Thursday, February 28, 2013

How to Ruin Your Chances

Sometimes I think there are people who consciously claim they want to succeed, yet subconsciously seem to do everything in their power to sabotage themselves. Sharing, no, imposing their problems on others is a sure way of not being invited back for another interview. Then they wonder why they can never get a break! You may be the best qualified person but, if after an interview, the person with whom you’ve met feels as if they need a shower to wash off all that bad mojo you left with them, don’t be surprised if there is no call back.  

There are a few topical areas you should avoid in the interview process. Forgive me, for I have worked to build a reputation for straight talk, which means I might unintentionally offend some people’s sensibilities. I like honesty and increasingly it seems people want honesty until they get it; however, to make the necessary points I must speak freely. Politically-correct speech is an assault that hastens the slow death of Free Speech, because speaking one’s mind will assuredly offend someone, somewhere. By mincing and sugar-coating words, sometimes the people who most need the advice don’t hear it. With that said, here are two of the biggest examples of what you should avoid at all costs to maintain your eligibility: 

  • Don’t talk trash about your past or present employer(s) – From the perspective of the interviewer, complaining about a past employer makes it appear that you are shifting blame, it’s juvenile. If, when you are asked to describe your past work history, you choose to spend more time whining and bitching about how unfairly you’ve been treated and portray yourself as the victim of circumstance, rather than using the time constructively to instead demonstrate reasons why hiring you is a good thing, guess who’s to blame for the momentum of your candidacy screeching to a halt? Likewise, the interviewer logically concludes that if you talk in this negative manner about others, at some point you will do the same about your next employer. You may be right and it all could be true but so what. It might make you feel good to vent but it will accomplish absolutely nothing productive – so don’t do it. Stick with and focus on the positive aspects of your experience and if you must or are asked about past unfortunate circumstances, never lie, but keep it to a minimum, separate and refrain from venting your personal feelings; keep it professional, conduct yourself professionally.
  • Leave your personal problems at home – The interview is all about demonstrating your interest and qualifications for the job for which you have interest and that’s all. You should instead be learning more about the job and circumstances surrounding the opportunity you’re there to investigate. Considering that most interviews are limited by time, sharing your personal problems has no place at an interview. Sharing your personal travails and difficulties is viewed unfavorably to say the least. I don’t care how sad a story it is, it’s not personal, it’s business is the phrase that comes to mind, so keep it that way. Seeking pity or some validation for your misfortune will not compensate for a weakness in your suitability for a job and earns you no extra credit, there is no such thing as pity points on the interview score card. Interviewers are not your therapist, counselor, social worker nor are they your pal or buddy. I assure you that if you spill your issues out onto the table or bare your soul when you’re supposed to be interviewing, the interviewer might be feigning compassion and understanding, but they are inwardly begging for the clock to tick ahead to when they can end this torturous period of time they’ve wasted. Ask yourself, whether intended or not, do you really think you’ll get another invitation for the next round with that kind of strategy?  

Now more than ever we know people, or we ourselves have experienced difficulties in our professional and personal lives, and if you haven’t, it’s a good bet you will at some point. I’m no different and I empathize, I’ve had my share of difficulties, but those are my crosses to bear, and not the burden or responsibility of others. You will only be hurting yourself, it will detract from any positives your candidacy brings to the interview and subtracts points from any of those gained as a result of your qualifications, experience and accomplishments.  

If you happen to be someone who resembles that which I’ve described above, you have a historical pattern of this kind of interview behavior and you can be honest with yourself about it, good, it’s a step in the right direction. I assure you that interviewers and companies can also recognize these patterns. If you’re one of these people your task is to break the cycle, fight the urge to make excuses and instead concentrate on sharing why you are the best choice to hire, and not to provide them with the easy justification for why you are not. Sorry, but there are no ifs, ands or buts, no exceptions; it’s already a tight employment market, use your head and don’t handicap yourself unnecessarily. 

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Monday, February 25, 2013

What Gets a Person Hired? Pt II


Indeed, the resume might get their attention and get you in the door, but that’s it, then what? Sadly, this is where the proactive efforts of most people and their preparations end. So resume aside, I see two primary areas in which you can improve and seek to master. One area involves the process, as in the structure and navigation of the interview, and the second aspect is you. Understanding the process and being better prepared is indeed important and we talk about that stuff on this blog. Although, navigating the process is still dependent on your reaction to the steps when they occur, so it comes down to you; look in the mirror. I cannot stress enough the importance of developing and mastering your interpersonal communication skills.  

Communicating isn’t about talking, a lot of people talk but don’t say much. With a critical eye, ask yourself how comfortable and confident you are with your own abilities, can you: 

  • Convincingly present your experience, accomplishments and why you are suitable for the job?
  • Express yourself, explain and demonstrate in a cogent manner?
  • Communicate in a manner that will elicit interactive conversation?
  • Formulate and deliver coherent questions for the information you want?

Don’t dismiss the importance of developing and maintaining your ability to communicate especially when you are trying to convince someone why they should hire you. Notice, these skills have nothing to do with academia, credentials and it costs little more than an investment of personal time and an interest to improve. You don’t learn this stuff in school, they aren’t equipped for it. These are skills you learn either by making an effort or by trial and error over the course of years, as most people do. But why fumble along so that, by the time you figure it out, your career is in the waning years? Take charge of your career by taking charge of yourself; make a commitment to improve yourself so that you are a formidable participant of the interview process and not merely a victim of it. In the effort to improve your chances for getting hired, do you want to have more control over your fate? Then work on that which you can most influence. And keep visiting this blog or (here comes a shameless marketing ploy) refer to my book. 

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Thursday, February 21, 2013

What Gets a Person Hired? Pt I

I was recently asked by someone who follows my blog on FaceBook, “What gets a person hired?” It’s a good question and one I have heard often during my career as a recruiter / headhunter for the last 20 plus years. But there is no simple answer to a process that can be anything but simple and if there was, nobody would have an ounce of interest in blogs like this one and others. I wish there was a universal antidote because then we could instead be sitting on far off beaches with sand between our toes, sipping big drinks with chunks of fruit and little umbrellas hanging off the sides and laughing about things we used to stress over. Unfortunately, there is no silver bullet solution; no secret handshakes or magical words that can ensure you’ll be chosen for a job you seek - there are just too many variables. 

When you are looking for a job, applying, interviewing, etc., you can’t dictate or force the outcome of a situation and trying to do so will almost always backfire. I can’t control the result of any particular event or process and I’ve been doing this for a long time. But I can suggest ways to get the most out of the time you have with a hiring official; you can also influence the only part of the equation that is under your full control, and that’s you. Empowering yourself and making a conscious effort to improve your interviewing abilities can be, well, powerful. When I consider job search and interview strategies I always first consider what is everyone else doing? Do you know what most everyone else is doing? They are looking at one another trying not to stray too far from the crowd and, in most cases they are just stumbling their way through the process. The biggest effort most people make is in constructing their resume and why? Because that is what everyone else thinks and says they should do. As I stated in the first paragraph, if everyone else had the answer everyone else would be getting hired, but there are usually more applicants than open positions, so that makes it into a competition between you and others. Your resume is such a small part I am always amazed at just how much effort people invest in a piece of paper, but fail to make nearly as much of an effort to develop their own abilities; you know, like what happens when it’s your turn to speak. Oh, wait a minute, you mean the resume doesn’t speak for you, but then why did you spend so much time…? 

(Part II will be posted on Monday) 

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Monday, February 18, 2013

Your Best Method to Close the Interview, Pt II


Companies want people who want to join them, so it is always wise to make clear you have interest in the job for which you are applying. Playing hard-to-get might be okay if you are a recruited candidate and pursued by a company, or as a dating strategy, but if you are an applicant seeking further consideration, sleep-walking through the interview, being aloof or feigning disinterested doesn’t quite make sense, does it. And sales people especially take note, if you’re seeking a sales position and you don’t Close them, you're toast, you won’t get called back. A sales manager once told me, with regard to a failed applicant he interviewed for a sales position; he said, “…if he couldn’t close me I can’t depend on him to close a customer.” 

Applying this technique you’ve then got to consider when and how to apply it in differing interview formats; how would it differ between more than one person, panel interviews, round-robin interviews, telephone interviews or assessment centers? 

One-on-one interview – Close as described. 

Panel interview with 2 or more persons – Close the panel collectively.

Round-robin, (consecutive) interview – Close each person, subsequent pair or group you meet. 

Telephone interview – In this situation Close with a clear intent of seeking a face-to-face, in-person interview / meeting.  

Assessment center – Close each person you meet or station you rotate through by asking, “What is the next step?” 

Closing the interview is most effective and powerful in one-on-one and panel interviews. It is still useful in round-robin interviews because, although one interviewer may not take notice, there is a chance it will resonate with someone else and that can only be a good thing. For a telephone interview your goal is always to get a face-to-face interview because meeting in person is always preferred. Lastly, nothing says you’re just a number as when you participate in an assessment center; it’s like speed-dating for job seekers. I mean, really, how can an interviewer really learn anything about you in a few minutes when the clock is ticking and others are standing in line behind you? But at least you can show your intent by asking for and about the next step.

And what else does Closing the interview do for you? You’re taking some small measure of control over your fate in the process of which you are an integral part, so when you depart perhaps you’ll exit with some tangible indication of how it went and what may lie ahead. Or just don’t worry about it and be like most others who said, “um, uh well thank you, I hope I hear from you.” And spend the next days and weeks frustrated, waiting and watching for an email or a phone call.  

For more about the rationale behind the method of Closing, in the context of selling and why it absolutely applies to the interview process, please refer to my blog post of 19 November, 2012.

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Thursday, February 14, 2013

Your Best Method to Close the Interview, Pt I

There are arguably many parts of the interview event that are critical, depending on whom you ask. You can dissect it right on down to the pressure applied to a handshake, eye-to-eye contact, sitting upright as opposed to slouching, replying with “yes” instead of “yeah”, but these all relate to common sense and are behavioral in nature. For the most part, these things refer to common courtesies and this is stuff all of us already know, regardless of whether or not we choose to do it. Instead, I like to talk about strategies that enhance a person’s chances among and compared with the crowd of others who are all doing the same things which illustrate the cliché of a herd mentality. I’d rather concentrate on helping people to help themselves stand out and separate themselves from also-rans in the most beneficial manner. We’re not talking about in-your-face shock-effect stunts to get noticed, but we are talking about strategic shock and awe to be impactful, thereby being remembered for the right reasons and, most of all, for your abilities reflected in your interview performance. There are so many little things you can do, which, by themselves don’t mean much. But, combined and applied with thoughtful timing and calculated delivery, they become powerful tools.

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, 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 to 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 possible 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 effectively set yourself apart from everyone else who sheepishly says as though they are begging, “um, uh well thank you, I hope I hear from you.” Talk about a snoozer of a final parting statement!  

(Part II will be posted on Monday) 

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Monday, February 11, 2013

Questioning the Questioner, Pt. II


Of course, it is possible the silly question I addressed was intended to provoke conversation in much the same manner I described, but I doubt it. Regardless, if you don’t understand the question ask for clarification. It doesn’t reflect badly on you, instead it demonstrates you are paying attention to what’s going on, which is more than I can say about some interviewers. We’ve all heard, “There are no stupid questions” though I am of the opinion the issue is not so much the question as it is the ability of the questioner to formulate a coherent query. So yes, a poorly-formulated question, with no real understanding as to what it means or what the answer should be is a stupid question. As the applicant, you also have a responsibility to exploit the interview to take note of their competency as a representative of the company for which you seek to work. It’s not only about them needing a full understanding of your abilities, you’ll need to also make an informed decision; are the managers you’re meeting up to snuff; will they be qualified to be your manager. It is a little more interesting proposition when you consider it this way, isn’t it.  

So when you interview, have your how, what and why questions ready to go. Ask them anytime during the process you see fit and don’t be afraid to take plenty of notes, even if it means asking them to wait a moment while you jot something down. Most interviewers don’t mind answering your questions although they might ask if they can be addressed later; okay, no problem if it is mutually understood you’ll need the answers before a final interview stage. It’s actually rare when you will interview with a jerk that says or implies, “Hey, I’m the one asking the questions here.” But if this does happen to you be grateful, it will reveal what you could be getting yourself into.  

The most obvious sign an interview is nearing conclusion is when you are asked, “Do you have any questions”. If you’ve been interactive during the meeting it should instead be, “Do you have any final questions”. Unless you’ve just been a lump sitting there and nodding your head feigning involvement, there should have heard something you have questions about. Interviewers are more surprised and often disappointed if you don’t have any questions.  

Most of us are busy working and concentrating on our jobs and interviewing is something we worry about and do only when we must and it’s not something we choose to think much about in our spare time. On the other hand it is a process I have obsessed about for over 20 years. Do some preparation and believe in yourself, even if you think the interviewer is winging it, you can’t afford to and shouldn’t.   

Don’t get the impression I am mocking companies or those tasked with selecting new hires. From their perspective they meet what can seem like an endless line of applicants, it can become mundane and after a while people might all start to look and sound the same, so resolve not to be one of those. Make it count, nobody dragged you kicking and screaming into an interview, you’re there by choice. When you shake their hand recognize the pressure is not only on you and the sword of scrutiny cuts both ways. Confident (not cocky) and self-assured (not self-aggrandizing) people fare better during an interview process and, longer term, you’ll make better decisions when you evaluate and engage them - as much as they are - with you. 

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Thursday, February 7, 2013

Questioning the Questioner, Pt. I

When you interview, it is a two way-dialogue, or at least it is supposed to be. Participating in the hiring process is not just about them evaluating you, although most interviewers might like for you to have this impression, because it makes their job easier. Sure, you’re among others, sometimes many others in pursuit of the same position and it’s incumbent upon you to demonstrate why you are the best choice. Yet many people feel as if they are on the defensive, although it is their own mindset having placed them in that position. Of course the pressure is on as you seek to rate highly enough on their scale for a call back and subsequent interview step. But it’s not and never is only about evaluating you, you are also evaluating them. Along with the job specs and responsibilities, the people you meet are a reflection of the organization which you could potentially be joining. Very often before they walk into the first interview, or participate in a telephone interview, some people have already handicapped themselves with the anxiety of placing all of the pressure on themselves. Why? 

And what about the interviewers – they are not always as prepared as they should be. Nobody has all the answers all of the time, you won’t and very often, they don’t. Perhaps, they may be very knowledgeable about the job for which you’re applying but wouldn’t really be able to recognize good talent if it’s sitting right in front of them. Worse yet, some interviewers are just sleep walking through the process, running down a list of questions someone gave to them, and they would have no better answers than you if the tables were turned. There is more pressure on the applicant, as it should be, because unless you were a recruited candidate, you knocked on their door. Nonetheless, you also have a responsibility to evaluate the interviewer. And why not? They are a representative of their company in a position to determine if you will gain further consideration. I’ve known some very nice HR and management folks with good intentions who haven’t a clue how to really conduct an interview much less evaluate the capability or intent of the people they interview. Likewise, an applicant might depart the interview scratching their head wondering what they just experienced when they reflect on some of the questions and the manner in which they were asked.  

Here’s an example: I had recently asked followers of this blog on Facebook for some examples of the silliest questions people have encountered during an interview and one caught my attention. During the interview they were asked, “What methods do you use to communicate with co-workers?” Unless they are referring to sign language I assume it would be by verbal means because very few of us have yet mastered telepathy and you just can’t rely solely on body language. That was a joke but seriously, I am sure someone somewhere thinks that is a clever question, but I found it to be ridiculous. Most likely it was poorly formulated because I haven’t a clue what they want to know. Anytime you get a very vague or general question, don’t lose your calm or concentration and don’t let it throw you, if you don’t understand the question – such as this one, toss that grenade back into the interviewer’s lap. For a moment let’s role play, ask the interviewer, “Can you be more specific, or suggest an example of what you mean?” It’s possible you’ll get a blank stare as they search for how to respond because they probably don’t even know the answer. Or they’ll toss back to you, as is, in which case you can suggest, “That’s a rather broad question and it depends on the individual and what’s being discussed, everyone’s different.” Now elaborate, using your interpersonal communication skills and illustrate with examples of your experiences regarding the subject. 

(Part II will be continued on Monday) 

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Monday, February 4, 2013

When the “System” Breaks Down, Pt.III


So how does any of this relate to you and your efforts? For starters spare yourself a lot of frustration and don’t limit your focus on the usual behemoth corporations, those known not by their names but by acronym. I talk to them, but they are not on my A list, nor should they be on yours – in my humble opinion. I’ll work with them if they call or are recommended to me but I think their bureaucratic structure is self-defeating. It is not a stretch to say the bigger the company the more dysfunctional the human resource function. Furthermore big corporate structures always stifle creativity and innovation, individuality is discouraged, generally speaking. With the exception of very specialized roles they are not filling jobs, just vacancies and you’re just a number to them, not a person but an expendable commodity. Likewise, isn’t it obvious the last few years that BIG no longer means increased job security? When stock prices drop, in order to keep shareholders at bay they’ll whack a bunch of jobs without a thought of how it affects the people they’ve ditched. As for big company benefits, it’s not as it used to be and may never be again.  

Perhaps, do what I do, that is, seek more nimble companies who are ambitious, organizations that are hungry, growth oriented and are looking for the best available talent within their market sector. If you, too, are ambitious isn’t that a better fit? They’re out there but you’ve got to do your research. They might be tomorrow’s big companies and would like to be but they aren’t there yet. They offer no more or less job security compared with the big places. Who knows, you might even feel as if you are really a part of something, imagine that. I’m not down on big companies but I am not a fan of what they become when they get big, I suppose it is a natural thing to happen. In a kind of Atlas Shrugged thematic, perhaps if enough key and productive people turned their backs on big corporations and went away elsewhere, where they can ply there talents and ambition, they might realize the need to again treat people like, well, people. Nah, what am I thinking! That would never happen, or is it? Some of the best and most talented professionals I know increasingly tell me they want nothing to do with BIG companies. 

Until trends change, and they always do, remind yourself and repeat after me, “I am not just a user name, password or IP address, I am a person, I am a free and thinking individual, I have my own goals and my own dreams, I am…” 

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