Let’s be honest- writing a professional resume and preparing for an intimidating interview isn’t very fun. Sure, there might be someone out there who jumps out of bed in the morning excited to prove their worth to a potential employer and doesn’t fret about possibly being let down. Kudos to those positive people out there! For everyone else, it is easy to get discouraged by not knowing what to expect or even where to start when it comes to job hunting. This article is for those individuals, who want a little insight into what hiring managers are actually looking for in a potential candidate and how to characterize that persona into an impressive resume that will ultimately yield an interview. So, from a hiring manager at one of the most popular women's clothing boutiques, I reveal general tips and tricks to get you ready to land your dream job in no time!
PART I: CREATING YOUR RESUME
Your resume is basically your life performance, list of credentials and overall summery of who you are on a piece of paper. It is really important that your resume is visually appealing, professionally written and provides all the information an employer would want to know about you. Yeah, pretty intimidating if you ask me. Where do you even start? Let’s break it up into parts:
#1- Format & Template:
There are many templates out there these days that you can download for free straight from the Internet. Modern day designs are much more influential than the outdated ones that you can probably find already on your computer, as they show that you are a creative individual and up-to-date with latest decade (lol). Now, you don’t want to go too wild and crazy but you do want to stand out from the all the other applicants. A modern, streamlined resume that is visually appealing, clearly organized and easy to read with a basic 10-12 point font is best. Most employers are looking for quality not quantity… you know that catchy little phrase; same thing goes with resumes too. You want to try to keep your resume the length of 1 page if you have little to no work experience; 2 would be fine, as long as it was outlined in a way where it made sense and seemed purposeful. The more experience you have however, the longer your resume will be and that is expected.
What you write matters. Most hiring managers have looked through thousands of resumes in their lifetime and nothing gives them a good kick like reading how “talking on the phone” is one of your special skills. As entertaining as it can be however, it usually sends you straight to the “no” pile. You don’t want to include irrelevant information just to fill space or make it look like you have extra credentials when that’s not necessarily the case. And that’s actually not a bad thing. Managers look for individuals who are honest and have good integrity and sometimes prefer a less-experienced candidate who isn’t set in his/her ways to bring something fresh and new to the table. Your overall goal here is to be precise, professional and honest. Just be you, the best version of you as you can be on paper.
You want to keep things streamlined & simple so you easily get the point across. Make sure to include dates, names and locations for your occupational and educational history in reverse chronological order (starting with present day). High school and college students as well as those fresh out of college should list your high school as an education; however, from then on you should just list the college(s) you attended to keep things relevant.
Objective: An objective is usually the first thing listed on a resume in one or two sentences summarizing your purpose for submitting an application, including the position you are applying for. Whether it is to further your experience in a specific field of practice or to obtain an entry-level marketing position at [company name]. This is on many of the older resume templates and is somewhat outdated. However, it is a great use of space for those with a shorter resume as well as a chance to catch the reader’s attention with a preview of your career goals. Strategically working in a couple of competencies/qualifications specifically tailored to the position you’re applying for will show the employer how you would benefit them. That is the key! You also want to keep things short, sweet and specific as possible. Depending on the kind of job you are applying for and/or how much experience you’ve had, you can choose to leave the objective off all together, especially if you are including a cover letter. But if you do include it, be sure you edit the objective to align with each different company and/or job position you are applying for!
Dates: Month and year is all that's required. No need for specific days and no need for month if it's that far back. Use traditional formatting whether it's "May 2015- June 2017" or "05/2015- 06/2017". You don’t want to be more shorthanded than that. 5/15-6/17 is a little too shorthanded, for instance. And using funky symbols or quirky characters is unnecessary. "May*2015_June*2017"… don’t do that.
Locations: List your work experience in reverse chronological order by date, like mentioned previously, starting with present day. Be sure to include the company name and location; city and state is fine unless there are multiple locations within that area, in which case you would want to include an additional point of reference. For example, if you worked at [name of retail store] in Atlanta, GA you would want to specify the mall or shopping center by including it in the name “[name of store] at Lenox Square | Atlanta, GA”.
Titles: Be sure to include your job title/position along with the name of the company. Don’t over describe your position and try to make it sound bigger and better than what it is. If you were a part-time sales associate, just put that rather than something like high level retail sales branding representative. You can include in the description your level of dedication and go more into detail with that. Now, you also don’t want to under-exaggerate your title either. If you were an assistant manager specializing in operations, you will want to list your title as Operations Manager. Obviously this is common sense for many of you, but there are plenty of job positions not referred to as a specific title; thus, advice for those in which it applies. Lastly, some employers might not be familiar with a company nor know exactly what your job was, so be as clear and precise as possible.
Job Description: For every job you list under your previous job experience, you will want to include bullet points or a short summary of impactful descriptions highlighting what your job entailed. You want to include specific information targeting the exact responsibilities you were over/duties performed and should highlight necessary skills that would be beneficial to the company if you were hired on. Be strategic in the way you word your sentences so you turn your list of duties into a list of accomplishments. Don’t tell employers what they already know, tell them about things you achieved they wouldn’t be aware of otherwise. For example, if you were a retail manager at a trendy women's clothing boutique, assumed duties would include making schedules, monitoring payroll, etc. Rather, using your key power words, you can explain how you proficiently scheduled daily teams to adequately drive sales and accomplish tasks, resulting in a 10% increase in sales the first 2 months on the job. Think about it this way- what can you bring to the table that other people can’t? Prioritize that way and the same goes as your job title- don’t over-exaggerate your duties or performance because nothing gets you into a worse situation than to be a new hire letdown. Be specific and straight to the point. If you can’t think of any special skill per say, be honest and as precise as possible. If you were a sale associate at a trendy women's clothing boutique and steamed clothes every shift, hey sometimes that can come in handy and isn’t something an applicant competitor might know how to do. Something obvious and basic to you isn’t always viewed that way through someone else’s eyes.
Special Skills: It is always a good idea to list your skill set/qualifications because this not only sets you apart from other applicants, but also gives the employer insight into what you can actually bring to the table. Employers gauge your level of competencies to determine how much of a positive asset you can/will/won’t be to the company and how much training you will need, if any. The employer will many of times sort applications and rank interviews based solely off of this portion of your resume. When you weed through resumes you want to pick the best ones first… makes sense.
Key Words: Speaking of weeding out resumes, one thing to keep in mind as you are writing your resume is to make sure you are using formal diction or “resume language” by use of key power words rather than a passive vocabulary. When scanning through tons of resumes, employers look for specific words or phrases that stand out to them making it easier to weed out the ones that are vague and generically written. Not to mention that many large corporations use machines to filter online resumes before they even reach a person. This is when it comes in handy to have a well-written resume using unique descriptions and key words. Key words are important to use throughout your resume, just don’t over do it. As you edit your first draft, see where you can use more descriptive words or phrases to emphasize your point or fewer words if it seems action-verb heavy.
References: Considering your job history is already listed in your resume, there is no need to provide a list of references without being asked for one. Many employers will contact your prior places of employment to validate the information on your resume and not require a list of personal references; therefore, stating that you have “references available upon request” is all you need to include so you can keep your resume short and to the point. Make sure to bring a list of 3-5 references with you to the interview in case the employer asks for one. You will want to include their name, job title along with company they work for if applicable and a contact number where they can best be reached. There are two kinds of references: business references and personal references.
Business references are person(s) of contact at your prior places of employment who can verify the dates in which you were employed there as well as your job title. Depending on the state laws and company policies, business references may or may not be able to disclose any more information than that. This is when your personal references can come in handy, as they can provide the employer with insight into your personal character and work ethic.
Personal references are people that have known you a long time and/or can attest to your work ethic and personal character. Basically, these are people who are qualified to give a positive statement about you. DO NOT list a family member or friend as a reference. One of the biggest no no’s when it comes to a resume! A few examples of personal references would be a teacher from school, a sports coach, youth group leader if you are active in church or a parent that you have babysat for a long period of time. If you have a previous employer you can also list as a personal reference, you would want to list them first. Whoever you choose, make sure to tell them that you have listed them as a reference so they can be expecting a call. They will want to provide the employer with examples of how you’ve handled a difficult situation positively or overcame an obstacle, situations where they have witnessed your integrity by how you handled it and times where your diligence and determination resulted in achievement.
#3- Finalizing your Resume
If there is one thing out of all these tips you will want to remember, it’s this: PROOFREAD your resume! A resume with spelling or grammatical errors is automatically disregarded, as the employer will assume you are lazy and/or not serious about being professional. Especially with technology these days, if someone can’t bother to fix the green and red squiggles underlining the errors, why bother with an interview? It helps to have someone read over it to catch any grammatical or spelling errors you might have missed as well as give feedback as to anything that might be unclear or worded funny.
If you are submitting your resume as an attachment via email or company website, you MUST make sure it is in PDF format so it is viewable on any device. There are many circumstances where the employer can’t open your resume at all due to your format and won’t email you back asking to resend. Sometimes the company’s website will provide a guideline on how you should submit your resume, in which case you will want to follow their instructions. You will want print your resume, list of references and cover letter (if applicable) on resume paper and have a copy with you the day of your interview. Majority of the time, the employer has already printed off the copy you submitted online and will not need another, but it is always better to be prepared just in case. Just keep them in a folder or business journal for quick retrieval if they ask for another copy.
If the company requires you to apply in person, be sure you are dressed the part when you are inquiring about a position and/or delivering your resume. Be sure to ask for the hiring manager, so you can personally speak with them and ensure your resume is left in the right hands. However, many companies are different and might instruct you to speak with someone else, in which case you will gladly do so. **Please note: the employer ALWAYS looks for an applicant that is interested specifically in their company. Being passionate about a company’s brand shows already that you are willing to invest your future with them and are likely to work much harder than someone “just looking for a job”. You DO NOT want to go door to door with a handful of resumes and pass them out. Same thing goes when asking for an application, don’t have an armful from the 10 others stores you visited first. You want to be seen as a future asset to the company and not a desperate person in need of a paycheck.
PART II: PREPARING FOR AN INTERVIEW & WHAT TO EXPECT
Night Before Prep:
- One of the most important things to do before the interview is to research the company and become knowledgeable about the Five W’s: who they are, what they do, when they were established, where they originated and why. Remember, you want to show them that you are passionate about their brand and knowing all the details about them will show them you mean it. You also want to think about how you plan on attributing to their company culture and in what ways. What you can bring to the team and how will you uphold their brand values if hired on? Be prepared to answer any of their questions regarding why you want to work for them and reply with answers as to reasons why they should be interested in hiring you.
- You know the usual advice you get before a big day, “go to bed early and get a good night’s sleep”? Well that applies in this situation too. The second most important thing to do before the interview is to have a laid back night in, take it easy and try to keep your mind off of the big day tomorrow. You want to look and feel your best during your interview, and being well rested and full of energy comes from a good night’s sleep.
What to Wear:
- First impressions are important and you want to dress to impress make sure you look the part and dressing to impress. You want to dress your own style, not try to look and act like someone you’re not, but also make sure you aren’t dressing for another type of job. Ask around what the typical dress code is for that business field or better yet, the company specifically, through your networking group or research online. It always helps to put your best foot forward, literally, because it might just give you a leg up in the running. Do people still wear suits these days? Are these shoes professional enough? Is this outfit even in style? Putting yourself in a situation where you can and probably will be judged on your appearance, oh you can worry yourself senseless preparing for that! Make things easier on yourself by asking around and investigating beforehand. And no matter what, be sure you show them you truly are inside and out… freaking awesome!
- If you are interviewing for a retail position regarding apparel or accessories, you definitely want to leave your mark by dressing like a fashion guru. Make sure your outfit is relative to the brand you are interviewing with, as the manager always takes note of what you are wearing. If you are interviewing with a trendy women's clothing boutique, make sure every part of your outfit is on trend and representative of their brand/product they sell. You want to show them you know your stuff and can dress the part! Why should they hire you as a trendy women's boutique manager if you are dressed too casually and/or in an outdated style from years ago? This is an interview that you can bend the rules a bit and your typical interview-style outfit does't necessarily apply.
When to Arrive:
- It’s a great idea to plan on being in the area about 15 minutes before your interview time in case there is traffic or parking takes longer than expected. This prep time is also important, as you should use this time to spit out your gum, pop in a breath mint, drink some water and put on your game face! Get pumped up and ready to rock this interview! Let the office assistant or whomever know that you are there for an interview, and they will instruct you where to go from there. Remember that the second you enter the building everything you do is noticed. So be polite and professional at all times and don’t forget to silence your phone.
- Whatever time your interview is scheduled for, one of the biggest questions people have is when to arrive for your interview. Depending on the company, you might be asked to arrive early to fill out an application or complete a personality assessment. Some companies just set up an interview time without any further instruction. If this is the case, you will want to arrive around 7 minutes before your scheduled time. More often than not, employers select your interview time that is most convenient to their schedule, so showing up too early might make them feel rushed and will probably result in you waiting with anxiety until your scheduled time. You definitely don’t want to be late and right on time just barely cuts it, so sticking to that 7 minute mark ensures you come across as professionally punctual and not overeager.
- Before we dive into specifics, remember that the ultimate goal of the interview isn’t to answer questions correctly; the goal of an interview is to help the employer get to know as much about you as possible before the interview is over. Think about it- employers usually ask the same set of questions to all applicants and redirect their questions based off of your response. Applicants are somewhat anticipated to answer most questions the same; however, applicants who answer them in a more tactful, entrepreneurial way are the ones they will remember. In a sea of applicants, you want to stand out in a GOOD way. Use this ample time to shed light on your work ethic and personal integrity, because at the end of the day, it doesn’t matter how smart or accomplished you are if you aren’t reliable or trustworthy.
- Whether you are interviewing individually or in a group as well as with one interviewer or many interviewers, the questions asked and expected value in your answers are typically the same. Now, there are different “types” of interviews, such as behavioral, structured/unstructured, problem solving and so on, where the delivery of questions and type of questions they ask follow a specific algorithm conducive to obtaining the information they are looking for in your answers. So it’s best to prepare for any possible question or situation you might be faced with. Don’t let this worry you though, as these questions are only a way to get to know as much about you as possible in a short amount of time. Just think about the pressure on them, having to make sure they find the best fit for the job. It’s not easy to make such a big decision off of an interview, and hiring you means their job performance now relies on how well you will do your job. Not so intimidating anymore if you think of things that way!
- Many interviews will start with the employer asking you to tell him/her a little about yourself. This open-ended question might be intimidating but it’s not necessarily intended to “put you on the spot”; rather, it is the most beneficial question for you to answer because it gives you a chance to tell them what you want them to know about you. Please don’t reply with “Well, what do you want to know?” Well… what do you want them to know? An interview is a short amount of time to get to know someone and feel confident enough to hire you on and invest in your integrity and work ethic. Questions don’t always cater to getting to know WHO you are, and you don’t always provide that information in your answers either. This is your chance to tell them something about you that they will remember. SO many interviews are just basic: you answer the same questions they ask everyone else in the same way. These questions are asked to #1- see how you interpret the question #2- gain your perspective and personal insight on certain matters so they can ultimately determine if you are equipped for the job you are applying for and the responsibilities that come with it. So the employer basically wants to know something about you that stands out from the pool of other applicants. With a general question such as the one above, you want to tell them a little about who you are, your hobbies, your career goals and aspirations without revealing anything TOO personal. You always want to be professional and the less experience you have interviewing, the more likely you are to stumble upon these interview faux pas:
It’s fine to tell them you just got out of college and are looking for more experience, considering your lack of prior employment. If you say you wanted to focus on school, and if your credentials account for the amount work you put into studying, then that’s also a credible reason for little to no previous work experience. What you don’t want to tell them is that you’ve never worked before because you didn’t have time between class, football games on the weekend and spending time with your boyfriend. Or try to explain how you started working at this one place and basically they didn’t like you and didn’t give you any hours so it didn’t work out. Before you even realize what all you’re saying, you will have told your whole life story and revealed much more than necessary. Remember, you want to shed positive light on your personality, worth ethic and values, not highlight the things you wouldn’t want to be brought up. What you are actually telling them is that you easily succumb to external influences, which inhibit your ability to prioritize and/or maintain a job.
A good answer: Well, I grew up in [city, state] and I loved it there. I aspired to go to school out of state to experience something new and was grateful for that opportunity (**being humble is a great quality). I’ve always had an interest in fashion but felt a general major, such as marketing, would help me keep my options open in my future career. Through interning with a marketing company, I had a lot of spare time outside of work where I could dabble in what turns out to be my favorite hobby… being a personal stylist. I just have this passion that drives me to share my love for fashion with other people and after dressing my friend for a product launch with her job, I’ve had a few of her clients ask me to help them too! So that’s one of the reasons I wanted to be a part of your company because not only has your brand been my favorite for years, I personally believe your company is more customer-oriented than other brands and feel like it would be a great fit for us both!
See what I did there? This example gives your whole life summary, touching on key points, and ending with why you would be a great asset to the team. You also compliment the company on their customer-oriented focus that also aligns with your own views on work ethic. You show them that you are driven by passion and aren’t afraid to pursue other paths, as your well-rounded personality is a beneficial quality needed for the team.
**For follow-up questions, it is very obvious if you are asking questions just to ask them. You read this is every interview advice guide out there, “Always ask follow up questions”, in which a list of general questions to ask are usually provided. Rehearsing your memorized questions that usually don’t pertain to any of the information discussed in your interview is just a waste of time. You want to leave the interview feeling knowledgeable about everything in regards to your possible new job position, so use this time to ask any questions you have while you have the chance. Because once you leave that interview, you have to decide if you are going to accept or forgo this job opportunity. If you accept, do you know what is required of you and does this job fit within the means of your lifestyle? There isn’t a question too small to ask, as long as it’s a relatable question like where parking is located, for example.
Your interview can take anywhere from minutes to an hour, depending on how formal/informal it is and/or if the company requires you to complete additional paperwork or personality assessments. If you are interviewing for a part-time retail sales position at a trendy women's clothing boutique for example, you can generally expect a 10-15 minute time frame. If you are interviewing for a full time position in management or high-level entry position, you can expect a longer time frame as well as a series of interviews. Many companies have a tiered interview process where you initially interview with a store manager, then possibly a field-specific manager and lastly the district manager. Depending on the position, the company and your initial interview, the interview process might be different than expected. Sometimes the manager in the initial interview might not be left with 100% confidence in your ability to fulfill the position in its entirety; therefore, a second interview might be required, most likely with a different format, to provide the missing information the employer is looking for from you. Different format could entail a more hands-on interview where you are instructed to work with product or role-play customer service situations, answer experience-specific questions or even have to bring in a portfolio to discuss your qualifications and/or experience more in depth. So basically, anything can happen, but don’t be quick to judge your outcome. Highly prized individuals might get 3 interviews, not to necessarily determine if they are qualified for the position, but rather the employer might be seeing if they can offer you a higher position than you are applying for. You just never know. As long as you stay positive and confident, you will ultimately find a job that is perfect for you that you can thrive in!
Best of luck!