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Ask Madeline

Job Seeking 101...with Madeline

Questions (and our Answers) from our nationally

 syndicated columns "Ask Madeline" and "Job Seeking 101"

I would be happy to answer your questions on resume preparation, cover letters, interview skills, and everything having to do with the job search procedure. Just submit question below.

Q. I’ve owned my own computer repair shop for 8 years and am now applying to a small company for a position in information technology. I do not have a college degree, but have taken a few non-matriculated college courses in my field. I’m embarrassed by the fact that I only have a high school diploma. Is it necessary to include my high school diploma on my résumé?

A. You should mention your high school diploma. Recruiters like to see your highest level of formal education. You might want to label this section Training, Education and also include in here your college courses. This will downplay the fact that you don’t have a college degree. It will demonstrate that you have taken it upon yourself to expand your technology skills in a classroom setting. Make sure to list your college courses first with the exact nature of these courses and the school where they were taken. Also, mention dates to show that your coursework is current.

Q. I’m a bit frustrated with my attempts to get a job. At this point, I’m thinking of just mass mailing my résumé to companies in the area who might be interested in my qualifications. Do you think this would be a waste of time?

A. By all means, mass mail your résumé. Even if a job is not posted, there might be one available or perhaps one will be posted in the near future. Many times companies save résumés that look appealing and contact the person for an interview weeks or months later. You certainly have nothing to lose.

Q. I am a college student. I recently had an interview for a part-time job at an amusement park. The interviewer came out in a bear costume. He proceeded to ask me questions without any mention of the costume. I answered the questions as best as I could, but couldn’t help but laughing and laughing. Was I being rude?

A. Expect the unexpected at all interviews. This is really a bizarre occurrence. No, you were not being rude. I don’t see how anyone could not laugh hysterically at this situation. Talking to a bear must have been hard. As long as you answered the questions appropriately, you’re fine. Maybe, the interviewer just wanted to see if you have a sense of humor. After all, the job is at an amusement park. Or maybe, he didn’t have time to change out of his work clothes. Perhaps, under the bear head, he was grinning from ear to ear. 

Q. I am applying for a job as a marketing specialist. I have several hobbies and am not sure whether to include these in my resume. What do you think?

A. Hobbies should only be included if they are in some way relevant to your job, are of unique interest, or show a very special talent. Of course, make sure these activities are fairly current. If you are a member of Toastmasters International that would imply that you enjoy speaking in front of an audience, and, of course, that is related to marketing. If you enjoy fishing, that is of no importance. During the course of my resume writing career, I’ve mentioned such talents as a police officer who is a marathon runner, a high school principal who sings in a rock band, and a college professor who has done stand-up comedy in New York City. I was told by the stand-up comedian that interviewers seem to focus on this activity because they find it intriguing. I suppose they expect him to tell jokes at the interview. He never does!

Q. I am a recent college graduate and have several interviews lined up. I heard that a typical interview question is, “What are your weaknesses?” I’m not quite sure how to answer.  Help!

A. Be careful! Don’t imply that you are lazy, or that you have a bad temper, or that you are a procrastinator even though all of these might be true! And please keep in mind Homer Simpson’s inappropriate answer, “It takes me a long time to learn anything. I’m kind of a goof-off….” Also, don’t say that you are a perfectionist and workaholic. This is just the type of answer recruiters expect to hear and dismiss as meaningless. Instead, be honest and direct by saying that as a recent college graduate, you have very little job experience but you are eager to learn, work hard, and grow in your skills. You might want to illustrate that you are a hard worker by mentioning your excellent grades, ability to coordinate your coursework with part-time employment, or background in organizing a campus event. When responding, maintain eye contact and show enthusiasm so that the interviewer really believes what you are saying.

Q. How important is a cover letter? I’ve been told that most recruiters do not look at these.

A. A cover letter is very important and they certainly are read. The purpose of the letter is to introduce yourself. A résumé by itself is impersonal whereas in the letter you can be more descriptive and give yourself a “human face.” For example, you might want to say that your 15 years in medical billing and ability to remain calm under stressful situations has enabled you to tactfully handle irate clients. If you are in marketing, you might want to emphasize your persuasive communication skills and how these have resulted in many new clients and cross-selling to existing clients. The cover letter also serves the purpose of explaining specific circumstances such as perhaps your interest in changing careers or your absence from the workforce for a number of years.

Q. I am looking for a position in graphic design. I had my résumé professionally done but  am not pleased with it. I feel that its appearance is too simple and does not illustrate the fact that I am a very imaginative and artistic person.

A. Whether you are applying for a job in graphic design or accounting, the look of your résumé should be clean and simple. This is not the place to start getting fancy. In fact, a more unusual font or formatting approach might detract from the readability. The recruiter will be alerted to your talents through samples of your work which should be included with your résumé. This is where you can “put your best foot forward,” as the saying goes.

Q. I recently had an interview and am a bit concerned about the outcome. I feel I answered the interviewer’s questions appropriately, but when I finished with my answers there seemed to be long periods of uncomfortable silence. Do you think the interviewer was waiting for me to add more information?

A. If you answer the question to the best of your ability, then you are done with that particular question and answer. Don’t try to fill the silences. If you do, you will wind up rambling on and adding meaningless information which you might later regret. The interviewer is in charge. Even if the pauses after your answers seem long, it is his/her responsibility to take the initiative to move on.

Q. I am an older job applicant and am afraid of age discrimination. How can I disguise this?

A. First of all, do not include your first job or two in your resume. Sometimes these go back thirty years and are not important anyway. This will make you seem a few years younger. Generally, a recruiter will only be concerned with your last ten or fifteen years of employment. Jobs before that are often irrelevant and the skills you acquired are many times outdated. Also, there is no need for dates of graduation from high school, college, awards received, and committees you served on in 1976.

Q. I am a nurse by profession and am returning to work after being at home for seven years raising children. How should I address this issue in my resume?

A. Your resume is not the place for detailed explanations. Just be straightforward with job descriptions, education, and other relevant information. But be sure to include a cover letter stating that you are returning to work after being a stay-at-home mom for seven years. You certainly need to explain your gap in employment. Also, if applicable, make mention that you have remained current in procedures and advances through perhaps talking with other nurses, reading journal articles, and attending seminars. If you are not up-to-date in your job knowledge, make sure you take the time now to brush up on your skills.

Q. I have a wonderful reference letter from a recent employee. Should I include this with my resume even though it was not requested?

A. By all means use this letter if it will make you more appealing. But remember, be selective when including extra information. Do not forward a package with twenty different letters, job appraisals, certificates,  and such. No recruiter is going to want to sift through all these. Also, the important descriptions of your capabilities might be lost in the shuffle. Use three reference letters at the most unless more are specifically asked for.



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Last modified: October 21, 2010