These days, a phone or digital interview often precedes the face-to-face meeting for job hunters. If you think that all you have to do is sit in front of your computer or cell phone camera and talk, think again. Resumes are also changing, with online services such as Linkedin and CareerBuilder the first places an employer looks to find an applicant. We talk to two employment specialists about how the interview and resume processes have changed, and how applicants can get the edge in the digital job search market.
Host: Gary Price. Guests: Amy Kristof-Brown, Professor in the Henry Tippie College of Business at the University of Iowa; Paul J. Bailo, CEO of Phone Interview Pro, author of The Essential Digital Interview Handbook.
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Resumes and Digital Interviewing Techniques
Marty Peterson: Twenty years ago, all a job applicant needed to get a foot in the door was a nice-looking resume typed on good-quality paper and edited for misspellings and math errors. If they thought you were a good fit, you were invited for an interview in the Human Resources office and with the department managers. These days, though, it’s not that simple. Sure, you still need the resume on nice paper, but you also have to have a digital resume on Linkedin or one of the online job search sites. If your credentials are impressive enough, be prepared for a phone interview and a video chat with a prospective employer before you get to shake their hand in person. We talked to two business pros about what it takes these days to put your best foot forward in a resume and digital interview. First, Amy Kristof-Brown says that an online resume or profile can help you get noticed by employers before a paper resume. Kristof-Brown is a professor in the Henry Tippie College of business at the University of Iowa, and Chair of the Department of Management and Organizations…
Amy Kristof-Brown: If you are looking for a company where they’ve really got a strong social media presence, and they’ve got a lot of people actively working on Linkedin, they’re scanning information on Linkedin, and if you have a traditional paper resume that people really have to work to get to, they’re not going to try very hard to do that. So I think there is some benefit to having at least a basic profile that contains some of your major accomplishments that you can put up on something like Linkedin. I see less people doing that on Twitter and things like that. But Linkedin is certainly a place that a lot of people go now.
Peterson: So what information do you include on the resume?
Kristof-Brown: Basically what you want to do is try and convince the person who is looking at your resume of what you really bring to the table in terms of accomplishments, in terms of experience, and in terms of specific skills that you might have that would set you apart from someone else. So anything you can do to convey that kind of information in terms of talking about what activities did you lead, what kinds of responsibilities did you have at various companies where you worked and in different positions. That’s always the most important thing. In general, lots of times what people are looking for, though, is some things that are kind of imbedded in the resume. Things like consistency of employment, so certainly including the dates when you were employed and showing that there’s been continuity with no big gaps in the middle, those kinds of things are important. Showing that you made progression within a company rather than just job hopping.
Peterson: That consistency in employment can be tricky, especially if you haven’t kept good records and you’ve had several jobs over the years. Kristof-Brown says that these days, when jobs are tight and companies can check out your history on the Internet, it pays to be very careful about your employment timeline…
Kristof-Brown: There are estimates that about one-third of resumes have some kind of factual error on them, whether that’s intentional or not. Some people do intentionally change their credentials and that’s part of that 33%, but there’s also a lot of just very honest mistakes. People think back and they say, oh, I think I worked, you know, at such-and-such a company starting in 2005 to 2008 and then when the new recruiter goes back and does the fact checking, they may find that, in fact, you didn’t work there until 2006. And then suddenly your resume gets flagged because you had inaccurate information on it. So, double-checking the accuracy of what you’re writing down in terms of dates of employment, titles of employment, those kinds of things, those are all very important.
Peterson: If there’s a large gap in your job history, what do you do? Kristof-Brown says that you need to explain why it’s there – whether it was a year spent traveling, volunteering…or job hunting…
Kristof-Brown: Whether you were unemployed, I would actually list that on the resume as well. I think that’s better than having no information. There’s enough research out there that suggests that missing information tends to be viewed negatively by recruiters, and so you’re better off not having missing information, which would be a gap of year or two where people just wonder about it, and then kind of assume the worst.
Peterson: Young people just out of school and older ones who have been unemployed for months often take part-time work outside their chosen careers to make ends meet. So how do you parlay a job at Costco into a full-time career in a non-retail field?
Kristof-Brown: What you need to really think about doing is focusing on what responsibilities did you have in that position. So there’s a lot of things that people at Costco have that are great levels of responsibility in terms of whether it’s cash handling, customer service, organizing, whatever the responsibilities might be they get a lot of good experience doing that. And it’s less an issue of what position did you hold – you know you need to put that on there, what position did you have – but then it’s up to you to educate the recruiter about what you did in that position and think about what were the general qualities that were needed in order to do the things that you did. So if you were stocking shelves, did you need a lot of organization; being responsible for things; were you in charge of something; were you responsible for overseeing other people. All of those are activities, things like working with a team; all of those are responsibilities that you would have in a variety of different jobs that would carry over.
Peterson: If your resume is a hit and you’re contacted by a prospective employer, chances are you won’t be asked to show up at the office right away. Video interviews are being used more and more to screen out candidates before a face-to-face meeting. Paul J. Bailo is CEO of Phone Interview Pro, and author of the book, The Essential Digital Interview Handbook….
Paul J. Bailo: The digital interview is used in the process of obtaining a position right before the face-to-face interview. It’s an insertion point where the hiring managers are saying; “I want to be extra cautious with my time and money before I bring someone in. Not only do I want to hear this person, I want to see this person.” And this is where the digital interview comes in because it’s very low-cost, it’s as close as you’re going to get to the real thing, it’s better than a phone interview because I actually get to see you, and it’s very cost-effective. Between 2011 and 2012 there’s been a 50% increase by H.R. managers in using digital interviews. And we just see a wave of this happening.
Peterson: Many people have nice computers with HD cameras and microphones, so a video interview should be a slam-dunk, right? Bailo says it’s more complicated than that, if you want to beat out the competition …
Bailo: In the lab that we created the cameras on the new Macs are very good, but we wouldn’t recommend using them for a professional type of environment – especially for a job that you’re trying to obtain. We recommend making sure you get a high-definition, brand name web camera, but make sure you also purchase the tripod. A tripod’s your friend. And what that allows you to do is instead of having the camera mounted to the top of your monitor screen, it allows you to actually position the camera where it’s eye-level so you’re looking straight at that camera, you’re not looking up, it’s not looking up your nose, but that eye direction is really what you’re looking for. So you could get the best Mac laptop, but we don’t recommend it in the lab. It’s very hard to get the right position bending back the monitor screen on your laptop.
Peterson: You also need a good microphone. The ones on computers are fine if you’re talking to your grandmother, but not the best for that important job interview. Bailo suggests a “Blue Snowball Mic” with a stand and a popper screen for a clear and professional sound. Next is the background. You don’t want photos of your dog, or your refrigerator and kitchen cabinets in the background…
Bailo: For your digital interview you’re going to have to spend a little bit of money. And on the background, what you want is something called “seamless background paper.” And this is what you get over at a photography store, and you just put it in the back. And you want somewhat of a neutral color like a marble color that accentuates your portfolio, your background, your portrait. Nothing loud, or pictures of Niagara Falls or anything, but just a nice, neutral, marble colored background. And if you have a digital interview very quickly, like in the next hour, you don’t have the money or you can’t find the photographic store for this, you can go get a post tag at Staples or just hang up a white sheet. It’s not the optimum way, but it would work.
Peterson: Then there’s the lighting. Bailo couldn’t stress enough how much good lighting can enhance your video interview. He says that you need to fill in all of the shadows so you look your best and don’t distract the interviewer…
Bailo: And that lighting, there’s three lights you’re going to need: one to the right, one to the left of you and then one behind you shining up on your background. You do not want to look like the Phantom of the Opera, where one side of your face is lit and the other side is dark. You want to make sure that there are no sparkly greasiness on your face. You want to be very professional, like a Hollywood movie star, or broadcaster where there’s not shiny spots on your face.
Peterson: It goes without saying that proper dressing is critical. He says you can’t miss with a suit and tie for a man, and a simple suit and jacket for a woman. He says to leave the sparkly jewelry in the drawer – it will just glare in the lights and distract the interviewer. He says that you should write a “script” outlining the key points you want to cover, and mount it behind the camera, like cue cards. Another strategy is to record the interview, review it and keep improving your performance, especially eye contact…
Bailo: A number of times what really causes people not to get to the next level, which is the face-to-face interview, is the fact that they’re looking everywhere but where they should be which is right in the camera. They need to be looking right at that camera lens. But it’s very hard for people because it’s unhuman. But what we recommend is actually going to Linkedin, find the person who would be interviewing you, blow up a picture, cut a little hole out in the person’s eyeball, put the camera lens through that. Make sure it’s eye-level with your tripod so that you’re looking at it and the camera is eye-level so you raise your tripod, and it makes the person who’s being interviewed so much more calmer, so much more natural because they’re no longer looking at this little red light, they’re actually looking at a photograph and it makes it more human.
Peterson: Bailo says the entire set-up with camera, mic and background costs between 150 and 175 dollars. It’s an investment, but you can use it over and over again. You can find more advice on video interviews in Paul J. Bailo’s book, The Essential Digital Interview Handbook, available in stores and online at his website, Phoneinterviewpro.com. To learn more about Professor Amy Kristof-Brown and the Henry Tippie College of Business at the University of Iowa, log onto Tippie.uiowa.edu. For information about all of our guests, log onto our site at Viewpointsonline.net. You can find an archive of past programs there and on iTunes and Stitcher. Our show is written and produced by Pat Reuter and Amirah Zaveri. Our production directors are Sean Waldron, Reed Pence and Nick Hofstra. I’m Marty Peterson.