Have you ever had to listen for long to someone whose voice seemed in imminent danger of fading out completely or was annoyingly laced with “umms” or “you know” or other meaningless verbal fillers? If so, you can probably relate to an article I just read, ““Is This How You Really Talk?”” (in The Wall Street Journal online). Author Sue Shellenbarger states that “new research shows the sound of a person’s voice strongly influences how he or she is seen. The sound of a speaker’s voice matters twice as much as the content of the message….”
Poor Speaking Skills can Hurt Your Career
That’s right. Your weak speaking skills could hurt you. You might ask: Could my voice quality and/or other elements of my oral presentation really be throwing a huge speed-bump in the path of my career? According to Shellenbarger’s article, the answer is very possibly yes. For example, if you need to be perceived as assertive, a strong leader and so on, a quiet vocal delivery of your messages might undermine the impression you need to make on your audience. If that audience consists of people who can decide whether or not to offer you a job or a promotion, you definitely want to consider what you can do to improve the situation!
This is also true in other aspects of a job search or ongoing career management, including interviewing. When you obscure the delivery of your message through poor speaking skills, you could fail to gain the support of colleagues for critical initiatives, lose the respect of the team you are expected to manage or discourage an interviewer from giving you a chance at second-round/multiple interviews. The potential repercussions of poor speaking skills could add up to a long list by the time you’re done!
Do You Know If You Have a Speaking “Problem”?
You might think you have reasonably good speaking skills and can’t imagine how anything about your vocal delivery could negatively affect your ability to land a job or advance in your career. However, it’s not necessarily safe to assume you don’t have an issue with it just because no one has told you that you do. Friends, family, colleagues–many people hesitate to raise such a sensitive subject with someone they know. They might be afraid of hurting your feelings or making you angry at them if they do. What can you do to ensure that how you speak isn’t standing in the way of your career success?
Here are just a few tips you can try:
- Record yourself speaking and listen to it with your eyes closed, so you’re not distracted by visual elements around you. As much as possible, eliminate auditory distractions as well (find a quiet place).
- Ask someone whose judgment you trust to listen to you delivering a short presentation and provide candid feedback. Then remember not to “shoot the messenger”!
- Consider finding and working with a speech coach/consultant, especially if you have an important interview or on-the-job presentation scheduled down the road, to make sure you’re delivering the message effectively. (Don’t wait too long to do this, however; it can take time and practice.)
Importance of Non-Vocal Presentation Skills
In college, I had an instructor who frequently stroked his goatee while he was speaking to the class. This mannerism was so distracting that I had to avoid looking at him if I wanted to absorb the information he was presenting! I never had the nerve to mention it to him, and I don’t know if anyone else ever did, but I hope so.
Visual gestures can be a bad habit you’re unaware of. Try recording a video of yourself doing a presentation and watch it as objectively as you can to see if you’re using distracting gestures. You might just be glad you did!
Have you ever had an interview that turned out later to be deceptive in one or more ways? Quite possibly, although I like to think that most interviewers do not deliberately deceive applicants. However, I have had clients who took a job before they discovered it had been misrepresented in the interview. That can be not only a frustrating experience but a costly one, particularly if you pass up other opportunities and accept the position before you discover your mistake.
How to Tell When Interviewers are Lying
According to a recent Brazen Careerist post I read by Vanessa Van Edwards, there are “3 Ways to Tell if Your Interviewer is Lying.” I imagine you could come up with more if you gave it some thought, based on your experience or the experience of people you know, but here in a nutshell are the clues Van Edwards offers:
- Exaggeration: A clue might be the use of excessive adjectives or superlatives.
- Common fibs: Van Edwards mentions “9 Annoying Lies Job Interviewers Tell,” (another Brazen Careerist post, by Heather Legg) which includes these 3 possible fibs: “You’re in the lead for this position.” “We think your outside life is just as important as your work life.” “We’re working on hiring someone who would help you.” (Legg’s post does point out that some of the possible fibs could be true, but you have to dig to find out.)
- Body language: Watch for inconsistencies between what the person says and how he or she acts, including things like eye contact or seating position.
How to Avoid Being Deceived by Interviewers
Aside from watching out for the 3 ways mentioned by Van Edwards, here are a few suggestions I’d like to share:
- To start with, include sufficient research in your interview preparation–actually, start sooner than that. Before deciding to submit your resume for a position you’ve spotted, research the company to see if any immediate red flags pop up, as well as to identify any good points that fit your desired situation. What kind of reputation does it have where it matters–which is most likely not from the pages of the company’s annual report.
- Pay attention to what’s going on around you before as well as during the interview. In other words, from the moment you arrive on the company’s property, you should have your observation antennae up and functioning. It’s amazing sometimes the clues you can pick up from that.
- Chat with the receptionist while you wait for the interviewer, if the lobby isn’t too busy. A short, friendly conversation with her (it’s usually a “her”) can give you a sense of what the company’s about and how it treats its employees, if you ask the right questions. Just don’t come across sounding like someone from the Spanish Inquisition!
- Make notes before the interview and, if possible, during it about information you gain by watching, listening and asking questions. After you leave, compare those notes with what the interviewer actually said (if you didn’t get to write it all down, which was probably the case, add anything else you remember while it’s fresh in your mind). Also compare your notes with the information you researched before arriving for the interview.
Bonus Interview Tip: Make sure you don’t get swayed by emotion (excitement, desperation, etc.) into making a decision your research and observations tell you is probably not wise. Going with your instinct can sometimes work out, but probably not if you’re letting emotion cloud your judgment.
Salary questions are probably one of the biggest concerns I hear from clients and potential clients (with benefits being a related issue). Two sides of the coin could be involved: (1) the salary history and/or salary expectations of the job seeker; (2) what the company will probably pay and how to get an idea of what that amount (or range) might be. I always recommend that job seekers do their research to find out things like what the going rate/range would be for someone in their field, with their experience, at their level, in the geographic region, and so on.
One reason you should do this, of course, is so you will have at least a sense of what is potentially available to you, but also so you can compare your background with the general group of job seekers who might be similar to you and develop some insights into your probable salary range before starting a serious job search.
However, a big “nut to crack” is the part about getting employers to divulge useful information about the salary range before you jump into the interview process. It too often seems that companies want you to divulge that kind of information about yourself and are absolutely unwilling to reciprocate. However, it now appears that benefits could be as touchy a subject as salary. In fact, I just read an interesting and provocative post by Nick Corcodillos (Ask the Headhunter) that has to do with benefits information being withheld pending offer acceptance! Really?
Benefits Information Kept Secret by Companies
Someone wrote to Corcodillos about a job offer he had received from a major company that had an acceptable salary , but the headhunter he was working with indicated the company had a policy of not revealing benefits information until an offer was accepted! According to Corcodillos, the usual rationale is that the company’s benefits package (and maybe its employee policy manual) are competitive secrets or confidential and can’t be disclosed to non-employees. This is crazy! As Corcodillos puts it, “They invite you to join the game, but you can’t see the rules in advance. You may make an investment in the company, but you may not see the financials.”
By a real stretch of the imagination, I can see where companies might come up with this rationale, especially if their management is paranoid. Does that make it acceptable for them to do all the taking and none of the giving with regard to information-sharing during the interview-to-offer process? Not by a long shot. That stance puts all the risk burden on you as the job seeker. As we all know, life isn’t always fair, but this situation is beyond unfair–it’s potentially hazardous to your financial and emotional well-being. What happens, for instance, if you accept the position and then discover that a critical aspect of the benefits package falls seriously short of what you needed and expected?
Walk Away from Overly Secretive Companies?
Under some circumstances, you might decide that the company’s lack of willingness to share key information justifies declining the offer. However, that could mean giving up an opportunity that would prove beneficial to you in the long run. You might come up with your own approach to this situation. In case it’s of interest, though, here in a nutshell is what Corcodillos advised his inquirer to do:
Call the CEO’s office and tell whoever answers that you’re ready to accept a job offer, but no one (including HR) can satisfactorily answer a question you have. When (and only when) someone from the CEO’s office rather than HR agrees to talk to you, you explain the issue and politely but firmly refuse to go back to HR to deal with it. Corcodillos goes on to say, “”I’d tell the headhunter you have your own policy: I need to know what the entire offer is–including the benefits.“
If you receive a job offer after your first interview with a company, consider yourself extremely lucky! Over the years, it has become increasingly common to be put through a series of interviews before you get an offer–if you get one at all. And that is usually in addition to preliminaries such as a telephone prescreening that can determine whether you make it to the first-round interview. You could have a series of interviews on one day with different people, but you could also need to go back two or three times for separate interviews. That can be pretty tough on you as a job seeker, but as long as we’re in what’s generally a buyer’s market, you might not have much choice. The trick is to prepare yourself as thoroughly for multiple interviews as you would for just one–and then some.
Multiple Interview Tip #1
It has always been important to do your homework before you go to an interview. You should research the company as thoroughly as you can–online as well as elsewhere (through people you know, etc.). You should also “know your stuff”–be confident of your ability to answer questions about your experience, skills, and so on. Those factors just become more important when you’re facing the prospect of a multistage interview process. The better prepared you are going into the first interview, the better prepared you’ll be for the others.
Multiple Interview Tip #2
Ask for as much information as you can get from the person who contacts you to arrange the interviews, whether he/she works for the company or for an agency they are using to prescreen candidates. The contact should be willing and able to tell you things like the name(s) and title(s) of the people you will be interviewing with and give you some general information about the position you’ll be interviewing for. If possible, try to find out from that person what the probable salary range is for the position, so you’ll have an idea of where you fit on the scale. Ask your questions politely but firmly. If he/she can’t answer them reasonably well, that might be a red flag. You’re better off knowing that before you actually go to the first interview.
Multiple Interview Tip #3
Pace yourself! Especially if the interviews are close together, try to give yourself some breathing room for mental relaxation. Also, go armed with enough “success stories” and other good ammunition so you don’t have to share everything in the first interview. Save something for the others if you can.
Multiple Interview Tip #4
Ask if you can take notes during each interview. If you can’t, make sure you rough-out a summary as soon as possible after you leave. (I used to sit in my car and write items down before I pulled out of the company’s parking lot.) You’ll want to use your notes to refresh your memory when you prepare for the next interview and to help you craft a really good thank-you/follow-up letter for each person you interview with. That letter should be put into the hands of the interviewer as soon as possible after the interview–you can hand-deliver it to the company, mail a hard copy, email it…the point is, do it soon.
Multiple Interview Tip #5
Don’t assume that if you make it to the final interview, you’re home-free on getting the job. If you don’t have a signed offer letter in your hands, you haven’t necessarily nailed it yet. That’s just one more reason it’s important to send the follow-up letter. Also, try to find out, either from your initial contact or from the last person you interview with, how long the company expects the hiring decision process to take. You can and probably should call to follow up if you haven’t heard anything within a week or so after the final interview, unless you were told the decision would take longer than that.
The phone rings, and a company you applied to wants to interview you more or less “right now.” What should you do? Ideally, start by buying yourself some think-time. That is, indicate to the caller that although you don’t have time to talk properly at the moment, you are definitely interested and would like to schedule a call or in-person interview for a later day/time. Too much is at stake to rush into the interview without a chance to think about it.
Lack of Interview Preparation Time
A recent article by Nick Corcodilos (Ask The Headhunter), has some excellent points to make on the subject of interview preparation. He was specifically responding to an inquiry regarding a call from a recruiter, but his points relate equally well to calls from employers. Basically, he made 3 comments:
- Don’t apply if you didn’t choose the interview based on research.
- Good headhunters always prep their candidates.
- Preparation is more important than showing up on demand.
To finish up, Corcodilos lays it on the line like this: “If you’re dealing with lousy headhunters, stop. If you’re desperate to interview as often as possible under any circumstances, stop….Decline the interview until you are prepared. This isn’t a race. It’s business, and unprepared business people lose.”
Horror Stories: Why Interview Preparation Isn’t Optional
Years ago, I had a client call me to say that he thought he had just blown his chance for an interview. He had received a call from a manager about the resume he had submitted. The indication at the beginning of the call was that this was just the precursor to an in-person interview. By the end of the call, no suggestion of a face-to-face interview was made. What went wrong? It might have been the fact, as my client mentioned to me, that he happened to be taking care of his two young grandchildren at the time, and he was distracted on more than one occasion while trying to answer the caller’s questions–to the extent that he wondered once or twice where in the world his responses had come from!
As I tell clients when we’re doing interview coaching, you do not have to proceed at the time of that initial phone contact, and if you handle it professionally, you can arrange a time to talk that allows you to prepare properly and to minimize interview distractions during the phone call. Along with that, however, it’s a good idea to heed Corcodilos’ advice to avoid applying and trying to secure interviews until you’ve done your research. You owe it to yourself to give interview preparation your best shot.
As if interviewing weren’t enough challenge for many people–especially those who have an urgent need for a new position–there’s the tiger lurking in the underbrush, ready to pounce. By that, I mean the interviewer who throws in trick questions to catch you off-guard and pull out information you normally wouldn’t want to provide.
Some Tricky Interview Questions You Might Get
I’ve seen a lot of questions that could be tricky while seeming innocuous, such as asking about your hobbies. Suppose, for example, your #1 hobby is sky-diving and you’re pretty good at it. However, if you mention that to the interviewer and the company happens to be risk-averse, you might have squashed your chance for a job offer. What’s even more frustrating is that you might not ever know that was what killed it.
That’s only one example, though. According to an article by Jenna Goudreau in which she interviewed well-known author Joyce Lain Kennedy, the following are 10 Tricky Interview Questions companies might use to sneak up on you:
- Why have you been out of work so long, and how many others were laid off?
- If employed, how do you manage time for interviews?
- How did you prepare for this interview?
- Do you know anyone who works for us?
- Where would you really like to work?
- What bugs you about coworkers or bosses?
- Can you describe how you solved a work or school problem?
- Can you describe a work or school instance in which you messed up?
- How does this position compare with others you’re applying for?
- If you won the lottery, would you still work?
I’d like to note that at least a few of the questions aren’t entirely new, and I’ve been advising clients for years (during interview preparation coaching) to think through some of these situations ahead of time, so they’re not thrown for a loss during the interview itself. Questions #7 and #8, for example, are simply variations on ones that look for your problem-solving skills, how you learn from mistakes, and so on. You should always have a plan in mind that answers such questions honestly–to a point. You’re not compelled to give excessive detail or, for instance, provide a laundry-list of your past mistakes!
Your Best Options for Handling Tricky Interview Questions
Start by mapping out a plan of action that includes elements like boning up on the company, its current situation and possible changes on the horizon, why they might need someone like you, and anything you want to know about them to help you decide whether you do want to work there (remember, the interview is a two-way street). Think seriously about any possible down-side to your situation that tricky questions might fool you into revealing and have at least a rough idea of how best to respond. (Note: If you have a drawback that could interfere with your ability to do the job effectively, that’s another matter entirely.)
Also, remember the old maxim that “silence is golden” and avoid rushing into speech when the interviewer asks a question. A pause of a second or two to gather your thoughts shouldn’t come across as a suspicious hesitation and could help you give a reasonable answer that doesn’t put you in a needlessly unfavorable light. Finally, as I always tell my interview coaching clients, make sure you understand the question you’re being asked. If you don’t, request clarification before you answer. That’s a lot better than trying to backpedal after you’ve discovered that what you said wasn’t what the interviewer wanted to hear.
If you’ve never had an interview that focused on your critical-thinking skills (or lack thereof), this might be news to you: Interviewers who zero-in on this skill can ask some really tough questions! That’s one of my take-aways from an article I read recently called “Interviewing for Critical-thinking Ability,” by Greg Fall on ERE.net. I’m not going to even try to note all the aspects he covers in his article, but the following information gives a teaser. Read the full article if you think more info might be useful the next time you have a job interview.
Why Would an Interview focus on Critical Thinking?
As Fall notes in his article, “critical thinking has been rated the #1 desired skill in key contributors and senior level leaders….And, as Socrates understood, although it can be learned, organizations today don’t have the luxury of teaching this skill. They need people already adept at:
* Accurately understanding problems,
* Analyzing evidence, and
* Making good decisions.
With 7-10,000 baby boomers retiring every day, the need for critical thinkers has never been greater.”
So this skill/ability/whatever-you-call-it is probably going to become increasingly in demand by employers. That being the case, you need to prepare for interviews that might focus on whether you have this skill and, if so, to what extent. Oh, and if you don’t already have some good value to offer in the area of critical thinking, yesterday would be a good time to begin developing and strengthening it, because it sounds as if many employers either can’t or won’t wait for you to develop expertise in it!
Sample Critical Thinking Questions You Might be Asked
“Behavioral Questions: Describe a complex situation in which you…had to make a critical choice based on incomplete data or inputs.”
“Behavioral Drill-down/Follow-up Questions: List your basic assumptions when you first considered the situation.”
“Situational Questions: …A strong-willed and influential peer attempts to win you over to their position by using erroneous information as foundational to their argument. Give a detailed description of how you would respond.”
“Situational Drill Down/Follow-up Questions: …Why did you choose to proceed that way?”
And that’s just a small sample! Wow! Obviously, it’s no longer enough–if it ever really was–to bone up on the company/industry, make sure you have all your success stories clearly in mind, and so on. It’s not that you don’t need to or shouldn’t do that. You just need to do more.
How Can You Prepare for Critical-Thinking Interview Questions?
First of all, realize that this is not a game of one-upmanship. You aren’t trying to fool the interviewer and, we hope, the interviewer isn’t trying to trick you. However, it’s essential that you understand what constitutes critical thinking, determine where you need to improve your abilities in that area and take the initiative to get yourself moving in the right direction. Start learning and practicing techniques that will help you (1) probe problems, (2) evaluate the information you obtain about them and (3) use your conclusions to execute appropriate, effective action. As the article mentions, some of this can be taught, so one solution could be for you to identify and access resources capable of teaching you to become a better critical thinker.
Then start applying what you’ve learned to real-world situations you have encountered or can envision encountering in the future. The above-mentioned article contains a number of questions to start you thinking along those lines. See if you can come up with some of your own.
Obviously, you’re not likely to win (capture) every job you apply for during your job search, any more than you will win every game you play outside of work that involves competition. The odds are against achieving 100% success all the time. So sometimes you are going to lose the job search game and maybe in a situation where you really wanted or needed to win.
Winning vs. Losing: A Fresh Perspective
Jon Gordon often has thought-provoking entries in his motivational blog, and a recent one really caught my attention because it offered a fresh take on the “it’s not whether you win or lose; it’s how you play the game” philosophy. Jon states that both winning and losing matter, but that “in life what matters most is what we do with our wins and losses.”
Jon maintains that you’re ahead of the game if you refuse to give up after a loss and instead respond in a way that makes you stronger. He has developed a concept that he and his family follow, called LOSS (Learning Opportunity, Stay Strong). This is more than a touchy-feely concept that has little meat behind it. It’s something anyone–including disappointed job seekers–can practice and put to good use.
Choose Your Battles, in Job Search as in Life
You might actually be able to minimize your overall losses and disappointments in employment situations, at least to some degree. One useful job search tip is to scope out the lay of the land before you go after a particular opportunity. For instance, if you know or can connect with someone who has insider information, you might find out that the company’s CFO already has his or her eye on a candidate and is only going through the motions of publicizing the position. In that case, you could still decide to pursue the opportunity but might not put your full effort behind it as you would for a situation where you stood a better chance of being seriously considered.
If the best information you are able to obtain indicates that the opportunity you’re interested in is valid and it seems like a really good fit for your experience and talents, you probably have a good reason to go after it. That said, if you make it to an interview–maybe even to the second or third round of interviews–and end up losing out on the job, it’s natural to experience substantial disappointment. In some situations, you might even feel devastated, possibly because you had an overwhelming impression that you did exceptionally well in the interviews, were actually somehow led to believe that a job offer was imminent or just badly needed the job for some reason.
You can’t totally avoid disappointment or a great sense of loss in such situations, but you can reduce the likelihood and extent of it by choosing which battles you’re going to “fight” (which job openings to pursue) and how much effort you’re going to invest in those battles.
Learn from Your Losses
Did you make any mistakes at all in the situation where you lost a job opportunity you believed you had a strong chance of winning–say by somehow blowing an interview? Ask yourself that question each time and focus on identifying the honest answer–this isn’t something you’re doing for public consumption but to help yourself improve your odds for the next time. Even the best of us can make mistakes, take a misstep that we seriously regret afterward. If you did that, acknowledge it to yourself. Then figure out how you can try to avoid the same problem in your next job interview and keep it from happening again as you continue your job search. While life doesn’t hold any guarantees, this approach might just increase your win-rate and help you land the job of your dreams.
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!