In the days before GPS, you didn’t take a trip to unfamiliar territory without a roadmap. If you did, you were likely to get lost and waste a lot of time trying to find your way again! The same is true of your hopes for career success.
Note that a roadmap can often include more than one route to a given destination. For example, you might want to stick to the freeways as much as possible to reach your destination quickly or you might be in the mood to amble along some country lanes and avoid the fast-track route. The point is that you might have a choice in how you get where you want to go. Maybe you don’t even care if it takes you halfway to forever to end up there.
When it comes to your career, though, halfway to forever is a long time to wander aimlessly. Time and other events might not work in your favor, either. While you’re dithering, your competitors might be sweeping past you on their way to the prize.
Career Roadmap Choices
Sometimes I work with clients who tell me they kind of “fell into” their current career. Maybe an early job opportunity led to the next one in the same industry or they took the first job they found, just to pay the bills, and ended up staying in that field. In other words, they never made a conscious choice. They went with whatever crossed their path.
To stick with the roadmap analogy, these individuals started their journey without any specific destination in mind. In a few cases, it worked out all right for them–they really enjoyed and felt fulfilled in their careers. Others, however, were subtly or actively dissatisfied with their situation and felt stuck.
What’s your situation? Are you happy with where you are? Did you choose to go there? It’s all about (or a lot about) the choices we make, the ones we don’t make, and the ones we have to pass up because they conflict with the ones we’ve made.
Look at the “Road Not Taken”
I recently ran across an article that referenced one of my favorite poems, Robert Frost’s “The Road Not Taken.” The article, “The ‘road not taken’ resume” by John Read, made for some interesting reading. He talked about what your resume might look like if you put in all the choices you didn’t make at various decision points in your life rather than listing all your jobs and successes.
Of course, Read wasn’t seriously suggesting that you submit such an unorthodox resume to potential employers, but he felt that going through the exercise might in some way enhance your conventional resume. As he put it, “Not so long ago, jobs and careers could be for life. Now, in this more dynamic and unstable economy, employment security is non-existent and job changes are a part of everyone’s work experience. You don’t need to be approaching retirement for there to be an appreciable number of these forks in the road under your belt, and mapping backwards through the choices you’ve made can be instructive.”
No one can expect to go through life without choices, whether those were made consciously or by default. Maybe we should all be doing some backward-looking to find out what it can tell us about where we are now, how we got there and–if desired–where we’d really like to go next.
Have you ever put your foot in your mouth, figuratively speaking, and then wished you could take back what you said? That’s an uncomfortable experience in any situation, but it’s potentially disastrous in a job interview. Once the words are out of your mouth, you can’t un-say them.
That’s why the title of this blog post is “Job Interviews: When Silence is Golden.” Now, don’t get me wrong: When you prepare for a job interview properly, it means that among other things, you’re doing your homework–on the company, the job, hopefully the person or people you’ll be interviewing with, and so on. That’s so you can say the right things at the right time.
However, to increase your interview effectiveness and avoid missteps, you also need to learn to use silence as one of your interview tools.
Two Kinds of Silence in Job Interviews
Like the positive and negative ends of a battery, there are basically two kinds of silence in job interviews. One is what I call the deer-in-the-headlights silence. That’s when the interviewer can immediately tell that you have no clue what to say in response to his/her question. This is awkward, to say the least.
Some job seekers have more trouble with this type of silence than others. Their mind seems to go blank when they’re asked something–especially if it’s not one of the topics they’ve carefully rehearsed beforehand. Even if you’re one of those people, though, you can and should work on avoiding this kind of silence in your job interviews.
The other kind of silence is one that’s thoughtful, reflective–and short! When you use silence as an interview tool, it means you’re giving yourself a brief mental pause before taking whatever the next step is.
For example, if you’re not 100% sure what the interviewer’s question meant (what he/she was really asking), you can pause for a couple of seconds to get your thoughts in order. That might lead to a question of your own, such as, “It sounds to me as if you’re asking….Is that correct?” The interviewer should either agree or make some sort of clarification of the question. Either way, you’re better prepared to answer it appropriately.
Speech versus Silence in Job Interviews
Part of the problem job seekers have is knowing when to talk and when to be silent. While there’s no hard-and-fast rule about it, I like to think of it this way: If you’re asked a question and you’re clear about what your answer should be, you don’t need to use silence. If you feel uncertain, take a few seconds to get squared away. It’s not mandatory that you start speaking the moment the interviewer stops talking. Also, if you don’t want to appear too eager about something, you can pause briefly and then make your comment. That enables you to appear interested but not desperate.
Where Did “Silence is Golden”Come From?
My limited research on this quote indicates that there’s considerable uncertainty about its origins, but it apparently dates back centuries, at least in some form. One longer version was “Speech is silver, silence is golden.” That suggests to me that speech has its place, its value, but that silence can be even more powerful if used appropriately. Think about this concept the next time you’re engaged in job interview preparation.
Whether you’re looking for an internal promotion or a new external job opportunity, the subject of internal versus external hiring could have an impact on your job search. You need to be aware of the possible implications and effects it could produce.
Internal or External Hiring at Various Levels
Companies will often go for an internal person–that is, promote someone who already works for the company–because of several factors, including the following:
- The individual is at least something of a known quantity and is presumably well familiar with the workings of the company.
- He/she might have internal champions who emphasize the value the individual can bring to the company based on previous contributions.
- If the individual has done a good job of networking while employed at the company, he/she might be perceived as a strong asset who merits a greater opportunity.
- Promoting from within tends to be a simpler and less costly process than going outside.
This is true at all levels of the organization, but it can become even more important at senior levels, where the costs of external recruitment easily climb into the stratosphere, especially if executive search fees enter the mix. If you’re the external candidate, you might not consider that aspect, but it can definitely play a role in the hiring decision, including whether to pursue internal or external hiring methods.
What the Hiring Method Means to You
First, you need to be aware that whether you’re an existing employee or an outside candidate for a position, you’re going to have competition. That competition might come from others inside your company or from individuals outside the company who are hoping to break in. You can’t assume, for example, that because you already work for the company, you have the inside track all to yourself.
On the other hand, if you’re the one trying to join a new company, you need to be realistic about the possibility that you might even get an initial interview but not necessarily be the hiring choice because someone inside the company has the edge for a variety of reasons. What’s important to understand overall is that your competition can come from two directions–someone inside the company or outside candidates.
Whichever situation is yours, it’s wise to scope things out as thoroughly as you can to get potentially useful hints about what you might be facing. For instance, if you’re going for an internal senior-level promotion, you might need to be aware that other managers are likely to be considered for the position you’re targeting. If so, you should think about doing some due diligence to get an idea of what you’ll be up against.
Internal or External Hiring–Which is “Better”?
An article by Todd Henneman called “The Insiders or the Outsiders” includes some striking information about the hiring trend for CEOs, including the fact that the turnover rate in 2013 was higher than it had been since 2008 and that the tenure of CEOs was down from 11.3 years in 2002 to 8.1 years in 2012. However, it appears that the preponderance of CEO hiring activity has focused on insiders. This seems to be based on the idea that the insiders bring a lot to the table that an external candidate might not have.
To quote from the article: “‘Internal is better in every case unless you have a really deficient internal candidate,’ said John Thompson, vice chairman of the global CEO and board practice, at executive-search firm Heidrick & Struggles….’External candidates should really be head and shoulders above internal candidates to be chosen.’”
Have you ever had the experience of interviewing (multiple times) for a position and feeling as if an offer was just around the corner…but it didn’t come and didn’t come and….? Then you know how frustrating and exasperating it can be. What you might not have considered was how seriously this situation can derail your job search and prevent you from reaching a successful conclusion.
Job Offers Aren’t Inevitable
Even if you’ve done everything right and it seems like you’re a prime candidate for the position, that doesn’t mean an offer is coming soon, if at all. The company might be operating in one of the following modes:
- An internal power struggle is holding up progress, and no one is making any concessions–or likely to in the foreseeable future. “Your” position is in limbo as a result.
- Business revenues have been less stellar than expected, and budget cuts are looming as a distinct possibility. Hiring managers are playing the wait-and-see game at this point.
- A competitive candidate who wasn’t initially available for some reason has now become viable. He/she might have an advocate inside who is going to bat for him/her as the choice.
Of course, any number of other possible reasons could be at the heart of the problem. You’ll probably never know for sure. What matters to you is that the expected offer isn’t happening.
What Can You Do about Foot-Dragging Employers?
Not a lot. You can and should do a reasonable amount of follow-up after each interview. However, that doesn’t mean basically stalking the employer, making daily phone calls, etc. Unless you get a reliable indication that the delay really is very temporary, don’t count on it ending soon. That means, don’t put off everything else in your job search while you wait for that coveted offer to reach you.
In the past, I’ve had clients who put their entire job search on hold because an offer was “imminent,” only to find that they had wasted weeks, even months, because no offer ever came. Consequently, they had to re-energize themselves, get momentum going again, jump through all the hoops they were going through before they thought they had things nailed down. That’s discouraging, to say the least.
What Should You Do about “Pending” Job Offers?
Keep your job search active and in full swing until you have a firm, written offer in hand and have negotiated the key elements, including start date, salary and benefits. Then, and only then, should you dial-back your job search and shift to an ongoing career management outlook.