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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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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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Yikes! It’s Tax Time Again.

Tax season is underway, 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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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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Sharing your Facebook Password Violates Others’ Privacy

You’ve probably heard all the commotion regarding employers that are requesting Facebook passwords from job candidates so they can take a peek into their personal life. This would allow the hiring director to see what’s been posted, as well as personal photos, games played, articles read, and what is routinely “liked.” Facebook’s counsel is threatening legal action. However, our federal government has decided it’s not worth making a law over. Tuesday night, House Republicans blocked a bill to make it illegal for employers to request social media passwords. What concerns me most about this Facebook password debate is not so much letting a future employer see what I’m saying online. That I don’t care about, because I’m pretty careful for the most part about what I post. I know that Facebook isn’t all that private. But I have friends and colleagues who tend to be a bit outspoken on all sorts of topics. Some of them cross the line from time to time.  And while they aren’t the one’s relinquishing their passwords, they are in a sense, having their privacy violated.  Giving away my password, allows their profiles to be reviewed as well, probably without their knowledge. And that’s not fair to my Facebook brethren.

Plus, I have to ask, if employers can get away with this, what’s next? They already monitor our credit and our urine. Now they want to look at our Facebook conversations and photos of funny cats? Don’t be surprised if they ask you to hand over your checking account records so they can question a late night ATM withdrawal or debit card purchase. Or maybe they’ll seek permission from your grocer to see what you buy every week with that loyalty card of yours. Baby diapers? Pregnancy tests? Cigarettes? Beer? Where will it end?

It’s up to you if you want to hand over your password to a nosy employer. Remember, however, in doing so you are violating Facebook’s policy, and violating your friends’ privacy as well.



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Black Friday and Small Business Saturday

1st Rate Resumes is marking down fees for the holiday season. We realize that money is tight and there are a lot of people out of work. And a gift certificate from 1st Rate Resumes makes the perfect holiday gift! During the Thanksgiving weekend, 1st Rate Resumes is lowering fees on resume services. These rates are 50% off our normal everyday fees.

Unskilled/high school entry level resume:  $99

Blue Collar trades:  $175

Middle Manager w/5+ years:  $225

Senior Manager:  $300

Cover letters may be purchased for an additional $25 each. Cover letters will not be sold alone, and must be included with a resume purchase. C-Level Resumes are not on special.


Clients must order the service by this Sunday Nov 27th and  pay by check, PayPal, MasterCard, or Visa. Client will receive a questionnaire to fill out and return to 1st Rate Resumes no later than Dec 31, 2011. No questionnaires will be accepted beyond that date for the sale price.

Turnaround time is 5-10 days. Client will have one opportunity to request minor revisions and changes at no additional charge. All revisions and projects must be finalized by 1/15/2012.

1st Rate Resumes has the right to add a surcharge for an excessive work place history beyond 5 jobs.

Questionnaires must be completely filled out in order to produce the best resume. You don’t have to worry about grammar or spelling, but you do need to describe what you do for a living, what your working environment was like, and the difference you made in the company’s bottom line. The better the information, the better your finished resume.

Client must be computer literate in MS Word. Documents will be delivered by email.

How to get started:  Contact us at SusanGeary (a) Subject Line: Black Friday Special. Make your you provide your telephone number, occupation, and an old resume if you have one. I’ll give you call and answer any questions you may have.

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Do You Have a Calling Card?

When you’re out and about during your day, you never know who you might run into, especially someone who can lead you to your next job. Surprises like these are not uncommon, however, even if you did carry a resume with you at all times, recipients don’t want to receive a paper resume, out of fear they may lose it.

That’s why you should have a calling card. You can find low cost or even free calling cards on the web or at your local print shop. Similar to a business card, the cards are easy to carry and exchange; and should include your name, job title, phone number, and email address. Don’t rule out a customized LinkedIn address.

Instead of leaving the backside blank, consider adding a few bullet points about yourself, or even a word cloud or QR code that would lead to a personal website or online portfolio of your work. Calling cards make you memorable, and are a great personal marketing tool to use in your job search.

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Recruiter Preferences

I just got done interviewing Donna Tatum from The Renick Group for my weekend radio show, Career Matters heard on Fox Radio 910. Donna provided me with insight as far as what bugs her about resumes, and how a job seeker can put their best foot forward when working with a recruiter.

Since Recruiters and Hiring Managers are my “core audience” when it comes to writing resumes, you can bet I listened closely as to how get a resume into the right hands by avoiding certain mistakes and including the right key words.

The interview will air on Sunday, Mar 20, 2011 at 11:06 EDT. You can stream it at, or listen in if you’re in the Roanoke or New River Valleys.

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The Job Search is Tax Deductible

Well, maybe. It depends on where you are in your career. I spoke to a CPA this past week and learned the following about tax deductions regarding your search.

1. You can’t be just graduating college and launching your career. That is not tax-deductible

2.  You can’t be changing careers. You can deduct classes as they pertain to what you’re doing now, but if you want a new occupation, you’re on your own.

3.  If you’ve been unemployed for a very long time, such as a stay-at-home mom, then educational expenses are not deductible.

4.  You can deduct mileage to and from job interview or any un-reimbursed expenses, such as airfare.

5.  You need to itemize in order to get the deductions and you have to meet a minimum. For example, if you make $30K a year, you need to have at least $600 in order for your expenses to be deductible.

6.  Resume preparation services ARE TAX DEDUCTIBLE.