Job-Search Tips: How to ace your elevator pitch

Everyone talks about nailing their elevator pitch.  In fact almost all job-search advice cites the elevator pitch as being a key piece in the job-search process.  For those who need reminding, the elevator pitch is a 3 minute ‘ad’ for yourself, named for the amount of time you may have when riding in an elevator with someone you want to impress.

The approach that most people take to developing their pitch is pretty basic.

1) Think of the message you want to communicate

2) Think about the major points you want to raise

3) Run the dialog through your head

4) Repeat ‘3’ until you are comfortable that you will be able to say it out loud without messing-up

This is the easy way to develop your pitch.  Unfortunately, this approach results in some very ‘crappy’ pitches.  Why?  Because it is easy and comfortable to ‘think’ you have the pitch down when what you have are some connected points BUT there is a big difference between ‘thinking’ you have the pitch down, and practicing the pitch, out-loud many times until you can repeat it without pause and pretty-much without thinking.

The basic problem is that there is a huge difference between something we ‘think’ we can say, and actually saying it correctly and eloquently under pressure.  I find that this habit gets worse the more senior you are.  While this may sound counter-intuitive, senior people are more susceptible to this issue.  The problem is that senior people are generally more confident in their ability to ‘ad-lib’ than junior folks, and it is this belief that gets them into trouble.

Think you have your pitch down?

1) can you say your pitch three times in a row and bring up the exact same points and messaging?

2) when you are in a networking group and you are asked for your pitch are you hesitant?

3) can you say your pitch without vocal pauses (‘umm’s and ‘ahhh’s)

4) can you say your pitch with good intonation and pacing (I listen to a lot of elevator pitches that sound like “IaminterestedinajobinmarketingmybackgroundisinbusinestoconsumermarketingandIwasresponsible….”

Basically, you should have your pitch down to such an extent that you don’t even have to think about it, you simply go through what you have memorized, word-for-word, you can speed it up or you can slow it down.  Either way, you have every word, every pause, every compelling intonation – everything memorized.

The simple key to this is to practice saying the pitch out loud until you have it down cold. How do you practice it out-loud?  You write it down, word by word, line by line. You have all the time to think about points, language, and pacing.  Once you have written it, practice out loud until you can say it in your sleep.  If your brain works anything like mine, getting from the brain to the mouth can be risky, and this is a risk that can and should be avoided.

You only have one shot at a great elevator pitch and what you say is as important as how you say it.  Not unlike acting, you can know all the lines, but that isn’t the same as being onstage in front of an audience.

Happy hunting,

Barry at VirtualJobCoach

Job-Search Tips: Avoid Human Resources (they are NOT your friend)

In the recruiting process, HR’s role is to find qualified candidates and put them in front of the hiring manager.  In an ideal world, HR would carefully screen all of the candidates’ resumes, select the most qualified group, and file the rest.

Now let’s look at the real world……

In the real world, HR staff get about 1000 times more resumes then they can (or want to) go through.  Since there are so many resumes, they quickly screen out anyone and everyone who is not an ‘ideal’ fit for the role.  Furthermore, it is often the case that the HR staff reviewing the resumes DOES NOT have the best understanding of the role, so they will look for any reason to ‘ding’ a resume (remember, there is an unlimited supply, so the chances of them getting in trouble for passing-over a qualified candidate are next to nil).

Which means, you need to be ‘lucky’ not to be screened-out.  In fact, you need to be lucky to even get screened since they probably got 1000 resumes for one position.  Most likely, they will take the first 50 or so and start looking through them.  If they find enough ‘respectable’ candidates in that first 50, then the remaining 950 probably won’t be touched.

So what does this mean for the job-seeker?

1) in-general, HR will try to screen-you-out of the process

2) if your resume is not an ‘exact’ fit then you will be screened out

3) HR doesn’t care if they miss a lot of good candidates, as long as they can put the “mandatory minim” number of candidates in front of the hiring manager

The lesson here is “if you don’t have an EXACT fit for the role, HR will screen you out”.  So it is much better to try to ‘go around’ HR and directly contact the hiring manager (if possible) if you want a shot at the role.

This gets even more fun if the HR ‘screener’ does NOT have a good understanding of the role.  Imagine trying to assess candidates for a complex technical role when you have no understanding of the technology or the market space.  So, is HR your friend?  What do you think?

Poets day Picks

Here’s my poets day picks from this week.

For folks who have their resume as a web page, this is a great article, from duct tape marketing on taking the idea of personal endorsement (as used by Linkedin) one stage further.

Fracat on the reality of how some resumes are treated. But despite their shoddy treatment at some places, warns you not to fudge your resume as it raises doubts.

Blue Sky Resumes says while your resume may not need to be stellar, there is a baseline it has to meet, and most don’t!
Some tips to polish your resume from Employment digest, and if you were wondering which phone number to quote, here’s two points of view on the question of being contactable by phone while looking for work.

Career hub suggests you don’t discuss salary in the first interview, and Career Journal adds when salary does come up, there’s good chance if you ask for more you will get it. Don’t be too eager though, make sure you as for the job first from Career journal, and consider these interviewing tips

Scott gives 6 steps of advice on creating your own luck, and Career Hub help you get the right sort of motivation, both very much needed when job searching.

Have a great weekend

VirtualJobCoach – a new tool to take ‘real’ job-coaches to the next level

VirtualJobCoach was designed and built to help people organize and focus their job searches.  And, although we use the words ‘virtual coach’, we do not replace direct-coaches.  Instead we provide the platform (or plumbing) that a job-seeker needs weather they have a real coach or not.  Therefore, we complement coaches and help them (and their clients) succeed.

Here is the basic logic.  We all know that ‘the right tool makes the job much easier’.  It is much easier to cut your lawn with a ‘powered’ lawn mower than a manual one.  So what VirtualJobCoach does is take a lot of the ‘stuff’ you need to perform your search (calendar, to-do list, contact db, resume builder, etc.) and puts it all in one place in an integrated manner.  Because you now have a ‘control center’ for your job-search, you can manage it more effectively.

Does this replace a real coach though?  No, but it can help a good coach be a great coach or an efficient coach be more efficient.  Why?  Simple, with VirtualJobCoach they bring more ‘tools to the table’.  Without having to worry about ‘infrastructure’ or ‘plumbing’ the real coach can focus on advice and guidance – their most valuable attributes.  Said another way, “coaches can focus on the content of the search knowing that their clients have all the right tools”.

On the spectrum of coach-value would be:

coach – good

coach with templates and examples – better

coach with VirtualJobCoach – best

So if a person has a job-coach, using that coach with VJC ‘enables’ the overall process of the search while allowing the coach to focus on the value of the person-to-person guidance.  This, therefore, benefits both the coach and the client.  Said another way, VirtualJobCoach enables clients to ‘walk the talk’.

Job-Search Tips: How to ace ‘resume’ interviews – think like a lawyer?

There are three different types of interviews: resume, case and fit (detail here).  Of these types, the ‘resume’ is by far the most common.  Simply put the ‘resume’ interview is a review of your resume (funny how it works that way).  That said, I have done hundreds of interviews and find that people can be very unprepared with answers to the most common questions.   The best advice I got in preparing for this type of interview is to “think like a lawyer”.  This is a spin on the adage that a lawyer will never ask a question that he doesn’t have an answer for.  Why?  Because the last thing you want during a trial is for some ‘new’ piece of info to pop out.  Stealing this logic, you should always have a ‘stock’ answer to the most common resume questions.

These questions include:


Tell me about yourself

What type of worker (or boss) are you?

Why did you choose this line of work?

Take me through the ‘progression’ of your career.

What type of team-member are you?

What are your strengths and weaknesses?

What type of work environment do you like?

Where do you see yourself in five years?


Why did you choose this school?

What was your favorite (or least favorite) class?

Did you do a lot of team-work exercises at school?

Experience (at company Y)

Why did you choose company Y?

Tell me about the role you had in company Y?

Why did you leave company Y?

Tell me about a project you completed at company Y.

What were the results of the project?

The Current Opportunity (the role that you are interviewing for)

Why do you want to work at this company?

What do you like about this role?

What is your understanding of the role you are interviewing for?


Tell me about a project where you used skill Z.

How do you keep your skills sharp?

Do you want to continue doing this type of work?

These are some of the most basic questions for this type of interview and you must have an answer for each of them on ‘the tip of your tongue’.

At this point, it is common for the reader to say to themselves  ‘ok’ those questions are easy and I should have no difficulty’.  The problem is, very few people actually practice or really think about their responses.  It is much easier to say ‘oh I will talk about X and Y’ than to sit down and craft your EXACT RESPONSE.

Again, many are thinking to themselves “those questions are easy – I don’t need to practice them”.

So here are two examples of responses to “tell me about company X”.

Answer 1 (off the cuff): “Company X makes software for the transportation industry.  Their key products are A, B and C.  I worked on project B.”

Answer 2 (prepped): “Company X was founded to try to address the problems in the transportation market.  Specifically,  Bob Z., the founder, thought that he could adapt clean-coal technology to long-haul railroad traffic.  The first set of products (A) was well received and addressed some of the major issues with clean-coal.  The problem is that it didn’t address Z, and so they developed product B, the one I worked on.”


These questions are some of the easiest you will get in an interview (“softballs”) and you have the opportunity to either go off-the-cuff with what you ‘think’ you know.  Or do some real prep and be able to nail the question.  Who would you hire?

Job-Search Tip: Dealing with Depression During the Search

Depression isn’t a topic people like to talk about, but an extended job-search can certainly crush your ego.  Combine that with the Holiday Season and an economic meltdown and it is pretty easy to get depressed.

I am not a psychologist, nor a therapist, but I have been through some extended job-searches that have made me depressed.  It is a very common trap for job-seekers to loose energy and motivation as the search gets longer and longer.  Unfortunately, many people link an extended-search with personal failure.  Once you start thinking this way, it is even harder to get motivated and can create a downward-spiral.

Here are some of the things I have done to deal with depression:

1) Don’t sugar-coat the situation – EXTENDED JOB-SEARCHES SUCK!  Suck, suck, suck, suck!  So you are feeling bad about yourself?  You have a right to, you are in a sucky situation, acknowledge it, accept it, and give yourself a break.

2) Don’t take it personally.  You are looking for a job in a tough economy where employees (or potential employees) have very little ‘power’.  There are many things that are out of your control.  As the search drags on, it is easy to start piling doubt on yourself, the problem is that this ‘blame’ can be a very powerful demotivator.  Don’t let this reflect on your sense of self-worth.

3) Get perspective.  Reach-out to someone in your network who is in a similar situation and have a ‘bitch fest’.  Your not the only one in this situation.   For literal perspective (that helps my mind) I like to go someplace where I can get a great view of the city/country/ocean.  Looking out over a vast expanse helps me understand that there’s a lot more going on than just my search.  Finally, one of the best tips I can provide is do some volunteer work.  My sister volunteers to work at a homeless shelter, and when I am really in the dumps, I go with her.  Helping people makes me feel better, seeing people who have much less than I, but are happy, makes me think about what I value.    Jobs are important in a lot of ways, but there are other things that are equally or more important – health, happiness, friends, loved-ones or spirituality.  So, while it does suck, there are other things in your life you can focus on.

4) Control your thoughts.  Probably the hardest thing to do – our minds like to wander down paths of their own choosing.  Unfortunately some of these paths will take you in the wrong direction.  One of the things I do is try to recognize it when my thoughts start slipping in the wrong direction.  If I can catch-myself, I usually have a little internal dialog that goes something like this: “You know that these thoughts will just bring you down” – “but that’s not going to help you be successful” – “so I acknowledge that I am in a sucky place and it is OK to feel a bit bad about my situation” – “but I can’t dwell on these thoughts or it will bring me down further”.  Then I try to change my focus away from these thoughts onto something else.  Ideally it is something that will require your focus so that you can ‘push aside’ the negative thoughts to get the task done.  Hopefully, when you have completed this task, you will feel better.

5) Set measurable goals.  There’s an old business saying “you can’t manage what you don’t measure”.  While I’m not going to go deep into this statement, I have found that it is always true.  If your only ‘goal’ is to get a job, then you won’t feel you have moved forward until you get that job.  Because forward progress generally makes people feel better try to set smaller, reachable goals.   Examples of this can be: ‘network with X people this week’, ‘find Y number of jobs and apply to them’, or simply ‘get my contact list up-to-date’.  Build momentum with ‘little-steps’.

An extended job-search can crush your spirit.  It will be very difficult for you to present yourself well, if you are feeling bad about yourself.  It will also be harder to motivate yourself.   Depression under these circumstances is (almost) to be expected.  The key is to recognize the negative thought patterns, and try to buy-pass or control them.

Three Steps to a Successful Job Interview

Much has been said and written about insuring a successful job interview. Speaking as someone who coaches people for interview, a careful analysis reveals that there are three basic components to success. They are appearance, practice and preparation. No doubt you are saying to yourself that practice and preparation are the same thing but I will demonstrate to you that they are not.

Appearance is not often discussed but is crucial to your success. It makes little difference as to the organization you are visiting but a smart appearance makes an impression, it is often said that you never have a second chance to make a first impression and the first interview is no exception. Unless you have skills and knowledge that are not available anywhere else then you are in a competitive environment and you need to treat it that way. A man can always take off a tie if it is inappropriate but it is very difficult to put it on if you do not have one.

Practice relates getting ready to answer questions, understanding how interviews work and making sure that you are at the peak of your performance. At a minimum you are practicing your pitch and exit reason. The pitch is the answer to the question So tell me about yourself or other similar questions that are designed to see how you best fit the needs of the organization. Practice is the key to answering those interview questions accurately but without appearing rehearsed.

Preparation on the other hand relates to getting all the other pieces of information ready beforehand. A few examples of this are as follows: Research, make sure that you have completed an extensive search about the organization, it does not matter how high or low on the food chain you are remember you are interviewing them as much as they are interviewing you. Insure that you have a number of great questions to ask. Many states have access to free research services that can be accessed through the Internet and their Library systems. Make sure that you know where you are going and how long it will take you to get there, leave plenty of time so you will not be rushed. Bring cleanly printed copies of your resume to hand out; you cannot be sure how it has printed out from an emailed copy.

To summarize, there are many moving parts to a successful interview and with the appropriate actions you can stay in control. Your appearance speaks for you before you open your mouth, when you do open your mouth make sure that you can answer questions succinctly and accurately and finally being prepared in advance with information, great questions and having the logistics nailed down will all help to put you on the short list.

Barry Simpson – Your personal job-search assistant.

Do you have a back up plan?


Some people are fortunate and are able to get a job offer relatively quickly, but for others it can take a lot longer. How much longer depends on a number of factors and while we all optimistically think our search won’t be as long as others, days seem to go by at an alarming frequency.

When you first started your search did you sit down and figure out some stuff?

For someone looking for the same type of job in the same type of industry a rough guide is to allow 1 month for every $10,000 salary required.

Did you ask yourself:

  • How long can I survive on my current income, or savings?
  • What can we afford to spend money on?
  • What do we absolutely need to spend money on, and what can we cut out?
  • How far into my savings am I prepared to dip?
  • What’s my back up plan?
  • Will I do part time, temporary, contract, subsidence position, freelancing or commission only?
  • What’s going to be the trigger for me to start focusing on Plan B or Plan C?

Only you know your circumstances and you need to understand how much time you can dedicate to pursuing certain opportunities before you need to explore an interim position your plan B. When times are tough, taking something is sometimes better than nothing!

Simon at Virtual Job

– Your personal job-search assistant

Why you should include your Volunteer activities on your resume


Ever thought “nobody really cares about volunteer activities on a resume!” then think again.

Your resume is your first chance to show the recruiter you match what they’re looking for, and limiting yourself to just your “work” experiences, skills and achievements may be doing yourself a disservice.

Take for example:

  • the volunteering position directly relates to the job you’re applying for, and the skills and experiences are closely aligned – adds more evidence you can do the job.vols-1
  • The company is also known to be involved in the same community based activities. This time your showing you share the same values as the company – tells them you’d be a good fit for them.
  • it’s a great way to show that your ‘outside-of-work’ experiences are relevant. – In addition to having the work experience to show how good a fit you are, even your extra-curricular activities support your application.
  • you can select those activities from your volunteer activity that showcase your “transferable skills”, i.e. skills the prospective employer will find valuable. – great for someone looking to make a small career adjustment or a full career change


  • your volunteer experience can take the place of an Employment Section if you’ve not been in the traditional workforce for some time.

I wrote here how to include a Volunteer section in your resume, and as usual Susan Ireland has some great advice on the subject too.

Job-Search Tips: Interview Types Explained – ‘Fit’

Fit interviews are a common type of interview.  As their name would imply, they assess how your personality would ‘fit’ into their organization.  This is also known as the ‘airport test’ – meaning if you were stuck in an airport with this person for four hours, would it be OK, or would you want to kill yourself (or them).

It is worth stating that the ‘fit’ interview is usually the final of several interviews.  You must first “pass” the prior interviews with the ‘fit’ being the final test. Continue reading