Saturday, April 9, 2011

Don’t Wing It – Prepare For and Win Your Next Job Interview

Article first published as Don't Wing It: Win Your Next Job Interview on Technorati.

Congratulations! If you’re reading this, you’re most likely doing great on your 21st century job hunt and you have an interview on the horizon.   You should be prepared and use this opportunity to its fullest.  There are several kinds of questions you should expect to hear, and a few you need to ask along the way. 

Here are some questions you’ll surely get during the interview process, along with suggestions on how to answer them.  Learn to recognize these, even if they’re framed differently.

Why did you leave your last job?  Key points here are not to badmouth your prior employer and to convey information in a way that reflects positively on you.  If you were laid off, say so. If you were terminated, discuss a few points in positive terms why your employer was not a good fit for you.  If you’re seeking more money, frame that in terms of seeking more career advancement.  Be honest but also realize that flakiness and instability are traits that interviewers sniff out like bloodhounds.

Tell me about yourself. Remember your elevator pitch?  You’ll be glad you have one now – use it!  Here’s my prior post on that topic:

What is your greatest strength? If you cannot define your key strengths, it doesn’t give much confidence to the interviewer that you actually have any.  Be sure that you can crisply identify 2-3 real assets you bring to a job and that you can present examples of how those strengths have helped you in the past.  Make sure they’re relevant to the job at hand.  You may think your best strength is your ability to make risotto from whatever is in your produce drawer, but unless you’re interviewing to be the next Iron Chef, that’s not relevant.  Also, don’t go too generic with anything remotely like “I’m a people-person”.  You can do better than that.   Bonus point: once you’ve stated your strengths, ask the interviewer how he/she feels those assets or skills would impact your ability to succeed in this role.

What is one of your weaknesses? Again, if you can’t answer this question, the interviewer will assign a couple of weaknesses to you, and they may not flatter you.  Think in terms of what experience or skill you want to enhance that you feel you could improve in your next job.  In other words, frame your weakness as something learnable, rather than an enduring character trait.  If you choose to focus on a personality trait or work-style issue, make it something that could also be seen as a strength in certain circumstances.  Don’t be predictable and say anything remotely like “I’m a workaholic.” Interviewers see that coming a mile away.  

Where do you see yourself in five years (or other timeframe)?  If you don’t have a good answer to this, you’ll appear unfocused and not driven – not a good thing on a job interview. Alternatively, if your answer is very specific and improbable or even in conflict with their standard career path, that may not be great either.  My advice is to answer this honestly and really share where you want your career to go.  It’s perfectly ok to be focused on staying in the exact same role, but achieving greater mastery, and/or better task assignments.  If where you want to go over time is clear to you, and not in line with their plan, this probably isn’t the right job for you anyway, so it’s best to get that out in the open now.  A good way to use this question to your advantage is to flip it and ask the interviewer about the career path in the same timeframe for others in the role.        

These are just the warm-up.  Savvy organizations and smart hiring managers are using structured interview techniques, and/or behavioral-based interview questions to vet candidates.  Here’s how that will go down. In addition to reviewing your resume and asking at least a couple of the questions above, the hiring manager will ask a series of questions to get you to provide real world examples of how you’ve responded to workplace challenges.  Interviewers using this technique are often looking for overarching traits such as tolerance of ambiguity, resourcefulness, customer focus, problem-solving ability, sense of accountability, collaborative nature, and persistence.  The key here is for you to answer these questions with detailed, real world examples of how you’ve demonstrated this trait.  A couple examples of these questions include:

“Tell me about how you handled a dissatisfied customer in the last 6 months.”
“Tell me about a time you did not achieve your goal, and how you handled it.”
“Walk me through an example of how you’ve held yourself accountable on a challenging team task.” 

Here is a link to several more behavioral-based interview questions:  Take some time and think about how you’d answer all of these, using information highlighted on your resume.  Be specific.  Bonus point: ask the interviewer a couple of questions in this style as well.  You can gather some great detailed information on management style, team dynamics and expectations by framing your own questions in these terms.

That brings me to my final tip: Ask questions!  Remember you’re not just selling yourself, you’re buying a job!  Few decisions you make in life are more important than your career moves so be sure you have the information you need to make the right choice.  If the interviewer shares details with you that aren’t clear, ask for more information.  Say something like, “Tell me more about that,” or “how does that work?”. 

My best advice is to focus on what I’ll call “High Gain Questions.”  These are inquiries that not only get you some good data points, but just by asking them, make you look more engaged and articulate.  Does it get better than that?  Examples include:

“What key business trends are impacting your organization and how are you adapting to these changes?”
“What can you tell me about your management style?  What are you really looking for in an employee?”
“What key metrics are used to define success in this role?”
“What obstacles or barriers exist in the organization that impede success?  How can I work to overcome or avoid those?”

Do your research and learn a little about the company and if possible, the role and/or department for which you’re interviewing.  At the very least, thoroughly read the company’ web site, noting any questions you have along the way. You can also use sites like Hoovers, Linked In, and Yahoo Finance to gain insights into the firm.  If they’re a public company, read the latest annual report highlights and at a minimum, the annual CEO letter.  Look up the interviewer on a couple of social networking sites to learn about their background, tenure with the organization, affiliations and any shared connections you may have.  Walk into your interview armed with pre-written questions, but don’t be afraid to make ad hoc inquiries as well.

Most importantly, as the interview closes, ask what the next steps are and how they perceive you as a fit for their opening.  It shows you are interested, shows initiative, and that you’re willing to hear bad news.  I say this:

            “Based on our conversation today, on a scale of 1 to 10, how do you feel that I align with your expectations of a candidate for this role? What would make me a 10?”

But, you should use language that is comfortable for you.  So, do your research, plan how to answer questions you know you’ll have to field, write out some good high gain questions to ask, and most of all, be prepared, Go get ‘em!       

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Tips for WINNING the Face-to-Face Interview...Without a Drop of Tiger Blood!

Sorry for the lame Charlie Sheen reference, but the truth is that he can act like a raving madman and probably still find work, but not the rest of us.  You never get a second chance to make a first impression, so follow these tips to ensure you nail your next job interview.  We’re currently experiencing a highly active job market, meaning there are a fair amount of openings but a lot of applicants for each slot.  So, you’re likely to have plenty of competition.  Studies suggest that hiring managers interview an average of 4 candidates before making an offer.  You need to differentiate yourself, and take out those other 3 losers.  Here’s how:

1)   Dress for Success!  Please don’t use the interview as a fashion experiment.  Dress appropriately for your industry, leaning towards conservative.  You can show your sense of style, but consider limiting your outfit to basics and add one great accessory or colorful piece.  Choose high quality, well fitting, clean and pressed clothes, shoes and handbag or portfolio, and don’t stray too far from the standard business suit.  This is not the time to bathe in cologne or perfume either, and keep any makeup natural-looking. has several very specific articles on this topic here:
2)   Pretend To Be Organized!  It’s okay if you’re not a paragon of organization and neatness, but you should pull yourself together and act like one for this event at least.  Have several printed copies of your resume readily available (be sure that it’s the same version of your resume that they’ve already seen).  Have a pen handy, as well as calling cards or business cards with your personal information, and a notepad.  Come to the interview with references already printed up, and if relevant for your role, work samples that you can share.  If you must have your mobile or smartphone on you, keep it on silent.
3)   Rehearse!  Look, we interviewers are not always that creative so you’re bound to get a few of the standard questions along the way.  “Why are you looking?”, “What is one of your weaknesses?”, “What professional accomplishment are you most proud of?”, “What makes you a good insert title here?”  There’s no excuse for letting any of these stock interview questions  derail you.  You should prepare your answers well and rehearse them several times before you actually interview.  If possible, set up a video camera or laptop with a webcam and record yourself answering basic interview questions. You’ll be really surprised with what you see when you play it back for yourself in terms of nonverbal communication, filler words, body language, nervous tics, etc…Use this feedback to make sure you are credible, articulate and insightful in your responses to those inquiries.
4)   Tell A Story! Whenever possible, ground your answers in real world experience.  Provide a moderate level of detail and frame your responses by tying things down to what you’ve already accomplished or experienced.
5)   Question Authority!  Ask questions – lots of them.   If you do not ask, the interviewer will guess that you’re either not interested, not very bright, unengaged, oddly introverted, or just not analytical enough to dig below the surface.  None of those is really a desirable impression so be sure you come armed with questions that demonstrate your understanding of the industry, the role, and best practices for your field.  It’s a good idea to have some of these written out on your notepad beforehand so you’ll be sure to ask them and have a place to jot down answers.  In addition to pre-prepared questions, be sure to ask for more details about information you glean on the interview.  Remember, you’re not just selling yourself, you’re buying a job!  Be sure you buy the right one for you.      
6)   Do Your Homework!  Find out the names and titles of everyone you’ll be talking to.  Write them down.  If possible, research them beforehand on Linked In or other online databases.  At a minimum, you should know what the company does, how they fare within their industry and who their customers and competitors are. 
7)   Close It Down!  When the interview is wrapping up, show initiative by stating your level of interest and asking point blank about any hesitations they have about moving forward.  If you don’t ask, you’ll never know what their possible objections are, and you certainly won’t be able to overcome them.  By asking, you show courage and gain the ability to restate your case if necessary.  Ask about the next steps and what you can do to facilitate them too.  

The goal is to be as prepared and in control as much as possible, so you’ll be less nervous, demonstrate greater confidence and expertise, and get the info you need to make a decision.  I’ve hired a lot of people over the years and almost no matter what role I’m filling, I’m seeking people who are resourceful, smart and engaging, show initiative, and seem trustworthy and reliable.   Consider those traits to be the universal qualities of employ-ability.  Think about how you’re coming across in all of those areas and, most importantly, be yourself.  Just focus on showing up with the best version of you that you can conjure up that day...and leave any Sheen-esque behavior to those in Hollywood.  Happy hunting.


Monday, March 7, 2011

Perfect Pitch: Creating YOUR Best Elevator Spech

Article first published as How to Give the Perfect Pitch on Technorati.

I’m in sales, so I’m always pitching something.  Whether it’s a brand, an idea, or a product or service, I’m comfortable with the process of creating a compelling pitch and persuading others to “buy in” with their support, budget, effort, or other resources.

As a job seeker, you should get equally comfortable with the notion that you’re selling yourself to potential employers, but also to any number of people along the way who can help you get connected to new opportunities, based on their perception of who you are, what you bring to the party, and where your passion lies.  Your ability to concisely articulate your unique value proposition might be the strongest weapon in your career arsenal and will exponentially improve your networking and job search results.   You can call this pitch a personal branding statement, elevator pitch, or individual value proposition, but whatever you call it, create one now.

So, grab some pencil and paper and start drafting the elements of your pitch.

1)     What’s your name?  Sounds obvious, right? You need to be clear about what name you want to use professionally.  Stay consistent.   This can be a challenge for those of us with maiden names, or for folks who prefer a shortened name or nickname.  Get clear on what you want to be called and use that name consistently.  Make sure that if you choose to use a nickname, it isn’t one that will negatively impact people’s perception of you. (For example, George W. Bush stopped encouraging people call him “Junior” and even Eminem dropped the name “Slim Shady”, right?)
2)     What do you do?  How do you see yourself?  What service or role do you do well or do you wish to do in your next role?  You can be creative here.  If you’re a salesperson for an HR outsourcing company, you can say that you help companies connect with experts to put HR best practices in place. If you’re a private chef, you could say that work with busy households to ensure that they always have delicious, healthful food available for family meals, snacks and special occasions.  You can also of course say what you are: nurse, teacher, or student. Be authentic!  Is your self-image tied to your title, or is it a specific facet of your job/career?  There’s no right answer here. You need to be accurate about your qualifications and core focus, but you can choose whether to say who you work for and what your title is, or focus more on what’s important to you about what you do and frame it in terms of where you want to go next.
3)     What’s your passion?  What truly compels you?  Is it an industry, platform, environmental concern, industry best practice, or some other focus?  If you’re passionate about some aspect of your current role or if a personal passion is driving a career change, you should communicate this. You’re much more interesting, credible, and persuasive if your passion shines through.  
4)     How do others benefit from working with you?  What unique value do you bring to the table?  What outcome or results can you help an organization achieve?  What accomplishment or trait do you possess that’s important for people to know about?  You don’t want to come across as a braggart, but you do need to toot your own horn!
5)     Where are you going? Do you have a clear vision or career aspiration?  Are you planning relocation or will you soon be earning additional certification or education?  If so, this needs to be part of your pitch, so that it’s forward-looking and enables the listener to help you.

Write ideas down for these categories.  Play around with options and narrow it down to your best answers to each question.  Now, take those concepts and create one paragraph that captures you.  Read it aloud.  Does it sound natural, like something you’d actually say?  If not, tweak it – you need to get really comfortable with this statement for conversational use. Make sure it’s not more than about 20 seconds – we’re a short attention span nation! Now, practice, practice, practice! Run it by your best friend, spouse, mentor, colleague or other confidant.  Get some feedback, then, retool and rehearse again.  Want some more ideas?  Look here:
Now that you have your Perfect Pitch, how should you use it?  Use it at networking events, in interviews, introductions, when you catch up with people from your past, or when you talk to a recruiter.  You can also use it to craft your career objective on your resume, or to create your Linked In profile statement (or any other Social Media profiles), and you can use a version of it in any cover letter you write.  Be sure you can both write and say it in a voice that is uniquely yours.

Now get to work, so you can get to work and tackle the 21st century job market! 

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

How Not to Blow a Phone Interview...Final Thoughts

This article was first published as How Not to Blow a Phone Interview: Final Thoughts! on Technorati.  A former client called me recently to ask about how I’d suggest wrapping up a successful phone interview.  It got me thinking about a few more ideas for interview success, particularly for phone screens.  These tips, together with the suggestions in my last post (, will help you get your ducks in a row, so you can rock your next phone screen!

1)     Be a Sleuth!  With all the resources available today, there’s no excuse for going into any interview without doing your research.  If nothing else, this will show that you’re intelligent, interested in the opportunity, and a fairly savvy candidate.  Use Google, Linked In, Plaxo or Facebook to see what you can learn about the person on the other end of the phone prior to the call.  If a staffing industry/agency recruiter has set this interview up for you, ask them about the experience placing prior candidates with this organization.  Find out how prior interviews have gone, and what you should expect.  Be sure that you’ve taken time to fully review the hiring firm’s web site and understand at least their structure, what they do, and some recent news about them.  Use this information both to generate better questions to ask, and to tailor your answers to questions so that they not only reflect your personal truth, but also jibe with the company’s culture and direction.
2)     Get Your Facts Straight!  The purpose of many phone interviews is really a brief technical screen.  The interviewer wants to spend 10-15 with a handful of candidates to quickly determine if they have the appropriate technical expertise, or hard skills, to do the job.  In other words, they want to see if you really know all the things you say you do in your resume.  Then if you pass muster, they’ll bring you in to assess fit for the environment, soft skills, level of interest, etc… By technical skills, I don’t necessarily mean technology, but the hard facts and processes needed to be successful in any job.  For an accountant, these might be finance/tax/regulatory questions, for a computer programmer, these would be questions on how you create a certain type of code or application, and for a sommelier, they’d be questions focused on various wine terroir and vintage. Be sure that you fully understand the direct competencies and hard skills needed for the role and if you have any weaknesses in these areas, study up prior to the interview.  Don’t be afraid to use notes either. You’re invisible to the interviewer, so allow that to work to your advantage. I’m not suggesting you totally fake it!  If you don’t have the basic skills to do a job successfully, getting through a phone screen will not help you.  It will just draw out the inevitable result of you being weeded out, and waste both your time and the employer’s time.
3)     Get Those Ducks Lined Up! The worst thing an interviewer can hear is “NO, I don’t have any questions”.  This makes you sound uninterested in the opportunity, or (worse yet), not analytical enough to dig into any of the covered topics.  By all means, have some questions prepared! Don’t ask about benefits, pay, flex time or related topics at this stage of the game.  Keep your inquiries professionally-focused and ask about their expectations, vision, past successes or failures in filling this role, culture, or tools/methodologies/processes used in the role. The best questions are “high octane” – they get you information and cast you in a more intelligent light with the hiring manager.   
4)     Lock and Load!  If you decide you want a “second date” with this employer, don’t be shy! When the interview is over, tell them you’ve genuinely enjoyed speaking with them and getting to know more about the organization and the role.  Share how you feel you are a good match for their need and how you could make an impact.  Ask them what the next step would be and whether they have any hesitations moving forward. This gives them the opportunity to share their concerns with you so that you can overcome their potential objection.  Conversely, if you don’t think it sounds like a match, let them know this (nicely) as well.  If it makes sense, inquire about other more appropriate roles for which you would be better suited.  Thank them for their time and be sure that you’re helping to drive the next step that you want to achieve.  

Now, get to work and tackle the 21st century job market, fully armed with all the skills you need to thrive.  Don’t forget to let your personality shine and just be the best version of yourself.  In other words, even on a phone interview, don’t be a phony. Best wishes and happy hunting!


Tuesday, March 1, 2011

How Not to Blow a Phone Interview....Part Deux!

How Not to Blow a Phone Interview: Part Deux!

This article was first published as How Not to Blow a Phone Interview: Part Deux! on Technorati. 

Think of the phone interview as the work version of speed dating.  The current job market is very active, meaning that most posted or advertised openings have hundreds of applicants.  More and more hiring managers are scheduling phone screens as a first gateway to quickly assess if a candidate has the right skills, communication style and attitude to warrant a face-to-face meeting.  It’s your one shot, so be sure you don’t blow it.  Hopefully, you read my former post with the first 3 tips on this topic.  If not, here is a link to that article: Now, for some more ideas on how NOT to blow your interview.

1)     Look in the Mirror!  If possible, have a mirror close by.  Go ahead, check yourself  while you’re talking.  Are you smiling?    If you’re not, your caller will definitely hear it.  Before the call, relax, take some deep breaths, stretch a bit, have a sip of water, spit out your gum, put any snacks away, and take a good look at yourself.  Smile, be confident and convey an upbeat mood and attitude.
2)     Use Cue Cards!  Since it is a phone interview, the caller cannot see you. Make this work to your advantage.  Have questions written out beforehand, have your resume printed out and ready for you to reference.  Have some notes on the company/hiring manager/job handy that you’ve either pulled from the internet, from your recruiter, or from your own super sleuth detective work.  I recommend printing out your resume, highlighting key things that you want to be sure to convey (more on this in the next tip).  Write out a few key questions on notecards in fairly large print and have them laid out on the desk or table in front of you.  Be sure to ask them and jot down responses as you chat.  Have the job description and other data points handy, again highlighted or notated with where you want clarification.  This would seem awkward in a personal interview, but use your temporary “cloak of invisibility” to your advantage and you’ll sound better prepared, more articulate and more engaged in the interview.
3)     Practice Makes Perfect! Practice your elevator pitch!  Be sure you have well rehearsed and compelling answers to the standard interview questions that you know you’re likely to get.  These include strengths, weakness, why you’re looking, and the old standby, “tell me about yourself”.  Be fully ready to explain any gaps in employment, salary history and any significant career path changes you’ve made.  Be prepared, write out answers in advance and practice saying them a few times so you’re sure they sound natural, confident and credible before the phone interview! A tip I like to share is to gather several colors of highlighter pens and a printed copy of your resume and the job description for which you’re interviewing.  On the job description, pull out the top 3-5 required skills/attributes or experience factors needed for success.  Highlight each one in a different color.  Now, go to your resume and map those colors/skills back, so that your resume is now highlighted in the same colors and you can easily walk the caller through how your experience specifically matches their requirements.   
4)     Be attractive!  Look we’re all human and we tend to respond to people who think, talk and act like we do.  Now I’m not suggesting that you try to sound like Dolly Parton if you’re interviewing with someone in Tennessee or like Tony Soprano if you’re talking to a manager in the Garden State.  But there are subtle things you can do to make the interviewer more at ease with your communication style and more interested in taking things to the next phase. Listen to the interviewer.  Are they animated or more even keel?  Excitable and passionate? Or grounded and soft-spoken?  Pay attention and adapt your tone and pace of speaking to match theirs slightly, keeping it very natural.  Jot down key words that they use and try to reiterate those in your own dialog so you’ll be “speaking the same language”.  Try to avoid any negative words and stay positive. Ask them questions that show you’re engaged, interested in them, their perspective on the organization, and the role. Please don’t interrupt them!  On a cell phone, this may mean waiting 2-3 seconds after they finish talking to speak just to be sure.  If I sound a bit like I’m giving dating advice, that’s ok.   Remember, the phone interview is like speed dating, and you want to be the one to control whether you get a real date, or not.

Love them or not, phone interviews are here to stay.  Hopefully, these tips will help you shine in this somewhat awkward format, and win the interview.  Look for my final installment on this topic in the next few days.....Go get ‘em! 

Monday, February 28, 2011

How Not to Blow a Phone Interview...Part One!

This article first published as How Not to Blow a Phone Interview...Part One on Technorati.

 I'll confess to a love/hate relationship with phone screens.  As a recruiter, I want to push the interview process along quickly and get to an offer stage (or not) quickly.  I typically try to put people together face to face as soon as there’s mutual interest.  As a candidate, I enjoy connecting with new people and believe that comes across when I meet them, so I’m more compelling in person. Experts say nearly 90% of human communication is nonverbal, so the phone isn’t the best showcase for your charisma, confidence and body language to shine.  It’s tougher as a candidate to read the cues from the interviewer over the phone than in a face-to-face meeting, so making adjustments along the way is trickier.  Also, odds are good that someone will be on a cell phone.  This can be fraught with issues including dropped calls, bad signal strength, poor network quality (which makes you sound as if you’re slurring, or even drunk!), background noise, or the dreaded delay.   On the other hand, as a busy candidate, I’ve found that a phone interview is a great use of my time and an easy way to determine quickly if an opportunity is right for me.  As a recruiter, I encourage a hiring manager to conduct a phone interview if they’re on the fence about someone, to get a quick gauge of their suitability for the role.

However, phone interviews are here to stay.  Companies have distributed work teams.  Telecommuting is growing so team members may not even be on site to conduct an interview.  Also, it can be a good use of both the candidate’s and the employer’s time.  There’s no need to fight traffic, park and spend an hour getting your hair perfect, and the hiring manager doesn’t have to clean up their office!  For out-of-towner’s, both parties benefit from a quick conversation to ensure there’s a baseline fit, before investing in travel time and expenses. So, how can you, the candidate, turn the phone interview into a clear advantage for yourself?  How can you minimize the inherent problems associated with this forum and stand out?  Here are a few things that can make a BIG difference and ensure you don’t blow it! I’ll share several tips, broken into 3 posts so you can quickly read and digest each one without getting overwhelmed.

1)     Be a Landlubber!  Mobile devices are awesome, but unpredictable. It’s totally old school, but if you have a landline, it’s just better. Disable call waiting.  If you must use a cell, be sure you pick a quiet place to conduct the call and check your signal strength, so there will be no surprises.  Stay away from using a Bluetooth, as that can compromise call quality too.
2)      No Pajamas!  Comfort is good. I’m not suggesting that you put on your best suit for a phone interview, but if you’re overly casual in your posture, attire, or environment, your voice will reflect it.  Sit up straight at a desk or table with your feet on the floor, and have on business casual/work clothes.  You’ll feel professional and it will come through in your voice.  You can even stand up and walk around the room a bit and use hand gestures, if you typically would in live conversation.  You’ll sound more animated and probably more interested. If you’re a natural skeptic (like me!), try this experiment.  Put on comfy pants, lay down on the couch with your feet up, and record yourself on your cell answering this question, “where do you see yourself in 5 years?”  Now, wear standard business attire and sit up at a table or desk with your feet in front of you.  Record yourself again answering the same question.  Finally, stand up, stretch, shake your arms and legs out a bit, have some water and record the same thing again.  Listen to all three recordings back to back.  Which one gives the listener the best version of you?
3)      Power Down! Turn off your computer, radio, TV, etc…and unless you’re on your cell phone, turn that off too.  You don’t need any distractions.  You want to focus on the call and nothing else.  This is not the time for your potential boss to hear your new ringtone chiming in as background noise.  Don’t IM, check email, tweet, or read texts – it can wait.  The phone interview typically won’t last long, and you should afford the interviewer the same courtesies you would in a face-to-face meeting.  

Stay tuned for my next post with tips 4-6.Also, if you’d like some more tips from the hiring manager’s perspective, check here: Most importantly, let your personality shine and just be the best version of yourself. That’s always my #1 tip!


Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Six Ways to Get Ready to Get Ready to Get a Job!

Recently, I had lunch with a former client. We talked about the job market and shared some thoughts about our expectations for a fairly robust hiring climate in 2011.  Corporate America is hiring faster than anytime over the last 9 quarters and U.S. job satisfaction is at an abysmal 22-year low, with a 2010 Conference Board study showing that only 45% of workers are satisfied with their current employment. Some say that more than 80% of us intend to seek a new role this year alone.  Wow - this sounds to me like a potentially Perfect Storm for job seekers who may be entering a very competitive and active hiring market, especially if you are in the latter stages of your career, where competition is always the most fierce.  Don’t get discouraged; there are great opportunities available at every level as companies innovate, expand, and add new revenue streams, new products and new divisions.  But, you need a very well thought-out plan to master your job search, so if you’re thinking of getting out there, or if you are unemployed and actively looking, it’s time to get ready to get ready to land THE job you want!

Don’t get me wrong, many people today are unemployed and may not have the luxury of time.  And the reality is that depending on your education, experience, chosen field, geography, and other factors, some of you will have the ability to be more particular than others in identifying your next opportunity.  But, if you are one of the many of us who are either employed or comfortably unemployed and starting to consider a job search in the near future, take a deep breath, step back for a moment, and give this momentous step its full due.  Here are some important steps to take BEFORE you really dive into a job hunt to chart your course, prime the pump, build your brand, and enhance your employability.  All of these tips will be personally and professionally enriching for you even if you stay in your current job by the way – good stuff, huh?

1. Take time for some healthy introspection.  You don’t need to get all new age on this one or invest in a new yoga mat, but DO meditate or at least ponder on this a bit before you start actively putting yourself out there.  Where are you today?  Have you thought about what your next job will really look like?  What do you want to be when you grow up?  What things are you just NOT willing to do again?  What job would be an extraordinary role in which you could truly thrive?  What 2 or 3 things are truly important to you? Lofty stuff - I know!  Trust me, walking through these questions and others in advance of launching a full scale attack on the 21st century job safari will serve you well. It will save you time in the long run, keep you focused on the prize, and help potential employers both find you and more quickly determine that you are the right candidate for their opening.  For most of us, if you are unhappy in a job today, going somewhere else to do the same thing within a similar culture for 15% more compensation or a 15 minute shorter commute, will NOT make you happier in the long run. Keep a journal or at least take notes throughout this process and then use the final product to define the parameters and the possibilities for this search. 

2.  Create your sales pitch.  I’ve said this before, and I’ll probably write a future blog post that really digs deep into this issue, because I believe there are few things more important than being able to state with absolute clarity who you are, what you love to do, and what you bring to the party.  Call this the 30-second elevator speech or personal branding message, but you should definitely have one and it should be unique, compelling, and truly reflective of who you are as an individual.  Use your notes from the introspection process to help build this pitch, keep it concise, and be confident.  Its okay to have a couple of slightly tweaked versions of this for different audiences, but there should definitely be unifying elements that reflect the truth of you and what you’re all about.  Where would you use this?  Once you start really thinking of your elevator pitch as part of your “brand”, you’ll find ways to use it all the time.  When you meet someone new  through friends or at a social engagement and they ask, “what do you do?”, rather than saying, “I work at Accenture” or “I’m not working currently”, use your pitch!  At a networking function when you meet someone, use your pitch!  When you go for an informational interview or connect with a recruiter, use your pitch!  When you reconnect with people from your past and they ask, “what have you been up to?”, use your pitch.  If you are on Facebook or Twitter, what do you write in the “About Me” section of your profile? Use your pitch. You get the idea, right?

3.  Get Authentic.   Now that you know what you want from a career move, and know how to say it in a great sound byte, it’s time to soften the beaches in the marketplace.  You may not yet be ready to tell the world you’re actively looking, but this is the time to ensure that peoples’ perception of you jibes with your desired image.  If somebody asked a former co-worker or boss about you today, what would they hear? If someone met you today for the first time, what would their first impression be? If someone Googled you, what would they read? All of these possibilities are near certainties once you start an active job search, so why not prepare for them now?  Reconnect with former colleagues and managers/mentors to catch up, try your elevator pitch on for size, and learn what your connections are up to.  Start to line up professional references and ensure the folks you’ll use know the specifics of how you wish to be perceived.  Take a hard look at what others in your life think of you, and if appropriate, invest in some image updates.  There are some great tools available to see how others feel about you in a safe and confidential way. Here’s a link to one that I really like:, but there are several out there. Go ahead – take the plunge!  I promise you’ll gain valuable insight that will guide you in deciding where you may need to “re-brand”. Use this opportunity to evaluate your physical presence too.  Look at yourself in the mirror tomorrow morning before you head out.  Does what you see reflect the role you want?  You definitely want to start presenting yourself with the image of someone who already belongs in your next starring role.  Could your professional wardrobe or style use some tweaking?  I’m not suggesting that you try to become George Clooney, or Heidi Klum, or even the next contestant on Ambush Makeover, but the harsh reality is that we live in a society that judges us (at least on first impression) by our looks, so be sure your look is consistent with what you want to represent.  

4.  Get “Googly”. I’ve shared in prior posts the importance of building your online reputation and tapping into your network to create your brand.  Here are some specific tactics to try to enhance your online image.  Google yourself!  Like what you see?  If not, you can change it by becoming active on at least one  professional social network, writing a regular blog which shows your expertise or passion in a key area, or even frequently commenting on others’ posts in the blogosphere.  If you are on Linked In, be sure to create a public profile with an URL shortened to just your name.  Better yet, go ahead and lay out the $12 to buy your own name as a domain and create a quick multi-media site with your resume, links to any appropriate social network pages, a headshot, and other relevant professional data.  Linked In also has a great new tool called In Maps, which allows you to create a graphic depiction of your network and see quickly where you may be light in valuable connections. Maybe you have 200 folks in your network, but only 3 from Grad School.  Really?  You probably know more people than that from all those late night study groups.  Use the tool to help you see where you could add some depth.  Check it out:  Attend a few networking functions in your chosen field.  Many of these publish attendee lists to the web and you’ll start to see yourself online as a mover and a shaker; others will see that too. I bet you’ll also meet some interesting people, and maybe even learn something new, or have fun!  How bad could that be? Update all your online profile pics with recent, flattering, and professionally appropriate headshots so that you’re presenting a consistent image.  This is NOT the time you want your Girls Gone Wild shot, or your prize-winning Borat Halloween costume out there for public consumption, at least not as the first thing people see when they look you up!

5. Create a Compelling Resume.  Check out my former post on Powering Up your resume for the 21st Century here:  There are tons of other resume-writing resources and advice blogs on the web you can browse too. Just be sure you are armed with a really good resume before you launch your job search.  Surely, you’ll adapt it to individual roles as they come along, but start with a great CV that includes your professional objective, skills, experience, and accomplishments in clear, concise language that accurately reflects all that you have to offer.  As I’ve suggested before, it’s also a really good idea to establish at least one strong personal relationship with a recruiter who focuses in your field/industry.  If you have not yet done this, now is a great time to start!  If you have forged a rapport with one, share your resume and ask for their genuine feedback.  Really good recruiters can be an excellent resource for you as you move through your career path, and resume advice is one of the many ways they’re typically happy to assist you, especially if you can refer another candidate to them, or offer to review the resume over a nice latte or a cold beer.

6.  Have some fun! Enjoy yourself as you go through this process.  Take your career and your pending job search seriously, but don’t ever take yourself too seriously!  Re-engage with people you genuinely like.  Make connections and attend events that you’re truly interested in.  Don’t be afraid to let some of your quirks and personality come through.  At the end of the day, people help, hire, and hang out with other people they like. Period.  Skills matter, image matters, experience matters, but more often than not, your wit, compassion, positive attitude, and personality will matter just as much….so let those qualities shine through too!  Most of us can smell a fake a mile away, so be authentically you; you’ll be more relaxed and way more inviting.  You probably don’t want a job where you cannot be yourself and laugh a little anyway, right?    

Now, get to work and tackle the 21st century job market! Define yourself, Be yourself, and Enjoy yourself!