Posts tagged ‘salary’

Job-Seekers’ Top-10 Lists and New Year’s Resolutions

Every year around December, people in the media seem to feel compelled to wrap up each outgoing year with various Top-10 Lists – usually featuring news events, movies, songs, TV shows, books, etc. Each December since I started Recruiter Musings back in 2009 (our visitor count recently surpassed 1 Million hits and we’re still going strong!) I’ve been posting a couple of my own “Top-10 Lists” for Job-Seekers, as well as a list of suggested New Year’s Resolutions for Job-Seekers. In reviewing those prior lists, I found that they are mostly still very relevant and timely! Oh sure, a lot has changed in the world during the last few years. But in terms of my view of the most annoying and the most helpful things for job-seekers … well, my opinions and suggestions have aged well! I’m still very annoyed by people who don’t return phone calls, and I still think Twitter is a huge waste of time! And I’m still a firm believer in the power of Networking as the number one job-seeking methodology with the best chances for success. Likewise, my suggested New Year’s Resolutions from the last few years are still the same ones I’d advise today’s job-seekers to aspire to for the coming year.

Rather than trying to re-invent the wheel, I simply went back and re-edited the past year’s postings to make sure they were still accurate and up-to-date so that I could simply refer back to them. (By referring back to those newly edited original posts instead of re-posting them as new, the readers’ comments at the bottom of each of those articles have also been preserved.) SO … here are the links:

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 Top 10 Most Annoying Things for Job-Seekers

 Top 10 Most Helpful Things for Job-Seekers

 New Year’s Resolutions for Job-Seekers

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December 1, 2014 at 11:56 am Leave a comment

The Truth About Lying On Résumés

When I was just starting my career as a recruiter, a well-known trainer at my firm would often utter a phrase that used to bother me a lot. He’d say: “All candidates lie on their résumés.” (It reminded me of Hugh Laurie on the TV show House M.D. and his famous pronouncement: “Everybody lies … the only variable is about what.”) Maybe I’m just naive — or perhaps I’m just a trusting person by nature — but I’d like to believe that most people are honest and ethical, and would not intentionally lie or deceive me with false information on their résumés. Still, I know that sometimes people exaggerate, omit things, or stretch the truth here and there to inflate their profiles.

Over the years I’ve worked with a multitude of job-seekers on how to improve their résumés. While I would NEVER encourage anyone to lie or fabricate anything, I do often tell people that unlike a job application, a résumé is not a legal document and there is no requirement that it must contain a complete history of everything you’ve ever done. It should be truthful … but it’s up to each person to decide what to include or not include. For example, I sometimes tell people to not include the months in the dates listed next to each job – instead, showing them only as a range of years. That can often avoid the red flag of seeing brief periods of unemployment between jobs. (See example.) I’ve also advised people that it’s OK to leave off jobs in their work history (especially if they were short-lived) that were unrelated to their main industry or niche. But those omissions are very different than outright lying, or making claims about positions you’ve held or degrees you’ve earned that are simply not true.

The following is a fascinating InfoGraphic I found called “The Truth About Lying on Résumés.” The statistics quoted below were compiled from surveys conducted in 2012 by Accu-Screen (a background checking company,) ADP (a Payroll Services company) and The Society of Human Resource Managers. I have no way of knowing if this is a truly accurate picture of today’s truthfulness (or lack thereof) of the multitudes of résumés I review every week … but I can only hope that the ones I see are more honest than this suggests …

(You can click on the image below to open a full-sized version in a new window. Then click it again in the second window that opens to zoom in.)

Now one would think that in today’s Social Media-saturated world, and especially with the advent of LinkedIn, false claims on résumés would be a rare occurrence. After all, everyone’s past employers and co-workers can now easily view everyone else’s profiles. If someone was less than truthful about their work history, they would be immediately exposed … right? Well, perhaps not. Unless someone is called as a reference, or has a particular axe to grind, most people probably wouldn’t take the time to blow the whistle on someone else even if they see blatantly false information on their online profiles.

Of course, anyone in a highly public position is much more vulnerable than the average worker. Certainly, there have been many examples over the years of famous people who have been caught lying on their résumés in order to get jobs.

Famous Résumé Liars:

► Vice President Joe Biden first ran for president in 1988, but during that campaign it was discovered that he lied about attending law school on a full scholarship (he had only a partial scholarship) and about graduating in the top half of his class (he was 76th out of 85.) When the truth came out, Biden had to abandon his presidential bid. Apparently voters in 2008 and 2012 had either not heard of that earlier history of lying — or didn’t care!

► In 2012, Scott Thompson, CEO of Yahoo!, was fired after only 5 months on the job when it was discovered that he had lied on his résumé. He had stated that he earned degrees in both Accounting AND Computer Science, when in fact he never received the latter.

► In 2007, Marilee Jones, the Dean of Admissions at Massachusetts Institute of Technology resigned after 28 celebrated years at M.I.T. when it became know that she had fabricated her own educational credentials. She claimed to have earned degrees from 3 different colleges: Albany Medical College, Union College and Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute. In fact, she had no degrees at all! Rensselaer said she only attended as a part-time student during one school year. The other two colleges said they had no record of her.

► In 2006, Dave Edmondson, the CEO of RadioShack, was fired after 11 years with the company when it was revealed that he had lied on his résumé. He had claimed he held degrees in Psychology and Theology from Pacific Coast Baptist College in California. In fact, he never graduated. The school’s records showed Edmondson completed only two semesters, and that the school never even offered degrees in Psychology!

► In 2005, Michael Brown, Director of the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), resigned after his mishandling of the response to Hurricane Katrina. To get that job, Brown had claimed he oversaw emergency services for the City of Edmund, Oklahoma and that he’d worked at the University of Central Oklahoma as a political science professor. In fact, it was later revealed that Brown had only been an assistant to the city manager, which is more like an intern. And school officials at the University of Central Oklahoma said Brown was never a member of their faculty.

► In 2001, George O’Leary was fired from the Head Coaching job at Notre Dame College after only 5 days on the job. O’Leary had claimed to have a Master’s Degree in Education from New York University and had lettered in college football at the University of New Hampshire. O’Leary attended NYU but did not receive a degree. In fact, he had taken only two courses at SUNY – Stony Brook, and never graduated! And he never earned a letter playing football in New Hampshire and never even played in a game there.

Of course, the above examples are only some of the most well know liars who had the misfortune of getting caught in very public positions. It kind of makes you wonder how many other résumé liars fly under the radar, and never get caught!

November 7, 2014 at 11:53 am Leave a comment

“So, Do You Have Any Questions?” Nailing the Interview Closer

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?

Sample Questions:
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!

January 1, 2013 at 6:04 am 7 comments

Are You “Overqualified?” Handling The Age Issue …

If you are a job-seeker who is over a certain age – sooner or later it’s not uncommon to hear that you’ve been passed over for an opportunity that you applied and/or interviewed for because you were judged to be “overqualified.” That’s such an interesting word: “overqualified.” Think about it … it means, literally, that you possess experience and qualifications that exceed the stated job requirements. So, you might ask, why should that be a bad thing? Wouldn’t any company want someone who exceeds their requirements instead of someone who does not? Well, we all know what’s really going on when someone says you are “overqualified.” It’s a euphemism for “too old” or “too expensive” or both, right?

Not long ago, I represented a very savvy 50-something year-old candidate who was invited in for a final face-to-face interview for a key position with a Fortune 500 client company I was working with. His job history and specific qualifications were an exact match for what they were looking for. He fit the requirements listed for the job to a tee. In addition, he knew the salary range they had defined for this position, and was fine with it. He had already filled out an extensive job application, taken a 2-hour online personality and skills assessment test, had a lengthy phone interview, and met in-person with two different HR people. Based on all of that, his chances seemed excellent. When he walked into the interview room, he met the actual decision-maker – the person who would be his immediate supervisor for this position. She was a very attractive, 20-something year-old woman – very sharp, with an MBA from a prominent business school, 5 years of increasing responsibilities at this company and a rising star in their corporate culture. (Now I’m imagining this next part … so please forgive me for this narrative license!) They looked at each other, and he thought: “She’s young enough to be my daughter!” And she thought: “He’s old enough to be my father!” It was reminiscent of a scene from the movie “In Good Company.” The interview continued in a very professional manner – but needless to say, he didn’t get the job and was never given any direct explanation why. When I later questioned my HR contact at the company, I heard the “O” word mentioned in passing … but not much else.

Age discrimination is a fact of life in the business world. While the definition of someone’s “prime” working ages varies from industry to industry, from company to company, and from position to position … if I had to guess based on my own experience as a recruiter, I’d say that candidates who range in age from their early 30’s to mid 40’s are probably the group who have the least trouble with age discrimination. Much younger than that, and most job-seekers would be looking mostly at low paying, “entry-level” positions (the woman in the previous example notwithstanding.) And, of course, job-seekers in their 50’s and beyond encounter the “overqualified” objection much more often.

So, what is an “older” job-seeker supposed to do? What advice or strategies can I offer to help those candidates in that more senior category? Well, first of all I suggest you read “Age Discrimination: Exposing Inconvenient Truths.” At the bottom of that article, I’ve already detailed several concrete ideas designed to help older job-seekers overcome the age discrimination issue. Those ideas included:
●   Targeting “age friendly” companies.
●   Only pursuing positions that really match your level of experience.
●   Keeping up to date on technology.
●   Maintaining your health and appearance.
●   Embracing a positive attitude.

Beyond those general ideas, I want to offer some other more specific suggestions, ideas and tips that might help older job-seekers in their pursuit of their goals. These are mostly interview strategies to consider when the “overqualified” objection seems to be coming up, either overtly or by implication:

  • During interviews, emphasize your capabilities, not your experience.
  • When interviewing with a hiring manager, try to find out what their problems, needs, and concerns are. Then, explain how you can help. Offer ideas for solutions to problems. This is known as the “consultative sales” approach. A younger person with little to no experience will be much less likely to know how to do this. [Read “Why Job Hunting is a Consultative Sales Position” for more on this concept.]
  • If you are getting asked questions during an interview that indicate the interviewer wants to know your age, respond by saying: “I think what you’re asking me is ‘How long will I be in this position?’” Then, pause and say firmly: “I’m committed to staying at your company at least five years. How many young candidates will promise you that?”
  • Don’t use phrases like: “At my age…,” “Years ago…,” “Back then…,” When I was younger…,” “It used to be that …,” We used to…,” “…up in years,” “Nowadays…,” etc. Avoid statements in résumés and cover letters like: “I have 25 years experience in …” And don’t make references to your grandchildren!
  • If someone comes right out and asks how old you are, say: “I’m only xx”. The word only is very important. Without coming out and saying it, the word implies to the other person that you think you’ve got many productive years ahead of you.
  • If a prospective employer comes right out and says: “you’re overqualified,” consider responding with a statement like: “Well, you wouldn’t feel that way about your surgeon, would you? Don’t you want a person that you’re confident can do this job without requiring a lot of training and a lot of your time?”
  • Or consider saying: “Wouldn’t you rather hire someone who exceeds your requirements instead of someone who doesn’t?”
  • You probably won’t be able to overcome the “overqualified” objection unless you understand what the employer believes is the underlying problem. You might say: “What problems do you foresee if I were overqualified?”
  • Consider saying: “When you say that I’m overqualified, does that mean you are concerned about what you might have to pay me? I would be happy to discuss compensation with you. What did you think is reasonable?” [Read “Answering the Dreaded Salary Question” for more strategies on handling this issue.]
  • Finally, as an interview closer, consider saying something like: “I understand your concerns as far as you thinking I’m ‘overqualified.’ However, I am confident that you will find me a valuable asset in this position. In addition, should you want to promote internal talent in the future, I’ll have proven myself and have the years of experience to assume more responsibilities successfully. My sole objective is to prove myself over time.”

September 20, 2010 at 12:01 am 11 comments

Face-to-Face Interviews: Secrets, Tricks and Tips

[This article was updated in March 2016]

For job-seekers in today’s challenging job market, getting in front of an actual live person to interview for a job with a company is a major goal – second only to receiving and accepting an actual job offer! It seems like more and more these days, companies who are interested in a candidate begin their screening process with a phone interview – usually conducted by an internal company recruiter or an HR person. I’ve already posted a separate blog about phone interviews [“Phone Interviews: Secrets, Tricks and Tips.”] For those candidates lucky enough to pass through the phone interview and graduate to a face-to-face interview … this blog is for you!

After coaching and prepping hundreds of candidates for face-to-face interviews over the years, here are some tips, tricks and secrets that I’ve learned that may help. Now I admit that some of this information is identical to my phone interview prep … so, you’ll excuse me if I plagiarize from myself and repeat certain sections from that earlier blog. There are, of course, several very different key aspects to preparing for an in-person interview that are included here.

Research the industry, the company and the players.
Find out everything you can about the place, their business, their products, their position in their industry, their reputation, their competition, their financial stability and the key decision-makers who work there. Study the company’s website, take notes and jot down questions related to their business that you can ask at the end of your interview. Google Search the company and see what else you can find out about them beyond their own website. Look up the company on 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.) Read and study the company’s information there in detail. You certainly want to sound like you’ve done your homework, and that you are informed about them when asked the inevitable question: “How much do you know about our company?”

Research your interviewer.
Find out everything you can about the person that will be interviewing you. Try to find a bio on the company’s website. See if there is a bio of your interviewer in the personnel listed on the professional business databases mentioned above. Do a Google Search on their name and see what comes up. Look their name up on LinkedIn and check out their profile there. Figure out if you share any of their 1st degree LinkedIn connections, and if so, reach out to those people and ask if they can give you any insights. Also look them up on Facebook, Twitter and any other Social Media sites you can find to see if they have any public profiles.  Take note of things like prior places they’ve worked, where they went to school, hobbies and interests, etc.  The more you can learn about your interviewer, the better prepared you’ll be to connect on a personal level. Think of ways to use this information as part of the “Nuggets” technique listed below.   (And by the way … your interviewer might be doing those same exact Social Media searches on you — so don’t be surprised if they mention things they’ve learned about you from those same sources!)  Just be careful during the interview to not to let the conversation drift too far away from professional topics and into either offering up too much personal information or discussing potentially controversial subjects.  For example: politics, religion, sexual orientation … those might be great topics for a first date — but not a job interview!

Study the job description and prepare stories.
Carefully think through each element of the job description (assuming you have one) for the position you are interviewing for beforehand and prepare concrete examples of when, where and how you have done all the specific things described in that job description. Telling stories is a very powerful interview technique. Prepare brief stories about your past accomplishments and experiences that illustrate how you provided value to your past employers … and by inference, how you would bring similar value to a new company. Be ready to tell your stories and demonstrate with details how you fit each and every requirement they listed. Try to work those stories into your conversation in a natural way during your interview.

Print out and bring a few copies of your résumé with you.
Most likely, your interviewer will already have a copy in front of them … but sometimes they don’t. If not, it’s always helpful to ask if they’d like to have a copy to refer to – which you just happen to have ready to hand them. You might also be introduced to other people who will want to interview you, and who may not be prepared with a copy of your résumé. It’s best to have them handy.

Dress for Success.
I would advise everyone to dress up for every interview (jacket & tie or a suit for men, conservative business suit for women, no flashy jewelry … and absolutely NO perfume or cologne!) Pay attention to grooming and personal hygiene (hair, nails, breath, etc.) Unless your interviewer specifically instructs you to dress casually for an interview — meaning THEY brought it up in advance … not that you asked if it would be OK — dressing up is the accepted rule of thumb. Sure, lots of places are “Business Casual” these days. I’ve seen interviewers dressed in jeans. However, don’t ever assume that means YOU can dress down for an interview. I’ve had more than one casually dressed decision-maker tell me that they thought a candidate showed a lack of respect by not dressing up for their interview. The bottom line is that dressing up cannot possibly hurt you!

Be on time – not too early, and NEVER late!
Make sure you know exactly where you are going. Verify the exact address and location that you are to meet your interviewer. Use Google Maps to plan your route. If you have one, use a GPS in your car to avoid getting lost. Do a practice driving run if you are unsure of the location. NEVER be late! But, also do not show up more than 5-10 minutes early. (That is disrespectful to the interviewer, and actually shows desperation.) If you do arrive too early, sit in your car and re-read the job description and gather your thoughts. Don’t go in until it’s close to your appointment time. On the other hand, if you do find yourself running late due to unexpected circumstances (severe weather, traffic problems, etc.) make sure you have a phone number with you that you can call to alert your interviewer about your delay. Nothing is worse than showing up late without having called. And then remember to silence your cell phone before you walk in the door!

Have a Firm Handshake.
It may sound obvious, but how you shake hands says volumes about your personality. Practice on someone you trust if needed. You want it to be firm, but not so tight that it feels like you are trying to break bones! 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. This may sound overly picky, but you’d be surprised how much your handshake contributes to that all-important first impression.

Smile!
Remember to speak clearly, and try to convey enthusiasm and energy through your tone of voice. Smiling helps (really, it does!) Smile as much as possible during the conversation. Try it … you’ll notice that you actually sound very different when you talk through a smile.

Make Eye Contact.
Throughout the interview, make sure you make eye contact with your interviewer. It’s OK if you have to refer to notes, or read something … but be conscious of where your eyes are focusing, and meet your interviewers eyes as much as possible (without going overboard by staring!)

Pay attention to your posture.
Sit up straight in your chair. Do not slouch or lean back. From time to time, a good trick is to lean forward towards the interviewer. When speaking, leaning forward transmits the message that you want to emphasize your point. When listening, leaning forward transmits the message that you are fully engaged in active listening. Also, don’t chew gum!

Mirroring the vocal cadence and body language of the interviewer.
A trick often used by sales people is to listen to the speed and tone of the interviewer’s voice, and try to match it with your own. I don’t mean imitate the person’s voice or accent … but simply talk slower or faster to match the way the other person sounds, and mirror their general tone and level. Mirroring the general body language of your interviewer (which way they’re leaning, crossing their legs, tilting their head, and other broad gestures) has the same effect. Doing this subconsciously makes the other person feel more comfortable with you, and helps you form a connection with them.

Use the “Nuggets” technique to establish rapport.
“Nuggets” are all those little things that you can pick out about a person or a company that you can make a positive comment about, compliment a person on, and use to connect on a personal level with the person you are talking with. When done correctly, using “Nuggets” in an interview can increase your chances of success and cast you in a more favorable light. Everyone loves to hear compliments … and it’s simply human nature for someone to be attracted to someone else who says complimentary things about them, and who seems impressed with them. [For more on this powerful interview technique, read: “Nuggets: A Secret Interviewing Technique.”]

Projecting a Positive Attitude is a critical key.
Concentrate on projecting positive energy and enthusiasm. Try to express passion for your work, a sense of humor, and a genuine aura of optimism. Those are the qualities that make a person attractive to others. It’s nearly impossible to fake those qualities, and frankly it’s one of the main reasons people get hired. Being able to convey a positive attitude is critical. [For more on this, read: “The Power of a Positive Attitude.”]

Questions, Questions, Questions.
There are literally hundreds of different questions that interviewers might ask, depending on the position of the interviewer, and their interview style. I do not intend to list specific questions and how to answer them here. A simple Google Search on “Interview Questions” will take you to dozens of great websites that go into great detail on that topic. I will say that the most common thing you’ll hear from almost every interviewer near the beginning of your meeting is some variation of: “Tell me about yourself.”  Answering that is pretty basic, and also fairly critical. Don’t ask “where should I begin” – a sure sign of someone who needs to be spoon-fed instructions instead of thinking on their feet … definitely not the message you want to give! Also, don’t give an autobiography of your entire life starting with where you were born, where you went to school, what your hobbies and interests are, etc. – all personal items to be filed under the category of “too much information.” Keep your answer focused on your professional profile as it relates to this job and this company. Be prepared to give an expanded version of your “Elevator Pitch” in which you give an overview of your most recent and most relevant career experiences, and your professional goals. Try, if possible, to reference elements in their job description, and how your skills and experiences match it. Remember to use your prepared stories if you can. However, don’t let this answer go on too long … keep it well under 5 minutes. It’s OK to ask when you are done: “Would you like me to go into greater detail on anything in particular?”

Be a good listener, and never interrupt.
Any good interview is a 2-way exchange of information. Let the interviewer talk and lead the discussion without interrupting. Listen carefully, and then give thoughtful answers. Answer questions directly and completely, but try not to go off on tangents or “over-talk” your answers. It’s better to give a brief answer, and then ask “is that what you wanted, or should I give you more details?”  Candidates often get nervous and talk too much during interviews, trying way too hard to “sell themselves.” While talking, pay attention to the body language of your interviewer and watch for signs of boredom – fidgeting, looking at their watch, etc. – and cut yourself off if you see them. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve debriefed interviewers who complained about candidates who talked on and on and on during interviews, without letting the interviewer get a word in edgewise! Sometimes it’s better to simply shut up and listen!!!

Don’t bring up salary or benefits … but be prepared to answer the Dreaded Salary Question directly if asked.
Never be the one to bring it up … but if asked point blank what you made at your last job, or what your salary expectations are going forward – don’t play games or avoid answering. You need to prepare direct and truthful responses to those questions. If this topic came up in a prior phone interview, make sure your answers are consistent with what you said before. It’s best to be honest about your history, and to give a range for your expectations (rather than a specific number.) Your history is what it is – you can’t change it, and delaying telling them serves no purpose. And your expectations should not be a moving target … you should know what you need as a minimum, and what range makes sense based on your history. Now it is true that if the range you give does not overlap with the range that they have budgeted for the job you are pursuing, they will very likely eliminate you from consideration. On the other hand, if you dance around this issue and/or refuse to give a straight answer, then that is just as likely to raise a red flag that will eliminate you here. There are simply too many qualified applicants for every open job for most companies to want to deal with someone who can’t give a straightforward answer on this. The bottom line is that if your salary expectations do not match what they can pay, then it’s a waste of both your and their time to continue pursuing this position. They’ll find out eventually, so it’s better to know sooner rather than later. [For more details on this topic, read: “Answering the Dreaded Salary Question.”]

Prepare a list of questions you can ask.
Almost every interviewer asks near the end of an interview: “Do you have any questions?”  Candidates are often judged by the quality of the questions they ask … and candidates who have no questions at all might be perceived as having no interest in the position. Some suggested ideas for general questions are: “How long have you been with the company, and what do you like about it?” “How would you describe the company culture here?” “What characteristics have made your best employees successful here?”  You might also want to think of more specific questions about the company or their products, based your research. [For more on this, read: “’So, Do You Have Any Questions?’ Nailing the Interview Closer.”]

At the end of the interview, clarify the next steps.
If you are interested in this job, make sure to say so! (“I just want to let you know that I am very interested in this opportunity, and hope we can move forward. What is the next step?”) 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!

March 9, 2010 at 6:51 am 27 comments

Phone Interviews: Secrets, Tricks and Tips

In today’s tight job market, scoring an actual interview with a company is often looked upon as the Holy Grail for job-seekers. It seems like more and more these days, companies who are interested in a candidate begin their screening process with a phone interview – usually conducted by an internal company recruiter or an HR person. The purpose for the phone interview is obvious – they want to determine if you are worth their decision-maker’s time and effort to bring you in for a face-to-face interview. They would rather not commit to that step until they pre-screen you on the phone first. The unfortunate truth is that they want to see if they can eliminate you! [If you are lucky enough to have already passed through the phone interview and graduated to a face-to-face interview … read “Face-to-Face Interviews: Secrets, Tips and Tricks.”]

Don’t make the all-too-common mistake of treating a phone interview any less seriously than a formal in-person interview. It’s just as important, since it’s a necessary step towards the ultimate goals of getting in front of a decision-maker, receiving an offer and accepting a job. Your immediate task should be very clear: you want to advance to the next step in their process and not be eliminated! Phone interviews can be very tricky. Obviously you don’t have the benefit of seeing the person you are talking with (no eye contact, body language, etc.) All you have is your voice. After coaching and prepping hundreds of candidates for phone interviews over the years, here are some secrets, tricks and tips that I’ve learned that may help:

Try to set an appointment rather than taking a spontaneous call.
It happens so often – the phone rings unexpectedly, and wham … your suddenly in the middle of an unplanned phone interview! Don’t get caught off guard. Simply say: “You’ve caught me at an inconvenient time, and this sounds too important to rush. Can we schedule a different time that’s good for both of us when we can talk?”  You really need to prepare for a phone interview. Winging it is usually a bad idea. Set a time and date, and clarify who is to call whom.

Research the industry, the company and the players.
This would apply to any interview – phone or in-person. Find out everything you can about the place, their business, their products, their position in their industry, their reputation, their competition, their financial stability and the key decision-makers who work there. You certainly want to sound like you’ve done your homework, and that you are informed about them when asked the inevitable question: “How much do you know about our company?”

Go to a quiet place, and use a land line (not a cell phone) if possible.
Try to arrange to take the phone interview call in a private place, with no noises or distractions. Land lines generally sound better than cell phones, and are therefore preferable. If you must use a cell phone, make sure you are in a location with good service. The last thing you need here is a dropped call! If you are at home, or someplace where there are others around – tell everyone that you need quiet and privacy for a phone interview to avoid interruptions. Nothing sounds more unprofessional than a crying baby, screaming kids or a barking dog in the background!

Have a copy of the Job Description in front of you.
Print it out, lay it on the table and refer to it during your conversation. (If you don’t have one, ask the person who set up the phone interview to email a copy to you in advance.) Think it through before you get on the phone, and prepare concrete examples of when, where and how you have done all the specific things described in that job description. Be ready to tell your stories and demonstrate with details how you fit each and every requirement they listed.

Have a copy of your résumé in front of you.
Print it out, and lay it on the table in front of you. Refer to it when asked about your work history, your qualifications, and your accomplishments. No doubt, the interviewer will also have a copy in front of them … so it’s best to see what they are seeing as they ask their questions.

The Mirror Trick: It’s all about the sound of your voice – Smile!
Since all you have is your voice here – you need to remember to speak clearly, and try to convey enthusiasm and energy through your tone of voice. Smiling helps (really, it does!) An old trick used by inside sales people is to set up a mirror in front of yourself, and look at your face as you talk. Smile as much as possible during the conversation. Try it … you’ll notice that you actually sound very different when you talk through a smile. It does subtly come through on the other end.

Match the vocal cadence of the interviewer.
Another sales trick is to listen to the speed and tone of the interviewer’s voice, and try to match it with your own. I don’t mean imitate the person’s voice or accent … but simply talk slower or faster to match the way the other person sounds, and mirror their general tone and level. Doing this subconsciously makes the other person feel more comfortable with you, and helps you form a connection with them. (By the way … this trick also works when leaving voice-mail messages!)

Projecting a Positive Attitude is a critical key.
Again, it’s all in your voice. Concentrate on projecting positive energy and enthusiasm. Try to express passion for your work, a sense of humor, and a genuine aura of optimism. Those are the qualities that make a person attractive to others. It’s nearly impossible to fake those qualities, and frankly it’s one of the main reasons people get hired. Being able to convey a positive attitude over the phone is critical. [For more on this, read: “The Power of a Positive Attitude.”]

Use the “Nuggets” technique to establish rapport.
“Nuggets” are all those little things that you can pick out about a person or a company that you can make a positive comment about, compliment a person on, and use to connect on a personal level with the person you are talking with. When done correctly, using “Nuggets” in a phone interview can increase your chances of success and cast you in a more favorable light. Everyone loves to hear compliments … and it’s simply human nature for someone to be attracted to someone else who says complimentary things about them, and who seems impressed with them. [For more on this powerful interview technique, read: “Nuggets: A Secret Interviewing Technique.”]

Be a good listener, and never interrupt.
Any good interview is a 2-way exchange of information. Let the interviewer talk and lead the discussion without interrupting. Listen carefully, and then give thoughtful answers. Answer questions directly and completely, but try not to go off on tangents or “over-talk” your answers. It’s better to give a brief answer, and then ask “is that what you wanted, or should I give you more details?”  Candidates often get nervous and talk too much during interviews, trying way too hard to “sell themselves.” This is especially true during phone interviews where you don’t have any visual clues to tell you if the other person seems bored or restless. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve debriefed interviewers who complained about candidates who talked on and on and on during interviews, without letting the interviewer get a word in edgewise! Sometimes it’s better to simply shut up and listen!!!

Don’t bring up salary or benefits … but be prepared to answer the Dreaded Salary Question directly if asked.
Never be the one to bring it up … but if asked point blank what you made at your last job, or what your salary expectations are going forward – don’t play games or avoid answering. You need to prepare direct and truthful responses to those questions. It’s best to be honest about your history, and to give a range for your expectations (rather than a specific number.) Your history is what it is – you can’t change it, and delaying telling them serves no purpose. And your expectations should not be a moving target … you should know what you need as a minimum, and what range makes sense based on your history. Now it is true that if the range you give does not overlap with the range that they have budgeted for the job you are pursuing, they will very likely eliminate you at this stage. On the other hand, if you dance around this issue and/or refuse to give a straight answer, then that is just as likely to raise a red flag that will eliminate you here. There are simply too many qualified applicants for every open job for most HR people to want to deal with someone who can’t give a straightforward answer on this. The bottom line is that if your salary expectations do not match what they can pay, then it’s a waste of both your and their time to bring you in for face-to-face interviews. In fact, that’s one of the reasons companies start with phone interviews. They’ll find out eventually, so it’s better to know sooner rather than later. [For more details on this topic, read: “Answering the Dreaded Salary Question.”]

Prepare a list of questions you can ask.
Almost every interviewer asks near the end of an interview: “Do you have any questions?”  Candidates are often judged by the quality of the questions they ask … and candidates who have no questions at all might be perceived as having no interest in the position. Some suggested ideas for general questions are: “How long have you been with the company, and what do you like about it?” “How would you describe the company culture here?” “What characteristics have made your best employees successful here?”  You might also want to think of more specific questions about the company or their products, based your research. [For more on this, read: “’So, Do You Have Any Questions?’ Nailing the Interview Closer.”]

At the end of the interview, clarify the next steps.
If you are interested in this job, make sure to say so! (“I just want to let you know that I am very interested in this opportunity, and hope we can move forward. What is the next step?”) Don’t hang up the phone 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 the email address and phone number of the person you spoke with, and send them a thank-you email that same day. 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!

February 1, 2010 at 6:11 am 35 comments

Answering the Dreaded Salary Question

“How much did you make at your last job, and what are you looking for now?” It’s a question that comes up sooner or later in nearly every job application and/or interview process, and one that can cause panic and confusion in many job-seekers’ minds. How should you answer such direct questions? Should you just reveal your actual salary history, or should you try ignoring that part of the question, leaving it blank on an application, or putting $1.00 in that space? Should you say a number that you are looking for and pray that you haven’t either guessed too high (pricing yourself out of the opportunity) or too low (leaving money on the table.) Or, should you try to dodge that part of the question also, saying things like: ““I need to know more about the position before I can answer that question …” “I’m more interested in the job responsibilities, and not worried so much about numbers at this point …” “Well, it depends on the total package …”

I recently attended a meeting of a large, well-known job-seekers group. The topic was how to answer that dreaded Salary Question. The advice given by the group’s leader focused on a philosophy that has been heard for years. Basically, he told the group to try to not answer the salary question at all, using any of several tactics (like the examples described above) designed to avoid revealing your prior salary or stating exactly what salary you are looking for. He framed it as an adversarial negotiating game, much like Poker, and actually said: “The first person who says a number loses.” While that philosophy may have value (many people have used it very successfully over the years) I feel it is rather “old school.” Times have changed, and in today’s candidate-flooded market, new approaches need to be considered.

At a recent HR Panel Discussion at that same job-seekers group, the panel – consisting of HR professionals from three Fortune 500 Companies – was asked how they reacted when encountering candidates who avoided the salary question, or simply refused to reveal their salary history and/or articulate their salary needs. The answer was unanimous: they all said: “next candidate!”  In other words, if a candidate didn’t answer the salary question directly, they would immediately be eliminated from consideration at those companies. There were simply too many qualified applicants for every opening for them to want to deal with someone who couldn’t give them that basic information. Now, is that true of every company? Probably not … I would imagine that smaller companies would be less likely to react so quickly and harshly. If you are dealing directly with a smaller company’s owner or hiring manager, you might find a more forgiving attitude. But certainly this is a huge cause for concern among job-seekers.

THE ALTERNATIVE:

1) Working with 3rd Party Recruiters:
3rd Party Recruiters represent the needs of the client companies who pay their fees … but they also represent their candidates and their needs. If there is a large disconnect between a person’s prior salary history and the range a company has defined for a particular job, it is usually a waste of everyone’s time to pursue that match. Sure, there are exceptions to this – for example, relocation to a place with a very different cost of living. However, I almost always ask every candidate I work with exactly what they made at their previous jobs, and what they need to “make a move” (if they are currently working) or what they are looking for going forward if they are not currently working. If a potential candidate dodges that salary history question or flat out refuses to reveal what their actual income was at their previous jobs, I would simply explain that I can not represent them and move on. Matching candidates to job opportunities is a very complex process — sometimes more of an art than a science. However, certain nuts and bolts information about a candidate (specific skills, years of experience, and yes, salary history) are critical to know at the beginning of that matching process. If someone doesn’t trust their recruiter with such basic information, there would be no basis for a working relationship. [Read “The Real Truth About Working with Recruiters” for more on how to best use recruiters.]

2) Working with HR Professionals or Company Recruiters:
If directly asked what your prior salary history was by a company representative – I say answer the question! Don’t ever lie or exaggerate. (The truth will always come back to bite you!) If the question is part of an online application, you sometimes have the choice of leaving those fields blank (or putting “$1.00,” saying “Negotiable,”  etc.) That might work sometimes … but may also be a reason for whoever reviews your application to simply pass on you without ever telling you why. I know … you don’t want your history to “pigeon-hole” you into a low number that is below what you want or need. But there is a risk associated with either way of dealing with it. The bottom line is the same as the answer to #1 above: If there is a large disconnect between a person’s prior salary history and the range a company has defined for a particular job, it is usually a waste of everyone’s time to pursue that match. Sooner or later, you’ll have to reveal your salary history – it’s inevitable. If that information ends up being perceived as a red flag for the company, they’ll want to know up front … not after spending a lot of time with you on phone or inviting you in for face-to-face interviews.

3) “What salary are you looking for?”
This is probably the toughest question to deal with. Again, I say answer the question! However, give a range – a span anywhere between a $5 and 15K spread is typical – rather than a specific number. It always helps if you know the range that the company has defined for the job you are applying to. Whenever possible, try to get that information beforehand. Barring that, use your common sense, do some research, and try to guess the range based on industry knowledge. The bottom line is: you should know in your mind what number is at the bottom of your acceptable range – the number below which you wouldn’t even consider accepting a job. It’s what you need to pay your bills. The bottom of your stated range should never be below that number. It could be a bit higher, but should also jive with your salary history. (If you are currently working, that low number would logically be slightly higher than your current salary — but not so much higher that you seem greedy. Most potential new employers would expect you to prove yourself before they’ll just hand you a “raise” from day one!) Don’t assume that the lower number you give is the one they’ll focus on and offer you. Most companies will want to pay people somewhere in the middle of both your and their range, and won’t simply low-ball you if they truly want you. If your “middle” and their “middle” overlap, then you’ve hit their sweet spot!

Another strategy that works well when asked “What salary are you looking for?” is to turn the question around and say: “I’d be happy to answer that question … but before I do, can you give me an idea of the salary range that you have budgeted for this position?” Then just wait for an answer! If they won’t reveal that information first, then simply give your range and then immediately ask: “Does that range match what you had in mind for this position?” You will most likely get a good idea right then and there if you’ve hit that “sweet spot” or not.

Most companies also balk at hiring people at a salary that is significantly higher than their prior salary history suggests. I’m sure there will be heated disagreements on this one, and I’m also sure there are stories out there from people who have made huge jumps in salary that will seem to disprove this – but those are rare exceptions. This is the way most companies (especially the larger ones) behave – like it or not. Based on my many years of experience, and discussions I’ve had with many knowledgeable colleagues in both staffing and HR, I can state with great certainty that in a candidate-flooded market like the one we are in today, big jumps UP in salary are rare. Lateral moves or jumps DOWN are actually more common – but not so far down that you would be thought of as selling yourself short and be a risk for bolting to a better job when the economy picks up.

So, to summarize: I say do not avoid the salary questions. Answer them directly and with as much confidence as you can. You can’t escape from or expect to hide your own salary history. HR people and recruiters will have much more respect for you, and be more willing to engage with you, if you are simply honest with them. Just be prepared to discuss it intelligently, and armed with the best company and industry information you can. If there are extenuating circumstances that explain either why you’ve been underpaid in the past and now desire more, or conversely why you are now willing to take a cut in pay, be prepared to articulate those issues as well.

October 7, 2009 at 8:15 pm 23 comments


Michael Spiro

About the Author:

Michael Spiro has been a 3rd-Party Recruiter and Account Executive for nearly 20 years. He is currently the Director of Recruiting / NE Ohio Region for Experis Finance, a dedicated business unit of ManpowerGroup. Other recent positions include President of Midas Recruiting, a boutique head-hunting firm, Director of Talent at Patina Solutions, and Executive Recruiting positions with two of the largest search firms in North America. Before his career in the staffing industry, Michael was a manager in a large non-profit social-services organization. And in a former life, Michael was active in the entertainment industry, with extensive road-warrior experience as a touring performer (singer-songwriter / guitarist / comedian) and as a recording artist, producer and booking agent.  [More...]

Index (by Topic):

Résumés & Cover Letters:
 The "T" Cover Letter - The
         Only Type Worth Sending

 The Brutal Truth on How
         Résumés Get Eliminated

 Explaining Short Job Stints
         and Employment Gaps

 The Résumé Test &
         Checklist: Does Yours
         Pass?

 Beating the Résumé-
         Elimination Game: Where
         Do Recruiters' Eyes Go?

 The Truth About Lying on
         Résumés

 "Why Did You Leave Your
         Last Job?"

Networking:
 How to Network: A
         Step-by-Step Guide for
         Job Searching

 Looking for Networking in
         All the Wrong Places

 Targeted Networking: How
         to Effectively Reach Out

 The Art of Giving: the Key to
         Effective Networking

Interviewing:
 Face-to-Face Interviews:
         Secrets, Tricks and Tips

 Phone 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"

Age Discrimination:
 Age Discrimination: Secret
         Conversations Revealed

 Age Discrimination:
         Exposing Inconvenient
         Truths

 Are You "Overqualified?"
         Handling the Age Issue

 Baby Boomers to the
         Rescue! An Idea Whose
         Time Has Come ...

 Overcoming Job-Search
         Obstacles and
         Redefining Your Career
         After 50

 Advice for Recent Grads
         and Career-Changers

Switching Jobs:
 The Proper Way to
         Quit a Job

 Counteroffers: Just Say No!

General Job-Seeking Info:
 The Real Truth About
         Working with Recruiters

 Contract/Consulting Jobs
         Explained ... Available in
         3 Different Flavors

►  What Recruiters Say
         vs. What Job-Seekers
         Hear

►  The Dirty Truth About
         Misleading Unemployment
         Statistics

►  Let the Jobs Find You:
         Making Yourself More
         "Searchable"

 "Help ... I Need a Job!" A
         9-Step Guide for Newly
         Minted Job-Seekers

 Avoiding the "Black Hole
         of HR"

 Is Your Elevator Pitch
         Taking You UP
         or DOWN?

 Time Management: Recipe          for a Well-Balanced Job          Search
 Getting Un-Stuck from your
         Rut!

 The Double-Whammy of
         Rejection and Isolation

 "Unemployed Need Not
         Apply" - Working Around
         This Scary Message

 Using Social Media to
         Enhance Job-Searching

 Warning: That Rant You
         Posted Just Went Viral!

 The Golden Rule for
         Business: Never Burn
         Bridges

 The Power of a Positive
         Attitude

 Why Job Hunting is a
         Consultative Sales
         Position

 Top 10 Most Helpful Things
         for Job Seekers

 Top 10 Most Annoying
         Things for Job Seekers

 New Year's Resolutions for
         Unemployed Job-
         Seekers

Job-Seeking Humor:
 Comic Relief: Volume 1
 Comic Relief: Volume 2
 Comic Relief: Volume 3
 Comic Relief: Volume 4
 Comic Relief: Volume 5
 Comic Relief: Volume 6
 "In Transition" and Other
         Awkward Euphemisms

 Candidates Gone Wild:
         Recruiter Horror Stories

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