Many clients tell me that they follow up with employers by email after job interviews. They also seldom get a reply. Here’s a better strategy: Use the phone. While it is possible to dodge a message as easily as it is to delete an email, a phone call carries more weight. The interviewer hears your voice and remembers that you’re a person. Better still, if the interviewer picks up the phone, you get the chance to ask questions and engage the interviewer.
An email message is passive, and it gives you no chance to ask questions or answer them. Some clients think they are being polite by using email. Think about it this way: You took the time to interview with a company. Don’t they owe you the respect to reply to a phone call?
Know what you want to say when you talk to the interviewer. The key question is: “Are you still considering me as a candidate?” If the answer is yes, ask when the company expects to make a decision. Don’t leave it there. Follow up with this question: “I am very interested in this position. What else can I tell you that would help you make your decision?” If the interviewer tells you that she is not considering you as a candidate, ask: “Thank you for considering me. Do you have any advice for me as I continue my job search?”
In either of these cases, the interviewer could give you an answer that isn’t helpful. On the other hand, if you don’t ask the question, they won’t be helpful because you’re not asking for it. Use the phone. Ask questions.
A friend of mine is in HR, and he told me two interesting stories about how candidates talked themselves out of a job by focusing too much on personal issues.
In one case, a candidate whose primary function was not client facing said that he did not really care to interact with the company’s type of client. In one sense, it shouldn’t matter since he’d seldom meet a client. Still, a VP told my client that he wants an organization that is totally client focused. By talking too much about his personal preferences, this candidate talked himself out of a job.
In the other case, a candidate rambled on for 10 minutes about his daughter’s professional accomplishments. Both my client and his boss tried to redirect the candidate to his qualifications for the job, but he was determined to finish his story about his daughter. In doing so, he showed terrible communications skills and a lack of respect. It’s great that this candidate loves his daughter, but his demonstration of love was not appropriate for a job interview.
Bottom line: Keep business about business. Revealing personal information in a job interview can often boomerang and hurt a candidate’s chance of landing a job. Keep focused on what the company needs and how you can contribute to its success.
Interviews are all about questions, so the most important interviewing skill would seem to be answering questions. Many book titles play off this assumption, offering 100 or 200 best answers to interview questions. In coaching clients at all stages of their career, I’ve found that there is a skill that is much more important: listening.
A job interview is not a test. Companies evaluate potential employers based on a variety of factors. Interviews are usually the final evaluation, and they often get down to intuition about who will be the best fit. Employers offer positions to candidates who make them the most confident. Someone who is listening will speak more clearly to what an employer needs. Rather than spitting out scripted answers, someone who is listening will build a dialogue with the people who are interviewing her.
When we show that we are listening, we also demonstrate that we respect other people’s ideas and opinions. We also show an ability to understand other people and what they need from us. If a candidate doesn’t listen well during a job interview, how will that person perform after she has been hired?
To improve your odds of landing a good job, it is important to improve your listening skills. Practice interviewing with a friend, and have her occasionally ask you to repeat the question that was asked. Another good tactic is to repeat the resume or key word or phases in the question at the beginning of your answer. Listening is a skills, and it can be improved with practice.
Here’s one final benefit of focusing more on listening and less on having the perfect answer: You will be less nervous during interviews. People who script answers go into an interview with an anticipation that they know what questions will be asked. The problem is that interviews seldom follow the script. By listening, you will be engaged in a dialogue with the interviewer. You will be speaking to her questions and asking questions that will help you show what you can contribute as a new employee. You will also be more relaxed because you will not be focused on uttering the perfect answer. Listen first – that’s the key to a great interview.
I’m working with a client who wants to use a portfolio to demonstrate her skills at a job interview. Some employers ask for a portfolio, especially in fields such as graphic design and teaching. I’ve also had clients in sales use portfolios to supplement their resumes. A portfolio can be a great asset, or it can work against you.
A winning portfolio has two elements: limited content and flexibility. As a rule, a portfolio should 8-10 elements that can be present in crisp manner. It should be flexible in covering different aspects of what you have to offer an employer. For example, a teacher’s portfolio might touch on class projects, curriculum development, extracurricular activities, and professional development. A sales professional’s portfolio might display evidence of sales success, photos with customers at leading professional events, and examples of marketing materials.
Put yourself in the place of the interviewer. You want to present evidence, but you don’t want to hear the same kind of fact again and again. As an employer, you would also want the candidate to demonstrate good presentation skills through planning and organization. Keep your portfolio clear, tight, and interesting.
I was helping a client prepare for an interview. He kept talking about what he has done over the last three years at his current job. While his experience is good, he has more to offer. More importantly, he missed several opportunities to show how his experience, education, and qualities meet the employer’s need. In the end, the interview is not about you. It’s about the employer and how you can solve her problem.
Too often job seekers get tongue tied because they want to phrase the perfect answer. A better way to interview is to listen carefully and speak to the employer’s concerns. If you do that, you will be focused on what the employer needs and, in most cases, feel a lot less nervous. Stay focused on what the employer needs, and you’ll know what to say about yourself.
What makes you believe someone you don’t know? Evidence. In a job interview, evidence usually comes in the form of an example or story. In preparing for interviews, identify the general skills or knowledge an employer is seeking. Then list specific examples of how you have those skills or knowledge. I recommend using note cards to list the skill (one per card) and then briefly tell your story. Practice telling the story in a way that is clear and concise. Your goal is to know what you want to say and sound natural, not like you are reading from a script.
You should also try telling the story different ways to address different types of questions. For example, if an employer talks about your sales skills, you can talk about the amount of a sales or how you negotiated a final agreement. If the employer asks about account management, you can take the same story and focus on how you’ve maintained a relationships and increased the business over the years. It is important to be flexible during interviews. If an employer asks a question in a way that you are not expecting, you have to adapt your answers and examples to fit her concerns.
A good job interview is one that gives the employer confidence in you as an employee and a person. If you present good examples and believable stories, you are more likely to win the employer’s trust. Once you have that, you will usually get a job offer.
A client called me about a job interview that didn’t go well. The employer asked my client to explain how he would support one of the company’s programs. My client answered in general terms that he knew sounded terrible. What was the problem? He didn’t know what the program was. It’s a new program, and there is no information posted about it online.
What should he have done? Ask a clarifying question. If an employer asks a question that is not clear, it is perfectly acceptable for a job candidate to ask for clarification. My client should have asked, “Can you tell me more about the program?”
In other interviews, clients have been asked questions that involve being overqualified or underqualified. On the surface, these questions make no sense, since such an applicant would not get an interview. In this situation, an applicant should ask, “Why do you say I am overqualified (or underqualified)?” Once that question is clarified, it will be easier to give a good answer and speak to the interviewer’s real concern.
Some clients are afraid to ask such questions. They think it is rude to question the person who is supposed to ask the question. That’s a bad way to think about interviews. A good interview is a conversation and dialogue, not a test with right and wrong answers. In any normal conversation, you would ask for clarification. Do the same thing during a job interview. You can’t answer a question unless you know what it means.
Every career expert says it’s important to ask questions at interviews because it shows that you are interested in the job. A client recently told me that his company never invited applicants to ask questions. If an interviewee didn’t take the initiative to ask questions, that person was no longer considered as a potential employee. That method is a little extreme. At the same time, it shows the importance of asking questions and showing that you are interested. My recommendation is not only that you ask questions, but ask them in a way that sells you as an employee, which I call closing.
At the end of an interview, it’s fine ask questions about working conditions and training. I recommend that you end the interview in the same way a salesperson ends a meeting – by closing the deal. To close an interview follow this process: 1. briefly summarize what the employer is looking for, 2. Show how you qualifications fit the employer’s needs, 3. ask when a hiring decision will be made, 4. ask: What is the most important thing you are looking for in hiring [position/title]?, 5. show how you can deliver what the employer is looking for.
Following this process will sell the employer on hiring you. Rather than asking about what the employer can do for you, closing tells the employer what benefits you will bring to her company. Those are the kind of questions that will lead to a job offer.
Too often job seekers confuse interviews with tests. They struggle to get the “right” answer to questions and, in the process, tie themselves up in verbal knots. Rather than thinking about answers as right and wrong, focus on what the employer is really looking for – a good employee.
Shape your answers so they show why you will be a benefit to your new employer’s company. Rather than simply repeating what you have done in the past, look for ways to show how your experience and skills will benefit you in your new position. You can underscore this point by saying on the order of, “Just as I did X for my previous employer, I can fill a similar role with your company.”
The best answers at interviews will also speak to what the employer is interested in. That’s why listening is more important than talking. If you understand what the employer wants, you’re more likely to engage in the kind of conversation that leads to a job offer. A good answer is one that address not just an employer’s question, but the concern behind it.
When preparing for an interview, don’t get too caught up in scripting questions. Know your strong points and be able to sell them. Know potential weak points and be able to address them. If a question has given you trouble in previous interviews, think about how you can answer it differently, but don’t obsess about it. If you stay focused on the interviewer and what that person is looking for, it will be easier to deliver the best answers, the kind that bring job offers.
What can you do during an interview to improve your chance of landing a job? Show that you are interested. Employers report that one of the biggest turn offs during an interview is a prospective employee who doesn’t seem to care about the company or what it does.
Before going on any interview, research the company you want to work for. Know what it does and who its customers are. Think about what you will do to help the company. During the interview, frame your answers so they talk about what you will do as an employee, not simply what you did when you were working for another company.
One of the most important parts of an interview occurs when the employers asks if the applicants have any questions. Again, employers cites a lack of questions as a reason not to make an offer. Failure to ask questions shows that you haven’t thought about the job or what you could do for the company.
Here are three questions I recommend:
1. What are the three biggest challenges I will face in this position?
2. What do you like most about working for this company?
3. What is the most important quality you are looking in selecting someone to fill this position? Be sure that you affirm that you can deliver whatever quality the employer wants. This is the point to really sell yourself during the interview.
Employers want workers who will be motivated and do what is in the company’s best interest. Don’t turn them off by simply talking about yourself, your work history, and education. Demonstrate that you know what the company does and that you can add to its success. That’s a big part of the formula for landing a new job.