interviewing: some (unsolicited) advice: part two

six: avoid giving TMI.

imagine this: a candidate arrives 20 minutes late to their interview.  when they arrive they say ‘sorry I’m late those darn Jehovah’s witnesses stopped by the house right before I left and then I couldn’t get the kids in the car to go to the sitter’s.  to top it off, my boyfriend got in an accident with a Democrat of all dreadful people and it cost us over $400 which we don’t have.  thanks for waiting for me.’  candidate sheepishly grins.  recruiter takes a deep breath and the interview begins.

granted, this is an extreme example but, it’s really not all that far from the truth.  often times I come into contact with candidates that, in a matter of minutes, manage to tell me more about their personal lives than I care to know.  and while I like to build relationships there is a time and a place and a particular audience for the type of scenario mentioned above.  an interview is not the time, or the place and a recruiter is certainly not an ideal audience. 

while none of the information provided in the given scenario can be used as a sole basis for a hiring decision it can certainly be a factor in that decision.  further, a company may put itself at risk if they knowingly hire an individual with preconceived biases.  in this case it’s reasonable to believe that the comments made are enough to safely remove the candidate from the selection process where other equally qualified candidates exist.  this happens more often than you think.

a good rule of thumb is to leave pay, politics, and religion out of the conversation. period.  and during an interview this rule should be expanded to include questionable behavior and, at times, family.  if you feel the urge to disclose personal information find a ‘best friend at work’ and share away but, keep it out of the interviewing process.

seven: positivity rules!

people who fail to see the silver lining shine in an unflattering light during interviews.  it becomes evident that these individuals have a difficult time learning from their mistakes and appreciating the opportunities they’ve been given.  one response I coined from a candidate went like this:  ‘I work with a bunch of catty women and they don’t like to do things differently.’  this was in response to a question about a time when the candidate had to persuade a group of peers where they had no authority.  there are far nicer ways to say the same thing and have it carry the same message. think about it.  (this candidate was not hired.) 

on the other hand, people who craft their answers in a way that demonstrates some humility, honesty, and genuine charisma with positive undertones win out.  answers like this generally focus on wins.  to an interviewing panel or recruiter this helps determine if the individual is a good organizational fit where their answers and body language convey a message of ‘I’m approachable but, I mean business.’ 

to that end, use your body to help you communicate.  if you sit with your arms and legs crossed the whole time you’ll seem closed off.  smile.  I don’t know why but, this is hard for people.  a smile goes a long way.  call people by name, if you remember, and shake hands.  it’s basic stuff. 

bottom-line: when life gives you lemons, make berry spiked lemonade!  that’s my motto.  train yourself to see the good in even the most frustrating work situations, vent to your husband/significant other if you must, and learn how to formulate positive remarks about those situations for your next interview.  if you do, that situation and your response may help you advance your career – #winning.

eight: relax.

it really is only an interview.  sure it might be an opportunity for something greater but, you should be most worried about your performance once you’re hired.  remember that everything happens for a reason then take a deep breath.  if you find yourself so anxious and nervous that you can hardly stomach the thought of answering a question without hyperventilating or squeaking your voice then simply say ‘please forgive me, I’m a little nervous’ and move on.  at the end of the day if you’ve adequately prepared then you’ll be more confident.   

ninth: dress appropriately.

someone told me once to dress for the job I want not the job I have.  that’s my approach to work dress. sure there are days when I want to sport jeans and a pony tail (and in a couple of jobs I have) but, I know that it’s not professional and it’s not representative or where I want to go with my career.  the next day I dress to the nines. 

when you’re in a role that is customer facing you need to be a good representative of the organization. now, this is somewhat dependent on the industry and the nature of the role but, you better believe that if you ever come dressed in a t-shirt or tennis shoes for an interview (despite what anyone will tell you) it will absolutely have an impact on the hiring decision.  if you fail to wear a nice shirt and dress pants, at a minimum, you’re suggesting that the position is immaterial, that you don’t care, and that quite frankly you’re lazy.

look better than what’s expected. 

lastly: say thank you…in writing.

a hand written thank you carries more weight than an e-mail and an e-mail is better than a fly-by thanks as you exit the interview.   if you rock an interview but forget to say thank you you’re shooting yourself in the foot.  most people fail to appreciate all of the time and energy that goes into recruiting new talent. not only is it common courtesy it keeps you are the forefront of the recruiter’s mind.

happy interviewing!

interviewing: some (unsolicited) advice: part one

since the start of my, albeit short, hr career i have spent most of my time in the talent acquisition sphere.  i often refer to this as ‘recruitment land.’  that is, the workforce planning and recruiting of talented people for specific job opportunities.  i’ve screened thousands of candidate resumes, conducted hundreds (possibly a thousand +) of interviews, facilitated and led offer discussions, and on-boarded several worthy new hires.

i’ve worked at all levels, and in both the public and private sector. from hiring executives in one of the world’s largest banks or interns for a small company to blue collar plant operators and what i can tell you is that these interview principles are generally the same for all positions.  here are my top ten (first five):

first:  know you better than the interview panel knows you.

this is the BIG one!  i can’t tell you how many times i’ve started an interview along this line: why don’t you start by telling us a little bit about yourself?  and the candidate clams up.  really?!?!  study your resume.  be able to talk about how you found your way into that particular line of work, about your education, your past work experiences, and ultimately how that fuels your interest in the position at hand.

don’t stop there.  that’s all in the past.  employers selfishly want to know about your future as well.  talk about where you want to go and speak with conviction.  your career path and it’s progression should not be haphazard.  most interviewers will ask at some point about your short and long term goals.  if your response is one of those listed below you should reconsider interviewing; it’ll be a waste of time for both you and the interviewing parties.

  • interviewee says:  ‘i plan to be in this position.’  recruiter thinks: presumptuous.
  • interviewee says:  ‘i want to see where this position takes me.’  recruiter thinks:  do we have the resources to ‘see how it goes?’ – no
  • interviewee says:  ‘this position will help me build my resume for my next job.’  recruiter thinks:  candidate sees this as a stepping stone which is fine only if the company has logical promotional opportunities available in that area of interest.  (note: know the organizational opportunities or better yet steer clear of this line.)
  • interviewee says:  ‘i’m not really sure yet.’ or ‘oh, that’s a good question.’  recruiter thinks:  no ambition, no drive, no assurance this person actually wants the job.
when it comes to your future don’t be afraid to share some of your goals and aspirations.  companies are interested in people who have some intrinsic drive and ambition; it’s what makes the business world go ’round.  the caveat here is that you know and can articulate the connection between your goals, aspirations, and the position you’re hoping to land.
finally, know your personal professional brand (more on this in a later post) and live by it daily, not just on the day of the interview.  does your Facebook page have pictures of your boozing it up every weekend?  does your Twitter feed offer controversial dialogue, at best?  be cognizant that the higher you go the more prevalent a role social media plays.  this isn’t me being hypocritical, my Facebook could use a good scrub, it’s me being honest. 
second:  come prepared.
study both behavioral based (tell me about a time when) and situational based (what if) questions and be prepared with well thought-out answers.  present answers that demonstrate you level of knowledge, your ability to work well in teams, communication skills, etc.  this requires you to know yourself.  (refer to #1.) 
also, know the company’s values and mission statement!  this is paramount.  at the end of the day the company is going to assess you as an ‘organizational fit.’  if you aren’t able to demonstrate your alignment to the values through your shared experiences and your genuine actions you likely will not move forward in the process.
the quickest way to learn more about an organization is to visit their website.  you should be able to access information on their history, organizational structure, and fundamental operation.
based on your findings come prepared with thought-provoking questions.  it’s my personal philosophy that i may not always have the right answers but, i’ll always try to have the right questions.
third:  mind your manners.
this should go without saying but, you would be surprised at what happens during some interviews.  i’ve been in interviews where people have cursed like a sailor (ALWAYS inappropriate), taken off their shoes, burped, and monopolized more time than they were allotted.  my biggest per peeve though, this question: ‘so, when can i start?’ my internal reply is usually ‘never, are you kidding?’
just be polite. 
next:  own it! 
more often than not you’re going to be asked about a time when you messed something up at work.  your response to these types of questions alone can be a deal maker or a deal breaker.  recruiters and hiring managers alike are looking for people who cannot only talk about the mistake in a way that make sense (i.e., without unnecessary details, or long, drawn-out descriptions or unorganized thoughts) but, also about what they learned from the situation and how they later applied that learned knowledge. 
along these lines, candidates that scapegoat blame are almost always written off; if you can’t own a mistake then your likely a little bullheaded and unable to work well in a group.  also, you’re probably lacking some self awareness.  talk about mistakes and achievements in the same light and you’ll be surprised by how receptive your audience is in what you have to say. 
fifth:  every interaction matters.
the janitor who saw you walk in, the assistant who coordinated the interview logistics, the security guard at the front desk – all of these people matter!  i can’t begin to tell you how intuitive these individuals are when it comes to sharing thoughts on candidates that ultimately become new hires.  they just seem to know.  i’ve been on both the coordination and recruitment side of the interviewing process and have found tremendous value in knowing how well a candidate treats others, especially those they perceive as ‘beneath’ them in stature.
hopefully this is helpful.  i have another five i’ll share at a later time.  happy interviewing!!