Don’t bash your previous employer.

We’ve all had jobs with terrible managers and coworkers who made every day miserable. When asked about such a job during an interview, it’s tempting to throw that employer under the bus and describe how every day was worse than the last and how toxic the company or your boss was. But a hiring manager asking why you left your previous employer isn’t looking for information about that organization. The question is just another way — a great way — to get a better understanding of you. What you say about others and how you say it speaks volumes about the kind of person you are and what kind of employee you might turn out to be. If you’re willing slam your previous employer, the interviewer could easily imagine that you might do it again to the company where you’re hoping to land a new job.

The situation is not that different from people we all know who gossip and put others down. It might be a little entertaining at first, but it can lead to the suspicion that when we’re not around, those people might well be talking negatively about us. So, in a nutshell, during an interview, don’t let yourself walk into a trap of your own making. Instead, when asked about your last job, focus first on the positive reasons why you want to move ahead in your career and then, in discussing your previous job, say something positive (for example, “even though it gave me excellent experience, I felt the need for a change because …”). Ignore or minimize any conflicts or issues you may have had there. It will help you smell like a rose, not stinkweed.

Plan your interview wardrobe the night before: As they say, you get just one chance to make a good first impression. The last thing you want to worry about right before the interview is what you’re going to wear. No need to panic trying to find the right power tie or bright white shirt when you should be focused on crushing interview questions and establishing rapport with hiring managers. Take the time the night before to make sure everything you wear is just right, pressed, clean and easy to find.

If you’re concerned about being too dressed up or too casual, err on the side of dressed up. You can always take off your coat or roll up your sleeves if the environment seems more casual. But the reverse is not possible, you can’t dress up a dress-down outfit. Of course, if you’re interviewing for a camp counselor position, a suit will make it look like you showed up for the wrong job. Wear clothes that resemble the outfits of the people that work at that company or in that industry. How do you know what that is? Start with the company website or, even better, a company social media page. These will usually be filled with candid or spontaneous pictures of employees at work.

Reread the job description, then read it again: Interview questions come in three categories: critical thinking, soft skills (emotional intelligence), and technical proficiency. Most technical questions will come straight from the job description.

You may think it’s good enough to be proficient at your skill set and that you know everything there is to know about your field. However, each job description is unique and can peppered with surprises. We recently had an Accounts Receivable position and buried in the job description was that this position would also provide sales support and be responsible for trade show setup and teardown.

If we had not thoroughly prepared the candidate for the interview with a careful review of the job description, this aspect of the job would have come as a complete shock. Your mastery of the job description will not only prepare you for interview questions but also convey to the interviewer that you’re truly interested in this opportunity.

Read it twice, and your interview will be extra nice.

Practice answering the most popular questions: Every once in a while an interviewer will ask an unusual question like, “Why are manhole covers round?” but generally they will have a list of questions that are pre-approved by HR, or that they found on Google. Below is a list — in no particular order — of the most frequently asked questions and relevant answers.

Tell me about yourself. In sales, they call your answer the elevator pitch. A good way to think of this is to imagine telling your life story in 30 seconds. There’s no time for details like what your high school mascot was. Just hit the highlights. Examples: where you grew up, why you love the work you do, favorite things to do in your free time.

What are your greatest strengths/weaknesses? Begin with strengths and how they apply to this position. Prepare responses for two weaknesses. This shows you can be introspective and are grappling with your shortcomings. Avoid nonsense answers like: I try too hard, work too hard, or care too much. These are not weaknesses, and interviewers find them amateurish. You won’t fool anybody.

Why would you want to leave your current job? This is an opportunity to discuss your thirst for advancement and wish to accomplish more. Don’t complain about your current employer. This makes you look bad and untrustworthy; after all, you chose to work there.

How do you handle stress or pressure? Talk about coping skills you’ve learned and successful work habits. For example, talk about making to-do lists or planning your days in advance to accomplish everything you’ve scheduled.

Describe a difficult work situation or project and how you overcame the problem. They’re looking for a clear example here. We recommend the STAR method. Situation. Describe the situation in detail. Task. Describe the task you were responsible for. Action. Describe what you did. Result. Explain how it worked out in your favor.

What are your future goals? List some short-term goals as well as a couple of important long-term goals. Consider having one of the goals be about personal development — like a certification or class you’re taking. A long-term goal might be to buy a house or new car. Avoid mentioning vacations you’d like to go on. It might seem as if you’re looking forward to time off before you even start work.

What is your greatest accomplishment? Think of something altruistic (such as charity or community work you’ve done) or something connected to your education (degrees or certifications you’ve earned) or a previous position you excelled at (company awards or recognition) or success in a challenging project. Keep it related to your career and avoid personal items like becoming a parent.

What are your hobbies? Make sure you have hobbies or interests to talk about. This makes you seem more human, and you may find you have something in common with your interviewer.

What was the last book you read? You’ve probably heard this before. On average, CEOs read two books a month while most people read less than one a year. Demonstrating an interest in reading reflects a desire for personal or professional growth and paints you as someone who loves to learn. We used to have this question on our candidate application and there was a time when almost everyone’s answer was 50 Shades of Gray.

What motivates you? Again, relate this question to work. Do you prefer having objectives set for you and managers who support you in aiming for those objectives, or would you rather be closely managed? Are you motivated more by reward or praise for success or, instead, by doing what’s needed to avoid being written up for errors or shortcomings — the old carrot and stick.

What makes you a good leader/manager? Talk about teams or employees you’ve managed and your management style. Are you Authoritative, Persuasive, Coercive, Participative, Collaborative, or Delegative? Whatever your style, why do you choose to manage that way? Give examples of how it works for you.

Come prepared and it will pay off. Email me and I’ll tell you why manhole covers are round. Now let’s get to work!

Adopt a Sales Mindset: So you’ve paid a talented recruiter to craft a super-attractive resume. You’ve sent it to every open position you think you’re perfect for and a few that you’re willing to give a shot. Finally, a talent acquisition manager from your favourite company calls to set up your first interview.

Now, how do you make sure you get the job? How do you crush the interview?

Start by facing facts. No matter what the job, whether it’s medical coding or a VP position, you are selling. Selling yourself — your talent, experience, energy, and time plus blood, sweat and tears — in exchange for money in the form of salary, benefits, and/or stock options. You’ve just completed the prospecting stage of the sales cycle. Now you have to make a sales presentation — a pitch. This is your chance to show this company why investing their money in you is their best option.

If you look at this from a sales perspective, you won’t make the rookie mistakes that candidates do all the time. In this series we’ve selected 20 tips to help you crush the interview and get started in your new career.

Action verbs: Verbs that convey action imply that you are a high-energy candidate. Compare I met my sales goals with I crushed my sales goals. The second example sounds like someone who exceeds goals rather than just reaches them. Action verbs say you are a doer and contributor. They don’t necessarily have to relate to sales or measured goals. They can be verbs like tracked, taught, streamlined, supervised, developed, initiated, improved, strengthened, created, and guided. Also, try to use the verb itself, rather than a wordy phrase — write improved, not made improvements. Writing like this will help you stand out as a candidate who can “get it done.”

Useless descriptions like detail-oriented, self-sufficient, hardworking, proactive, and self-motivated are so common on resumes they’ve become almost obligatory — but they’re meaningless. Of course, you’re hardworking. So is everybody who’s looking for a job.

The best way to stand out is to show examples. Why say Fast worker when you can write Consistently reconciled daily receipts in under 20 minutes? Remember that your resume is being read (probably skimmed) for content and facts, so peppering it with language that does nothing to help you stand out just dulls the polish. Focus on skills that are unique to you and the experience that sets you apart.

When it comes to font size, there seems to be a broad spectrum of choices used on resumes. The font size is either too small so as to cram as much information onto a single page (and thereby making the information unreadable by the human eye) or the font is typed at size 16 ( essentially to try to fill the page) when there is just not enough content. This technique we all remember from high school to stretch a two-page book report to the required three. It didn’t trick anyone then and it doesn’t work now. Keep the font size between 10 and 12 for the best legibility.

Bold text can be an asset if utilized strategically. By using bold text to highlight your job title and the names of organizations you have been employed in makes your resume easily skimmable and that is a good thing. A resume is not just going to get you onto the shortlist of top candidates but will also be used as a tool during your interview. A lot of times the person conducting the interview will not have had time to review your resume prior to the interview so making it efficient to digest by the use of bold headings will make their job easier and the interview go smoother for both of you.

BE CAREFUL WITH THE CAPS LOCK. It seems like I just shouted this at you, and that is how it will appear on your resume if you constantly put things you think are important in Caps. While Caps can ad emphasis to certain sections, when used too often it will make you look like a maniac. It also makes it look like you aren’t paying attention to little details and that can be a turn off for employers as well.

Performance Reviews Can Be a Gold Mine: Annual performance reviews document your accomplishments and often lead to a raise for a job well done (or at least to keeping your job because you met your goals). Most importantly, reviews are written by a current or previous supervisor, and their view of your job performance can be GOLD when you’re looking for a job.

A hiring manager would love to know that you crushed your sales goals, or exceeded the department average by 40%, or maybe just that you had perfect attendance/punctuality for the last year. Because so many resumes are stuffed with fluff and hyperbole, hiring managers are desperately looking for actual facts. Dig up your old performance reviews and mine them for gold. Facts and stats are a breath of fresh air. They set you apart.

Social Media: Once your resume gets past the ATS Software hurdle and a hiring manager considers you qualified to move forward in the process, one of the first things they’ll do is Google your name. Most likely, one or more of your social media accounts will come up. These generally fit into one of two categories — professional and personal. LinkedIn and Twitter are professional while Facebook, Snapchat, and TikTok are personal. It’s important to post accordingly, restricting fun, personal, celebration-related information to sites like Facebook.

Your LinkedIn page is critical. It should be similar to your resume but can also include endorsements and — most importantly — recommendations, which can be very helpful. Having LinkedIn mirror your resume is extremely important. Discrepancies in dates or job information look very suspicious.

Companies can find tons of information that candidates themselves have posted, so it’s important to be careful what you post — anywhere! — if you don’t want hiring managers to see you as some kind of flake.

We once had a candidate who worked for me as a Contractor/Staff Accountant. We hadn’t Googled her before she came aboard, but after she began failing to show up on Mondays we looked for her online. The first thing we spotted were Facebook photos that made it look like she might as well have been sponsored by a dispensary — I’d never seen one person with so many different bongs. A good rule of thumb is if you wouldn’t show it to your mother or grandmother, don’t post it on social media for the whole world to see.

Contact Information: You’ve worked hard on your resume and everything looks great, but when it’s time to set up an interview your contact information is either missing or hard to find. Last week we were looking for a candidate’s phone number and couldn’t find it anywhere. Finally, one of our recruiters noticed that it was in a watermark between work experience and education. Another few seconds of frustration and this candidate would have missed getting an interview. Forgetting to show your contact info altogether is even worse. It would be like writing a book report in high school and failing to put your name on it.

Make sure your contact information is clear and at the top of your resume. It should give your name, address, phone number, and email address. We should also point out that a professional email address also plays a role in landing a job. KOOLSK8ER@aol.com might have been fun in high school, and you can still use it with friends, but for a job search your email should be simple and professional — like “name@gmail.com.”

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Hot Tip for Job Applicants — How to Make Your Resume Stand Out

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