Category Archives: Interview

Tell Me About Yourself…

I know what you are thinking – do I have to? Yes, you do because in all likelihood, you’ll be asked this question numerous times during the interview process. In most initial interviews, it’s the default launching point and nailing this question goes a long way towards creating a spark with the interviewer, getting them onboard with the idea that you could be a great fit and ultimately, moving you forward in the process. This is also a question that gets asked and answered in networking situations so it’s important that you nail this one.

As a recruiter, I can’t count the number of times that I’ve asked this or the number of  candidates who have been ill-prepared to answer it. A few tips and things to remember when you ultimately must tackle it:

  • Don’t wing it. Practice (out loud) what you are going to say in advance. You don’t want to stumble over your words while you make it up on the spot.
  • Don’t recite your resume. This takes way too long and goes into way too much detail for what should be a relatively high-level answer. Average time to shoot for: 2 minutes. Any longer and the interviewer has likely zoned out.
  • Personalize it Part 1. You are not a robot. The recruiter or hiring manager genuinely wants to get to know you. Consider mentioning a hobby or community involvement. You never know which detail will be the one to build that connection but doing your homework on the interviewer will help. You can bet that if I’m interviewing someone and they make a connection with me about Boston, Colby College, educational access or hot yoga, my ears perk up.
  • Personalize it Part 2. Your answer should be customized for the role and company. When preparing what you’re going to say, go back and look at the job description. Which skills/attributes are highlighted? Be sure to speak to these things in your answer.
  • Past, present, future. Consider this simple format for telling your story. Take the interviewer on a journey with you – where have you been, what are your biggest accomplishments/achievements, what crossroads are you at now and where do you want to go? Some questions to ask yourself as you piece this story together (because you’ve promised me that you aren’t going to wing it!):
    • What have I done?
    • What am I passionate about?
    • What did I learn, develop or accomplish?
    • What am I interested in doing next?
    • Why did I take that particular step/make that move?
    • Why am I sitting here today?

While it might change slightly from situation to situation, here’s how I’m currently structuring mine: I have almost 20 years of experience managing recruiting and HR programs for a variety of industries – legal, non-profit, consulting and financial services. Across all of my recruiting roles, I’ve focused on helping hiring managers to identify best fit candidates for roles from entry-level to c-suite. After moving from Boston to Raleigh 6 years ago, I decided that I wanted to stretch myself outside of corporate recruiting and use my skills in evaluating candidates in a new arena so I joined the admissions committee at the Fuqua School of Business at Duke University. Today, I use my background in recruiting and admissions (and the knowledge of knowing what hiring managers, recruiters and admissions officers are and are not looking for) combined with my passion for working one-on-one with people (most HR people will tell you they are part therapist) to now help my clients put their best foot forward when applying to college or grad school or approaching the job search process.

Need help developing yours? Drop me a note at



13 things you must do to stand out in today’s competitive job market

There are many things that make living in North Carolina hard to beat. People are right to tout the limitless outdoor activities, the near perfect climate and the booming economy. But another thing that sets North Carolina apart from many other states is the sheer number of world-class colleges & universities the state is home to. From time to time, I am fortunate enough to partner with these schools in a professional capacity.

I was recently asked to participate on a panel and conduct mock interviews at the Master of Quantitative Management program at the Fuqua School of Business at Duke. This ten-month business analytics program was introduced at Fuqua this year. It is designed for college graduates with strong quantitative backgrounds and provides training in analytics and communication within the context of finance, marketing, forensics or strategy. The objective is to prepare students for a career in data-based problem solving.

Panelists represented a variety of companies including Stealz, Lenovo, Data Blueprint and LivingLab. While the companies represented a wide range of sizes, industries and locations, some common themes emerged:

  • Startups and smaller companies place a premium on transferable skills. Given their size, these companies often require employees to wear multiple hats. Therefore, they seek candidates who can demonstrate agility.
  • One size does not fit all. Candidates must write targeted cover letters and resumes for the job they want.
  • Make the top third to half of the resume and cover letter count as the recruiter or hiring manager may not have the luxury of reading to the end.
  • Apply early. Recruiters review the early submissions and only go back to review more if they don’t find who they are looking for.
  • Expect some kind of case exercise during the interview process. Hiring managers want to know how candidates will handle real life situations, on the fly. They are looking for insight into your reasoning and problem-solving capabilities.
  • Candidates need to anticipate behavioral-based interview questions. Therefore, they must be prepared to share examples to highlight competencies. This requires a thorough understanding of the role and the position description.
  • Passion! Hiring managers are seeking candidates who are passionate about their company and are looking for genuine alignment with the company’s values.
    • SAS even has a separate values interview conducted by a group of people from across the company who demonstrate those values.

Most of the conversation at the event revolved around the importance of building a network and utilizing referrals, which is something that I’ve written about previously in How Kevin Bacon will help you find your next job. Across the board, panelists agreed that referral candidates get extra attention and are sent to the front of the line.

The room, made up largely of students with fewer than six months experience, wondered, “how do I build a network if I don’t have any real work experience yet?” Many international students also expressed concern over not having a deep network in the U.S.

  • The consensus of the panel members was:
    • Identify where you are likely to meet your target network. Attend conferences, meet-up groups and networking events.
    • Don’t blindly send out a LinkedIn request. Find common connections, organizations or interests. Use those as the basis for building a relationship.
    • Recognize that networks are a two-way street. When connecting, think about what you have to offer the other person.
    • Look to your left. Build relationships with those around you. Utilize your undergrad and graduate school alumni networks.
    • Devour your passion. Comment, like and share white papers and blog posts. Compliment the writer.
    • Pursue extracurriculars related to your interests.

The representative from LivingLab mentioned that he doesn’t think the company has hired anyone who is not a referral. If you didn’t think referrals were important before, I hope you do now!

The professionals who participated on the Fuqua MQM panel represented organizations of all shapes and sizes. But the common messages were loud and clear: Be versatile. No one knows what business challenges we will face tomorrow. Be direct. You can’t assume the person reading your cover letter or resume will eventually get to what makes you extraordinary. So lead with it. Cultivate your network. Cast a wide net, but do so deliberately. And engage with your connections. Lastly, let your network know who you are. Show them what you are passionate about and why it makes you both more interesting and valuable.

Top 10 Resume Tips Recruiters Wish They Could Actually Give You

I review hundreds of resumes per week and spend additional time getting my clients’ resumes in tip-top shape for master’s programs and job applications. Here are my 10 recommendations:

  1. Quantify, quantify, quantify. I will sound like a broken record with this one. Numbers make a recruiter or hiring manager stop skimming and pay attention. Numbers provide context and show impact. Speaking of numbers…
  2. Update your resume regularly. Even if you aren’t looking for a job. Do you know how hard it is to remember how many interns you managed in the summer of 2012? Or by what % you increased revenue in FY2014? When you are completing your mid or end-of-year review, copy some of those great stats into your resume. It doesn’t have to be nicely formatted or worded, just get the content (and numbers) down on paper. Your 2019 self will thank you!
  3. So what? You are telling your story in bullet points. Sometimes, I read them and think, “so what?” Yes, you did a thing; but more importantly, did this thing have impact? Don’t forget to include that part. You analyzed something? Great. But what happened as a result? That’s what I really want to know.
  4. 1 page is enough. 15+ years into your career, I’ll cut you some slack. Otherwise, I promise, 1 is enough. If your bullet points are quantified and show impact, you can get all that great content on 1 page. 2 easy cuts?
    • All of those characteristics (team player, driven, strong communication skills) that you list about yourself at the top of your resume. Honestly, I don’t read them. Let those things shine through in the bullet points, cover letter and in your interview. Who’s going to say they have poor communication skills anyway?
    • Eliminate “a, an, the” from your bullet points.
  5. Don’t use 8-point font. My eyes hurt. And there are likely so many words on the page that I can’t figure out which end is up. So, I give up.
  6. Keep it simple people. Unless you are in a creative field, for me, simpler is better. Personally, I’m not a fan of graphics or complicated layouts. Don’t shoot the messenger.
  7. Include months. Otherwise, someone might think you are trying to hide a gap. P.S. Don’t hide a gap. But be prepared to address it.
  8. Frontload your bullets. I know you worked really hard on your resume. I do. But I’ll be honest, recruiters are skimming it. Tailor your first few bullets under each job to speak to the needs outlined in the job description (Wordle can help) and to highlight your greatest accomplishments. The recruiter may not make it to the last one.
  9. What’s in a name? Sometimes, it’s hard to understand what someone has done if they use a lot of industry jargon or if the company at which they worked is not well recognized. Consider adding a line that explains what the company does. If your industry jargon doesn’t translate to the next company or job, dumb it down for us so we can better understand what you did and how that translate to this new job.
  10. Tell me something personal. Especially if you are applying to an MBA program. Let’s be honest, it’s fun to learn about people. That’s why I’m in this business. If you are including a personal section at the bottom, draw me in. Top 3 things I see: cooking, travel and running. I love all of those things so I’m not telling you to find new hobbies. But spice it up. How about: pad thai fanatic, sea kayaking in the Baja, 3 Boston Marathons and counting. WAY more exciting, right?

Most of these are simple fixes that make tons of impact. Do it. Now. Need help? You can find me at

How Kevin Bacon will help you find your next job

Everyone knows the phrase “Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon.” But have you ever actually played? I hadn’t until my husband suggested the title of this blog and we went to How hard could it be to name an actor more than two degrees separated from Kevin Bacon? The answer: really hard. The man is REALLY well connected.

We all don’t work in Hollywood so maybe Kevin Bacon might not actually help you find your next job but your network will.

As a recruiter, I’m often asked where my best hires come from. IBM? Goldman Sachs? Google? Close. Referrals. And I’m not alone. In a 2015 study by Jobvite, 78 percent of the 1400 recruiters surveyed said they found their best quality candidates through referrals. This is up from 60 percent in 2014. The study also shows that the proportion of candidates hired through a referral is about 40 percent, which seems a little high but is still relatively consistent with what I’ve seen at some of the companies that I’ve recruited for.

Your network is not just your friends, college roommates and former colleagues. It’s friends of friends, current roommates of your college roommates and colleagues of former colleagues. If you find a job that really interests you, it’s easy enough to go onto LinkedIn to see who you might be connected to, even if it’s not a 1st degree connection. Ask for an introduction. Grab coffee. Learn more. Become a referral.

Get noticed

Recruiters find candidates through several different channels: social networks, direct applications, outside agencies, former interns and job boards. Some openings get more than 250 applications and each resume gets approximately 6 seconds of a recruiter’s time before a decision is made. Referrals, however, get preferential treatment. When a current employee or someone in our network shares a resume with me, that candidate goes to the front of the line. Their resume gets reviewed more quickly and thoroughly, they land a phone interview (even if they don’t look perfect on paper), they get a second look from the hiring manager.

Why? Because someone I trust – the referrer – has done the hard part for me: they have pre-qualified you and can speak to your fit in a way that I could never assess through a phone screen, let alone a scan of your resume.

Land the job more quickly

That trip to the front of the line also means that you might get hired more quickly. According that same Jobvite study, applicants hired from a referral begin their position more quickly than applicants found via job boards and career sites (after 29 days compared with 39 days via job boards and 55 via career sites).

Stick around

The last thing you want to do is start a job, end up unhappy and quickly be out on the job hunt again. Likewise, the company has already invested a lot in you and really wants this to work out. Unfortunately, roughly 1/3 of all new hires quit in the first six months. You are more likely to remain with your next company if you’ve arrived there via a referral. The Jobvite study tells us that referral hires have greater job satisfaction and stay longer at companies – 46% stay over 1 year (compared to 33% from career sites and 22% from job boards), 45% over 2 years (compared to 20% from job boards).

Why? Because you’re likely more knowledgeable about the company and therefore have made a more educated decision about whether the company is a good fit for you. That inside scoop from the referrer is one of the few opportunities that you have to get an honest assessment of a company’s culture and whether it’s an environment in which you will thrive. Having a connection in a new organization makes it easier to integrate and more quickly add value.

The payoff

The average referral bonus is between $1000 – $2500 per a survey by WorldatWork. A small price for a company to pay for a high-quality hire who is likely to start sooner and remain with the organization longer than a non-referred hire. So, work your network and let your friend (and new colleague) buy you dinner with their bonus. After all, earning it was easier than connecting Greta Garbo to Kevin Bacon (Greta Garbo was in Ninotchka with Tamara Shayne in 1939 who was in I Can Get It for You Wholesale with Edna Reiss Merin in 1951 who was in Enormous Changes at the Last Minute with Kevin Bacon in 1983).

For more on the power of your network:

Why your job search is a lot like getting into college

A shout out to Colby College, pictured above, for providing me with a great foundation for exploring my passions and pursuing my goals.

Do you remember sitting down to write essays for your college applications? Neither do I. For many of us it’s been a long time (or really long time, but who’s counting?). However, if you think back to all the great advice you received about applying to college and writing those essays or your personal statement, many of the same rules apply today when looking for a job and writing your cover letter:

  • Be selective. Just as some students apply to as many 40 colleges, many people on the job hunt apply to far too many jobs and then wonder why they never hear back. It’s because you couldn’t possibly 1) be equally qualified for 100 different unrelated jobs or 2) have done enough research to write a convincing cover letter articulating why they can’t live without you or 3) have taken the time to utilize your network so your resume just went into a black hole. Invest time customizing the cover letters for the select handful of jobs that you really want (and are actually qualified for) rather than blasting out generic applications for countless jobs that you haven’t researched and at the end of the day, probably aren’t really interested in. When it comes to your job search, more is not always more.
  • Be your authentic self. Choosing the right college is about finding the place that has the right environment, culture, classes, activities and professors for you. You won’t find it if you don’t take the time to understand what’s important to you. Same is true in the job search and the interview process. It’s a two-way street and it’s important to do your homework and ask questions to make sure that the company and role are the right fit for you.
  • Build real and lasting relationships. For high school students, that means building relationships with college reps, alumni, your interviewer and your counselor. For those of you on the job hunt, that means building and most importantly maintaining connections with your network. According to a recent survey, 85% of all jobs are filled by hiring managers and candidates leveraging their personal networks. I suspect that number got your attention! You need to cultivate your network; statistically speaking, it is the key to finding the next opportunity. In addition, take the time to identify the hiring manager and recruiter. Connect with them on LinkedIn with a thoughtful message and address your cover letter accordingly.
  • Demonstrate your interest. Colleges are looking for demonstrated interest because they care about their yield. Showing a college that you are interested is the opposite of dating. Don’t play hard to get and pretend that you aren’t interested. Recruiters and hiring managers want you to want them too and not just because you need a job but because you want their job at their company.  Generic cover letters don’t work. I know, I know. Customizing each cover letter, doing your homework and building relationships (see above) take effort and time. But if you are selective (again, see above) then you can spend your time researching the company and articulate in a cover letter, LinkedIn message, and during your interview why you are interested and why you are a great fit.

P.S. My favorite tool for developing a manageable target list of companies: the 2 Hour Job Search.