Career Tips and Frequently Asked Questions

Somehow job search has become clouded by myths and misinformation. People often ask me about issues that seem to have been widely accepted in spite of their being contrary to the logical principle of self-marketing required to successfully win that new position. Here are some of these questions.

A friend told me that you should have a different resume for every job you're applying for. Surely it's better to have a standard resume and just change the covering letter?

Your friend is quite right; you do need to have a different rsum for each and every job you are applying for. This is because the rsum and in fact the whole application is not about you so much as it is about the job you are applying for and how well you will do it. The employer needs to be able to picture you in the job just from reading your application so you need to put into it only the skills, experiences and achievements that are relevant to the position.

Do I have to put my age and marital status on my resum?

The answer is no, you don't. But on the other hand it may help you to do so. There are three things that every employer is looking for in every applicant for every position. These are the skills to do the job, the motivation to do it well and the ability to fit well into their team. The employer wants to be able to picture you in the job, as a member of their team, and this is much easier if you do give some details about yourself. And don't think that every employer is looking for young people: people who have the maturity to be able to handle crises are very attractive to employers.

When employers ask applicants to address specific selection criteria in an application, what exactly do they mean and how should I set about doing it?

More and more employers are asking applicants to address specific selection criteria, and not just in the public sector. This is because employers want to be more accurate in their selection processes, to make sure that they do get the right person. Very often this means writing a separate document called a statement addressing the selection criteria. The best way to show that you do meet each criterion is to describe specific achievements that show that you do have the necessary skills - and, more importantly, the motivation to do the job well.

What is an achievement statement and how does it help me develop a better application?

If I were applying to you for a position that required someone physically fit, and I told you "I am a very fast runner" would you believe me? If you saw the shape of my tummy you probably wouldn't. However, if I said simply "Ran the mile in 4 min 16, Masters Games, Barbados, 2002" you would be more likely to be convinced. That sentence "Ran the mile in 4 min 16, Masters Games, Barbados, 2004" is an achievement statement and it is the most effective way of expressing your skills without sounding boastful.

Do you have to put your full name on your rsum?

No, you don't have to put your full name. Your rsum is a marketing document, a brochure for your services. Don't think of it as some form of legalistic form-filling. It's not. This means you just put the name you wish to be known by; Bill Smith rather than William Addison Smith. Yes, shortened forms like 'Bill' are fine. I had a client once whose first name was Dale but everyone called him 'Jack' - so on his rsum he put Jack - admittedly in inverted commas to show that it was a nickname.

How long should my resume be?

Your rsum should be just long enough to show how well you will do the job you are applying for and no longer. There have been people who say that a rsum should be no longer than one page and this may well be the case in certain situations. However, employers do want to get some idea of how well you would perform in the job, so it is important to fully describe your relevant skills and achievements. A recent survey suggested that most employers prefer a rsum of three or even four pages. The important thing is to keep the rsum interesting to read by only including the very best and most relevant information.

What exactly is an employer looking for in a job application?

There are just three things that every employer is looking for in every applicant for every position. They are: first and least important, the skills to do the job; second and far more important, the motivation to do it well, and third, and equally far more important, the ability to fit well into their team. A survey in Sydney some years ago suggested that an employer spends on average 8 seconds to decide whether a rsum is worth further consideration or goes into the reject pile. In 8 seconds you can read almost halfway down the first page - so if you're not talking about your motivation in the top half of the first page, you may have missed the boat.

How can you describe your skills at an interview without sounding boastful?

The most convincing way of describing your skills at an interview without sounding boastful is to use an illustration from your past experience. If someone wants to know about your electronic engineering skills, tell them about the burglar alarm system you designed and built. If they want to know about your ability to provide care, tell them how you looked after your aunt when she was very ill. Achievement statements like these convince an employer not only of your level of skill but also of your motivation which is often even more important.

I can never remember names at an interview. Are there any strategies that could help?

Make friends with the receptionist and ask her to give you the names of all the members of the interview panel. Write them down at the top of the notes you take into the interview, making sure that you get the spelling and the pronunciation right - and the correct title. Then, when you are introduced to each panel member, repeat their name: "Pleased to meet you, Mrs Jones." They like to hear their name being used and by using it, you are helping yourself remember it. Once you have taken your seat, you can then make a little seating diagram; mark your spot with a star and place the initials of each person in the correct place around you.

What is the single most important factor in winning a job interview?

Getting the employers to like you is the one thing most likely to win you the interview. The 3 things that every employer is looking for in every applicant for every position are the skills to do the job, the motivation to do it well and the ability to fit well into their team. Just having the skills will not win you the job. Motivation and fitting into the team are both far more important. And if you are motivated and you are keen to be part of their team, they will like you. Get them to like you and your chances of winning the job are much greater than they would be for just having the skills.

Is it allowed to take notes into an interview?

Not only is taking notes into an interview allowed - it is thoroughly recommended. Notes can remind you of the facts and achievements that you would like to use to answer the interviewers' questions effectively. Having notes will also help to make you less nervous and it also makes you look well prepared and efficient. Another advantage of notes is that you can have the names of the interview panel written down - and, if like me, you are not always good at remembering names, this can be a great benefit.

I hate interviews and I'm very nervous. Is there anything I could do to get over these nerves?

Yes, there are a number of strategies you can use to control your nerves. Be aware that most people are nervous at interviews - and this includes the interviewers themselves! One strategy is to prepare answers to likely interview questions - and then rehearse those answers as often as possible. Another strategy is to research the job and the organisation as thoroughly as possible; so well in fact that you can plan your first few weeks in the job. Then you will be able to envisage yourself being successful in the job and this will boost your confidence in the interview.

How can you prepare answers to likely interview questions?

I recommend a 3-step process: 1st recognise the real question; what do they really want to know. 2nd answer the real question in the way that best shows how you match their needs. 3rd and very important, back up your answer with achievement statements. Achievement statements describe specific things that you have achieved and that prove that you not only have the skills they are looking for, but the motivation to do the job well.

Interviewers always seem to have curly questions that are very difficult to answer. Is there any way I can prepare myself so that I can better answer this sort of question?

It is important to prepare for curly questions and you do it the same way that you prepare answers to other likely interview questions. Firstly recognise the real question. Why are they asking this? What do they really want to know? If for instance they asked you to tell them about a time when something went wrong, recognise that they want to know how you reacted, and how you are likely to react when something goes wrong in the future. So then tell them about how you sorted out the problem and what you then did to make sure that it didn't go wrong a second time.

A friend told me that to be successful in winning a particular job, it is necessary to find out as much as possible about the position. Why is this so important?

Your friend was right. It is essential to research a position thoroughly, preferably before you even begin to write your application. Your research will tell you much more about the position than any advertisement and the more you know about the position, the better you can plan your first few weeks in the job. This planning helps you to fine-tune your application and shows that you would hit the ground running, so putting you a long way ahead of other candidates who have not done so much research. It also helps you to envisage yourself being successful in the job, something which will give you much more confidence at the interview.

Why is it so important to be absolutely honest? Surely a little exaggeration is OK.

Your most important objective in the whole job search process is to get the employers to like you. If they ever get the slightest suspicion that you might be trying to pull the wool over their eyes, they will distrust and dislike you. Your credibility and job chances will go down the gurgler. And there is no need to exaggerate. You know that you are right for the job - so tell it how it is; don't exaggerate. Saying that, you don't need to have paper proof of all that you claim. If someone congratulated you on some achievement, you don't have to have their congratulations in writing. But don't try claiming something that is not really true.

Why is eye contact so important in the interview?

Eye contact is essential. You are trying to get the interviewers to like you and to do that, you need to get them to trust you. If you don't make eye contact, they will probably think either that you've got something to hide. Looking someone straight in the eye gives credibility and strength to your answers. When answering each question, make eye contact with the panel member who is asking it, but make sure that you make eye contact with all the other panel members as well. If you are frank and open with them, they will trust you and that helps them like you and that in turn helps them decide to offer you the job.

All the books say you should send a thank you note after the interview - yet no one I know has ever done it. Why is it so important?

The first reason is that, after a meeting, it is common courtesy to send a thank-you note to those who invited you to attend. A second is that if the other people being interviewed don't send thank-you notes, your doing so will make your application stand out - and that is what we want. I was discussing this point with two senior managers. They told me that they had each received just one thank-you note from all the candidates they had interviewed over the years - and on both occasions, it was the person who had written the thank-you note who had won the job.

One question I hate is 'Tell me about yourself'. What is the best way of answering it?

This question is actually one of the best invitations you will get to sell yourself. What they really want to know is how you will fit into their team so give them the information that shows how you would be a good team member. Your answer could be something like this: "Well, I've been really interested in widgets for the past six years. I designed and built a couple while in first year and then I based my research assignment on the economic feasibility of establishing a widget plant in town." The answer tells the employer about your interest in their product and some of your skills and achievements in the area.

At my last interview, they asked me 'What is my greatest weakness'. How should I have answered it?

Weakness questions are asked to find out how well you know yourself and what you are doing to improve. Weaknesses have been defined as overdone strengths. Disorganisation is often the result of a very creative mind. Try to identify the strength that may be the cause of one of your weaknesses and then describe the weakness as if it were a strength. For example you could say: "Well, I tend to be a bit of a perfectionist. But I am careful to make sure that it doesn't prevent me from getting tasks done on time." Then back this up with a specific example.

What is the best way to answer a question like 'Tell us about a time when your work was criticised.'

This is a good question to be asked because you can show how you are a good team player. Members of a team receive criticism so as to improve their performance in the team. Good team players receive that criticism positively and work to improve whatever was criticised - and often go on to seek further criticism to ensure that they get it right. Choose a specific example where, in spite of your best efforts, your work was criticised. Say what the outcomes were, how you improved your performance and how that area of expertise has now become one of your special skills.