Hello everyone! I have a very special post here today. Sara over at LifeAccordingtoSara has used her business expertise (she has a Master’s Degree in Business!) to help us out with some interviewing and resume tips to take your career to the next level. I previously spoke about job dissatisfaction, and if that post resonates with you, this post will help you take the next step towards change.
New careers can be exciting and scary all at the same time, not to mention the process to get there. Here, I will share some tips and advice regarding resumes and interviews to help prepare and give you confidence when going after that new career.
My husband, Tyler, knows my advice all too well and will be the first to admit that it really did make a difference for him, even though he did not initially want my help and thought practicing was “stupid”. All of my pushing, teaching and helping got him the dream job that he initially thought was a long shot. This also shows that putting in the effort isn’t just for college grads or white collar jobs. Tyler is a heavy equipment mechanic and was surprised to learn that a lot of what I was teaching him (and you guys) also applied to the blue collar field as well. Here is a short Q & A, completely unfiltered, about what my husband thought of my whole process:
Me: “What was the biggest thing you learned from fixing your resume to preparing for your panel interview?”
Tyler: “How to communicate during an interview. That was my biggest fear was the interview because I don’t always communicate well, so practicing what I was going to say and complete thoughts really helped me be more confident.”
Me: “Do you think these tips are necessary no matter what field you may work in/want to work in?”
Tyler: “Yes. It doesn’t matter what field you go into, you have to be able to show the interviewer that you can communicate well and what you taught me prepared me for that. Answering questions fully, preparing documents correctly, anticipating future needs/questions. You showed me how I can use these in my field of work [diesel mechanic] when I just thought they were for someone like you with an MBA.”
Me: “How would you compare your last interview to your most current one?”
Tyler: [Insert laughter] “My last interview I thought I was doing well, but it wasn’t at all. I didn’t prepare and just went in thinking I knew everything already because I was good at my job, but if you can’t communicate why and how you are good at what you do, the interviewer won’t see all the value you bring to the table. They have to see your value in order to offer you the job or offer/negotiate the salary you want. That was what went wrong in my last interview. They weren’t able to see why they should pay me what I was asking and I ultimately had to accept a much lower offer than what I was expecting and had to physically prove myself in the workplace for a raise. At the interview for my current job, I was able to really communicate why I was worth what I was asking and how I would benefit them. They hired me at the salary I had said I was worth with no negotiations. Then I had to come home and tell you that you were right…[insert more laughter]. All of the practice was worth it and actually ended up helping me in the workplace as well.”
Me: “What is one piece of advice you would give to people trying to improve their resumes & interviewing skills?”
Tyler: “Make sure to practice interview questions. As stupid as it sounds and as frustrated as I got with you and the questions, it really helped show me where I needed to work on things. I would never answer with complete thoughts or give all of the necessary information. I would give short answers that left you with more questions, which wasn’t good. The more I practiced and the more you helped rephrase things, the more confident I got and, like I said, I ended up having to come home and tell you that you were right.” [Insert more laughter because that happens a lot in our house]
So, without further ado, here are some tips for resumes & interviewing that my husband helped me pick out as some of the biggest ones that helped him.
1. ALWAYS, ALWAYS have someone else proofread your resume and/or application. If you genuinely have no one you can ask, you can sleep on it and go back to proofread the next day, but if you could even ask a neighbor or acquaintance that would be best. Our brains have seen and thought of the material we put down and are more likely to overlook errors or input missing words and such, which is why it is better to have a second set of eye that did not come up with the material look it over.
2. Your resume usually should only be 1-2 pages; something that is easy for a busy hiring manager to skim over to determine whether you are a good candidate or not. If it is 2 pages, make sure the most important information that is pertinent to the job you are applying to is on the front. I will share my husbands as an example. His is 2 pages due to the necessity of showing multiple skills based on the job requirements and that they needed 10+ years of work history. The key here is to thoroughly read the job description and requirements and tailor your resume to fit those needs. As for formatting, there are many ways to format them, but simple is most always best (there are the occasional positions where a creative and funky resume is required, but we are just talking generals today). Here is an example:
1. PRACTICE, PRACTICE, PRACTICE. I cannot emphasize the importance of this enough. Practice answering the hard questions. These could be different for everyone, but a few common ones are:
“What is you biggest weakness?”
“What salary do you think you deserve”
“What didn’t you like at your last job”
Let’s talk about what your biggest weakness is. When you answer this, make sure you include how you are working to better that weakness. This is key! First, it shows that that you are proactive about bettering yourself and second, it shows that you can come up with solutions. My favorite quote from my dad is “Bring me solutions, not problems”. Good managers/hiring personnel really seek out employees that can show that they can problem solve and this is a subtle way to sneak it into an interview. Here is an example:
“My weakness is taking constructive criticism. I have gotten a lot better at it over the years and have learned to just physically take a second to remind myself that the person giving the constructive criticism is trying to help me. Taking that second allows me to re-evaluate the situation and appreciate it rather than feel down or negatively about myself. By doing this, I am able to focus on how to better myself instead of dwelling on the things I did wrong or could do better.”
Next up is the salary question. This is where you need confidence and you need to know exactly what salary you are expecting. You also need to have a BATNA (Best Alternative to a Negotiated Agreement). This would be your very lowest salary you would accept based on the job, but don’t share this with them, just keep it in the back of your mind for future negotiations if needed. Always assume they are going to need a defense to your requested salary and have one prepared. Know what you are worth and why. When defending your salary expectation, always make and keep eye contact and try not to falter in your speech pattern. You want to sound firm, yet neutral (not angry/scary or timid/scared). Believe me when I say this absolutely takes practice and I don’t mean just going over it in your head. You have to physically practice this out loud and preferably with someone.
Lastly, whenever answering questions that are negatives, like “What didn’t you like about your last job?”, try to keep it general and tell them how you tried to fix it and what you learned from it. Remember, bring solutions, not problems. Do not go on and on about Susan in accounting who was always in everyone’s business and never did her job. Here is an example I just had to use in my last interview when I was asked this exact question:
“When I was hired on, I was really impressed with the promise of moving up and growing with the company. I worked really hard and went above and beyond to learn about the jobs I was interested in to progress my career and move forward, while also perfecting the position that was my main job. I also volunteered for extra projects in order to help this progression. Unfortunately, even with the effort and growth I had shown and that was recognized by my peers and manager, the company thought I was best suited for the position I was in. I did try to come up with other solutions to progress, but it unfortunately just did not work out. I loved the learning experiences and am very grateful for them.”
Sometimes, no matter how you spin it, the answer doesn’t always come out sounding perfect, but they will be looking for the key things I mentioned: how you tried to solve the problem and what you learned from it.
2. There are lots of mottos for dressing for interviews, but my two favorites are “Dress for the career you want” and “It is always better to be overdressed than underdressed”. I always err on the side of caution. If I, even for a split second, think my dress is a tad too short or low cut, then I pick another one. I don’t think twice about it. It is much better for a potential employer to not focus on what you are wearing the whole interview and be able to focus on what you as a potential employee would bring to the table.
I just had an experience with this the other day. I wore a fitted olive green dress and professionalized it by adding a cream blazer and neutral heels. I had been into the place I had applied at a few times and noticed they have a business casual environment, but, as always, for an interview I default to overdressing. Good thing I did because I got to meet with the regional manager and my attire was more similar to what she was wearing. My goals were not to necessarily stay in the position I applied for, but to work my way into a position like a regional or state manager and guess what? The regional manager had actually commented on how nice I looked and that she really appreciates seeing those [and I quote] “dressed for the job they want”.
3. Bring extra copies for your resume. If you can figure out how many people you will be interviewing with, that will help determine how many to print, but if not a good rule of thumb is to bring three: two for potential interviewers and one for you to reference. You don’t want to be leaning over the table to try to read off the interviewers copy. Even though you know what is on it, chances are you will be mildly to moderately nervous and you will need it to reference. Also, remember to breathe and that it is okay to take a few silent seconds to group your thoughts and think about your answer before responding. Obviously, you do not want to sit there for a few minutes thinking about an answer because you don’t know what to say, but a brief pause will work in your favor. It gives you a second to calm and collect and it shows that you can think before you speak. As little as it seems, it is very important, especially for most any customer service job or job where you will be dealing with a lot of diverse people.