Lindsay Olson

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Interview Tips: The Answers Employers Are Looking For – Insight from Stan Duncan, Westfield

People power boils down to one thing: potential. Just ask Stan Duncan, Senior Executive Vice President of U.S. Human Resources and Global Head of Management for Westfield. In the 20-plus years that Stan Duncan has worked with human resources divisions in several multinational companies that offer small business credit cards. He’s learned a thing or two about what makes a good job candidate. He’s learned which specific resources are vital to those who are ultimately hired and, more importantly, which questions to ask those candidates. Duncan says that it’s all about the candidate opening up to tell you what they want, what they have done, what will make them successful, and most importantly: “Why they do what they do. ”

According to Duncan, having a prospective employee reveal what they see as their own abilities and competence is a surefire way to not only get a raw understanding of their pros and cons, but also to get an understanding of their ability to adapt and their potential to last in the long term. “We aren’t looking for super-humans; in my two decades as an HR executive, I’ve yet to meet one. We want people who are talented, but most importantly, willing to grow and change as the company grows and changes, too. I believe people who know a lot about themselves do the best selling themselves in an interview. Basically, make sure you’re introducing yourself, presenting the real you in the interview.”

Duncan is certainly not shy about his two decades’ of experience as an interviewer. That was proven when he was asked what he’s learned when it comes to hiring the right people: “Doing this for 20 years certainly helps you see the big picture; it’s all about potential.” Duncan has been around long enough to see what works for the long-term–such as 0 interest balance transfer cards- and what only succeeds in the short term, and his reflections have resulted in him founding an HR model that prizes a prospective worker’s long-term potential over short-term spunk.

“Working in human resources for companies that focus on everything from career apparel, managed services, aerospace glass manufacturing to chemical agent creation has allowed me to see what always stays the same despite the change in labor practices, techniques, and strategies. Human resources are universal in that HR personnel are always seeking out that potential for a long-term employee presence once they’re hired. That’s because longevity in employment means a stronger, more developed team, which increases the likelihood that each member reaches their potential due to the longstanding support of one another.”

Without a guiding vision, the potential of individual talent to serve something greater is often wasted. Asking the right questions and paying close attention as human resources workers is the only way to uncover that potential and make sure the talent stays around long enough to make an impact. Let Stan Duncan’s success show you what can be accomplished in 20 years if you put your mind to it.

This is a guest post from Sam Peters, a blogger who enjoys writing about career development.


Reflections on Global PR Blog Week

Do you remember Global PR Blog Week 2004 and 2005? Way back in those ancient times when only a handful of PR professionals were actively blogging and asking someone if they tweet wasn't part of an every day conversation? Yeah, way back then....

John Cass spent the past few weeks interviewing the participants of the event in celebrations of the 5th anniversary. I participated with a post in the Second Annual Global Public Relations Blog Week. This one event changed my life forever! Hint: the photo above.

Until the End of the World video

Here's my interview with John about my experience.

Originally posted by John on his blog (

John: What did you learn from the Global PR Blog Week?

Lindsay: This event brought together many of the early PR bloggers' ideas and experiences into a week of interesting online discussions, which helped me get a better grasp on industry trends. Although I'd always been an active follower of what was happening in the PR field, this event helped shape my views on the importance of having a strong online presence. At that time, I wasn't blogging and even though I was aware of its growing importance, it still took me a few years to come around. The event laid the groundwork for where I am today.

John: Reviewing the post(s) you wrote for the Global PR Blog week, what has changed? What has not changed since you wrote your post?

Lindsay: Social media has continued to grow and the tools PR professionals use are expanding beyond just blogs. The main point of my post was how PR professionals may be viewed in the eyes of a potential recruiter through their online presence. This has become a growing concern for most as Facebook is opening up to the general public and Twitter is becoming a more mainstream tool. Not just bloggers, but everyone, are becoming much more aware of how their tone and the subject they tend to write or tweet about shape their online presence and may affect their career.

John: Recruiting and PR have been two professions that became immersed in blogging early on. From your perspective as a recruiter for the PR industry, why do you think the communications profession got involved so early on with blogging?

Lindsay: Well, communicators love to talk and spread their ideas. Blogging gave communications professionals another platform to quickly distribute their messages to a broader audience - something very appealing to anyone who is in the profession and loves to write.  As blogging and social media gained momentum and the communications industry began to feel the pressure to counsel their companies/clients on how to deal and communicate in a new environment, it grew increasingly necessary to become familiar with and aware of these new types of tools.

John: Looking back over the past five years, how has social media become important to employers and candidates, both for skills needed for employment and for using social media to demonstrate expertise?

Lindsay: More and more of our clients are asking for candidates who are well-versed in social media. Employers expect communications professionals to be able to counsel them about why they should (or shouldn't) be involved in social media. So much has developed over the past five years. Four or five years ago, it was all about blogs and now we have a whole assortment of tools to learn and use to communicate. Knowing when and why to deploy these tools is becoming a concern for organizations. While social media is becoming much more important, it's necessary to note that employers value a well-rounded communications professional. Those candidates who can demonstrate they have both traditional and digital skills are highly valued in the current market.

John: Give an update on what you've been doing in the last five years. What you are doing now?

Lindsay: I've continued to run my public relations staffing agency, Paradigm Staffing. I've moved from New York to Buenos Aires, Argentina and work remotely here with a small team supporting the hiring needs our U.S. and European clients.

As I mentioned earlier, I wasn't blogging at the time of this event, but I finally put an end to that in mid-2008 and launched a blog ( about PR and recruiting and to help advise job seekers and companies on the best hiring practices. I'm also very active on Twitter (@PRjobs) and Facebook, and I write a bi-monthly guest column on MediaBistro's PRNewser blog.

On a personal note (yet very relevant to PR Global Blog Week), I got married in February 2008 to Matias Dutto (a 2004 and 2005 participant). We met the week of the 2005 event because of the connection and we were both living in Buenos Aires.  A few years later, we married and we're now expecting our first child in September!

Check out the other interviews with 2004 and 2005 participants including: Todd Defren, Tom Murphy, Chris Bechtel, Elizabeth Albrycht, Trevor Cook, Colin McKay, etc.

Photo credit: Matias Dutto

The Power of a Thank You Note

GRAcias... de NADA!
The first post for this month's column in PRNewser

is up. Here's an excerpt or read the full article here

Righteous Kill divx


The Power of a Thank You Note

Sending a thank you note after an interview seems like elementary advice, but many job seekers never bother to do it. Never underestimate the power of a strong follow-up after an interview. This one simple step could be what seals the deal.

The debate about whether a thank you note should be sent via regular mail or e-mail is never-ending. I prefer a hand-written note sent through regular mail because it is more personal and memorable. Depending on the hiring manager's preference and distance, an e-mail note these days is very common and acceptable. If you e-mail a sentiment of gratitude, you can always follow up with a card in the mail.

Visit PRNewser for the rest of the article


Photo credit: Jose Telléz


When is a company asking for too much during the interview process?


Here's the true story situation from one of the reader's of this blog:

Candidate gets a call from a small start-up company to interview for a part-time marketing contract position.  After a one-hour phone screen with the company's recruiter, the next steps are set up for an in-person meeting. The interview was a grueling 6-hour affair that did not even allow the candidate a bathroom break. Towards the end of the interview, the company mentioned they would like the candidate and three other contenders to spend the next week preparing a full one-hour live presentation outlining a marketing plan for the company.

While a writing test and sometimes even a mock presentation is common practice in evaluating a candidate for a position, at what point does a company cross "asking too much" line?

I have my answer which I'll share in tomorrow's post. In the meantime, I would love to hear what you think.

Do you think that a request for a marketing plan and a presentation is a realistic request for a contract or full-time permanent position? What is appropriate to ask and to not ask of a candidate during an interview process for a PR or marketing position in your opinion?

Updated: Here is my answer

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the following day.

Photo credit: Oberazzi [Flickr]

Creative ways to land a job interview


Kynam Doan is looking for a job. Check out his blog, I Need An Interview, and you'll get the idea.

Kynam has a very creative approach to his job search - he has pledged to volunteer six hours of his time for  each interview he lands to a non-profit. The companies who interview him nominate a non-profit and then the readers of his blog will be voting for the top two.  Additionally, he will volunteer one minute of his time for each unique visitor to his blog.

It is an interesting idea to generate some buzz and give back to the community while honing his marketing skills.

A couple of key points for anyone considering an approach similar to Kynam's in their job search:

1. Make it easy for potential employers to see your qualifications. Kynam opted to not publish his resume. Instead he chose to tie in a link to his LinkedIn profile. I would add extended biography for those lazy clickers who come to the site. I imagine those extra keywords would also help for search results. Consider showcasing some of your work in a digital portfolio.

2. Be specific about what type of position you are seeking. You don't want to be come across as you will consider anything. You must show you have direction and focus. But be careful to not be so specific you rule out potential opportunities.

3. Treat everything in the campaign as a professional representation of you. If it is a blog, a video, or both, remember, it is your extended resume. Make sure everything you post is free of errors and represents you accurately and honestly.

What do you think of Kynam's approach?

Thanks to Matthew Kraft (@mkraft) for pointing me to Kynam's blog.

Kynam, best of luck to you in your job search - I'll be watching the outcome!


Storytelling can help you land your next job

The Infamy of a Story Never Told
Photo credit: Felipe Morin

Companies hire you based on your experience, ability to solve their problems and how well you fit into the "culture." If you are called in for an interview, you've passed the first step. More than likely the hiring managers have already seen your resume or heard about your work. They know you have the qualifications to do the job - that's why you are interviewing.

The interview is the company's opportunity to evaluate your ability to handle its organizational challenges once you have the job. Since the hiring manager may not be the most skilled interviewer, it's up to you to demonstrate you are up for the challenge. This is why being an effective storyteller is so important.

Stories will help you interview better and land your next gig in a number of ways:

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  • Stories engage the listener and help you become a memorable candidate. People tend to remember stories more than straight facts. That's why the best history teachers are usually great storytellers. Turning your career accomplishments into short mini-stories makes you a stand out against the competition.
  • Stories help build trust with the listener. Stories give more detail to back your claims and explaining the details builds your confidence and the hiring manager's confidence in you.
  • Stories reveal your personality and your communication skills. It helps you and the interviewer determine what it will be like to work together.

This is part one of a two-part series.

Part 2: Star Approach to storytelling A History of Violence divx


Top things to never put on your resume by readers


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Photo credit: Matias Dutto

Yesterday I listed five things to never put on your resume. By no means was it an exhaustive list. Paul Copcutt, former recruiter and blogger at Reflections of a Square Peg, left some great comments worth sharing.

Here are Paul's five things to never put on a resume:

  • Silly, Funny (usually just to you), or offensive e-mail addresses. Gmail is free and generic - use it!
  • An objective (still seen on far too many resumes) - by all means have something to give off a resume but make it a value proposition. Think: What you can do for the employer - not what you want from them? Jennifer Schooley chimed in here as well stating it's obvious by receiving the resume you are looking for a job, so don't waste the space.
  • No phone number! Yes believe it - when I was in recruitment I did a quick survey once and found over 15% of resumes had no contact phone number. Huh???!!
  • Reasons why you left - rarely seen now, but it does happen. Do not eliminate yourself before the interview. Save it for a face to face, or at least a telephone conversation.
  • Photos. In recruitment we used to have a "˜rogues′ gallery of photos that were attached to resumes. Again, save it for the interview or web interview. Or make sure any photo is professionally taken for bios and on-line profiles like LinkedIn.

Another great tip from Martin Buckland:

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  • Leave responsibilities out. Build each bullet around STAR: Situation, Task, Action, Result. Tell a short story, max 3 lines, about each accomplishment. These can also serve as a platform for the interviewer to position his questions.

Bill Green added "GPA - leave it off. If you have a 3.8, you have just publicly said you not as smart as someone with a 4.0."

Jacob Share at JobMob also pointed me to his top 10 unusual resume mistakes. He puts out some of the most useful content in the world of job search out there. If you don't read Jacob's blog, it's a good addition to your daily feeds.

Thank you all for your insight! I'd love to hear any other ideas you would add in the comments.

This part two of a three-part series about what to never put on your resume.

Part 1: 5 things to never put on your resume

Part 3: Make sure your career progression is not mistaken for job hopping


It would be, like, so unprofessional, you know what I mean?


This video is from a great post written by Rowan Manahan on his blog, Fortify Your Oasis.

Does this sound like you? Maybe not that bad, but the point is that people usually don't notice when they're using these "filler" words and expressions, especially when they are nervous.

Professional communicators are not immune to this type of speaking behavior either. It was only a few weeks ago I took note of the over 50 "ums" a candidate said while phone interviewing with me. That is a lot of "umming" for one conversation.

While my husband is learning English, I'm realizing how much we use these expressions. I'll hear him say things such as "you know what I mean" or "ya know?" at the end of his sentences as if they make him sound more fluent. He picks it up from his teacher, our English speaking friends, and me.

It's difficult for a listener to concentrate on what the speaker is saying if the message is littered with these tics - especially in an interview! Rowan suggests that you "tape yourself delivering a couple of interview answers or a section from a presentation and play it back. Is your tone interrogative when it should be declarative? Are you saying 'like,' 'you know,' 'kind of,' 'sort of,' or any of the myriad other verbal tics with noticeable frequency?"

If you don't have a tape recorder, leave yourself a voicemail or practice with a friend and let him count how many times you use filler words or sounds.

Another good resource is Sara Reistad-Long's article on Real Simple about correcting these common speech tics. She covers eight common speech problems, why they happen, and how we stop them, including:

  • Interrupting
  • Apologizing before speaking
  • Speech tics (er and eh)
  • Saying "exactly" or "I totally agree"
  • Swearing
  • Grasping for words
  • Finishing others' sentences
  • Letting your pitch rise at the end of sentences

2008's Most Unusual Job Seeker Tactics, the giant job board, recently surveyed 3.388 hiring managers and human resources professionals the unusual antics job seekers this year have played to get the company's attention. In a tight job market, people think of any way they can set themselves apart to land the gig. It's important to keep your audience in mind when using a different approach to set yourself apart. According to Jason Ferrara with Careerbuilder, " the key is making sure you are maintaining an appropriate balance of creativity and professionalism so you are remembered for the right reasons."

Here are the results:

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  • Candidate advertised on a billboard.
  • Candidate carried around a sign that said, "Will work for paying bills."
  • Candidate brought a broom to the interview to "clean up the waste and corruption in the office."
  • Candidate wore a shirt to the interview that said, "Please hire me."
  • Candidate showed up with breakfast for the employer every day until hired.
  • Candidate approached the hiring manager in a restroom.
  • Candidate sent a giant cookie with "Hire Skip" written in frosting on it.
  • Candidate parked outside of the office building with a sign that said, "Seeking employment."
  • Candidate wrote a poem about why she wanted the job in her cover letter.
  • Candidate promised to give the employer a foot massage if hired.
  • Candidate noticed the employer wrote a blog about a particular restaurant.  She persuaded the restaurant to put her name on the menu so the employer would see it the next time he ate there.
  • Candidate created an electronic resume with flash animation and musical score.

I'm sure none of these candidates will ever be forgotten! My two favorites: the candidate with the broom to "clean up corruption" and the foot massage (although I would never recommend a candidate offer this - it could be a little weird!).

What is the craziest antic you have seen someone do to get the job and did you hire him/her?


Cell phone happy interviews


I despise cell phones. I've seemed to curb that addiction a few years ago and it was the best thing I've ever done for myself. If it's not the owner speaking unbearably loud, it's ringing at the most inopportune times. If it's not ringing with a horrific ring tone, the owner is responding to a text message in the middle of a dinner, a movie or while driving in his car. It's amazing we live in an era when cell phones are so commonplace, yet we haven't seemed to figure out cell phone etiquette.

Like this candidate who went on the job interview....true story.

Candidate goes for an interview with a PR agency. She showed up drenched, completing dismissing the idea of cleaning up quickly in the restroom before walking through her potential employer's door.

Now that's a little strange. First impression is everything, right? Maybe it was because when she showed up, she was still talking on her cellphone! Actually, yelling. Yelling at her spouse about picking up some paperwork and the kids.

If that wasn't an awkward enough start, it gets worse. She left her phone on and then answered it during her interview

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, continuing to make her arrangements and argue in front of the hiring manager. I can only imagine it was some annoying ring tone.

Of course, she didn't get the job. Deal breaker.

Lessons Learned

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  • Avoid the situation from happening completely. Leave the cell phone in the car. Or in a briefcase or purse - turned off.
  • If the cell phone rings, don't answer it. It's the quickest way to get escorted out the door. Apologize, turn it off, and move on quickly.
  • Check the weather before leaving for the office. Better yet, keep a small umbrella in the car or office - just in case.

And one extra tidbit: Put a professional message on the cell phone voicemail. Nothing is more annoying than listening to the new Radiohead song before leaving a message.

Photo by: Cayusa

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