Know When to Fold ‘Em – Admitting That You’re Not Getting the Job

Recruiters love a job seeker with energy and passion. Really, we do. I personally love to see someone with a fire and a drive for the job, for the company, and for his or her career. This energy manifests itself in many ways throughout the interview process. It can come across in a great and well thought out resume filled with exactly the skills, experience and accomplishments outlined in the job description. It can come across in a perfectly written cover letter that offers a hint of personality but doesn’t try too hard. It can be found in an initial phone conversation, when the candidate genuinely sounds thrilled to hear from me but still maintains professionalism. It’s present during the interview process when a candidate takes the time to listen to what I’m really asking and offers up thoughtful, intelligent, and insightful responses. It drives the candidate to ask real and probing questions about the position and the company rather than asking about company culture. It’s there in all of the candidate’s follow-up – energy in the voice-mails, character and professionalism in the emails, personality in the hand-written notes.

But for all of this passion, drive, energy, and near-perfection, sometimes you just don’t get the job. And one of the most difficult parts of the job search can be coming to terms with the fact that it’s not happening. After all, you wouldn’t have applied to the job if you didn’t think you were a great match for it. And throughout the interview process, it seemed like you and that job were meant for each other, didn’t it? And HR, the hiring manager and the big boss all seemed to really love you, right?

It’s so easy for everyone involved to get carried away during an interview process. You start imagining yourself in the job, and your interviewers may have genuinely thought that you were great. But this is no guarantee of anything. You don’t know how many people they’ve seen, and you don’t know how they felt about the other people they interviewed. The danger, and I’ve certainly gotten caught up in this myself, is thinking that you’re home free. Until you have an offer in your hand, you have to believe the odds are that you’re not getting the job. And do you want to know something? It’s nobody’s fault. It’s not your fault for not being a good enough candidate. It’s not the recruiter’s fault for not getting to understand your skills and experience deeply enough. It’s not the hiring manager’s fault for making unimaginative hiring decisions. It just happens. And if you’re in a serious job search, it’s probably going to happen more than once.

That doesn’t make it any less frustrating or any less discouraging. It’s a mini-trauma every time you don’t get a job (and the trauma can be magnified by recruiters who don’t give you information in a timely fashion, thus unwittingly leading you on.) But it doesn’t have to be a tragedy. First of all, you need to know that it wasn’t you. If you made it through HR to the hiring manager it means you weren’t a bad candidate. It means that you had the basic qualifications and culture fit, and it’s likely that the hiring manager just “clicked” better with someone else. And it’s not the company’s fault. The people involved made what they felt was the best hiring decision for the company and the department – there was no malice, and just because you think you were the best one for the job doesn’t mean that you were. The blame game doesn’t help – it just gives you an excuse to wallow in pity and victimization rather than getting on with your life (which is what you need to do).

So instead of blaming, take the time you need to recover – take a day off from your search if you need to and go the beach, watch some TV, chase a few butterflies, whatever you need to do in order to unwind and refresh. Then realize that it’s for the best that you didn’t get that job – it means that it wouldn’t have worked out and that something better for you is right around the corner. Now go get back on that horse and do it all over again. Because one of these times it’s going to happen, and it’s going to be worth the wait.


The Questions You Need to Ask in an Interview

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 Stand Out (the Right Way) at a Job Fair

For years, I held onto the notion that job fairs were a complete waste of time for everyone involved. For job seekers it was a waste because you get to meet a bunch of companies that you probably don’t want to work for, and have to suffer through your “elevator pitch” and your whole dog-and-pony show for each one. Then as a reward for your efforts you get to go home with more company-logo pens and flash drives than you know what to do with, never to hear from anyone again.

For employers, job fairs were a chance to meet candidates who were either not qualified for anything, or at least not qualified for anything you were hiring, and who probably don’t know what they’re looking for and are generally clueless about how to get a job in the first place – I mean, why else would they be at a job fair in the first place?

Yes, to me job fairs were something that companies felt obligated to attend and that job seekers felt were a legitimate way to feel like they were taking action on their job searches.

I don’t feel that way anymore. I did some real thinking about the few job fairs that I’ve attended as an employer/recruiter, and what I’ve discovered is that if I thought they were a waste of time I wouldn’t have been there in the first place. I’m sure that there are some that are still a complete waste of time and energy for everyone involved, but I’ve gotten some great candidates from job fairs.

What made them so great? What allowed the good ones to stand out from the crowd? It’s actually pretty simple. So job seeker, here are some things you can do to ensure that you’re making a good impression at a job fair. Be warned in advance, this isn’t rocket science.

  1. Dress appropriately. This doesn’t always mean a suit, and it never means a suit that looks like you borrowed it from your mom or dad (splurge on a good tailor – it’s so worth it). It means know the field. If it’s a general job fair, a suit never hurts. But if it’s for a more casual industry such as technology, you can still look nice. Don’t look like you just rolled out of bed. And don’t smell like the bar from last night.
  2. Focus your efforts. I’ve seen job seekers go from table to table at a job fair, talking to all kinds of companies that are all looking for something different. Do yourself a favor and skip the ones that aren’t right for you. Not looking for an overly corporate environment? Stay away from the big banks. Want to work at a startup company? Just talk to the startups. Each time you give your pitch to a new table, you lose some energy and enthusiasm. Don’t waste it on the companies you don’t really want. Save it for when you want to be your best self.
  3. Know what you want to say. Have your pitch rehearsed and ready to go. Be able to talk what you do and what you’re looking for quickly and effectively. Know what you want to ask (hint: it’s more along the lines of “as an employer, what differentiates you from Competitor X” than “So, um, what do you guys do?”) This isn’t an interview, it’s an in-person cover letter.
  4. Bring your resume. You’d be shocked by how many people don’t do this. Shocked.
  5. Follow up, but not too much. Recruiters at job fairs are inundated with faces and names, and generally will be pretty judicious about giving their contact information/business cards out. If you get someone’s email address or phone number, it probably means they wouldn’t mind hearing from you. Once, or twice at the outside. Before you call or email, make sure you’ve gone through the appropriate steps with the company. Check out their job openings on the corporate site, apply through the right channels, and THEN you can contact whomever you met at the job fair, let them know you’ve applied and thank them for their time at the event. If they were truly interested, they’ll remember you and will get back to you. If they don’t get back to you after 1 or 2 communications, they were never that into you in the first place.

Job fairs can be great tools in your job search arsenal. But like any tool, they’re only as effective as their user. Following these basic but often overlooked tips can help you to make sure you don’t get lost in the crowd at your next job fair. So before you head out to your next one, just do yourself a favor and think for a minute. Recruiters remember the best and the worst, and forget most of the middle. So think about whether, and how, you want to be remembered.