Frequently Asked Questions
Writing a Cover Letter
How do you tactfully answer the questions if you were fired or let go from a job?
You’ll want to put some good thought into this ahead of time. Every situation is different, but you don’t want to disparage a former employer regardless of how you may feel about the situation. Try to differentiate between how the job that wasn’t a good fit was different from the job you are currently seeking. Mark it as a learning experience and look back upon it without any bitterness.
Who should I address the cover letter to?
Try to find the name of the decision maker, but be sure to get their information correct. Misspelling their name will get you noticed in a bad way. It’s also safe to go with "Hiring Manager" or the name of the company.
Do you need to include the job title and where you found the job posting in your cover letter?You will find many cover letters written this way. In general, it’s not necessary – most employers have other mechanisms in place (e.g. web site analytics) that track where their applicants find their jobs. It’s more important for you to say something that makes sure your cover letter and resume get read.
Should I include a time to follow up, like "I will call you next Tuesday at 10 a.m. to follow up on my application?This is also very common advice and can be found in many form cover letters. If you choose to close your cover letter this way, be sure you have a system to follow up on your promise to call on that date and time. It is very common to see this in cover letters, but very uncommon for an individual to follow up. There are many reasons for this, including not knowing who to follow up with, and the fact that the conversation typically has limited value. It’s not a terrible way to end a cover letter, it just doesn’t add a lot of value. It is better to close with a strong statement and stressing your availability to interview.
Basic Resume Writing
How long should my resume be?
Your resume should be exactly as long as it takes to get all of the relevant information communicated – no more, no less. Most people early in their careers can get this done in 1 page, but those with substantial experience or academic background can go to 2 pages. Anything over 2 pages should be reserved for special circumstances like executive-level jobs or academic careers.
Is there a standard format for resumes?
No, which is why there’s often so much confusion about writing them. The chronological resume is the most common, but you can consider other formats as well.
Is it true that employers think I have something to hide if I do a functional resume?
Some employers may see that format as a way to cover up a gap in work history. You can overcome that by providing a sufficient level of detail, such as including months in your employment dates, and not just the year. It may also be viewed as suspicious in a non-technical field where functional resumes are less common. If you’re concerned about that, consider a "combined resume" format.
How do I know what to write in the bullet points?
Start each point with a third-person action word in past tense. Words like, "created", "organized", "led", "implemented", will help you get started with writing good action phrases. The best phrases note an action and a result.
Should I post my resume online?
Posting your resume online can be a great way to be found by employers. Many employers search resume databases on a daily basis looking for job seekers that match their criteria. If you’re currently employed, be aware that your current employer may see your resume as well, so be sure that you’ve thought through the decision to post online if you’re currently employed.
What goes first, the experience or education?
Pick whichever is the most impressive. Like a newspaper story, keep the most important information toward the top.
Should I include personal information such as hobbies or interests on a resume?
In general, you’re better off using this space for something more meaningful. Keep them only if they’re relevant to the job. If you’re applying for a job as a fishing guide, your fishing hobby belongs on your resume. If you’re applying for a job as an accountant, it does not.
Should my college GPA be included on a resume?
If your college GPA was 3.0 or higher, include it on your resume. If it was not, simply list the institution, degree, graduation date, and location of the school.
What font should I use on my resume?
Avoid the temptation to use fancy fonts. Many resumes are read by a computer, so using fancy fonts may make your resume unreadable or poorly formatted. Stick to the basics like Arial or Tahoma.
How far back should my experience go on my resume?
There are no definitive rules here, but it’s common to leave off experience older than 15 years. Of course, if that experience is most relevant, you’ll want to include it.
Should I include a "key words" section in my resume so it gets found in databases?
You should include key words in your resume so that it gets found in databases, but don’t create a key words section to accomplish this where you load up a box with industry buzzwords. Use them throughout your resume so that when your resume is found, the phrase has some context and meaning.
Under education, should you include continuing education or stick to formal education such as college degrees, etc.?
Include continuing education if it’s substantive and relevant to your profession. Be careful not to include every seminar you’ve ever attended, but it’s nice to see some desire to continue learning from a candidate.
Do you recommend having "References Available Upon Request" on the resume?
References available upon request is generally assumed. Some people put it on their resume, but it doesn’t tell anyone much. Use that valuable space for something that tells them more about you.
I run marathons and that should show drive, discipline etc. How do you recommend getting that on the resume?
Impressive personal accomplishments should be put at the bottom in an, "Other Skills", "Additional Experience", or similarly titled category. You might write it like – "Drive and discipline – completed 3 marathons since 2006."
Should recent college graduates include things they were involved in on campus as part of their resume?
Yes. Employers don’t always have much to go on when evaluating recent college graduates, so listing extracurricular activities, sports, etc. on your resume shows that you were active getting different types of experience throughout your college career. List them in an "Additional Experience" or similar section at the bottom.
In what situation would it be appropriate to list the courses that you took in college? Is it necessary to list the appropriate course work?
Listing relevant coursework can be appropriate for a recent college graduate. It can be particularly useful in a technical field such as engineering or computer science. List the most senior courses in your field of study. Do not include general education or program basic courses.
Should I list volunteer experience on my resume?
It depends on your situation, but if you practiced or gained substantial skills from the opportunity or had a long-term volunteer position, then it may be useful. You can even have a section for "Volunteer Experience" or "Other Experience" where you list it like a job. You should refrain from listing single-day volunteer event participation on a resume.
If employers ask you to provide a salary history with your resume, should you provide it as a separate document or should it be something that you mention in your cover letter?
The salary history should be a separate document, formatted similar to the resume and on similar stock paper.
I just moved across the country and I don’t know anyone here. How can I get started networking?
Networking in a new city can be intimidating, but building your network is essential. Start online by researching groups that may be of interest to you or beneficial for your job search. If you’re an accountant, investigate events of the local accounting groups. Many cities have professional organizations, trade groups, industry associations, or interest groups that have regular gatherings and activities. You can also use social media to help you establish connections. Check online for groups that may be focused in your area and see when they might have meetups or events.
I meet people at networking events, but nothing ever seems to come of it. Are these events just for show?
This can certainly happen if you stop networking when the event is over. Your follow up after the event is a crucial part of successful networking. Make a habit of sending a follow up email after the event to people that you meet, especially if you discussed a job opportunity or an introduction to a new contact. If you don’t hear back from them, feel free to follow up again to check in. Don’t be pushy, but these contacts can be too valuable to let slip away because you didn’t nurture the relationship.
I’m a relatively shy person and feel uncomfortable asking someone to help me look for a job. What’s the best way for shy people to network?
While networking seems like it is geared toward the outgoing and gregarious, shy people need to network too. It may require some breaking out of your comfort zone, but even shy people can network effectively. Perhaps you would be more comfortable networking online using social media, or sending out an email to your close contacts rather than asking them in person. A deep network can be as useful as a broad one, so use the connections you have to their fullest potential.
Do you have any strategies for working job fairs?
Ahead of time or at the door, find a list of companies you want to investigate. Without a plan, it’s too easy to linger at the company with the shiny booth or the most traffic – stay focused and get to the companies you really want to talk to. Confidently approach the representatives, have your elevator speech ready, and begin the discussion. Have a copy of your resume ready for them and gather information on what the next steps are from them.
How should I dress to attend a job fair?
Professional attire is usually standard at job fairs, but since each event is different you will want to check out the materials for that event. In general, dress like you would for an interview – at least a notch above what you would expect to wear for work.
Submitting Resumes and Applications
What’s the best way to find jobs on an employment website?
You can find jobs on a website in a variety of ways. The most common way is by looking within the employment categories that fit your target job. You can also search by key words, category, company, location, or any combination of these.
What is the best way to get notified about new jobs?
Most websites provide job seekers with the means to receive email notifications when a job that fits their preferences is posted on their website. This is one of the best ways to stay on top of new jobs as they become active and make sure that you are one of the first to apply to that job.
How can I learn more about a company before I apply?
Doing research is a great idea before applying to a company. Most websites give you a link to a company profile or the company’s corporate website where you can get more information about the company’s mission, culture, and products and services, among others. Use this information to help position yourself as a great fit for the job and how they can benefit from hiring you.
Should I upload my resume when I apply?
On most websites, you can choose different settings when you upload your resume – private or public. Keeping your resume private restricts access to your resume to just yourself and the employers you submit applications to. If you opt to make your resume public, this makes your resume available in the website’s resume database for employers to find, giving you a lot of exposure.
Do I have to answer the prescreening questions during the application process?
Yes, many companies use questions as part of their application process to prescreen candidates. You should take the time to complete these questions and provide thoughtful answers. How you answer these questions may make the difference between getting contacted for a phone screen or not.
How do I know what to send in to apply for a job?
Be sure to read the job posting carefully for what is required. Some employers will ask you to provide your transcripts or references. Be sure to look for instructions and follow them. If not, a cover letter and resume will generally suffice.
Should I follow up with employers after I submit my application?
Many employers prefer not to be contacted and will only reach out to candidates that they are interested in to set up the next steps in their hiring process. If you do call, you should add additional information that may advance your candidacy, not just to follow up. For example, you might briefly explain something on your resume that can be confusing or ask if they require any additional information that shows you are a good candidate.
What are some web sites where I can research companies?
Company web sites are usually the best place – be sure to check out their careers section, but also browse around for articles and other information. Use Google or social media to get information about the company and the people you are interviewing with. Companies also have profile pages on the employment websites where they post their jobs.
Should copies of transcripts be provided to the interviewer?
Unless they’re requested, save your transcripts for the next step in the process. You can offer to provide them, but if they’re not listed in application materials, you wouldn’t be expected to bring them along. If you’ve got great grades you’re looking to showcase, list your GPA on your resume.
The last company I worked for was sold and moved to another state. What information do I give if I do not have the forwarding info for the new company?
Use the Internet or former colleagues to your advantage to locate the business. You can note that the company has changed hands on your resume, but the new company will still have your employment records. With so much of your experience at that company, use any contacts you have to find the location of the new organization.
I have gone on several interviews were I had to take a personality test on the computer. Is this a common practice? How should I prepare for this test?
Supplemental assessments are common. The best way to prepare for the test is by being yourself. They are designed to find good matches and many good candidates have been ruled out attempting to outsmart the tests by trying to present what they think employers would want.
How do you respond when an interviewer tells you that you are overqualified for the position?
The key is to be clear about your salary expectations, as well as your ability to work within that specific position. A common mistake of job seekers in this situation is to gloss over the position they are applying for as a stepping stone and focus too much on the position they would have after they would be promoted. Focus on the exceptional value you bring to the position you’re applying for.
What is the best way to answer the question, "Tell me about yourself?" What are employers really asking?
This is a good time to use your elevator speech. Give a high-level overview of your background, goals, and perhaps a few personal details. Don’t talk for more than one minute. Give a quick summary of your best skills and qualities that will make you stand out.
What if I am asked a question in which I don't have a "problem-action-result" answer?
It’s likely that you won’t have action-result answers for all questions you get. You’ll need to be good at thinking on your feet. It certainly depends on the question, but telling stories about past work experiences is usually a good way to reach success. Always be honest, but try to present your best sides in the interview.
What do you do when you are qualified for a position, but don't have your degree to get the job?
If you don’t have the degree, you need to push your experience and accomplishments hard. Speak to your hands-on experience, but don’t shy away from positioning yourself as a learner who seeks out new information and best practices. Above all, show that the value you bring will be as good as, or better, than someone with a degree.
How do you take notes during an interview without disrupting the flow of the conversation?
Jot short notes at natural breaks in the conversation. Focusing on the conversation is much more important than your notes, so don’t let note-taking distract you.
How do you handle it if a former employer is talking badly about you?
Certainly you want to try to diminish this as much as possible. If you can contact the former employer to iron out your differences, that is best. You’ll want to be certain what any references say about you and try to direct potential employers to talk to ones that would be positive.
How do you present yourself if you have run your own business and now need to go back into the work force?
Present the skills and abilities that you’ve gained in running your own business. Many companies like people that have worked for themselves because of the dedication, entrepreneurial spirit, and hard work it takes to run your own company. At the same time, you may have to allay fears that you may be uncomfortable working within a structured environment and reporting to a manager. You’ll want to discern what the company is looking for before deciding what to emphasize in your application materials or in the interview.
How do you deal with having an advanced degree, but not necessarily the 3-5 years of experience expected for that job?
Focus on the hands-on skills you’ve gained during your academic career and how your academic experience can add value to the organization. Talk about specific projects or research you’ve worked on the same way you would talk about your work experience.
How best can I defend a deeply reduced salary expectation?
Emphasize your passion. You might say, "Now that I’m financially secure, I’m excited to pursue my passion in education and research." Be sure to address it both in your cover letter and in the interview – don’t let them assume anything about your salary expectations.
My former company does not allow us to use current employees as references. Is there a tactful way to state this?
Let the employer know that employees are not allowed to give references and offer to provide the contact information of former employees as an alternative.
How should I answer the "Why should I hire you?" question?
Focus on results and what you can accomplish for them. Explain how your efforts will contribute to the success of the organization.
I have been out of work for a significant period of time in a technical field. How can I communicate to employers that my skills are up to date?
The key here is to show what you’ve been doing while you’ve been out of work. Whether it has been as a volunteer or as an independent contractor, show how you’ve kept your skills sharp. Point out things you frequently read to keep abreast of technology changes.
Do you prepare the same for a phone interview?
Yes. You won’t need to focus on eye contact or bring copies of your resume, but you will need to prepare exactly the same way. Find a place that is free of distractions and noise. If you’re on a cell phone, make sure it has a good signal. You want your energy and passion to come across on the phone just as it would in person. So don’t take the phone interview too lightly. You should have done some research and have a few questions to ask also.
An employer said they will follow up with you after a certain amount of time, but failed to do so. What is the next step?
Use the "rule of 3" on this one. Send an email or make a phone call, but if they don’t get back to you after 3 attempts, it’s best to move on. Be sure you try different methods (email, phone) in case someone has left the company or is on a vacation.
If you get interviewed, and you don't get hired, is it okay to ask why you were not considered for the job?
It doesn’t hurt to ask. You already don’t have the job and it may help you improve the next time. It’s important to ask in a self-focused way, such as, "I am hoping to improve my skills to land a great job like this one. Do you have any recommendations for areas I might improve on to be competitive in the future?" Don’t be offended if they do not answer your questions – many companies specifically prohibit giving this type of feedback and many others simply choose not to. It doesn’t hurt to ask, but you may not get an answer either.
Thank You Note
How long after the interview do you send out the thank you note?
Usually the day of the interview or the day after is a good time to send it so you’re fresh in their mind.
How effective is a thank you note after the interview?
A thank you note is always a good idea. It’s quick and easy and won’t hurt your case. It could actually help influence the hiring decision. Send an email or a hand-written note, whichever more closely fits your personal style.
Job Offers and Salary Negotiation
How does one deal with questions about desired salary?
Honestly and tactfully. Defer the discussion to a later time in the interview process when you’re clear about what the position entails and what its responsibility level would be. Once you know the position, it’s time to synthesize the research you’ve gathered about what the market pays as well as your own personal needs. Instead of providing a specific salary rate, give them a salary range that works for you.
How do I establish a salary range?
Establishing a salary range can be a delicate process. You don’t want to shoot too high and remove yourself from consideration, but you also don’t want to sell yourself short and end up working for less than you could have. Research is key – find what the market value is for your position, but set personal limits as well. If you really can’t afford to work for less than a certain dollar amount, and wouldn’t accept a position that pays less, don’t hesitate to state that in the process. If you have a target salary in mind, don’t offer that as the midpoint of your range, but rather around the quartile point. For example, if your research suggests your target salary would be $50,000, you might state your range as $45,000 - $55,000, rather than $40,000 - $60,000. Again, rely on your research and judgment of the situation.
What do you do if the employer says the offer is non-negotiable?
That’s when it’s time to evaluate the job offer as it was presented. If it’s something you would be happy with, take it. If not, you can reject it outright or try to negotiate a different compensation package that would be more suitable.
What is the best way to go about a salary negotiation? Any specific tips?
Here are the things you need to consider:
- Decide if you want to do it – balance your desire for a higher salary with the possible damage to the employer relationship
- Research – know your value by doing your research and be sure to compare job descriptions, not just job titles
- Suggest your desired salary and explain your reasons, focusing on the value you bring. Wait for the employer’s response or counteroffer.
- Decide if you want to pursue with a counteroffer or accept
- Come to an agreement that everyone can work with
What types of things are negotiable?
Every employer is different, so it really depends. You can go in considering everything is negotiable, but prioritize what is important to you. Typical things to negotiate may include salary, bonus opportunities, paid time off, hours, flexible work schedule, benefit packages, and parking, among others. It’s key to communicate what has value to you in a compensation package.