Isn't it time you loved your job? Let's make it happen

If you could ask a career coach one question, what would it be? Tough, right? Now imagine that you have a career coach at your disposal ‒ no restriction on questions, no job-search topic off limits. Sound like a dream? We made it reality.

Enter Amanda Augustine. Amanda is the resident careers expert for TopCV. With over 15 years of experience in the recruiting and career services industry, to say she has a wealth of CV and job-search knowledge is a vast understatement. In addition to her hands-on coaching experience, she's also a certified professional career coach (CPCC) and resume / CV writer (CPRW) who is passionate about helping professionals to improve their careers and find the right job sooner. Amanda's expertise has helped thousands of people like you to find their next job with confidence. 

Amanda went live on TopCV's Facebook page for a Q&A to answer all of your job-search questions. From updating your CV to prepping for an interview, she tackled questions about all aspects of the job search. Check out the full recap below.

Q1: "My background is quite varied. Is it possible to develop a CV that can allow me to apply for positions in different sectors?" ‒ Alessandro P.

Amanda Augustine: Ideally, your CV is written with a specific job goal in mind and then it is further customised with minor edits to fit a particular job advert. The more clarity you have on your job goals, the easier it is to write a successful CV. Whilst you may be able to write a generalised CV, you'll need to tailor it for each role. Also, keep in mind that whilst you could have multiple versions of your CV, you can only have one LinkedIn profile, so it's a challenge when your goals are unclear. Check out the following articles to (1) start gathering the information you'll need to write your CV, and (2) customise your CV for a particular vacancy.

Q2: "How can I better understand what the job that best suits my experiences and skills may be?" ‒ Alessandro P.

Amanda Augustine: There are a few ways you can go about this. First, consider every job you've held or activity you've participated in (think: volunteer work, club sports, hobbies, activities at university, and so on) and ask yourself the following questions:

❇️ What did I do well? What skills have I gained from this experience?

❇️ What didn't I do well? Are there any particular skill gaps I want to or need to address?

❇️ What did I enjoy most about this experience? What skills or knowledge did I gain or get to use that I enjoy?

❇️ What didn't I like about this position / activity?

This will help you to pinpoint themes in your experiences that will give you a better understanding of what skills you'd prefer to leverage in your next position.

In addition, I highly suggest conducting what are known as "informational interviews" with people in your network who are working in industries, positions, or companies that interest you. If you're not sure what you want to do or how to best leverage the skills you have, these informal conversations can be incredibly valuable. They will help you to understand what opportunities are available to you given your current skill set and experiences, whether or not you would enjoy such a role, and what gaps you may need to fill in your skills or experience in order to become a more desirable candidate. This article will explain everything you need to know about conducting informational interviews.

Q3: "Any advice on how best to apply for a job in a different field? I'm currently working in comms but increasingly interested in digital policy. Thanks!" ‒ Bettina G. 

Amanda Augustine: You'll need to re-think the way your CV is currently telling your career story. But before you work on your CV, I suggest looking to your network to find connections or friends of connections who currently work in digital policy. If there's someone in your organisation who works in such a role, now's the time to ask for 10 minutes of that person's time, or to take them out for a cup of coffee to pick their brain. The more you can learn about a career in digital policy ‒ what skills it requires and desires, what experiences are valuable to those hiring in this field, and so on ‒ the easier it will be for you to focus on (1) re-positioning your CV with your current details and (2) filling any gaps in your skills that are necessary to make this career move.

Informational interviews will certainly become your best friend when you're considering a career change.

When it comes to adjusting your CV, re-evaluate every role you've held with this new position in mind. Based on the job vacancies you've been reviewing in digital policy, what parts of your experience and education are suddenly more important or relevant and which are less so? The information that you highlight (and the details you downplay or omit entirely) will be based on the requirements of your new field. For more information on writing a CV to make a change, take a look at this piece.

Q4: "Besides volunteering and masters degrees (done, both) any tips for a great resume but with a 10-year gap trying to come back?" ‒ Maria G.

Amanda Augustine: I feel for you, Maria! The volunteer work is a great start. I also suggest seeking out what is known as skill-based volunteer (SBV) opportunities that allow you to leverage your professional skills for a charity or organisation that interests you. That way, you can add this experience to your work experience section and minimise the emphasis on that employment gap. Depending on the type of work you were performing 10 years ago (assuming you want to get back into the same field), you may be able to seek out some project or freelance work that will help you to ease back into the workforce and put some relevant experience at the top of your resume. I'm not sure if these are offered in your country, but some companies offer what is known as a "returnship" programme that is specifically designed to help mothers or other caretakers re-enter the workforce after a considerable gap. Run an online search to see if you can find any information about those. And whilst I don't suggest a functional resume / CV format, I do recommend having your professional summary broken out to highlight certain skills or areas of expertise that are attractive to the types of employers you're targeting in your search.

The following articles may also be of value, as you're looking for ways to fill the employment gap and explain it to prospective employers: 5 ways to productively fill an unemployment gap; What is the best way to explain an unemployment gap on my CV?

Of course, networking will be a big part of your job-search strategy. Reach back out to the people you previously worked for, worked with, or managed ‒ the people who know how valuable your skills are ‒ and see what they're doing today and if they are able to provide you with any job leads or introductions.

Q5: "What are the three most important factors that recruiters are looking for from the candidate?" ‒ Levan L.

Amanda Augustine: In truth, it will completely depend on the type of role they're filling. Take a closer look at the vacancy you're applying for ‒ or a few job adverts for similar positions ‒ to identify which requirements are repeatedly mentioned; you can assume those are the top qualifications you need to land the job. When it comes to overall traits, TopCV conducted a joint study with CV-Library to identify the top traits employers care about. These include:

❇️ Reliability

❇️ Confidence

❇️ Honesty

❇️ Honour

❇️ Loyalty

Q6: "How to diplomatically avoid naming your salary range when you are asked in a job interview, since they always want you to reveal your expectation first vs vice versa." ‒ Levan L.

Amanda Augustine: Ugh, this always kills me! Luckily, in the US, many states are now making it illegal for employers to demand to know your previous salary. However, for most people, you can expect to be asked your previous salary or your salary expectations (which is a slightly different question and not considered illegal anywhere).

You can dodge this question a few times, but if the recruiter or HR Manager is adamant, you'll have to offer up some number or range. Here are a couple of phrases you can use (courtesy of Jack Chapman, author of the book How to Make $1000 a Minute) to deflect questions about your salary requirements:

❇️ "I'm sure we can come to a good salary agreement if I'm the right person for the job, so let's first agree on whether I am."

❇️ "I have some idea of the market, but for a moment let's start with your range. What do you have budgeted for the position?"

I'm also a fan of saying something like:

❇️ "I've conducted some research to get an idea of what this type of role typically pays in this area, but first I'd love to learn more about the position and what would be expected of me so I can provide a more accurate number."

For more details on handling interview questions about your salary history and expectations, please take a look at this article on our sister site, TopResume.

If you've dodged once or twice and the recruiter demands an answer, make sure you're ready with a number in mind. Remember, this won't be the final number, but a starting point. You first have to nail the interview, then you can talk compensation. Use sites like Glassdoor and Paysa to get a better understanding of the current market rate for the type of role you're pursuing, taking into account your years of experience and the location, size, and industry of the company. Use this information to estimate an acceptable salary range and use something around the middle of that range as a starting point for further discussion.

You can always say something like, "Based on my research, it appears that companies in this area typically pay XXX for a role like this... however, I'm open to negotiating once I know more about the role and what the position entails."

Q7: "What is the name of the software the recruitment gurus use to identify your skills in a CV?" ‒ Irina G.

Amanda Augustine: Hi Irina! The software is known as an ATS, which stands for applicant tracking system. Its job is to scan online applications, parse the information, and then rank the applicants. It can eliminate those it deems least qualified, so that the recruiters only need to focus on the remaining applications. Unfortunately, if your CV isn't organised in a certain way or written with this software in mind, it will not get past this "hiring bot," even if you're qualified for the role. To learn more about the ATS and how you can write an "ATS-friendly" CV, please check out this article.

Q8: "Should you include info if you are a business owner apart from a normal job in your resume? Meaning one might have a regular job, but in addition to this one might have extra start-up company let's say. Should this info be enclosed?" ‒ Levan L.

Amanda Augustine: Great question, Levan! It will depend on whether your personal business supports your current job goals. Your resume should highlight the details that demonstrate you're qualified for the type of position you're applying for and downplay information that doesn't support the career narrative you're trying to tell. For instance, if there are certain skills or experience you've gained from starting up your side business that are attractive to the employers you're interested in and the types of roles you want to apply for, by all means include these details in your resume. If you're pursuing roles at companies that value an entrepreneurial spirit, definitely include this experience on your resume. The only thing I'd caution you about is how you position your self-employment on your resume. If you're applying for a full-time position in a corporation where you wouldn't be, say, the CEO or other executive-level position, be careful how you talk about your business. You don't want employers thinking you're unable to follow directions or work with others just because you were in charge of your own startup.

Take a look at this article about putting self-employment on a CV. It explains what I mean by "positioning" your work a certain way to suit your new job goals.

Q9: "How do I deal with competency based questions?" ‒ Bernie C.

Amanda Augustine: Ah, don't you just LOVE those competency-based interview questions? (Me neither!) Competency-based interviews, also known as "behaviourial-based interviews," are designed by recruiters to seek proof of the skills you claim to possess in your CV. Employers often ask candidates to describe how they behaved during a particular situation in the past, in order to gauge how they might perform in a similar situation in the future. To properly prepare for these questions, take a closer look at the vacancy to identify what skills the employer cares most about. Consider the soft skills mentioned (e.g. leadership, handling difficult customers or clients, possessing grace under pressure, dealing with tight deadlines and competing priorities, and so on). Then, brainstorm situations you've dealt with in the past that have allowed you to leverage these skills or demonstrate your experience and competencies.

Prepare responses for these questions using what's known as the STAR Method:

❇️ Describe a Situation you dealt with or a Task you were asked to complete

❇️ Explain the Actions you took to resolve the problem or complete the project

❇️ Discuss the Results of your actions: what was the outcome? Did you end up pleasing the customer? Saving the company money? Landing a big client? Generating X amount of revenue?

For more information on mastering a competency-based or behaviour-based interview, please take a look at the following articles: How to use the STAR approach to ace your next job interview; Be more than competent in your competency-based interview

Q10: "Hi Amanda, what's the best question to ask the interviewer at the end of an interview?" ‒ Sam S.

Amanda Augustine: LOVE this question, Sam! If you have the courage to ask it, I suggest asking one of the following questions:

❇️ Is there any reason why you believe I wouldn't be a good fit for this position?

❇️ Do you have any hesitations about hiring me for this job?

❇️ How do I compare with the other candidates you're considering for the job?

These types of questions may be bold to ask, but the insight you can gain from your interviewer's response is well worth a brief moment of discomfort. By flat-out asking how you're stacking up, you can get a gut-check on your candidacy and set realistic expectations as to whether you'll remain in consideration for the job. In addition, if your interviewer shares a concern about your candidacy, then you have a valuable opportunity to overcome any objections or clear up any misconceptions about your qualifications whilst you're still speaking face to face.

Also, NEVER leave an interview without asking a question that (a) gives you some sense of the employer's timeline for filling the position and (b) provides you with a concrete next step in the process:

❇️ What's your timeline for making a decision? What's the best way for me to follow up with you about my candidacy?

For more questions to ask during an interview, please take a look at this article.

Q11: "I am struggling to find a better paying job. My CV seems to be OK, what should I do without spending a fortune?" ‒ Leonardo D.

Amanda Augustine: Hi Leonardo, when our sister site, TopResume conducted a two-part study last year, they found that professionally written CVs / resumes typically help their owners to secure higher-paying jobs than self-written versions. One of the reasons behind this has to do with how professional writers highlight a candidate's value. The more you can position yourself as an "achiever" rather than a "doer," the more you can illustrate the value you offer to your employer and your clients, the more money recruiters assume you're worth. For more details on the differences between a self-written CV and a professionally written CV, take a look at this article.

The first step to improving your CV (without spending a fortune) would be to submit it for a free review from TopCV. Before you do this, however, you may want to take a look at the following articles to help you update your CV, and THEN submit it for the free review: How to write the perfect CV in 10 easy steps; CV help: Are you a doer or achiever?

Q12: "What should we write in our summary, skills, accomplishments, and duties paragraphs of a resume?" ‒ Umer R.

Amanda Augustine: Hi Umer, what you place in the various sections of your CV will depend on (1) your experience and education details and (2) your current career goals. That said, this article provides links to CV samples at various stages of a professional's career.

Amanda regularly lends her expertise to the TopCV blog and other reputable publications. Click here for all TopCV articles penned by Amanda, and click here for Amanda's press features.

Looking for feedback on your CV? Submit your CV for a free review by TopCV today.

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