Flipping the Job Interview

I can't believe that I've been blogging for five years!  As I took some time to read some of my past posts, I came across the one below from 2006 that still rings true today.

Hope you enjoy this gem from the Career Chaos archives:

Cracking Your Next Company's Culture is a must read for anyone embarking on a job search. Instead of spending all your prep time rehearsing your answers to tough interview  questions, read this article and note what you need to do to ask the right questions.

One strategy that grabbed my attention is to ask the interviewer to give an example of how  the company "lives and breathes its value statements." Of course, you have to know  what the company value statements are, so your research here is highly critical.

Tired of all those behavioral and situational interview  questions? Turn the tables by asking the interviewer to "walk you through a recent initiative." Wow! This is great stuff!

Wishing you career success in 2010!


How to “Stage” A Successful Job Search

While I was channel-surfing recently, I discovered HGTV, a cable TV station that offers programming on topics related to buying, selling, and renting homes. Not having sold a house lately, I am learning a lot about working with today's real estate market.

Mathouse3274 One topic I find particularly fascinating is the concept of "staging" rooms to sell a house. The way I understand it, staging refers to updating a house's rooms to make them attractive and appealing to prospective buyers who want to be able to walk into a house and immediately "see" themselves in the space. This updating could be as simple as painting the interior walls with a neutral color that blends with the furnishings. It could mean replacing a kitchen's appliances, counter top, or even knocking down walls to enlarge the space.

One might ask, "What's the point to investing money into a house that you're trying to sell? Won't that just decrease the profit you make on the sale of the house?" Yes, it will, but keep in mind that today's home buyer's market requires sellers to work harder to make the sale happen.

Staging is a technique that job seekers can utilize to make themselves appear more employment-ready to prospective employers. I see it applying to your resume, job interview preparation, and attitude adjustment.

When it comes to your resume, think, what does a potential employer want to see? What will make you stand out among all competition? Niche your resume as tightly as you can in order to brand yourself as a unique expert in your field. A resume shouldn't be designed to appeal to the world, but rather to a narrow slice of the employment market.

Job interview preparation should help you learn how to answer interview questions to demonstrate that your past experience and accomplishments can be translated to solve the problems of a potential employer – remember, it's always about the employer, not you. Before your interview, research the employer so you are able to prepare. You need background information to help you discover the employer's needs, and then, frame your work stories accordingly.

Your attitude adjustment may be the most challenging aspect to engage into staging your job search. I would never ask you to surrender you authenticity, but rather, boost your opinion of yourself and the job search process. Each job interview offers you a new chance to show how you are the perfect pick for the job. Make the best of this opportunity by leaving your grudges, prejudices, job seeker weariness, and overall disappointment behind you. Stage your attitude with enthusiasm, hope, self-confidence, and faith in the job search process.

Employers want to meet upbeat candidates – so become one!

Wishing you career success in 2010!


Job References: A Few Tips to Help Them Help You

OK, I know you know that a job seeker needs to provide references to a prospective employer. But do you know all the fine points for ensuring that a reference really helps you get the job?

Here are a few tips:

  1. Professional references rank as more important to an employer than personal references.
  2. Select your references as soon as you know your job target. Choose wisely – make sure they will speak well of you and your work. A personal phone call from you is required with your request for them to serve in this role.
  3. Your references need to be prepared to speak to your prospective employers about your work history, skill set, qualifications – all in relation to the job for which you are applying.
  4. Ask several professionals to be references for you. Then you won't have to use them all every time you interview for a job. You don't want to become a pest.
  5. Never offer references to a prospective employer until after you interview – unless specifically requested before your interview. Again, you don't want to ask for help from references until absolutely necessary.
  6. Send your resume to each of your references. This will make their job easier when speaking with your potential employer.
  7. Create a professional reference list to leave with prospective employers following your interview. Do this by making a letterhead template using your resume as a model and typing your reference list beneath your letterhead after deleting the resume content. Include all means of contact for each reference along with their job title and how you know them.
  8. Most references will let you know when/if they are contacted on your behalf. Be sure to send them a thank you note.
  9. Stay in touch with your references, particularly if your job search is taking longer than you had originally expected. You don't want your references to become stale – keep them fresh!
  10. When you do land your new job, contact every reference individually by phone to thank them again for their help. A small professional gift, such as a business card holder, is also a nice touch.

Treat your references with your best customer service manners. They are like gold and can make or break your chances for getting the job!

Wishing you career success in 2010!


Ace the Job Interview with “Why?” – Not “How?”

Interoggatory_questionmark_preview While catching up my on reading this past weekend, I found a good article in the June issue of Inc. magazine, Never Read Another Resume. Written from the hiring authority's perspective, the author (Jason Fried, a small business co-owner) offered some sage advice that job seekers need to heed. What really caught my eye dealt with job interview questions, specifically those from the candidate.

Mr. Fried said that "red flags" go up when candidates ask "how" questions, such as, "How do I do that?" or "How can I find out this or that?" He said, "A 'how' asker is not used to figuring things out for himself/herself. 'How' is a sign that this person is going to be a drain on others. Avoid (hiring) 'hows.'" Wow! What honesty!

Instead, Mr. Fried wants to hear "why" questions. "'Why' is good – it's a sign of deep interest in a subject. It signals a healthy dose of curiosity." As a career coach, I might add that "why" also shows that a candidate is thinking in terms of problem solving, an ability every company is looking for in their hiring mix these days.

Actually, all this makes a lot sense. If a candidate does due diligence in his/her pre-interview research, there shouldn't be too many "how" questions left unanswered by the time of the interview. On the other hand, by assembling a list of "why" questions the candidate can demonstrate that he/she is already thinking like a team member before he shows up for the interview.

So, as a job seeker, your challenge becomes: do you want to appear to be on the "outside" (a "how" asker) or already in the "inside" (a "why" asker) of the company where you next interview? The choice is yours – prepare wisely for your next job interview.

Wishing you career success in 2010!


#Jobsearch Tips from Curious Places

Does art does imitate life? Perhaps. Entertainment venues can imitate life, too. A year ago I compared the movie, "Julie and Julia," to contemporary job search. If you haven't read that blog post, I suggest you do so to grab some tips on putting blogging into your job search mix.

A colleague of mine, Robyn Greenspan of ExecuNet, recently wrote a column comparing the "Lost" TVLogo_Web08 series finale to a job interview. With her permission, I'm reprinting her article here. I hope it gets your mind thinking as it adds a little humor to your Friday.

So, in the end, "LOST" turned out to be a helluva long job interview. For those who didn't spend the last six years alternately fascinated and frustrated by the series, I'll translate it into corporate language:

Like many good leaders, Jacob, knowing his tenure was coming to a close, had a succession plan. Well in advance of retirement, he started filling his talent pipeline and selected his top potential replacements. Due to the "unavailability" of some of his recruits at the last stages of the interview, very few candidates made it to the final slate.

The position came with tremendous responsibility and Jacob elected the candidates undergo an arduous series of situational interviews to assess their skills and qualifications. Plane crashes, death, destruction, explosions, polar bears, time travel, electromagnetism, good Locke/bad Locke, and a smoke monster — all to determine who was most qualified for the role of island caretaker.

An interview is an opportunity for candidates to evaluate if the role is a good fit for them too, and of those remaining — Jack, Hurley and Sawyer — two seem less certain they want the position. So Jack selects himself as Jacob's replacement, and when he inquires about the length of his employment contract, Jacob tells Jack he must do the job as long as he can.

Instead of a handshake, Jack drinks from Jacob's cup, and immediately begins onboarding into his new role by accompanying the evil John Locke on a business trip into a cave. But Jack is among the 12 percent that ExecuNet-surveyed recruiters report don't complete their first year in a new job and during a hostile takeover, he learns this role was only for a turnaround specialist on an interim assignment.

Before his exit interview, Jack expediently manages the institutional knowledge transfer to Hurley, who, with his servant leadership qualities, turns out is better suited for the longer term role.

The end.

Robyn Greenspan

Robyn Greenspan
295 Westport Avenue
Norwalk, CT 06851

Thanks, Robyn, for sharing your wit and wisdom.

Wishing you all career success in 2010!


#Jobseekers: A Job Search Tip

You've had your resume professionally written. You've posted it on job boards and sent it to target companies. And now the phone is ringing! You schedule an interview. You prepare for the interview, including polishing your shoes and role-playing tough job interview questions. The big day is tomorrow and you are ready!

Wait a minute – haven't you forgotten something?

Hopefully, you have contacted several people who will act as professional references for you. But did you send them your resume? Yes, resume. Even if you worked side-by-side with your references and they have first hand knowledge of your work performance, it's critical that you send them all your resume. Why?

When potential employers contact your references, they will have your resume in front of them. Don't your references deserve the same? Believe me, it will be much easier for your references to sing your praises if they have had the opportunity to brief themselves on what you've shared with hiring authorities.

And one more thing, please let your references know when you've interviewed and given their contact information to a potential employer. A prepared reference will act so much better on your behalf than a reference who receives a surprise phone call.

Now go get that job offer!

Wishing you career success in 2010!


“Tell Me About Yourself” (Oh, Yikes!)

Has the "tell me about yourself" question ever been tossed your way in a job interview? What did you do with it – ramble, freeze, or answer it smoothly?

What usually happens in a job interview situation is you shake hands with the interviewer, take your seat, and then, boom – that dreaded "tell me about yourself" question hits you right out of the chute. Those who've never faced that question will likely take a deep breath and then start sharing their life story from birth to most recent job. The interviewer's eyes will glaze over as he sneaks a peek at his watch. He tries to focus on your words because, after all, you may something that he isn't able to legally ask you about. You, on the other hand, are getting lost in your own words and wondering why this interviewer is even interested in the story of your life.

Or perhaps you are the candidate who freezes when asked to "tell me about yourself." Thoughts of "what is this guy looking for" race through your mind as you search for something – just anything – to say. Should I mention why I left my last job? Should I talk about my college years and how I got that "D" in chemistry because the professor didn't like me? Should I explain how I got my first job because my dad knew the boss? Whatever I say, I need to say it now – I'm running out of time! That interviewer looks impatient. Gosh, I sure hope this interview gets easier!

Hopefully, you'll be the candidate who has prepared for the job interview – the one who knows that the "tell me about yourself" question is the first opportunity to "sell" yourself to this company. You will know that an interview is more about the value you can offer the company than what you need to get from the company. You will take this question and only briefly touch on your career (after all, the interviewer has your resume already, right?) and then bring to the forefront a story or two that demonstrates how you've solved a problem for a past employer that could benefit this potential employer, and how you'd like to contribute your unique skills or talent to better this company.

Now, you have the interviewer's full attention. He's beginning to think he has a credible candidate to assess. And you have already scored points in this job interview.

Bottom line: Don't think this job interview is about you – even if you are asked questions about you. It's about the employer – always. You wouldn't be interviewing if weren't qualified for the job, per your resume. The job interview is a process to screen out qualified candidates. The only way to "win" at the interviewing game is to prepare before you go. Know your career history backward and forward. Know what results you've created for your past employers. And above all else, be able to tell stories that demonstrate your value and problem solving abilities.

Now, go get that job!

Wishing you career success in 2010!


SPECIAL NOTE: I am honored to be a member of the Career Collective, a group of career experts who will each month share their advice and tips to enhance the management of your career. Please link to their blog posts below. Your comments are invited and much appreciated. Follow our hashtag, #careercollective, on Twitter, as well as follow everyone's individual tweets on this month's topic: What should job seekers do now to prepare for interviews?


Sit Down and Panic. The Interview is Yours @GayleHoward

How to Stand Out in a Job Interview @heathermundell

Avoid These Reference Mistakes @DawnBugni

Unspoken Secrets of Job Interviewing Prep: How Your Nonverbal Presentation and Behaviors Impact the Impression You Make @KatCareerGal

Prep for Interviews Now: Snuff out the Elephant in the Room Later! @chandlee

What Should Job Seekers Do Now to Prepare for an Interview @erinkennedycprw

Take a Ride in the Elevator Before You Interview @barbarasafani

Are You Ready for the Elephant in the Room? @WorkWithIllness

"Tell Me About Yourself" (Oh, Yikes!), @KCCareerCoach

The job interview as a shared narrative @WalterAkana

Prepare your references for job search success @Keppie_Careers

No Pain No Gain In Job Search and Interview Prep @ValueIntoWords

Job searching? Take a cue from the Boy Scouts @LaurieBerenson

Preparing for Career Success Starts with Interviewing the Employers @JobHuntOrg

The Interview: A Well Rehearsed Performance or Hacked Improv? @careersherpa

Some Basic Job Search Tips for You

Here are a few tips to help you during your job search:

Numbers Game

Throughout your job search ponder this – You must collect your share of “No’s” before you get your “Yes”. And it only takes one “Yes” to get a job!

Mind Your Manners

Your mother was right. Please and thank you do count. It’s amazing what a well-timed thank you card or letter to a potential employer can do for your job search. It may not guarantee a job, but it will bring your resume and application to the top of the stack! As one employer said, “I may not hire the person with the thank you card, but I will definitely keep his resume for future reference. I will also keep him in mind if I hear of any opportunities with other companies.” (Note: Sometimes an e-mailed thank you is appropriate – know your potential employer to know if this is the case.)

Read My Lips

Interviewing for a job is not just a question and answer session with a potential employer. Body language plays an important a role in the job interview process, too. Shake hands with the interviewer, sit up straight, look the interviewer in the eye and SMILE! Smiling relaxes your muscles to make you appear at ease and receptive to what the interviewer is saying. Remember to dress the part. Experts say that an interviewer makes up his mind about you within 15 seconds after you enter the room. That’s before you’ve said a word! Make your job search preparation count by developing your style and poise.

Tell Me About Yourself

The dreaded interview question! What do you say? Keep in mind the purpose of this question. Usually, it is asked after you sit down facing the interviewer. You may see it as an “ice breaker,” but beware. The employer is looking for a couple of things. First, does your answer show how you qualify for the position? Second, how comfortable are you in thinking “on your feet?” Stay away from the long-winded history of your life. Stick to the facts of your job performance and accomplishments. Use this question to sell yourself! (Note: Watch for my next post which will cover this question in depth.)

Prepare for your job interview and you will get closer to getting the job!

Wishing you career success in 2010!


In Support of #Jobseekers Getting Hired (Rant)

One of the biggest ironies of this crazy recession is the unfair Human Resource practice of credit checking new hires. Following layoff, there comes a time when unemployment benefits run out and all savings are gone, and life as you know it changes in ways you never could have predicted.

Can you imagine surviving months – or years – without cash reserves and having to feed your family using credit cards? Eventually, falling behind on your monthly payments so your credit score drops? And then, not able to make your house payment, you become a victim of foreclosure, so your credit score takes a bigger nosedive? And now comes a default on your student loan… (unless you can get a deferment).

Even if you're working part time at a fast food restaurant or convenience store, there's no way you can pay all your bills. There's no way you can support a family. And then, you finally get a job interview scheduled despite all the odds, and OMG, you get a job offer!!! But wait, the offer is rescinded because of your credit score. Give me a break!

This is uncalled for. A person's character these days can't be measured by their credit history. Too much of life has interfered to make credit scores valid anymore. While government tries to enact job bills, what about just banning automatic credit checks of new hires instead? I wonder how much this could help to reverse the unemployment situation. Could this stem the tide of the long term unemployed?

Maybe career coaches and counselors and career management professionals could band together to put pressure on hiring authorities to become more pragmatic in their new hire practices. Or maybe it's time to write our senators and representatives, or send them signed petitions – anything to call attention to this crazy practice that defeats the purpose of getting people back to work.

Thank you for listening to my rant. I'd love to hear your comments.

Wishing you career success in 2010,


Ready for a Creative Job Interview?

Saturday I sat on a panel discussing career issues in front of members of three engineering associations: ASEM / ASME / SWE. We had a lively conversation, but my biggest take-away was something shared by another panelist who had been a hiring authority at one time in his life. He said that one of his favorite ways to find new hires was to attend a professional development class where his ideal candidates could be. Informally, he'd strike up conversations with his "classmates" and ask questions about their interests, skills, work history, and even topics not normally covered in interviews. By the time the class ended, he would have a small pool of candidates from which he offered positions.

I have to admit that after 25 years in career management, this was a new idea for me. When I thought about it, it made so much sense! By getting to know people in an informal setting, he was able to see people in their most authentic way. By not knowing they were being interviewed for a job, these people were relaxed and truly themselves while their potential employer was evaluating them.

The lesson here? Just like a good Boy Scout, always be prepared. Be dressed for the part (like one gentleman wearing a tie who approached me today after the panel discussion) no matter where you go, even to a casual meeting of your professional association.

(By the way, taking a professional development course – not required by your company, but paid for by you – is a great way to add to your resume to help transition you into a new career.)

Wishing you career success in 2010!