Interview, Job search

Interviewing When You Aren’t Happy

Lately I have written several articles about interview skills, and one common denominator I mention in all of them is demonstrating happiness.  Sometimes you have to interview when you aren’t happy.  Perhaps you are depressed, grieving, overwhelmed caring for a family member who is ill, going through a divorce, or you are unhappy about how your last job ended. There are strategies you can use, because happiness can be demonstrated in several ways.

What kind of happy am I today?

Want a quick check of how you are showing happiness with friends and family today?  Check your “frequently used” emojis.  They are the first ones that come up on your smart phone, and if you look very, very closely, it says “frequently used” up at the top.  When I reviewed my top 30, there were several different kinds of smiles, several laughing faces, a few pictures and four different versions of hearts.  How do you find “your” happy?  Here are some trends I have observed in my texts:

Emoji category Varieties and interpretation
Faces Smiles vary from simple and shy, to so large that the eyes are closed.  Laughing smiles of several kinds, and emojis that are making faces that are meant to be ironic (or at least can be ironic), such as rolling eyes, or a hand to the chin contemplating.  On the ironic emojis, you should think back to how you were feeling when you were using them, because they can be used when happy, or they can be used when irritated.
Love Many kinds of hearts of all colors, blowing kisses, hearts for eyes
Hands For those of you who talk with your hands, there are celebrating hands, acknowledgement hands, and some with some…let’s say…ironic gestures.  This, of course, depends on your intent in using them.
Pictures Perhaps you express yourself in images, and like to have the perfect image to express your emotions.  You probably love using memes too, love buying greeting cards and prefer technology that allows you to be creative.

Take a moment to see which emojis are most common for you.  Don’t use emojis?  Consider the memes you have sent most recently.  What messages were they conveying?  Likewise, you can look at the items you have forwarded on Facebook or other social media.  Go take a look at your page and check the prevailing emotion you are conveying.  If most of your non-verbal communication is angry or sad, you may want to consider talking with someone who can help you with these feelings.  They can be hard to shoulder alone.

Harnessing your “happy” in your interview

When I write about being happy in an interview, some may equate that with “perky.” If you aren’t feeling happy right now, you may visualize the unattainable happy, which plays out with an enthusiastic, bubbly persona.  Keep in mind that is only one kind of happiness; and in fact, if not harnessed properly can actually be distracting in an interview.  Here are some other kinds of happy, along with ways to use these in your interviews.  For personalized suggestions, please refer back to your most common emojis as a guide as you review the points below.

Faces

  • Shy smiles: Happiness can be a quiet thing, like the small, shy smiles.  It can be soft-spoken.  Remember to smile periodically during your interview, even if it’s a small smile.  Maintaining eye contact as you smile shows you mean it, that it wasn’t just a fleeting feeling, or even some kind of irony.
  • Ironic faces: Maybe you have healed enough to begin to see irony, and you are trying to laugh more.  Keep in mind that this kind of humor can be easily misunderstood, and can make you appear angry.  You can avoid this by having humor point to only you, and only in stories where things turned out well for you and you learned something helpful.  Ironic stories about other people lack the necessary context for the listener, and can reflect badly on you.
  • One last note about smiling. It’s important to smile in appropriate places during your interview.  Sometimes we must discuss something painful, like being fired.  As we heal and try to gain perspective, sometimes it feels natural to smile about things we are adjusting to, but that can be confusing for an interviewer, not knowing what your smile means.  Practice these comments in advance and make them brief and factual, making eye contact.  Video yourself to ensure that you aren’t smiling at times when it would not make sense to smile, or practice with a friend or family member.

Love

  • If love is showing up a lot even when you aren’t feeling good, then you are showing that you are hopeful, and that you care deeply. Happiness can be demonstrated through intensity about life, that you care deeply about things.  Harness this as you discuss the results associated with each question you answer.  Let your pride shine through as you explain how your work made a difference.  Even if you can’t muster a big smile, be sure to have eye contact especially when you discuss results.  Train yourself to always look up and have eye contact when you are speaking about something that gives you pride.

Hands

  • Do you have happy hands? Maybe you aren’t smiling all the time, but your emoji hands are clapping, doing the “ok” sign or just waving in the air.  Super!  Keep those happy hands working during your interview, doing what your face, or your heart, cannot.  I don’t mean to move constantly during your interview, but find places to use hand gestures.  They can be as expressive as your face.  Practice this at home if you aren’t doing it already.  If your hands are trying to lead your heart to a happy place, don’t hinder them in your interview!

Pictures

  • You love a good picture to express your passion, so bring that into the interview. Bring some work samples.  Even if you don’t hand them out or need to use them, just knowing you have them can lift your spirits, but it’s awesome if you can find a time to pull them out and share them.  Even better if you can leave a copy of it in case your interviewer asks to keep it.  Does your work not lend itself to pretty pictures?  If you’re using picture emojis it’s because you like to be vivid in your descriptions.  Pick your top 3 work examples you use most often, and find some colorful descriptive terms you can add into your answer.  Keep it succinct, but make your language as interesting as possible so you can have the listener right in the moment with you.

The many faces of happiness

I remember being at an event with my son where a very young child made a comment and the audience laughed.  It was clearly not a comment intended to be funny, so my son asked me why people laughed.  I told him that it wasn’t funny like a joke.  I explained that sometimes joy can escape through laughter.  It was joy he was hearing.  In my daughter’s senior year of high school, I found myself tearful several times, principally at all the “last” things she was doing.  She asked why I was so sad about all of it, and I explained that I wasn’t, that was just some love leaking out of my eyes.

A favorite colleague from the past rarely smiled broadly, in fact rarely smiled at all.  He had a quiet intensity to everything he did. When he was engrossed in something, it was as if he had a little light turn on in his eyes, as though he had a special effects person who turned on the glint.  You could almost hear the tiny sound of a bell when he did it.  His eyes crinkled and you found that you leaned forward into whatever he was discussing.  When I picture him, he isn’t smiling, and yet I knew he loved what he did, and enjoyed the camaraderie of working with me.

You don’t have to feel happy with your life as a whole to demonstrate happiness in an interview, or more specifically, happiness about the work you do every day.  Use the cues of how you are currently representing yourself to others to find what works best for you, then practice incorporating these habits into your interview.

 

 

 

 

Interview, Job search

The Secret Ingredient for a Fantastic Phone Interview

Many job seekers spend time perfecting in-person interview skills, and yet so often you must ace your phone interview before being invited onsite.  Phone interviews are difficult because you don’t see the recruiter, and the visual cues that drive the energy level up are missing.

What creates a fantastic phone interview?  Passion.  I don’t mean romantic passion.  As the Oxford English Dictionary defines it, “An intense desire or enthusiasm for something.”  While most recruiters don’t have this on their list to evaluate, I can tell you after 25 years of recruiting that the candidates who are most likely to be invited for an onsite visit are the ones who demonstrate passion for their work, and who seem happy on the phone.

Amping up Your Energy

In the absence of the eye contact and body language that draws two people together, how can you show your passion for your work?  Below are some tips.

  • If you don’t have a face to connect with, put a photo nearby that you can “talk” to. Be sure to select a photo that isn’t distracting or makes you feel conflicted.  If you had a fight with your spouse this morning, maybe select another photo to use.
  • If you are “talking” to a photo, put it high enough so your head is raised when you look at it, don’t look down.
  • Stand up if possible, look up, or at least hold your head level like the gentleman in the article photo, who is rocking his phone interview! If it doesn’t make you nervous, pace a little when you speak, but don’t get winded.  All of this adds strength to the tone in your voice.  The worst possible scenario is to sit in a chair and slouch.
  • What are you passionate about? What makes you smile whenever you think about it?  Make sure those things are around you.  Do you do Spartan races?  Have medals nearby.  Love your garden?  Pick a window that allows you to see it during the interview.  Love quilting?  Pick your favorite quilt and have it where you can see it and touch it if you want.  Stay away from emotionally-charged items that could be distracting.  Smiling while you are speaking changes your tone of voice.  People can hear a difference when you are smiling.
  • Speaking of distracting…I know you love your dogs, but they should be out of the room, and out of earshot. Murphy’s Law guarantees you are going to have a package delivery during this call, so make sure you are somewhere that the recruiter cannot hear the dogs barking.

Not Too Much, Not Too Little…Getting Passion Just Right

Now you have the foundation to speak with strength and optimism, with a smile on your face.  What else should you do to prepare for a great discussion?

  • Prior to the interview, review the job description and determine what skills YOU would be screening for in this meeting if you were the recruiter, then develop succinct answers. Show your enthusiasm, but synthesize your comments.
  • Be prepared with a great “walk me through your resume” overview. In a previous blog, I outline a process to create this.
  • In the same article I address how to avoid oversharing – –which is much easier to do in phone interviews. Candidates rush to fill silence, sometimes with too much information.  Fight the urge to keep talking.  The recruiter is probably taking notes if they are silent.  If they don’t say anything, pause a moment, then ask, “Did that answer your question?”

I have always gone into interviews knowing I was talking about something I love, and hoping the person on the other end of the line would appreciate my passion, and hopefully share it.  If the worst thing that happened was that I had an enjoyable conversation, that was fine.  My lesson here? Put the outcome out of mind for the conversation and concentrate on talking about what you love.

What If Passion Took A Hike?

What if you don’t love what you do?  It is hard to seem passionate when you feel you are locked in a career that doesn’t suit you.  Below are suggestions that may be helpful.

  • Look for roles that offer upward or lateral mobility into other areas. Don’t settle for something where you will continue to be stuck in a role you dislike.
  • Until you can move into another role, think about what elements of your job do make you happy. Maybe you dislike the work, but you like the people and the sense of teamwork.  Perhaps your job offers good work/life balance, or benefits that really help your family and give you peace of mind.  Focus on the elements that have made you happy in the past, even jot them down so they are in front of you, making you smile.
  • Once you land in your role, focus your energy on what makes you happy so that when the opportunity arises for a move, you are considered an excellent, happy, productive member of the team.
  • What if you just don’t know what will make you happy? You have resources!  There are many books that can help you determine your strengths.  Maybe your employer offers development tools.  Do your research, then volunteer for projects that will allow you to build on these strengths, whether that is at work or in your community.  Switching careers isn’t easy, but it isn’t impossible.  Build your resume demonstrating these skills, show that you are knowledgeable, and network with people who will advocate for you.

In Conclusion

Early on in my career as a recruiter, I spoke with an older family member who had hired many people in his company.  He said, “Oh, you’re a recruiter.  Hiring people is easy.”  While I was thinking, “Way to marginalize my job,” I pushed away that thought and asked him why he felt that way.  He said, “I hire happy people.  I can train people to do a lot of things, but you can’t teach someone to be happy.  They either are, or they aren’t.”  Your level of happiness is a reflection of your passion for your work, and your life.

Phone interviews are the most difficult time to demonstrate a happy demeanor because of the lack of visual feedback.  Take some time to prepare the correct setting, then let your passion shine through!

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.

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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.