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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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What “Scrappers” bring to the workplace

Yesterday I saw a Ted Talk that was eye-opening. Regina Hartley, works in HR Management at UPS, and said she prefers to consider the “scrapper” over the “silver spoon” because these people have faced adversity and are more likely to address problems and solve them. She asserts that the scrapper’s secret weapon is passion and purpose.

After watching this Ted Talk, I tallied up the number of jobs I’ve held. I stopped at 80, and this did not include the number of temp jobs I held for staffing agencies  where I went on a lot of assignments over a few years. I would consider myself a “super scrapper.”

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Work Camping from an RV

Creative Writing Type A PrintAccording to NBC News more and more people are buying RVs. Their “On the Road Again” story points out that RV purchases are a sign that the economy is rebounding because RVs typically been a discretionary purchase. In other words, retirees and those with deep pockets could afford to buy them and drive them. With gas at $4 a gallon, and those rigs getting 12 MPG average, many find it’s cheaper to drive a car and stay in hotels rather than maintain an RV, when you consider how much use they get, insurance, registration, upkeep, and of course rent at campgrounds if you’re not boon docking.

But over at NPR, the rise of RV Sales and their use paints a more dismal picture. The mid-day program “Here and Now” highlighted the plight of those who can’t afford to retire. These people are  living in RVs and chasing jobs all over the nation. Did you know there is an underground workforce that travels from place to place following hiring booms? Amazon loves RV Workampers and hires a lot of them every winter in Nevada at their distribution site during the busy holiday shopping season. The fact that workers show up with their own housing, and leave when the surge is over is a benefit to companies. As for the workers, maybe not so much. These are not full-time jobs with benefits. And because workers cross state lines, there’s the health insurance issue they have to deal with.

There are many people who dream of a life on the road. A way to see the country, pick up some work along the way, and live on their own terms. The website “Cheap RV Living” offers a glimpse on what it’s like to live in an RV and find work across the country. And over at they chastise NPR’s Here and Now for only presenting one side of the story in their blog: “Not all Workampers are Old, Broke, and Destitute.”

Of course, you don’t have to pick up minimum wage jobs if you’re working out of an RV. If you’re an expert, consultant, writer, or do outside sales, you can also make a decent living from the road. It all depends on how good you are with networking, and finding temporary work in your field. Thankfully there is a network of like-minded people to offer up advice.


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Don’t Let Facebook Ruin Your Career

Last week I was at a trade show in Las Vegas chatting with some fellow vendors about Facebook. The guy I was talking to at our booth “doesn’t do Facebook” and I understand why. I mentioned that someone in my list of Facebook Friends had been going through a public meltdown, describing intimate details of her broken marriage and fighting with her husband on her page. I had told this person the last time she did it to knock it off. Facebook is not your diary, and it could jeopardize your career. My co-worker at the trade show, a magazine publisher was listening in but had no comment.

A few hours later, the publisher I was working with asked me if I would like to sell advertising for her online magazine, which I had to decline because as a journalist, I tend to keep those things separate. Plus, it was a kids’ magazine, a target demo I know little about. That being said, I started to tell her about someone I knew who would be perfect. “This woman could sell sand at the beach,” I said, and I mentioned she had experience in broadcast advertising and had several kids of her own. She was looking for a work from home job. The magazine publisher was interested, but then I had to tell her the God’s honest truth. The person I was speaking about was the same person I spoke of earlier who was trashing her estranged husband all over Facebook. “No thanks,” said the publisher. “It sounds as if she has no boundaries. But thanks anyway.”

So there you have it. Just because you have a lot of friends on Facebook, and you think your page is private, it really isn’t. And if there’s one particular thing I learned at this convention is that “we all have a brand, whether we want one or not.” Don’t let your brand be tarnished by a foolish rant on Facebook. Every day is your job interview, and you have no idea how many opportunities are wasted because or your own self-published comments.

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Right from the horse’s mouth….

Part of my job as a career coach is to keep an eye out on burgeoning trends; know when trends become passe; and listen, listen, listen to what hiring authorities want and need to see on a resume to garner their attention. I read a lot of blogs and advice columns on the job search, and two of my favorites are and Allison Greene and Nick Corcodilos are refreshingly candid, on how to land a job, and not end up working for jerks. Both provide insight that is spot on.

That’s why I was excited to stumble across a (new to me) blog, published in 2010. Head Smacking Tips For Jobseekers” which presents, from the manager’s point of view, why your resume is getting overlooked. Starting with “Don’t Name Your Resume, Resume.” I blogged about this very topic in 2007, and yet it’s still a common issue among job seekers. After you learn why it’s a bad idea, come check out this advice on how to best name your resume when sending it electronically that will put you ahead of the pack.


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Is this job for Real?

You see the ad. It reads like a perfect fit for you, and you have all of the qualifications and even a perfect resume;  Perhaps you even followed up with a phone call. So why aren’t you getting a callback? What gives?

It could be that the job doesn’t exist. Or the company is collecting resumes, but on the fence about whether or not to go forward. Or maybe they already have someone in mind. It happens. And it happens a lot. Unfortunately there is no solid proof on how much. Why? Because rarely will you find a hiring manager who will spill the beans and say whether or not it’s a common practice at their company. It’s wrong on many levels, and they know it.

In their defense, our federal government has tied their hands. Many vacancies are required to be advertised in order to  comply with EEO compliance laws. I know this firsthand, because several years ago I was brought into a company as an “emergency hire” to cover for a guy who needed to take a 3-month medical leave. There was no time to advertise, hire, and train a temp;  I was already living nearby and had the experience they needed. When the employee came back to work, I was slated to exit gracefully; but the company decided they wanted to retain me and created a position for me. However, broadcasting rules dictate the position had to be advertised publicly. No where in the ad, did it reveal, “you need not apply, this is only a formality. Therefore, 29 people applied for a position that was already mine. I’m sure that many were qualified and interested in the job,. yet wondering why they weren’t granted an interview.

In this economy, I’m hearing rumblings from ad salesman, that some classifieds are being “stuffed” with ads to make the job boards look more robust, so they can solicit new advertisers. I’m also learning that resorts will do huge recruiting events all season long to keep resumes on file to ensure a good pool of candidates throughout the busy season. In the hospitality industry there is usually high turnover and resorts need to act quickly to keep staff at optimum levels.

There can also be economic pressures on the company, or executive team infighting. Even the Federal Government collects resumes for “potential” openings. These are the vacancies that are usually open for a long span of time. If you see one on that opens and closes the same week, there’s a good chance they already have someone in mind.

So what do you do? Apply anyway. It’s good practice, gets your name out there, and shows your intent. Persistence and patience are important traits of a successful job search.



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My Love Hate Relationship with Facebook

I’ve been on Facebook now for about two years, and I’m hooked on it. I’m not sure if that’s good or bad. You see, I have an eclectic group of friends whom I love dearly in many different ways, and know from different areas of my life, like high school, college, a handful of clients from the past 10 years, and people I know from roller skating. Facebook gives me visibility for my business. But it also sucks up a lot of my time. While I enjoy seeing what my friends are up to, I tend to see things I don’t want to see, like people arguing. eschewing heavy political discourse; you know those things you don’t discuss in polite company. 

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Don’t Quit Your Day Job

One of the trends that has surfaced in the Great Recession is discrimination against the long-term unemployed. Last summer I noticed vacancy announcements clearly stating “only those currently employed need apply.”

The Department of Justice stepped in to examine this practice and so far has stated it is not illegal. That being said, even if employers remove the stipulation from their ads, who’s to say they wouldn’t discriminate anyway.

Therefore, if you have a job, and even if you hate it, don’t quit yet until you find new employment. Otherwise you’ll have a cross to bear.

If you have been out of work for a very long time, do volunteer work, or take classes, or something to show that you’re are actively staying up to date on your skills and to close the gap to make you more salable to employers.

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Does Your Resume Date You?

Did you know there are subtle signs of your age just by looking at your resume? There are the obvious signs, like stating you graduated college in the 70’s (we now drop the graduation date when it’s more than 5 years  old.) But there are a few other things you may not have thought of, such as:

1.  Listing more than one telephone number on your resume. Crazy isn’t it? But new research is indicating that more and more  people under the age of 30 no longer have a land line. So only list one phone number (the one most likely to be answered) on your resume.

2.  Dates in the wrong place. Years ago we listed dates on the left side of the page. Today dates go on the right. That’s where computer readers search for them too.

3.  Insisting that a resume needs to be only a page. With today’s computer readers, length is not as important as keywords. Although I don’t advocate going beyond two pages. No one reads that far anymore.

4.  Not listing computer skills. And if you do list computer skills, dump the ones that are out of date, like Fortran, COBOL, BASIC. That will make you look like a dinosaur.

5.  Listing your high school education. Whether you went on to college or not, don’t put high school information on your resume unless you are 18 years old and searching for your first job.

Ideally you don’t want to go back more than 15 years on a resume. Some people can’t help it though. These are the folks who worked for the same company their whole life. And there is nothing wrong with that. Loyalty goes a long way in business.

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References Go Both Ways

When you apply for a job, there’s a good bet your former employers are going to get a call about you. What they say, or  don’t say, could keep you from your next job. And yet, many times when I’m helping people in their search, I hear the horror stories of crappy management, bad bosses, corrupt employers, and unsafe workplaces as for why people are seeking to get the heck out. I’ve experienced it myself.