Good Questions Enhance Communication – How?

What good questions do you ask? Questions can be powerful, especially open-ended questions starting with what or how and sometimes a non-intimidating why. Coupled with focused listening, you have here the tools for mastering the art of communication.

Let's establish that in most situations questions will produce better responses than commands. Try this with your teenager and you may be surprised. "What time will you be home?" will usually get better results than, "Remember, your curfew is 11 p.m." If your child tries to test you with a reply of time beyond his/her curfew, then you can always step in with the reminder. Just give him/her the opportunity to communicate with you.

In the workplace, how many times have you asked your boss questions that could be answered with yes or no? Did you get a helpful reply, or one needing more discussion? Perhaps you would have received more complete information if you'd asked what or how? Take a moment and ponder this point. How can you reword a question to start with what or how?

In a job interview, which questions produce better responses from you – those beginning with what, how, and why, or those easily answered with yes or no? Do you feel like you're leaving the response incomplete unless you add additional information? Notice how more comprehensive your response becomes when you're asked a what, how, or why question. Which kind makes you more memorable to the interviewer?

There is an art to asking good questions. One tip is to put yourself in the responder's shoes. How will they feel after answering your question? Hopefully, they'll feel comfortable and willing to continue communicating with you.

The next time you want information from someone, ask the what or how question with respect for the responder in mind. Give it a try! Be mindful of your results and fine tune your future questions. For more information on this topic, check out, "The Art of Asking Questions," on the HBR Blog Network.

Wishing you career success in 2013!


Job Interviewing: Positive Spin or Just Plain Lies?

After a very long Presidential campaign, it's fair to say that we're all tired of political ads, debates, lawn signs, and "news" programs focused on the election and candidates. More than anything, I'm tired of all the different versions of the "truth" cast about by those fighting to win. How could any of us discern the "real" truth amidst all the contentious babble? I know I struggled, but I did vote.

"Why You Need to Run Your Job Search Like a Presidential Campaign,"  an article published by by Andrea Murad at FOXBusiness on Election Day (November 06, 2012), got me thinking about how the campaign was more than just a job search – it was a very long job interview. Have you ever had those job interviews that go on for weeks where you have maybe six or more interviews with individuals, committees, and then individuals again? At the end of the ordeal, do you even still want the job?

After so many job interviews for the same position, you may begin to wonder if you told each interviewer

Perfectjob_12 the same version of why you wanted to leave your current employer – why you wanted this particular job – why you were more qualified than your competition. Or do you begin to reflect on what you said at different times and hope you didn't contradict yourself? Everyone wants to create the best possible impression when interviewing for a job. But there is a fine line between positive spin and just plain lying.

When asked why you're leaving your current employer, it's fair to say that you want a job or career change where you can build on new skills you've developed. What you don't want to say is that your current boss holds you back and refuses to give you new responsibilities, although you've acquired new skills. Never blame your boss for anything, even if true in your own mind! It's not a lie to omit this information from your reason for leaving. In other words, give your reason a positive spin focused on you, not a negative one that shows your stressed relationship with your boss.

So what is classified as a job interview lie? If you claim to have graduated from college when you've completed 120 credit hours, but not actually graduated, that IS a lie. Just as political candidates are fact-checked for their claims, you will also be. College graduation is easy to check, so don't put yourself in that position. Instead, in a job interview, explain why your combined college courses and life/work experience exceed the qualification of college graduation. Sometimes that will work!

Another easy-to-check fact regards your references. Accept that your references WILL be checked, so don't ever lie about knowing someone you don't. Furthermore, ask your references permission to list them and send them a copy of your resume so that they can feel more at ease with your potential employers when discussing why they support you.

Job interviewing is an art based on facts. If called for an interview, go – even if you have mixed feelings about the job. Yes, you need lots of practice, but more than that, how can you really know anything about a job until you've spoken with a hiring authority at that company? You may surpise youself and get an offer when you don't feel the stress of dearly wanting this particular job!

Wishing you career success in 2013!


Ready to Change Jobs? Follow 6 Top Tips for a Smooth Transition

The buzz among hard workers today is that they're exhausted and ready to make a career change in 2013. Are you one of them? Here are a few tips to help you move forward:

1. Know what you want in a new job.

Make sure you’re moving toward a better job and not just running away from one you don’t like. What are your values and how do they align with a new company’s culture? What will make this new job better than the old one? (Money is not the most important reason to change jobs.) A coach can help you work through the confusion.

2. Create a professional resume.

Your resume acts as your introduction to a company. It makes your first impression for you. Find books with resume samples to guide you or hire a professional resume writer who is trained, experienced and certified in this field. Make sure your resume reflects your work achievements. Don’t forget to send cover letters and interview thank you letters to show that you understand business etiquette.

3. Evaluate your network of contacts.

The job search process is a lot like dating – prospects usually don’t come knocking on your door! You have to get out and meet people. More people get new jobs through networking that any other activity – up to 80% according to several surveys. Look at the business relationships you already have and what you do to cultivate them. What professional, civic, and social groups do you belong to? Where do the people hang out that can introduce you to the right job opportunities?

4. Prepare for intervieiws with storytelling techniques.

Most hiring authorities use “behavioral or situational” interviewing methods. Write down examples from your work experience of specific challenges or situations, the actions you took to resolve those challenges, and the positive results or outcomes of your actions. Be ready to discuss these in any interview to demonstrate the value you have to offer an employer.

5. Test for business reality before saying “yes.”

Know the salary, benefits, overtime expectations, relocation/travel requirements – you don’t want any surprises after you start a new job. Some executives negotiate exit agreements before signing acceptance letters – kind of like pre-nuptial agreements!

6. Revisit old opportunities.

If the job you really want doesn’t choose you, check in with the employer 6-8 weeks later to see how the new hire is working out. Sometimes – not always – you can head off your competition and get a foot in the door before a second job vacancy notice is issued.

Wishing you career success in 2013!


How a Resume Writer Writes the Best Resumes

So you think it costs too much to hire a professional resume writer? After all, why should you pay a few hundred dollars for a quick typing job that you could do you yourself, right? If this is your belief, then I beg to differResume3a with you. Let me show you why.

Anyone who has written his or her own resume will tell you that the process takes hours to produce a document that will get you a job interview.No, it is NOT a typing job – that's the easiest part. Preceding the typing is the assembly of your employment, education, and other resume data; organizing it; selecting impactful action words and phrases to articulate it; choosing which accomplishments merit bulleted statements; designing the format and style (oh, you're just going to use a Word template? Hmm..); rewriting it to fit into two or three pages (depending on certain factors); and so much more.

I'm sure you've heard that tons of people are searching for jobs these days. Without attention to the necessary details, your resume won't pass the 10-second glance the time a recruiter or HR person takes to look at your resume to see if it deserves further scrutiny. What does your resume say – and how is it said – to draw in the reader? Will your resume get picked to go to the second round? Mind you, we're not talking about job interview here, only resume screening.

Here's how a professional resume writer approaches the resume writing process after you hire him/her:

1) Gathering the resume data

Whether the resume writer provides you a questionnaire to complete, interviews you verbally, or does a combination of both, the goal is to extract so much information about your career and education that there is much more data than could possibly be included in a resume. What's the purpose? A resume writer needs to know your job target and the supporting background you have to document it. A resume writer uses an objective eye to tie your experience to your niche goal and needs a deep pool of facts from which to choose to make this happen.

2) Choosing the appropriate style and format

Your resume must make you stand out from the crowd if you have any hope of getting it read. In years past, colored stationery helped do this. In our electronic age of today, format and style must be appropriate for your target, experience level, and field. I can hear people asking, "What role do format and style play when pasting a resume into an on-line application box?" Yes, you lose your formatting (which makes conversion to simple text mandatory), but style also means how your resume writing flows. You won't lose your format and style when applying with a resume attached to an email. And don't forget that a professionally formatted and styled resume (printed on watermarked stationery) will earn you bonus points when you take it to an in-person job interview.

3) Creating the resume from scratch

With a desktop full of resume questionnaire, potential job postings (where scannable keywords are found), dictionary and thesaurus, a professional resume writer starts crafting your document with a blank computer screen. Wait a minute – is that acronym supposed to be capitalized? God bless Google and Wikipedia! Recording job titles and dates, colleges and degrees, professional affiliations and community activities – all are done before any actual technical writing begins. After studying employment history, next comes the crafting of content using vivid action words that create winning perceptions in a reader's mind. Responsibilities go into a brief paragraph under a job title, while quantifiable accomplishments and results stand out as bulleted statements underneath.

4) Proofread, rewrite, and repeat process

Tweaking is a professional resume writer's passion for perfection. Yes, every resume must be perfect – there's never a valid excuse for not being so. And don't put all your faith into spell-check. (There's a big difference between "Public Administrator" and "Pubic Administrator" – but spell-check can't think for you.) Usually, 24 hours away from a project brings a fresh approach to wording, spacing, and correct grammar. As a rule, no resume leaves a writer's desktop until it is perfect in every way. However, professional resume writers want their work to reflect your personality, so draft reviews and more rewriting are common before any resume writing project is closed.

So, there you have it – this is why professional resume writers earn the "big bucks!" Just kidding – if you break down all that a writer does for one project, you'll find many man- (or woman-) hours involved. No, resume writing is not just a typing exercise, but so much more. When you partner with a professional resume writer, you really do get a resume that will get you job interviews! Still not convinced? Then go to the library and pick up one or two of these Ten Top Resume Writing Books. Take a big bag to carry them home – most of these tomes are packed with details and sit on my book shelf as reference books. Hey, you may even find my resume samples as contributions in some of them.

Wishing you career success in 2012!


Three Good Questions to Ask at a Job Interview

As a job candidate, you probably prepare for answering tough job interview questions. However, do you also prepare for what you ask the job interviewer? Your questions can be just as much of a "fit" indicator to potential employers as your answers are to their questions. Job interview 3

Never ask the interviewer anything about their company that you could have learned through research, e.g., the company's website, LinkedIn, your library's resources, etc. Companies want to feel special – that you have taken the time to determine if you are pursuing their opening because your interest is piqued based on your research, or if you're just desperate for a job. Do your due diligence!

Here are three good questions to ask:

1) Why is this position open? (Is it a new one, or did someone leave? Why did they leave? Is there an internal candidate?)

This question tells the company that you're serious about wanting this position. It also tells them that you are trying to assess your fit for the position, which you are. It's important for you to know who the ideal candidate is for this job, based on who's held the job before. If it's a new position, then you may have some input into how the job is defined, if you're hired. If there's an internal candidate, then that raises many more questions in your mind, e.g.,  will the internal person have an edge among the competition? (Not good news for you.)  

2) What is the most important (or biggest) problem you have that you want someone in this position to tackle?

This question tells the company that you're already processing how you may contribute value to them. This is good! The answer you get can help you evaluate whether or not you're up to the task, whether or not you want to do the job, and whether or not you still have an interest in pursuing this position. Do you feel challenged by the problem or overwhelmed at the idea of being responsible for solving it? Be honest with yourself. Don't set up yourself to fail.

3)  How will my performance be evaluated in this position? By whom?

This question tells the company that you are thinking about how you'll be doing your new job, another sign that you are interested in the position. It also tells them that you are ambitious and not just a time-clock puncher. Your answer will help you better understand the reporting structure of this company. It also helps sheds light on how your job tasks should be prioritized.

A good, solid job interview is a give-and-take. If you ever leave an interview relieved because you didn't have to talk much, know that this was NOT a good interview. You will NOT get this job. Interviews are rarely about you, only what you can do to meet an employer's needs, solve his problems, and contribute high value to this company. You are on stage at a job interview – perform well!

For more information on this topic, check out Amy Levin-Epstein's CBS Money Watch column, "6 great questions to ask on a job interview," featuring my contributions. "Asking for a job? Ask good questions" by Diane Stafford of The Kansas City Star lists some other good questions to ask an interviewer.

Wishing you career success in 2012!


Find Career Solutions By Taking Time to Process!

About six weeks ago, one of my career coaching clients took the leap of faith to work with me for three months. Treadmill3Ben (not his real name) had been feeling like a hamster on a treadmill as his head spun in circles trying to figure out what he wanted from a career, or even a job. All he really knew was that what he was doing now was eating him alive. A man of many talents, he couldn't decide what he wanted to do, where he wanted to do it, and how to become successful in his quest. He'd been spinning out of control for months.

Like so many floundering career change wannabees, Ben wrestled with mixed messages all around him. He gave me permission to share his struggle with you in the hope that others could more quickly overcome their own career barriers and make a satisfying career change. One exercise we did was to assess Ben's negative beliefs that have held him back. We all harbor assumptions based on personal past experience or external messages. Here is one of Ben's beliefs and how he processed through it:

Message: My background and experience aren't good enough to find the work I desire.

Source: Hiring managers pile on rejection letters following my job interviews that reinforce that I'm not good enough, that I lack something.

Assumption: I lack the right skills, or I'm not presenting them well enough.

Analysis: I know this is true because I haven't been able to find a job I enjoy. Also, I see the struggles of so many people trying to find work. And the media keeps saying that the economy and the job market are tough.

The Shift of Ben's Belief:

Is it productive to believe this? No, since this limits what I can do going forward.

What is more productive to believe? While my inability to find work may be blamed on the economy and glut of unemployed talent, it could be the result of my needing to learn new job search skills.

What is probable? That my beliefs are a combination of my unrealistic conclusions and the economy in general.

What is possible? I need to find ways to promote myself better, either through a better resume, networking, more nuanced job interview responses/techniques – or all of the above.

What models show me this is possible? I've seen other job seekers succeed at finding employment. Their preparation and dedication paid off.

What action can I take? Remind myself that I am not alone. Every time I receive a rejection letter, I know there are hundreds also receiving similar letters. Understand that the job search search process is a numbers game – I first have to collect my "no's" to get my one yes! And, I have to turn off the television and talk radio; instead, put myself only into positive learning environments.

Wow! And this was just one message! Ben had more to work through, but this one shows you how it is possible to create your own beliefs and not become a passive receptacle for the messages and pontificating around you. Don't get sucked into the prevailing head winds. Stand up and face your beliefs. You decide what you want to believe. The easy way out will not move you down the road to successful career transition. Quit blaming others and start seeking honest answers from within you. Take the necessary time to process. (Not widely known fact: for college graduates with experience, the unemployment rate is only 4.4% – so forget that 8.9%.)

What happened to Ben? Here are some sound clips from his email to me just this week:

"Meg – I think I may have had some sort of epiphany!"
"I started thinking about all of the big ideas from our previous coaching session…"
"The above will sound rambling and disjointed but this idea of [blank] is sticking for some reason."
"I also started thinking about potential applications."
"Anyway, I've been thinking about it a lot. We can discuss this more in depth during our next career coaching session. Just thought I would share." 

I just smiled. I so love it when my career coaching clients discover their "it." A05That's what makes my own career one I truly enjoy.

Wishing you career success in 2012!


Your Career: What Do You REALLY Want?

"I hate my job." How many times have you said this? Do you know why? Like many, you may have a career by default instead of by choice. You know what I mean – a career you fell into right out of college, a career that you've grown by expanding your skills without passion. Or maybe it's a "job du jour," one that you're doing this year, didn't do in 2010, and hopefully, won't have to do in 2012.

I know, the economy is tough right now; new jobs aren't easy to get. But guess what – if you love what you do (and are good at it), you'll move from one company to another with ease as your personality shines through during your job interview. Attitude does matter, and is quickly discerned by hiring authorities. If you are looking for just a job, any job, interviewers will see right through you and choose a little less qualified candidate who shows enthusiasm and energy! No kidding – best skilled doesn't always win.

The big question isn't how do you get a job. No, the big question is this: What do you REALLY want? Most people find it much easier to say what they hate than what they like – does that ring true for you? The only way to get closer to naming what you want is to eliminate all the "hates" off of the table. Make a list and then throw it out the door, burn it, or whatever you need to do to get it out of your way so you can once and for all name "IT," own "IT," and get "IT!"

WHAT YOU HATE is addressed during the first week of the career coaching program, "Now What? 90 Days to a A03New Life Direction." As an Authorized Facilitator for this program created by Laura Berman Fortgang, MCC, I can tell you that it works! If you'd like to learn more about it, visit my Now What? web page. Be sure to download and take the quick quiz to determine your eligibility for this program - how many of items did you check off?

Make 2012 the year you decide to take a risk and go for a career change. When you follow the right process, you'll surprise yourself at what you discover about your career must-haves for your career satisfaction.

Wishing you career success in 2012!


How to Answer Catch-22 Job Interview Questions

We've all been there – sitting uncomfortably in a face-to-face job interview struggling to answer a tough question. For example, "describe an area you're trying improve." Or, "tell me about the worst boss you've ever had." Yikes! How do you answer questions like those without incriminating yourself? Job interview 2Maybe it's time to hire a Career Coach to help you win at job interviewing.

Today's job interviews are all about situational and behavioral questions. Let's face it, you wouldn't be in the interview if you hadn't already met the basic qualifications for the job. Now, you're being scrutinized on your personality, teamwork abilities, "fit" for the company and position, and other difficult-to-assess character traits. (Hope you've done your homework on the company!)

The best single thing you can do to prepare for a job interview is to hone your storytelling skills. Let me explain. Employers invest a lot of money into the hiring process. To ensure that hiring you would be a good investment for them, they want to measure your job "stickiness." In other words, will you get along with co-workers and supervisors? Will you follow through with projects from cradle to grave? Will you become an asset to the company (or not)? Will you stay for a good amount of time before leaving them to go elsewhere? These will be the questions in their minds as employers verbally ask you tough questions. Employers need reassurance that they're making a sound financial decision in hiring you. You can help them do that by answering their questions not only with facts (the what), but also with examples (the how).

A common model to follow for your job interview stories is the "CAR" method. Respond to most questions with your answer followed by your words, "Let me tell you about a time when…" Back up your statements with real life stories. First, state the Challenge (or situation) that you faced. Next, discuss the Actions that you took. Finally, list the positive Results (or outcomes) of your actions. Be truthful, but never negative.

Even for those questions that beg for a negative answer, you can turn them around by using the CAR method. Choose examples (stories) that may have started out in negative territory, but end in a positive place. Of course, preparing for an interview in this fashion does take some time. But if do it, you will definitely bypass any possibility of incriminating yourself! This is where your Career Coach becomes an invaluable partner.

A colleague of mine, Randy Block, wrote a good article, "36 Tough Interview Questions," that can help you create your personal stories. Better yet, hire a Career Coach to help you master this process. Get the feedback and support you need as you prepare to get your next job.

Wishing you career success in 2012!


Five Key Resume Writing Fallacies Revealed

OK, let's face this issue head on – professional resumes written by trained, credentialed, professional resume writers do NOT cost $50. Overwhelm There, I've said it – not so hard to do. If you want a well-crafted, marketing tool to help you get a job interview, you'll need to invest time, energy AND dollars into the professional resume writing process. That's the only way to develop the most important document you need to have to conduct a successful job search.

1. Resumes should only cost around $50 – NOT. (See above.) Get over the resume sticker shock. If you get a good job, what percentage of your first year's income would be your investment? One percent or less? Now, isn't it worth it to invest that much in a professional resume? Added bonus: wouldn't it be a relief to not have to stress out over drafting your resume all by yourself?

2. Resume writing is just a typing exercise – NOT. C'mon, do you really want to use a template you found on a computer to create the most important document used in your job search? To compete as part of today's saturated candidate pool, you must stand out! Your resume has to make your case for you, or you'll never get a job interview.

3. Resumes are easy to create for yourself – NOT. Even a resume writer struggles to create one for himself/herself. It's much too difficult to be objective about your own career experience and accomplishments. You need an unbiased eye to dig out what's most important to include in your resume based upon your current target market. Remember, the best resume is the one that's most narrowly niched. Employers never want to hunt for the reason why you submitted your resume to them. Actually, they WON'T do that – they'll throw away any resume that's too general and you'll never find out why.

4. Resume writing is just recording your work history – NOT. Resume writing is a form of technical writing – not reporting, essay, or poetry. It is a skill, craft, talent that is finely honed with frequent practice – after the "rules" are learned. Your "story" must be told in reverse chronological order, painting the picture of how you want to be perceived today in the world of work. It must include examples, accomplishments, and results that demonstrate your value, your problem-solving ability, and why you should be hired above anyone else. Your resume represents your career brand.

5. Resumes should be written by the job candidates themselves – NOT. This is a fallacy perpetuated by human resources. (Please – no fair throwing darts at me for this remark, HR, but your comments are welcome below.) Usually, how successful is a defendant who doesn't hire an attorney but represents himself/herself in court? Do you try to extract your own tooth to save money by not going to the dentist? How about diagnosing your own illness by researching on the internet instead of going to the doctor – how does that work for you? You are probably very good at what you do for a living and have a lot experience with talent to back up your actions. So, if you aren't good at writing your own resume – what's the big deal? Hire the best professional resume writer to partner with you on the project and I know you'll be happy with the resulting product.

I'm fully aware that my opinions expressed in this post may ruffle some feathers. However, based on 12 years of owning my boutique career services firm, I know this information to be true. Most of my clients are walking testimonials to the credibility of my remarks here. If you don't hire a professional resume writer to craft your career marketing materials, I wish you all the best and hope you prove me wrong. Tell me about your success (or not) in the comments section below. I want to hear it all!

Wishing you career success in 2011!


A New Job Thanks to the Elephant

When I interviewed for a business developer position in the early 1990s, I answered one question that I credit with getting me the job. At the time, I thought it was an odd question, but I answered it instinctively – and it was the response the interviewer was seeking.

What was the question? "If an elephant showed up in your front yard, what would you do with it?" My immediate Elephantresponse was that I would sell it to a zoo. I discovered later after I was employed in this organization that other candidates had responded with "donate it to a zoo" or "find a home for it where loving people would care for it." These responses were more philanthropic oriented than what the interviewer wanted to hear.

My instincts had guided me correctly – this organization was looking for someone who knew how to promote and sell, even though they were a nonprofit. Once on the job, I bought a small ceramic elephant that I sat on my desk. The interviewer, Ron, and I would chuckle whenever he dropped my office to visit, referring to the question he had asked me about what to do with a surprise elephant.

Even in the 1990s, behavioral/situational interview questions – like the one I answered – were popping up in job interviews. Today, it's all about behavioral and situational interviewing. Furthermore, storytelling is now woven into the process. For example, instead of just explaining how I'd sell the elephant to a zoo, today I'd go further and say, "In fact, let me tell you about a time when something similar to this really happened." Interviewing is all about positioning yourself, about selling yourself, about proving your uniqueness.

Storytelling creates pictures in the minds of interviewers that help them remember you and your brand. Storytelling helps you create bridges from what you did that provided value for former employers to how these experiences can help a potential employer solve their problem(s). Storytelling also offers you a way to demonstrate what you've learned from possible negative situations about which hiring authorities will inquire.

Marketing Master, Patsi Krakoff, discusses the art of storytelling on her blog. Her post has many elements in it that can be applied to job interviewing. I love her quote, "Stories impose meaning on chaos and organize and give context to our sensory experiences." My advice to you is to remember that job interviewing is your opportunity to sell yourself, so most of what works in sales and marketing can be applied to your promotion of YOU in your job search.

Anyone in a job search today needs to be prepared for typical behavioral and situational interview questions. However, no way do you want to memorize responses. In a job interview, you must appear conversational and have knowledge of your topic, never spouting off rehearsed responses. The key to job interview success is mastering the storytelling process. Train your memory to bring the right responses forward based on keywords you have embedded in your answers. Although not a quick skill to master, storytelling in job interviews does produce positive results and worth all your effort to learn.

One of my career coaching programs with the biggest demand is Job Interview Preparation. A two-session program, it all takes place by phone and customized to a job candidate's needs. Homework is offered to help you develop your own storytelling skills. You may learn more by visiting my website

Wishing you career success in 2011!