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Job Advice with Kate and Dale
How to quickly improve your interviewing skills
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    Dear Kate & Dale: My sister can get fired or quit and have a new job within weeks. I, however, have been looking for nearly a year. My sister says she never tells prospective employers that she was fired, because they can verify only whether or not you worked at the company. Is this true, and would you recommend it? It seems dishonest, but I am the one still looking for employment. -- Shon
    KATE: On the employment application, in the "reason for leaving" box, you should not state that you were fired. That's way too harsh. Instead, write, "Prefer to explain in person," and then have a good story. Why were you fired? Most times, it's impersonal. That is, the company was downsizing and you were caught in it, or you worked for a boss who fired everybody. What's your story?
    DALE: Yes, have a story, but if I'm the manager and I see "prefer to explain in person," I roll my eyes and put the application in the reject pile. Who's going to volunteer to hear someone's tale of woe? Instead, I'd put on the application some cliche like "Left to pursue other opportunities." Is that true? Absolutely. You just leave out the part about the hand in the middle of your back, pushing you out. In the interview, you can say, "I was planning to leave, but they beat me to it." Or, "It wasn't a good fit, and they did me the favor of pointing that out to me." Then you smile, explain what you've learned from the experience and how you're determined to find the right place to be the great employee you can be.
    KATE: As for what your ex-employer can and cannot say about you, it depends on the state you're in. So perhaps your sister is right. It seems to work for her, so maybe you should take her advice. If you find yourself obsessing about what the old company is saying about you, you can get someone to call them and say, "I'm calling for employment verification," and see just what they are telling people.
    DALE: I'm betting you'll find that your old employer is NOT the problem. That's when you can ask yourself what else your sister is doing that makes a job search easy for her. Get her to role-play with you, and perhaps you, too, can breeze into a new job.

     Dear Kate & Dale: I've been working with a career coach, and while he is knowledgeable, I don't feel we are making the right personal connection. I have another coach in mind, but he is suggesting group sessions. They have five people in a session, which seems too large to me. What do you think? -- Deidra
      DALE: Kate is the expert on this, but let me interject a general comment that seems off the subject, but is relevant ... I promise. I've been doing some creativity work with hospitals and pharmacists, some of whom have been researching group sessions for patients for all types of ailments. Now if ever there was a situation that seems to call for personal attention, it's discussing your personal health issues. But patients who try the group sessions prefer them. In the group, you get to hear all the other questions, get comfortable discussing health topics and have more time -- an hour versus 15 minutes, say. No wonder the group sessions are given higher ratings. The same advantages to group interaction occur in career groups.
    KATE: Absolutely. There is the feedback and the suggestions from peers, as well as the networking and support. Further, the group is actually a practice interview. You are forced to cover topics succinctly and learn to get to the important points upfront. That's why we've come to believe, after years of research and experimentation, that five to seven is an ideal size group. We believe that you ALSO should have private time with the coach, but the group will make you better, faster.
Kate Wendleton is the founder of The Five O'Clock Club, a national career counseling network (www.fiveoclockclub.com). Her newest book is "Mastering the Job Interview and Winning the Money Game (Thomson Delmar Learning). Dale Dauten is the founder of The Innovators' Lab. His latest book is "BETTER THAN PERFECT: How Gifted Bosses and Great Employees Lift the Performance of Those Around Them" (Career Press). Please write to them in care of King Features Syndicate, 888 Seventh Ave., New York, NY 10019, or dale@dauten.com for e-mail.