Jan's Blog
Be inspired. It's your career. It's your life.

May 2024
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How’s Your Golf Game?
Filed under: Interviewing
Posted by: site admin @ 8:06 am

Want to improve your interviewing prowess? Want a real game changer in your job search? It actually doesn’t matter how good or bad your golf game is when it comes to job search. And if you’ve never played golf, that’s okay, too. But I would like to impress on any job seeker the importance of one particular concept from the game of golf: The Mulligan.

How is mulligan defined?

1. a stew made from odds and ends
2. (in informal golf) an extra stroke allowed after a poor shot, not counted on the scorecard

Obviously, I’m not talking about stew, of course, but the mulligan folks use in golf at the first tee. Note in the definition of mulligan: “not counted on the scorecard.” That’s the transferable concept to job search and interviewing. How so?

When it comes to job interviews, rare is the individual who doesn’t say in the elevator after leaving an interview, “Why didn’t I tell them about my experience refocusing talent on a faltering project when they asked me about an example of leadership turnaround success?”

Or “how could I have been so foolish as to have gone completely blank when asked [that ridiculous question] ‘if you were a brand of cereal, what would you be’?”

Your secret sauce? The mulligan.

Simply put, it is your thank-you letter (sent same day via email). Seriously. There’s nothing from which you can’t recover in an interview if you properly execute the thank-you letter. This goes way beyond “thanks for the courtesies afforded me during the interview” (ho-hum) and “I enjoyed learning about the expectations for the selected candidate” (equally blah). Yes, of course you’ll want to thank everyone who interviewed you in a professionally courteous way. But before restating the next steps in the candidate selection process (naturally, that’s one of the questions you asked near the conclusion of the interview), use the blank space to recap, reiterate, and recover:

1) Restate your value proposition as it connects to the position, the challenges, the opportunities — and, importantly, the fit.

2) Connect expertise, background, training, and experience to what you learned in the interview wherever relevant.

3) Then segue to the brilliance of the mulligan strategy … this can be one or several paragraphs — each addressing the types of things described earlier.

“When you asked me about how I have handled an irate customer scenario within a high-profile, strategic account, I neglected to share with you a success strategy I put in place that resolved the issue, retained the valued customer relationship, and provided a key learning moment for our CSRs …”

OR: “Thinking further about the challenge you presented hypothetically, I’ve done a little research of what your customers are saying on Twitter and believe I could help influence …”

You can effectively recover from missteps as well as advance new thought leadership following the interview. The important thing to remember? Debrief, capturing every key thought you can (including any cringe-worthy moments) immediately after the interview to use in your thank-you letter.

4) Wrap up with a strong close, express enthusiasm and continued interest, and articulate the next steps in the process (as discussed at the end of the interview).

Warning: Use of this mulligan strategy in job interviewing has been known to give job seekers added confidence and incredible empowerment (and spurred second and third interviews and offers).

– Jan Melnik, M.A., MRW, CCM, CPRW - President, Absolute Advantage
Be inspired. It’s your career. It’s your life.

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Remember Your Manners :)
Filed under: Interviewing
Posted by: site admin @ 5:19 pm

Don’t forget to say “thank you.” It matters more than you may think - especially in job search.

According to a brief in the June 2, 2011, issue of Human Resource Executive, “More than one in five (22%) of 2,878 hiring managers surveyed say they are less likely to hire a candidate if he or she fails to send a thank-you note after an interview.” (Data source: CareerBuilder.com, Chicago)

Mom was right. Courtesy does make a difference and can have a tremendous impact on the entire hiring cycle. Furthermore, a thank-you note that goes beyond simply expressing appreciation for the interview can be a very powerful tool in your career-search arsenal. Use it to amplify key points, reiterate positioning you might have felt you were weak on, bolster responses to queries you faltered on, and generally reinforce the strong fit and value-add you can deliver! It’s one of the very best means by which you can solidify your candidacy.

Ideally, send your thank-you (email, most frequently, because it allows you to convey far more than the requisite thanks that a typical note would just barely accommodate) same day if at all possible or next morning at the latest. Absolutely customize the content to the experience - and send everyone on the interviewing team a different message. Do this for subsequent interviews as well! More times than I can count, clients have shared with me this made the difference in the hiring decision, tipping the scales in their direction.

– Jan Melnik, M.A., MRW, CCM, CPRW, President, Absolute Advantage

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It Ain’t Bragging… If You Did It
Filed under: Interviewing, Resume
Posted by: site admin @ 7:33 am

So said Walt Whitman… and my father… two gentlemen for whom I have the ultimate respect! How does this relate to job search and your resume? It’s essential to convey predictors of success by showing AND telling prospective employers what you can do, then demonstrating how you’ve done it–backed up with verifiable and quantifiable details. CAR stories remain the best way to achieve this goal.

C - Challenge… show a situation or challenge you faced, a problem you addressed.
A - Action… detail, specifically, the action YOU took (remember not to take sole credit for something for which you were a team member or instrumental–talk about exactly the role you did play to bring about the change, solution) or the initiative you drove.
R - Result… describe succinctly the results you achieved (or that your action produced). Again, quantify for maximum impact and then link to the impact on the organization (a good way to answer that portion of the question: What would have been the consequence had you NOT produced the result that you did?)

In the next few days, I’ll detail some very specific CAR story examples: Powerful resume material AND excellent preparation for effective interviewing!

Just remember: Toot your own horn (don’t blow it!).

– Jan Melnik, MRW, CCM, CPRW, President, Absolute Advantage … Don’t forget to check out careerhub.typepad.com for the best in career search advice from the career industry’s top experts

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How Much Is Too Much?
Filed under: Interviewing
Posted by: site admin @ 11:07 am

In just the past few weeks, I’ve been queried a handful of times by clients: How soon can I follow up after an interview? It’s been more than two weeks … should I follow up? I haven’t heard a thing, what should I do?

First of all, I coach all interviewing clients to ascertain the anticipated interviewing timetable at the time of their meeting. When do you anticipate scheduling the second round of interviews? When do you hope to have the selected candidate on board? This gives a general sense of the overall timeline–you may discover that the new position isn’t funded until the next fiscal year.

The initial follow up should be immediate–in the form of a targeted thank-you letter that goes significantly beyond thanking the interviewer for the courtesy of their time. This should be mailed (or e-mailed: gear formality to the overall feel of the interview and corporate culture) the same day as the interview (or very next morning).

Beyond the obvious, use this letter to add to any key points you wished you’d made during the interview. (Such as, "I neglected to mention that I am bilingual–completely fluent in both English and Spanish. In addition, I am able to communicate verbally in basic French and German. These skills could prove very useful in dealing with some of your global customers.") Use the thank-you follow-up letter to clarify ideas that weren’t clearly expressed. (As in, "You asked about a situation wherein the results of my actions were far-reaching. In addition to the a-b-c scenario, I was instrumental to opening our second manufacturing plant in South Carolina. I did the initial due diligence, developed the business expansion plan, and leveraged our operations to effectively make that transition, which has been win-win for our customers, suppliers, and overall margin.")

Always close the thank-you letter with an indication of your next follow up: "I’ll plan to contact your office in the next week. I’m very excited about moving to the next stage in the interview process." And then be sure to do so! If you are "screened out" in your follow-up calls, indicate to the secretary that Ms. Edwards is expecting your call (you’ve already set Ms. Edwards’ expectation that you will be calling).

Be professionally persistent in this follow up. For the first few calls, do not leave messages. Instead ask for appropriate times of day to call back. The same is true with voicemail: Don’t leave a message the first few times; instead, continue to try to call back and reach the individual directly. Once a contact has been made, again reiterate enthusiasm about the opportunity and ask about the timeline for a follow-up interview. Gear your subsequent follow-up activities to that information learned.

Expect that the higher up the chain the opportunity is, the longer the decision cycle will be. Even if weeks (and months go by), don’t become discouraged. Continue to practice professional follow up until (a) a successful conclusion (subsequent interviews … leading to an offer) or (b) solid evidence that you were not the selected candidate (for *this* position–you will be for another opportunity!). Good luck in practicing practical perseverance!

- Jan Melnik, MRW, CCM, CPRW, President, Absolute Advantage … Don’t forget to check out http://careerhub.typepad.com for the best in career search advice from the career industry’s top experts and http://careers.beyond.com for valuable career management expertise

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Handling \”Sticky\” Interview Questions
Filed under: Interviewing
Posted by: site admin @ 11:19 am

How do you ace an interview? How can you prepare for the inevitably difficult questions? This material is excerpted from a program segment I did on NBC-30’s morning show with Keisha Grant on October 18, 2005.


Tell me about yourself.

This is the classic interview question to anticipate. A good immediate response is, “I’d love to—where would you like me to start?” It helps to focus the interviewer’s area of interest while you collect your thoughts.

The best solution is lots of interview preparation. Know as much as you can about the job and the employer. Focus your responses on the match between your experience and what the employer needs. Develop your “one-minute” introduction that captures highlights of your background and experience. Definitely rehearse this question because it’s almost a guarantee you’ll be asked it. 

KEY POINT:  Don’t ramble, be prepared, link strengths of your background to company/opportunity at hand.

Why did you leave your most recent job?


Be honest and positive, even if you were fired or resigned. If you were fired, explain what happened very briefly in a sentence or two. Add what you learned from that experience.

Did you resign? You can respond, "I was seeking career advancement" or "I wanted to pursue a new career opportunity” and “believed it was fairer to my employer to conduct my search on a full-time basis, not while I was working.”

If you were laid off, you can reply, "My company was forced to downsize my department."

KEY POINT:  Never bad-mouth or be negative about a past employer.

What is your greatest strength?

By the time you enter an interview, you should have a pretty good idea what your key attributes are. Good things to consider (and always be authentic) are being flexible, adaptive, willing to learn, willing to take on additional responsibilities … and then skill-specific. For someone in an administrative role, for instance:  incredible attention to detail, methodical, well-organized, high energy level, excellent team player.

KEY POINT:  Prepare a quick summary of key strengths in advance that you think best link to challenges of the opportunity.

What’s your biggest weakness?

Another classic question you should anticipate. Be certain to prepare. Two good replies (but be true to yourself):

* I can sometimes get too bogged down in details and so I have to step back, from time to time, to look at the big picture. That’s because I believe every customer deserves 100% of my energy and attention to those details. The point? While it’s a potential weakness (losing sight of the scope of work and becoming bogged down in details), it also demonstrates that it is the result of a commitment to customers, an asset.

* I try to please everybody and at times I have to be careful of that. I’m always working on my time management skills. I am guilty of trying to do too much in one day. The strategies I’ve employed include working off a to-do list, hiring a time management consultant, which was very useful, and spending 15 minutes at the end of each day to reorganize my desk and my planner. 

KEY POINT:  Be prepared. Be concise. Don’t be too personal or “negative.” Focus on the upside of how you turn a weakness into an advantage.

You appear overqualified for this job; why do you want this position?

This often occurs in situations of “underemployed” executives—folks who lost high-paying jobs and now are working looking to work at Staples or Home Depot, for instance. What you want to demonstrate is that you are committed to joining this company and making a contribution. Emphasize the high energy and skills you have to do this job—deemphasize the higher level of your previous positions. DON’T say, for instance, “when I was the president of Alpha Electronics, I did such-and-such.” Eliminate titles from your vocabulary. Instead, show actual skills linked to this position.

If pushed—why would someone with your background be willing to work for such an obvious pay cut? Your best reply is that you are fortunate to be in a position that allows you to truly pursue a job you would love—and this is a chance to get into a rapid-paced, customer-focused environment in a field you’ve always wanted to work in (i.e., home improvement).

KEY POINT:  Display enthusiasm. Tie to a desire you’ve always had in this particular field. Be clear about your commitment to joining the company.

Why the large time gap on your resume?

For someone who has been unemployed for a long time (say more than 9 months or a year to many years), it’s important to be honest.

If you’ve been a caregiver or stay-at-home mom, for instance, mention that you have cared for a family member (or children) for the past seven years, but are now returning full time to the work force.

If you’ve been retired and are now returning to work, mention that you were in a position where you could take a few years off for travel following your retirement from Aetna and that you’ve had an opportunity to learn a new skill, which you are anxious to put to use back in the workforce. Definitely mention if you have used the opportunity to return to school or even take a PC class.

Finally, if you have been actively searching, mention that you have been pursuing new opportunities on a full-time basis in order to find the right opportunity to which you can really make a difference … and that this seems to be the one! 

KEY POINT:  Offer a brief, positive explanation. Show how you’ve maintained or learned new skills. Demonstrate enthusiasm for this opportunity.

What are your salary requirements?

Always try to postpone this as long as possible. If the question comes up too early in the process, you can sincerely respond, “Oh, are you in a position of making me an offer now?” Chances are the interviewer wants to establish a range. A good reply to consider is, “I am confident that if we establish that I am the right candidate for this position, your offer will be on target with industry standards for the value I can bring to your organization.” If really pushed for a number (and you should do research in advance), you can respond with a researched reply, “I would expect to be compensated in the $65K to $80K range, what I understand to be the typical range in this area for these responsibilities. However, I’m most interested in establishing fit and determining that I am the right candidate for the job. I’d like to tell you a little more about …” and then get back to signature strengths. 

KEY POINT:  Keep the interview going as long as possible before negotiating to best demonstrate your value. When pushed, have a broad range in mind, but focus on establishing “fit.”

Tell me about the most challenging work problem you have ever faced.

You should definitely prepare a CAR story for every interview. A CAR story is challenge-action-result. It should be a story that can be told in less than 2 minutes and showcase your talent in effecting a positive outcome.

KEY POINT:  Always prepare several excellent examples of situations that were challenging for which you “had the answer” and craft a succinct reply that shows a positive result.


Four Best Strategies to Help With Sticky Interview Questions

#1 – Prepare! Rehearse. Practice the tough questions. Do it outloud, with a friend or coach.

#2 – Due diligence. Learn as much about the job and employer as possible before the interview. Consider your top selling points, your critical advantages.

#3 – Don’t be afraid to pause and reflect on a difficult question during the interview. You can even say, “That’s a great question, let me consider for a moment …”

#4 – Always remember your follow-up thank you letter is your best tool for addressing anything forgotten in the interview, reiterating a key point you want to reinforce, or clarifying an answer on which you stumbled. Just knowing that you can address anything in the thank you can give you great confidence in the interview!

– Jan Melnik, MRW, CCM, CPRW, President, Absolute Advantage



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