The GREAT JOB SOONER Blog

What are your salary expectations? Most Common Interview Questions, #5

How do you answer the interview question, “What are your salary expectations?” This post is the fifth in a series of excerpts from my upcoming eBook, Get That Job! The Quick and Complete Guide to a Winning Job Interview, available from Amazon.

“What are your salary expectations?”

Answering this question too specifically can lose you a lot of money, or an opportunity. Naming a figure that’s too low can result in a lower offer, or even loss of the opportunity if your answer creates doubt about your value. A figure that’s too high can immediately disqualify you.

This is one of the few questions where formulaic, memorized verbiage may be the best approach.

First, as soon as you apply for a job make sure you understand the range of typical salaries for the position and geographic area, because this may be one of the first questions you will be asked in a phone screen, which could happen at any time.

You can research salaries via websites like Salary, Payscale, Glassdoor, Indeed, CareerOneStop, JobSearchIntelligence, a simple Google search, and sometimes via word of mouth. Use more than one source, since a broader range may give you more negotiating flexibility.

When the question is asked, respond with “Can you tell me what range you have budgeted for the position?”

If they tell you a range, say something like, “That seems like a reasonable ballpark. I’m sure once we agree I’m the right person for the job, we’ll be able to agree on a salary that’s fair.”

If they won’t state their range and put the question back onto you, say something like, “I’ve done some research and I’m seeing salaries anywhere from X to Y. I’m sure once we agree I’m the right person for the job we’ll be able to agree on a salary that’s fair.”

More Help with Common Interview Questions

Earlier posts in this series explored the common interview questions “What are your weaknesses?”, “Where do you see yourself in five years?”, “Why did you leave your job?” and “What’s the biggest mistake you’ve made on the job?” For more posts like these you can subscribe to my helpful job search blog.

For tips on dozens of common interview questions (and some not-so-common ones) and much more, check out my book on Amazon.

What’s the biggest mistake you’ve made? Most Common Interview Questions #4

What the biggest mistake you've made? Most Common Interview Questions #4How do you answer the interview question, “What’s a major mistake you’ve made on the job?” This post is the fourth in a series of excerpts from my new book, Get That Job! The Quick and Complete Guide to a Winning Job Interview.

What’s behind this interview question?

The intention here is to see whether you are open to admitting, taking responsibility for and learning from your mistakes. No one wants employees who will sweep their mistakes under the rug or blame them on others. They also want to hear that you clean up after yourself where possible, going the extra mile to make things right.

Here’s an example:

“On a software project I managed, a certain manager didn’t come to the regular meetings until the final one where everyone was supposed to sign off. There, at the last minute, he objected to a great new feature the team was excited about. Later I realized how I could have countered that objection, but at the time it caught me by surprise, I didn’t make a good case for it, and the feature was left off.

“What I learned for the future was to always make sure the key stakeholders are involved early, and that’s what I’ve done since then. Anyway, I worked hard to ensure that the new feature would be in the next release – and it was!”

What other interview questions are you concerned about?

Subscribe to this blog to ensure you won’t miss more articles like this, or better yet, buy my book! It’s available on Amazon as a Kindle eBook now, and the softcover edition will be available by mid-January 2017.

Why did you leave that job? The Most Common Interview Questions, #3

How do you answer the interview question, “Why did you leave that job?”

This post is the third in a series of excerpts from my upcoming eBook, Get That Job! The Quick and Complete Guide to a Winning Interview, to be published January 1, 2017. You can pre-order it as an eBook now or get the softcover in January.

Does your departure indicate a problem that could derail your interview?

If you left and immediately started a new job, it’s no problem: you left for a better opportunity (or what you thought was a better opportunity, even if it didn’t work out).

On the other hand, leaving without a new job lined up is generally a red flag, so this question is tricky.

The key is this: although one reason may dominate in your mind – probably the most emotional one, such as a personality conflict or issue with the boss – usually there are more reasons. List them all on a piece of paper. Then see which of these reasons makes the best impression.

Here’s an example.

Joe quit his job for the following reasons: (1) his boss was a micromanager, (2) the company, a hospital, had toxic office politics, (3) the circumstances made it difficult or impossible to move up into a better department, (4) he couldn’t stay until he found a new job because the job left him no time or energy for job search, and (5) he also had an itch to move into the pharmaceutical industry.

Reasons 1 and 2 are a minefield that would be hard to discuss without presenting himself as a complainer who badmouths his former employer. But he doesn’t need to go there; he can build a truthful answer out of reasons 3-5:

“While Bayworth Hospital is a great institution in terms of patient care, and I had three excellent years there, with strong accomplishments like the ones we’ve discussed, there really wasn’t a path upward for me there any more (reason #3). It was time to leave and pursue my longtime interest in pharmaceutical companies (#5) like this one. The job was intensely demanding and it didn’t leave me the energy to conduct a search. (#4) So I gave notice, helped the department make a smooth transition, and then left to devote myself to a full-time process of transitioning into doing what I’m most passionate about.”

Why does this answer work? Because it’s true, tactful, brief (30 seconds) and focused on the positive. It’s also a great example of the “sandwich technique”: surrounding a negative (the fact that he left) with positives (his respect for the hospital in certain ways, his accomplishments and his passion for the current opportunity).

What if Joe had been fired? In a past chapter I said “Never volunteer a negative.” Joe doesn’t need to say he was fired, unless specifically asked. His answer could be the same as above, with a slightly different ending:

“…It was time to leave and pursue my longtime interest in pharmaceutical companies like this one. Since then I’ve devoted myself to a full-time process of transitioning into doing what I’m most passionate about.”

Because this subject is emotionally charged for Joe, he would be wise to rehearse this answer with great care. He also needs to be prepared for the likelihood the interviewer will ask additional questions that will reveal that he was fired. Then what? I’ve discussed this in an earlier blog post.

What other interview questions are you wondering about?

Subscribe to this blog to ensure you won’t miss more articles like this, and for in-depth guidance you can pre-order my Quick and Complete Guide to a Winning Interview.

What’s Your 5-Year Goal? The Most Common Interview Questions, #2

What's Your 5-Year Goal? The Most Common Interview Questions, #2“Where do you see yourself in five years?”

How do you answer this common interview question?

This post is the second in a series of excerpts from my upcoming book, Get That Job! The Quick and Complete Guide to a Winning Job Interview, to be published January 1, 2017. You can pre-order it as an eBook now, or get the softcover in January.

What’s behind this interview question?

Why do interviewers ask you this? For one thing, they want to know whether the job aligns with your goals, and thus whether you’ll stick around. They may also be hoping you have some ambition. Ambitious people often make better employees. They’re more motivated, and they may work harder and smarter. They make a point of growing their abilities.

On the other hand, those who come in with their eye on a higher position and view the current role only as a stepping stone may be impatient and lack commitment to the tasks at hand.

So give an answer that combines a desire to grow, on the one hand, with realism, patience and commitment on the other.

Before the interview, see if you can find information about paths to advancement from within the position. If the only position you can advance to is that of the person you’re interviewing with, proceed with care! He probably won’t like the idea that you have your eye on his job, so just talk about growing and taking on more responsibility.

In most cases you won’t have much information, in which case it’s safest to start with a general answer followed by a question, like this:

“Over the next few years I see myself building my skills, taking on more responsibility and moving up, if it’s appropriate. Can you tell me about how others have advanced from this role?”

Although the question often includes the phrase “five years,” you don’t have to be that precise in your answer. More open-ended terms like “over the next several years” may be best.

What other interview questions are you wondering about?

Keep reading this blog as we examine some of the most common interview questions, what they’re about, and how to answer them in a way that’s authentic, strategic and gets you the offer. And remember there’s a lot more help in my book!

What Are Your Weaknesses? The Most Common Interview Questions, #1

This post is the first in a series of excerpts from my book, Get That Job! The Quick and Complete Guide to a Winning Job Interview, about giving effective answers to the most common interview questions.

How do you answer the interview question “What’s your biggest weakness?”

In most cases, the interviewer isn’t just asking this to find out if there’s a weakness that would disqualify you. They’re even more interested in finding out whether you’re self-aware and willing to openly discuss your shortcomings, which would indicate that you probably take feedback well. And they want to hear that you are committed to continually improving your skills.

With that in mind, try talking about…

…a weakness that’s closely connected to one of your greatest strengths. For example, if you’re great at relationship-building and that’s crucial to the job you’re applying for, you might mention that you sometimes spend more time listening to a client or co-worker than you intended to. (But if it really isn’t a weakness at all, it will sound evasive and insincere, so pick something else.)

…an “elephant in the room” weakness that’s already very noticeable to the employer – such as having less experience than they would prefer – so you have nothing to lose by bringing it up.

…a weakness you have largely overcome or that you compensate for very successfully.

No matter what weakness you bring up, keep it brief and spend more time talking about how you’re overcoming it than about what a problem it is. And avoid words like “weakness” and “problem” in your answer. Use more positive words like “challenge,” “growing edge” and “area where I’m growing.”

Of course, don’t bring up a weakness that would cause them to seriously doubt you can do the job.

Realize that certain answers – especially “I’m a perfectionist” and “I work too hard” – have been used so often they’ve become clichés and should be avoided, unless you can put a fresh spin on them.

The next installment of “The Most Common Interview Questions” will help you with the question “Where do you see yourself in five years?”

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10 Tips for Great Cover Letters

Cover Letter TipsRumors of the death of the cover letter have been exaggerated. Cover letters often do make a difference – so write cover letters that have all 10 of these advantages.

1: The name of the hiring manager, if at all possible, even if you’re sending it to Human Resources. And do send it directly to the hiring manager as well! Read my posts on how to find the hiring manager’s name and how to find their email address.

2: An attention-getting opening. What do you think is the #1 most interesting or impressive thing about you, from the point of view of the employer you’re writing to? Start with that. Or figure out what their pain points are, and start by presenting yourself as the solution to their problems. Either of these approaches would be much more effective than “I am writing to express my interest in the blah blah position. My resume is attached.”

3: Your Key Selling Points. Emphasis on what you most want employers to notice – the top three to five reasons why they should hire you instead of someone else.

4:  Evidence that you are especially motivated to work for them: Do some research and mention what you discovered that makes you a good fit.

5: Correct spelling, grammar and punctuation. Even professional writers have their work proofread before publication. You can get good professional proofreading for around $5 per page.

6: Brevity. Keep it to one page or less for mailing, or one email screen (without scrolling).

7: The right format.

Email: Your cover letter should be the email itself, not an attachment. Include the job title in the subject line, plus if possible a few words emphasizing a key selling point. For example: ” MBA w/ Global Experience – Region Director Opening.” If you’re starting from a template, make your changes before pasting the content into the email. Content inserted after that point may appear to the recipient in a different font than the surrounding text.

Hardcopy: Use standard business letter format. Include a “re:” line referring to the job opening. Example: “Re: Region Director role”

8: Keywords. Cover letters often end up in the human resources department’s applicant tracking system (ATS) along with their resumes. An ATS is like a database that stores applicant information. HR personnel do keyword searches of these materials to determine whose resumes they want to read, and whose to ignore. Your cover letter and resume have more chance of being read if they contain crucial keywords such as the job title being applied for and words describing the most important skills and qualifications for the job.

9: Your phone number. Even though you phone number is presumably on the resume, include it here as well.

10: In the copy you send to the hiring manager, a promise to call him or her to introduce yourself. (Of course, this presumes you’ve got their name and a phone number, and that the job announcement did not forbid you to call.) If you’re able to do this, write something like “Because there is such a strong fit between my background and this role, I am going to take the liberty of phoning you Wednesday afternoon to personally introduce myself and answer any questions you may have.” Then be absolutely sure you make that call at the stated time, fully prepared (with notes) to effectively handle any response, whether it’s “I’m afraid I don’t have time to talk. I want to just let HR handle it,” or “I have some time. Tell me about yourself.” In a future post I’ll say more about making calls like this.

Many employers do read cover letters. Make sure yours includes all of the above so it – and you – will stand out.

 

Were you fired? (Interview Question)

Memories of being fired tend to be traumatic. “Were you fired from that job?” or “Have you ever been fired?” may be the last questions we want to be asked in a job interview.

What’s the best way to answer?

First of all, realize that having been fired is probably more of a big deal to you than it is to the prospective employer.

Make your answer short and sweet: brief and emotionally neutral.

Here are good examples:

  • I was a valued member of the team for five years. Then a new manager came in (or there was a reorganization, or the company was bought) and many people were let go, including me. The new manager then filled the team with people he had worked with at a past company. It’s a blessing in disguise for me, because now I’m here interviewing for this exciting opportunity.
  • Looking back, I’ve realized the job and I weren’t really a good fit. I was successful with (aspects that are similar to the job you’re interviewing for), but not as strong on (the parts that are different). I’m much better suited to a position like the one we’re talking about today.
  • Although I did accomplish many milestones in that role, I realize I also made some mistakes. It’s been a big learning experience for me. I know now that… (describe what you learned). With that new wisdom, together with the skills I already had, I’m confident I’ll succeed in this role.

Emphasize the positive.

Notice how these answers begin and end with something positive, with the negative sandwiched in between. You can use this “sandwich” technique whenever you need to address something negative in an interview.

Whatever you say, it is important that you say it without radiating anger, fear or shame. Work on your state of mind if you need to, whether through self-help books, affirmations, meditation or counseling.

Put the firing in perspective in your own mind.

“Good people get fired every day,” according to Tim Sackett, who runs a staffing agency. “They get fired for making bad decisions. They get fired for pissing off the wrong person. They get fired because they didn’t fit your culture. They get fired because of bad job fit.”

Many of the most successful people in the world have been fired. Steve Jobs was fired from Apple, then returned years later. Oprah Winfrey, Walt Disney, Lee Iacocca, J.K. Rowling and Thomas Edison all got the boot. Look up “successful people who have been fired” online. You’ll see that the list goes on and on. You’re in fine company.

Do what you can to rebuild the bridge, work hard on your interview preparation, and look forward to moving quickly past this bump in the road. The more time goes by, the less it will matter.

This post is a sneak preview from my upcoming book, Get that Job! The Quick and Complete Guide to a Winning Job Interview (January 2017). One way to be reminded when it comes out is to subscribe to this blog!

How to Use Job Interview “Extras”: Portfolios, Presentations & Plans

How to Use Job Interview Extras: Porfolios, Presentations & PlansUsed correctly, job interview “extras” such as portfolios, presentations and 30/60/90-day plans can make your interview more memorable and convincing – and make you stand out as the candidate who goes the extra mile.

Portfolios aren’t just for artists.

Portfolios – whether online or physical – aren’t just for “creative” professionals like graphic designers and copywriters. If the quality of your work can be demonstrated by several of the following items, consider assembling them into a binder or computerized presentation.

You might include:

  • Samples of work or summaries of projects
  • Writing samples
  • Kudos
  • Awards
  • Letters of recommendation
  • Positive performance reviews
  • Graphs, charts or other infographics
  • Certificates, licenses or transcripts
  • Resume, cover letter and references
  • And what else? Use your imagination and good judgment.

Use an attractive binder – don’t skimp! – and place each item in a page protector, perhaps with copies to share behind each original. Or design the portfolio to be left with the interviewer. (Do not impose on them to return it to you afterwards! Keep a copy for yourself.)

If you have only one item or two extra items to show, for example a letter of recommendation and a list of references, you can simply provide these to the interviewer along with your resume.

Consider a mini-presentation with your tablet or laptop.

Some interviews require that you give a presentation – but if it’s not required, why not be the only candidate who prepared one?

This can be especially effective if presentation skills are relevant to the job, or if some of your skills – for example, web design – lend themselves well to online presentation.

Do not ask to use the employer’s presentation equipment. Keep your use of technology simple and seamless. A tablet computer may be the best choice, because it’s easy to hand back and forth. And make sure your battery is fully charged; don’t search around for an outlet to plug into.

Any unasked-for presentation should be very brief. It could be anywhere from a quick reference to one particularly telling infographic, or a multi-slide presentation the length of a typical interview answer (which you may recall, I suggest limiting to a minute or two).

Introduce the presentation as a way of answering a question that has been asked. “To answer that question, I’d like to show you a one-minute presentation I’ve prepared on my tablet. All right?”

Remember that applications like PowerPoint, Keynote, Prezi or Google Slides are only as effective as your use of them. Spend at least a few minutes reading up on smart presentation design in terms of font sizes, balance of text versus images, color, and so on.

Is a 30/60/90-day plan appropriate for you?

This tool is typically used by executives, managers and sales or marketing professionals, but it could be effective for others as well. The plan shows what you would accomplish in your first three months on the job, and the purpose is to demonstrate that you fully understand the role, have good ideas about how to perform it, and are highly motivated – driven – to excel in it.

Craft and present this toward the end of the interview process, after completing at least an interview or two, when you’ve gained detailed knowledge of the challenges, resources and expectations involved in the position.

Expect to spend a number of hours researching the company and its environment, writing the plan, and developing a polished document or electronic presentation.

Since you’re not yet on the job, the plan will necessarily be tentative, and may include mention of additional information you would seek or alternative courses of action to be considered. At the interview, engage the interviewer in discussion about your plan and invite feedback.

Be deferential in introducing extras into the interview.

Remember that the employer is in charge of the agenda for the interview and respect that. You want to bring your portfolio, presentation or plan into the meeting only with their permission, at the right moment and without disrupting the smooth flow of the meeting.

Physical portfolio, plan or other document: If the interview is taking place at a conference table, you might say something like, “May I set this here?”, making it natural for the interviewer to ask you about it when they’re ready. Otherwise, wait until a topic arises that corresponds to what you’ve brought and ask, “May I show you something that relates to this?”

Electronic presentation: It may be distracting or seem inappropriate to have your device in plain sight before you’ve had a chance to explain its presence. It may be best to keep it in your briefcase until the right moment has arisen and the interviewer has agreed to view your presentation.

Be prepared for the possibility that the interviewer may not want to look at what you’ve prepared, either due to time constraints or a desire to be “fair” by following the same format with each applicant. In that case, you might offer a hard copy or attach it with your follow-up correspondence afterwards. Your effort was not wasted – you’ve still demonstrated your exceptional motivation, creativity and work ethic.

What will work for you, to make you stand out in your job interview?

Job Search Tips from the Olympics

simoneJob search has more in common with the Olympic Games than you might think.

Both require a participant to do their best in a high-pressure, competitive situation. And every great athlete knows success is not due purely to physical prowess; mental preparation is huge.

A study of Olympic athletes has shown that four key mental skills were crucial in their success.

One: Positive Self-Talk.

Here’s an Olympic runner:

Immediately before the race I was thinking about trying to stay on that edge, just letting myself relax, and doing a lot of positive self-talk about what I was going to do. I just felt like we couldn’t do anything wrong. It was just up to us. I said, ‘There’s nothing that’s affecting us in a negative way, the only thing now is to do it, and we can do it . . . I just have to do my best.’

I’m sure Olympic athletes have unhelpful thoughts, too – the equivalent of a job seeker’s “I’m so awful at interviewing” or “I can’t call that hiring manager, I’ll make a fool of myself!” But they can’t afford to let those thoughts go undisputed – and neither can you.

Instead of kicking yourself when these thoughts occur, just kindly replace them with positive thoughts like “I’m working on my interviewing skills and getting better all the time” or “I’ll get ready for that call and I’ll make a good connection” or “I’m calling him five minutes from now and we’re having a great conversation.”

Two: Visualization (a.k.a. Creative Imagery or Mental Practice).

These athletes had very well developed imagery skills and used them daily. They used imagery to prepare themselves to get what they wanted out of training, to perfect skills within the training sessions, to make technical corrections, to imagine themselves being successful in competition, and to see themselves achieving their ultimate goal.

Visualization goes even further than positive statements. Saying to yourself “I’m calling the hiring manager and we’re having a good conversation” is good – and vividly imagining is even better.

For tips, see my article Mental Practice for Interviews.

Three: Setting Goals.

The best athletes had clear daily goals. They knew what they wanted to accomplish each day, each workout, each sequence or interval. They were determined to accomplish these goals and focused fully on doing so.

We all know determination is important. How can you be determined to accomplish something if you don’t know specifically what it is? The overall goal of “get a job” is a start, but you also need smaller goals that will get you there. Set objectives like “10 networking conversations this week” and apply your determination to those.

Four: Simulations.

The best athletes made extensive use of simulation training. They approached training runs, routines, plays, or scrimmages in practice as if they were at the competition.

Practice aloud for important phone calls. Do mock interviews. Be realistic, making sure your posture, facial expression and tone of voice are the same as they should be in the real situation. For interviews, do a dress rehearsal at some point.

Follow these four pointers in your job search and perform at the top of your game!

“Why do you want to leave your job?” (Interview Question)

Why do you want to leave your job? (Interview Question)Why you want to leave – this interview question is a minefield if your mind immediately goes to places like: My boss is a micromanager. The politics are toxic. The company is broken.

How can you answer this question in a job interview without sounding like a whining bad-mouther?

Some reasons for leaving are easier to talk about:

  • You like your current job, and are only interviewing because you saw another opportunity too exciting to resist.
  • You are successful in your current job but wish to make a career change that your current company can’t offer you – e.g., a shift into a different industry.
  • There is no path for advancement from your current role.
  • You need to relocate to a different city or state, and your current company can’t transfer you.

It’s more difficult if you’re leaving because of a problem – that the company is poorly managed, your boss is difficult, or such. It’s ironic that while the number one reason most people quit jobs is because of their bosses, that’s the last reason you can safely talk about in an interview. And it’s poor practice to criticize your current company, especially if you would be revealing issues that are not publicly know

Here’s an approach that will help.

When you really think about it, there are probably several reasons you’re leaving, not just one. Look at the four examples in the bulleted list above – do some of those apply? And what else? Make a list of all the reasons – “Why will I leave thee? Let me count the ways!” – and then craft an answer focused on the reasons that present you in a good light.

Now, you’re still basically talking about a negative – that you want to leave your job – so surround it with positives: the successes you have had there, what you have learned, and the reasons why you’re excited about the new opportunity.

“This job was my first foray into tech, and that was a great step for me. I’ve learned a lot about what customers want in an app. And I’ve learned that while I’m good at project management, I’m even better at understanding the customer. I want to move into a customer success role like this one. This opening is ideal for me because…”

(And they never need to know about your boss’s lousy management style!)

Watch for future posts focusing on other tricky job interview questions such as “Were you ever fired? Why?”