Write a killer résumé
A résumé has one function: to land you an interview. And experts agree that the way to wow potential employers is to be sure you have the basics covered. Make your résumé easy to read: a vertical format, not too much bold or underlining, plenty of white space. Keep it specific to the industry and don’t include a lot of extraneous information. Answer the three most important questions employers have: Can you either make or save them money? Are you innovative? Do you have the skills necessary to do the job?
The secret to a great résumé, says Kathy Sweeney, president of The Write Résumé, a Phoenix-area résumé writing and career-consulting firm, is to think of it as product packaging or a thirty-second commercial about you. Be sure the “profile” section at the top of your résumé details your core competencies. For instance, an accountant might have the words “accounts payable, accounts receivable, general ledger and financial statements” in her profile.
Recruiters want to see a good mix of duties and accomplishments. Illustrate where you have increased revenue or decreased costs. It’s best to use numbers, whether it’s dollar figures or percentages. Instead of writing “responsible for” and then listing what you did in a certain position, quantify your employment history in ways that focus not only on what you did but how well you did it. For example, instead of “Responsible for managing marketing,” say, “Launched a marketing initiative that resulted in a 40 percent increase in sales and improved customer services.”
If you’re a mom looking to reenter the workforce, hit the “mommy gap” head-on. Experts suggest listing the dates from the time you started staying home to the present, and write: “Off-ramped for personal reasons. Now pursuing return to full-time work.” Below that, suggests Nurys Harrigan, presi-dent and CEO of Careers in Nonprofits, a Chicago-based staffing firm, list the ways that you have updated and sharpened your skills during that time, through volunteer work, courses, or affiliations with professional associations.
If you’re sending your résumé electronically, be sure it’s in a simple format such as Microsoft Word. And in the subject line, include only the position title. “Staffing firms screen for that,” Harrigan says. “Especially when we’re getting sixty emails per hour.”
“It’s who you know” is still very much a truism when it comes to getting your perfect position. Most people get their jobs by networking. And while it’s not as tough for men to be bold in this arena (thanks to old-boy networks) women have a harder time. Often women will say: “I hate this. It’s horrible asking people for things,” says J. Janelle Shubert, PhD, director of the Center for Women’s Leadership at Babson College, a private business school in Wellesley, MA. But if you substitute the idea of “relationships” for “networks,” it gets easier.
Start networking where you’re most comfortable: your child’s playgroup, your neighborhood, your college alumni office. Don’t narrow your networking to work environments only. You might be surprised to learn that a mom at your child’s school is also the CEO at your town’s largest employer! Once you begin your job search, let everyone know.
The golden rule of networking is to give more than you get. So how can you help those you want to network with? Start networking before you need something. Think two
steps ahead to build goodwill and credibility. This works in short-term situations, too. “Don’t enter a room trying to collect twenty business cards in twenty minutes,” says
Roberta Chinsky Matuson, president of Northampton, MA–based Human Resource Solutions (yourhrexperts.com) and the former HR careers expert for Monster.com. “Instead, try to meet one or two people and keep the focus on them. Eventually the conversation will turn to you, and you’ll have the chance to share your story.”
Attend industry events. You can print up business cards (free at vistaprint.com) and hand them out to people you meet. Also, check out sites like facebook.com, linkedin.com, and other social online networking tools to discover old friends, classmates, and colleagues. The Internet isn’t a quick fix for the networking challenged, but it’s a great tool to help you make connections.
Ace the interview
The best way to breeze through an interview is to be prepared. Use the Internet to research the company, take notes to use as reminders, then memorize them and rehearse. “Brag” about your accomplishments without coming off as pompous by providing real-life examples of your achievements. There’s a huge difference between “I’m great at project management” and “Here’s an example of a project that I managed successfully.” Go in prepared with clever responses to common interview questions. When asked, “What is your five-year plan?” link your answer to the job you’re interviewing for, says Katy Piotrowski, author of The Career Coward’s Guide to Interviewing. Say something like “Because your position is a great fit for where I’m heading in my career, my first goal is to excel in this job.” Likewise, when asked to list your strengths, align your answer with the requirements of the position. For example, you can say, “I excel under deadline pressure. Here’s an example of when that proved particularly useful.” Then provide an anecdote that makes you look like Superwoman.
When asked about your weaknesses, choose one that is truly a challenge for you but that you’re working on. Avoid the overused weakness-but-not-really tactic of saying something like “I’m a perfectionist” or “I’m a workaholic.” Instead, pick a trait that you’ve struggled with but that isn’t a deal killer: “I tend to be a big-picture thinker, and I’ve thought about that and found that it’s helpful to be really focused on details as well.”
Get what you’re worth
You’re an inch away from landing your dream job—now you have to be sure your compensation is just as dreamy. This negotiation is a dance, so the more rehearsed you are, the better. Know what you’ll take if the money doesn’t measure up. Are you willing to accept a pay cut for a position that gains you critical work experience or access to potential mentors or future employers or clients? What about a better title in exchange for less pay? Would you consider flextime? Additional vacation? Decide what your walkaway value is, and be prepared to say “no thanks” if you can do better elsewhere.
There’s a fine line between respectful assertiveness and over-the-top arrogance. But this is the single best time to ask for money, extra vacation, immediate enrollment in the 401(k) or whatever tops your wish list. If you feel uncomfortable haggling, as many women do, think of this as advocating not for yourself but for your family. Set your aspirations as high as realistically possible and get the best information you can to support those aspirations, says Hannah Riley Bowles, an associate professor at Harvard University’s John F. Kennedy School of Government and an author of a study on gender differences and initiating negotiations. “Men tend to be paid higher than women, so see if you can figure out what kinds of packages men with your experience or job prospects have.”
When you’re negotiating, don’t be thrown by a question like “What do you need?” If possible, be prepared to make the first offer or come up with a way of framing the discussion so that your reasoning shapes the negotiation. Find the salary range for a job by consulting websites such as salary.com, vault.com, and monster.com. If you’re an on-ramping mom, it’s important to get paid what the position calls for, not some price discounted for the time you took off.
After the dance is done and you’ve asked for what you want, you can put everything it took to get you there—newfound confidence, negotiating skill, and a fierce wardrobe—to good use…right after you hear those magical life-changing words: You’re hired!
Tackle your tics
Everyone knows about interview body language: Lean slightly forward to look interested; don’t cross your arms or you’ll look defensive. But what about the quirks you have less control over? Are you a hummer? A tapper? A leg shaker? Here, nervous habits and measures to combat them from a duo
of pros: Diane Gottsman, a corporate etiquette expert, and Katy Piotrowski, founder of JobWorks.
The Rambler: If a pause in conversation makes you pounce, put the brakes on your babbling by asking, “Are there any questions that I can answer for you?” or “Would you tell me about your expectations for this position?” Keep your comments under two minutes.
The Fidgeter: You twirl a pen while thinking. Make sure you have nothing in your hands, and cross one foot behind the other.
The Interrupter: You finish other people’s sentences or cut others off. Consciously take a deep breath as each question is asked. Curb your enthusiasm by allowing a few seconds of quiet time before answering: Your interviewer will finish her sentence, and you
can gather your thoughts before speaking.
The Hand Talker: You look like you’re putting on a puppet show when you speak. Do a run-through with a friend. If your hands are often up in the air, steady them on your legs.
The Um-er: This filler word marks every sentence. Go for silence instead. A pause shows that you’re thoughtful. But don’t beat yourself up for throwing in a few “ums”—most of us do it.
By Michelle Roberts
(Part 1) | Part 2