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It’s a Good Time for Fanatics: Could Cubs Fans Have the Edge in a Down Economy?

cubsI’m a Cubs Fan.  There, I said it.  Yes, I know I have a problem and it’s not one that can be cured with a 12-step program or a patch.  It’s in my blood and tends to be genetic.  If there’s one thing you know about the Chicago Cubs, it’s likely to be the ongoing streak of 100 years without winning a World Series.  Sure, there have been close calls, but so-called “curses” have kept the “Lovable Losers” in check.

In our new world economy of bailout packages and buyouts, one organization stands tall with very little wavering in customer loyalty and a strong consistency in revenue–the Chicago Cubs.  And yet, why is this?  When our long-time bank fails us, we move on.  When the local chain for electronics closes its door, we shop next store at the other.   How is it an organization with an overall losing record for the last several decades can be filling seats (not so cheaply anymore either), while most restaurants are less crowded?

The answer is hidden in the definition of fanaticism.  According to Wikipedia, the definition is as follows:

Fanaticism is an emotion of being filled with excessive, uncritical zeal, particularly for an extreme religious or political cause or in some cases sports, or with an obsessive enthusiasm for a pastime or hobby. The difference between a fan and a fanatic is that while both have an overwhelming liking or interest in a given subject, behavior of a fanatic will be viewed as violating prevailing social norms, while that of a fan will not violate those norms (although the person may be considered unusual).

Cubs fans are fanatics.  They violate all kinds of social norms.  “Normal” people do not torture themselves.  Like Pavlov’s dogs, we all learn from past experiences.  Well, most people learn.  Cubs fans have a saying, “Wait ’til next year.”  They jump right back on the bus for another ride after being driven to the county dump.

But maybe, just maybe, Cubs fans are the answer to our nation’s economic crisis.  We need to take a lesson from these eternal optimists, and cheer for another underdog:  the United States of America.  Our country needs a fanbase that believes that each year can bring hope and new destiny.  That with the rites of spring, come new reasons to believe that we can prevail. 

I’m sure we all want this, but perhaps we just don’t know how.  Take a quick lesson from a Cubs Fan to join the cause:

  • Cubs fans use the smallest of improvements to justify big change…”hey we got a new center fielder who hits left-handed and took the AL by storm last year–just what we needed (nevermind the fact that he’s injury prone).
  • Cubs fans use any kind of data they can to track improvement…”we picked up a back-up infielder with a lifetime .275 average (nevermind that he hasn’t played since 2006).
  • Cubs fans believe in their leaders…”Piniella knows what he is doing and has led us to the playoffs the last two years (only to lose every single post-season game in those years)

The point is, Cubs fans BELIEVE.  They are the glass-half-full types who don’t care what it’s full of.  Let’s all take a page out of their playbook and believe in America.  Let’s search for data, small hints of recovery, and dare I say it, believe in our leaders. 

Maybe with a little blind optimism in spring, we’ll be winning big in October.  And who knows what the next 100 years will be like.

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March 15, 2009 Posted by | General Musings | 2 Comments

The Art of the Thank You Note

thank you I often get asked by candidates if the “Thank You Note” to interviewers is still practical in our hi-tech world.  The answer is:  Of course it is.  Whether emailed or hand-written, a thank you note sends the message that you’re interested in the opportunity (more so now than before the interview) and you greatly appreciate them spending time with you.  After all, the process is time consuming for both sides–their time is valuable and they shared some of it with you.

Certainly consider the hand-written version if you think snail mail will get it there fast enough relative to their decision-making timeline.  The hand-written thank you note has a personal touch over the email, but the sentiments should be the same in either version.  When it comes to the actual content and approach, a recent article in U.S. News & World Report written by Liz Wolgemuth has some good tips to leverage.

5 Ways to Screw Up After the Interview

Make a blunder in your job interview follow-up, and you may not get the job.

By Liz Wolgemuth

Posted March 5, 2009

If a company really wants you on the payroll, a manager will probably make you an offer. You might forget a seemingly crucial element the morning of your job interview—deodorant, for example—but if they really want you and your knack for, say, recruiting the best talent or finding major energy cost savings, they’ll likely overlook it.

Trouble is, most candidates don’t have that luxury. When you walk into an interview, there’s a good chance this hiring manager doesn’t know if you’re the right person for the job yet, and when you walk out of that interview, he or she may still be unsure. That means, your follow-up communication can make a difference.

Here are five ways you could blow the post-interview period, and some advice on how to get your follow-up right:

You don’t send a thank-you note: You have no doubt heard this advice before, but lots of people still don’t do it. If you think you’ve got the job, you might think a thank-you note is unnecessary or even obsequious. If you’re sure you bombed your interview, then you may think any follow-up effort is a waste of your time—or just another opportunity to mess up. That’s not the case. “The biggest mistake is not following up,” says Adrian Klaphaak, a career and life coach in San Francisco’s Bay area.

An E-mail is better than nothing, but a handwritten note can set you apart from other candidates. Use a simple, relatively formal style of card. (Cards with closeups of flowers or cute animals are for friends.)  “Handwritten letters are powerful because no one sends them anymore,” says Erik Folgate, a blogger at Brazen Careerist. Folgate recently blogged that in his own job search, hiring managers have responded favorably when he’s followed up.

Your thank-you note is too long: What’s one thing that will make for a bad thank-you note? “Lack of brevity,” says human resources executive Kris Dunn, who also blogs at The HR Capitalist. This is not intended to be an epic work. As Dunn puts it: “You’re in and you’re out and then you’re done with it.” A rambling note wastes the hiring manager’s time, and it can suggest that you lack the confidence of conciseness.

Your thank-you note is too general: Specificity is as important as brevity, Dunn says. Your notes shouldn’t read as though they could be reproduced for every interview. “I want at least one thing in the thank-you note that connects the interviewer with something we talked about in the interview and shows they were paying attention,” Dunn says.

You try to apologize for an interview mistake: If you think you answered a question poorly in an interview, go back to the issue before the interview is over. You might say: “You know, I quickly want to go back to something I said earlier in response to your question about X. I’d like to clarify my answer.” Don’t wait until the interview is over and use your thank-you note to redress the mistake, Dunn says. You run a real risk of turning the note into a lengthy and meandering foray into something the interviewer may never have noticed or has already forgotten.

You harass the manager: It’s frustrating and worrisome to be looking for work in a market with millions of competitors and a scarcity of openings. Hiring freezes and shifting corporate strategies can make human resources departments change their hiring plans in no time. You might have a great interview and then hear nothing back. You will not, however, improve your case by bombarding the hiring manager with telephone calls and voicemail messages (or hangups), E-mails, Facebook messages, faxes, Twitters, and other multitudinous possible methods of communication. Klaphaak recommends patience after sending a thank you: “remember that an employer who wants to hire you will almost always contact you.”

Remember, in an economy where there are many applying to each available position, you need to differentiate yourself as much as possible.

Bottom line:  Send a well-written note to your interviewers to put yet another attribute about you on their list:  you are a thoughtful and gracious candidate!

March 15, 2009 Posted by | Careers, Interviewing 101, Job Search | Leave a comment

Resume Writing for College Students

In February, I volunteered at Southern Methodist University to help work with students on their resumes (Dallas Morning News article on event).  As a MBA alum, it was fun to reconnect with that world. I even worked with the football team’s starting running back.  Throughout all my conversations with the students, I had flashbacks of being in their shoes and having the challenge of presenting myself well in a few pages with “limited” work experience.

The summary of my advice to these students is presented in this blog post.  Hopefully, many college students will benefit from the experience.  I have broken down the observations and advice into different elements of the resume.

Work experience: 

  • It is essential to present your work experience in terms of RESULTS.  Using bullet items like “attended meetings” or “did research on companies” does not say much for your efforts.  Instead, think of the result:  “Championed research project that allowed company to choose between two $2M options for software vendors resulting in a $200,000 cost savings.”
  • Students should include large projects they worked on for professors, even if unpaid.  Treat the opportunity as another job.
  • Be sure to use titles for each job–even Sales Associate or Intern.  You need to make the experience sound important.
  • Each job should be listed with the Company, Location, Dates on first line and title on second line (all in bold) followed by bullets of the responsibilities, activities and results.  I prefer inserting the dates using a right justified tab.

Activities

  • Do not leave key details out.  Students who are a part of a group that does volunteer work should list some of that activity.  Reading to underprivledged children or raising money for causes shows how one cares about others and the community as a whole.
  • Do not forget to include leadership roles.  Treat these as work experiences, too.  Include achievements in these roles.

Summary vs. Objective

  • Companies like reading a quick summary about you.  Your “objective” can be embedded in the summary statement.  The generic objective of “student looking to grow within a progressive company” is overused and obvious.  Instead consider adding more about you: “A proven leader with experience and strong education in Finance who seeks a full-time position focused on corporate finance and mergers and acquisitions.”
  • Students may have to customize this Summary for many different companies if the opportunities are different.  Providing a very specific statement connects one to the job more effectively.

Skill set:

  • Within the Summary, students should embed the key skills they have mastered.
  • A simple way to do this is to end the Summary paragraph with the phrase, “Skill set includes:” followed by two or three columns of these skills.
  • The skills listed should be pertinent to the job (programming languages, Microsoft tools, specialized programs, drafting, etc.).  Listing communication, presentation, self-motivated and others like this is too generic and does not differentiate you from others.

Format

  • Do not be afraid of a two-page resume versus one page.  As long as you have real content, it is acceptable to go beyond the first page.
  • Use the address you want correspondence to go to.  Having two addresses begs the question, “Which one do we send the offer letter to?”
  • Use fonts that you see in the company’s materials.  Formal font is Times.  Informal is Arial.  Keep it around size 12.
  • Stay away from using a lot of lines and making the resume too busy-looking.  By bolding the header sections (Summary, Experience, Education, Activities and Honors) plus each job header (company, title), along with adequate spacing between each section, lines will not be necessary.
  • Use page breaks if you think the first line of the next page might float to bottom of the previous page when printed on someone else’s printer.  Email your resume to others to make sure formatting does not change depending on who opens the Word file.

Miscellaneous

  • Be concise.  Extra words in descriptions does not help make it sound better.  Good content does.
  • Stay away from acronyms and terms that people do not typically know.  Same goes for jargon and slang.
  • There is no need to add references on the resume.  You should have a separate sheet of references for when they request it.  And they all know, “references are available upon request.”
  • Avoid too much personal information.  Birth dates, personal photos, hobbies, marital status, personal health and affiliations are usually not important to the job you are applying.
  • Use action words when describing what you have done.  Examples include coordinated, assisted, managed, planned, designed and implemented.
  • Proofread your document several times.  Walk away and come back to it later and proofread it again.   Ask someone else to review your resume.  See if these readers understand the information you are trying to convey.

A little bit of extra effort goes a long way when it comes to resume writing.  This is the first impression.  There is no accompaniment of a sparkling personality.  Although the content is the key, a poor presentation can distract the reader and cause them to move on to the next resume in the pile.  Just like showing up to an interview in a suit, you want your resume to be “well-dressed,” too.

March 15, 2009 Posted by | Careers, Job Search, New Grads, Resume Writing | 4 Comments

Is your resume too good?

There is a tendency in a tough job market to try and “force-fit” yourself into many of the job descriptions you find.  When overqualified, this can be a humbling experience, but sometimes can be a bad approach.  Kirsten Valle of charlotteobserver.com published an article today about this predicament where job seekers fear being labeled overqualified and omit or reword impressive aspects of their background.  The article provides good food for thought.

Is your resume too good?

By Kirsten Valle, charlotteobserver.com

Faced with the cruelest job market in years, some unemployed professionals are lowering their standards for the jobs they’re seeking – and even toning down their resumes to avoid seeming overqualified.

To try to land interviews, they’re mum about master’s degrees they’ve earned and omitting lofty-sounding executive titles. Still others have left out everything from salary histories to the years they graduated to appear more attractive to employers.

Experts say it’s a sign of growing desperation in a tough economy. The Charlotte area’s unemployment rate hit 8.9 percent in December, far above the 7.6 percent national average reported for January. Job openings are scarce, and some employers turn away overqualified candidates, worrying they can’t afford them, or that the new hires will be dissatisfied and move on quickly.

Gerry Kirkland of Fort Mill, S.C.’s Global Recruiters Network said he’s talked to two job seekers in the past month who have listed lower-level titles. One worked as general manager at a steel manufacturer; his resume now say “plant manager” or “manufacturing manager,” Kirkland said.

One Charlotte woman, who asked not to be identified, has had two recruiters present her former title as “director” of marketing, rather than “vice president,” thinking the latter would make her seem overqualified, she said.

The woman, who is in her 40s, agreed to ditch the title in hopes of getting an interview and deciding for herself whether the job was a fit, she said.

“Anybody who’s been out of work for a long period of time begins looking for, ‘What can I do to survive?’” said Doug Forrest, a researcher at recruiting firm CEO Inc. “They’re doing what they have to do in order to become employed.”

It’s hard to say whether leaving information off a resume is unethical. Generally, recruiters say it’s smart to tailor your resume to different positions and play up the strengths that would be a good match. Omitting details is not considered as serious as inventing qualifications you don’t have.

Barry Wohl of Carolina Custom Resumes often discusses with clients the best way to phrase titles and qualifications, he said.

“We don’t want them to look like they’re in that rarefied atmosphere where it looks like there’s very little demand,” he said.

Wohl frequently omits college graduation dates, for instance, so hiring managers can’t immediately tell how long an applicant has been in the work force. He has worked with at least one client who left out his master’s degree.

“The feeling would be that they just did not want to appear too educated or like they would require a higher salary,” he said.

Some workers still hold out for a job that fits, like Lysa Schmidt, 50, who lost her job at Citigroup in December after 19 years.

“I’m not going to take anything off my resume,” she said. “I’m not going to settle.”

But for others, settling has become the only option.

Richard Smith, who moved to Charlotte from Michigan last year, has used 25 to 50 versions of his resume over the past few years, playing up or down certain qualifications based on the opportunity, he said Thursday at a local networking event.

Smith’s last job was as a project manager in the automotive industry. When he first moved to Charlotte, he was looking for jobs with similar pay. Now, he has lowered those expectations and is checking out teaching and coaching positions at area schools.

T.J. Broadnax, who lost his job as a sales agent with a home builder last year, hasn’t made significant changes to his resume, though he’s targeting lower-level jobs than he would normally pursue.

“I’m finding that the positions that are out there – the only ones available – are the entry-level ones,” he said. “They are positions I normally wouldn’t have thought twice about.”

Employers have mixed opinions on toned-down resumes. Sandy Cranford, director of hiring for Carowinds, which is filling more than 2,100 seasonal jobs this year, said she hasn’t seen applicants toning down resumes. She said she has seen candidates with MBAs apply there.

“For those that are overqualified, it’s just less training we have to do,” she said.

Cranford said she wouldn’t be bothered if someone chose not to disclose certain qualifications – but that those things are nice to know and can sometimes result in a better position, if one becomes available.

Betsey Walker, human resources manager for Charlotte’s Carilion Labs, a hospital lab company, said it’s best for applicants to play up certain skills or accomplishments, but they should rarely leave anything out.

“Probably in this market, it’s not unwise to be appealing to different employers, but you don’t want to try to be everything to everybody,” she said.

Walker has seen candidates leave information off because they feel it’s irrelevant to the job. She considers that a misrepresentation.

“I find myself wondering, what else did they leave out?” she said.

Tough job market or not, most recruiters and resume experts don’t advise clients to tone down their resumes.

“You should never apologize for your experience and skills,” said Bill Reading of King Career Consultants. “Our advice is to be somewhat patient.”

After all, while toning down a resume isn’t as bad as pumping it up with false credentials, it’s still dishonest, some say. It’s also tough to fool hiring managers, who can expose inconsistencies with a quick reference check.

“As a general rule, I don’t recommend that folks accept jobs where the job requirement is much below where they’ve been,” said Kirkland, the Fort Mill recruiter. “It was a long, hard fight to get to that level, and it’s going to be a long, hard fight to get it back.”

March 15, 2009 Posted by | Careers, Job Search, Resume Writing | 1 Comment

2008-09 Dice Tech Salary Survey Results

More Wages, More Worried: Dice Salary Survey Reveals Conflicted Job Market

Dice’s 2008-09 Annual Salary Survey of technology professionals found a spike in salary increases despite a recessionary economy. Gathering the responses of more than 19,000 technology workers between August and November 2008, Dice tracked a 4.6 percent increase in average pay from the previous year to $78,035.

The top worries for technology professionals in 2009 are keeping skills up to date (22 percent), job elimination (20 percent), lower salary increases (14 percent), canceled projects (12 percent) and increased workload due to staff cuts (10 percent). Supporting this theme, Dice reports a 67 percent increase in the number of new resumes posted to its site in the fourth quarter (year over year). Given that the majority of technology professionals who utilize Dice are currently employed, such “passive job hunting” indicates greater anxiety about the job market.

Still, individuals with specific training and capabilities received outsized raises in 2008: for example, Security Analysts saw increases of 8.4 percent, Software Engineers were up 7 percent, and Applications Developers enjoyed 6.6 percent raises.

“That average tech salaries are rising even as the economy falls reveals how much has changed since the dot-com days,” said Tom Silver, SVP & CMO, at Dice. “Today many technology professionals are seen as core assets where they work. As they enhance their skills, they’ll need to align those efforts with the market’s shifting demands. However, over the long-term, updating and broadening one’s skill set is the key to continued salary gains.”

Additional Findings of the Survey Include:
• In major technology centers, IT salaries are up 5.8 percent in New York, 3.8 percent in Chicago, 3.6 percent in both Silicon Valley and Washington, D.C., and just 0.4 percent in Dallas/Fort Worth.
• By metropolitan area, smaller, less traditional tech markets such as Charlotte saw the biggest salary increases, up 14.7 percent to $81,426, followed by St. Louis, up 12.5 percent to $72,819.
• Topping the compensation/skill set list are workers in the areas of ABAP – Advanced Business Application Programming ($106,975), ETL – Extract Transform and Load ($102,364) and Business Intelligence databases ($101,585).
• Project managers earned, on average, $103,424 in 2008, the highest earning title outside of top technology executives. Those workers, often holding CIO and CTO titles, earned an average of $111,998 in 2008.
• On an industry-by-industry basis, technology professionals in the Computer Hardware field received average raises of 9.4 percent to $77,387. Salaries in the Internet Services industry were boosted by 8.8 percent to $77,819. Retail/Mail Order/E-Commerce and Government/Defense fields were allotted the smallest raises, up 2.4 percent and 3.4 percent, respectively.
• Women technology professionals, as a group, earned 12% less on average than men. However, when comparing women IT professionals with their equivalent male counterpart (controlling for years of experience, education levels and job titles), the so-called gender gap disappeared.

Survey Question: For 2009, what is the biggest concern you have about your career?
Keeping Skills Up-to-Date / Being Valuable to Employer – 22%
Position Elimination – 20%
Lower Salary Increases / Lower Billing Rates – 14%
Canceled Projects / Fewer Projects – 12%
Increased Workload (due to staff cuts) – 10%
Increased Outsourcing – 7%
Position Relocation – 3%
No Concerns at this Time – 12%

Average Salary by Job Title
Listed under each title are the figures for 2005-06, 2006-07, 2007-08, 2008-09 and Previous Year % Change

IT Management (CEO, CIO, CTO, VP, Dir., Strategist, Architect)
$102,326
$106,272
$107,830
$111,998
3.9%
Project Manager
$93,009
$96,475
$101,292
$103,424
2.1%
MIS Manager
$82,824
$82,510
$88,934
$93,318
4.9%
Software Engineer
$78,807
$83,524
$84,122
$90,031
7.0%
Database Administrator
$81,301
$85,441
$85,092
$89,742
5.5%
Developer: Systems
$72,732
$78,476
$88,361
$87,211
-1.3%
Security Analyst
$74,837
$79,411
$80,052
$86,778
8.4%
Business Analyst
$77,158
$82,288
$84,101
$85,933
2.2%
Developer: Applications
$73,636
$78,037
$79,421
$84,672
6.6%
Developer: Database
$73,768
$79,911
$83,163
$84,176
1.2%
Developer: Client/Server
$75,941
$74,602
$78,173
$78,560
0.5%
Programmer/Analyst
$65,174
$69,757
$71,623
$74,851
4.5%
Technical Writer
$68,125
$73,094
$73,133
$73,762
0.9%
Network Engineer
$65,122
$67,202
$68,391
$72,496
6.0%
Systems Administrator
$63,698
$64,917
$66,388
$70,307
5.9%
Web Developer/Programmer
$61,261
$65,327
$68,571
$69,853
1.9%
Quality Assurance (QA) Tester
$64,486
$68,280
$68,952
$69,128
0.3%
Network Manager
$58,434
$62,225
$64,638
$67,820
4.9%
Technical Support
$47,259
$49,347
$49,384
$49,967
1.2%
Desktop Support Specialist
$42,204
$44,909
$46,458
$46,331
-0.3%
Help Desk
$37,397
$39,430
$41,154
$41,959
2.0%

March 15, 2009 Posted by | Careers, Job Search | 1 Comment

Dressing Up for the Casual Interview

suit and tie1 The old adage “Dress for Success” has been around a long time.  Recently, I was curious to see what my colleagues would say about dressing up for interviews where the dress code is very casual.  I’ve always felt you can’t overdress, although you might want to leave the cuff links at home.  My fellow colleagues from all over the blog world agree.

Dan Nuroo, from Melbourne, Australia, commented “it is better to overdress than take a chance… you can always take the tie and jacket off in the interview, if the “feel” is right (maybe could work in your favour to ask them if they are comfortable with the tie removal if you feel over dressed once there).”  He went on to say, “I would suggest going the conservative approach at first.  Why give anyone an option or excuse to say “no”, if you think something like that could be an issue… take it out of the equation.”  Dan Goyeneche of North Brunswick, NJ agreed by saying, “You can always take the tie off. It’s got to be better that being the only one in the room without one.”

Gino Conti, a corporate recruiter for Nissan North America in Farmington Hills, Michigan also agreed.  He shared, “In my opinion a suit and tie is interview attire….even if their environment is more casual, it will probably not be a shock to see you dressed up for the meeting.”  I had asked about men wearing their earrings to such an environment, and Gino add, “Regarding the earrings I would definitely leave them out for the interview process. Even though it is pretty socially appropriate for men to have them, many places do not allow them at work. If after interviewing and landing the job you find it is ok to have them, by all means put them back in.”  He summarized his thoughts quite well by saying the test is really quite simple for the interview. If you think there is a chance your appearance could be controversial at all, don’t do it. If you’re the right person for the job, being dressed (or decorated) inappropriately would be a terrible way to miss out on the opportunity!

LIsa DeAngelo from Cleveland was pretty adamant about the earrings.  She said, “I will stress No Earrings unless you are applying for a job at Piercing Pagoda. That’s a no brainer.”

So it looks like the old adage is still true today even after the birth of the dotcoms.  Brent Potter of Ontario sums it up:  “Literally my life motto: It’s better to be overdressed and look like a fool, than to be underdressed and actually be one.”

March 15, 2009 Posted by | Careers, Interviewing 101, Job Search | 2 Comments

Successful Interviewing: Part 6 – Last Thoughts and the Follow-up

Last Thoughts and the Follow-up

Interviewing the Interviewer

There is one other consideration the candidates sometime forget during the interviewing process: Make sure you like them as much as they like you. Keep in mind during the process, that you have to ask good questions, make observations, and conduct research (through employees that work there, Internet articles and discussions, financial data) so that you are well-educated on the company.

Just be sure to maintain your enthusiasm while collecting this data. Sometimes the information you have can slant your thoughts on the company, but you need to weigh out all the pro’s and con’s before deciding if this is the company for you. In the meanwhile, assume it is your ideal job and keep in mind, you cannot turn down an offer you do not have. You goal is first to get an offer, and then to decide if you should take it based on the information you gathered during the process.

Follow-up

Sending thank you notes is still appreciated by hiring managers. It sends the signal that you are truly thankful for their time and interested in the job. If the process is going to execute quickly, you may have to send an email. Even with an email, you can construct a short note as an attachment that seems a little more personal than putting your text in the body of the email.

Based on the timeline you were given, there is no harm in following up with the appropriate contact to see how the process is going.

The Last Thoughts

IS739-009The interviewing process does not have to be intimidating. It is much like going to a party and introducing yourself to new people and telling them all about you. An interview is just a little more formal and takes a lot more preparation. In both cases, you exchange information to convince each other you are a good fit to continue a relationship.

As long as you follow the outlined steps in this white paper, you should be in a great position to have a successful exchange of information. Whether or not you are the right fit, your interviewers will have all the right information to make an educated decision about you. And you will have all the right information to make an educated decision about them.

This series of articles on Successful Interviewing is also available as an eBook on the A-List Solutions web site.  Click this link for a free download:  get eBook now.

March 15, 2009 Posted by | Careers, Interviewing 101, Job Search | Leave a comment

Successful Interviewing: Part 5 – Asking the Right Questions the Right Way

Asking the Right Questions the Right Way

There are several different times throughout the interview to ask questions and several types of questions to ask.

The Introductory Question

Towards the very beginning of the interview, it is a good idea to pose one question before getting started: “As the hiring manager for the position, I’d love to hear your perspective on what you’re looking for in a candidate and what you expect the candidate to accomplish soon after being hired.” By asking this up front, the interviewee gets the chance to understand directly from the hiring manager what they consider to be key attributes for the hired applicant. You can put stars on your checklist next to these items (to prioritize the list even further) or add new items to cover.

You may have to take initiative to get this question on the table first. You will have to find a convenient time to ask. When getting ready to sit down at the table, you might say you would like to ask one question before the interview begins.  You may also want to ask how much time has been allocated for each interviewing session (if you have several), so you can use the time wisely.

The Obligatory Question

In almost all interviews, the interviewer will ask the candidate if they have any questions for them. If it does not appear as if they are going to offer this, be sure to ask them if you can take a little more of their time to learn more about the team and company by asking a few questions.

When given the floor to ask questions, candidates should realize this is another time to shine. It is imperative that a candidate ask some questions that do three things:

1) Show you did a little research about the company

2) Mention something else (related, but interesting) about you

3) Will have an interesting answer.  Just asking, “when will you make a decision?” is not a good question. Ask about the company, the technology, the vision for the future, or something insightful.  Questions about the hiring process can be asked through a recruiter or in a follow-up after the interview.

Candidates can also opt to ask some of the more generic questions, but these should still have useful and interesting responses. There are many lists of questions available to choose from on the Internet. A short list is below.

  • What are the most attractive aspects of this job? What are the worst parts?
  • What are the biggest challenges facing this department/company in the next six months?
  • What makes this company a great place to work? Are there entities outside the company who would concur with rankings or awards?
  • What would I see if I stood outside the front door at 5 o’clock? Would everyone be smiling? Staying late or leaving early?
  • What are some examples of the decisions I could make in this job? What is the degree of autonomy and control I would have in this position?

Be sure to put your questions in writing so you do not forget them after a long interview. It is also a good idea to put the questions in priority order. This ensures that, if you run out of time, you have asked the more important ones. While asking questions, candidates should watch for cues that the interviewer is running out of time or wants to move on.

The Validation Question

After you have had a chance to ask your questions, you will want to validate that you are an ideal candidate for the job. To do this, you should probe into the minds of the interviewers and see if there are any concerns they have about you. The key question to do this can be along the lines of:

“After discussing this job, I feel as if I would be a perfect fit for it. I’m curious to know if there is anything I said or DID NOT say that would make you believe otherwise.”

The answer you get to this question may open the door to mentioning something you did not get to talk about during the interview or clarify any potential misconception over something that was covered. You may not get a chance to address shortcomings in a follow-up interview—it is imperative to understand what was missing from the discussion while still in the interview.

The Closing Question

As you sense the interview is over and all the questions have been asked, you will want to leave on a high note with great enthusiasm. You will want the interviewer to know that you are excited about the potential of working there and would like to know the next steps towards this. A simple way to convey this is with the comment and question:

“I must say that I am even more excited about the prospect of working here than I was when I walked in the door. It seems like this would be a good fit for both of us. I am excited to know what the next steps are in the process.”

This series of articles on Successful Interviewing is also available as an eBook on the A-List Solutions web site.  Click this link for a free download:  get eBook now.

March 15, 2009 Posted by | Careers, Interviewing 101, Job Search | 1 Comment

Successful Interviewing: Part 4 – How to “Shine” During the Interview

How to “Shine” During the Interview

With all the work put into preparing for an interview, knowing what you want to cover, and having key strategies for answering questions, you are guaranteed to have a great interview, right? Wrong! The interview can still be poorly executed due to the “smaller things” that occur during an interview. There are many do’s and don’ts for the day of the interview. A comprehensive list from Virginia Tech’s Career Resources Department is included below. I have added some additional comments within the list in italics.

Interview DO’s

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Dress appropriately for the industry.  Err on the side of being conservative to show you take the interview seriously. Your personal grooming and cleanliness should be impeccable.

Even if this means adding a tie and coat on the way to the interview, you should do it. Even companies with a casual dress code want to see you know how to present yourself well when the occasion calls for it. Although, with casual companies, don’t go over the top (i.e., cuff links).

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Know the exact time and location of your interview; know how long it takes to get there, park, and find a rest room to freshen up.

Don’t forget about bad traffic. Even if it is your reason for being late, it sounds like a lame excuse.

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Arrive early; 10 minutes prior to the interview start time.

Have a contact number with you in the car in case you are running late. It is a good idea to call ahead if you are running late so your interviewers can use their time wisely.

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Treat other people you encounter at the company (i.e., receptionist, nurse) with courtesy and respect. Their opinions of you might be solicited during hiring decisions.

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Offer a firm handshake, make eye contact, and have a friendly expression when you are greeted by your interviewer.

Keep that eye contact and friendly demeanor throughout the interview. People want to hire candidates who seem like they would be easy to work with (and friendly). Smiling and politely laughing at the appropriate times conveys more about you than you might think. The key is not to be stiff or nervous. Have a comfortable and conversational tone.

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Listen to be sure you understand your interviewer’s name and the correct pronunciation.

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Even when your interviewer gives you a first and last name, address your interviewer by title (Ms., Mr., Dr.) and last name, until invited to do otherwise.

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Sit still in your seat; avoid fidgeting and slouching.

A simple way to avoid slouching is keep your lower back pressed against the seat. Doing this keeps you from leaning forward (appearing a little too intense) and slouching (and looking a little too comfortable). Keep your hands in your lap to avoid fidgeting and only hold on to your pen when you are taking notes. Candidates who click or tap their pen can be annoying during the interview.

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Respond to questions and back up your statements about yourself with specific examples whenever possible.

When discussing your experiences, do not be afraid to use the word “I.” Sure, everyone looks for a team player and you can say “we” whenever appropriate (i.e., “we brainstormed on the solutions, and I executed on the plan”).  Ultimately the interviewer wants to know what YOU did versus the team.

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Ask for clarification if you do not understand a question. 

You need to be an excellent listener. Half of being an “excellent communicator” is being able to listen and understand what you are being told. Certainly ask for clarification if you do not understand a question, but if you have to do this too much, you will send a signal that you might not listen well (and therefore, not take direction well).

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Be thorough in your responses, while being concise in your wording.

Remember, being concise ensures your intended message is not lost and allows you to bridge to related, important experiences as discussed in an earlier section.

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Be honest and be yourself.  Dishonesty gets discovered and is grounds for withdrawing job offers and for firing. You want a good match between yourself and your employer. If you get hired by acting like someone other than yourself, you and your employer will both be unhappy.

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Treat the interview seriously and as though you are truly interested in the employer and the opportunity presented.

You can always decide the job is not for you after you have had a chance to consider all your options and reflect on the decision. While in the interview, consider this job your BEST option.

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Exhibit a positive attitude. The interviewer is evaluating you as a potential co-worker. Behave like someone you would want to work with.

Positive attitude stretches beyond the workplace. They might even comment on the rainy weather to see how you respond. “Our lawns really need this water” is a POSITIVE response.

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Have intelligent questions prepared to ask the interviewer. Having done your research about the employer in advance, ask questions which you did not find answered in your research.

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Evaluate the interviewer and the organization s/he represents. An interview is a two-way street. Conduct yourself cordially and respectfully, while thinking critically about the way you are treated and the values and priorities of the organization.

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Do expect to be treated appropriately. If you believe you were treated inappropriately or asked questions that were inappropriate or made you uncomfortable, reconsider working with this organization.

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When the interviewer concludes the interview, offer a firm handshake and make eye contact. Depart gracefully.

Realize that the interview starts and ends right as you enter and exit the parking lot. You never know who might be watching from the windows as you exit your car and finish getting dressed/drop your papers and chase them around the parking lot/finish a heated argument on your cell phone. The receptionist, admin, and anyone you meet are all a part of the team critiquing your soft skills. Do not assume the interview turns on and off during your stay. Anything you do or say is part of the interview—even small talk.

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After the interview, make notes right away so you don’t forget critical details.

You can jot a few notes during the interview, too, especially when getting answers to your questions. It sends a signal that you are listening and very interested in what they have to say. Just be careful about losing too much eye contact when putting too much detail in your notes. The details can be added later—just write down enough for recalling the conversation.

Interview DON’Ts

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Don’t make excuses. Take responsibility for your decisions and your actions.

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Don’t make negative comments about previous employers or professors (or others).

No exceptions. It sends the message that you might have an issue eventually with the interviewing company if they hire you.

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Don’t falsify application materials or answers to interview questions.

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Don’t treat the interview casually, as if you are just shopping around or doing the interview for practice. This is an insult to the interviewer and to the organization.

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Don’t give the impression that you are only interested in an organization because of its geographic location.

Or continuing education program, or company stability, or health club benefits, or… you get the picture.

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Don’t give the impression you are only interested in salary; don’t ask about salary and benefits issues until the subject is brought up by your interviewer.

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Don’t act as though you would take any job or are desperate for employment.

On the contrary, act confident, but not arrogant.

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Don’t make the interviewer guess what type of work you are interested in; it is not the interviewer’s job to act as a career advisor to you.

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Don’t be unprepared for typical interview questions. You may not be asked all of them in every interview, but being unprepared looks foolish.

The typical interview questions can be found all over the Internet.

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A job search can be hard work and involve frustrations; don’t exhibit frustrations or a negative attitude in an interview.

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Don’t assume that a female interviewer is “Mrs.” or “Miss.” Address her as “Ms.” unless told otherwise. Her marital status is irrelevant to the purpose of the interview.

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Don’t chew gum or smell like smoke.

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Don’t allow your cell phone to sound during the interview. (If it does, apologize quickly and ignore it.) Don’t take a cell phone call.

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Don’t take your parents, your pet (an assistance animal is not a pet in this circumstance), spouse, fiancé, friends or enemies to an interview. If you are not grown up and independent enough to attend an interview alone, you’re insufficiently grown up and independent for a job. (They can certainly visit your new city, at their own expense, but cannot attend your interview.)

A few other points to remember:

  • Make sure you bring a notepad for note-taking, your checklist developed during your preparation, and your list of questions. Confirm if you should also be bringing copies of your work if applicable (although it doesn’t hurt to bring it regardless).
  • Emphasize what you can do for them, not what they can do for you. This idea ties back to an earlier topic of answering the question of “why should they hire you.”
  • A convenient way to remember many of these do’s and don’ts is drawing little icons at the side or bottom of your note pad. Having a little eye for reminding you to maintain eye contact or a chair to remind you of your posture might be handy.

This series of articles on Successful Interviewing is also available as an eBook on the A-List Solutions web site.  Click this link for a free download:  get eBook now.

March 15, 2009 Posted by | Careers, Interviewing 101, Job Search | 3 Comments

Successful Interviewing: Part 3 – How to Take Ownership and Use Your Checklist

How to Take Ownership and Use Your Checklist

The reoccurring theme in this series revolves around your responsibility for sharing all the best information you have.  Although the interviewer is asking the questions, you are providing the answers.  How you do this dictates how much “ownership” you have in the process.  Your goal is to get as many of the items on your checklist (from Part 2) shared as possible.  This requires some quick thinking during the interview.  The different kinds of questions you are asked allow you to cover a lot of ground.  Here are some examples of questions and how to answer, while leveraging your checklist along the way.

The Direct Question:  This is one where the interviewer asks you a very specific question that you have a very specific example/answer from your checklist.  Example:  How much experience do you have in sales?  You should not only have those facts on your checklist, but also a few key achievements in this area.

The Indirect or Generic Question: Some interviewers ask questions like “tell me about yourself or your experiences?”  They do not want to hear where you grew up or what high school you attended. They want to hear examples of work and skills that pertain to the job.  Use your checklist!  If the interviewer really does want more on your personal background, they will probably ask a slightly more direct question in that direction. Another generic question is “what is your favorite work experience or position held?”  Again, your checklist has the answers—you certainly listed some of your best work.  The key to this type of question is to talk about experiences that are relevant to the job for which you are interviewing, not just anything that comes to mind (that’s why you have a checklist to reference throughout the interview).

The “Classic” Question:  These are the ones that you know they are going to ask or you have heard many times in interviews.  Examples include “where do you see yourself in five years?” and “what is one of your pet peeves?”  Even these questions can be links to your checklist.  For these types of questions, don’t be shy about practicing the answers with a friend first.  The test is to see if what you wanted to convey in your answer is what is perceived by your friend.  Sometimes answers are so convoluted that the true essence of your answer is lost in a long-winded, multi-faceted answer. 

One of my favorite Classic Questions is “why should I hire you?”  Instead of telling the interviewer why you want the job (which tells them little about why they should hire you), tell them more from your checklist, specifically: (1) your skill set; (2) your knowledge about the company, industry, processes they use, challenges they face, clients, and their learning curve; (3) your manageability (you are not a “problem child,” but low maintenance); (4) your value and their return-on-investment (you bring more to the table then they requested for the same salary); (5) your tendency to go above and beyond a job description (you work hard and contribute in unique ways).

Bridge Bridging:  Sometimes you’ll be asked a direct question where you’ll want to “bridge” to a secondary answer to the question.  There are two scenarios to do this:  (1) when you have a good answer, but also have a second answer that is on your checklist; (2) when you have a weak answer, but have a related experience or skill that will improve the overall impression.  Here are truncated examples of both.

Question:  What is your experience in using Tool XYZ?

Strength to Strength Bridged Answer:  I have used Tool XYZ for several years on five different projects and consider myself an expert user.  During those projects, I also used Tool ABC which I consider to be equally useful and sometimes faster to use.

Weakness to Strength Bridged Answer:  I have used Tool XYZ sparingly during the last year.  Typically, I use Tool ABC for the same purpose and have found both easy to use.  I’m sure I could become an expert in XYZ, too, if I was to use it as often in the future.

The key to bridging is the two topics should be related somehow so it is a natural connection between the two items.  Also, it is essential to answer your first part of the question concisely.  If you take up too much time with the first part of the question, it’s probably not wise to bridge to another time-consuming topic. 

Another aspect of taking ownership of the interview is to control the flow of information.  Good interviewers are trained to let interviewees talk and talk and talk.  There’s no harm in this as long as the right information is shared.  How does one gauge this?  It’s essential to stop for clarification or watch your interviewer. While answering questions, see if they are taking notes or checking boxes on their list.  As they say in sales, once you get your “yes,” stop talking.  You’ve done enough.  If there is no note taking, is your interviewer still paying attention or is he/she glassy eyed?  If you’re not sure if you’ve answered the question, then ask.  Simply asking, “does that answer your question?” or “is that the kind of information you were looking for?” helps verify you are ready to move to the next question.

Keep in mind that many interviews are on a timetable.  You only get so much time to answer questions.  You want to answer as many as possible—taking too much time with one can be a time waster.

This series of articles on Successful Interviewing is also available as an eBook on the A-List Solutions web site.  Click this link for a free download:  get eBook now.

March 15, 2009 Posted by | Careers, Interviewing 101, Job Search | Leave a comment