Searching and Selecting New Opportunities
Where should I be looking for job postings?
Great question! Check out my job board listings for some suggested resources. Don't rely on just one resource -- various employers will choose to post their opportunities in different places depending on their industry, marketing budget, preferences, etc.
What if I'm under-qualified or suspect that I'm under-qualified? Should I still apply?
Most job postings list required qualifications. Some descriptions also include additional preferred (or optional) qualifications. If you don’t meet the minimum required qualifications, use your judgment to determine whether or not you want to apply. For example, there’s a big difference between a post that “requires” 1-2 years of experience and one that requires 8-10 years of experience. Often, recruiters may be willing to bend some of these rules for the right candidate. But in specialized industries, or in any industry as the responsibility level increases, it may be a waste of time to apply.
As a general rule: if you’re borderline, go for it. If you’re way off, keep searching for a better fit.
What if I'm overqualified or suspect that I'm overqualified? Should I still apply?
I tend to handle this situation on a case-by-case basis. At a large corporation utilizing recruiters for the hiring process, it might be perfectly reasonable to reach out to a recruiter and inquire about the salary range prior to submitting your application. Clearing up any major discrepancies early in the process prevents wasting time for everyone involved. However, this may not be achievable with some positions. Certain job descriptions provide no point of contact, or strictly request that you do not make any phone or email inquiries about the role.
If you can’t find someone to check with and are seriously interested in the role--enough to take a pay cut, potentially--go ahead and apply. It’s worth exploring until you know you wouldn’t be interested in the full package. If you do inquire about the salary range, be certain that you communicate your question politely, framing it in the best interest of all parties to clear up any salary “fit” issues upfront.
I have no idea what I want to do. Help!
First of all, relax -- you’re not alone, and your dissatisfaction in your current career is a great sign of self-awareness. You’re paying attention to how you’re wired, what works for you, and what doesn’t. That’s an excellent first step.
To consider what might be the next career step for you, check out specific resources related to identifying career direction here.
Resumes and Cover Letters
Should I submit different versions of my resume each time I apply to a new position?
Your resume should highlight your ability to excel in the listed role, and clearly communicate your relevant experience. If a job description states that the ideal candidate should have significant management experience, there should be a decent amount of space dedicated to management experience on your resume. Whether or not this requires multiple resume versions depends on what you’re applying for.
If you are applying into multiple, widely-varied industries, multiple resume versions might help to better clarify your qualifications and “connect the dots” to the new industry by clearly identifying transferrable skills.
Sometimes you can achieve the effect of multiple resumes via a cover letter. If a cover letter is not required or permitted, however, the resume can be utilized to present and explanations or connections that the recruiter/hiring manager might not immediately draw for themselves. For example, if you are transitioning out of an industry or specific type of historical role into something new, you will want to make that nice and clear on your resume so that they aren’t caught off-guard by your seemingly-out-of-the-blue job history.
If your job history and search are pretty narrow/straightforward, there’s really no need to edit your resume. Objective statements aren’t necessary, for example, if you are an accountant at Company A applying to be an accountant at Company B. The dots are easy to connect.
TO Whom should I address my cover letter? There’s no name on the job description.
This is my golden rule for cover letters: the wrong name is better than no name at all.
If you research a company and do your best to identify an appropriate point of contact for your application, it demonstrates your effort, interest, and initiative. Aim for the person who would most likely be your direct supervisor -- comb the company website/directory, or try LinkedIn. Still stumped? Look for an HR Director or HR Manager.
An educated guess is better than a bland, non-specific salutation to “Sir or Madam” or “Whom it May Concern”. Consider this research to be a bit of early prep work should you be invited to interview for the position!
Social Media Profiles
I don’t have a LinkedIn profile. Should I create one?
Depending on your current industry and career goals, probably. LinkedIn isn’t like Facebook or other tedious social media sites -- you don’t have to do much other than your initial profile setup and occasional networking to reap major benefits. There are gobs of recruiters and head hunters searching LinkedIn for potential candidates, and LinkedIn Jobs provides a good resource for identifying new opportunities.
Additionally, your LinkedIn network may prove useful when you find a position you’re interested in. Perhaps one of your connections is connected to someone internally, and they can introduce you. Or perhaps one of your old college buddies works for the company and you didn’t realize it -- internal referrals are one of your greatest assets in the application process. Never pass up an opportunity to reach out to a connection and request that internal referral, if possible.
Will recruiters and hiring managers look at other social media profiles?
Depends on the company and position, but possibly. Regardless, it’s a good idea to Google yourself and see what comes up. Remove any questionable or unprofessional content from any social media sites that appear, or adjust your privacy settings accordingly to restrict access to your profiles.
Correspondence and Application Follow-Up
It’s been a week or two since I applied and I haven’t heard anything. Am I out of the running?
You may or may not be in consideration at this point. Unfortunately, the reality of the hiring industry is that applicants are often treated poorly in the process: they are updated infrequently, dragged along unnecessarily, lied to, or simply kept in the dark about their status.
If it has been a reasonable amount of time, try to find someone to follow up with. But know that a follow up may not be feasible or welcome. There’s nothing wrong with being politely persistent--your communication and inquiry demonstrates your interest in the role. But in some cases, the sheer number of applicants is so high that follow-ups are not logistically feasible for the company.
Someone said they would follow up with within a certain time frame, but I haven’t heard from them. What should I do?
Again, this is an unfortunate reality of the hiring industry. Sometimes, there might be a delay on their end that has nothing to do with your candidacy. In some cases, however, they may be “stringing you along” as an alternate candidate, should the first round of candidates not pan out.
It is perfectly acceptable to be persistent and inquire as to the status of your application. You can specifically ask if you are still being considered -- there is nothing wrong with the question. But don’t be surprised if you don’t necessarily get a straight (or timely) answer.
Addressing Salary Expectations
What should I do when a web application demands a specific salary expectation?
Friends, this is the worst. It is an unfortunate side effect of web-based applications and the ability to require responses in a certain format. If possible, enter “0” or “N/A” or “Open to discuss”. If, more likely, you are required to give a certain numeric figure (and cannot submit “0”), do your homework. Check Glassdoor for salary information at that company, and for similar roles in your area. What would be a fair and appropriate salary expectation based on that research?
If you can’t find any information or still aren’t sure what to submit, consider submitting 1) a figure two negotiation steps higher than the lowest amount you would accept, or 2) a number higher than your current salary. Your goal is to preserve as many of your negotiation options as possible, and not give too much away up front. Be aware, however, that your submission might impact the way your application is considered.
If you’re really interested in a role and concerned about jeopardizing your opportunity, try to get in direct contact with a recruiter or hiring manager to ask about the salary range for the position before applying.
How do I know what an appropriate salary range is for a specific position?
Research! Glassdoor is an excellent web resource for reading company profiles and reviews, and finding salary data both regionally and at specific companies. Be aware of any discrepancies in position, such as the salary differences between for-profit and nonprofit organizations.
How should I address the salary expectation question in an interview?
If possible, avoid giving any details about your salary history. Try responding with something like “My greatest concern is the total offer package, and I’d be open to discussing those details if and when I am selected for the position.” Another helpful tactic is to ask about the salary range/budget and offer to let them know whether or not that is an acceptable range for you to consider. That is my preferred approach.
If they continue to press on you for details, it’s okay to say that you’re not comfortable sharing your salary information at this point in the process, and would prefer to table that conversation until a full offer package could be presented. Your salary history is personal and confidential, and you have every right to keep it that way.
Should the interviewer become demanding, aggressive, or threatening about the question, it is up to you whether or not you want to stand your ground on the topic. It is also up to you whether or not you want to pursue an opportunity at a company that is clearly playing games with its job applicants.
Interview Process and Etiquette
How can I best address difficult job transitions in my history, such as being laid off?
First of all, remember that you are not the only person or applicant to have such a transition on your resume -- it happens!
If you were laid off due to a downsizing, company reorganization, or any other reason that was not a result of your performance, concisely explain what happened. Clearly communicate that your termination had nothing to do with your performance, and end positively by restating that you are excited to put your skills to use and contribute to this new company. Be sure that you don't make accusations or negative comments about your current/former employer.
If you were laid off due to performance, the key is to frame it positively and infuse your explanation with ownership, self-awareness, and lessons learned. Be concise, calm, and honest, but emphasize what you learned and any steps you have taken to address the issue with your performance. End positively again, reiterating your interest in the role and your eagerness to be a major contributor.
How can I best prepare for an interview?
There are several great ways to prepare for an interview. Here is a quick overview:
Research the company including any current news/events/updates, and prepare thoughtful questions about the position/company to ask the interviewer.
Prepare some responses to common interview questions, and make notes in a way that will be helpful for you to use as reference. I bring my resume and a separate written note sheet in a pad-folio, so I can view them both side by side.
Acknowledge that you cannot anticipate every question they’re going to ask you -- prepare for types of questions, not every possible interview question that Google churns out. Make sure you have a few “story” examples ready to go for behavioral questions, like “Tell me about a time when you failed. What did you learn? How did you respond to your failure?”
Bring plenty of copies of your resume, and something to write on/with.
Carve out time in your schedule to get there in plenty of time -- first impressions matter.
Plan your outfit accordingly!
What do I wear to my interview?
First impressions matter a lot. Even if the company’s culture is a bit more laid back, don’t skimp on your attire. When in doubt, it is always better to be overdressed. As much as possible, also dress to be at least sort of comfortable. Avoid jewelry that will get in the way of your notes, skirts or pants that are too tight and difficult to sit in, or an outfit that cannot be adjusted for the room's temperature -- layers are your friend.
Should I send a thank you note?
Whenever possible (assuming you are still interested in the position), yes. Use your judgment as to whether or not a handwritten note or email would be most appropriate. If the process is moving rapidly, an email might be best. Be sure to thank anyone you interviewed with individually, and reiterate your interest in working for the company.
The hiring manager has asked me for a reference list, but I don’t want them talking to my current or former employer. What should I do?
It is perfectly acceptable to state that your job search is confidential, and that you do not want anyone to speak to your current employer lest they jeopardize your current job. A job offer can be presented “contingent upon favorable references” that would allow them to contact your employer after you have accepted the offer.
This gives you the opportunity to discuss references with your current/soon-to-be-former boss when you provide your notice of resignation. Calmly ask what he or she would say in a reference scenario -- if it is negative, see if you can agree to some mutually neutral language. If not, try to identify an alternate reference from your team of coworkers.
If a reference is consistently providing negative reference against you and harming your job prospects, it is appropriate to send a cease and desist letter to the CEO/head of the company requesting that they only confirm employment dates and job titles. 99% of the time, most companies already have a policy like this in place, and will remedy the situation immediately.
Remember -- the best way to identify a negative reference is to catch it up front. If you are on the fence about putting someone on the list, reach out and discuss their willingness to serve as a reference for you, and discuss their example comments. It is much better to have the conversation up front!
I work full-time and am getting daytime interview requests. How do I get to the interview without alerting my current employer?
While this is tricky, the hiring company should be willing to work with you to find a time that works. If you can sneak out around the lunch hour, request a noon interview -- this is not uncommon at all, and is not considered rude to request. If that is not possible, go for the earliest or latest interview time they can offer. Potential employers should always be willing to accommodate the constraints of your current employment, and understand the sensitive nature of job-hunting while working a different job!
The application or interviewer is asking me why I’m leaving my current role. The truth is the culture stinks and I can’t stand my boss. What do I say?
Hear me out, friends: a job interview is absolutely not the time or place to vent about your current situation. Communicating negative feedback about your current employer can only hurt you, and at best, will not hurt you too much. Try to find specific, constructive ways to describe your desired change. For example: if your current workplace is bogging you down with assignments and everyone is angry and overloaded, say, “In my current role, I don’t have the opportunity to dig into my projects as much as I would like. I’m looking for an opportunity that will allow me to really invest in my work and see projects through to completion.”
Framing the negatives in an opportunity-focused way demonstrates that you know what you want, see what you want in the current role, and aren’t prone to unprofessional rants about your current (or former!) employer. If you speak poorly about your current or former employer, the interviewer has no reason to believe that you would not do the same for their company. In that case, you would be a risk to their reputation if they hired you. Keep it professional, and focus on the new opportunities that the available position presents.