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Tough Job Search Questions & Answers
Past Questions Posted by the Jobsync Career Center and Answered by Sue Campbell

For additional help see the 1st-Writer FAQ, or the articles page. For help on preparing for interviews, see Interview Prep - before, during and after the interview, the long list of commonly asked tough interview questions, or try the Tough Interview Questions Quiz.


Q: When you receive a job offer, the salary offering always seems low. How much can you negotiate with a hiring manager/recruiter for a larger starting salary? Will the prospective employer expect you to counter offer?

A: Hiring managers and recruiters deal with salary ranges - budgets that have been established for each position needing to be filled. This budget range is somewhat dependent on the qualifications of the candidate. Obviously, candidates who possess greater relevant experience or who have more to offer the company will be able to demand a higher portion of that budgeted range. The trick is to find out what the range is for a given position. Sometimes, simply asking the recruiter or hiring manager, "What salary range has been budgeted for this position?" will give you the answer.

This range is your negotiating perimeter. Candidates who have a lot to offer a company, with a promise of greater profits, productivity, competitive market strength, or who have something beyond the original job description to offer, may be able to reach beyond that budgeted amount, but basically there is a limit.

So how much negotiation room you have is dependent on: 1. the salary range that's been budgeted for the position, 2. how flexible this budget is, 3. what you have to offer (relevant to the position being targeted, and above and beyond what competing candidates have to offer), and 4. the state of the current job market.

An employer expects you to negotiate salary. This is why it's a good idea to go into an interview prepared. Know what the current market - in your location and in your industry - is paying. Try to determine what's been budgeted for the position, and then negotiate this budget against what you have to offer - what you bring to the table - and what is fair market value.

If the negotiation has already taken place, and an offer is on the table, and you come back later with a counter-offer, you need understand that there's some risk involved with this. Your success will depend somewhat on how this counter-offer is delivered and received. If the potential employer, for example, perceives your counter as a "take-it-or-leave-it" offer, the potential employer may decide to, well, "leave it," and withdraw the original offer along with it. So try to keep the salary negotiation within the interview phase, rather than coming back later with a counter, and come in prepared to negotiate to the fullest level of the budgeted salary. Back to top...

Q: I am in a bio-technology and I would like to go back to school to obtain my masters degree in bio-engineering. I work for a small firm which will not pay for me to return to school unless I commit to 7 years with the firm after I finish school. Is this an unreasonable length of time?

A: Only you will be able to determine whether this is "reasonable," "unreasonable," or "fair," but here's some questions you may want to consider, as you review all your options:

  1. Who will determine the educational institution where you'll be receiving your education and degree?

  2. What will be the total cost of this education for your employer? Will your employer be liable for all expenses, including items such as required books?

  3. What time investment will be required of you to complete your degree? One year? Two years?

  4. Your contract commitment will begin "after" you finish school. Adding in the time to complete the degree, are you really committing to eight years? Nine years? Ten years with this company?

  5. If you fail a course, or fail to secure a degree (due to grades, illness, incapacity, life changes, etc.), will you be required to reimburse your employer for all monies paid to date? Will be you be prepared to do this? How will this incompletion affect your 7 year contract and commitment to your employer?

  6. As a small firm, what will be your obligation to the company if the company goes out of business during your contract? What will be their obligation to you? Will you be compensated for lost opportunities?

  7. If you are offered a dream position, elsewhere, what will it cost you to buy your way out of this contract? What will this mean if it happens one year, two years or three years into the contract? Will this even be an option?

  8. Will your responsibilities increase incrementally as your skills increase? Will your salary reflect this incremental increase, as well? Do you know what the market will be paying for an experienced bio-engineer holding a Masters in 2011? Will your salary be competitive with the market?

  9. If you paid for your education, yourself, what would be the total cost - including interest, if a student loan is required? How long would it take you to resolve this debt?

  10. Is this a company you believe in? Is this a company where you believe you can grow and contribute? Is it your desire to be part of this company's success? Can you envision yourself working for this company over the next ten years? Will your experience at this company be viewed as valuable and transferable to other companies you may want to pursue in the future? Back to top...

Q: When promotion time rolls around how much should a hard-working employee expect to get? What percentage of their current pay?

A: I believe the national average is 4%, but it's important to remember that your employer isn't obligated to give you a raise (unless it's in your contract), so "expectation" may be the wrong word.

Raises are meant to reward performance, not need, and therefore it's always in the employee's best interest to evaluate their own performance and to know the ways in which their contributions have positively impacted their company, before discussing a raise or promotion with their employer.

You can begin this process by listing all of your responsibilities within the company, as these were made known to you at hire or during your last evaluation. These are your "core responsibilities."

Next, make a list of all the responsibilities added to your role during this period. These are additional responsibilities you were asked to assume by your employer or supervisor. These are your "expanded responsibilities."

Next, make a list of all the responsibilities you've assumed, by need or requirement. These are responsibilities not necessarily assigned to you by your employer or supervisor, but assumed by you due to a need in the company and your ability to successfully contribute, manage or otherwise meet this need. These are your "assumed responsibilities."

Finally, read over all your lists of responsibilities and ask yourself how your efforts and contributions within each have benefited your employer. What did your efforts ensure or enable? What problems did you encounter (if any) and what types of solutions did you develop and/or implement to resolve these issues? What were the short and long-term benefits of these solutions for your company? How did your work increase or improve profits, productivity, capabilities, product perception...? And by how much? What were the quantitative results of your efforts (numbers, figures, dollar amounts, percentages)? Be able to show your employer the results of your contributions.

While your employer may remember, and even appreciate having given you additional responsibilities, he or she may have failed to realize their full value or the level of expansion of your functions within the company, and that these additional responsibilities may warrant compensation. It's your job to show them.

In addition, if areas of improvement were discussed during your last evaluation, it's your job to show how these issues have been addressed, and, hopefully, remedied.

If you fail to secure a raise or promotion at this time, make sure to ask your employer what you can do to achieve the next level. Ask for specifics and get it in writing. Establish a date and time for your next review (such as six months from now), and then work hard toward meeting these established goals. Keep track of your successes and be ready show these (as well as the list of requirements obtained at the last review) to your employer at the next review. Back to top...

Q: How do gentlemen like me, who value being with my wife and kids more than work (or working part-time), make that a point in the interview without getting automatically ruled out of the job, since employers want you full time and married to your job instead of your wife and kids?

A: First, change your focus. You appear centered on what you're going to be required to give up, or what's being "taken" from you, rather than what you have to offer. The idea is to create a win-win situation for both you and your potential employer.

A negative outlook can cause conflict in the mind of a potential employer, before he or she can even appreciate the value of hiring you. No employer wants to hire a candidate who doesn't want to be there or who has a conflict of interest that will prevent him or her from performing to his or her greatest potential while at the job.

So change a negative view, "employers want you full time and married to your job instead of your wife and kids," and re-frame it to: "I have four hours a day (or, I have 25 hours a week, or I have three days a week – whatever this may be) to commit my talents to your company. During this time you will have my complete attention and 100% of my abilities to help you achieve your goals and objectives." And mean it.

Do you see the difference? Suddenly you're giving something of value, and you're giving it 100%. The fact that you have 20 hours, or 25 hours to contribute is simply a fact. The value, however isn’t diminished.

There are employers who will see your willingness to work part-time as a gift. Many companies aren’t required to pay insurance benefits for part-time employees. This cost savings can be substantial to an employer who will still receive the full benefits of your employ, just on a reduced time basis.

So it's really a matter of what you can give, part-time, and how well you are able to present the benefits of hiring you to a potential employer.

Next, are you targeting positions that require a full-time commitment? For example, targeting positions that require projects to be completed under tight deadlines may be a poor choice for someone who can't put in the extra hours required to meet these objectives. You want to make certain that the type of work you’re targeting will allow you to contribute fully within a limited timeframe.

You basically have three avenues of approach: 1. Apply to ads that are for part-time positions (no conflict). 2. Apply to ads that are for full-time positions and be ready to show a potential employer how you can achieve the objectives of the position on a part-time basis. 3. Apply to companies of interest and offer your services and talents on a part-time basis, focusing on a win-win outcome. Back to top...

Q: My schedule at school is from eight thirty to one thirty and most jobs are from three to eleven that pay good, how do I go about asking them about the salary (to find the good paying jobs) without making it seem that’s the only reason why I would want that job? How can I work around my school hours?

A: Don’t ask about salary until you’re in the interview situation, and only after you’ve learned as much about the position, as possible. You should have a sense of what these types of positions are paying in your location (do some research), so that you can negotiate effectively. Eventually, salary will be discussed, and it’s always best to allow the interviewer to introduce the topic.

Once introduced, ask “Can you tell me what’s been budgeted for this position?” This will give you the range from which you’ll negotiate.

If you want to screen positions prior to interview, you can always include a salary requirement in your cover letter, but you will lose potential opportunities in the process.

Combining school and employment is always difficult, and requires outstanding time management skills. Know what you can handle; how many hours you require to attend class, study, and complete homework and assignments. Know how many hours you require for rest and relaxation. Know what you’re willing to give up, for the time being (extracurricular activities) in order to make this work. Back to top...

Q: I recently graduated with an AS paralegal degree what can I do to enhance my resume?

A: Begin your document with a strong professional summary section that outlines for your reader those skills and abilities you possess that allow you (or will allow you) to provide exemplary work in your chosen field and position. Use information learned via job ads, networking and company research as your guide in what to include.

Since you’re a new graduate, you may also want to provide your reader with a list of all relevant coursework you’ve completed. This will give your reader a better sense of the types of skills you’ve gained or learned. Example:

University Name, location

2006

  • Associate of Science; Major

Coursework included:

  • Course Title; Course Title; Course Title...

If you have a high GPA, include it. Back to top...

Q: I feel very strongly about becoming an athletic coach and would like to know what would be the best route to take in quest of my dream?

A: I’m so glad you feel passionate about this, because passion and determination is a good indication that you will achieve your goal.

The best route to take is to talk to those people currently doing the type of work you want to do, or those who hire them. This is called “informational interviewing.” Rather than interviewing to secure a job, you interview to secure information you can use to achieve your final goal. In order to be successful at informational interviewing, you need to 1) be aware and courteous of the time demands you place on others. Requesting “just ten minutes” of someone’s time will get your further than leaving the time demand open, 2) be very organized in your questions so that you can use that time well.

Btw, many informational interviews have been successfully accomplished over a free lunch. The “free” part is for the person you interview – the lunch bill is yours.

The types of questions you’ll want to ask include:

- What do you enjoy most about the work you do? What do you enjoy least?

- What skills and characteristics do you feel are most important to this position?

- What difficulties have you found most surprising?

- Can you suggest any stepping stone positions I could take that would allow me to gain the skills I need to be successful?

- What educational programs would you consider beneficial to this position?

- Are there any professional organizations or associations you would recommend I join?

For hiring managers or decision makers:

- What skills, qualifications and personality characteristics do you look for in the candidates you hire for this position? Back to top...

Q: Why can’t I find a job?

A: What have you tried? There are many avenues available to locating jobs. These include: job ads posted in your local newspaper and online, posting your resume to a resume database site, researching companies of interest and submitting a broadcast cover letter and resume, visiting corporate Websites (many post jobs on their corporate site that are posted nowhere else), visiting companies in your area and making them aware of your availability, contacting temporary service agencies (these often lead to permanent positions), attending job or career fairs, hiring a recruiter… how proactive have you been in your job search?

If your difficulty is in locating positions for which you’re qualified, you may need to widen your net: look for positions that can utilize your particular skill set but that are outside your current field or industry, or look for positions outside your current location – if location is a factor.

If you’re finding jobs, but not receiving a response to your resume, then you need to look at why your resume isn’t producing a positive response. Are you targeting positions for which you’re truly qualified? Is your resume clearly and effectively representing your skills, abilities and achievements from your readers’ point-of-view?

If your resume is securing interviews for you, but you’re not receiving job offers, then you need to look at what’s happening during the interview stage.

You need to determine where you’re sticking point is – where in this process you’re getting stuck. See article: Job Search Sticking Points. Back to top...

Q: I have and MBA and worked in Corporate America for 16 years in numerous positions that range from Manager of Strategic Planning to Director of Marketing and Business Development. However I was laid of in 2002 and have teaching now for 4 years (I have been looking for employment however nothing has come of it). I am now licensed to teach business and marketing education. I teach in middle school and at the local community college. My challenges are how do I position myself to apply for new opportunities when my resume reflects my last job as teaching and education? Potential employers have asked me why I have been in education so long. And why haven’t I found a job in my field (Biotech and Marketing). How would you position your resume? and how would you answer that question?

A: With your resume, begin with a strong professional summary section that effectively outlines the skills, achievements and expertise you bring to the table as these relate to your targeted positions. For example, you bring 16 years of progressive leadership experience in strategic marketing and business development. That's what you want your reader to see at the onset of your presentation.

Next, break your applied experience headings into two: Relevant Career Background and Additional Professional Experience. In this way, you can lead your document with those positions, responsibilities and achievements most directly relevant and valuable to your targeted reader. Don't worry about dates, because this is covered later in your document.

So the order of information becomes: Name, Contact Information, Summary of Qualifications, Areas of Expertise, Relevant Career Background, Educational Achievements, Additional Professional Experience, and Professional Associations (relevant to your targeted field and industry).

In your interviews, you need to identify the benefits of your teaching experience and draw transferable lines both from marketing to teaching and back again, from teaching to marketing. The fact that you needed to maintain employment is clear. The question you need to answer is why this was the most logical route for you to take.

Example: "As part of my marketing experience, I trained top performers and developed winning teams for major corporations (or company initiatives). When the economy softened, and when companies began to routinely downsize, I decided to take this expertise and apply it to education, focusing my teaching programs on producing top performers in marketing and business. At the same time, I've continued to watch the market in the hope of finding a company where I could productively apply the best of what I have to offer, which has always been in leading ___________________. I believe the additional experience I've enjoyed through teaching will enable me to be even more effective in leading powerful marketing strategies and developing top performing business teams."

Not perfect, but hopefully this will give you an idea of how these two things need to be logically connected to one another. Back to top...

Q: It seems like every employment ad either directly mentions growth potential or at least hints at it. My current position promised rapid advancement, but after seven months of staying late and working weekends I am still in the same position. How can you tell if a company will provide room for growth within their organization? How do I approach management to discuss the promised advancement?

A: During a job interview, a good interviewer will ask you to provide concrete examples of your work and results, rather than taking your statements at face value. For example, if you were to imply that you increased sales in your last position, the interviewer might ask you to qualify this statement with quantifiable results, “By how much?” or ask for more detail, “How was this achieved?”

You have the same opportunity to ask questions of your interviewer, including requesting specific examples of employees who have achieved growth in the company. You can ask this question in a very straightforward manner, “Can you give me examples of employees who have realized growth in your company?” You may also inquire how this growth was achieved, what steps were taken, and how long the employee was with the company prior to advancement.

It’s important to remember, however, that if your primary focus is on the potential for growth, you may lose the opportunity for the position at hand.

Prospective employers want some reassurance that a potential hire will be satisfied with the position for which he or she is being considered, and that once hired, the candidate will remain in the position for a reasonable period of time (retention and related costs). They also want some reassurance that the job candidate will perform the position to his or her greatest capacity.

None of this will be true if the candidate feels overqualified from the start, or if the candidate’s primary focus is on securing the next rung of the corporate ladder.

So while it’s reasonable to ask the interviewer to qualify statements of growth potential, stay focused on the present position, and what you bring to the table that will make this position a success.

Once hired, it’s reasonable to revisit growth opportunities with your employer at various stages of your employment; to ask what you can do to make these opportunities available to you.

At the same time, it’s important to recognize that your employer may have concerns regarding what he or she will lose with the loss of your contributions in your current position. These will be weighed against what he or she (and the company) will gain in promoting you to a new, more responsible role. So it’s wise to frame the review process as a potential “win-win” situation, by addressing how this promotion can achieve both your employer’s business objectives and your own goals for professional growth.

When you discuss growth within your current company, approach the question as a “how to.” Be prepared to show examples of your current responsibilities, contributions and achievements (if you haven’t been updating your resume, now is a good time to start, as this will help you to put your most recent skills and achievements in focus). Be able to provide concrete examples of what you feel you’ve gained (in skills, abilities and knowledge) that will enable you to contribute in more demanding, more responsible role.

Example of initial dialogue:

“I see my long-term future with ABC Company.”
(Reduces concern that you may be ready to jump ship, or that the request for advancement is a threat.)

I have thoroughly enjoyed my position as _______________...”
(You’re not unhappy, you’re just ready for greater challenge and more responsibility.)

“…and believe I have made valuable contributions. For example…”
(You understand what the company’s objectives are, and you have examples of your contributions within these objectives. You have sustainable value.)

“It’s my desire to continue to contribute to ABC’s success…”
(This is where you want to grow.)

“… through increasing roles and responsibilities.”
(You want the opportunity to give more).”

“I would like to ask you how I may achieve this…”
(You respect his or her leadership.)

“…what I can do to earn ABC’s confidence in me, so that I may realize professional growth within the company and contribute to my fullest capabilities.”
(You want to create a win-win situation.)

Write down everything he or she tells you. Have him or her review your notes for accuracy. Establish a date for the next review (three months from now, six months from now).

Then take the steps recommended. Continue to maintain your current position at your highest level of performance, while incorporating the additional steps necessary for promotion. For example, if this means learning a new skill, learn it. If this means meeting a new objective, meet it. You want to be able to show your employer that you’ve incorporated the suggestions and requirements he or she has outlined.

At the next meeting, you will quickly learn whether growth is a genuine opportunity, or an empty promise, and, if necessary, you will have gained the skills and tools necessary to pursue growth opportunities elsewhere. Back to top...

Q: What are the pros and cons of using a professional resume writer? Is there a measurable increase in the likely-hood of your resume being noticed if you employ the services of a professional resume writer?

A: The pros are the same as they would be when utilizing any professional: you gain access to that professional’s knowledge and area of expertise for your own benefit. For example, while I may be capable of doing my own taxes, and there are plenty of software programs available to assist me, a professional tax accountant who spends his or her days studying the latest tax laws and regulations and is familiar with those issues that can trigger an audit, is likely to know better than I where I can save money or reduce my tax liability. I just don’t have the time or interest to study taxation laws at this level, and the only time I’m really interested is between January and March of every year.

So the pros for a job hunter in using a professional resume writer is in having access to a professional who studies current hiring policies and job strategies on a daily basis. Someone who maintains ongoing communication with hiring managers and human resource professionals, worldwide, in order to understand what they look for in job candidates and the materials they receive. Having someone who can work with you to identify your qualifications and achievements as these relate to the positions you’re targeting, and present this information in a valuable and meaningful way for your targeted reader (the hiring manager). Someone who can provide you with all the tools necessary, such as the resume formatted for different mediums (print, online, etc.). And someone who will assist the job hunter in navigating his or her job search in a productive manner, so that the job hunter can achieve his or her career goals.

The cons would include cost. Using a professional resume writer is more expensive than buying a book on the subject or using one of the many resume creation software programs available. Of course, as a professional resume writer, I consider this expense an investment. J

Other cons can include finding a professional resume writer who is qualified and who will work with you on a one-on-one basis. Someone who won’t produce a cookie-cutter resume for you that doesn’t take full advantage of what you have to offer or what you bring to the table, as these skills and achievements relate to the specific positions and companies you’re planning to target. Finding someone who won’t disappear after the resume is written and paid for, but who will be available to answer questions and offer guidance throughout the job search process.

Is there a measurable increase in the likelihood of your resume being noticed if you employ the services of a professional resume writer? For many, the answer is a resounding “Yes!” but not for all. Some people are very adept at communicating in writing and creating a resume presentation that takes full advantage of all they have to offer, and are able to present this information in a meaningful and powerful way.

If your current resume or CV is resulting in interviews for the types of positions and companies you want to target, then you don't need to hire a professional resume writer.

If, on the other hand, your resume or CV is failing to do its job (secure interviews), or if it isn't returning the level of results that you think it should be, then you may want to consider hiring a professional resume writer to change those results. Back to top...

Q: In an interview situation when is it appropriate to ask questions about benefits and salary?

A: Toward the end of an interview, after you’ve had the opportunity to learn the full responsibilities and expectations of the position.

Imagine, for example, discussing salary at the beginning of an interview, with only the criteria of the job ad from which to formulate your calculations. Then learning, as the interview progresses, that the criteria in the ad is only a fraction of what the job will really entail.

The same is true for your interviewer. Without discussing what you have to offer, and identifying how your skills relate to the specific position at hand, the interviewer won’t have the information necessary to determine fair compensation. He or she will only be able to discuss the salary budgeted for the position.

The goal of the interview situation, for the job candidate, is to create as complete a picture as possible of what the future will bring within this position: what your role will entail (in detail), what the expectations of you will be, and how these expectations may change over time. Only then will you be able to determine adequate compensation. Back to top...

Q: At the end of every interview comes the inevitable question, "Do you have any questions?" I know I should ask something, if just to show my interest, but I always come up blank. Any suggestions on what I should ask?

A: When you first look at a job ad or hear about a job opening, chances are you have lots of questions. Some of these questions will be answered through the natural process of interviewing, but others will not. Often job candidates find they still have questions after an interview, and sometimes even after they've accepted a position.

The interview process isn't just an opportunity for employers to learn about a job candidates, but for the job candidate to learn as much as possible about the position, as possible - what it entails, what the full responsibilities are, what the expectations are, etc. - and to learn about the company: its goals, its objectives, what it's known for, what it's proud of, what it's short and long-term plans are, who the key leadership is, and the type of people who make up its workforce.

What will it be like to work for this company? Who else works there? What is the environment like? What is the pace like? What will the expectations of me be? How is this position similar to positions I've held in the past? How is it different?

Questions you could ask might include:

What do you see as this position's responsibilities on a daily basis? Weekly? Monthly?

  • How, if at all, do you see these responsibilities changing over time?

  • What do you feel are the most important responsibilities of this position? (take notes!)

  • What are some additional aspects of this position that are unique to your company? (hidden responsibilities)

  • What is the reason for this position's vacancy? (new need? recent firing? expansion?)

  • How long has this company been in business? (are you interested in a growing company, an established company, or one that's going through restructure?)

  • How many people do you employ? How long does the average employee remain with your company? (frequent turnover is a warning signal)

  • What are this company’s current challenges? (this question can produce surprising information)

  • What do you view as this company’s greatest goals and missions? (consider how you can be part of the solution here)

  • Has this company experienced a downsizing at any time in its history, and if so, when?

  • How long have you worked for this company, and what do like the most about your position here? (is your interviewer happy with this company?)

Before that first interview, write down any questions you may have - from the moment you first see the ad or hear about the position, to the phone call that produces the first interview, and bring these questions with you to the interview meeting, so that you won't have to think on your feet - but, rather, will have something concrete that you can refer to. If a question has already been answered, you can gain further clarity by rephrasing the question. Example:

"Do you have any questions?"

"Yes, thank you. If I understand this position correctly, you stated that the most important responsibilities would be ____________________, _____________________, and ________________________, with possible additional responsibilities in ______________________________, is this correct?"

This shows the interviewer that you have a good grasp of what the position will entail and encourages further dialogue and exploration. Be prepared, however, to address each of these responsibilities with examples of where and when you've applied similar skills (if this hasn't already taken place), or to ask a question like the one above, "How, if at all, do you see these responsibilities changing over time?" Back to top...

Q: I'm totally frustrated with my current job, and have been looking for a new position for a couple of months. It's been very difficult to focus on the job search AND work full-time, especially with a job as stressful as mine. I'm considering quitting my current job so that I can look for a new job, full-time. Is this a good or bad idea?

A: Only you will know if this is a good or bad idea, but here are a few things to consider before quitting your current job and losing that steady paycheck:

1. How long will you be able to job search without income? Will this lack of income cause additional stress and pressure? Will it cause you to feel pressured to secure a new job - more quickly? Will it cause you to potentially accept a less than ideal position, just to be employed?

2. Is your current position damaging your self-esteem and/or self-confidence to a level that you feel will make you more vulnerable or more uncertain in interview situations (affecting how you're presenting yourself)? Is your current stress level reducing your ability to evaluate alternative positions or opportunities productively? Will this loss of self-esteem be reduced further if you're "unemployed," or will the removal of the stressful situation and/or toxic daily environment actually enable you to become a more self-confident and productive job candidate?

3. It's worth noting that most employers view employed job candidates as "more employable," as they come with a ready stamp of approval. It also removes any question of whether you were fired from your last position. Unemployed job candidates often have to explain the unemployment, first.

4. Do you have vacation time saved up that you can take, now? Back to top...

Q: I got downsized about a year and a half ago and had to take a position that was less challenging and less money. The market was very tight at the time, how do I re-structure my resume for strength?

A: First of all, consider yourself in excellent company. Downsizing has affected so many people, employees and employers alike, that very few people today are unsympathetic to its impact. Thankfully, this familiarity makes the affects of downsizing, such as the need to accept a less-than-ideal position at lower pay, in the interim, understandable and less of a negative.

But now it's time to move forward. You want to focus your resume on what you have to offer.

Begin your document with a strong professional summary section that highlights the skills and characteristics you possess, both personal and professional, that allow you to (or will allow you to) provide exemplary work in your chosen field and position. The skills and abilities you highlight need to be directly relevant and valuable to the specific positions and companies you're targeting. Use job ads and your own understanding of these positions as your guide in what to include.

Professional skills listed in your summary can include experience in specific areas, such as project management, or technical abilities that are critical to the position. Personal characteristics can include communication (written and verbal), interpersonal, problem solving, or analytical skills.

Next, In a reverse chronological resume, and assuming that your applied experience is more relevant than recent educational achievements, you'll begin by listing your professional experience. While your most recent position may not be a great indicator of your true skills and abilities, you'll begin with this, as it provides a logical timeline for your reader. Focus on those responsibilities most relevant or transferable to the positions you're currently targeting, and highlight your achievements. While this position may have been less rewarding, doing great work in an unchallenging environment and making the most of a less-than-ideal situation is an indication of the type of employee you are and will be. If you can do great work here, imagine what you can do when the environment and responsibilities meet your true capabilities.

Normally, I would discourage including information that indicates why a candidate has left a position, as this type of information is better discussed during an interview. However, in the case of downsizing, particularly where a candidate has been forced to take a less-than-ideal position, or has taken one that is clearly off-track from their obvious career goals, indicating why a position was taken (or why a position was left) can satisfy any potential concerns a prospective employer may have. In your case, I would suggest including a line in your current position that answers this concern - early in the document, such as "Interim position accepted after corporate downsizing." Then move right into your contributions and achievements within the position.

Within your more relevant roles, focus on those responsibilities that are most directly relevant and valuable to the positions you're now targeting, and highlight the benefits of your efforts and contributions. Give real examples, and quantify your results with percentages, dollar amounts, numbers, figures, etc., wherever possible. For example: "Increased productivity by 75% through the implementation of improved processes..." or "Led a professional team of 17 technical specialists in..." just make sure you also tell your reader how the achievement was achieved.

If you're not currently a member of any professional associations or organizations relevant to your target field and industry, now would be a good time to join. Not only are these great places to network, but it will look good on your resume and it will indicate that you've remained active in your chosen field and profession, regardless of where you've temporarily landed. Back to top...

Q: I've been submitting my resume to various job ads but I'm getting no response. Is the market that bad?

There's no question that it's a competitive market out there, however, if you've been submitting resumes to positions for which you're truly qualified, and you haven't been receiving a response, then there may be something wrong in your delivery.

It typically takes about two weeks for hiring managers to respond to all the resumes received for an ad (often in the hundreds), and unfortunately, more and more companies are providing no response at all to those candidates they've deemed unqualified. Therefore, if it's been two weeks, and these are positions for which you're truly qualified, then it's time to look at your cover letter and resume.

Here are some questions to ask yourself:

1. Did I submit the cover letter and resume in the preferred format indicated in the ad? For example, if the ad requested that you e-mail an ASCII version of your resume, did you submit an attached Word file, instead?

2. Did I answer all the questions in the ad? For example, some ads will require that you provide salary requirements with your submission. While it's not necessary to provide a concrete answer (you can indicate a salary range, or indicate that salary is negotiable), not responding to this question can round file your submission.

3. Did my cover letter clearly indicate the position for which I am applying? While this position may be the only position you care about, it's very possible that the hiring manager is accepting resumes for several available openings.

4. Did my documents provide adequate contact information: mailing address, telephone number, e-mail address - in a readable font size (nothing smaller than an 11 point font)? Was my contact information included on each sheet of my submission, in case the sheets became separated?

5. Are there any typos in my documents? Deadly. (It's always a good idea to have someone else proof your documents to check for errors. It's very easy to see what you know should be there, rather than what's really there, particularly if you've been working on your resume for any length of time.)

6. Did my documents focus on what I have to offer, rather than on what I'm hoping to secure? Always remember that you're writing for your reader's benefit. At this stage of the game, a potential employer is much more interested in what you have to offer and how you'll make a valuable contribution to his or her organization, than on what you're hoping to gain from the experience.

7. Did I inflate or exaggerate my titles, responsibilities or achievements? Again, deadly. Don't do it.

8. Are my documents attractive, professional, and readable (adequate white space, clearly defined sections, logical order of information, devoid of fancy fonts or distractive highlighting features - such as the overuse of italics or brightly colored stationery)? Does my cover letter match my resume in font, layout, format, letterhead and stationery?

9. Is the information I provided directly relevant to the position and company I'm targeting? If it isn't relevant, leave it off.

10. Did I include the benefits of my efforts and contributions (achievements), or did I simply provide a laundry list of my responsibilities?

11. Did I include any information that could be considered discriminatory or which could make a potential employer uneasy? If a potential employer isn't permitted to ask the question in an interview, don't provide the answer in your resume or cover letter documents. This information includes: race, religion, marital status, disability, etc. Back to top...

Q: What is the "hidden job market?"

A: The "hidden job market" isn't actually "hidden," it's simply the lesser tapped avenues of a job search that many job candidates don't pursue. It's a very proactive approach, and can include: door-to-door job hunting, broadcast resume submissions (researching companies of interest and then submitting a resume when no known job opening exists), actively networking within your community and profession, attending job and career fairs, etc. It's all the things you can do outside of reading job ads, submitting a resume, and passively waiting for a response. Back to top...

Q: What do employers really want - what are they really looking for in job candidates and resumes?

A: Employers want to interview job candidates who:

1. Are qualified for the position they're targeting.
2. Will fit in well with the company culture and working environment.
3. Will make a contribution as soon after employment as possible.
4. Will be worth more than the money invested to hire, train and maintain them.
5. Will be self-motivated and self-directed.
6. Will possess the interpersonal skills necessary to operate within the constraints of the position.
7. Will remain on board for a reasonable period of time.
8. Are honest, trustworthy and lacking in deception.
9. Will be a success.

Employers want resumes to provide assurance of all the above qualities. For example, the resume should:

1. Qualify the candidate for the position being targeted by addressing all known criteria of the position (usually identified within the job ad or position write-up) with relevant or transferable past experience.

2. Indicate that the job candidate has applied his or her skills within a similar environment, or has a strong interest in working in such an environment.

3. Shows the benefits of the job candidate's past efforts and contributions as these relate to the position being targeted. These achievements should show quantifiable results, where possible. (Example: "Increased profits and productivity by 45% through the implementation of improved processes that...")

4. Indicate that the candidate has the energy and initiative necessary to perform at his or her maximum capacity within the targeted position. A potential employer expects a new hire to be able to perform the tasks necessary for the position, even if this requires an initial training period, but like all of us, he or she hopes the candidate's performance will exceed expectations.

5. Show that the candidate can perform his or her job functions with little or no supervision (hand-holding). Again, while initial training or acclimation may be expected on hire, a potential employer wants some assurance that the job candidate is up to the task.

6. Show that the candidate is able to interact appropriately others. As a representative of the company, the potential employer wants to know that the job candidate will exhibit appropriate behavior with co-workers, colleagues, supervisors, and/or clients and customers. The resume can indicate this through past experience in these areas (team projects, customer service, etc.). Likewise, the resume (or interview) can indicate a potential problem when the candidate reveals previous conflicts. Even the most technical of position requires some amount of interpersonal skill.

7. Show consistent past employment with little or no job hopping, or provide assurance that the job hunter is looking to secure long-term employment.

8. Provide some assurance that the candidate hasn't inflated or fabricated information in his or her resume document. The resume should be formatted in such a manner as to make the candidate's history logical and easy-to-reference, with no omissions in dates or company names.

9. Ensure a sense that the candidate is not only qualified for the position being targeted, but that the position is a good fit for the candidate's current and long-term career goals. Back to top...

Q: It's been two weeks since I mailed my resume to this company, but I haven't heard anything back from them. Is it okay to call them?

A: Absolutely. While it's not unusual for a company to take two or more weeks to gather and review incoming resumes and schedule interviews (keep in mind that many of the people who review resumes and interview candidates have other job responsibilities), two weeks is an appropriate timeframe to follow-up with a company and reiterate your interest in a position.

You can achieve this follow-up via phone, e-mail or letter. A good option is to contact the person to whom the resume was submitted by e-mail or letter, first, indicating a date and time when you will be calling, in order to give the contact an opportunity to make alternate arrangements with you.

When you call the company, keep the phone call brief (out of respect for your contact's time). Reintroduce yourself, reiterate your interest in the position and company, and avail yourself to providing additional information, at your contact's request, to assist in the consideration of you as a candidate.

Often this type of communication will move a candidate's name to the forefront of a hiring manager's thinking, or will move a resume up to the top of the pile from where it had once been buried. Back to top...

Q: I'm going to be moving to a new area in about two months. How can I manage a job search long-distance?

A: With the advent of the Internet, job searching at a distance has never been easier. If you have access to the Internet, then you have access to local newspapers in virtually any city or location of interest, access to local telephone directories, access to local company Websites, access to local recruiters, headhunters, state agencies and temporary services, and the means for transporting your resume into the hands of prospective employers within seconds, via e-mail or a resume Web page.

Once you've targeted potential positions or companies of interest, you can reduce any potential concerns of being a long-distance job candidate by making the process as convenient for the potential employer as possible. This may mean availing yourself to initial interviews by telephone, or by providing dates in advance for when you'll be in the area to interview. You can plan a series of interviews with a variety of potential employers during your visit, and/or to meet with agencies or contacts in person, then. During your visit, bring several printed copies of your resume, job hunting business card and references, along with a floppy disk or CD-Rom that contains these files for additional printing. Back to top...


Should I Hire a Professional Resume Writer?  /  1st-Writer.com Services

See more articles on job hunting

Good luck in your job search! Sue Campbell, 1st-Writer.com - over 18 years experience helping clients achieve their career and business goals. Feel free to e-mail me with any questions you may have. I'll be glad to help!


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