Self-discovery is the key to unlocking a healthy and rewarding career, and it is also vital to writing a great resume and performing well in interviews. Most employers are interested in learning how your unique strengths and achievements will help them save money, increase revenue, and build a great company culture.
This section of our web site provides you with a variety of links to both free and paid resources that will help you better understand your strengths. It also provides interactive exercises that will help you determine the most important results-oriented experiences to list on your resume.
Your resume alone won't get you a job - but if it's well written, it can get you in the door for that vital first interview. To help make that happen, your resume has to get noticed, and then convince an employer to interview you.
Tip #1: Create An Outline
Great resumes start with great planning. Before you begin, on a separate sheet of paper summarize your skills, professional experience, education and awards, and jot down several references. Think about the type of job you're looking for, and then select the information that seems most relevant.
Tip #2: Customize Your Resume
Employers and job descriptions can vary tremendously, requiring an emphasis on different skills and experience. So don't hesitate to customize your resume whenever appropriate. You might want to create several different resumes as needed, and should save each version for later use.
Tip #3: Keep Things Organized
Employers rarely read resumes from start-to-finish. Instead, they scan them quickly for certain information, and are used to seeing facts and details organized a certain way. Resumes do vary greatly in terms of look and feel, but most are more-or-less organized into these distinct sections:
- Contact Information
- Summary of Qualifications
- Professional Experience
- Education & Affiliations
Tip #4: Tell The Truth, The Whole Truth, Nothing But ...
Stick to the facts, and don't exaggerate or make anything up. At the same time, don't add personal information that's not relevant to the job, such as hobbies or interests. Keep things professional by never using "I", "me," or "my," while making your experience read like job descriptions (instead of simply listing your duties). Finally, avoid using any fancy fonts, colored paper, or other attention-getting gimmicks.
Tip #5: Emphasize What You Bring, Not What You Take
As you fill in these categories from your outline, focus on what you bring to the company, instead of what you expect from the job. For example, narrow down your qualifications to those you think your employer would need the most, and include job results that show how they'd actually benefit from hiring you.
Tip #6: "Less Is More!"
Since you're usually up against many other candidates for the same position, you'll want to do some serious editing to keep your resume as straightforward and effective as possible. Imagine having to read dozens of resumes. Wouldn't you choose the one that's easiest to read? As a general rule, you should:
- Limit your resume to 2-pages maximum
(1 page is even better)
- Keep your descriptions short and to-the-point; briefly mention what you've done, but emphasize the positive results your employment would bring
- Eliminate any extra or unnecessary details. Put yourself in a hiring manager's shoes and ask: "Would I want to interview this person?"
- Limit your resume to 2-pages maximum
Tip #7: Check For Errors
Typos, bad grammar, or factual mistakes all reduce your chances for getting that all-important interview. So make sure you pay close attention to detail, and double- and even triple-check your resume when completed. Another good idea is to have a friend or family member proofread your resume, since they might pick up errors, omissions, and redundancies that you'd otherwise miss.
Tip #8: Get Feedback & Help
The only people who can really determine the strength of your resume are the people meant to read it - so try to get as much feedback as you can from employers and your Ultimate Staffing service manager or executive recruiter. And remember, you can always visit your local Ultimate Staffing branch office to pick up some hands-on advice from our knowledgeable staffing experts.
A great cover letter is your opportunity to speak in your own voice, and set yourself apart.
Tip #1: Always Try To Submit One
Since you're usually up against many other candidates for the job, a cover letter is an ideal way to stand out. Although a cover letter might not be a requirement, make it a habit to include a well-written, customized letter with every resume you submit.
Tip #2: Make It Personal
How likely are you to read a letter that's addressed "To Whom It May Concern?" If you can, try to learn the name and title of the person making the hiring decisions - that way, you'll be able to personally address your cover letter, and have a much higher chance that your resume will get the attention it deserves.
Tip #3: Emphasize What You Bring, Not What You Take
Your chance of landing that first interview is greatly increased if you demonstrate some knowledge about the job you're applying for and the company hosting it. Read the job description very carefully, and research the company online.
Tip #4: "How Can I Help This Employer?"
After you've read through the job description and learned about the company from the Web, you should have a good idea what they're looking for. Instead of using your cover letter to let them know what you're looking for, you should let the company know how you can meet their challenges by improving efficiencies, saving them money, etc. In the process you'll not only demonstrate an active interest in their organization, but stress why they should hire YOU for this job.
Tip #5: Use Your Own Voice
Resumes, by their nature, tend to be factual and very dry. A well-written cover letter, on the other hand, gives you an opportunity to communicate more directly with the employer, and come across as a unique individual. Write as you'd speak, but express yourself professionally and emphasize what you can do for the company by talking about the results you have achieved.
Tip #6: Get To The Point
You're probably very busy trying to find a job, but keep in mind that the employer is even busier filling them. Although you want to customize each cover letter with job and company information, and show them the wisdom of hiring you, it's better to keep your letter to at most two or three paragraphs. So stick to what's important, and put yourself in the reader's shoes: Is your letter interesting? Is it a quick read? Would you want to interview the person who wrote it?
Tip #7: Proofread, Proofread, Proofread!
A great cover letter is the perfect chance for you to show your stuff - it's also the perfect chance for you to ruin your chances with typos, misspellings, bad grammar, or factually incorrect information. Double- and triple-check your letter after you're done, and it might even help if you read it out loud. Share your letter with friends or family, and have them read and proof it, too.
Congratulations! Your cover letter and resume have gotten you that all-important first interview. Since that interview is the most important component of the hiring process, you should prepare yourself as best you can. The following five strategies will help you get the most out of the experience, and heighten your chances for success. Good luck!
Tip #1: Keep Your Eye On The Ball
Great athletes will tell you that the key to mastering a sport is prioritization. After all, way too many things are going on for even the best players to follow. Smart players therefore keep most of their attention riveted on the ball, and not on the other players, the refs, the screaming crowd, or any internal issues.
The same can be said for the art of interviewing: You'll be much better off and have an easier time if you focus primarily on your one goal, namely, to convince your interviewer that you are the right person for the job. That's what the interview is all about, period. In this sense, an interview is identical to a sales call, where a successful close means they hire you, and not someone else.
By reducing all the complexities of interviewing down to this simple goal, you can concentrate on doing no more and no less than whatever it takes to get hired. That strategy will also help you get a better feel for what works, and what doesn't. Although this might seem obvious, keep it in mind while you interview, and as you prepare yourself mentally, physically, and emotionally.
Tip #2: Give Them What They Want
Expert salesmen will tell you that success comes with shifting your attention away from yourself, and instead focusing on fulfilling the needs of the customer. In this case your customer is your interviewer, and what they are looking for is a fully qualified candidate brimming with excitement, enthusiasm, and self-confidence.
Do Some Research
So before your interview, find out as much as you can about the company and the position they're trying to fill. Ask your Ultimate Staffing service manager or executive recruiter to tell you all that they know, and refer to external resources like the Internet whenever possible. The simple fact is that the more you know about the company and its needs, the better prepared you'll be to provide your interviewer with the answers they're expecting, namely: How are you going to be able to help them?
Once you know what they're looking for, you'll also be able to pick and choose from those portions of your own education, skills, and experience that make for the best match. Imagine questions you'll be asked based on their needs, and think up answers selected from your background that portray you as the right candidate for the right job.
Adjust Your Approach
So if you discover they're looking for a candidate with strong word processing skills, emphasize your experience and abilities as a typist and focus on your attention to detail; if they're instead looking for a receptionist or secretary, then emphasize how terrific your people-skills are, and how you enjoy helping others be at their best.
Tip #3: Make A Terrific First Impression
Researchers have revealed that an interviewer usually makes up his or her mind during the first two minutes of an interview! That may seem surprising, but we all admit that first impressions count. After all, what kind of candidate would you seriously think about hiring? Think about that image, and then prepare yourself to become that special kind of person to maximize your chances for getting the job.
Dress For Success
Since all your characteristics are under the microscope during an interview situation, make sure you're dressed on the conservative side, with extras like make-up, jewelry, perfume, or after-shave all understated. Your grooming should be equally low-key, as neat and proper as possible. As a general rule, men should wear coordinated dress pants, shirt, and perhaps a suit and tie for more formal interviews. Women should wear professional business apparel, such as a conservative dress or pant suit.
Good Body Language & Eye Contact
Your strengths run more than skin deep, of course: Your posture, body language, and facial expressions convey who you are as a person, and are your interviewer's first impressions of your character. The importance of maintaining good eye contact and delivering a firm handshake are as cliché as they are true. Entering the interview with a sincere smile and a positive attitude are usually contagious, creating a more natural, easy-going environment for both of you.
Observe Your Interviewer
The first few minutes are also the time when you should make your own judgments about the interviewer. If they seem particularly mannered and formal, then match your own behavior to suit their comfort zone; if they instead seem more light-hearted and cordial, then extend a similarly easy-going attitude. Keep in mind, however, that good interviewers appear neutral, non-judgmental, and passive: They are paying close attention to you, and expect you to set the mood.
Tip #4: Actively Listen & Passively Lead
Many candidates make the mistake of focusing entirely on what they're saying and how they're saying it, missing subtle cues and even obvious signals from their interviewer. Since success depends on satisfying your interviewer's needs and not your own, knowing how they feel about your progress is vital, and can help you guide the interview in a more positive direction.
Discover How You're Doing
The trick is to continue monitoring their body language, facial expressions, and questioning style to determine your progress throughout the interview. If they seem engaged and interested in your responses (plenty of eye contact, attention, and focus), then keep up the good work; if they instead seem bored and distracted (they yawn, look at their watch, or smirk) then increase your own energy and enthusiasm to bring them back. Their level of interest will vary, so pay attention and look for clues that will recommend the best way to continue.
Create Positive Energy
In addition to these non-verbal signs, the kinds of questions asked also say a great deal about where you stand. As a general rule, the more detailed the questions, the greater the level of interest. If the interest isn't there, create it. For example, if you are asked about your previous job, don't just say "Yes, I did that" - instead, describe the situation in detail, and the positive results you produced. Talk about your responsibilities, and make the results as numerical as possible: "I saved the company thousands," or "I saved my boss ten hours of work a week."
Tip #5: Turn Your Weaknesses Into Strengths
But what if they want to know about any mistakes you might have made? How can you avoid the pitfall of getting trapped into talking about your weaknesses?
Nobody is perfect, only liars. And liars are unethical creatures who, if found out, don't get job offers. While tooting your own horn might come easy to most, admitting to imperfection without blowing the whole shot often proves far more challenging. On the one hand you have to be honest; on the other, you want to say things that won't get in the way of you getting the job.
Three proven ways to do just that include casting a weakness in a positive light, dismissing the weakness as ancient history, and "sandwiching" the weakness between two much more positive points. Since handling weaknesses is perhaps the most common minefield brave interviewees have to cross, let's take a detailed look at each technique:
The "Good" Weakness
In this case, you talk about a weakness as originating from a strength. For example: "I'm such a great customer service representative [strength] that I've been known to spend a bit too much time with individual clients [good weakness]" or "I'm so detail-orientated and error-free [strength] that I've sometimes been known to take extra time to complete projects [good weakness]".
The "Old" Weakness
And here you describe a weakness as ancient history, having turned it into a strength. For example: "When I first became a supervisor, I was very impatient with people [old weakness], but now I've learned the effectiveness of team building [strength]" or "When I first started as a word processor, I was a bit slow [weakness], but I've since learned to be both methodical and fast [strength]".
The "Sandwich" Spin
You can also downplay a weakness by "sandwiching" it between two strengths. For example: "I've proven myself an amazingly efficient supervisor [strength]. We experienced some turnover during the process [weakness]. But I did what was necessary to get the best results for the company [strength]" Or: "I'm the best customer service rep you'll find [strength]. I sometimes take extra time to get things just right [weakness]. But you'll have some very happy customers [strength]".
Prepare, Prepare, Prepare
Since admitting to and talking about weaknesses (everyone has them) may come up during your interview, get ready for them ahead of time. Practice various responses that turn these weaknesses into strengths, and accentuate the positive to consistently impress your interviewer.
Summary: Encourage Your Interviewer To Make The Right Choice - YOU! The bottom line is sell yourself by vividly and in great detail illustrating your specific, noteworthy, and relevant accomplishments. Your interviewer wants to fill the position, and their basic question is: "With whom?" Your answer is: "With ME!" Why? Because you keep your eye on the ball, give them what they want, make a great first impression, smoothly guide the interview in your favor, and turn your weaknesses into strengths!
Interview To-Do List
Your cover letter and resume have stood out, and you have been invited to a job interview. Are you ready for the next step?
The interview is your chance to show an employer your interest in the position and company, and to present the skills you offer. While your resume has told the employer what you have done, your interview now enables you to show them what you have learned and how you can help.
Tip #1: Prepare
Do Your Homework
Research the company online and talk to your Ultimate Staffing Services service manager or executive recruiter, so you'll know what to ask, and what will most likely be asked of you. Think about it: Would you hire a candidate who doesn't know anything about your firm, and didn't even bother to find out? Why would they want the job in the first place?
Rehearse Your Responses
Although companies and interviewers vary greatly in their expectations and operating procedures, many if not most of your interview can be prepared for: Practice answering the basic questions, anticipate some "trick" questions, and generally prepare yourself to best sell your experiences, knowledge, and unique personality. If possible, get a partner to help you rehearse.
Scope The Playing Field
Do you know where the company is? Do they have ample parking? If your interview is set for 9:15am, then you absolutely must get there promptly at 9:00am - so make sure nothing "unexpected" happens, even if that requires doing a dress rehearsal to ensure you'll be at the right place at the right time (this can do wonders for your self-confidence on the fateful day, too).
Get A Good Night's Rest
Preparing yourself mentally is one thing, but preparing yourself physically and emotionally is equally important. Mark your interview date on the calendar, and make sure you've got little planned the evening before. Wake up a bit earlier than usual to ensure you'll have ample time to make all the final preparations necessary to ace the interview and land the job.
Tip #2: Dress Appropriately
Dressing the part might sound obvious, but the basics are often the most important, and are worthy of detailed consideration. For starters, if in doubt, dress as conservatively as possible. If you are torn between the bright red tie and a softer blue one, choose the less flashy shade; if you're trying to pick either the medium-length pant suit or the longer one, choose the longer one.
No "Bling-Blings," Please
Same rules apply for any and all accoutrements: Colognes and perfumes should be inconspicuous to non-existent; rings shouldn't be showy and few in number, while earrings, necklaces, and similar "extras" should be under-stated at worst, and absent at best. A good rule of thumb is to look at yourself in the mirror and ask if there's anything memorable about your attire: If you say "yes," isolate what's standing out as special, and get rid of it. Repeat the process until your ensemble makes such a good impression that it makes no impression at all.
Less Is More (More Or Less)
Hair care and style are also important: A man's hair should be cut short and neat, with no facial hair or, if necessary, a very well groomed mustache or beard. Women's hair fashions can of course vary, but for an interview should be as low-key and nondescript as possible. Remember: You're going on an interview, not on a date!
Tip #3: Put Their Needs First
It's All About THEM, Not You!
That's why it's important to do your homework before the interview, and carefully listen to the questions throughout the process. You might be perfect at what you do, but if what you say you do isn't what needs to get done, then they won't hire you. Think about it: They're trying to fill a position with a qualified candidate, and could care less if your qualifications - no matter how amazing - fall outside the job description. So know what's expected, and structure your responses based on THEIR needs, not your own.
Think Before You Speak
Let's say the position they're looking to fill is a customer service representative, and an interviewer asks you something like: "How are your word processing skills?" Don't waste quality time talking about your typing speed and software knowledge, especially if you know the job you're interviewing for has little need for typing. Instead, a positive answer might be: "My typing skills are terrific, and I'm sure they can supplement my even better people-skills and teamwork."
Guide The Interview
If the interview seems to be shifting into uncomfortable or irrelevant territory, use your answers to shift things back into focus. To continue the above example, let's say your interviewer keeps pressing you about his concerns that you're not really a team player. A good way out of that topic and into a more favorable conversation might be something like: "My word processing skills actually taught me about the importance of attention to detail, and how errors can waste time and money." Then shift: "In fact, I'm now ready to apply that same proven philosophy to customer service, where I can use similar skills to keep your level of customer satisfaction at an all time high."
Tip #4: Don't Be Too Arrogant – Or Too Humble
If you're too passive, your interviewer may feel less threatened, but you run the risk of appearing unmotivated or dull. Similarly, if you're too active you may seem lively and engaging, but also a threat to the status quo. The trick here is to stay as balanced as possible, paying close attention to both obvious and more subtle clues provided by your interviewer.
Watch For Signs
If your interviewer looks bored or disinterested in you (yawning, looking at the clock or a watch, restless body language, lack of eye contact), then add more energy to your approach. But if your interviewer shows signs that you're coming on a bit too strong (raised eyebrows conveying a surprised look, defensive body language such as hand gestures or any look of annoyance or threat), then slow things down a notch. A mistake often made by interviewees is exclusively monitoring your own behavior and actions, instead of focusing on the person who really counts: The interviewer who will be the one making that crucial hiring decision.
Tip #5: Ask Questions
Tell - Then Ask
Asking questions is your interviewer's primary tool, and should be yours, too. By strategically (and tactfully) asking questions, you'll be able to clarify points, dig deeper into subjects that highlight your strengths, and even direct the flow of the interview in directions that bring out the best in you. Perhaps most importantly, asking insightful questions demonstrates your capacity to think on your feet, and take an active part in your environment.
Food For Thought
Questions display and embellish knowledge, and help create a lasting memory of you and your capabilities - that's important during the selection process, when you come up against the personality and experiences of all the other candidates interviewing for this same position.
Sample Interview Q&A
Although interviews vary tremendously from position to position and firm to firm, several proven interviewing strategies and best practices can help you navigate through the toughest waters.
Asking the right questions, providing the right answers.
Reading Between The Lines
These strategies are based on the idea that interview questions are generally designed to reveal far more information than they at first seem to be asking for. In other words, many questions are meant to reveal aspects of your personality, work history, experience, and skills that go beyond your resume, and might not be obvious to you when first considering the question itself.
As a general rule, the trick to answering even the toughest or strangest questions is your ability to accentuate the positive, provide as much detail as you can, and turn even a potentially embarrassing question into an answer that sells your interviewer on choosing YOU above all others to fill this position.
Common Interviewer Questions (And Some Recommended Answers)
Let's consider some common interview questions, and some answers that can work for you. Keep in mind that these are samples meant to help you get a feel for what to expect, and how to better prepare.
Q. "What type of position are you interested in?"
Here's your chance to talk in detail about your strengths. Go beyond a simple job title, such as "Secretary," or "Receptionist" - instead, try to talk in detail about what you do well, and any actual changes for the better that you brought to your previous employers. For example:
A. "I feel this wonderful opportunity at your company is just right for me, because I'd be able to apply my proven skills. Working for my previous employer, I saved our department hundreds of dollars in overtime, and allowed my boss to take some long overdue time off without having to worry about the office."
Q. "Where do you see yourself five years from now?"
Showing the desire for promotion and advancement is a good sign, but if you're too aggressive about it red lights might start to flash. Your interviewer might actually be the manager positioned directly above you if you got the job, so make sure you don't set your sights on their gig! Remember that a good answer lies somewhere in between strategic humbleness and "go-getter" initiative:
A. "I always work at getting better and better at every job I do. With time, I see my responsibilities increasing to match my expanding skills." To keep playing it safe while showing some spark, this might be an opportunity for you to ask some pointed questions, such as: "How do you see this position evolving? Are there additional tasks I can perform? Do you think the department has room for my skills and other interests?"
Q. "What kinds of problems and unique challenges have you faced?"
Again, be as specific as possible, and accentuate the positive. Mentioning personal problems is dangerous, so stick to ones impacting the company that you managed to turn around and fix to everyone's satisfaction:
A. "We had a very high rate of errors in the department when I started. So my approach was quality over quantity. Even though my average speed was about average, the quality of my work was way above that. After a few months, the overall error rate in our department fell 25%! And that saved thousands of dollars."
Q. "I like your strengths. But what kinds of weaknesses do you have?"
These kinds of questions can be dangerous, and are often deliberately asked by interviewers to see how you respond. One particularly effective approach is to sandwich the negative attribute between positives. For example:
A. "My attention to detail is uncompromising [positive], so some projects have taken slightly longer than expected [negative]. But I always hit my deadlines [positive], and my error rate has remained significantly lower than those of my peers [very positive]."
Uncommon ("Trick") Questions And Some Recommended Answers
Since an interview offers a chance to go beyond just the facts and explore your personality, some interviewers may ask "left field" types of questions meant to see how you think on your feet and respond to the unexpected. Consider:
Q. "What is your favorite color?"
This kind of question has absolutely nothing to do with potential job performance, but it can say volumes about your personality. The specific color you choose is irrelevant: Your interviewer instead wants to see how you react to such a question, and how you can spin it to your advantage, depending on the job you want. Here's one approach:
A. "Purple is my favorite color, I think. That's because purple is the color of royalty and power. I admire when a person is in control. To me, purple is therefore the color of competence and self-assurance, qualities that I admire in others, and ones I think I have as a supervisor" Or: "Believe it or not, I like gray: It's easy on the eyes, and is a combination of black and white: I try to see things as a delicate balance, an attitude I've found works well for me in my career."
Q. "If you could be an animal, which type of animal would you be?"
Again, this kind of strange question has nothing to do with performance, and has everything to do with creatively handling uncertainty and selling yourself. If you say "I don't know" you may display a lack of creativity and initiative; pick something really weird and you'll have to explain yourself. Remember that your choice of animal is secondary to why you chose that animal, which you can explain to your advantage in detail. Here's one approach:
A. "If I could be an animal, I think I would be an eagle. That's because they soar high in the sky, and have the best view in the animal kingdom. I think I'm similar in spirit, and use it to bring the very best to everything that I do." Or: "I would be a cheetah, because they are the fastest, fleetest animal in nature. Like a cheetah, I prefer doing things as rapidly and efficiently as possible."
Some Questions YOU Might Want To Ask
Most candidates expect an interview to flow in only one direction: The interviewer asks questions, and you answer them. But good interviewees understand that shifting roles and asking your interviewer questions is not only acceptable, but can greatly improve your chances of getting hired if done the right way.
For starters, asking questions demonstrates your interest and enthusiasm, and also helps clarify aspects of the job that may remain uncertain. You should therefore look at an opportunity to ask a question as a great chance to differentiate yourself from the other candidates vying for this position, as a way of discovering what you need to know about the job, and as a strategic way of marketing yourself and your abilities.
Some typical job-related questions include:
- "What should I expect during the course of a typical day?"
- "What is the structure of the department?"
- "How would you characterize the culture of the department? The company?"
- "What's your conception of an ideal candidate to fill this position?"
- "What performance goals have been set for the first year?"
Some typical questions you can ask to market yourself include:
- "Will my extensive experiences help me in this position?"
- "Will I be able to utilize my proven multitasking skills?"
- "With my three years of experience in mind, do you think I'll be able to some day supervise the department?"
- "I've saved my previous employer thousands of dollars by cutting down on errors. Is your culture supportive of new quality control ideas?"
- "I understand your firm is growing. Will my own responsibilities be able to expand along with your amazing growth?"
Guiding The Interview Along
Asking questions is also a great way to gently guide the interview in directions that seem most favorable to you. For example, if your interviewer is focusing on something that is uncomfortable to you or outside your immediate experience, try to tactfully ask a question that will redirect the conversation along a path you are much more comfortable addressing. For example:
Q. "According to your resume, you stayed only a year-and-a-half at Jingles & Jangles. Why such a short career stop?"
A. "I was extremely excited to launch a career with J & J. For about 18 months I not only replaced their veteran employee, but optimized systems and saved my boss hours of time each week. Unfortunately, J & J had entered a bankruptcy situation. With extensive downsizing on the way, I decided that a company such as yours would offer more stability, better opportunities, and plenty of room for growth."
Q. "Looks like you've worked at some really large corporations. As you can tell, we're a smaller, more specialized firm with a very different culture."
A. "I'm extremely thankful to have worked at some of the city's biggest companies. Now I'm ready to bring that valuable experience to your smaller, more specialized firm! And in terms of culture, I've always worked in departments with their own unique culture. And if you think about it, your firm is actually a miniature version of some of the bigger players out there - but more focused, efficient, and profitable!"
The Importance of Follow-Up
Few people, if any, send their interviewers "Thank You" letters - which is all the more reason that YOU should send one! After all, distinguishing yourself and making yourself memorable definitely put you at an advantage, especially if several other candidates are in the running with you.
Should you decide to send a "Thank You" letter to your interviewer, you'll have to skillfully walk the fine line between sincerely thanking your host, and opportunistically "marketing" your abilities.
Below are a few examples of letters that accomplish these things, each to a varied degree.