are looking and for and you know what you have done.  Don’t assume they will take the time to connect the dots.  Use your cover letter to clearly identify how your experience and skills meets their needs.
  • Limited Language – Do not use the same words repeatedly in your cover letter.  Use a thesaurus if necessary.  Using the same words and phrases implies that you don’t know other words and that your communication skills are limited.
  • Use of Acronyms – The hiring manager does not know your hiring company.  They will not have a clue what the XYZ project is for the ABC system.  Explain your responsibilities in clear language that anyone could understand.  Don’t let your accomplishments be lost in the acronyms that only insiders understand.

A carefully crafted, customized cover letter can move your resume to the top of the pile for consideration.  Avoid these common mistakes to stay out of the “no pile”.

Top Ten Resume Mistakes

While your resume alone will never land you the job, it is a critical component in getting you the interview and an opportunity to sell yourself.  To increase your likelihood of success, avoid these common resume mistakes.

  • Spelling and Grammatical Errors—Your resume represents your professional brand to perspective employers so you want it to be flawless.  You need to proofread it several times and then have someone else proofread it for you.  Many hiring managers will automatically eliminate resumes with spelling and grammatical errors.  It reflects poorly on your attention to detail.
  • Focus on Listing Responsibilities— Your resume should not be a listing of your job responsibilities.  This is not a job description.  You need to focus your resume on your key accomplishments to demonstrate the value you brought to the company by being in this role.  How did you make a difference?
  • Lack of Quantitative Data—Where possible you need to quantify the results you achieved to put them in perspective.  “Reduced costs by 20%” is more significant and impactful than “reduced costs.”  “Designed and executed an online promotion campaign which increased market share resulting in increased revenue by 30%,” gives the reader a sense of what you did and the result.  For companies that are not well known, it is helpful to give some perspective.  “A technology company with $250 million in revenue.”  Also add perspective where it helps someone understand the role and scope of responsibility, “hired and trained a team of 20 customer service representatives.”
  • Reliance on Acronyms—Avoid acronyms that are commonly used outside the company.  Use English to explain the system or program  you worked on instead of company acronyms that no hiring manager will understand.
  • Focus on Your Goals—Do not start your resume by stating your goal or professional objective.  The hiring manager really doesn’t care that your goal is to achieve a financial management position within five years.  Focus instead on a summary of your transferrable skills and competencies.  Capture their attention up front to make them want to read the rest of your resume.  Focus on what you can do for them.
  • Lack of Customization—Often candidates are pursuing opportunities in different lines of work.  In those instances it is important to have multiple versions of your resume to demonstrate your relevant transferrable skills.  Your job history is the same but you may want to emphasize different skills and accomplishments depending on the type of position for which you are applying.
  • Inconsistent bullet points and tense—  You should always use present tense for your current position and past tense for all prior positions.  Your bullets should also have a consistent structure and be easy for the hiring manager to read.
  • More is not better—Hiring managers are quickly turned off by long resumes.  Seven years or less of professional experience should always be kept to a single page and resumes otherwise should not exceed two pages.  You should have more bullets for the current and relevant positions and significantly less detail on older positions.  The resume is meant to summarize your professional experience not provide a detailed accounting.  A resume that is multiple pages can quickly end up in the “no pile.”
  • Failure to use action verbs—  All bullet points on your resume should start with an action verb.  Avoid phrases such as “responsible for” or “worked on”.   Use a thesaurus if needed to identify strong action verbs to convey your experience.  Be careful not to overuse the same action verb in multiple bullets.
  • Not enough white space – Some resume writers get very creative and cram as much as possible on the page by narrowing the margins and shrinking the font.  This results in a resume that is difficult to read.  Many hiring managers won’t make the effort to carefully review a resume that is hard to read.  Better to focus on the key points and leave some white space so a reader can see the true value you bring.


Investing the time and energy to create a focused, flawless resume will pay

Set Yourself Up for Success in 2014: New Year’s Resolutions for Job Seekers

The ball has dropped, and you’ve made a promise to yourself that 2014 will be a year to remember when it comes to taking the next step in your career. But if your No. 1 goal for the New Year is to land a new job, hopes and wishes are not enough; you need to define and execute a plan to ensure your success.

Finding a new job is both an art and a science, and there are a few tried-and-true guidelines for helping job seekers prepare to land that coveted job in the New Year.  So if you want to start 2014 off on the right foot, career-wise , consider adding one of these to your list of resolutions:

  • Create a plan – You can’t get there if you don’t know where you are going.  Define your goals and a specific plan to achieve them, along with actionable steps.  Assess your skills, strengths and interests.  Think about the type of work you enjoyed even it was in internships, part-time jobs or even volunteer experiences.  Document your plan and measure your progress against it.  Set weekly goals, and hold yourself accountable.  Reward yourself by doing something you enjoy once you’ve accomplished your weekly goals.
  • Prepare your tools – If you are planning a trip, you pack your bags and make the appropriate reservations.  As you embark on your job search journey, you also need to have the appropriate tools.  Is your resume up-to-date and ready to go?  Have someone else proof it for you to ensure that it has no typos or grammatical errors.  Practice writing customized cover letters, and ask for feedback.  Consider developing a networking profile to share during networking meetings.  Think about who you can use for references and ensure that you have their current contact information.  Having the right tools won’t get you the job, but it can get your foot in the door so you have an opportunity to sell yourself for the job.
  • Develop a target list – What companies are you most interested in working for?  What industries interest you the most?  What companies hire for the roles you are considering?  What companies are in your geographic target area?  Start your list and then expand your research.  Use online tools to create a robust target list.  Research those companies to learn more about them.  Use your target list to direct your job search efforts.  Prioritize your list based on where you have contacts, alumni connections or LinkedIn connections.  Look at recent posting history to further prioritize your list.
  • Network, network, network – This is the single most important thing you can do in your job search.  More positions are filled through networking than all other approaches combined.  According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, nearly 80 percent of all jobs are filled through networking.  Online postings often receive hundreds of responses.  To stand out and be noticed, you need an internal contact to pass your resume to the hiring manager.  Networking helps you build and identify those internal contacts.  Networking is NOT asking for a job, however.  It is meeting with someone at the company to learn more about the company, the industry, the types of roles they offer, they skills they value, the corporate culture and their hiring process.  Networking involves a significant amount of listening.  The holiday season can be the perfect time for networking – some businesses are less busy so managers are more likely to have flexibility for meetings, you will see family and friends at holiday gatherings and you can ask who they might know in your target companies, as well.
  • Identify networking contacts – Identify all your contacts (family, friends), and see who they know at your target companies.  Think about former work colleagues, former student colleagues, etc. and see who they know.  Utilize your alumni database.  Search LinkedIn.  The true power of LinkedIn can be found in the groups, so identify relevant groups to expand your network.  Work to identify contacts in all your target companies.  Do your neighbors or your parents’ friends have contacts in those companies?  Ask for 15 – 20 minutes for an informational interview.  Come to the discussion well prepared and learn as much as you can.  Ask each contact for at least three other people you should contact.  Always thank the contact and keep track so you can follow-up when you see an opportunity at that company.  Challenge yourself to make at least five networking connections each week.  It makes a difference.
  • Prepare, prepare, prepare – For each informational interview, prepare as if it were a real interview.  Research the company.  Prepare your questions.  Make a positive impression.  Demonstrate your interest and passion by coming well prepared.  Practice with friends and family if you are not comfortable.
  • Always say “thank you” – Interviewers remember when candidates send a hand-written thank you note.  Stand out from the crowd.  Time is a precious commodity so say thank you when someone is willing to share time with you.
  • Add value to your resume – If you know you are missing critical skills on your resume, can you volunteer a few hours per week?  Most non-profits need the help and would give you an opportunity to develop and enhance your skills.  Maybe an unpaid internship is a good investment to add critical skills to your resume.  In addition to adding valuable skills, it also shows your initiative and creativity.
  • Protect your social media presence – Many potential employers check applicants online before making an offer.  Be careful what you post knowing that it may be seen by a potential employer.  Put your best foot forward.
  • Sweat the details – They really do matter! Many cover letters and resumes are not moved to the “interview pile” because of lack of attention to detail.  There should be absolutely no typos or grammatical errors in the cover letter or resume.  Do not cut and paste your cover letters – it is too easy to send with the wrong company name or wrong job title.  Be careful not to brag about your attention to detail when the letter has obvious errors.  Don’t exaggerate your experience – two years is not extensive experience in anything.  Be sure to be well prepared.  Arrive on time.  Know who you are meeting with.  Don’t ask the interviewer what the company does, instead have some well-thought out questions already prepared.
  • Remember, it isn’t all about you –  A hiring manager has business needs to address.  That is why they received approval to fill the position.  There is a specific job to be done, and they want to find the best qualified person to fill that job and the best fit for the organization.  Don’t focus your cover letter and/or interview on what this position can do for your career or how much you need particular benefits.  The employer really doesn’t care.  Focus instead on how you can help the company meet their business needs.  What valuable skills do you bring to the table?  How can you make a difference?
  • Be responsive – When employers do start calling you for interviews, be responsive and professional every step of the way.  Make a positive impression with every interaction.  Dress professionally, arrive a few minutes early, answer your phone professionally and come well prepared
  • Differentiate yourself – There are many candidates for each open position.  Use every opportunity throughout the process to differentiate yourself positively.  Again, the focus should be on how you can meet the employer’s needs, not what they can do for you.

Don’t leave your career path up to chance; now’s the perfect time to revamp your approach as you resolve to pursue new opportunities in 2014. Develop a plan and execute it flawlessly, and there’s a good chance you’ll be celebrating a new job in the New Year.


See it as it appears in Business Insider here!