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Job Seekers: Cut Through the Noise

February 24th, 2017

As you sift through job boards and personal contacts, reaching out to employers and sending out resume after resume, you’re confident that your credentials will speak for themselves. You’re great at what you do, and you have the track record to prove it. You also hold all (or most) of the necessary education and certification requirements that your target employers are looking for. They need a Masters in Education? You have it. Bachelors in Geology? Check. Fluent French speaker? Check. License to practice in the state of Indiana? Check.

But there’s just one problem: everyone else who applies for this job will also hold these credentials. So how can you set yourself apart? What can you do to stand out in a crowded field of dozens, or even hundreds, or qualified applicants? Here are a few distinguishing moves.

Lean on your connections.

Check Linkedin and Facebook, and the company’s personnel directory to find out if you have any contacts at all (even friends of friends) within the organization. Any name you can drop or testimonial you can request will instantly separate you from a crowd of faceless resumes. No matter how thin your connections may seem, use them. Don’t miss an opportunity.

Leverage your overlaps.

The company needs a BS in Accounting, and you have that. Great. But you might also notice that the company is opening new offices and expanding its consumer market in South America. And it just so happens that you speak fluent Portuguese. Could this help you land the job? Maybe. Should you mention this skill in your cover letter? Yes, absolutely. Some of the other applicants will have language skills. Most of them will have accounting skills. Very few will have both.

Use your formatting skills.

Your resume should have a visual layout and a calm, pleasing sense of design that allows your message to shine through. Keep your font size and line spacing relaxed, not tiny and crowded onto the page. Instead of packing in volumes of text, rewrite your phrases and sentences. Summarize your points elegantly you can say more while using fewer words.

Use color to your advantage.

Add a dash of color to your resume document by coloring your heading text, the outlines of your text boxes, or the separations between your lines. Choose a color that represents your brand and personality. If you feel passionate about your work, use red. If you’d like to seem cool and collected, use blue. If you’re going for a creative vibe, try green.

For more on how to give your resume a certain special flair that can help you stand out and get noticed, contact the job search experts at Merritt.

Boosting Your Personal Brand on Paper

January 20th, 2017

Showcase your personal brand during your job search! Let your potential employers know who you are and what you stand for using just a few words, and make sure your message resonates and lingers in their minds long after they’ve moved on to the next applicant in the pool. Here are a few simple branding moves that can help you stand out.

Calm formatting

Your formatting and visual choices can speak volumes about your candidacy. A well-presented resume can tell the world that you have an eye for design, you understand the visual aspects of sales and marketing, you understand and respect your reader, and you have the professionalism and experience to know which moves work and which ones don’t. Start by keeping your text and your lines relaxed on the page. Don’t use tiny font or crowd your statements together. Instead, summarize your statements so they say everything they need to say without taking up too much space.

A dash of color

Some employers print out resumes in black and white in order to pass them around, or they transmit them by fax, in which case your color decisions may not come through. But that’s okay; use color anyway. Keep your color palate limited to two, black and one other (or three at the most). Stay stylish and understated, and choose a color that reflects your personal statement. Keep in mind that reds suggest passion, blues represent a cool head, yellow implies a sunny disposition, green means creativity, orange means friendliness, and purple implies dignity.

Simple themes

Simple themes and statements are easier to remember, so if you had to simplify your entire resume and cover letter into one sentence, what might that sentence be? What about five words? What about one word? You don’t have to do anything specific with that word, necessarily, but you should know what it is. Take that single, simple word and build the rest of your brand around it.

Give yourself a hook.

Your target employers have clearly stated in the job post that the position requires a master’s degree in accounting. They also have a bilingual, multinational client base. This means they’ll hear from hundreds of candidates with a master’s degree. But how many of these candidates will also speak Spanish? If you can offer a valuable skill in addition to and apart from what your employers will find in the rest of the applicant pool, leverage that skill. Give it a prominent place in your profile.

Use strong branding to keep your resume and cover letter at the top of the list and at the forefront of your employer’s attention. For more on how to do this, contact the Connecticut job search experts at Merritt.

Job Search Mistakes Made by Experienced Professionals

August 19th, 2016

You’ve skimmed through hundreds of articles that warn job seekers away from “common mistakes”, and when you see these headlines, you tend to tune out. After all, you’re an experienced professional, not an entry-level candidate in your 20s. You know better than to show up late for your interview, and you obviously have no plans to lie your potential employers, swear at the receptionist, or submit a resume filled with typos. But just because you’re an experienced employee doesn’t mean you’re immune to mistakes. At your level, common errors aren’t so easy to spot, but they can still prevent you from landing your target position. Watch out for subtle blunders like these.

Too much (of anything)

During entry level interviews, employers are most concerned with basic competence. But at your level, employers are often much more concerned about over-competence. Overqualified candidates require (and deserve) higher salaries than some employers want to pay. They also ask for more, expect more, are harder to mold and shape, and tend to demonstrate lower levels of obedience, eagerness, and loyalty. All of these things are difficult for some employers to take. So at this stage, frame yourself as a fit for the job. Don’t worry about coming off as an all-around superstar.

Desperation

At the entry level, most candidates are on the market for one reason: they want to launch brilliant careers. They just graduated and they’re eager to start the next chapter. But at the mid-level, the reasons behind the job search vary widely. Employers want to know why you’re here. Were you fired? Why? Do you dislike your current job? Why? Have you been searching for a long time? Why? In other words… What’s wrong with you? So make one thing clear: There’s nothing wrong with you. You can do anything you choose, and you choose to do this. Don’t let desperation, limited options, or urgency play a role in your search.

Anger or maladjustment

At the mid-career level, some of the biggest hiring mistakes take place when employers miss or overlook red flags related to attitude and people skills. Employers know this, and they know that people skills are very easy to misread. So they have a sharp eye out for any signs of irritability, poor listening skills, social maladjustment, or anger. Recognize that no matter how impressive your resume, a glimmer of an attitude problem can push you right out of the running.

Entitlement and corner cutting

Mid-level employers are also on the lookout for candidates who have coasted (for one reason or another) through the early stages of their careers. If you’ve lucked your way up the ladder so far, prepare for an extra level of scrutiny as you enter the next chapter. On the other hand, if you’ve had an opportunity to face real challenges, experience real failure, or demonstrate real leadership, sharing these stories can help you separate yourself from the crowd.

For more on how to ace your mid-level job search, turn to the career development experts at Merritt.

Linkedin Mistakes that Can Make you Look Unprofessional

June 24th, 2016

LinkedIn can be a valuable job search tool if you’re actively looking for work. And even if you’re currently employed, the site can make your profile and career stats available to recruiters in case a better opportunity comes along. So having any small bit of information posted on the site—even just a barebones description or a one-paragraph career summary—might be more advantageous than having nothing posted at all.
Or is it? There are a few common LinkedIn mistakes that can actually turn your profile into a net negative for your job search prospects. If you’re guilty of any of these, consider making some adjustments to your profile or removing it altogether.

Unprofessional updates

Do you respond to every single post that appears in your feed, no matter how meaningless the post or how poorly thought-out the response? Remember, others can see both your posts and your responses, and the things you say (even casual, off-the-cuff remarks) will provide them with impressions that can hurt your reputation. Don’t make thoughtless remarks, don’t be rude, don’t be frivolous, and don’t share posts that are deeply personal. Save those for Facebook.

Starting your profile without completing it

It’s okay to present a lean, minimalist career summary or a short, straightforward, one-line description for each of your past positions. But there’s a difference between a barebones style and an incomplete profile. If you start creating a profile, finish it. Don’t leave half-finished sentences or unanswered questions.

Neglecting to respond

Of course you’ll get plenty of junk mail and meaningless alerts onLinkedIn, as with any other social media site. And of course you don’t have to personally respond to every message, every friend request, and every stranger’s eager attempt at self-promotion. But when you get a message that you care about, respond quickly. This will demonstrate that you do actually check the site on a regular basis and LinkedIn is a valid and reliable way to communicate with you.

Negativity

If you disagree with another person’s post, theory, or opinion on LinkedIn, keep a cool head. Don’t start public wars on LinkedIn where your every word, including your witty retorts, can be read by potential employers. When it comes to career building and personal marketing, negativity is negative, plain and simple.

Never checking the site at all.

LinkedIn won’t do you any good if you never visit the site at all (as in, fewer than once every six months). If you don’t plan to check for alerts, accept new contact requests, respond to messages, or read posts and updates, take your profile down. You’ll only frustrate those who use the site to reach out to you.

For more on how to get the most out of LinkedIn during your job search, contact the Westchester County experts at Merritt.

“Tell Me About Yourself”: What Does this Actually Mean?

December 28th, 2015

Some interviewers like to divide and parse the session into a tight series of highly specific, highly scripted questions with obvious right and wrong answers. But don’t be surprised if you walk into the office on the day of your interview and encounter the exact opposite: aAn interviewer who asks very few questions that are open ended and loosely scripted. In other words, an interviewer who simply sits back and allows you—the candidate—to direct the session.

If and when this happens, your interviewer may ask any of the following questions. All of these are designed to let you take the floor and speak in a general way about whatever comes to mind:

“What’s your story?”

“Why don’t you fill me in on your background?”

“Tell me about yourself.”

If you’re faced with any of these unstructured prompts, here are a few moves to keep in mind as you formulate your response.

There’s only one wrong answer.

The only wrong answer to this question is no answer at all. Whatever you do, don’t sit there staring blankly at your interviewer like a deer in the headlights, and don’t squirm in your chair or declare that you “don’t like talking about yourself.”. It’s also unwise to turn the question back on your interview by demanding specifics (as in: “What would you like to know?”) Instead, have courage and trust yourself. Just speak from the heart.

Have a statement in mind beforehand.

Since you know that you may be pushed into the spotlight with no specific instructions, be ready. Prepare an “elevator pitch” that can be delivered in a time frame between 30 seconds and two full minutes. Use your pitch to list your most important credentials and make an argument that explains why you should be hired for this job instead of someone else. Practice in the mirror—or on a friend—at least once or twice before your session.

Start at the beginning.

If you’d rather skip the prepared pitch and speak off the cuff, that’s fine. But know where you plan to start. You can begin by explaining the general arc of your career, starting with the moment you first developed a passion for this type of work. You can also start by describing how you heard about this company and this open position, and why you decided to apply. As a third option, you can describe your last position and explain why you’re searching for something new.

Tell your story.

No matter how you decide to dive in, try to answer the question by telling a story. When we provide information in the form of a narrative, people tend to show more interest and retain the details for the longer period of time.

For more on how to control the tone and outcome of your interview session, contact the job search experts at Merritt Staffing.

Does Your Cover Letter Stand Out?

November 27th, 2015

Your cover letter provides an introduction and an element of context for your resume. When you apply for a specific job, your resume will do the heavy lifting—this formal document will serve as a fact sheet that can help potential employers skim through your credentials, assess your basic readiness for the job, and compare your profile to those of other candidates. But your cover letter will support your resume the way a frame supports a painting.

Your letter will provide life, dimension and depth to your education and work history. And if you manage to send a strong message, your letter will set you apart from the crowd. Here are a few ways to create a letter that stands out and shines a bright spotlight on the rest of your application.

Start with a smooth opening paragraph.

Don’t begin your letter with an apology (I’m sorry for wasting your time), a corny joke, or a rambling, confused preamble. Just begin with grace and confidence. State who you are, the position you’re applying for, and how you found out about it. If you share a personal connection with your reader, now is the perfect time to say so.

Learn the rules; then break them.

After your opening paragraph, you’ll need to explain more about your background and why you—specifically—should be hired for this job instead of someone else. Most candidates will simply summarize their work history in two paragraphs and then close with a stiff, polite sign-off. That’s fine, but if you want to stand out, tell your story in your own words, on your own terms.

Remove every sentence that applies to most job seekers.

Quickly skim through your letter and take out every sentence that applies to everyone, not just to you. Remove sentences like: “I’m a hardworking professional” and “I really think you should hire me.” Everyone can say this. Focus on the details that set you apart.

Take one more look at your customization.

If you’re like most job seekers, you’re using a template cover letter and tailoring your words for each employer you pursue. This is a fine method, but it’s a recipe for easy typos and mistakes. Take one last look to make sure your letter is addressed to the right company and reflects this company’s specific needs and job requirements.

Read your letter aloud.

This last step might take three minutes, but it can help you catch rough sentences and vastly increase your chances of impressing employers with your wit, professionalism, and fluid writing style.

For more on how to create a cover letter that sends a unique, and memorable message, consult with the job search experts at Merritt Staffing.

Three Interviewers to Prepare For

September 18th, 2015

As you put the finishing touches on your elevator pitch, map out the route to your venue, and take care of your other last minute pre-interview preparations, add one more detail to the list. Not all interviewers are the same, and there’s more than one approach to the candidate selection process. But distinct patterns tend to arise all the same, and there’s a strong chance that you may encounter any one of these three common interview types as you step in the door and sit down to begin your session. Be ready.

The Friendly Face

This interviewer will put you at ease immediately. As soon as you see his smiling face coming across the lobby to greet you, your blood pressure will drop and your nervous tension will fade away. Your interview will feel like a conversation with an old friend, and you’ll find yourself sharing your true feelings and talking easily and openly about your skills, passions, and plans for the future. There’s nothing wrong with this scenario, and this is the sign of a great interviewer and a promising company. But be careful. Don’t be fooled; this person is not your friend, and even though he seems fascinated by everything you say, he’s reading between the lines and conducting an evaluation that’s shrewd and entirely self-interested. Keep a close eye on your words and gestures.

The Bored Interviewer

This interviewer seems distracted and disinterested in the process at hand. She’s asking questions, but she isn’t really listening to the answers, and she seems to take every opportunity to turn away from you, scan her email, check her phone, or gaze out the window. If you walked away, you’re not sure she would notice. And the longer you stay, the more bored and irritated she seems to become. But again, be careful. Choose your words with caution. Because she IS listening, even if hers isn’t the only opinion influencing the outcome of this decision.

The Confrontational Person

This interviewer makes a seemingly deliberate attempt to appear obnoxious, hostile, cold, or intimidating. He takes every opportunity to scowl at you as you speak and he tends to cross examine each of your responses as if you’re saying or doing something wrong. He appears to believe that this job is a golden reward offered from on high, instead of mutual exchange of labor for a fair salary. His demeanor may be off-putting, and he may be making a poor impression on behalf of the company, but be patient. As far as possible, stay polite and humble. Give this person and this company a chance…After you’ve landed this job and settled in, you may be glad you kept things in perspective.

For more on what to expect from the interview process, contact the staffing and job search team at Merritt Staffing.

Fired? How to Discuss This During your Next Interview

August 28th, 2015

If your last job didn’t end very well and you were hustled out the door before you were ready, you probably experienced a range of emotions and concerns. If you’re like most job seekers, you probably wondered how you were going to handle your finances and how you would break the news to your family. You may also be facing another sticky challenge: how will you land your next job with this incident on your record? Answers to the first two questions will depend on your circumstances, but for the third concern, these tips can help.

Don’t mention the event in your application materials.

Leave all discussion of your firing out of your resume and cover letter. Don’t bring up the subject in any online or printed application unless you’ve been directly asked to do so, and if you are, answer using the fewest possible words. Try not to engage in this conversation at all until you can do so in person.

Don’t volunteer this information during your interview.

Again, there’s absolutely no need to offer this information or steer the conversation in this direction unless you’re directly asked. For example: “Why did you leave your last position?” or “Did you leave your last position voluntarily?” There’s nothing remotely dishonest about discussing other topics instead of this one. But if your interviewer does ask, be prepared.

Know the difference between a layoff and a firing.

If you were laid off, say so. Explain that your position was eliminated or your branch of the company was divested, and expect your interviewers to understand that this decision had nothing to do with your performance or behavior. Don’t use the word “fired” if you were dismissed though no action of your own.

Control the conversation.

If you really were fired as a result of performance or behavior, don’t testify against yourself. Keep the conversation short, positive, and under your control. As soon as possible, redirect the focus back to your talents and credentials. Notice how hard your interviewer pushes for the details, and read between the lines. For example, if you were fired due to low sales numbers, your interviewer may be concerned about your ability to perform sales-related tasks. Offer reassurance as needed. If she’s concerned about a potential behavior issue, briefly tell yours side of the story and explain what you learned from the incident. Make it clear that this poor behavior will never happen again.

Use the word “fit”.

If you were fired due to a complex personality mismatch, a he-said-she-said interpersonal conflict, or any other drama that can’t be understood out of context, don’t try to explain or tell the whole story. Just state that you and the job were not a “fit”. Then move on.

For more on how to handle this tricky conversation and bring it to a graceful end as soon as possible, reach out to the experienced staffing team at Merritt.

 

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