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.
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!
A while ago, I did a post on the trend in video interviews, including those in which the applicant basically responds to pre-set questions. This post is basically a somewhat alarming add-on to that.
Job Interviews That Aren’t Really Interviews
As my earlier post noted, these new-style interviews don’t involve the presence of an interviewer–just the job applicant. One of the problems with this is that it doesn’t fit the accepted definition of an interview, which is:
“a meeting of people face to face, especially for consultation” or “a formal meeting in which one or more persons question, consult, or evaluate another person: a job interview.”
Notice a common theme here? Meeting…consultation…one or more persons question…etc.
So where is the “interview” part of the one-sided arrangement? It ought to be called a pre-screening, which it really is.
HR Demand for One-Sided Job Interview
The item which initially prompted this post came from a blog post shared by Nick Corcodillos (Ask The Headhunter). The individual described how his wife had had an interview with a hiring manager, only to have an HR person step into the middle of the process and demand that she undergo a “one-way, online digital video taping, answer a series of pre-selected ‘screening questions,’ and upload it” somewhere.
When his wife declined to do that, she received an automated “Do Not Reply” notice that rejected her as a candidate–after she had already had a discussion with the hiring manager! That’s just plain stupid.
My bet is that his wife will end up with a job in a much better company, one that “gets” how to treat candidates it’s really interested in hiring. Still, this situation presents a scary prospect. That’s something Corcodillos brings out in his usual, take-no-prisoners style:
“A 2013 ADP survey found that, ‘Consistently across the globe, employers have a significantly more positive impression of how they manage their workforce versus what their employees experience in the workplace.’ ADP concludes that “as a whole, HR does not have a handle on the asset it is hired to manage.'”
He goes on to add: “In short, HR is doing a lousy job at interviewing, and HR seems to think it knows what it’s doing — while employees disagree. HR has cornered the market on stupid.”
And talk about stupid things to do: The email instructions sent to the guy’s wife included this statement: “This is a real interview! Be sure to treat this interview as you would an in-person interview.” Really? That’s what a real interview looks like? You could have fooled me!
The term “behavioral interview” isn’t new. It’s been around since at least the 1990s, I believe. However, you might still not have heard it or you might have encountered a behavioral interview without knowing that’s what it was going to be.
You can prepare just as well for a behavioral interview as for a “normal” interview (whatever that is!). However, you do need to understand what they involve in order to do the most effective preparation.
What is a Behavioral Interview?
According to an article titled “What is a Behavioral Interview?” by Alison Doyle, “Behavioral interviews are based on the premise that a person’s past performance on the job is the best predictor of future performance. When a company uses behavioral interviewing they want to know how you act and react in certain circumstances. They also want you to give specific ‘real life’ examples of how you behaved in situations relating to the questions.”
To put it another way, in a behavioral interview the employer is asking “what did you do when…? ” or “tell me about a time when…” rather than “what would you do if…?” The interviewer doesn’t expect you to hypothesize about what you might do in a certain kind of situation. In fact, he/she doesn’t want you to do that. Real-life examples are the goal.
You really can’t effectively “wing it” in your answers to behavioral questions or try to frame them in a way you think the interviewer will like. Your answers need to be on target.
How Do You Handle Behavioral Interviews?
Start by doing your homework ahead of time. (Groan! Yes, I’ve said this before, and I’ll keep saying it because it’s essential.) Find out as much as you can about the situations you might encounter in that company and position.
Then comb through your success stories and other sources of information about the challenges you’ve encountered and overcome. Identify at least several kinds of situations you’ve run into that could be applicable to the company and the position you’ll be interviewing for. Become comfortable with presenting a story that relates to each one of them. Notice that I said comfortable, not rote-response-enabled. There’s a big difference.
Whatever you do, resist the temptation to fake it. Glib, off-the-cuff responses will more than likely land you in the soup! If you don’t have a response that fits the question neatly, try to come up with one that’s close enough so you can legitimately say something like: “I’ve never encountered that exact situation, but I did experience one that I believe is similar. Here’s what I did about that….”
Remember, too, that in a job interview it’s always okay to take a second or two (even three) to consider a question you’ve been asked and focus your thought on the most desirable answer before you start speaking. You don’t need to rush into speech and stumble all over yourself trying to answer the question quickly.
On the other hand, as I sometimes tell clients when I’m doing interview coaching, you don’t want to sit in front of the interviewer with a “deer in the headlights” expression that tells him/her you haven’t a clue what to say!
Get your act together before the interview, and it probably won’t matter whether it’s a behavioral interview or some other kind.
If someone told you that you should turn down the opportunity for a job interview–especially if you’ve been out of work for a while–would you think they were crazy?
After all, the whole point is to get interviews so you can land a new job sooner rather than later, right?
Bad Job Interview Prospects
There are times, though, when a potential job interview stands to do more harm than good for your overall job search success. These are just a few of the “bad job interview” situations:
- Makes you take time off from your current job (if you’re employed) or postpone other job search activities (if you’re not working), without resulting in a meaningful dialogue with the employer because they didn’t give you enough relevant information up front (in other words, holding their cards too close to their vest).
- Forces you to prematurely reveal information (about salary, etc.)–that is, before the employer offers any solid information to help you evaluate the job opportunity in terms of probable mutual fit.
- Puts you through the full interview process (possibly with multiple interviewers) for a position that sometimes ends up going to an insider (a candidate the hiring manager has had in mind from the start).
When to Turn Down a Job Interview
Having a bad feeling about a company would be a good starting point for rejecting an interview, although you probably wouldn’t have applied in the first place if you got such a feeling initially.
If a prospective employer demands a lot of information from you before scheduling an interview and it’s information you don’t want to reveal that soon–such as providing your references or (heaven forbid!) Social Security number before an interview–you will probably want to pull back from that one.
In fact, whenever the preliminary exchange of information is heavily lopsided in favor of the employer, you could find that an interview would be not only a big waste of time but also a source of aggravation and frustration. Do you really need that?
Similarly, you might be asked (maybe even required) to jump through multiple hoops before scheduling an interview, including agreeing to travel to a distant location on your own dollar. In such situations, you should be evaluating whether the interview and the job (if it gets that far) are worth the risk and the effort you are expected to make.
Job Interview Turn-Down Advice
Ask The Headhunter’s Nick Corcodillos never minces words, and here’s what he had to say in response to an inquiry from a reader:
“If you don’t get the information you need, I wouldn’t go to the interview. Every job seeker needs to draw a line somewhere. Just bear in mind that the company may put a big X on your file and never consider you again. On the other hand, you may not want to reconsider them any time soon yourself.” [Note: The reader opted to turn down the interview request.]
Ultimately, you’re the one who has to make the decision about whether or not to pursue the interview: weigh the pros and cons as objectively as you can and make the wisest choice for your situation.
Have you ever put your foot in your mouth, figuratively speaking, and then wished you could take back what you said? That’s an uncomfortable experience in any situation, but it’s potentially disastrous in a job interview. Once the words are out of your mouth, you can’t un-say them.
That’s why the title of this blog post is “Job Interviews: When Silence is Golden.” Now, don’t get me wrong: When you prepare for a job interview properly, it means that among other things, you’re doing your homework–on the company, the job, hopefully the person or people you’ll be interviewing with, and so on. That’s so you can say the right things at the right time.
However, to increase your interview effectiveness and avoid missteps, you also need to learn to use silence as one of your interview tools.
Two Kinds of Silence in Job Interviews
Like the positive and negative ends of a battery, there are basically two kinds of silence in job interviews. One is what I call the deer-in-the-headlights silence. That’s when the interviewer can immediately tell that you have no clue what to say in response to his/her question. This is awkward, to say the least.
Some job seekers have more trouble with this type of silence than others. Their mind seems to go blank when they’re asked something–especially if it’s not one of the topics they’ve carefully rehearsed beforehand. Even if you’re one of those people, though, you can and should work on avoiding this kind of silence in your job interviews.
The other kind of silence is one that’s thoughtful, reflective–and short! When you use silence as an interview tool, it means you’re giving yourself a brief mental pause before taking whatever the next step is.
For example, if you’re not 100% sure what the interviewer’s question meant (what he/she was really asking), you can pause for a couple of seconds to get your thoughts in order. That might lead to a question of your own, such as, “It sounds to me as if you’re asking….Is that correct?” The interviewer should either agree or make some sort of clarification of the question. Either way, you’re better prepared to answer it appropriately.
Speech versus Silence in Job Interviews
Part of the problem job seekers have is knowing when to talk and when to be silent. While there’s no hard-and-fast rule about it, I like to think of it this way: If you’re asked a question and you’re clear about what your answer should be, you don’t need to use silence. If you feel uncertain, take a few seconds to get squared away. It’s not mandatory that you start speaking the moment the interviewer stops talking. Also, if you don’t want to appear too eager about something, you can pause briefly and then make your comment. That enables you to appear interested but not desperate.
Where Did “Silence is Golden”Come From?
My limited research on this quote indicates that there’s considerable uncertainty about its origins, but it apparently dates back centuries, at least in some form. One longer version was “Speech is silver, silence is golden.” That suggests to me that speech has its place, its value, but that silence can be even more powerful if used appropriately. Think about this concept the next time you’re engaged in job interview preparation.
When you attend so-called networking events, you most likely don’t have a chance to gen-up on the other attendees ahead of time or give them an opportunity to do the same about you. That’s what I’ve labeled cold-call networking.
On the other hand, when you schedule a conversation with someone you haven’t met before, you do have a chance to pave the way–and you should. Warm networking offers much greater potential value than going in blindly.
Warm Networking Tips
You’ll want to keep these brief networking tips in mind when you’re doing warm networking. They can help you maximize the effectiveness of your interactions with the people you meet and have professional conversations with.
- Avoid the mistake of assuming the person already has important information about you–your experience, strengths, etc. Even if you’ve been directed to this individual by someone you think has filled in background about you, you could be wrong.
- Show respect for the time of the person you’re making contact with. Provide the most critical information about yourself, in a professional manner, but don’t ramble on, providing excessive details or information that is off-point at this stage. Also, have a clear sense of what you might get or hope to get from the upcoming meeting, so you don’t squander the time you’ve been given.
- Make the interaction a two-way street. Do some research on the new contact before the meeting–even if your referrer has provided you with some information. He/she might have neglected to tell you something useful or might have gotten a few details wrong. This is one way to identify a way you might be able to offer value to the other person.
Don’t Blow Off Warm Networking Opportunities
When someone offers to put you in touch with a potentially useful contact, always treat that as a warm networking opportunity. Otherwise, the person you end up speaking to could dismiss you as less than you are and not perceive your potential value. A recent article on HBR Blog Network
titled “Don’t Let Them Underestimate You” tells a few stories about how this unfortunate situation can happen and gives some sound advice about how to prevent it.
Author Dorie Clark says: “We all hope our merits will be recognized — and it’s a jarring comeuppance when they’re not….Before you meet a new contact, make sure they’re aware of your background and expertise.” Then she offers a few suggestions you might want to consider:
- Send a letter of introduction before the meeting. Clark received this suggestion from a psychologist, Robert Cialdini, who said a letter makes it possible to communicate information about yourself without sounding like bragging.
- Prepare a few stories to back up your expertise (much as you would prepare for a job interview, I think).
- “After the meeting, if you suspect they haven’t fully grasped your potential, don’t push it….When it’s clear someone has pigeonholed you, those protestations come off as slightly pathetic. Instead, recognize that you’re in the long game now, and you need to change their opinion of you over time. If the relationship is worth cultivating, keep in touch and periodically update them with news about your progress…; if you have mutual friends, let them talk you up. They need to “discover you” and your value for themselves.”
Warm Networking Can Pay Off Big
If done right, even cold-call networking could produce results eventually. However, when you’re fortunate enough to have an opportunity for a warm networking situation, pursue it with the right kind of preparation and you could see significant results.
Whether you’re an executive looking for his/her next senior position or a career newbie, job search is hard work. The specifics will undoubtedly differ in various respects, but the underlying theme is the same. You can’t get there from here without serious effort.
That’s true whether we have a decent job market or a lousy one (see my previous post on career management in a down economy for another slant on this). No one is likely to hand you your next job opportunity on a platter. You’ve probably heard the saying, “Work smarter, not harder.” I think it’s often a case of “work smarter and harder”! You need to use good sense about how to approach your job search, but you also need to invest a fair amount of energy into executing it.
Tough States for a Job Search
A recent article on 247WallSt.com titled “States Where It Is Hardest To Find Full-Time Work” talks about states where it’s hardest to find a job (see the list below), including the fact that unemployment rates aren’t the only story–underemployment has also been a big issue. In other words, the employment situation deteriorates even further when you add people who’ve taken jobs that are below their previous level (in less skilled fields and so on) to those who are unemployed.
If you live in one of the listed states, you’re probably already aware of this situation, but even if you live elsewhere, you might find that the situation isn’t appreciably better in your location. That means…you guessed it, you’ll need to work both smarter and harder to make your current or next job search successful.
Top 10 (or should that be bottom 10?) states where it’s hardest to find full-time work (ranked best to worst):
- New Jersey
- Rhode Island
Balance Job Search Hard Work with Smart Work
Obviously, you don’t have more hours in your 24-hour day than anyone else, but more important, you’ll probably reach a point of diminishing returns before you max-out the hours. You might have more time if you’re unemployed than someone who’s currently putting in 60-80 hours a week at work, but that doesn’t mean you don’t have much to do with your days. Whichever category you fall into as a job seeker, you still need to invest both hard work and smart work in your job search.
Here are a few tips for doing that:
- Organize yourself and your job search plan. You have to know what needs to be done before you can figure out when and how to do it.
- Identify and maximize your resources. Be realistic about your available time and energy–and seek help from others who can fill in some of the gaps for you on occasion.
- Keep the underlying concept of balance in mind. Avoid stressing yourself out by tackling a load that only Superman or Wonderwoman could handle (flying faster than a speeding plane).
- Prioritize and postpone. When something can be done later without derailing your job search or destroying your personal life, postpone it.
Celebrate the Victories in Your Job Search
If you win even a small victory, such as getting a call about a job interview from a company you submitted your resume to, take a moment to celebrate that–and then begin preparing to ace the interview! When you combine smart work and hard work in your job search, you’ll find that celebrating the small steps along the way to your new job can increase your energy and success over the longer haul.
P.S. If you want a rueful chuckle or two related to the concept of “work smarter, not harder,” take a look at these “Dilbert” cartoons.
It would be great if you could answer the question, “What’s your career success record?” by rattling off a long list of major contributions you had made to employer after employer during an illustrious executive career. Right. Maybe a few of you actually could do that in all sincerity, but what about the rest of us?
What Career Successes Have You Achieved Recently?
How do we answer our current employer’s inevitable question (either express or implied): “What have you done for us lately?” OR to put it another way, when coming from a prospective employer: “What have been your greatest successes that we should be interested in as your possible new employer?”
Often I work with clients who have trouble identifying the contributions they’ve made to employers over the years. In nearly all cases, I know it’s not that they haven’t made any worthwhile contributions. More likely, one or more of these 5 obstructive factors have come into play:
- They’ve completely forgotten some of the things they’ve done that benefited their employer(s).
- They didn’t realize at the time how important something was and didn’t make particular note of it for future reference, so they can’t recall the details.
- They think it would be bragging about themselves and are uncomfortable doing that.
- They didn’t do the whole thing alone and therefore think they can’t include it in their resumes.
- They completed their part of whatever it was, but the company pulled the plug on the overall project, so they think it’s not a successful contribution and isn’t worth mentioning in a professional resume.
Dispelling Those “Career Success Record” Inhibitors
If you’ve been guilty of allowing one or two of the above factors to inhibit you from claiming due credit for your valuable contributions, take heart. It’s not too late to mend your ways! To get you started on the right track, here are some suggestions for fixing the factors so they become non-issues in the future, whether during a job interview or a performance review:
- Understand that human memory is both a wonderful and an unreliable function. Write down anything you’ve done that you felt particularly good about, received verbal accolades from managers and/or colleagues for, etc. Keep the log where you can find it and access it when needed.
- Similar to #1: Make a note of things you are confident are important, but if you’re not sure, check with others who are in a position to know. Include the critical details in the log you’re keeping (just the key points–it doesn’t need to be a whole book).
- Recognize that employers who have a need you can fill–and fill well–have to know that in order to consider you seriously, and they won’t find it out by osmosis. You have to tell them. That’s not bragging; it’s giving them information they need in order to make an informed choice. Of course, use appropriate terms–it doesn’t have to be over-the-top, save-the-world language.
- Claim only the credit you are entitled to, naturally. If it was a team effort, you certainly don’t want to make it sound as if you did everything yourself. At the same time, you have every right to take credit for the value you did contribute as part of (or the leader of) the team.
- You did your part and did it well. That part was a success–it achieved the goal(s) set for you by management. The fact that the company ran out of money to complete the project or scuttled it for some other reason outside your control does not negate the potential value of what you did. There are legitimate ways to include this kind of information in your professional resume. Use them!
Maybe you’ve never failed to ace an interview and win the job you were after; if so, I salute you. Most of us mere mortals have had that unhappy experience–maybe more than once in our working lives. If you’re one of us, you’re all too familiar with the incredulous “what the heck happened?” reaction you experienced when you learned that you hadn’t landed the job after all.
So what the heck did happen? Did you blow it in some way that you could have prevented? Were you sabotaged by external forces over which you had little to no control? Why, when you thought the interview went fantastically, did you get rejected for the position you thought was going to be yours?
Job Interview Failure Causes
You’ve probably heard before at least some of what I’m going to say here, but I think it bears repeating. We tend to forget things over time or they get buried by other experiences. Here are just a few of the possible causes of job interview failure:
- You applied for jobs where you didn’t quite meet all the “must have” qualifications. This isn’t automatically the kiss of death, but it does mean you’re fighting an uphill battle. The company obviously liked your resume enough to bring you in for an interview, so you must have had something going for you, but in the end, it wasn’t enough.
- You thought you could skimp on the interview preparation stage and essentially wing-it because you’re a quick thinker and good at improvising. Bad choice! Poor preparation has a way of showing through and tripping you up when you least expect it. The improvised answer you thought was brilliant might have struck the interviewer as a little less so.
- You didn’t have a plan for interview follow-up starting at the end of the actual interview itself and continuing for a reasonable period (with reasonable frequency) thereafter. Follow-up and follow-through are critical on the job, but they’re just as critical in helping you land the job to begin with.
Job Interview Failure–Corrective Action
I recently read an article by Jenny Beswick called “How to Cope with a Job Interview Rejection: Learning from Mistakes.” It’s a pretty basic article, and much of the information is available from multiple sources. However, I thought her list of steps you can take after a rejection was worth sharing briefly:
- Attack it head-on. Maybe you can turn a “no” into a “yes” by taking a direct but non-desperate approach.
- Develop your plan. Interviewers often decline to offer feedback about how you did, but if you don’t ask, you definitely won’t get. So ask.
- Practice your pitch. Take what you’ve learned and work out how to do it better next time.
- Don’t blame yourself. Hard as it might be to accept, sometimes you were up against obstacles that you didn’t–and couldn’t–have known about beforehand.
- Don’t make it personal. Don’t take the rejection out on other people (including the interviewer), who probably didn’t engineer your rejection out of malice. Don’t burn any bridges you don’t have to.
My best advice: Bemoaning a job interview failure accomplishes nothing worthwhile. Refocus your actions. Plan for interviews as thoughtfully and thoroughly as you would for something as major, say, as buying your first house. Get help with the preparation and the follow-up/follow-through if you need it. Without ignoring warning signs or bad news, stay as positive as you can, so you can move forward as soon as you spot other opportunities.