Job Search Process
Preparing a Professional Portfolio
Preparing a professional portfolio to present to an interview team can help them understand your skills, qualifications and approach to education.
It could include any of the following:
- your philosophy and beliefs about learning
- evaluations, feedback from practicums, performance reports
- transcripts, degrees, diplomas, certification, license, other official papers
- reference letters from professors or mentors
- writing samples, presentations made, research completed
- training courses, committees, workshops or conferences attended
- information about community or volunteer experience
- significant artifacts such as photos, pictures, newspaper articles
- awards, scholarships, special recognition
Writing a Resume
A resume offers the “complete picture” of you to a potential employer – it is important to make sure it will make a good first impression. Employers will scan a resume for about 30 seconds to decide whether to consider the applicant. The resume is “key to the interview", a summary of why you are the best candidate for the job. Before preparing or updating your resume you must know what you have to offer, understand the needs of the employer and be able to make the connection between the two. The resume should be an honest and clear demonstration of your skills, abilities and achievements. The resume should be professionally presented with no spelling or grammar mistakes, well-formatted and focused on a particular job.
When preparing resumes for education positions, include:
- range or categories of subjects you teach
- number of students you have taught
- diversity of students you have taught
- size of classes you have managed
- level of students success your class has achieved such as high grade point averages, high attendance levels or high number of awards or scholarships received by your students
- learning labs, curriculum or modules you have developed and the technologies or special tools you have integrated into labs or curriculum
- number of teachers or other staff you have trained – was the training in-school, district-wide, regional or national training
- size of the school or district that you taught in
- extracurricular activities you have developed, directed or participated in that relate to your job objective
- professional training you have completed and certifications you hold that relate to the teaching position you want
- administrative duties such as completing attendance or district records
- grants you have written, funds you have managed or special equipment you have obtained for your school
- meetings you may have chaired or other types of consultation you may have provided
- level of parent conferencing or volunteer involvement
- skills you developed in non-teaching positions that contribute to your skill as an educator, such as staff supervision, administrative management, counselling, community leadership or organizational management
Writing a Cover Letter
You should always include a cover letter along with your resume. The cover letter is often the first impression that an employer has of you – a good cover letter will help ensure that an employer looks at your resume. Unlike the resume, the employer will probably read every single word of your cover letter. Make these words count! Consider the cover letter the “hook” and the resume the “complete picture” of how you are qualified for the position.
A cover letter is usually no more than one page in length and typically consists of three paragraphs:
- The first paragraph is an introduction stating why you are writing and how you heard about the position.
- The second paragraph relates your skills and abilities to the employers needs and shows why you would be the best person for the job.
- Finally, the third paragraph re-states your interest in the position, thanks the employer for their consideration and provides the opportunity to request an interview.
When you are writing your cover letter remember the following tips:
- Always write one – a resume that arrives without one is often not looked at.
- Customize it for the particular employer and posting. If there is one, quote the posting number in the first sentence. Write each letter to the attention of the person in charge of hiring and make sure you spell their name properly!
- Highlight what qualifications you have for this posting. This is a short, well-written summary of what you have to offer this particular employer in a specific capacity. The more focused you make it the better. Make sure it stands out.
- Always mention something about the company or organization. This shows that you took the time to research and learn about the employer, their values and their business. Keep it subtle and professional while making it clear how your skills and experience work with what they are looking for.
- As with your resume, make sure your cover letter is error free. Spelling mistakes and typos will harm your chances, even if you are the most qualified person for the job. Have someone you trust review your cover letter (someone in the field if possible).
- Use an easy-to-read and easy-to-scan font with no extra formatting.
- A cover letter should be typed, unless an employer indicates otherwise.
- Make sure your letter includes your contact information, the job title, the organization name, your qualifications, any additional and relevant skills, a conclusion and sign-off.
It’s important not to:
- make the cover letter longer than one page
- use a big word when a small one will do – keep it simple and focused
- include too many facts or facts that are irrelevant to the position
- use contractions, slang or acronyms
- use coloured paper or type
- include photos or graphics
Is preparing for a job in Nova Scotia similar or different from finding work in your first country?
Preparing for an Interview
Review possible questions ahead of time. There are several different interview formats, but most will be behavioural interviews.
This means that the employer will ask you questions about your previous behaviour in order to predict your future behaviour. Example – “Can you tell us about a time where you implemented a good idea (or solved a conflict or achieved something you are proud of)?”
One of the most important points of a behavioural interview is the ability to summarize both the action that you took in the past and the result of your action. The S.T.A.R. method can help ensure you talk about key points in your response: Situation – Task – Action – Result.
SITUATION- describe the circumstances
TASK - specify the project or assignment
ACTION - outline the steps you took
RESULT - discuss the outcome of the situation and any lessons learned
It is a good idea to try to anticipate the types of questions you will be asked in an interview and practice your responses before the interview. Behavioural questions may include various topics including examples of good communication skills, conflict resolution skills, decision-making ability, interpersonal skills, leadership ability, management skills, motivational skills, organizational skills, problem-solving skills and teamwork and/or technical skills.
In preparing your answers focus on what the organization is looking for in an employee. Identify situations in the past where you have demonstrated the qualities and skills they are looking for. Link the qualities to what you have learned about the company. Be prepared to talk about the roles you played, actions you took and the results of your actions. Ask yourself “why do I want this job?” and “what do I have to offer?” and try to put those answers into your responses.
Make sure you practice your answers out loud. If possible, get someone to videotape you so you can really see how you are looking and sounding. Hearing and seeing yourself perform can help sharpen your interview skills. Be clear and focused, and make yourself sound great. Obviously, you want to choose key moments that you are really proud of and that demonstrate your star qualities to the employer.
Situational interview questions are similar to behavioural questions, but rather than focusing on a past experience, they focus on a made up situation that you might face on the job. This style is designed to show how you would perform in a situation based on your present skills, knowledge and abilities. The S.T.A.R approach can help with these questions as well. Review the steps you have taken to solve similar problems and make corrections. You can also put these experiences into your answers to show that you have experience in taking care of similar situations.
The traditional interview uses broad based questions that attempt to answer three questions:
- Does the job-seeker have the skills and abilities to do the job?
- Does the job-seeker have the enthusiasm and work ethic the employer requires?
- Will the job seeker be a team player and fit into the organization’s culture?
Sample Interview Questions
- Tell me about a time when your work was criticized and how you reacted.
- Tell me about a time when you were under pressure to meet a strict deadline and what measures you took to ensure the success of a situation.
- Tell me about a time when you had to work with a difficult colleague and how you handled the situation.
- Give me an example of a time when you had to go above and beyond the call of duty in order to get a job done.
- Tell me about an occasion when you conformed to a policy even though you did not agree with it.
- You have just received a call from your supervisor to inform you the deadline for the project you have been working on has been changed. You know you will not be able to meet the new deadline. What do you do?
- You have just been designated the team lead on a new task. You have ten people on your team. What steps do you take to ensure that the project is a success?
- A disgruntled employee in your department has made a habit of arriving late to work and causing minor disruptions during the day. This employee is causing a negative effect on the morale of staff. How would you handle this situation?
- Why do you want to work for this company?
- Tell me about your strengths and weaknesses?
- How does your education, skills and training relate to this position?
- Why should we hire you?
- What are your long-term career goals?
- What do you know about our organization?
- What interests you about the position, organization and industry?
In the Interview
The interview is the most important part of the job search. The candidate that does the best in the interview will likely be the candidate chosen for the job. Research shows that employers often decide if they want to hire you in the first two minutes of an interview.
- First impressions are important! When you go to an interview remember that you are selling an image. Well-fitting clothing, simple designs and neutral colours are the best. Remember, it is always better to be over-dressed for an interview.
- Prepare the morning of the interview! Take time to review the job description and answers to your anticipated questions. Remember to bring copies of your professional portfolio, resume, a list of your references, a copy of the job description, your notes (questions for the panel, answers to anticipated questions), paper and two pens. These should all be put into a folder or portfolio for easy reference.
- Answer questions carefully! When you are asked a question during the interview take the time to collect your thoughts before answering. Never answer with a simple yes or no – explain and provide specific examples. Answer questions honestly and if questions touch on areas of past mistakes, take the opportunity to describe what you learned from the experiences. Never speak badly about past employers. Be positive and professional.
- Ask questions at the interview! Many employers will ask if you have any questions during the interview. Take this opportunity to clarify information about the organization or position, and asking intelligent, relevant questions can show your interest in the position. Some questions to ask are:
- What are the main duties of this position?
- Who does this position report to?
- What is the most challenging part of this position?
- What characteristics do you look for in people doing this position?
- Is this a new position?
- Are there opportunities for advancement within the organization/company?
- Can you tell me how my performance will be evaluated?
- Do you have plans for expansion?
- When will you be making your decision?
- Will you be contacting all candidates with your decision?
Other questions may come to you during the interview. Keep a pad and pen handy to write down notes so you can ask them later.
5. Avoid certain topics! Do not bring up salary expectations during an interview. Make sure though you have done enough research to have a range estimate in case the interviewer brings it up. It is to your advantage to wait until you have an offer to discuss salary.
6. Wrap up after the interview! Send a thank-you note to each individual who was on the interview panel. This is a quick and simple way to make yourself stand apart from the other candidates. Keep it professional and use proper business formatting.
Interviews are opportunities for learning and positive growth. When/If you receive a call telling you that you are the successful candidate, ask how you can prepare for the job and who would be the best person to speak to. If you were not the successful candidate, this is a chance to demonstrate your professionalism and your qualities as a learner. Ask if someone from the team can give you a debriefing. Ask for an appointment for a time to discuss your performance over the telephone. Take the debriefing suggestions very seriously. Ask for clarification and examples if you are unsure. Look for opportunities to grow in some of your skills and experiences. Interview teams need to know that you are comfortable and confident in the necessary skills. Have questions of your own ready for debriefing. Perhaps you were not sure what was intended by a certain line of questioning or you wondered what might have been a better response.