Tuesday, January 28, 2014

C#3: Crushing the Interview Like You're the Boss

Hello again and welcome back to the third and final installment of my job prep blog series!

Now that you have polished your resume and written a fantastic cover letter, it's time to crush that interview. This is generally the most nerve-wracking part of the application process. No one understands the satisfaction of hiding behind words as much as a writer, so trust me when I tell you, I get it.

The interview is where the big money happens. You've got to look your best, smell your best, and speak your best. Heck, I put more effort into dressing up for an interview than I do for a date. The interview matters, and you've got all the tools you need to crush it!

So how do you get over your nerves and crush the interview all at the same time? Here are my 4 brilliant life hacks:
1. Anticipate:

The best way to prepare for an interview is to follow the advice I mentioned in A#1 about your resume: Anticipate your boss's moves. Just like a waiter who fills your glass before you ask for a refill, fill in answers to the interview questions before they are asked. Put yourself in the boss's shoes and guesstimate what they'll be hoping to find in you. Google "Interview questions" and print out a set that covers the basics. Prepare answers to each of the questions.

Also, take some time to brainstorm field-related questions that aren't on that list. For one job, I thought about what book/reading questions I might be asked. Something as simple as "What is your favorite book and why?" stumped me. I found I really had to think about which book it was and why I loved it so much. Luckily, because I had anticipated this question ahead of time, I wasn't left stumbling around for an answer during the interview (which, as it turns out, included that very question!).

Take this idea a step further and anticipate the work environment at the new office. If you know you'll be working in a group, think about what questions you may be asked about your group work ethic. Consider, even, anticipating the time of day of your interview. Will your interviewer be returning from lunch? Or will it be the end of a long day? How might his/her environment affect your interview and what can you do to swing it in your favor?

Walk through the entire interview from beginning to end in your head. From getting out of your car to getting back in it. Consider sitting in the waiting room, the initial handshake, how you'll be sitting in the interview room, what questions you'll be asked, and how you'll say good bye. Think about the variety of options for each of those times in the interview and anticipate what may happen.
2. Prepare:

Now that you have a list of questions in your head to practice, it's time to think about what you need to ask them. There are some obvious ones like, "What does this job look like on a day to day basis?" and "What are the next steps in the interview process?" but let yourself branch out and ask something that will tell you more about whether or not you'll like the job or be good at it. Here are some great questions to ask:
  • "Who will be my direct supervisor and what is his/her leadership style?"
  • "What vision does this company have for expanding in the next five or so years, and what role does this position play in supporting that vision?"
  • "What qualities should this position's employee possess to be successful?"
Once you've got your list of questions (I recommend having about five), type them up with some professional page headers and print them. Stick them in a portfolio (or have them on your tablet) and take notes as your interviewers answer them. This will not only make you sound intelligent, but you'll look prepared. This is a great way to show the interviewers that you are responsible enough to be working with them and creative enough to bring something useful to their company.
3. Practice:

Before you panic about all the elements of the interview that you're now thinking about, I've included this handy #3 to help you stay calm. I've know you've heard it before, so let's dig into it briefly and talk about how to practice for an interview.

First, tackle those questions. Stand in front of a mirror and answer each question (I know, I know, it's super awkward to do this, but I PROMISE it helps by helping you get over yourself and fizzle out those creepy awkward feelings on your own rather than with an audience). In round one let yourself talk and talk for each answer. Get out everything you could possibly say. In round two ask yourself the same question, but shorten your answer to the most pertinent information. Self-edit yourself. Also, provide real anecdotes that illustrate your answers. Don't say things like "I'm good at working in groups because I'm organized." Instead, pick a group project that you've worked on and explain what made you successful in that group.

Example: "I'm good at working in groups because I'm organized. For example, my capstone project was a group project. My group needed to create a cookie that was marketable and delicious. My role was to be the taste tester, so twice a week I drove to bakeries and sampled cookies. I then distributed my findings to the group during class so we could choose three cookies to present. I was always on time with my sampling, and I created a color-coded chart with my findings each week." 

This anecdote is short, informative, substantial, and useful. By practicing your answers to as many questions as you can anticipate, you'll avoid awkward silences. And, if a question comes up that you hadn't anticipated, you'll have an arsenal of answers you can work in.

Next, tackle your image. Prepare an outfit that is professional and non-distracting. Avoid jewelry that will catch on a chair or get stuck on your blouse. Don't wear a tie with a weird pattern. Make sure your shoes are comfortable and easy to walk in (especially because they might take you on a tour of the office). Practice your handshake. Practice having relaxed, yet attentive body language when you stand, sit, and walk. Practice taking notes in a portfolio or your tablet. Think through the entire interview like you did in #1 and practice any part of it that makes you squirm.

Continue to practice these techniques until you feel at ease with them. I've found that I can easily practice answering questions while driving (no one's around to hear you talk to yourself and people will think you're just singing along to the radio). Or, call a friend and have them listen to your answers. They'll be able to give some feedback that you won't get from your mirror.

Interviews, for most of us, are outside our comfort zones, so the more we practice them, the more comfortable we'll be. As we expand our comfort zone, we'll find that interviewing becomes more regular and less stress-inducing.
4. Wait:

That's right.

Wait in your car.
Wait in the lobby.
Wait in the office.
Wait before you answer.

There is never an excuse for being late to an interview (unless a true emergency). Remember when we talked about anticipating the interview? This is your time to shine. If you're going to be arriving around rush hour, be sure to give yourself extra time to be stuck in traffic. Check the traffic conditions on your phone before heading out (heck, check the traffic conditions for several days before the interview to get an idea of what the average travel time should be). Have a backup plan in case there's a wreck or road construction. Leave 15 minutes sooner than you plan to. Park away from the front door of the office. Wait in your car until about 10 minutes before the interview start time. Straighten your outfit before walking into the building.

And most importantly, wait before answering any questions. Give yourself an extra second to take a deep breath and choose an answer in your head before speaking. Take a sip of water if you want (I recommend bringing a water bottle if you can, which makes you look even more prepared. Guys, I know this is harder without a purse to help ya out, so just don't knock over an open cup if they offer it to you.).This will keep you focused and help you sound prepared and professional. Remember, an interview is your time to shine so you want to do whatever you can to stay calm, cool, and collected. At the end of the interview, walk slowly out to your car and drive away calmly. Don't let your guard down until you are out of eyesight of the building.

Then, go bananas 'cause you just CRUSHED that interview!!

BRILLIANT HINT: I started this blog series with a Brilliant Hint, and so I'll end with one too. Sometimes, even with all this preparation, interviews are still nerve-wracking. As someone who has given many presentations, gone to many interviews, and even auditioned for many musical groups, I understand what it's like to be nervous. But I've found the Holy Grail of overcoming it. And that Holy Grail was found in my tenth grade World History class:

That day, we were supposed to be giving presentations on something. I had mine ready (because I had #2. Prepared) and as my turn drew nearer, was starting to feel nervous about speaking in front of all the cool kids in class. As I looked around to see their faces of judgement on the poor soul who was currently presenting, I saw something entirely different. The two girls in the back row were whispering to each other. The kid behind me was doodling in his notebook. The kid next to me was doing homework for another class. As I looked around, I realized not one damn kid was paying any attention to the presentation.  And they weren't going to pay any attention to mine, either. I realized I was nervous because I was afraid of their judgement, not because I thought I'd fail. I knew I had the right information for the assignment. I just didn't want to be seen as a dork. Once I realized that the only person paying attention was the teacher, who would give me an A, (because once again I had #2. Prepared), I calmed down immediately. I have since never gotten nervous for another presentation, public speaking occurrence, interview, or audition.

So how does this help you? Realize that you've done the assignment well! You have the qualifications for the job (either because you really do have them, or because you have the enthusiasm to learn the skills. And if you don't then why are you there?). You've prepared answers to all the questions. You look good, and you showed up on time. The only person paying any attention to you is hoping you'll succeed. Interviewers want to find a new employee, and they hope it'll be you! No one is hoping you fail. So as you sit down in the chair with the interviewer across from you, just remember: you did your homework, you came prepared, your interviewer wants you to succeed, and no one else is paying any attention. So take a deep breath and show 'em what you've got!

Miss out on Part 1 or Part two of this blog series? Follow these links to brush up your skills!
A#1: The Resume
B#2: The Cover Letter

Did you know? I offer resume and cover letter editing as well as interview coaching. I've helped lots of people prepare for their interviews, and I'd love to help you, too! Check out www.LMEditing.com for more information.

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

B#2. A Cover Letter this Delicious? It Can't Be True!

Welcome to part two of my job prep blog series!

So you have a beautiful resume in front of you that lists all your skills and accomplishments. Great job! Now it's time to tell your new bosses why you're so awesome, because let's face it, they probably aren't going to dissect your resume like we did when we worked on it.

Like we've discussed, landing your new job has three steps:

A#1: The Resume
B#2: The Cover Letter
C#3: The Interview

So let's talk about that cover letter. Google will advise you to write three boring paragraphs that emphasize your skills, accomplishments, and enthusiasm. And while those are all good elements of a cover letter, they aren't the whole enchilada.

Cover letters are your chance to express your professionalism and personality in writing. Employers expect you to tell them why they should hire you. This is your chance to brag.

Set yourself up with a nice header including your address, the address of the company, and a "Dear So-and-So." If you know the name of the person receiving the letter, use it. If not, try to find the name of anyone in the company who sounds like they're involved.

Cover letters should begin by briefly introducing yourself and the job you want:
     In response to your advertisement for a new judge on America's Got Cookies, I express my sincere interest in the role of "judge." As an cookie enthusiast for forty-five years, I have extensive cookie baking, eating, and enjoying experience."

Choose a tone that matches their company. Read their website content, Tweets, and Facebook updates to see if they are super serious, casual, or obnoxiously excited. Match that tone in your cover letter from the very beginning. You want to show them you'll fit in just great, thankyouverymuch.

Next, it's time to reflect on your skills and why they make you not only eligible for the position, but superior to all other candidates:

     After years of eating cookies, I have devised many social experiments to calculate just how significant the cookie is as a part of American culture. Between testing friends' recipes to measuring the re-pin rate of yummy-looking cookies, I have discovered that the visual impact of a cookie can severely alter one's impression of the cookie's taste. This has led me to understand not only the importance of cookie decorating, but also the importance of separating decor from taste via the "blind taste."

In this, the second paragraph of your cover letter, you need to expand on your experience with the job's field. Acknowledge your experience, as it is listed in your resume. Be sure to explain what made you successful in that job and what you've gained from the job. Note how you've interpreted these lessons to be helpful for your future.

Finally, blow them away with your final paragraph. This is the time to offer specifics as to how you will be the best employee they've ever had--either because of your acquired skills or your readiness to learn:

     My ability to judge a cookie not only for it's decor but also for it's taste summarizes my skill in judging cookies. I can offer feedback in an entertaining way, as seen in my Youtube videos. Due to my extensive knowledge in the anatomy of a cookie along with my ability to provide fun, dramatic, and emotional feedback to bakers, I hope to participate in America's Got Cookies as the next favorite judge!

Be sensitive in this paragraph. The trick is to highlight your strengths without becoming bossy. You don't want to tell the reader what he's looking for in a candidate (since that's already been noted in the job posting). Instead, refer to those qualities in the job posting as qualities you possess and tell the reader why their company will benefit from your ability to use them.

Then, wrap it up with a follow-up action and a signature,
     I look forward to discussing this position with you soon. Please let me know if you have any questions or desire more information from me at this time.
                                                                                                    Cookie Monster

REMEMBER: Put yourself in the employers' shoes. Mimic their tone and match their level of professionalism. (Don't be afraid to be more creative if you're applying to a creative field.) And lastly, send me your cover letter at LizMcLaneEditing@gmail.com for an edit and proof read!

Stick around for C#3: The Interview, coming at ya next week.

**These are not Cookie Monster's real words. PBS, please don't sue me.
***If anyone creates a show using the name America's Got Cookies or similar, or creates a show with the same or similar premise, please please please let me be a judge. And pay me lots of money for using my idea. Kthnxbye.

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

A#1: The Brilliant Hint You Need to Know to Write the Best Resume Ever.

I keep stats. Not on sports or on running times or even on money in my budget. I keep stats in jobs. So far, I'm six-for-six. That is, six interviews for six job offers.

And I majored in French.

So how does one land six jobs--some lame, some awesome--with a dead-end major ("merde!") and no real work experience?

It's all about how you sell yourself both on paper and face-to-face. In this blog series, we're going to talk about the three ways to sell yourself:

A#1: The Resume
B#2: The Cover Letter
C#3: The Interview

For today, let's talk about the resume:

Google will provide you plenty of sources on how to write a great resume. But the truth is, it's common sense, and common sense follows these five simple steps (Don't worry, I'll get to the brilliant hint!):

1. Formatting:
  • Do keep it simple. Simple. Simple. 
  • Do pick a template that is sleek, clean, and readable. 
  • Do use bold sparingly. 
  • Don't clutter the page with words.
  • Don't leave too much white space. 
  • Don't get crazy with the font sizes.
2. Length:
  • Do keep it 1-2 pages.
  • Don't go over 2 pages (A CV, on the other hand, can be longer).
3. Content:
  • Do put your professional experience first, starting with the most recent. 
  • Do include your educational experience (if you're graduating from college, you can delete all your high school info).
  • Do give quantifiable tasks and accomplishments ("increased sales by 15% in 2010").
  • Do list tasks according to their significance.
  • Do include buzz words found on the job posting (this will help software pick you out as a good candidate).
  • Don't use fluffy language ("growth marked by equitable increases in efficiency during leadership substance experiment").
  • Don't use the first person (I, me).
  • Don't use complete sentences.
  • Don't list your GPA unless it's worth bragging about (generally about 3.5+ ...no offense).
4. Sections:
  • Do give a "professional summary" at the beginning.
  • Do list work experience, education, community activities, and skills that increase your marketability for the job.
  • Don't include high school stuff (unless you're applying to college).
  • Don't include skills/jobs that are irrelevant to the tasks of the new job.

5. Before you hit Send:

  • Do send your resume to LizMcLaneEditing@gmail.com for a thorough edit and proofread :)
  • Do print it on stiff paper for impact (if submitting in person).
  • Don't let your dog eat your only copy.

And there you have it. By heeding these five steps, you're on your way to a successful interview process. How do I know? Because I'm six-for-six. Because I've been that person reading your resume and deciding whether or not to hire you. And because I've helped countless others land jobs after a resume renovation as well.

BRILLIANT HINT: Put yourself in the shoes of the employer when designing your resume. What would you want to see if you were the one hiring? How would you interpret the resume? Is it easy to read on a smart phone/tablet? Be as harsh as this guy would be:

The more critical you are of yourself, the less critical your boss can be. By anticipating your employer's expectations, you'll be one step closer to being a good fit for your new boss.

BONUS BRILLIANT HINT: I offer full resume/cover letter/interview prep work at Liz McLane Editing. Just shoot me an email (LizMcLaneEditing@gmail.com) or catch me on FB for more information!)

Coming up next week: B#2: A Cover Letter this Delicious? It Can't Be True!

Stay tuned!

Thursday, January 2, 2014

The Editor

It's official. My website has been launched. I'm ready to go!

Give me your tired (manuscripts), your poor (grammar),
Your huddled masses (of words) yearning to breathe free(ly).

I want to edit them all!

Check it out here!

Send me an email at LizMcLaneEditing@gmail.com to say hello! Ask me questions about grammar! Recommend your favorite book of 2013 for me! Send me a great recipe I should try this year!

Like my Facebook Page: https://www.facebook.com/lizmclaneediting
Follow me on Twitter: @LMEditing
Check out my website: www.LMEditing.com
E-mail me: LizMcLaneEditing@gmail.com

But most of all, if you like me, pass along this good news! Tell your friends, family, coworkers, and grocery clerks about my site!

Let's get this world to be a little more grammatically correct and help writers accomplish their 2014 resolutions!

www.LMEditing.com: Let's get editing.