Looking for a job is complex. At each step you take — writing a resume, drafting a cover letter, networking, interviewing, negotiating your salary and more — there are a million different questions you could ask.
While we can’t answer all of the questions in a single blog post (believe me, that wouldn’t be fun for you or me) we can attempt to address some of the more frequent questions that come up. After poring over Reddit, Quora, Google and other sites, we drafted a list of some of the most commonly asked job search questions and reached out to career experts to find the answers — here are the results.
The Job Application
1. I’ve submitted tons of applications, but I haven’t heard back from anyone. What am I doing wrong?
When it comes to submitting job applications, it’s about quality, not quantity. If you’re not hearing back at all, you may want to think about whether you’re applying to the right jobs. There’s nothing wrong with aiming high, but if you don’t have the direct experience needed for the job you want, you may want to start thinking about applying to stepping-stone positions.
Another common culprit for getting the silent treatment? “The applicant probably hasn’t tailored their resume to the position and the key requirements posted for the position,” says John Singer, CEO of Professional Development Strategies.
“For each application, you should carefully read the job description and include and/or highlight specific skills and experiences you have that match what the company is looking for. Use the same language [as] the job description,” adds Aurora Meneghello, career coach and founder of Repurpose Your Purpose.
Other strategies to get your resume past the screening phase include finding somebody at the company to refer you, and making sure your resume is Applicant Tracking System, or ATS, compliant (more on that later).
2. Will applying to a job in a different state hurt my chances of getting hired?
It’s probably not what you want to hear, but the answer is, “It depends.” If a company doesn’t have the budget to accommodate relocation costs, or there are already plenty of qualified locals, they probably won’t be as open to interviewing out-of-state candidates. However, if you have a unique or hard-to-find set of skills and the company has a track record of hiring out-of-state applicants, your location may be no deterrent at all. Just make it clear that you’re willing to move.
“The best places to do this are in the cover letter and the summary/overview statement at the top of your resume,” says Adam Goulston, Certified Professional Resume Writer. And in all of your application materials, make it clear that you’re the best person for the job regardless of location.
3. I need experience to get a job, but I need a job to get experience. What can I do?
It may be a bit of extra work, but you can definitely gain experience without being employed full-time in a particular field.
“Consider volunteering with nonprofits… sometime volunteer gigs turn into paid jobs, and they are a good way to start your resume,” says Robyn L. Coburn, author and resume coach. You can also bulk up your resume through freelance work.
“People are often willing to take a chance on a less experienced freelancer for a one-time project, especially if it costs them less than hiring a bigger firm to complete the work,” says Jessie West of West Coaching and Consulting. Then, “you can use work completed for freelance clients to show your experience on your resume.”
Finally, there’s nothing wrong with a little good old-fashioned networking.
“Ask your family and friends, or community connections… if they can help you find an entry-level job in their companies,” Goulston adds. “Always express willingness to start at the bottom, work hard and learn.”
4. How do I go from having a good resume to having a great resume?
One difference between the two: a good resume shows what you did at your previous jobs, while a great resume shows the impact you had.
“Make sure the resume is filled with specific accomplishments and results you’ve delivered, quantified with numbers whenever possible,” says Kelly Donovan, principal of Kelly Donovan & Associates. One tried-and-true tactic is the STAR method, in which each bullet point lists the Situation you found yourself in, Task you were assigned, Action you took and Results of your initiatives. “However, be sure that the accomplishments and results are relevant to the job you’re going for — otherwise, your reader might be unimpressed by your examples,” Donovan cautions.
This speaks to a larger theme present in great resumes: customization.
“For each application, you should carefully read the job description and include and/or highlight specific skills and experiences you have that match what the company is looking for,” Meneghello says. This is especially important if the company uses an ATS. Speaking of which, you might be wondering…
5. How can I make sure my resume gets past an ATS?
“Every resume should be customized to the job by carefully examining the keywords in the listing, and adjusting your resume to reflect those,” Coburn says. “Always use the exact phrase they use,” because many ATSs filter out resumes that don’t contain enough relevant keywords.
It also helps to follow a few formatting guidelines so that the ATS can easily scan your resume. Try “keeping the font at 11 points or more; using one of the standard, highly readable fonts; and making sure the employment dates are justified to the right-hand margin on the page,” Coburn adds. “Bells and whistles like columns, shading, boxes, underlining and multiple fonts only confuse the ATS.”
6. What skills are impressive to have on a resume?
The skills recruiters are impressed by will largely vary based on the job you’re applying to. To identify the most in-demand skills in your field, look at a wide cross-section of job postings that you’re interested in and take notes on which ones appear most frequently. Recruiters may also like to see certain role-specific certifications.
There are a handful of skills, though, that are applicable to many different careers, and are worth including no matter what. A few examples: fluency in a foreign language, data analysis (especially in common platforms like Excel or Google Sheets), project management and leadership (with concrete examples to back it up).
7. When reading a resume, what red flags do recruiters look out for?
One of the easiest ways to get your application out of the running? Typos.
“There are so many people applying for the same job, a recruiter needs to be diligent,” says business writer Mary Walton. Often, “that means they’ll throw away any resume that’s not correctly proofread without even looking at the content.” So check, double check and even triple check your resume to make sure it’s free of errors.
You’ll also want to be careful about including long gaps on your resume with no explanation.
“Some companies have stringent hiring practices that would clearly frown on gaps,” says Susan Ruhl, a managing partner at OI Partners-Innovative Career Consulting in Denver. “If there is a gap, recruiters/hiring managers tend to become a little suspicious and so they must be explained.”
Finally, many inconsistencies, exaggerations or straight-up lies on your resume can easily be found by cross-checking with former employers, so don’t even think about it. If a recruiter can’t trust your resume, how are they supposed to trust you as an employee?
8. What questions should I ask in an interview?
There’s no limit to questions you can ask in an interview, but as a rule of thumb, you should make sure that the questions you ask either demonstrate that you’re thoughtful and well-researched, help you understand the company/role on a deeper level or both.
A few examples Meneghello suggests:
- What type of people tend to excel here?
- I read about the XYZ initiative online. Can you tell me more about it and how it relates to the work your team is doing?
- How would you describe your culture?
Try to avoid questions that demonstrate a lack of research on your part (e.g. “Who’s the CEO?”) or hint that you may be in it for the wrong reasons (“Can I expect a six-figure salary?”).
9. What are some red flags you should look out for in a job interview?
It pays to be vigilant during the interview process — after all, no one wants to take a job they’ll end up hating a few months (or even weeks) in. It won’t always be easy to identify a toxic workplace, but if an interviewer bad-mouths other employees (past or present), won’t say why the position opened up, reveals that they work nearly 24/7 or lets slip that there’s a high turnover rate, you may want to think twice before moving forward.
Another red flag to watch out for is an unclear job description. If you don’t know what you’re supposed to be doing or how you can be successful at it, you may find yourself juggling multiple roles, being held to arbitrary and unfair performance standards or failing to find meaning in what you do.
10. What are some common interview mistakes?
Besides the obvious — showing up late, using unprofessional language, appearing sloppy or unhygienic — one of the biggest mistakes you can make is being poorly prepared. Don’t forget to arrive with all of the necessary materials, like your resume, portfolio and a notepad; research basic facts about the company such as their industry, competitors and CEO; or practice your responses beforehand. While you probably won’t be able to anticipate every question that comes your way, you can use Glassdoor’s interview reviews to find out which questions the company you’re interviewing with asks candidates. It never hurts to brush up on some of the most common interview questions, either.
Another big no-no is coming across as too vague. If someone asks you an anecdotal question, such as “How have you dealt with difficult colleagues?” you should give a specific example. Again, practicing your responses (yes, that means out loud) should help prepare you for this.
11. How should I respond to, “What’s your biggest weakness?”
This question is notoriously one of the trickiest ones out there — you don’t want to answer with an eye-roll-worthy cliché, but you don’t want to make yourself look bad, either. The trick, experts say, is being honest without being honest to a fault.
“Dig deep and be honest, but of course don’t share something which will lead them to question your ability to do the job,” says Nicole Wood of Ama la Vida. Then, “make sure you immediately follow-up with the action steps you have taken to overcome these weaknesses… The interviewer just wants to know that these aren’t blind spots, that you are well aware of them and that you are working to overcome them.”
12. How should I respond when someone asks what my salary expectations are?
“Answering this question by disclosing numbers can make it very difficult to negotiate effectively later on because it can box the candidate in,” says Josh Doody, author of Fearless Salary Negotiation. “Once [the candidate] discloses current or desired salary, the offers they get are very likely to be tied to those numbers. That can be very expensive if the company might have offered them a much higher salary than they disclosed.”
Instead, Doody suggests responding with something along the lines of:
I don’t have a specific number in mind for a desired salary, and you know better than I do what value my skill set and experience could bring to your company. I want this move to be a big step forward for me in terms of both responsibility and compensation.
13. What’s the best way to negotiate your salary?
Salary negotiations can play out any number of ways, but the basic strategy you should stick to is knowing what you’re worth and making a business case for why you deserve it. Start by defining a concrete range of what you want to make — you can use Glassdoor’s Know Your Worth personalized salary estimator to help inform that number.
Let the employer throw out a number first, then ask for more. It’s always worth negotiating — employers are extremely unlikely to fire somebody, or not hire them in the first place, just for negotiating their salary (as long as the request isn’t totally outlandish). But don’t just say you want that extra money. Prove that you deserve it by bringing up concrete accomplishments, results and metrics. Worst case scenario, they’ll say no — best case scenario, you’ll walk away with a much heftier paycheck.
14. What should you do if you get fired?
This is another question that really depends on your personal circumstances. Some people may want to take time off to travel, focus on their families or just take it easy while they search for a new job. Others may not be in a financial position where that’s feasible. If you need employment ASAP, one of your best options is to go to a temp agency, where recruiters proactively “pitch” you to different employers. Best of all, they’ll often do this at no cost to you. This not only helps you pay the bills while you look for a permanent position — it helps you add experience to your resume, which in turn makes you more marketable to employers.
Whether you take time off in between or not, though, you’ll likely be asked why you left your former position. While it may be tempting to cover up the truth, “you absolutely need to be honest,” says Heather Huhman. “You don’t have to go into elaborate details. Keep your answer brief and move the conversation towards what you’ve learned from the experience.” And most of all, stay positive and forward-thinking. Don’t talk about why you hated your last job — focus on how excited you are for this new opportunity.
15. How do you stay motivated/optimistic in the midst of the job hunt?
We won’t lie — the job hunt can be exhausting and disheartening, especially if it stretches on for a long time. But it’s important to not give up. If you’re doing everything right, it’s only a matter of time before you find the right opportunity. In the meantime, though, it’s worth pampering yourself a little bit. A few ways you can beat the job search blues: stay active, limit the amount of time you spend on social media, go to the spa… whatever you think will help you unwind. And rest assured — you will find a job eventually.
Have a job search question that you’d like answered? Let us know in the comments section below!