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Insider tips to land the job you want.

One game-changing mindset for candidates is that they are guests in the house of the hiring manager.
One game-changing mindset for candidates is that they are guests in the house of the hiring manager.
Photo by Darren McCollester/Getty Images

One job interview I will never forget was Al.

Al never finished high school. He wore dirty jeans and lit one cigarette after another throughout our interview. I don't recall his last name. But Al won my confidence in minutes with seven simple words.

Two decades later, Al remains one of my favorite co-workers ever.

But that was long ago and times have changed. For white-collar professionals, Al’s story may sound charming but irrelevant.

So, flash forward to today and three simple steps to help you secure the job you want. Then, you be the judge if Al's seven words still hold water today.

1. The resume that rocks
There are plenty of web sites showing good tips, tricks and formats. Here's additional food for thought. 

If you're a couple years out of college or less, the top of your resume should feature brief statements that start with action words, like created, produced, saved and achieved. Then, bullet-list those hands-on skills no matter how mundane "Microsoft Office suite" may seem. More managers than you’ll know have a pet peeve when people arrive on the job unable to knock work out of the park with the most common applications.

Education comes next. Include GPAs or academic highlights if they're truly impressive. Summa cum laude and 3.8/4.0 are impressive. Intramural flag football co-captain? Not so much. 

If you’re well into your career, below your elevator statement at the top, start with "Professional Experience" and put education towards the end of the resume. For jobs at companies more than 10 years ago, consider a new section, titled "Previous Experience," after your more recent experience. The first section features brief narratives about what you did and your results. Then, indent and add short bullet points that convey the most impressive accomplishments. Some readers prefer the narrative, others just the bullets.

80 percent of open jobs are in the hidden job market."

The second section with your previous experience consists of your title, the company, years of service, and four or five sentences. 

Get real

Throughout your resume and the interviews that follow, stick to your most quantitative and compelling achievements: Dollars, cents, savings and sales. Be accurate, the truth is easier to remember. But now is not the time to be modest. Even if a project seems now like a hill of beans, you got the job done. Write it down, you can narrow down the content in your final draft.

2. Focus on the hidden job market
Your new job is finding a good job. Experts from the outplacement firm, Challenger, Gray and Christmas, tell us 80 percent of open jobs are in what's called the hidden job market. Responding to postings on Internet sites makes you feel good. But your time is best spent networking. That means reaching out to old colleagues, LinkedIn, and, yes, picking up the telephone.

When marketing yourself, remember that you are special. You are not a commodity. You are an exclusive brand most valued by select segments in the marketplace.

You are not a commodity. You are an exclusive brand most valued by select segments in the marketplace."

Brainstorm companies, cities and job titles you truly want. 

Upgrade your LinkedIn membership to business class to help raise your profile, view more contacts and send more messages. When sending an InMail, be succinct:

"Hello Janet, I'm reaching out because I'm a fan of Acme App's iOS development. I'd like to talk about what you're doing and what I've done. Do you have time Tuesday at 11 AM or Thursday at 4 PM for a brief call?"

That's all Janet needs to hear. All you're asking is a couple of minutes of her time and you’re not trying to sell her something. 

You'll be surprised how many Janets will take a call and accept an invitation to connect after you send an InMail.

Old fashioned face time

If you can afford it, go to conferences in your target industry. Track that mileage, pay the registration fee and write it off on your taxes.

Walk the floor in your Sunday best and visit every booth in the venue. What have you got to lose?

One day at an industry event can generate more real opportunities than a weekend uploading generic cover letters and resumes. 

At a conference, just introduce yourself and be easy-going. Badge hunting is borderline rude. Do your best ask around for a manager from a department that's most relevant.

Once you find them, very briefly complement the booth and that you took note of the newest product. Unless they banter, acknowledge you know they are busy, tell them you're looking into a career change and you would like their card to reach out two weeks after the show is over.

Most anyone will hand you his or her card. Say thank you and move on.

Imagine that in 5 hours, you will talk to 5 managers per hour. That yields 25 management-level contacts at companies that actually fit. It may take you 10 or more days to call, email and call to turn over stone. But now you have something to talk about.

3. You are a guest in the house
Arrive 5 or 10 minutes early for your interview. No earlier, no later. If interviewers learn you've shown up 20 minutes too soon, sitting in a lobby can literally annoy them.

Once you get started, maintain eye contact at all times. Nervousness is natural and interviewees tend to dart their eyes and ramble to fill the silence. No need to worry.

Keep eye contact and a pleasant expression. Compose yourself if a question catches you off-guard. Remember your action words and the narratives in your resume. While silence seems uncomfortable to you, it isn't for your interviewer. They appreciate someone being thoughtful and not shooting from the hip.

Guest in the house

Bear in mind, you are a guest in the hiring manager's house.

You are a guest in the hiring manager's house."

Guests invited to your house come dressed for the occasion. They smile and follow your lead. Guests give the interviewer the opportunity to open office doors for you, gentleman or -woman. You let them open the door and say, "Thank you."

When I offer a candidate water or coffee, I mean it. People-pleasers at any party grow uncomfortable if guests don't accept something to drink. It is their way of breaking the ice and welcoming you.

Also, guests don't commandeer the conversation. If I pause, let me process and finish my question. Do not drill me with questions about that new, well-funded competitor or a negative rant posted anonymously on Glass Door. If I share our business challenges with you, then you can respond with questions and factoids from your research that show you understand how things work. Use discretion; there is a thin line between coming off as prepared versus just showing off.

Try to listen and respond with short "I could" statements:


"I could develop a financial model in a situation like that. I did something similar at Smith & Jones. After some analysis, I realized that changing a few lines in our marketing and contracts would improve margins by 16 percent. Legal agreed and marketing said the changes wouldn’t affect our competitive edge. It was a quick win."

"I could address how search engine rankings can be more optimal. One first step I take is running a comprehensive report using an inexpensive web analytics tool. At my last company, simple changes to the code and tags increased rankings 20 percent in one month."

Again, contain your responses to 20 to 30 seconds in length. Make crisp "I could" statements, writing and rehearsing them in advance. When you finish stating an "I could," there's often a moment of silence. That doesn't mean your answer was too short. Let the interviewer process your answer. Her next words will signal if your answer hit the mark or if she’s satisfied and moving onto the next topic.

Don't take it personally

Early on, you will be asked, "Tell me about yourself." 

This is the most important 30 seconds in our time together.
In preparation, write down a short, concise, positive elevator speech about the true you. This is similar to your career summary at the top of your resume.

Stick to business attributes and attitudes that make you different. Your hometown, your fraternity or even meaningful volunteer work may risk you seeming wasteful of the interviewer’s time.

Here is an example how to answer the “Tell me about yourself” question:

  • "I am a resourceful financial analyst with a special passion for finding ways to help management implement game-changing strategies. I can quickly contribute to topline and bottom line decision-making. I’m fluent in Excel, SPSS, SQL and other systems. I use them to rapidly gather data across the business, so I can use the details that help us get to the big picture."

Tough question, shorter is sweeter

One of the toughest questions is why you left your last company, especially if it was a termination. In this global economy, many get laid off for reasons out of their control.

Be brief and think like an anchorman. Chances are the audience sitting across from you has been there, done that.

  • "The company made a decision to enter China and re-directed its resources, leading to lay-offs in the states."
  • "We had different business philosophies. It wasn't a fit."

If the interviewer asks you to expound, tell the truth. Keep it short and sweet, and never, ever throw your former employer under the bus.

  • "Because China was key to their new strategy, they hired extensively in Singapore. About 300 employees were let go."
  • "I came in to turn around a division. I executed a 90-day plan and prepared a 3-year plan for the board. The CEO hoped for a short-term fix, we learned it wasn’t possible, so we divested the business."

Your answer is candid and factual. You left ego and any bitterness at the door. "Fair enough," thinks the interviewer, "I get it."

The shift

At some point, a good interview will shift into a conversation. When the shift happens, you will know it because the room feels at ease. The interviewer needs to fill this position with a strong person. This is an opportunity for both of you to get a sense of what it will be like working together.

As things come to a close, follow your host's lead. "Do you have any questions for me," translated means, "I have heard all I need, I like you or I don't, I'm not going to tell you right now and there's nothing you say to change my mind."

Your answer: "Talking with you has been extremely informative. This is the kind of career and company I've been looking for. I really appreciate your time today. What is the next step?"

Let them recap. If they want to hear more, they will ask. 

Follow up the next morning with a brief email. Repeat what you said at the conclusion of the interview. You enjoyed the conversation, this is something you want and you look forward to the next step.

Occasionally, candidates have sent me a handwritten thank-you note on plain white card stock. I like that

Al's lasting impression

So, let's get back to Al and his magical seven words.

Al was a 40-something construction worker and I was a 20-year-old college kid, running crews for a subcontractor. He went on to teach by example how a team should be run. He changed the tempo from the get-go, demonstrating extraordinary craftsmanship while calling attention to tasks that would be more time-consuming than the estimator anticipated. All the boats rose.

Kid, let me tell you something..."

Al's seven simple words?

During the interview, I laid it out. My crew was a day late and dollar short far too often. We missed too many details and I had to send guys back to mop up on jobs that should have been closed. Al interrupted me.

"Kid, let me tell you something."

Strangely relieved to hear from a true craftsman twenty years my senior, I said, "OK."

"My job is worrying about your job."

The resume that rocks.

  • You are a brand, so what makes you different?
  • Use action words like achieved, grew, produced and saved.
  • Summarize jobs you held over a decade ago more briefly.

Crack the code to the hidden job market.

  • Most opportunities are in the hidden job market.
  • Personal networking and LinkedIn are your new full-time job.
  • Be direct, say what you want: "I'd like a brief conversation."

You are a guest in the hiring manager's house.

  • Coming too early can annoy your future boss.
  • Know by heart your answers the toughest, most common questions.
  • Let silence happen but maintain eye contact.
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