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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 Preparing a Great Resume

Your personal value proposition letter

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The blueprint:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

Example #1

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


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


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

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

 My accomplishments to reflect this include:

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

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


Amy Anderson
Human Resource Generalist
Company ABC

Example #2

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


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


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

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

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

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

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


John Booth
Product Team Lead
Company XYZ

Example #3

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


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


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

I can help.

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

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

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


 Betty Foster, IS Project Manager
Company XYZ

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

How to Promote your Bilingüismo

Being bilingual is a wonderful asset in the professional world. Your skills are desirable!

“A University of Phoenix Research Institute study found that demand for American workers who speak foreign languages—particularly Spanish and Chinese—will rise over the next decade, but few workers actually plan to study them.” (Wall Street Journal)

Many, however, do not know how to use their bilingüismo as a professional advantage.  Knowing how to show that you are bilingual can be particularly confusing when applying for jobs. You should indicate that you are bilingual like this:

Resume: Add a languages section indicating the proficiency level of every language you speak. In other words, you should state whether you are proficient, have native or learned fluency, or are a novice when it comes to reading, writing, and speaking each language. 
If the job descirption requires bilingualism, make sure that your languages section is near the top of your resume, or include that you are bilingual in a highlighted skills section at the top of your resume (in addition to the languages section). 
Application: Some job applications directly ask for any languages spoken. Make sure that you fill this section out adequately.
Cover Letter: When applying to a position that does not require bilingualism, you may consider mentioning how your language skills could be an additional asset to the company in your cover letter. It depends on how you approach your letter and what you use as your main “selling point” for why they should hire you, but mentioning your bilingualism should only help your possibilities.
Job Interview: Approach the job interview like your opportunity to show a company that you have the knowledge, skills, and a background they can’t live without. One way to approach this is to make a list (ahead of time) of ways your bilingualism could be an asset to the company. For example, you will be able to interact with a broader set of clients. Be creative and think outside the box. Potential employers will appreciate the initiative and see your confidence in using your skillset.