Interview, Job search

Falling in Love on your Interview

There is a funny saying I have seen around the internet.  It says, “Dating over 30 is easy.  It’s like riding a bike.  But the bike is on fire.  And the ground is on fire.  Everything is on fire.  Because you are in hell.”  This strikes me as funny because throughout my career I have heard the analogy of interviewing to dating—and with such prevalent strong feelings about dating, no wonder interviewing is a major cause of stress!

Dating is a trial-and-error process, with far more “error” than success.  Falling in love, however, is always wonderful, yet not attainable without experiencing the ebbs and flows of the dating process.  Too often in interviews we are afraid to invest ourselves for fear that if we “fall in love” during the interview process, we will only be disappointed (that is, we won’t be offered the job).  We guard ourselves.

Being turned down is ALWAYS disappointing. But if you never invest yourself, then you never have the opportunity to fall in love. What a shame that would be!  There is much we can learn about successful interviewing from the process of falling in love.

Love at first sight

Whether or not we like the idea, first impressions are important, on both sides.  More important than your clothing is your smile and eye contact.  For these assets to stand out, the clothing and accessories you select should become part of the background.  When you last fell in love (I mean love, not lust), was it with an article of clothing, or was it with the face that reflected the soul?

I’m often asked about tattoos, piercings, large jewelry and/or vivid outfits, and I always have the same advice.  Do not wear anything that speaks louder than your skillset.  Anything you wear should fade into the background like a frame does for a beautiful painting.  Your smile, personality, confidence and knowledge should take center stage.

Personal expression is important, and you should look around and see if the environment is a good fit for you.  Assume you should wear a suit or other formal business attire that fits you well, and makes you feel like a million bucks.  If you are told to come more casually, follow the advice.

There is no end game in mind

Most of us go on a date because there is some mutual attraction, and we hope to have a good time.  The short-term goal is to get to know the person, have some form of adventure, be it a nice meal or maybe a movie.  We don’t go on a date thinking about planning our marriage to the person; falling in love would be a happy surprise.  Yet we go to job interviews completely focused on getting the offer.  Before we have the understanding to discern if we want an offer, it is already our goal.  It would be like going on every date thinking, “I MUST GET MARRIED!  This is the one!  I know everything she likes.”  Or, “I will be that person so that he will propose to me very soon.”  I think we all know that is a recipe for a broken heart.

When we go on a date, we are listening for more subtle elements of connection.  Do they listen to me?  Do they understand me?  Did they laugh at that joke?  Are they smiling?  Do they make me smile?

When I reflect on my career and the people I have worked with, many vivid memories come to mind.  I have lost count of how many funerals I have been to with colleagues.  I’ve also been to a fair number of weddings and baby showers.  I have had to problem-solve through some nightmare problems at work, and I have celebrated major successes.  I’ve traveled across a big part of Canada on a week-long car trip with two colleagues.  I’ve been to Paris and China with others.  I’m not bragging. I share this to make a point:  What’s more important than the perfect answer to the behavior-based question is the answer to this question, “Do I want to work through a big work challenge with the people across from me?”  If hired, the panelists in front of you will become your friends.  The people who will support you through the events in the next chapter of your life, because truly there is no “work/life,” there’s just “life.”  Focus on getting to know them during the interview.  Be in the moment with them, hear them, understand them, and allow them to do the same with you.

“Love is patient, love is kind.”

This Biblical passage from 1 Corinthians is often used at Christian weddings, and, religious beliefs aside, it is sage advice in how you should settle into your interview discussions and allow yourself to be in the moment.  There is no such thing as the perfect candidate or the perfect employer.  Each candidate brings pros and cons, things they can teach the team, and things they will need to be taught.  Candidates who allow their personality to come out and make a genuine connection with people tend to find interview teams who are more considerate about what they are missing.  If you have been invited for an interview, you had enough of the skills to be considered for the job.  Most of the time the person who gets the offer is the one interviewers want to be with, every day.  They seek their smile or laugh, their kindness, their graciousness, their sense of humor or perspective.

A word about blind dates

The cringe-worthy blind date is one of the least anticipated events in a dating year, yet some turn into marriages that last a lifetime.  This always seems to work best when it’s organized by someone who knows both parties fairly well.

I often hear that getting a job is all about “who you know.”  I would go a step further and say that it’s all about who you know well.  The best reference is from someone who knows and respects your work, and can communicate specifically with the recruiter or hiring manager about what you would bring to the firm.  After a lifetime spent in recruiting I can tell you that I have never been influenced by someone who says, “This is a guy I know, kind of, or this is a woman who is a friend of a friend.”

Networking with strangers is a good idea if you are looking for company information, job leads, or feedback on your resume and/or personal presentation.  Use the people you did your best work with as your references, and consider asking them to write a reference for you on LinkedIn.  Write one for them first, and be specific!

How do I find love?

Maybe you have been in a job search for a long time.  Maybe you have been turned down a lot.  Stress can build, and it becomes harder to hide it.  The same is true for dating.  Maybe you have had too many breakups, or you feel you have been single much too long.  You find yourself expecting to be disappointed before the doorbell rings.  This kind of attitude is not fertile ground for falling in love.

I wish I had a recipe for falling in love, because I would be a gagillionaire! Alas, I do not.  However, I can tell you some things that might help you loosen your grip on a successful outcome, which may help you achieve it.

  • We have always heard that we shouldn’t study for a test right before the test. It’s like that.  Prepare for your interview by anticipating what you might be asked, but within 24 hours from your interview, let it go.  Instead, visualize the meeting.  See yourself in the interview and how you will perform.  Visualize it positively, don’t allow yourself to visualize making mistakes.
  • Watch Amy Cuddy’s video on YouTube about the “power pose.” Arrive a few minutes early, go to the restroom and take a few minutes to stand in a power pose.  I don’t recommend doing it in the parking lot, as your interview panel may see you out the window, standing like Super Man.
  • While waiting for the interview, don’t fiddle with your phone. Phones bring us news that can cause stress, and it makes you look insecure.  Put it away, or leave it in the car.
  • Focus on breathing, deep breaths gently in and out. Don’t hyperventilate.
  • Smile as often as possible.
  • Don’t fear silence. We fall in love with people because they open up the world for us.  They make us ponder things we have never pondered, and we become more than we were before.  If you are asked a question you don’t have a ready answer for, don’t feel defeated.  Instead, marvel that they have given you an opportunity to learn more about yourself.  Ask for a moment to consider it.    It’s okay to say, “That’s a great question, let me think about that,” before you reply.

Happily ever after

Don’t let preparation smother improvisation.  Both have a place in a successful interview.  This isn’t Jeopardy, where we smack the buzzer and yell, “What is a successful project, Alex?!”  The moments we remember are the moments when we are real.  Invest yourself, don’t fear rejection, and allow yourself to fall in love.

Like dating, you may feel the sting of rejection more profoundly this way, but you also open yourself up to a greater degree of success this way, and even more so, it was more fun.  It may take 30 interviews to get hired.  It may take 50.  It may take 5.  Wouldn’t it be better to enjoy them, however many there are?

Interview, Job search

The Dirty Dozen – 12 Job Search Misconceptions That Create Stress

Over the years I have encountered several misconceptions about the job search process.  Each, in its own way, causes stress.  These misconceptions have been compiled into the “Dirty Dozen” list below.  Each offers a link providing more information, targeted to your specific questions.

Companies are working hard to create more applicant-friendly processes, but for now, candidates can still experience periods without updates.  Grab a cup of coffee, take a deep breath, and understand what is happening in the background during the quiet periods of your search.

If the job was posted, it is an urgent need of the company.

I should network before applying for jobs.

All resumes are read thoughtfully.

The recruiter is avoiding me.

Transferrable skills are equally relevant.

No news is good news, or no news is bad news.

Applying to lots of jobs at the same company shows that I am very interested, and increases my chances of being hired.

The recruiter liked me, and that’s all that counts.

Follow up is good, or follow up is bad.

I don’t know what the company is looking for in this role.

All information obtained by networking is equally valuable.

I must be completely honest.

If the job was posted, it is an urgent need for the company.

Jobs are posted because there is a need for talent and the budget exists to support the addition of staff, or the replacement of staff.  Unfortunately, sometimes hiring managers have other things going on operationally that limit their time to review resumes, conduct interviews or participate in decision-making.  Sometimes hires must be made in a certain order to ensure proper onboarding for less departmental disruption.  Other things can happen too, like leave or illness of one of the members of the selection team.  There are times that a recruiter gets a high number of new jobs, which can slow down processing just like when you go to a restaurant at the lunch rush, and there are many people who have to be served in a short period of time.

Posting a job indicates a need, but not an urgent need.  Maybe the need is extremely urgent, but it doesn’t change the set of variables that are prolonging the selection process.  Be prepared for delays.  Keep your activity level high with networking and applications.  Take on a volunteer project to build on certain skills, or a computer class.  Being busy makes the time go by faster.

Return to the list.

I should network before applying for jobs.

Some jobs have a date where the posting closes.  Jobs with the government or with academic institutions tend to have these.  Once the job closes, the recruiter will sort through all applications to select the best.  In the business world, applications can be collected during the entire recruiting process.

Recruiters usually try to fill jobs in 30-45 days, ideally.  When you consider the time to find candidates, review resumes, conduct multiple rounds of interviews, background checks and complete the notice period, the pace is quick.  If your application arrives after they are well into the interview process, it may never be viewed unless the first round of candidates are turned down, or an offer is not accepted.

There are also jobs that recruiters know will have a high number of quality applicants.  Just because it may take 45 days to fill the job, does not mean the job posting will be open for application submission the entire time.  Sometimes they close the posting for additional applications after a week or two so that they do not have 500 applications to review.

I often hear that people wait until they thoroughly network with a company before applying, but this could mean you are applying too late.  Apply as soon as you see a job of interest, then network quickly.

Return to the list.

All resumes are read thoughtfully.

When writing a resume, we agonize over every word.  We want the reader to feel like they were right there with us in every job.  It may surprise you to hear that recruiters only spend a few seconds on your resume.  We see so many of them, we can usually tell in a glance if someone generally has what we need, or doesn’t have what we need.  If they don’t have what we need, we pass.

If you seem to have the right background, we take more time to read the resume, scanning to see if there are any red flags or contrary evidence, or to see if you have any big wins that make you more compelling.

It’s important that you put your biggest selling points in the top half of the first page on your resume.  Since recruiters don’t do your job all day in most cases, it’s important that you make it clear.  If you aren’t sure if your resume is clear, give it to three friends who aren’t in your field, and who will be completely honest with you.  Ask them to take a few seconds to glance at it, and ask them what they think you do for a living.  If they don’t understand, you need to rework your resume.

Make your successes quantifiable and easy to find.  As a rule of thumb, the further down you go on a page, the fewer bullets you should have associated with that role, and don’t include anything that someone would assume as a given in your job.  For example, if you sell cars, don’t say you meet with customers on the lot.

If you work in sales, and the only numbers on your resume are your address and phone number, don’t expect to get a call.  Quantifiable successes are the best way to get noticed.

There are those who believe that they do not work in sales, and therefore do not need to quantify their successes.  You may not work in sales, but if your job is selling your skills in the job market, you work in sales.  If quantifying your success is something you have not done in the past, do your best to estimate with the data you have today.  Once you start in your next job, make it a habit to keep a file of your wins.  It’s not egotistical to understand your value, and it can be a great pick-me-up on days where everything seems to go wrong.

Return to the list.

The recruiter is avoiding me.

Recruiters do not usually call you unless they have something positive and productive to say. That’s actually more thoughtful than you realize.  It’s also why we turn people down in writing, but make job offers by phone.  Think about it.  When your phone rings, you assume it’s good news, right?  If the call really had no point but to say that there is no news, you would feel disappointed.  Informed, yes, but disappointed.

When you are turned down by phone, it is awkward, and you aren’t sure what to say next.  Should I advocate for myself?  Should I just say, “thank you?”

When you find yourself thinking, “What is going on that I haven’t heard from anyone?,” keep in mind that your recruiter is likely in back-to-back interviews most of the day.  When they aren’t doing that, they have a host of other meetings to attend, reports to compile, offers to make and interview days to plan.  It is almost impossible to get them on the phone.  Some tips to offer when contacting your recruiter are listed below.

  • Always be positive, live or on voice mail. Add joy to their day, don’t drain it.
  • Don’t complain. Recruiters are sales people.  They like closing things as much as you like being hired.  If you’re frustrated at how long it’s taking, they probably are too.
  • Do not use the above tidbit of information to try to forge a bond with the recruiter by speaking ill of the hiring manager. They have more of a relationship with the hiring manager than they do with you, and it still comes across as a complaint.
  • Do not return their calls without listening to the voicemail they left with detailed information.
  • If they left specific questions for you on your voicemail or information they need to move forward, leave it on their voicemail, or email it to them. Don’t just leave a message saying that you are returning their call.  Phone tag is the main reason jobs take so long to fill.

Return to the list.

Transferrable skills are equally relevant.

When you bought your last car, I bet you had a list of things you had to have.  Other features were fine, but you could deal with it if you didn’t have them.  I bet you left with a car that had most of your “must have” items, or if you didn’t, perhaps you still resent the fact that you settled for a car that didn’t really meet your needs.  If you settled, it was probably because you either couldn’t find a car that had all the options you wanted, or you found it but couldn’t afford it.

The same applies to hiring decisions.  Managers want to get the very best talent they can to help them be successful.  The better the fit, the faster the person is successfully contributing to the team.  Does this mean that you shouldn’t apply for jobs that are a stretch for you?  Absolutely not.  It could be that the manager cannot find all that they want, or can’t afford what they need.

To increase your chances of being selected, consider these steps.

  • Network with people who can advocate for you. For this to be effective, they must be people who are familiar with your work as a manager, teammate, client or partner.  Being in the same social group or networking group with a stranger does not carry much weight with recruiters.
  • Try applying to smaller companies. The larger the company, the more money they have to attract candidates who are ideally suited for jobs.  Smaller, up-and-coming companies may be more flexible.

Return to the list.

No news is good news, or no news is bad news.

No news is no news.  Period.  It is human nature to read into it many different things, but it boils down to these points.

  • Until you are turned down, you aren’t turned down.
  • Lots of things are happening in the background that you can’t possibly predict.

You may be screened out but haven’t been notified yet.  Perhaps you don’t have all the skills needed.  Perhaps you don’t have the industry experience.  Perhaps your salary is way too high.  There are hundreds of factors, and the statistical truth is that you will be screened out of more jobs than you will be screened into.

That sounds really bad, right?  It’s not bad, it’s just a fact.  You want a job you are well-suited to, and you want to be successful.  Consider all the job postings you saw in your “job agent” feed, but you didn’t apply for because it was close to what you wanted, but not close enough.  All those recruiters are good people who have open jobs in solid companies.  But you didn’t even apply.  You read the posting until you saw enough that didn’t appeal to you, then you stopped reading.  You want the best match, and to use your application time wisely.  So does the employer.

A word about salary.  Legislation now makes it illegal to ask about salary.  I’m not a lawyer, but I know it will take a while to fix all applicant tracking systems, and even longer to un-train recruiters in a well-established habit.  It may still come up for quite some time.  You can point out the faux pas, or you can be gracious.  I always recommend gracious.

Whether you are asked about it or not, you should know what you need to earn so you spend your time effectively in your search.  You have your household budget you must maintain, and companies have a salary budget they must maintain.  Sites like Glassdoor allow you to research salaries in your target companies.

Return to the list.

Applying to lots of jobs at the same company shows that I am very interested, and increases my chances of being hired.

Many applicant tracking systems have an overview of the applicant’s history.  If you have applied for 150 jobs that are mostly unrelated to each other, the recruiter may be able to see that, and it will decrease your chances of being hired.  It makes you look like you don’t know what your skills are, and it makes you look like you aren’t selective about how you spend your time.  Chances are, if you do this your resume is also very general, which keeps you from standing out as a good fit.  Know your strengths, and apply for those roles.

If your skills can direct you down more than one path, create more than one resume. Make sure you upload the correct resume for your online applications.

Return to the list.

The recruiter liked me, and that’s all that counts.

Recruiters are friendly.  We like everybody.  While you do have to do well enough with the recruiter to be advanced in the process, it’s the hiring managers and other members of the hiring team you must convince.

Return to the list.

Follow up is good, or follow up is bad.

Follow up, in and of itself, is neither good nor bad.  It is the approach you take, the frequency of the contacts and the goal of the feedback that make it good or bad.

  • Approach: Always add joy to people’s day.  Anyone you encounter, but especially when following up about a job.  Do not complain about anything, not even the weather.  When people hear your voice, one of two things happens, they smile, or they try to figure out how to get off the phone.  Make them smile.
  • Frequency: No more than every two weeks.  Three is better.
  • Goal: Don’t reach out more than twice with a general, “Have you heard anything?”  If it’s been more than month, likely there is nothing the recruiter can do.  Send a work sample.  Send a link to an interesting article relevant to your discussion, the company or the industry.  Always thank them for the first interview and for coordinating any subsequent interviews.  Make these messages meaningful, but brief.

Return to the list.

I don’t know what the company is looking for in this role.

If you spend time with the job description, you can usually identify the competencies the company is seeking, the required skills and the preferred skills.  Take time to make a list before your first interview, and be prepared with examples showing these skills.

Return to the list.

All information obtained by networking is equally valuable.

Information is accurate in direct ratio to how close the source is to the hiring decision.  Information obtained from the recruiter, hiring manager, interview panel or any member of the work team is reliable.  Good information can be obtained from people in the same division.  Beyond that, do not look for specific information about the culture of the team, job requirements or hiring process.  Connections beyond this inner circle of influence are good resources to learn the names of people in the inner circle.  They can also speak to the overall company culture, growth and development opportunities (in a general sense) and benefits.

Return to the list.

I must be completely honest.

You must be completely factual, and accurate.  You should never lie about why you left a company, or inflate the results you produced in your jobs.  If the hiring team finds out along the way you’ve not been factual, that is a debt of trust you cannot repay.

That doesn’t mean you are obligated to share everything. In fact, it will give the appearance that you are too trusting, and cannot synthesize the most important points when you overshare.  Keep your information factual, and don’t share dramatic stories.  The recruiter has no context for these stories, and cannot easily determine if you were justified to feel the way you felt, if you were the cause of the drama, or if you overreacted to the situation.

Return to the list.

________________________________

Pose 3

Melissa Jones is a Talent and Leadership Consultant in Richmond, Virginia.  Using her 25 years of experience in Talent Acquisition, she provides personal coaching for job seekers.  Sessions are designed help discuss emotionally-charged topics in the interview process, and reduce job search stress.

For more information, use this form to contact her directly.

Interview, Job search

Recruiter: Friend or Friendly?

Too many times over the years, I have heard people express confusion because they were turned down for a job when they felt they had really “clicked” with the recruiter.  They had a great rapport, and felt they could tell them anything.  These situations make us question our judgement, and our ability to read other people.  This can be more painful than being turned down for the job.

It’s true, recruiters are usually friendly.  Companies like to hire friendly, outgoing people so that candidates will feel good about their experiences in the hiring process. It’s not to be duplicitous or disingenuous.

Friendly people make others feel comfortable and they inspire trust, but they are missing one important ingredient to meet the standard of “friend.”

The missing ingredient

After consulting with the Oxford English Dictionary, I captured these two definitions, and took the liberty of combining some of the elements to illustrate my point.

Friendly:  Kind and pleasant.  On good terms, not in conflict.

Friend: A person who is not an enemy or opponent; an ally.
A person with whom one has a bond of mutual affection.

The word that sticks out the most to me in these definitions is “ally.” Because the recruiter is kind and pleasant, and the conversation is on good terms, candidates often believe that they can tell the recruiter anything.  Like an ally, the recruiter will graciously sort through everything, including what the candidate overshared.  The recruiter will pick out only what the hiring manager should hear, and will discard the rest.  A friend would do that, right?

A Recruiter’s first responsibility

Recruiters are friendly, and most I have met are also kind people who care about the feelings of others.  However, they are also the first line of defense for risk in human capital decisions.  As they say in my martial arts class, “The #1 rule of self-defense is to avoid the situation where you have to use it.”  Or more simply stated, “Avoid the problem.”  The best way to avoid risk is to avoid hiring people who have made risky decisions or questionable choices, and have not learned from the mistake and changed their approach.  This includes oversharing in their interview.

How was that risky?

Even an excellent decision can sound questionable when it’s mired in too-fresh emotion and layers of complexity that are hard to follow.  Until you can gain the perspective that only distance can provide, picking the wrong examples can give the appearance that you made less-than-optimal decisions in your prior roles.  Beyond what happened in the past, your decision to share this information on the presumption of “mutual affection” for the stranger in this interview, is additional cause for concern.  It implies that your bar for trust may be too low, that you trust the recruiter to act in your favor having just met them.

Learning from mistakes

There isn’t a single person in the workforce who hasn’t had a difficult situation to manage, or a difficult colleague or boss, or made a mistake…or all of the above.  Recruiters actually appreciate hearing about mistakes, because it’s our mistakes and what we learn from them that help us become better.

Unfortunately, the wisdom that comes from mistakes is like the beautiful piece of artwork made by a blacksmith.  If you try to admire it before it cools, it will burn you.  Take time to reflect on your work experiences that have been painful.  Speak with a trusted friend, a counselor or a mentor, and gain the perspective you need to keep these examples at a high level.  They need to be cool to the touch with no sharp edges, and light enough to hold in one hand.  That’s a thing of beauty.

It wasn’t my mistake

“Now hold on,” you say, “I was treated badly.  It wasn’t my mistake.”  That may be true.  I know I have had situations where I felt mistreated, but in all of them I asked myself the following questions to gain perspective.

  • What behaviors was the person exhibiting?
  • Why might they behave that way?
  • How did I respond?
  • Were there other ways I might have responded that could have diffused the situation?
  • How long did I allow myself to be mistreated?
  • Did I let it go on too long? If so, what will I do in the future to ensure I protect myself?

Even in situations where all the blame belongs elsewhere, you always have room for reflection.  Please note, this applies to typical business interactions.  This does not apply if you have been a victim of a criminal act such as assault.

Friendly is good too

Friendship is built over time and through shared experiences.  Appreciate the warmth of a friendly call or meeting as your platform to have a successful discussion, but remember that your recruiter cannot be your ally.  Recruiters cannot become attached to candidates.  They must remain impartial to find the best fit for the job and culture, and to avoid risk.  They can like you, and enjoy talking with you, but they cannot become an ally to one specific candidate.  It can cloud their judgement.

Next steps

Take ownership of your career narrative and invest time in building perspective.  Specifically, how are you better today because you got through these experiences?  Now that’s a story worth hearing, and likely the inspiring story that the recruiter will remember for a long time.

_____________________

Pose 3

Melissa Jones is a Talent and Leadership Consultant in Richmond, Virginia.  Using her 25 years of experience in Talent Acquisition, she provides personal coaching for job seekers.  Sessions are designed help discuss emotionally-charged topics in the interview process.  

For more information, use this form to contact her directly.