When two candidates are equally experienced, equally credentialed, and equally capable, who gets the job?
Well, when two companies have similar products, with similar ratings, and similar prices, which do you pick?
If you think about it, you might say: “the one that wants my business more.” The saleswoman made an extra effort, or the people at the store went out of their way to be kind, or it’s as simple as they just smiled back and said “we’d like your business.”
It’s no surprise: we prefer to buy from companies that make us feel like we’re a welcome part of their community.
And who gets the job if the applicants are equals?
The candidate with a passion for the business. A zeal for the industry. An excitement. An enthusiasm. A zest for the art, and the craft, and the science, of what makes a company in the field succeed.
In today’s economy – a sophisticated economy increasingly based on design, thinking work, proprietary creativity, and the ability to grasp and apply complex intellectual abstractions – the need is greater than ever for those who can… think.
And thinking work is different from the typical jobs of even a generation or two past. A steel mill manager, a radio set salesman, or a train operator could measure their success in physical quantities: how much steel poured, sets sold, or tons shipped.
In an information economy, on the other hand, the measures of success are increasingly intangible. The iPod was better than other MP3 players not because it had more, but because it had fewer buttons and features – the right buttons and features for music on the go. A restaurant chain displaces a competitor because it feels more (or less) like home. A shoe company thrives because it gives away half the pairs that you buy. Even vacuum cleaners, cars, and backyard grills are made, marketed and sold in ways that were inconceivable in the last century.
Producing these products and services, consequently, is less a function of the volume of resources that are put in. In generations past, more raw materials, capital equipment, or men punching your time clock meant more finished products or services coming out the other side. Today, it’s often more important how little you put in, or how artfully you arrange the features.
Finding people who can make those decisions well, and then execute on those decisions, is difficult for bosses.
They have to figure out who is going to understand the customer better, the manufacturing process better, the marketing better, the interface better, and so on.
What’s more, bosses need to determine who’s going to stick with it – there are a lot more forks in the road, and bumps along the way, in this intangible world. Perseverance through the inevitable fumbles and fiascos is needed because without perseverance there are no victories.
And what bosses have discovered is that somebody who is passionate about the business tends to be a better employee and a better professional to work with.
Because somebody who is passionate is inherently motivated, and internally driven to succeed, they try harder to find answers. They think up clever stuff on their own. They enjoy the business, and the customers, and the industry so much that they’re always discovering new things or perceiving additional ways that the business could succeed.
In short, passionate people are better employees because they care more than dispassionate people. Passionate people care more than the average employee, they care more than the average applicant, and they care more than you.
And that’s why you didn’t get the job. It’s why you got passed over, turned down, or put in the “nice to have” pile.
If you truly want success in this business climate, you need to do what you’re actually passionate about. Otherwise, you’re just unfairly stacking the deck in some other applicant’s favor.
Whether you’re searching for a job or seeking a promotion or raise, you have lots of questions about how much you can get paid in exchange for your daily grind…
Could I earn more somewhere else? What’s the competition like for my role? Do I have the right skills to move up in my career?
This Thanksgiving, you’ll give thanks for a new feature we’re unveiling here at TheLadders. We’ve combined market research and 10 years of data from our six million+ members to bring you salary and job demand data for jobs like yours. Just visit our comprehensive job market guides here to help empower and improve your career.
Shows the average annual compensation and income distribution for a particular title in a specific location.
Compare locations to see which city is likely to yield a high income for that title
If you’re considering a move into a certain career, you can gain a better understanding of what compensation will be like
Shows what the level of competition is like based on how many job seekers there are per open job in the city for that title.
Helps decide when to move on to a new job – if competition is high, it may be worth waiting until it’s average or low
Gives you an understanding of how likely it is that you will land the job you want
You can determine how hard you’ll have to work for the job (although you should be pulling out all the stops anyways!)
Shows the 10 skills recruiters mention most in job postings for the title in question.
Gauge your level of candidacy for this title based on how many of the top skills you possess
Uncover which skills you should acquire to propel your career
Play to your strengths in interviews by highlighting the skills you possess that are most desired by recruiters (insert these into your online profile, resume, and cover letter as well!
Ladders Rank is a grading system that calculates the optimal cities for this job title. We take into account annual compensation, volume of jobs, and job competition. Shows the top 3 cities for this job title, and where the city you searched for falls on the list.
Gives you an understanding of how feasible it is for you to land a good job in your city with a good salary
If you’re open to relocation, it helps you gauge which cities will be best for your discipline
So I hope you’ll enjoy these job market guides — after turkey and football of course — during this Thanksgiving week, Readers, and that they’ll lead you to a better compensated 2015! There’s nothing we like to hear more than ‘Thanks for the raise!’
This Thanksgiving season all-around car guy Bob Lutz talks straight about the turkey that was the Pontiac Aztek:
“One guy I informally interviewed about how the Aztek happened was one of the top guys on the project. And this guy, he looks at me and he says, “I’m proud of it.”
Proud of the Aztek?
“Yup. That was the best program we ever did at GM. We made all our internal goals, we made the timing, and I’m really proud of the part I played in it.”
He had tears in his eyes. It was almost tragic. Everybody wanted to will this thing to succeed, and it didn’t work.
All the emotional commitment and pride in the program was that it achieved all its internal objectives. And it was probably one of the great defeats in his life, or in his career.”
It can happen.
When we get too caught up in our own heads, instead of paying attention to what the market, or common sense, require, we find ourselves with a contraption as hideous as the Aztek lumbering around our driveway.
When process rides shotgun over outcomes, bad things happen.
The same thing can happen to you in your job search. If you find yourself saying things such as:
“I’ve sent out hundreds of resumes with no replies.”
“I’ve been doing lots of networking, but don’t seem to be getting anywhere.”
“I’m not receiving any callbacks after my 1st phone interviews.”
You are focusing too much on the activity and the process, and not enough on the market and what your potential employers need. You could end up with something that is as much of a dud and in as little demand as the Aztek.
So this pre-Thanksgiving week, knock the stuffing out of your job search by taking a moment to review whether you’ve matched your actual career background, current skills and experience to what’s needed in the employment marketplace today.
Why do the top hiring professionals in the country — like the twenty listed below — choose to work with TheLadders? That’s easy:
1. It’s free. It’s always free to post your jobs and search the resume database here at TheLadders.
2. We’re a membership-based community. And that means we’re much better behaved than the average internet hangout. No spam invitations or weird requests to get in the way of their hiring you.
3. It’s divided by pay-grade. Applicants can’t apply to jobs inappropriately, so there’s no big pile of spam applications for hiring managers or recruiters to go through. In fact, the typical job at TheLadders gets just fourteen well-focused applicants.
And that’s why the best corporate recruitment professionals and executive recruiters in the country use TheLadders for their hiring needs.
It’s time for my twice-a-year update of the best questions for you to ask in an interview.
I’ve put this list together because so often we can forget what an interview’s all about. It sure feels like it’s about you, but it’s really not.
An interview is actually about how you can help your future boss and future employer succeed. It’s about finding out what their requirements and hopes are and matching up your background and experience with what they need.
Overlooking these basic facts about the interview is easy. There’s so much else going on in your work, your life, and in your job search, that you can forget to look at the interview from the interviewer’s point of view. And that’s a shame, because you need the interviewer to walk away from the interview thoroughly impressed.
When I ran these questions previously, commenter “spiderji” wrote in and said:
Marc, I used some of your questions in a job interview today. When I asked how to get a “gold star” on the evaluation, the interviewers faces lit up!” I contrast today’s interview with others I’ve been on where I didn’t have any meaningful questions at the end. This one was electric! I won’t know the results for a couple of days, but if they hire me I’ll owe you a drink! Thank you!
And reader LBRZ shared:
I have to thank you! I had an interview yesterday and it went great. When I asked about his leadership style and reward system his face lit up like a christmas tree.
After he answered the question “how can I help you receive your next promotion?”, he began to give me advice on how I should negotiate for a higher starting salary.
And that’s exactly the point, Readers. By asking these questions, which focus on the needs, traits, and preferences of your future boss and future employer, you’re demonstrating that you are somebody who is genuinely interested in their well-being. And the more interest we show in others, the more commitment they show to aiding our cause.
With that in mind, here’s the twice-a-year update to my collection of “best interview questions” below. My aim here is to arm you with easy-to-ask, revealing-to-answer questions for you to take with you to an interview:
1. What’s the biggest change your group has gone through in the last year? Does your group feel like the tough times are over and things are getting better, or are things still pretty tough? What’s the plan to handle to either scenario?
2. If I get the job, how do I earn a “gold star” on my performance review? What are the key accomplishments you’d like to see in this role over the next year?
3. What’s your (or my future boss’) leadership style?
4. About which competitor are you most worried?
5. How does sales / operations / technology / marketing / finance work around here? (I.e., groups other than the one you’re interviewing for.)
6. What type of people are successful here? What type of people are not?
7. What’s one thing that’s key to this company’s success that somebody from outside the company wouldn’t know about?
8. How did you get your start in this industry? Why do you stay?
9. What are your group’s best and worst working relationships with other groups in the company? What are the pain points you have to deal with day-to-day?
10. What keeps you up at night? What’s your biggest worry these days?
11. What’s the timeline for making a decision on this position? When should I get back in touch with you?
12. It’s been tough economic times, and every position is precious when it comes to the budget. Why did you decide to hire somebody for this position instead of the many other roles / jobs you could have hired for? What about this position made you prioritize it over others?
13. What is your reward system? Is it a star system / team-oriented / equity-based / bonus-based / “attaboy!”-based? Why is that your reward system? What do you guys hope to get out of it, and what actually happens when you put it into practice? What are the positives and the negatives of your reward system? If you could change any one thing, what would it be?
14. What information is shared with the employees (revenues, costs, operating metrics)? Is this an “open book” shop, or do you play it closer to the vest? How is information shared? How do I get access to the information I need to be successful in this job?
15. If we are going to have a very successful year in 2016, what will that look like? What will we have done over the next 12 months to make it successful? How does this position help achieve those goals? (This question helps show your ability to look beyond today’s duties to the future more than a year away.)
16. How does the company / my future boss do performance reviews? How do I make the most of the performance review process to ensure that I’m doing the best I can for the company?
17. What is the rhythm to the work around here? Is there a time of year that it’s “all hands on deck” and we’re pulling all-nighters, or is it pretty consistent throughout the year? How about during the week / month? Is it pretty evenly spread throughout the week / month, or are there crunch days?
18. What type of industry / functional / skills-based experience and background are you looking for in the person who will fill this position? What would the “perfect” candidate look like? How do you assess my experience in comparison? What gaps do you see?
19. What is your (or my future boss’) hiring philosophy? Is it “hire the attitude / teach the skills” or are you primarily looking to add people with domain expertise first and foremost?
20. In my career, I’ve primarily enjoyed working with big / small / growing / independent / private / public / family-run companies. If that’s the case, how successful will I be at your firm?
21. Who are the heroes at your company? What characteristics do the people who are most celebrated have in common with each other? Conversely, what are the characteristics that are common to the promising people you hired, but who then flamed out and failed or left? As I’m considering whether or not I’d be successful here, how should I think about the experiences of the heroes and of the flame-outs?
I hope you find these questions useful in your interviews, Readers!
A final note. Previously, another commenter, “Lenore”, asked:
Hi Marc. Awesome questions!
My question for you is…..how do you ask questions when you are meeting with more than one interviewer. I met with 3 to 4 interviewers, one at a time. I didn’t want to come off generic by asking each of them the same questions. I guess you can go by their role to determine what questions you are going to ask. Sometimes they are all top executives. I’m guessing there are enough questions to divide amongst them all. I had asked so many questions in an interview once, that I didn’t want to seem redundant. Do you think this is ok?
To which I replied:
Great question Lenore.
1) Change the wording a little bit each time so you’re not asking the same question in the same way.
2) Mention that “You know, I already asked your colleague about this, and I’d love to hear your thoughts…”
3) Divide the list and ask different people different questions, as you suggested.
Whenever a recruiter posts a job with us, we want to connect our members as quickly as possible. So we look through our whole directory of members, including you, to find those best fit for the job.
And then we send that job, real-time, via an e-mail hiring alert, to a select group of professionals like you.
Well, on average, about 125 of you, which results in 3 to 4 applications for each job.
We’ll send the job to fewer or more professionals depending on what the computer tells us, but the goal is to get about 3 to 4 of you who might not have seen the job, and might potentially be the right fit, to apply. That’s our target based on our conversations with recruiters about what makes the most sense for them.
So when you see something like this in your Inbox (or in “Activity” on our website or app)…
…you’ll know that it’s a job hot off the presses, and that, if you decide to apply, the magic of modern computer science can let you feel comfortable that you’re one of just a handful of professionals who feel equally excited about it.
The match, by the way, is based on the information you’ve given us, so the great thing is, the more info you give us, the better we can target you with jobs. Update your profile here to let us understand you better.
Again, these alerts are sent out in real-time when a recruiter posts a job. The early bird gets the worm, so you should take advantage of this personalized heads-up about a new job opportunity.
I’ve shared a stage with Bill McDermott, CEO of SAP, in the past, and to that old showbiz saying about never sharing a stage with children or animals if you want to get noticed, let me add Bill. There’s probably a picture of him on Wikipedia under ‘charismatic’, and he’s just a wonderful guy to hear speak… from the audience… not if you’re up next.
Context: Bill grew up in working class Amityville, Long Island and went to Dowling College, which he paid for with profits from a small corner deli he owned and operated. He dreamed of working in Manhattan, wearing a suit and tie. At 21, a sales job at Xerox was his dream. This is his final interview the day he went to Xerox to compete with dozens of other recent college grads, most of whom had degrees and pedigrees far more impressive than his, and wearing suits much more polished than his $99 one.
I wait on a bench with one other applicant in the demo room, where Xerox showcases all of its machines. It’s like a museum overlooking Central Park. I’m on top of the world, and if I want to stay here, I must nail this final interview.
After about an hour, the wall clock ticks closer to five o’clock. I figure that Mr. Fullwood has either forgotten about us, or this wait is a test. I walk up to the receptionist. Her desk plate tells me her first name is Joanne.
“Joanne, I just want to introduce myself. I’m Bill McDermott, and I am waiting for an interview with Mr. Fullwood, and I’m not in any way impatient. I just want you to let Mr. Fullwood know that no matter how long I have to wait, I will be here when it is convenient for him. But please give him the message that I will not go anywhere; I will be here as long as he wants me to wait.” Joanne smiles as she gets up and goes into his office with a piece of paper.
In a few minutes, she comes out and motions for me to follow her down a long hallway toward Mr. Fullwood’s corner office. Standing in front of me is a handsome gentleman. He is beautifully groomed and impeccably dressed. I take a seat and a deep breath and hear my mom’s voice: “Bill, there’s no ceiling on you. There’s nothing that you cannot do. Just remember, be yourself, that’s the most important part of you. Just be you.”
Mr. Fullwood apologizes for running late, and the interview begins. It is just an incredible exchange. I am so happy to be here, in this moment, and Mr. Fullwood is a delightful, honest, open man. He asks me about my college experience, the deli, my parents, what I believe in. Finally, he asks me what I want.
“Bill, what’s your dream?” No one outside my family has ever asked me what I want, but it’s a question I’ve waited years to be asked by someone who has power to grant it to me. I tell him how I admire David Kearns’s [Xerox's CEO] focus on quality, and how I am willing to do anything for Xerox. “Sir, one day I would hope to become the CEO.” Nothing in my upbringing informed me that such an ambitious answer for an entry-level job could be taken for hubris, or come off as insincere, let alone ridiculous. I am just being me, full-throttle Bill. While other applicants are “considering their options,” and going for some sales job, I am going for a dream.
“Bill, it was very nice meeting you,” he says at the end of the interview “You obviously have tremendous passion. We have very rigorous processes here at Xerox to review candidates. The human resources department will get in touch with you in the next few weeks. Thank you very much for your time.” Oh, we are not done.
“Mr. Fullwood, I don’t think you completely understand the situation.” I pause, and then explain. “I told my father as I left him at the train station today, that I guaranteed I would come home tonight with my employee badge in my pocket. In twenty-one years, I’ve never broken a promise to my dad, and I can’t start now.” Silence. I don’t fill it. Mr. Fullwood looks at me with his head kind of tilted, like a puppy waiting to see what I’m going to do next, but I don’t make the next move. This man doesn’t know my family history, and I don’t want or need him to know about the floods or the fire or how often my dad works overtime. No one owes me anything because of my past. All I can do in the present is ask for a chance to be miraculous in the future I look into Mr. Fullwood’s eyes until he smiles.
“Bill McDermott, I am going to do something I have never done in all my years at Xerox and hire you today. As long as you haven’t broken any laws, you can go home and tell your father that you will be working for Xerox.”
I have to be sure I am hearing what I think I am hearing, because this is big.
“Mr. Fullwood, when you do the background check on me, I’ll check out just fine, but I do want to confirm that you’re going to hire me at the Xerox Corporation and I’m going to work for this company, yes? You’ve given me the job, is that right?” He nods as if even he can’t believe it, and as I shake his hand, he holds it.
“Mr. McDermott, that’s right.” I gotta hug this man, so I do.
“Mr. Fullwood, I won’t let you down. Thank you. Thank you very much.” I pump his hand a few more times before leaving his office. I high-five Joanne on my way to the elevator and wave to the other applicant, still sitting on the bench.
Thirty-eight floors down, I charge out of the front of the building, onto Fifty-Seventh Street, and into the rush-hour flow of men with loosened ties and women in their business suits and sneakers. I run west toward Sixth Avenue, and on the corner I see a restaurant called the Bun n’ Burger. I walk inside, find a pay phone, and take a
quarter out of my suit pocket. I dial my house and get my mom and dad on the phone. “Break out the Korbel,” I declare. “I got the job! We’re gonna celebrate tonight!”
Context: In his early years as a salesman at Xerox, Bill is passed up for a job he wants, and does not take it lightly.
Early one Wednesday morning, I leave my parents’ house in the dark and instead of catching my train, I drive my Firebird over the New York State border toward Xerox’s offices in Stamford, Connecticut, where the top regional executives work. When I park in the empty lot, at about seven o’clock, the lights in the building still haven’t been lit.
I have no appointment, and my surprise visit has the potential to scorch my career. I’m just a low-level marketing rep showing up unannounced to see Roy Haythorn, a vice president and general manager of Xerox’s eastern region, for one reason: I’d been passed up for a promotion to an account representative position.
I know Roy from last year’s President’s Club trip, the annual celebration for Xerox’s top sales performers. He’s one of the most dynamic leaders I’ve seen at Xerox. Relentlessly upbeat, the man believes that everyone should win on merit. Roy’s also a bit of a gunslinger. He holds monthly instead of quarterly meetings so that his teams know exactly what to do to hit their sales targets, and when his people succeed, Roy throws spontaneous, often lavish celebrations. I like Roy.
My intent here is not to reverse the decision and get the job I’d lost.
I am here to understand why and to make sure that Xerox’s leadership understands my ambitions. If I was passed over for performance, I need to know how I can improve. But if I was overlooked for reasons that had nothing to do with my skills, I want to register with Roy just how serious I am about excelling-and working for a company that makes that happen for people who show results.
Sitting in my car, waiting for a parade of Mercedes-Benzes and BMWs to arrive, I contemplate other outcomes. If Roy refuses to see me, I’ll assume that Xerox does not stand by its open-door policy, and I’ll consider quitting. If, after our meeting, I don’t believe Roy supports me, I’ll assume that Xerox isn’t sincere about nurturing top talent, and I’ll send my résumé to a company that is-like one of the financial firms that are always trying to poach people from our sales force. A third scenario, I know, is that I’ll leave Stamford satisfied, but because I broke the coveted chain of command, people below Roy will retaliate and sabotage my career. It’s a risk, but I cannot hesitate to ask for what I want.
As a kid, when I delivered newspapers, I walked up to strangers’ front doors and asked for unpaid route money. As a salesperson, when I make cold calls, I almost always ask for the order. Now, to ensure that I do not fall through corporate cracks, I have to ask for the job I want. Here we go.
Inside the lobby, I ask the receptionist for Mr. Haythorn’s floor, flash my business card, and am waved through. I exit the elevator and walk past offices lining the perimeter. The quiet, stark décor has the hushed aura of power, which pumps me up even more than New York City’s bustle. I approach Roy’s assistant with a smile. He has just arrived. One moment. Yes, he will see me.
In his office, I thank Roy for his time and explain that I was passed up for an account representative job. Roy has no idea I was not promoted. The account job is three levels below this man’s radar.
“Mr. Haythorn, I did not come here to get anyone in trouble or to ask for the assignment,” I say. “The decision has been made; I understand that. I am here to understand why I was not selected, given that my sales were three times higher than the sales of the person who got the job, and to understand how I can do better so I can keep moving up, because that’s why I came to work for Xerox.” I am not asking Roy for a guarantee that I’ll get any gig I want. I’m asking to be heard, to be mentored, to be seen as a contender for top jobs.’
“Bill, I’m glad you came and brought this to my attention.” I’m relieved. Roy doesn’t sound annoyed. “Today is important, Bill, but the long haul is more important. Nine times out of ten, things will go right for you, but maybe one time out of ten, they won’t. Don’t let that stand in the way of your ambition.” Roy was telling me to be patient. Then he said, “As long as you perform, and as long as I’m around, things will be good for you at Xerox.” I believe him. Take care of your top performers, and they will take care of you. When I get up to leave, we shake hands. “Thank you, Roy. Thank you for your support.”
On the way out of the building, I see Emerson Fullwood, polished as ever but shocked to see me walking Stamford’s hallowed halls.
“Bill, what’s going on?”
“Emerson, I was passed up for a job, and I needed to understand why. So I came to see Mr. Haythorn.” Emerson thinks I’ve gone too far. He too urges me to have patience. He assures me my time will come.
Was I being too bold? To me, approaching Roy was no different from approaching the top manager at the Finast supermarket to state my case instead of hoping my application got noticed in the pile. I respected protocol. But in truth, I didn’t have the patience to let it thwart my career. I had to speak to someone who believed that performance deserved to be rewarded. That was Roy.
Driving back into Manhattan, I feel as if I’ve accomplished something much greater than if I had actually gotten the promotion: I had stood up for myself. No one would ever care about my career as much as I did. Careers had to be nurtured and protected, and that was how I would go after my dreams. As long as I acted with integrity- I wouldn’t badmouth or offend others-I felt comfortable, and unapologetic, being my bold self.
A few months later, when an account representative position opens up, I am chosen to fill it.
Follow your Heart
Context: Bill has been with Xerox about 15 years and is feeling antsy to leave, but is not sure where to go. The career lesson I personally love here is not to let your desire to leave a job dictate when and where you land. Wait for the right opportunity.
It’s New Year’s Eve, and instead of celebrating the millennium, I’m pacing. I have until midnight to sign an offer letter that will make me president of an internet company called Techies .com. The Minnesota-based start-up is on the verge of an initial public offering during the hottest stock market in American history-but I can’t bring myself to sign the letter. What’s wrong with me? Today, December 31, 1999, the Dow Jones and the NASDAQ closed at record highs. I now have a chance to take part in the gold rush-if I sign that paper and fax it back by midnight.
So what’s up?
The home phone rings. I know it’s Techies .com’s VCs, the guys that faxed me the document hours earlier.
“Julie, tell them I’m stuck in a snow drift.” She picks up the phone and looks out the window. It’s not snowing.
Techies .com was not profitable, but that didn’t seem to matter to investors. Like most online companies that started up during the internet craze, the excitement surrounding Techies .com was based on millions of dollars in funding and promises, not proof, of success. I’d met the management team and liked everyone well enough. The company’s business model-to collect revenues from technology job postings and create a community of tech workers-was simple
enough. Plus, the company was about to close $22 million in financing, and in January it was scheduled to file its S-1 with the SEC for its impending IPO. By spring, Techies .com could make me a billionaire, at least on paper. So why am I pacing? Am I not ready to leave Xerox? I get on the phone and tell the investors I’m sorry, I can’t accept their offer. Even as the words tumble out of my mouth, a part of me wants to shove them back in. The VCs ask why. I tell them what’s in my heart: if I say yes, I’m fairly sure I’d be doing it for the wrong reason. “The only thing about your company that really interests me is the money,” I admit. “And that’s the wrong reason to work for anyone.”
I hang up feeling relief and regret. Did I blow it? “Poof, there goes a billion dollars. Happy New Year.” Julie looks at me, cool-headed.
“Bill,” she says, “you didn’t say no to the money, you said no to something that you didn’t believe was right for you.”
Julie is, as usual, correct. If and when I leave Xerox, it has to be for a company with a reputation I am proud to be associated with, a business I can get passionate about, and a name I want next to mine on a business card. Most dot-coms were babies, barely old enough to have a reputation.
My Techies .com debate did serve a purpose. It stirred my desire for something more. But as hungry as I was, the decision to leave a company and the decision about where to go were two distinct choices. I could not let my desire to fly exert too much influence over my choice about where to land next.
I returned to work after the holidays with a hunch that I would not be at Xerox much longer.
[On May 2, 2000, Techies .com rescinded its plans for an IPO. Had I taken that job, I would have lost the only thing about the company that interested me. The money. Bullet dodged.]
What inspires in Bill’s story isn’t the success, of course, but the setbacks. Maybe you can see yourself in the eager college-grad, or the ambition-burning junior employee, or the wary and experienced senior exec.
And what I love about the story here is how it puts you in Bill’s shoes and you feel the frustration and the elation and the anxiety of success-to-be. You’re on board for the journey and come out the other side feeling like maybe today is the day you’ll dream just a little bit harder.
I always recommend you get your resume professionally written, but for those of you who have a “do-it-yourself” mentality, I’ve put together this simple 8-minute guide. It’ll take you 8 minutes to read, probably an hour or two to do, and provide months of benefit in reducing your resume anxiety.
My recommendations below are for a professional with 10 to 25 years experience. For those with fewer than 10 years, you’re likely better off with a 1-page resume, for those with more than 25 years and at very senior levels, three may sometimes be appropriate. But seriously, if that’s you, you’re shouldn’t be relying on your own typing skills to market your self.
As with any “do-it-yourself” project, the key to success is to not get in over your head. So the instructions below are a simplified version of my best advice, tailored to be achievable by you on your own. Again, I must recommend that it’s much better for you to get a professional to do this for you, but if you’re set on “do it yourself”, here goes!….
First, the goal of your resume is to get you an interview for the job. You may believe your resume has other purposes:
- To showcase your every achievement
- To justify why you’re changing jobs
- To explain why you’ve left so many, or so few, jobs in your career
- To mention when you received promotions awards, or recognition
- To describe the size of organization or team or budget you had responsibility for
- To land you a job offer without an interview
So the goal of your resume is to get you the interview.
You get the interview by persuading 3 layers of reviewers that time spent with you will be worth more than time spent with another candidate. I’ll describe below who these 3 layers are — screeners, recruiters, and hiring managers.
You’ll persuade those reviewers by providing quantifiably proven results that you can do the job very well.
Resume length and structure
Your resume will be 2 pages total.
It will be composed of a professional summary and a chronological detail of your professional success. I won’t address your contact information at the head of the resume, or your educational background at the bottom of the resume in this newsletter (but of course, they should definitely be there!)
Your professional summary is a separated list of two or three lines that summarizes your professional ambitions, background, and talents. You’ll include 12 -15 phrases of two or three words each in this section. On your resume, you should begin this section with the three or four job titles you want most, and then intersperse the skills and successes…
Job titles: list 3 to 5 job titles of jobs you would actually accept as your next job. It does not matter that you have never actually had this job title in the past, but it is important that it is a plausible next step in your professional career. A job search that includes both small and large companies will have a broader range of job titles than one specifically focusing on, say, the Fortune 500.
Professional skills: list 4 to 6 skills that you possess that are important to your success in the jobs outlined above. They should be skills you currently possess and should be “level appropriate”. I.e., don’t list skills that are obvious or would be assumed for your level. If you’re applying for C-suite jobs, listing “time management” or “presentation skills” would be far too junior to mention in your summary.
In this section you will provide a chronological detail of your professional success, starting with your most recent job first. Notice the word choices here, please. We are detailing your success. We are not listing your past job titles or duties. We are not describing your staff composition or budget size or administrative systems used.
Again, your resume is a marketing document and needs to persuade your reviewers that time spent with you will be worthwhile, so we are going to detail your success.
You’ll have about 30 ~ 40 bullet points across all your current and past positions, and each of these will be a marketing bullet point that will make one persuasive argument on your behalf.
After you list company name, employment dates, and your title for each role, the bullet points will be distributed as follows:
Your most recent, most important, job gets 8 bullet points.
Your next job also gets 8 bullet points.
Your next two jobs get 4 bullet points each.
Everything else – all of your past jobs together, even if they were your favorite, most nostalgic, most enjoyable times in your life — get just ten bullet points total. Nobody is hiring you today for the job you had a decade ago.
It’s important to note that this distribution is across each job or title, not company. So if you’ve been at the same shop for 20 years, you should be splitting up your 30 bullet points across the different job levels and titles you’ve had.
The basic structure of a marketing bullet point is a success verb and a number.
Every bullet point in your success resume must include a number expressed in dollars, percentages, or a simple, “plain old”, straight-up number.
Importantly, every bullet point in your resume must include a success verb. These are verbs that show success – something got better. So verbs such as increased, decreased, improved, reduced, etc., are what we are looking for. Explicitly forbidden are static verbs — “managed”, “my responsibilities included”, “I was hired to…”, etc. Verbs that merely describe a fact of the matter rather than show you in a heroic light.
Now with more time, we might get into a host of other success verbs, but we’ve only got 8 minutes, so I am greatly limiting the scope below. You are going to copy and paste these exact 8 bullets into the section describing your first job and your second job. You are going to pick 4 from this list for each of your next three jobs.
This seems boring, but it really doesn’t matter. Unless you are applying to be a thesaurus writer, nobody cares how clever your success verbs are. The millions of hours lost each year to professionals like you looking up synonyms for “improved” is a complete waste of time — none of the three layers of reviewers are grading you for verbal facility.
So with that, here are your 8 bullet points for your 8-minute resume:
Increased x by %
Decreased x by %
Improved x by $
Reduced x by $
Introduced new x that led to # more….
Removed old x that led to # less…
Successfully added # new x….
Achieved the removal of # new x…
You will copy and paste these bullet points into your resume and then fill in the blanks.
“x” can be profits, costs, clients, vendors, products, practice areas, strategies, risk, volatility, etc. And, of course, it’s important to have a number, dollar, or percentage increase / decrease mentioned in each bullet point. You’ll be surprised at how many you can write using this template, and how this process jogs your memory for all the great stuff you’ve done…
Increased new customer visits by 17% without increasing ad budget.
Decreased AWS bill by 42% through improved architecture (vs. 19% industry average).
Improved revenue per SaaS client by $4,250 through consultative sales training.
Reduced cost-per-hire by $7,010 through employee referral program via TheLadders’ Maven app.
Introduced 2 new products that led to 2,500,000 more MAUs.
Removed old systems that led to a 75 FTE reduction in offshore headcount.
Successfully added 3 productive warehouses to our nationwide network.
Achieved the removal of 5,000 external firm billable hours per year by reorganizing internal staffing.
But, you might say, I brought amazing non-quantified value to the organization! I introduced Agile Development, led a huge bond offering, brought innovative logistics strategies to bear, or reorganized our selling methodology.
Yes. I agree those are impressive and important achievements.
But they are only impressive and important to the extent they are quantifiable. New methodologies, exhibiting leadership, or bringing innovation to a company are interesting to your bosses’ bosses only to the extent they improve, quantifiably, the outcome of the company — more users, more revenue, faster turnaround, higher client satisfaction.
In the interests of getting you out of here in 8 minutes, however, I’ll make a concession. You get 3 “mulligans” — three bullet points in your resume where you don’t have to produce a quantifiable result. That’ll be our compromise, OK?
Overall, the above outline is remarkably simple because the job search process, despite all the anxiety and confusion, is remarkably simple. You want to do work similar to the work you’ve done before but at a new place and a new level. To do so, you need to explain to new people what can give them confidence that you will be able to contribute to the new team. The easiest way to do that is to share numerical data that show you have contributed in the past and can, therefore, contribute in the future.
Your resume is a marketing document that needs to get past three people to get you your interview:
A junior resume screener who is comparing your resume to a list of skills, titles, or companies that he or she is given by the recruiter. Overly clever resumes or cutesy positioning can really kill you with this person, because they don’t understand the nod and the wink that comes with writing “Chief Bottle Washer” when you really mean “Co-Founder”. For these reviewers, the choice of phrases in the professional summary is especially important.
A recruiter, whether internal or external, who, on average, will give your resume 6 seconds first screening. And then, perhaps, spend 2 – 3 minutes with it to make sure you’re worth presenting to the client or hiring manager. By giving them easy-to-digest numbers they can share with the client or hiring manager, you make it much easier to present you, rather than some other candidate, for the interview.
The hiring manager who will be interested in finding out “what can this person do for me and my team in the next year or two.” This person will review your resume in more detail. She will be looking for indications that you have previously solved the types of problems this job will have to deal with.
Your goal is to quantifiably prove that you can. Numbers are the most persuasive friends you have in this situation. Every bullet point spent on describing historical circumstances, promotions, or scope of responsibilities is wasted and lost on a hiring manager.
Eight minutes to a better resume
By following the above, you’ll be in a much, much better place than with other methods of do-it-yourself resumes. Of course, there’s a lot of nuance that 8 minutes can’t get you, but the above is ⅔ of the way there.
And with that, have a great week in the job search, Readers!
In the decade I’ve been writing this newsletter, the single best tip I’ve given, that has come back to me over, and over, and over again, is this:
When it gets to that part of the interview with your future boss where they ask, "well, do you have any questions for me?", say yes, and ask:
"How do I help you get a gold star on your review next year?"
This bit of advice has helped more people in more interviews than any other bit of advice I’ve shared in the last decade that I’ve been writing to you.
Well, the interview process lends itself to self-absorption. We spend so much of the time talking about ourselves that we sound like one of those people who talks only about themselves.
Or, conversely, we become "job analysis engineers" and ask all sorts of questions about the job and reporting structure and how it fits in with the company’s five-year plan and so on. I love getting questions from candidates in interviews, but I do have to admit I feel that they’re not quite getting the point of a "face-to-face" interview when they pull out six pages of typed, single-spaced questions and promptly bury their nose in their papers without making eye contact.
We get so obsessed with the details of the job that we forget about the work.
Working together and being a good addition to the team mean being concerned with how you are making the team successful. And that means being concerned with how much you are helping to make your boss successful.
Asking this question shows that you have empathy. It shows that you have an interest in your boss’ career and future success. It shows that you are not just a self-absorbed "what’s-in-it-for-me" kind of person. And it shows that you know you are there to "give" as much as you are there to "get".
Dozens of subscribers have told me how the interviewer’s face lights up when asked this question. I have heard time and time and time again from our six million subscribers how effective it’s been in interviews.
(And, remember, you want the vibe to be a cool & relaxed Vince Vaughn, not an obsequious Steve Buscemi.)
The gold star question is an easy tip to implement in your job search: it’s easy to do, easy to understand, and it’s easy to measure.
And that makes it my best bit of career advice in over a decade of doling it out.
So thank you, Dear Readers, for paying attention, trying it out, and letting me know how it goes…