How to Put Your LinkedIn Profile to Work for You


LinkedIn can do the heavy lifting for you.

Of course you have your profile on LinkedIn, right? And I hope it’s highlighting your skills, experience, talents and other hire-worthy attributes. But is it just sitting there looking boring, out-of-touch, or self-possessed?

If so, it will sabotage your career’s advancement.

Having a profile that shows how engaged and active you are places you ahead of other candidates in your field. So, take a moment to review your LinkedIn page against this checklist of common mistakes I’ve seen people make.

Time It Right

Are you writing off LinkedIn as a site for jobseekers? It does serve jobseekers but that doesn’t mean you should wait until you’re looking for work to build your brand. The best time to build your LinkedIn profile, connect with people, and participate on LinkedIn is now, before you need it.

If you find yourself suddenly unemployed and decide that now is the time to start using LinkedIn, you’re going to be playing catch up. Instead, take time to “dig your well before you’re thirsty,” as author Harvey Mackay says.


Don’t set it and forget it. Your LinkedIn profile is an evolving snapshot of you. You should be updating it regularly with new connections, status reports, and professional activity, especially within LinkedIn Groups.

Keep your profile fresh and changing. Check in on LinkedIn regularly, at least every other day if you are in active job search mode, and at least once a week if you are a passive jobseeker.

Then, plan on adding one new status update weekly. Make it as relevant, varied and as interesting as you can, but not as lightweight as your Twitter feed.

Look for Opportunities

Don’t be a wallflower. The more you engage with LinkedIn the more value it will be to your career. Stay on the lookout for chances to connect with thought leaders in your industry. Join three, four or five Groups and then participate in conversations there.

A good place to start is to join your alma mater’s official group and see what discussions are going on. It’s an easy way to expand your network. The more you participate in Groups, the more people will visit your profile.

Be a Giver

You can’t be selfish on LinkedIn and expect to make solid connections. So, focus on how you can help others instead of how they can help you.

The phrase “give to get” is very powerful on LinkedIn. You’ll earn the respect of your peers and people of influence if you help other people get what they want, either as introductions, news they can use, offers to mentor, inside information, encouragement, or congratulations.

Go Searching

Rather than waiting for others to find you, use the LinkedIn People Search function to look for people you know and invite them to connect with you.

I suggest you set a goal to add a specific number of new connections each week, and set aside a time to actively tend to this task.

Definitely follow up on people who have viewed your profile, sending them a note to say you noticed they visited your page, and ask if they would like to connect.

Research companies where you think you’d like to work and you might find they are looking for someone with your qualifications.

Link Up

Don’t forget to explore the people your connections know. It’s called LinkedIn for a reason. One of the site’s most powerful functions is the ability to connect with people who are connected to people you already know.

Be forewarned, however. If you don’t follow LinkedIn’s guidelines on connecting with these new people, your account could be flagged for spam. Use InMail or request connections through your mutual friend. Avoid LinkedIn generic messages, and instead write a customized, personal message for each person.

Don’t forget to link up any of these things on your profile page: your own blog, professional Twitter account, professional YouTube channel, website, or online portfolio.

Giving your LinkedIn page some love with pay big dividends.
Giving your LinkedIn page some love will pay big dividends.


Be Logical

Remember that it’s not a race to get 500 connections. Don’t be indiscriminate. Have a reason for each of the people you connect with. The person should be someone you already know or are related to, or someone it would be beneficial to network with.

If you aren’t familiar with someone, get to know him or her a bit before sending a request to connect. You can do this easily by seeing whom you both know. Try to bring something to the table as an inducement to connect.

You can also check out people’s LinkedIn summary and work history, and visit their website or blog. You can learn about them by studying what Groups they belong to. When you are interested in other people, you’ll be more interesting yourself.

Let LinkedIn Help

Make it a habit to check out LinkedIn Pulse. Visit and you’ll see a roundup of stories that LinkedIn thinks may interest you. These stories will help you stay current with changes in your industry.


One polite and beneficial way to build a strong network is to acknowledge and recognize the contributions of people you know. Give them unsolicited, genuine Recommendations and Endorsements. Everyone appreciates these. It’s a win/win move.

Spin Off

LinkedIn is a handy place to start building face-to-face relationships. Don’t restrict your networking to online only. You can use LinkedIn to initially connect with people, and then request a casual meeting in a public place or office setting. Meet for coffee, lunch, drinks, an informational interview, or just to catch up.

Granted, LinkedIn can be annoying in the way it is constantly changing and is often misused by spammers and people with no social etiquette.  But you can’t afford to ignore it if you are serious about your career. You took the time and effort to create your LinkedIn profile. Now, put this powerful site to work for you.

And if you need a LinkedIn makeover, I can do that for you.

What to Do After Your Job Interview

i-am-patient-copyThat important interview ended. You sweated your way through it. You can go home, kick off your fancy shoes, and relax.

But not for long, because there are some actions you can take to gain additional mileage from any interview, even after it’s over.

The first and best thing to do is to say say thanks. Yep, write that thank you note.

A note should go to each person with whom you interviewed, whether the interview was conducted in person or online as a phone interview or Google hangout.

Don’t waste time getting these things mailed. Proof it carefully and send it out snail mail or email.Read more

Building a Better Resume with the Right Words

About 10 seconds. That’s how much time a typical hiring manager will spend on one resume if he has a stack of them to study. You want yours to end up in the very small pile of ones that deserve another look.

The words you choose will make the difference. Use the same words everyone else uses and you’ll be just another applicant. Words like “responsible,” “effective,” “creative,” and “strategic” topped the list of overused words according to a study LinkedIn conducted of online resumes and profiles. An overused word loses its meaning, and you lose points by using any of them.

Jargon, buzzwords, and vague language have the same effect on a reader – they just don’t convey how special you are.

Instead, when I craft a resume, I like to replace the meaningless words and phrases with specific examples. If you tell me you are an “expert” I will ask for examples where you have demonstrated your expertise. If you tell me you have great “organizing skills,” I will probe you to describe a project that proves it.  Are you “driven?” Or “analytical?” Or “innovative?” Let’s gather evidence for your resume!

I tell my clients that if they need help coming up with examples that document their skills, talents and experience, to complete sentences that begin like these:

  • I solved…
  • I improved…
  • I oversaw…
  • I adapted…
  • I planned…
  • I led…
  • I trained…
  • I directed…
  • I strengthened…
  • I initiated…

I like to insert descriptive, active words when I rebuild a resume or cover letter. To describe yourself in a cover letter as someone who is “strong,” doesn’t mean you will impress the employer. Substituting more specific or imaginative words like “robust” or “vigorous” will earn your cover letter more credibility.

These kinds of substitutions are illustrated in a new infographic created by, an online grammar checking service. Grammarly researched 500 active job postings from 100 of the most profitable U.S. companies and learned what words work best for job seekers.

Did you know, for example, that companies prefer the term “job” over “work?”  “To work” indicates you are not as serious about your career.  Fascinating stuff!

Let me build a better resume for you. Trust me, I know all the right words.

Here’s a musical reminder of the importance of grammar.


Making the Most of Your Interview: The Thank You Letter

Although many job seekers don’t realize it, enthusiasm is one trait that hiring managers look for in an applicant. And the best part is that you can easily demonstrate this trait with a simple gesture – writing the post-interview thank you letter.

Showing some enthusiasm — for the position, for the company, for the industry, for the projects you discussed during an interview — makes your interview score goes up.

This little letter packs plenty of potential. It does all these things —

    • Gives you a chance to express your gratitude to the interviewer for considering you as a hire
    • Shows you understand common business etiquette
    • Reminds the interviewer of your interest and qualifications
    • Offers you the chance to correct any interview mistakes you feel you made
    • Lets you gracefully add anything you think was omitted during your discussions
    • Helps set you apart from the other applicants
    • Displays your writing and communication skills
    • Keeps your foot in the door if you don’t qualify for this particular position with the company

Should I use Snail Mail or eMail?

Although email has taken over business communications, there’s still a place for a good old fashioned, handwritten thank you note.

Your other options are a hard copy typed, or the ubiquitous email. You can base your decision on the nature of the company and your interview, and the time factor.

The written thank you note is appropriate if you don’t have much to say, when your handwriting is very good, and when you can send it the same day or early the next day.

Email is appropriate when emailing has been your usual means of contact with the interviewer. Or, your interviewer may have expressed a preference for email. Or you know that the person is traveling and will not have easy access to snail mail.

Email is also acceptable for most jobs in the tech industry, and in less formal companies. If emailing, you can use something like, “Great to meet you today” or “Thanks for meeting with me yesterday.” Send your email from a professional email address, not your work email address and not

What Makes a Memorable Letter?

Whichever format you decide to use, there are qualities that can’t be ignored

Perfection. Make sure there are no typos, grammatical errors, or name misspellings. Write your first draft on the computer so you can spell-check it.

Personal touch. It should never resemble a generic letter. The content should be specific enough that it’s obvious you took the time to write it directly for that particular interviewer. Ideally, you’ll reference something new that you learned during your meeting.

Immediacy. You should never have to write, “I’m sorry it’s taken this long for me to get back to you.” That’s just insulting, and it makes you look like you don’t give importance to the job and don’t manage your time well. Just be quick about this task!

Brevity. The best post-interview thank you notes are brief and to the point. Limit yourself to two or three short paragraphs.

What Do I Write?

To start, address the person by name. Write Ms. or Mr. instead of first names. If the interviewer suggested you to use a first name during your meeting, then it’s okay to do the same in the letter.

Thank her or him for the time and attention given you. It’s a good idea to mention the position you are applying for. Use “you” more than “I.” For example, write “Thank you for the opportunity to meet with you today to discuss your opening for a sales consultant,” rather than “I want to thank you for interviewing me for …”

If you are sending multiple letters to different people, which you’ll need to do if you met with more than one person or were interviewed by a panel, make each letter unique. If possible, mention a particular point that would resonate with each individual.

Next, mention one point from the interview that casts you in a favorable light, or that you are especially interested in. Show your enthusiasm.

If necessary, now is your chance to slip in a do-over. If you think you fumbled an interview question, you might write, “I wanted to clarify my position on marketing your products to Afghanastan.” Don’t take an apologetic tone, but be specific. “I would be happy to forward you a copy of the media plan I used to increase sales in Belgium.”

Finally, confirm what the next step is. “I look forward to hearing from you concerning your hiring decision,” lets them know the ball’s in their court and clarifies that you understand your role is to wait. Another possibility is something like, “I’ll call you at the end of next week, as you suggested.”

If you need some nitty-gritty basics on how to write a thank you note Wikihow has some helpful pointers.

Every step of the interview process is an opportunity to make an impression. You’ll need to put forth your best efforts from beginning to end if you want to stand out from the other candidates. The post-interview thank you letter is one easy effort to make.

Remember that I send a free copy of my Résumé to Payday ebook to each of my résumé clients. Is it time for your résumé to get a makeover?

Simultaneous Job Offers and Other Sticky Situations

After I revamped Gretchen’s resume she interviewed with a software company and things went well. She received a job offer but just as she was about to respond, a company she had talked to three weeks earlier called to hire her.

Is this a good problem to have? Yes and no.  

Gretchen liked both companies. She did what many of us do when forced to make a rational decision. She made a list of the pros and cons of each job.

I particularly liked her list of categories for rating each company. With her analytical mind, she gave a rating of one to five for each of these questions.

Multiple offers — good news or not so good? 


  • How the benefits worked for her
  • What the salary was and how it was paid
  • Whether the job provided balance between work and the rest of her daily life
  • How the company culture looked
  • What the company’s reputation was
  • Whether the commute was practical
  • What the possibilities were for telecommuting
  • Whether the specific job was challenging and interesting
  • Who her boss and co-workers would be
  • How stable and secure the job / the company / the department / the industry was 
  • Whether the job fit into her long-term career plans

In the end, Gretchen went with the first company to offer her a job. They scored higher mostly because she liked the people there and telecommuting was more common within her department. 

Between a Rock and a Job

A more likely scenario, however, is that you will receive one job offer before the other. So what do you do if the job offer you get isn’t from the company you prefer?

Another client, Timothy, had this kind of dilemma.

He interviewed with two companies. The first offered him a job, but it was company number two where he really wanted to work. He wondered if he should turn down the offer, tread water, negotiate the terms, get more information, or what?    

Just like Gretchen, Timothy had questions to ask both himself and the companies where he interviewed.

In this position, you need to find out when the preferred company will be making a decision. If you want to stall the first company, you have to ascertain if you can do that without looking peculiar or just plain fussy. A two- or three-day period is maximum for accepting or declining an offer.

      Too much to handle? Just keep your eye on one goal. 

One way to stall the process is to request the offer in writing. This tactic is believable if the details of the offer include numerous specifics about benefits, pay scale, relocation, job description, and company policy. It makes sense that someone would want to review it “before accepting,” especially if that someone has a family.

The other way to stall is to negotiate. It’s a common practice, and the company has already told you they want you, so be bold.      

Or you can frankly explain your predicament to HR in the second company, that you have been offered another position, but that theirs was the job you really wanted. Taking this approach might get you some of the answers you need to make a decision. 

Juggling two companies can be tricky. If you put off one company too long, or don’t act interested enough, or appear too demanding, you risk losing that offer.

In some cases, you may be better off taking the job with whoever steps up to the plate first. That’s the ethical and simple approach. That’s what Timothy did. Last I heard, he’s happy with his new position.

      All offers might look similar at first, but details make the difference.

When You Have Multiple Job Offers

Jeremy emailed me to say he was starting his new job the following day, but in two weeks, I heard from him again, telling me that his first choice company came through with a better offer. Oh, oh. Awkward.

Decisions are easier when you know your priorities.

When your new employer has invested time and money in the hiring process, and has put resources towards training you and getting you up to speed with the company, you can’t take lightly the decision to leave.

Career mapping 101: never burn bridges.

Jeremy knew he had to make a quick decision. In the end, he knew he’d be better off in a position he really loved.  He told me he talked to his new supervisor in private, explaining that he was surprised to be offered what he felt was his dream job, an opportunity he didn’t want to pass up. 

If this happens to you, offer your resignation to your new supervisor in person. Don’t put it in an email or text message. Be gracious. Thank him or her for this opportunity. Praise the company and the position. Do whatever you can to minimize damage to your reputation and the people responsible for hiring you. Offer your two weeks’ notice, just as you would if you were a long-time employee.

Realize, however, that in the future you’re probably not going to be able to work for that company. You do run the risk of weakening your credibility by making this switch, especially in a tight industry or small town. 

Letting your new boss know right away also holds true if you have accepted the job at company A, but haven’t yet reported to your first day of work. If you are going to revoke an accepted offer of employment, let the company know as soon as possible. Don’t just fail to show up for your first day of work. While the company may be disappointed with your decision, the sooner you let them know you’re taking another job, the better.

Making the right career move means not boxing yourself in.

When Your Present Company Counter-Offers

I’ve seen a few people apply for jobs while still employed, get hired, and then receive a counter-offer from their present employer. Sometimes a boss who doesn’t want to lose an employee will offer a promotion, a raise, or some other enticement to stay.   

Statistics say that 85% of people who accept a counter offer to remain at their jobs will not be working at that same company in six months.

Once an employer knows you’re less than happy with your position, he’s not as happy with you. Understandable! You may be asked to stay on so you can train a replacement, or to finish some incomplete projects. But once that work is finished, you shouldn’t be surprised if you are squeezed out of major projects because you’re seen as disloyal or a flight risk.

From a personal perspective, there was obviously a reason why you were looking for a new job, and a higher salary isn’t usually the only reason. Even if your current employer matches the salary offered by the other company, the counter-offer won’t address other reasons why you were considering a change.

Preemptive Problem Solving

Of course, the best way to handle this problem is to never let it happen. Knowing exactly what kind of position you want can go a long way towards preventing the problem. Before you begin a serious job search, examine your priorities so that you aren’t applying for jobs you really don’t love.   

Being caught in what sounds like an enviable predicament calls for diplomacy and quick thinking. In my talks as a job-search speaker, I always encourage people to follow their instincts and determine what they are comfortable with – taking a risk by juggling offers, or accepting the first suitor who comes along.  A lot will depend on how long you’re able to wait for the perfect job, and what the job climate is like in your market. 

I hope these tips will guide you if you’re caught in the middle of multiple job offers.

Photos:, Wikimedia, aylesburywax.




Questions to Ask if You’ve Been Fired

Andy had recently lost his job as market research manager, and I was writing a resume for him. One day he told me, “I know that when one door closes, another door opens, but it’s the hallway between them that’s hell!”

That made me smile. And I’m not the only one who’s smiling.  Andy’s getting interviews and it looks like he can choose between two plum jobs soon! Getting fired isn’t something most of us want to happen. But layoffs, downsizing, and restructuring are still common these days.

What you do as soon as you get that pink slip, however, can make the difference in the length of time you’re unemployed, and how you fare financially. Whether you knew termination was near, or it came as a surprise, the more information you have now that it’s a done deal, the better. 

Ask These Questions

What benefits am I entitled to? You may get accrued vacation, overtime, and sick pay. Ask about these, including amounts and how they will be paid out.

When you leave a job, be sure you take what belongs to you, and we’re not talking about houseplants and framed photos!

Can I resign instead? You may be able to choose between being fired and resigning. If you are fired, you may be eligible for unemployment compensation, benefits, and a severance package. If you resign you can avoid the stigma of getting fired on your record. Of course, you will need to disclose that you were fired if you are asked that specific question on a job application. If you resign, you can answer “no.” Consider the pros and cons if you have the choice.

Do I qualify for any severance package or outplacement assistance? Now is the time to negotiate, but don’t be pressured to sign anything if you’re not ready. Some employers won’t release your final paycheck until you sign a release, but that doesn’t mean you need to sign anything right away.

How will reference checks be handled? It’s good to know what prospective employers will hear when they contact your former employer. Will your supervisor provide you with a letter of recommendation? Can he or she take calls for reference checks, or are those handled through the HR department? What information will be released to the prospective employer? Some companies will verify only the dates of employment, job title, and final salary, and  not answer questions related to why you are no longer working for the company. It’s good to know the policy.

What about my health insurance coverage? If the company has more than 20 employees, your employer is required by law to offer health insurance coverage through COBRA to terminated employees for up to 18 months. If you have a health condition, you may want to opt for COBRA coverage initially and then cancel it once you have new insurance.

What happens to my 401(k)? If you are enrolled in profit sharing you may be eligible for a lump sum when you leave the company. Retirement plan distributions have very specific requirements, so I suggest you consult a financial advisor on this one.

When and how do I receive my final check? Find out whether you need to sign paperwork before the check is released.

Begin the Job Hunt Now

My advice to Andy and and others who find themselves fired, is to get back on the horse, pronto. The longer you are unemployed, the harder it is to find a new job. Some jobseekers feel they need a little break before starting the job search, but taking a vacation is the last thing you should be doing now.

Do you need to remove any Facebook pictures? Check your privacy settings, and tell friends not to tag you in the pictures they post.

Besides the questions you’ll be asking your former employer, this is an ideal time to ask yourself some questions. What are the real reasons I lost my job? (If you suspect illegal discrimination played a role, consult a lawyer.) Did I like this job? This type of company? These responsibilities? Is it time for a career switch? If so, what kind of job would I prefer? Without a job to go to every day, your days may seem endless.

It can be tempting to jump into projects that you’ve put off because you’ve been so busy with work. Don’t. Instead, concentrate with keeping up with friends and people in your network. It will help you feel connected and social, plus you never know when one of them can alert you to a job opening.

Establish daily routines so you’ll stay healthy and organized. This is the time to double check your social media like your Facebook wall to make sure it is employer-friendly. Consider your email address and your voice mail message. They need to be professional enough to communicate with new employment prospects, not something goofy.

You’ll also want to update your LinkedIn profile and resume. That’s where I can help! Helping me gather the information for your resume can provide a boost to your self-esteem. And that’s especially helpful if you are mourning the loss of your old job. Some of the usual comments I get when people see their newly crafted resumes are, “I look good!” or “ Gee, I’ve accomplished a lot!” Recently fired? Then, let’s get started,  and make that hallway between doors a short one.   Photos: ilgiornale, Guardian

If You Think You’ll Lose Your Job

I talk to people all the time who have been fired. Sometimes they see it coming, and sometimes it’s a surprise.

Kaitlyn worked as a research lab technician. She told me, “I noticed I was being left out of key decisions and meetings.” She suspected that a change was coming.

But for another client, Carlos, an events coordinator, the pink slip came as a shock. He told me, “I didn’t even realize the company was in trouble and getting ready to downsize.”

Because it’s always easier to find a job when you have a job, having your resume up-to-date is just plain smart. Even if your present position isn’t in jeopardy, you never know when opportunity—a better job—will come looking for you.

Here are some signals that your job security may not be all that secure:

Your company is bought or merged into another company and there is a lot of duplication in job titles or functions within both companies. Usually, the acquiring company’s employees will be the ones to stay.

Your company loses a major client or your industry as a whole faces a crisis. Most people are aware of this kind of shift, either from being high in the chain of command, or via the company grapevine.

There are rumors of layoffs. There is often a grain of truth to these tales because layoffs don’t happen overnight. Planning and forethought goes into this kind of company decision.

You’re having a clash of personalities or differing of opinion with your boss. People like to work alongside those with whom they are simpatico. Your boss may even have someone in mind for your job and is therefore not motivated to work out your differences.

You get a new boss. Someone new to the role may want to hire colleagues from his or her previous company, or if promoted from within, to promote co-workers.

Some of your workload had been shifted to other employees. Sometimes tasks are contracted out to self-employed workers or companies. Sometimes a job is just eliminated or reduced to temporary or part time.

If you think the handwriting is on the wall that you may lose your job, here are some good things to do now.

Get Active on LinkedIn

Create or update your LinkedIn profile, but be careful about doing too much at once while you’re still employed. It looks suspicious if you go from a new profile to having 200 new connections in a week. Don’t draw attention to yourself by populating your profile overnight.

And be mindful of your LinkedIn privacy settings. Change the setting for notifications so that your network doesn’t get notices when you update information on your profile.

It might be the best time to have your LinkedIn profile overhauled. This important social media site is not about just filling in the blanks. It’s about putting yourself out there in a more complete fashion than you can on a resume or with Facebook or Twitter.

LinkedIn is always adding features that make it easier for people—-both future employers and networking connections—-to find you. Are you taking full advantage of all LinkedIn offers?

Watch Your Social Media Behavior

Lock down your privacy settings on your all your social media accounts, especially Facebook.

Be careful with your Facebook posts and photos, your tweets and shares on Twitter, and what you write on any blog or forum where you contribute. Even letters to the editor stay online for years and are easily searchable using your name.

Google your name and see what comes up. If anything questionable comes up or if you could be confused with someone else who has a similar name, do what you can to remove negative information and confusion.

 photo facbookonsmartphone.jpgWhatever you do, don’t post anything nasty or controversial online about your current job. Even with your privacy settings at the maximum, anyone who is friends with you can take a screenshot of your post and share it with others. You don’t want to give someone a reason to fire you, or not hire you.

Collect Your Stuff

Start depersonalizing your office or workspace. Take home what belongs to you gradually, so that it’s not apparent that you are removing things. Stripping all personality from your space will attract attention, so take baby steps in the guise of getting neater and more organized.

You’ll also want to collect whatever you require for building a better resume—-the information you’ll need while you still have access to company records. Examples would be the dates and names of trainings, copies of performance evaluations, sales records, letters or emails of praise or accreditation, and company publications where you, your team, or your work has been mentioned.

Educate Yourself

Check out your company’s employee handbook and/or your employment agreement to learn what’s owed to you.

Find out what the company policy is on benefits that you’ve accrued but not used. Are you entitled to cash out unused vacation time, or does the company have a use-it-or-lose-it policy?

Also review the section that outlines what exactly constitutes “termination.”

 photo PinkSlip-1.jpgTighten Your Belt

If you lose your job, no matter what personal, industry, or government safety nets you have available, money could become a problem.

Are there expenses you can temporarily reduce, such as subscriptions, memberships, small luxuries or indulgences, or any extra features or benefits you don’t often use?

Now is the time to start stockpiling an emergency fund for your living expenses, especially if you are living paycheck to paycheck.

Don’t wait until you actually lose your job to assess your financial situation and build a financial buffer.

Update Your Resume

Having a current resume gives you peace of mind, like having an insurance policy or money in the bank. Although I promise my resume and LinkedIn clients quick turnaround, I need to collect the data from you. Do you have up-to-date data?

Getting a jumpstart on a finished resume could be especially important if there was mass layoff or downsizing in your company or industry. It could give you that important edge, a two- or three-week head start on your colleagues who haven’t kept marketing documents up to date.

You might also consider starting to put out feelers for that next job. There are plenty of advantages to this approach. Consider it window shopping, testing the waters, or doing practice runs. You’ll learn about what to expect in the way of availability and salary should the news come that you’ve been fired—whether you’ve suspected it or it’s a surprise.

Phone photo: Slate

How to Give Good Answers to Bad Questions

Most of us have been asked awkward questions in social situations. Are you pregnant? What did you pay for your home? How did the two of you meet? Do you like your job?

But being asked certain questions during a hiring process is a more serious matter.  Even questions like, “What country are you from,” or “Are you married,” can get an interviewer in trouble.

But my intent here is to keep you out of trouble.

It is against the law — both Federal and state — for people like hiring managers and recruiters to ask certain questions. These are questions that are not related to the job under discussion. Interview and application questions must be relevant to the specifications of the job description, and not used to probe for personal facts.

Illegal Interview Questions

The anti-discriminatory laws protect people from being passed over for a position solely because of gender, religion, age, or other condition. As a result, employers are not allowed to inquire about:

  • Race or ethnicity
  • Skin color
  • Gender
  • Religion or spiritual practices
  • Nation of origin
  • Birthplace
  • Age
  • Physical or mental disabilities
  • Marital or family status
  • Sexual orientation

How to Answer Questions That Should Not Be Asked

If you are uncomfortable answering any question, your best approach may be to direct your answer to what the interviewer really needs to know. 

For example, if an interviewer asks if you are a U.S. citizen, which is not legal to ask, you should reply simply that you are authorized to work in this country. An employer is within the law to ask if someone is authorized to work here, so you are in effect throwing the question back to him in a legal frame.

Handling the question like this can be a tactful way for you to save face for the interviewer.

Another choice is to change the topic of conversation and avoid the question.

This approach takes some conversational skill, but is still possible if you can be evasive. For example, if you are asked whether you are married, you can say, “It’s complicated.”  If you are asked what country your parents come from, you could say, “I’m not sure.” 

Even though you are legally protected, the reality is that refusing to answer a question could cost you a job offer. My advice to people in this position is to think about whether they really want to work somewhere where they are asked questions that are not appropriate. These questions betray a lack of sensitivity or training.

Your third option is to politely educate the interviewer that the question is not a legal one.

In many cases people, especially people in small or young companies, may simply be ignorant of the law. Just because the application or interviewer is asking an illegal question doesn’t necessarily mean that the intent was to discriminate.

Your answer could be, “I prefer not to answer that question. It’s against the law to ask it, and it could get the company in trouble.”  Or you could simply smile and say pleasantly, “You do know that question in not allowed by law, don’t you?” If the question is about something private like your religion, you say could something like, “That’s too personal for me to discuss.”

And then be silent.

Of course, you can always just answer the questions, even if they are out-of-bounds. I don’t usually recommend this method because I feel it fosters old-fashioned thinking, whether it is intentionally discriminatory or not.

Although it may keep you from making waves, answering illegal questions may not be in your best interest in the long haul.

I also don’t recommend being argumentative or combative about the issue. If an employer has a bias against something you represent, it is better to handle it politely and move on.

You should be on the lookout for interviewers who will disguise questions as small talk or otherwise ask questions to get information they want. This is particularly a problem for women.

Because an employer knows he cannot ask if you are married or if you have children, he may ask leading questions such as, “Are you able to relocate,” or “Would working weekends be a problem.” 

How you answer these questions depends on your circumstances, but it’s good to be aware that by getting chatty you can reveal too much about yourself.   

If you are filling in a form that asks for nationality, gender, marital status, or similar information, you are free to leave it blank or X-out all possible answers. 

You should know that you are entitled to file a claim against the employer or recruiter if you are asked illegal questions.  You might choose to take this action as a political statement, or if you want to be hired no matter what the situation.

Filing a Claim

If you believe you have been discriminated against by an employer, recruiter, labor union or employment agency when applying for a job or while you are on the job because of your race, color, sex, religion, national origin, age, or disability, you can do something about it. 


You have rights that are legally protected if you have been discriminated against because you speak out about an illegal policy (such as working overtime without pay or being denied benefits) or for participating in an equal employment opportunity matter. You can file a charge of discrimination with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC).

To file a discriminatory claim, you’ll need to talk to an attorney who handles labor issues, or contact your local EEOC office.  

In the U.S., the Federal and state governments are on your side in the employment field. Prejudice and discrimination still exist in the workplace, so you can do your part by knowing your rights. These laws were hard-fought and cannot be denied. Being aware of them is part of being a good citizen  and actually increases your chances of getting that job you’ll love. 

photos: De Nova, Corn on the Job, Woman’s Health Magazine

How to Ace the Phone Interview

Do you dread the phone interview? Afraid your voice will sound weak or nasal?

Or you’ll get tongue-tied?

Or say something stupid?

Or not have time to elaborate on your qualifications?

Or that the interviewer will call when your children are fighting, the television is at full volume cartoon soundtrack, and you’re in the middle of stir frying dinner?

There are ways around all these problems. And they are all simple solutions. You can score high on a telephone interview with a little know-how and prep work.What’s on Your Side

During a face-to-face interview, an interviewer will assess you on how you appear, but during a phone interview, he’ll judge you more by what you say, and how you say it. You can make this work to your advantage.

You can have a cheat sheet in front of you with the right answers to difficult questions. A cheat sheet can have specific details like pertinent percentages and dollar amounts so you’ll have these facts at your fingertips.

You can keep a copy of your résumé in front of you. You’ll be looking at the same thing the interviewer is looking at.

You can take notes while you are on the phone.

You are less likely to be pre-judged by age or disability or any ethnic or racial characteristics.

There are other advantages the phone interview has over the in-person interview.

It is usually shorter than the in-person interview. The typical one lasts 20 to 30 minutes, but it can be as short as five minutes or as long as an hour.

It will save you money. You do not have to travel to an interview. This can be a considerable savings if the hiring company is some distance away.

The Flip Side of the Coin

However, there are some disadvantages to the phone interview.

Because a phone interview is perceived as less personal, you may be asked difficult questions in the phone interview, like “Why did you leave your last job?” or “Why are you looking for a new job?”

The interviewer may be unskilled at getting information from you, and you could be unfairly screened from the next step of the application process.

You may have the kind of personal charisma that comes across better when in person than on the phone. You may have social skills that work best face-to-face. You may have physical advantages that don’t convey over the phone. For example, statistics show that tall people earn more money in their lifetimes. Although these kinds of things may work against you in a phone interview, they are minor.

What Will the Interviewer Want to Know?

The kinds of questions asked in a phone interview will have three purposes.

  • To check your credentials. The interviewer wants to corroborate basic facts he sees on your application or résumé. Or he needs to fill in the blanks for missing information.
  • To verify your experience. The interviewer has determined that you meet the requirements of the position, and now he needs to double check your experience by asking specific questions about your responsibilities and accomplishments.
  • To predict how you’ll perform. The interviewer needs to judge how well suited you are for the position. These types of behavioral questions probe how you handled specific challenges in the past. It will help you give good answers to all these questions if you are relaxed, and confident.

To Avoid Nervousness

Take several deep breaths before the call. And do not forget to breathe during the call. This can help lower your voice pitch.

If you have a strong accent, lisp, or anything that could make it difficult for the interviewer to understand, acknowledge it. Tell the interviewer, “Let me know if you have any trouble understanding me, and I will be happy to repeat the information.”

Walk around the room when you are not taking notes. Standing up will make you feel more in control. Feel free to gesture with your hands if that is your habit.

Smile. Put a sticky note somewhere to remind yourself to put on a grin.

Keep your prepared notes handy and orderly. This kind of prep will help calm the jitters.

Dress as you would for an in-person interview. It will put you in a professional frame of mind and boost your self confidence.

To Improve Your Speaking Style

Practice speaking concisely and clearly. Many people are surprised to hear how they sound on the phone. One easy way to hear yourself is to use a free conference call service, like

Be enthusiastic but don’t talk too loud.

Limit the “uhhs,” ‘umms,” and “you knows” in your responses. A positive and confident frame of mind will help you speak unhesitatingly.

Slow down. When you are nervous, you are likely to talk faster, which makes you more difficult to understand. So talk a bit slower than you normally would.

Don’t use a speaker phone. You will sacrifice clarity. Use a landline if possible.

Resist the temptation to interrupt. Make sure the interviewer has finished asking the question before you answer. Then, wait a second or two before answering.

Eliminate “uptalk,” which is ending a declarative statement with an intonation that makes it sound like a question.

Customize the When and Where of the Call

Most hiring managers do not expect you to be available at a moment’s notice. So if you receive a call at an inopportune time, you can ask to schedule the call for later that day or the next day.

If you decide to do the interview right then, ask if you can excuse yourself to a quiet place and call them back in a few minutes. This will also give you a little time to prepare.

If you are at work, if you are driving, or if you are some place noisy, do not answer the call. Instead, call back as soon as you are able to. It is better to have the call go to voicemail and call the interviewer back than to perform poorly because of distractions.

Never put your interviewer on hold to answer another call. Ignore or disable your phone’s call waiting feature.

When scheduling an interview, be sure to clarify any time zone differences.

What to do Before the Call

The more you prepare, the better you will do. Here’s what I always tell my clients.

On a piece of paper, write down the company name, the job title you are applying for, the name of the person you’ll be talking to. Make sure you are thoroughly familiar with the job description or job posting.

Study the company’s website. Learn as much as you can about the company, the interviewer, and the job.

Create your own talking points outline. Remember to have your printed résumé in front of you, with any especially pertinent positions or accomplishments highlighted.

Plan to take notes during your interview with pen and paper, not the computer because the sound of typing is distracting.

Be prepared to answer the salary question if you are asked. Avoid bringing up salary, benefits, or who your supervisor would be. Save that for an in-person interview

Print an opening and closing statement on paper. The opening statement might be the answer to “Tell me about yourself.” This should include a 30- to 60-second statement of why you are qualified for the job, based on what you know about the position. The closing statement should include your desire to work for the company, reiterating your interest in the job. Speak using a conversational tone, not your reading-voice.

If using a cell phone, make sure the phone is charged (or plugged in) and has a strong cell signal. If you are using a cordless phone, make sure the battery is charged.

Go to the bathroom before the call.

With the right kind of preparation you’ll pass the phone interview with flying colors and that means being invited to the next level of job screening — the in-person interview.

Remember that I send a free copy of my Résumé to Payday ebook to each of my résumé clients. Is it time for your résumé to get a makeover?

photos: Wise Geek, Capital Bank TX

Protect Yourself from Internet Job Scams

Did you know that looking for a new job makes you a target for thieves?

Here’s how I know.

Denise had been unemployed for nearly eight months when she contacted me to re-do her résumé. As a sales rep for a major cosmetics company, she had enjoyed a good salary, super working conditions, a travel allowance, and great benefits.

When we revamped her resume, she started getting interviews.

One day she received an email from a credit agency she’d never heard of, but one that claimed to represent one of the companies where she applied. The message asked that she complete online forms, including information like Social Security number and bank account information. Denise knew it was common for employers to run credit checks, so she completed the forms because they looked so convincing and they guaranteed privacy and security.
Big mistake.

You can guess from the title of this post what happened next. Her personal information was stolen and the scammers were able to apply for new credit cards in her name. Fortunately, one of her credit card companies called to ask why she wanted a second card, and she was able to notify local police who told her how to file for fraud and protect her other cards.

In the last year, social media scams and phishing attacks have increased 125%. The thugs know that jobseekers make good candidates because they are already accustomed to being asked for personal information.

These scammers don’t limit their target victims to any particular demographic. People of all ages, income levels, and educational backgrounds have fallen into their traps. Don’t fool yourself into thinking you are immune because you’ve heard warnings about identity theft, stolen credit cards, and hacked accounts. These thieves are pros.

After Denise’s brush with scammers, I decided to do my homework so I could alert other clients. I discovered there are three common ways job scammers work.

Work-From-Home Scams

One of the most common rip-offs geared to job seekers is the one that promises that you can make lots of money working from home.

Today plenty of people already work from home. About 30 million folks operate out of their home office at least once a week. Surveys that test worker satisfaction indicate that many people would trade a lower salary for the flexibility of telecommuting. So it’s no wonder that work-from-home scams are thriving.

Some work-at-home scams involve pay-to-play schemes. You are asked to send money in exchange for a special kit, supplies, or software that you can use to earn money working from home. Sometimes the company promises to reimburse you when you are hired, but the job offer never materializes. Or the scammer might ask you to pay a subscription fee to access a website or a list of work-at-home opportunities. Run, do not walk, away from these offers.

The most common scam you’ve probably heard about is when you’re asked to deposit a legitimate-looking check and then wire money or buy products online, and then you’re left holding the bag when the check bounces. Your bank will require you to cover the full amount of the check plus bank service fees.

In a similar work-at-home scam you will be actually set up with supplies you’ve purchased to assemble, with the promise that you will be paid for your tasks. Common tasks are stuffing envelopes, processing invoices or rebates or other papers, taking online surveys, or assembling small parts by gluing or sewing. But when the finished work is submitted, it’s rejected as “not being up to standards.”

The most dangerous scam along these lines happen when the “employer” requests payment for something in the form of a pre-paid Visa card. It is very difficult to recover money lost to a fraudulent transaction that used a pre-paid debit card because there is often no paper trail and the money transfer is immediate.

Some work-at-home business opportunities promise a refund if you’re not satisfied. However, victims who’ve tried to get refunds are usually not successful.

Identity Theft

We’ve all been warned about identity theft. One of the biggest areas of growth with identity theft is tax theft – when a thief uses your Social Security number to file an income tax return and obtain a refund.

Or, your Social Security number may be sold to an undocumented individual. When that person uses your Social Security number to get a job, his employer may report that person’s income to the IRS, so when you file your tax return and don’t include those earnings, the IRS will come after you.

If your identity has been stolen, and you receive a notice from the IRS about unreported wages, or that your return has already been filed, contact the IRS Identity Protection Specialized Unit at (800) 908-4490.

Be cautious when you are asked to provide your Social Security number in a job search, especially if it’s asked for in an application or online form. Carefully check out any companies that send you an unsolicited job application or offer before providing any personal information, especially your Social Security number.

My personal policy is to never send a SSN online unless it’s a legitimate government site. The safest way is to use a secure landline.

Also, be careful of how much personal information about yourself you disclose on social media sites. People up to no good can use that information to answer “challenge” questions on your financial accounts, getting access to your money. Even saying “Happy Birthday” to your mom on Facebook could provide a mother’s maiden name to these thieves.

The Bait-and-Switch Job Offer

Scammers will put together job postings that look like they’re from real companies. They’ll use the real company’s name and logo, but the e-mail address it comes from is from a Yahoo! or Gmail account. Some of these scam opportunities are also coming through disguised as LinkedIn connection requests or job postings. The lesson here is that you have to look closely at the details in order to tell that it’s not a legitimate opportunity.

Some scammers don’t bother faking a job opening with a major company. Instead, they’ll invent a fake job to hook unsuspecting jobseekers. This technique is popular because posting the job costs the scammer little or no money, and is very effective. A scammer can post dozens or hundreds of listings for free on Craigslist. If they get even a small percentage of folks to fall for the scam, they can make tens of thousands of dollars.

Bait-and-switch offers can exist on any niche job board, or even the big job posting boards. The listings collect résumés to build their database of candidates and email addresses. On Craigslist, Monster, or CareerBuilder, these scams might be posted to get leads for multi-level marketing opportunities, or it might be to build a database of jobseekers so they can sell that.

These scams can be quite elaborate. You may be asked to participate in several phone interviews, or complete a pre-employment test. Being asked to jump through several hoops is one way to lure you in and build confidence and hope.

How to Avoid Being Scammed

Research is the best defense you have against getting scammed. The more you know about how crooks work, they less likely you’ll be victimized.

  • Google them. A simple search of an internet address or company name will help you determine if you’re pursuing a legitimate opportunity. You may learn that other folks have been targeted with a scam originating with this address or name.
  • Proofread. Job postings and sites with lots of errors, misspellings, or typos are often scams.
  • Check duplicate listings. When you search on Google for a job posting, see if the identical ad comes up in numerous other cities. If it does, it may be a scam.
  • Check locale. Countries that have a high fraud rate are Belarus, Estonia, Ghana, Hungary, Indonesia, Latvia, Lithuania, Macedonia, Malaysia, Nigeria, Philippines, Romania, Russia, Singapore, Slovak Republic, Thailand, Uganda, Ukraine and Yugoslavia.
  • Be objective. Act cautiously when receiving job offers that sound too good to be true. If you receive an email out of the blue with a job offer, investigate it thoroughly before responding, or simply delete it.
  • Stay private. Be mindful of the details you share on social media. A lot of the information you put on social media related to your job search is public. If you put out the word that you need a job fast, it will make you a bigger target.
  • Invent new passwords. Do not use the same password for multiple sites. Use passwords that contain letters, numbers, and symbols. If you set up a username and password for accessing a bogus company website, and then use the same password for your financial accounts online, scammers can access them without your knowledge.
  • Monitor your credit history. Request your credit report from the three national service providers (Experian, TransUnion, and Equifax). Obtain yours through You are entitled to one free copy of your credit report every 12 months from each credit reporting company. One sensible approach is to pull a report from one bureau every four months, so you receive all three reports for free in a calendar year. Staying on top of your record has an additional advantage since some companies check your credit when you apply for work. You can also sign up for an ongoing credit monitoring service, which will provide you with email alerts if identity theft or fraud is suspected on your accounts. Some credit monitoring services also include identity theft insurance, which will reimburse you for time and money spent recovering your identity.

Staying Safe

Having a plan is an excellent defense. The more focused you are on your job goal, the less desperate you’ll feel. Having assistance in developing that plan is going to help you be methodical and confident about working that plan.

Here’s the kind of assistance I am talking about:

  • Work with a pro. That may involve signing on with a career service professional or career coach to develop your plan. Having a professionally done résumé should be part of your plan.
  • Surround yourself. Get help from a resource in the community, like a workforce development office, or help from churches and community organizations that offer assistance.
  • Reach back. Align yourself with your college or university’s career service office. LinkedIn and professional organizations can help you contact colleagues and classmates as well. Be proactive and network with people you know and trust.

If you feel less desperate, you won’t chase opportunities or respond to unsolicited opportunities. People are more likely to be scammed by things that come randomly into their e-mail inbox than things that they pursue within their own network and support team.

Avoid Being Re-Victimized

Some scammers sell lists of people they’ve stolen from. The second round of scammers comes in to help you recover the money you’ve lost in the original scam. Instead, you’re re-victimized.

Unfortunately, the kind of folks who are perpetuating these scams don’t care about people. They care only about money. They’re determined to separate you from your money any way they can.

If you have been scammed, report the crime. Contact your local police and the Federal Trade Commission at If you have provided access to your financial information, contact your financial institution and ask for help in eliminating the scammer’s access to your account. You may have to close your account and set up an alert on a new account. For clarity’s sake during this process, it’s a good idea to keep a written log of names and phone numbers of everyone you’ve spoken to, and keep copies of all reports you file.

Being aware of the all they ways scammers operate will help you keep from becoming a victim of cybercrooks.