Recruiters’ Feedback

Recruiters’ Feedback

Interviewing for jobs can be nerve-wracking! In my role as a Career Coach at a top-20 business school, I hear from multiple recruiters each year about the things candidates did well (and not so well) during job interviews. Here are three things we hear from recruiters that might help you avoid making some common interview mistakes and get the offer:


#1 Bring Your Energy! Maybe candidates are trying so hard to be “professional” that they forget to let their enthusiasm for the company or the position shine through. Or maybe nerves get the best of some interviewees and they just can’t relax enough to show their excitement. Whatever the reason, your interviewers are investing their time and resources bringing you in for an interview and they want to see that you’re excited to be there.

Here are some ways you can show your energy:

  • Clearly articulate how happy you are to be interviewing for the position.
  • Smile! It sounds basic, but in a pressure situation you might forget this most basic way of connecting with other people.
  • Pay attention to your body language – sit up straight, talk with your hands, speak clearly and at an appropriate volume.


#2 Be prepared to talk about why you’re interested in this company. You’ll need to do your research to answer this question well. This is your chance to show that you’re the kind of person who does their homework and comes prepared. It’s also a chance to compliment what you admire about the company and demonstrate that you’re self-aware enough to know why you’d be a good fit for them.

Here’s how you can show your interest:

  • Have 3 reasons why you love this company in mind when you walk into your interview.
  • Come prepared to talk about how your strengths match up to what the position requires.
  • Answer this question in terms of what you can do for them, not what they can do for you.


#3 Ask insightful questions at the end of the interview. A recruiter once told us that she interviewed a candidate whose questions for her hit on the three things that kept her up at night. This candidate had so thoroughly researched the company and the position he was interviewing for that he was able to zero in on the business issues that they were grappling with and ask thoughtful questions about them. He got the job!

Here’s how you can ask insightful questions:

  • Know who the competition is, what the trends are in the industry and what, if any, threats exist to the way they currently do business. Use this information to formulate questions that show that you did your homework.
  • Research online by reading industry blogs and the company’s website and Linkedin page. Supplement this knowledge by talking to people you know who work at the company to get the inside scoop.
  • Be sure to mention during your interview that you spoke with people who work at the company as part of your preparation. This shows you went the extra mile to understand their business.


The keys to interviewing well are preparation and practice. Be sure to bring your energy, do your research so you know why you’re a good fit for the company and ask smart questions of your interviewers.  Get a list of common interview questions and record yourself giving answers so you can hear how you sound. Enlist a friend to give you a mock interview and some honest feedback.

Then get out there and show ‘em what you’re made of!


When Katie’s not working to place MBA candidates, she’s writing articles, conducting workshops and MeetUps, and preparing courses to help women like her transition back into the workforce.  Find out what’s going on at

Returning to Work After a Career Break Webinar Replay

Returning to Work After a Career Break Webinar Replay

Whether you’re ready to go back to work after taking time off or just thinking about it, my Returning to Work After a Career Break Webinar will be helpful.  It’s full of the professional advice that I use in my position as Senior Associate Director, Career & Leadership at the University of North Carolina Kenan-Flagler Business School but geared toward women returning to work.  Sign-up to receive the Webinar Replay that you can watch at your convenience — it’s about 30 minutes — and the accompanying Worksheet, and return to work the right way.

Returning to Work Webinar Replay

I'll send an email directly to you with a link to this webinar replay that you can watch at your convenience as well as the worksheet.

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Should You Take Just Any Old Job or Hold Out for the Right One?

Should You Take Just Any Old Job or Hold Out for the Right One?

I want to address an age-old question asked by women contemplating a professional comeback:

Should I take just any old job or should I hold out for the right one?  

This is a question I hear a lot and it’s a question that I asked myself often as I looked for a job after being out of the full-time workforce for many years.  Here’s the easy answer: It depends.

The answer to this question depends entirely on what is motivating you to go back to work. Here’s my point: If you need to start earning income for you or your families’ survival now, then you should take the best job you can find quickly. By “best” I mean highest paying. Life is expensive, kids are expensive and it takes money to survive.  Pure and simple. Divorce often forces women back into the workforce, or your spouse might have been laid off. Whatever the situation, if quickly earning income has become your primary motivation, then find a job and bloom where you’ve been planted. You don’t have to stay there forever but my personal rule of thumb is that you do have to do your best while you’re there.  If you sense that you’re just passing through, work diligently so that when you leave you’ll have a great recommendation and can feel good about the work you did.

While the need for money motivates many women to return to work quickly, others find that their timing isn’t quite so urgent. To you, I say – lucky you! You have the luxury of doing the 3 steps of Reflect, Research and Activate that I think are so important to a successful job search.  The Reflection step is of critical importance in a job search because this is the step where you think deeply about your skills, your past experiences and your current interests and add them all up to set a course for your future.

I want a career break to become a very normal part of a person’s career (both women and men) and for employers to view these not as breaks from real work, but as opportunities to develop more deeply as people, as parents, as travelers or as caregivers of aging parents.  Your ability to reflect on what you’ve learned and how you’ve grown during your career break is a key part of finding direction for your job search.  And setting off on a journey with a destination in mind is going to get you there faster than if you are just wandering through the job search process, applying to something different every day.

If you are motivated to return to work by a desire to re-engage your professional self, to grow as a person in a professional capacity, to put your valuable skills to work and to earn a good income while doing so, then you have the luxury to look until you (a) find the right job or (b) find a job that offers a trade-off that you are comfortable taking. Every decision we make is a trade-off between things that are important to us.  If your job search is starting to feel like it’s taking a long time, and you’re considering taking the next job that comes along, here are a few things you can consider:


  • Will this job keep me moving forward? Will I learn here? Will I meet people that will grow my professional network? Will I feel good about the work I’m doing?


  • Can I think of this job as a stepping stone? Will it get me closer to where I’d like to be professionally?


If you can answer “yes” to any of those questions, then maybe it’s time to take the job.

The second part of this question is –

Do I have to take a job making less money or with a lower title than I held before I took a career break?

My guidance is that I want you aim high, but you must understand that the burden of proving your value to an employer rests with you and only you.  How can you prove that you’re worthy of your previous salary and title?

  • By demonstrating that you’ve spent your career break learning and keeping your skills fresh
  • By taking courses to refresh your job skills
  • By becoming active (and being known) in a professional association relevant to your field
  • By maintaining a network of influential people in your field

Then develop your personal brand image to illustrate your value.


One final thought: When I was job searching, I realized early on that my next job was going to come from someone who knew me personally and not from a resume that I blindly sent out over the Internet.  And this belief changed my job search activities from sitting behind my computer sending out resumes to instead viewing every opportunity to talk to someone as a chance to get one step closer to finding the right job.  And, guess what?  It worked.

Dressing For Success: Tips for Savvy Women

Dressing For Success: Tips for Savvy Women

For women, professional dress is often a topic that causes a lot of confusion. We suggest that you dress for the Back to Business Women’s Conference as if you were going to an interview – use it as a practice run so that when you do have an interview you aren’t suiting up for the first time in a long time.  Even though workplaces have evolved to be much more casual today than they were in the past, there is still an expectation that you wear a suit to an interview.

Here are a few suggestions for business attire.  Our motto is: keep it simple and err on the conservative side.

  • You can’t go wrong with a black or navy blue suit and a light-colored blouse. Both pantsuits and skirts are fine. A skirt that ends at your knee looks both stylish and professional.  You shouldn’t have to spend a lot of money for a basic suit.
  • A pair of solid-colored pants or a skirt with a blouse works well also.  Avoid loud patterns and low-cut necklines. If you’re not going to be wearing a suit to work once you get that job, don’t invest in a suit now.  Instead, go with a nice-looking pair of dark pants or a skirt and blouse that fit well. Look for a pair of tailored pants and make sure they are clean and well-pressed.
  • Keep your jewelry simple.
  • Much has been written about the impression that shoes make during job interviews. They don’t have to be fancy, but they do need to look polished, and not worn.
  • Avoid trendy looks and go for more of a classic style.  You don’t have to be boring, but a well-tailored, professional look says a lot of positive things about you before you even open your mouth to wow a potential employer. First impressions count for a lot!

What’s “Business Casual” all about?

And here’s a word about “business casual” because this is a phrase that often leaves people wondering what exactly they should wear:  Business casual should be more business and less casual!  While a full suit is not required, go for a tailored skirt or suit pants and a blouse.  You’ll still want to make a businesslike impression.

7 Tips For Pulling Off A Career Change

7 Tips For Pulling Off A Career Change

Career switching is a common occurrence for women re-entering the workforce.  You’ve probably heard the statistic that the average working person will have 7 different careers in their lifetime.  Women often make a conscious decision to return to the workforce in a field other than the one where they previously worked.  Here are 7 tips for successfully approaching a career change as you re-enter the workforce after a career break.

1) See this as an opportunity to re-invent yourself

Approaching this career change with the attitude that you are going to make a fresh start in a new field is going to carry you through the inevitable tough times of a job search.  Commit to putting in the hard work required to get a new job and sticking with it through the ups and downs. Not sure which direction to take your career in? Click here to check out 10 free career assessment tools.

2) Determine which skills you’ll need in your new field

The trick to being a successful career switcher comes down to two words: transferrable skills.  If you can show that the skills you used in one job will transfer well to another job, you are on your way to having an effective pitch for why someone should hire you.  Comb job postings and LinkedIn profiles of people who hold the job you’d like to fill. Do informational interviews to determine which skills you’ll need.  Make a chart with 2 columns – in the first column list the skills mentioned most in job postings for the position you’d like to have.  In the second column list an example of a time when you used that skill.

3) Get the skills you don’t have

Switching careers takes work.  Chances are you are going to have to do some re-skilling.  Look into a professional certification or an industry conference, take a class at a community college or online or attend a meet-up to acquire the skills you don’t yet have.  The nice thing is that you know exactly what those skills are, thanks to the work you did charting the required skills for your new field. You can also get those skills by volunteering in your intended field.

4) Craft a compelling story around your skills

Everybody loves a good story.  Take a project you worked on in which you used the skills listed in your chart (see #2) and turn it into a story.  Set up the situation, the task that needed to be completed, the action you took and most importantly, the result you achieved – all while focusing on how your skills enabled you to accomplish something big.  Then tie it all together by relating the skills you used to your intended field.  Don’t be afraid to have a story around something you accomplished while on a career break.  This can show that you used your time out of the paid workforce productively and never stopped achieving, even when you weren’t getting paid.

5) Join a professional group geared toward your new industry

This is a great way to learn what the insiders know, meet people in your new field and get the lingo down. Chances are they have educational events you can attend. Finding these organizations in your local area is as easy as doing a Google search. These organizations often need volunteers and have job-search groups, so get involved.  Join a LinkedIn professional group and first monitor, then participate in the conversations happening there.

6) Find an internship or offer to do project work at a target company

Internships aren’t just for college kids anymore.  This idea is catching on among women returning to work, according to iRelaunch’s Carol Fishman Cohen in this TED talk.  Some industries may also be open to the idea of having you do project work.  I had a friend who wanted to be a recruiter but balked at the idea of working for commission only for a trial period. This would have allowed her to learn the business without costing the company anything. She didn’t want to work for free, but 6 months later she was still looking for a job, hadn’t earned any money and still hadn’t learned the field of recruiting. Maybe that wasn’t such a bad idea after all!

7) Act like you’ve been there before

When you pull all of this together, it will help you act like you’ve been there before instead of seeming like an outsider trying to break into a new field.  The funny thing about job searching is that recruiters want to hire people who have done the job before!  If you don’t have direct experience in a field, you’ll have to prove that you possess the required skills and understand how to apply them to be successful in the role.

And here’s a bonus tip:

If you’re not getting the desired results from your job search, consider creating your own job.  While I was looking for my return-to-the-workforce-full-time-job, I realized that there were a lot of other women out there facing the same challenges I was.  I decided to do something to help all of us. I started Back to Business and in the process acquired skills that employers found attractive. I seized the opportunity to re-invent myself, developed a host of new skills that gave me a pretty convincing story to tell, met a ton of new people through the groups I joined and never missed a chance to learn something new.  Ironically, just over a month before we launched our first conference I started a new full-time job that I loved.

Keep at it.  You’ll find a job that you love too and when you do, tell me about it on Facebook so I can congratulate you!

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