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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 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 Job Interview Tips Preparing a Great Resume

The complete job search guide checklist

[mks_dropcap style=”letter” size=”52″ bg_color=”#ffffff” txt_color=”#000000″]T[/mks_dropcap]o get hired, you need to be number one on a recruiter’s shortlist and it helps to ask for the job directly. Here’s how to do it – in a nutshell, spend more time preparing than any other candidate. Use the checklist below (like a good surgeon might) and nail every single “little” item.

Recruiters like me are desperate for these simple things you can deliver with a bit of effort. Okay… taken together it’s much more than a little effort, it’s more like a full-time job. And remember, if you screw up these “little” things, the recruiter is thinking something like, “Wow, he didn’t even bother to _______!” as he crosses your name off the list.

The complete job search guide is an important read for anyone who hasn’t had the privilege of running an organization. That’s because when you know how managers think, job-search becomes a little like shooting fish in a barrel. So, read the long version first and then use this checklist to track your progress with every job application:

The starting line

  1. Know yourself. Know what you are good at and what you enjoy. Search out positions that will engage you fully.
  2. Hunt down companies that are thriving in your neighborhood. If willing to relocate, hunt down thriving cities first.
  3. Go off-line and send a value proposition letter. It will get read because they are so rare. Follow up with phone calls.
  4. When you find a company you love, go after it and keep trying. Stay in touch.
  5. 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, that means 66% come from other sources.

the importance of perfection in job search

First contact – cover letters and value proposition letters

  1. Talk about the needs of the employer – not what you want.
  2. Keep it short – two or three short paragraphs (6 to 9 sentences total).
  3. Say what you do, how you do it and what the outcome is (what impact you’ve had).
  4. Explain why you are job searching and, if this is an unsolicited value proposition letter, include desired salary range.

Your resume

  1. Use a clean, minimalist format.
  2. Talk about your accomplishments, not your responsibilities. Describe the impact you’ve had.
  3. Make a connection with the recruiter by showing what’s relevant to the position you are applying for. Use keywords from the job description.
  4. Include important details – numbers. How many people did you supervise? How many clients did you manage?
  5. No abbreviations, no industry jargon, and no typos. Read it out loud to yourself to eliminate every last error.


  1. Do informational interviews to build relationships (not to get a job) with people who can help you.
  2. Look for work at companies where you already know someone.
  3. Keep an updated profile on LinkedIn and collect a handful of recommendations.
  4. Volunteer at a trade or professional association in a position that will bring you into contact with speakers.
  5. Write a blog about a professional interest and introduce yourself to other bloggers in your niche.



  1. Research the company, management, and your interviewer. This is critical – take your time and read everything you can find.
  2. Know why you want to work for this company and be ready to explain it.
  3. Write down a couple of high points and low points for every job you’ve ever held. Be ready to tell a story for each that illustrates your strengths, the impact you had or what you learned from a mistake.
  4. Write down a list of questions that emerged from the research you did (but ask about compensation at your own risk).
  5. Ask your interviewer to describe the qualifications of the ideal candidate, early in the interview. You want to confirm what you think you already know about the job before leading the interview in the wrong direction.
  6. Practice answering common interview questions without babbling.
  7. Bring copies of your resume and a notepad.
  8. Proofread all the materials you plan to offer – read them out loud to yourself.
  9. Pay attention to your body language and your interviewers.
  10. Make a connection: Don’t smoke before the interview, be on time, dress well, no perfume or cologne, turn your phone off, shake hands firmly, make eye contact, smile, and use the interviewer’s name.  Treat everyone you meet equally well and remember the name of everyone you meet. Look for mutual friends or shared interests and bring them to the interviewer’s attention. Be confident and positive – don’t badmouth a previous boss.
  11. Ask for feedback in the interview, then ask for the job (the close).
  12. Follow-up quickly with a thank-you e-mail after every phone call or in-person interview and give the recruiter something to remember you by. Here’s an incredible example (yep, she got the job).


  1. Keep in touch with your previous supervisors and coworkers so you can offer them as references.
  2. Know what they will say about you before you offer them. Ask them how they would rate you on a scale of 1 to 10, ask for the reasons, and what it would’ve taken to increase your rating.


  1. Understand that cultural fit is an important factor in every hiring decision and you are being scrutinized for it.
  2. Research the company so you can fit in better by dressing, looking and speaking like the team.
  3. Don’t smoke or use perfume, cologne or anything else that smells.
  4. 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.
  5. Show up ready for battle – upbeat and energetic.  Drive the process.

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

Informational interview e-mail templates

[mks_dropcap style=”letter” size=”52″ bg_color=”#ffffff” txt_color=”#000000″]I[/mks_dropcap]nformational interviews really work (as Steve notes below). But, not all interview requests are created equal – I’m regularly asked to have coffee with someone wanting to pick my brain.” I struggle to reply politely because I have a strong allergic reaction to this offensive phrase (reasons why at the bottom).

While not everyone will respond so poorly, I promise you can do much better searching below for a template that fits with your personality and situation. First though, a little motivation from Steve:

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

 Email templates

  • When you try these e-mail templates out, please come back and share your results in the comments!
  • Note that the ‘ask’ shows up in bright blue in each template – that’s the alternative to ‘pick your brain’.

When you have a mutual friend:

Subject: Eric – request to chat from a friend of [warm contact]

Hi [Name]!

I’m a [your profession] who has worked with [name of warm contact] and I’m currently making time to develop my skills and focus on what’s really important in [profession] when it comes to hiring a [professional] for a project. I’ve had a look through your website and especially enjoyed the [whatever].

I’d love the opportunity to spend 20 mins with you to discuss your decision making process with regards to [professionals] and what your expectations are when working with them. Would it be possible to drop by your office or chat by phone sometime next week?

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

Best regards,
[your name]
[your phone]

With a mutual circumstance:

Subject: Eric – request from a [use connection here]

Greetings [Name],

My name is [your name]. We [shared some connection] and [probably ate the same lousy cafeteria food] day in and day out. Now after [whatever happened since] I continue to study [fill in your topic] on my own to reach next level. When I look at your career journey I’m inspired to ask for your guidance on a few questions – would you have about 15 minutes to meet on the phone or over coffee?

Best regards,
[your name]
[your phone]

Cowboy approach to meeting someone potentially at colleague level:

Subject: Eric – request to chat from a fan

Hey [Name],

I was hoping I might be able to stop in and grab 15 minutes of your time sometime over the next week or so.

Quick intro: my name is [your name] and by day I work for [your company]. I also manage [this], do [that], as well as some previous work with [the other]. [Another name] is also an old friend and it’s awesome to see how [something or other].

I’m a big fan of the job you guys are doing [with whatever], and it would be great to meet up for 15 or 20 minutes to chat about the strategy behind the success you’ve had in [something].

Let me know if you have a few minutes to meet up over the next week or two – it would be great to connect!

Best regards,
[Your name]
[your phone]

From a friendly blog reader approach:

Subject: Eric – request to chat from a reader

Hi [name],

My name is [your name]. I first started reading your blog [why and/or when] and noticed you recently [something].

I’d love to hear your take on the future of [something not in the blog] for 20 minutes, if at all possible. I currently work on [whatever] at [your company], but have felt the itch to work on [something better] that [whatever].

I know you’d be a well of information about [here industry] and hope you can shed some light on your work at [your company]. I’d especially love to know what your transition has been like with [some change you know about].

I can meet you for a coffee whenever or wherever is most convenient for you–I hear [name of coffee shop] down the street from your office is great. Either way, I’ll work around your schedule.

Think you’d be interested?

[your phone]

From a follower:

Subject: [name] — request to chat from a fan

Hi [name],

Your recent work on [subject] was very inspiring, and I’m quite passionate about your particular [something]. My name is [your name] and I currently work for [your company] doing [whatever]. Could I ask for 20 minutes of your time over coffee or lunch to ask for your insight on [something more specific]?

I understand you are very busy, and would appreciate even a quick response to point me in the right direction should your schedule be inconvenient.

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

[your phone]

From a recent graduate:

Subject: [name] — request to chat from a recent grad

Hi [name],

I saw the article about you [somewhere] and as someone who just graduated and has been interested in [whatever] over the past couple of years, I was really impressed and inspired by your work. I know that it’s tough to make it in the [something] world and I’d love to hear your story if I could have 20 minutes of your time.

If you are free to talk, 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

Let me know and congratulations on the awesome work you do!

Best regards,
[your phone]

Someone who might remember you:

Subject: [name] — hope you remember me

Hi [Name],

I’m hoping you remember me from [somewhere you met or worked together] in [month and year]. I enjoyed my time [wherever] and felt I learned a great deal about [something] from your [teaching,etc].

Would love to hear your perspective on [whatever] and hope you might be willing to meet me for a cup of coffee in the coming weeks. Your advice and insight would be valuable to me as I prepare to [graduate or whatever].

Thank you for your time!

Best Regards,
[Your name]
[Your telephone]

From someone who helped you:

Subject: [name] — thanks and request for to chat

Hi [Name],

I’m a [profession] and have benefited from your [writings] – particularly the [specific detail], which helped me land a job at [company] doing [something].

Would you consider sharing 15 minutes of your time on the phone or Skype to discuss a couple questions I have on how to approach my first 90 days on the job?

Thanks so much for the help you’ve given me.

[Your name]

[Your telephone]

Here are some more interesting approaches to consider using:

  1. I have three specific questions on XYZ that I would love to get some insight on over a cup of coffee. Can I ask for 20 minutes of your time?
  2. I’m new to this field, and have great respect for the work you have done, particularly in [something] and [something else]. I…
  3. I would love to hear your story and ask a few questions about your career path.
  4. I’d really value your input and professional advice.
  5. I’d really love the chance to talk to someone who can offer personal insight on [this position, this company]. Would it be possible for me to sit down with you to ask why you went in this direction with your career and what steps you took to reach this level of success? As a [something you have in common], I’d really value your advice.
  6. Do you have 10 minutes to talk with a young person?
  7. I’m trying to find out more about the challenges facing [profession/industry] teams in today’s business world, and I’m hoping you’d be willing to answer a few questions about your group over coffee or on the phone.

A deeper understanding

When you say ‘can I pick your brain?’ you sound like a parasite. That’s the last impression you want to give when you want somebody to be your mentor – instead, you want to do your homework on this person. A lot of it! You spend an hour or three reading everything you can find in Google, any social media stuff like Twitter and Facebook feeds, and blog posts. Read their book if they’ve published one.

Let the person know how it impacted you and ask a question about what you learned – how it might apply to something you are doing. This is a great reward for the person you are contacting. You are showing them their impact on the world and helping them reap the good karma of their actions. But, you must do your homework to give this gift.

Can you see how different this approach is to the ‘can I pick your brain?’ strategy? One is about giving and the other taking (with an air of entitlement).

Here’s an example of a masterful email pitch sent to F.W. de Klerk (Nobel Laureate and former President of South Africa) in 2010 and his reply here. This e-mail nicely illustrates the sort of success you can have when you approach someone sincerely after doing your homework:

Dear Mr. De Klerk,

I’m a student who attended a speech you made at DePauw University in May, and was inspired by one of your comments to contact you.

In the few months before hearing you speak, I’d heard many speakers list the world’s challenges (terrorism, famine, climate change); but, when you made your point about “diversity as the main challenge” facing society today, I felt as though you’d identified the deeper cause that linked together all of the superficial challenges listed by the other speakers (Steven Levitt, Karl Rove, Howard Dean).

For the past few months, there have been two questions on my mind that I’ve desperately wanted to ask you. First, was there a specific book, person, conversation – life experience – that led you to this conclusion? Was there an epiphany? Second, if you could insert one experience into the education of every American student, in the hopes of leading them to the same conclusion as your own, what would it be?

I’d be delighted to hear from you.

Kevin McLoughlin

Now you know how to do it, so go out and knock ’em dead and let me know how it goes!

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

10 ways to improve your people skills and raise your emotional intelligence

[mks_dropcap style=”letter” size=”52″ bg_color=”#ffffff” txt_color=”#000000″]B[/mks_dropcap]usiness is a team sport — but a rough one like rugby.  Companies and people can get hurt badly because more than ever before it’s a winner-take-all contest. It’s a game played under pressure – losing is not fun and winning solves everything. So, it’s no wonder bosses are looking for real team players.

We look for people who remain calm and effective under pressure, who empathize with clients and team members in pursuit of the best possible results. The gifted individuals we’re looking for act with grace in stressful situations, listen well, communicate well, admit mistakes and learn from them, respond well to criticism and show high self and situational awareness. With these skills, you can be counted on to build productive relationships founded on trust and respect.

These are essentially ‘people skills’, though employers also call them ’emotional intelligence’. When you lack these skills, you have a “personality issue”. But as any parent can tell you, we aren’t born with people skills.

I think I have good people skillsGood people skills are unnatural. If Johnny the two-year-old wants to play with his brother’s toy, he just grabs it away. His four-year-old brother pushes Johnny down on the ground and takes it back. It’s no wonder that personality issues are the number one reason why VP’s don’t become CEOs and why otherwise good employees lose their jobs in a recession.

Little kids don’t like to share and they don’t like to consider anyone’s feelings but their own. Unsurprisingly, many adults still feel that way. Here’s a typical comment from someone advised to network and brush up on his so-called “soft skills”:

“I am a worker and a human being, not a circus act. If you want someone who will get the job done correctly and on time, every time, then I’m your man. If you want someone to read your mind, entertain you, or cater to your every whim, then you need a palm reader, a clown, or a dog. I’m none of those. Sorry.”

Ok, understood. But get used to sitting on the sidelines in bad times and watching your colleagues be promoted above you during good times. Your attitude makes you like a very specific tool, say a snowblower. I only need you when the snow is too heavy for a snow shovel. The rest of the time you sit in the garage rusting away.

Back to Johnny and his “personality issues”. If he’s lucky enough to receive good parenting, has good genes and enjoys the right social and educational opportunities, the little wild animal will be tamed and his resulting “emotional intelligence” will make him a productive member of society and valuable team member.

If his people skills are really top-notch, he will be perpetually in-demand and never need to prepare a formal resume. Until of course the day comes when he rises to the level in an organization where his strengths and weaknesses are at an equilibrium in relationship to his responsibilities… that’s called the Peter principle, and we’ll save that for another lesson.

If the stars did not align for you the way they did for Johnny, you will have a few more rough edges to polish. The good news is that the hiring managers searching for ’emotional intelligence’ are wrong – it’s not an intelligence, they are just skills that you can learn and practice.

If you don’t want your boss to see a snowblower when he looks at you, if you want him to see someone really special in front of him, follow these steps in order:

  1. Connect with people – read How to Win Friends & Influence People by Dale Carnegie.
  2. Learn good listening skills – read Peaceful Parents, Peaceful Kids; Practical Ways to Create a Calm and Happy Home by Naomi Drew (chapter 6).
  3. Close your e-mails wellhand write them and do it warmly when appropriate.
  4. Learn pacing in conversation – this is a sales and NLP technique for developing rapport.
  5. Study and use body language – body language is almost always more truthful than speech.
  6. Learn to recognize and manage stress – learning your own stress signals and techniques will help you help others.  Read Stop Worrying & Start Living by Dale Carnegie.
  7. Manage your energy – read The Power of Full Engagement; Managing Energy, Not Time, Is the Key to High Performance and Personal Renewal by Jim Loehr and Tony Schwartz.
  8. Study animal training and use it on people – read Don’t Shoot the Dog; The New Art of Teaching and Training
    by Karen Pryor.
  9. Use humornothing works quite as well. Read Lincoln on Leadership: Executive Strategies for Tough Times
    by Donald Phillips.
  10. Be kind to yourself – it’s hard to empathize and connect with others if you can’t do those things with yourself. First, treat yourself kindly.

When you’ve learned these skills, you’ll be of much greater value to your boss and you’ll enjoy your work and your relationships with coworkers more. Last but not least, your family and personal relationships will benefit immeasurably.

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.

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.

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Career Advice Job Interview Tips Workplace Diversity

Interviewing the interviewer – 5 questions to discover if they are inclusive

You probably already know that asking quality questions of your prospective employer at the end of an interview can give you bonus points when it comes to your probability of being hired. Among many things, good questions show your knowledge, interest level, and attention to the employer’s needs.

But what about your needs? Asking questions just for the sake of asking may not help you decide if you really want to work for that employer.  You are trying to land the job offer, yes, but you should also be thinking about how the job fits within your vision of an ideal workplace.  That will help you craft questions that make sure you have everything you need in order to choose a company where you will thrive.

When you are from a unique background, however, the stakes are even higher when it comes to the questions you ask, since it could impact not just your success but also your potential risk for forced failure. In other words, will you be discriminated against at all, whether blatantly or inadvertently? Could you be, in fact, risking your career instead of accelerating it with this new gig?

According to Glassdoor, “a full two-thirds (67 percent) of active and passive job seekers said that a diverse workforce is an important factor when evaluating companies and job offers.” Even though most want a diverse workplace, inclusion and cultural acceptance are not a strength of today’s modern workforce. It has made headlines in recent years that many of America’s top companies, in all industries, lack acceptable diversity and inclusivity in its workforce and workplaces.  Hence, when doing your evaluation – why not have all the data you need to make good decisions?

Here are 5 questions you could consider asking. Some of these may make you nervous to ask, especially if you suspect those interviewing you may not be inclusive themselves. Being brave, however, and approaching these questions with a confident, professional, and friendly tone can be the catalyst for positive conversations.

  1. I’m from a multicultural background. What steps do you regularly take to create an inclusive work atmosphere?
  2. How is diversity valued at this organization?
  3. What are your goals for inclusivity?
  4. Do you consider multiculturalism in your hiring decision-making?
  5. What successful events (i.e. meetings or training) have you had relating to developing inter-employee acceptance and appreciation specifically related to diversity?

These questions are only just the beginning of a whole plethora of questions you could ask. Remember to stay focused on what will make you feel like you can thrive. So go ahead, ask these, develop more of your own, and be brave enough to interview the interviewer!


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.