Tag Archives: Interview

When did you complete your college degrees?

So, in what year did you earn your latest degree?

Both this question and the title of this post assume that readers are likely to have more than 1 college degree; that is why I am using the plural and the superlative here.

Here is my reason for opening this post with that question. Shortly before a recent job interview, I received an email from that prospective employer in which they stated something like this; “You do not have graduation dates on any of the education you have listed”, and subsequently, they asked for that information.

I must point out that I did not include the years that my degrees were completed on the resume that I had sent them, because I had been advised some time ago that it is better to leave the year that a degree was earned off of the resume if it was not recent. No need to shoot yourself in the foot if you don’t have to. (I realize that this may send up a “red flag” to a prospective employer, but to me, the main purpose of a resume is to help a job-seeker get a job interview, and not disqualify that person from one.) But because they asked for that information, and because I did not want to appear to be un-cooperative, I gave it to them in my reply to that email.

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Within 2 days of that interview, I received an email informing me that they had selected another candidate, who probably was more qualified for that position than I was.

I am not complaining here; I’m just using this as an example to prove that leaving the year a degree was completed off of a resume may actually help a job-seeker get a job interview. I still believe that it’s impossible to get a job without first going through the interview process.

Back to the advice I mentioned earlier in this blog post. First, the word “recent” needs to be defined. Some people may draw the line between recent and ancient at the 10-year mark; others may draw it at the 5, or even the 3 year mark. This assumes that the most recent degree is relevant to the job that a prospective employer is trying to fill.

Second, as far as I’m concerned, there really isn’t much difference between a degree that was earned in the 1970’s and that same degree earned after the year 2000. There are some exceptions to this. One exception would be a degree in history, since it’s always being added to. Other fields whose degrees and qualifications could change over time would be the technical fields, such as Information Technology, and health care.

Others may disagree, but in my opinion, a liberal arts degree is a liberal arts degree, no matter when it’s earned.

Now again, in what year did you complete that last degree?

Dave Vandermey is a web developer.

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Me and You, In the Interview

We are sitting down at the interview table, having just shaken hands, ready to start as hiring manager (me) and potential candidate (you).  We are both hoping that this is the one, that you are the successful candidate.

 

Let’s backtrack and think about each of our preparation for this moment.  Mine started weeks or maybe even months ago when I sought approval for this position.  I reviewed and updated, or created, the job description at that time.  I talked to HR about posting the position internally and externally.  If HR was responsible for the initial interviews, I filled them in on what I was looking for in terms of traits, background and experience.

 

I’ve also put some thought into the dynamic of the team and what I plan to accomplish in the coming year.  What weaknesses I want to shore up and strengths I want to increase through the new person.  While going through the pile of resumes, I keep all of this in mind.  Who might fit the bill?  These go on the yes or maybe pile.  The yeses will get a phone interview.

 

I’ve done all of this, fitted into my regular day, as I could arrange it.  I’ve done my best to read each resume with a clear mind, but they tend to blur together and I am quickly looking for reasons to put each one on one of the three piles – yes, no, or maybe.

 

Before we get back to the two of us sitting opposite at the interview table, what did you do to prepare for this interview?

 

Did you just use the quick apply option on one of the job search websites and send me your standard resume that you have sent out hundreds of times?  Or did you take some time to research my company, and tailor your resume to the position that I have posted by highlighting your skills that match my requirements?  (Even before that, did you have someone proofread it for errors and clarity?)  Have you practiced your responses to standard questions with someone who will help you to present yourself in the best light?  Can you tell me examples of your work efforts clearly?

 

Have you taken a breath and told yourself that you will do your best?

 

photo credit: Wikimedia Commons

photo credit: Wikimedia Commons

Now we are back at the table and ready to get started.  Both hoping this is the one.

 

Beth Anne Reed has a background in Customer Relations, Process & Project Management and a deep interest in Written Communications.

© 2014 Blog to Work | Blogging your way to a job, All rights reserved

Does the “Glove” fit?

I’ll start with this question. Do your winter gloves have to fit perfectly? I’m sure you are wondering why I am asking about gloves, and winter gloves at that, during September, when it is still summer. I’ll use a job-searching experience to explain.

At one point during a job interview in a previous job search, my interviewer made an unsolicited statement that went something like this: “what I am trying to do is to see if the ‘glove’ fits”. In my opinion, what he was saying might have been something like this: “what I am trying to do is to see if you would be a perfect fit with our department”. I don’t remember if his comment was the prelude to the “skill” or to the “behavioral” questions part of the interview. Incidentally, that interview occurred in either September or October.

I will answer the one question which I think you might be asking now. I did not get that job.

Sometime after that interview, I thought up this hypothetical situation. Imagine that you are about to go outdoors in the middle of winter, and you know that it is freezing cold outside. You know you will need to put on a pair of gloves. But because you do not have a pair of gloves that fits perfectly, you have to choose between two pairs of gloves. One of the pairs of gloves is too small for your hands, and the other pair is too large. Now, which pair would you choose?

Gloves

The survival instinct within me would tell me to put on the pair that is too large, and never mind waiting for a pair of gloves which fits perfectly to suddenly materialize from somewhere. Or, just stay indoors, unless I want to have frost-bitten fingers and hands.

In our job searches, we often have to settle for a job which does not have us using all of the skills that we would like to use. In addition, we often find ourselves working for an employer that does not quite have 100% of the characteristics that we would like our ideal employer to have. And for those jobs that we do not get, we have to graciously assume that we did not have enough of the skills that the prospective employer had on its wish list. Therefore, occasionally we have to make some adjustments.

This is normal, because, after all, we are human beings. In our job-searches, we sometimes have to pretend that we are like most species of chameleons, and change the color of our parachutes (a.k.a. our objectives and our tactics). This is especially true if our financial situation dictates that we do so.

On the other side of the coin, or rather, the interview table, what are the employer’s options when they cannot find that perfectly-fitting “glove” for their department? Since I neither worked in Human Resources, nor made their hiring policies, and am not a mind-reader, I can only speculate about what those options might be. I’m sure their options dwindle when they get desperate, as does the likelihood that they’ll use the “do nothing” option. But then again, that is only speculation.

Maybe that “larger glove”, in the form of an “over-qualified” person, just might be a better fit for a company after all.

Again, the question, “Do your winter gloves have to fit perfectly”?

Dave Vandermey is a web developer.

Competence and Confidence

There are so many variables in an interview, and every one of them is subjective.  I’ve been mulling over how to distill this dynamic to its most basic point as a concrete starting point for any job seeker.  Most of the variables come from things over which the job seeker has no control or influence.  As hard as it is then, if a past interview seems to have gone south due to one of these, the job seeker has to just let it go and look forward to the next one.

 

I’ve been on both sides of the table, I’ve mentioned this before.  Depending on which side of the table I find myself, I do my best to keep awareness in the back of my mind for the other side.

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The most basic point is that this is an interaction between two people, most likely complete strangers, who both want the encounter to be successful.  The job seeker wants to land a job that will be a good fit.  The interviewer wants to get this interview process completed and get back to the regular business of the department – by finding a person who will be a good fit.  (Of course group interviews are a likely occurrence, but let’s keep this as one on one for now.)

 

Are both of the people mentally present?  The interviewer might be having a very hectic day, the team might have enough work for two new members yesterday for instance – there were plenty of interviews where I walked in and had to tear myself away from multiple problems.  As the job seeker, I hope that you took a moment prior to the interview to center your own thoughts.

 

There is going to be a whole lot of subtlety in the dynamic that forms during the interview.  The two most important traits from this basic and concrete view are competence and confidence.  This goes for both sides of the table, but since you can only affect your own focus on that.

 

Can you tell your example stories smoothly, adjusting details to suit this particular circumstance?  Do you make certain that you are answering the question that was asked and not the question that you want to answer?  This is how you exhibit your competence and confidence.  These traits are also exhibited in your own follow up questions.

 

Finding your groove in displaying your competence and confidence can take some practice.  I’d love to get some examples from any of you.

 

Beth Anne Reed has a background in Customer Relations, Process & Project Management and a deep interest in Written Communications.

© 2014 Blog to Work | Blogging your way to a job, All rights reserved

Cracking the Code

Mysteries often involve a code of some kind, to keep information secure so that only the ‘right’ people will know the meaning.  In a mystery story, a code is interesting and a fun part of the plot.  Code is also important during times of conflict – I really enjoyed the movie Windtalkers about the Navaho code talkers in WWII, very clever on our part to make sure our plans would be successful.  The Allies of WWII also successfully cracked the German’s Enigma code to gain valuable information which thwarted Axis plans.

 

photo credit: Wikipedia

photo credit: Wikipedia

Each industry has its own jargon, or code too.  This is mostly just a short-hand way to convey information quickly and not really meant to protect information from those outside-the-know.

 

Sometimes code is just tiresome and fuzzy.  Perhaps at one time it served a purpose but it has become something else entirely.  Ask any group of job seekers about code words within the hiring process and ‘overqualified’ is sure to come up in this category.  What does it really mean if you look closely?  We think that you are older than our ideal candidate, we think that you will want too much money, we think that you won’t stay very long (therefore wasting our time) should you convince us that you are the right candidate – in short you don’t fit our outline of our ideal candidate.

 

There are code phrases – we’ve decided to take this position in another direction, etc.  Notice most of the code is centered on turning a candidate down.  It is human nature to want to avoid conflict and handing out rejection is difficult on both sides.

 

Job seekers want to get it right, to be the successful candidate, to stop being a job seeker and be a worker.  Often they feel that if they could get detailed understanding of what went wrong in the last effort, they could correct it for the next.  I understand this urge, but also feel like I have a nugget of insight because I have been on both sides of the table.

 

Sometimes there is something specific and it would be wonderful as a hiring manager if I could offer a tip to the candidate for their next application or interview.  (Psst, make it clear that you want our job not just any job.  Or, don’t ramble so much in your answers that we both forget the question.  Or, be on time.  Or, breathe and center yourself because your nervous energy made us both jittery.)  Sometimes the candidate just didn’t suit our idea of the successful candidate as well as someone else – and this could be a very close second, but we only have one position open.  (One time I was able to snap up my second choice weeks later when my team suddenly had a new opening – and both people were good members of our team.  But that is rare.)

 

It comes down to this, these code words are the words that are chosen to let a candidate down as firmly but pleasantly as possible.  HR probably talked to a legal representative at some point to help to craft these messages – to sanitize them.  Which also means that they are meaningless in terms of helping a candidate understand what to do better next time.  That is a mystery that each candidate must solve on their own.

 

Beth Anne Reed has a background in Customer Relations, Process & Project Management and a deep interest in Written Communications.

© 2014 Blog to Work | Blogging your way to a job, All rights reserved

Tell Me About Yourself

Are you ready to “Tell me about yourself”?

True story: I was speaking with a man who is the Chief Financial Officer of a company in downtown Chicago. We were talking about interviewing and he told me that he had recently conducted interviews to select and hire a Controller. He said he always starts interviews with “Tell me about yourself,” and to his surprise, a couple of the candidates weren’t prepared for this very predictable question. In his memorable words, their answers were “piles of mush.”

Don’t let this happen to you.

Everything you say in an interview should be a “commercial” for product “You,” building your case for why you’re the perfect candidate for the job. The “Tell me about yourself” question at the beginning of an interview is your first chance to begin selling yourself to your potential future boss. Don’t squander the opportunity by being unprepared. Don’t just wing it.

Although the question may feel like an ice-breaker, not part of the “real” interview, preparing your “Tell me about yourself” answer is just as important as preparing for the rest of the interview.

Get the interview off to a great start with a strong, positive statement about your professional qualifications, specifically tailored to the requirements of the job you’re interviewing for. What are the most important things you want the interviewer to know about you? Incorporate those things into your answer. And once you’ve got a great answer written, memorize it and practice saying it out loud. Really. You want to be able to deliver a memorized answer that doesn’t sound memorized and that takes practice.

Having a great answer for the “Tell me about yourself” question will get the interview off to a great start and create a positive first impression in the mind of the hiring manager. Plan what you’re going to say, prepare the answer carefully and practice, practice, practice. It’s an investment in your success!

Kimberly Hanes is a writer with a passionate love for words and ideas, with extensive experience in business communications and event planning.

© 2014 Blog to Work | Blogging your way to a job, All rights reserved

They Can’t Tell You

You most likely didn’t chose to be in job search, though I read that the numbers of disengaged workers who are actively looking for their next job while still in the current position is on the rise again.  This particular post applies to that category of job seeker just as much as the one who would have been perfectly fine to stay in their last position had it continued to be available.

 

There is plenty of data flying around and experts to tell us what we should think of all this data.  The number of jobs created, the number of unemployed, the number of folks newly pounding the pavement, the number of people who set up a new LinkedIn account in a given week.  On and on.

 

But none of this data can describe the new situation where you will feel valued, where you will want to take root and grow.  How far should you consider commuting before your costs will be too great?  (Both financial and emotional – few were meant to spend so much time in their car in traffic…)  What sort of company will offer you a good fit?  Small, medium, large – one location, many – family owned, publically traded.

 

Do you work better on a team or on your own?  Do you like to do the same thing with little variance or do you prefer greater variety in your tasks?  Do you like a hands on manager or someone who gives you space?  Do you want to see a potential career path or are you just looking for a steady position?

 

The better that you know the answers to these questions for yourself, the better that I or any other potential new manager will be able to tell if you are the candidate who we want.  A candidate who clearly just wants any job doesn’t capture our interest.  A candidate who can show that they see themselves on our team, at our company really does.

 

public domain image

public domain image

There are plenty of other defining questions that you can consider – many that relate to your particular job experience/skill set, or to your family situation.  Knowing how you will answer these questions for yourself will show through when you are answering questions in an interview.

 

Beth Anne Reed has a background in Customer Relations, Process & Project Management and a deep interest in Written Communications.

© 2014 Blog to Work | Blogging your way to a job, All rights reserved

When It’s Your Turn – Interview Questions for a Possible New Employer

(I first wrote a version of this post on my original personal blog: Practical Business: When Its Your Turn – Interview Questions for a Possible New Employer)

 

You know that you are supposed to research the company before the interview.  You know that you should ask questions.  But for the life of you, you really aren’t sure what to ask because your main question is ‘When can I start?’.  Hopefully this list gives you some good ideas of your own because it is always a pet peeve of mine as a hiring manager when a promising candidate doesn’t have any questions for us at that stage of the interview.

 

So here’s my argument to convince you that it is wise to ask questions – you are interviewing the company just as much as they are interviewing you.  Questions on your part prove that you have thought beyond getting a job, any job, to getting the right job and can picture yourself working at the company.  Picture yourself becoming a successful member of their team.

 

photo credit: Wikimedia Commons

photo credit: Wikimedia Commons

I have put together these questions from various sources, including some that I have been asked by candidates.

 

Questions to ask at the first interview:

  1.        Is this a new position, or would I be replacing someone?
  2.        Where does this position fit into the company’s structure?
  3.        What is your time frame to fill this position?

What are you looking for in the answers to these questions?  You will start to find out about the company culture and with the last one you can start to build a framework for follow up.

 

Questions to ask during the interview with the hiring manager, pick a handful that apply to your situation:

  1.        What are the qualities of your ideal candidate?
  2.        (If you found out that you are replacing someone in the first interview) What differences/similarities are you looking for in comparison to the previous person?
  3.        What is a typical day like?
  4.        What are the biggest challenges facing this department?
  5.        What are the best qualities of this department?
  6.        How much interdepartmental interaction is there with this position?
  7.        What do you expect me to accomplish in the first 60 to 90 days?
  8.        What are the common attributes of your top performers?
  9.        What are a few things that really drive results for the company?
  10.    How is performance measured in this organization?

These questions continue in your quest to understand the company culture and how it impacts the department where you would be working.  You can start to formulate a picture for yourself whether this culture will suit your ideal environment for your success.

 

Question to finish up:

  1.        Are there any areas where I haven’t given you enough information?

 

If this helps you to come up with any questions of your own, I would love to know what they are.  Or if you have a favorite question that you like to ask that I haven’t covered here, please share.

 

Beth Anne Reed has a background in Customer Relations, Process & Project Management and a deep interest in Written Communications.

© 2014 Blog to Work | Blogging your way to a job, All rights reserved

Informational Interviews and Job Search

Every job search is a highly personal experience.  One unifying aspect is the opportunity to learn, and there is plenty to learn about while seeking gainful employment.  Where-o-where to start?  Deciding on your main direction is a good broad stroke start.

 

Is there plenty of opportunity in your industry and within your job title?  Does this area still have meaning for you?

Capture

One of the methods that you can use to explore new companies in your same industry or possible new industries is the informational interview.  We’ve all heard plenty about the job interview – an important step to an actual, potential job but informational interviews aren’t as well known.  Yet they can be very useful.

 

Think it would be great to work for a particular company?  Well, maybe someone you know can put you in touch with someone who currently works there who would be willing to answer questions that you have about the company.

 

Think that you might be able to transition to a new job title?  What better way to find out more about the requirements than to have an informational interview with someone who already holds the title?

 

The main difference between a job interview and an informational interview is that you are not going to talk about a specific job, or even ask for a job – you are gathering information to help you to clarify your plan for your main direction.   You are also getting the potential to become known or better known to the person that you are interviewing and also by the company.

 

For this type of interview you don’t need to know the answers, but to craft useful questions.

 

Beth Anne Reed has a background in Customer Relations, Process & Project Management and a deep interest in Written Communications.

© 2014 Blog to Work | Blogging your way to a job, All rights reserved

Hitting the Right Note

What does it take to be that best candidate, the one that gets the job offer?  We have to hit all the right notes, of course.  What are the right notes?  Having the right skills, certainly, but there are plenty of intangible parts too.   A big part of the job search is that feeling of wanting to be liked, to fit in.

 

“Be a first rate version of yourself and not a second rate version of another writer.”

~ David Morrell

 

Let’s substitute the word candidate or perhaps professional for writer in this quote and it suits my point.  Sometimes when we want to be liked to fit in, we attempt to do or be something that is already acceptable to the group.  Something that might not really be true to ourselves.

 

When I started a job shortly after my divorce years ago they already had a Beth in the department so they asked me if they could call me Beth Anne.  Now Anne is my middle name and I use it when writing, but it is silent.  Beth Anne is what my mom said when she was pretty mad and almost at the point of using all three of my names.  Wanting to be liked and fit in, I agreed to let everyone at my new office call me Beth Anne.  And it quickly grated on my ears.  And then I had to backtrack and tell them it wasn’t ok, after realizing that I hadn’t agreed to a short term thing.

 

I did fit in just fine with that group and we made a joke that I was the other Beth and the first Beth started to tell everyone she was the better Beth.  It would have been ok to tell them I didn’t use the Anne every day.

musical note

I like to fit in just as much as anyone else.  But I remind myself that fitting in is a two way consideration and my part is to be comfortable and confident with the self I am in that workplace.  Interviewing isn’t about being the perfect candidate.  It is a chemistry experiment – testing if the various components will mix together to create something wonderful and sustainable.  Or, to tie back to my title – it is composing a song with all the right instruments to develop the tone that you mean to convey.

 

Beth Anne Reed has a background in Customer Relations, Process & Project Management and a deep interest in Written Communications.

© 2014 Blog to Work | Blogging your way to a job, All rights reserved