Responding to Behavioral Questions on an Application Form

behavioral-based-interviewDardo writes:
I am trying to fill in an employment form. At the last part they ask 5 questions on “General Information.” There are two of them for which I can’t find any good/”cool”/adequate answer. They are:

  1. Which has been the most difficult problem you have faced (in your job, school, etc) and how did you solve it?
  2. Give an example of a situation where you solved a problem in an original or unusual way.

I just cannot remember any difficult, valuable problem to present. I am somehow blocked.

Could you give me some tips or hints to give efficient answers (what can a company expect?), and where or how to look in my life history? Do you have any credible “story” I can include?

The Career Doctor responds:
You have stumbled upon a growing trend in employment applications and interviews: Behavioral-based questions. Behavioral questions are based on the theory that your past performance is the best predictor of future behavior; thus, there are no “cool” answers, per se. You need to dig into your past and find answers to these questions.

Recent college grads with little work experience should focus on class projects and group situations that might lend themselves to these types of questions. Hobbies and volunteer work also might provide examples you could use.

Finally, you should frame their answers based on a four-part outline: (1) describe the situation, (2) discuss the actions you took, (3) relate the outcomes, and (4) specify what you learned from it.

You can read more about behavioral interview questions at Behavioral Interviewing Strategies for Job-Seekers and in our free e-book on the subject, Behavioral Interviewing.

Discreetly Apply for Job in Parent Company?

SuccessladderMichael writes:
I am currently working for a subsidiary of a large corporation. I am interested in working for the parent corporation and would like to seek out a job position there.

Yes, I know – technically, I am working for the parent company but would like to work for them directly (for career advancement). What is the best way to approach this situation while “keeping it under the hat” for the time being with the subsidiary company? Are there ethical issues involved here?

Would it be more like applying for a transfer or do I apply with a resume and cover letter like I would any new job?

How would I word my situation in a cover letter?

The Career Doctor responds:
Michael, most companies with various divisions and subsidiaries have very specific guidelines in terms of the process one goes about for applying for a job within the corporate umbrella. In some cases, the policy treats the process as a simple job transfer, but in others, the policy treats the process as a full-scale job search.

At one corporation I deal with, the policy is that you have to inform your current manager that you are interested in an internal position (transfer). He or she then has the power to approve or disapprove the interview and possible transfer.

You are in a very touchy situation, and I strongly encourage you to speak to a human-resource person at the parent company – and learn, in general terms, the process that your company wants its employees to follow. Failure to follow this policy could be disastrous for you.

Is Age Discrimination His Problem?

agediscriminationW.J.S. writes:
I am a middle-aged, formerly middle-management, middle-income man who has been downsized from a corporate position. I have been actively seeking employment and have been trying to network, send out resumes etc. I have had my resume professionally written, have a B.S. and an excellent career history with excellent reviews. All this considered, I am working as a security guard which I took as an interim job. I can’t even seem to get an interview. Could there possibly be age discrimination? What’s your opinion?

The Career Doctor responds:
I think the most important words I can say to you are don’t be discouraged. Maybe it’s too late for those words, but I want to hope that your problems have less to do with age discrimination – which is certainly possible – and more to do with three issues that you must address and spin to your advantage.

The first issue is being downsized. No matter what anyone says, it hurts the ego. I should know – I was downsized by a major corporation in the 80s. It’s a blow. And no matter how much we try to convince ourselves that we were not fired and that there is no stigma … sometimes we carry that issue with us into the job search and into the interview. Try to find a neutral party – an associate – and have them evaluate your approach and style. Make sure this person will be totally honest with you. Make appropriate changes.

The second issue is networking. Because of your level or experience and expertise, networking is a crucial task for you. Again, networking will only work for you if you have overcome the first issue. You can not appear down, discouraged, or desperate. For your network to work, you need to spin your situation as an opportunity for a new direction and new challenges. Work your network – friends, family, associates, former coworkers, etc.

The third issue is your level of expertise and salary. Middle managers can be the hardest to place because the flattened business model that shows less of a need for them; thus, you need to make sure your resume stress quantified accomplishments – that you were an active participate in your past company. The salary issue may be a little harder because some companies may eliminate you from consideration based on an assumption of affordability. I would stress – again – the power of your network – but also the use of a headhunter, though keep in mind that headhunters are working for the hiring companies.

Best of luck to you. It is going to take some time, so try not to be impatient. Build that network and focus on the positive.
See this section of Quintessential Careers for more help and resources: Job and Career Resources for Mature and Older Job-Seekers.

Cover Letters for Relocation

Relocation_2Sheila writes:
Although I currently reside in San Francisco, I am planning to relocate to Indianapolis within the next 3 months (or so). My boyfriend suggested that I submit my resume with a cover letter to various companies in hopes of establishing a relationship and inquiring about employment opportunities. My problem is that, I just don’t know what specifically the cover letter should say. Can you please help me?

The Career Doctor responds:
A cover letter is an extremely important part of your direct-mail campaign. Before I get to cover letters, though, I want to make sure you have some overall strategy about relocating. You are smart to contact companies before you move, but you need a strategy in terms of the types of companies, finding the companies, and finding the right people to contact. And once you’ve sent out your cover letter and resume packages, you need to make sure you follow up and contact these people and try to get some interviews – either by phone or as soon as you get to Indianapolis.

In terms of a cover letter, here’s the short version. The cover letter is a crucial marketing document that must be directed to a named individual and create enough interest on the part of the potential employer to have him or her then look at your resume. You must create interest while also quantifying your qualifications for the position you seek. You must also demonstrate some knowledge of the company and stress what you can do for the company. Finally, you must request action – an interview.

The long version? Go visit Quintessential Careers: Cover Letter Resources, where you’ll find a cover letter tutorial, a do’s and don’ts of cover letters, and a cover letter formula, and much more.

And for more help with the relocation, check out this section of Quintessential Careers: Job-Seeker Relocation Resources.

How to Become a Probation Officer

Vernee writes:
I would like to obtain some information on becoming a probation officer.


The Career Doctor responds:
While the U.S. Department of Labor seems to put probation officers into the larger grouping of social workers, offers information about careers as a probation officer. The site includes job descriptions, working conditions, training, salary and advancement, education requirements, and more.

You might also want to check out Inside Jobs: A Realistic Guide to Criminal Justice Career for College Graduates, edited by Stuart Henry (Sheffield Publishing) or Careers in Criminal Justice, by W. Richard Stephens (Allyn & Bacon).

Seeking a Job When You Lack Experience

transferable-skills-gridLinda writes:
I am desperately looking for a job that will hire me, but I am afraid they will not even look at my resume since I don’t have any experience. The only thing I can really mention is my having worked as the assistant registrar at my high school during my last three years there. During college I held no jobs, and I am very worried I will never find a job because of my non-existent qualifications. I am very good with people, but I will never get an interview when they look at my resume. I graduated from college a year and a half ago. I am not expecting to start off with a very high paying job, just something that will get my foot in the door.

The Career Doctor responds:
Are you working now? What have you been doing for the past year and a half?

Regardless of your answers to those questions, what you need to do is take a hard look at what you did in college. Yes, part-time jobs and internships are obvious places where you could have gained valuable work experience, but instead of focusing on the negative, we should look at the positive.

As you examine your college career, I want you to focus on any kind of extracurricular activities you may have participated in as well as the specific assignments and work you completed in your classes. Surely you were a member of one or more groups in college – did you hold any offices or perform any duties as a member? As for your classes, did you complete any large projects and analyses?

I suggest you read Quintessential Careers: Fundamentals of a Good Resume, along with a related article on transferable skills.

From these two articles, you should be able to build a fairly strong resume, even without a lot of “real world” experience.

Accounting for Period of Illness on Resume

Karen writes:

I was diagnosed with breast cancer last year and have not gone back to work yet. I will not be done with my 33 radiation treatments for several more weeks. How do you suggest I update my resume for the time I have not worked?? I have NO IDEA what to do about this situation. Do you??

gapsThe Career Doctor responds:
Well, most importantly, I hope you have fully recovered from the cancer and the treatments you have received because of it. Discussing job-hunting almost seems trivial next to the ordeal you have been through.

Remember that job-hunting is all about marketing … all about giving the potential employer all green lights and no speed bumps when evaluating your potential performance.

Thus, as with any major medical problem in which you are unemployed for a long period, you may want to consider switching to a functional resume from a chronological resume. A functional resume focuses on the key skill areas and successes you have had in your career and de-emphasizes your actual work experience until the end of the resume where you list the places, job titles, and dates relating to your past employment. You can find some helpful hints by visiting Quintessential Careers: Resume Resources.

Keep in mind, however, that many employers dislike functional resumes. We recommend them only when no other choice exists. If a functional resume doesn’t seem to be working for you, switch back to chronological. Although the obvious gap on your resume won’t be ideal, it certainly won’t be unusual in these days of high unemployment.

You will have to face the issue of an employment gap at some point, but hopefully not until you are in the interview and can give a quick explanation of a medical condition (you do not need to go into details) while showing that you are in good health now.

Again, best wishes for a return to full health and a full life, as well as a successful job search.


Careers for History Majors

V. K. writes:
My son, a college freshman, loves history. What other careers besides teaching would be available to a history major?

HistoryMajorThe Career Doctor responds:

Since the latest statistics show that the average person will change careers – not just jobs – at least five times over his or her worklife, the most important thing for you to do is to encourage your son to finish his college education – and to fill it with as great a variety of courses as he can so that he can be exposed to a variety of skills and experiences.

As for history in particular, your son could become a government worker or aide, research assistant, lobbyist, journalist, intelligence agent, consumer advocate, foreign service worker, and others. A great source for learning more about this topic is for you to visit the Quint Careers section What Can I do With a Major in…?. Other sources of this type of career discovery information can be found at Quintessential Careers: Career Exploration.

Getting Help with Cover Letter, Resume

CoveLtrsResumesElaine writes:
I am seeking help with my cover letter.

I have a basic resume, but would like to improve it.

I need help. I quit my eight-year-long job and went to work in an environment I am very unhappy in.

The Career Doctor responds:
You are right to want to try and make your cover letter and resume as strong as possible. Your resume, especially, should be polished regularly.

Let’s start with your cover letter. Your cover letter is a marketing document – in which you are trying to spark the interest of the potential employer. I am amazed at how many cover letter “experts” advise people to waste their first paragraphs – which are the most important part of your cover letter. In this first paragraph, you need to attract the interest of the potential employer, not simply state that you are applying for a job.

You can read more about the Dynamic Cover Letters Cover Letter Formula or visit the Quintessential Careers Cover Letter Tutorial.

Now to your resume. Resumes have not changed all that much over the last few years, with the exception of branded resumes and the move toward using keywords or skills summaries in resumes. You should make sure your resume includes strong action verbs to describe your accomplishments (not your duties). You may also want to read up on transferable skills. All this resume information can be found at Quintessential Careers: Resume Resources.

Finding Work with Animals, Conservation, or Travel

workingwithanimalsSean writes:
I have recently made a decision to completely change my career path. I would love to find a career that involves animals and/or travel. I want to do something important in the way of helping to save and preserve our wilderness.

I am having difficulty finding what careers are out there that would combine these two interests. Could you suggest a resource where I might find some possibilities?

The Career Doctor responds:
Since I don’t really have any idea of your education and work background, it’s a little hard for me to know exactly the types of jobs you enjoy or are qualified for, but I’ll ignore that issue and face the bigger question: Where can you find a job/career that involves animals/wilderness/travel?

My immediate reaction was to go to Quintessential Careers: Volunteering and Nonprofit Career and Job Opportunities. At this site you can find links to Earthwatch, the National Park Service, and other organizations that may offer career opportunities that match your new career interests. There are also many other environmentally-oriented groups, such as The Wilderness Society, that have their own Websites where you may be able to network and search for job opportunities.

Finally, you might check your college’s career office or a local college’s career office for leads, especially if one of these schools has an environmental studies department.