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What Employers Are Really Looking for and How to Prove That You Have It

June 27, 2011 by  
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Hint: It’s All In Your Story…

When it comes to new grads and college students, employers look for attributes first and technical skills second. As a new grad or student, employers don’t expect you to have a great deal of experience in the career you have chosen.

They know that you are entering your first job after college. So if they have invited you in for an interview after they have seen your resume, you have pretty much passed the technical skills and education part of the job requirements. You will, no doubt, field some questions about your work experience and education, but what the employer really wants to know is …

Do you have what it takes to be successful in the job and in the company?

The “what it takes” are attributes. Attributes are personality traits or characteristics. Often, they are listed in the job description. Some companies even put a separate “attributes” or “abilities” category in the job description.

Some examples of attributes are: the ability to think critically, a sense of urgency, emotional intelligence, problem-solving ability, the ability to relate to others, flexibility, resourcefulness, tenacity, the ability to see the whole picture, a curious mind, a strong work ethic, the ability to work well individually and collaboratively in teams, and the ability to write persuasively.

If these attributes are not in the job description, then read the company website thoroughly. If they are not spelled out, read other job descriptions in the careers section of the website and ask yourself: “What characteristics would I need to be successful at this company?”

So let’s say the attributes/characteristics have been spelled out in the job description or website. How do you prove to the employer that you have what they are asking for? The first step is to remember that there is a purpose behind every interview question. The interviewer will prepare interview questions that will help him or her determine if you have the attributes they are looking for. These questions will usually come in the form of:

  • “Tell me about a time when …”
  • “Describe a situation where …”
  • “What are your strengths?…”

And more!

These are called, “behavioral interview questions,” and they are the most common type of questions. These questions are used because statistics show that how you have behaved in the past will most likely be the way you will behave in the future. So the interviewer will describe a situation and ask how you would handle it, or they will ask you to tell them about a time when you encountered a particular situation and how you handled it.

These questions are designed to elicit stories from you, and as you tell your story, the interviewer will be looking for those attributes and checking them off as she/he listens.

The second step is to prove to yourself that you have these attributes. You do this by reviewing your internships, work experience, life experiences, project work, etc. and identifying examples of when you have shown those attributes. Those examples become your stories. That’s right, the key to proving to the employer that you are a great fit for the job is in your stories.

When you answer questions using examples/stories, who you are becomes very apparent to the interviewer, along with your attributes/characteristics. Your stories must be specific and you must be able to explain them. The best tool for doing this is the STAR method:

Situation description – Describe the situation.

Task/responsibilities – Explain what needed to be done to get the job done.

Action/response – Describe the actions you took and how you solved the problem.

Result – What happened as a result of your approach.

Here’s an example: “Tell me about a time when you had to confront a team member who was not doing their job.”

Situation – I was one of four partners in an on-campus business that we all started. One of the partners was not showing up for meetings and had called each of us several times to take his shift. This was putting a lot of stress on us, and our ability to get our schoolwork done.

Task – The other three partners and I were very frustrated and angry with him, but they were not willing to discuss it with him. I knew we had to speak with him, so I volunteered to do it.

Action – I called him and arranged to meet with him. I told him that the other partners and I were concerned about whether he was OK. He said that he was having difficulty keeping up with his schoolwork and his grades had been falling. He said that he was embarrassed to tell us, as he had never had this problem before. I asked if he would be willing to sell his share back to us and he was. I thought it was a great idea and made sense, but now I had to convince my partners.

Result: I put my facts and figures together and pitched the idea to my partners, and we bought his share. We are all still great friends, and although we ended up working more hours, nobody was resentful.

In this example, the candidate paints a vivid picture of his skills. He discussed the situation with his partner, uncovered the problem that was causing the conflict, came up with solution, sold the idea to his partners, and found a way to resolve the problem that maintained friendships. He navigated through this problem by creating a win-win solution.

Can you pick out the attributes that this candidate proves he has? Hint: The attributes are in the action.

As a recruiter and hiring manager for over 25 years, here are the attributes I identify in his answer. He is empathetic, knows how to negotiate, can think critically, and sees the big picture, which problem solving always requires.

In addition, he does not shy away from conflict, but takes initiative and seeks to resolve it, analyzes a situation even though there are emotions and friendships involved, and understands how a business runs. Through the use of story, he has proven his attributes and told me so much about himself.

How Many Stories Should You Have?

If you have an arsenal of around seven stories, you will always have enough to draw on for any interview. Outline them, write them out, practice them, and your confidence will improve because you have will have proven to yourself that you have the needed attributes. Remember, the interviewer, doesn’t know you, and has a short time to determine if you are fit for the position. If you go to the interview prepared with your stories, you will help him or her get to know you and help hire you!

Career Week: Job Interview Skills 101

May 18, 2011 by  
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PIX11’s Career Week continues with the all important job interview and Ellyn Enisman, the author of Job Interview Skills 101, wa here with some great suggestions to help your next interview.

Things To Avoid: – Don`t be late – Don`t wear perfume or cologne – No heavy makeup, no heavy jewelry simple – Dont forget the small talk – “It`s nice to meet you,” respond to their comment “Yes, it is a beautiful day.”

Things To Do: – Be 10 min early – Turn off your cell phone – Firm handshake and make eye contact – Dress professionally no matter what the industry – it show respect and that you care – Always tell the truth – Polished shoes – Wear stockings

Common Questions To Be Prepared For: – Tell me about yourself – need 30 second commercial – Tell me about a time when- behavioral interview – What are your strengths?- need specific examples and not the typical strengths such as I am a hard worker – What are your weaknesses? – Where do you see yourself in 5 years?

Questions To Ask Interviewers: – How would you describe a typical day in this role? – What are the challenges this position tackles? – You mentioned that this person is required to attend quarterly management meetings, Can you tell me more about that? – How does my background fit with what you are looking for? OR What, if anything is missing from my background?

Job Interview Skills 101 is available in bookstores now. For more information, visit

And tomorrow, we’re going to help you write the perfect resume which will get you noticed.

15 Steps To Overcoming Job Search Anxiety

May 4, 2011 by  
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Graduation is just a few weeks away and the class of 2011 along with their parents is feeling the anxiety, big time. What’s the anxiety about? The job market. It’s been four years of hard work, new friends, and fun. Now it’s time to leave all that behind and go out and find a job and begin to build a career. When this class entered college, the job market was better and although it has been reported that this job market will be better than last year for 2011 grads, this job market will be more competitive than ever. Fear and anxiety can keep you stuck. Some describe it as if their feet are stuck in cement and they cannot move. Usually this happens when one focuses on the end result and the task is so large that they just can’t take any step forward. They are so fearful of failing that they cannot move. So how do you move forward and compete? There is a method and a strategy and it’s all in the preparation.

Here are the steps.
1. Start researching the job boards for job descriptions you are interested in
2. Take note of the knowledge, skills, and abilities they are looking for
3. Print all of those job descriptions and put them all out on the table.
4. Make a list of what they are looking for and separate that list into 2 columns: technical skills/knowledge and characteristics
5. Review your work experience, internships, and project work and identify where the synergies are.
6. Review your resume to make sure it depicts what the companies are looking for. You may need to modify your resume accordingly.
7. Always tell the truth on your resume. If you’ve got what they want, then say so. If not then don’t.
8. Start sending out your resume and cover letter; email, snail mail, or however it’s requested.
9. Gather your evidence that reveals how you have the technical skills/knowledge and the characteristics that the companies are looking for. Evidence is stories of your experiences, etc., that show how you meet the requirements.
10. Prepare your 30 second commercial so you can answer “Tell me about yourself”
11. Practice your stories.
12. Target 20 companies of choice.
13. Make a list of everyone you and your parents know. This is your network.
Let them know what you are looking for and why you think you would be of value (why you meet the qualifications) to a company and ask to be referred to anyone they know. Ask for referrals into your 20 companies of choice. Networking is how most grads are getting their jobs.
14. Reach out to your college alumni who are working in your career of choice and your 20 target companies, for advice.
15. Remember, looking for a job is your job right now. Do not give up. Think of it like a funnel. The more you put in the more comes out the other end. However, its got to be quality or the funnel will get clogged.

Staying in action will help the anxiety lift. Remember some anxiety is good because it can be motivating. When the anxiety gets debilitating and you feel like you can’t move, take one step at time.

How to Make the Most of Your Campus Job Fair

February 24, 2011 by  
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A job fair can be a great way for college students and graduates to get their resumes in the hands of multiple recruiters in one swoop, but it can be hard to stand out amid the mass of other eager job seekers.

“With the recovering economy, job fairs are surging back on the hiring scene,” says career coach Dilip Saraf. “It is a good idea to know how to make the most of this hiring channel.”

Navigating the crowds at a job fair can be tough, but there are certain things you can do to distinguish yourself and your experiences. We had career experts weigh in on how to maximize your chances of being seen and getting offers, here’s what they had to say:

Come Prepared and ‘Name Drop’

Find out what companies will be present at the fair and identify which ones you want to talk with. Once you have your list, read up on the companies–find out their mission, current projects and any recent company news.

Ellyn Enisman, author of Job Interview Skills 101 and founder of CollegeToCareerCoaching, advises students to check out the job openings and internship positions on a company’s Web site to get a sense of what they seek from candidates.

“It may or may not pertain to them, but it usually shows the type of person the company hires,” says Enisman. “Those job descriptions and employee profiles will tell [students] what most likely they’re going to be screening for at the job fair.”

Jim Lemke, technical reviewer for Resumes for Dummies and Job Interviews for Dummies, recommends using online tools like LinkedIn to look up some names of the people you are likely to meet, such as a hiring manager or recruiter.

“The people that stood out while I was on the other side of the booth interviewing candidates are people that did their homework and would bring up names of some of the people they did research on,” he says. “It got my attention.”

Have a Strategy Mapped Out

Job fairs can be chaotic with lots of job seekers and company booths packed into a conference room. Going in with an order of who you want to talk to and when will keep you focused.

Lemke points out that the most popular employers are going to be the busiest, so if you have your heart set on a particular company, you may have to wait.

“Some of the larger employers might have huge lines, even if they have one or two openings,” he says. “It’s probably worth waiting in line if you really want to go work for that company and get your face in front of them and be well-prepared so you stand out.”

If you want to get exposure, approach tables with shorter lines to speak to as many people as you can. Practicing your pitch with other employers can boost your confidence if you are feeling nervous.

“Don’t just stand in line for two or three hours–go to booths where the lines are shorter and get yourself an interview,” says Saraf. “You get to sharpen your interview skills, you get to see some people. For all you know, you might get that job as well.”

Look the Part

Even if you know that the company you have your eye on has a casual office dress policy, the experts agree that you want to look as professional as possible.

For males, Enisman suggests wearing a dark suit, polished shoes, a belt and a watch. She suggests females wear a skirt suit and understated makeup.

And if you have any body art, or excessive piercings, cover them up.
“You want the person you’re meeting to focus on you–not your tattoos, not your jewelry,” says Enisman.

Hone Your Elevator Pitch

At most fairs you don’t have a lot of time to chat one on one with a recruiter, so have a 30-second commercial or elevator pitch ready that highlights your strengths.

Enisman suggests mentioning your school, GPA (if it’s higher than a 3.0), major(s), past job/internship experience and what you are looking for from an employer.

If time permits, asking about how the company’s recent acquisition or a new project that relates to the position you are applying for can get you noticed, says Lemke.

Saraf suggests keeping your resume clean and easy to read to make your experiences and accomplishments stand out against the crowd.

Don’t be alarmed if a recruiter doesn’t ask for or take your resume, federal regulations restrict the way employers keep information on applicants and many employers require job applicants to apply for jobs online.
Use this to your advantage. “During [the job fair] interview, you get to find out what the employer is really looking for, and then using that insight, you get to submit an on-line resume after your interview, which can help you [get hired],” says Saraf.

Make Yourself Stand Out

Out of the hundreds of people talking to employers, you want to make your presentation memorable.
If given the chance, tell a story about how you overcame a difficult situation in the past, and how that experience has shaped you.

“If I’m a recruiter, I’m looking for someone with emotional intelligence who understands how to solve problems and who can present well,” says Enisman. “That creates a memory because I may not remember [the] name, but I will remember [the] story.”

Saraf suggests that small tricks can also get you noticed, such as bringing a recruiter a refreshment on a hot day.

“Send them a resume after the booth encounter,” he says. “You write in the subject line ‘resume from the Pepsi guy’—now they know exactly who you are.”

Enisman recommends getting a business card from an employer at a company you’re interested in and jotting down something on the back that relates to your meeting to mention in a follow-up e-mail later on the same day, thanking the recruiter for his/her time. It’s also a good idea to ask the recruiter if you can follow up with him or her personally after the interview. Assuming you hear ‘yes,’ this grants you permission to continue communication.

In addition to the e-mail, Saraf says to include a well-written cover letter and your tailored resume based on what you discussed in the interview.

“Mention in the e-mail or cover letter that you plan to call them in a week or so to follow up,” he says. “This puts you in the driver’s seat by allowing you to make a follow-up call.”