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Sue Hoffman
Creative Director
St Petersburg, Florida
Greatly helpful
out of 10
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I can’t get an interview – what am I doing wrong?

Your resume rocks, portfolio is golden and that first phone interview with the HR rep goes great. Now it’s time for the phone interview with the big boss and the process dies. What’s the problem here?
Written Mar 08, 2012, read 6176 times since then.


Your resume rocks, portfolio is golden and that first phone interview with the HR rep goes great. Now it’s time for the phone interview with the big boss. You think you rocked it but you never get that IN PERSON interview. What’s the problem here?

Some simple tips that may help you get over this hump. In the new world of multiple rounds of interviews for one job, many of those being on the phone, how do you get that golden “in person” interview? What you are saying may not be what they are hearing.  They sometimes trick you by asking for some things in their job description in the very words they don’t want to hear.

  1. My management style is very easy going.
    WHAT YOU MEAN: I don’t scream and throw tantrums. I don’t make knee jerk reactions or have artists in tears after giving direction. I don’t rule with an iron fist but rather help my team grow and develop. We’re a team.
    WHAT THEY HEAR: I like to sit with my feet up on my desk, playing Angry Birds on my phone and not keep my team accountable for anything. I might be stoned.
  2. I have a good sense of humor and use it in my management.
    WHAT YOU MEAN: I find light-hearted corrections result in my staff keeping their dignity and being able to grow and improve along their career paths. I’m enjoyable to work with and have a positive customer-relations history.
    WHAT THEY HEAR: I am Michael Scott from The Office and I like to put whoopee cushions on my colleagues’ chairs.
    They may even mention a sense of humor is important to the job, that doesn’t mean it’s important in the interview.
  3. You have had your own business in the past.
    WHAT YOU MEAN: I have experience knowing how important customer relations are and the value of a long-standing quality reputation.
    WHAT THEY HEAR: I’m not used to having a boss so don’t even THINK you can tell me what to do.
  4. You are experienced, seasoned, or have been doing this for a long time.
    WHAT YOU MEAN: I am a professional. I have polished skills in several mediums or facets of my business.
    WHAT THEY HEAR: You are old.
    They ask for 10+ years experience but they don’t want to think of you as over 30. At least not at first. Kill the “back in the day” type terminology. They think all young guys are Mark Zuckerberg.
  5. You are a woman.
    WHAT YOU MEAN: I’m a woman
    WHAT THEY HEAR: You are not a man.
    Not much you can do about this one.
  6. You may be talking a little fast.
    WHAT YOU MEAN: I’m passionate about this opportunity and have a lot to bring to the table.
    WHAT THEY HEAR: This person is crazy and clearly out of shape.

I'm sure everyone reading this can add more to the list. So please do! Let's help each other figure out some of these terminology traps. 

Learn more about the author, Sue Hoffman.

Comment on this article

  • Writing & Publishing Coach, Business & Marketing Consultant 
Bellevue, Washington 
Deborah Drake
    Posted by Deborah Drake, Bellevue, Washington | Mar 20, 2012


    I do so love being the first to comment on Articles, and especially those I wish I had written!

    Is it really a terminology trap whereby the "listener" takes what we are saying out of context? Or is it that we aren't speaking with a voice of conviction and self-belief that inspires the listener to hear what we were saying for what we meant?

    An excerpt from a book I was honored to be part of:

    Self-mastery and deeply rooted confidence take time to gain through experience. And some early experiences may need to be acknowledged, examined and then discarded. Our collective personal and professional experiences both matter a lot. And we don’t always assign as much value to the personal experiences that shaped our characters when we are focused on our professional pathways,

    This book and the process of crafting a Professional Profile is really about shedding light on how important and inter-related the combined set of experiences is. We need to learn how not to discount either channel when it comes to portraying ourselves on paper and in person.

    Above all we must BELIEVE in ourselves, our abilities, first and fully recognize our own talents. Why? That we might be a congruent and consistent applicant professionally for one thing. Imagine having a résumé that gets you an interview but giving an interview that makes them wonder why they invited you in? How many go into interviews essentially unable to talk of themselves with the right mix of confidence and storytelling and poise and humility?

    *It is not what you say as much as it is the TONE and MANNER in which you say it that makes a lasting impression.

    It naturally follows, therefore, that sincerity of purpose, honesty and earnestness must be placed back of all that one says if one would make a lasting and favorable impression.

    Whatever you successfully sell too others, you must first sell to yourself. ~ Law of Success, Napoleon Hill (from the chapter on Enthusiasm)*

    The most important advice I could ever give a jobseeker or solopreneur in search of new business is about as simple as can be:

    Master the inner game long before you arrive for the meeting. Bring not only your knowledge of your skills and accomplishments and professional history. Bring also your awareness of who you are and what you bring to the world of work as a member of the team, an individual contributor and as a person.

    We do business with real people. Therefore, we hire real people. And hopefully you are hired for the real person you are as well as the skill set you bring to the organization you join. So if you are searching for work, be it a new internal position or a new client to serve, we believe it is critical and valuable to be clear on who we are both professionally and personally.

    Really knowing yourself creates natural confidence that others can sense and will experience.

    The Book is titled: Burn Your Resume. You Need a Professional Profile. (TM) and my co-author and I self-published as of March 14th thru Amazon.

    Your article is timely! There is a new wave of openings to be filled as Spring arrives and job seekers need their confidence and enthusiasm bolstered. And scripted ways of describing ourselves will fall flat and especially if we doubt ourselves as the ideal candidate.

    Deborah Drake

    Authentic Writing Provokes

  • Creative Director 
St Petersburg, Florida 
Sue Hoffman
    Posted by Sue Hoffman, St Petersburg, Florida | Mar 20, 2012

    Great comments Deborah and so true! In this competitive economy, one doesn't get many second chances or second impressions so that first one really counts. Word choices, word tone, inner confidence. Things as simple as "don't pace while talking on the phone, but sit down and relax" can make a difference.

    Love your points!

  • Writing & Publishing Coach, Business & Marketing Consultant 
Bellevue, Washington 
Deborah Drake
    Posted by Deborah Drake, Bellevue, Washington | Mar 20, 2012

    All of your points also apply to Solopreneurs seeking new clients...for is not every conversation we have be it at an event or one to one SO MUCH in spirit like an interview?

    One opportunity for that "First Impression."

    Would love to follow your work and will find you and connect.

    Hope many people take the time to consider this article and update their profiles to fully reflect who they are and what they have accomplished.

    That way they are prepared for opportunities that find them wherever they are and can remain at ease.

    Desperation vs Ease makes all the difference in my experience.

    Cheers! Check out the book and your feedback is welcome. It's easily found on Amazon.

    And now you got me all riled up about "Stealth Profiles" again for as Biznikers we need to be able to meet before we meet because we can!


    Authentic Writing Provokes

    Deborah Drake

  • Interview Coach,  Job Search Coach and Resume Coach 
Tucson, Arizona 
Seth Basker
    Posted by Seth Basker, Tucson, Arizona | Mar 22, 2012


    As a Job Search Coach, and Interview Coach, I find your article to be spot-on and an excellent example of the gap between what one says and how it is understood by an employer.

    When employers are asked why they decided not to hire the person they just interviewed, the most frequent response is LACK OF PREPARATION. The sample responses you offer are perfect examples of that lack.

    For those seeking to hire themselves another employer, it is imperative to remember that all communication, both verbal and written, is never about them but always aimed toward the employer. Although it may be difficult to accept, the truth is that they don’t care about you or what you have done in the past for others, rather they only care about what you can do for them now.

    Your article brings up excellent examples of the importance of preparation and the ramifications of "playing it by ear".

    May I copy and use your article with some of my clients, with proper credit going to the author of course?

  • Creative Director 
St Petersburg, Florida 
Sue Hoffman
    Posted by Sue Hoffman, St Petersburg, Florida | Mar 22, 2012

    Seth, absolutely you can share. I wish I had added your point to the article which is "Do Your Homework" about the employer and indeed talk about what you can do FOR them!

  • Fund Development/Nonprofit 
Spring Lake, Michigan 
Stacie L. Stevens-Venhuizen
    Posted by Stacie L. Stevens-Venhuizen, Spring Lake, Michigan | Mar 22, 2012

    Dear Sue,

    Last year I decided that I wanted to work again in corporate America after owning my own event planning and fund development company for 10 years.
    When looking for a job for almost a year, decided they needed to see a little more of me than just the “submit” resume button on the internet.
    I would send my resume via the “submit” resume button via the internet, however, would also write a phenomenal cover letter that pointed out all of my greatest strengths for the job and sent it via email to the person in charge (found their email on their website), faxed it to their place of employment, and sent it via FedEx or UPS on the finest quality light coral bond paper and envelope. Every time, I would get a request for an interview and a second interview and finally I got the job.
    Over the past year I have heard more and more that the cover letter is almost as important as the resume, if not more. It shows your personality and your letter writing abilities. Also, obtaining 4 resumes from one person – they won’t forget you!!! Annoying maybe, unforgettable – definitely! I also got rid of all of my dates on my resume and dates of graduation regarding education. They don’t need to know that I am 45 years old and for the past 10 years I worked for myself. Regarding my resume – I changed it about. I put “related experience” just following the “objective” and then “other experience” after that, following with education, certifications, accomplishments and the best of who’s who references – no need to have them request it later – they may as well know that I know everyone and well known in my community and by some of the most prestigious people in and out of the state. Just food for thought – but I was like you – and then I changed it up and get a great paying job with great benefits and I could not be happier.

  • Creative Director 
St Petersburg, Florida 
Sue Hoffman
    Posted by Sue Hoffman, St Petersburg, Florida | Mar 22, 2012

    Stacie, I LOVE these tips and I'm making these changes to my resume immediately!

  • Career Transitions, Résumé  and Online Profile Strategist. Author of RÉSUMÉS THAT RESUME CAREERS  
Marysville, Washington 
Don Burrows
    Posted by Don Burrows, Marysville, Washington | Mar 23, 2012

    Sue – I echo everything that my Burn Your Résumé! co-author, Deborah Drake, posted above.

    As I read your points in bold and what you meant / what they heard, I found myself hearing my father speaking to me from decades past.

    Dad, always very precise in what he said and how he said it, would exhort me to always use the most specific words I could think of. He was an executive and he paid attention to how people presented themselves. He believed that the cover letter was often more important than the résumé, not only because it conveyed a person’s writing style but also their thought process. When a cover letter was vague or filled with vacuous platitudes, he figured the person was too and never bothered reading their résumés.

    When Deb and I help our Professional Profile™ clients jump out of the huge “applicant pool” and on to the much smaller “candidate slate”, we pay attention to what they say and how they say it. We spend a lot of time helping them hone the language in their cover letters and Professional Profiles™ to as much of a razor’s edge as possible.

    One way we do that is by playing what we call the “SO WHAT?” game. I don’t mean “So what?” in a pejorative sense, but rather “Really? Tell me more.” We have a back-and-forth conversation until we either exhaust the topic or begin to repeat ourselves.

    If in the cover letter, for example, we read “My management style is very easy going,” the “So What?” game could go something like this.

    “My management style is very easy going.”

    “So what?”

    “My style is different from my predecessor. I don’t yell and holler at my staff; I think it is important to treat people politely, like professionals.”

    “So what?”

    “I’ve only been on board for six months, and in the last five, I’ve gotten many compliments from my staff, and two from my boss, that people say they like working in my department.”

    “So what?”

    “Six months ago, when someone got promoted to another department, eleven people from other departments applied for the job. My boss was astonished; she said that when my predecessor had an opening, it was like pulling teeth to get anybody to apply.”

    “So what?”

    “Over the last three months, since we began to hit our stride, for the first time in a long time, people tell me they are happy, and we have consistently surpassed our productivity and profitability targets. I believe there’s a connection. My boss told me senior management wants to raise our targets and I told her, “bring it on.”

    So converting “My management style is very easy going” into an accomplishment suitable for use in a cover letter or résumé, we would say something like this:

    “As the new department head, I have established an atmosphere of openness, candor and mutual respect. When a vacancy occurred recently, my boss was astonished that eleven in-house applicants clamored to apply for it. She told me that for the first time in years, our staff is happy and because we have exceeded all goals, senior management wants to increase our targets. With enthusiasm, I told her to ‘bring it on!!’ “

    I have 30+ years of domestic and international HR management and consulting experience; 15 of those years involved significant in-house recruiting responsibility. I promise that a letter containing two or three short paragraphs like that one always got my attention, and if the résumé was equally specific, resulted in interviews and frequently a hire.

    And as a by-product, those 72 words would be a very effective accomplishment for inclusion in an applicant’s résumé (Professional Profile™); there is nothing wrong with making a critical point in both documents.

    I believe the nugget is this:

    Be you a DIY job seeker or solopreneur creating your own targeted cover letter, Professional Profile™, website or social media page, or a coach helping a client win the interview by standing out from the competition, playing the “So What?” game will sharpen your language, increase your self-awareness, and make you memorable.

    Memorable people are interviewed; forgettable people are . . . forgotten.

    Thank you, Sue, for the opportunity to recall and share some lessons from my father. Like Deb, I look forward to connecting with you.

    Don Burrows // Amazon for Burn Your Résumé! :

  • Director Of Operations 
Tustin, California 
Beth Worthy
    Posted by Beth Worthy, Tustin, California | Aug 03, 2013

    Hi Sue,

    I really loved the tips you brought up in the article. We sometime really miss to take a look at these points and land up with no job. Thanks for sharing these helpful tips. Like Deborah, last but not the least- Believe in Yourself.