Job seekers who are scheduled for interviews often assume they’ll be dealing with interviewers who know what they’re doing. Not necessarily. What’s more, those interviewers might have hidden agendas that you as a job seeker have no clue about. That being said, you increase your chances of making it through the first interview and into the second round if you keep some interview preparation do’s and don’ts in mind. (Note: Any direct quotes below are from an article called “What’s Wrong with Interviews? The Top 50 Most Common Interview Problems,” by Dr. John Sullivan.)
Interview Do’s: Things you should always do
- Find out as much as you can about not only the company and the position you’re interviewing for but also about the person or people who will be interviewing you. Ask politely but in some cases persistently to obtain as much background information as you can. Just be aware that some companies will refuse to give you that information ahead of time. For example, in his article Dr. Sullivan states that too often candidates “are not told who will be there during the interview, the role of each interviewer, and who will make the final decision. Failing to educate the candidate may cause them to under-prepare in key areas.”
- Plan your arrangements well ahead of time, especially if you’ll need to travel a significant distance. Take into account such challenges as potential flight delays, hotel accommodation goof-ups and the possibility that the files you were sure were on your laptop computer aren’t! The last thing you want is to arrive at the interview stressed and unfocused or, worse, late because you didn’t have a contingency plan.
- Know your “stuff” thoroughly before the day of the interview, because the day-of is not the time to be pounding it into your brain (the way many college students cram the night before a midterm exam). On the other hand, don’t waste time trying to memorize a lot of information word-for-word, because you’ll come across sounding like a recording.
Interview Don’ts: Things you should avoid if humanly possible
- Don’t tell the interviewers just what you think they want to hear. Also, don’t make the mistake of providing information the employer doesn’t need to know and you don’t really want them to have. You do need to communicate your value truthfully and compellingly (i.e., without lying or exaggerating), but trying to base your comments on what you think the interviewers are looking for can backfire. You also don’t want to volunteer information that might work against you, especially if it’s something that wouldn’t keep you from doing the job well.
- Don’t take things too personally. Not all interviewers are necessarily impartial or even close to it, and not all are well trained. In fact, according to Dr. Sullivan, many of them are not. As Sullivan says, “Some interviewers have biases or make stereotypes that eliminate individuals for nonbusiness reasons….Managers only receive cursory training and don’t know the pitfalls that can lead to bad interviewing and hiring results.”
- Don’t become a victim of what Sullivan calls “death by interview.” While you might not be able to entirely avoid the scenario of multiple successive interviews throughout one, two or even three days, take whatever steps you can to prepare for that possibility and minimize it. Even Superman or Wonder Woman might have difficulty standing up to that situation well and would probably not come across as effectively by the end of the process as at the start!
For those too young to remember, “buggy whips started to become obsolete when automobiles started to become commonplace in the late 19th century. The buggy whip is now known as an analogy of businesses disrupted by innovation. Buggy whips are often cited…as one of the industries that did not adapt with the advent of the automobile, and thus began the demise of the industry.” (Source: buggy-whips.com)
Although you‘re an individual, not a company, the buggy whip analogy remains valid. If you conduct your job search along lines that are becoming out-of-date, if not already obsolete, you might be exhibiting buggy-whip mentality. In other words, you’re probably sticking to well-tested, long-trusted job search tools that—at best—aren’t as rock-solid as they once were. At worst, they can help sink your job search without a trace! Your reluctance to change methods is understandable. It’s human nature to want to stay within our comfort zone; going outside that zone feels risky.
Keeping up with rapid change can intimidate many job seekers
The change from buggy whips to automobile-related technology happened more quickly than change typically occurred in previous eras, but the rate of change then was nowhere near as rapid as it has since become. Whether or not the current fast pace continues indefinitely remains to be seen. The point to note is that your job search campaigns, now and in the future, need to take it into account.
For many of us, this view of the situation seems intimidating, even overwhelming. You might be deterred from taking more progressive (i.e., “risky”) steps in your job search because of it. A strong fear of change can paralyze you and prevent you from taking any action, or it can just slow the process enough to limit your opportunities for career progression and satisfaction by allowing your less-hesitant competition to leapfrog over you.
You can’t be a productive know-it-all job seeker
Probably no single human being can come close to “knowing it all.” That was true even before the technology explosion changed life as we know it in a huge way. Among other things, this means you can’t ensure ongoing career success by cramming an unlimited store of knowledge into your already stressed brain. Trying to do so might almost literally drive you crazy!
Tough as it might be to accept, you’ll probably have to adopt a selective approach. That includes making realistic decisions on what skills and knowledge to add to your job search “toolbox” to prepare yourself to pursue your next job opportunity—and then revisiting those decisions periodically to ensure they’re still as realistic as you can make them.
Adaptability can drive a successful job search
Back to the buggy-whip analogy for a moment. As buggywhips.com notes: “Those companies…that didn’t limit themselves by the exact final product survived. They recognized that the end market was changing and worked to make sure that the products they offered made sense in the new markets as well as the old. The buggy whip makers, on the other hand, didn’t do that….”
Stability might be comfortable, slow change might be tolerable, but rapid change is the reality—at least for now. To avoid taking the buggy-whip route to career oblivion, focus on creating and executing an adaptable job search and career management plan. That’s highly preferable to the alternative!
Three of my colleagues wrote a book a few years ago called The Twitter Job Search, and it’s a good read. However, there’s still not a widespread consensus that Twitter makes an effective job search tool. That said, you shouldn’t let it deter you from checking out Twitter and seeing whether you can apply it to your situation in a way that makes sense and, hopefully, produces positive results for you.
Twitter power users: what this means to your job search
According to a book called Blogging All-in-One for Dummies, published in 2010, many millions of people have signed up and created Twitter accounts, but a lot of them haven’t really made use of Twitter over time. The book says that “the vast majority of Twitter status updates (called tweets) come from a small group of power users. Those people who truly enjoy using Twitter and have built strong relationships with other users find a lot of value in it.”
Are you now or likely to become a Twitter power user? For many of you, the answer could well be no. You might, though, benefit from giving it a try so that you at least understand how it works, what’s good and bad about it, and so on. For example, you might choose to “follow” some people who are active users and contribute good information, which you could gain some benefit from. However, to achieve maximum benefit, you probably need to become a value contributor yourself. One-way streets tend not to work particularly well in a job search campaign or career management realm. As the above quote emphasizes, relationships are a critical element of success, and that’s as true with Twitter as it is in many other situations.
Can Twitter activity promote your company’s success–and thereby yours?
Apparently, the jury is still out on whether companies as a whole are gaining much advantage by using Twitter. After all, it has only been around since about 2006 or 2007, and it has grown in numbers so fast that it has had a hard time keeping up. Also, as the blogging book points out, Twitter has yet to turn a profit for those who started it, so the benefits to a business from using it could be difficult to pin down. If your job involves helping your company use Twitter to gain market exposure, present itself to potential customers as a great organization, and so on, you might want to keep this in mind. Unrealistic expectations about what Twitter use can produce could impact your career success in a negative way.
My personal thoughts about Twitter and job search
I like learning new things, but I have to admit that I’ve dragged my feet about Twitter. My son says it’s easy to learn and has offered to help me get started, so I am going to check it out one of these days–I hope within the next few months–but I’m highly doubtful about whether I’ll become a long-term or power user. Why? Because I don’t see the benefit to my business from doing so, and I’m not sure how it will enable me to be more helpful to my job-seeking clients, which is an important consideration. I can’t help thinking the time needed to become that effective at it would be better spent elsewhere. I guess I’ll just have to wait and see!
Back in mid-December I published a post about companies you would put on your job search wish list. This post is somewhat of a continuation or offshoot of that one. If you had your choice, you’d want to work for a great company or organization, right? At least I doubt whether anyone in his or her right mind would deliberately choose to work for a terrible employer! That’s assuming you have a choice, of course. Sometimes choices are limited. Anyway, that said, I wanted to explore the topic a bit further. One of the things that prompted this decision was publication of Fortune’s 2012 Top 100 best companies to work for.
Top 10 companies to work for
According to John Zappe of ERE.net, the list hasn’t changed much from last year. The top 10 are Google, Boston Consulting Group, SAS Institute, Wegmans Food Markets, Edward Jones, NetApp, Camden Property Trust, Recreational Equipment (REI), CHG Healthcare Services and Quicken Loans. Obviously, you aren’t all going to be able to–or want to–work for these companies or, maybe, for any of the others in the top 100. The reason for mentioning them, in my opinion, has to do with focusing your attention on what makes a potentially great employer. That can give you some useful pointers on what to look for when you’re researching possible target companies for your current or next job search.
So what makes a great employer?
I’d put fair treatment, respect and concern for the well-being of their employees at the top of requirements for my list of great employers. That lines me up pretty well with what Zappe notes in his article, “Who’s the Best Company to Work For?: “While economic and financial conditions influence the rankings, the Trust Index is the cornerstone of the ranking. Building a high Trust Index takes time and commitment from every part of the company, beginning with the CEO and C-suite….It doesn’t hurt, though, to offer great pay and great benefits.”
Your “top employers” list
I won’t repeat what I put in my earlier post. However, I do believe it’s important to ensure as much as you can that you and the company will be a good fit for each other. For instance, if a company is culturally stodgy and you’re a free-spirited, creative individual, it probably doesn’t matter how great the job itself is. You could be good at marketing yourself and end up in a job that turns out to be a real mismatch–the company, its culture, the position expectations, you name it–and that’s a tough mistake to correct. The task of disengaging yourself from it can be emotionally painful and financially costly.
Besides being a good fit, you probably want the company to offer you decent growth opportunities and career advancement potential (unless you’re satisfied to perform the same job day-in, day-out, year-in, year-out). That means it has a reasonably healthy progression situation, it encourages its employees to learn and grow, and it does its best to stay on top of business opportunities that will enable it to continue growing as a company. (It’s pretty hard to have good progression in a company that’s behind the curve or, worse, headed down the slippery slope to corporate oblivion.)
One (company) size does not fit all
Remember that while in some cases size counts, that’s not always the most important factor. An elephant is large and powerful, but it doesn’t move as fast as the wings of a hummingbird hovering over a flower! Your top companies list might have small or medium-sized companies predominating, while your colleague’s list focuses on mega-corporations. Concentrate on what’s best for you and matters most to you.
If you’re at all like me, you probably enjoyed the “Winnie the Pooh” stories as a child (and maybe still have a soft spot for them as an adult). So I was immediately intrigued when I saw an article by Jeff Davis titled “The Eeyore Candidate.” However, the title was the only whimsical aspect of the article, which dealt with a BIG problem that job seekers can have–possibly without even being aware of it. What is that problem? For whatever reason, being lackadaisical or otherwise unenthusiastic prior to and during a job interview.
When a Poor Interview Follows a Great Resume
In the case mentioned in Davis’ article, the candidate looked wonderful on her resume, and he was basically expecting the interview to be a no-brainer that would quickly result in a perfect fit with his organization and its needs. Unfortunately, the job seeker blew the interview big time by seeming uninterested, unprepared, unable to demonstrate the value that her resume had promised. You name it, anything she could have done to torpedo her chances, she did it! Did she lie on her resume about what she had accomplished? Possibly but not necessarily. However, there was definitely a disconnect somehow between what the resume indicated and what she demonstrated in the interview that she could bring to the employer. Her behavior during the interview was the reason Davis described her as like “Eeyore, the depressed donkey” from “Winnie the Pooh.”
Don’t be an Eeyore!
There might be a number of reasons you would have a down day when you’re scheduled for an interview, but it’s important–maybe essential–that you work things out ahead of time, before you show up for the interview, so you can present yourself at your best. Otherwise, it’s likely to be a waste of everyone’s time. As Davis put it, “I understand that being unemployed and looking for work can turn even the best of us into an Eeyore, but keep in mind that Eeyores don’t get jobs.”
Obviously, there could be a number of reasons you show up at an interview as an Eeyore job seeker. For example: (1) You’re feeling down because you’ve been out of work for an extended period. (2) You’ve just lost a job you loved and aren’t looking forward to the challenge of finding a new one. (3) You’re still gainfully employed but concerned that your company/industry/etc. is struggling and your job might end up on the chopping-block. (4) You’ve had a family trauma recently and are struggling to maintain your emotional balance.
In some cases, if it’s at all possible, you should probably postpone your job search and interview scheduling in order to give yourself a breather and get your act together. That could help keep you from coming across as an Eeyore. However, if a significant pause isn’t practical for some reason, then your best course might be to get whatever help you need to improve your job search and interview preparation activity in the short term. By focusing your attention as strongly as possible on what you need and want to accomplish–not to mention what you have to offer potential employers that they would find valuable–you have a much better chance of communicating the enthusiasm and expertise that those employers will be looking for.
Knowledge plays a critical role in effective job search campaigns, in multiple ways. What I’m talking about today revolves around the old saying, “What you don’t know can’t hurt you” and its revised contrary version, “What you don’t know CAN hurt you!” To paraphrase another oldie but goodie, “Ignorance is (NOT) bliss.” You undoubtedly can’t achieve perfection, which would mean obtaining all the potentially relevant information that you would need for a 100% effective job search, because we don’t live in a perfect world. However, if you are currently planning or considering a search for a new employment opportunity, you do want to gather as much as you reasonably can, and that includes getting a sense of what’s going on in the minds and behavior of both hiring managers and HR professionals.
Twelve “Dirty Little Secrets” of Recruiters
Dr. John Sullivan wrote an article titled “Recruiting’s Dirty Little Secrets” (ERE.net, Dec. 26, 2011) that might give you an eye-opening insight into some of what goes on behind the scenes. I knew about or suspected at least some of the issues he describes, but others were not so familiar to me.The entire article is well worth reading, but here are a few snippets to get you thinking:
- The corporate black hole–because of recruiter overload or other problems, when you submit your resume to a corporate career site, it might have zero likelihood of actually being reviewed.
- Some companies are blocked–two companies could have an illegal secret agreement not to hire each others’ employees. If your company has such an agreement, the other company won’t even consider you, and you won’t know why.
- Technology may eliminate you–you could have a very well-done, well-targeted resume and still not get past the initial electronic screening. As Sullivan’s article notes, “In one test, only 12% of specially written “perfect resumes” made it through this initial step, although in theory, 100% should have made it.”
How do You Tackle the Job Search Knowledge Dilemma?
First, acknowledge that you’re not likely to come even close to 100% success in overcoming the kinds of obstacles Sullivan mentions in his article. They contain a number of factors over which you have little or no control. That’s the bad news. The good news is that you can be aware of the potential issues and try to conduct your job search in such a way as to negate or minimize them. For one thing, you can take the advice offered by a number of experts and connect directly with hiring managers at the companies you’re interested in, so you can bypass the HR screen-out process. (If busy hiring managers are the cause of the problem, that’s a different issue!)
Also, work on expanding your knowledge base by reinforcing your network relationships, actively communicating with them whenever appropriate, and so on. Check your LinkedIn contacts and those of other groups or organizations you belong to, to see whether any people there are connected with companies you’re interested in working for. You might be able to garner some useful tips and insights from them.
A suggestion somewhat related to having a knowledge-powered job search is to examine your background and your career marketing documents thoroughly to see if you can spot any potential “gotchas” and take action to counteract them. For example, some people who are “between jobs” label themselves as independent consultants to avoid having a gap on their resume. Unfortunately, that tactic has been overworked and can actually backfire unless you can show some strong results from your consulting activities (for example, a couple of major clients you worked with successfully).
You can find numerous different opinions on the importance and value of education to your career success. Unscientifically, I’d say the weight of opinion probably favors having a college degree–preferably at least a bachelor’s and in some cases a master’s degree. If you already have a bachelor’s degree, you’re not necessarily home-free, but you probably are well ahead of most of those people who don’t have one. This aspect of career management deserves thoughtful attention, because it can have a major effect on your future, both financially and in terms of your marketability to employers as a professional.
Unemployment rates for non-college graduates versus college graduates
According to a recent study by Georgetown Center on Education and the Workforce (shared via the Recruiting Trends website), individuals who recently earned a bachelor’s degree have an unemployment rate of 8.9%, which is higher than anyone would like. However, they’re still way ahead of job seekers who have a high-school diploma or less; those individuals have an unemployment rate that’s a huge 22.9%! What’s happening, apparently, is that the gap is widening between well-educated job seekers and those who for whatever reason dropped out of the educational environment much earlier. Hopefully, you’re not in that group, because if you are, you could face a tough climb to move up and out of it.
What impact does a college degree have on your career success potential?
It varies. One important factor is the field you choose. For example, a liberal arts major might be considered well rounded, but unless he or she has some more specifically marketable qualifications, that major is not likely to provide a strong career boost. Similarly, if you choose a major in an industry that is either in decline or stagnating, you might easily find yourself with an expensive piece of wallpaper after you earn your degree! According to the study, as reported by Recruitment Trends, here are a few key points to consider with regard to your education and career prospects:
- “What employed college graduates make also depends on what they take.” For example, higher end=engineering and lower end=arts, psychology and social work.
- “People who make technology are better off than people who use technology.”
- “Unemployment is lowest where the ties between majors and occupations are highest.” For example, lowest=engineering, the sciences, education and healthcare; highest=architecture (construction-related factor).
Bachelor’s degree versus graduate degree
If you have a four-year degree but are thinking about going back to obtain a master’s degree because you believe it will significantly enhance your prospects for career success, consider the options carefully. An advanced degree can take a lot of time and money to earn, so you want to be as sure as you can that it really offers the potential value you need. I’ve known clients who went back to school to get an MBA, for example, and subsequently found that it didn’t appreciably speed up their job search for a desirable new position. It’s very important to research the situation in the industry or profession you are targeting, so you can try to confirm that you will be investing your time and money productively.
As this is my first post of 2012, it seems appropriate to talk about connecting with others. This could apply not only to strengthening our career management and job search activities but also to helping others, whether or not they can turn around and give help back to us. However, this is, after all, a careers-related blog, so I’m not going to go into details about the other kinds of helping we might do. That’s up to each individual, anyway.
What’s the difference between a connector and a networker?
I hadn’t realized there actually was a difference between those two concepts until I came across an article by Alina Tugend called “Are You a Connector?” According to her, connectors are people who are always willing to help and will go the extra mile to find someone who can if it’s not within their power to help directly. Apparently, the concept came originally from Malcolm Gladwell’s The Tipping Point (mentioned by Maryam Banikarim, a senior VP at Gannett). In any case, the idea is that these individuals have “energy, insatiable curiosity and a willingness to take chances” plus “a genuine love of meeting people and making friends,” and they go beyond what is generally thought of as networking. They definitely exhibit a willingness to help even when they don’t see the probability of short-term payback.
Considering this description, I realized that I haven’t known many people who would be described as connectors, but there have been at least a few. Since they are apparently a rare breed, I’m probably fortunate to have known any!
Become a connector for individuals who need help achieving career advancement or finding a new job
If you don’t have the real zest for interacting with people that was described above, you might think you can’t reach connector status. However, I don’t think that’s the final word on the subject. Some skills can definitely be learned, and I believe connecting is one of them. It’s just very important to have a strong desire to do more than you’re already doing along those lines–a desire that will motivate you to take action (desire alone won’t get you there). As Banikarim notes, one way is to avoid gravitating toward friends at meetings and for meals, choosing instead to sit and converse with people you don’t already know.
Enhance your career by helping yourself become a better connector
You probably already know that the economy and the job market pose multiple daunting challenges today, a situation that’s likely to continue for quite some time. That’s a good reason to understand that you can help yourself while helping others. As Tugend’s article states: “The willingness to reach out to someone you don’t know is crucial to the art of connecting, and especially important in uncertain economic times. Those who are in mid-career and may have worked for one company for years should learn connecting skills before they need them.” These words of advice could well apply to all of us, not just those in mid-career!