Posts Tagged ‘interviewing’

Entrepreneur’s February 2009 issue had a really good article that explains how you can analyze a company by all the things that happen while you are at the interview.  Some examples in my recent past directly apply to this article.

All the Small Things

The first thing the article says to look out for is the small things.  Did the company validate your parking?  Did they offer to help with directions on getting in or out of the building?  Did they offer you anything to drink, or ask if you need to use the bathroom?  This tells me whether or not they care about their people.  If they are not taking care of me, what does that say about the way they treat their employees?

When I interviewed at my last job, I had to meet with 3 different people.  When I got there, the person I met with asked me if I needed to use the bathroom or wanted a drink of water.  He repeated asking me this after the first 2 interviews.  The way he treated me gave me a really good impression that he takes care of his employees.  I ended up taking the job, and my impressions were right.  He put people first, and his team was successful.

Interviewer’s Priorities Reflect Company’s Priorities

The article goes on to say that if the interviewer is late and seems to be viewing the resume for the first time that it is a clue that the company is somewhat hectic and unorganized.  If the interviewer isn’t enthused about the company mission and work responsibilities, how can the interviewee be?

One time I referred a friend to a job opening at a place where I was working.  His interview was scheduled for 4:00pm, and he had to meet with three people.  Another meeting was scheduled that involved 3 of the people at 4:30pm.  The first person interviewed with my friend and he wrapped up around 4:25pm.  Rather then postpone, delay, or not attend the meeting, one of the other two people decided the candidate could wait until after the meeting because they thought it would end quickly.  The meeting did not get out until 5:15pm.  That meant my friend was waiting in a conference room for 45 minutes.  Even if it was not my friend, I would not feel comfortable about this situation.  It just sends the wrong message about where the company’s priorities lie.  They put deadlines and meetings ahead of people.

Good Cop Bad Cop

The article discusses the types of questions interviewers ask during interviews.  Are they too difficult?  Too easy?  Do they even apply?  If the questions are too easy the article says the job might not be challenging enough.  If the questions are too difficult or do not apply, it is almost as if the interviewer is trying to prove they are smarter than the candidate.

This has never happened to me personally, but I have a friend that went on an interview once that had a similar experience.  The interviewer asked really tough questions, and seemed very cocky.  This turned off my friend, and he didn’t even contemplate taking the job.

A Good Fit

The article wraps up with the writer describing how he got his current job.  His interviewer asked challenging but applicable questions.  It allowed the interviewer to evaluate his skill level.  The author also felt he could learn a lot from the interviewer.  This would also be important to me.  If  you are considering taking on a challenging job, you would be better off if your manager could help guide you in difficult times.  If your manager isn’t that type of person, you better be a great self-starter or already know everything there is to know about the job.

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48 Days to the Work you Love by Dan Miller:  Book Review

This is a continuation of the in-depth review of the book:  48 Days to the Work You Love by Dan Miller.  To read the Previous Chapter, follow this link: Chapter 8: Do They Like Me?  Do I Like Them?

Chapter 9:  Show Me the Money

This chapter is all about salary negotiation.  The author reiterates many times throughout the chapter that you should never mention anything related to salary until AFTER an offer has been made.  The author also mentions that the reader shouldn’t assume that salaries and benefits are set in stone.  Many times these things can be negotiable.  In a change management lecture I attended at my previous job the speaker mentioned that vacation time is one of the easiest things that can be negotiated.  Thinking about it, it makes sense…it doesn’t cost the company any real money to give you more time off.  (They will lose productivity time, but it can be argued that you have a fresher outlook coming back from vacation and work harder as opposed to being sluggish when you’re burnt out and overworked.)  

Proving a point the author said in an earlier chapter, the author mentions again that it is difficult for a person to recognize opportunities if he stays in one place and remains in one job.  Most self made millionaires have had many experiences working various types of jobs.

To the point that the author doesn’t want you to discuss salary until the appropriate time, he mentions that the following things should be true:

  • you know exactly what the job requires
  • they have decided they want you
  • you have decided you want them

An interesting point the author also makes is that the responsibilities of the job determine the salary, and not your education, experience, or previous salary.  I thought this was a good point…so many people I know rush to get MBA’s just to have the title…but you have to have the skills to perform the job (which you may learn while getting your MBA) to get the offer.

The author mentions an obvious no-no where he mentions not to ask about salary, benefits, vacations, and perks until you know you want the job.  Then he offers tips to win at salary negotiation.  One tip I liked was to say “Let’s talk a little more about the position to see if there’s a match” if they ask too early in the interview process.  

In terms of timing when it’s okay to talk about salary, there is a bar graph in the book, shaped like a mountain.  The carat character ^, is the best example I can think of.  As your climbing the mountain, it’s still not okay to talk about it.  From bottom left of the mountain to peak, the process sounds like this:  

1.  Why would we hire you?
2.  We think we like you.
3.  We really like you.
4.  We’ve got to have you!  

Then the mountain is at the tip.  This is the perfect time to talk about salary.  Then the mountain slopes down to the right, and if you haven’t asked now, you’ve missed your shot.

5.  We’ve got you! 

The author lists many things that can fall under compensation when negotiating an offer.  I won’t list them all but some I thought worth mentioning are:

  • country club or YMCA membership (my old company offered to pay for your gym membership)
  • tuition reimbursement
  • additional time off (enforces what the change management guy mentioned at the lecture)
  • sign-on bonus
  • your birthday off (this one’s new to me)

The author then tells a story of a woman who worked in a clerical job making $19,000.  Tired of doing that type of work, she applied for a graphical design job.  The salary was posted at $32,500 yet her total compensation package ended up being $54,000.  The company never asked, and she never told, what her previous salary was at her old job.  She simply mentioned what she could bring to the table and was compensated based on her apparent value.  

But What If You’re Asked?

One point that the author did not mention in this chapter is what one should do when flat-out asked what their salary was in their previous job.  Sure you can try and dodge the question at first, but if the interviewer is persistent I think the candidate has to give up the information.  Additionally, many job applications that a candidate would have to fill out have it listed as question…sometimes there’s no getting around it.  

The author mentions towards the end of the chapter that our work is intangible, and very few salaries are written in concrete.  Companies might budget $38,000 for a position yet post the job for $31,000.  We need to recognize that the first offer is probably not what the company has in the budget.

Very good advice that I have used in the past is that once agreed upon, you should always get the offer in writing.  This way you don’t have to defend what was said later on.  

Lastly, in one of the questions at the end of the chapter mentions that in changing companies we may be able to increase our salary 40 to 50 percent.  A salary increase of this magnitude is unlikely to happen while moving up in one company.   In my experiences, my largest salary increases were achieved by moving from one company to another.

Continue to Chapter 10: Do You Have What It Takes?

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48 Days to the Work you Love by Dan Miller:  Book Review

This is a continuation of the in-depth review of the book:  48 Days to the Work You Love by Dan Miller.  To read the Previous Chapter, follow this link: Chapter 7:  Finding Your Unique Path

Chapter 8:   Do They Like Me?  Do I Like Them?

This chapter is all about preparing and making an impression during the interview process.  The interview is probably the most important part of the job hunt.  If a person cannot interview well, they will not get the job offer.  A person who interviews well leads to job satisfaction and higher income.  We need to project confidence and enthusiasm during interviews while remaining professional.  If we cannot do this our job search efforts will have been for nothing.

The author makes a point that the interview process is a two way street.  Not only is the interviewer trying to find things out about you, but we should also be evaluting the interviewer, potential bosses, and the work environment.  Later in the chapter he mentions arriving 15 minutes early, not only because it is the standard thing to do, but that extra 15 minutes will give you time to evaluate your surroundings.  Do people seem happy?  Are they smiling at you and saying hello as they walk by?

Preparing for the Interview

There are two main components that are necessary prior to the interview.  The candidate has to know themselves, and they have to know the company.  This sounds pretty basic, and most people will think it’s obvious, but it should not be taken lightly.

Know Yourself

We should have canned responses ready that uniquely describe our (1) skills and abilities, (2) personality tendencies, and (3) values, dreams and passions.  Questions surrounding these areas inevitably come up during the interview.  They are usually in the form of “What are your strengths and weaknesses?”, or “Where do you see yourself in 5 years?”

“Tell me a little bit about yourself.” This question is guaranteed in almost any interview.  It is the most important question.  It should tell a story, with a beginning, a middle, and an end, while being no longer than 2 minutes.  This is your time to shine, and your opportunity to sell yourself to the company.  The person interviewing you expects you to have developed answer for this question.  If you don’t, you’ll come off as ill-prepared.  Touch upon information you wish to bring back up later in the interview.  Here’s my stab at it:

“I graduated from Quinnipiac University in 2004 with a degree in Computer Information Systems.  Right out of college I worked for a small start-up company that developed software that streamline the billing, clinical and administrative processes for ambulatory  surgery centers.  I started out as a trainer and traveled to surgery centers all over the country training the staff on the use of our application.  When I wasn’t travelling I would work with clients over the phone and through web demos giving personalized or group training sessions on specific topics.   After two years the company was acquired by a larger, more established company.  This opportunity allowed me to be promoted to business analyst.  In that role I worked closely with existing customers conducting focus groups to find out things they liked about our software, and areas where they thought needed improvement.  I would also do site visits with key clients to get a better idea of their wants and needs.  After doing that for a year, I was promoted to implementation manager.  I worked with new clients on managing schedules and key dates  to get them up and running on our software.   I managed 5 trainers and would coordinate their schedules and send them on-site to train the new clients.  One of my things I accomplished as an implementation manager was creating a project plan template that was used with new clients going forward.  After working at the same company for the past three and a half years, I wanted to challenge myself and acquire new skills so I took a job as a Technical Writer/Jr. Project Manager for an energy retail company.  I wrote documentation and user manuals for some of the in-house applications the company used.  I worked on creating templates so we could standardize the documentation process going forward.  On the project management side, I worked on life-cycle projects for one of our billing systems.  I conducted weekly meetings with key staff to make sure we were on target and within budget, as well as monthly  meetings with vendors to review requests for the upcoming month.  My current company is relocating to Pittsburgh which is the reason I am pursuing this opportunity.”

I believe my pitch has a beginning, a middle, and an end.  I suppose I could add some personal information, perhaps “In my spare time I enjoy reading both fiction and non-fiction books, playing video games, and spending time with friends and family.”  The book also mentions slipping in a career achievement somewhere in the speech.  In my pitch, I focused on how I was tasked with creating a new project plan template for new clients.  Your response to this question should answer the question, “What can I contribute to the company?”  Therefore, although you may have a canned template response, you may want to focus on some of the details and change it up a little for each opportunity.  Review your response with friends and family and let them critique it for you.

“What are 3 of your strengths?” We need to be able to identify and talk about our key strengths.  If we cannot describe them clearly, how can we expect an interviewer to realize them in a short interview?  Here’s my take on the question:

“I’d have to say that I have great organizational skills, time management skills, and can remain objective during difficult situations.  To my organizational skills, I try to get things done as efficiently as possible.  An example with email for instance, is I have a detailed folder system where nothing stays in my Inbox at the end of the day.  I am typically the same with with storing files.  I like to have detailed tracking systems so I don’t have to look too hard when I’m trying to find something.  This compliments my time management skills as well, because my system allows me to find files or emails quickly.  In managing people or projects, I try to use time efficiently.  I prioritize tasks in ways that make the most sense from a time and cost perspective.  Additionally, with employees, I try to strike a balance so they are working efficiently without getting burnt out.  In regards to remaining objective with issues arise, I try to analyze the situation from every possible angle, to see what is driving people’s emotions.  I’ll then try to come to the best possible solution that makes the most sense for the people involved as well as the company. “

“Tell me about a weakness and what you have done to work on it.” You need to be honest here.  You  need to be able to show that you were weak in a specific area, and what you have done to work on it.  Don’t pretend to be perfect, they won’t buy it.  Here I go:

“Well to play to one of my strengths for just a moment, I’m always striving to find ways to become better organized.  In the past I had trouble keeping up with emails, and tracking emails that needed appropriate follow up.  I used to just flag everything in Outlook thinking I’d look at it later.  I realized that didn’t work when I had over 60 red flags by the end of the week.  With my organized file system, emails are designated to appropriate folders.  I’ve incorporated tasks for emails and phone calls that need follow up.  So I would say that is an area that I am always trying to improve.  Another area I am always trying to improve is my public speaking skills.  I have to force myself to talk more slowly and clearly at times, because I realize I talk too fast.  When working with clients, I always follow up my instructions with them, to make sure they understand what I’ve said.  If they do not, I’ll try and say them in a different way so they can understand.  With co-workers, I am always working on my assertiveness.  I like to strike a balance when I work with colleagues so they can realize the necessity of the situation without sounding weak, needy, or pushy.”

“What skills do you possess that have prepared you for this job?” I really can’t supply my own answer here, because I believe the response to this question has to be specifically tailored to the job you are applying for.  What I would do, is incorporate the strengths mentioned earlier, and describe how those strengths and skills make you the best candidate for the position.  Make sure you prepare yourself for this question by researching the company and the job description in detail before the interview.

“What are your short and long range goals?” This one should be a no-brainer as far as having responses ready.  It’s okay to talk about both personal and business goals, sometimes they may be interwoven.  The main reason for including some personal goals in this response is because companies are looking for individuals who can strike a balance between their work life and their personal life.  Be realistic and sensible in your response.

“On a professional level, I hope to go back to school within the next 3-5 years and get my MBA.  I hope it will give me the appropriate skills and knowledge to do well.  I hope after proving myself I can move up within the company.  On a more personal level, I plan to get married in the summer of 2010.  Personal finance is an interest of mine, so I’m always reading books, magazines, and blogs on that topic.

Knowing the Company

The author mentions that it is essential to know the facts around the company’s organization, products/services, involvement in the community, and key employees prior to the interview.  It may also be important to know the company’s financial information, number of employees, any major changes, etc.  The information gathering efforts can lead to good questions later in the interview.  Obtaining this information should be easy enough.  The book lists a couple of business periodicals, city business directories, etc.  However, I think the majority of what one would need can probably be obtained directly from the company’s website, in addition to a few Google searches to see what other sites have to say about the company.

The Interview

There are a lot of factors that go into an interview than just the words that are exchanged back and forth between the interviewer and the interviewee.  The interviewer may already have his opinion on you within 10 seconds of entering the room.  Of course, some of the reasons for this may be beyond our control: height, age, appearance, etc.  So let’s focus on the things you can control.

  • Timing the Interview:  If you are allowed to choose a time for the interview, avoid Monday mornings and Friday afternoons.  The reason for this should be pretty obvious.  On Mondays, people are stressed because they are coming back to work after a nice weekend, and have to plan the week ahead.  On Fridays, all their minds are on the upcoming weekend and they might not focus so much on the interview.  The book recommends choosing morning appointments from Tuesday-Thursday.  It mentions how research indicates that executives are more likely to hire morning job seekers 83% of the time.  If you have to schedule it in the afternoon, make sure it starts no later than 1 hour prior to the close of the day.  I am guessing  the main reasons for this is people are drained by the end of the day, and the only thing on their minds is how soon until they go home.  Pyschologically, they might think negatively if they’re forced to stay at work late because a candidate took too long to interview.
  • Timing the Arrival: Arrive about 15 minutes early.  This will give you enough time to observe your surroundings to see if it is a place you would enjoy working.  Arriving too early is inconsiderate, as they may not be ready for you.  It also shows that you are over anxious.
  • Taking Names: Make sure you know the names and job titles of anyone you will be speaking with before the interview, but don’t use their first names unless you are asked to.
  • Appearance: Shine your shoes.  When I was in college, a professor told me it might not be a bad idea to have a set of shoes just for interviewing.  Make sure your suit is clean.  Brushing your teeth in the morning might not be enough, I’d recommend having a mint as you walk from your car to the building.  Don’t wear cologne or perfume.  If you have a tattoo or odd piercing, it might not be a bad idea to or cover it up or remove for the interview.  Make sure your hair is clean cut.
  • Etiqutte: Leave the cell phone on silent, or in the car.  Sit straight in the chair.  Don’t cross your arms, this shows you’re being defensive.  Make eye contact.  Don’t fidget.  Don’t chew gum.  Speak clearly.  Don’t put your hands over your mouth, it shows you are trying to be deceptive.  Don’t speak badly of any former employers.  Have a positive canned response for leaving any former position.
  • Body Language: I’ve read this in other articles, and I’m not sure if the percentage is the same, but the book mentions how body language is 55% of the communication process.  In other articles I read, it mentioned that the tone of your voice is something like 35% (the book mentions 38%), and the actual words you say only account for 10% (the book mentions 7%) of the communication process.  Make sure you’re smiling when you give your handshakes.  Speaking of the handshake, make sure it’s nice and firm, but not too hard.  The web of your hand should touch the web of the other person’s hand, and maintain eye contact the entire time.  The hand shake should last a couple of seconds.  Maintain your posture while seated, keep your shoulders straight.  Leaning forward is okay, this expresses interest.
  • Language: Watch for common filler words.  Uh, uh-hum, er.  Interviewers probably get this all the time and I’m sure it annoys the heck out of them.

The Warm Up

Interviewers will make small talk at the beginning to warm up the candidate.  This is usual conversation starters that you would probably make with a stranger while waiting in line somewhere:  the weather, sports, maybe a hobby they found on your resume.  It’s done to help you feel relaxed and develop a comfortable environment.  The author points out that the candidate should remember that they are still being evaluated at all times, so be careful in your responses.  As always, sex, religion, and politics should not be mentioned the entire time.

Question and Answer

This will take up 75% of the interview process.  You’ll be asked to review your qualifications as they are documented on the resume.  You must be ready to talk about anything you have listed.  The author recommends to only have items on your resume that are sales tools for where you want to go.  Once you are done talking about your qualifications and skills, the interview will move onto the company.  At this point you’ll most likely be given the opportunity to ask questions.  You should have 4-5 questions ready to ask the interviewer.  I’d recommend having them written out in your portfolio so you do not forget to ask them.  The questions you ask may create more of an impression than the ones you answered.

Questions Asked by the Interviewer

The author lists out some sample interview questions.  He recommends we write out our answers to these questions, as just thinking about them is not sufficient preparation for the actual answering.  He reiterates that the interview isn’t just a formality because the interviewer has seen our great resume, but that the interview is the most important part of the whole process.  We should have 1-2 minute responses for each of the following questions.  Any longer than that and we might give the impression that we are trying to take over the interview.  So again, here are the questions and my responses:

1.  Tell me a little about yourself. See my section above for the answer to this question.

2.   What are your greatest strengths?  What are 3 characteristics that would make you a good candidate for this position? Again, see my section above for my answer to this question.  I would also add that you can’t have a canned response to the second part of this question.  I would still be prepared for it by making a few bullet points of characteristics that relate to the job you are applying for in your portfolio.  That way you will be prepared to answer the question easily and won’t forget to mention a good characteristic you thought about earlier.

3.   What would your previous employer list as your greatest strengths? My current employer would probably say that I am good at managing budgets and keeping costs to projects within their allocated amount.  From a technical writing standpoint, probably writing clear and concise documentation that can easily be understood by the target audience.  I would think that my previous employer would emphasize my loyalty to keeping customers happy.  I feel I always would go to great lengths to try and keep them satisifed.

4.  What motivates you to put forth your greatest effort? I like the outcome of my work to be tangible in some aspect.  If I’ve worked hard on a document, the final product being used by end users and seeing them be able to do their job based on it is helpfulness.  From a customer service standpoint, to hear customers praise you to superior service always feels good.  I guess it all comes down to recognition when appropriate.  If someone worked really hard and put out a quality product or service, they should be recognized for that effort.  That will motivate them to do well going forward on other projects.

5.   What have been some of your most significant accomplishments?  How were you able to achieve those accomplishments? In a previous job, I sat with the CEO and VP of Client Services to discuss revamping the documentation process for implementing new clients on our software.  I created a detailed Excel spreadsheet with important tasks and milestones for the Implementation team to track with the customer.  Both the CEO and VP were pleased with the final document.  Another example at my current employer was creating a matrix document for a specific project that displayed how far along we were in the enrollment process with each Gas utility in the state of New York.  When I showed the document to the project stakeholders they were pleased that they could quickly see at a glance where we stood with each utility.

6.  What have you done that has contributed to increased sales, profits, efficiency, etc.? I believe this ties in with the previous question in terms of efficiency.  The implementation spreadsheet let to more effective tracking on client implementations.  Any user can quickly open the spreadsheet and see what has already been completed for clients, and what needs to be completed, all without having to contact the client.  The gas matrix document accomplishes similar goals.  Prior to that document being created, users would have to contact managers of different departments to try and find out what was done and what needed to be done.  The process was very time consuming for all parties involved.

7.  What types of situations frustrate you?  What are your weaknesses?  What have you attempted and failed to accomplish? Inefficiency and ineffective processes as well as people’s resistance to change frustrate me.   Programmers in the development world are reluctant to try new ideas.  This can lead to design flaws that can lead to customer dis-satisfaction which can lead to weaker sales.  I would hope that programmers had more of an open mind when it comes to trying to satisfy customers.  My weakness related to this question is I may not be assertive enough in describing the priority of the situation to a programmer.  If I was more assertive I may be able to do a better job of getting design changes into an upcoming version of the application.  A side project I attempted and failed to accomplish was to try and improve the CRM at my former employer.  We had a poor system for tracking client issues.  It was very slow, and buggy.  I once counted the steps it took to track one customer call, and it was something like 23 steps.  Because the information was ‘too deep’ into the CRM system, I wasn’t able to convince anyone that it was a good idea to look into alternatives.

8.  What are you looking for in a new position?  Why do you want this job?  What do you find attractive to this position? I’m always looking to learn new things.  I think this position will allow me to enhance my current skills and learn new ones.  (The rest of the answer really needs to be tailored specific to the job being applied for.)

9.  Why are you leaving your current job? Well this one is easy for me…They recently acquired a competitor and have decided to consolidate their offices and move their main headquarters to Pittsburgh, PA.  Our office is closing June 1st so I’m trying to be proactive in finding a job….Now I know this answer won’t apply to many job seekers, so the answer I used when I left my previous job was more like this…I’ve been at my company for the past 3.5 years.  I’m not feeling challenged in my current position, and this new opportunity really excites me.  I think I could make a good contribution to your company and it will present a challenge for me at the same time.

10.  What important changes or trends do you see in this industry?  How do you think these changes will affect the way we succeed in this company? Retail Energy: Well I think given the state of the current economy, we may see more regulation put in place.  Since our company is focused on deregulated markets, this may impact where we are allowed to do business.  We have to be careful to follow the news and be aware of any changes that may come into effect.  We may want to focus on areas where we make the most profit and try to make sure any changes have little impact on those markets.   Healthcare: I think we’ve saturated the ASC market as much as we can at the moment.  With the slowdown of the economy the number of new ASC’s being constructed has slowed considerably.  We need to evaluate which customers we make the most profit on, and continue to make sure they are receiving the best customer service possible.  In checking in with customers, we may come to find that there are certain add-ons they would be interested in purchasing, so it’s a win-win for both parties.  We will maintain profitability and maintain customer satisfaction.  We may need to look at other markets to enter.

11.  How long would it take you to make a meaningful contribution to our company?  What are the areas in which you would need more training?  Do you feel you may be overqualified or too experienced for this position? (Again my answer to this really depends on the position I’m applying for.  If it’s something totally new to me but challenging, I would probably ask for more time.)  I hope to start making contributions my first day on the job.  I realize I will have a lot to learn, but I’m a quick learner and through the proper training I hope to make an impact as quick as possible.  I will probably need some training on how “ABC” is processed and transferred to “XYZ”.  I feel I have the proper skills and abilities to do this job well.  I’m really looking forward to it.

12.  What do you look for in a supervisor?  Describe the relationship that should exist between a supervisor and his employee.  What do you see as your most difficult task as a manager?  What is your management style? (I believe there is no black or white answer to this question…but there are probably right and wrong answers.  Here’s my take…)  I look for a supervisor who can provide guidance and mentoring.  I would want them to tell me what they expect from me.  At the same time, I would hope that they are available to answer any questions I might have.  After that, I would like to be given the opportunity to accomplish my tasks on my own.  I think it can be difficult for a manager to see how much attention his employees are looking for, and how much they actually need.  Each person is different, and some will need or want more or less than others.  I would want a manager to strike a balance with making sure I am getting my work done, continue to feel challenged in a good way, and look forward to working for them.  My management style is to try to empower my employees to find the answers on their own.  I like to point them in the right direction without always giving them the answer right away.  I am always there to mentor them if they ever need it.  I like to keep them motivated through positive or constructive feedback on an ongoing basis.

13.  Do you prefer working alone or as part of a team?  Are you better working with things, people, or ideas?  Are you better at creating or doing? I think I can work well alone or as a part of the team, I’m very flexible in that regard.  I think there are pros and cons to both.  Working alone is nice because you can go at your own pace, but you can’t get creative feedback from others.  When you work with others, you can get good ideas from your team members, however issues can arise when people have conflicting ideas.  I enjoy and am good at working with people.  I do well working with things but don’t find it as gratifying as working with people.  I’m probably better at doing but enjoy the creative process.

14.  Describe an ideal working environment.  In  your last position, what were things you liked most/least?  How do you handle pressure and deadlines? Ideally I like being pointed in the right direction when initially taking on a project.  I’m great at working on projects but sometimes knowing where to start can be tough.  In my last position, I was most frustrated with the lack of communication between departments.  We would log customer requests into a database for form creation.  At that point it was up to the Data Services department to create and load the forms.  They would often get overloaded with work orders and client requests would get lost in the shuffle.  I would have to follow up with Data Services on these requests and then the forms would get created in a rush and would not be exactly what the customer wanted at that point.  I do very well at handling deadlines where the task or finished product is within my control.  I typically finish tasks on time or early.  I sometimes have difficulty when tasks or products are dependant on another person or department outside of my control.  In my previous job there was more work than people, and I would often have to assuage the customer when deadlines weren’t met on time.

15.  Where, on your list of priorities, does your job fall?  What kind of things outside of work do you enjoy?  What magazines do you like to read?  Name 3 books you have read in the last year.  Are you achieving personal goals you have set? Those are great questions.  I would have to say that my job probably comes third on my list of priorities, right after family and personal health.  My job is important to me, and I want to do well in it.  Outside of work, I enjoy reading up on personal finance and investing, working out, playing video games, and reading.  I enjoy financial magazines such as Money Magazine, Kiplinger’s, or Consumer Reports; cooking magazines like Bon Apetit, and business magazines like Inc. and Business Week.  The last couple of books I can recall are “Holes” (my girlfriend is a 4th grade school teacher and wanted me to read it), “Geek Mafia” (a fiction tech adventure book), “48 Days to the Work you Love” by Dan Miller, and “The Little Book of Common Sense Investing” by John Bogle.  I try to read one fiction and one non-fiction book at the same time.  Next in my queue are “Now Discover Your Strengths” and “The Yankee Years.”  I’m achieving my personal goals slowly but surely.  I have a bunch of financial goals that I am on track with, and I’m always trying to educate myself.

16.  Where would you like to be 5 years from now?  What would you expect to be earning 5 years from now?  Are you continuing with your education?  How are you staying current with changes in this industry? 5 years from now I hope to  have completed my MBA.  I hope this will allow me to find new opportunities within the company.  With the completion of my MBA, I hope to be earning around $XX a year.  After I get my MBA I hope to keep educating myself through books, magazines, and attending seminars.

17.   How long do you feel a person should stay in the same position? I don’t think you can set a specific time limit to how long a person should stay in a particular position.  I think they can stay in a position forever as long as they are comfortable doing the tasks within the position, yet continue to challenge themself and learn new things.  Once they stop feeling challenged it is probably time to try something new if they wish to continue to grow professionally.

18.  What does a typical weekend consist of for you?  What do you do to relieve boredom? I usually wake up anytime between 7am and 9am.  I check my emails, check my financial accounts, and catch up on blogs I like to read.  I’ll have my breakfast and read one of my magazines in the kitchen.  I might catch up on my DVR’d TV shows, watch a DVD, or play a video game.  When my girlfriend gets up we go do something out of the house.  In the near term I’m finding places to get married, have a reception, where to spend our honeymoon, etc.  In the summer time, I like to find places to go running, walking, or hiking.  To relieve boredom I enjoy working out, playing video games, or reading.

19.  What other kinds of positions have you been looking at?  If we do not select you for this position, would you be interested in another (office, sales, administrative, etc.) position with this company?  How does this job compare with others for which you have interviewed?  What makes this job different from your current/last one? I have been looking at positions that have aspects of implementations tied to them.  I enjoy jobs that involve project management but not actual project manager positions.  I think one of my good qualities is that I am very flexible so I would be willing to explore other opportunities within the company.  This job seems like a great opportunity and I would be excited if given the chance to fill the position.  It allows me to try and improve the quality of one of your product lines.  Since I’m always look for quality and efficiency improvements, I am excited to make an impact in this area.

20.   Why should we choose you for this position?  What can you do for us that someone else cannot do? I think I bring a fresh perspective to this position.  I can try new things that haven’t been attempted in the past, and I think it will yield positive results.  I have experience with the product and know how we should focus our efforts.  Someone else probably does not know the product as well as I do.

21.  Do you have any questions? Here is where you should have 4-5 questions in regards to the position as well as the company.  I can’t provide concrete examples because the position and the company should dictate the question, but one that I always like to ask in interviews are, “Can you describe what a typical day, week, and month would be like in this position?”   The author lists a lot of good questions that can be used as well.  Some to note are:

-What would be a typical day’s assignments?
-What is the typical career path in this position?  What is a realstic timeframe for advancement?
-What criteria are used to evaluate and promote employees?
-What type of training is available?  What kind of ongoing professional development programs are available to help me continue to grow?
-Whom would I report to in this position?  Can you tell me about that person’s management style?
-How does this company maintain an advantage over it’s competitors?
-Is this a new position, or would I be replacing someone?
-What qualities are you looking for in the right person for this position?
-What do you enjoy about working for this company?

The author mentions that 85% of a person’s success in the workplace is due to personal skills and only 15% is due to technical skills.  I believe this to be true.  I look at my technical skills the same way I look at the  learning Spanish languge (I took 3 years of Spanish).  I can read basic Spanish, and understand it well enough if you talk slowly, but that’s about it.  I can look at programming code and as you explain it to me I can get what’s going on, but I can’t write code from scratch.  I am pretty good at offering advice as to how something should be coded though, or maybe an alternative way to code something.  But I think my personal skills explains why I have succeeded so quickly in my career.  The author then explains some tricky questions that an interviewer might ask:

“When was the last time you used illegal drugs?”  The American Disabilities Act does not protect the employer from using illegal drugs.

“How old are you?” is an illegal question.  But there are ways around it.  They can ask when you graduated from college and then just do the math.

They can’t ask about family plans, but usually get the answer they’re looking for with the “Where do you see yourself in 5 years?” question.

Exiting the Interview

Stand up straight, shake hands firmly, make eye contact, and then pick up your portfolio. Absolutely make sure you confirm what the next step in the process is, and when you can expect to hear back from them.  Since few offers are made after the first interview, it is important to initiate a follow-up with the interviewer.  Being persistant may make all the difference in landing the job.

Make sure to write a follow-up thank you letter that expresses appreciation for the time the interviewer took to meet with you and show your interest in the position.  This allows you to show off your writing skills and profrsesionalism to the interviewer.  Between the introduction letter, cover letter, resume, phone follow up, interview, and now the follow up letter, you may have created up to 5 contact points where the interviewer has heard your name.  Continue to be persistant in your follow-up and don’t be afraid to call every 4-5 days until you hear a decision.

Handling Rejections

Now I’m not done reading the book, so I’m not sure if the book handles this or not, so I thought I would mention it just in case.  If a company rejects you, always thank them for giving you the opportunity.  Then, and this next part is important, follow that up by asking them what qualities they were looking for in the position that you lacked, or if there was something about you that made them think you weren’t a good fit.  This is a good opportunity to get some good criticism on your interviewing skills or any other aspect of the process.  If you think you can make an arguement for what they said, go for it, but remain short, and polite.  Finally, thank them again and mention if anything changes to keep you in mind.  I know it sounds silly, but you never know.  The person they picked could quit for another company 2 days later.  Maybe there’s another position in the company that opens up, and they think you’re a good candidate.  If you remain in their good graces you just might be the first person they think of when that door opens up.

Continue to Chapter 9: Show Me the Money

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48 Days to the Work you Love by Dan Miller:  Book Review

This is a continuation of the in-depth review of the book:  48 Days to the Work You Love by Dan Miller.  To read the Previous Chapter, follow this link: Chapter 6:  6 Job Offers in 10 Days

Chapter 7:  Finding Your Unique Path

This chapter focuses on two main things.  First and foremost, it does a great job on how one should conduct a job search.  Second, it has a motivational/inspriational tone to it that reminds the reader not to beat themself up if they can’t find a job as quickly as they’d hoped.

The chapter starts off talking about the difference between “production work” where one does manual labor type work and gets to go home at night with a clear head; and “knowledge work” where one never really gets away because their tools of the trade is in their head.  Their skills are more transferrable.  On the bright side, where manual labor production can start to diminish after age 35, a knowledge worker can work well into their 80’s.  

Next, the author describes the different methods for doing a job search, and the odds of landing a job using that method. 

Ineffective Methods:

  • Newspaper ads: 8/100
    • The higher the position, the less likely landing a job using this method. 
    • There is a time lag by the time the job is even posted in the paper.  By the time it reaches the paper, local employees have already seen the posting internally.  If employees aren’t biting to take the spot and they didn’t refer any friends or family for the spot, what might that say about the position?
    • If it is a desirable position, there may be over 300 applicants, the odds of your resume standing out among the pack are slim.
    • The newspaper posting may just be a formality, and a candidate may already have been chosen.
    • Some ads are “blind ads” without a company listed.  This can be posted by recruiters in an attempt to stir up prospects without real positions available, individual companies to survey the candidate pool, or companies attempting to see if any current employers are job hunting.  
  • Private employement agencies/headhunters: 4 to 22/100 (depends on level)
    • You can’t delegate your job search.  You can’t just sign up with a couple of agencies and hope to have the work done for you.
  • Answering Ads in trade journals: 7/100
    • No real good explanation here as to why it’s not a good option.  I am assuming that they only post for real high positions in trade journals.  The example in the book told a story of a woman who went through a rigerous interview process.  Out of 386 applicants it was narrowed down to 8, then 3.  In the end, she didn’t get the job.  The author did some follow up, and it turns out the woman was the best candidate, but there was a little bit of nepotism involved when the position was finally filled. 
  • Internet Ads:  Less than 1%
    • People using the internet as the main focus of their search are avoiding contact.  
    • If you find the posting on the internet, so did thousands of other applicants.  Good luck standing out in the crowd.  
    • Companies are reporting negative experiences hiring candidates from internet responses.  They are reverting to ‘behavioral interviewing’ where they spend more face time with employees in the hiring process.  
  • Applying directly to employer without doing research: 47/100
    • Walking in the front door works almost half the time.
    • Effective for lower level positions (restaurants, department stores, etc.)
    • Works well for people in transition, even professionals looking to make ends meet.

Effective Methods

  • Asking friends: 34/100
  • Asking family: 21/100
    • Don’t be hesitant to let friends and family know you are looking.  
    • Utilize the ‘3-foot rule’.  If you can get within 3 feet of someone, tell them your situation.  Even if it’s just to ask for advice.  They might recommend finding a match for your skills.
  • Placement office at the college you attended: 21/100
    • Colleges realize finding a position for a graduate is not a one-time event.  Graduates return back years later for feedback.  

The author mentions, and I’ve read this elsewhere, that every $10,000 in salary takes 30 days of job-hunting.  So a $60,000 job may take 6 months to land.  2/3 of job hunters spend 5 hours a week on average.  People would be better off spending 35 hours a week, but in a focused effort.  This leads us to:

Efficient Method

Although more time is required up front, the duration of the job search will be much shorter.  This can also be done while you’re with your current employer, as the bulk of the work can be done outside of working hours.  

Step 1:  Identify 30-45 companies you want  to work for.  This will require you to figure out the types of places you want to work: large or small, corporate or non-profit, as well as specific industries: healthcare, energy, education, federal, etc.  Utilize available resources to find companies in the locations you desire:  Business Directories, Chamber of Commerce, local libraries, etc. 

Dont’ freak out if these companies aren’t hiring or have any job postings.  If they did, that would put you up against a larger number of candidates.  This method may only put you up against 2 to 3.  

Step 2:  Send a letter of introduction to the company.  The book recommends sending no more than 15 at a time so you can do appropriate follow up in the later steps.  The purpose of this letter is to build name recognition.  It’s using the power of 3’s.  Theory has it if you can get soemone to hear about a product 3 times (you are the product), the likelihood of them buying that product goes up dramatically.  This is the first time they are hearing about you.

Step 3:  Send your cover letter and resume 1 week after the introduction letter.  Make sure it’s addressed to a specific person, whether it’s the VP of Operations, Sales Manager, or the CEO.  Just make sure you don’t send it to “HR” or “To Whom It May Concern”.  The author references Hoovers (www.hoovers.com) and http://www.webopedia.com as sites that give a lot of good information about companies.  This is the second time they are hearing about you.

Step 4:  Call to follow up.  As important as this step is, as few as 1-2% of hunters do it…but it can bring your name to the top of their list.  You have to be persistant.  Keep calling until you get the person, do not leave voice mails.  If you hear the voicemail kick in, simply hang up the phone.  If you call back and get the receptionist, ask when it is likely the person you are trying to reach will be available.  When you get the person, tell them you are following up on the recent letter and resume you sent.  Let them know you know the company and think you can add to its success.  Ask when a good time would be to get together and talk.  

The author mentions if you just send cover letters and resumes alone, you have about a 1 in 254 chance of getting a job offer.  If you combine the resume and letter with a  phone call, you increase your chances to 1 in 15.  Incorporate the introduction letter, and they improve.  The book reiterates the point here to not take the ‘shotgun approach’ and blast your resume out to 10,000 different job postings.  If you do that, chances are 9,999 of them will get deleted upon receipt.  

No Experience Required

Another point that is made in the chapter is that people worry they won’t be able to land a job because they don’t have the right experience.  They won’t be able to land the marketing job because they’ve been practicing law for the past 20 years.  The candidate should focus on his skill set in this scenario, highlighting the things he can bring to the table to get the job done.  They can downplay actual job titles and history.  A good skill set can be transferred from job to job.

The rest of the chapter is more motivational.  It tells you not to beat yourself up if you can’t find a job right away.  Don’t take the job search casually.  Be persistant and change your luck by being efficient.

Continue to: Chapter 8: Do They Like Me?  Do I Like Them?

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48 Days to the Work you Love by Dan Miller:  Book Review

This is a continuation of the in-depth review of the book:  48 Days to the Work You Love by Dan Miller.  To read the Previous Chapter, follow this link: Chapter 5:  Am I an Eagle or an Owl?

Chapter 6: 6 Job Offers in 10 Days

Wow.  This may be my favorite chapter.  It contains a ton of great advice.  There are certain parts that made me realize that I am doing a lot of things wrong, which I’ll explain below.

The process of creating your resume is more important than the result of that process.  When I first read this, I disagreed, but the more I thought about it I realized it made complete sense.  The process of creating your resume allows you to discover who you are.  It will prepare you to tell your story during interviews.  Furthermore, he says we should always be updating our resume, no matter what our job situation.  Regardless of whether or not we’re secure in our job, have the job we love, already have an offer on the table, or are going to be handed the family business.    

The author recommends having an “elevator speech.”  We should have a story that we can tell people that describes ourselves in the time it would take an elevator to move from one floor to the next.  This is a similar approach I remember hearing in this podcast.  The main link to the site mentioned in the podcast can be found here.  When I’m done reading the book, I’ll see if I can put together my own elevator pitch.

A great resume provides only 10% of the process of an effective job search.  We have to understand what is involved in the other 90% to have an effective search.  In constructing our resume, we have to be careful not to list all the accompishments we’ve done.  We need to tailor the resume to be relevant to what we want to do.  My current resume may have a ton of project management experience listed on it, and I definitely want to utilize those skills in whatever job I endeavor, but I don’t want to be a project manager.  I would be better off tailoring my project management skills around the accomplishments I am trying to promote.  I utilized good planning, organization, and project management skills when working with and implementing new clients; turning around unhappy customers, gathering feedback from experts to relay to developers (these are the things I enjoy doing).  

Don’t lose the fact that the purpose of a resume is to get you an interview.  We have to be prepared of what to do after we get the interview.  We need to be ready to discuss our accomplishments with confidence.  Companies do not hire people after reading their resume.  Therefore, we don’t want our resume to be a ‘tell-all’ story that leaves the recruiter with enough information to make a decision on hiring us.  The resume should pique the recruiters interest so they want to contact you for an interview.  

Once we land the interview, we have to make sure we’re prepared for the interview.  Recruiters make their decisions on whether or not they like you within the first 3-5 minutes of meeting you.  We need to sell ourselves so the recruiter believes we are the best candidate for the position.  We need to make sure we answer these questions for the recruiter:

  •  Do I like this person?
  • Will they fit in well with the team?
  • Are they honest?
  • Are they fun to be around?

Resume Myths

The author then tells a few myth’s about resumes, which is where I realized I made a few mistakes with my own.

Myth 1:  A Good Resume and Cover Letter Will Get Me the Job
Reality:  Resumes and cover letters advertise for interviews.  It shouldn’t give enough information to allow the recruiter to make a decision on the spot.  An analogy the author made is equating your resume to an advertisement for a La-Z-Boy recliner.  The ad should tell enough information to make you want to go to the store and try out the recliner to see if you like it.  

Myth 2: The Candidate with the Best Education, Skills, and Experience Will Alaways Get the Position
Reality:   There are more factors that go into hiring a candidate than just their education, skills and experience.  I think this ties in with the questions asked above.  When it comes down to it, the real question is “Are they a good fit for this position and this company?”  The author makes the point that often the candidates with the best qualifications on paper often do not get the job.  The best analogy I could make to this statement is to look at the New York Yankees from 2001-2008.  Arguably the best team on paper from year to year, yet they still haven’t won a World Series since 2000.  Personality and character are two important factors that go into the decision of being a good candidate. 

Myth 3:  Getting a Job is Really a Matter of Who You Know or Being in the Right Place at the Right Time
Author’s Reality:  Luck is when preparation meets reality.  Create opportunities that make you a good candidate for a position.  
My Take: I agree with the author’s statement, but in my experience, especially in a tough market,  I think who we know is an extremely important factor in a job search.   I guess you can take the author’s point  in the sense that you’re always creating opportunities by keeping in touch, networking, meeting new people through organizations.

Myth 4:  Employers Appreciate Long Resumes Because More Information Saves Time Spent Interviewing
Reality:  Resumes are typically given a 30-40 second glance.  If we don’t catch the recruiters attention within that time-frame, we probably lost the interview.

Myth 5:   Always Put Your Salary Requirements and History on Your Resume
Reality:  I agree with this statement being a myth, although it’s tough on some online applications that specifically ask for it, (or during an interview, and yes you can try and re-direct the question but if they ask again you have to answer).  He points out that putting a specific dollar amount on your resume can eliminate you for consideration.  If the position is paying $76,000, and your last job paid $41,000, you will appear as to low a candidate.  On the opposite end, if you made $92,000 in your last job, they will be hesitant to interview you.  He mentions that compensation packages typically are flexible, so if a company really wants you, they may be willing to adjust the salary.  The main point is to not eliminate yourself from being considered for an interview.  

Myth 6:  Always Close a Cover Letter with “I Look Forward to Hearing From You”
Reality:  Here’s one that I’m guilty of.  Every cover letter I’ve ever sent out ended with this sentence.  Instead, we should be more assertive, with something like “I will call you Thursday morning concerning any questions we both may have and to discuss a personal meeting.”  Being persistent will pay off in the long run.  This is something I definitely need to work on.

Myth 7:  The More Resumes You Send, the More You Increase Your Chances of Getting a Job
Reality:  30-40 resumes combined with quality cover letters, and follow-up calls are more effective than a shotgun approach of sending your resume to every single job posting.  I listen to a career podcast and this is mentioned in numerous interviews with recruiters.  They all say that just clicking the ‘Apply’ button on job boards like Monster and CareerBuilder are equivalent to sending your resume into a black hole.  Chances are we won’t hear back from them.  

Myth 8:  Once You Send Your Resume, All You Can Do is Wait
Reality:  If we don’t take action, just sending out our resume is probably a waste of time.  We should always follow up by phone.  


The author moves onto discuss resume objectives, and here is another huge mistake of mine.  Here is an example of an objective he mentions: “To support the growth and profitability of an organization that provides challenge, encourages advancement, and rewards achievement with the opportunity to utilize my experience, skills, and proven abilities.”  

Here’s the objective taken from my current resume:  “Utilize my professional and educational experience to add value to a company that recognizes the characteristics of intelligence, loyalty, and integrity.”

Sound familiar?  They’re very similar.  The problem?  They tell absolutely nothing about the person.  What are his skills?  What type of job is he looking for?  If a resume has a lifespan of 30-40 seconds, the objective should tell the recipient something that would make them want to see the candidate immediately.  We’d be better off opening the resume with a skills summary.  An example:  Over 14 solid years in technology planning and management.  Experienced in strategic systems and organizing and overseeing projects.  Knowledgeable in R&D, product development, and financial management.  Team player in maintaining company policies and procedures.  Expertise with IT businesses, especially those with complex technical, logistical, and implementation challenges.”

We shouldn’t waste our time with generic lead-ins that get us sent to the bottom of the pile.  We need to use those precious 30-40 seconds to convey our value.  

Transferrable Skills

This ties in with some of the points I mentioned at the beginning of the chapter.  Our resume shouldn’t list in order all the accomplishments we’ve done over the course of our career.  Instead, we should list accomplishments in such a way that relate to the job we are seeking. In describing ourselves we need to brag.  We can’t be modest or hold back.  We need to list specific skills that make us stand out from the pack.  

This may mean we have to come up with different versions of our resume that are tailored to the job in which we are applying.  The  skills in the resume should relate to requirements in the job posting.  

Job Hopping

The author mentions how changing jobs early and often isn’t the liability it once was, and may even benefit the job seeker.  Employers are starting to favor candidates who have moved around, and may even be put off by people who have stayed too long in one job or one company where their skills have not had to keep pace with the marketplace.  Rather, if the candidate’s history shows consistent increases in salary and responsibility, job hopping may tag them as ‘hot property.’  

This point was backed by a recent EAP Change Management meeting I attended.  The speaker, who is contracted through Cigna, basically reiterated the points mentioned above.  She said recruiters do not mind job hoppers at all, and in her experience the candidate’s job hopping was not brought up in interviews.  Employers are looking for what works for them at the present time.  

Errors on Resumes

The author lists a bunch of resume bloopers on this page.  Some I thought were pretty hilarious, so I’m going to mention them here:

  • Note:  Keep this resume on top of the stack.  Use all the others to heat your house.
  • Referees available upon request.
  • Work experience:  Dealing with customers’ conflicts taht arouse.
  • I am a rabid typist.
  • Proven ability to track down and correct erors.
  • I am loyal to my employer at all costs.  Please feel free to respond to my resume on my office voice mail.
  • On a cover letter:  “I’ve updated my resume so it’s more appalling to employers.”
  • Experienced in all faucets of accounting.
  • Worked party-time as an office assistant.  


The author mentions the fact that education isn’t everything.  10 years after graduation, 80% of college graduates are working in something totally unrelated to their degree.  There are two reasons we go to school:  

  • To get a piece of paper so someone will give us a job
  • Personal development

If we only go back to school for the first reason, we will be disappointed.  The second reason can never be taken away.  However, personal development doesn’t have to take place in a classroom.  It can happen anywhere:  charities, books, clubs, etc.


Continue to: Chapter 7: Finding Your Unique Path

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some resume tips

Since my current company is moving to Pittsburgh our HR department is doing a great job with helping us beef up our resumes and interviewing skills. We acquired a larger company and some of our jobs are redundant or no longer needed, or some of us just plain don’t want to move to Pittsburgh.

Anywho, below are the tips that I took away from the meeting on building your resume:

-Resumes should steer away from being traditional (chronological) and move to being more functional.  Instead of having sections for each job and what you did within them, you should list all relevant tasks/experience together towards the top of your resume.  List the most important tasks/experiences at the top, and the less important ones towards the bottom of your list. At the bottom of your resume list the jobs and their dates.  This makes it easier for them to read as they don’t have to jump reading your experiences from job to job…they care more about what you did that’s relevant to the position you are applying for.

-List the college you went to, but don’t list the year you graduated.  I believe this has to do with figuring out your age based on the year you graduated.  If you leave it out, they can’t discriminate against that.
-Cover letters aren’t as important.  They are secondary to the resume.  Most HR people don’t even read cover letters, and sometimes just throw them away.  I still think it’s good to have to just in case, but she did make a point that they look at the resume well before they glance at a cover letter.
-Not all companies have programs to filter resumes.  However, if you want to get past those programs, modify your resume to include words that they mentioned in the job description for the job you are applying for.

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