Job Interview Tips–Do’s and Don’ts

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!

Successful Job Search: No “Buggy Whip” Candidates Need Apply

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!


Professional References: Where are They When You Need Them?

Thanks to a recent comment during a phone consultation with a client, I decided it was time to write a post about professional references. As we all know, you’ll be expected to provide references at some point in the interview process–typically, when the company has decided it’s seriously interested in considering you and wants to find out more about you. A lot could be said about the subject of references, and I might do another post or two on it later. For now, though, I’m thinking about the importance of acquiring references before they “go away.”

Former employers/managers can provide great job references

Or not, as the case may be. For one thing, if they’re busy, they might intend to respond to your request for a reference and just never get around to it. For another, they might provide a more or less generic reference that basically says, “Mary Smith was a very hardworking employee, and we were sorry to see her go.” Although it might seem strange, you can help the process along by giving some suggestions on the types of information you’d love to see in their comments (assuming they agree with your suggestions!). The main point is: try to get them to include some specific value statements; generic won’t cut it.

Request professional references as soon as possible

If you’ve just left a company (whether voluntarily, through a layoff or whatever), it’s not too late to request references or recommendations from former managers there. Even better: ask them before you’re officially out the door and then follow up with them soon afterward. Be polite, of course, but also be persistent if the promised reference doesn’t show up reasonably soon. Waiting too long could end up making the referrer unreachable. Worst case, the individual could pass on without having provided the promised recommendation. This might sound cold, but realistically it’s a possibility you should consider.

A less extreme example would be that you have lost touch with the person and have no idea how to reestablish contact. (These days you might find him/her again via sources such as LinkedIn, unless the person never joined it or took his/her profile down after retirement.) Also, memory can be a fragile thing, and the former boss might eventually get a little fuzzy about your contributions years ago. After all, life goes on, and he or she undoubtedly has other things to think about besides your desire for a professional reference–hard as that might be for you to believe!

Get your recommendations “out there” and working for you

Although employers you are interacting with might not request your references up front, you can and should take advantage of opportunities to put that information out into the world early on. LinkedIn is a great place to start. You need at least 3 recommendations to have a 100% LinkedIn profile, but there’s no limit on the maximum number you can have. Of course, you’re not allowed to write them; the individual needs to do that. However, you do have the final say on whether or not the recommendation appears in your profile. If it contains errors or other undesirable information, you can request that the person revise and resubmit it. Ultimately, the goal is for your references to testify to potential employers about your value as you have demonstrated it in the past.

Of course, no one requests or publishes a negative reference (a contradiction in terms), so potential employers might take yours with a grain of salt; but not obtaining the recommendations at all could be a serious career mistake. Life in general is littered with “I wish I had”; avoid this one if you can!


Is Twitter An Effective Job Search Tool?

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!


Great Companies to Work For

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.


Avoid the Resume “Black Hole” Trap

If your resume looks as if it could have come from 20 years ago or it just hasn’t been put together carefully–with good attention to what your targeted employers are probably looking for–it most likely will end up in the resume “black hole” trap. The same goes for submitting it to employers without doing any research beforehand to see if your background makes sense for the company. Yet another black hole mistake is distributing your resume with a generic cover letter that does little, if anything, to give the employers a reason to read it OR the resume.

What is the resume “black hole” trap?

We all know that in science, a black hole basically swallows everything that comes close enough to be drawn into it–and doesn’t let anything escape back out again. When you rely on resume writing that doesn’t do justice to your experience and your potential value to employers, doesn’t show that you are not only living but working in the 21st century, and so on, you are aiming your resume right at that black hole as it applies to the job search process. You will be submitting your poorly thought-out resume to employers who will, at best, dump it straight into their vast and growing database; at worst, the resume won’t even make it into that location. What you almost certainly won’t get is anything in the way of a return trip–i.e., a meaningful response or reaction from the employer.

How to avoid the resume “black hole” trap

While there’s no 100% guaranteed process–no foolproof steps you can take–you can certainly increase your chances of not getting swallowed. In some of my previous posts, I’ve mentioned a few of the actions you can and should take. One I might not have mentioned is to give employers an indication that you are current on technology related to the overall category of social media. If, for example, you have a good LinkedIn profile, consider including the link to your profile in the contact information at the top of your resume. The same goes for places like Twitter–but DO be careful that whatever content you already have in those places is professionally presented or at least neutral in nature (e.g., no wild party stories or photos!). Otherwise, you might just help your resume get into the black hole faster!

Make your cover letter a strong resume add-on

I hope no one these days sends a cover letter that says, in essence, “here’s my resume; I hope you like it”! A professional cover letter is not the same as a file transmittal sheet. It must quickly and clearly indicate to the reader that you are a promising candidate for the company’s open position and have substantial value to offer. While it shouldn’t just repeat information verbatim from the resume, it can and sometimes should reference and expand on items that are in that document. Above all, it should help encourage readers to give thoughtful consideration to your resume by distinguishing you from the multiple other candidates they’ll be seeing.

P.S. Have you updated your resume lately? If not, the start of a new year is a good time to do that! What have you done since the last time that isn’t in there and should be?


Are You an Eeyore Job Seeker?

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.