New Year – New Interviews

This month I have been trying to get you in a new state of mind. I’ve talked about new markets, new resumes, new cover letters, new targets, and new networking strategies. For the last post in January, let’s focus on the new interviews.

If you have a good resume and cover letter and you use those with effective networking, I can almost guarantee you’ll get interviews. These techniques will raise you above the average job seeker and give you the visibility you need to be noticed. Then, it will be up to you to use your interviewing skills to move to the next stage.

If you click on Interviewing in the Tag Cloud to the right of this post, you’ll find seven previous posts on interviewing. One of my favorites is Becoming Scheherazade… from just over a year ago. Each of the posts provides some insight in how to make your interviews more successful, but for you impatient ones…

  • Be prepared – go online and find lists of the interview questions. Then write out your answers to those questions. Then practice saying those answers aloud. Be prepared to answer behaviorally based questions (back to Scheherazade).
  • Know who you are and what you want – spend some time (before the interview) really thinking about what you want out of your next job and what you can give. This will drive your elevator speech (last week) but it will also let you answer those questions about your strengths and weaknesses.
  • Get off on the right foot – be on time, well dressed and groomed, look the interviewer in the eye, offer a firm handshake, etc. You need to make a good first impression.
  • Answer the questions you’re asked – don’t talk about unrelated subjects, don’t volunteer information they don’t need to know, don’t vent about how your former employer fired you or about how bad your old boss was at managing.
  • Ask questions – use your opportunity to ask questions to show what you know about this company (things you learned while developing your target list, networking, or through research). Asking questions shows that you are interested and want to learn more. Asking intelligent questions really gets the interviewer’s attention.
  • Be polite – enough said.

Losing one a job and finding another can be a challenging, frustrating, and ultimately rewarding process. For the most part the techniques are not rocket-science, but for many they are not common sense either. I hope that these new posts in January have given you the foundation to understand the process and be successful.


If you want more advice on how to write a resume, how to, network or just how to find a job, check out I’m Fired?!? A Business Fable about the Challenges of Losing One Job and Finding Another. Click here for more details.

Should You have a Portfolio?

The portfolio – a collection of your previous work – has been a common practice for artist and writers for some time. The portfolio is a way to prove yourself – rather than simply tell a prospective employer what you have done (or can do) you show them what you have done. So, or an artist, a graphic designer, or a writer – this is pretty straightforward, but what about you?

I thought that portfolios were only for artists until a friend of mine recently told me about his portfolio. He is an IT Project Manager – about as far from begin as an artist as you can get. His portfolio has samples of his work – the tools he uses to track projects, the memos he writes to update his customer, the PERT and GANTT charts he uses to look for critical issues. Not art, but very helpful when goes to an interview.

That conversation got me thinking. What could I put in a portfolio? As an HR professional, could I show a well-written policy? How about a new salary structure? A Job Description? An Open Enrollment announcement or implementation schedule? The more I thought about it the more ideas I had from my history.

I know many people that look at their job a kind of ordinary or humdrum. Accountants make journal entries and reconcile accounts. Recruiters interview candidates. Purchasing folks buy stuff. What is there to show someone? Plenty!

As you think about your portfolio, remember that the people you will be showing it to understand what you do. While an Accountant sharing an example of a difficult reconciliation might not be fun for most of us, it will interest another accountant – especially one who’s trying to evaluate the level of work.

Find those examples of what you’ve done well, and feel free two show them off. Use that portfolio to tell your story with more than just words and you’ll increase your interview success.

For more help with your job search read: I’m Fired?!? A Business Fable about the Challenges of Losing One Job and Finding Another. Click here to learn how to get your copy.

Back to Basics

Earlier I mentioned a symposium I attended on helping homeless Veterans find jobs and some of the job seeking advice I heard there. There was one more bit of advice that’s been running around in the back of my head – do I blog about this or not? I decided the answer is yes. There’s nothing earth shattering here but it can’t hurt to get this kind of advice periodically during your job search.

Here are 15 basic tips that you need to aware of when you go to an interview or a networking meeting. Again, I hope there are no surprises here, but if there are, at least someone told you.  These are not in priority order, you need to do them all.

  1. Be on time. Before the interview know where you are going, how to get there, where you will park, etc. Plan to arrive 10 minutes (or so) early. Sit in your car and relax if you’re too early. Use the power building suggestions from by Body Language post while you wait.
  2. Be clean. I shouldn’t need to explain this.
  3. Smell good. This really should be “don’t smell.” Too much cologne or perfume is sometimes worse than none at all. I suggest you be a neutral as possible.
  4. Dress appropriately. I suggest you dress one step above what that office’s every-day work attire is. Guys – a business suit is not required or appropriate for all occasions. If they wear ties, you wear the suit. If they are business casual, you still wear the suit. If they are in jeans you wear dress pants and a dress shirt – tie is optional. If they are in shorts and filp-flops then you’re in business casual. Never less than business casual. Rarely more than business suit. If you don’t know what they wear, call the company and ask the receptionist. You don’t have to tell her your name J. Ladies – sorry but you’ll have to take your dress cues from my advice for guys. I’m not qualified to translate.
  5. Bring copies of your resume. I suggest between 2 and 5 copies. It depends on how many people you expect to meet.
  6. Bring something to take notes on. Not your hand or a pack of post-its. Don’t forget the pen.
  7. Remember your body language – smile, look people in the eye, offer a firm handshake.
  8. Speak clearly. Talk slowly, clearly. Use full sentences. Answer the question that is asked, nothing else. Don’t ramble.
  9. Remember your manners. Say please and thank you. I think you can use “sir” and “ma’am” but be careful. I may get some backlash on this, but some women take offense to ma’am because they say it makes them feel/sound old. I grew up with parents from the South and sir and ma’am are just part of who I am – no offense intended.
  10. Be patient. Take time to consider the question you’ve been asked before answering.
  11. No lying. Enough said.
  12. Ask questions. Be prepared to ask several questions (even if you already know the answers). You can ask about the company history, the strategic plan, their products, whatever – but show an interest in the organization.
  13. Ask when you can follow up. Even if they tell you when they plan to get back to you, ask when you can check back with them. Be proactive.
  14. Relax. This is a job interview. You are not being investigated for murder. The worse thing that can happen is that you don’t get this job. That’s okay – there will be others.
  15. Be yourself. Let them know all the ways you can make their organization better.

There you go – fifteen simple things to remember. Have a great interview!

Body Language

Last week I posted about self-confidence and first impressions. I thought it was pretty good – had some hard science in it – very helpful stuff. Then about 4 days later my daughter sends me a link that just blew me away. To a degree it reinforced what I was saying, but then amped it up about 10 times.

In this Ted Talk, Amy Cuddy, Associate Professor at Harvard University talks about not only how your body language influences others (what I was talking about) but more importantly how it influences you. If you are a job seeker you MUST watch this. I won’t steal her thunder, but she says through some very simple techniques you can dramatically influence the outcome of your interviews.

Her talk is about how your body language influences your mind and your powerfulness (or powerless-ness). She explains how her research proves that by simply changing your posture for two minutes before an interview, you will not only appear more confident, but you will actually change your brain chemistry and feel more powerful and confident.

Here is the link. WATCH THIS VIDEO and then come back here next week and find out how to continue to make your search more effective.

Strengths and Weaknesses

I’m not a psychic but I predict that at least one time in your job search some interviewer will ask you “What are your strengths and weaknesses?” While I don’t particularly like these questions (more on that later) you do need to be prepared to answer them. Usually the strengths are easier for people. Odds are you can say that you are honest, hardworking, dependable, loyal (remind you of the Boy Scout oath?). If you can, this is a chance to work in your previous related experience – you know the industry, know the job, etc. You understand the drill. You tell them whatever you think they need for this job is what you have – in spades. (More on that later too.)

Where people often struggle are with the weaknesses. Who wants to tell someone they just met what is wrong with them? Nobody! You were going for a good first impression. You don’t want to tell them that you’re a bear in the morning before your coffee or that you can get really cranky if you’re forced to work with people who are not as smart as you are. That just sounds like a bad idea – and to a large degree it is.

You know what issues you have, so try to find a “weakness” or two that you can put to the company’s advantage. For instance, can you turn impatience into a sense of urgency? How about perfectionism in to attention to detail? Can you turn conflict avoidance into being a good mediator, or disorganization into free thinking? The idea here is to be honest, but to also be clear that a) you do recognize that you have this “weakness” and b) you can use or compensate for that weakness in a productive way. A good friend once pointed out the difference between disabled and differently-abled. Just because you have a weakness, doesn’t mean you wouldn’t be great for this job – so tell them about it.

Now back to the second aside – “tell them what you think they want to hear”. I am not suggesting that you should be dishonest. You should pick the strengths that you have that are required for this job and sell those. For instance, you might be an incredible typist and speller but those may not be skills required of a manager or a machine operator. Focus on the job you’re applying for. Above all, be honest. With both strengths and weaknesses there is no expectation to reveal everything, but whatever you say you can do well – or you need to work on – needs to be true. Be honest with yourself and others all the time.

As for first aside, if you are an interviewer, these are lousy questions to ask because you will get the answers they think you want to hear. Instead, work those ideas inside of behaviorally based questions like “tell me about a time when you used your greatest work-related strength to help solve a critical problem” or “tell me a time about when one of your personal weaknesses caused you an issue at work.” These questions require that the strength or weakness be given some context and color. I can again make a prediction – you’ll get more useful information.

According to Wikipedia, no fewer than sixteen ancient Greek sages have been credited with the phrase “Know thyself” and it is still applicable today. As you dive into your job search, spend some time reflecting on what you do well and what you need to work on. Write down instances where you’ve done both, and think about how you can use your weaknesses to your future employers advantage.

Talk to Yourself

Many years ago I attended a two-day “Train the Trainer” workshop. You may not be planning on becoming at trainer, but this experience also made me better at job interviews.

I conduct a lot of training but I don’t like to be called a “trainer”. Those people are too out-there for me – too extroverted – too theatrical. I’m an engineer at-heart so many of training techniques just seemed really odd and uncomfortable to me.

One of the assignments in that workshop was to prepare and present a 5-minute training session. One step in our preparation was to practice that training session out loud. I remember thinking Out Loud? Are these people crazy? Do they really want me to sit here, surrounded by other participants, and talk to myself?

The answer was yes and later that day the room was flooded with sound as fifty or more people talked to themselves – ignoring everyone else in the room. Some stood, some talked to the wall, some closed their eyes, but they talked.

I was blown away. Partially because I learned there that a good trainer can get the participants to do just about anything, but more because it worked – at least for me. I was used to practicing my training in my head. I would look at my PowerPoint slides and think about what I would say for each one, and it worked, kind of. What I learned at that session was that talking to myself paid off.

In earlier posts I advised you to have an “Elevator Speech” – a 30-second summary of who you are and what you are looking for. I also advise that you find lists of common interview questions and write out the answers to those questions. Both of these exercises start with writing, but should be followed with talking to yourself.

When you practice your material aloud, several things happen. You get a sense of pace and timing. What you thought would be a two minute response may turn out to be twenty seconds or five minutes long. You’ll find word combinations that are hard to say (so you can find easier words). By hearing the material you’ll better understand if you’re making sense.

Maybe most importantly, speaking engages a different part of your brain. The process of seeing the word on the paper and then translating that to speech will help you retain them. Repeating that process several times will make you more comfortable with the material. Soon you are able to give that elevator speech, or answer those questions easily and comfortably. When that happens, the interviewer sees the real you, not the nervous you, or the I’m-not-sure-what-to-say you.

Talk to yourself and don’t pay any attention to those funny looks you get from others. I will caution you though, this may not be the best technique to practice in public. 🙂


Is Anybody Hungry?

I was participating in a panel interview recently and one of the panelists asked what might be one of the greatest interview questions I’ve ever heard.  He said “Tell me how you would make a peanut butter sandwich.”

I can hear you now – “What?!?  That’s the greatest question ever?”  Yes, it just might be.

Clearly there is no right or wrong to this question, but you can learn so much from the answer.  One candidate started with “well, I’m low on groceries so first I’d go to the store.”  Others are very direct, “I’d put peanut butter on two slices of bread and stick them together.”  Some get very detailed, “Take the bread from the cupboard, remove the twist-tie to open the package, remove two slices of bread and place them on a plate, reseal the package, then place the bread back in the cupboard” and on and on.  A surprising number will add jelly, even though it’s not part of the question.  Some talk about the colors and flavors while others stick to the facts like reading a computer manual.

What this question does is to force someone to reveal how they think. Are they a detail oriented person, a big picture person, or a descriptive person?  Do they understand process or only results? Are they creative?

As a job seeker, you need to think ahead about how you would answer this type of question.   The odds are that no one will ask you how to make a sandwich, but they might ask you questions that reveal who you are.  When they do, you need to know the answer to that question.