In job interviews and on the job, first impressions matter because they last. In fact, they often take effect in an instant but can be difficult to change, if not impossible (depending on how strong they were to begin with).
I’m not talking about something like “is my tie straight?” (if you wear one). I’m referring to more subtle examples, such as the way you greet someone (the interviewer, maybe a new boss or colleague). Do you come across as friendly but professional, interested in others but not nosy, and so on? Job seekers are often told to “act natural” or “be yourself,” but cautioned to be wary of missteps which can cause them to stumble.
If you’re well up in the ranks, you might be thinking you already know basic stuff like this. But bear with me, because even the best of us can sometimes overlook things that could put us at a disadvantage when meeting someone who’s important to our long-term career success–whether it’s during the job interview phase or after we’ve landed our new job.
Basics You Might Need a Refresher On
Over-confidence can be every bit as damaging as lack of confidence, sometimes even more so. For example, if your body language or your words suggest an arrogant sense of superiority, you just might rub someone the wrong way, only to discover that the person has a say in whether or not you land the position.
Briefly, these are key aspects to consider when you’re getting ready for an important interview, because they’re what interviewers are likely to notice about you (found in an article titled “The 7 Things Interviewers Notice First“–they were listed in reverse order in the article):
- Communication style
- Body language
- Attire (clothing, etc.)
- Arrival time
I’d like to add a side note on the item about arrival time–which is something that’s very important but can be difficult to judge on occasion. As the article indicates, you definitely don’t want to be late. On the other hand, you don’t want to show up in the lobby 30 minutes ahead of time either.
In these days of cell phones being everywhere, there’s not much excuse for failing to notify someone if you’ve been unavoidably delayed; however, it would be much better, in my opinion, to build in a generous cushion of time and then find something to do with yourself during any “left over” time you might have–while staying near the location you need to be at for the interview.
First Impressions On the Job
Regardless of your rank in the organization, you’ll undoubtedly be meeting new people a lot–co-workers, subordinates, key customers or vendors, and more. To the extent possible, you’d be smart to bone up ahead of time on those you’ll be meeting, so you’re well prepared to achieve a positive first impression. Then all you have to do is maintain that positive impression in subsequent meetings!
Sometimes, of course, you won’t have an opportunity to prepare for a first meeting. It can happen unexpectedly for a variety of reasons. However, if you’ve been making the right kind of effort all along, you’ll probably come out of the encounter satisfactorily. By that, I mean that you’ve prepared yourself to make a first impression that will present you favorably in diverse circumstances–and will create a long-lasting impression you’ll be happy to be associated with.
Maybe the question should really be, “How can you negotiate your salary for a New Job?”
Recently an article titled “Negotiating Employment Agreements or the Real Reason Jennifer Lawrence Got Paid Less Than Bradley Cooper,” published on LinkedIn’s Pulse, talked about negotiating your salary from a different slant than I’d seen before. It definitely caused me to think about some of the assumptions we tend to make that might not be as soundly based as they seem to be.
Employment Negotiation–No Excuses?
According to the Pulse article, actress Jennifer Lawrence wrote a piece stating that she received lower pay for her role because Hollywood was sexist and because she didn’t want to appear difficult or silly by negotiating a much higher salary. Her essay in turn stirred up a big brouhaha about the gap between what men and women are paid.
The main point the article makes, however, is that Lawrence’s experience was a “glaring violation of the cardinal rule of employment negotiations – IF YOU DO NOT ASK FOR IT, YOU WILL NOT GET IT.” Author Elisaveta (Leiza) Dolghih contends that this isn’t directly driven by gender but by personality (how an individual functions). She goes on to state that “if your personality is like Jennifer Lawrence’s…and does not allow you to ask, find a person who will ask and negotiate for you….”
When to Talk Money
One issue that often bothers my clients is when to discuss salary during their search for a new position. If you’ve ever been in that spot, you know what I’m talking about. For years I’ve been advocating the view expressed by many professionals, including author Jack Chapman, that “he who mentions money first loses.” Just this week, however, I read a column by Nick Corcodillos (Ask The Headhunter) in which he flatly contradicts that view and insists that job seekers need to take the initiative in order to avoid missteps such as going through multiple interviews before finding out the range for the position–which might be thousands of $$$ below their target.
I have to say that this whole situation has raised issues I need to think through carefully before I do more salary negotiation coaching with clients! Apparently there aren’t any simple, straightforward answers. Maybe the best we can do is look at each interview process, each salary negotiation aspect, on a case-by-case basis. However, I think there are at least a few key points to keep in mind:
- Do your homework even before you submit your resume to a potential employer. Within reason (don’t take weeks!), gather the best intelligence you can about the company’s situation, background, etc.
- Explore what people who do what you do are making, taking into account things like geographical differences, to get at least a general, ballpark range. Compare that information to your anticipated target salary.
- Decide how you plan to bring up the subject of compensation (if you do) or how you will respond if it comes up before you feel you have enough information about the opportunity.
- Be ready to negotiate based on solid value, but be prepared to politely walk away from an opportunity as soon as you can tell that it’s not going to be worth your time (or the company’s) to push ahead.
So, yes, you can negotiate your salary for a new job–at least sometimes. At other times, the answer might be, probably not–or–it’s not worth the effort you’d have to make.
Career missteps are nothing new–you might even have made one or two yourself. However, if you made a mistake that involved ending up on the wrong side of the law, you’ve probably discovered that it can have a hugely negative impact on your employability–especially in senior-level positions and/or those involving sensitive areas of a company, such as finance.
In too many cases, you never have the opportunity to explain the situation–for example, to show what you’ve done since then to remedy your error or initiate the changes necessary to ensure never making that kind of mistake again. Employers take one look at your information and say, “Thanks, but we’ll pass.”
Recently, however, it appears that employers’ knee-jerk reaction to job seekers with a somewhat flawed past might be diminishing at least somewhat.
Screening Applicants with a Criminal Past
According to “The State of Screening” (by Lauren Dixon on Talent Management Today), the trend is changing. She cites a survey that shows “roughly 75% of employers said they provide background assessments where candidates with criminal histories are able to explain the details of their conviction…”
Among other key points shared in the article, I found these especially interesting:
- For executive-level hiring, 58% said they use the same background check as for other employees, while 39% conduct more extensive checks and 2% don’t do a check at all.
- While 90% indicated they had found information at some time that led to not hiring the individual, 44% of them disqualified less than 5% of the applicants who revealed a criminal conviction.
- If a candidate lies on the resume or job application (for instance, trying to conceal a criminal incident or claiming a degree they don’t have) and is found out before hiring, a substantial number of the employers would reject the candidate: 44% for lying on the application; 75% for lying on a resume.
What Can You Do about This Problem?
If you’re fortunate enough to be targeting one of the employers that shows some leniency or open-mindedness about past mistakes of this kind, most likely you just need to have a convincing explanation to reassure the company that you’re not a risk going forward. Even better, that you’ll be a strong asset because of the value you can bring that far outweighs your mistake.
On the other hand, if you can’t prevent rejection because you never get a chance to explain anything to offset the “bad news,” you face a much tougher challenge. One step you probably should take is to head off the situation if possible by networking your way into the company. If you can establish one or more supportive contacts within the organization, you might well be able to provide your explanation that way. Obviously, this requires establishing a positive relationship with your contact(s), so there’s a willingness to advocate for you.
If you take the right steps and take advantage of opportunities to clear the air, you might be able to change this hostile job search environment:
So you say you’d rather have a root canal than engage in job search networking? Then you’re probably looking at networking from the wrong angle!
As I said a couple of posts ago, networking represents a key element of successful job searching and career management. Also, of course, it’s not just a “when I’m in job-search mode” activity, but rather, something you need to do more consistently than that. The question then becomes, “What’s holding you back? What’s really behind your foot-dragging reluctance to network?”
Job Search Networking is NOT Rocket Science
Folks, if you’re thinking of networking as something that only an expert can do effectively, think again. You don’t need a PhD in Networking to do it and do it well. What you do need is the willingness to try and to keep refining how you do it so that it works best for you. By “works best,” I mean that you will actually DO it consistently and that it’s as productive as you can make it for your purposes.
I should note that there are a gazillion books and articles on networking–how to do or not do it, and more. You might get confused if you read too many of them, since in all probability they’ll eventually contradict each other! Try to keep your approach simple.
Networking Doesn’t Have to be a Drudgery
You might agree that a PhD in Networking isn’t necessary, but maybe you still feel that networking is just too hard to get a handle on, too much work, etc., for you to make it a part of your job search action plan. Wrong!
Like anything else worth doing, job search networking does take at least some effort if you’re going to see the results you want. That doesn’t mean it’s drudgery, to be avoided at all costs. Here’s what Ask The Headhunter’s Nick Corcodillos had to say about it in a recent blog post: “Go where professionals gather. Ask them about their work. Make friends. Anybody can do this.”
The blog post this quote was excerpted from makes for some great reading. I highly recommend that you check out “How to Engineer Your Network.” The engineer whose remarks are shared in the blog post makes some very pointed comments about companies that totally fail to acknowledge job seekers after one or more interviews. As you might expect if you’re familiar with Nick’s work, his comments on the situation take no prisoners!
Networking or Watching the Ball Game (or Ballet)
Sometimes you have to make hard choices in deciding how you spend your time. If you’re in the middle of a job search, you might actually need to cut back on a few other activities you would normally engage in. That’s not to say that you can’t maintain some variety in your activities; in fact, doing so is a good idea, because it helps you maintain a sense of balance and allows you to anticipate rewards for “good behavior.”
At the same time, you need to stay focused on the desired end-result; that is, finding and landing your next great job. Give your job search networking the attention and respect it deserves. You’ll be glad you did–I firmly believe that. It will help you achieve the interviews that lead to offers more quickly and less painfully than if you hold back.
Probably most of you could agree on some of the characteristics of a good boss or a bad boss, but other elements might well differ depending on your particular perspective. The main thing is that you need to determine what makes a good or a bad boss for you, in order to have a reasonably satisfying and productive experience in your job–now and in the future.
What Makes a Good Boss?
In my opinion, a good boss needs to fit at least the following specifications:
- Builds, leads and motivates teams to tackle challenges with enthusiasm and a sense of purpose.
- Provides support that enables you to grow and to respond effectively in difficult situations.
- Backs you up when you are being unfairly challenged, hassled, etc., even if it means going toe-to-toe with senior managers.
- Delivers constructive performance feedback in a timely manner but not in the presence of an audience.
- Gives credit publicly for your contributions so others know the value you have delivered.
What Makes a Bad Boss?
Although a lot of factors could come into play here, these are a few of my least-favorites:
- Gives lip-service, at best, to the concept of teamwork and fails to create an atmosphere that supports it.
- Considers your possible professional growth not part of his/her responsibility and potentially a threat to his/her own success.
- Refuses to support you when you’re stuck in a disagreeable situation through no fault of your own.
- Harangues and bad-mouths you not only to your face and in public but at other times as well.
- Expects you to work yourself half to death but gives no public recognition of your efforts.
How Can You Tell a Boss Will be Good or Bad?
There might not be any surefire way to tell 100% of the time, but you can take a few steps to minimize the risk of landing up with a bad boss:
- Do your homework before you interview at a company. Research not only the company but its management. Go beyond the company’s own website to find background on the person you would be reporting to…AND his/her boss.
- Watch and listen carefully when you go for a job interview–not just when you get into the interview room but before that. Sometimes you can pick up subtle–or not so subtle–cues that will give you useful clues.
- Tap into your network to double-check with them about any possibly useful information they might have on the person who would be your boss in the new job, before you decide to accept an offer.
- Think with your head but also consult your heart and instincts. If they seem to be sending contradictory messages, consider carefully before you commit to joining the company.
Lastly, remember that the boss-employee relationship has two components, not just one. Sometimes a not-so-great boss can be transformed into at least a good one if you bring the right qualities and outlook to the relationship. If you’ve slipped up somehow and ended up with a bad boss, accept the fact of the misstep and begin thinking what you can do to improve your situation one way or another. On the other hand, if you’ve ended up with a good-to-great boss–celebrate!
If you’re in or contemplating a serious job search, you might find it hard to imagine that you could have an opportunity for interviews you don’t want–or interviews for jobs you realize you don’t want. However, stranger things have happened.
Interviews You Don’t Want
Sometimes a situation is doomed from the outset, but you don’t always know it ahead of time. However, there are some signals you can watch for that might suggest a “pass on this one” would be smart. For instance, if you learn that the company is in the midst of a potentially major change (possible merger or acquisition, etc.), that might not be the best time for interviewing there. By the same token, if some other kind of upheaval is going on (such as the abrupt departure of one or more key people on the executive team), you might want to hold off on interviewing with that organization.
You can, of course, decide the risk is worth taking because the potential payoff outweighs it. Only you can decide if you want to move forward to the interview in such a situation. One sample scenario would be if you’ll have the chance to interview with an influential person that could be a good future contact.
Interviews for Jobs You Don’t Want
Although it might be unlikely that you’ll go to multiple job interviews where you have awareness of high risk in advance, it’s not uncommon to go into one thinking you’re genuinely interested in the position and realizing partway through that it’s not a good fit for you–either the job itself or the company or both. What do you do in a case like that?
As others have said before me, you don’t necessarily want to bail from that interview prematurely, which could leave a bad impression on (burn bridges with) someone who could later be in a position to help or hurt your career. At the same time, you probably shouldn’t go full-speed-ahead with a high level of enthusiasm if you already know you wouldn’t accept an offer if they made one. You’ll want to see the interview through to a polite conclusion and, if appropriate, indicate that although you appreciate the time spent, you’ve realized you and the position aren’t a good fit right now.
Recently I read an article titled “How to Decline a Job Interview and Make It a Win/Win” that suggested ways you can also make a really favorable impression by offering information about potential candidates who might be a good fit (if you know one) or indicating other things you would be happy to do that might be helpful to the interviewer and his/her company. That’s certainly something to think about. It would undoubtedly make you more memorable to the interviewer after the interview is over and done.
A Final Word
Of course, this is all assuming you’ve done your due diligence before signing up for any interviews that might put you on the spot. If you have, you should at least minimize the likelihood of having it happen.
Job interviews can be stressful enough without having them go sour because you didn’t ask the right questions–resulting either in no job offer or in being offered and accepting a job that turns out to be a serious miss-fit. You owe it to yourself to go in prepared to ask questions and make them the “right” questions. Sometimes that’s easier said than done, so I’d like to share a few thoughts about how you can do it.
Questions to Ask in a Job Interview
Questions can touch on a variety of areas, including things you need or want to know that you didn’t uncover in your pre-interview research online or elsewhere. Sometimes, for instance, a company’s future plans aren’t yet widely known outside the company, but they could well have a direct bearing on what your job would be and on the potential for reasonably long-term employment with the company. Asking questions to elicit information on such a topic is a valid approach in a job interview. How else can you make an informed decision if they offer you the position?
Another good question involves why the position is open in the first place. Is it new? If not, why is it open now? How long ago did the previous incumbent leave? You might also want to know why the person left (was it involuntarily, for instance?), although that information can be hard to pry out of the interviewer.
Ask questions that will give you insight into the most critical job requirements or expectations–what your performance would need to be in order for the company to consider you a valuable addition to their team. This could give you an edge in completing a successful interview (that is, one that leads to a satisfying job offer and subsequent period of employment).
Be sure you don’t shy away from asking questions that will help you find out about present or upcoming challenges the company (and/or your potential new department) is facing. If the interviewer doesn’t volunteer this kind of information, ask respectfully, but ask. You have a right to know before you make a decision about working there.
What Questions Should You Not Ask?
It’s okay to be a realist and know that you can’t expect the company to look out for your best interests ahead of its own goals. At the same time, you need to temper your eagerness to get that kind of information with a sense of balance between your interests and theirs. Any question that focuses (or seems to focus) mainly on what the company can do for you–if you haven’t already made a compelling case for what you can do for them–is fraught with potential for disaster.
Really, it comes down to the concept of timing as well as appropriate ways to ask a question. When you inquire about salary and benefits is at least as important as the words you use when asking.
Questions to Use to Assess an Employer
An article titled, “6 questions for assessing a prospective employer,” by Michael Lee Stallard and Katie Russell, poses the following questions:
- Do employees feel respected?
- Is recognition a key component of the culture?
- Can I belong here?
- Are employees given autonomy?
- Can I grow here?
- Is this work important to me?
You might want to ask the prospective employer some of those directly. Others might be questions you’ll want to ask yourself and use as a guide for the questions to ask the interviewer. Above all, you don’t want to end up saying to yourself, “I should have asked that before I took the job!”