Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Tips for WINNING the Face-to-Face Interview...Without a Drop of Tiger Blood!

Sorry for the lame Charlie Sheen reference, but the truth is that he can act like a raving madman and probably still find work, but not the rest of us.  You never get a second chance to make a first impression, so follow these tips to ensure you nail your next job interview.  We’re currently experiencing a highly active job market, meaning there are a fair amount of openings but a lot of applicants for each slot.  So, you’re likely to have plenty of competition.  Studies suggest that hiring managers interview an average of 4 candidates before making an offer.  You need to differentiate yourself, and take out those other 3 losers.  Here’s how:

1)   Dress for Success!  Please don’t use the interview as a fashion experiment.  Dress appropriately for your industry, leaning towards conservative.  You can show your sense of style, but consider limiting your outfit to basics and add one great accessory or colorful piece.  Choose high quality, well fitting, clean and pressed clothes, shoes and handbag or portfolio, and don’t stray too far from the standard business suit.  This is not the time to bathe in cologne or perfume either, and keep any makeup natural-looking.   Monster.com has several very specific articles on this topic here: http://career-advice.monster.com/job-interview/interview-appearance/jobs.aspx.
2)   Pretend To Be Organized!  It’s okay if you’re not a paragon of organization and neatness, but you should pull yourself together and act like one for this event at least.  Have several printed copies of your resume readily available (be sure that it’s the same version of your resume that they’ve already seen).  Have a pen handy, as well as calling cards or business cards with your personal information, and a notepad.  Come to the interview with references already printed up, and if relevant for your role, work samples that you can share.  If you must have your mobile or smartphone on you, keep it on silent.
3)   Rehearse!  Look, we interviewers are not always that creative so you’re bound to get a few of the standard questions along the way.  “Why are you looking?”, “What is one of your weaknesses?”, “What professional accomplishment are you most proud of?”, “What makes you a good insert title here?”  There’s no excuse for letting any of these stock interview questions  derail you.  You should prepare your answers well and rehearse them several times before you actually interview.  If possible, set up a video camera or laptop with a webcam and record yourself answering basic interview questions. You’ll be really surprised with what you see when you play it back for yourself in terms of nonverbal communication, filler words, body language, nervous tics, etc…Use this feedback to make sure you are credible, articulate and insightful in your responses to those inquiries.
4)   Tell A Story! Whenever possible, ground your answers in real world experience.  Provide a moderate level of detail and frame your responses by tying things down to what you’ve already accomplished or experienced.
5)   Question Authority!  Ask questions – lots of them.   If you do not ask, the interviewer will guess that you’re either not interested, not very bright, unengaged, oddly introverted, or just not analytical enough to dig below the surface.  None of those is really a desirable impression so be sure you come armed with questions that demonstrate your understanding of the industry, the role, and best practices for your field.  It’s a good idea to have some of these written out on your notepad beforehand so you’ll be sure to ask them and have a place to jot down answers.  In addition to pre-prepared questions, be sure to ask for more details about information you glean on the interview.  Remember, you’re not just selling yourself, you’re buying a job!  Be sure you buy the right one for you.      
6)   Do Your Homework!  Find out the names and titles of everyone you’ll be talking to.  Write them down.  If possible, research them beforehand on Linked In or other online databases.  At a minimum, you should know what the company does, how they fare within their industry and who their customers and competitors are. 
7)   Close It Down!  When the interview is wrapping up, show initiative by stating your level of interest and asking point blank about any hesitations they have about moving forward.  If you don’t ask, you’ll never know what their possible objections are, and you certainly won’t be able to overcome them.  By asking, you show courage and gain the ability to restate your case if necessary.  Ask about the next steps and what you can do to facilitate them too.  

The goal is to be as prepared and in control as much as possible, so you’ll be less nervous, demonstrate greater confidence and expertise, and get the info you need to make a decision.  I’ve hired a lot of people over the years and almost no matter what role I’m filling, I’m seeking people who are resourceful, smart and engaging, show initiative, and seem trustworthy and reliable.   Consider those traits to be the universal qualities of employ-ability.  Think about how you’re coming across in all of those areas and, most importantly, be yourself.  Just focus on showing up with the best version of you that you can conjure up that day...and leave any Sheen-esque behavior to those in Hollywood.  Happy hunting.


Monday, March 7, 2011

Perfect Pitch: Creating YOUR Best Elevator Spech

Article first published as How to Give the Perfect Pitch on Technorati.

I’m in sales, so I’m always pitching something.  Whether it’s a brand, an idea, or a product or service, I’m comfortable with the process of creating a compelling pitch and persuading others to “buy in” with their support, budget, effort, or other resources.

As a job seeker, you should get equally comfortable with the notion that you’re selling yourself to potential employers, but also to any number of people along the way who can help you get connected to new opportunities, based on their perception of who you are, what you bring to the party, and where your passion lies.  Your ability to concisely articulate your unique value proposition might be the strongest weapon in your career arsenal and will exponentially improve your networking and job search results.   You can call this pitch a personal branding statement, elevator pitch, or individual value proposition, but whatever you call it, create one now.

So, grab some pencil and paper and start drafting the elements of your pitch.

1)     What’s your name?  Sounds obvious, right? You need to be clear about what name you want to use professionally.  Stay consistent.   This can be a challenge for those of us with maiden names, or for folks who prefer a shortened name or nickname.  Get clear on what you want to be called and use that name consistently.  Make sure that if you choose to use a nickname, it isn’t one that will negatively impact people’s perception of you. (For example, George W. Bush stopped encouraging people call him “Junior” and even Eminem dropped the name “Slim Shady”, right?)
2)     What do you do?  How do you see yourself?  What service or role do you do well or do you wish to do in your next role?  You can be creative here.  If you’re a salesperson for an HR outsourcing company, you can say that you help companies connect with experts to put HR best practices in place. If you’re a private chef, you could say that work with busy households to ensure that they always have delicious, healthful food available for family meals, snacks and special occasions.  You can also of course say what you are: nurse, teacher, or student. Be authentic!  Is your self-image tied to your title, or is it a specific facet of your job/career?  There’s no right answer here. You need to be accurate about your qualifications and core focus, but you can choose whether to say who you work for and what your title is, or focus more on what’s important to you about what you do and frame it in terms of where you want to go next.
3)     What’s your passion?  What truly compels you?  Is it an industry, platform, environmental concern, industry best practice, or some other focus?  If you’re passionate about some aspect of your current role or if a personal passion is driving a career change, you should communicate this. You’re much more interesting, credible, and persuasive if your passion shines through.  
4)     How do others benefit from working with you?  What unique value do you bring to the table?  What outcome or results can you help an organization achieve?  What accomplishment or trait do you possess that’s important for people to know about?  You don’t want to come across as a braggart, but you do need to toot your own horn!
5)     Where are you going? Do you have a clear vision or career aspiration?  Are you planning relocation or will you soon be earning additional certification or education?  If so, this needs to be part of your pitch, so that it’s forward-looking and enables the listener to help you.

Write ideas down for these categories.  Play around with options and narrow it down to your best answers to each question.  Now, take those concepts and create one paragraph that captures you.  Read it aloud.  Does it sound natural, like something you’d actually say?  If not, tweak it – you need to get really comfortable with this statement for conversational use. Make sure it’s not more than about 20 seconds – we’re a short attention span nation! Now, practice, practice, practice! Run it by your best friend, spouse, mentor, colleague or other confidant.  Get some feedback, then, retool and rehearse again.  Want some more ideas?  Look here: http://www.ehow.com/how_5450473_create-personal-elevator-pitch-interview.html.
Now that you have your Perfect Pitch, how should you use it?  Use it at networking events, in interviews, introductions, when you catch up with people from your past, or when you talk to a recruiter.  You can also use it to craft your career objective on your resume, or to create your Linked In profile statement (or any other Social Media profiles), and you can use a version of it in any cover letter you write.  Be sure you can both write and say it in a voice that is uniquely yours.

Now get to work, so you can get to work and tackle the 21st century job market! 

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

How Not to Blow a Phone Interview...Final Thoughts

This article was first published as How Not to Blow a Phone Interview: Final Thoughts! on Technorati.  A former client called me recently to ask about how I’d suggest wrapping up a successful phone interview.  It got me thinking about a few more ideas for interview success, particularly for phone screens.  These tips, together with the suggestions in my last post (http://technorati.com/business/article/how-not-to-blow-a-phone1/), will help you get your ducks in a row, so you can rock your next phone screen!

1)     Be a Sleuth!  With all the resources available today, there’s no excuse for going into any interview without doing your research.  If nothing else, this will show that you’re intelligent, interested in the opportunity, and a fairly savvy candidate.  Use Google, Linked In, Plaxo or Facebook to see what you can learn about the person on the other end of the phone prior to the call.  If a staffing industry/agency recruiter has set this interview up for you, ask them about the experience placing prior candidates with this organization.  Find out how prior interviews have gone, and what you should expect.  Be sure that you’ve taken time to fully review the hiring firm’s web site and understand at least their structure, what they do, and some recent news about them.  Use this information both to generate better questions to ask, and to tailor your answers to questions so that they not only reflect your personal truth, but also jibe with the company’s culture and direction.
2)     Get Your Facts Straight!  The purpose of many phone interviews is really a brief technical screen.  The interviewer wants to spend 10-15 with a handful of candidates to quickly determine if they have the appropriate technical expertise, or hard skills, to do the job.  In other words, they want to see if you really know all the things you say you do in your resume.  Then if you pass muster, they’ll bring you in to assess fit for the environment, soft skills, level of interest, etc… By technical skills, I don’t necessarily mean technology, but the hard facts and processes needed to be successful in any job.  For an accountant, these might be finance/tax/regulatory questions, for a computer programmer, these would be questions on how you create a certain type of code or application, and for a sommelier, they’d be questions focused on various wine terroir and vintage. Be sure that you fully understand the direct competencies and hard skills needed for the role and if you have any weaknesses in these areas, study up prior to the interview.  Don’t be afraid to use notes either. You’re invisible to the interviewer, so allow that to work to your advantage. I’m not suggesting you totally fake it!  If you don’t have the basic skills to do a job successfully, getting through a phone screen will not help you.  It will just draw out the inevitable result of you being weeded out, and waste both your time and the employer’s time.
3)     Get Those Ducks Lined Up! The worst thing an interviewer can hear is “NO, I don’t have any questions”.  This makes you sound uninterested in the opportunity, or (worse yet), not analytical enough to dig into any of the covered topics.  By all means, have some questions prepared! Don’t ask about benefits, pay, flex time or related topics at this stage of the game.  Keep your inquiries professionally-focused and ask about their expectations, vision, past successes or failures in filling this role, culture, or tools/methodologies/processes used in the role. The best questions are “high octane” – they get you information and cast you in a more intelligent light with the hiring manager.   
4)     Lock and Load!  If you decide you want a “second date” with this employer, don’t be shy! When the interview is over, tell them you’ve genuinely enjoyed speaking with them and getting to know more about the organization and the role.  Share how you feel you are a good match for their need and how you could make an impact.  Ask them what the next step would be and whether they have any hesitations moving forward. This gives them the opportunity to share their concerns with you so that you can overcome their potential objection.  Conversely, if you don’t think it sounds like a match, let them know this (nicely) as well.  If it makes sense, inquire about other more appropriate roles for which you would be better suited.  Thank them for their time and be sure that you’re helping to drive the next step that you want to achieve.  

Now, get to work and tackle the 21st century job market, fully armed with all the skills you need to thrive.  Don’t forget to let your personality shine and just be the best version of yourself.  In other words, even on a phone interview, don’t be a phony. Best wishes and happy hunting!


Tuesday, March 1, 2011

How Not to Blow a Phone Interview....Part Deux!

How Not to Blow a Phone Interview: Part Deux!

This article was first published as How Not to Blow a Phone Interview: Part Deux! on Technorati. 

Think of the phone interview as the work version of speed dating.  The current job market is very active, meaning that most posted or advertised openings have hundreds of applicants.  More and more hiring managers are scheduling phone screens as a first gateway to quickly assess if a candidate has the right skills, communication style and attitude to warrant a face-to-face meeting.  It’s your one shot, so be sure you don’t blow it.  Hopefully, you read my former post with the first 3 tips on this topic.  If not, here is a link to that article: http://technorati.com/business/article/how-not-to-blow-a-phone/. Now, for some more ideas on how NOT to blow your interview.

1)     Look in the Mirror!  If possible, have a mirror close by.  Go ahead, check yourself  while you’re talking.  Are you smiling?    If you’re not, your caller will definitely hear it.  Before the call, relax, take some deep breaths, stretch a bit, have a sip of water, spit out your gum, put any snacks away, and take a good look at yourself.  Smile, be confident and convey an upbeat mood and attitude.
2)     Use Cue Cards!  Since it is a phone interview, the caller cannot see you. Make this work to your advantage.  Have questions written out beforehand, have your resume printed out and ready for you to reference.  Have some notes on the company/hiring manager/job handy that you’ve either pulled from the internet, from your recruiter, or from your own super sleuth detective work.  I recommend printing out your resume, highlighting key things that you want to be sure to convey (more on this in the next tip).  Write out a few key questions on notecards in fairly large print and have them laid out on the desk or table in front of you.  Be sure to ask them and jot down responses as you chat.  Have the job description and other data points handy, again highlighted or notated with where you want clarification.  This would seem awkward in a personal interview, but use your temporary “cloak of invisibility” to your advantage and you’ll sound better prepared, more articulate and more engaged in the interview.
3)     Practice Makes Perfect! Practice your elevator pitch!  Be sure you have well rehearsed and compelling answers to the standard interview questions that you know you’re likely to get.  These include strengths, weakness, why you’re looking, and the old standby, “tell me about yourself”.  Be fully ready to explain any gaps in employment, salary history and any significant career path changes you’ve made.  Be prepared, write out answers in advance and practice saying them a few times so you’re sure they sound natural, confident and credible before the phone interview! A tip I like to share is to gather several colors of highlighter pens and a printed copy of your resume and the job description for which you’re interviewing.  On the job description, pull out the top 3-5 required skills/attributes or experience factors needed for success.  Highlight each one in a different color.  Now, go to your resume and map those colors/skills back, so that your resume is now highlighted in the same colors and you can easily walk the caller through how your experience specifically matches their requirements.   
4)     Be attractive!  Look we’re all human and we tend to respond to people who think, talk and act like we do.  Now I’m not suggesting that you try to sound like Dolly Parton if you’re interviewing with someone in Tennessee or like Tony Soprano if you’re talking to a manager in the Garden State.  But there are subtle things you can do to make the interviewer more at ease with your communication style and more interested in taking things to the next phase. Listen to the interviewer.  Are they animated or more even keel?  Excitable and passionate? Or grounded and soft-spoken?  Pay attention and adapt your tone and pace of speaking to match theirs slightly, keeping it very natural.  Jot down key words that they use and try to reiterate those in your own dialog so you’ll be “speaking the same language”.  Try to avoid any negative words and stay positive. Ask them questions that show you’re engaged, interested in them, their perspective on the organization, and the role. Please don’t interrupt them!  On a cell phone, this may mean waiting 2-3 seconds after they finish talking to speak just to be sure.  If I sound a bit like I’m giving dating advice, that’s ok.   Remember, the phone interview is like speed dating, and you want to be the one to control whether you get a real date, or not.

Love them or not, phone interviews are here to stay.  Hopefully, these tips will help you shine in this somewhat awkward format, and win the interview.  Look for my final installment on this topic in the next few days.....Go get ‘em!