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Don’t Phone In Your Next Phone Interview

25 Oct

You know that feeling when you walk into a great restaurant and you get the first whiff of intermingling smells coming from the kitchen and from the plates of various satisfied diners? You know how hungry that can make you, how it makes you want to dive into a big plate of whatever even before you’ve seen or tasted the food for yourself? Now switch gears with me and come to a darker place. The greasy spoon that you went into because it was the only thing open at 3 in the morning. That unique and unmistakable mix of smoke, week-old bacon grease, cleaning products and cheap perfume that made you turn right around and walk out even though you hadn’t eaten in days.

In both of these situations you’re making a decision about the food even though you haven’t seen or tasted it. Do you see where I’m going with this? Yes! It’s the same decision that recruiters and hiring managers are making about job candidates after a phone interview. They’re deciding whether you have the right skills and are the right fit for the job, sight unseen. They’ll either be hungry for more, or they’ll be reaching for the Pepto, and it’s all up to you which one it is.

Since the internet has made it ridiculously easy for job seekers to find and apply to jobs, and as job seekers are getting more and more savvy about finding ways to get their resumes seen, companies are increasingly relying on phone interviews to try to shrink the field of qualified candidates into a manageable number. This means that if you’re looking for a job, the likelihood that you’ll have to impress someone over the phone is pretty high. And the last thing you want to do is to not be ready.

Luckily for you, phone interviews offer you, the candidate, some real advantages that in-person interviews don’t. Namely, you get to have your notes, talking points, and cheat sheets out in the open and you can refer to them as much as you want to. It’s like an open-book test in school. You have no excuse not to ace this. Here are the main points you’ll need to make sure you have covered.

  1. Make sure your interview is scheduled for a time that you’ll be able to talk. This means that you won’t have to rush back to work, pick up your aunt, walk the dog, or anything else. If the conversation goes over its allotted time, that’s a good thing. Don’t be the one who has to end the call.
  2. Arrange to be in a good place to take the call. This could be your bedroom, a conference room, your car, or anywhere else that you can be alone and that’s quiet. It should not be the local coffee shop, the bus, or walking down the street. Avoid places with loud people, barking dogs, sirens, or other distractions.
  3. Put together your list of talking points. Do this by going over your resume and writing out the specific accomplishments or highlights that you want to talk about. Write an outline of your story of how you achieved 150% of quota, how you reduced costs by 30%, how you single-handedly saved your company from ruin. Having this cheat sheet will keep you from having to remember details on the spot, and will give you a list of topics that you should be able to use to answer a multitude of interview questions.
  4. Write out your answers to those questions you know you’ll hear: What are your weaknesses? When did you have a challenge at work that you had to overcome? Where do you see yourself in 5 years? When I say to write them out, I mean bullet points or outline form – don’t write a full script or else you’ll find yourself reading from it. You want to be prepared, but you still want to sound fresh, not like you’re reading the words off of a page.
  5. Print out a copy of your resume, so that you can refer to it. If you’re asked about anything specific that’s on it, it’s helpful to be able to actually see what your interviewer is talking about.
  6. CHARGE YOUR CELL PHONE. Of course if you can use a land-line, that’s preferable (much lower chance for dropped calls, bad signal, etc.) but many times mobile is your only option.

And now you’ve prepared. When the time rolls around for your phone interview, treat it like any other interview. Dress nicely (even though nobody will see you), pre-caffeinate if you need to (don’t eat or drinking during the interview – they can hear that), arrive 5 minutes early (so that you can get settled and lay out your materials), and mentally prepare. I’ve always found it helpful to stand during phone interviews – it can help you convey more energy in your voice than if you were relaxing in a chair. And the last thing to remember for your phone interview is to SMILE. Yes, you may feel like an idiot smiling to nobody. But it will come across in your voice – you’ll sound more pleasant and more engaging if you have a smile on your face. It’s a proven fact. I think.

Keep in mind that if you follow these steps you may not move on to an in-person interview or whatever the next round is. No matter how prepared you are you could still let nerves get the best of you, or you could just not be the right person for the job. But the more prepared you are, the easier it will get, and the better you’ll be positioned to really nail it. If you nail the phone interview, you come off smelling great. And the better you smell, the hungrier that potential employer will be to dig in. So be the feast, people. Be the feast.

Bon appetít.

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The Questions You Need to Ask in an Interview

7 Jul

We all know that when you’re interviewing for a job, it’s all about the answers you give. Right?

If that was true, we wouldn’t be having this conversation.

Sure, answering questions that show your experience, knowledge and general ability to string two sentences together back-to-back is an important part of the interview process. But don’t let yourself be fooled into thinking it’s the only part that matters. Toward the end of almost every interview there comes a time when the interviewer will look at you and say “So, do you have any questions for me?” While there are many right answers to this question, there is only one wrong one (hint: it starts with n and rhymes with dough.)

The floor has been opened up to you for questions – this is your time to shine! So why do so many people fail at the very moment when they should be soaring? Simple preparation. Putting the time and energy into coming up with some compelling questions will pay dividends. Knowing this, what kinds of questions should you be asking? How can you ensure that you’re standing out and that you sound like the smart, hungry, savvy professional you know you are? Fear not, friends, for I have put together some questions that are guaranteed to not make you look like an idiot (and some that are guaranteed to do the opposite). These aren’t the only questions you should be asking, and they aren’t even questions that you should necessarily be asking at every interview. But they are some ideas to get your brain working. The questions I like best are the ones that put you squarely into the position in the interviewer’s mind. Instead of asking about benefits or making small-talk about how the interviewer came to the company (which isn’t a horrible question, by the way), create a solid image in the mind of the interviewer of you in the job. Here are some questions that do just that.

  • Day one, what is the most important project/task that you would have me tackle? What’s the most urgent fire that needs putting out?
  • What do you think would be my biggest hurdle in handling this task?
  • Six months into my time here, what has to have happened for you to know you made the right decision in hiring me?

On the other hand, if you find that you really don’t want the job after all and want to make sure you don’t get called in for the next round, here are some great questions to help you achieve your objective.

  • So what are the hours here? Will I need to put in a lot of overtime?
  • I’m looking to keep my stress level down. This isn’t a high-pressure environment, is it?
  • Are there any hot chicks/guys that work here? I’m single, you know.

This is not meant to be an exhaustive list by any stretch. There are so many great questions you can use to place yourself in the job and to create the image of you and the hiring manager working together.  And there are even more questions that you can use to ensure that you lose the job. Another solid line of questions would be around specific news about the company. Check your potential employer’s website, Google the company name for any press releases or articles. If there’s been a major announcement, launch, or change recently you want to make sure you know about it before you walk in the door. And you want to make sure you ask about its impact on the company and/or your function.

By positioning yourself as committed, curious, and genuinely engaged, you can help to create the impression you want to make in an interview. And since your questions will usually be at the end of the meeting, this is your chance to end things on your terms. You get to shape the last impression that your interviewer walks away with. So what are you going to do with this opportunity? Are you going to run with it and be the star that you know you can be, or are you going to say “Nope. I think we pretty much covered everything already.”

It’s up to you.

How to Ace the Informational Interview

22 Feb

With all the clamor about how networking is the way to find your next job, how traditional job boards are dead, how the place to be is the “hidden job market” (how hidden can it be, when everyone with a URL and a dream seems to know about it?), we’re seeing a substantial shift in the way interviews are being granted by companies. Your first meeting is becoming less about a specific job and more about an “informational” interview. Now I’m not talking about that lunch you set up with your sister-in-law’s cousin Fred in accounting – I mean a meeting with either a member of the management team or an HR/Recruitment team: someone who will be directly involved with any hiring decisions that are made.

The strategy for a job-specific interview is simple. Be ready and prepared to explain how you are the most perfectly qualified for the job based on the description and your knowledge of the company. When it comes to an informational interview, however, you don’t have as many tools in your arsenal. Therefore your preparation work is even more vital.

When I call someone in for an informational interview it’s usually for one of two reasons. Either:

  1.  I have multiple open positions with similar qualifications that the candidate might fit into, or
  2. There isn’t anything appropriate open at the moment, but I anticipate a need down the road for someone with the candidate’s particular skill set and background.

In either case, I’m looking to not only make sure that what I perceive on paper is confirmed in person but also to figure out if there is an intangible culture fit, which you can’t get from a resume. I’m not necessarily judging against a job description and qualifications, but against an idea of what I think the ideal candidate would be.

So the job of the informational interview candidate is to establish a connection, be specific in laying out the value s/he would add to the organization, but be vague enough to not disqualify him/herself from any potential opportunities. Not necessarily an easy job. If you’re called in for an informational interview by a company you’re interested in potentially working for, there are a couple of easy steps you can take that will help your cause.

Before the interview, do the same research you’d do for any job interview. Visit the company’s website and do an exhaustive internet search to make sure you’re not missing any information, positive or negative, that you should have on hand. In addition, look at any and all job postings the company has put out recently to see what kinds of positions it’s looking to fill. Google searches and aggregators like Indeed.com are great for this kind of search, because they can contain out-dated listings and give you insight into jobs that have recently been filled.

Next, make a list down the left side of a piece of paper of the company’s stated goals and endeavors from its website or press releases, and add the job responsibilities from any current or past job descriptions that are appropriate for you. On the right side of that paper, opposite the appropriate list entry, write down the skills and experiences you possess that match each goal or requisite. You probably won’t have a match for every left-side entry, but you’ll be left with a pretty good list of why you’re good for the company. Now memorize it – it doesn’t look good to read from your notes when talking about yourself.

Now pretend you’re preparing for any other interview: Know where you’re going, dress appropriately, show up 10 minutes early.

During the interview, you’ll probably be able to get the information you need to make the rest of your case, while starting to think about whether this is the right opportunity/company for you. Don’t be afraid to ask for the answers you seek. There’s nothing wrong with, at some point during the conversation, asking your interviewer what it was about your resume or background that made him/her call you in. There’s nothing shameful about asking about the kind of role your interviewer can envision you playing in the company. Hopefully you’ll be able to glean this information during the course of the interview and not wait until the very end. If you wait too long, you won’t have time to work this new-found knowledge into your talking points to make sure the interviewer knows s/he was right to call you in.

Usually at the end of the conversation, one of three things will happen.

  1. The interviewer will tell you about a specific position that’s open (cue “hidden job market” theme music) and ask you if you’d be interested in such a position
  2. The interviewer will tell you that there’s nothing immediately available that’s right for you, but there will likely be some opportunities coming up in the near future and that s/he would love to keep in touch.
  3. “Don’t call us; we’ll call you.”

Regardless of which one you get, ask for an appropriate time frame when your interviewer might have more information (if you haven’t already agreed on next steps). If it’s 1 or 2, you’ve gotten what you’ve come for – and so has your interviewer. You’ve found a potential match in either a current or future position.

If it’s #3, it wasn’t the right place for you anyway.

Either way, you’ve just had a successful informational interview. Congratulations, and keep up the good work!

Questions or comments about this topic or any other? I’d love to hear your thoughts!

The Single Most Important Interview Question

14 Feb

There is one defining question that comes up in every interview I do. How you answer can impact your candidacy more than any other answer you give. Can you guess what it is?

  1. What is your greatest weakness?
  2. Why do you want to work for this company?
  3. What do you want to do?
  4. If you were a tree, what kind of tree would you be?

The correct answer is #3, though if I were the type to ask about the tree thing I’m sure that would be the most important question for me (because I’d be that kind of guy.)

So, did you get it right?

What do you want to do? It seems like a simple enough question, but there are so many possible answers that finding the right one can be overwhelming at times. This question stumps all but the most prepared candidates, and for many different reasons. Entry-level candidates are tempted to say “I’m looking to do anything to get my foot in the door (which is another post for another day)” because they don’t want to disqualify themselves from any opportunities. More experienced Candidates give in to the temptation to say something smart and b-school sounding, like “I want to be able to influence the strategic direction of the department by introducing creative solutions and structured processes.” Yeah, you and everybody else.

The way to answer the question of what you want to do, in case you were wondering, is one of two things. If you’re in an informational/exploratory interview, you want to be as specific as possible about what kind of position (or at least what kind of career) you want. Here, an entry-level candidate can get away with “I want a position where I can put in the work and learn the skills to become a successful sales/marketing/pr/basket-weaving/marine biology professional (please, choose one that’s true for you.) More experienced candidates need to be even more specific – talk about how you want your next job to be different from your current/last one, what specific skills you want to utilize and/or develop, what you want to DO every day.

If you’re interviewing for a specific position, you’ve done your homework and are applying for appropriate jobs, there’s only one possible anwer to this question (hint: it will sound an awful lot like the job description.)

As an HR guy/recruiter, my job is to make sure that the best possible candidates for a position are presented to the hiring manager. If you can articulate what you WANT to do, it really helps me determine whether that’s you. The jobs I recruit for are hard jobs. If you don’t really want to be doing the job, you won’t last in it. And then in 6 months when you quit or get fired, it’s my fault for recommending you.

I don’t care for things being my fault. So for both of our sakes, know what you want to do before you walk into my office for an interview.

Questions? Comments? I’d love to hear your thoughts below.

Salary is Not a Four Letter Word

9 Feb

Every day I come across posts by job search experts, career advisers, coaches, and every other kind of self-imposed, trust-inducing title telling me the same thing:

Never, ever, ever discuss salary during an interview process. 

They say that it gives the job seeker a disadvantage; that it’s putting all your cards on the table; that it can range anywhere from distasteful to stupid.

I couldn’t disagree more. It’s all well and good for experts to tell candidates that they shouldn’t talk about money, but I think that some of them are missing a bigger picture here. Now d0n’t get me wrong – I have great respect for some of the experts in the field of job search and career development. This is one point, however, on which we’re going to have to agree to disagree. I’m not saying that a job seeker should necessarily bring it up during the first interview, but if your interviewer asks, please don’t beat around the bush.

I head up a corporate recruiting department and I can tell you that if I ask a candidate for their current and target salary and that candidate won’t give me an answer, I’m going to think long and hard about whether I want to possibly waste more of my time and the hiring manager’s time with a candidate we have no idea whether we can afford. I generally phrase the question “Talk to me about money. Where are you now and where do you want to be?” If you can’t answer at least one of those questions we’re in trouble off the bat.

Coaches please take note. This advice can seriously hurt a candidate’s chances of getting the job. If I ask a someone about compensation and s/he says “Isn’t it a little premature to discuss salaries?” That doesn’t leave a good taste in my mouth at all.

Entering into an interview process with as much openness and transparency as possible from both sides is the best way to move forward. Entering into the process as nemeses isn’t good for anyone.

There are two universal truths in this conversation.

1. Companies want to save money where they can.

2. People want to make as much money as they can.

Given these two truths, salary usually ends up being a compromise. Wouldn’t everyone rather enter into the conversation knowing the parameters?

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