Candidate References

The hiring process can sometimes be long and anxiety-laden for both the candidate and hiring manager. The candidate thinks: do they like me? Am I on the short-list of candidates? Will they ask me to move on to the next round? The hiring manager thinks: will this candidate be able to perform this role? Are they a good cultural fit for the company? Will they accept the offer if we were to extend it to them?

Careful Selection
These questions sometimes aren’t all answered until a hiring decision has been made, however, speaking to a candidate’s references can offer perspective and insight into a candidate that the hiring manager might otherwise not get just by speaking to the candidate directly. For this reason, candidates should be careful when selecting references to present to either a hiring manager or recruiter.

Get Permission
It is customary to have a former supervisor or coworker agree to serve as a reference for you before you distribute their contact information. This allows them to be prepared when being contacted by a prospective employer on your behalf but it also gives them time to think and bring memories of you and your work to the forefront of their mind.

Having someone agree to serve as a reference largely ensures that they will speak positively of you and want the best for you and your career trajectory. However, you should still give careful thought to who you want representing your work, knowledge and skills. A lukewarm reference, while not terrible, won’t put you a notch ahead of another candidate of equal standing that supplied spectacular references. Also, a reference from so far in your past will have the safe effect. While not a deal-breaker, this might bring up more questions than reassurances for the hiring manager, such as: why didn’t the candidate supply a person from the recent past? Is there a reason the candidate went so far back in their job history? Has their work or temperament shifted?

The Icing on a Cake
Reference checks and conversations can be viewed like the icing on a cake. Usually by the time a hiring manager or recruiter speaks with a candidate’s references, an opinion has already formed of the candidate based on their resume, cover letter and direct conversations with them. Maybe writing samples have also been provided and they’ve met multiple members of the team. Now, the references come in and solidify an already favorable opinion of a top candidate.

Worst Case Scenario
Instead of being the icing on a cake, reference checks could also be a bad litmus test of a candidate, if not handled properly. If a candidate passed along reference contact details thinking it was just a formality and didn’t take the time to touch base with the reference and that person either didn’t want to serve as a reference or spoke negatively of the candidate, this candidate’s chances of getting offered the job are slim to none. This scenario applies to recruiters as well as direct hiring managers. If a candidate is working with a recruiter and the recruiter (or HR representative of the staffing agency) has a negative conversation with a reference, the odds are good that the recruiter will not want to represent this candidate for a job.

Hidden Benefit
A positive benefit of having conversations with people you would like to serve as references is that you get to keep in touch with people that have either shaped or been a part of your career journey. If you used to interact with someone during every business day, both of you would enjoy updating each other on your professional life.
Reference checks are an important piece of the hiring puzzle and one that should be given adequate thought and attention.

The Key to the Cover Letter

When looking for a job due to unemployment, current job dissatisfaction or finding openings at a dream company, drafting a separate cover letter for each prospective position may seem daunting and time consuming. Many applicants may keep stock cover letters depending on company or job industry, but they are doing themselves a disservice by not crafting a fresh cover letter each time, no matter how long it may take. The importance of doing so lies in the purpose of the cover letter.

The typical first step in applying to a position, either through a recruiter or directly, is submitting your resume and a cover letter. Unlike the resume, the cover letter is meant to speak directly to the hiring manager and or HR professional as to why you want the position, what you will bring to the position and company, and your overall motivations and experience as an employee and person.

It also indirectly serves as a writing sample, which is an important factor to keep in mind.

Your qualifications, skills and most important experience are included in your resume, so the cover letter is your opportunity to showcase additional attributes about yourself that the hiring manager wouldn’t otherwise know. They are looking to get a deeper glimpse into the person behind the employee that would be in their office. Are you a dedicated volunteer for a specific cause or charity? Do you ski in the winters or surf in the summer? Are you a spin instructor or have an interesting hobby after hours? These details will all contribute to the picture you are painting of yourself.

While those details will certainly help craft a conversation during the phone and or in-person interviews, and will help HR professionals identify with you as a person, the central piece of the letter should focus on your motivation and desire to do the specific job applied for at this specific company. The job title and name of the company should be included as well as specific aspects of the job description and why you would be the best person they could hire.

The key to all of these details is that they be portrayed in a genuine and heartfelt manner and that you match everything back to the position and company. This will make the hiring manager feel like you greatly desire their particular position, not just a new position.

Every company wants to make careful hiring decisions and hire employees that really want to work on behalf of their mission and endeavors. Eloquently portraying that you do, and will do so effectively, will help them see you as their next great hire during the hiring process.

The Phone Interview

After applying to multiple positions and attending networking events, your efforts are finally paying off: you’ve been asked for a phone interview! While this is an exciting first step in the hiring process, it can also be fraught with risks.

Don’t fall into the following traps:

Too Casual

This means in both speech and demeanor. Since you are on the phone likely in a comforting environment to you, it is easy to slip into old habits of casual language as if you were speaking with an old friend or even a longtime coworker. Just because you are not being evaluated in person doesn’t mean the interviewer isn’t picking up on your social cues. Perhaps they are picking up even more so since they only have your voice and language on which to base an opinion.

Make sure you dress professionally as it subconsciously will make you speak and present yourself in a more commanding way. If you feel like you are dressed for a professional environment, you will speak as if you were in one!

Have good posture and use facial expressions as if the interviewer was sitting across from you. It may feel funny at first, but the inflections in your voice will be come through the phone and will make you seem more engaging.

Not Using Your Resources

Since you are not in person, you can have your research and resume laid out in front of you for reference. Don’t forget to glance at your resume to jog your memory of work experiences and sills you can use in conversation. If you have research on the company printed out, bring company news, historical company facts, etc., into the conversation so the interviewer gets the feeling that you are interested in their job, not just any job.

Unprofessional Environment

If you are taking the phone interview at home and have noisy pets, make accommodations for them before the phone rings. Perhaps bring a dog to another floor of the house or make sure the cat has enough food and water prepared.

Don’t have the tv on in the background and limit the possibility of background noise as much as you can. For example, don’t sit next to an outside window in case the neighbor’s landscaper decides to show up.

If you are taking the phone interview at your current office and have ducked into a conference room, make sure it is either formally reserved or the door is shut/ locked so you don’t have fellow employees entering the room. That would not only be uncomfortable for you but for them, as well!

No Follow Up

Even though the prospective company did not host you in person, the interviewer still devoted time out of their day to get to know you, your experience and skills, and decide if you could be a good fit for them. Sending a thank you message is important as it recognizes this time investment and their consideration of you for their company.

If you devote ample preparation time and avoid these pitfalls, you will likely see yourself preparing for the next step in the hiring process: the in person interview!

Interview Ready Resume

The beginning of the job process is centered around a candidate’s resume. Whether you submit your resume directly or work with a recruiter, the company will first judge your candidacy based on your resume. Don’t let the below resume pitfalls keep you from a job opportunity that could be a great next step in your career.

Basic Grammar

Not using the proper tense for present and past jobs can not only confuse the hiring manager, but make you appear sloppy and not having attention to details. Same goes for spelling and punctuation. It is imperative that you take your time when writing your resume and each time you make additions with current jobs and experiences. Even if you have the exact experience a company is looking for, they will proceed with another candidate that has the same background but with a flawless resume.

Accuracy

Exactly reflecting the month and year you started and ended with each company is a basic expectation on a resume. Unfortunately, people either don’t include the months or include inaccurate or false dates. This could have very negative consequences on your candidacy.

Accuracy in what you list as your experience is equally important. Each line on your resume and each skill that is included is fair game for interview questions, so be sure you are able to expand upon everything that your resume contains.

Formatting

Depending on the industry, a clean, reader-friendly resume is your best option. Consistent formatting of titles, companies, dates and bullet points throughout the resume is key. This will allow the hiring manager to quickly scan for salient information while also viewing you as an organized, professional candidate.

Length

A resume should not be an exhaustive list of every task you performed at every job you’ve had. Reflecting on the title of the job you are applying for, it is optimal to tailor your past experiences and skills to what is required and desired by the company for that specific role. Be sure to include all the experience you have that matches what they are seeking, and then offer additional details of your work history during the interview process.

Your resume is the first example of your work product and you want it to reflect positively on you as a candidate. If you follow these tips, you will be in great shape to begin discussions with a company that could be your next employer!

The Art of the Thank You Note

Congratulations! Exploring the interview thank you note means that you’ve either had a phone or in-person interview, and that in itself is worthy of celebration. Now, in order to positively seal the memory of you in the hiring manager’s head, a perfectly crafted thank you note is essential.

The Opening

It may seem obvious or like an afterthought, but correctly addressing the hiring manager’s name, or whomever you met with, is essential. Erring on the side of formality is better, too. You may have overhead colleagues address the hiring manager by a nickname or shortened version of their name, but this is best left for once you have been hired.

A good rule of thumb is to use the name that appears in the person’s email signature.

The spelling of the name is highly important as well, as this shows attention to detail and attentiveness.

The Content

The overall goal of the thank you note is to thank the person or people who took time out of their day to speak or meet with you, while also conveying yourself as a competent and engaging candidate. The sentences you write should be genuine and authentic; not boilerplate language that is recycled for use after each interview. Briefly touch on why you can see yourself in the role and the skills and experience you would bring to the table along with how your personality would be a good culture fit for the organization.

The Timing

Due to the fast-paced nature of the job market, it is imperative to send the thank you note on the same day as your interview or, at the latest, the beginning of the following day. You want to remain top of mind with the hiring manager(s) who may have met a few people that same day.

When a great candidate sends a heartfelt and timely thank you note expressing continued interest in the role, organization and potential colleagues, the positive benefits cannot be understated.

Interview Wardrobe 101

Preparing for an interview can be stressful. Not only are you focusing on impressing the hiring manager(s) with your skills, experience and personality but you have to assemble the perfect outfit that conveys that you are a competent and polished professional. Don’t allow your clothing to be an afterthought because if they were not appropriate, they will do the talking for you long after you leave.

Dress to Impress

It is no secret that you want to dress to impress for your interview not only for the hiring manager(s) but everyone else that you meet, from the receptionist to the C-suite executives you may pass in the hallway. “Who is that?” asked by the CEO as he happens to pass in the hallway about you will get you noticed quickly.

The Suit

Wearing a suit should be considered standard for an interview. If the position is in a corporate law firm or professional service environment, you will fit right in. If the role is within more of a creative company, you will stand out as a candidate who takes their job opening seriously and intends to make a good first impression. For men, the suit should be accompanied by a matching tie and dress shoes. For women, it can be paired with an appropriate shirt and business shoes; a dainty, understated necklace can tie everything together.

The Iron

Remember, if your clothes are not pressed, the effort you put in to assemble the perfect outfit will be lost. Trying everything on beforehand and setting them aside in your closet will save you the stress of finding out last minute that the suit you wanted to wear should have been dry cleaned after your cousin’s wedding!

Accessories

For women, the dainty necklace can add a nice flair to your outfit and showcase a pop of style. A professional watch can also be a nice choice. Other than additional small rings and possibly a thin bracelet, jewelry and accessories should be kept at a minimum as you don’t want them to serve as a distraction. When writing notes during the interview, you don’t want your chunky bracelet to clank repeatedly on the table. Nor do you want to be fidgeting with your necklace that has gotten tangled in your shirt.

For men as well as women, keep your phone on silent and in your purse or pocket. Making sure you remove sunglasses from the top of your head is also paramount as it can really have a negative impact on some hiring managers. Keeping the amount of items you walk in with to a minimum is also important, as you want to give the impression that the interview is a central part of your day and not part of a longer string of appointments or interviews.

Colors

A good rule of thumb is to stay away from overly bright colors and or garish patterns in your outfit. The color palette of white, blue, black, beige, brown and red is a safe bet.

There are a lot of things to consider when mulling over a job change or accepting your first job. Conducting the interview in a fantastic and appropriate outfit will put the odds in your favor as you impress everyone with your personality and skills!

Ace That Interview

Whether you are pounding the pavement for a new job and/or career change or just want to brush up on your interview skills, Friedman Williams believes that preparation for an interview, whether in-person or via phone, can exponentially increase your chances of moving on to the next step in the hiring process.

How to Prepare Beforehand:

  • Fully read and absorb key content on the company’s website, including:
    • Office locations and ballpark number of employees
    • Names and titles of senior management
    • Names, titles, and background of people you will be interviewing with (including their LinkedIn page!)
    • Mission Statement
    • Company history
    • Recent important news, press releases and/or events
  • Have fresh copies of your resume and any other requested documents
  • Reflect and refresh yourself on your job history and experiences. Have examples prepared of your ability to overcome adversity, work independently and in a team environment, and specific ways your skills and experience match the job
  • Refresh yourself on what your day-to-day is like in your current job and what you are truly an expert in (could be technical skills as well as situational)
  • Have a compelling and sincere reason as to why you want this position at this company. The hiring manager will respond to personality, energy and motivation as much as how technically able you are.
  • Prepare a few questions so you come across as engaged and interested in both the role and company.

Day-Of Essentials

  • Have your resume and any other requested documents with or in front of you
  • Wear a suit, even if it is a phone interview. This will make you feel more confident and in turn your speech and language will come across at a higher level than if you were sitting on your couch in sweatpants.
  • Do not arrive more than 5-10 minutes before the interview and treat everyone you meet with a friendly demeanor. You never know if the hiring manager(s) will ask the receptionist his/her opinion of you or how you behaved.
  • Great the hiring manager with a smile and firm handshake. If a phone interview, smile and answer “This is {your name}.”
  • Answer every question to the best of your ability and do your best to let your personality, ambition, motivation and technical skills match you to the role and company.

 Make Your Impression A Lasting One

  • Follow up with a thank you note for each person you met during your interview. Reiterate your interest in the position and company and why you see yourself successful in their culture and environment.

Position Profile: Executive Assistant

Basic Scope of an Executive Assistant’s Duties:

  • Serve as gatekeeper to executive with both people and information
  • Manage communication and correspondence with a highs sense of confidentiality
  • Timely alert executive with relevant news, updates and messages
  • Manage complex calendar, meetings and itineraries
  • Serve as host to visitors of the office
  • Manage transportation and trip details as well as updates and changes
  • Manage finances by drafting expense report and other necessary financial reporting
  • Think ahead and present suggestions and tips to executive to ensure seamless flow of daily tasks

What are the usual requirements of an Executive Assistant?

  • Bachelor’s degree, dependent on the organization
  • Strong written and verbal skills
  • Strong organization and resourcefulness
  • Ability to think on your feet and be a problem solver with minimum instruction
  • Sense of decorum and confidentiality
  • Strong ability to multi-task and be proactive
  • Software and other technical skills will vary depending on the organization but often include Microsoft Word, Excel, PowerPoint, Outlook
  • Flexibility to work after hours and be reachable when necessary

How does an Executive Assistant differ from an Administrative Assistant?
An Executive Assistant has an enhanced role and directly supports an executive of the company as the first point of contact for the executive’s office. The scope of duties is often more complex and rigorous and focused on one executive, as opposed to an Administrative Assistant supporting more than one person. The Executive Assistant is also privy to a larger scope of sensitive and confidential information about the organization and executive and will need to exhibit a high degree of decorum and professionalism at all times. Depending on the organization, an Executive Assistant may mentor and or supervise Administrative Assistants within the same department as the executive.

What education is usually required or most beneficial?
This all depends on the organization itself and the type of industry but generally speaking, a Bachelor’s Degree is usually preferred or required. If the job description notes that a degree is required, there is typically no room for negotiation. In terms of specific areas of study, all education can be relevant and useful if presented the correct way. If a candidate has a Bachelor’s degree in Accounting and applies for an Executive Assistant role at an accounting firm, that will be of interest to the employer. If a candidate is a recent graduate with a Bachelor’s in English and conveys strong writing ability and communication skills in the interview, that is relevant and helpful.

What is a typical salary range?
Salary can vary greatly depending on the organization and industry. For example, a nonprofit will pay a lot less than a law firm or financial sector organization. What a candidate should keep in mind when considering salary is how the overall quality of life will be in the position relative to the salary, such as benefits, commute, etc.

What will give me an edge when interviewing for an Executive Assistant role?
Prior Executive Assistant experience is always helpful and a plus, but the necessary qualities and characteristics of the position must be conveyed in the interview. Supplying these through exact examples of past experiences and work product is the goal. With such a key position as this, oftentimes personality, presentation and demeanor are as important as technical skills. If the executive doesn’t feel he or she can trust you with sensitive information, you will not be offered the role.