Career Coach Q & A
Our career coaching and transition experts have compiled answers to some of job seekers' most commonly asked questions. Have an inquiry that's not addressed here? Contact us.

How long does a typical job transition take?
I am having trouble contacting people and getting them to return calls.
What is the best way to search for a job out-of-state?
How important is the Internet in my job search?
I hate networking. It feels like I am begging people for a job.
How can I make my resume more powerful?
How should I prepare my references?
How can I be sure about a company before I accept an offer?
How do I answer the salary questions when they come up in the interview?
What if I am not sure what I want to do next?
How should I prepare to market myself?
How do I develop my target list?
I am interviewing but not getting job offers, and I can't figure out why.
What is the best way to prepare for a behavioral interview?
What is the most effective way to conduct my job search?
What is the hidden job market, and how do I find it?



How long does a typical job transition take?
The average job search, including all levels, now takes six to 12 months, according to U.S. Department of Labor statistics. For senior executives, the averages can be much longer. The length of a job search is directly related to the amount of time dedicated to the search and how well-organized and focused the process is. You should treat your job search as a job.


I am having trouble contacting people and getting them to return calls.
If you call early in the morning, around lunchtime and at the end of the day, you're more likely to catch your contact at his or her desk and avoid the "gatekeeping" assistant. If you do not have the direct number, try using the company's automated phone directory. Call a digit up or down, and after apologizing, ask to be transferred to the person's direct line. Make friends with the assistant and try to get him or her to arrange a good time for you to call. Use the contact's e-mail address, if you have it, and mention you will be calling. You can then say "Mr. ____ is expecting my call." Use the name of your networking referral as an opening.


What is the best way to search for a job out-of-state?
Looking for a job in another region or country is challenging. When targeting a geographical area, it helps to leverage any connections and contacts living there to help you with networking and local information. Research the cost-of-living comparisons, housing market, schools and general job market. Check out regional job boards and local recruiters, and identify the fastest-growing companies in the area that are related to your industry background. Consolidate trips by scheduling as many interviews and networking meetings as possible.


How important is the Internet in my job search?
Most people start with the Internet when they are looking to make a career move. There are thousands of job-posting sites and millions of jobs online. With the rise of automation in the search process, you would imagine this is where most of the jobs must be found. However, studies and surveys indicate that 60 percent to 80 percent or more of all jobs are still filled through word-of-mouth and networking. It is still who you know that counts. The higher-level the position, the more the networking pays off. Use the Internet to find and refine your targets, and to research companies, industries and executives. The world of information is invaluable when doing your due diligence.


I hate networking. It feels like I am begging people for a job.
First of all, you are not asking for a job when you network. You are asking for advice, contacts or information. Start with your inner circle of contacts and educate them about your background, skills and what you are looking for next. When you initiate contact, make it clear what you want from the person, how they can be of assistance, and the next step. Reach out to those you have helped in the past. They will feel honored that you are requesting their assistance. Make sure that you keep your network updated on your progress and status.


How can I make my resume more powerful?
An executive resume needs an executive summary, core competencies and quantifiable accomplishments. "Quantified" means that it details how you made your company money, saved money, increased efficiency, reduced costs, etc. Use numbers and percentages. Your resume will have about 15 to 30 seconds to catch the attention of a prospective employer.


How should I prepare my references?
Identify the top three to five people who know you well and can speak knowledgeably about your professional and personal attributes. References who hold senior positions often carry more credibility. Make sure they are positive about you and can be articulate and effective salespeople for you. Send a letter or e-mail thanking them when they agree to serve as a reference. Include a copy of your resume, give them a description of the position you are being considered for, and tell them the reasons you are leaving your current job. Call them and let them know that they may be getting a reference call, and ask them to let you know when they are contacted.


I am worried about making the wrong choice. How can I be sure about a company before I accept an offer?
It is always important to evaluate prospective employers thoroughly. One critical area is the management team. Visit the company's Web site for bios and information about the management team and board. Use online resources to tap into publicly available information sites, such as Yahoo! People Search or Hoovers, or use your network to find people who have worked with them. Check out financial information through public records and, depending on the position you are seeking, ask to see the financial records. Find out who is backing the company financially and about the structure of the financing. Research the product or service, competition and marketing strategy.


How do I answer the salary questions when they come up in the interview?
Some of the most dreaded questions in interviews are those regarding your salary history or expectations. This often comes up before the actual offer is made. In many cases, it is preferable to delay the discussion about compensation until you have done your research and are sure you are interested in taking the position.

Examples of salary questions and answers:

Q. What salary do you want? What is it going to take to get you on board? What compensation do you have in mind?

A. Salary is only one part of the total compensation package. I would have to know more about your plans for equity participation, deferred compensation, pension, benefits and other specifics to answer the question.

Q. What kind of total package do you have in mind for this position?

A. Let's see how I can make you money or save you money, and then I'm sure you will be willing to make an investment in me that we can both agree to. I believe, and I'm sure you agree, that salary should be based on the responsibilities of the position and what that person can contribute. I would like to learn more about the responsibilities of the position so I can better discuss what this job is worth.

Q. What do you see the job being worth, based on the responsibilities you envision for this position? What are you making now? What is your current compensation? What are your past earnings?

Often, you may be pressured to answer this type of question at some point in the interview process. It is better to have the first figure thrown out by the other party. Make sure you have thought through your compensation history, and be prepared to discuss your total compensation figures, average of highest earnings over recent years, or range of what you would realistically consider. Try to keep the answer general until an offer has been put on the table:

A. My previous total compensation has been in the range of the high or low $800,000s. I am open to discussing specific compensation issues after we determine the scope of responsibilities and accountabilities of the position, and mutually decide I am the right person for this position.

If a recruiter asks these questions, you should be prepared to answer in terms of your total compensation. If you are a serious candidate for a position he or she is recruiting, this person will be negotiating on your behalf. He or she has a personal stake in getting you the best compensation possible. Do your research on the company, compensation studies and surveys related to the position and industry.



What if I am not sure what I want to do next?
Any good job search begins with a thorough self-assessment. Ask yourself these questions, and spend some time reflecting on the answers:

What are my values?
What guides me as I make my decisions? Money, making a difference, security, challenge?
What are my professional and personal priorities and objectives for the next few years?
Where do I want to be in my career in the next five and 10 years?
What are my core strengths? What's my value proposition?
What provides meaning and purpose in my life?
Where does my career fit into my vision of life?

Take advantage of ECC's online self-assessment tools to help you decide the next step in your career.



How should I prepare to market myself?
Prepare your marketing strategy, incorporating goals and objectives. This includes listing target positions, industries and organizations; desired organizational characteristics; geographic preferences; and compensation range. Narrow the target list based on a realistic assessment of your value in the industries, organizations and roles that interest you. As a rule of thumb, focus on a maximum of two or three industries and 10 to 20 organizations. Choose another 10 organizations for a backup plan.

Part of the marketing strategy is defining yourself as the product:

What do you have to offer?
What are the key skills and attributes that make you stand out?
What is your value in the marketplace?
What themes or messages convey what you have to offer professionally?
How will you distribute yourself on the market? Executive recruiters, network referrals, venture capitalist, selected job boards?
What differentiates you from other candidates? What's unique about you?



How do I develop my target list?
Identify a target list of executive recruiters in your field or industry, and send them your resume. Research the annual reports, press coverage and industry news on the identified company targets. Ask yourself these questions about the industry:

What product or service does this industry offer?
Who are the major players and up-and-comers?
What are the critical success factors for a company in this industry?
What type of talent does the industry attract, hire and need?

Ask these questions about each company:

What differentiates this company from others in the industry?
What are this company's culture, values and priorities?
Who are its leaders (chief executive officer, chief financial officer, chief operating officer), and what do they stand for?
What is the company's reputation?
Would you be happy working there?

Identify contacts within the targeted companies, and determine the best approach to get a meeting or at least a phone discussion. Be prepared with information from your research on the company. Have questions and thoughts about how your expertise might help solve one of the company's current problems.

Post your resume on appropriate online databases that are confidential and appropriate for executive candidates. Read target-industry news and periodicals to stay current with what's happening and where opportunities may develop.



I am interviewing but not getting job offers, and I can't figure out why.
As you move your action plan forward, try to get feedback whenever possible to make midcourse corrections and improve your results. Ask yourself:

What is and isn't working?
Where can I improve?
Are there gaps in my performance that need filling?
Am I being realistic?
Am I interviewing well?
Do I need to review my references for problems?
Am I devoting my time to the job search as if it were my job?
Am I keeping enough "irons in the fire" at all times, or am I waiting for each opportunity to play out?
Am I meeting the timeline I set for my search?
Should I go to plan B?



What is the best way to prepare for a behavioral interview?
Behavioral interviewing is a process made popular by industrial psychologists back in the 1970s. It is a style of interviewing that forces you to answer questions that demonstrate your knowledge and competencies based on past experience. The process is based on the assumption that past performance is predictive of future performance.

Typical skill sets examined using this type of interviewing include leadership, motivation, interpersonal skills, decision making, problem solving, strategic planning, critical thinking skills, team building, and the ability to persuade and influence.

To prepare for a behavioral interview, review your accomplishments, and focus on answering questions that start with:

"Give me an example of how you have ..."
"Tell me about a situation where you ..."
"How did you deal with a situation in your past role where ..."

Look closely at the job description and specific skills required for the role. Analyze your past experience and background, matching your skills to the necessary competencies. Identify specific examples or situations that demonstrate those skills. Develop your responses using the "SAR" model:

Stating the situation or problem
Outlining the Action you took
Defining the Results or outcome

The behavioral interview provides a wonderful opportunity to show your strengths and abilities, if you prepare and practice.



What is the most effective way to conduct my job search?
Networking is the most effective job-search method. All research and studies indicate that 80 percent or more of all senior-level opportunities come from networking. Remember that networking is a two-way street, and establishing a network takes time.

Start building your network while you are actively employed. Be sure to identify what you want from your contact, such as information about a specific company or a connection to a specific person. Have a strategy and clearly defined goals.



What is the hidden job market, and how do I find it?
The "hidden job market" refers to jobs that are not published or visible in the job market. These are the jobs that have not gone to search, or perhaps those that a company has not realized it needs yet. Finding this type of opportunity requires networking and research.

Networking questions:

1. Do you know any companies in the _____________ industry?
2. What sort of companies do you think would be interested in experience and skills like mine?
3. Do you think my job objectives are realistic?
4. What general trends do you see in the ___________ industry?
5. How did you get into this field?
6. What do you like most about your job in ______ industry?
7. What do you like least about your job in ________ industry?
8. Are there any particular companies that are leaders in this industry?
9. What have you heard about the _____________ company?
10. Are there any other types of industries that you think I should explore?
11. How do you see the jobs in this industry changing over the next 10 years?
12. Can you think of anyone else I might talk with to get more information about __________?