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.
What word best describes you as a professional? If you find that word, you can use it as a tool to carve out your personal brand. Start by making a list of 5- 10 words that best describe you. Test each word. Play with it. How does that word help you tell others who you are as a professional and what value you can bring them?
The word in itself is not your brand. It’s a seed. You have to cultivate it and grow it over time. For many people, the word will change, which usually signals some kind of promotion or career change. Don’t cling too tightly to any word or brand. There is always a time to adapt and change.
In making a list of words for myself, the first word was reliable. Nice, but not good enough. I couldn’t run a business for 8 years without being reliable. That word is a good start of a brand statement for someone early in their career. Later on my list, I found the word strategy. Everything I do – whether writing or coaching – depends on strategy, finding a message and a way to deliver it. My brand is about helping other people market themselves and deliver messages. To do that, I have be a good strategist, which is the simplest way of presenting my brand.
Find your word and work with it. Practice telling other people who you are as a professional. Think about how you will present yourself when looking for a job, seeking a promotion, or introducing yourself to a co-worker or client. Branding sounds like a mysterious concept. It’s not. We do it all the time. The trick is to brand yourself so people want to work with you. Start by find your word.
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.
Huffington Post offers a list of clichéd phrases that should not be used in the workplace. I like the list and agree with it. Moreover, it cuts behind the thoughtlessness behind these words, which often mean the opposite of what they say.
If you find yourself repeating words or phrases that you hate, take the time to think about how you can make your point without the verbal crutch. Write the phrase down, and play with different ways to get beyond “win-win.”
Beware of sensational headlines. For example, today’s Huffington Post features an article with the front page headline of “Poll: Huge Number of American Want Christianity as State Religion.” However, when you follow the link, the headline and story change tone: “Christianity as State Religion Supported by One-Third of Americans, Poll Finds.” That same headline could be rewritten to say that two-thirds of Americans reject Christianity as a state religion.
I often see a similar problem in writing about careers and jobs. Simple claims, often negative news, takes on significance because they are reposted from website to website. For example, about a year ago there was a meme that said you would not be hired unless you are currently employed. Some employers posted a help wanted ads that said only currently employed workers should apply. Only a few companies did this. The megaphone power of the Internet turned this minor problem into reality for many people who were unemployed.
What should we do? Test all claims that seem too easy to believe. When clients brought up the example of companies only hiring people who were employed, I’d ask them to put themselves in the employer’s position. If two candidates are equally (or even similarly) qualified, would you hire someone who is employed or unemployed? Most employers would go with the unemployed candidate because that person would be cheaper. Some who is employed is able to negotiate and even say no. The widely posted claim made no sense.
Media loves simple, scary stories. As the two examples above show, they often are not true. Yes, a third of Americans might want a national religion, but a third is not even close to a majority. Yes, a few employers may have wanted to hire people who are currently employed. But, again, it’s not logical to assume most employers would do this. Whenever you’re faced with the scary headline, test its claim. Usually you’ll find the claim is overblown, if not totally false.
A client was recently reviewing a resume with me. She asked if we could edit the document to make it more specific. Her request would seem to make sense. Listing achievements would seem to be a good way to impress an employer. There’s one problem with that kind of thinking: job posts.
Read the description and requirement sections of any job post. Employers request information that is general. They want to know that an applicant meets the minimum standards needed to perform day-to-day tasks. General descriptions address those points. They also feature the keywords that scanning software uses to identify qualified candidates.
Should you included achievements that list specific facts? Absolutely. A good list of achievements sets one candidate apart from another and can be the starting point for a good interview. Effective resumes blend both general statements that show qualifications and specific examples of accomplishments that demonstrate how you have gone above and beyond in your previous jobs.
Huffington Post offers a useful list of clichéd words that should be avoided in business communication, including resumes and job interviews. Overall, I like the list. However, at least two of the words have some value. Scalable is frequently used to discuss a level and type of IT projects. Similarly, value-added can refer to a transaction which includes intangible benefits. These words, like the others on the list, should not be used just because they are “buzz words.” Know what you want to say and why you want to say. That’s the best formula for effective communication.
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.
When I first meet clients, they often present themselves in terms of what they lack: “I don’t have a college degree.” “I just graduated, so I don’t really have experience.” “I don’t know how to use Excel.”
My answer is simple: Sell what you have. Market your strengths. When we think in positive terms, we are able to present ourselves with confidence. The language we use is stronger and more convincing. Most importantly, we are giving employers good reasons to make a job offer. I’m not saying that we should ignore gaps in our resumes and careers. If an employer needs something we don’t have, we need to be able to offer some alternative selling point. Be ready when an employer brings up what you don’t have. Show why what you have is more important than what you lack.