Anyone who has ever been interviewed for a job of any kind has most likely heard some variation of this line: “So, do you have any questions?” It’s the standard way that most interviewers wrap things up, and signal that the interview is coming to a close. It’s a query posed near the end of practically every type of interview: Phone Interviews, Face-to-Face Interviews, Skype Interviews, etc. It sounds like a rather innocent question, and could easily be dismissed by a job-seeker as a mere formality — not worthy of a thoughtful response. Well, don’t make that mistake! The truth is, how that question is answered can often make or break someone’s chances of landing a job.
Candidates are judged by the quality of the questions they ask during an interview. Candidates who have no questions at all might be perceived as having no interest in the position. Even worse than that, inappropriate or off-track questions can be viewed as a huge red flag by any interviewer. Asking the wrong questions can easily sink an otherwise successful interview.
There are literally thousands of possible variations of typical questions that could be used as interview closers. I certainly don’t intend to list them all here. And obviously, the specifics of each interview (the nature of the position, the type of company, the level of the person conducting the interview, etc.) will often determine what questions make the most sense to ask. Rather, I hope to list some general do’s and don’ts, and suggest some specific examples of successful questions that are likely to score points and head the conversation in the right direction.
What NOT to ask during an interview:
Let’s start with obvious no-no’s that will most likely get you eliminated from consideration by any interviewer:
► Don’t ask what the company does, what products they produce, or other basic questions that anyone could find the answers to by simply reading the company’s website. (Do your homework, and don’t sound like an idiot!)
► Don’t ask about compensation, vacation, or benefits. Those are clearly things that fall under the category of “what’s in it for me” — but certainly won’t show what’s in it for the interviewer! On the other hand, if the interviewer brings up the salary issue first, be prepared to address it head on. [Read “Answering the Dreaded Salary Question” for suggested strategies on how to deal with this controversial issue.]
► Don’t ask about anything sensitive or negative that you might have read or heard about the company — e.g. recent layoffs, poor financial performance, bad press reports, lawsuits, complaints or any other negative issues you are aware of. Most interviewers would rather keep the discussion focused on the positive aspects of their company, and will be very uncomfortable if those types of issues are brought up by a candidate.
► Don’t ask generic, standard questions that sound as though you found them on a website (like this blog!) and are reciting them from a script. Most savvy interviewers will be able to spot those types of canned questions a mile away, and easily distinguish them from more thoughtful, insightful questions that pertain specifically to their company or the exact position you are interviewing for.
► Don’t ask personal questions about the interviewer’s family, marital status, children, hobbies, political opinions, religious affiliation, etc. Unless you have a prior history with the person, issues like that are totally inappropriate for an interview with someone you just met. (On the other hand, if they bring those things up first then simply follow their lead … but tread carefully with these topics and don’t offer up too much personal information of your own. Try to stay focused on the business at hand.)
► Don’t ask point blank if you are going to get the job. That tends to put the interviewer on the spot, and makes people feel very uncomfortable.
What you SHOULD ask:
Here are some general categories that you can use as a guide to formulating winning interviewee questions:
► Ask open-ended questions, as opposed to yes-no questions. “Can you tell me more about …” “What is your opinion of …” The idea is to get the interviewer to talk more — to reveal more information about the company, about the position, about themself and about their expectations. Ideally, you can then use that information to say things that will demonstrate that you truly fit whatever it is they seem to be looking for.
► Take something you learned beforehand about the company, and probe further. Show that you’ve done your homework about the company. Ask specific questions about those things that you learned. Start out with something like “During my research, I read that … I was wondering …” Demonstrating that you’ve read up on the company, and that you are curious and interested can be very impressive!
► Take something discussed during the interview, and probe further. Expand on topics already covered, and ask for more details. This shows that you’ve been paying attention, and that you are curious, interested and eager to learn more.
► Ask about the company’s culture and work environment. Those are issues that tend to be rather abstract, and less likely to be explained on their website. Therefore, they are good topics to ask the interviewer about.
► Ask about what qualities they look for in a successful employee. How can someone succeed and grow within the company? What are the specific goals and expectations for the position you are interviewing for? What do they hope to accomplish — both short and long term — with this hire?
Here are some suggestions for questions that fit into the categories listed above. The key is to modify them, and formulate your own versions of these questions that are tailored specifically to the company and the position you are interviewing for:
► “What do you like best about working here?”
► “How would you describe the daily work environment / company culture here?”
► “How would you describe the best people you have in this company?”
► “What characteristics have made your best employees successful here?”
► “In my research, I noticed that (blank) is a big priority with the company. How does your team contribute to that company mission?”
► “Earlier, you mentioned (blank). Can you tell me a little more about how that works in your department?”
► “What are your expectations for this role during the first 30 days, 60 days, 90 days, 6 months, year?”
► “What are the biggest opportunities facing the company/department right now?”
► “What are the biggest challenges facing the company/department right now?”
Nailing the Final Closer:
In the end, if you are interested in this job, make sure to say so! Your final question should really nail the closer: “I just want to let you know that I am very interested in this opportunity, and hope we can move forward. What are the next steps in the interview process?” Don’t leave without determining what the expectations are for the next steps, and how and when YOU should follow-up. Ask what their timetable is for hiring, and how their hiring process works. Also make sure you get a business card with the email address and phone number of your interviewer, and send them a thank-you email that same day. If you met with more than one person, get everyone’s cards and do the same with them. Then immediately make a note on your calendar of when your pro-active follow-up call will be if you don’t hear back from them first. If you really want this job, don’t just sit back wait for them to make the next move. You have to go after it!
Several times each month, I receive random calls and emails with unsolicited résumés from job-seekers who say, in effect: “Can you help me find a job?” My response to those people is usually some variation of my often-repeated mantra: “Sorry, but recruiters don’t find jobs for people … they find people for jobs.” I then point them to this blog for further clarification: “The Real Truth About Working with Recruiters.” Still, I feel bad for those seemingly clueless job-seekers who apparently need some basic direction on how to conduct an effective job search campaign. Some are young, inexperienced job-seekers with minimal practical work experience. Others are in their prime working years, but have decided to try switching to a new career in which they have little or no experience. [For more on those types of situations, read “Advice for Recent Grads and Career-Changers.”] Still others are older, more senior level professionals who unexpectedly got caught up in the rampant layoffs during the economic downturn of the last few years and have suddenly found themselves totally unprepared for a job search so late in life. The toughest of those cases are the ones who have been working for one company for most of their lives, and haven’t needed to write a résumé or interview anywhere in decades. Having done their last job search during an era of fax machines, cold calls and door-to-door pavement pounding, those older job-seekers are often lost in the fast-paced modern world of mobile computing and social media.
Much of the information needed by anyone in order to organize and execute an effective modern job search has already been documented here in these Recruiter Musings archives. [For a list of all of those articles organized by topic, check out the Index found on the green navigation bar at the top of this page, and also on the side-bar to the right.] I thought it might be helpful to pull it all together into one big 9-Step Guide. Some of what follows is new information, and a lot of it is a re-hash where I’ll point towards prior blogs that need to be reviewed. If you are a newly minted job-seeker, this article can be a great starting point. For the more seasoned job-seekers, consider this a refresher! And, by all means, please feel free to email, re-post, re-blog or re-tweet this article to anyone you know who needs help getting started with a new job search. SO … here we go:
1) Soul Searching: Exactly What Are You Qualified For?
The job searching process starts with some soul-searching. What are you actually qualified for, based on your past work experiences? Exactly what type of job are you looking for? What is your industry niche? What is your particular area of expertise? What job function makes the most sense as a next step for you? Answering those basic questions is easy for some, and confusing and difficult for others. However, figuring those things out determines everything else that follows. Only you know what you are experienced at, and what you are truly qualified for. If you cannot answer those questions easily, then it may be time for some serious career counseling. Pursuing jobs that you are really not qualified for can be a huge waste of time for many people, including the people you might network with in that pursuit. You should also consider things like how far you’d be willing to commute every day, what size company you’d be comfortable in, etc. The more you can narrow down exactly what type of position you’d be most qualified for, and exactly what type of company you’d like to work at where such a job exists, the more effective your job search is likely to be. The key is to narrow your focus as specifically as possible.
2) Prepare an Effective Résumé.
If you ask 10 professional résumé-writers what a good résumé should look like, you’ll get 10 very different answers. There is no perfect one-size-fits-all formula for this. As a recruiter who reads and reviews résumés all day every day, my own STRONG personal preference is to see chronological résumés rather than so-called “functional” résumés. What I can tell you is that it is of the utmost importance that your résumé be a door-opener for you. An effective résumé should clearly explain who you are, what type of job you are seeking, and most importantly — why someone should hire you over someone else. That means not just simply describing your past responsibilities, but rather trumpeting your successes, quantifiable results and achievements in each of your prior positions. The main purpose for any résumé is to pique the interest of the reader … to have them want to learn more about you … to get you an interview! I highly suggest you read the following blog articles on this topic if you need help in this area:
► The Brutal Truth on How Résumés Get Eliminated
► The Résumé Test & Checklist: Does Yours Pass?
► Explaining Short Job Stints and Employment Gaps
► Beating the Résumé-Elimination Game: Where Do Recruiters’ Eyes Go?
3) Learn the Basics of the “T” Cover Letter.”
Job-seekers often ask whether or not it’s worthwhile including a cover letter with their résumé. It’s a question that many people struggle with. In my opinion there is only one format that is worth considering … it’s called the “T” Cover Letter. The blog article I wrote on that topic receives more hits on this site every week than almost all the other articles combined! It includes templates that you can download and modify to create your own “T” Cover Letters. Here’s the blog article you’ll need to read for help with this topic:
► The “T” Cover Letter – The Only Type Worth Sending
4) Develop a Target List of Companies.
Every job-seeker should have a target list of companies that are specific to their industry niche, and are likely to have jobs that fit their background and experience. Your goal should always be focused on getting in front of the people who are either decision-makers in those companies, or are directly connected to those decision-makers. If you don’t have such a list of target companies, stop everything else and make one!!!! This list is critical, and should be your road-map for moving forward on your job search. This takes some research. My advice is to use a professional business database like Dun & Bradstreet’s Million Dollar Database Premier or ReferenceUSA Business. Anyone with a public library card number can log into those databases from any home computer! (Ask your local librarian for help if you don’t know how to do this.) This gives you access to full information on millions of companies, including every business in the U.S. and the leading businesses in Canada. Use the advanced search mode to generate a list of companies that are the most likely to have jobs like the one you think you fit. To do that, put in search criteria that fit your profile. Company look-ups can contain multiple search criteria, including location by zip or area code, industry, size, products, number of employees, revenue, and specialty fields. Try using keywords specific to your niche. Keep narrowing the search criteria until you get the list to under 100 results. If this is your first search, I’d say to go even further and narrow it closer to 50. (You can always go back later and widen this list to get more targets if you exhaust your first list.) Print out the list and look it over carefully. You can probably eliminate quite a few companies based on things you already know – places that you’ve heard bad things about, places that you know are in financial trouble or any number of other personal red flags. Simply cross those places off the list. What’s left is your first target list!
5) Write and Practice Your “Elevator Pitch.”
Every job-seeker should know what an “Elevator Pitch” is. Put simply, it’s a short introductory speech designed to be given in the time span of an elevator ride – approximately 30 seconds to 2 minutes. It’s a standard tool in the world of sales, where people want to interest someone else in their product quickly, without sounding too pushy or intrusive. The fact is that a job-seeker IS a salesperson … and the product is YOU! [Read “Why Job Hunting is a Consultative Sales Position” for a more detailed explanation of this concept.] The basic idea is that you never know when or where you’ll run into someone who might be a prospect for you – a potential customer, a networking partner, a key contact or decision-maker at one of your target companies, or an actual potential employer. Being able to instantly deliver your Elevator Pitch to anyone, anywhere and at any time is something every job-seeker should be prepared to do. Read the following blog article if you need help creating an effective Elevator Pitch for yourself:
► Is Your Elevator Pitch Taking You UP or DOWN?
6) Become an Effective Networker.
Networking activities are considered by most job-seekers and staffing professionals to be the most likely to produce success in today’s ultra-challenging, highly competitive job market. Done properly, it is a complicated process which must be viewed as a long-term strategy. As such, it can also be very time consuming. Patience and consistency are the keys. While it may not produce quick results, it will position you well for long-term success. Spending time on networking activities means engaging in, and constantly re-visiting all five steps in the networking process: Those are: 1) Building Your Target Company List; 2) Identifying the Key People in Your Target Companies; 3) Reaching Out to Your Targeted People; 4) Talking / Meeting With Your Targets; and 5) Following-Up and Staying in Touch With Your Network. Read the following blog articles for details on how to network your way to a job using these five steps:
► Looking for Networking in All the Wrong Places
► How to Network: A Step-by-Step Guide for Job Searching
► Targeted Networking: How to Effectively Reach Out
► The Art of Giving: the Key to Effective Networking
7) Manage Your Time.
It is often said that looking for a job is itself a full-time job. As it is with any job, your days should be planned out, and your valuable time used efficiently to achieve your professional goals. Many job-seekers struggle with this concept. Exactly how should they spend their time? Which activities should be given priority, and which ones minimized? If you need help with how to organize your time to conduct an effective job-search, read the following blog article:
► Time Management: Recipe for a Well-Balanced Job Search
8) Brush Up On Your Interviewing Skills.
Scoring an actual interview with a company is often looked upon as the Holy Grail for job-seekers — second only to receiving and accepting an actual job offer! Interviews can be on the phone, in-person, on in many cases where the opportunity is in a remote location — on Skype. Being prepared for each of those types of interviews involves critical skills that need to be mastered. Don’t ever assume that you don’t need help in this area. In my many years of experience coaching candidates for interviews of all types, I’ve found that the people who don’t think they need help are the ones who do the poorest! I always get very nervous when I represent someone who says something like: “I’ve interviewed dozens of times — I don’t need coaching — I know how to handle myself!” After someone I represent finishes an interview with a company, and I do a de-brief with that candidate, I’ve noticed a very predictable pattern: When the candidate tells me something like: “That went great! The manager loved me! We really bonded! I expect an offer to be coming soon!” … more often than not, the feedback from the company is not so great, and that person rarely actually gets the job. On the other hand, when I hear things like: “I’m not sure how well I did. I couldn’t read the interviewer. I forgot to bring up a few things that I wanted to say. I don’t know if they liked me.” … those interviews usually went much better than the person thought, and the feedback from the interviewer is generally positive. Is it overconfidence that kills an interview? It’s hard to say. I can only stress that even the most experienced and savvy job-seekers can benefit from help and brushing up on interview skills. Read the following blog articles for help with interviews:
► Phone Interviews: Secrets, Tricks and Tips
► Face-to-Face Interviews: Secrets, Tricks and Tips
► Skype Interview Tips … Welcome to the Future!
► Nuggets: A Secret Interviewing Technique
► Answering the Dreaded Salary Question
► 20 Surefire Ways to Blow an Interview
► “So, Do You Have Any Questions?” Nailing the Interview Closer
► Cool InfoGraphic: “What You Wish You’d Known Before Your Job Interview
9) Follow Up and Stay Organized.
Staying in touch with the key people you talk with and/or meet with is a critical component of any job search campaign. As you keep reaching out to and meeting with more and more targets and decision-makers (or people who can refer you to those targets and decision-makers) your network will grow larger and larger. And it will be made up of key people in your industry who all tend to know each other and are “well-connected.” The longer you’re at this and the longer your list of network contacts becomes, the more important it will be to stay organized and avoid getting confused about who you met when, and who you need to follow up with. You should keep careful records on everyone you talk or meet with from your target list, and devise a system you are comfortable with that allows you to remain in touch on a regular basis. You’ll need to set yourself reminders (perhaps on your calendar) to not forget to follow-up regularly with each and every networking contact you connect with on your target list. There’s nothing more disappointing than having a great networking meeting that lacks any follow-up. It’s kind of like having a first date where you think you really clicked with the other person, but then you never hear from them again! The onus is all on you here – don’t drop the ball. If you want your targets to remember and help you, you must make the effort to stay in touch! Read the following blog article for more on why follow-up is so important:
► Following Up: An Essential Key to Success.
Final Thoughts: Attitude is Everything!
I’ve coached thousands of job-seekers during my many years as a recruiter. If there’s one thing I’ve learned about the entire process that holds true for almost every industry and every position, it’s this: the number one most important factor that determines who gets hired and who doesn’t is NOT who is best qualified, who has the most experience or skills, or who has the best résumé. It’s attitude! People hire other people that they like, and want to be around. Real enthusiasm for a position or a company, true passion for your work, a sense of humor, and a genuine projection of positivism and optimism are the qualities that make a person attractive to others. It’s nearly impossible to fake those qualities. There’s no question about it: job-seeking can be a real drag, and certainly has the potential to grind a person down. Don’t give in to negativism. Stay upbeat and positive, and keep the faith. Everything described in this 9-Step Guide actually does work, and good things can happen to people who project positive energy!
A while back, I wrote about how job-seekers get screened out or eliminated based on someone looking at their résumés. [Read: “The Brutal Truth About How Résumés Get Eliminated.”] In my many years as a recruiter, I’ve certainly read my share of résumés. There were times when I went through over a hundred a day. I certainly know how the elimination game works! This process is even more brutal now in the current candidate-flooded market caused by the economic downturn of the last few years. It’s been said that the average résumé-reader will give your résumé less than 15 seconds of eyeball time on the first pass. If they don’t quickly see exactly what they think they want or need right up front … bye bye – delete key for you!
I recently read a fascinating report about a study sponsored by The Ladders purporting to be a scientific analysis of how recruiters actually read résumés. I say “purporting” because one must always consider the source of such studies. Since The Ladders is a for-profit Job-Seeker Service which commissioned and paid for this study, it’s not surprising that their conclusions supported using their own services. It suggested that job-seekers should use The Ladders’ own professional résumé-writing service, and that The Ladders’ online profiles were more effective than LinkedIn’s free online profiles. Their study made use of a technique called “eye-tracking” which produced visual “Heat Maps” showing where and for how long the recruiters’ eyes lingered on the résumés and online profiles they were reading. (See the bottom of this article for an example of such “Heat Maps.”)
Here’s a link to the report that describes the actual study: “Eye Tracking Study.”
Thirty recruiters were studied over a ten-week period. The researchers tried to determine how long the recruiters spent looking at each résumé, what items caught their attention, how quickly their eyes moved from item to item, which items were overlooked, and how quickly they made a basic yes/no decision on a candidate. I imagined a room full of recruiters all chained to desks, forced to stare at computer monitors with their eyes propped open! The whole thing reminded me of a certain iconic scene from the movie Clockwork Orange:
Despite its obvious bias, there were several things in this study that jumped out to me as information I felt could be very useful to all job-seekers. Here are my observations:
How long did recruiters actually look at résumés?
When surveyed, the recruiters told the researchers they spent 4 to 5 minutes on each résumé … but when actually observed, the average time spent on each résumé was a mere 6 seconds for the initial “fit / no fit” decision!!! So much for that masterpiece you slaved over for so many hours writing, re-writing and perfecting. Pretty depressing, eh?!
What parts caught their attention, and where did their eyes linger?
The recruiters in the study spent almost 80% of their résumé review time focusing on the following six things:
2) Current Title/Company
3) Current Position Start and End Dates
4) Previous Title/Company
5) Previous Position Start and End Dates
Sadly, beyond those six things the recruiters did little more than scan for keywords that matched the jobs they were trying to fill. They characterized the rest of the descriptive details in the résumés (the parts you probably spent the most time perfecting!) as “filler that had little or no impact on their initial decision-making.” Again, kind of depressing, eh?
Why did “professionally-written” résumés seem to be more effective?
In a word — it’s the formatting. Look at the Heat Maps below. What distinguishes the one on the right from the one on the left? When you consider the low importance placed on the actual descriptive details (as noted in the answer above) the only thing left is the physical look and feel of the page. On the right-hand example, notice the use of bold type and grey boxes for the headings, the lines separating the different sections, the way various keywords are bolded throughout, etc. Those are the elements that guide the eyes and focus the attention of the reader. The entire format looks organized and logical. By comparison, the one on the left looks like a big jumble of words, with no clear path to follow. It takes too much work for the reader to figure it out. (Hint: if you click on the graphic below you’ll see the full-sized image, where it’s much easier to examine the different elements on each résumé.)
How can you create your own “professionally-formatted” résumé without paying someone else to do it for you?
There are many resume-writing services out there who will be happy to charge you lots of money to re-format and re-write your résumé for you. I’ve never been a big fan of such services. I’ve seen way too many crappy résumés created by such so-called “professionals.” This is one of those rare cases where the old phrase “you get what you pay for” really does not apply at all. The truth is that anyone can create a professional-looking résumé themselves — totally for free. The easiest way to do it is to “borrow” someone’s professional résumé that you like and then copy the format! Just get a good résumé from someone you know — or simply search for professional résumés on Google — and then save them to your computer. Then just replace the text with your own words, retaining the nice-looking formatting of the original! Another fairly obvious source for pre-formatted résumé templates is Microsoft Word, or other desktop writing and publishing programs. Just open the program and search for templates when you choose to create a new document. Microsoft has even more free résumé templates available online. Here’s a link to a generous number of free, great looking professional résumé templates designed for users of Microsoft Word: “Microsoft Résumés and CVs.” Numerous other free examples and templates are out there online, ready for the taking.
Final thoughts … some résumés actually do get read more carefully!
Keep in mind that the focus of this entire study was the initial “yes/no” assessment process … that first quick scan where the elimination often happens. But not every résumé gets eliminated. When a résumé does pass that first test, then the descriptive details that were completely overlooked the first time will actually get read and considered. So in the end, the experiences and achievements you write about on your masterpiece do really matter a great deal. The trick, of course, is to beat the résumé-elimination game and get to that next step!
For more tips on creating an effective resume, read: “The Résumé Test & Checklist: Does Yours Pass?”
Above: These “Heat Maps” show where recruiters eyes go (yellow areas), and where they linger (red areas) when reading résumés. The one on the left is a “self-written” résumé, and the one on the right is a “professionally-written” résumé. Note the formatting differences. (Click on the image to see a full-sized version.)
In the past, I’ve written several blog articles with advice, tips and tricks on how to succeed at interviews. I’ve covered Phone Interviews [“Phone Interviews: Secrets, Tricks and Tips”], Face-to-Face Interviews [“Face-to-Face Interviews: Secrets, Tricks and Tips.”] and even Skype interviews [“Skype Interview Tips: Welcome to the Future!”]. Over the years I’ve prepared and coached many hundreds of candidates for each of those types of interviews, stressing positive approaches and techniques. And yet … I’m still constantly amazed at how often people defy basic common sense, and totally blow their chances of landing a job by doing (or failing to do) and saying (or failing to say) things that I thought were pretty basic.
So, at the risk of re-stating things that may seem obvious to most intelligent job-seekers, what follows is a list of 20 things that are pretty much guaranteed to blow any interview. I’ve personally observed each and every one of the following things happen with job-seekers I’ve worked with at one time or another. Take this list and some the comments that follow each item with a huge grain of salt, and hopefully laugh a little and also learn from it! If you recognize anything on this list from personal experiences … well, now at least you’ll know why you are reading this blog instead of working at your job!
1. Arrive late (or too early). Don’t call ahead if you are not on time.
Keeping an interviewer waiting, and failing to call if you have an unexpected delay is probably the number one no-no any interviewee can commit. And showing up more than 10 minutes early just shows desperation.
2. Dress casually. Wear lots of cologne or perfume, and tons of jewelry. Facial piercings are especially impressive.
I’ve never heard of anyone being passed over for a job because they dressed too nicely for an interview. On the other hand, I’ve personally run out of interview rooms gasping for air after meeting people who smell like they just visited the free sample spritzer counter at a local Macy’s.
3. Shake hands weakly — like a limp fish.
Bad first impressions are hard to shake (please excuse the expression) … and a bad handshake is guaranteed to create a bad first impression! The worst is the “fish” handshake – a completely limp hand. That’s just creepy! Almost as bad is gripping someone around their fingers instead of fully locking hands at the base of the thumb.
4. Appear disinterested — act like a zombie, and do not smile or make eye contact.
This is one of the most often-stated issues that decision-makers site as a reason for not hiring someone: they simply didn’t seem enthusiastic or even interested in the job.
5. Don’t research the company you are interviewing for — just wing it!
Not knowing everything you can possibly learn about a company before you walk in the door is just plain stupid.
6. Badmouth your past bosses and companies. Blame your job misfortunes on others. Wear that chip on your shoulder proudly. Complain about everything.
This is another one of the most often-stated things that decision-makers site as a reason for not hiring someone. It’s just like your mother said: “If you can’t find something nice to say about someone, don’t say anything at all!” If you bad-mouth another company or person, the interviewer will wonder what you’ll be saying about them or their company after you leave.
7. Be arrogant, overconfident and rude — especially to the receptionist!
Failing to respect and befriend the receptionist is huge. Those gatekeepers often pass their impressions on to the hiring manager … and can easily veto any job-seeker’s efforts.
8. Lie and exaggerate about your qualifications, your education, your experiences, and your prior salary.
It worked for the CEO of Yahoo, didn’t it? Those things will inevitably be caught in a background check, but hey … at least you’ll pass the audition, right?! Saying or doing whatever it takes to get to the next level works so well for political candidates, so why not for other types of job-seekers also?!
9. Leave your phone on, and answer any calls, emails and text messages you receive — any one might be another job offer. In fact, wear a Bluetooth earpiece during the interview!
I’ve actually seen this happen!
10. Chew gum, bring a drink and snacks with you. Smoke a cigarette just before the interview to make sure you smell like tobacco.
Believe it or not, chewing gum is another one of those things that comes up at the top of most surveys for reasons given by decision-makers on why they don’t hire people!
11. Fail to answer questions directly, and go off on irrelevant tangents.
Politicians get away this this all the time … so why not try it!
12. Talk a lot, and don’t listen. Interrupt frequently.
This is a classic symptom of nervousness. Job-seekers sometimes feel that they must aggressively “sell themselves” to the person they are meeting with, and forget that good listening skills are critical for interviews. People who dominate every conversation are generally not good listeners, and invariably turn people off.
13. Describe your past jobs’ responsibilities instead of your achievements.
This also applies to résumé writing and it’s one of my own personal pet peeves (along with receiving “functional” résumés instead of chronological résumés.) The least effective résumés are filled with job descriptions and fail to list any accomplishments. Same for interviews. Don’t tell me what you were responsible for. Tell me what you accomplished! Why should I hire you over the next guy???
14. Offer too much personal information.
Politics, religion, sexual orientation … all great topics for a first date — but not a job interview!
15. Bring up the salary issue early in the conversation.
This is what you REALLY want to know, right? What does this job pay?! You know you want to ask it immediately, right?! You don’t want to waste your time interviewing with multiple people only to find out at the end of the process that they can’t even come close to what you need to pay your bills, right?!
16. Refuse to answer salary questions when specifically asked.
Some advisors tell job-seekers to avoid revealing their exact salary history or requirements when directly asked. I say playing that game is a surefire way to be immediately eliminated from consideration. [For more details on this topic, read: “Answering the Dreaded Salary Question.”]
17. Don’t ask good business-related questions. Instead, say that you don’t have any questions since they’ve all been answered during the interview. Better yet, inquire about things like vacation time, benefits, and other perks.
Again, those are the things you REALLY want to know about, right?!
18. Fail to connect with your interviewer on a personal level.
People skills are highly over-rated, right? [To learn about one of the most valuable interviewing techniques related to connecting on a personal level, read: “Nuggets: A Secret Interviewing Technique.”]
19. Don’t ask for the job.
You’re too good for that! They should just recognize your value in the job market, and beg you to come to work for them, right?!
20. Don’t follow up.
You’ve already done your part and sold yourself during the interview. Now it’s their turn! Besides, playing hard-to-get is much more fun. If they really want you, let them pursue you! If they don’t, then they’re not worth working for, right?
One of my favorite cartoon TV shows from childhood was The Jetsons. For those of us who grew up with George Jetson and his world (or caught it later in syndication on cable) it was an ultra-cool vision of an imagined future told from a 1960’s point of view. Like many other science fiction shows of that time — most notably Star Trek — many of the fictional technologies and toys that they used have actually become real and commonplace to us here in the early 21st century. Who can forget George video-chatting with his wife Jane, or being yelled at by his boss, Mr. Spacely, on a video screen — the standard way everyone communicated in the Jetsons’ world. Video conferencing was a concept that seemed so far-fetched and futuristic at that time. Well … welcome to the future! With the wide acceptance of Skype (now owned by Microsoft), as well as Apple’s “Facetime,” and numerous other free video conferencing applications (Facebook Chat, Google Chat, Yahoo Chat, AIM, etc.) the idea of seeing the image of a person’s face as you are talking with them has become very much an everyday occurrence.
Many companies have jumped onto the Video Conferencing bandwagon as a way to reduce their expenses. Meetings with multiple participants in far-flung locations are often conducted online now, using business versions of web-based video conferencing programs. Companies are able to save huge amounts of money by greatly reducing travel costs for their employees … not to mention regaining lost productivity associated with travel time. Companies have also begun interviewing remote job applicants using Skype.
As a recruiter, I often interview potential candidates who are not local to my area. It wasn’t that long ago that such interviews were always conducted by phone. It was rare that I got to actually meet face-to-face with candidates who lived in other cities. That has all changed over the last couple of years. Now, Skype interviews are a regular part of my recruiting tool-box. While seeing someone on Skype is certainly not as effective as a true face-to-face meeting — there is no question that it is WAY better than a mere audio phone conversation. The added dimension of seeing a person’s facial expressions, body language, eye contact, etc. gives a much more in-depth impression of the person you are communicating with.
The funny thing is that you might think that “older” candidates (i.e. Baby Boomers) would not be very familiar or comfortable with Skype, since it might be thought of as a young person’s technology. What I have found is that almost every Boomer I’ve talked with already uses Skype on a regular basis to communicate with their kids — either in college, or living away in other cities — or to see their grandchildren! In fact, it’s pretty rare to find any mildly computer-savvy person these days who doesn’t have a webcam, and who doesn’t already have a free Skype account.
I thought it might be useful to publish some advice and tips for job-seekers on how to be more effective during a Skype interview. I’ve already posted two other essential blog articles with interview tips: “Phone Interviews: Secrets, Tricks and Tips” and “Face-to-Face Interviews: Secrets, Tricks and Tips.” Both of those articles contain many universal interview-prep ideas that would certainly also apply to a Skype Interview. Those include:
► Research the industry, the company and the players.
► Study the job description and prepare stories.
► Plan ahead to be in a quiet place, and to avoid any interruptions.
► Use the “Nuggets” technique to establish rapport.
► Project a Positive Attitude.
► Be a good listener, and never interrupt.
► Don’t bring up salary or benefits … but be prepared to answer the Dreaded Salary Question directly if asked.
► Prepare a list of questions you can ask.
► At the end of the interview, clarify the next steps.
Each of the above listed steps are detailed in those two prior interview-prep articles I mentioned, and I strongly suggest reading both of them before any Skype interview. In addition, the following are some very Skype-specific tips and tricks that should be useful to anyone who will be interviewed using video conferencing:
Test your video and audio before the call.
Open the Skype application and go into the “Tools” menu, and then choose “Options …” to test your video and audio. You’ll see a preview of your own video image, and be able to test your microphone. Make sure your equipment is working properly before your interview. You certainly don’t want to start things out with a technical glitch. When you do start the actual Skype session, make sure your camera is turned on. If the other person can’t see you — and you’ll know because you won’t see your own preview — then click the little “camera” icon on the Skype Toolbar (floating either at the top or the bottom of your screen … you may have to “mouse over” it to make it appear) to activate your webcam. Then during the actual interview, periodically glance at your own preview in the corner of the screen to make sure you are lit and framed correctly, as explained below.
Choose a good background, and be aware of your lighting.
One of the most common problems I’ve seen with Skype is a person sitting with their back against a bright window. The camera auto-adjusts to the brightness of the window light, and the person’s face ends up looking like a dark silhouette. Avoid that problem by positioning yourself against a wall, with any windows being either to your side or in front of you. Adding a desk light aimed at your face also helps. Make sure you can see your own face clearly in your preview. Also, be aware of what’s behind you. It’s best to have a non-distracting background — a blank neutrally colored wall, or a bookcase is effective. (A view of your kitchen or your bedroom is not likely to impress anyone with your professionalism!)
Position your camera to center your image.
Move your camera around (or re-position yourself) to center your face on the screen. I see it all the time — people positioned at the extreme top or bottom of the screen, with the camera cutting half of their face off at their chin, or their forehead! Pay attention to your preview. If you shift or move around during the interview, try to stay centered. Also, move in or out so that you are framed from below the shoulders to just above your head — not too extremely close, or too far back. Most inexpensive webcams are fix-focused at a medium distance, so being too close or too far will make the image look blurry.
Dress for an interview!
Treat this like a traditional face-to-face interview. It’s a common mistake to think that because you are at home, you can dress casually for a Skype interview — that it won’t matter. Wrong! The impression you make on your Skype interviewer can be just as powerful as it would be in person. What you are wearing matters, and you will be judged by how you look. That’s kind of the point of Skype, isn’t it? They want to know how you look! Dress appropriately. I’ve actually seen candidates for executive-level positions wearing t-shirts on Skype interviews! Needless to say, that was not a first impression I’m likely to forget. Men: wear a tie and jacket. Women: wear a conservative business suit. I’ve never heard of any candidate for any job getting eliminated because they were too well dressed! Also, avoid wearing loud patterns, like stripes, that can sometimes look distracting on video.
Look at the camera (not at the screen) to make eye-contact.
This is one of the hardest things to do. It’s everyone’s natural tendency to look at the person’s face on the screen as you are talking. The problem is, the camera is not there — it’s at the top of the screen! When you look at the middle of the screen, the other person feels that you are looking downward. As often as possible, you should look directly at that little camera when you are talking. This is a technique that TV newscasters (and media-savvy politicians) spend years learning and mastering. Instead of following the text on their teleprompters, they are taught to read with their peripheral vision while looking directly into the camera lens. Otherwise they don’t make eye contact with their TV audiences, and are perceived as being untrustworthy or “shifty.” Try practicing this technique on Skype with a friend before you do an important interview.
Pump up your enthusiasm.
It’s a well known fact that actions and reactions can come across somewhat differently on video than they do in a live situation. It’s a good idea to compensate for that difference by projecting extra enthusiasm, and by trying to keep your answers concise and to the point. Try to speak both clearly and quickly, and do not allow too much silence or “dead air” to occur between questions and answers. At the same time, never interrupt or talk over the other person. Sometimes the audio on Skype can have a slight delay or echo, so make sure you hear the end of the person’s last sentence before you speak. Above all, smile a lot and be aware of your facial expressions at all times. Remember: the red light is on … action!
It’s been a while since my last “Comic Relief” posting … so I think it’s about time I took another break from my usual “advice for job-seekers” mission to offer up this 5th blog of pure job-seeking humor! [See “Volume 1”, “Volume 2”, Volume 3” and “Volume 4” for the last four editions of this popular side-trip!]
I should say here that after my last humor blog posting, I received a few negative comments from some disgruntled, and obviously frustrated job-seekers who suggested that posting this type of job-seeking humor is inappropriate. They basically said that it is wrong to laugh at the plight of people who are suffering in a bad situation. Well, as a former comedian myself, I say — too bad! Throughout history, most of the best comedy flirts with inappropriateness, and walks that fine line between laughter and discomfort. And, for every person who thinks this stuff is NOT funny, there seem to be a huge number of others who appreciate it and thank me for lightening up their day! So I say, if you can’t take a joke … well, you know how the rest of that phrase goes!
Once again, I’ll point out that I fully realize that being unemployed is generally not a laughing matter. However, much like “gallows humor,” the intention of “job-seeking humor” is quite simple: to lift the spirits of people who are in an otherwise depressing situation. I’m a firm believer that maintaining a sense of humor is a key component to positive mental health. And I’m a still a tough critic when it comes to job-seeking humor. I figure, if it makes me laugh out loud, it’s worth sharing here!
In the category of Videos, the following clip is called “Unemployee Orientation.” There are certainly no shortage of videos and songs on YouTube about unemployment … but this one really stood out for me. It’s pretty much self-explanatory. And even though I officially disavow any of the ideas presented in this video — it did make me laugh out loud several times!
In the category of Cartoons, here are some more miscellaneous funnies that I couldn’t fit into any other blog articles, but I think are hilarious nevertheless … and deserve to be shared here:
Finally, in the category of Job-Posting Humor, here’s a list of common terms often seen in the text of online job postings, and their “real” meanings:
Key to Job Description Terms:
You’ll be making under minimum wage an hour.
ENTRY-LEVEL POSITION IN AN UP-AND-COMING COMPANY
You’ll be making under minimum wage an hour; we’ll be bankrupt in a year.
AN UP-AND COMING SOFTWARE COMPANY
We want you to get your hopes up, but there’s no way in hell we’ll be the next Microsoft.
Once it’s shared between the higher-ups, there won’t be a profit.
We remain competitive by paying slightly less than our competitors.
JOIN OUR FAST-PACED COMPANY
We have no time to train you; you’ll have to introduce yourself to your co-workers.
NATIONALLY RECOGNIZED LEADER
Inc. Magazine wrote us up a few years ago, but we haven’t done anything innovative since.
The person who used to have this job gave notice a month ago. We’re just now running the ad.
SALES POSITION REQUIRING MOTIVATED SELF-STARTER
We’re not going to supply you with leads; there’s no base salary; you’ll wait 30 days for your first commission check.
Management won’t answer questions.
WE OFFER GREAT BENEFITS
After 90 days, you can join our HMO, which has a deductible and a co-pay.
After three years, we’ll allow you to fund your own 401(k) and, if you behave, we’ll give you a 5 percent matching contribution.
SEEKING ENTHUSIASTIC, FUN, HARD WORKING PEOPLE
. . . who still live with their parents and won’t mind our internship-level salaries.
CASUAL WORK ATMOSPHERE
We don’t pay enough to expect that you’ll dress well; a couple of the real daring guys wear earrings.
We have a lot of turnover.
EXCITING AND PROFESSIONAL WORK ENVIRONMENT
Guys in gray suits will bore you with tales of squash and their weekends on yachts.
JOIN OUR DYNAMIC TEAM
We all listen to nutty motivational tapes.
FUN WORK ENVIRONMENT
Your co-workers will be insulted if you don’t drink with them.
A DRUG-FREE WORK ENVIRONMENT
We booze it up at company parties.
MUST BE DEADLINE ORIENTED
You’ll be six months behind schedule on your first day.
SOME PUBLIC RELATIONS REQUIRED
If we’re in trouble, you’ll go on TV and get us out of it.
SOME OVERTIME REQUIRED
Some time each night and some time each weekend.
SALARY RANGE X-Y
We’ll offer you X to start.
A HIGHLY VISIBLE POSITION
You’ll give boring speeches on your own time.
Work 40 hours; get paid for 25.
DUTIES WILL VARY
Anyone in the office can boss you around.
WHERE EMPLOYEES FEEL VALUED
Those who missed the last round of lay-offs, that is.
MUST HAVE AN EYE FOR DETAIL
We have no quality control.
COLLEGE DEGREE PREFERRED
Unless you wasted those four years studying something useless like Philosophy, English or Religion.
Female applicants must be childless (and remain that way).
APPLY IN PERSON
If you’re old, fat, or ugly you’ll be told the position has been filled.
NO PHONE CALLS PLEASE
We’ve filled the job; our call for resumes is just a legal formality.
SEEKING CANDIDATES WITH A WIDE VARIETY OF EXPERIENCE
You’ll need it to replace three people who just left.
PROBLEM-SOLVING SKILLS A MUST
You’re walking into a company in perpetual chaos.
REQUIRES TEAM LEADERSHIP SKILLS
You’ll have the responsibilities of a manager, without the pay or respect.
GOOD COMMUNICATION SKILLS
Management communicates, you listen, figure out what they want and do it.
ABILITY TO HANDLE A HEAVY WORKLOAD
You whine, you’re fired.
ASPIRATIONS FOR GROWTH WITHIN OUR COMPANY
We loooooove brown nosers.
About a month ago, I wrote answers to a newspaper reporter’s request for a written interview for The Cleveland Plain Dealer. Excerpts from that interview were just published in the PD this week in two articles titled “Overcoming Job Search Obstacles for Older Workers” and “Redefining Your Career After 50.” The following is the complete and unedited transcript of the original interview.
1) What are some of the biggest obstacles for finding a job after age 50?
Obviously, the practice of age discrimination in the job market is quite pervasive. The vast majority of “older” workers have experienced it on some level or another. It’s difficult to come up with hard data, since most companies would never truthfully cooperate with any official study … but we all intuitively know that it’s true – age bias is simply a fact of life in our society. That basic truth really hasn’t changed very much over the last century – most modern societies favor youth over age. What has changed is the advancing age of the “Baby Boomer” generation. In today’s candidate-flooded market resulting from the economic downturn that began in 2008, there are a growing number of older workers who are competing for the same jobs as younger candidates who were caught up in the same mass layoffs as everyone else. Add to that the fact that everyone’s investments and retirement funds shrunk drastically during the last couple of years. As a result, Boomers are now finding that they need to keep working well past the age that they originally thought they’d retire. At the very same time, cost-conscious companies are still nervous about adding headcount in today’s slow climb back to economic recovery. When companies do hire new staff now, many try to save money by hiring younger, less experienced people who require lower salaries. It’s really not hard to see how all those factors combine to perpetuate the practice of Age Discrimination.
2) What advice do you have for people over 50 who are considering a career change?
I’ve seen this scenario often in my many years of experience as a recruiter. People who have gone back to school for a new degree, or simply made the decision to begin pursuing a new vocation late in life … one in which they have no prior experience. Someone wants to try sales (but has never done it before) … or people who get technical training or certifications in some IT niche that they’ve never had actual job experience with … or people who want to switch industries, thinking that their “transferable skills” will qualify them for jobs they’ve never done before. In most cases, they face an extreme uphill battle finding a job in today’s employment market. Right now the competition for every job opening is fierce, and the market is overloaded with masses of unemployed or underemployed candidates – many of whom have years of practical and very specific job experience under their belts.
So what’s my advice? It’s not really too different from the advice I’ve given to other job-seekers who already have the experience that career-changers do not. Present yourself – in both your resume and online profiles – in such a way that you feature any and all experiences you’ve actually had in your target career – even if they are not actual jobs. And if you don’t have any experience to speak of … go get it! The most obvious starting points are Internships & Co-ops, and Volunteer Opportunities. Both can often get your “foot in the door” with a company that might potentially hire you in the future. Showing people what you can do, how well you can do it, and demonstrating your exceptional work ethic – even if it’s not in a paid position – can bring you to the attention of professionals who notice such things, and reward them when opportunities open up.
3) What advantages do those over age 50 bring to the workplace?
Experience, maturity, a strong work ethic, expertise, unique skills, reliability, and wisdom. Older workers tend to be smart and reliable professionals who get the job done with minimal ramp up time.
4) Share any statistics on people changing careers after retirement.
In 2011, the oldest of the Baby Boomers (people born between 1946 and 1964) will be turning 65. We are now seeing the beginning of a mass retirement movement unprecedented in American history – a radical demographic shift in the makeup of our work force. By 2015, one in five workers will be age 55 or over. All told, there are about 76 million people in that Boomer generation who will, over the next couple of decades, drop out of the work force. Sure, the current economic downturn is causing many Boomers to delay their retirement … but sooner or later they’ll all reach a point where full-time work is no longer an option. By contrast, there are only about 51 million “Generation X’ers” (people born between 1965 and 1976) who could potentially step into all those jobs that the Boomers are retiring from. That leaves a huge talent deficit: at least 25 million fewer potential workers!!! The next group in line – the so-called “Millennials” or “Generation Y’ers” (people born between 1977 and 1998) – number around 75 million … but they are simply too young and inexperienced to step into the senior leadership roles that the Boomers are vacating.
5) What type of careers are displaced mature workers choosing if they can’t find traditional employment?
These days, more and more mature job-seekers are turning to starting their own businesses. There’s even a media-coined term for this phenomenon: “Entrepreneur by Necessity.” I advise people to list such ventures on their resumes as their current occupation. Whether or not someone has actually earned any income from their company or had any actual success in their venture, listing a self-owned company on a resume is much better than having a large gap of current unemployment without any explanation. And, of course, it’s the perfect answer to that question: “So, what have you been doing since you left your last job?”
6) Anything else you’d like to add on the topic?
I recently assumed the role of Director of Talent Solutions at a relatively new company called Patina Solutions (www.patinasolutions.com). Patina is a Professional Services firm that is poised to take advantage of the growing talent deficit with a rather unique approach. Patina deploys a Portfolio of Talent made up of professionals generally over the age of 50 and with 25 or more years of work experience who have transitioned out of their traditional careers but still desire to make a difference and positively impact their respective industries. They are placed in consulting-contract assignments at client companies in a variety of industries. It’s an idea whose time has come … sending Baby Boomers into companies who need senior level talent for things like interim C-Level executive positions, critical management assessments, knowledge transfer, staff training, and high-level project-based work loads. They are the kinds of positions that younger, less experienced people simply cannot do! Founded at the end of 2008, Patina has four offices – Milwaukee, Chicago, Cleveland and Boston. The company’s aggressive business plan calls for as many as 25 Patina offices to open in different markets by 2013.
It seems clear that those companies who have resisted hiring older workers will be in huge trouble and have critical talent shortages when their own upper managers and executives retire over the next few years. And a company like Patina, which is ahead of the curve in recognizing the tremendous value of the shrinking but still highly employable Boomer workers, will be in the driver’s seat for the decades still ahead of us. It’ll be Baby Boomers to the Rescue!