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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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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.


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Trust your gut feeling

Ask More QuestionsI tell clients all the time, the purpose of the job interview is not to land the gig at all costs. The purpose of a job interview is to find out if you want to work for the company and the hiring manager. If you pay close enough attention, you can figure out immediately if the job is right for you just by trusting your gut feeling about it.

Years ago I went to a job interview with a media company where the interviewer had a clammy, weak, handshake. At the time, I didn’t think anything of it and I accepted the job. However, this person was not an effective leader during my tenure and I ended up moving on within six months to another department where I was much happier and better compensated. Thankfully I analyzed and learned from that initial interview as to why that job turned out to be a bad experience. I wasn’t paying attention to the subtle hints along the way.

Fast forward to 2016 when I got to use that wisdom. Another previous boss, who I liked very much, recommended that I speak to the new owner of a media company. He had already told this person about me and asked that I meet with him. My interest was piqued and I showed up for an afternoon luncheon where we talked for a few hours about our backgrounds. And while there were all sorts of promises being made on his part, I just wasn’t feeling a connection. Plus, I didn’t like the way he treated our server.

When I got home I checked him out on Linkedin. He only had three connections and his background was kind of sketchy. I also looked at Google, spokeo, intellius, LexusNexus and even to make sure my potential boss wasn’t an escaped convict. What I found was quite interesting. Failed business dealings, and no experience whatsoever in media, along with several different name changes and short term teaching jobs. There was really no way for me to check to see if he really had served in the military or earned a college degree like he claimed. And after mulling it over, I decided it wasn’t worth the risk and politely turned him down for what should have been a really great opportunity.

Several months later, I learned that the crew who remained after the sale has since left, including my former boss who had been with the company for years. It turned out to be a hostile work environment.

I’m glad I learned to listen to that inner voice that told me to not to accept the job. If you pay close enough attention to the subtle things like handshakes and how people address restaurant servers, you can learn a lot about a person. Listen to your gut feeling. It won’t steer you wrong.

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Scan the Headlines

It’s what we do.

Every day.

Whether it’s a Facebook news-feed or a newspaper, headlines help decide what we want to spend our time reading, or whether we should move on to another topic of interest.

With resumes, it’s no different. Recruiters need to know within mere seconds who you are and what you have to offer. In the news business it’s important that you don’t bury the lead. And it’s no different in the job search.

Think about it. If newspaper or magazine articles didn’t have a snappy, interesting headline, would you read that publication cover-to-cover in search of topics that interest you? Probably not.

So don’t leave your headline area blank. That’s the very first thing an employer will notice. Hint, it’s where the “objective” used to go. But don’t make it boring and vague either.

Here’s an example of a resume headline:

Multi-certified Job Search Consultant and Professional Resume Writer

Now the hiring director quickly knows what you’re all about, and whether they want to read further. It also has all the necessary keywords to get beyond applicant tracking systems.

With resumes, less is more. Remember that the next time you’re scanning a news headline or looking for a new job.


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Experience Matters

1st Rate Resumes LogoIn any career, it takes time to get up to speed to learn your craft. Years ago, when I first moved to a new town in Arizona, my mom took me to a new dentist. He was right out of dental school and reasonably priced. But even at 13 years old, I noticed he took a long time scouting out my mouth, and it kind of made me nervous. Through the years he became more skilled as he gained experience. Just as I did as a professional resume writer.

Most people don’t think twice about what might be missing, and can end up derailing the job search on such a critical document when they write it themselves. The average career professional changes jobs about once every 3 to 5 years. If your dentist only took in one patient every 3 to 5 years, would you want it to be you? How about your surgeon? Or plumber? Professionals do the job, day in and day out, and it takes years of practice to be considered an expert. Professionals are better, faster, and achieve results for far less than you can do it your self. To put it in perspective, the DIY resume vs. the Professional Resume is like a junior varsity football player going up against someone in the NFL.

If your DIY resume isn’t producing results, you’ve come to the right place. We’ve been writing resumes for 14 years. We’ve earned the certifications, been recognized with awards, and have become leaders in our industry. Call us for a free consultation. 540-339-9461, or contact us through our online web form. Experience matters. In your career, and ours.

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Is Your Resume 1st Rate, or Out of Date?

It’s Update Your Resume Month again, and a reminder to anyone who writes their own: There have been changes over the past several years that can now bring your job search to a screeching halt; even if that resume worked wonders in the past. Here are five simple tips to get noticed, by recruiters and keyword scanners.

1. Dates of Employment: The object of your resume is to get the reader to quickly understand what you have to offer. They will also look at how long you’ve spent with your previous employers. Don’t make it a math assignment. First tell them in the summary you have 5+ or 10+ years of experience. The vacancy announcement will always stipulate the number of years of experience, so don’t make them go through every job with a calculator. They’ll burn through that 15 second scan in no time. Also, consider what’s easier for the brain to quickly comprehend. Is it Sep 2001 – Nov 2005 or 09/2001 – 11/2005? Numbers all mashed together take more time to translate to the reader than alphabet letters. Don’t spell out the whole month either. The first 3 letters save space and are still easily understood by humans and applicant tracking software.

2. Too wordy: The reality is we are nation of scanners rather than readers. When there’s too much text to wade through, the reader will give up and slide past all of it. Is it any wonder we see advertisements for pharmaceutical products in major publications with few words and a photo, followed by the small print on the following page listing all of the contraindications? Few people read that. Keep it simple. The rule of thumb is paragraphs should be kept to no more than 5 lines. Bullet pointed lists should not exceed 9 in a row if you want people to read it.

3. Logos, fancy fonts and graphs: Pictures can and do tell a lot, but with resumes keep in mind that automated scanners can’t see them. Also choose fonts wisely. Script, underlines, or any style that allows the letters to touch one another can turn your work or art into garbage characters.

4. SMALL CAP FONT: This particular font is usually used for names and sub headers, and mostly by professional resume writers. We used it heavily about 10 years ago. The only problem is it can’t be read by applicant tracking software. That means you may be submitting a really nice looking resume with no name at the top.

5. Use Numerals: Unless you’re applying for  job as the Editor of a magazine, most recruiters don’t care if you spell out the number seven (considered the most correct) or use the numeral 7. But which one just jumped out at you? Numbers matter and they save space. So feel free to break this rule depending on your occupation.