Thursday, April 28, 2011

Shake the Job Search Blues

Kaitlin Madden, CareerBuilder writer

In both his books and speeches, Donald Trump often mentions a story that his father told him when he was a child that goes something like this: There once was an entrepreneur who started a soda company called Three Up. Despite the man's passion for his company, though, Three Up eventually went under. Undeterred, the entrepreneur started another cola company called Four Up, which also went bankrupt. He persisted on, but after Five Up and Six Up failed as well, the man was tired of struggling and gave up. A short time later another company came along and invented 7 Up, which was wildly successful. The point of the story, according to Trump, is that if the man hadn't quit, he would have created 7 Up.

If you're a job seeker, you can probably relate to the entrepreneur in the story. It may seem hard to stay motivated in the face of rejection and success can seem elusive -- you might even feel like giving up on your job search or settling for a job you don't really like. But, if you quit when the going gets tough, you may miss out on the opportunity of a lifetime -- like the entrepreneur did.

The job search blues can certainly be tough to conquer -- but it can be done. Here's how to get through the tough times in a job search.

Pay attention to your thoughts

"Listen to the things you say to yourself about your job, your abilities and your chances of achieving your career goals," says Colette Ellis, founder of leadership consulting firm InStep Consulting and author of the e-book "Focus on your vision."

If you realize that your "self-talk" is predominately negative, make an effort to change it any time a negative thought pops into your head. "When you hear your negative messages and begin to feel badly, say 'stop!' and replace the thought or message with a more positive statement," Ellis says.

Dave Sanford, an executive vice president at recruiting firm Winter, Wyman, agrees: "You can't force hiring decisions to go your way. But you can control your reaction to the circumstances. Allow yourself that healthy moment of disappointment and then pick yourself up and dust yourself off. This will help you move on a lot more quickly, which is imperative to your search," he says.

Set goals

Let's face it: The modern job search can be a long and tedious process -- but that doesn't mean it can't also be rewarding. Set smaller goals throughout your job search to keep you focused and give you a sense of achievement.

"As part of your job search, you will certainly have set goals for yourself, [like] the number of networking meetings you will have each week, how many résumés you will send out per day and the [number of] hours you will dedicate to researching opportunities," Sanford says. "Feel good about completing your objectives and find ways to celebrate your accomplishments."

Be careful not to be too hard on yourself when setting goals, though. When outlining your job search goals, don't limit yourself to an overly-stringent time deadline for getting a job. "It may feel proactive to say 'I will be working by June 30' but you are really setting yourself up to be let down," says Cheryl Heisler, president of Lawternatives, a career coaching firm for lawyers. "Concrete goals are good -- as long as they are within your control. Do commit to goals that you can reach, like 'I will make five new contacts each week.'"

Talk to people

Making an effort to talk to people in your industry can give your job search a much-needed boost for a number of reasons: It's great for networking, it can provide you with a renewed sense of motivation and energy, it'll help you stay abreast on what's new in your field, and it can present you with options and opportunities you may not have known you had.

Best of all -- talking with your industry peers can help you get a job faster. "After speaking with someone once or twice and building a rapport, they are much more likely to bring up potential job leads or contacts for you, rather than you having to ask for them," says Kathryn Minshew, co-founder and editor-in-chief of Pretty Young Professional, a blog and online resource for young professional women.

Is there someone in your field that you'd like to know, but don't? Reach out and ask the person for an informational interview. "I firmly believe in informational interviews," Minshew says. "Everyone loves being asked for advice, and sometimes the best thing you can do to get your foot in the door is to find people who work at the company or industry you're targeting, and ask them if you can meet."

Take a break

Although it's important to maintain momentum and keep up a steady job search, it's also important to take time out of your day to de-stress. "Stress can be palpable and you don't want to present yourself to prospective employers or networking contacts as someone who will crack under pressure," Sanford says. "Whether it's a morning yoga class or walking around the block, find what works for you and incorporate it into your daily routine."

Reducing stress also means fighting the e-leash during "you" time. While you may feel compelled to check your e-mail or voice mail every five minutes, fighting the urge will help you relax. "Access your voice mail and e-mail a few times a day -- and then let it go," Sanford says.

Kaitlin Madden is a writer and blogger for and its job blog, The Work Buzz. She researches and writes about job search strategy, career management, hiring trends and workplace issues. Follow @Careerbuilder on Twitter.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Developing Your Selling Points

Beth Braccio Hering, CareerBuilder Writer

Imagine you are an advertising executive assigned the task of getting people to try a new soft drink. Before you pitched the product to consumers, chances are you'd examine the item carefully. How does it taste? Is it lower in calories than other beverages? What features distinguish it from other drinks?

The process is much the same for job seekers -- only this time you are both the marketer and the product being peddled. Before trying to "sell" yourself to prospective employers, it is worth taking time to evaluate your attributes and the best ways they can be presented.

Pinpointing strengths
Experts agree that honest self-assessment is paramount when seeking to identify your selling points. Enlisting the help of a few trusted friends and colleagues who know you well also can be helpful, but ask them to give specific examples to back up the strengths they list. (Evidence will help keep the comments truthful rather than just supportive or nice.)

Paul Klein, director of the career services center at Cleveland State University in Cleveland, Ohio, suggests making a list of all the job responsibilities that you've had, no matter how many or few times you've done them. "For example, if you work at a fast food restaurant and spend 99 percent of your time flipping burgers, it's still very important to include the other 1 percent of your job, which might entail opening or closing the store or taking money from the cash register to the bank. Although this only counts for 1 percent of your job, it's extremely important, as it indicates a level of management skills, trust and responsibility."

Presenting your information
While you might be an excellent typist, an employer looking for an experienced cook is probably not going to care. Worse yet, skills that would have made a hiring manager take notice may be lost within a sea of information.

Instead of a cover letter that could be used for 25 different jobs or a résumé detailing every experience you've ever had, focus on the skills that pertain to the job in question. Take cues from the job ad as to what might be important, and show with positive language and concrete examples how your strengths match the employer's needs. To say you have great writing skills is one thing. To state that you helped your last employer achieve greater communication between departments by creating a monthly newsletter is another.

Klein offers these tips to further help job seekers trying to decide what to include:

  • If you work for a name brand employer (IBM, Microsoft) that should get highlighted on your résumé.

  • If you work for a solid employer with a great reputation in the field that you're going into, that should be highlighted.

  • If you're working for an organization that no one's heard of, emphasize the position, its responsibilities and your accomplishments.

Selling yourself at the interview
Sara LaForest, co-founder of Kubica LaForest Consulting (a management consulting and performance improvement company serving clients nationwide), notes that when your application leads to an interview, consistency across your verbal and written presentation is essential. She recommends seeking a trusted friend or coach to help with a practice interview in which you "articulate your strengths as aligned to the prospective role and use specific evidence (behaviorally-based examples) that demonstrate the outcomes of your skill strengths."

"Practice responding to questions that focus on your strengths, why you would be good for this job and 'why should we select you'- type questions," LaForest says. "Practice responding in a conversational tone -- even if the question surprises you. Exuding a calm confidence, discussing your strengths and reinforcing them in a matter-of-fact way with evidence to support your statements is powerful."

Making the sale
A last thought to consider: Just as you would be leery about a product making too many claims, so might a person making hiring decisions.

"Sell yourself responsibly," LaForest cautions. "Nobody likes a pusher. Specific to selling yourself to prospective employers, ensure you clearly understand their needs and priorities. Do this by listening sincerely and asking clarifying questions. Listen first -- and more than you talk."

Get the latest job search news and advice on's job seeker blog and follow us on Twitter @CBforJobSeekers.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

How to Answer: 'What Have You Been Doing Since You Were Laid Off?'

Kaitlin Madden, Writer

When you first lost your job, you spent your time wallowing in your sorrows -- eating ice cream in your pajamas and watching Judge Judy all afternoon. Then your determination kicked in, and you decided to find a new job. You perused job boards, polished up your résumé, searched for old co-workers on LinkedIn -- and occasionally watched Judge Judy all afternoon.

While this may be the truth about what you've been doing since your last job ended, telling this to a recruiter probably won't be all that impressive. Though looking for a job is an admirable and necessary task for those out of work, telling a recruiter about your job search won't set you apart from the pack.

So how do you answer the "What have you been doing" question in an interesting, unique and truthful manner?

Focus on activities you've been involved with

For example, if you have three kids, tell the recruiter how you've been able to serve as team parent for your child's soccer team since you have more free time. Or, if you've spent your extra time going to the gym, talk about how you've been focusing on improving your health. These things show that you're making the best out of a less-than-ideal situation.

Activities like volunteering and part-time work can also yield transferable job skills. If you've been helping out a local charity with its online marketing efforts or putting in 20 hours a week as a part-time receptionist, relate the experience to the job you're applying for.

"There are tons of transferable skills that are gained from volunteer work and unpaid projects," says Susan Fletcher, psychologist and author of "Working in the Smart Zone." "Community involvement, events you've participated in or even been in charge of, volunteer boards you've served on and organizations you've been a member of provide a network and skill set similar to a paying job."

Highlight self-improvement

Have you been reading up on your industry in an effort to stay current? Did you recently start a blog about your field or try your hand at consulting?

"Our chief technology officer likes to ask people what they learned last month," says Daniel Ruby, research director at Chitka, an advertising company. "[Whether it be] a new coding language or a new database structure -- keeping up on the latest emerging skill sets is a very good sign that this is someone we want to hire."

Showing an interviewer that you've been developing your skill set while unemployed demonstrates that you are motivated and interested in furthering your career and have a passion for your industry. "We've interviewed several people who were laid off and had been unemployed for a while," Ruby says. "Personally, I like to hear about entrepreneurial ventures they've tried, whether it's building an ad-powered website, starting an online store, etc. Like many tech firms, we love seeing the entrepreneurial spirit in someone. If they started a company and failed, that's great, because they started a company and were actively working to control their own destiny."

Lay the groundwork

You can't give an interesting answer to the question "What have you been doing since you were laid off?" if you haven't been doing anything interesting. Although it may be hard to concentrate on anything but finding a job, it shouldn't be your sole focus. Taking on volunteer activities, signing up for a class that will improve your skills, doing contract work or joining a job-search support group will not only help you keep your sanity while you're unemployed, but will also make you more attractive to potential employers.

Kaitlin Madden is a writer and blogger for and its job blog, The Work Buzz. She researches and writes about job search strategy, career management, hiring trends and workplace issues. Follow @CBForJobSeekers on Twitter.

Friday, April 1, 2011

"How are you supposed to answer "What are your weaknesses?"

Anthony Balderrama, CareerBuilder Writer

Interviewing someone for a job is not as easy as it looks. First, as the interviewer, you're tasked with finding the person who will not only do the job well but also fit in well with the other employees. You have to assess abstract qualities that can't be found on a résumé. Because you have to repeat the process for every potential employee, you end up asking question after question to applicant after applicant.

Still, interviewers need to be told something: "What is your biggest weakness?" is not a good question. It just isn't.

Now, job seekers have to understand that interviewers want to find some way to distinguish one applicant from another. Asking questions that are seemingly impossible to answer is one way to see who can think creatively. The question is an admirable way to achieve this. However, this question isn't the same as asking, "Name three difficult situations and how you've overcome them." That question asks you to think critically about your performance, talents and problem-solving skills. Asking you to identify your weakest professional trait is like asking, "Why should I choose someone else for this job?"

Yet, it's a staple that you should assume will come up in every interview. Rather than tell the interviewer, "Well, that's a dumb question and I refuse to answer it," you do have a legitimate ways to respond and look better for it. And no, stating that your biggest flaw is being a perfectionist is not an acceptable answer, either.

Honesty, with a twist
"'What are your three strengths and three weaknesses?'... is a classic, but not too many people know how to answer this," says Kenneth C. Wisnefski, founder and CEO of WebiMax, an online marketing company specializing in search engine optimization. "As an interviewer, we want to hear strengths that describe initiative, motivation and dedication. The best way to respond is to include these attributes into specific 'personal statements.'

Similarly, weaknesses should be positioned as a strength that can benefit the employer.

"I like to hear applicants state an exaggerated strength, and put an interesting twist on it. An example of this is, 'My initiative is so strong, that sometimes I take on too many projects at a time.'"

This answer leads with a strength that employers want -- initiative -- and still acknowledges that you're not perfect. In fact, you can overextend yourself. Although you might consider this acknowledgement too honest, it works because it proves you're being honest. Plus, employers are still requiring workers to "do more with less," so you show that you are prepared to multitask.

Honesty, with progress
When you consider what your weaknesses are, think about how you have attempted to overcome them. No one is perfect, so pretending that you had a weakness and then eliminated it entirely will come across is insincere. Debra Davenport, author of "Career Shuffle," believes citing examples are the best approach.

"My preferred response for this question is to tell the truth without damaging the applicant's image -- and in a manner that doesn't make the candidate come across like they've been coached by a Hollywood PR person," Davenport explains. "Many candidates are on to this question and so have developed fluff answers such as, 'My co-workers have told me that I sometimes take my work too seriously,' or 'I can never seem to leave the office at 5:00 -- I guess I just love my work too much!'"

Employers aren't buying it, she says.

"A better response might be, 'I've had some challenges with work-life balance in the past and I realize that a life out of balance isn't good for me, my family or my employer. I've taken the time to learn better time and project management, and I'm also committed to my overall wellness. I eat right, exercise and maintain healthy boundaries for myself.'"

The answer adds some dimension to the question, and proves you've thought beyond the answer. You've actually changed your behavior to address the situation, even if you haven't completely overcome the weakness.

"[It] lets the employer know that this candidate is emotionally mature, self-directed and takes care of himself or herself ... and possesses a high internal locus of control -- a very positive attribute."

Put yourself in the interviewer's shoes
However you decide to answer, Debra Yergen, author of "Creating Job Security Resource Guide," recommends job seekers imagine themselves sitting on the other side of the desk.

"If you were doing the hiring, what would you be looking for? What would be your motivation for asking certain questions? Who would you be trying to weed out? If you can empathize with the interviewer, you can better understand what they want and need, and then frame your qualifications to meeting their needs for the position you seek."

Once you consider what the goal of the question is and figure out what your honest answer is, you'll be able to give the best possible answer to a tricky question.

Anthony Balderrama is a writer and blogger for and its job blog, The Work Buzz. He researches and writes about job search strategy, career management, hiring trends and workplace issues.