Rich from University of Texas at Austin asks:
“I am a graduate with a degree in biochemistry and a degree in computer science. Furthermore, I have an insurance license and completed an insurance class. The thing is that when these attributes get brought up in an interview for a job not related to these courses, degrees, or licenses. I am asked why I did not go for those in my field(s) even though I have an interest in sales. How do I answer their questions? Also, there is a huge gap between these accomplishments and I only have 5 months of a sales experience. How do I address these issues I’m experiencing?”
Thanks for your question, Rich. It can be confusing to know what to put in and leave off of your resume. It sounds like you’ve been quite successful in the classroom earning degrees, licenses, and other certificates to enhance your professional toolbox. Great news!
People switch careers all the time. In fact, various research indicates the average worker will have between five and seven uniquely different careers during their lifetime. Change is inevitable and it is okay to switch gears as you’ve already done.
While I’ve been a career coach for over ten years, I spent over 15 years in sports marketing in a variety of sales and marketing roles. Both of my degrees are in sports marketing and management, and, yet I am a career coach today. I finally figured out over time what is the best fit for me. I’m sure you’ll figure out your best fit as you continue to navigate forward in your career no different than I and millions of others have successfully done transitioning into a new career path.
The good news is that today’s job market is better than it has been in many years. Finding the right job isn’t easy even in the best of job markets, but there is opportunity for you out there. But, you’ll need to build a proactive job search plan and fuel it with daily action to accomplish your goal.
Lastly, it seems that your current resume is working well for you as you are receiving invitations for interviews. However, based on what you also shared in your question, it seems like your answers to some of the prospective employers’ interview questions is not meeting the mark.
Detailed below are some suggestions on how to improve your resume and/or cover letter along with how to improve your interviewing skills to move closer to landing the job offer.
Match Resume and Cover Letter to Position
As mentioned earlier, today’s job market is the best it has been in nearly two decades. This doesn’t mean it is easy to find the right job. It is extremely competitive as employers report receiving an average of 250 resumes for each corporate job opening.
It is incumbent upon the candidate to show the prospective employer how they meet the employer’s specific requirements for the opening. You’ll need to make the most of the short time that an employer is reading your cover letter and/or resume by showcasing you have the skills, experience, education, accomplishments, and more to match their specific needs. Recognize that the employer will not “figure out” that you have exactly what they desire in candidates without you making it obvious.
If the employer is looking for A, B, C, D, E, and F for a specific job, then highlight these things assuming you possess them. The “one size fits all” approach won’t work so don’t waste your time sending documents that aren’t tailored to the specific job.
Again, the goal of the resume and/or cover letter is to be contacted for an interview. Make sure to focus your resume to highlight where your skills, experience, successes, education, and more match the prospective employer’s specific needs. The employer will only contact candidates qualified for the position. Lastly, don’t misrepresent (or lie about) your experience, skills, and more as these will ultimately be discovered and will disqualify you from further consideration.
In your case, Rich, you aren’t obligated to list everything you’ve ever done in your academic background or work history. You’ll want to highlight what applies to a specific position. For example, your insurance license isn’t likely to separate you from others if it isn’t required for a non-insurance position.
Improving Your Interviewing Skills
You only need one job offer, but getting the job offer will require that you are able to effectively communicate your value to the prospective employer during the interview process. Interviewing successfully takes a great deal of research, preparation, and most importantly, practice.
I’ve found that most people, especially current college students and recent college graduates, don’t spend much time practicing and preparing for interviews. This is also true with the thousands of professional-level clients I’ve coached too. Most are in a hurry to get results and don’t recognize that having great interviewing skills can be the difference in convincing the prospective employer that they are the right candidate for the targeted position.
There are three components of a successful interview:
- Communicating Your VALUE – Build your case during the interview that you can produce significant organizational improvements and/or bottom line results.
- Establishing a FIT – Convince the interviewer that you have the same values and cultural characteristics that the company promotes and adheres to, while also highlighting how your skills and experience match the position requirements and/or expectations.
- Enhancing Your LIKEABILITY – Build your case that you have a personality and temperament that align with internal employees (management, peers, subordinates) and external entities (vendors, clients, community). Simply put, people hire people they like. Don’t underestimate the power of “likeability”. Be your authentic true self, but be at your best to enhance your likeability factor.
Simply put, the better you can communicate effectively during interviews to convince interviewers that you can produce results, while establishing your fit and likeability factor, the more likely you will move forward in the hiring process.
Talk in specifics by highlighting past successes and/or experiences, not generalities as these are not likely to convince the interviewer you can successfully do the job. Here is an example:
Poor answer, no specifics: “Yes, I have experience working in operations. I’ve done lots in operations and have a great deal of success in this area.”
Better answer with specifics: “I have significant experience with managing company operations. While at ABC Company, I recognized that there were several inefficiencies in our operations. I took the initiative to research options, get input from others, and evaluate the options. I coordinated all the meetings and vendor initiatives. Ultimately, my suggestions were approved by the committee. Once we implemented it, we found it to be successful as it saved ABC Company over $100,000 within the first 6 months.”
Some additional suggestions to improve your specific interviewing skills include:
- Develop strategies to answer the tough questions – In your case, one of the tough questions includes the question about your gap in employment. If you were volunteering, taking classes, learning new skills, and more during your gap, focus your answer on what you were doing during this time to improve your skills so that you can show you are more valuable to a prospective employer because your enhanced skills.
- Frame your interview with a “thank you” – Make sure to thank the interviewer at the beginning and end of the interview. While you’ve earned the opportunity to compete for the position, the employer has provided their time to you so show appreciation for what you received. I also believe this is a great way to not just show appreciation for the opportunity, as it can also enhance your likeability factor.
- Indicate your interest in the position – If you are interested in the position, make sure to let the interviewer know that you are interested. It is most appropriate to add this towards the end of the interview.
- Ask good questions – Include questions confirming the hiring timeline along with good “insight” questions. Insight questions will let you know what is most important to the hiring manager (i.e. What is the most important skill you desire in the selected candidate?, What is your hope that the new hire will be able to accomplish within the first 90 days on the job?).
- Do good research – One of the most common interview questions is “what do you know about our company?” and/or “why did you apply to our position and how can you help us achieve our objectives?” Simply put, you’ll need to know as much as you can about the prospective employer through your thorough research.
- Send your thank you e-mail/letter/note – Make sure to send a thank you note within 24 hours to each person with whom you interviewed.
Finally, practice, practice, practice to improve your interview skills. A good strategy to improve your skill includes developing a list of common interview questions along with any additional anticipated questions. Once you have this list, then start writing (or typing) out your answer to these questions. Next, practice reading these answers aloud. Write it out, say it out loud as often as you can as this will lead to you knowing the answer and being able to sell it during an actual interview.
Contact Your Career Center
Most colleges and universities offer career preparation services to recent graduates for at least a year after graduation at no cost. There may be a fee for an alumnus, like you, who is a few years from their graduation. However, it could prove to be helpful to speak with someone knowledgeable and skilled in career coaching/advising. Simply put, students (and recent graduates, like you) should leverage their career center as it is a great resource. College career centers are staffed with knowledgeable, skilled, and credentialed professionals who can provide assistance in a variety of areas including resume review, interview skills training, job search strategy, and more. Your career center’s skilled coaches could likely provide some additional insight in terms of how to handle your situation on your resume and on interviews. Lastly, they will have a job site exclusively for current students and recent alums featuring jobs posted with the institution. Contact your career center soon.
Putting It All Together
It sounds like you are getting interviews, which is an indicator that your resume is doing its job. However, make sure to customize your resume for each job to which you apply. In today’s job market, employers will not take the time to see how you fit. It is incumbent upon you, the candidate, to highlight how you match their position’s specific needs and requirements.
In terms of the interviewing, make sure to dedicate significant time and effort to practicing answering interview questions. The more you practice, the better your skills will be when it really counts when you are on an actual interview. Your continued practice will lead to skill enhancement and confidence. These will translate to better results on the interview. You’ve got this, Rich!
Good luck and best wishes!
Here’s to your success,
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