Sunday, January 29, 2017

Identifying Interview Danger Signs


There are clear signs the job markets are heating up again. Regardless, don’t think that means getting hired is any easier; companies are still screening and scrutinizing candidates more than ever. And so should you be also, screening and evaluating the people and companies for which you might work for.
Often, at our own peril, we ignore our instincts when we sense something’s amiss. Or, we acknowledge it but dismiss our concerns for whatever reason(s). The same holds true when we interview for a job, only to realize after the fact in hindsight we’ve made a mistake. Something just didn’t seem right but you failed to address it and by the time you realize it – it’s too late.
A question if I may - if there was information, that of which you became aware and which would prevent you from accepting a job, when would you prefer to learn about it -- during the interview process or later, at the water cooler?
The question was rhetorical; obviously by the time you receive a job offer, both parties involved should have had all questions or concerns satisfactorily resolved. Exclaiming, “I should’ve known better” doesn’t change anything. I mean, really, I doubt you’ll ever attend an interview where they might say, “Yeah, this job is open because it sucks and nobody’s stayed longer than 6 months. But we can’t find anyone internally willing to do it and we’ve gotta fill it.” Even if that were the truth, it is more likely you’ll be told the rosy portrayal about how great it is, in the hopes you won’t ask them any uncomfortable questions. Conversely, it might be a great job but if you don’t ask any questions and sit mute, answering only that which is asked of you, they’re very likely to conclude you’re not the sharpest candidate among their other choices. Asking questions demonstrates you are not just there, but you’re there and taking the event seriously. Now, if you opt to coast along, only going through the motions and choose to sit there like a dummy speaking only when spoken to, dutifully nodding and smiling when you think you should to show interest – well then, pardon me but you are a dummy; often, perception is reality.
Granted, you’ll never really know what will be until you start a new job. Therefore, you owe it to yourself during the interview process to learn as much as you can, by asking questions to gain as much information as you possibly can, because there is always more to be concerned with than simply the job title, duties, and money.
There are questions you will formulate during the course of the each interview you attend, but here are some examples of questions you should ask during the first interview of almost any job you’d consider:
  • Why is the position open?
  • What happened to the last person in the position?
  • How long were they in the position?
  • And the person before…?
  • Can you describe for me, a typical workday (for this role)?
  • Can you tell me something about the company culture?
  • What is the level of urgency to fill this position (when do you need someone to start)?
  • How long have you (the interviewer) been with the company?
These questions will help you to make a better informed and more confident decision.
As you navigate through the interview process you should be asking questions every step of the way, if you don’t do so you are not really an active participant but rather a passenger. If you do nothing to influence the direction of your own career you’d better hold on, it’s going to be a bumpy ride.

Sunday, January 8, 2017

Self-inflicted Wounds


The primary intent of my articles, blog, presentations, lectures and handbook is an attempt to provide people with the nearly lost skills for how to search, seek, effectively interview and, as a result, win a job of their choice in order to enhance one’s career prospects. Sadly, most people, as a result of internet dependence, have become in large part clueless about this necessary activity. 
 
No one likes to interview; it’s not something for which a normal person would choose to engage. Increasingly over the years I find myself not only coaching people about how to navigate these processes, but I find I must instruct them on the most trivial and basic interactive and communication skills. Many people think the job market and companies are unfair, when in reality, far too many people are so naïve about how to conduct themselves they are directly responsible for their own failure to advance in the interview process. Virtually everyone is guilty in some measure of what I am speaking.  When it comes to simple interpersonal communications skills, or now referred to as soft-skills, mainly young people who’ve entered the job market during the last 5 years and are launching their careers, are the most handicapped. 
 
Let’s take one simple but glaring example:  most people to varying degrees are concerned about their work / life balance. During the last year I have witnessed too many young people, who are otherwise very talented, totally blow their chances in the very first interview. They often ask in no uncertain terms, “How long will I have to work each day?” At first thought, you might think there’s nothing wrong with this question and it is something everyone wants to know. It isn’t the question that is a deal killer, it is how they ask the question that in the eyes of a hiring manager makes them almost instantly undesirable and disqualified, no matter how good their resume may look.
 
Apparently finesse is another lost skill in the internet-will-do-it-for-me age in which we live. I am not going into great detail nor debate anyone who disagrees with me – 25 years of experience and trend watching is the reason – I am correct and companies increasingly say the same. As is so often the case, it is not a matter of what is said, but how it is expressed. How about trying this instead, “Can you describe for me a typical work day and work week in your organization?” This is one, among many potential good questions, as to what you should ask in a first face-to-face interview. This will help you accomplish the main purpose of the first interview, to learn more about the job and company beyond that pathetically simple and empty job description you were aware of when you applied. This question is more thoughtful than asking, “what time do I gotta start work and what time can I get outa’ here each day?”, which is implied by the brain-dead simplistic question exemplified in the paragraph above.
 
In the past, we learned to successfully interview by trial and error. When we screwed up, we’d learn from our mistakes and adjust as we went along. But presently, you may not have as many good jobs as in the past from which to choose and, adding to the equation, interviewers are less patient. You see, compounding the problem is the increasing lack of soft-skills of both job seekers and interviewers. This means you must make the most of each opportunity you have. 
 
Indeed, we all make mistakes and hopefully we learn from them - and ignorance is no excuse to keep repeating stupid mistakes. All that is required is to reflect upon and recognize that your lack of progress is not everyone else’s fault. Developing and improving the interactive skills we learned – or should have learned interacting with others as children is an integral part of your career development and progress.

Monday, December 19, 2016

A Good Resume is Not Enough


It is well-known or should be that by itself a good resume isn’t enough to get you a job. The human element is still the most critical deciding factor affecting who gets hired and who does not.
Interpersonal communication skills or Soft Skills as they’ve come to be known are critical to your efforts. Sadly, a growing number of people, especially those under the age of 35, are more likely to be lacking in this area at a time when senior company managers have rightly begun to recognize this deficit with respect to their hiring processes. Those over 35 are losing them with increased reliance on convenient technologies that have generally speaking, become necessities.
With 25 years of experience recruiting and placing many different kinds of people, I don’t care how much money you have spent for your college degree, or how much technical expertise you may possess. If you cannot communicate as to why an interviewer should choose you over someone else or if you cannot articulate how they will benefit by selecting you instead of someone as similarly qualified as you are, you may very well get beat out by someone who can – and this is why Soft Skills matter.
Lately, there is more and more evidence that companies have worryingly recognized the lack of Soft Skills among applicants and current employees and they are beginning to put increased value and focus on them. The reason is simple: without soft skills salespeople can’t effectively sell, managers cannot manage to their full potential, teams can’t optimize their efforts as one nor interact, which affects their bottom line of profitability and competitiveness. In short, it has an inevitable dumbing-down effect across the societal and economic spectrum.
So just what are Soft Skills? Read this from Wikipedia:
“Soft skills is a term often associated with a person's “EQ” (Emotional Intelligence Quotient), the cluster of personality traits, social graces, communication, language, personal habits, friendliness, and optimism that characterize relationships with other people. Soft skills complement hard skills which are the occupational requirements of a job and many other activities. They are related to feelings, emotions, insights and (some would say) an 'inner knowing': i.e. they provide an important complement to 'hard skills' and IQ.
Soft skills are personal attributes that enhance an individual's interactions, job performance and career prospects. Unlike hard skills, which are about a person's skill set and ability to perform a certain type of task or activity, soft skills relate to a person's ability to interact effectively with coworkers and customers and are broadly applicable both in and outside the workplace.
So don’t let anyone tell you this is no big deal, and it goes to the heart of all the advice and methods I advise people to consider and work on, because this is the stuff that transcends a nicely-prepared resume. It is what gives your resume horsepower; it’s the second part of the one-two punch that elevates you beyond most others competing in the same contest – it is what makes the difference.
Technology and the convenience it provides us is a good thing, but growing dependence on it has an unintended crippling effect. You may find my perspective extreme and dystopian but, as people become more and more connected virtually and digitally, they are more disconnected in reality. That face-to-face disconnect of the physically interactive world on social levels is being replaced with the digital unreality. In the best case, those who lack soft skills will continue to be frustrated when their job search efforts result in a dead end. At worst, we’re on track to dividing into two distinct social strata, between those who can function and obtain for themselves good employment and the rest; incapable of finding decent work thus reducing their career options to the most menial of tasks; a self-imposed virtual caste system. Of which group will you and your family be a part?

Sunday, December 4, 2016

Too Far to Commute, Too Close to Relocate


For whatever reason, perhaps the available jobs in your local vicinity are either not suitable or there may be few available. Let’s say, hypothetically, there is a job you are considering, you like them and they like you. They are willing to pay more money, but there is a two hour or longer one-way commute on a clear weather and good traffic day. However, it is a good job and the kind for which you have been looking, so you think beyond the commute issue, instead considering the good things and benefits for you and your family. 
 
I’ve witnessed this sort of situation and, most often, accepting these circumstances is rationalized by focusing on the good or because of need, although I do warn candidates of the negatives to which they should give more credence. Everything starts out well, but often it isn’t long before I receive a call from the candidate who accepted the job, telling me they are unhappy, never home and the increased money they are earning is swallowed up by fuel and occasional hotel costs, when there is a snow storm or a late night at the office. 
 
This distance of the commute could be such that it does not make sense to sell your house and relocate with all that includes, such as uprooting children, etc. A long commute can take its toll in many ways you may not have anticipated; not least of which is the total time you are commuting to and fro, combined with the time at work. This could mean, as an example, a four hours or more total commute time added to your work day, which is likely more than just 8 hours. If you’re lucky, you are still looking at a minimum of 12 hours per day and that doesn’t even account for bad weather, highway construction delays or spontaneous traffic snarls. 
 
If you find yourself in such a situation, you must give equal consideration to the negative aspects of such a lifestyle change. It’s easy to justify the good things. I also assume most people recognize relocation should be the logical conclusion, once you’ve settled into the job. Indeed, I know some people who do the long distance marriage thing and see each other on weekends, if their company will pay the expense or pay enough to make that an option. We’re all different, but most people cannot live like this long term without it impacting their personal relationships. If you’re single, perhaps it isn’t a big deal, but you should not overlook the financial costs vs. benefits and remember that your time has value that is measurable, both in monetary and quality-of-life terms.

 

 

Sunday, November 13, 2016

How to Close the Interview


One of the most basic, and a very important thing you can do to aid your efforts towards a successful outcome, is the manner by which you finish the interview. I mean each interview, every time, with everyone you meet, anytime throughout your career. How you close the interview says a lot about you, your abilities, and your level of interest and conveys a measure of professionalism many people overlook.  

So there you are, being interviewed and the time arrives when they ask, “So, do you have any questions?” You should, of course, have some as a result of your time spent with the hiring official with whom you’re meeting. But before you conclude, there is one final question you will make a part of your interview ritual for the rest of your career - no joke, from this time forward. It sounds like this, “We’ve been speaking for the last hour (or whatever it has been) and I would like ask, what’s the next step?” or, “We’ve been speaking for the last hour…is there any reason you would not recommend me for the next interview step?” Say it however you want, be polite but decisive and clear about your intent and then stop talking, don’t speak, zip it and if I need to suggest it more bluntly, shut up – don’t add anything or feed an answer and now wait for their reply. 

There are three likely answers: 

1)     “I first need to talk to my colleague(s)…”, “…meet additional applicants”, “…review my notes…”, “…eat a ham sandwich…” etc. (just kidding about the last one) 

No problem and it is okay, so they gave you some BS answer and chose to sidestep the question. It’s all right you asked, you did your part and it was noted.

2)     “…when I asked about…you said…but your resume says something different, could you clarify it for me?”
 
If they have a concern or need a clarification, you certainly want to address it here and now. You don’t want to leave question marks to dangle in their mind, assuming you’ll get a chance to clear it up later, if they have a concern you likely won’t get a next chance. Go ahead and respond, then ask if the additional info satisfies their query? If so, repeat your question about the next step which presumably brings you to the third possible reply.

3)     “We’d like to meet you again…”
 
Although it may appear I’m oversimplifying, I am not. This is how you close and finish every interview. Of course there are never any guarantees, but this is without a doubt the best way to conclude an interview and it might even extend the conversation, which is a good thing. 
 
So what does this do for you? It clearly demonstrates your interest and that you are decisive and proactive. Furthermore, you’ve distinguished yourself from most others who sound needy when they sheepishly say, “Well, um, thank you and I hope I hear from you.” Now there’s a snoozer of a parting statement!

Sunday, October 30, 2016

Making a Change


The concept of change scares the hell out of some people. Many of us like our routines, and we don’t like unplanned or unanticipated surprises, or anything that upsets the status quo. But change does and will happen. Actually, I have observed that the people who attempt to exert the most effort to control all aspects of their lives, and the lives of everyone around them, are much more easily freaked out, than if they just stepped back and took on their problems as they occur, like the rest of us. These are sometimes the same people who automatically assume that change always portends something negative, and rarely do they consider change may actually portend something better. As a result, we get the very outcomes we expect whether we mean to or not, good or bad, our perceptions will make it so. If you’re negative you’ll reap lots of negative stuff. If you are positive it won’t be so bad. Our perception is reality. If you seek a bad result you’ll certainly find it.
 
Most of us accept change as a fact of life, and a few of us actually look forward to change. Some of us get downright bored if things remain the same for too long. I used to fear change, but it’s like the cliché of a glass of water being half-full, or half-empty. Change rarely portends only dark certainty but, more often, new possibilities, some good and some bad, but one never knows. Do we have setbacks, yes, we all experience them and to use yet another cliché, you may need to take a step back in order to take two steps forward. Once again, it is all about how we choose to view it. One thing is sure, new circumstances keep us on our toes, and perhaps we are at our best when we have periodic changes in the scenery of our lives. How many opportunities are missed for fear of change? Your frame of mind will make a big difference; are you open to a new circumstance or will you fight it every step of the way? Turning negatives into positives is what we do in life. Taking a situation that holds others back, and making it work in your favor, is what sets you apart from others waiting for someone or something to do for them what they seem unable to do for themselves. If you freak out over the reality of change you are going to have to get over it if you want to move ahead. I would suggest it’s not so much change that scares us, as the worry about being caught unprepared to react to it when it comes. 
 
If you are going through a period during which you are questioning what is ahead for you, who knows, you may later look back and realize this was an exciting time and you were more alert, sharper edged and at the top of your game, prepared and ready for your next step and whatever life throws at you.

 

 

Monday, October 17, 2016

Act in Your Own Best Interest


When you search for a job and subsequently interview, you’re supposed to ask questions. Although increasingly, I find that people have a reluctance to do so and they somehow imagine a good resume is all that is necessary and somehow everything else will fall into place and take care of itself.
 
There are five basic types of questions: Factual, Convergent, Divergent, Evaluative and Combination. But let’s keep things simple, for our purposes I’m only concerned with open-ended and close-ended questions. Consciously knowing the difference and learning when to use one or another can help you, regardless of whether you are being asked, or you are the one asking the questions.
 
Open-ended questions require an explanation. Open-ended questions are like the name says: they are open-ended requiring explanation that will help to gain more insight or better understanding. Let’s say for example, I want to engage a person in conversation that has no real reason to speak with me, and I ask, “Are you interested in considering a new job opportunity?” Their reply is possibly going to be “no”. That was a close-ended question. If I wanted to learn more about him, I might have instead inquired, “Tell me what kind of job would appeal to you?” That was an open-ended question requiring a more thoughtful response resulting in more information.
 
A close-ended question is one that elicits a simple yes or no answer. If you ask a lot of close-ended questions you will not get a lot of information and the conversation will not go far. By the very nature of this kind of question, it’s not meant to. When you watch television and see a courtroom drama, you will notice a lawyer will ask someone on the witness stand a close-ended question when they might say “Did you or did you not see who killed your neighbor?” The intention is to limit the witness’ response to a yes or no and cutting off and preventing any discussion. He doesn’t want details and the lawyer has steered the question and answer process to serve his intention.
 
Determine, according to what will benefit you most, when to employ an open-ended or a close-ended question. When you want a black and white answer or a clear decision ask a close-ended question. When you want to keep the dialogue alive and extract more information, with which to make a better decision and prove yourself worthy of another interview, ask engaging open-ended questions. Conversely, learn to recognize when these methods are being used on you. Interviews are never meant to be, nor should they be, one-sided. I am not exaggerating when I say most people with whom you are competing in the job market are like zombies, simply going through the motions.
 
When sitting in front of a hiring official, their behavior is almost entirely reactive. I can assure you it doesn’t take much to set yourself apart from others, and it’s much easier than you think to make real impact. In the end they may not choose you, as there are never any guarantees but, take some initiative so when you walk out that door, unlike most others who’ll be forgotten five minutes later, you’ll have made an impact they’ll remember.