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Getting the job.

How to win--and win at--your next interview.

In this competitive, changeable employment market, it's not enough to be qualified for a position. You also have to know how to capture the job you want. The advice of an article I read 10 years ago has stayed with me. To paraphrase: It's not the one who can do the job who necessarily gets hired. It's the one who knows the most about getting hired.

Here is a practical approach to preparing yourself for the job of finding a new opportunity--writing, improving, and using your resume; networking and following leads; and succeeding in the interview.

What is a good resume?

While important in any job search--because that's the way the system works--resumes don't get jobs, interviews do. While you might be eliminated from consideration for a job by your resume, you will never be hired on its merits alone.

A good resume is your admission ticket, your opportunity to pass Go and move on to the next stage of the employment game. It should interest the reader enough to want a personal interview. In speaking with many hundreds of job seekers over nearly 20 years, I've found that when your telephone isn't ringing, there's probably something wrong with your resume.

The resume is not supposed to be a literary triumph. It is a sales tool. Poor resumes are litanies of job titles and responsibilities better published than read. This approach is off course.

An organization seldom hires you because of the titles you've held. A manager is interested in your ability to improve efficiency, produce revenue, or strengthen programs and services. The best resumes relate the specific accomplishments of current and former positions. When writing your resume, think about the outcome of each job duty and describe those results using action verbs such as directed, developed, created, and managed. Quantify your results wherever possible. Here are two examples:

* Coordinated a successful effort to pass legislation. Activity generated nearly 5,000 letters to Congress and 138 congressional sponsors.

* Led $750,000 capital project to purchase new computer hardware and software that improved efficiency in member response. Completed project on time and under budget.

Choose a style. Most experts agree the chronological resume is the preferred format. It is easy to read and understand and usually presents the job candidate's work experience in order of importance to the reader. The alternative--the functional resume--works best when your most recent experiences do not relate to the position you seek; you have held only short-term jobs; or you have a long history of responsibilities with one or two employers. In these instances, your experience can be grouped according to function and arranged to highlight and maximize your qualifications.

I prefer resumes of two pages, no more. Whatever the layout, it's imperative that material be neat, well-organized, and balanced on the page. Colored paper is a gimmick to avoid.

Focus on your market

Be honest about yourself and your background on the resume, but keep in mind your objective: to sell your accomplishments and influence an employer's decision to hire you. Be boastful. What cost-cutting measures did you introduce? What methods did you use to turn around a failing bottom line or to improve efficiency? What size staff and budget have you managed? Numbers impress the reader, and employers are looking for some evidence of accomplishment in your job history.

Also be mindful of accomplishments that you shared. Teamwork, collaboration, and cooperation are more than just concepts. Be prepared to speak about successes--as well as any lessons learned--in a personal interview.

Spell out your objective. Identify your primary job market and include a job objective on your resume that specifically relates to your goal in that market. Construct a simple, concise statement of the kind of position you seek. Your statement should direct the reader's attention to your qualifications and experience as they relate to your job goal and the employer's current need. Everything else on the resume should support that job objective.

If you have identified three different markets, use three different resumes. The same goes for job titles. If you seek the CEO slot, your job objective must say so and everything else in the resume must support that objective. Too often, resumes state that the job seeker is looking for a position as CEO, deputy, or department director. Why leave it up to the reader to decide which job you are qualified for?

Follow the job objective with a summary of qualifications in which you highlight your experience in a way that supports your desired objective. If you've targeted the CEO spot at a large medical group, for example, your summary might say, "Experienced association executive in the health care community with 15 years experience managing and developing member programs and services. Held management responsibility for up to 130 staff and $15 million in budgets."

Avoid vague, general statements such as this: "Creative problem solver who seeks a responsible management position that will allow me to realize my full potential while contributing to the success of the association." When I read a statement like that, I often ask the candidate during an interview to describe some of the problems he or she has solved creatively. Many interviewees are stunned by the question. On one occasion I was actually accused of trying to "trick" the candidate with that question. The moral here is to be prepared to respond to every statement you make on your resume.

Handling resume problems

If you are an older worker, have little experience, or have been fired, you may run into a variety of biases.

Older workers. Turn anticipated objections around. Quite appropriately, your resume can emphasize experience, accomplishment, and career progression. You might also cite job behaviors desirable to most employers, such as commitment, loyalty, maturity, and judgment.

Starting fresh. If you lack experience in a job or field you want to enter, augment your resume with a cover letter that describes other successful changes you've made in career, responsibility, and/or assignment. For example, you may have taken a job or assignment on an interim basis or served on a productive task force. Consider also your experiences streamlining procedures, managing and developing staff, or participating in or leading a work team. They're all transferable skills.

This advice also applies if you have extensive experience in another field, such as the military, government, or education, and wish to move to association management. Do learn the language of the industry you seek to join and drop the jargon of your current field.

Correcting mistakes. We all have made career mistakes. If you have changed jobs frequently, held a job for only a short time, or been terminated, many employment specialists recommend omitting those jobs from your resume. If your potential employer finds out, of course, you may end up defending rather than selling yourself in an interview.

Providing references. Choose references wisely. Recruiters and human resource professionals are quick to spot weak ones, such as colleagues who are asked to comment on your performance but have never been in a position to observe it. I often ask for current and past supervisors, and subordinates and peers from several different employers.

How do you handle a bad reference? In Hardball Job Hunting Tactics, author Dick Wright says, "Unless you were involved in material or money theft, you can count on a very high forgive and forget factor." But to trigger that factor, you have to swallow some pride, call the reference, and admit that you may not have had your act together at that time. You might say you believe you have grown a lot or are determined to change for the better. While you might not secure a great reference, you may compromise and agree that the reference will release only dates of employment and job titles.

Libraries and bookstores are full of reference materials on writing resumes. In addition to those cited in this article, you may want to review the Encyclopedia of Resumes, a compendium of 400 resume samples from numerous professions and industries.

Follow all leads

When employers receive 100 or more resumes for some openings and spend as little as 30-45 seconds scanning each one, it is little wonder that massive direct mail campaigns generally produce poor results. "You should use your resume only where it can be a positive asset to your search, not a negative instrument used to screen you out," advises H. Lee Rust in Jobsearch, The Complete Manual for Job Seekers. Distribute your resume only to people and organizations that might pass it on to potential employers, says Rust. These may include recruiters, college placement offices, outplacement firms, and referral services.

Rust recommends these activities as "appropriate for first-time and entry-level job seekers." Some recent job hunters disagree, figuring any seed planted may blossom into an interview. Following are two strategies for winning an interview: pursuing leads and networking.

Answering ads. Unless an advertisement specifically asks for your salary history, don't volunteer it. If required, use a range, for example, "in the mid-60s." If in an interview you are asked for your current salary, tell the interviewer. If your salary is considerably lower than the one being offered by the position, you might say you realize your current salary is a little low, but there were more important considerations at the time you took the job. Now, however, you are at a point in your career where you expect to earn a commensurate salary.

It's important to try to find out what the job is worth before you interview. The employer may tell you the expected salary range--which you also want to know--but that's not the same thing. Take a look at a few salary surveys. Then when the employer does reveal the salary, you'll know if it is competitive.

Cover letters. Always include a cover letter with your resume. It is another sales tool and demonstrates a level of professionalism that gives you a competitive advantage.

A good cover letter generally has three paragraphs. In the opening paragraph, introduce yourself to the employer and identify the position for which you are applying and how you learned of it.

In the second paragraph, establish your qualifications as they relate to the position described. One way that works is to cite the desired qualifications listed in the advertisement on one side of the page, then compare your specific experience to those qualifications on the opposite side of the page. This helps focus the reader on your credentials and a possible match for the organization.

In the closing paragraph, thank the employer for considering your qualifications and note a period of time--a week, for instance--in which you will call to follow up. Often the employer, now alerted that you will call, will keep your resume close at hand. And if you say you'll call, do so.

Networking. I can't overstate the value of networking. Outplacement consultants claim three out of four jobs are filled this way. By definition, networking is nothing more than asking people you know to help you meet people you do not know. It consists of telling a person about

* your background;

* what you want to do; and

* how he or she can help.

To begin networking, make a list of business and personal contacts. At the top of the list are friends, colleagues, classmates, relatives, acquaintances, health club and church members, and past and present neighbors. Also include service providers such as lawyers, accountants, insurance agents, even your dentist. I often find that casual acquaintances are more productive resources than close friends. Friends seem to be too close to have a broad perspective on you and the job market, and they often know the same people you know already.

Networking is most effectively conducted in person. However, keep in mind that people have graciously consented to give their time to help you in your job search. Respect that time and don't take too much of it. Fifteen minutes is plenty; 30 minutes is the maximum.

People appreciate a brief thank-you note after your meeting or phone call. Check back with the people you meet networking to update them on your progress, remind them you are still in the job market, and ask if they have further suggestions for you.

Interview strategy

If the employer's strategy is to find the best candidate for the lowest price and the least amount of effort, what is the job candidate's counterstrategy?

Ask for printed information. Obtain as much information as possible about the position and the organization prior to the interview. Information like a job description or annual report is readily available, but few candidates take the time to access it.

Ask the person who contacts you for the interview for a position description, membership packet, department objectives, planning document, and annual report. Generally, financial data is not available at this stage. If your contact hesitates to supply any materials, you may need to call around to other departments in the association to get it. But do your homework. When selection narrows to two top candidates, I almost always see the job offer go to someone who takes time to learn something about the organization and so can better address its specific needs.

Ask a strategic question. In that initial contact with the interviewer, also ask him or her to describe what kind of person the organization seeks. In The Five-Minute Interview, Richard H. Beatty advises, "Ask the employer to tell you not only what qualifications they are seeking but also which of these qualifications they consider to be most important." From this conversation and the position description, you can analyze the job and translate your background into skills your potential employer wants.

As you compare your experience with the employer's specifications, consider any particular strengths you bring to the job or any unique or creative approaches you have for improving conditions. Think about the one or two special qualifications that you want the employer to know about you and plan to emphasize those in the interview. Obviously, the more you know about the organization and the job available, the better able you are to position yourself as the ideal candidate.

Do you come up short anywhere? Can the areas you don't know much about be learned on the job or through training without compromising job performance? Go to the interview prepared to discuss any shortcomings you perceive after reviewing the job description. I've known candidates who offered to train at their own expense prior to joining the organization. I have also worked with employers who, as a condition of employment, asked a candidate to obtain a college degree, certified association executive designation, or other certification.

The interview

For the interviewee, the interview is an exchange of information as well as a marketing presentation. Your objective is to receive a job offer, but you are interviewing the association as well, to find out if you want the job.

Avoid simple mistakes. Interview success is not solely related to candidate credentials; what you do during the interview is just as important as what you know. I've seen many candidates with superior qualifications lose out when the hiring decision was made, usually because they interviewed poorly.

Some of the more common interview errors candidates make you can take care to avoid. Observations and criticisms I've heard from search committees about why job candidates are not chosen include

* lack of preparation for the interview;

* perceived lack of enthusiasm for the job;

* failure to speak clearly or to answer questions directly; and

* overconfidence.

Give it your best shot. There also are plenty of instances when an employer makes the hiring decision solely on the basis of a winning presentation. Here are some suggestions to help you win that job offer:

* An interviewing rule of thumb is the better prepared you are, the better impression you make and the more comfortable and relaxed you are during the interview. Besides collecting the materials I've discussed, if time allows, do some additional research. Go to the library or contact friends, members of the association, and colleagues to see what you can find out about the organization.

* Arrive 5 or 10 minutes early. Dress appropriately and usually conservatively. Flashy clothes, a lot of jewelry, or extremely long nails can be distracting.

* Express interest and enthusiasm about the job and the organization during the interview. Failing to do this is one of the most common interviewee errors I have observed. The interview is not the time to play hard to get. The cards are still firmly in the employer's hand. The cards turn in your favor only when you are offered the job. Close the interview with an expression of your continuing interest and ask for the next step in the process.

* Be careful not to dominate discussion. Focus on the strategic needs of the employer and avoid rambling or straying from the question being asked. You will hear cues about how much time you have to talk or ask questions. Pay attention to verbal directions like, "We have about five minutes now, and I'd like to cover a few more areas." Nonverbal signals such as glancing at a watch and fidgeting mean you're going on too long.

* Do not volunteer negative information. If something negative about your past comes to light, however, don't dodge the issue. Be factual, honest, and brief. Try to present the information in as positive a light as possible, but do not overexplain or get mired in the details.

* Always write a thank-you letter after an interview. In Wright's book, he calls this "the ultimate weapon in destroying your competition." It can be routine or used to repair a point you believe may have damaged you in the interview, such as a revelation that you lack experience in some area. You can reiterate your particular qualifications for the position, or present that very important aspect about yourself you forgot to mention during the interview.

* Don't talk about personal problems and never speak negatively about a current or former supervisor or employer.

Ask your own questions

What to ask. While there are numerous references to help interviewers develop questions, interviewees have received less attention. Here's part of my collected list.

* How is the current department or function organized?

* What are prospects for future growth for the association?

* What organizational changes do you anticipate?

* How has growth in membership changed over the years?

* What do you view as the major challenges of this position?

* What specific improvements would you like to see?

* How is the department or function seen by others in the organization?

* What is your vision of the role of this position and this department?

* How does that differ from the board's or CEO's vision?

Also ask about opportunities for advancement, performance review, and salary management. If you are interviewing for a supervisory position, ask the employer--perhaps at the second interview--if you will be able to meet other members of the department and/or the peer group with whom you will be working.

When to follow up. When should you call to check on the status of your candidacy? Find out the search time frame from the interviewer and when you can expect to hear from him or her. If you are not called within the time promised, call again. If the employer has not yet decided, ask for an appropriate time to call back, and mention that you don't want to be a pest but would like to know if you are still being considered for the position.

I've heard many horror stories about organizations and recruiters who are so discourteous to job candidates that they sometimes leave them in limbo for months before finalizing the search and closing the relationship. Even worse, some finalist candidates never hear about the outcome of the search. If you get the brush-off from a potential employer when following up, it's probably time to move on. You are better off spending your time and energies preparing for another opportunity.

So what really wins that job offer? The outplacement firm Swain & Swain, Inc., New York City, developed a formula based on three weighted categories: The situation of your particular job market and whether you are moving on in your field or changing careers accounts for 20 percent of a successful job search. Your resources and background account for another 30 percent. But a full 50 percent is your own attitude and job search skill--the very things you can do the most about.

Remember, you get hired for what you can do, and nothing communicates your potential value to an employer more than your belief in it. In "Job Hunting in the Work Jungle, the Eight Laws of the Jungle," a 1987 Working Woman article, John Stoletenberg writes, "Your qualifications, your education, your work history--none of them will matter so much in the interview as the attitude you project of competence, confidence, and commitment to your career. And that's a quantifiable fact."

Job Search Resources

* Encyclopedia of Job Winning Resumes, Lake Publishing, Richfield, Connecticut; (203) 438-5255.

* JobBank USA, Vienna, Virginia. Contact Pete Weddle, CEO; (703) 847-1706 or (800) 296-1USA.

* ASAE Executive Referral Service. Contact Bob MacDicken, CAE; (202) 626-2790; TDD/TT (202) 626-2803.

* CEO Update Newsletter, Washington, D.C. Contact Don DeBolt, CAE; (202) 331-3828.

* Job Opportunities in Associations/Nonprofits, a free electronic bulletin board, begins this month. For information, call (202) 331-3828; to dial in to look at or list positions, call (202) 466-7487.

* American Management Association, New York City. Publishes Executive Employment Guide, listing nearly 130 executive search and recruiting firms; (212) 586-8100.

* ASAE Association Executive Compensation Study; $75 for members, $150 for nonmembers; (202) 626-2748; TDD/TT (202) 626-2803.

* Management Compensation Report for Not-for-Profit Organizations, by the Towers Perrin Company, Rosslyn, Virginia. Cost: $200 for nonparticipants, $50 for participants; (703) 351-4700.

Pamela A. Kaul is director and founder of Personnel Advisory Group, Alexandria, Virginia.
COPYRIGHT 1992 American Society of Association Executives
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1992, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

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Title Annotation:handling a job interview
Author:Kaul, Pamela A.
Publication:Association Management
Date:Nov 1, 1992
Previous Article:Interviewing is your business.
Next Article:Teaching community service.

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