Artificial Intelligence Career Advice Workplace Diversity

Can AI help us create a more diverse workforce or will it reinforce the status quo?

If you’ve applied for a job at a large company in the last few years, there’s a good chance that an algorithm sorted your resume before a human being even saw it. Companies that make AI hiring algorithms are out to disrupt recruiting and hiring by making it faster and easier to find the “right” candidate.

But what does that mean for applicants who are a good fit but don’t “check all the boxes”? And what does it mean for women and people of color who are historically underrepresented in many industries?

The “right people,” faster and cheaper

The use of AI or “deep learning” (a subset of AI) in the hiring process refers to employing algorithms to find patterns in employment data (whether they be résumés or new “gamified” assessments). These patterns and identifiers theoretically serve as signals that a person will be successful in a position based on historical data.

By applying these measurements to potential employees, those who deploy the technology hope to determine whether a person is a “good fit” for their company. Humans become a series of data points that are plotted against the parameters set by the company.

[su_pullquote align=”right”]Assuming AI is objective just because it involves a machine is a big mistake. When AI makes hiring decisions, maintenance of the status quo is liable to be justified as scientifically valid.[/su_pullquote]We’ve long known the main problem with this: those who build the algorithms have unconscious biases that sneak into the code. Even though the “intelligent” algorithms end up eventually training themselves, that original bias of what to value is still there. And machines have yet to prove they are much better than humans at preventing bias.

There are plenty of examples of biased algorithms that devalue the skills of women and minorities. Still, companies around the world are implementing this technology in the hopes of diversifying their workforce. The stated goal of such employers is to have these algorithms pick out candidates based on skills alone rather than more subjective criteria. But as we’ll see, the desire for more data snowballs, and we end up in pseudoscientific territory as a result.

Assuming AI is objective just because it involves a machine is a big mistake. When AI makes hiring decisions, maintenance of the status quo is liable to be justified as scientifically valid.

Garbage in, garbage out

Not only are algorithms designed by humans, but they’re also trained on historical data. And because women and minorities have been underrepresented in many professions for years, algorithms are trained on the status quo. Garbage in, garbage out.

Take, for example, the short-lived hiring algorithm created by Amazon. While it was supposed to be kept on the down-low, five people from within the company revealed to Reuters that the company had been building the hiring algorithm since 2014 based on the resumes of previously successful employees. That sounds good until you realize that most of those employees were men. That means the algorithm learned to value the skills and language used in men’s résumés to predict who would be a good hire.

“Everyone wanted this holy grail,” one of the employees said. “They literally wanted it to be an engine where I’m going to give you 100 résumés, it will spit out the top five, and we’ll hire those.”

Unsurprisingly, that didn’t leave them with a diverse pool of candidates.

One of the many problems facing the use of AI in hiring for diversity is that computer science itself isn’t a terribly diverse field. In fact, in 2019, the AI Now Institute reported on the state of computer science, which exhibited what The Guardian called “a disastrous lack of diversity.”

The vast majority of AI workers – the ones training these algorithms – are men, with estimates ranging from 78-80% of the total workforce. AI NOW reported in 2018 that only 15% of AI researchers at Facebook and 10% of AI researchers at Google were women. A look at the “People” page of Facebook’s AI initiative in November of 2020 shows there are still just 26 women on the team out of a total of 170 team members. With 71% of the global AI applicant pool made up of men, we’re still a long way from seeing changes any time soon unless companies make proactive efforts to hire more women.

[mks_pullquote align=”left” width=”400″ size=”20″ bg_color=”#f6f6f6″ txt_color=”#000″]One of the many problems facing the use of AI in hiring for diversity is that computer science itself isn’t a terribly diverse field. In fact, in 2019, the AI Now Institute reported on the state of computer science, which exhibited what The Guardian called “a disastrous lack of diversity.“[/mks_pullquote]The same goes for ethnicity. Caucasian and Asian workers make up the majority of the tech workforce. While many companies don’t reveal their ethnic diversity data, we do know that a mere 3.9% of Facebook employees are Black (up from just 3.5% in 2018) and 6.3% are Hispanic (up from 4.9%). Those identifying as bi-racial increased from 3 to 4% in that time. As of July 2020, white workers made up 41% of Facebook staff; Asian workers 44%.

Microsoft, which promised to double the number of Black managers and leaders, announced in June 2020 that Black workers made up 4.9% of its U.S. workforce but only 2.6%-3.7% of managers and executives. The number of Hispanic employees increased to 6.6%, but just 3.3%-5.4% held higher-level positions. And the percentage of women in the company’s global workforce rose slightly as well – to 28.6%. It’s important to note the company has lost two Black vice presidents over the last year and one of its most senior female executives.

How does Google fare in all of this? Well, according to their 2020 Diversity Report, the number of women at the company (in both tech and non-tech roles) increased from 31.6% to just 32% over the previous year. The number of Black workers increased by only 0.5% while those who identify as Latinx saw their numbers rise by only 0.2%. And when it came to intersectional hiring, the number of white, Black, and Native American women brought on board by the company over the last year all decreased. The number of Black women increased by just 0.01% while Asian women are up to 16.1% of the workforce (from 15.6% in 2019).

All of these companies have long promised to improve these numbers.

For example, Facebook announced an ambitious plan in June to make its workforce at least 50% “women, people who are Black, Hispanic, Native American, Pacific Islanders, people with two or more ethnicities, people with disabilities, and veterans” within the next five years, and to “double [their] number of women globally and Black and Hispanic employees in the US.” Currently, its US workforce (which is the only one it reports these statistics for) is 44% female, though mostly in non-technical roles. In 2020, when their latest diversity report was released, their U.S. workers were 41% white (and white workers held 63.2% of leadership roles), 44.4% Asian, 6.3% Hispanic (though mostly in non-technical roles), and 3.9% Black (the rest are listed as multi-ethnic or “other”). Few gains have been made when it comes to diversity in technical roles over the last year at Facebook.

How companies use AI to “disrupt hiring”

While many people are questioning the legitimacy of AI in the hiring process, dozens of companies are selling this software and promising a diverse candidate pool and staff as a result. These companies claim to be able to make job postings appeal to a wider variety of candidates, objectively vet résumés, build a diverse list of candidates to interview, and rediscover candidates who applied to the company in the past but whose résumés were initially overlooked.

When it comes to letting AI assess job postings, companies like Textio promise to eliminate language that discourages women and minorities from applying to a job. By performing what’s called a “sentiment analysis,” they claim they can make a job ad appealing to all genders and ethnicities. Their algorithm is trained on hundreds of millions of previous job listings.

In terms of narrowing down candidates from a large pool, AI promises to do what humans cannot. Companies claim that their algorithms can identify and strip résumés of extraneous information that doesn’t relate directly to the hiring criteria. Some think this naturally leads to more diversity because the algorithms are looking for specific skill sets required for the job.

Two business psychologists – Tomas Chamorro-Premuzic and Reece Akhtar – have suggested in the Harvard Business Review that using AI in assessing interviews might even be a good thing. Traditional interviews can be unstructured and follow different lines of inquiry based on candidates’ answers. The thinking is that if interviews were conducted digitally and the transcript assessed later by algorithms, AI could use only the relevant information and ignore physical appearance, facial expression, and body language. Regardless of how scientific this sounds, there’s very little evidence to back this digital pseudoscience.

[mks_pullquote align=”right” width=”400″ size=”20″ bg_color=”#f6f6f6″ txt_color=”#000″]HireVue, for example, is building systems that go so far as to use a job candidates’ computer or cellphone cameras to analyze their facial movements, word choices, and voice tenor and then rank them based on some opaque “employability score.” If a candidate doesn’t meet a company’s model for look and speech, it could affect their entire career.[/mks_pullquote]But not all algorithms try to strip personal data. As we get more and more excited about quantification and imagine that our algorithms will thrive based on more data, companies are finding ways to quantify everything. HireVue, for example, is building systems that go so far as to use a job candidates’ computer or cellphone cameras to analyze their facial movements, word choices, and voice tenor and then rank them based on some opaque “employability score.” If a candidate doesn’t meet a company’s model for look and speech, it could affect their entire career. AI researchers and ethicists have called it dangerous; companies have called them uninformed.

Once again, there’s very little research showing that “talent analytics,” which attempt to decode non-verbal behavior or assess the results of surveys and games, are effective and non-biased. The best we can say is that they may be less biased than humans. But that’s not a reason to market them as “objective” – and the quantification of human beings risks putting us at the mercy of algorithms we know nothing about.

Perhaps one of the most promising uses of AI in hiring for diversity is its use in uncovering bias in past hiring decisions by mining the data of candidates who have previously been passed over for jobs. After all, machines are built to do high volume, repetitive tasks. While there are likely to be problems with the identification criteria, algorithms can still gather data such as phrases or words that are common in rejected résumés and cross-check that language with gender and ethnic language data. Having humans assess that might give us some more insight into how we have unfairly judged female and minority candidates in the past.

Gaming the system

To add to the complexity of using AI in hiring, companies are increasingly using tests and games, thinking it will dovetail nicely with the use of AI as one more metric for their algorithms. Take, for example, a company such as Unilever, which has touted its success in hiring more diverse candidates after having all applicants play neuroscience games.

Canadian researchers have found that these tests can be reliable in predicting job performance when used in hiring selection decisions. However, such tests invariably lead to lower job selection rates for minority groups because they score lower on average than majority group members.” That’s not because minority candidates lack the knowledge or aptitude for the job, but because these tests aren’t merit-based. They’re designed to test for the status quo, which is usually white and middle class. These tests may predict job performance, but is that because continuing to hire white men is easier than instituting diversity and inclusion initiatives that make workplaces more inviting to women and minorities? Of course, white men will thrive in an environment tailored to them in the first place.

There’s no doubt that the goal of many of these software firms is to help level the playing field. The good intentions are there. So are the beliefs that this works at the corporate level. The Boston-based consulting group BCG Henderson and MIT Sloan Management Review found that 85% of executives surveyed believed AI would give their companies a competitive advantage; 60% said that having an AI strategy is urgent.

But are cognitive ability and intelligence tests reliable predictors of work success, or do they bring us one step closer to an era of digital eugenics?

The problems inherent in digital hiring initiatives

Even under the best of circumstances, there are multiple issues facing companies that use AI in their hiring processes.

The first is a lack of transparency concerning the inner-workings of the algorithm itself. Companies that sell AI hiring services use proprietary algorithms, making their inner-workings opaque, even to the company that buys it. These “black box” algorithms leave us guessing about how judgments are made, meaning that hiring diversity can’t be judged until farther down the line.

That brings us back to transparency. If we can’t build objective algorithms, the least we can do is open them up to public scrutiny. That way, you potentially get a diverse set of eyes on them to help ferret out issues that the development team may have missed. But again, these are the intellectual property of the companies that own them, and making that material open access is akin to financial suicide.

In an effort to address this, in April of 2019, US Senators Cory Booker (D-NJ) and Ron Wyden (D-OR), and Rep. Yvette D. Clarke (D-NY) introduced the Algorithmic Accountability Act, which would require companies “to study and fix flawed computer algorithms that result in inaccurate, unfair, biased or discriminatory decisions impacting Americans.” The bill acknowledges that “algorithms have authors,” according to Rep. Clarke, and that they may act contrary to current anti-discrimination laws. But it also assumes that bias is straightforward and easy to ferret out with the right intentions – and we have yet to find sure-fire ways of ensuring that. The bill has been referred to the House Committee on Energy and Commerce, where it currently sits.

The next issue is one of retention. Even if we were able to ensure a diverse workforce with the use of AI, hiring is only the first step. Taking on new employees of different genders and ethnicities requires inclusion in the workplace so that those employees stay with the company. That’s why diversity and inclusion so often go together. AI algorithms don’t do much to assess the employee life cycle or ensure that women and minority workers will be treated fairly once they are hired.

More often than not, fields dominated by white men have a shallow candidate pool. Potential workers might be hesitant to enter fields where they are not well-represented or won’t have mentors who look like them. Even at the high school and college level, these fields may produce relatively few women and minorities, in which case we’re going to need more than an algorithm to solve the problem.

While it’s true that diversity and inclusion are on the minds of managers, C-suite professionals, boards, and HR personnel, there are still companies that don’t even track this data. Or, if they do, they don’t release it, making it nearly impossible to gauge their commitment to the endeavor.

The problem of privacy

Let’s pretend for a moment that we are able to develop a reliable algorithm that allows companies to hire a diverse workforce. Let’s even assume that retention is not an issue. We are still left with the question of how we got there and whether or not it was ethical or respectful of people’s privacy. There’s a big difference between what we can know about candidates and what we should know about them. How much data is a company entitled to gather about a (potential) worker?

Companies that use the excuse that candidates can opt-out of such data collection are saying that they opt-out of their chances of being considered for the job. And promises to treat data with the utmost sensitivity should be met with skepticism. A company can undoubtedly pledge to keep the data they’ve gathered private, but no one is capable of ensuring it will never be leaked or hacked.

AI algorithms also raise questions about whether this data gathering violates the Americans with Disabilities Act and other employment laws. Take scores on neurological games or even social media deep-dives as examples – will these give employers information they aren’t entitled to, such as family status, political orientation, sexual orientation, or whether a candidate is pregnant or physically or mentally ill? AI may be able to glean some of this from its analytics and behavioral measurements. But how will that data be used (and secured)?

Finally, there’s a good argument to be made that we shouldn’t even try to strip résumés or interview answers of their gender or ethnicity data.

When a field lacks diversity, leveling the playing field may require more than objective analysis; it may require deliberate hiring strategies. Companies may need to actively seek out minority or female candidates, not expect an algorithm to produce them.

Resisting the hype

The idea of handing over the complex problem of ensuring diversity and inclusion in the workplace to a computer is tempting, but success is still years away (if it comes at all).

Ethicists have warned all along that technology that is employed before we assess its social implications will likely lead to negative consequences. Nevertheless, we’ve moved ahead at full speed despite the lack of proof that AI is accurate, unbiased, or ethical at any stage. That means that the only way to get companies to curb their use of these tools now (and therefore backtrack on their investments) may be lawsuits filed by those who have been discriminated against by AI. That’s certainly not a time-saving or cost-effective way to conduct business.

Companies are eager to claim that they’re disrupting recruitment (in a good way) with AI. But we should be ready to accept that algorithms might never be a reliable solution to solving the diversity issues we face in hiring and retention.

After all, technology is only as good as we are.


Visit our workplace diversity hub for further reading relating to current challenges faced by women and people of color, wage gaps, successful inclusion strategies, diversity in corporate and government leadership, effective talent acquisition and diversity programs, and how artificial intelligence affects diversity outcomes.

Further reading:

“The Legal and Ethical Implications of Using AI in Hiring,” by Ben Dattner, Tomas Chamorro-Premuzic, Richard Buchband, and Lucinda Schettler. Harvard Business Review, April 2019.

“The Next Frontier In Hiring is AI-Driven,” by Megan Farokhmanesh. The Verge, January 2019.

“Tackling Bias In Artificial Intelligence (and In Humans),” by Jake Silberg and James Manyika/ McKinsey Global Institute, June 2019.

“Help Wanted – An Exploration of Hiring Algorithms, Equity and Bias.” Upturn, December, 2018.

“To Build Less-Biased AI, Hire a More-Diverse Team,” by Michael Li, Harvard Business Review, October, 2020

The AI Now Institute’s 2019 Report

Career Advice Job Interview Tips Preparing a Great Resume

The complete job search guide – how to land a job at a great company

[mks_dropcap style=”letter” size=”52″ bg_color=”#ffffff” txt_color=”#000000″]W[/mks_dropcap]hen I graduated from college I sucked at job search and spent six miserable months unemployed. From the lessons I learned then and over the last 15 years in business, I’ll teach you to be better than 99% of all other job seekers and land a job at a great company. Below, you’ll find those lessons distilled down into a step-by-step job search guide complete with e-mail templates and telephone scripts.

Job search was the last thing on my mind when I graduated in 1992 – I went to the beach instead (Ocracoke island, NC) and spent six months ignoring all the talk about an approaching recession. Not too smart, but still, the memories are priceless and I’d do it again.

paying the bills during my job searchWhen winter came and my money ran out, I started searching for a job in Virginia Beach and it didn’t go well (foolish grasshopper). While I searched for the real estate job I really wanted, I worked a succession of crappy jobs which lasted about three weeks each and made me feel like a loser (working as a busboy, garden center helper, time-share sales rep, etc).

I became depressed.  This was the sort of depression where you stop talking to friends or family – I was in a black mood. My dream of becoming a real estate developer or builder was fading. Real estate was sinking all across the country, but that wasn’t my biggest problem. It was this:

How could I have known what mattered to a recruiter at a great company? Did it ever cross your mind that you could get whatever you want from people if you could hear their private thoughts? Well in job search, it would be true – you would breeze your way through the job search process if you knew what recruiters and hiring managers were thinking.

I sucked at job search because at 20 years old, I’d never run a company or managed people. Until you’ve recruited and managed people yourself, the whole business of recruiting will appear simple. You might think “I’m a hard worker with a good education and experience – what’s so complicated?” Keep reading and you’ll find out.

deeply depressed during unemploymentMercifully, after six long, humbling months, I landed a job as a bank analyst. It was a copy of What Color Is Your Parachute? that saved me. I pored through it, completing all the exercises and it worked. When a good opportunity came along, I was prepared and landed the job. Though it wasn’t the job I wanted, it was a great company and gave my career a good start.

If you haven’t studied and practiced job search skills, you should assume you suck at job search. Here’s why. At great companies:

  • bosses and recruiters like me will notice little mistakes that are totally off your radar.
  • we’ll assume those mistakes are signs that you’d suck at the job you’re applying for.
  • you won’t get good feedback and will assume the problem is any factor but you.

Sounds harsh… yes. And I know there are jobseekers so desperate they’ve considered suicide. Here’s why tough love is the right approach.

First, change is hard. Improvement is hard. I’m sharing from my personal experience, so if I’m passionate, think of it as reality coaching. A good coach is someone who tells you the plain truth with the intensity to grab your attention and hold it.

Second, the surest way to fail at job search is to think about yourself and talk about what you want from an employer. I want you to forget yourself and get inside the mind of the hiring manager (that’s me). I want you to hear what it sounds like in our heads.

You’ve probably already guessed it’s not pretty… Competition in business is fierce and everything that can go wrong, will. We’ve made every kind of mistake, especially in hiring – we hire people who cannot perform the work, people who can, but are dishonest or have no interest in it, people who say all the right things but never do anything, and so on.

Nothing we do in business is so difficult as recruiting the right people. And yet recruiting problems are just the first layer. Natural disasters happen, too, equipment fails, hackers attack our websites, employees get sick, they divorce, they burn out, customers go out of business, business models fail, costs go up, competitors rise, etc. etc.

It’s a manager’s job to take on the turbulence, to tame it and out of the chaos deliver a reliable product or service. We recruit because we dream that all the problems are solvable. We recruit to lighten our load – because we need help. That’s why the most effective message you can send is this: “You’ve got problems I can solve — let me show you how!”

Third, we’re in a crisis of massive proportions – a perfect storm. It started with the baby boom parents who built up their kids’ egos creating the ‘entitlement generation‘. The kids came into the workforce just as the Internet and government policy enticed businesses to get work done cheaply overseas.

So, we outsource to China, India, Russia, Argentina, or take your pick, and we don’t find the entitlement there.  As if we needed more encouragement to hire overseas, our public education system has bottomed out. Fortunately for employers, they’re automating the intelligence out of many brick-and-mortar jobs just in time.

hiring As a result of all this, we have too many Americans without challenging jobs and with toxic resumes showing strings of jobs they worked in for less than 2 years. Ironically, business leaders are “desperate” to hire workers with skills and attitudes our job seekers don’t have.

Fourth, great companies aim to hire only top-tier talent today – we’ve entered a winner-take-all age. Harvard Business Review and all the brilliant management gurus advise us to recruit and employ “A Players” only. Throw everyone else overboard! This is what they say it takes to compete and win.

We only need a couple of great companies in every market – one e-commerce company like Amazon who can send us any book on Earth or toothbrushes and Q-tips on a schedule every six months.  Amazon’s competitors are going out of business and this process is repeating itself across markets. Every year that goes by, it gets more profitable to win and more painful to lose. When companies win today, they (and their employees) earn millions and billions. Where do you want to ride out this wave?

company mission statementWhat is a great company?  If you put in the effort to learn what I’ll share here, you get to decide what ‘great company’ means to you in your life – your definition, your choice (profit-sharing, open book, telecommute, etc). If you can’t do it, get used to working for one crappy company after another and long hours, high stress, low satisfaction, and few rewards.

Do you want to work in a great company with a great future? You’ll need to be great and show your greatness in a job search and on-the-job. Here’s what you need to learn and do to turn your work life into a source of pride and satisfaction:

How to land a job at a great company.

  1. forward
  2. prospecting
  3. cover letters
  4. resumes
  5. blogs
  6. interviewing
  7. references
  8. networking
  9. working smart


Job search sucks – you’re being evaluated! You’ve got to laugh about it and ask others for help. Mostly though, you need to do everything right to avoid wasting your time and burning yourself out. Here are five general principles that will take you there – apply these in every aspect of your job search. Finally, if you have questions not answered in this job search guide, please ask us.

1. Know yourself. Know what you are good at and what you enjoy. Search out positions that will engage you fully – nothing will make job search easier for you.

2. Understand that cultural fit is an important factor in every hiring decision and you are being scrutinized for it. If you fit, you’ll be hired.

3. Get feedback from someone who will tell you the cold hard truth about your clothes, your grooming, your speech, your handshake, your blog/website, and your writing. This needs to be someone who understands the culture you want to be hired into (not necessarily your best friend). Don’t know the right people? Meet them through informational interviews or get professional help.

4. Show up ready for battleupbeat and energetic.  This is make or break for your job search. It may not be easy, but it is doable.

5. Use checklistsunderstand the process and keep this checklist in front of you.


Spend about a third of your time on job boards but no more. Remember that employers make roughly 33% of their hires using job boards (so 66% come from other sources).

1. Know what you want and go after it. We want passion. If you’re just looking for a place to park your rear so you can pay your bills, we’ll pick up on that and will take a pass on you.

2. Go to companies and cities that are thriving. There is always low hanging fruit somewhere in our $15 trillion economy. Hunt it down. Listen to Gisel:

. . . I left my job in June during the current recession. I tried applying for jobs online and nothing worked. . . . I grabbed my local newspaper and found an article that listed the top 100 employers to work for and the runners up. I created a spreadsheet that listed my top 4 characteristics that my future employer should have and then plugged in the companies that had these. . . . I used [LinkedIn] to find HR persons in the companies that I wanted to work for and sent them a request to connect.  The majority of the persons accepted my request and to make a long story short – I obtained 3 job interviews using this method and LinkedIn as a job search tool. . . . next week I will be starting my new job! –Gisel

too many resumes from posting jobs3. Use old-fashioned mail and the telephone. Start by sending a value proposition letter to the CEOs of companies you’d like to work for. Make cold calls. Most jobs are not advertised and the competition for those hidden jobs is much lower than the extreme competition you’ll face on job search engines.  You’ll never network your way into hundreds of companies in the same amount of time it takes to get off a letter campaign.

4. Do some free work to prove yourself if a company you really want to work for says they are not hiring. Or offer to work for a time as a contractor. Show your passion for that company.

5. Show that you won’t go away or give up if you really want to work somewhere. Don’t make yourself a pest (ask the recruiter how often), but continue to check-in periodically. Be like a dog with an old shoe – don’t let go. And don’t try to remember it all in your head either, use tools like JibberJobber and startwire.

Nothing in the world can take the place of Persistence. Talent will not; nothing is more common than unsuccessful men with talent. Genius will not; unrewarded genius is almost a proverb. Education will not; the world is full of educated derelicts. Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent. The slogan ‘Press On’ has solved and always will solve the problems of the human race.

Calvin Coolidge, 30th President of the US

Cover letters

A good cover letter is like a sip of cold water in the desert to a recruiter sifting through his inbox. A good ‘cover letter’ is really what we call a ‘value proposition’ letter and can even stand alone with no resume and trigger an immediate phone call or e-mail. Here’s a detailed blueprint for writing one. Not a gifted writer? Consider asking someone to help you.

1. Talk about the needs of the employer. Don’t talk about what you want from the job. When I read your cover letter, I’m looking into your mind. Nine times out of ten, what I see is self-absorption and those applications go right in the trash.  If you’re self-absorbed, you don’t listen well, you’ll have weak people skills and trouble living by your boss’s priorities.

you must meet the strength requirements2. Keep it short. No more than three paragraphs with three or four sentences each. If it’s long, you look unfocused and self-absorbed. Short and sweet piques my interest in you when you say the right things.

3. Keep it focused. How can you help me? Why would you want to? What’s special about my company? How do your skills and experiences fit with our needs? What’s the most similar work you’ve done in the past? Answer those and you’ve nailed the cover letter. Don’t ask questions like “Can you give me more info about this position?”

4. Be authentic. Speak in your own words and you’ll catch my attention. Sound like everyone else and I’ll know you copied and pasted from someone else’s resume.

5. Follow instructions. RTFM.  If you are responding to a job posting that outlines a couple of steps for applying or requests you complete a task, follow the instructions carefully or don’t bother responding at all. We figure you’ll flat out suck at the job if you can’t or won’t follow some simple steps to apply.

Only about 2 out of 10 applicants will follow directions, so if you can and do follow the instructions, your chances of being contacted will skyrocket. If there is some test of your skills involved, 2 out of 100 may follow the directions.  Your odds go way up if you are one of those two!

One possible exception – if asked for your salary history, you may want to hold back. We will screen you out immediately if your history or expectations don’t match our opening.


Your resume is a tool for connecting with a recruiter – not a list of work experience, not a puzzle for the recruiter to figure out. Here’s what you need to do it right, or, if you have a professional help you, this is how to evaluate their work:

1. Make it easy on my eyes and brain. Less is more. A clean uncluttered resume will stand out and show you put some thought into what’s most important, that you have an eye for detail, and have thought about the reader’s experience. Include a short objective statement that summarizes your cover letter. Sometimes the screener is not going to see the cover letter you spent an hour writing – so the objective is your chance to boil it down into a couple lines. It’s also a good opportunity to match keywords from the job description (see item 3 below).

2. Sell yourself by talking about your accomplishments. Don’t list responsibilities. In 5 or 10 seconds, I want to know what you’re good at and proud of. I want to know what impact you had in your previous jobs. Impact is about your skills and abilities, not a laundry list of your experience.

3. Sell yourself by showing what’s relevant. Your resume is not your work history – it’s a tool for connecting with the recruiter/hiring manager. To make that connection, your resume should include keywords from the job description. In 5 to 10 seconds I want to see you are a good fit because you’ve done similar work and can solve my business problems. Make it crystal clear. Make every single word earn its place on your resume. Leave your street address out.

Include important details. Give me numbers! How many people did you supervise? How many clients did you manage? How much did you sell? I can tease these things out of you, but will be very impressed if you deliver them before I ask.

4. Are you over the hill? ‘Overqualified’? Don’t call attention to it. Only go back 10 years in your work experience. Consider leaving the dates off your education and tone down your responsibility level as you can. Most recruiters will be wary of a candidate with 20+ years of experience or a significantly greater level of responsibility in prior jobs.

Yes, you have to tell the truth and we’ll figure out your full story eventually, but your chances of having a conversation with the recruiter are better if your resume doesn’t scream that you are old and overqualified. I know, it’s unfair and it sucks – read the next section about blogs if you want to change your luck.

we do not have a bias against younger applicants5. No abbreviations or industry jargon. No typos. Abbreviations or acronyms that I don’t recognize are a red flag that you lack situational awareness and empathy and is a clear mark against you. Typos, misspellings and grammatical errors are a sure way to get your resume deleted. Why?

You put your best foot forward in your job search, right? So if you’re making easily avoidable mistakes, you’re going to be a pain in the ass when you’re working for me. So use spellchecker and read everything you write out loud. You’ll catch many more mistakes, if not all of them.


Most jobs are not advertised — so how are the ‘hidden jobs’ filled?

People like me always start by asking around informally: “Hey, we’re going to add another PHP developer, do you know anyone?”  You get recommended for these positions when you have a healthy professional network – lots of friends in good places.

But, there are many ways that networking can go wrong and it’s natural to fear it. We fear the awkwardness of approaching someone cold, we fear being rejected and fear we’ll sit at an event talking to someone we already know the entire time. We fear getting stuck with someone who talks too much. If you have fears about networking, this is for you:

1. Put yourself in the pole position – volunteer with a trade association or business network so that it’s your job to coordinate invitations to speakers. Smart, successful people will come to you and you’ll meet everyone you want to! You can also create a website and interview your heroes for it.

your job search fear2. Embrace your fearyou will be rejected a few times when you start growing your network. So what! Accept it and set a goal to meet three new people at the next event you attend. Embracing rejection and failure is the key to succeeding in anything. Think of a kid learning to ride a bike, he wails “I’ll NEVER learn” and you laugh. Right?

When you send 10 e-mails inviting people you want to meet to lunch, expect 8 or 9 to reject you. You only need the 10th to say yes to change the course of your life. Try not to take the rejections personally. I decline 99 of 100 invitations. I’m over-committed and have health limitations, but that’s about me, not you – so brush it off.

3. Start doing informational interviews. They work as Steve will tell you:

The informational interview works! 5 years ago I called my now current supervisor and started asking him questions about the company, the department I am now in, its roles, responsibilities, challenges, and other pertinent information. We talked for at least an hour. We exchanged contact information, and I spoke with him one other time afterwards when I inquired about specific software that is used. 5 months later I received a call inviting me to apply and interview for the job. I was hired in 2007. –Steve

A. Make a list of 10 people you’d like to meet. Start with:

  • people who have a job title that interests you (preferably with some connection to you, college alum are best)
  • people who work at companies where you’d want to work
  • people who are doing interesting things you want to learn about

LinkedIn is a good place to start your research as Gisel points out:

LinkedIn is a very useful tool . . .  I used this tool to find HR persons in the companies that I wanted to work for and sent them a request to connect.  The majority of the persons accepted my request and to make a long story short – I obtained 3 job interviews using this method and LinkedIn as a job search tool.  I began this new process in December and next week I will be starting my new job! –Gisel

B. Send an email like the example below (using your university email address if you have one) or choose a template here that fits you better:

Subject: Eric – request to chat from a UVA alum

Dear Eric,

My name is Jason Hall and I’m a recent UVA grad also living in Boulder, Colorado. I found you via LinkedIn and am writing to see if you have 15 min. to chat with me about internet business which I can see from your profile and website you know a lot about. I’d really value the opportunity to hear how you got where you are and ask you for advice.

If you are free, I’m available during the following times:

  • Fri 2/12 from 3 to 6 pm
  • Sat 2/13 from  noon to 4 pm
  • Mon 2/15 from 6 to 8 pm
  • Tue from  2 to 4 pm
  • Wed from  1 to 4 pm
  • Thur from  4 pm – 6pm

Thank you,
(303) 422-6762

C. Why this works:

  1. The subject line calls attention quickly with my name, it’s short and easily readable on a smart phone, makes a personal connection with my school, and has clarity (no tricks or confusion).
  2. In the body you make two connections – you are in the same tribe (University) & same city.
  3. This is easy to say ‘yes’ to, your request has a short limited scope, you took time to share your calendar with specific hours when you will really be available (and on your A game, not just waking up or eating lunch).
  4. You used a polite salutation and included your phone number (you may get a call right away, so send the e-mail when you have the next half-hour free).

D. What to talk about on the call:

  1. Ask if it’s still a good time to talk.
  2. Thank this person for his or her time.
  3. Give a short introduction of yourself and why you contacted this person.
  4. Be positive so you are associated with good feelings.
  5. Get the ball rolling with something like this: “So, I’m really interested to hear your story – how you got where you are and if you have any advice for someone like me…”. But, if this person writes a blog, make sure you’ve read it first and mention it! If it sounds like you want me to personally tell you on the phone what I’ve spent hours writing in my blog, I’ll think you’re a jerk.
  6. Shut up and listen, don’t interrupt.
  7. Ask: is there anything you wish you had known when you are starting out?
  8. Ask: is there anyone else you think I should talk to?
  9. End the call on time even if you know the person is enjoying the call. You want to be perceived as an efficient communicator and don’t want to leave the person feeling drained. If you asked for 15 min., end the call at 15 min.!

E. Keep in touch!

  1. Send a quick thank you e-mail after the call.
  2. Understand that you may not have much to offer a successful expert who’s willing to give you time he might otherwise bill at $200 an hour or higher.  What you do have to offer is good karma – show him how he made the world a better place.
  3. Send periodic updates letting the person know how you implemented his advice and how it worked out. Let him know his impact on you and the end of the story. That’s priceless.


Great companies all want to hire the same “talent”. We want to hire smart, high-energy, passionate workers with an edge, who execute well, care more, and energize themselves and people around them.

“Whoa! Is that all?” you ask. I’m sorry, but it’s true, that’s what we want and that’s what you are trying to communicate in your cover letter, your resume and interview – that you are the cat’s meow!

The problem with recruiting is that many job seekers (and now you) know exactly what I’m looking for and precisely what I want to hear. That’s why I do two-hour long interviews using Brad Smart’s TopGrading process. That’s what it takes to reliably screen out the pretenders.

If you are one of those with genuine smarts, energy, leadership, passion, caring and ability to get things done, the absolute surest way to demonstrate that is with a blog. When you’ve been writing regularly for six months, a year or longer, we know for a fact you aren’t faking anything.

A good blog is solid gold for your credibility and has the potential to push you to the top of the candidate list. But, be careful – your blog can also get you screened out. Here’s a blog checklist you’ll want to review.


Want to be first on the short-list after your interview? Do more preparation than any other candidate. But, that’s not always enough, because walking away with a job offer is all about driving the sales process. Just about everything you need to know is here, but if you aren’t a natural, consider getting help from a coach also.

was really hoping you1. Research the company, the position, and management. You can look great on paper, sound great on the phone and answer every question well, but if you have not bothered to research me and my company, I won’t hire you because I know you’re not really interested in the job. How could you be without knowing who we are and what we do?

Cultural fit is an important factor in every hiring decision and researching the company allows you to dress, look, and speak like the team. True, fit is in the eye of the beholder, but do what you can to fit in (if it’s comfortable for you). Do your research to discover if we’re a good fit for each other and try not to show off in the interview. If you’ve done the research, just relax and let it show naturally.

If you don’t do the research, you can’t ask intelligent questions, so you’ll also fail below in item 12.

2. Know clearly why you want to work for my company. It matters to me because I’m looking for someone who’s going to be with me for years through thick and thin. If you don’t know why or it is not a compelling reason, we’re not a good fit for each other.

3. Know what you are proud of in your life and career. Tell me about the impact you’ve had in your prior jobs. Think of a few stories you can tell that illustrate each key point you want to make about yourself. Tell me how your experience and skills relate to the position I’m recruiting for. Talk to me about the similarities between your previous experiences and my needs. Talk to me about your ideas for having an impact in my company. How will you save or make money for my company?

4. Know how you will answer the most common and most difficult questions you may be asked. Every interviewer is going to ask you about your weaknesses and failures. If you’re perfect or the best you can do is “I’m impatient”, I’m not going to hire you.  Never met a talented person without a few character flaws and who hasn’t made some interesting mistakes. Questions you should be able to answer without babbling include:

  • Why should we hire you?
  • Tell me about yourself. How would you describe yourself?
  • What is your greatest strength? weakness?
  • What motivates you?
  • What are your salary expectations?
  • Describe (for each position you’ve held) a low point/mistake/difficult situation and how you overcame it?
  • What’s the hardest thing you’ve ever done? Funniest thing that’s ever happened to you at work? Biggest disappointment?
  • What would you like to be doing 5 years from now?

5. Proofread your resume and any other materials you plan to offer the day before the interview. Read everything out loud to yourself – you’ll catch more errors that way, if not all of them. Wait a day or two and proofread it again. Ask at least one other person to review your resume.

6. Bring copies of your resume and a notepad. Take notes if appropriate.

7. Be likable with good hygiene.  Never smoke a cigarette before an interview and be aware that body odor or bad breath will ruin your interview before you even get started.

8. Be likable by making a connection: First, the basics – be on time, turn your phone off, shake hands firmly, make eye contact, smile and use the interviewer’s name (last name is safest unless asked to use first). Be confident and positive – don’t badmouth previous bosses because, as a hiring manager, I’m likely to identify with your ex-boss.

Remember to smile genuinely at everyone, not just your interviewer. Everyone you meet counts — remember all their names.  If you treat me differently from my  team, that’s an important red flag.

Second, look for something you have in common that might build rapport, someone you know in the company (check Facebook and LinkedIn), favorite sports teams, hobbies, etc. Research the interviewer online before the interview and look around the office for clues when you arrive.

9. Read body language. Most interviewers don’t like to give bad news and will only tell you what you want to hear even when they’re trying to get rid of you as fast as possible.  Our body language gives us away, though. Our voice lies, but the body always tells the truth. We cross our arms, avoid making eye contact or fidget when we’re internally conflicted or just bored. Read the body language and if it tells you your interview is not going well, find out why!

When your interview is going well, your interviewer may be leaning forward,  arms and legs uncrossed,  hands open,  jacket unbuttoned, with good eye contact. This is the same good, open, engaged posture you want to display yourself.

10. Don’t babble. Stay focused on the answer to each question and be careful not to go off on tangents. Don’t give a lot of details initially – that’s babble. Trust me to ask you good follow-up questions. Don’t jump to fill silences unless asked to. Sometimes I want to think during an interview let me.

11. Avoid soundbites and buzzwords. If your answers sound scripted and I sense that you are dropping buzzwords to impress me, I’m going to associate you with all the candidates I hired that talked a good game but couldn’t deliver. Don’t do it! Speak from your experience about your experience – keep it honest and authentic. That will impress me.

12. Ask good questions that show you care. If you ask something you could’ve learned in 60 seconds on our website, you’re unlikely to get the job. If your questions are mostly about compensation, I’m unlikely to hire you. The questions you ask reveal your interest level in the position and the depth of your research. They also help me understand your previous work experience.

Ask me difficult questions – express your concerns about my company freely. Most likely, you’ll impress me with your critical thinking and authenticity.

Early in the interview, ask your interviewer to describe the qualifications of the ideal candidate. You want to confirm what you think you already know about the job before leading the interview in the wrong direction.

Good questions are open-ended and can’t be answered with a yes or no.

Ask your interviewer for feedback during the interview – “How do you see me fitting in at your company?” or “On a scale of 1 to 10 (10 being the best), how do you think I’d do in this position?” The rating question sets up a good follow-up: “What could I do to score higher?”

Asking for feedback during the interview may be uncomfortable for you, but, ‘closing the sale‘ as it’s called, shows strength and maturity on your part. Best of all, you get the information you need if not a job offer.

13. Send a thank you e-mail the same day you interview. If you interview with me and fail to send a quick thank you, it’s game over, no matter how perfect a candidate you are in every other aspect. It’s not about my ego, it’s just business.

We look for people with 1) high interest in working for us and 2) a sense of urgency who 3) will treat everyone inside and outside the company with care. The ‘thank you’ (or lack of it) is a perfect test of those characteristics for us. In your thank you note, take the opportunity to include any materials or references you think may be helpful.

Here’s a real-life example from an online chat I had today:

Keith: Hi Eric, I was wondering if you made any decisions regarding the Customer Support Position?
Eric:  hi Keith, did you send me an e-mail by any chance?

Keith: no, I thought you had my resume
Eric: Yes I did have your resume and would have loved to hire you, but needed more communication from you. Looking for somebody with a sense of urgency and who will take good care of customers. That means a lot of communication. After our second interview I sent you an e-mail asking for references also…

Keith: ok, I don’t think I got that email
Eric: I suppose not, anyhow thanks for your time and best wishes.

Keith: ok, same to you

14. Leave something for the employer to remember you by or be just another face in the crowd. Be fascinating or forgotten.

15. Contact your interviewer regularly for updates, until you are hired or rejected. Unless you are asked to do this less frequently, once a week will work nicely. Remember that contacting your interviewer is a display of your ability to manage a process and follow through. You’re showing skills you may be hired for.


When you apply for a job at a great company, your references become much more important in the hiring process. I’m not talking about letters of recommendation.

I’m talking about a key role for your references. If you want to be prepared for the toughest process you may encounter, this is what to expect. First, pretend your name is John and I’ve just interviewed you asking the same questions for each of your previous employments:

  • What was your boss’s name?
  • What was it like to work with him/her?
  • How do you think he/she will rate you on a scale of 1 to 10 when I ask?
  • What will your boss give as reasons for that rating?

At the end of the interview, I’ll ask for contact information for each of your previous bosses (and maybe some coworkers) discussed in the interview. I’ll ask you to give them each a heads-up and permission to contact them. When I reach them, these are the questions I’ll ask:

  • In what context did you work with John? (conversation starter, memory jog)
  • What were John’s biggest strengths?
  • What were John’s biggest areas for improvement back then?
  • How would you rate John’s overall performance in that job on a 1 to 10 scale? What about his performance causes you to give that rating?
  • John mentioned that he struggled with [something] in that job. Can you tell me more about that? (next I’ll ask for examples)
  • Is John one of the best people you’ve ever worked with?

I’m looking for people who consistently get ratings of 8, 9, and 10 across my reference calls. Anything lower is a warning flag I want to look at more closely. One 6 isn’t necessarily a deal-breaker but I will want to understand why it exists.

Recruiters know that people don’t like to give negative references. They want to help former colleagues, not hurt them and they want to avoid conflict. They want to feel good about themselves and try to avoid nailing anyone with a reference.

This is why a reference who hesitates (“if… then…” qualifiers or um’s and er’s) is probably trying hard not to say something that will harm you or put him or herself at legal risk. Faint praise in a reference interview is a nail in the coffin.

A good reference, on the other hand, will overflow with enthusiasm and clear admiration. There won’t be any hesitation or hedging about it. There is a spark that tells the recruiter, he’s found an ‘A player’.

Now that you know our tricks, the million-dollar question is – do you know what your references are saying about you? If you don’t, it’s time to find out!

Get the ebook

If you liked what you read here, and think you may want to refer back to this job search guide later, grab the e-book version for Kindle – the ebook also includes the WORK SMART guide you’ll read about next.


rules for success in job searchWhen you’ve followed this job search guide and landed a job with a great company, you’ve set high expectations. Your boss now thinks you’re an “A Player” so you want to deliver. Specifically, your boss expects you to work smart — don’t assume you know what that means! Find out how to avoid career-killing mistakes (and get promoted) with my detailed nuts and bolts guide to working smart.


Visit our career advice hub for more insight on getting hired.

Career Advice Job Interview Tips Preparing a Great Resume

Your Job Search Questions, Answered by Career Professionals

by Christina Schmidt

Keep reading if this sounds familiar: You’ve been applying to tons of jobs, and you’re getting no callbacks. No email responses. No invites for an interview. Your LinkedIn profile is showing no activity.

You did your research. You prepared. What happened?

First off, I understand your pain! As a dual specialist career counselor, I know first-hand how bewildering and devastating the job search process can be.

Career is linked to identity. Who we are as people and how we perceive ourselves are strongly tied to the greater idea of “doing.” When we job search, we are essentially searching for a part of ourselves. On the other hand, the ‘identity’ piece may be a luxury – some of us just need to pay the bills. Putting in the work without seeing results can be debilitating regardless of one’s reasons for job searching.

That’s why we’re here to help!

Below are some of the most pressing questions has received from jobseekers, answered by real professionals who work on the frontline of career preparedness. This Q&A will provide you some insight that should help with your job search.


  • Emily Salazar, Career Counselor, St. Edward’s University
  • Andrew D. Harper, Region V Vice President, Board of Directors, Cooperative Education & Internship Association (CEIA)
  • Brad Boggs, President & COO,

Q: How much does a LinkedIn profile or other social media come into play with job applications? Do hiring managers do their own research into the candidate outside of the standard application?

Salazar: “LinkedIn comes into play in a big way. All employers – non-profit, corporate, start-ups – are going straight to LinkedIn. It used to be that LinkedIn was just another version of your résumé online…but it’s not that anymore. The things they can’t see on a résumé, they are looking for on LinkedIn.” 

LinkedIn offers the opportunity to go beyond your résumé by incorporating media such as slides, websites, powerpoints, essays, and portfolios. Employers are looking at your activity, comments, recommendations, and to whom or what you may be connected. Keep your LinkedIn profile current and engaging.

Harper: Excluding government agencies, “I most certainly think private employers are looking at individual social media. And while it is not probably fair or even an accurate way to judge someone based on LinkedIn or social media, I think it is happening.”

Boggs: “When we hire at, we check LinkedIn and other social media to make sure the candidate’s story is consistent with what they are telling us through their résumé and interview. We are a fully remote-based workforce, so it’s important to use everything we can to make sure we are hiring a great teammate.”

You may be acquainted with the idea of “culture fit” – employers wanting to ensure a good dynamic between the candidate and the company. An applicant’s social media may provide clues as to “fit appropriateness.” Social media has the potential to move you forward or weed you out. While actively job searching, keeping your social media clean and current is solid advice. Remember that wild weekend in Cabo? A potential employer might also if you’re posting pictures all over social media.

Q: What are some of the best current, quick tips for résumés and interviews?

Salazar: “When you submit a résumé, be it online or by going to a job fair to hand it to a person, it’s generally not going to be read by a human being first. It’s going to be read by an applicant tracking system or ATS. That is almost always the case now.”

A tailored résumé is critical. Does the language of your résumé reflect that of the job posting details? That does not mean copying and pasting the job description onto your résumé, but it does mean matching the language as much as possible if your experience and qualifications are relevant.

Pro Tip: Use a scanning software, such as Jobscan, to help optimize your language. You simply upload your résumé and a copy of the job description, and the software will provide you with a résumé compatibility percentage, much like an ATS would. It’s even possible to determine what ATS a prospective employer is using, which allows you the opportunity to tweak your résumé.

Harper: “Whatever makes you the most qualified for that position needs to be on the top of the résumé.” That means you don’t have to follow that résumé format you found on Word, or what another article advised should be the default template. Lead with the most relevant information for that particular position. Employers should not have to dig for your experiences or qualifications. Make the document easy to read and keep graphics to a minimum, if any.

As for interviews, “employers are going to be testing you to determine if what you’ve stated is true,” so be prepared with real examples. Show initiative by being prepared to verbalize experiences. The interview is also your opportunity to demonstrate soft skills and personality.

Boggs: “Be prepared to experience interviews more frequently via online video programs like Google Hangouts, Skype, and Zoom. To echo Salazar and Harper, I would agree that you need to lead with the most relevant information on your résumé that relates to the particular job to which you are applying. Beginning with your most recent position, an employer wants to see if you developed the skills and demonstrated the accomplishments necessary to help their business and mission.”  

Q: I’ve submitted tons of applications and résumés, but I haven’t heard back from anyone. It’s like the company’s career site is a black hole. What am I doing wrong? 

Salazar: “You may be doing nothing wrong. Employers are getting thousands and thousands of résumés. They are overloaded and don’t have to respond. One, don’t expect a response often. Two, after about a week and a half, two weeks, there’s nothing wrong with emailing the company. Still don’t hear anything? It’s perfectly okay to follow-up in another couple of weeks, then stop.” 

Indeed, your application is more likely to stand out by taking the initiative and following up. Employers pay attention to a candidate’s willingness to inquire about their applications, and it could also let the employer you’re still interested. In the meantime, you can submit another application for the same job. As a general rule, the more you apply, the greater your odds are for a response, just don’t go overboard.

Harper: Sometimes it’s not just this mystery ATS machine that’s rejecting everyone. It’s often just a matter of volume and timing. If an employer received 100 applications and found five strong candidates in the first 20 applicants, they’re going to stop looking.”

You may be a great candidate, but if you weren’t early enough with your application, or didn’t stand out among the first applicants, your materials might be overlooked. That’s another excellent reason why following up within a week or two is a great idea.

Combat the volume and stand out as a candidate by focusing on the things you can control:

  • Ensure your résumé is always current – take a few moments to optimize the relevancy on your résumé by comparing it to the job description.
  • Always tailor your cover letter to the employer and role for which you are applying, never use a generic document.
  • Consider your value proposition
  • Remember to follow-up on your application within a week or two.

Boggs: “That’s a good point about cover letters – I think they are somewhat of a lost art. However, if done well, an original cover letter can easily help land a job seeker at the top of the interview shortlist. Employers can tell if the cover letter is canned – or even worse – if it has language leftover from the last job to which the candidate applied. That will be taken as a sign the candidate is either not detail-oriented, doesn’t care that much about the role, or didn’t take the time to understand what the employer was after. And they’ll be skipped over.”[mks_pullquote align=”right” width=”300″ size=”18″ bg_color=”#1b95c2″ txt_color=”#ffffff”]Have other questions we can address?
submit them in the comments below or tweet us @diversityjobs[/mks_pullquote]

Q: Speaking of résumés, what are some red flags that stand out to recruiters? 

Salazar: “Gaps. Explain the [résumé] gaps. Gaps are okay as long as you explain them in your résumé or cover letter.” Address gaps head-on to make sure they don’t raise any questions that prevent you from being interviewed. Be sure you can account for time out of your field by expressing the work you were able to achieve or any involvement, such as volunteering.

“Also, leaving dates off your résumé. This isn’t a red flag, but it can unintentionally speak to an applicant’s age. With some of the older population…they won’t put dates…because they’re afraid the employer will do some calculations, figure out they’re older and not call them in. Younger applicants typically don’t think twice about adding graduation and employment dates. “It’s up to the applicant, and it’s not right or wrong, that’s just something to think about. Is leaving dates off really benefiting you?”.

Also, you don’t have to put your entire work history – only the most recent ten years in many cases. That experience should be your most relevant to match the prospective job anyway. And if you are only showing the last 2-3 jobs and the most recent ten years, there is really no need to withhold dates.

Harper: “Be mindful of the basic stuff like structural consistency, spelling, and grammar. (There is no excuse for these errors when programs like Grammarly are so readily available.) If you’re detail-oriented, your résumé is the best opportunity to demonstrate that. Also, be prepared to explain roles that show reverse transitioning as opposed to upward movement. If your role was downgraded or showed a backslide in responsibilities, then be ready to address the issue in the cover letter and be prepared to explain your résumé in the interview.”

Pro Tip: The most well-received résumés grab the employer’s attention immediately and list the most relevant information from the beginning of the document. Résumés should be a full top-to-bottom one-page document, two pages if an applicant has more experience. But do not exceed two pages. Less is more!

Boggs: “I would say it’s a red flag not to tailor your résumé to the specific job opening to which you are applying. Don’t make the hiring manager connect the dots between your experience, what you might have accomplished, and how that can help in the next role. Instead of simply listing responsibilities, your résumé should talk about the accomplishments and results you’ve produced in quantifiable terms.  If you believe you’ve developed the skills in previous roles that will translate to the next role, spell that out directly.” 

Q: Any tips for those currently employed and seeking opportunities elsewhere?

Salazar: “It doesn’t matter if you’re working or not working. If we’re talking about how to write a résumé or how to apply, the advice doesn’t change.”

However, if it’s a matter of anonymity – not wanting your current employer to know you are looking elsewhere – then be aware of your LinkedIn profile. What does your current status say about you – Employed? Actively Searching?

Harper: “When you begin a job search, you have to know that there is a minimum risk of the employer finding out, particularly in certain industries. People just know each other, and they talk.” 

Consider at what point you need to disclose your job search, as it will be in your best interest to keep a positive relationship with your current employer. Assume a “minimum risk” if you are job-seeking while employed. Keep in mind, “With the unemployment rate being so low and the sheer number of job openings today… you’d be foolish not to keep your eye open. If you’re really good at what you do, other people are going to try to recruit you.”

Q: Is there a difference in how the job seeker should approach the application process for a small organization, as opposed to a larger one? 

Salazar: “The only difference is volume. At a smaller place, maybe you can drop by and do some informal follow-up and the small courtesy behaviors that you likely could not do with a larger employer. There’s not much else you would do differently, but if the company is smaller, try to make an extra effort in being visible.”

Boggs: “The difference I see is with a large employer, you would rarely know who the individual is doing the hiring. With a smaller organization, you have more of an opportunity to ‘sell yourself’ by relating to the hiring manager or individual you can tell is responsible for the team. Networking and research are key here.  

Here’s a real-life example: A few years ago, my wife applied to be the nurse at a local elementary school. She spent a considerable amount of time researching the school – their population, what they stood for – and reading the Principal’s periodic newsletter to parents. When she was called in for an interview, my wife was thrilled to see the Principal on the hiring committee because she had the opportunity to echo the schools’ motto ‘Heroes have heart!’ and the Principal’s personal mission to ‘prepare kids for college starting in Kindergarten’. After one particular answer, the Principal exclaimed, ‘Yes, finally someone paid attention!’. My wife stood out by doing her homework and showing she cared about being part of the specific school’s mission. 

That’s how you sell yourself – by understanding the real needs of the individual employer and then communicating that understanding with a tailored solution you can offer. You can also do that when applying to a large employer, but it’s easier to build rapport with the individual stake-holders if you can identify them.”

Q: What are your thoughts on following up post-interview?

Salazar: “Definitely! You get an employer’s attention and stand out from the crowd because thank you notes happen so rarely. Courtesy matters. Employers complain about a lack of courtesy. Anything that makes you stand out from the crowd.” Even a short thank you email or handwritten note can put your application on the radar.

Harper: “A handwritten thank you note is nice…but it may not reach the people you want it to. At a minimum, I think an email is absolutely acceptable. What’s important is that you took the time to show people you’re interested in the position.”  

Harper also points out that the absence of a thank you note indicates to the employer that you may not be interested in the position. Ultimately a thank you note, or the lack of one, speaks on your behalf.

Boggs: “A thank you email is a must. When we are interviewing, we won’t even move candidates to the next step in our process without it. It shows us the candidate is interested, which is essential because we want to hire people who genuinely want to be part of our team. A good follow-up note also helps to remind us about highlights from the interview, which is important if we are interviewing many candidates. And it acts as a real-life example of how the candidate will facilitate communication with our clients, partners, and staff once hired.”


Salazar: Have an awareness that there is a lot of competition out there. I can’t stress enough – in this digital age, employers are bending over backward to find ways to sift through thousands of résumés to find the perfect match. Employers are inundated, trying to find that perfect person. Just sending out résumés is not enough. You can’t just be a sheet of paper to the employer. You have to network. You have to be on LinkedIn. You have to join professional associations. You have to go to job fairs. You have to make cold-calls. You cannot be just a sheet of paper. The résumé is not enough. Anything you can do in-person is what you need to do on top of the résumé.

Harper: You can’t become emotionally invested in every résumé. It can be very frustrating…this is still a truly human-to-human experience. And I think because there are so many variables that are human to the process, it’s going to be a little messy. There certainly are unfair and inefficient practices out there. Trying to connect humans and companies… there’s not a perfect way to do that.” 

The hiring process is often muddled. Make things more transparent for the employer by optimizing your résumé, tailoring your cover letter with a value proposition, and taking the time to develop your LinkedIn profile. When you demonstrate that you are more than your résumé – someone who understands the employer’s needs, someone who has developed the skills to help them – the employer will realize that too.

For comprehensive advice on the entire job search process, read our complete guide to landing a job at a great company or visit our career advice hub.

Career Advice Preparing a Great Resume

Your personal value proposition letter

[mks_dropcap style=”letter” size=”52″ bg_color=”#ffffff” txt_color=”#000000″]Y[/mks_dropcap]ou have 5 or 10 seconds to make your first impression with the hiring manager or recruiter. In those crucial 10 seconds, a ‘value proposition’ has more power to grab and hold the reader’s attention than anything else you can write. It demands attention by clearly stating in a few sentences why a manager should hire you instead of the other qualified candidates in the stack.

Below, I’ll give you a blueprint (and some examples) for creating a persuasive value proposition letter that you can use in place of a cover letter or send on its own without a résumé. If writing is not your strong suit, consider asking someone to help you create your letters.

In business jargon, a value proposition is a summary of why a consumer should buy a particular product or service over another. Instead, I’m going to talk about why a hiring manager should buy you over the rest of the competition.


Creating your own personal value proposition is one of the most effective ways to get hired.  It works because it:

•    sets you apart from the competition
•    uses persuasion and sales techniques by focusing on the benefits you offer an employer
•    clarifies and deepens your understanding of the recruiting equation – what employers want and what you have to offer

How do you add more value or better solve a problem than anyone else? What is your worth to a company? These are the key questions you’ll address in your letter. Only when you truly understand what you have to offer, will your interviewer “get it” too.

Are we talking about a cover letter? No! Where a cover letter traditionally highlights what you’ve done in past positions, a value proposition letter states what you’ll do in this one.  Grammatically speaking, you’re shifting from the passive tense (done) and focusing on the active tense (do).

Active people get noticed. By using a value proposition letter in favor of a standard cover letter you are issuing a call to action.  Think about that for a moment.  While many, if not most, of the other cover letters are simply stating past activities, you’re already identifying what you can do when you’re hired.

To find your value, all you have to do is fill in three blanks, three benefits you’ll bring to Company ABC.  This isn’t a list of skills, but rather a personal mission statement you will use to sell yourself:

1.    How will Company ABC benefit financially by hiring you?
2.    What experience can you offer that may provide value to Company ABC?
3.    What additional skills do you have that set you apart from the other candidates?

For some people answering those questions is easy.  In a sales role, for example, you may have numbers to illustrate your financial benefits or overall value.  Unfortunately, most people don’t have such raw data to work from.  How does one put a value on day-to-day tasks?

An example: A friend of mine (let’s call her Samantha) worked at a coffee shop for several years.  Each year the company would have a “Camp Day” to raise money for children’s charities.  Samantha worked on Camp Day every year, setting up games and the like for kids who showed up with their parents.  There wasn’t much effort needed in setting up the activities, but as more and more people took notice, all too quickly the coffee shop was bustling with activity.

With this simple scenario we can answer the three questions needed for our value proposition:

1. How will Company ABC benefit financially by hiring you?
Samantha can set up an event that will increase customer traffic and sales.

2. What experience can you offer that may provide value to Company ABC?
Samantha can coordinate charitable events for families, engage children in activities, and bolster the public image of the company.

3. What additional skills do you have that set you apart from the other candidates?
Samantha knows how to face paint, which kids love!

You never know what slight edge over your competition will get you hired. This simple example above shows how you can break down a task into the key value proposition points.  At the same time, when considering your own value-add to Company ABC, never sell yourself short; don’t feel like you’re limited to the biggest, most elaborate tasks you’ve ever completed.  Day-to-day activates are equally important.

Find some quiet time to appraise yourself. You need to spend some quality time reflecting on what you do well to craft a winning value proposition letter. There is one place that’s perfect for personal assessment – the shower. Your morning shower is the perfect place for solitude, away from husbands, wives, kids and the world in general. Everything you have to offer is standing right there – it’s not about your clothes, your tools, your education or your work experience, it’s just about what you can do for the company.

The blueprint:

  1. Begin with a question like: “Do you need …” or “Would you like …” (questions are engaging and create a connection if you hit a hot button).
  2. Address a problem they might be having in your question or first paragraph.
  3. Give three bullets that prove you have the solution to the problem (strongest bullet at the top)
  4. Use the word “you” twice as often as “I”.
  5. Use short sentences and paragraphs to keep your reader’s interest.
  6. Use specific numbers and facts to build credibility.
  7. Bold two or three strong words or phrases to draw attention to a few key items.
  8. Write in a friendly, conversational, personal, tone of voice without using any buzzwords or overly technical language.
  9. Aim for 100 words and don’t exceed 150.
  10. Format with Times New Roman 12 point font for easy reading.  Use simple bullets (no fancy ones) and don’t exceed two lines with any bullet.

Snail mail works. By all means, use your value proposition letter as a cover letter when responding online to a posted position. But, use it too on its own in a targeted direct mail campaign to top execs!  This is worth spending your money on, if done well. A physical letter addressed to a decision-maker on good quality stationery and signed in blue ink will get read!  Letters like this are rare and not spam. Follow-up your most important letters with telephone calls.

You can buy a targeted mailing list at Hoovers and use Microsoft Word’s mail merge feature to create your mail campaign. Your letter mail campaign will be more effective if you provide a URL to your blog or website where the reader can find your résumé online (instead of including a hard copy or attachment of your résumé).

Putting your résumé online, instead of mailing it out, allows the exec to discover you, to experience you in more than one format, and allows you to bring the exec into your world online where you can showcase yourself in a more compelling way than on two sheets of paper.

Conducting your own direct mail campaign also has some advantages over using a recruiter or staffing agency:

  • When you go direct you save the employer the 30% recruiter or agency fees
  • Your letter might arrive before the employer engages a headhunter or agency
  • The employer may create a new position for you – this does happen often.

E-mail works too, but not for everything… You can be effective in sending customized e-mails one by one in response to posted positions, but don’t forget:

  • You are applying where the greatest competition exists.
  • Your e-mail is most likely not addressed to the final decision-maker, but rather a recruiter or assistant that does the screening.
  • E-mail is not elegant or classy and the effort you put in is perceived to be low.

If you send hundreds of unsolicited e-mails using your own computer, you’re almost certain to get blacklisted by one of the spam databases and you’ll end up having trouble reaching anyone by e-mail. You may also have your e-mail account disabled by your ISP. You could pay someone else to send e-mails for you eliminating these risks, but in the end, it’s spam and less cost-effective than snail mail.

Still want to send some unsolicited e-mails? Here’s how to find almost anyone’s e-mail address – just be careful.


Note these examples are written from the perspective of a job seeker conducting a direct mail campaign – these are letters that will get mailed out to hundreds or thousands of top execs. That’s why we’re asking the exec to pick up the phone and call (instead of promising to make a follow-up call next Tuesday).

Example #1

 Amy Anderson
1234 Elm Street
Springfield, CA 90210
Tel: 123-456-7890
Email: [email protected]


[Full Name]
[Business Name]
[City, State Zip]


 Are you looking for a way to boost your company morale and employee satisfaction?

 As a seasoned Human Resources Generalist, I spearheaded corporate initiatives that directly influenced and promoted employee engagement and performance.

 My accomplishments to reflect this include:

  • Employee retention rate increase of 14% in 3 years
  • Workplace compensation payouts decreased by 7% over 2 years
  • Implemented company-wide benefits and stock options package

Please call or email and let’s explore how I can help you. Thanks.


Amy Anderson
Human Resource Generalist
Company ABC

Example #2

 John Booth
1234 Elm Street
Springfield, CA 90210
Tel: 123-456-7890
Email: [email protected]


[Full Name]
[Business Name]
[City, State Zip]


Do you need a significant boost in productivity on your production line?

My skills as a Production Team Lead will increase your line employee output considerably, not only saving you money but also finding time to invest resources in other business initiatives as needed.

Here are some high-level details of what I can bring to your team:

  • Exceeded daily parts quotas by 6% on average
  • Maintained consistent output with a team of seven, ordinarily 10 to a line
  • Reduced workplace injuries by 3% over 1 year

With the impending sale of our company, I’m being proactive in looking at new opportunities.  Please call and let’s talk about how I can help. Thank you.


John Booth
Product Team Lead
Company XYZ

Example #3

 Betty Foster
1234 Elm Street
Springfield, CA 90210
Tel: 123-456-7890
Email: [email protected]


[Full Name]
[Business Name]
[City, State Zip]


Want a lightning-fast IT infrastructure that’s well ahead of your competitors?

I can help.

For the last decade, I’ve acted as an IS Project Manager and put in place mission-critical network systems for small business and enterprise clients alike.  Some highlights:

  • a 25% increase in computing productivity among staff
  • a reduction in IT support costs of 7% with upgrades to hardware and software
  • enhanced online security measures by 11% over two years

Please call or e-mail me and let’s explore the opportunities you have with your systems and network.


 Betty Foster, IS Project Manager
Company XYZ

For comprehensive advice on the entire job search process, read our complete guide to landing a job at a great company or visit our career advice hub.
Career Advice

Your choice: be fascinating or forgotten!

[mks_dropcap style=”letter” size=”52″ bg_color=”#ffffff” txt_color=”#000000″]W[/mks_dropcap]hen you apply for a posted job, assuming you’re qualified for it, one of the greatest obstacles you face is being forgotten. Here’s how to make yourself memorable, or better yet, fascinating.

Try to picture the overload affecting a recruiter handling three positions, receiving a dozen résumés every day for each with candidates in every stage of the recruiting process: screening, interviewing, reference checking, salary negotiation and on-boarding. Picture the recruiter with a family and kids, maybe with a divorce or health issue in the background (everyone’s got something).

Your recruiter could be touching 100 e-mails a day and doing 20 to 50 telephone calls. Can you see how it is that you have about 9 seconds to win a decision-maker’s attention? I talked about how to grab my attention in the first 9 seconds with a value proposition letter, now we’re going to talk about how to turn your initial win into a real connection and avoid being forgotten.

You do that with fascination. Because, as author Sally Hogshead notes, “In a competitive environment, the most fascinating option always wins.” You fascinate or you fade into the background noise. Below, I’ll share a number of ways to create connections that’ll make you memorable and keep your candidacy alive for the eventual win.

But first, watch Sally’s TedX presentation and consider reading her book Fascinate: Your 7 Triggers to Persuasion and Captivation, which is a great read.

The book will help you understand what fascinates people and how your natural talents can play to human nature.  That will greatly benefit your career, but you’ll learn valuable life-skills too, so you can’t lose.

Just want to get started right now, you say? Here’s what you can do to make yourself memorable in your job search and how it relates to Sally’s seven fascination triggers:

Make a personal connection and mention it in follow-ups – look for something you have in common that might build rapport, someone you know in the company (check Facebook and LinkedIn), favorite sports teams, hobbies, etc. Research the interviewer online before an interview (whether in person or by telephone) and look around the office for clues when you arrive.

Building a personal connection relies on the trust trigger to comfort, relax and bind the recruiter to you. Your goal is to become familiar and maintain predictability and consistency while impressing the recruiter with your authenticity. Be careful not to overdo the personal connection because if you push it too hard you’ll lose your authenticity. Keep it casual.

Ask references to send notes on your behalf. A relevant reference who’s willing to invest time to make herself available to the recruiter is a big trust builder. Don’t underestimate the power of your references – it’s often easier for your old supervisor or executive to build rapport with a hiring manager than it is for you. Think about it this way – as a hiring manager and CEO, when I’m checking your references, I’m often talking to managers that I consider my peers, because they face many of the same management challenges I do. We connect because of that commonality.

Leave or send materials that document your talent. Bring something that highlights your talent or passion to the interview that you can leave with the recruiter. How could I forget you if you’ve left something on my desk that will periodically catch my eye? Or, send something after the interview.  I saw an online thank you note done with SlideRocket that knocked my socks off — and the applicant got the job.

This tactic plays on trust like the first two examples but also adds mystique, prestige and possibly power. We’re all intrigued by anyone with the boldness to exercise creativity and initiative because we know it’s risky. Recruiters and hiring managers are no different – we’re just as curious as the next guy, so use this to your advantage!

And, watch a job seeker who  made a rap video that landed her the interview and eventually the position.

Offer something of value with your thank you – make your thank you note unique by including something the recruiter might find valuable. This could be an article, newspaper clipping, book or some information about a competing business. It could also be a sample of your work that you do specifically for this occasion to show what you will actually do if hired.

When I was searching for a new position a few years back, I followed up all of my interviews with a handwritten thank you note and a package of LifeSavers candies. In my note I said “I’ve been considered a life saver for my bosses in the past, and I’d love to have the opportunity to share my skills with you.” A little cheesey, but it created a creative impression!

– Jill

This is a solid trust builder if you give something that is suitable and relevant, not just clever.

Keep in mind that when you set out to be fascinating and memorable, you will be criticized. Some will call you unprofessional and others will say you’re wasting your time. Just remember this – if you’re not generating a negative reaction from someone, you’re not fascinating anyone either. We pay attention to people who take risks.

Naturally, sometimes you gamble and lose. But, in today’s job market, the bigger risk is simply being forgotten. So take a chance and try something new and fascinating!

For comprehensive advice on the entire job search process, read our complete guide to landing a job at a great company or visit our career advice hub.

Career Advice Job Interview Tips

How to land the job offer you want

If you aren’t already working in your dream job, it’s because you haven’t taken ownership of the sales process (yet). In part I of this story, I called you a ‘big-ticket item’ and urged you to drive the sales process yourself. Now, by taking charge and aggressively pursuing what you want, you’ve made it to the interview.

It’s time to start delivering on your promises. You’ll begin with lots of preparation. There’s an outline to help you prepare for your interview here. Pay particular attention to items 7 through 15 because that’s where your sales skills will really make a difference.

You can have all the skills required for the position and more, but if your interviewers don’t like you, they’re not going to extend an offer. That’s why it’s so important to avoid offending with your physical hygiene or clothing choices, to smile, treat everyone you meet well, remember names and make a personal connection.

Because you want your interviewer to like you, it’s also important to pay attention to body language. Know what your body is saying and physically tell your interviewer that you are relaxed, open, and confident. We like relaxed, confident people because those feelings are contagious and make us feel safe.

When the interview is winding down, ask for the job. Tell me you want to get into the game. This is the one thing you absolutely must do to drive the sale – attempt ‘to close’ just as you did in the conversation which landed you the interview. You do this by asking your interviewer for feedback during the interview – “How do you see me fitting in at your company?” or “Do you think I’ve got what you’re looking for to do this job?” or “On a scale of 1 to 10 (10 being the best), how do you think I’d do in this position?” The rating question sets up a good follow-up: “What could I do to score higher?”

If the answer is ‘no’, get clarification so you can address whatever the issues may be. When you can satisfy these concerns, it’s time for the ‘trial close,’ the big ‘next step’ question which you can phrase something like this:

“I’m very interested in this job and in working with your team – what’s the next step in the hiring process? Are there any questions I’ve left unanswered?”

Or, go for the kill like this:

“If you’re interested in filling this position and can see where I’d fit in well, when would be the best time for me to start?”

Asking directly for the job like this may be uncomfortable the first time you do it, so keep in mind that it shows strength and maturity on your part – it shows you are a player, not a benchwarmer. Keep in mind too, that employers will often not extend an offer just because the candidate didn’t show sufficient interest in the position at the end of the interview. Asking for feedback and for the job directly will either get you the offer or the information you need to move ahead in your job search with another opportunity.

In response to your trial close, your interviewer may tell you that he still needs to see other candidates. In this case, ask when the other interviews will be taking place and commit to calling afterward. Say ‘thanks’ and tell your interviewer you look forward to speaking again on the agreed date.

Congratulations, you’ve made yourself memorable! You’re done and have just separated yourself from at least 80% of the other candidates.

Relax physically and mentally with these tricks. When you’re anxious, you’re not at the top of your game and it shows. Your likability is low. So managing your anxiety level is critical. Think about it like this — if I lay a foot-wide board in the street and ask you to walk across it, you’d have no problem doing that (assuming there are no cars coming).

Now imagine I’ve moved the same board up in the air, three stories high, suspending it between two buildings. Will you walk across it for me now?  All I’ve done is move the location of the board and suddenly your mind is paralyzed with the fear of falling. When you think you’ll fall, you probably will. But, it works the other way, too. You’ll cruise right over if you believe you will.

Here is how to cruise right through your job search, knowing you can and will succeed:

First, think about the two men who are walking on the plains in Africa, when all of a sudden, a hungry lion comes running at them. Shocked and horrified, the first man takes off his backpack, takes out a pair of sneakers and starts putting them on. The second man yells out, “What are you doing? Why are you putting on your sneakers? You’ll never outrun that lion!” To which the first man replies, “I don’t need to outrun the lion; I just need to outrun you.”

Job search works the same way. You don’t need to be perfect to build a great career. Simply being better than most will put you miles ahead of everyone else in the long run. So with that in mind, here are a few proven techniques that will give you an edge over your competition.

Remember that some amount of anxiety is natural and always accompanies the unknown. A little bit of anxiety can boost your performance by making sure you arrive on time and look alive. On other occasions, your anxiety level may feel too high and have an important message for you – it might be that you are unprepared. You may rightly need to do more research or more practice before your mind will allow you to relax.

There are no tricks that will help you relax when you are simply unprepared – you deserve the bench until you’re really ready for the game. The only good solution is better preparation. On the other hand, if you are anxious because you’re about to try something for the first time, making a cold call for example, at some point you just need to pull the trigger and make the call knowing that you’ll get better and more confident each time. Don’t give up easily!

Now, a few tricks to help you with your interview. Treat your interview as a meeting where you’ll discuss a common interest – a real two-way street. Remember that you have questions to ask and information to gather about the position and the company, as well. If you don’t like what you find out, if this position or this company is not a good fit for you, you won’t want a job offer.

Consider the real possibility that this job, boss or company will suck! Bottom line is you don’t automatically want this job. Don’t let your interviewer find you arrogant or aloof, though. Go to the interview with the intention of landing a job offer, just keep in mind that this is really a meeting and that you have important questions to ask which may determine whether you would accept an offer.

Next, know you will land the job offer and visualize yourself working in the position. Imagine you’ve already accepted an offer and have been working productively for six months. If you’ve done your homework for this interview, you’ll already have a good idea of what you’ll be doing. Picture it. Carry this visualization with you into the interview and talk and act like you are an employee meeting with the boss. Say ‘we’ when talking about future activity, and refer to ‘our’ company. Show your (future) boss how you’ll do the job.

Finally, if you have a serious case of monkey mind, there is a great breathing exercise you can adapt from a yoga meditation called Shabad Kriya. Try using this breathing technique before going to bed the night before your interview, in the car on the way there or while you are waiting for the interview to start. I use this technique whenever I feel over-accelerated and it calms me quickly.

  • The inhale is in 4 segments or “sniffs,” during which, the mantra “Sa, Ta, Na, Ma” is mentally recited.
  • followed by breath retention for 16 counts (mantra is mentally repeated four times).
  • and an exhale in 2 segments, during which the mantra “Wahe Guru” is mentally recited concurrently

Evaluate the offer.  I’ve just extended an offer to you and now the ball is in your court – how should you respond? Well first, let’s talk about what a good salesperson knows about money. As a good salesperson, you’ll know:

You need to do a lot of homework before deciding if the price is right. You’ll check PayScale and other online salary sites to compare the offer against averages that consider geography, experience level, company size, etc. You’ll consider the company’s recent financial performance and your own needs. If it’s a good offer, you’ll accept happily, but if it looks low, you’ll negotiate like this: “Based on what others in this position are getting at similar companies, the eight years of experience I’ll bring you and my commitment level, your offer feels a little conservative. Do you have some flexibility?”

Never reveal your salary history. Even when asked directly, you will never tell how much you were paid at your last job. It’s an irrelevant number just used to lower the offer when possible. You’ll say something like, “If we decide I’m right for the job, I’m sure we can agree on salary” or “I’m really interested in determining if I’m the right person for the job, and if I am, I’m sure we’ll agree on compensation, too.”

The first offer is rarely the final offer.  Extending an offer is the culmination of a long and tedious process that involves countless hours of reviewing resumes and corresponding with candidates. So, you know the last thing I want to do is go back to the drawing board. You know that when you negotiate respectfully, you’re demonstrating the same business skills you’ll be using on the job. You know that most employers expect you to negotiate a little.

Money is not everything. You know that if I don’t have any flexibility with the salary I’ve offered, I might have some flexibility with vacation or I might be able to pay a signing bonus. You know I might also commit to an earlier evaluation (typically one year) and salary review. You also know that even if there is no flexibility at all, the position could still be the right one for you at this point in your life and career.

The time to negotiate is now. You know you still have the power and control of the conversation. If you accept now and negotiate again later, before a year is up, I’m very likely to find your behavior unprofessional.

You are accumulating karma.  Applying sales techniques to your job search makes it easier in so many ways. It turns it into a process where each step is just a small chunk with the goal of getting to the next one. Your goal is never to ‘get a job’ and it is always to take the next step in the process. This reduces the pressure on you enormously.

A candidate who drives the job search process sets himself apart from most other job seekers by demonstrating valuable skills and attitudes that employers want. And, most importantly, a candidate who drives the job search process plays right into the hopes and desires of every recruiter. We want you to be “the one.” We all want to put our current search to bed and get back to work. You driving the process for us helps everyone get there faster with less effort on my part. You can’t lose.

Take it one step at a time. Here’s the full process. Don’t rush through it as the outcome of each step depends on succeeding in the prior one. Just as you can’t rush a pregnancy, you can’t rush a job search when you want it to come out well.

  1. Decide you want a new job
  2. Decide what work you want to do
  3. Identify the best companies
  4. Identify decision-makers
  5. Write to decision-makers
  6. Call decision-makers for interview
  7. Send resume
  8. First interview
  9. First thank you
  10. Second interview
  11. Second thank you
  12. Receive and negotiate job offer
  13. Accept job offer
  14. Resign previous job
  15. Start new job

Your reward for negotiating each step of the process successfully is a new job – one you actually chose. You’re finally off the bench, so go play! Do your job well (work smart) and you may never be sidelined again.


For comprehensive advice on the entire job search process, read our complete guide to landing a job at a great company or visit our career advice hub.

Career Advice Job Interview Tips

How to land the interview you want

[mks_dropcap style=”letter” size=”52″ bg_color=”#ffffff” txt_color=”#000000″]W[/mks_dropcap]ithout a sales team, my business was doing a couple hundred thousand dollars a year in revenue, but when I hired sales reps, we brought in a couple million dollars a year. The same applies to your job search, if you’re not actively selling, you’re not really in the game – you’re on the bench.

sidelined in your job search?Sitting on the bench in your job search means you’ve been forgotten and get called up only in the event of an emergency. Is that where you want to be? If not, here’s how to get in the game: learn to sell.

Learn to sell because big-ticket items never move without a salesperson. You are a big-ticket item! And large purchases are always driven by someone. If you aren’t already working in your dream job, it’s because someone has to drive that process. Don’t expect the tooth fairy to do it for you.

Fortunately for you, sales skills are not complicated and you can learn it all here. You may find it uncomfortable, but it’s what makes the world go round. A skilled salesperson (with a solid product to sell) has total job security and often makes more than the president of the company. Skilled salespeople don’t even need resumes, because they get recruited from one company to another.

[su_pullquote align=”right”]You are a big-ticket item! And large purchases are always driven by someone. If you aren’t already working in your dream job, it’s because someone has to drive that process.[/su_pullquote]The good news is you don’t have to develop world-class sales skills to change your life; all you have to do is learn a few basic principles.  Let’s say I’m hiring and you’re responding to a job I’ve posted. Here’s how to get in the game.

Talk to me about ‘benefits’ in your emails, cover letters, resumes and conversations. Inexperienced salespeople sell the features or functions of a product when they should be selling the benefits. For example, I want an electric bike. I want one with a lithium-ion battery — that’s a feature. I want the lithium battery because it charges quickly and is lightweight, saving me time and energy — those are the benefits of the lithium battery feature. The electric motor on the bike assists the rider in peddling — that’s a function. That means you get to work faster if you’re using the bike to commute — that’s the benefit.

Explain your features but always link them to benefits with phrases like:

  • “which means that”
  • “offering you”
  • “providing you with”

Make sure to talk about the benefits you know I (the employer) want. Listen carefully and try to determine the one key benefit that will convince me to put you in the game and spend your time proving you’ll deliver that benefit. You won’t get anywhere selling irrelevant benefits an employer isn’t interested in, so be sure each benefit you talk up will pass the “so what?” test.

Sell me your potential. If you guessed hiring managers like me naturally prefer candidates with a proven record over those with strong potential, you’d be wrong.  Harvard researchers have proven it.  Whether we are aware of it or not, we’re more impressed by potential than track record.  Potential is risky and that lights up human brains – love of the game is hardwired into us.  So use that and talk to me about your future potential!  Here’s an excerpt from the Harvard blog post:

It would be wise to start focusing your pitch on your future, as an individual or as a company, rather than on your past — even if that past is very impressive indeed. It’s what you could be that makes people sit up and take notice — learn to use the power of potential to your advantage.

Pick up the phone and call. Big-ticket items don’t sell easily without live conversations, face-to-face or via telephone. Knowing that you’ll need to get on the phone to get hired, are you going to sit on the bench waiting for the phone to ring, or will you pick it up and make a call yourself? If you want to get in the game, pick up the phone and start cold calling. The top salespeople everywhere in the world love to cold call because they know that if they do it, they will succeed. And they know that for every dead-end cold call they make, they’re just one call closer to the next sale.

Let others lead small lives,
But not you.
Let others argue over small things,
But not you.
Let others cry over small hurts,
But not you.
Let others leave their future
In someone else’s hands,
But not you.

-Jim Rohn

The most important reason you’ve got to cold call is that many jobs are not advertised. So if your job search involves mostly responding to ads on job boards and employer career pages, you’ve put yourself in the extreme competition for the smaller pool of jobs that do get posted, and against the millions of other candidates applying the same way.  What’s more, human recruiters might not ever even review your application. Cold calling is the way to make it past these hurdles and get in front of the hiring manager.

It does help to send a value proposition letter before you call, hard-copy or email, but it isn’t necessary. What’s critical about cold calling is that you are being proactive, taking control of your job search and your destiny by targeting unpublished jobs. What’s critical is that you stop putting yourself in competition with the herd that follows online job postings. What’s critical is that you go after the companies that really fire you up and get in their face.

Prepare for the call – get confident and sound authentic.  You need to accomplish three things technically with your call:

First, you need to sound natural.  Sometimes when we post job ads, we ask the applicants to leave us a voicemail introducing themselves. We’re looking for someone who understands voice inflection, because that automatically screens out 8 of 10 applicants who aren’t ready for the game as they lack people skills.

Here’s an example of inflection:

Here’s an example of an approach that would work well on me:

“Hi Eric, my name’s John Doe, and I’m calling to see if you could use a content manager who produces distinctive content? I can achieve deep user engagement for you and would love to show you some examples…”

Or, if you previously sent me an email or hardcopy letter:

“Hi Eric, my name’s John Doe, and I’m following up on an email you should’ve received last week to see if you could use a content manager who produces distinctive content? I can achieve deep user engagement for you and would love to show you some examples…”.

Now, when you’re asking a question, the pitch of your voice should rise at the end, which suggests the question. Using the example above, if your pitch is falling on the words ‘distinctive content.’ it will sound like you’re reading (as many applicants will) and that’s the end of your candidacy.

Note this example is short, addresses my critical needs and connects a feature with its key benefit. Before you call, you need to be able to deliver this (your value proposition) on the phone with an easy, natural tone of voice. If it sounds like you’re reading, you’re not ready.

Second, you need to sound energetic. You do that by standing up while you talk.  Sounds goofy? Salespeople all over the world are doing this because it works, so just stand up when you call.

Third, you need to sound confident – you do that by smiling while you talk, by speaking slowly, pausing and allowing for silence. You sound confident when you know your pitch backward and forwards without needing to look at the script. You sound confident when you pause after your pitch and don’t break the silence if there is one. The silence puts pressure on the other person to speak and it means you are in control.

You can also boost your confidence by remembering that the purpose of your call is not to get a job – your mission is only to get a meeting. That’s a manageable task and just a chunk in a long process. Every “no” brings you one call closer to “yes.”

Remember also that when I’m recruiting, I have a deep desire to find the right player and every time I meet someone, I really want you to be the one. I’m rooting for you.

Getting by the receptionist. When you reach a receptionist, you must be clear and confident with your request: “Mr. Jones, please.” Here’s what happens next:

  • You get put straight through and start your conversation.
  • You get put through to voice-mail. Don’t leave a message – call back later.
  • Mr. Jones is out of the office. Ask for a cell phone number. If the receptionist refuses to give it, ask to be put through directly to the cell.
  • You get put through to Mr. Jones’ personal secretary and she asks what the nature of your call is. You either say it’s personal or you want to discuss a business issue. Never pitch the secretary because she will connect you to the HR department or ask you to send in your resume (ending your candidacy). If the secretary refuses to connect you without more detail, call back before or after normal working hours. When the secretary is not there, the boss is likely still around and often answers the phone.

Use an open question. You’ve made it past the receptionist and now you’re on the phone with me. Keeping in mind that your goal is to arrange an interview, you’ll want to find out what my needs are and what key benefit you could present to me that would seal an offer.

When you want information about someone’s motivations and circumstances, you want to get them talking. You do that with an open-ended question that invites a longer response and gives control of the call to the person answering the question. The best example might be the question employers sometimes ask in job interviews, “Tell me about yourself.” This is an open question you should be ready to answer before you call.

But, when you want to get an employer talking, try something like, “When you’ve hired for this position in the past and it hasn’t worked out, what’s gone wrong?” That’s a question that will help you pin down what key benefits I might be looking for in the perfect candidate.

Closed questions are easy and quick to answer, often inviting a yes or no response, and they maintain control of the conversation for the person asking the question. Here’s an example of a closed question you’ll want to use towards the end of your conversation: “Can you see where you can use someone with my skills in your company?”

Welcome objections. What often gets in the way of gathering the information you need from me is your fear. Are you afraid I might tell you something you don’t want to hear?

Inexperienced salespeople fear objections and that keeps them on the bench. You, on the other hand, will know that objections are a sign of my interest. They are a buying signal and an important signpost on the way to getting hired. Treat any objection as a question and recognize that objections are natural whenever we approach transactions that involve risk.

Imagine, for example, that I’ve just said we can’t afford the salary you want. Instead, you hear me saying “Show me how I can justify paying you this amount.”  You should respond with “That’s a good question, why should my salary be more than you expected to pay?” And then you answer the question you posed. When you answer objections in a friendly, constructive way, you make it easy for me to object and you make it easy to find out what my real issues are.

To tease out my real issues, be patient and listen carefully – pause before replying and question for clarification. When you find the real reason I’m hesitating over you, you have the chance to present more information that will satisfy me and result in a job offer.

Separate objections and conditions. An objection is a problem for which there is a solution. For example, “We can’t afford your salary” is an objection if it turns out that the underlying issue is our company pay scale enforces salary relationships with job titles. On the other hand, if the underlying issue is that the company is headed into bankruptcy, that’s a condition that probably renders the sale (your job offer) impossible. Other examples of ‘conditions’ might occur when:

  • you are talking to someone who is not the decision-maker,
  • there’s no opening or
  • you do not have the skills for a particular job.

When you meet with a condition, you want to test it with some follow-up questions before moving on:

  • Who is the decision-maker?
  • Is this a temporary hiring freeze?
  • Will there be an opening in the future for someone with my skills?

Depending on the answers you get, a condition may become an objection and eventually turn into a job offer.

Close the sale to get an interview. When you’ve reached the decision-maker and the call is proceeding well, it’s time to ask for the sale. This is called “the close” – you ask, “Can you see where you can use someone with my skills in your company?” If the answer is yes, you want to ask for a meeting to go into more detail about what you can do for them. Here are the possible answers you may get along with recommendations for your next move:

“Tell me a little more about yourself.” – Give more detail about your experience and the benefits you’ll offer the company, then try to close again with, “I’d like to get together to talk through my experience in more detail and look at how I can help your company – when would be a good time for you to do this?”

“Send me your resume.” – Chances are, when you hear this, the person you’re talking to wants to get rid of you. Try asking, “Is there anything specific you want to see in my resume that I haven’t mentioned?” You may be able to rescue the call if this draws out the reason for the lack of interest and you can satisfy the employer’s need with a little more information. When you agree to send your resume without an agreement to meet, you’ve given control over to the employer, so hold out as long as you can for a meeting or some information you can act on.

“No, we’re not looking for someone like you.” – Ask if it’s just at this moment. If it’s a permanent thing, ask if there’s anyone else within the company that might need someone like you. If so, get contact information and call immediately, dropping the name of the person you just spoke with. If there’s no recommendation and this is a permanent condition, say thanks and move on. Otherwise, if it’s temporary, find out when the next opening might occur and set up a reminder in your calendar. As always, follow up right away with a ‘thank you’ email.

If the anticipated opening is four months away, call back in two saying, “Hi, we spoke two months ago and I thought I’d call to see if anything has changed regarding the timing of the next opening.” If the position has opened up, try closing again, “When would it be convenient to meet and discuss the opportunity in more detail?”

“Yes, come see us.” – Stop selling when you hear this! Just confirm the time and date with them and say thank you. Follow up with a ‘thank you’ email confirming the time and place.

When you use these ‘closing techniques,’ you’ll come across as a confident and positive candidate. Every boss wants to build a team with players who can manage and control conversations with customers, vendors and staff on his behalf. You’ve just demonstrated you can do this in your first contact. So, right out of the starting gate, you will have chalked up some points in your favor, congratulations!

Continue to part II – how to land the offer.

For comprehensive advice on the entire job search process, read our complete guide to landing a job at a great company or visit our career advice hub.

Career Advice

What your boss won’t tell you, but you need to know

[mks_dropcap style=”letter” size=”52″ bg_color=”#ffffff” txt_color=”#000000″]E[/mks_dropcap]ver wonder why so many people seem to be incompetent in their jobs? Although it was famously explained in a humorous book titled The Peter Principle, there’s an important kernel of truth in it that we all need to chew on. The Peter Principle says that everyone in an organization gets promoted to the level of their competence.

So if you are doing a good job, you get promoted — and promoted again, until you start screwing up at which point you’ve reached your ultimate destiny in the company, your “level of incompetence”.

they made me the bossThe joke is that work is accomplished by those who have not yet reached their level of incompetence. The Peter principle is no joke, however. The truth is that your strengths lift you up and your weaknesses weight you down. Think of a hot air balloon. It rises until the lift from the hot air is in equilibrium with the weight of its ballast. In the same way, as you rise up in the company, your weaknesses eventually limit your ability to rise further.

Understanding how your strengths and weaknesses shape your career will help you work smarter and find the right intersection where your needs meet those of the company and your boss. Here are some of the subtleties to consider:

  • Your strengths and weaknesses are all relative to a specific environment. Your strength in one situation may be a weakness in another. In my company, our culture places a great deal of emphasis on performance, but not ‘at any cost’ because we value integrity and teamwork also.  As a result, focusing on results at any cost would be perceived as a weakness in my company, but could still be a strength in another organization.
  • Your strengths and weaknesses are also relative to the position you hold. If you like to spend your day talking to other people, that would be a strength in our sales team but a weakness for a computer programmer.
  • As you rise up, your personality has a greater impact on the performance and motivation of the people around you. Senior managers typically reach the stall-point in their careers because of limiting personality traits. More bluntly, their personality flaws and undesirable behavior eventually hold them back.

your incompetent boss

What kind of traits and behaviors would prevent you from becoming a CEO? Some are the same issues we covered in other lessons – too arrogant, doesn’t listen, too confrontational, not flexible enough, too much of a risk-taker, too controlling, and dislikes communicating.

It’s very common for successful individuals to have both strong strengths and strong weaknesses – they often go together. It’s also true that you can reach the stall-point in your career when you lack critical functional experience, in sales or engineering, for example.

This is because many successful people are driven by some type of trauma from their childhood. As a result, they are motivated by fear, need to be in control or desire for recognition and status. This can be as simple as someone driven to avoid the conditions they experienced as a child.

handling criticism at work

Why the psychoanalysis?

  • First, if your strengths flow from a reaction to childhood trauma, you need to know that your strengths taken too far become weaknesses – weaknesses that you will have difficulty seeing.
  • Second, if you are stalled because of a strong weakness, improving your strengths will accomplish little.
  • Third, your boss is unlikely to want to talk about these types of weaknesses with you. Your commitment to seeing your weaknesses and reducing them is critical to your advancement.

For further reading, Driving Excellence has very relevant chapters titled ‘The Weakness Principle’ and ‘The Human Change Process.’

Get the ebook! If you liked what you read here, and think you may want to refer back to this guide later, grab the Kindle version – we’re hoping you’ll thank us with a five-star review on Amazon if you found this material helpful. The ebook also includes our job search guide.

For comprehensive advice on the entire job search process, read our complete guide to landing a job at a great company or visit our career advice hub.

< previous  work-smart  next >

Career Advice

Work smart – how to succeed at a great company

[mks_dropcap style=”letter” size=”52″ bg_color=”#ffffff” txt_color=”#000000″]I[/mks_dropcap] sucked at my first job. It was 1992 and I had just been hired during a recession at Metropolitan Bank. Barely out of training, my boss Michael called me into his office and explained that my coworker Jean had blamed me for missing her deadline.

What I learned working for Michael and in the last 20 years of hiring and managing my own team will help you work smart to avoid career-ending mistakes and help you succeed at a great company where the standards are high. Below, I share how you can be better than 95% of your teammates and get consistently promoted.

I just got promoted cartoonBack at the bank, when Michael reviewed my work he couldn’t tell if I had screwed up or not because my documentation was weak and unorganized. Even if I was a little humiliated to be put on probation just a couple months after starting my first permanent job, Michael turned out to be an awesome boss. What he wanted was simple and correct. He just wanted me to work smart.

It’s easy to suck at your job if you don’t know what your boss wants. Today, if you follow a lot of career experts, you’d think your boss wants you to ‘brand’ yourself. ‘Personal branding’ might be hot now, but we don’t want it. It’s a lot of crap. We crave honesty and sincerity. You’re not a corporation or a cow.

Creating a brand image or personality for yourself is empty marketing – a CYA policy that gets in the way of doing real work. Work smart and everything you do builds trust and value – you won’t need a CYA policy because you’ll always be in demand.

knowing what your boss wantsIronically, your boss doesn’t want to take time to teach you what working smart means. In fact, most bosses would have difficulty listing 20 specific teachable ways to ‘work smart’. Most will say it’s an inherent talent you’ve either have or don’t. I don’t buy it. Below you’ll find 20 ways to earn your boss’s respect and admiration for your work. So, decide for yourself if ‘working smart’ can be learned or not.

It’s not about becoming your boss’s pet. Ultimately, working smart is a step on the path to finding satisfaction in your work. Until you can match-up what you do with who you are as a person, you’re unlikely to find happiness at work. The problem with sucking at your job is that it gives you very little power to make changes.

would you like a new boss?You need some leverage to get flexibility in your career — that might mean money in the bank (also called f*ck-you money) or a good relationship with your boss and previous bosses (for references). You can get all those things by working smart. You can also quit your job and start a business (if you do, your boss is now the customer and all the lessons below still apply). This is about being effective, nothing else – about becoming a diamond in the eyes of your boss.

If you’re in a job search and want to work at a great company, the rules are the same. The only difference is that everything you write and say will be scrutinized more closely for clues as to how you will perform on the job. If you suck in the job search, we know you will suck on the job. Want to get it right? Use “The complete job search guide – how to land a job at a great company“.

The stakes are high. Twenty-five years ago when I was starting my career, the difference between being average and working smart was the difference between a good career and a great career. That was before the Internet. Today, working smart can make the difference between having a career and having nothing. Your competition is radically tougher today — game on!

a raise and a promotion?Your thoughts become actions so choose the advice you take to heart wisely. There’s a career expert on every corner today. Most have not built companies as I have. Most have something to sell you; I don’t. These lessons exist because I love to teach and write, which is why offers free career advice and tips you won’t hear anywhere else. OK… I also hope you’ll share these pages with your friends and use our job search engine.

You can graduate from Harvard, Princeton, or Yale and still suck at your job. They don’t teach you how to work smart at school. If you do have a fancy degree, expectations on you will be sky-high. If you don’t deliver the goods, your boss is going to think you’re overpriced and may just let you go. On the other hand, put these lessons into practice and you’ll carve your name on the world without an Ivy League degree or even without any degree at all.



1. Don’t suck at e-mail
2. Don’t suck at instant messaging
3. Want to be taken seriously? Do this.
4. Know the shortest path to succeeding in your job?
5. 2 habits that show you are trustworthy and mature
6. Is your attitude subtly toxic?
7. Don’t interrupt me
8. Don’t make me interrupt you
9. Be precise, be specific and be blunt
10. Fail to do this and you may get fired

Above and beyond: Tame your ego


1. Got ‘the ace factor’?
2. Never do this
3. How to handle your mistakes like a pro
4. 10 ways to improve your emotional intelligence
5. Are you blocking conversation (when you think you’re listening)?


1. Perform like a surgeon
2. What your boss doesn’t want to tell you (and you need to know)
3. Stop whining – take ownership
4. Show up ready for battle
5. Know yourself and follow your bliss


  1. Rules are meant for breaking, but master them first and then break them.
  2. My team knows I don’t always lead by example. I’m better at some of these than others. Especially where I’m weak, I like to see corresponding strengths in my team.
  3. Like any good boss, I hope to hire above me – to hire a team that’s smarter and better than I am!

Get the ebook!

If you liked what you read here, and think you may want to refer back to this guide later, grab the e-book version for Kindle – we’re hoping you’ll thank us with a five-star review on Amazon if you found this material helpful. The ebook also includes our job search guide.

For comprehensive advice on the entire job search process, read our complete guide to landing a job at a great company or visit our career advice hub.

Career Advice Job Fair Tips

Job Fairs: Prepare to Stand Out

So you’ve RSVP’d to an upcoming job fair. You may now be thinking How do I make the most of it?

Congratulations! Your priorities are in the right place. Preparation and forward-thinking will get you noticed. The number of talented job seekers at these events can be overwhelming, so we’ve prepared this guide to help you stand out!


1 – Research

[mks_dropcap style=”letter” size=”52″ bg_color=”#ffffff” txt_color=”#000000″]U[/mks_dropcap]pcoming job fairs are announced online along with the employers who will be in attendance.   Your job is now to discern which employers you intend to engage. Let me stress that word – employers.  Plural.  Do not make the mistake of thinking, I only want to work for Employer Z so I will only hand over my résumé to Employer Z.

[mks_pullquote align=”left” width=”300″ size=”16″ bg_color=”#1e73be” txt_color=”#ffffff”][mks_icon icon=”fa-hand-o-right” color=”#ffffff” type=”fa”] Pro Tip: If you do not see any open positions posted on an employer’s webpage, the company is likely hiring but may not have updated their listings. Research as well as you can about what the employer does and if you think it’s a fit, be prepared to hand over a résumé. Some jobs are not listed online as the employer may be interested in job fair candidates only.  You may have a shot at a job not even listed![/mks_pullquote]

Your ambition as a job seeker may be present but that doesn’t mean your experience and skills are a match to the employer’s needs. Understand where you are a good fit based on research and do not limit your interest to one employer. It’s very common at our events to find healthcare employers also hiring for IT positions, or IT companies hiring for sales roles.

Go to the company’s website and browse through their job openings. Get an idea of what education, experience, and skills they expect to hire for any given role. This knowledge should be used to tailor your self-marketing efforts: résumé structure, talking points, and on-site interview expectations. Your background knowledge of an employer is everything.


2 – Résumé Updates

[mks_dropcap style=”letter” size=”52″ bg_color=”#ffffff” txt_color=”#000000″]Y[/mks_dropcap]our most professional self has to be summarized in one or two pages. Make sure your résumé is on point. Review and edit. Ask yourself, is my information concise? Is my language strong? Did I stay in the appropriate tense? Do I provide concrete examples of my accomplishments? If you need in-depth assistance for résumé writing, see the ‘resumes’ section in our job search guide or contact our team for recommendations.

[mks_pullquote align=”right” width=”300″ size=”16″ bg_color=”#1e73be” txt_color=”#ffffff”] [mks_icon icon=”fa-hand-o-right” color=”#ffffff” type=”fa”] Pro Tip: Did you graduate from a college, university or graduate school? Do yourself a favor and contact your alma mater’s career services office. Most colleges and universities provide résumé services to their alumni for free, in-person or email. Just don’t ask for help the day of the fair. Résumés take time to review, even for professionals. Be proactive and make sure you’ve given yourself, or someone else, the proper time to review your materials.[/mks_pullquote]

Ensuring that your résumé is updated and edited before attending any job fair is imperative. Many career fairs provide the attending employers with a searchable database where they can access your résumé online. Make sure to upload your resume for the specific event, and also expect to make several hard copies on plain copier paper.

Here is an estimate of copies needed:

  • At least one copy for each top-priority employer based on your research.
  • 4-10 copies for “middle-fit” employers.
  • 5 copies for chance encounters and unknown employers.


3 – Talking Points

[mks_dropcap style=”letter” size=”52″ bg_color=”#ffffff” txt_color=”#000000″]B[/mks_dropcap]e prepared to speak up about yourself while realizing it’s not about you.  Use big-ticket sales techniques to stand out. You should be prepared to speak about the employer as easily as you should be able to express your own background and experiences. How would you be of benefit to the business and its mission? What value do you bring? A proactive candidate should nail these standard talking points:

  • Introduce yourself (first AND last name) with a handshake.
  • Based on your research, make a brief statement on what you understand the employer is looking for in a candidate.
  • Briefly verbalize your experience or education (whichever area is your strongest lead) and indicate how you think you might be a good fit.
  • Ask if the representative would like a copy of your résumé.
  • Ask for a business card and indicate you’d like to learn more about the company.

If you are encouraged by the representative to apply, listen to instructions. If the rep advises you to follow-up with them via phone or email, do so.


4 – Interview Preparation

[mks_dropcap style=”letter” size=”52″ bg_color=”#ffffff” txt_color=”#000000″]A[/mks_dropcap]t job fairs, it is not uncommon for candidates to be pulled aside for an interview, or to be scheduled for an interview at a later date.  If it’s been a while since you’ve interviewed, there are standard questions you should practice to mentally prepare yourself. Make sure you do more interview preparation than any other candidate. Modify the questions below to fit your experience and industry and you will build interviewing competence.

  • Tell me about yourself.[mks_pullquote align=”right” width=”300″ size=”16″ bg_color=”#1e73be” txt_color=”#ffffff”][mks_icon icon=”fa-hand-o-right” color=”#ffffff” type=”fa”] Pro Tip: Talk. Out. Loud. When you practice your questions, literally ask yourself the question out loud and provide the answer out loud. Practicing in your head does not count. You need to HEAR the words so that questions and responses will not sound strange to you in a high stakes situation. The more you practice out loud, the less likely you are to stumble during the interview. Of course, you can practice with someone else too.[/mks_pullquote]
  • Why are you interested in working for us? OR Why are you interested in this position? OR What do you know about the company?
  • What can you bring to this position that someone else can’t?
  • Give me an example of taking the initiative.
  • Tell me about a difficult situation (professional, not personal) in which you overcame the problem or found a solution?
  • Tell me about your strengths and weaknesses.
  • How would a co-worker, supervisor, or director describe you?
  • Where do you see yourself in five years?

You know your industry. Think hard and get creative with your practice questions. The more in-depth and specific to the job you can make them, the better prepared you will be. The question(s) that cause you the most anxiety are the ones you need to work on the most.


5 – Dress

[mks_dropcap style=”letter” size=”52″ bg_color=”#ffffff” txt_color=”#000000″]P[/mks_dropcap]rofessional dress is expected. All clothes worn should be clean and wrinkle-free. Tend to your personal hygiene: shower, shave and brush your teeth. Don’t forget the deodorant!

Clothes – Slacks or professional skirts with pockets is preferable (you will be picking up a lot of business cards). Wear a long-sleeved, button-down shirt or blouse. If your dress shirt is sheer, wear an undershirt. Ties are acceptable; consider skipping a jacket for a business casual look or the reverse: jacket and no tie. Shoes should be professional, clean, low-heeled, and are traditionally not open-toed.

You’ve heard the old adage: Dress for the job you want, not the job you have. You don’t have to out-dress everyone but understand that how you appear will impact a recruiter’s first impression of you.

Accessories – Minimal jewelry: a watch, a ring or two, a pair of earrings, and that’s about it. [mks_highlight color=”#eeee22″]Representatives are attracted to the streamlined look.[/mks_highlight] Look as unencumbered as possible: no tote bags, luggage, bulk purses, or wheeled carrier carts. Carrying accessories should include a padfolio (a manila folder works too) that can hold your résumé, a writing pad, and a pen. If you have your own business cards, then a card holder is also appropriate. One hand holds your padfolio, the other should be free to shake hands. Remove excess facial piercings and cover tattoos.

Additional – Take it easy on the cologne and perfume. Scents are amplified in packed places. Too much scent can leave a negative impression and that defeats the purpose. Facial hair should be groomed. Makeup is optional but should not be elaborate if worn. The goal is to have recruiters remember your face, not an untidy beard or ornate makeup.



If you’ve heeded our advice above, you will have confidence. Nervous? Sure. But confident, nonetheless. Walk and talk with that confidence. Employer reps are trained to zero in on the attendees that look purposeful in their walk and presentation.

  • Walk with intent.[mks_pullquote align=”right” width=”300″ size=”16″ bg_color=”#1e73be” txt_color=”#ffffff”][mks_icon icon=”fa-hand-o-right” color=”#ffffff” type=”fa”] Pro Tip: Finding a job is a job. Never stop applying. Never stop attending career fairs. Keep on top of your correspondence with every recruiter you meet. And remember, preparation is key.[/mks_pullquote]
  • Speak with clarity.
  • Use your talking points.
  • Don’t forget to shake hands.
  • Meet your goal. Do not leave until you handed out every résumé you intended to.


Do not be passive. Follow-up with every recruiter that handed you a business card, and do not forget to personalize your email correspondence. No generic templates. Refer to the conversation you had with the representative in your email. Remember, she/he also met with dozens of other candidates, so remind them about something specific that only you might have highlighted. Mention your excitement about the company and their open positions. If you scheduled an interview at the fair, reference that and state to the rep that you look forward to the interview.


For comprehensive advice on the entire job search process, read our complete guide to landing a job at a great company or visit our career advice hub.