Job Interview and How to Fix It

Securing a coveted interview with a potential employer means you have passed the first test to getting your foot in the door with a new organization. Congratulations! While being asked to interview is an achievement in itself, now is the time to prepare to wow the interviewer(s) with your knowledge of the business, relevant experience, and ability to meld with the company’s corporate culture. The following are some signs you are not prepared for the big job interview with tips on how to get ready to rock it instead.

Not Knowing About the Company

You are not prepared if you know nothing about the company, what type of work it does, the company culture, or any details of the position you have applied for. It will be glaringly obvious to your interviewer if you didn’t do your research ahead of time—and it will hurt your chances of being asked back.

How to Fix It

Do your homework ahead of time by researching the company. Visit the company website to learn about the company’s services or products, what it does best, and the clients they serve. Also visit the company’s LinkedIn and Facebook pages to get a better understanding of the company, any bleeding needs they have, and, most importantly, the company’s culture. You could even reach out to a couple of the company’s current employees to find out what they love most about working for the organization.

You Forgot Important Documents

If you did not bring your resume, cover letter, and references, you are not prepared and it will show. You should have several copies of these printed items with you on crisp, professional paper. When you get the call for an interview, be sure to ask how many people will be interviewing you so you know how many copies to take along. It also never hurts to have a couple of extra copies on hand.

How to Fix It

After you receive an invitation to interview, visit the company website and social media. Review the requirements of the position for which you are interviewing and adjust your cover letter and resume accordingly to demonstrate how well you will fit in and what you bring to the table. Be sure to run a spelling and grammar check. Print several copies two days before the interview on professional resume paper. This buys time to replace ink cartridges, correct glaring errors, and make necessary changes. You also don’t have to panic about printing these the morning of the interview if you have taken care of this in advance.

You Failed to Dress to Impress

You didn’t have proper interview attire, so you’re not dressed appropriately. This is a big problem. Recruiters report that candidates not dressing appropriately for the position is a major factor in their hiring decision. The old adage “Dress to impress” still holds true.

How to Fix It

Dress for the job you want. Invest in at least one great interview outfit. Keep your look conservative and professional. Buy a black, gray, or blue suit that makes you look sharp for corporate jobs. Don’t forget the tie, gentlemen. Also remember nice dress shoes that fit well and will be comfortable to wear. Try on your entire ensemble when you get home to make sure everything fits well and is comfortable far before the interview. This gives you time to make any necessary alterations and allows you to feel primed when the big day arrives.

Best Career Planning Inspiration

Details of your career planning process might vary from those of other career-minded professionals, because each of you is a unique individual–coming from different backgrounds, possibly targeting different overarching career goals. However, the crux of the matter is: Are you staying on top of your own career planning?

WHAT DOES YOUR CAREER PLANNING PROCESS LOOK LIKE?

I don’t have space to go into details, and you probably wouldn’t want to read them all anyway, but I wanted to touch on a few key elements.

First, it’s important to mention that career planning is not something you do at the very beginning of your professional career and then file away as a done deal. It’s an ongoing process. So, even if you’re now a senior manager or executive, it wouldn’t be a smart move to ignore career planning in your professional activities.

Just as you need an effective plan to conduct a successful job search, you need a well-thought-out career planning process.

The three phases shown in the accompanying graphic are self-assessment, exploration, and taking action. In this post I’m focusing on exploration and taking action.

CAREER EXPLORATION: WHEN DO YOU DO IT?

What you do in the way of career exploration could look quite different depending on what stage you’ve reached in your career. Early on, you’d probably do a lot of activities such as informational interviewing (one of my colleagues calls it intelligence gathering). Mid-career or later, you might spend more time on activities such as workshops and conferences related to your field or industry, where you could find out about potentially interesting possibilities from your peers and other individuals to help you map your next moves.

If you’re thinking of breaking new ground – i.e., taking your career in a direction it hasn’t gone before – you definitely need to explore your options and the pros and cons of each course. Big moves, big accomplishments, don’t happen by accident!

The main purpose of career exploration, though, is to scope-out near-term and long-term career opportunities that appeal to you, offer good potential for professional growth, and have reasonably robust prospects for the future. For example, they’re in a growing industry rather than one that’s declining, technology  matches well with them rather than sidelining them, and so on.

CAREER PLANNING – TAKING ACTION IS CRITICAL

It’s no use doing thorough planning if your plans never get off the drawing board. Once you’ve decided where you’re heading next, you need to implement the actions that will help ensure you get there.

Logically, you’ll want to consider resources that fit where you are in the process. Some of your actions might involve the application of low-tech measures, such as good, old-fashioned, in-person networking and relationship-building. Done right, low-tech is a perfectly workable approach and can help you reach your goal.

The reason when you decide to leave that job

As a career coach I am often asked by clients if I think they should take a job offer. Just because you get a job offer doesn’t mean that you have to accept it.

To help you make your decision, create a list of important criteria for taking or turning down a job. Your list might include salary, benefits, commuteHow do you answer the interview question, “Why did you leave that job?”

This post is the third in a series of excerpts from my upcoming eBook, Get That Job! The Quick and Complete Guide to a Winning Interview, to be published January 4, 2017. You can pre-order it as an eBook now or get the softcover in January.

Does your departure indicate a problem that could derail your interview?

If you left and immediately started a new job, it’s no problem: you left for a better opportunity (or what you thought was a better opportunity, even if it didn’t work out).
On the other hand, leaving without a new job lined up is generally a red flag, so this question is tricky.

The key is this: although one reason may dominate in your mind – probably the most emotional one, such as a personality conflict or issue with the boss – usually there are more reasons. List them all on a piece of paper. Then see which of these reasons makes the best impression.

Here’s an example.

Joe quit his job for the following reasons: (1) his boss was a micromanager, (2) the company, a hospital, had toxic office politics, (3) the circumstances made it difficult or impossible to move up into a better department, (4) he couldn’t stay until he found a new job because the job left him no time or energy for job search, and (5) he also had an itch to move into the pharmaceutical industry.

Reasons 1 and 2 are a minefield that would be hard to discuss without presenting himself as a complainer who badmouths his former employer. But he doesn’t need to go there; he can build a truthful answer out of reasons 3-5:

“While Bayworth Hospital is a great institution in terms of patient care, and I had three excellent years there, with strong accomplishments like the ones we’ve discussed, there really wasn’t a path upward for me there any more (reason #3). It was time to leave and pursue my longtime interest in pharmaceutical companies (#5) like this one. The job was intensely demanding and it didn’t leave me the energy to conduct a search. (#4) So I gave notice, helped the department make a smooth transition, and then left to devote myself to a full-time process of transitioning into doing what I’m most passionate about.”

Why does this answer work? Because it’s true, tactful, brief (30 seconds) and focused on the positive. It’s also a great example of the “sandwich technique”: surrounding a negative (the fact that he left) with positives (his respect for the hospital in certain ways, his accomplishments and his passion for the current opportunity).

What if Joe had been fired? In a past chapter I said “Never volunteer a negative.” Joe doesn’t need to say he was fired, unless specifically asked. His answer could be the same as above, with a slightly different ending:

“…It was time to leave and pursue my longtime interest in pharmaceutical companies like this one. Since then I’ve devoted myself to a full-time process of transitioning into doing what I’m most passionate about.” time, do you like the people you will be working with, is the new job challenging, is the company stable, does the mission of the company resonate with your values, is there opportunity for growth, etc. Your list will be unique to you as we all have different criteria that are important to us. For example, it might be important to someone who has the responsibility of a mortgage and children to work for a stable organization whereas someone without those responsibilities might be open to more risk. Or conversely, a person who has a home and family might love the challenge of working for a start-up whereas a person just starting out in his or her career might be drawn to a company that offers security. Make your list based on what is most important to you.

After you have your list of important criteria, put two columns beside each of your criteria. Above column one write “Yes, this criteria will be met in the job” and above column two write “No, this criteria will not be met in the job”.

If the job offer meets most or all of your criteria, dig a little deeper. If anything concerned you during the interview process – the interviewer complained about the company, the job responsibilities were not clear, no one could answer your questions about benefits – ask follow up questions. Find out as much as you can about the company, its future prospects and what it is like to work there. If the answers that you get are good, ask for the offer in writing.

Don’t say yes to a job offer you really don’t want unless you feel that you do not have any other options. Remember, just because you get an offer doesn’t mean you have to take it.  Make your decision based on what is best for you and follow your instincts.

Strategic Talent Development

Strategic talent development has several aspects: the ability to mentor others, the leadership and other soft skills required to advance oneself, and the perspective needed to see talent gaps in an organization. If you are applying for a job in middle to upper management—up to and including the C-level—your resume must reflect your abilities in strategic talent development and management.

First, strategic talent occurs at every level of an organization. Your ability to recognize and mentor it is an important soft skill. Your resume should show solid results from your mentoring, perhaps by reorganizing teams for greater productivity, developing direct reports into management roles, conducting training at your company’s request, or reducing turnover.

Second, your resume should show your commitment to developing your own talents. Perhaps you were chosen out of a number of candidates for a particular role; perhaps you were quickly promoted within your company; or perhaps you took courses in leadership or in a technology important to your company. Speaking engagements and opportunities to serve as a subject matter expert in your field are excellent indicators of your talent.

Finally, companies need employees who can help to reach their goals. The achievements on your resume should show that you understand the strategic goals of organizations and how to reach them. Your resume should show how your talents align not only with the goals of your current company, but with the goals of the company where you want to work. You should research the pain points of that prospective company and address them in your resume or cover letter.

A Network to Power a Job Hunt

We have all heard about the power of networks in the job hunt, but too many people still fall back on using online applying as their central job search method. However, internal referrals and inside validation of candidates still often act as the catalyst to eliminate or minimize the competition. To reach this status, a strong network is needed, and it does not mean that we all need to be extroverts. Here are some basic tips to help expand your network.

Ask members of your current network for referrals. The “friend-of-a-friend” connection is quite strong and can be very successful. “Who else should I be talking to?” is a good question to consider using when asking for referrals.

Ramp up your activities on social and professional networking sites. Add connections / friends. Make sure that your LinkedIn Profile is up-to-date and vibrant. Endorse skills of your connections and write sincere testimonials. Virtual connections can be further strengthened with face-to-face connections, when possible locally.

Join professional groups on LinkedIn. Then become active in participating in or starting discussions. Online networking is an excellent way to grow our networks beyond our geographic limitations.

Join professional associations with local chapter meetings. Then attend the meetings, get to know others, and look for opportunities to assist others. Reciprocation is natural and cooperation bonds people. Local affiliations often hold networking events. Take full advantage of such opportunities.

Volunteer. This is especially important for those in the social services field. Providing your time and effort to a needy cause is perhaps one of the strongest venues for networking because you are working side-by-side with people who share your passion for helping others.

Conduct informational interviews. This is an especially effective method for entry-level job seekers and career changers. As the name implies, this is an interview you set up with someone in your profession or industry who can provide you with an insider perspective. Not only do you gain insider information but you create a valuable contact. Keep it short and professional. Most people are happy to talk about their careers if it does not impinge too much upon their time.

Job Title and Job Search

Sam has a title problem. He is VP of IT for a small company. He basically manages all aspects of IT, from infrastructure and application development to information security and cloud computing. He manages a couple of technical resources. But now Sam wants to change jobs. He seeing layoffs at his company and hears rumors of financial insecurity. Now he’s started a job search targeting larger, more established firms.

But, guess what? He’s not qualified to be a VP of IT for a mid-sized or large company. BUT, he might be able to get a job there but hold a less senior title. He sees a Senior Project Manager job he thinks would be a good fit. He would be managing a globally distributed development team of 30. He would also be making more money than in his current job, even though the title is two to three management levels below his current title.

But, if he doesn’t do something about his title, he may find his resume never makes it past ATS (applicant tracking systems) to the recruiter seeking to fill the open position. (The recruiter will be searching for the keywords “Senior Project Manager.”)

If his resume passes the ATS hurdle, it still has to convince the recruiter that Sam has the skills, knowledge, and experience required.

Let’s say Sam can work the keywords into his resume so it gets retrieved in a search for “Senior Project Manager,” what does he do then about conveying what he has accomplished as VP of IT? The recruiter won’t work hard to see if somewhere in his current job he has done the duties of a Senior Project Manager and demonstrated relevant skills. S/he will want to see terms like and content about: “project life cycle management” and “Agile/Scrum.” Sam has to make that experience abundantly clear. (And probably strip away much that he accomplished that isn’t immediately relevant.) You can see the challenge here.

Titles for managers in technology have proliferated. And, as you can see, they often differ significantly from company to company both in the actual terms used and in the responsibilities associated with them.

Why is this a problem for you? Because you need your target title keywords in your resume, even though you haven’t held the title. And, your current title is probably the single most important part of the recruiter’s first impression of you. And if it’s different from the job title you are applying for, most recruiters will not take the time to go deeper and your resume won’t make the interview pile.

Increasing, I’m seeing clients with title problems. Some are like Sam’s. But here are a few other common scenarios:

  • A job seeker has a VP title but it is ideosyncratic to his current company. Some very large companies have title progressions that don’t correspond to the common title-and-responsibility pairings in most of the rest of the corporate world.
  • A job seeker has managed 100+ resources at the C-level in a small company in a previous job, but he has been working at a large company for several years and holds the title “Manager,” not Director, VP, or CIO/CTO. How does he get back into the executive ranks?
  • A job seeker is a Senior Director in his current company but has huge responsibilities, hundreds of reports, large strategic impacts. He is obviously under-titled. How does he get the recruiter to see him as a VP or SVP?

These are some of the challenges my clients are facing everyday.

It’s tricky to write a resume or LinkedIn profile so that a recruiter sees the job seeker as qualified if some of the above scenarios pertain. I recommend that job seekers work with a qualified and experienced IT executive resume writer. As you know I usually provide DIY solutions for issues I raise in my blog posts, but this particular one needs broad knowledge of the IT landscape and top-notch strategic resume writing skills.

Personal Information Should I Disclose When Interviewing

Debra WheatmanI have recently re-entered the job market, after being in my previous position for nearly ten years. One of the reasons that I stayed in that role for so long was that it offered enormous flexibility of schedule. I have a special needs child, and I really need the ability to work from home as needed to accommodate things like doctors’ appointments, therapy sessions, and meetings with school. Should I be up front with interviewers about my personal situation, and my need for flexibility?

Thanks,
Jocelyn

Hi Jocelyn:

Thanks for writing. The issue you describe is a fairly common one—people become accustomed to the perks of a certain position, and those non-monetary perks become perceived as non-negotiable for their next role. However, it is important to keep in mind that the interview is really not the time to talk about yourself. That’s right. You might think that you’re there to discuss your achievements and accomplishments, but you’re really not. You’re there to talk about a specific business problem and how you might be able to solve it.

I don’t think that you should bring up your home situation with an interviewer. Right or wrong, that is going to send the message that you are someone who has excessive commitments in your personal life, and that you may not be fully dedicated to your job. The interview needs to focus on what you can do for the employer, and how you can help with the current business need.

Question Marks Around Man Showing Confusion And UnsureWhat I do think you should do is to wait until the offer stage, and then negotiate a flexible work arrangement, like two days from home. You have a decade-long tenure at your previous company, and your references should be able to speak to the quality of your work, thus reassuring your prospective manager that you can get your work done regardless of your location. You needn’t mention your child at all. Many, many white collar employees and employers see telecommuting as a reasonable, inexpensive employee benefit.

Stuck Holding You Back

I have talked to about a dozen job seekers over the last two weeks that are stuck.

They are waiting until they perfect the language on their resume before they send it out, and they keep asking for feedback.

And they get different feedback every time, so they are in constant resume editing mode, but not contacting anyone for interviews.

They want precisely the right list of contacts to reach out to before they start reaching out.

They want to have interview preparation down pat, yet they haven’t sent out a resume.

This is one of the bigger ‘stuck’ scenarios: One person is worried about getting an offer at a company he is not entirely sure he likes, where the recruiter called with interest stemming from his LinkedIn profile.

Except he hasn’t called back or submitted a resume yet.

Although I feel honored to hear these stories, it pains me to hear them.

I could feel the pain and frustration experienced as each person told me their story.

Assuming things had to be perfect before moving forward.

Worrying about a problem they didn’t have yet.

We want progress – not perfection.

Perfection is paralyzing.

And it’s subjective.

You are chasing something that is different for everyone.

And here is the best news.

You are already perfect.

Stand with that knowledge.

Send what you have.

Reach out to one person to start.

And then the next person.

Do as much research as you can to prepare for an interview and know that you, as you are, are enough.

If you get an offer you don’t resonate with, you can always turn it down.

That’s a great problem to have.

I tell my kids: You are always going to have problems.

Always.

So get good problems and not bad problems.

An offer you don’t want is better than no offer.

Some interview prep with a confident stance is better than too much prep and stressed out or no prep at all.

Sending out an awesome resume and making connections is better than making your resume perfect (whatever that is) and not chatting with anyone.

You get unstuck by doing what’s in front of you imperfectly.

Interview Lessons Tips

By now you’ve probably heard about Mariah Carey’s unfortunate performance on New Year’s Eve. Some of the things that occurred reminded me of similar things that can happen if you are unprepared for an interview. And while you most likely won’t be interviewing in front of a million or more people, here are five takeaways that can help you be prepared for your live performance.

1. Know your material cold before the big day. It’s unconfirmed whether Mariah forgot the lyrics to her songs or just didn’t want to sing live, but either way, she came off as unprepared. Many job seekers choose to “wing” their interviews rather than rehearsing beforehand and often their interview performance suffers because of it. Craft an elevator pitch to communicate your value proposition and be prepared to give accomplishment-focused, metrics-driven examples of how you have helped the companies you’ve supported do things smarter, faster, or more efficiently. Just regurgitating your resume or speaking about general job responsibilities won’t cut it.

2. Test for any technical problems. Was there a technical malfunction during Mariah’s performance or did the singer just get caught in a lip synching fail? In any event, it always makes sense to test your equipment before any type of performance or presentation. If you are conducting an interview via Skype, make sure your background is not distracting, your lighting isn’t too bright or too dark, your sound is at an appropriate level, and you have a working mike. If you are interviewing in-person, map out and time your route to the office beforehand to ensure you are on time and check your wardrobe for any potential malfunctions (missing buttons, etc.).

3. Expect a few curveballs. Whenever you do anything live, there is always the chance that something will go wrong. The key is to recover quickly. While unfortunately this wasn’t the case for Mariah, you can anticipate certain challenges that may occur the day of the interview. The one people fear most is not knowing how to answer a particular interview question. I like to remind people that they are the most qualified person in the room to talk about themselves. If you get a question you are not quite sure how to answer, you can ask for clarification or say, “That is a great question; let me think about it for a moment.” Then you can draw upon one of your success stories that is most similar to the competency they are trying to understand if you have.

How Do You Handle Stress and Pressure

In any job interview, you’re bound to be hit with one or more “behavioral” questions, the ones that ask you to describe your response to real or hypothetical work situations, and one of the more popular questions concerns your reaction to stressful situations in the workplace.

It’s a reasonable question. No job is immune from stress, whether you’re a retail clerk trying to cope with an irate customer, a programmer faced with an insane deadline or the head of Wells Fargo Bank facing a committee of hostile Senators. The stakes may vary, but performing well under pressure is something that all employers value.

As a result, your answer can make or break your interview performance.

What to Say

You can attack the question from several angles, opting for anything from a simple declaration to a more elaborate explanation. As long as you choose an approach that feels natural to you, you’re off to a good start.

For example:

    • I do some of my best work under pressure, and I relish the challenge.

 

    • I enjoy working on multiple projects at the same time, and the opportunity to do so has been a chance to really refine my organizational skills.

 

    • When faced with competing, high-pressure demands, I’ve learned to prioritize, and I’ve learned to call on supervisors, teammates and subordinates to sort the priorities and identify those that matter most to the organization.

 

    • Stressful times call for bringing out the best you have to offer, but it’s more than an individual test. It’s also a test of your ability to work well with everyone who’s trying to cope with those same pressures. It’s a test of your entire team, and that means that you need to pay attention to team functioning when the pressure isn’t necessarily at its peak. Waiting until the heat is on can lead to problems. Preparation matters.

 

  • I look on stressful situations as a challenge and an opportunity to grow. I learn new ways of coping all the time, and working under pressure has actually been great for my organizational skills.

As noted, though, those are only places to start. For best results, don’t stop when you’ve described some abstract skills that you’ve developed and deployed. Instead, make it concrete. Tell a story.

Think of an example that shows your highly stressed self in action. Perhaps you were under immense pressure because of a number of competing deadlines. You prioritized. Perhaps you enlisted your supervisor’s help to determine which projects needed to be first on the list. Perhaps you called in another team member who was working on a lower priority project for a temporary assist. Perhaps you rearranged things with some other piece of the project’s structure to accommodate the deadline that truly mattered.

If it helps, organize your story in terms of situation, action and result, the “SAR” approach. What was the situation? What actions did you take? What results did you achieve?

It’s not the details themselves that matter. It’s the fact that you back things up with details in the first place. That’s what makes your answer believable.

Job Search Tips

I’m sure you’ve heard some of these from well-meaning friends and family. What worked back in the era of the 3 martini lunch—or in the era when MTV still played music—doesn’t work today. If you hear any of these bits of advice, you have my permission, and encouragement, to ignore them!

Drop your resume off in person. Companies follow strict protocol for resume submission. I don’t know of any employer nowadays that accepts unsolicited resumes in person. Don’t do this. Follow the rules that the employer sets forth in the job descriptions.

Call to “schedule an interview.” This is presumptuous at best, intrusive at worst. If they want to interview you, they will contact you.

Print your resume on bond paper. No one wants a printed resume. No one. Don’t waste your time.

Limit your resume to one page. Unless you are a new graduate, you probably have more than a page’s worth of accomplishments.

Call to follow up on your application. First, unless you sent your application materials directly to an individual, how are you going to know who to follow up with? Again, contemporary etiquette dictates that the hiring company will reach out to you if they wish to have a discussion.

Send the hiring manager a gift so that you will stand out. Gimmicks will not get you a job.

If you’re not applying to 100 jobs a week, you’re not trying hard enough. The most effective job search is targeted. Applying to every posting you see is ineffective.

Offer to work for free in order to “prove yourself.” Not only will no reputable employer go for this, you should never offer your services without compensation. You perform valuable work for which you are compensated.

Get in as a temp, and then you’ll get hired full time! This worked in the 90s. It worked well in the 90s. But now, many companies use “permalancers.” That is, they keep contract employees as temporary ones and very rarely hire them for full-time roles.