Archive for June, 2007

The Elements of Style & The Secret to Writing Well

Thursday, June 14th, 2007

The cardinal rule of good writing is to keep it simple, direct, and concise. In what have been called the “63 words that could change the world,” the late great William Strunk, professor of English at Cornell University, said it all:

Vigorous writing is concise. A sentence should contain no unnecessary words, a paragraph no unnecessary sentences, for the same reason that a drawing should have no unnecessary lines and a machine no unnecessary parts. This requires not that the writer make all his sentences short, or that he avoid all detail and treat his subjects only in outline, but that every word tell. (William Strunk Jr., and E. B. White, The Elements of Style, 3rd ed., New York: Macmillan, 1979, p 23)

As a writer I have gone back to this paragraph many times. When you draft a resume and cover letter, I recommend that you ask yourself repeatedly: “What am I telling busy HR directors who are eager to make a dent in pile of resumes?” If the answer is nothing, or more than they care to know, or less than they need to know about how your abilities may benefit them, then edit your material accordingly until you get it right.

~ Anne Follis, Certified Professional Resume Writer

© Copyright 2011, Anne Follis. All rights reserved.

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Sample Interview Questions

Tuesday, June 12th, 2007

When I was teaching and coaching speech communication, I would constantly say to my students, “Practice, practice, practice.

Of course, whether giving a speech or an interview, you don’t want to sound too rehearsed (like you’re quoting a memorized script), but you don’t want to respond to critical questions with a blank stare, either – or, worse, give a long-winded response that really doesn’t answer the question. It’s important to think through your skills, strengths, and specific achievements prior to an interview and be prepared to back up what you say with concrete examples.

For example, one starter question is often, “Tell me about yourself.” I have seen people ruin all chance at a job by their inability to succinctly answer that simple question. Remember to answer it in relation to your professional background, rather than your hobbies or outside interests, and give a specific example to back up your answer to every question. For example:

Answer to the question “Tell me about yourself”: “With 12-years experience as an Executive Assistant, I have learned to multi-task with the best of them!”

Specific example: “In my most recent experience, I answer to the CEO of a multi-million dollar corporation, and also serve as his liaison to people throughout the company, both domestically and internationally, as well as critical customers. In addition, I am expected to provide up-to-date marketing, budgeting, and sales numbers on a moment’s notice to executives and managers throughout the corporation daily.”

Additional interview questions might include:

What is your greatest strength and how will this affect your performance?

When and how did you solve a problem relating to your job? What were the results?

What are your long-term goals, and how did you determine them?

Do you believe you have supervisory potential? Why?

How would you go about influencing someone to accept your ideas?

Describe your response to a difficult work situation that you would handle differently if given the chance?

Describe an assignment you successfully completed despite feeling the odds were stacked against you.

Why are you leaving your present position?

Under what conditions have you been the most, and the least successful?

In your current [or most recent] position, what do [did] your co-workers think of you?

In your last job, what did you like most about it? What did you like the least?

What do you think of the way your current [or most recent] boss managed you?

How do you handle pressure on the job?

Give an example of a project or new process that you had to convince someone else to support. What was your strategy, and what were the results?

Describe a situation when you had to deal with an angry customer?

Tell me about a time when you saw something that needed to be done and you took the initiative to implement a solution or strategy for change.

~ Anne Follis, CPRW

© Copyright 2007, Anne Follis. All rights reserved.

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Eight Questions to Ask Before Selecting a Professional Resume Writing Service

Tuesday, June 12th, 2007

The common law of business balance prohibits paying a little and getting a lot; it can’t be done. If you deal with the lowest bidder, it is well to add something for the risk you run, and if you’re going to do that, you might as well pay for the higher quality product in the first place. ~ John Ruskin

When you’re looking for a job, you’re in sales, and the marketing brochure you use to sell yourself is your resume. A good resume by itself isn’t likely to get you a job, but it can get you interviews that can lead to an offer. If you’ve read the books about how to write a resume and you’ve made the effort but aren’t happy with the results, you may decide it’s time to call a professional resume writing firm. But there are several listed in the phone book, and thousands on the Internet. How do you know which one to contact?

First, it helps to know that in most states, anyone can hang out a sign and call him- or herself a professional resume writer, so you need to ask questions, and although cost is an important factor, it should by no means be your primary consideration. You are not calling hardware stores to get the cheapest price on a power drill. All resume services are not created equal.

An accomplished resume consultant spends a fair amount of time with a client before preparing and revising a draft, either in person or over the phone. The advantages to you include the expertise of the writer, as well as her or his objectivity. A good writer will be able to pull things out of you that you might never have thought of putting on a resume, sift out irrelevant or redundant information, and focus the resume to achieve the highest impact based on your background and career goals.

Begin by asking to speak to the writer who will be working with you, not an assistant or one of several writers (who may or may not be working with you), and then ask the following questions to find the right resume professional for you:

1. What is the educational background of the writer? A degree in journalism, English, communication, marketing, or business can be a big plus.

2. Ask about the writer’s professional writing experience. Has he or she written any articles or books for publication? Remember that you’re hiring a writer, not just a typist, so proficient writing skills are critical. You can also gauge a person’s writing skills by their insight and articulation during your initial phone or e-mail contact. It’s also entirely reasonable to ask to see a sample of the writer’s work.

3. Ask about the writer’s professional business experience, aside from resume writing. Education? Health care? Business? Marketing? Public Relations? Management? Executive? A well rounded professional background is a huge asset in writing resumes for people in all fields.

4. Ask how long they’ve been writing resumes, and how much time they generally spend with a client prior to preparing a professional resume. Answers will range from little to no initial consultation for typing services, to an hour or more for professional writing services.

5. Ask about professional affiliations, including membership in the Professional Association of Resume Writers and Career Coaches (PARW/CC). Also ask if the writer has earned certification as a resume writer from a professional association, and how long he or she has had those credentials. And take the time to verify. This is very important. There are several recognized certifications from legitimate professional career associations, but a person can claim to be a “certified” writer without having legitimate credentials. (Sad to say, it happens.) Ask what the credentials are and from what organization he or she earned the credentials. Then contact the organization to confirm the person is a member in good standing and has, in fact, earned and maintained a legitimate certification. In most cases, you can search the organization and quickly make a confirmation online.

6. Ask not only what a service charges, but how it charges. It’s to be expected that a resume for a biochemist with a PhD and twenty years of experience as an R&D executive will cost more than a resume for a recent high school graduate. Some writers charge by the hour and can give you an estimate before they begin the work. Others use various criteria, including length, years of experience, and the career track of the applicant to determine cost. If you talk to a service that charges one flat fee for everyone, it’s a good indication that your resume will be of the one-size-fits-all variety.

7. Ask about updating services (usually there’s a fee, but at a reduced rate), and also ask how long the company has been in business. If you think you’ll want future updating (and these days most people do), make sure the company will be there when you need them.

8. Ask if the writer does many resumes in your field, and don’t just take “yes” for an answer. During your initial contact, determine if the consultant sounds knowledgeable in your particular field, or if she or he asks you questions relevant to your line of work. Also, does the consultant ask you any questions about your background, qualifications, and career goals, or just quote prices? A good resume writer acts in collaboration with clients, and that collaboration usually begins with the first contact.

~ Anne Follis, CPRW

© Copyright 2007, Anne Follis. All rights reserved.

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How to Prepare for Performance Based (or “Behavior Based”) Interviews

Friday, June 8th, 2007

The traditional interview format is sometimes called a “beauty contest,” and it’s very subjective: The employer asks general questions and forms a judgment about the candidate. Today the trend is toward performance based (sometimes called “behavior based”) interviews: asking a barrage of very specific questions about the candidate’s performance in response to various situations, with the goal of gaining a more objective understanding of the applicant’s capabilities based on past performance. The experience can be grueling for the person being interviewed, but it’s also a great opportunity to shine — IF a job seeker knows how to prepare.

The performance based interviewer isn’t looking for general answers (“I pick up new software quickly,” “I’m an open supervisor,” or “I’m a people person”). He or she is looking for specific examples of your performance relating to the job. HOW are you good with people, WHAT computer software have you picked up, give an ILLUSTRATION of how you are an open supervisor. You will be asked – and sometimes even grilled – to provide concrete examples to back up what you say, and the more specific you can be the better.

For example, if the job requires problem solving skills, you will be asked to give an illustration of when and how you solved a problem. Without lingering over extraneous details, you need to be as concrete as possible. Describe a specific problem and talk about how you approached it, how you resolved it, and what the results were.

During the stress of an interview, you may find yourself unable to think of what you want to say, so do some brainstorming about your job performance and achievements ahead of time. Regarding problem solving, instead of saying, “I cleaned up the warehouse,” you might say, “When I took over as plant manager of XYZ Manufacturing, I was challenged to cut operating costs. I quickly realized that we were paying a fortune for a huge warehouse full of inventory, much of it outdated. I worked with the warehouse staff to remove the outdated inventory and transition all processes to computer. I also negotiated with suppliers to have key materials delivered as we needed them, reducing the need for storage. The result was a 70% reduction in inventory levels and a 60% reduction in warehousing costs.”

Now that’s an interview response to make an applicant shine!

~ Anne Follis, CPRW

© Copyright 2007, Anne Follis. All rights reserved.

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Resume Writing Do’s & Don’t’s

Friday, June 1st, 2007

If you haven’t had to send out a resume in some years, you need to know that the rules have changed. A lot. Some things that used to be a must for every resume are today a huge no-no, and some things you wouldn’t have thought of putting on a resume in the past you will do well to include. Below are a few samples.

USE LOTS OF VERBS.Pioneered comprehensive business start-up operations, with broad responsibility for coordinating targeted sales and marketing processes, recruiting and training multi-level personnel, directing cross-functional teams, managing departmental budgets, and implementing long-term strategic plans” sounds a lot more impressive than “Responsible for business start-up, including sales, marketing, staffing, budgeting, and strategic planning.” Verbs connote action, confidence, and control. Use them!

INCLUDE ACCOMPLISHMENTS. Most employers these days are getting more resumes than they have time to review, and resumes that read like job descriptions – or worse, obituaries – are likely to have a short shelf life. Surely in the course of your work experience you have done some things that were above and beyond the job description; things that demonstrate a strong work ethic, good problem solving skills, or a willingness to go the extra mile. Include a bulleted list under your job description to highlight specific achievements: increased sales, saved money, streamlined processes, retained a key client who was thinking of defecting to the competition, upgraded systems, or set-up office operations. And be specific. Don’t just say “increased sales.” Say “Penetrated a new market with an aggressive cold calling campaign, generating 12 new industrial accounts and increasing sales by 40% within just six months.” As long as you’re not exaggerating, it’s okay to brag a little. Remember, if you don’t tell an employer what you have to offer, no one else will.

LEAVE OUT PERSONAL INFORMATION. Whether you’re married or single, how many children you have, or your date of birth has absolutely no place on a resume. Today employers are compelled to comply with anti-discrimination laws relating to a number of factors, including marital status and age. When you tip your hand on these issues, many employers will respond by simply dismissing your resume altogether rather than risk being accused of discrimination. In addition, in today’s world it’s generally viewed as unprofessional and completely outdated to include information of this nature on your resume. In short, it screams “Dinosaur!” Leave it off.

CHECK & RE-CHECK. Nearly all of the rules about resume writing have an exception except this one: a resume should have no grammatical or spelling errors. Make sure to read and re-read everything several times, use spell check, and have someone else review the finished document, as well, because it’s difficult to accurately proofread your own work. If you fear your grammar or spelling might not be up to snuff, ask for help from a trusted friend or do your own research. But whatever you do, proofread carefully!

NEVER, NEVER, NEVER TELL A LIE. You are under no obligation to tell an employer everything, nor does anyone want to read your entire history. But a lie will come back to haunt you, guaranteed.

~ Anne Follis, CPRW

© Copyright 2007, Anne Follis. All rights reserved.

We invite your comments and questions relating to this entry or the entire blog. However, please note that off-topic posts, as well as all spam, will be deleted.