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.
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.
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.
This is a difficult question to answer at a job interview. Be sure that the answer you give doesn’t indicate that you would be a problem employee.
One of my clients recently left a job because she was not getting support from her manager. It was a hostile work environment. When she told her story at an interview, she said that the interview looked at her like she was crazy. Why? The expectation is that we should never say anything negative about a former employer. This kind of answer indicates that you could be the problem, and most companies will not bring you back for a second interview.
What should my client have done? First be positive. She should say that she enjoyed working at the company and learned a lot working there. The next move is to pivot. Find something about the employer you are interviewing with that your previous employer did not offer. Say that you are looking for a job that would provide whatever that quality/benefit is.
The prospective employer could still press as to why you would leave a job before you had a new one. In that case, your best strategy would be to say something general such as, “It was time to leave that job.” This answer could still wave a red flag, but it’s better than being openly negative. Bring your focus back to what you can do for the employer, and take the focus off why you left the last job. It is a very tricky question.
In his latest post, Seth Godin explores a distinction between meeting and making a train. He compares it to how we treat deadlines – and people. In the job search we need to have the discipline to make deadlines and be on time for interviews. Employers don’t have time for rude behavior, the kind of behavior that says, “I will be a bad employee.” Make the train.