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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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Whiners Need Not Apply

Throughout my 14 years as a professional resume writer, I’ve done quite a bit of volunteer work at various job search clubs and halfway houses. Job search clubs are a great idea because when you’re low on cash and need help honing your job search skills, you can get help there. They do a better job than most One-Stop Centers. That being said, there are some people who show up, but refuse the help. It makes me wonder why they waste their time and mine.

Case in point, on more than one occasion, I have reviewed resumes written by people who have spent time arguing with me as to how a resume should be formatted, or questioning my ability to critique theirs. Mind you, these people have been unemployed for a long time, and when they did have jobs, they were for less than a year at a time. That’s when I know it’s not the resume that’s the problem, it’s the job seeker sitting in front of me. Complaining about previous jobs, bosses, lack of education, you name it. But (according to them) it’s never their fault.

Here’s a reminder. If a professional offers free advice to help you on your journey, be courteous and grateful. Because nothing will shut off the free faucet faster than whining about your situation. Every day is your job interview. When I come across great candidates and great jobs, I do my best to match them up. Unfortunately there have been times I had to overlook those “qualified” candidates because I knew from my encounters with them they would be too much for an employer to handle.

Attitude matters. Is yours in check?

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Keep Your Job Search Confidential

I get this question from time to time as to whether you should let your co-workers and managers know you are are actively job searching or you have a job interview with another company. To that I reply, “NO!” Sometimes I’ll get push back that it’s the right thing to do, so the company can have more time finding a replacement. It’s an ideal concept, but one that backfires more often than not.

For one, your co-workers and managers will begin treating you differently. Here’s why. Imagine if you’re married, and you approach your spouse to let them know you are interested in playing the field, to see what else is out there. Or that you plan to leave the marriage 8 weeks from now. What do you think the response will be? And then what if your new love interest decides you’re not the one after all? It’s not that different when it comes to the job search. If you don’t find a new job right away, or perhaps you decide you’re better off staying put, do you think your employer will embrace you? Or question your loyalty?

You’re not off the hook if your unemployed either. Sure you can mention you’re looking for work, but leave it at that. Blasting information about upcoming or recent job interviews among friends, co-workers, or on social media can  backfire because it invites competition for the job (maybe your co-workers are also interested in fleeing the coop).

Moreover, I’ve seen the chronically unemployed continue to make the same mistakes when it comes to job searching and networking. These are the people who hang out in LinkedIn chat rooms and: lament about how tough the job market is, all they want is a job, and then when they get an interview they complain loudly about the asinine questions, or hurl insults about the interviewer. That’s just bad branding. And poor etiquette.

The job search is much like a poker game. Keep a straight face and keep your cards close to the vest. Don’t make it easy for your competitors to beat you.  Or your current boss to remove you from the table.

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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.

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When Interviews Just Don’t Click

There are times when the perfect job comes along and you are called for an interview. But for some reason your personality just doesn’t click with the interviewer. Should you be concerned? Yes and no. Yes, if it keeps happening over and over. No, if it’s nothing more than incompatible differences.

Truth is, not everyone is going to like you, that’s just the way it is. And some jobs are just not meant to be  your particular destiny. While it can be a personal let down to not be offered a job, it can also be a blessing. Some things are not exactly what they appear. Accept it.

Probably the most difficult part of a long job search is the waiting. Some companies seem to take their time when filling a vacancy. Others change their mind and don’t fill it at all, without ever contacting applicants to advise them of the status.

I learned a long time ago there are numerous reasons companies don’t call candidates for interviews, most of which have nothing to do with you or your qualifications. In this economy, companies are taking longer to fill positions.

Find out in  advance all you can about the person interviewing you, so you can determine ahead of time what you have in common so you can have an ice breaker if you need one.

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Job Interview Tests

Years ago, I applied for a job with Continental Airlines, after working for a competitor for four years. I was brought into the job interview, which was the cattle call I was expecting, however, it was the unexpected that really threw me off my game — A TEST!

Now this wasn’t a math or English test; that you could study for. It was a behavior integrity type test, where they asked true-false questions. For example, “I get impatient when I have to wait in line too long.” Well who doesn’t? If I mark off “true” they may perceive me as intolerant, if I declare “false,” they may suspect I’m a liar.

More and more companies are using these evaluations, as I’ve found while researching this topic.  According to the instructions there are no right or wrong answers, however, I’ve determined that these tests are supposed to reveal your level of integrity, or the propensity to steal or use drugs. I did search further to see if anyone has posted a guidebook on what the answers truly mean, but couldn’t find such an offering. If you’re familiar with the reasoning behind these evaluations, then I invite you to join the conversation. No identity is required.   Many thanks! Susan

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Diplomacy in a Job Interview

After nearly 10 years as a Professional Resume Writer I’ve heard the horror stories of clients who worked for bad bosses. These folks were good at their jobs but were sabotaged by tyrants, ego-maniacs, yes men…. I’ve heard it all. So how do you diplomatically answer the question in a job interview, “Tell me about your last supervisor?” You don’t want to lie, but then again if you tell the down and dirty truth you could also hurt your chances at a new job. I’ve put together a list of responses you can use at your own risk, along with translations.

1.  “She has a colorful personality” really means she flies off the handle and has mood swings.
2.  “He valued everyone’s opinion” translates to “he tells his boss you don’t agree with upper management’s decisions”
3.  “He’s great with Crisis Communications.” He’s really good at burying dirt so it doesn’t end up in the newspapers.
4.  “He’s decisive.” That means he makes a decision and even if it’s a bad one, won’t change his mind or admit he made a bad judgment call leaving the staff and customers to suffer with the results.
5.   “She’s very hands-on.” A micro-manager who insists you do everything her way.
6.  “Open to Change.” Couldn’t make a decision and kept changing the ways things were done  throwing everyone off kilter.
7.  “Really Smart.”  That’s a sneaky bastard who knows how to manipulate people.
8.  “A very agreeable individual.” He talks out of both sides of his mouth, and tells everyone what they want to hear.

See how easy that is? Let the interviewer assume you’re saying good things about your last job, when you know the whole truth. When it comes to the question of “why did you leave your last job?” Here’s a few vague responses.

1.  “Not a Good Job Fit” means the boss wanted you to perform tasks that you didn’t agree with and that caused a moral dilemma for you. (i.e. sexual favors, lying to customers, etc.)
2.   “Challenging Environment”  means the place was a snakepit.

3.   “There was no room to move up.”  You weren’t in the clique.

4.   “The economy caused a slowdown in business.” Well, this is true for most job seekers right now so it doesn’t have to translate into anything.

The bottom line is to choose your words carefully. You don’t have to be explicitly honest. You don’t have to lie either.

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Bragging Rights – Client Testimonial

I wrote a resume earlier this month for a man about to lose his job the end of the month. He’s very accomplished and motivated and I was confident he’d do well in his job search in this crummy economy. Looks like he won’t be needing unemployment compensation. Today I got the following email:

Hello Susan,

I think I’m ready for that ASCII version.  Quick success story: After researching potential companies in my target market, I sent my shiny new resume to a company last Friday afternoon.  It was a blind send, which never works, right?  But I took a shot!  I received an eager email response of Monday morning, a phone interview Monday afternoon, a sit down interview with the owner on Tuesday, and they have stated they will send me a formal offer tomorrow. They loved my resume, and that gave a an opportunity to shine in the interview.  Because of the quick turnaround time, I am able to entertain two offers, and have my pick.
I’ve referred a friend, and when another friend asked about the cost I said “If it gets me hired even one week quicker than otherwise, it saved me money.”
You did a tremendous job.  Thank you, Susan!


No, thank you!

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How a Professional Writes a Resume

Not to be confused with “How to Write a Professional Resume”
As a professional resume writer, I get a lot of requests to speak to college students, and out-of-work job seekers on how to write a resume. To be honest with you, it’s not something you can easily teach someone in an hour or two. Believe me I’ve tried. But I can tell you what process I take when I write a resume for my clients.
1.  I ask a lot of questions. I want to know who you are, what are your best attributes, what drives you, why do you like your job or occupation, what are you most proud of, and what do you want to do next.
2. Next I decide on a format or strategy. I analyze any potential red flags such as short stints, return to work, jail time, or no education. It varies and I’ve seen just about every situation.
3.  Then I research. I visit company websites, LinkedIn Profiles, and anything I can find on the occupation and the person I’m writing for. I analyze employee performance reviews and even negative things about the industry (hours, type of work, necessary skills and license requirements.)
4.  As I research, I write notes and start to format the resume, but I don’t start at the top. I fill it in all over the place, starting with the information I know and can easily transcribe: Education, Awards, Company names, locations, and dates along with job titles.
5.  When I’m  writing the body of the resume, whenever I come across some real earth shattering stuff, I give a brief mention of if in the Summary (Winner of 6 awards, for example.) But keep in mind, it’s only a placeholder until I actually clean up the Summary, which I do last. It’s usually when I come up with the headline statement, and it’s, in my opinion the most difficult part of the resume to write. Most Do-it-Yourselfers copy phrases out of books or from resumes they see and like. These statements appear disjointed and vague and rarely capture attention or the essence of the candidate.
6.  When I’m finished I proofread it, then I write the cover letter, and file both of them away for a day or two so I can proofread it again before I send it off to the client. TYPOS are hard to catch when you’ve just finished the document. Fresh eyes are a must.
Every resume writer has their own style and way of completing projects efficiently without sacrificing quality. I find if I get to know who I’m writing about, I can better describe the best attributes to the employers. I don’t lie, and I request that all my clients sign an agreement that they are providing me with truthful information.
So if you happen to have a lot of time and the desire to write resumes, you can do it. But make no mistake. This ain’t no get quick rich (work from home) scheme. You actually do have to work.
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Identifying the Toxic Workplace…. Before you Sell Your Soul

People don’t quit jobs, they quit supervisors, and the number one reason people come to me seeking a resume is that they work for a nutcase and need to get out. After hearing the horror stories as well as experiencing a few of these Jekyll and Hydes myself, I did some extensive research to better understand the traits of what to look for in a neurotic boss before you sign on the dotted line.

One of the best studies I uncovered was in “Seven Neurotic Styles of Management” by Kurt Motamedi, PhD at Pepperdine University. Dr. Motamedi identifies recurring patterns in Explosive, Implosive, Abrasive, Narcissistic, Apprehensive, Compulsive, and Impulsive behaviors along with their detrimental impact on organizational effectiveness.

I’d like to take Dr. Motamedi’s findings one step further and point out just a few things you need to look for during a job interview and salary negotiations so you don’t move your family across the country, only to end up working for Satan.

For example, one of the neuroses described in the Seven is “the Narcissist.” Narcissists like to embellish their image. So during a job interview take a close look around your future supervisor’s office. Is it overstuffed with awards, and photos with famous people everywhere? How about impressive company logos from previous employers?

Next, if your prospective boss has YEARS of experience but has jumped around all over the country, check to see how many of his or her former employees followed along. Most new managers will tap into their network of former colleagues and try to bring along some top talent to their new position. After all, there’s already an established relationship between a former worker and manager. But if the manager doesn’t bring along a former staffer, that could be a serious RED FLAG. It’s highly likely no one from his or her past would ever want to work for this person again. And you should be suspicious. These are folks who “will piss on you and then tell you it’s raining.”

Neurotic Managers ruin morale, micromanage and sabotage projects, don’t keep promises, covertly watch your every move, and will do everything they can to keep you off kilter. If you challenge them, you will be told you’re not a team player. But let’s face it, how can you play on a team if you’re always having to defend your actions against the office bully. The other problem with challenging them is that they fear you will blow the whistle on them.

Many of these toxic leaders abuse alcohol or drugs. Their moods change on a dime, they waste company resources and when you are no longer valuable to them, they cast you aside like yesterday’s news.

Most companies will conduct a pre-employment background check on you, through drug testing, credit reports, references checks, etc. It is imperative that you do your own due diligence to find out WHO you will be working for. Use LinkedIn to contact former employees of your prospective boss. (oh, and don’t forget to check how MANY former employees are actually Linked to this person.) Most current employees are too afraid to warn you for fear of losing their job or being the next targeted victim so don’t even approach them.

If you’ve been subjected to a bi-polar boss, or OCD-inflicted supervisor, be make sure to read “The Seven Styles of Management.” It’s only a few pages. Then use hindsight of what happened during your job interview and courting process, and think about the early warning signs that you either ignored or didn’t notice at the time (because you were being seduced with a great new job). I’d love to hear your story. Would you share it here? Don’t identify yourself, and please don’t list names of people or companies.