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Preparation for Job Search, Career Change or Career DevelopmentClick to expand this section

Before starting out on a Job Search, a Career Change or Career Development, preparation is necessary and may be the difference between success and failure. We’ve included a number of things you can do to be more prepared when the time comes.

Information Interviews Click to expand this section

One of the best ways to gather information about occupations or industries that interest you is to talk to people working in the field.  This process is called an information or informational interview. If you are considering changing positions or companies, consider an informal information interview, aka “grabbing a coffee”, “going for a beer” or “catching up” with past coworkers or current colleagues. Often, those you meet with casually are good resources for upcoming positions.

In an information interview, no job is on the table, so people are often more comfortable sharing information then they would be otherwise.

Some objectives of information interviews:

  • broaden your professional network
  • obtain advice on where you might fit in
  • access the most up-to-date career information
  • identify your professional strengths and weaknesses
  • investigate careers, gain insight into a career field and clarify your career goal
  • discover employment opportunities that are not advertised
  • build confidence for job interviews
  • learn the jargon and important issues in the field

Be clear, the purpose of an information interview is to obtain information, not to get a job at this time. Before starting an information interview process, you will need to have your resume ready.

Consider the following flow for an information interview for a new industry.

First, focus on the person:

  • Who are they, what is their background
  • How did they get there – their career path

Second, ask questions about the Company/ Industry.  Be sure to not ask questions that you could have easily found answers to with some research.

Third, focus on You:

  • Tell a little about yourself.
  • From what I have told you about my skills, experience and education, what job titles should I be targeting?

Finally, close the interview.

Remember – You asked for this meeting, therefore you are the timekeeper.

  • Draw the meeting to a close
  • Thank them for their time
  • Ask “Is there someone else you would recommend I speak with?
  • If yes, may I mention that you suggested I call?

After, be sure to follow-up. Consider sending a Thank You Card.  While you could send an email or a letter, a card has a lot more impact.

Make sure you check out the some sample questions from the Informational Interviews Sample Questions Section below.

Information Interview Sample QuestionsClick to expand this section

This is a small sample of Information Interview questions. Be sure to search out other websites that contain sample questions. Think of what you would like to find out that can’t be easily found through your research.  Be curious about the person and their company. 

Prepare a list of questions for the informational interview.  Choose those that apply to your situation:

  • How did you get to your current position?
  • What do you do in your position?
  • What does a typical day in this position look like?
  • What training or education is required for this type of work?
  • What personal qualities or abilities are important to being successful in this job?
  • What part of this job do you find most satisfying? Most challenging?
  • What have been the biggest rewards in your career?
  • What are some of your biggest obstacles on the job?
  • From your perspective, what are the problems you see working in this field?
  • How did you get your job?
  • If you could do things all over again, would you choose the same path for yourself? Why or why not?
  • What would you change?
  • Is there a demand for people in this occupation?
  • How do you see jobs in this field changing in the future?
  • What's the best advice you could give someone looking to get into your field?
  • What are the basic prerequisites for jobs in this field?
  • What entry level jobs are best for learning as much as possible?
  • What do you, or your company, look for when hiring people?
  • What types of training do companies offer persons entering this field?
  • What opportunities for advancement are there in this field?
  • What are the salary ranges for various levels in this field?
    Which professional journals and organizations would help me learn more about this field?
  • What do you think of the experience I've had so far in terms of entering this field?
  • With the information you have about my education, skills, and experience, what other fields or jobs would you suggest I research further before I make a final decision?
  • What do you think of my resume? Do you see any problem areas? How would you suggest I change it? (Note: you would need to have previously been asked for your resume at this point or you could request that they take a quick look at it and provide you with feedback)
  • Who do you know that I should talk to next? When I call him/her, may I mention that you suggested I call/use your name?

ResumesClick to expand this section

Resumes and cover letters are more important than ever.  The days of responding to all job ads with one resume, are gone.  While you could still send that one resume out, you would not likely be successful in obtaining a position.

Today you need to create a resume targeted to each employer you are interested in working with and the specific job you are applying for.  While it is more work initially, it will pay off in the long run.  To create a targeted resume, you will need to research the companies or organizations you are interested in.  Check out the Finding Work page for ideas.  Consider conducting information interviews (see sections above) to find out more information about an industry or specific position that interests you.

To create an effective resume it needs to be targeted. A targeted resume focuses on the specific job you would like to obtain and the employers’ needs.  It is more important to focus on the employers’ needs and how you are a match for those needs, rather than telling them how you are the best person for the job.

How do I know what the employers’ needs are?

  1. Review the job ad and look at what skills the employer is looking for. 
    1. Are any words repeated?  If so, they are probably important to the employer.
    2. Think of your work history. 
      1. Do you have examples that would demonstrate how you have used those skills?
      2. If so, write them down in the SAR format:
        • This was the situation, problem challenge or task I faced (S), this is the action I took (A), and this was the result (R).
      3. These SAR stories can be used in an interview or be reduced down to an Accomplishment Statement for use in your Cover Letter or the Work/Employment History section of your resume.
  2. Research the employers’ website.  Often, they will have sections such as “About Us” or “Our People” or “Our Mission”.  These sections may give you some insight into the company, where they are planning to take the company or how they regard their people.  You can often identify the type of employee or the qualities in an employee that they are looking for.  For more information about researching an industry or a company, check out the Finding Work Page.

Now that I know what the employers’ needs are, how do I use them in my resume and cover letter?

Address those needs in both your cover letter and resume.

For example, the employer may have requested a team player with five years experience in the job ad.  If you just copy the words from the job ad directly into your cover letter, I am a team player with five years experience, you will not only bore the employer but you won’t stand out from anyone else who has similar experience.  Instead, try something like: At XYZ company I started in x position and moved to y position over an eight year period working with an x# person team.

In your resume, make sure that the dates are clear and the accomplishment statements you list show how you have been a team player.

Compiling your Resume

The purpose of a resume is to obtain an interview.  You are represented by words on a piece of paper, your resume. 

  • Does it say what you want it to say about you? 
  • Can someone read that paper and get a feel for who you are and what you have accomplished to date in your career? 
  • Will it make them want to ask questions or want to meet you to find out more? 
  • If it doesn’t, then it is time to get to work.

One of the fastest ways to compile a resume is through Accomplishment Statements. 

Accomplishment statements are a one or two line statement regarding something you did that improved a situation, solved a problem or made a contribution.  They can reflect the type of worker you are and show what value you added to your previous employers.  Accomplishment Statements are written proof of the results, achievements and successes of your experience. 

These statements can be used as bullet points under your work or employment history section and demonstrate your skills more clearly than just listing your job duties.

How do I write an Accomplishment Statement?
Step 1 – Create stories about your work history in the form of a SAR

(S) This was the situation, problem challenge or task I faced
(A) This is the action or step I took or the technique I used
(R) This was the result

Step 2 – If this doesn’t happen easily, to help you create your SAR stories, research interview questions that you may be asked, specifically those that start with Tell me about a time… or  Have you…

Step 3 - Review your work, volunteer or community history and think of an example for each interview question. Remember to structure your examples in the form of a SAR story to ensure you have all the pieces included.

Step 4 - Create as many SAR stories as you can.  Some will be good examples to use in an interview and/or turn into an accomplishment statement for use on your resume.  Others could be a great story  but not suitable for an accomplishment statement.  Some you will not choose to use while talking to an employer, as it doesn’t highlight you in a positive way.  The more examples you create, the more you have to choose from.

Step 5 - Take the most relevant SAR stories and reduce them down to a one or two line statement to create an accomplishment statement.  Make sure to: 

  • Start the statement with an action word
  • Be clear and concise
  • Quantify everything that can be quantified
  • Focus the statement on the needs of, the employer or ensure it will be of interest to the employer.

    For example:
  • Consulted with the design team to revise product manufacturing plans which resulted in a reduction of start up capital costs of $275,000. 
  • Led a team of eight employees through implementation of a new design policy aimed at improving project delivery efficiencies. Successful implementation resulted in an 12% increase in on-time-delivery statistics.
  • Working in partnership with existing and potential customers for the analysis of business processes/workflows and assist with developing change management procedures that leverage the proposed GIS functionality.
  • Ability to write technical reports and “how to” documents.
  • Performed UL power quality tests for lab certification using and constructing load banks with power analyzing test equipment.

Types of Resumes

There are three basic types of resumes, Chronological, Functional and Combination. The type employers prefer is Chronological as it flows from your most recent work history backwards in time and is the most commonly used.  The Functional resume is skills based and is used less often as dates of employment are not included. The Combination resume is effective for those changing careers or starting a career as it combines the Functional and Chronological resumes.  To learn more about types of resumes go to the Job Links Page and check out some of the many resume websites.

Cover LettersClick to expand this section

As with resumes, your cover letter needs to be targeted to meet the employers’ needs.  Review the job ad closely to see what specific needs the employer is looking for and ensure the cover letter addresses those needs.

If a colleague or someone who works at the company has referred you, be sure to name drop [mention the name of the person who referred you] in the first paragraph.  Refer to the Targeted Cover Letter for the rest of the letter.  When someone refers you, it increases the chances of obtaining the position.

Targeted Cover Letter - Usually Responding to an Advertisement or Posting

Address the letter to a person.  If you don’t know their name, research it or phone and get it.  If you are not able to obtain it, address it to: Dear Hiring Manager.

Be sure to review the job advertisement or posting carefully and determine what the employer’s needs or requirements are and address them (e.g. professional affiliations such as ASTTBC, academic qualifications, skills, qualities, etc.) This makes the task of matching you to the job easier, especially if the initial screening is done by a human resources department. Look for skills or qualities mentioned more than once, as these often indicate something that is important to the organization. 

Your opening line needs to catch their attention.  Avoid old opening standards such as I saw your ad / … or I am responding to your posting of…  After reading a few of these, the reader gets pretty sick of them.  Get creative - start with a strong sentence that demonstrates why they should be interested in you. 
Explain briefly why you would like to work for this employer and demonstrate that you know something about the company.

Sell yourself - give a summary of your relevant experience, skills and education, and how they meet the employer's needs/requirements. Highlight your strongest skills, accomplishments, personal traits and values (use SAR statements [Link to SAR Statements] and examples); demonstrate your company research. This is a chance to outline your skills as they relate to the job. Use descriptive, positive, action verbs to describe what you can do.

In your closing paragraph, restate what you can do for the company and be sure to thank the employer for their attention or consideration given. Indicate that your resume is enclosed (here or earlier in the letter). State your desire for action; either a follow up telephone call or meeting to further discuss your qualifications; include your phone number and e-mail address; indicate when you are available.  Inform them when you will follow up (e.g. I will contact you by (date) to inquire about the status of my application). You will then avoid the frustration of waiting for a reply.

Letter of Inquiry (aka First Contact, Cold Contact or Introduction Letter)

If you are interested in an organization but there is no position posted, consider writing a letter of inquiry and send it along with your resume.  Be sure to address how your skills can assist the employer’s goals and needs.

InterviewsClick to expand this section

Interviews have changed in recent years.  More and more employers are starting to use a behavioral interviewing style.  Behavioural interviewing (also known as behavioural event, competency, situational or behavioural based interview) is based on the premise that your past behaviour is the best predictor of your future behaviour.

Behavioural questions usually start with Tell me about…or Describe… or "Give me an example of..." 
A behavioural based response requires specific examples of past events that demonstrate skills and abilities rather than responding to a hypothetical situation. Employers want you to provide detailed accounts of what you have done, said, thought and felt in situations, similar to situations you will encounter in the job you are applying for. You can use relevant examples from your current job, a previous role or a situation outside of work altogether, such as volunteering or participation in sports or other activities. Interviewers will be interested in the outcome of the situation, whether there was anything you learned from the experience, etc.

Often, a position is assessed for the skills/competencies and characteristics that relate to job success. Interview questions are then developed based on these skills and competencies. Many times, all candidates will be asked the same questions and notes will be taken in order to evaluate candidates.

There are two basic levels of competencies: technical and behavioural. The first level, Technical Competencies are predominately about acquired knowledge and technical abilities and skills. These competencies are often easier to see, train for and develop. Examples of technical competencies include knowledge of applicable codes and standards, industry best practices, and the application of tested and tried industry training standards.

The second level of competencies are behavioural competencies, such as communication skills or team skills. These competencies can be harder to see and develop but are key indicators of how an individual approaches his/her work.

For example, instead of asking, “What is good Customer Service?” a candidate would be asked, “Describe a situation when you have provided superior Customer Service. What were the circumstances? What were your specific actions? What was the result?”

The following is a list of some of the competencies employers may be looking for:

  • ability to influence others;
  • interpersonal skills and competence;
  • ability to grow and adapt, flexible;
  • communication skills;
  • level of commitment and motivation
  • organizational ability
  • problem solving and decision making
  • creativity and Innovation
  • financial and commercial awareness
  • leadership and management
  • personal attributes
  • team building
  • conflict management
  • self and team development
  • career motivation
  • trustworthiness & ethics

Prepare for these types of questions by creating examples that show how your experiences have allowed you to develop specific skills and how these could benefit the employer. The SAR technique can help you do that - SAR - Situation or Task, Action, Result.  See the Resume section above for examples of how to create SAR Stories.

To see more examples of behavioral and other interview questions, see ASTTBC’s Interview Questions section above.  For websites on behavioral based interviews, please see the Job Links Page.

Pre-Screening interviews

Telephone interviews are being used as a pre-screening tool by many employers.  It is far less expensive to ask you a few questions over the phone that could quickly weed you out from the stack of applicants than to have you come in for a face-to-face interview.  How prepared are you for a telephone interview?

Preparation for a telephone interview, could include the following:

  • a list of all employers who have been sent your resume, including names of key contacts in the organization.
  • your resume
  • your “cheat sheet”
    • your cheat sheet should contain:
      • the important points you don't want to forget to mention to a potential employer.
      • anything you may stumble over or have a tendency to forget - write it out

As a telephone interview is a real interview, being prepared for questions you may be asked will benefit you.  See examples of behavioral and other interview questions in the Interview Questions section above.

Day of the Interview

Prepare items to take with you to the interview such as:

  • Three copies of your resume (on quality bond paper)
  • Copies of your References page

Arrive at the interview no more than 10 – 15 minutes ahead of time.

At the Interview

Employers often want to see how you will react under stress at an interview, as you will likely respond in a similar way on the job.  Many times you will be interviewed by a panel of 2 – 5 people.  Make sure you make eye contact with all the interviewers, not just those asking the questions.  Obtain a business card from each interviewer to help you with names and titles.  These will also be useful when you sit down to write your thank you card or letter following the interview.

On the spot tests, assignments or presentations to demonstrate your skills are not uncommon. Sometimes you will be notified and given an opportunity to prepare but it may come as a surprise.

If you’ve not been involved in job search for a while, it is easy to dismiss these employers as wanting to take advantage of you.  However, you need to remember that it costs employers a substantial amount of money for the first six months of your employment, no matter your skill level.  Employers want to ensure you are the right person for the position and these tools are ways to weed out the non-serious candidates.

The more prepared you are, the more confident you will be going into the interview and more satisfied with the end result.  As well, you will be less likely to be taken by surprise by an unusual question such as If you were on animal what kind of animal would you be?, followed by Why?

So how do you prepare for unusual questions? At first glance these type of questions may seem silly and many a failed candidate has voiced that opinion. However, if you think about why an interviewer might ask that question, you may see a method behind the madness. 

For example, you apply to an outside sales job where the skills are obtain your own sales leads, handle with efficiency the objection that the other side may raise, and bring the conversation or the sales pitch back onto track with ease. Your answer to the animal question is “Lamb” and “I enjoy grazing on the grass and looking at the scenery”  as the answer to the question. Do you think that’s the type of animal that embodies the qualities that this employer is likely looking for? Can you understand why the employer might not see you as a fit for the position?  It is likely that the employer is looking for an animal that possesses qualities that would be suitable for the position such as assertiveness, cunning, eager, proactive. Not qualities we would associate with the lamb grazing in the field. While this example has been exaggerated for the purpose of understanding, you would be surprised what people will blurt out when asked similar questions.

Remember your “gut reaction” to these questions is usually what employers are looking for, so the more prepared you are, the more likely your “reaction” will be a positive one for you.

When the interview is winding down, don’t forget to ask the interviewer questions.  This can help you to assess if the position would be a good fit for you and shows the employer that you are interested in working with them.  Consider asking questions about:

  • the work environment
  • what kind of training you might receive
  • why the last person left the job
  • why the interviewer likes their job, etc.

Leave salary and benefit questions until the end of the second interview or after a job has been offered.

Closing the Interview

Be sure to close the interview by asking some questions such as:

  • What are the next steps in the recruiting process?
  • When will a decision be made?
  • Will all candidates be contacted?
  • Do you need any additional information about my candidacy? (Or briefly share information that adds to your candidacy.)

This is also your last opportunity to sell yourself to the employer at the interview.  Let them know why you feel you are the right candidate for this position.  If you feel there is some hesitancy about your qualifications, address it.  For example, let the employer know that while you don’t have experience in “X”, that your experience in “Y” will help you adapt quickly (or whatever is pertinent to the situation.).

For interview websites, go to the Job Links Page


Thank You Cards, Letters or EmailsClick to expand this section

Thank You Letters following a job interview are the most common type of follow up letter.  This is often your last chance to sell yourself and make a positive impression on the employer. 

Thank You Cards allow you to:

  • show determination and attention to detail.
  • express your interest in and enthusiasm for the company and the position. Try to be specific about why you are interested and how you are a good fit for the organization.
  • have an opportunity to address any issues or questions that came up during the interview that you feel you did not answer fully.
  • highlight a key point from your interview that you believe the interviewer will remember, and therefore remember you. Additionally, if you meet with more than one person, consider sending them all thank you letters, each one a bit different; you may not know exactly who in the group will be making the decisions.
  • remind the employer of your relevant experience and skills and how those meet the employers needs, issues or challenges.

Most importantly, thank you cards or letters allow you to distinguish yourself from the other candidates.  Surprisingly, many candidates will not send a thank you card or letter. 

Thank You Card, Letter or Email?

Once you’ve been to the interview, you have an idea of the corporate culture.  Take that into account when making your decision.

An e-mail is fast and easy to do, however, think about how many e-mails you receive in a day.  An e-mail from a job applicant is not likely the first thing a busy employer going to open.  A letter can be put together fairly quickly, but how much do you really need to say?  How many standard letter envelopes doesn't employer get in a day? Where does the letter end up after the employer has read it - usually the garbage can.  A thank you card, especially a handwritten one, is an unusual shape that is not regularly seen in business and is likely to be one of the first opened.  Where does a thank you card end up after it's been read - often on someone's desk, keeping you fresh in their mind.

Sending a card does not ensure you will get the position, but may give you the edge you need. 

Follow Up Letters

Whether you are following up after sending a resume or sending a card to say thank you for the interview, but I am no longer interested in the position, follow-up letters demonstrate professional manners and leave a good impression of you with employers.

Proofread, Proofread and Proofread some more…

Whether you are writing your resume, your cover letter and email or any other type of correspondence, make sure your correspondence conveys a professional image by ensuring it is free of typos and grammatical errors.

For some links to Cover Letter websites, see the Job Links Page

ResourcesClick to expand this section

If you are unsure where to start, acknowledging that you need some assistance is often a first step.  But where do you find that assistance?  Career Coaches, Job Finding Clubs, Employment Counselling Services and/or products are available and can help you with career exploration, or preparation for, and implementation of, job search.

If you are unemployed, many of these resources are available at no cost through federal and provincial government sponsored programs.  These programs can help you with writing your resume or cover letter, interview preparation and practice, as well as, job search support.

If you are employed and contemplating a career change or looking for another job, consider hiring a career coach or counsellor for assistance or go to your local libraries career resources section and ask a librarian for help.

Check out the Job Links Page for more resources.