Top Tips for Making Yourself Hirable

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Top Tips for Making Yourself Hirable

Sure, you’re a hard worker. And you’re good at what you do. But in today’s job market, unfortunately, that’s not enough to stand out. When recruiters (or worse, computers) have to sift through slush-piles of  resumes for every position, they’re going to need something beyond the same-old “same-old” that everyone else is saying.

Being hirable is about more than just doing your job. That’s not to say that skill, experience, a good work ethic aren’t important: those are all essential parts of DOING your job. Actually GETTING the job, however, requires that you demonstrate to people that you are a leader—someone who regularly goes above and beyond, the glue that holds a team together and the oil that makes it run smoothly.

Today’s job-seeker must rely on an entire arsenal of skills and talents, but perhaps the most important of these is organization. From the ability to set and meet deadlines all the way to keeping your work space decluttered to reduce stress, every aspect of your job is affected by your organizational skill.

But how do you go about making sure the person on the other side of the interview desk knows this about you? We have some suggestions that may help.

Be professional, not formal.

Of course you’ll be expected to behave in a professional manner, which includes dress, arrival time, and approach. When it comes to the actual interview, however, taking a less-formal approach allows for a more natural, free-flowing conversation—which is the best way to give an interviewer a sense of who you are on a real-life basis. Going beyond the resume, as it were, provides a greater opportunity to show (not tell) the other person you’ll be a strong match with the company’s needs and culture.

Don’t wing it, though. You’ll want to think about examples you can use long before you actually get to the interview. Consider instances that illustrate your “can-do” attitude, as well as the ability to balance your work and personal lives. While it might seem like companies would prefer to hire workaholics, more and more are realizing that employees who can strike a balance are less likely to burn out, increasing the odds of them staying with the company for the long-haul—and that’s something hiring managers love.

Know what you’re getting into.

If it all possible, find out what you can about the person who held the job before you. Why? Well, when searching for a replacement for a successful employee, there’s a tendency to seek out candidates that will serve as their predecessor’s replica. Knowing how that person operated can give you a leg up on the competition.

Selective hiring, particularly in periods of growth, is essential for stability and sustainability. Based on that, hiring decisions are often influenced by what has worked in the past. At the same time, make sure you’re keeping the future needs of the business in mind: while management might be searching for a familiar candidate, new ideas are often highly valued as well.


We can’t really stress this enough: Organizational skills can make or break your candidacy.

  • Time-Management. Knowing how to manage time is critical when it comes to keeping on task. Show that you can be aware of approaching deadlines and know how to allocate resources to meet them—this helps everyone do their jobs better.
  • Physical Presence. As we mentioned earlier, a cluttered workspace causes stress. Show you know how to present yourself professionally and neatly.
  • Resource Handling. Can you demonstrate a history of knowing how to delegate tasks to others, rather than trying to handle everything solo? The best candidates will be able to.

As a candidate, you should constantly present yourself as flexible, adaptable, and organized. Such abilities are vital to an efficient and productive workforce, and are therefore highly sought after by recruiters and hiring managers.

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In Defense of the Humble Cover Letter

When it comes to job-hunting, no single tool is as important as your resume. That doesn’t mean you should neglect other elements of your search, such as a social media presence and active networking; that’s pretty much a given. But there is one part of the job search that is getting less and less attention… and that’s probably not a good thing.

Let’s talk about cover letters.

In these days of virtual interviews and electronic everything, it’s easy to think that cover letter have outlived their usefulness. Regardless of what you might have heard, however, cover letters are not a useless formality. Sure, with the rise of online applications and social media recruiting, there may come a day when they become obsolete; to quote Aragorn, however, “it is not this day.”

Who Reads Cover Letters?

Generally speaking, recruiters won’t spend much time poring over your cover letter: face it, they’re less worried about presentation (they handle that aspect of things) then they are about making sure you’re qualified for the job. That information is pretty easy to find on your resume or online.

Human Resources Managers, on the other hand, tend to look at a bigger picture. They want to know who you are as a person, what they can expect from you, and how you’ll fit in with existing team members … and that’s the kind of stuff better seen in a cover letter.

And, too, the cover letter’s importance can be affected by multiple factors: for example, some organizations place more emphasis on cover letters than others, just because that is how they operate. In other situations, cover letters can play an extended role: when filling creative positions—designers, writers, art directors—the cover letter is often considered a portfolio piece in and of itself.

Cover Letters Are Still Important

Having a cover letter that no one reads is no big deal compared to NOT having a cover letter when a potential employer is looking for one. If a hiring manager is on the fence about whether or not to interview you, a strong cover letter may be what tips the scales in your favor. That in itself should be reason to spend some time optimizing your cover letters.

Don’t try to make a cover letter a copy of your resume: it’s job is merely to provide context for your resume. It should explain your interest in the position, demonstrate your communication skills, and help you make a more personal connection with the reader.

Like resumes, each cover letter should be customized for the company and position you’re applying for. Working from a standardized format is fine, but tailor the information to the job.

How long should it be? Opinions vary, but one of the best answers comes from a financial technology COO,  who feels that the cover letter “… needs to be long enough to tell the story, no more, no less.” Whether that means a paragraph or an entire page depends on your story.

Another suggestion is formatting: keep your letter easy to read by keeping the paragraphs a reasonable length and breaking them up with subheadings. Before you consider it finished, read it aloud. Better yet, have someone else read it aloud to you. You might be amazed at the phrases that seemed fine when your wrote them, but can be confusing to someone who doesn’t know what you’re trying to say. You’ll also find more typos and omitted words this way.

A Final Word

All indications point to the impending demise of the cover letter … but it ain’t dead yet. When considering whether to include a cover letter not specifically asked-for, a post on career website suggests you ask what’s more important: a letter explaining why you want the job, or bulleted facts in your resume showing you can do the job?

From where we stand, that seems like something of a sucker bet. One of the cardinal rules of copywriting is that maybe 3% of readers will actually read anything beyond the headline of an ad … BUT … that 3% is actually interested, so you’d BETTER have something there for them to read.

The same logic applies to cover letters. Most hiring managers may completely ignore your letter, but the ones who do read it are trying to learn more about you…isn’t it worth a few extra minutes of work to insure there is something there worth reading?

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Laid Off? Clean Up!

Nobody, of course, wants to lose their job—especially when it was “nothing personal.” But it happens: one day you’re employed, the next day you’re sitting at home watching reruns on The Game Show Channel. Life isn’t fair, as the saying goes: wear a helmet.

There’s no point being Pollyanna about it, but there’s nothing to gained by wallowing in it. You didn’t exactly ask for more free time … but that doesn’t change the fact that you suddenly have more free time. Why not make the most of it?

Sure there are forms to be submitted and resumes to be updated, and those take priority. But this isn’t just a good time to reevaluate your career: it’s a good time to reevaluate your life, too. And if you’re like most people, that will probably me you feel the need to clean up.

Psychologists tell us that a sudden urge to organize is often the result of underlying mental angst or unrest: when our lives seem particularly uncertain and out of our control, there is a natural drive toward finding activities where we feel in charge—say, mowing the lawn, or cleaning out a closet, or even just putting all your playlists in alphabetical order on your phone.

At least one study has demonstrated how apprehension can more or less directly lead to  repetitive, ritualistic behaviors; cleaning or organizing falls under that heading. Links can easily be established between rising stress levels  and the need to put order to one’s surroundings. It’s just how we operate.

And that’s not inherently a bad thing: when other events in our lives make us feel helpless or impotent, tidying up can be psychologically settling. If you can exert some control over your inbox or your junk drawer, it can feel like the first step toward jumping fully back into the driver’s seat.

The thing is, tidying is finite: Point A to Point B. There’s a definite and satisfying ending. Yes, there is no telling what will be living in your couch cushions this time next week, but this morning, cleaning it was a job you had been meaning to get to for months … and right now, doggone it, there isn’t so much as a single errant Cheerio under there. Today the couch, tomorrow the world.

So cleaning up doesn’t just deliver a sense of control; it also provides the kind of resolution few other things in life do. As our world gets more splintered and tasks more abstract, it can feel impossible at times to get any feeling of closure or completion at the end of the day: we DO and we DO, but we never seem to get anything DONE.

In other words, going all Marie Kondo on your dresser can be immensely satisfying.

But there’s a dark side to tidying up, as well. If you’re spending all your time and energy on organization organizing can almost become pathological, interfering with your ability to focus or function—or look for a new job.

Certainly, a clean car can leave you feeling confident and accomplished … but so can many other things: dancing, exercise, meditation (check out what entrepreneurs do in their spare time), or even brushing up on your typing or spreadsheet skills.

Be open and honest (and kind) with yourself: if dropping off three bags of clothing at the local Salvation Army helps keep you out of the doldrums, go for it! Just remember that anything you clean or organize today will likely need it again next month. Tidying up can helpful, but see it for what it is: a Band-Aid, not a cure.

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Is Accepting Praise Part of Getting Hired?

You’re in the middle of your second interview. You’re feeling positive about things, but the job isn’t yours yet. The interviewer mentions some high, difficult goal you achieved in a previous position. Instead of saying thank you, or giving more background on you resolved the issue, your response is to treat it like it’s no big deal: “Oh, it was nothing…”.

What you just did was completely undermine your ability in the interviewers eyes. Instead of taking the win, you’ve more or less gone on the defensive, arguing that no, this incredible thing that we’re insanely proud of having achieved is not, in reality, anything worth celebrating.

You’re not only dissing your own accomplishments, you’re more or less calling the interviewer an idiot for thinking what you did was worth mentioning. Not a great way to get hired.

Receiving acknowledgement and praise for our accomplishments is a normal—and important part—of any career. Most of us understand that in theory. But here’s the problem: while it may make us feel warm and fuzzy on the inside when our work is complimented, it can make us embarrassed or uncomfortable on the outside. Unfortunately, it is the outside that people see: they take their cues from our outward actions, and respond accordingly.

Too many people tend to downplay any praise of our accomplishments. But dismissing positive feedback can negatively affect your career. Again, people take their cues from your reactions: if you treat your achievements like they’re no big deal, your employer and co-workers may be inclined to believe you. That means similar future “wins” are likely to be even less impressive: you’ll need to accomplish more just to receive the praise you’re getting now.

A recent post in CNN Business pointed out that how we receive praise can be as influential to our careers as what we did to earn that praise in the first place.

The post quoted Rebecca Aced-Molina, a coach and consultant who works with leaders to build their confidence and purpose: “Giving and receiving feedback is one of the most essential skills for creating trust and meaningful relationships at work, but it’s one of the hardest things we as human beings have to tackle.”

Take a look at a list (like this one or this one) of successful people, and you will find individuals who work hard, fight for their ideals, and make sacrifices to succeed. What you won’t find is people downplaying their accomplishments. Nor are they apt to dismiss the work of others, if such work contributed to their success.

Consider this: how many times have you ever looked at something someone else has done and offered up an insincere compliment? Sure, we may tell a child his stick drawing is art; if asked, we may tell an acquaintance that her Mumu doesn’t make her look fat. But have you ever looked at someone’s admirable accomplishment and lied that it was better than it was? What’s the point of that?

The simple truth is, if someone compliments you on something you’ve done, they’re usually being honest. This dynamic is even amplified in a job interview. So when given an accolade, embrace the praise with grace and confidence. Believe it, appreciate it, and take it for what it is: a verbal pat on the back. You did a good job, and someone noticed… and in an interview situations, that means you scored a few points. Smile, say thank you, and take the win.

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How to Avoid Getting Hired by a Jerk

Most of us have, at least once, worked for a Class-A jerk. Maybe you’ve just quit working for one. Maybe you’re working for one now. In any event, you don’t want your next job to have that sort of boss…but how do you know beforehand?

It’d be nice if we could look at a person in an interview and immediately be able to assess what kind of boss he or she would be. But people are seldom 100% upfront when we meet them–that’s the premise the entire online dating industry is based on. And the reality is, you’re going to be on your best behavior during the interview, too…it’s human nature.

Having said that, everyone pays the price for working with a bad boss: morale and productivity drop, and suspicious absences become the norm. Even the BOSS of a bad boss is impacted: the manager of a bad manager can end up spending an excess of time just resolving conflicts and smoothing ruffled feathers.

Horrible bosses are a fact of life, and you simply can’t know for certain. But there are ways to be informed before you accept a job. Here are three key steps you can take before you accept a position.

Learn all you can about the job

It’s exciting to start a new job, but keep in mind that the new job will be an old job in a matter of weeks. Before you begin, be sure you understand not only what you’ll be doing on a day-to-day basis, but also what kind of career path you can expect within the company. This isn’t just a matter of what you can contribute to the company, as important as that may be; interviews are also the time to figure out how much the company and/or your boss will contribute to your career growth and personal development.

During the interview process, be sure to probe for details on how your own personal and professional objectives fit in with those of the company. Ask what you can expect in terms of continuing education, compensation, company travel, future opportunities, and the like. Make sure these types of questions aren’t dismissed or evaded: it’s crucial that your own expectations and objectives fit with those of the company and the person you will be working for.

Learn all you can about the company

Research the company online before you even submit a resume. Check the obvious places, like the company’s website and their social media sites. But don’t stop there: feedback sites like Glassdoor can give you a feel for what current and former employees have to say about the company.

Of course, there is an inherent bias to online reviews: typically, the only people who write them either really love or really hate a company, whether it’s justified or not. All the same, if half the reviews are negative and the rest are so-so, it’s a pretty good sign the company is not all it should be.

Search the news, too: bad press could be a red flag, as well. An unflattering article here or there might not represent the entire company, but a pattern of bad press could mean trouble. Look for patterns: high turnover, slipping stock prices, trouble with government watchdogs, and so on.

Learn all you can about the employees

It’s easy to do a quick check on a company’s employees just by following links to social media. There’s no need to dig into everybody’s past: you can learn a lot by simply clicking a few LinkedIn profiles. How long to people stay at the company? Do they follow and share information from the company? Is there anything in their profile that feels negative about your potential employer?

Another trick is to simply observe: show up for you interview a few minutes early (good advice in general). But while you’re sitting in the lobby, take care to notice the people and activity around you. Watch the ways employees interact. What’s the energy level? Are people friendly or perfunctory? If you witness behavior or overhear conversations that make you uncomfortable, take note: that can be very revealing and tell you a lot about what the working environment will be like.

Overall, the thing you don’t want to do is give in to fear of being rejected. Being accepted isn’t nearly as important as finding a good fit. Remember, the interview is a two-way street: it’s not just a matter of a company deciding if they want you, it’s also about YOU deciding if you want to work for THEM.

With that in mind, ask questions about your would-be boss as a person, as well as a boss. Someone who is in the office 11+ hours a day could indicate the level of expected input from you. By the same token, many managers are passionate about a hobby, which could show a good understanding of work/life balance.

Above all, keep in mind that a bad boss might not be a deal-breaker: putting up with an annoying manager for a couple years might be worth it if it could potentially open the door to greater professional growth and advancement. Only you can make that call. So be sure to consider the good and the bad,  and make an informed choice for you and your future.

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Lost Your Job? Now’s the Time for New Habits

Experts will tell you that when you suddenly find yourself without a job, you should still keep up the routines you had when you were employed: go to bed at a reasonable hour, get up and dressed as if you were going to work, and the like.

It’s good advice; we’ve offered it here on this site a few times ourselves. But there is another side of the argument: now is the perfect time to pick up a new GOOD habit. Think about it: this is the start of a new phase in your life. So why not start it off with a positive change?

It will take effort, no doubt: strip away the sugar coating, and the basic truth is that change takes work. We’re creatures of habit, and we already have habits to start with, so changing our behavior is always going to be a challenge. It takes more than just good intentions: it takes a plan.

So if your intent is to try to establish a good habit–like say, exercising on a regular basis–there are certain steps you need to take to make that goal a reality. For example:

  1. When you’re excited about an idea and have too much free time, there’s a tendency to create laundry lists of things you want to change. Doing so, however, is just setting yourself up for failure: it’s hard enough to make one change, let alone make all the changes on a list the size of a CVS receipt. Narrow your focus down to one alteration you want to make, and concentrate on that.
  2. One of the biggest struggles with making a change is that we try to “tack on” something new in our already full lives. That’s like trying to stick a part of the picture outside of the frame. So once you’ve decided what you want to do, start thinking in terms of what you’re not going to be doing in that time frame. You want to jog for an hour each morning? Great. But you need to plan now to be aware of what isn’t going to happen while you’re out on road.
  3. Despite the bad rap resolutions get every January, research has shown that change is best accomplished through making a resolution and sticking to it. To successfully create a new habit, your resolution must be SMART:
    1. Specific “Worry less” sounds nice, but it’s not really a resolution.
    2. Measurable There has to be some type of measurable metric.
    3. Rewarding At the end of the day, you have to know that the work is worth it.
    4. Trackable You have to be able to track your progress.
  4. It’s also helpful to make a commitment strategy. In other words, try investing more than just the outcome. Tell all your friends what you’re doing. Put money down. Find some way to keep yourself accountable. Instead of just exercising, join a group like CrossFit that will provide you with a built-in community: friends that always have your back … but who will also keep pushing you to reach your goals.
  5. The longer you stick with your new commitment, the more likely it is you’ll develop a habit that’s automated so you don’t have to think about. Once you hit that point, you’re not worried about self-discipline, there’s not a lot of active internal debate, you simply–to quote Nike–“Just do it.”

In most situations, this starts happening after about 3 months. That’s when you really start feeling like you’re really going to stick with it; it’s become part of your life.

Being able to make a change and stick with it can be a huge deal. You’re likely to feel more confident and in control–two things that your life may be lacking after being let go. Some studies even suggest it can make you a better friend, partner–even a better boss.

Of course it isn’t easy. No one said it was. We’re only saying that it’s worth the effort.

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10 Tips to Better Networking

Some people seem born to network. They love working the crowd, meeting new people, and pressing the flesh. Others–perhaps the majority–are uncomfortable with the idea.

But in this day and age, networking can be a key to making the sale. “That’s great,” you say. “But I’m not in the business of selling.” Don’t you believe it: every unemployed person is in the business of selling. What you’re selling is YOU, and networking is the most efficient and effective way to do it.

Self-proclaimed business evangelist Guy Kawasaki defined good networking as always thinking “yes.” There is a lot to recommend this approach: even if you never say it out loud, expecting yes helps you project a positive attitude that is attractive to people. In fact, some experts go as far as to say that smiling when you’re on the phone can make a difference to the person on the other end of the line.

Networking can take place at a party, over coffee, or in an organized event. Sometimes it’s better to start small. Sometimes it may be helpful to enlist the help of a more gregarious friend. It may seem impossible, but learning to network is crucial to job-hunters … which is why we’ve compiled a list of 10 easy-to-follow techniques to make your networking more effective.

  1. Ask for help or advice. This idea, coming from none other than Ben Franklin, works on the theory that people are more likely to do you a second favor after they’ve already done something for you. Requesting a favor or friendly advice tends to force that dynamic.
  2. Offer to help. The flip side of item #1 is to offer your aid to people. Not as in “I’ll scratch your back if you scratch mine”–that’s more likely to turn people off. This is a simple way to demonstrate that you’re the team player. (note: don’t offer advice unless asked).
  3. Get pumped. If you don’t consider yourself a networker, it’s hard to get excited about it … but it’s necessary. Focus on the possibilities that come from creating new relationships. You can’t fake excitement … you need to find ways to make networking exciting for you.
  4. Skip the elevator pitch Not every encounter is about making a direct sale. The most useful networking is aimed at creating genuine relationships. You don’t have to work your pitch into every conversation. It’s more about paying attention to the other person.
  5. … But have it ready just in case. If someone asks what you do or what you’re looking for, you need to have a response that answers the question quickly and concisely. Write it out beforehand. Focus on what you can offer. Practice in front of a mirror to build confidence.
  6. Update social media. Online sites can be part of networking. If people decide at some point to look you up on LinkedIn, you’d better have a profile that helps them see the real you. What’s even better: regularly share helpful content and create your own posts.
  7. Scrub your online image. While you’re boosting your LinkedIn presence, take a second look at your Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram accounts. Any embarrassing or inappropriate posts should be deleted, or at least made private.
  8. Be interesting. It’s a whole lot easier to strike up a conversation if you have something to talk about. While you might want to skip politics, reading up on a few current events or other interesting topics will help people know there’s more to you than a job title.
  9. Step out of your comfort zone. Nervous? Most people are. But starting conversations with others who are also uncomfortable doesn’t just build your network; it also paints you as a good leader who’s not afraid to take the initiative.
  10. Follow up. Particularly if you’re at an event, you don’t want to send a LinkedIn invite to someone you just met. But you DO want to reestablish contact within a day or two. While you’re talking with people, ask what avenue of follow-up they prefer: text, phone call, email, whatever.

These tips can help whether you’re at some type of networking event, or just talking to someone you randomly met. Practice them on family and friends–or, as we mentioned, in front of a mirror. Just like everything else, the more you do it, the more comfortable you’ll become.

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How to Handle Losing Your Job during the Holidays

Losing your job is always crushing; losing your job during the holidays–especially when you didn’t see it coming–can be emotionally crippling.

It’s not just the idea of losing money in the midst of the buying season, although that is certainly bad enough. It’s also the feeling of isolation, like everyone around you is Santa Claus and you’re the Grinch. Friends and family are stringing popcorn and attending festive parties; you’re scanning job posting and updating your résumé. Ho ho ho.

There’s the fear–quite reasonable–that the news of your job loss will cast a long shadow over the holidays. Obviously, no one wants Christmas to be less fun or festive … making it all the more tempting to say the heck with it, enjoy the season, and plan to start job-hunting at the first of the year.

Bad idea.

Sure, the season is stressful enough. And end-of-year is more likely a time for cutting staff than a time for hiring. But experts say it’s critical to start the process right away. Even with the full economy, the average job search is 5 months these days … and the process has changed over the last few years. Particularly if it’s been a while since you had to search for a job, learning the right way to look for work may be a job in and of itself. At the very least, it should be a top priority in order to get back in the game as quickly as possible.

Before anything else, though, you need a plan of action. Here are some quick suggestions:

A Small Silver Lining

There’s no way to sugar-coat it: losing your job at the holidays absolutely sucks. But there is one tiny silver lining to that big black cloud of bad timing: the holidays are also a prime opportunity for networking. That holiday party you were dreading? Now it’s the perfect chance to let friends and colleagues know you’re available. You don’t want to come off as desperate or needy, of course, but you’re certainly allowed to drop the information into the conversation.

Also, the holidays are when we typically re-connect with old friends and acquaintances. No harm in trying to leverage that to further your network. Like we said, it’s a big cloud with a small silver lining, but it’s better than thinking negatively. Take the win.

Partner Up

Nothing will focus your job search so much as a trusted partner to help you stay positive and accountable. Confining your contact to recruiters and other job hunters–or worse, not talking to anyone–is self-defeating. You don’t need someone to kvetch to, you need a dedicated coach who’s not afraid to get in your face a bit and tell you what you need to hear. A person that knows you well enough to keep you motivated, moving, and in the proper mindset.

This is a time when you need to be proactive–and sometimes that’s difficult. Face it: sending out résumés can feel like mailing invitations to be rejected. You need someone to remind you that in realty, you’re kissing frogs in your search for the handsome prince–and that it’s all just part of the process.

Don’t Lose Your Routine

It’s easy enough to get out of your daily routine with the holidays, but losing your job means you have more of a reason to stay the course. Remember, the goal here is to get back into the work force, so keeping your 9-5 regiment going will keep you on track. Wake up at your normal time every weekday, dress at least in business casual (No sweat pants. Sorry.), and tackle your job hunt like … well, like a job. Make a list of what you want to accomplish that day, then get to work.

Take regular breaks, but keep on your schedule. While you’re at it, if you don’t have a daily exercise routine (many of the top CEOs and entrepreneurs do … just sayin’), now is a great time to start one. Job-hunting is physically and mentally draining; regular exercise will help you keep up your strength, and the endorphins will give your mood and your body a boost. Bonus: exercising relieves stress, builds confidence, and generally gives you a more positive outlook.

Believe in the Future

If you really loved your job, losing it can be even more devastating. But sometimes it helps to view this as a chance to hone your skill set and angle your career in a new direction. You may not have made the choice to be laid off, but taking ownership and using the opportunity to your advantage can be both liberating and empowering, and will leave you stronger as a professional.

No one is saying it will be easy–just that it will be worth it. The Brazilian writer Fernando Sabino said it best: “No fim, tudo dá certo. Se não deu, ainda não chegou ao fim.” Translated: “In the end, everything will be ok. If it’s not ok, it’s not yet the end.”

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Finding Work in a Full Economy

The economy is–somewhat surprisingly, given the current world situation–strong, American confidence is high, and unemployment is at its lowest point in years.

So why are so many people still having trouble finding a job?

Well to start with, that isn’t a universal question. A year ago, job search site pointed out that out of 5.5 million available jobs, nearly 70% were spread between five industries: health care, professional services, retail, hospitality, and government. That’s great if you’re an X-ray Technician; if you’re in education or real estate, however, you could end up stuck.

Job availability also varies by location: this report from pointed out that in 2017, half of the new jobs in the US were created in just five states: California, Texas, Florida, New York and Georgia. In other words, states with a total of roughly 1/3 of Americans captured over 50% of the job growth. Again: great if you’re in Atlanta or Houston, not so good if you’re job-searching in Indianapolis.

Finally, there is the simple fact that many of the current job seekers who are struggling are in that “No-Fly Zone” in terms of age and experience, perceived to be either too qualified or too pricey. This is particularly true of people in their 50s and 60s who haven’t been job hunters for decades and find that it’s a whole new ballgame.

Keep Up With the Times … or Not

There is no end to the number of workshops, support groups, and blogs (like this one) that purport to teach job seekers–many of them age 50 or older–ways to adapt to the altered job search landscape. They teach how to leverage LinkedIn and other social media sites for maximum exposure. They offer seminars on how to write resumés, and forums for networking.

Most nowadays emphasize the importance of developing a “personal brand”: learning to think of your talents and experience as a product that can be marketed like any other brand. It sounds very promising, and instructors like to point to celebrities who have made it work for themselves. Research shows, however, that unless your last name happens to be Kardashian, developing a personal brand has little practical use.

In her book, Down and Out in the New Economy: How People Find (or Don’t Find) Work Today, researcher Ilana Gershon refutes much of the current conventional wisdom on looking for work. For example, many advisors will stress the need to get LinkedIn followers, no matter who they are: the more you spread your network, the more likely you are to connect with someone who’s looking for someone like you. Quantity of contacts is the key.

Gershon shoots this idea down by pointing out that most help white-collar job seekers are better off focusing on high-quality ties, like workplace ties. She stresses the importance of connecting to people you’ve worked with who can speak to your abilities, experience, and work ethics.

In the end, while social media ties can show that a potential worker is not stuck in the past, they’re still part of an overall presentation package. Creating a personal brand can help workers focus and hone their search, but it’s not an answer in and of itself. As Gershon writes,

“No one I talked to on the hiring side ever seemed to care about personal branding. Being good at personal branding isn’t an indication that the person will be good at the job, unless they’re trying to get a job as a marketer.”

Focusing on the Positive

While there is no silver bullet when it comes to job-hunting, the best overall advice is to trust your own experience. Your instincts, too, but that can be hard, particularly if you’ve been out of work for a while: it’s easy to start second-guessing yourself.

But your experience is more solid. Workers in their 50s and 60s, for example, have worked with many people; spending more time connecting with those folks is more likely to yield results than simply trying to collect followers. Only a fraction of people obtain a job through these so-called “weak ties, ” whereas over half claim to have found a job through workplace ties.

Rather than channeling all your energy into a personal brand, learn to think like an entrepreneur. We can’t all be Richard Branson, but we all know our own talents better than anyone. Read through lists of successful entrepreneurs. Find the things they had in common–with each other, and with you. The same sorts of  traits that have led them to be individual leaders might be the attitude that takes you into the job of your dreams.

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The Interview Question You’re Never Ready to Answer

If you do any research at all before your job interview–and you had better–you’ve probably got some answers down pat: where you went to school, work history, greatest accomplishment, biggest challenge–the normal stuff.

Then there are the weird one or two pet questions that every interviewer has. They might be trick questions, or maybe not. There’s no planning for those, you just have to do the best you can.

But there is one question that only the savviest interviewers ever ask. In fact, there’s a good chance you’ll never hear this question … but if you do, you had better have a good answer ready:

“What do you plan to achieve in the first 90 days that will make me glad I hired you?”

If you haven’t thought about it beforehand, this question can knock you for a loop. But a well-prepared response can make you look like a genius. Why? Well, by default, most interview questions are behavioral–they focus on what you have done. Thing is, we can’t control the past: it’s what happened, and that’s that. But what you say about the future can be very revealing, in both subtle and not-so-subtle ways:

  1. It shows you’ve done your homework.

Face it, if you haven’t put much thought into this interview, there’s no way you can even start to answer our million-dollar question. But if you’ve done your due-diligence, you should have an idea of what the company does, what their vision is, and what their needs are. You don’t have to have a fully formed plan here, but you do need to be able to give an answer that demonstrates a working knowledge of the business.

  1. It shows you’re ready to work.

In this day and age, most new hires don’t have the luxury of a lengthy learning curve. Employers need new people who are ready to go from Day One. No one will be expecting you to have an in-depth understanding of the company, but showing you know enough to start contributing right away–and want to start contributing right away–can make an interviewer feel good about hiring you.

  1. It shows you’re a good fit.

Every company has a different culture, one that’s reflected in its people. Your answer here should demonstrate that you’ll mesh with the culture immediately. Let’s say you’re looking for an HR job. Some industries–financial, medical–are more rigid, both historically and by necessity. If you talk about coming in first thing and re-writing the rule book, that’s going to make people uncomfortable. By the same token, some businesses–web developers, ad agencies–can often have a looser environment: insisting your first moves would be to mandate a corporate dress code might have the employees coming after you with pitchforks and torches!

  1. It shows you’re qualified.

Entrepreneur Monica Eaton-Cardone said it best: “Success is a combination of the right knowledge and skill set, as well as hard work and the determination to succeed.”

  1. It shows you want the JOB, not just the position.

Finally, having some ideas on how you can make an immediate impact demonstrates your work ethic and attitude. Interviewers are quick to sniff out candidates that are only looking for a pay bump or new resume fodder. Detailing your initial goals shows you that you’re after something more: you want to do the work. And in some ways, you’re saying that you’ve already started.

As you can see, an interviewer can gain a lot of knowledge with a question like this. Of course, like we mentioned, there’s a good chance you’ll never be asked … but the cool thing is, the question is reversible: if you REALLY want to make a great impression, wait until the interviewer asks if YOU have any questions, then ask “What’s the best way to make you ecstatic that you hired me within the first 90 days?” Not only will it make you look smart and interested … you’ll also gain some good information for when you ARE hired.