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This Throwback Tool will help you ace the Job Interview



Years ago when I was interviewing for a broadcast news management position I brought along a Franklin Planner, which I took with me everywhere. Back then, it was an effective way to keep track of notes, appointments, and contact information, prioritize tasks, and get more done. Today we use apps for that.

At the start of that job interview, I asked if I could take notes. After getting the nod, I pulled out my planner and wrote down those things I wanted to remember. I also added questions I wanted to ask when the time for questions came up. The hiring manager was deeply interested in the planner itself and started asking me questions about it. I gave a brief description of how it kept my notes neatly organized and in one place. That interview started on the right note and turned into a job offer.

As technology progressed I gave up the Franklin Planner, but I often look back at how well it worked, especially when it involved a job search. There are attorneys who use black binders for keeping track of their case loads. That way they can walk right into the meeting, with pertinent information at their fingertips, along with a place to put additional notes about the case. The black binder is a great tool that will also work well in your job search.

Before you start grumbling that an app is easier solution, I can assure you that old school pen and paper is more effective when you’re face-to-face in an interview. The tabs make information faster and easier to access. Plus, you’ll be expected to turn off your phone for a couple of reasons. One, you don’t want any disruptions during such an important meeting. Two, it respects the privacy of the meeting. In other words, “please turn off all recording devices.”

To get started, obtain a one-inch black loose-leaf binder to organize all notes regarding the company and the job you applied for. Not only will it help you prepare for the meeting, it will keep you focused and organized during the interview, reduce stress, and increase your confidence. Moreover, it will show the interviewer you’ve done your homework and are prepared for your next role.

Remember, this binder is for your use. Think of it like a patient’s medical history that a doctor refers to in the exam room. Or a CRM file for notes account representatives refer to when they call on a client. It’s not a “leave behind” although you should bring along some “one sheets” about how you’re perfectly matched to the job. The sell sheet or “leave behind” can be a bio, a thumb drive, a list of references, a calling card, or anything else you may be asked to bring with you. These should not have holes punched in them. Use a pocket or add a plastic sleeve to the binder.

Within the binder, put together TABBED sections so you can easily reference the material during your job interview. Your pages will need to be 3-hole punched, with certain restrictions below. Here is a suggested list of tabbed section headers and what to include:


Include a map print out with step-by-step instructions and estimated time for your arrival. If you have an email confirming a place and time of the interview, print it out and include it, just in case there is any confusion. It also provides proof if there’s a scheduling snafu. You can present it to the receptionist. Jot down who the interview is with as well as contact information. Should technology fail, you have instant backup.

Application Materials

Print out the vacancy announcement for position you applied for. You’ll be able to refer to it during the job interview. Include the cover letter that accompanied the resume, and if you filled out an online application, print that out as well.

Company Website

Peruse the company website and social media accounts. Print out and highlight pertinent information such as:

  • The company’s profile or overview
  • The company’s core values or mission statement
  • Profiles and photos of the key officers and the people interviewing you. Note: If this information isn’t on the company website, you can usually find it on a Linkedin profile. The photos will help you remember names on panel interviews.
  • The company’s customer base
  • Current and future projects
  • Any past acquisitions or mergers
  • Annual sales projections
  • Recent media articles about expansion, new projects, or anything else of value


Include a few blank pages so you can take notes. Don’t forget to bring two pens. Just in case one loses ink.

S.T.A.R. Stories

The S.T.A.R. acronym stands for Situation, Task, Action and Result. Type up a list of situations, tasks (or challenges) you were faced with to include in this section of your notebook. What action did you take and what were the results of those actions. You can put one on each page or use a dividing line so you can easily find the information.

Refer to this section when asked the dreaded question, “tell me about a time when you had to appease an angry customer,” – or – “Tell me about a time when things didn’t go as planned. How did you handle it?”  

You’ll gain a lot of confidence having these reminder notes at your fingertips.


Hiring managers expect you to ask questions. While you’re putting together your notebook, you’ll start forming your own questions. Bring a list along, and check them off as the interviewer answers them during your conversation.


Have several clean copies on nice paper without hole punches or staples. This is where a plastic sleeve will come in handy. You never know how many extra people will be called in to talk to you. Or if the online copy doesn’t look as nice as you intended due to compatibility issues or boring white paper.


Make sure your letterhead and contact information match your resume and cover letter as well as the paper. No holes punched.

Sell Sheet/Leave Behind

This can include a bio, or a list of what you bring to the table that tells why your qualifications closely match the company requirements. This would be the only document I would recommend having a photo on, so they can quickly remember you against all those other people they interviewed.

Pockets or Sleeves

Chances are you’ll get a copy of the job description (you should ask for it). You should also get business cards from everyone who interviewed you so you can follow up with thank you notes. This keeps it all neatly in one place for faster response.

How to use it

When you arrive at the interview, pull out a pen and your black binder and ask if you can take notes. Start jotting down information. When the interviewer begins asking questions about what you know about the company, or what you think of their website, you can quickly refer to the tabbed sections and answer with confidence. Also, when they ask if you have any questions, you can flip to that section and start asking away.

Why it Works

The interviewer will notice that you are highly organized, care about their time, and are eager to represent yourself and their company well. This alone will help you stand out among all the other candidates.

In some instances, the interviewer may try to take a peek into the black binder. As I stated before, the binder is for your use to refer to during the interview. It is not intended or required to be given to the person interviewing you.

Finally, keep this documentation secure. It contains a lot of private information that can aid in identity theft. On a positive note, it’s not hack-able or prone to viruses.

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Don’t air Your Dirty Laundry on Social Media

Tonight I watched in disbelief as a social media page in my hometown blew up with accusations against a corporate restaurant that specializes in “all you can eat” buffet style cuisine. Apparently a woman took her daughter out for her birthday along with her mother and got bad service. She posted photos, and videos online because her mother was accused by the waitress of putting food in her purse. At buffet restaurants, you can’t take home the leftovers. The manager also approached the table and the woman started recording the encounter on her phone.

She posted the video on a Community Facebook page with 35,000 followers, where she called out the waitress and manager by name. Also included was a very long-winded story with all the sordid details. She was pissed off that her mother was accused of theft and called 911. I’m sure any of us would be angry to be falsely accused of theft, although calling 911 is a bit over the top since 911 is supposed to be used for life and death emergencies. But that’s not the issue here. I’m cringing over the fact she immediately went public on Facebook and it went viral, forcing the company to issue a statement. According to the thread, there may even be a lawsuit.

Our local TV station picked up the story, and now the incident will live for a very long time on page one of Google, easily searchable to a future employer. Many of the followers on the Facebook page are demanding that the manager and waitress be fired. Maybe they should. I don’t know, I wasn’t there and I don’t work with them or eat at their restaurant.

What I do know is the manager, the named waitress, AND the woman who decided to go public over this slight will probably be looking for a job in the future. It may not be right away, but at one time or another, we’re in the job market. And any astute HR manager will find this story online during the background check and move on to the next candidate. No one wants drama in the workplace regardless of who was at fault during the incident. It’s a HUGE distraction.

Stop Complaining online
Photo by Omar Prestwich on Unsplash

Don’t Stoop to Conquer.

Mistakes happen. If someone accused me of wrongdoing, the last thing I would do is publicize it for the world to know. Even if I was right. Airing dirty laundry can get very stinky. Now the credibility of the waitress, the manager, and the accuser are all in question. When you get in a pissing match with a skunk, you all smell bad.

Social media has become the judge and jury of these arguments, and frankly, no one wins. Not the accuser. Not the company. Not the employees. The problem should have been handled better, that’s for sure. But making these situations public can negatively impact one’s career. The accuser will learn that the hard way.

Before you post your drama online, look far into the future. Would you want this to affect your ability to find a good job?

A scorned woman wants revenge. A strong woman moves on. How one handles them-self in these situations speaks volumes.

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Billboards, Radio Ads, and Resumes

How they are similar.

A common issue I see with resumes is that they contain too much information.To be really effective, a resume has to quickly grab attention, and generate interest in the candidate. The same is true for billboards and radio advertising.

My communications degree led to an interesting and fun career in broadcasting. As a radio DJ, I was required to record commercials that would air throughout the day. Many times, the salesperson, with the help of the client would write the ad and wanted it read “as-is”– as in ‘no changes’ to the copy. That meant a screaming ad, read at a fast pace that few would understand, or be compelled to keep listening. You can’t cram the business owner’s entire inventory into a 30 or 60 second ad. What gets attention in radio advertising? Long silence pauses. Short copy. Slower dialogue. Fewer Words. Just because you’re paying for 30 seconds, doesn’t mean the entire ad has to be filled with talking. What you’re seeking is results.

With Billboards it’s no different. When they have too many words, or multiple photos, no one is going to comprehend the message when they’re driving by at 60 MPH. The billboard has to be read in fewer than 5 seconds and pique interest.  Too much content and your message is lost.

Content also matters when it comes to your resume. Does it contain too much information? Does it relate to the reader’s needs? Does it get to the point> In advertising, good copy matters. On billboards, on the radio, and on your resume.

We’ve been helping career professionals get better jobs for 15+ years. If you need help streamlining your resume and cover letter, give us a call at 540-404-9175.





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An Open Letter to Linkedin

Dear Linkedin:

For years I have been asking you to fix your LIVE editing format that allows users to first preview what they write before publishing content. It has fallen on deaf ears. Just today I was perusing a professional’s profile and found misspelled words. As a resume writer, this irks me. Typos and misspellings are never good in any form of marketing.

Because of your user agreement, professional resume writers and Linkedin advisors are not allowed to go into someone else’s Linkedin account (even with their permission). I understand why, but can we come up with a solution? Because the current system isn’t working so well.

WordPress is a perfect example of how to set up accounts for multiple users with various permissions. I have asked your company to do the same. My clients want their profiles to look great, so why not allow them to set up a second user account with limited access? The password and sign-on can even have an expiration date of say, 30 days. I don’t need access to a client’s inmail, or even their connections. Nor do I want publishing privileges. But let’s face it. A lot of busy professionals just don’t have the time to set up a Linkedin account any more than they would sit down and create their own company website. And it’s not in their best interest to do so.

So please, hear me out. Now that Microsoft owns you, I know there are plenty of intelligent people in the firm to make this happen. Give your members a chance to have a polished Linkedin Profile, created by a professional, that doesn’t require “cutting and pasting” from a text document and a long list of instructions. Let us in to do the job in preview only mode, so the account owner can look it over and publish it when, and only when it’s perfect. It will make everyone look better. Including your company.

Susan Geary, CMRW


Author of ‘What Color is Your Parachute’ has died

Legendary job search guru, Richard Nelson Bolles passed away on March 31, 2017 at the age of 90. You may recognize him from his book, which has been published annually since 1983, “What Color is Your Parachute?” It’s  recommended reading for job seekers who aren’t sure of what career path to take.


Taxes and Resumes: They’re more alike than you think

Tax season is once again upon us, and I know I have options when it comes to tax preparation: I can do it myself and hope I don’t make an expensive mistake. I can buy software and hope that I understand exactly what the program is asking me to do, or I can bite the bullet and shell out a few hundred bucks and get help from someone who knows convoluted tax code inside out. I don’t have time to keep up with the changes from one year to the next. And figuring out my tax burden is just not fun for me. Many people feel the same way about writing a résumé.

Tax preparation and résumé preparation are not that different. Both processes work best when you save vital documents, such as mileage and receipts for the IRS; and performance evaluations from previous jobs for your résumé. Not saving documents can be a liability, because it’s difficult to remember what to accurately list on your résumé or tax returns. Also consider how much is at stake if you’re ever audited. Yet many job seekers fail to understand the long term expense if a self-written résumé doesn’t generate interviews.

Additionally, I scratch my head at folks who look at résumé samples and copy sentences word for word thinking that’s going to grab the attention of a recruiter. I know I’d never copy anyone else’s tax return in order to get mine done, because it just won’t work. We all have a unique background. The same is true for the job search. Do you really have any idea what you might be leaving off? And what if the résumé you copied is out-of-date and has information no longer necessary?

If you’ve ever tried to complete your own taxes chances are you had to complete worksheets. A good resume starts with good information gathering as well. Both industries rely on worksheets, and client interviews for the best outcome.

While taxes need to be filed every year, thankfully we don’t need to apply for a job every year! Although a résumé should be updated once a year, or you should at least keep a running list of accomplishments and compile them in a folder. This should include annual performance reviews, job descriptions, awards, sales figures, and anything else where you helped your company make money, save money, become more efficient, etc. And just like your taxes, you’ll need to quantify in dollar ($) figures or percentage (%) points. Numbers are important!

Tax Filing fees are tax deductible. The same holds true for expenses related to the job search, which includes professional résumé services and software programs. So don’t forget to save those receipts if you do decide to invest in professional services.

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Finding Work in a New Town

Are you moving to a new location without a job? You’re not alone. If your spouse has a accepted a great gig, and you’re traveling in tow, you’ll need to find something for yourself. Or perhaps you’re an adventurous soul who packs up and moves to a new locale before you have a job lined up. Nothing wrong with that. Unless you end up unemployed in a new city for a long time. That would suck.

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Has Your Network Deserted You?

Logo-rIf you were gainfully employed in the 1990s through 2 years ago, chances are you built up a fine network for yourself while achieving great success.

But now that the recession is here, would you be able to call upon your network for help? Do you feel deserted?  If that’s the case, maybe it’s time to take a closer look at why.

1.  Were you nice to your co-workers or did you bully them?
2.  Were you willing to share your knowledge or did you keep your cards close to your vest?
3.  Did you complain about people behind their back, or the company you worked for?
4.  Did you give credit where credit was due?
5.  Did you cause problems at the office?

Whatever the case, if your phone isn’t ringing off the hook for job interviews, you need a network and you need one fast if you’re going to survive in this economy.

First I would examine what you did in your past that might cause your network to flee. If you honestly don’t know, maybe it’s time you asked. Approach a former co-worker or supervisor and ask them to be candid about what you were like to work with. Acknowledge and thank them in writing for their point of view.

Forgive yourself. We all do stupid things. From there you can either reapproach former co-workers  and ask forgiveness, or start fresh with a new network. With this group you can try out what you learned from your past “teachable moments” and do all you can to help others be successful.

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Give your resume a facelift to look years younger

Don’t let your resume date you.

I review a lot of resumes, and have noticed a recurring issue with older career professionals. The resume offers up more information than it should. Those little hints that reveal your age, or make you look older than you are. When it’s time to update your resume, resist the urge to just add a new job on it, and ignore everything else. Instead, give it a facelift with these 9 tips.

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Resume Style – Less is More

Less is More graphic

Long before I became a resume writer, I studied broadcast journalism at Northern Arizona University. We were taught to write in the present tense, using short phrases, with easy-to-digest information. When I transitioned to resume writing, I took a lot of what I learned from writing for the ear, and applied it to job search documents. Short, attention grabbing, and easy-to-understand phrases.

I have routinely joked that I attend resume writing conventions where we argue over the comma. With resume writing we prefer the Oxford, or serial comma. I, and many other writers feel it adds more clarity to the sentence. Most US Style Guides have adopted the Oxford comma, but old school print journalists still follow AP Style, the last holdout where the Oxford comma is still not used.

Recently, my husband and I were discussing how vocabulary has changed since our country was founded. He told me he went back in and mentally inserted serial commas into the constitution and other historical documents and noted how much it changed the meaning.  Numerous arguments continue to this day about the intentions of our founding fathers, no doubt, because of a different punctuation style of that period.

Since the intention of a resume is to get job seekers noticed for interviews, I have thrown all conventional styles aside and have come up with my “Geary-style” of resume writing. I have taken different rules from different playbooks, be it, AP, Chicago, and Gregg, and kept what made sense for my audience, and made up my own rules were applicable. The style has worked over the past 14 years. In a nutshell, here are a few “rule-benders” that I use to gain attention for job seekers.

On resumes, we’ve all been taught that numbers jump off a page, yet Gregg Reference (Secretarial Manual) says we need to spell out one through ten. Why? I see no reason to spell out three, when 3 does the job better. I don’t care what Gregg reference says. It makes no sense on a resume to spell it out if it’s only going to be swallowed up in a sentence. Numbers work and they’re easy to comprehend.

Where don’t we want numbers? On the months and years  you worked. 1/10-7/6 is just plain hard to translate. Instead, use Jan 2010 – Jul 2016. That is so much easier for the reader to quickly grasp. Also, on resumes, we don’t use pronouns like with other forms of communication. It’s assumed that “I” wrote it, but “I” isn’t necessary anywhere on the document.

Another style rule I break is regarding CamelCase on email addresses and Linkedin urls. These addresses are not case-sensitive. And yes, I know the social media community is doing its best to hang on to a style that makes it difficult to read. But, what’s easier to read: or Think of the reader and make it easy for them. This style needs to be adopted across the board.

The bottom line with resumes is this: LESS is MORE. If you can quickly convey who you are and what you have to offer, you are likely to get more job interviews. It’s that simple. And when that happens, I’ve done my job.