Common Job Search Questions (and Answers): Tips
FlexJobs has been in the business of helping job seekers since 2007 And no matter what the job market is like or how we connect with job seekers, we often receive the same questions about finding a remote or flexible job.
We love answering your questions (Really! Keep ‘em coming!) and helping you find job search success, so we’ve compiled many of the most common job search questions with our answers about job applications, resumes and cover letters, and job search difficulties into a handy guide for job seekers.
Questions About Job Applications
When looking for remote work, do you ever suggest applying for a job that isn’t advertised as a remote position? If you have had success working remotely in the past, is it possible to pitch yourself as a remote worker to a potential employer?
This is possible but tricky. But to get started, research companies that already clearly offer remote jobs and focus on those. You’re far more likely to connect with a remote role that’s right for you!
But if you are going to apply for non-remote jobs in the hopes that the hiring manager could be convinced, definitely stick to common remote jobs. Apply to the job as you normally would, and in your cover letter, mention that if possible, you’d love to discuss the possibility of this being a remote job.
For more advice on finding and connecting with remote roles, read: How to Find a Remote Work-from-Home Job: Guide.
What is the best way to respond to salary questions when you have to give an answer before an application is accepted? How do you keep from eliminating yourself before you even get an interview?
The best way is to speak about your desired salary in ranges. For example, if you really want $50,000 a year, tell them that based on your experience and skills, and the current market rates for similar positions, you are looking for a salary of $48,000 to $55,000 a year and that you are flexible when it comes to salary levels.
Your salary request must be reasonable, within the typical range for that type of job, and you must let the employer know that you are flexible. They just want to know that you are in the same ballpark as they are. Salary.com and PayScale are two websites where you can research salary ranges for your target jobs.
Of course, the salary questions can come up mid-interview, so be prepared.
How do you handle applying for jobs with an online application process where you may or may not be able to include a cover letter or send an email?
Large online application systems, also known as applicant tracking systems (ATS), are a big part of job searching. If you come across these, there are certain things you can do to maximize your application.
Complete Every Field
Try to include any info that would normally be in your cover letter in the fields offered by the ATS.
Upload a PDF
Make sure it includes both your cover letter and your resume in one PDF especially if there’s only one file that can be uploaded. To give yourself the best chance possible, the FlexJobs Career Coaches recommend making your cover letter the last page of the document. Some ATSs put more weight into the first page of a resume, so making the first page of your resume the first page the ATS sees could give your application a boost.
Make a Connection
Find someone at the company. This can be done through finding the hiring manager, an HR representative, or somebody in the department via LinkedIn. You’ll still have to submit your application through the ATS. But, by pinging somebody directly, you’re much more likely to have a human being read your well-prepared documents.
How long should a resume be?
It depends. Sometimes it makes sense for your resume to go over two pages, like when you have an extensive work history. However, studies show that hiring professionals are twice as likely to “prefer” two page resumes. Regardless, each line on your resume should clearly match up nicely to the opening.
For more resume tips, read:
Do I have to bother with a cover letter?
Yes! A cover letter is necessary. Use it to connect the dots for the hiring manager so they can see how your skills and experience are the perfect fit for the role. It’s also a chance for you to “fill in the blanks” and give context and meaning to your resume (like explaining why you’re changing careers or have an employment gap). Unless the posting says otherwise, not including a cover letter is a missed opportunity. You’ll also want to customize your cover letter.
What are the pros and cons of follow-up communications once an application has been made?
Following up on job applications is an excellent way to stand out and move along in the hiring process. As long as the job description doesn’t explicitly say “No follow-ups” or “No phone calls/emails,” it’s absolutely fine to follow up on your applications.
There aren’t really any cons to following up, but there are a lot of pros. You can reiterate your interest in the job, point out your best qualifications again, and include any additional info you wish you’d mentioned in your application. And making contact with a human being at the company makes it more likely your application will be seriously considered.
I’d prefer to send a resume and cover letter, but some jobs require applicants to register and fill out long applications through an online system that takes forever. Is there a way around this without the employer thinking you are lazy and don’t want to register and spend time filling out online applications?
If an employer requires that you fill out an online application, they will probably not consider your application unless you’ve done so. Most employers require this because they want to be fair to all applicants by having them apply in the same manner and submit the same information. And, it helps them keep metrics related to recruitment and hiring.
Companies also use their systems to scan your materials for keywords that match the job description, so it’s vital to optimize your resume for applicant tracking systems.
If a company is scanning my resume for keywords, how many keywords should I use in my resume?
There’s no set number of how many keywords you should use in your resume or cover letter. Review the job posting and jot down all of the words or phrases that are repeated throughout. Those are the company’s keywords for this job, so make sure that when you create a customized resume and cover letter to apply with, you’re including those phrases–but proofread your materials and make sure that everything reads naturally, too. You don’t want to stuff keywords and sacrifice quality.
My expertise is in forecasting (sales, budgets, etc.), but I have yet to find a work-at-home opportunity to utilize my skills in forecasting. Would you have any simple job search tips for me?
No matter what your “thing” is, try expanding your job search to other areas that utilize your transferrable skills. Searching beyond your “usual” areas might help you have more luck in your search.
You can also search by the keyword “forecasting” to see job listings that include this skill as part of the overall position.
Questions about Skills and Experience
What do you suggest when you are looking for a change in career direction? Often you don’t have experience in your target industry. How do you get your resume looked at and seriously considered?
Two words: transferable skills. Transferable skills are the skills you have that can be used in multiple job settings (or “transferred” across a variety of jobs). Common examples of transferable skills include written and verbal communication, data analysis, research, sales or marketing, public speaking, relationship management, project management, problem-solving, and collaborating with teammates.
Consider the work you’ve done in the past. What kinds of skills did you gain in those jobs that you can use in other career fields?
What is the importance of professional certifications? Are they sought out by employers? Do they give you a significant advantage?
Depending on the industry, these can be very important.
Do some research on your target employers and job titles. Read job descriptions in your industry to see if any employers mention certifications as being required or recommended. That’ll give you an idea of how important they are to your particular industry.
You might also start a conversation by posting about this topic on LinkedIn. Ask your connections to weigh in on which certifications have been the most helpful in their careers, or which ones they don’t feel were worthwhile.
Questions about Resume Gaps, Discrimination, and Other Job Search Difficulties
Do you have practical, specific suggestions for how to address a break in employment due to illness? I’m completely recuperated and highly skilled but have a 10-year spotty section.
Is there anything you can include on your resume to help fill in the gaps in your resume? All sorts of experiences can count: taking classes, attending professional events, volunteering, and part-time or temporary work.
Also, in your cover letter, you can include context that quickly explains that you were attending to an illness during that time, but that you’re completely recuperated and excited to get back to work. If the application system won’t allow you to submit a cover letter, add this to your resume file and submit both at once to make sure employers aren’t wondering about the reason for the gap.
What about getting past the various prejudices that hiring agents have like age discrimination, not being local, being out of work for a while, being an introvert, not having an EXACT match of skills, etc.?
When it comes to these types of biases or discrimination in the hiring process, it’s important to think about the underlying fears recruiters and hiring managers have.
For example, with ageism, they’re usually concerned that you won’t be able to keep up with all the new information or technology needed, or that you’ll have too much experience or not want to do work that is “below” your level. While the general problem of ageism is hard to combat, when you consider the specific underlying concerns an employer might have, you can then strategically address those concerns during your job search.
Here are some guides to get around these different types of bias in your job search:
I have been out of the job market for a while, but I have kept current with technology. What is the best way to become up to date with my job skills?
Great question! There are a number of ways to update your skills. If you’re a FlexJobs member, you can take our skills tests to see where you stand. You can also read job descriptions to get a sense of which skills are the most important in your field today.
Once you know which skills you should update, here are some specific ways to build your skills:
- Online courses to learn the latest software programs, industry standards, and more
- Community education courses for quick skill-building
- College coursework or earning a full degree for more in-depth study
- Apprenticeships, internships, or externships
- Part-time jobs or volunteering
For specific remote collaboration technology systems you keep noticing when reviewing job postings, we encourage you to complete self-study to become proficient with these tools. You may try completing a free tutorial/offer, explore online YouTube videos, and practice using the system with friends and family.
Here are some free tutorials to commonly used tools:
I have a question about degrees and working remotely. What if you are working on your degree and have several years of work experience—how can you stand out within your job search without a college degree?
First, you definitely want to mention that you are working towards your degree on your resume, FlexJobs profile, LinkedIn page, etc. For example, under your Education section, you might write, “Bachelor’s degree in communications, expected December 2020” or “Coursework completed towards master’s degree in accounting.”
You might also list some of the courses you’ve completed, especially if they are highly related to the jobs you want. If you’ve done any large projects as a part of your coursework, those can be mentioned as well. Include details about the scope of the project, whether you collaborated with other classmates or professors, and the outcome of your work.
Any Other Questions?
If we didn’t answer your question here, try viewing our jobs search webinars and videos. Regardless of your situation, we’ve likely got the tips and tools to help you achieve job search success.
And, if you still can’t find the answer, consider scheduling a session with one of our career coaches. They can provide personalized advice and answers to all of your job search-related questions.
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