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Acing the Interview

Yesterday I discussed some ideas for getting yourself noticed within the job search process.  Hopefully, your approach to job hunting has been expanded a bit so that you are looking at some opportunities you might not have thought about before.  Getting a new job is a job in itself.  Be sure to devote six to eight hours a day toward this activity.  Realistically, this is the only way you will be successful in any reasonable amount of time.  A lot of folks I talk to feel that if they send out 50 resumes a week and look on line a couple days, then that will be sufficient to get them hired.  I don’t believe that will do it these days.  You need to be aggressive in your search and make this your mission, the goal being a new job that suits your skills and abilities and enables you to collect a reasonable paycheck.

For the purposes of your job search, you might also wish to set up a new email account.  They are free, you know, so go to Yahoo, Hot Mail or G Mail and get yourself an account with your actual name in it.  Potential employers may not think you are serious about your job search if you are using something like Rotobunny@yahoo.com.

Remember that the earlier you respond to an ad, the more likely someone will note your interest and information.  While it is not a good practice, those of us who do hiring are trying to fill the position as soon as we can with a qualified person so that we can keep the workforce fully staffed and take the stress off the rest of the remaining people who are probably already overworked.  Also, as a second strategy, look at jobs that have been posted for more than 30 days.  This means that the company is struggling to find someone and they may be more likely to consider you, should you have a little less than enough experience, providing you have most of the basic qualifications.

Let’s say you finally get a call for an interview.  If this is a phone interview, I strongly suggest that you set some time aside for yourself to complete the interview and find a land-line phone or an area where your cell phone is very responsive.  Trying to do an interview while your children are trying to get your attention, you are driving your car and the signal is not consistent, the CD player, television or someone’s games are roaring in the background, tells your potential employer that you probably aren’t really interested in the job.  This is a sure way to shorten your interview time.  If a potential employer calls you and wishes to do the interview immediately and you find yourself in the environment described above, tell the person you would be happy to do the interview with them and ask for an appropriate time in the next day or so.  If the person is insistent, then you probably don’t want to work there anyway.

During your interview, whether this is by phone or in person, here are a couple of things to remember:

  • Answer questions honestly.  If you lie, and the employer finds out, you will probably lose the job immediately.  This is true for your work history, your background, what you have done in prior roles, whether you were a manager or not, and your high school or college degree.  People are checking references these days and will uncover your dishonesty.
  • Be positive in your tone and attitude.  Nobody wants to hire someone else’s problems.  Employers really don’t want to hear about your jerky boss, how you hated your last job and why, the people you worked with, the lowsy pay, etc.  Think about the good things you learned, even if this is a tough lesson, and put a positive spin on your experiences.
  • Keep your answers clear and complete.  Don’t ramble on and on.  I know you are probably nervous, but just listen and answer the question.  Some recruiting firms tell you to prepare your pat answers and to apply them if they are even remotely linked to the question.  Those of us who interview see this tactic as an attempt by an unqualified applicant to get our attention.  If you don’t have the actual experience you are asked about, admit this and try to think of a related experience that would be similar and describe this.
  • Don’t step across the line of professionism and tell jokes, share intimate information, talk about your family, make outrageous comments, discuss the country clubs you belong to, or organizations you belong to (unless this is a public service organization where you gained some of your leadership skills), or try to be too friendly.   Cordial and open is good.  You also won’t get the job by pretending to know someone you don’t know.  I will call that person to ask them what they think of you.
  • Be prepared for your interview. Have your dates of employment ready, your manager’s name and contact information and other key data, so that if the interviewer asks you for this, you can share it right away.  The fact that you are prepared goes a long way in the interview.

If your interview is in person,  here are some other things to think about.  Please be sure to show up on time.  Do not bring your children or friends.  With security the way it is today, most employers will have nowhere to put these folks while you are having your interview and will not appreciate that you need assistance in handling your personal life responsibilities.  Sorry, but that is how it is.  Join a job-search networking group to find someone who can share babysitting with you so that you can go to your interviews unaccompanied.

Dress for success.  I know this probably seems dumb to some of you Gen Xers and Yers, but the reality is that people make impressions about you in the first 40 seconds of the interaction.  If you show up in ripped jeans, chomping on bubble gum (and blowing bubbles), green hair, piercings all the way down your ears or wherever, needing a shave, dirty and smelling of alchol or smoke, we are probably not going to give you much credence.

Now, before you share your outrage, let’s establish the guidelines.  You don’t need fancy clothes, but you do need to be clean and conservatively dressed.  If you need a wardrobe fix, consignment and second hand shops are a big help.  You can generally find something to wear there for your interviews for under $10.  And, if you share your story with the staff at the thrift shop, they will probably help you out for free.  You probably only need 1 outfit for now. Go home with your outfit and wash or home dry-clean it, press it, and wear it.

If your hands sweat, as many people’s do, put antipersperant on them before your interview.  This will help a lot and give you the confidence you need.  Have a tissue with you just in case you sneeze or spill something.  Most interviewers will offer coffee or water.  If you aren’t the nervous type, go ahead and accept the offer.  If you are the nervous type and you think you might spill it or be distracted by the drink, forego the experience and thank the offerer.

Do not ask what the pay rate is for the job at this point.  If you get this far in the interview process, most employers are prepared to offer the going rate for the position.  You can find out what people are being paid in similar jobs by visiting Salary.com and entering in the information there for free.  Remember that smaller employers will pay less than larger corporations generally.  Negotiate salary when you are offered the job.

At the end of your interview, be sure to thank the interviewer and express your interest or lack of interest in the position.  After you go home, send a short note or email thanking the person and re-expressing your interest in the job.  This step, while you may find it annoying, shows that you are a professional and that you really would like to be hired.  It will also help you to be elevated in the pecking order of the pack of applicants, since these days, people are generally pretty rude and demanding.

I hope these ideas will help you in your job search and good luck!  Next time, I will talk about what the hiring process looks like from the employers point of view so that you can understand why it takes so long to hear back at times.

Advice for Job Seekers

Tough times out there for job hunters and I am more than sympathetic.  Ted told me yesterday that the economy is really driven on consumer purchasing.  When people are not afraid, they spend, whether they have the money or not.   This is because they believe that tomorrow will be a better day.  Today, most people are wondering about that one and many are worried that things will be so different that they won’t be able to survive.

As a caveat, I personally believe that the US government should allow people to collect a paycheck in a job and augment that with partial unemployment payments to yield a higher, livable wage, to encourage people to get working again.  Most of the entrepreneurs in the job market have taken a couple of part-time or full time minimum wage jobs to yield the same results.  To my mind, I would rather see 2 people working, rather than one person trying to make ends meet by working a 16-hour day.

Further, it is not a good practice to have someone say “I make more on unemployment than I would if I worked,” and thereby cut out the incentive to find a job.  All this does is encourage long-term collection of unemployment benefits and fails to get money into people’s hands so that they can start spending again.  Remember Ted’s perspective on the consumer spending economy?

Let’s talk about how to position yourself to find a meaningful job, hopefully better than 2 part-time or full-time filler jobs.  Even if you are applying for an hourly position, you should put your resume together.  This is a handy document to reference if you are required to fill out an application, since all the information is right there on a sheet of paper.  Also, it makes a great impression on your potential employer when you bring along your resume.

So, to put your best foot forward, take some time to visit MS Office on the web and download a resume template that suits your style.  Accurately fill in the blanks with your education, background, prior work experience and job objectives.  DO NOT go over 2 pages in explaining what you have done on your resume.

Also, I recommend that you include only the last 10 years of experience and work information by employer.  If your experience is older than 10 years, you probably are not prepared to qualify for your old job today.  If you want to include this information, under your last employer bullet on the resume, put a general statement, such as this one for an engineer  “prior employment – experience in leading an engineering team in process improvement, experience managing rolling process team in a manufacturing environment, experience in retail sales.”

  1. Proof read and spell check your resume.  Use clean paper and do not have any white-outs or erasures.  Do not prepare your resume as you eat your lunch and spill food on it.  All of these things get your resume pushed to the bottom of the circular file.
  2. Your resume is your first impression to your future employer.  In the job objective section, tell why you think you would be a good prospect for the employer.  What are the contributions you will bring to the employer? A couple good sentences are all you need.  It’s not about you…it’s about them…
  3. In searching for companies to submit your nice new resume to, identify key words that appear in their description of the job, particularly as it relates to qualifications.  Be sure to incorporate those key words within your resume, since most companies use key word searches to pick out resumes from the thousands they receive.
  4. Search for jobs that you qualify for.  This doesn’t mean you have to get a job like the one you used to have at all.  It just means that you need to be able to qualify for the position, based on your past experiences and educational background.  If the job posting says 4-year degree required and you don’t have a 4-year degree, submitting your resume will most likely get you screened out immediately.  Apply for the jobs in which the background and requirements match your qualifications.  With all the new legislation surrounding the internet tracking of candidates, companies today shouldn’t be considering candidates who do not meet their posted job requirements.
  5. Be open minded.  The world is changing and things aren’t like they used to be. Unless you are engaged in a job where there are plenty of openings, think outside the box by going to various job search sites and putting in critical skills you have and searching that way, rather than by job title.  Then read all about these available jobs and apply for those that interest you.
  6. Attend training or skills improvement classes.  By showing that you are actively preparing for a new role, your employer will see that you have the initiative they just might value in a new employee.

Next time, let’s talk about the interview process.  I’ll share some good advice on how to present yourself to make a good, positive and memorable impression on your potential employer.

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