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How to Win the Interview Game

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Interviews are terrifying. Job candidates are known to sweat profusely, become tongue-tied, give wrong answer and blow the entire interview. Some have even tried reading the interviewer’s mind to come up with what they think the interviewer wants to hear instead of than focusing on the value they could offer. These peculiarities are not limited to entry-level candidates but run across the continuum to management and executive level candidates.

It’s natural to be nervous and experience some or all of the above symptoms, but there are better ways to prepare for interviews, lessen your stress and win the interview game. It IS really possible to unravel the mystery in each question, develop answers that showcase your accomplishments, and convince the interviewer you are the perfect person for the job. It starts with knowing that the interviewer really wants you to convince her that you will be able to do the job; you will be productive and help them make money, and you will fit in with the team. All of this takes a bit of work!

Below are seven questions that are regularly asked at interviews. They are followed by a short explanation of what the interviewer is looking for. They are designed to help you understand what the interviewer is looking for and develop your stories. While they are geared to managers, mid-career professionals and executives, anyone who wants to win the interview game should take note:

QUESTION: “Tell me about a time when you accomplished something significant that wouldn’t have happened if you hadn’t been there to make it happen.”

Another question related question could be: “Tell me a time when you were not a formal leader but became a leader.

WHAT THE INTERVIEWER IS LOOKING FOR: In both instances, they are looking for leadership competency. Are you an effective leader? Are you willing to assume a leadership role even if your job description doesn’t identify you as a leader?

QUESTION: Tell me about a time when, despite your best effort, you failed to meet a deadline. What factors caused you to miss the deadline? What was the outcome? What did you learn from it?

WHAT THE INTERVIEWER IS LOOKING FOR: Are you competent at  goal-setting, project management or organizing and planning. Do you understand how to keep track of a project in relation to its deadline? Do you demonstrate above average organizational skills? Are you a procrastinator? Are you quick to blame others, or do you take personal responsibility for failures?

QUESTION: Tell me two characteristics of your personality you have to improve, and how you will do it?

WHAT THE INTERVIEWER IS LOOKING FOR: This question is to find out if you are aware of your shortcomings (weaknesses). If so, what steps have you taken to work on them. They also want to determine if you are self-motivated, and can initiate your own developmental plans.

QUESTION: Imagine I am your manager and I offer you the position. At the end of one year, what will I be writing in your performance review?

WHAT THE INTERVIEWER IS LOOKING FOR: They want to know if you understand the importance of defining and setting specific goals and objectives; if you set realistic goals, and if you attain them. Give the interviewer two or three short-term goals you would have set for your first year on the job, then describe the results after the year.

QUESTION: Why should I consider you a strong candidate for this position? What have been your most significant achievements in your previous role?

WHAT THE INTERVIEWER IS LOOKING FOR: Have you reviewed the job posting thoroughly? Do understand the duties and responsibilities of the job? Do you have the specific skills and the right experience they are looking?

QUESTION: What if I should contact your supervisor to enquire about your technical competence in your previous position? What would he or she list as your strengths? What weaknesses would they mention?

WHAT THE INTERVIEWER IS LOOKING FOR: They are looking for evidence that you are highly competent; that you are a contributor who work hard; that you demonstrate excellent interpersonal skills when working with others. They want to make sure you have the right skills and temperament for the job.

QUESTION: What do you know about the position we are trying to fill? What are your strengths for this job? Is there any reason why you cannot perform the essential functions of this job?

WHAT THE INTERVIEWER IS LOOKING FOR: If you put a lot of effort into researching the company, if you understand the job requirements, and if your skills match their needs. You need to understand what they do, then demonstrate how you would fit in. Avoid mentioning any weaknesses related to doing the job.

You can win the interview game when you understand what the interviewer really wants. To do this, you need to analyze the job posting line by line to make sure your skills, abilities and background are aligned with the requirements. Your next step is to develop accomplishment stories that relate directly to these requirements. Know yourself and your success stories well enough so they are easy to articulate. Refrain from giving rehearsed, robotic answers as they are easy to spot. Recall instances where you helped the company make or save money.

When it comes to discussing your weaknesses, tread carefully, but don’t be afraid to be vulnerable. After all, you are human. Discuss a weakness that shows the imperfect human being we all are, but nothing that could exclude you from being offered the job. Are you impatient? That’s a fair human condition, but explain what you are doing about it.

Finally, this is not the time to be shy. If you really have accomplishments, talk about them with confidence. They are your stories.

Related article in the Toronto Sun on How to Read the Interviewer’s Mind:  How Shall I Answer That?

Want to win the interview game? Ask me how.

Why I Love My Job

There were times when I didn’t love my job, mostly because I felt stifled as promotions were few and far between, and I knew I had so much more to offer. One day I took a leap of faith and landed into teaching and resume writing, then career coaching.

Most of my clients these days come from referrals. This not only makes it easy on my marketing, but it’s third-party validation of the work that I do.

A couple of months ago, I received an enquiry email from an HR Manager who was looking for a resume suitable for a Board appointment; a LinkedIn Profile and another resume in readiness for another opportunity, notwithstanding she had just been promoted a month earlier. In the email, she mentioned she was referred by a one of my clients. While I always aim to autograph my work with excellence, when it’s a referral, I double down, literally.

We met in my office and she explained what her needs were. I reviewed the documents she brought then asked for additional information including past performance appraisals. Within four weeks she had received her career marketing documents and was on her way.

After several weeks I followed up with her, as is customary. While listening to her feedback I asked if she could put some of what she was saying (about working with me) in writing. This is what she wrote. Am blushing even though you wouldn’t notice:

“I too am thankful to Gladys for connecting us.  She told me you were amazing and extremely helpful but I don’t think I realized at the time just how much of a return on investment would come my way when I first reached out to you.

In working with you, I found that the process of resume development should be pursued with thoughtfulness and consideration.  Taking the time to focus in on the accomplishments of my past and quantifying my value in each role has been one of the greatest practical skills I have learned from you.  One of the first things I did at work was to quantify the mediation work I performed into legal/arbitrations savings for my Director.  She was wowed by that information and immediately wanted to show it to her boss.

I was extremely impressed with the extra efforts you took to assist me with my moderator assignment – helping me craft a biography and even building on my speaker’s notes.  The rave reviews I received for that initiative was definitely attributable to your encouragement, support and assistance.  You’re coaching skills are outstanding.  Ever since you recommended ways to build upon my personal brand, I have been journaling my work accomplishments and projects every week so that I have something to look back upon for ease of application and retrieval.  

Daisy, you’re a consummate professional.  You’re passionate about your work and ensuring that your client puts their best foot forward.  You helped me identify and promote myself through an eye catching marketable resume and cover letter.  I even marveled at my accomplishments after reading your work.

I hope that we can continue to work with each other in the future.  You will be the first person I call for coaching and interviewing tips when the time comes.  It’s been an absolute pleasure working with you. Thank you very much for all that you’ve done to help me in this next phase of my career.”

The other client was a star employee for a couple of well-known technology brands. She was not a referral but found me through Google. As an entrepreneur for more than 10 years, she has reached the stage where she wants to do work that she enjoys rather than “chasing the money”. We spent many hours strategizing on what skills to highlight, and what to say if she’s asked why she’s targeting lower-level jobs – yes, lower-level, but interesting positions. I get hot behind my ears when I have to ask for a testimonial, but when I listen to what some people say about my services, I sometimes sheepishly ask them if they mind putting it in writing. Here’s what this client wrote:

“Daisy is a powerhouse of knowledge and compassion.  She has helped me to reposition myself and my resume so that it reflects more of who I truly am. Through working with her I can now approach prospective employers with greater confidence and ease.  It is such a pleasure to not only work with Daisy but to experience her knowledge, care and support that goes well above and beyond!”

While writing this post, I received an email from another client. He hasn’t announced his new position publicly as yet, but his note reads:

“Before I publicly announce it via LinkedIn I wanted to let you know I’ve accepted a role at (Big Name Company) as a Director in Technical Sales.  I am making a huge leap forward financially and in terms of responsibility.  Thank you for helping me to understand my unique value proposition.  I’d love to write you up an official recommendation if you like.”

It’s a given that not everyone who contacts me will be a good fit. I have had to turn away clients and some have had to turn me away, but in all cases it has worked out well for me, and I hope for them. I have learned in the process to narrow my niche to individuals in mid to senior-level management, and those on the cusp of management – who recognize that it takes time to understand who they are, what their goals are, and develop career marketing documents that focus on those goals. They understand that price plays a role, but value is more important than price. They are also willing to accept my advice, believe in themselves, and stretch beyond what they thought possible.

Having said that, am I giving up on other potential clients because they don’t fit the above profile? No, because many of my clients are not in that niche but we have built such a relationship that we’re stuck with each other. Others I have volunteered to work with on a pro bono basis after assessing their needs, and am equally happy to continue helping them.

These are the reasons I love my job, and I am grateful to work with the calibre of clients that I have.

Robo Reference Checking is a Reality

From time to time we hear of robo calls when politicians send out mass messages to their constituents to get their attention, but these activities are not limited to politics. Don’t be surprised if one day you find yourself having to make a robo call to a robo cop to check if robo reference checking is legal. Well, am injecting a bit of humour here, but automatic reference checking is a reality, and might just be coming to a job search near you.

Automatic reference checking tools allow companies to obtain more and better feedback from references. One such tool is Pre-Hire 360, which according to a white paper from the developer, SkillsSurvey Inc., it “moves beyond unimaginative, close-ended questions that many candidates have prepared for, and it moves beyond simplistic verification (yes/no) of prior employment”.

How does it work? A job seeker’s references are asked to complete an online survey rating the person’s skills, anonymously. This survey consists of 25 questions. It takes approximately 10 minutes and can be done at any time. Once all references have responded, the tool aggregates their ratings into a report.

The tool delves into the candidate’s strengths and weaknesses as identified by their managers and co-workers and accelerates one’s ability to uncover the true nature of a candidate’s performance at work. It operates on the premise that “candidates are likely to embellish their past accomplishments, and are not likely to tell you about situations at work that did not turn out so well for them.”

At surface level, this sounds like a great idea. It would work quite well for references who are at a distance and easier to reach by email. And, as some users have indicated, it gets a 360-degree view of candidates from their peers and customers and strengthens a company’s talent pool; it increases the calibre of hires, and offers less staff turnover. However, when some users make statements like “…references tend to be brutally frank about their colleagues …and they don’t have to worry about information getting back to the candidate” or “Sometimes the candidates don’t even realize that their references are ruling them out”, then it starts to look sinister, in my opinion. So, while it might be ideal from a company’s perspective, job seekers should be concerned, or at least, be aware.

Another part of the process is that candidates who pass a telephone interview must immediately provide a minimum of five references before the next stage of the interview. Two of these references must be past or present managers. What if this candidate is conducting a confidential job search,and what happens if they do not have five names to offer as references?

For legal reasons, companies usually provide dates of employment and job titles, but the anonymity built into the tool allows references to provide more than the customary confirmation. A candidate without any character flaws wouldn’t have to worry about someone digging deeper, but what if a candidate has a minor flaw, or what if he or she had some issues with a manager, and this manager decides to be spiteful? These are ‘what ifs’ scenarios, but they can happen. Although the process is anonymous, employers could be opening up themselves to some legal push backs.

What can job seekers do to prepare themselves?

  • Become  aware of this trend, and make sure to choose references wisely – individuals who are eager to vouch for their character, skills and work ethic.
  • Inform references that a confirmation request could come through email in the form of a short survey instead of the standard referencing process.
  • Confirm with the individuals that they are comfortable acting as references, and if there are any issues that could surface, have a frank discussion ahead of time.
  • Prior to the interview, advise references which company or companies they might expect to hear from so they are not surprised.
  • Send references an updated resume, and highlight areas of your skills and accomplishments that they should address during the reference checking process

I think such a tool works well for companies as it cuts down on telephone tags and reduces costs, but it has drawbacks. Confidentiality and anonymity are two of them. Share your thoughts.

*Image courtesy of clipartillustration.com

 

How a Patchwork Quilt Résumé Could Damage Your Brand

Wikipedia’s Definition of a patchwork quilt: a quilt in which the top layer consists of pieces of fabric sewn together to form a design.

By my own definition, a patchwork quilt résumé is one that is made up of phrases and sentences copied from other people’s career documents (résumé, cover letter, bio, or LinkedIn Profile), and presented as one’s own.

Recently, there was an intense discussion on the forum of one of my professional associations about someone who had copied blocks of a sample résumé to create her own then contacted one member to spruce it up for her. While scrutinizing the document, the member realized the contents didn’t gel, so she did a Google search. It turned out the sample résumé was crafted by another member of this same association and posted in an article on AOL.

I have had my share of people sending me résumés made up of bits and pieces of other people’s résumés, and sometimes cover letters. In one case, it was the summary from one of my own creations. As I started reading the résumé, I thought the wording sounded familiar. On checking, I realized it was one I had written for another client. This new client told me someone had helped him out for free but he wasn’t having much success with it.

When information is copied from someone else’s résumé, it is very easy to spot the patchwork quilt design. The information is incoherent; statements are generic and some phrases just do not match the person’s experience or background. Actions like these only serve to damage one’s brand, and elicit accusations of plagiarism, copyright infringements, and ethics. Moreover, if such a résumé lands on the desk of a discerning hiring manager, such a candidate’s credibility will come into question, and he or she will most likely not be called for an interview.

Here are the facts:

  • Your résumé is a branding tool that tells YOUR story, not someone else’s, and shows the face YOU want employers to see.
  • You are unique! There is no one else like you, with the same experience, accomplishments and work ethic. Your co-worker may have the same job description and may do the same work like you, but he or she is not your clone. You must differentiate yourself.
  • Your aim is to create a résumé that captures your unique talents, accomplishments and experience; not one that looks like a patchwork quilt, or one that gives the impression you have a Jekyll and Hyde personality.

Here’s what you can do:

  • Instead of scouring the Internet for sample résumés to build your own, take a look at your job description and ask yourself “What have I done with the job they asked me to do? How is the company better off since I joined?”
  • Read each job description statement and apply the ‘so what’ factor to each. For example, if one of your responsibilities is to “monitor and analyze sales promotion results...” Ask yourself, “So what? What did I do? What happened?”
  • Review your last two performance appraisals and look for the nuggets of your contributions from projects you worked on, objectives met and targets exceeded.
  • Start building a résumé that tells YOUR story. Make sure each statement addresses your value proposition, and answers the employer’s question “Why should we hire you?” If you are unable to create your own résumé, find someone whom you trust; has credentials and know what they are doing.

Don’t damage your brand with a patchwork quilt résumé. Learn to tell your own story and get hired!

5 Questions a Candidate Should Ask in an Interview

Are you one of those candidates whose eyes turn to the ceiling, or who say “No” when asked if you have any questions? As a job seeker, professional or senior executive, you are smarter than that. You have already researched the company and have a list of questions to ask. After all, the interviewer(s) may have been so busy taking notes that they missed some of your key points, and you welcome another opportunity to emphasize those points.

One way of making sure that your key points were not missed and that you have demonstrated your value in the interview, is to be ready for this inevitable question – “Do you have any questions?” Here are some questions to ask:

What do you see as the priorities for this job in the first three months?

Their answer will give you more clarity and allow you to zero in on how your background closely matches those priorities.

Is there anything you’d like me to explain in more detail?

This question gives you a chance to delve deeper into your successes and illustrate your ability to exceed their expectations.

Do you have any doubts about my ability to do this job?

You may or may not get an answer to this question but if you do, it will help you to address any weaknesses or shortcomings they may have picked up during the interview.

Why did this vacancy occur?

You will want to know if it’s a newly-created position; if the person was let go, or if it’s a hot seat where no one stays for too long.

If I am the successful candidate, which duties would you like me to accomplish first?

This will go to the heart of where they are hurting, and you will have to be prepared to focus your energies in those areas first.

Since you are also interviewing the company, the responses to these questions will also help you determine if the company will be a good fit for you. Go ahead and boldly ask those questions. It’s another opportunity to tell your stories and get hired!

 

Image: Courtesy of Lifehack.org

10 Resume Pet Peeves Cited by Hiring Managers & Recruiters

Job seeker, sometimes it’s just a small blunder or gaffe that stands between your resume being selected for further consideration, or being tossed. Since recruiters and hiring managers play a significant role in your job search success, the onus is on you to know how to avoid these resume faux pas that irk them. Based on a survey conducted in late 2010 about Resume and Job Search Trends, the following were identified as the top resume pet peeves for recruiters and hiring managers:

  • “Generic  Objectives” that scream ‘me-me-me’. “It rarely helps, often hurts, and always takes up valuable real estate that could be better used to showcase your accomplishments”, said one respondent.
  • Massive email blasts where the resume is not tailored to the position for which they are applying.
  • Beginning each point, regardless of experience, with the standard “responsible for” with few, if any, real accomplishments.
  • A resume that contains “references available upon request”.
  • Lack of professionalism in the layout and composition.
  • Lack of detail on duties and accomplishments.
  • Dull job descriptive statements.
  • Content that is unrelated to the role.
  • Chronological history of events dating back to high school (especially when the applicant has been out of high school for 3 or more years).
  • Resumes with more than three pages, poor formatting, and spelling and grammar errors.

Some recruiters indicated that they prefer a longer resume as it enables them to see the breadth of the person’s experience and are better able to identify the skills relevant to the position they are trying to fill. However, these same recruiters say that clients/employers prefer a 2- or 3-page resume, and they would modify them to suit the client’s needs.

“As we are placing the candidates to our clients we prefer the longer version for details but we don’t like to send that to the client, unless specifically requested.”

While you might not agree with all of the above, some are glaringly obvious and should be avoided. Have your say.

7 Job Search Do’s and Don’ts

 

DON’T send a cover letter with “To Whom it May Concern”. It portends laziness and lack of interest.

DO the research to find the name of the person responsible for hiring.

 

DON’T use “References Available on Request” on your résumé.

DO use a quote from your performance appraisal or a testimonial that highlights your value.

 

DON’T replicate your job description when developing your résumé.

DO include powerful accomplishment-based statements that address the employer’s buying motivators or needs.

 

DON’T spend too much of your job search hours on the computer.

DO arrange more face time with people in your network.

 

DON’T send a generic Thank-you note after the interview.

DO send one that recaps key elements of the discussion and reiterates your interest in the position.

 

DON’T ask for a job at an informational interview.

DO ask for one or two names they recommend you contact.

 

DON’T relate your life story when asked “Tell me about yourself”.

DO talk about your education, work history, and what you have recently done for your company.

 

 

Image Credit: Dirjournal.com

The Tale of a Title Change

One of my lovely nieces emailed me last week to solicit my career coaching assistance. She wanted to approach her boss about changing her title to reflect the work she is currently doing.

I asked her to send me a list of her accomplishments. She sent me a list of her MAJOR RESPONSIBILITIES. I sent it back to her with a phrase at the end of each statement, “And so?” She understood what I meant, as the list I got back was filled with value-based scripts.

Two days later, she had the conversation with her boss and gave him the list of her achievements. Without any hesitation she had her title changed from Software QA Specialist to Senior QA Analyst. While she did not ask for a raise because she understands the company’s financial situation, she was told in a memo that “…You will also be considered for a salary increase if any funds become available later this year”.

All it takes is a short conversation. It’s as simple as that!

Are You ‘Shoulding’ on Yourself?

Merry Christmas… Joyeus No?l…Feliz Navidad…Season’s Greetings…Happy Holidays!

Well, 2010 came in with a bang, and now it’s almost gone. As you reflect on the year, how do you stack up against those goals / resolutions you set at the beginning of the year? Are you pleased with your accomplishments, or are you lamenting the fact that much of what you had hoped to achieve just didn’t happen? In fact, are you ‘shoulding’ on yourself because of what you failed to get done? You know what I mean – the “I shoulda, coulda, didn’t bother…” conversations that tend to clutter our minds when we fall short of our own expectations.

Don’t waste another minute shoulding on yourself. What’s gone is gone, and there’s nothing you can do about it. There were moments when I wanted to ‘should’ on myself because some of what I set out to do got derailed – sometimes because of my own effort (or lack thereof), but I changed the direction of my thoughts and focussed on what I had accomplished, and what still had to be done. That mental shift made the world of difference to finishing the year having done much of what I set out to do. It’s not too late for you to make that mental shift. Here are three tips to help you if you really want 2011 to be different:

Feel the Fear and Do it Anyway. Some people are so fearful of failing, that they don’t bother trying. Later on they blame themselves for things they should or could have done. Whatever it is that you really want to do, I urge you to feel the fear and do it anyway! R.W. Emerson said, “Do the thing you fear and the death of fear is certain“, and former First Lady, Eleanor Roosevelt said, “You gain strength, courage and confidence by every experience in which you really stop to look FEAR in the face. You must do the thing you think you cannot do”. So, look at FEAR for what it really is – False Evidence Appearing Real, and take a leap of faith and surprise yourself.

Move Out of Camp Complacent. If it feels too safe and comfortable doing the same thing(s) day-after-day even though it no longer gives you satisfaction, it’s time to move. Complacency destroys drive and passion. That promotion, that new job, that sales call you need to make, that business you want to start, that book you want to write, stretch yourself and strive to make them happen in 2011. Remember that if you continue doing what you have always done, you will remain exactly where you are.

Commit to Making a Decision. Too many people prefer to sit on the fence of indecision while life is passing along on its merry way. Case in point: It took one man nine months to get back to me about working on his resume. He was unemployed when he first contacted me, and he was still unemployed nine months later. What did he say when he came back? “I should’ve done this a long time ago.”  What he was also doing was copying and pasting parts of different sample resumes to create one of his own. That did not work, so he too, began ‘shoulding’ on himself.

As you look forward to a New Year with all its potential, tell yourself that you cannot hold on to the life that was, but you can fully live the life that is, right now. Make a concerted effort to make your dream a reality in the coming year.  If you would like some assistance in the New Year, check out my new website CareerTips2Go Café and make plans to join me in January, when the Café officially opens! It’s a work-in-progress, but there will be tools and resources to help you in your job search or your career transition.

When it Comes to Your Résumé, Focus is Key

One of my clients is currently in staffing, has a payroll background and wants me to tweak her résumé for a job in HR. I asked her to send me a sample HR job, so I can begin the work. She told me that I must use the résumé I have on file. That résumé is all about payroll.

It occurred to me that many people are not aware that a one-size-fits-all résumé, especially if one is applying to a variety of positions even within the same industry, just does not work. As accomplished and qualified as you may be, if your résumé lacks focus and does not address the employer’s needs, it will be tossed in ‘File 13’, which is the garbage bin. You can have one résumé as your master, but be prepared to tweak it for each position.

To begin writing or reformatting your résumé, dissect the job posting to see exactly what the employer is asking for. Think of your experience and see how closely it aligns with the requirements of the job. Do not include any information that does not relate to the position. Then, take your time to reflect on the challenges you faced in each situation, the actions you took, and the outcomes or results of your actions. This process allows you to show your accomplishments, gives an idea of your potential, and let the employer know that you understand their needs, and if given the opportunity, you can replicate youre successes, and even exceed their expectations.

If you would like to give your résumé a better chance of being plucked from the pile, make sure it’s focused and answers the employer’s WIIFM question: What’s in it for me? I tell my clients from time to time that if the employer asks for apples in thejob posting, give them apples, not bananas, oranges and grapes, unless these will enhance their chances of being called for an interview. When it comes to your résumé, focus is key.

If you require help with this very important job search document, don’t be afraid to seek professional assistance. Consider it an investment, not a cost.