Interview, Job search

Interviewing When You Aren’t Happy

Lately I have written several articles about interview skills, and one common denominator I mention in all of them is demonstrating happiness.  Sometimes you have to interview when you aren’t happy.  Perhaps you are depressed, grieving, overwhelmed caring for a family member who is ill, going through a divorce, or you are unhappy about how your last job ended. There are strategies you can use, because happiness can be demonstrated in several ways.

What kind of happy am I today?

Want a quick check of how you are showing happiness with friends and family today?  Check your “frequently used” emojis.  They are the first ones that come up on your smart phone, and if you look very, very closely, it says “frequently used” up at the top.  When I reviewed my top 30, there were several different kinds of smiles, several laughing faces, a few pictures and four different versions of hearts.  How do you find “your” happy?  Here are some trends I have observed in my texts:

Emoji category Varieties and interpretation
Faces Smiles vary from simple and shy, to so large that the eyes are closed.  Laughing smiles of several kinds, and emojis that are making faces that are meant to be ironic (or at least can be ironic), such as rolling eyes, or a hand to the chin contemplating.  On the ironic emojis, you should think back to how you were feeling when you were using them, because they can be used when happy, or they can be used when irritated.
Love Many kinds of hearts of all colors, blowing kisses, hearts for eyes
Hands For those of you who talk with your hands, there are celebrating hands, acknowledgement hands, and some with some…let’s say…ironic gestures.  This, of course, depends on your intent in using them.
Pictures Perhaps you express yourself in images, and like to have the perfect image to express your emotions.  You probably love using memes too, love buying greeting cards and prefer technology that allows you to be creative.

Take a moment to see which emojis are most common for you.  Don’t use emojis?  Consider the memes you have sent most recently.  What messages were they conveying?  Likewise, you can look at the items you have forwarded on Facebook or other social media.  Go take a look at your page and check the prevailing emotion you are conveying.  If most of your non-verbal communication is angry or sad, you may want to consider talking with someone who can help you with these feelings.  They can be hard to shoulder alone.

Harnessing your “happy” in your interview

When I write about being happy in an interview, some may equate that with “perky.” If you aren’t feeling happy right now, you may visualize the unattainable happy, which plays out with an enthusiastic, bubbly persona.  Keep in mind that is only one kind of happiness; and in fact, if not harnessed properly can actually be distracting in an interview.  Here are some other kinds of happy, along with ways to use these in your interviews.  For personalized suggestions, please refer back to your most common emojis as a guide as you review the points below.


  • Shy smiles: Happiness can be a quiet thing, like the small, shy smiles.  It can be soft-spoken.  Remember to smile periodically during your interview, even if it’s a small smile.  Maintaining eye contact as you smile shows you mean it, that it wasn’t just a fleeting feeling, or even some kind of irony.
  • Ironic faces: Maybe you have healed enough to begin to see irony, and you are trying to laugh more.  Keep in mind that this kind of humor can be easily misunderstood, and can make you appear angry.  You can avoid this by having humor point to only you, and only in stories where things turned out well for you and you learned something helpful.  Ironic stories about other people lack the necessary context for the listener, and can reflect badly on you.
  • One last note about smiling. It’s important to smile in appropriate places during your interview.  Sometimes we must discuss something painful, like being fired.  As we heal and try to gain perspective, sometimes it feels natural to smile about things we are adjusting to, but that can be confusing for an interviewer, not knowing what your smile means.  Practice these comments in advance and make them brief and factual, making eye contact.  Video yourself to ensure that you aren’t smiling at times when it would not make sense to smile, or practice with a friend or family member.


  • If love is showing up a lot even when you aren’t feeling good, then you are showing that you are hopeful, and that you care deeply. Happiness can be demonstrated through intensity about life, that you care deeply about things.  Harness this as you discuss the results associated with each question you answer.  Let your pride shine through as you explain how your work made a difference.  Even if you can’t muster a big smile, be sure to have eye contact especially when you discuss results.  Train yourself to always look up and have eye contact when you are speaking about something that gives you pride.


  • Do you have happy hands? Maybe you aren’t smiling all the time, but your emoji hands are clapping, doing the “ok” sign or just waving in the air.  Super!  Keep those happy hands working during your interview, doing what your face, or your heart, cannot.  I don’t mean to move constantly during your interview, but find places to use hand gestures.  They can be as expressive as your face.  Practice this at home if you aren’t doing it already.  If your hands are trying to lead your heart to a happy place, don’t hinder them in your interview!


  • You love a good picture to express your passion, so bring that into the interview. Bring some work samples.  Even if you don’t hand them out or need to use them, just knowing you have them can lift your spirits, but it’s awesome if you can find a time to pull them out and share them.  Even better if you can leave a copy of it in case your interviewer asks to keep it.  Does your work not lend itself to pretty pictures?  If you’re using picture emojis it’s because you like to be vivid in your descriptions.  Pick your top 3 work examples you use most often, and find some colorful descriptive terms you can add into your answer.  Keep it succinct, but make your language as interesting as possible so you can have the listener right in the moment with you.

The many faces of happiness

I remember being at an event with my son where a very young child made a comment and the audience laughed.  It was clearly not a comment intended to be funny, so my son asked me why people laughed.  I told him that it wasn’t funny like a joke.  I explained that sometimes joy can escape through laughter.  It was joy he was hearing.  In my daughter’s senior year of high school, I found myself tearful several times, principally at all the “last” things she was doing.  She asked why I was so sad about all of it, and I explained that I wasn’t, that was just some love leaking out of my eyes.

A favorite colleague from the past rarely smiled broadly, in fact rarely smiled at all.  He had a quiet intensity to everything he did. When he was engrossed in something, it was as if he had a little light turn on in his eyes, as though he had a special effects person who turned on the glint.  You could almost hear the tiny sound of a bell when he did it.  His eyes crinkled and you found that you leaned forward into whatever he was discussing.  When I picture him, he isn’t smiling, and yet I knew he loved what he did, and enjoyed the camaraderie of working with me.

You don’t have to feel happy with your life as a whole to demonstrate happiness in an interview, or more specifically, happiness about the work you do every day.  Use the cues of how you are currently representing yourself to others to find what works best for you, then practice incorporating these habits into your interview.





Interview, Job search

Falling in Love on your Interview

There is a funny saying I have seen around the internet.  It says, “Dating over 30 is easy.  It’s like riding a bike.  But the bike is on fire.  And the ground is on fire.  Everything is on fire.  Because you are in hell.”  This strikes me as funny because throughout my career I have heard the analogy of interviewing to dating—and with such prevalent strong feelings about dating, no wonder interviewing is a major cause of stress!

Dating is a trial-and-error process, with far more “error” than success.  Falling in love, however, is always wonderful, yet not attainable without experiencing the ebbs and flows of the dating process.  Too often in interviews we are afraid to invest ourselves for fear that if we “fall in love” during the interview process, we will only be disappointed (that is, we won’t be offered the job).  We guard ourselves.

Being turned down is ALWAYS disappointing. But if you never invest yourself, then you never have the opportunity to fall in love. What a shame that would be!  There is much we can learn about successful interviewing from the process of falling in love.

Love at first sight

Whether or not we like the idea, first impressions are important, on both sides.  More important than your clothing is your smile and eye contact.  For these assets to stand out, the clothing and accessories you select should become part of the background.  When you last fell in love (I mean love, not lust), was it with an article of clothing, or was it with the face that reflected the soul?

I’m often asked about tattoos, piercings, large jewelry and/or vivid outfits, and I always have the same advice.  Do not wear anything that speaks louder than your skillset.  Anything you wear should fade into the background like a frame does for a beautiful painting.  Your smile, personality, confidence and knowledge should take center stage.

Personal expression is important, and you should look around and see if the environment is a good fit for you.  Assume you should wear a suit or other formal business attire that fits you well, and makes you feel like a million bucks.  If you are told to come more casually, follow the advice.

There is no end game in mind

Most of us go on a date because there is some mutual attraction, and we hope to have a good time.  The short-term goal is to get to know the person, have some form of adventure, be it a nice meal or maybe a movie.  We don’t go on a date thinking about planning our marriage to the person; falling in love would be a happy surprise.  Yet we go to job interviews completely focused on getting the offer.  Before we have the understanding to discern if we want an offer, it is already our goal.  It would be like going on every date thinking, “I MUST GET MARRIED!  This is the one!  I know everything she likes.”  Or, “I will be that person so that he will propose to me very soon.”  I think we all know that is a recipe for a broken heart.

When we go on a date, we are listening for more subtle elements of connection.  Do they listen to me?  Do they understand me?  Did they laugh at that joke?  Are they smiling?  Do they make me smile?

When I reflect on my career and the people I have worked with, many vivid memories come to mind.  I have lost count of how many funerals I have been to with colleagues.  I’ve also been to a fair number of weddings and baby showers.  I have had to problem-solve through some nightmare problems at work, and I have celebrated major successes.  I’ve traveled across a big part of Canada on a week-long car trip with two colleagues.  I’ve been to Paris and China with others.  I’m not bragging. I share this to make a point:  What’s more important than the perfect answer to the behavior-based question is the answer to this question, “Do I want to work through a big work challenge with the people across from me?”  If hired, the panelists in front of you will become your friends.  The people who will support you through the events in the next chapter of your life, because truly there is no “work/life,” there’s just “life.”  Focus on getting to know them during the interview.  Be in the moment with them, hear them, understand them, and allow them to do the same with you.

“Love is patient, love is kind.”

This Biblical passage from 1 Corinthians is often used at Christian weddings, and, religious beliefs aside, it is sage advice in how you should settle into your interview discussions and allow yourself to be in the moment.  There is no such thing as the perfect candidate or the perfect employer.  Each candidate brings pros and cons, things they can teach the team, and things they will need to be taught.  Candidates who allow their personality to come out and make a genuine connection with people tend to find interview teams who are more considerate about what they are missing.  If you have been invited for an interview, you had enough of the skills to be considered for the job.  Most of the time the person who gets the offer is the one interviewers want to be with, every day.  They seek their smile or laugh, their kindness, their graciousness, their sense of humor or perspective.

A word about blind dates

The cringe-worthy blind date is one of the least anticipated events in a dating year, yet some turn into marriages that last a lifetime.  This always seems to work best when it’s organized by someone who knows both parties fairly well.

I often hear that getting a job is all about “who you know.”  I would go a step further and say that it’s all about who you know well.  The best reference is from someone who knows and respects your work, and can communicate specifically with the recruiter or hiring manager about what you would bring to the firm.  After a lifetime spent in recruiting I can tell you that I have never been influenced by someone who says, “This is a guy I know, kind of, or this is a woman who is a friend of a friend.”

Networking with strangers is a good idea if you are looking for company information, job leads, or feedback on your resume and/or personal presentation.  Use the people you did your best work with as your references, and consider asking them to write a reference for you on LinkedIn.  Write one for them first, and be specific!

How do I find love?

Maybe you have been in a job search for a long time.  Maybe you have been turned down a lot.  Stress can build, and it becomes harder to hide it.  The same is true for dating.  Maybe you have had too many breakups, or you feel you have been single much too long.  You find yourself expecting to be disappointed before the doorbell rings.  This kind of attitude is not fertile ground for falling in love.

I wish I had a recipe for falling in love, because I would be a gagillionaire! Alas, I do not.  However, I can tell you some things that might help you loosen your grip on a successful outcome, which may help you achieve it.

  • We have always heard that we shouldn’t study for a test right before the test. It’s like that.  Prepare for your interview by anticipating what you might be asked, but within 24 hours from your interview, let it go.  Instead, visualize the meeting.  See yourself in the interview and how you will perform.  Visualize it positively, don’t allow yourself to visualize making mistakes.
  • Watch Amy Cuddy’s video on YouTube about the “power pose.” Arrive a few minutes early, go to the restroom and take a few minutes to stand in a power pose.  I don’t recommend doing it in the parking lot, as your interview panel may see you out the window, standing like Super Man.
  • While waiting for the interview, don’t fiddle with your phone. Phones bring us news that can cause stress, and it makes you look insecure.  Put it away, or leave it in the car.
  • Focus on breathing, deep breaths gently in and out. Don’t hyperventilate.
  • Smile as often as possible.
  • Don’t fear silence. We fall in love with people because they open up the world for us.  They make us ponder things we have never pondered, and we become more than we were before.  If you are asked a question you don’t have a ready answer for, don’t feel defeated.  Instead, marvel that they have given you an opportunity to learn more about yourself.  Ask for a moment to consider it.    It’s okay to say, “That’s a great question, let me think about that,” before you reply.

Happily ever after

Don’t let preparation smother improvisation.  Both have a place in a successful interview.  This isn’t Jeopardy, where we smack the buzzer and yell, “What is a successful project, Alex?!”  The moments we remember are the moments when we are real.  Invest yourself, don’t fear rejection, and allow yourself to fall in love.

Like dating, you may feel the sting of rejection more profoundly this way, but you also open yourself up to a greater degree of success this way, and even more so, it was more fun.  It may take 30 interviews to get hired.  It may take 50.  It may take 5.  Wouldn’t it be better to enjoy them, however many there are?

Interview, Job search

Getting the Right Feedback on your Interview: My Job Search in a Country Song

When writing about obtaining interview feedback, it would have been too easy to quote A Few Good Men, “The truth??  You can’t handle the truth!”  Besides, you probably can handle it, but you have to make sure you handle the right truth and a meaningful truth, so instead we are taking a journey into country music.  Here are some reasons you aren’t getting feedback, and what to do about it.  Links to the songs are included for your musical enjoyment.  Alternate playlists are welcome.

Grounds for a lawsuit:  “No news”

Most recruiters know that the discussion about your interview will eventually get into a comparative discussion about the leading candidate, and the specifics given might become grounds for a lawsuit or complaint.  Risk-avoidance is a primary role of a recruiter, so they will not venture into this territory.  All this being said, it’s still not the main reason recruiters don’t share feedback.  There are lots of other good reasons.

Grounds for an argument:  “Pour myself a cup of ambition”

 Even if you have no plans for a lawsuit or a complaint of any kind, when the recruiter starts to explain what was missing in the discussion, what is your first instinct?  To show some ambition and defend yourself.  I know if it’s me, I will start to explain how that wasn’t what I meant, or perhaps you misunderstood, or you didn’t ask the question that would have gotten to how I am an expert in that area.  The problem is, now the recruiter has effectively let you have another interview outside the stated process, which can get them into all kinds of hot water from a compliance perspective.  But beyond that, is it fair?  If you had been the leading candidate because you had all the right examples, but you got shot down because someone else got a do-over, would that feel fair?

You may say that you will just listen and offer no additional information, but you are still a stranger to the recruiter.  How do they know if you can keep that promise?  The urge to defend yourself is strong.  Besides, the recruiter doesn’t want you to defend yourself, because their intention is not to attack you, and yet as soon as they start to give you feedback, it is natural to feel attacked.

Don’t fix what isn’t broken:  How do you like me now?”

 Let’s say that you get feedback.  You are told that you need to improve in certain areas.  For example, let’s say you came across as arrogant, and that you asked too many questions.  Ouch!  Without arguing, you take that feedback and you go to your next interview with a more passive stance, with fewer intrusive questions.   The problem in your next interview is that this company is filled with highly confident people.  With your changes, you were deemed too passive, and showed a lack of curiosity since you didn’t ask many questions.  You would have been perfect if you had stayed true to yourself, but you changed your approach to suit the needs of the one firm you know you won’t be working for any time soon.

This is where networking can help.  Networking allows you to get a cultural read on an organization before the interview.  You can also check Glassdoor for sample interview questions.  Just because your approach with one company wasn’t on point, does not mean it will not fit in the next company.

Sensitivity: Some days you’re the windshield, some days you’re the bug”

 Recruiters understand that job seekers can be in a fragile emotional state, and that even the most well-intended feedback can damage self-esteem.  Since they do not know you well, they cannot predict if you might be someone whose search could become derailed by the wrong feedback.  They err on the side of being sensitive to your feelings, they don’t want to be the windshield.

You do you: “I hope you dance”

 As the saying goes, you must do “you.”  You cannot recreate yourself before every interview trying to “fix” what you believe you did wrong the last time.  You may have done nothing wrong.  You may have been fantastic, in fact.  You can make a number of cakes using the same ingredients, but by adjusting the ingredients’ quantities, each will turn out differently.  Perhaps you had all the basic ingredients and made a great impression, but they needed a cake with a slightly heavier amount of one ingredient than you had.  You cannot solve for that, and you cannot let it bring you down.

Getting the right feedback:  Boot Scootin’ Boogie”

 It’s possible to tune up your interview to flow like the piano solo in “Boot Scootin’ Boogie,” and with the same upbeat attitude.  Focus on being the best you, rather than trying to change the past, or adapt yourself to who you think you need to be to be selected.  The goal is to be hired by the company where you will be the best fit, and you can be yourself.

Ask 3 or 4 people you trust to spend about 30 to 45 minutes interviewing you.  Spend about half the time asking questions, and the rest of the time providing feedback using the guidelines below.

  • Share your “walk me through your resume” statement with your interviewer.
  • They should ask you 3 or 4 of their favorite general interview questions.
  • After the interview, ask them to provide you feedback on the following areas (it would help if you write this up for them before the meeting).
    • Well-organized overview statement: Did you get to the point? Were they left with questions you hadn’t answered?
    • Enthusiasm: Do you appear to enjoy your work? Did you smile?
    • Body language and eye contact: Did you sit up? Did you lean in to the discussion? Was the eye contact engaging?  Did you walk into the room with confidence?  Did you use your hands effectively or were they distracting?  Did you fidget with something?
    • Synthesis: Did you get to the point?
    • Results orientation: Did you discuss the results of your work?
    • Other: Any other areas they wish to discuss?
  • These skills are good big-picture skills you should have mastered for interviews. If you need work in some of these areas consider a networking group, a career coach or online videos to support your learning.
  • Record yourself doing your career overview and see if your observations are in line with what you are hearing.
  • If content, not presentation is your issue, take time to catalogue your skills and examples of them. Practice delivering them concisely.

In conclusion:  “Baby likes to rock it”

There are many sound reasons why post-interview feedback will not meet your needs for growth.  Work on practice interviews to gain confidence, but don’t try to recreate yourself after every interview.  In the meantime, play some good tunes to keep your spirits up.  Just listening to “Baby likes to rock it” has my day off to a great start.  Now you go rock it in your job search!

“No news” by Lonestar, Lonestar, 1995. 

 “Pour myself a cup of ambition” was quoted from the song “9 to 5” by Dolly Parton, 9 to 5 and Odd Jobs, 1980

“How do you like me now?!” by Toby Keith, How Do You Like Me Now?!, 1999

“The bug,” by Mary Chapin Carpenter, Come On Come On, 1992

“I hope you dance” by Lee Ann Womack, I Hope You Dance, 2000

“Boot Scootin’ Boogie” by Brooks & Dunn, Brand New Man, 1991

“Baby likes to rock it” by The Tractors, The Tractors, 1994

Note:  Clearly my musical tastes are back where I left my youth, in the 1990s.



Interview, Job search

The Secret Ingredient for a Fantastic Phone Interview

Many job seekers spend time perfecting in-person interview skills, and yet so often you must ace your phone interview before being invited onsite.  Phone interviews are difficult because you don’t see the recruiter, and the visual cues that drive the energy level up are missing.

What creates a fantastic phone interview?  Passion.  I don’t mean romantic passion.  As the Oxford English Dictionary defines it, “An intense desire or enthusiasm for something.”  While most recruiters don’t have this on their list to evaluate, I can tell you after 25 years of recruiting that the candidates who are most likely to be invited for an onsite visit are the ones who demonstrate passion for their work, and who seem happy on the phone.

Amping up Your Energy

In the absence of the eye contact and body language that draws two people together, how can you show your passion for your work?  Below are some tips.

  • If you don’t have a face to connect with, put a photo nearby that you can “talk” to. Be sure to select a photo that isn’t distracting or makes you feel conflicted.  If you had a fight with your spouse this morning, maybe select another photo to use.
  • If you are “talking” to a photo, put it high enough so your head is raised when you look at it, don’t look down.
  • Stand up if possible, look up, or at least hold your head level like the gentleman in the article photo, who is rocking his phone interview! If it doesn’t make you nervous, pace a little when you speak, but don’t get winded.  All of this adds strength to the tone in your voice.  The worst possible scenario is to sit in a chair and slouch.
  • What are you passionate about? What makes you smile whenever you think about it?  Make sure those things are around you.  Do you do Spartan races?  Have medals nearby.  Love your garden?  Pick a window that allows you to see it during the interview.  Love quilting?  Pick your favorite quilt and have it where you can see it and touch it if you want.  Stay away from emotionally-charged items that could be distracting.  Smiling while you are speaking changes your tone of voice.  People can hear a difference when you are smiling.
  • Speaking of distracting…I know you love your dogs, but they should be out of the room, and out of earshot. Murphy’s Law guarantees you are going to have a package delivery during this call, so make sure you are somewhere that the recruiter cannot hear the dogs barking.

Not Too Much, Not Too Little…Getting Passion Just Right

Now you have the foundation to speak with strength and optimism, with a smile on your face.  What else should you do to prepare for a great discussion?

  • Prior to the interview, review the job description and determine what skills YOU would be screening for in this meeting if you were the recruiter, then develop succinct answers. Show your enthusiasm, but synthesize your comments.
  • Be prepared with a great “walk me through your resume” overview. In a previous blog, I outline a process to create this.
  • In the same article I address how to avoid oversharing – –which is much easier to do in phone interviews. Candidates rush to fill silence, sometimes with too much information.  Fight the urge to keep talking.  The recruiter is probably taking notes if they are silent.  If they don’t say anything, pause a moment, then ask, “Did that answer your question?”

I have always gone into interviews knowing I was talking about something I love, and hoping the person on the other end of the line would appreciate my passion, and hopefully share it.  If the worst thing that happened was that I had an enjoyable conversation, that was fine.  My lesson here? Put the outcome out of mind for the conversation and concentrate on talking about what you love.

What If Passion Took A Hike?

What if you don’t love what you do?  It is hard to seem passionate when you feel you are locked in a career that doesn’t suit you.  Below are suggestions that may be helpful.

  • Look for roles that offer upward or lateral mobility into other areas. Don’t settle for something where you will continue to be stuck in a role you dislike.
  • Until you can move into another role, think about what elements of your job do make you happy. Maybe you dislike the work, but you like the people and the sense of teamwork.  Perhaps your job offers good work/life balance, or benefits that really help your family and give you peace of mind.  Focus on the elements that have made you happy in the past, even jot them down so they are in front of you, making you smile.
  • Once you land in your role, focus your energy on what makes you happy so that when the opportunity arises for a move, you are considered an excellent, happy, productive member of the team.
  • What if you just don’t know what will make you happy? You have resources!  There are many books that can help you determine your strengths.  Maybe your employer offers development tools.  Do your research, then volunteer for projects that will allow you to build on these strengths, whether that is at work or in your community.  Switching careers isn’t easy, but it isn’t impossible.  Build your resume demonstrating these skills, show that you are knowledgeable, and network with people who will advocate for you.

In Conclusion

Early on in my career as a recruiter, I spoke with an older family member who had hired many people in his company.  He said, “Oh, you’re a recruiter.  Hiring people is easy.”  While I was thinking, “Way to marginalize my job,” I pushed away that thought and asked him why he felt that way.  He said, “I hire happy people.  I can train people to do a lot of things, but you can’t teach someone to be happy.  They either are, or they aren’t.”  Your level of happiness is a reflection of your passion for your work, and your life.

Phone interviews are the most difficult time to demonstrate a happy demeanor because of the lack of visual feedback.  Take some time to prepare the correct setting, then let your passion shine through!

Interview, Job search

The Dirty Dozen – 12 Job Search Misconceptions That Create Stress

Over the years I have encountered several misconceptions about the job search process.  Each, in its own way, causes stress.  These misconceptions have been compiled into the “Dirty Dozen” list below.  Each offers a link providing more information, targeted to your specific questions.

Companies are working hard to create more applicant-friendly processes, but for now, candidates can still experience periods without updates.  Grab a cup of coffee, take a deep breath, and understand what is happening in the background during the quiet periods of your search.

If the job was posted, it is an urgent need of the company.

I should network before applying for jobs.

All resumes are read thoughtfully.

The recruiter is avoiding me.

Transferrable skills are equally relevant.

No news is good news, or no news is bad news.

Applying to lots of jobs at the same company shows that I am very interested, and increases my chances of being hired.

The recruiter liked me, and that’s all that counts.

Follow up is good, or follow up is bad.

I don’t know what the company is looking for in this role.

All information obtained by networking is equally valuable.

I must be completely honest.

If the job was posted, it is an urgent need for the company.

Jobs are posted because there is a need for talent and the budget exists to support the addition of staff, or the replacement of staff.  Unfortunately, sometimes hiring managers have other things going on operationally that limit their time to review resumes, conduct interviews or participate in decision-making.  Sometimes hires must be made in a certain order to ensure proper onboarding for less departmental disruption.  Other things can happen too, like leave or illness of one of the members of the selection team.  There are times that a recruiter gets a high number of new jobs, which can slow down processing just like when you go to a restaurant at the lunch rush, and there are many people who have to be served in a short period of time.

Posting a job indicates a need, but not an urgent need.  Maybe the need is extremely urgent, but it doesn’t change the set of variables that are prolonging the selection process.  Be prepared for delays.  Keep your activity level high with networking and applications.  Take on a volunteer project to build on certain skills, or a computer class.  Being busy makes the time go by faster.

Return to the list.

I should network before applying for jobs.

Some jobs have a date where the posting closes.  Jobs with the government or with academic institutions tend to have these.  Once the job closes, the recruiter will sort through all applications to select the best.  In the business world, applications can be collected during the entire recruiting process.

Recruiters usually try to fill jobs in 30-45 days, ideally.  When you consider the time to find candidates, review resumes, conduct multiple rounds of interviews, background checks and complete the notice period, the pace is quick.  If your application arrives after they are well into the interview process, it may never be viewed unless the first round of candidates are turned down, or an offer is not accepted.

There are also jobs that recruiters know will have a high number of quality applicants.  Just because it may take 45 days to fill the job, does not mean the job posting will be open for application submission the entire time.  Sometimes they close the posting for additional applications after a week or two so that they do not have 500 applications to review.

I often hear that people wait until they thoroughly network with a company before applying, but this could mean you are applying too late.  Apply as soon as you see a job of interest, then network quickly.

Return to the list.

All resumes are read thoughtfully.

When writing a resume, we agonize over every word.  We want the reader to feel like they were right there with us in every job.  It may surprise you to hear that recruiters only spend a few seconds on your resume.  We see so many of them, we can usually tell in a glance if someone generally has what we need, or doesn’t have what we need.  If they don’t have what we need, we pass.

If you seem to have the right background, we take more time to read the resume, scanning to see if there are any red flags or contrary evidence, or to see if you have any big wins that make you more compelling.

It’s important that you put your biggest selling points in the top half of the first page on your resume.  Since recruiters don’t do your job all day in most cases, it’s important that you make it clear.  If you aren’t sure if your resume is clear, give it to three friends who aren’t in your field, and who will be completely honest with you.  Ask them to take a few seconds to glance at it, and ask them what they think you do for a living.  If they don’t understand, you need to rework your resume.

Make your successes quantifiable and easy to find.  As a rule of thumb, the further down you go on a page, the fewer bullets you should have associated with that role, and don’t include anything that someone would assume as a given in your job.  For example, if you sell cars, don’t say you meet with customers on the lot.

If you work in sales, and the only numbers on your resume are your address and phone number, don’t expect to get a call.  Quantifiable successes are the best way to get noticed.

There are those who believe that they do not work in sales, and therefore do not need to quantify their successes.  You may not work in sales, but if your job is selling your skills in the job market, you work in sales.  If quantifying your success is something you have not done in the past, do your best to estimate with the data you have today.  Once you start in your next job, make it a habit to keep a file of your wins.  It’s not egotistical to understand your value, and it can be a great pick-me-up on days where everything seems to go wrong.

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The recruiter is avoiding me.

Recruiters do not usually call you unless they have something positive and productive to say. That’s actually more thoughtful than you realize.  It’s also why we turn people down in writing, but make job offers by phone.  Think about it.  When your phone rings, you assume it’s good news, right?  If the call really had no point but to say that there is no news, you would feel disappointed.  Informed, yes, but disappointed.

When you are turned down by phone, it is awkward, and you aren’t sure what to say next.  Should I advocate for myself?  Should I just say, “thank you?”

When you find yourself thinking, “What is going on that I haven’t heard from anyone?,” keep in mind that your recruiter is likely in back-to-back interviews most of the day.  When they aren’t doing that, they have a host of other meetings to attend, reports to compile, offers to make and interview days to plan.  It is almost impossible to get them on the phone.  Some tips to offer when contacting your recruiter are listed below.

  • Always be positive, live or on voice mail. Add joy to their day, don’t drain it.
  • Don’t complain. Recruiters are sales people.  They like closing things as much as you like being hired.  If you’re frustrated at how long it’s taking, they probably are too.
  • Do not use the above tidbit of information to try to forge a bond with the recruiter by speaking ill of the hiring manager. They have more of a relationship with the hiring manager than they do with you, and it still comes across as a complaint.
  • Do not return their calls without listening to the voicemail they left with detailed information.
  • If they left specific questions for you on your voicemail or information they need to move forward, leave it on their voicemail, or email it to them. Don’t just leave a message saying that you are returning their call.  Phone tag is the main reason jobs take so long to fill.

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Transferrable skills are equally relevant.

When you bought your last car, I bet you had a list of things you had to have.  Other features were fine, but you could deal with it if you didn’t have them.  I bet you left with a car that had most of your “must have” items, or if you didn’t, perhaps you still resent the fact that you settled for a car that didn’t really meet your needs.  If you settled, it was probably because you either couldn’t find a car that had all the options you wanted, or you found it but couldn’t afford it.

The same applies to hiring decisions.  Managers want to get the very best talent they can to help them be successful.  The better the fit, the faster the person is successfully contributing to the team.  Does this mean that you shouldn’t apply for jobs that are a stretch for you?  Absolutely not.  It could be that the manager cannot find all that they want, or can’t afford what they need.

To increase your chances of being selected, consider these steps.

  • Network with people who can advocate for you. For this to be effective, they must be people who are familiar with your work as a manager, teammate, client or partner.  Being in the same social group or networking group with a stranger does not carry much weight with recruiters.
  • Try applying to smaller companies. The larger the company, the more money they have to attract candidates who are ideally suited for jobs.  Smaller, up-and-coming companies may be more flexible.

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No news is good news, or no news is bad news.

No news is no news.  Period.  It is human nature to read into it many different things, but it boils down to these points.

  • Until you are turned down, you aren’t turned down.
  • Lots of things are happening in the background that you can’t possibly predict.

You may be screened out but haven’t been notified yet.  Perhaps you don’t have all the skills needed.  Perhaps you don’t have the industry experience.  Perhaps your salary is way too high.  There are hundreds of factors, and the statistical truth is that you will be screened out of more jobs than you will be screened into.

That sounds really bad, right?  It’s not bad, it’s just a fact.  You want a job you are well-suited to, and you want to be successful.  Consider all the job postings you saw in your “job agent” feed, but you didn’t apply for because it was close to what you wanted, but not close enough.  All those recruiters are good people who have open jobs in solid companies.  But you didn’t even apply.  You read the posting until you saw enough that didn’t appeal to you, then you stopped reading.  You want the best match, and to use your application time wisely.  So does the employer.

A word about salary.  Legislation now makes it illegal to ask about salary.  I’m not a lawyer, but I know it will take a while to fix all applicant tracking systems, and even longer to un-train recruiters in a well-established habit.  It may still come up for quite some time.  You can point out the faux pas, or you can be gracious.  I always recommend gracious.

Whether you are asked about it or not, you should know what you need to earn so you spend your time effectively in your search.  You have your household budget you must maintain, and companies have a salary budget they must maintain.  Sites like Glassdoor allow you to research salaries in your target companies.

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Applying to lots of jobs at the same company shows that I am very interested, and increases my chances of being hired.

Many applicant tracking systems have an overview of the applicant’s history.  If you have applied for 150 jobs that are mostly unrelated to each other, the recruiter may be able to see that, and it will decrease your chances of being hired.  It makes you look like you don’t know what your skills are, and it makes you look like you aren’t selective about how you spend your time.  Chances are, if you do this your resume is also very general, which keeps you from standing out as a good fit.  Know your strengths, and apply for those roles.

If your skills can direct you down more than one path, create more than one resume. Make sure you upload the correct resume for your online applications.

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The recruiter liked me, and that’s all that counts.

Recruiters are friendly.  We like everybody.  While you do have to do well enough with the recruiter to be advanced in the process, it’s the hiring managers and other members of the hiring team you must convince.

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Follow up is good, or follow up is bad.

Follow up, in and of itself, is neither good nor bad.  It is the approach you take, the frequency of the contacts and the goal of the feedback that make it good or bad.

  • Approach: Always add joy to people’s day.  Anyone you encounter, but especially when following up about a job.  Do not complain about anything, not even the weather.  When people hear your voice, one of two things happens, they smile, or they try to figure out how to get off the phone.  Make them smile.
  • Frequency: No more than every two weeks.  Three is better.
  • Goal: Don’t reach out more than twice with a general, “Have you heard anything?”  If it’s been more than month, likely there is nothing the recruiter can do.  Send a work sample.  Send a link to an interesting article relevant to your discussion, the company or the industry.  Always thank them for the first interview and for coordinating any subsequent interviews.  Make these messages meaningful, but brief.

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I don’t know what the company is looking for in this role.

If you spend time with the job description, you can usually identify the competencies the company is seeking, the required skills and the preferred skills.  Take time to make a list before your first interview, and be prepared with examples showing these skills.

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All information obtained by networking is equally valuable.

Information is accurate in direct ratio to how close the source is to the hiring decision.  Information obtained from the recruiter, hiring manager, interview panel or any member of the work team is reliable.  Good information can be obtained from people in the same division.  Beyond that, do not look for specific information about the culture of the team, job requirements or hiring process.  Connections beyond this inner circle of influence are good resources to learn the names of people in the inner circle.  They can also speak to the overall company culture, growth and development opportunities (in a general sense) and benefits.

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I must be completely honest.

You must be completely factual, and accurate.  You should never lie about why you left a company, or inflate the results you produced in your jobs.  If the hiring team finds out along the way you’ve not been factual, that is a debt of trust you cannot repay.

That doesn’t mean you are obligated to share everything. In fact, it will give the appearance that you are too trusting, and cannot synthesize the most important points when you overshare.  Keep your information factual, and don’t share dramatic stories.  The recruiter has no context for these stories, and cannot easily determine if you were justified to feel the way you felt, if you were the cause of the drama, or if you overreacted to the situation.

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Melissa Jones is a Talent and Leadership Consultant in Richmond, Virginia.  Using her 25 years of experience in Talent Acquisition, she provides personal coaching for job seekers.  Sessions are designed help discuss emotionally-charged topics in the interview process, and reduce job search stress.

For more information, use this form to contact her directly.