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  • Writer's picturePhyllis Brust, PhD

10 Great Job Hunting Tips

You can become a better job candidate with these interviewing, resume and cover-letter tips. I guarantee you will find something you haven’t read before. Some of the tips will help you tailor your application and stand out. Others will help you navigate some of the thornier interview questions.

I’ve talked to hundreds of employers about who they hire—and who they don’t. That includes employers from business, government, health care and the nonprofit sectors hiring teachers, professors, doctors, computer programmers, attorneys, salespersons, post-docs, students, veterans, career-changers—you name it. They agree: Jobseekers must prove that they are qualified.  They must also differentiate themselves from other candidates to show they are the best candidate.

Here’s an example: I volunteered at a job fair to help veterans. A truck driver was having no luck finding a job. His resume included that he had worked for more than 8 years with the same company. I asked him, “What are you proudest of having done on the job?” He said that he never had one accident or one ticket. I said that needed to be on his resume. It made a difference and he received job offers. (And he sent me a nice note.)

By explicitly including his accident-free career, employers saw that he was good at his job. He proved that he was an accomplished driver. His application stood out and  he leapfrogged to the top of the hiring list. That's the same for most fields.


1. Try starting the first sentence of your cover letter with “As a” or “With a.” Those phrases force the jobseeker to talk about his/her qualifications from the get-go. It’s estimated that employers read cover letters for 30 seconds, so start strong.

Most people start cover letters with, “I am applying for the position of accountant….” or “My name is…” Boring! You could instead start with, “As an experienced accountant with three years of experience in taxation and auditing, I am applying for the position of…” [take your cues from the job description]. This technique works with all jobs. “With a strong background in customer service, marketing and social media I am applying for the position of admissions counselor at Skye University.” From the first line, people will know you are qualified.

2. Employers love when prospective employees tell them, “I hit the ground running.” It sounds cliche but it works. Employers want fast learners who won’t need a lot of hand holding. This can go in a resume, cover letter or said at the interview.

3. At the end of the interview summarize why you are an excellent candidate. This is often right after the interviewer says, “Do you have any questions for me?” You can say, ‘Yes, I do, but first let me tell you why I should be hired” (or “why I’m the best candidate for the job”). I learned this from an old boss, Arthur Taylor the former president of CBS and also Muhlenberg College. He helped many students to find jobs.

4. Answer the question, “What are your strengths?” using this formula: Choose three points with an example for each. The first two should be specific to the tasks of the job. The last could be a value. Here’s what I mean: Suppose you are an investigative newspaper reporter applying for a new job. The first could be: “I am an excellent writer especially on deadline,” followed by an example. The second could be, “I’m also a tenacious researcher,” again, with an example. You have just shown that you can do the job. Now, here’s what I mean by values—a trait or “soft” skill that is needed for the job. For example, I thrive on the team atmosphere of a newsroom.

Contrast that with someone who answers, for example, “I work hard, am dedicated and have a great sense of humor.” It is a weaker answer. Those qualities, while noble, are so general, they can be applied to any job (even if they are in the job description). First prove you can do the job. Add any of those qualities last.

5. It’s a gift if the interviewer says during the interview that he or she doesn’t think you would be a good fit, but you won’t think so. The interviewer is giving you a chance to change his/her mind. You can reply with, “Let me tell you what I bring to the table.” Or, “Here’s why I would be a great addition to your organization.”

6. Practice interview questions you might get asked ahead of time. Talk to yourself out loud or practice with someone. Anticipate questions. Know your resume line-for-line—you can be asked anything on it. Make sure you understand the job description. What questions might you be asked?  Interviewees are probably familiar with being asked about their strengths, weaknesses, etc. There’s another style of questioning, called behavioral interviewing.  It includes asking the job seeker to give an example of where the candidate failed; where the person was a leader; an example of a problem he/she solved and what role the interviewee played on a team.

7. Be careful if asked where you plan to be in five years. This question is a minefield.  The employer asks it primarily to see how long you will stay with the organization and whether you are serious about the career field. You don’t have a crystal ball. One way to answer is to say you are focusing on your next position and add why the job appeals to you. This is not the place to say that you expect to go to law school, join a circus or relocate to Seattle unless those are somehow germane to the job.

8. If asked to give a weakness, give a former weakness. (The interviewer could then follow-up and ask you for a current weakness, but they almost never do; but be prepared if asked.) For example, “I wasn’t good at public speaking, so I’ve taken every opportunity to give presentations and even joined a public speaking club.  Most recently, I gave a welcome presentation to new employees.” Never say, “I work too hard,” or, “I have trouble saying no.” Those never work and do not accomplish the point of the question, which is, “How do you assess your abilities and what are you doing to improve any weaknesses?”

9. Stay poised if you get off track during the interview? Don’t hesitate to start over or check with the interviewer to make sure you are answering the question. "Let me start that answer again.” You can even smile. Or, “I can be more concise…”

Let’s go back to the truck driver for the last one:

10. Be accomplishments-oriented on your resume. That means to think about how you enhanced your employer, school or volunteer site. Did you design a program, write a training manual, create an onboarding program for new employees? You can even put in if you are considered the “go-to person” who always knows how to get things done.

If possible, quantify what you did. For example, “increased class size by 15%," “developed a purchasing program that saved $11,000/year,” “increased revenues by 20%,” etc. [A hint: A small number can sound stronger if you use a percentage instead.]


If you have relevant volunteer experience, consider an Experience (or Relevant Experience) section on your resume instead of separate Employment and Volunteer sections. An Employment section only contains paid jobs. An Experience section can include paid or unpaid positions.

Fine Print

These tips can help you present your qualifications strongly and concisely. However, they may not apply in all situations and also take practice. Do not do anything you are uncomfortable with. (Also see the Disclaimer below.)

I hope you enjoyed reading this post and found the tips helpful. Good luck with your job hunt.


About the Author

Phyllis Brust, PhD is an award-winning career counselor and writer. Phyllis has helped organizations including Fortune 500 companies, leading non-profits, NGOs and the US government to find candidates. But her heart is with animals. She is a graduate of the University of Pennsylvania (BS, MS and PhD). focuses on pet careers and pet advocacy. See our other blog posts on topics including animal advocacy, networking, animal artists, advice for pre-vets, gaining experience working with pets and more.

Requisite Disclaimer

Your use of the information on the blog, web site or linked to the website is at your own risk. It may not apply in all cases and the tips also require practice. We cannot guarantee the accuracy or completeness of the information and links on this site. Do your due diligence. We try our best to avoid, but cannot be responsible for, errors.


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