The GREAT JOB SOONER Blog

How to Stand Out in Interviews – Focus the Interviewer’s Attention!

In job interviews you’re typically competing against several other people. How can you stand out and be the one who gets the job?

Is it a matter of gimmicks or tricks? Nope! It’s a matter of making it very clear to the employer that you’re the best candidate. And that clarity comes from focusing attention – yours and the interviewer’s – on the right things.

Less Is More: The Importance of Focus in Job Interviews

Educators know that if you hit someone with a huge bunch of facts willy-nilly, they may not learn anything. People learn better when the presentation is focused and organized around a few core concepts.

In sales, these are often called “key selling points.” (This is closely related to the idea of a unique selling proposition or a personal brand.) These points are where you want to focus the interviewer’s attention.

In an interview, the “product” you’re selling is you. If that sounds awful, let’s remember that you’re not selling your soul – just clearly communicating the skills, expertise and personal strengths that will make you valuable to an employer.

In fact, let’s get away from sales terminology. I call these your “REV Points,” because they work best if they’re Relevant, Exceptional and Verifiable (REV).

Ask yourself, what would my co-workers and managers say if I asked them what makes me uniquely valuable? What do I do better than others? Jot down a good long list.

Now identify which of these possible selling points really have that “REV” that’s going to make you stand out.

Choosing Selling Points that Really “REV”

I mentioned that REV stands for Relevant, Exceptional and Verifiable. Here’s what I mean by these terms.

Relevant: A relevant qualification is in demand by employers. Study several job postings for the type of job you want, and underline the important skills, qualifications and qualities the employer is looking for. Which seem to be the top priorities?

Think about the likely pain points of your target companies – the problems that are eating into their profits or making them look bad. Skills that can help solve these problems are powerfully relevant.

Exceptional: An exceptional quality or qualification is one that stands out. Probably all of your competitors have experience in multi-tasking. But can they all speak Mandarin with the company’s Chinese clients.

Maybe you are exceptionally hard working, extremely intelligent, or a superb people person. Well, lots of people say these things about themselves. If you are truly exceptional in a soft skill like these, you’ll need to make it more convincing – it needs to be verifiable.

Verifiable: By this I mean that the item is not just a claim or opinion. It’s something you can prove or give evidence for.

Facts are naturally verifiable. Let’s say you believe your graduate degree is a key selling point. No problem, this is a fact and it can be verified with a background check. Likewise, your work experience is a collection of facts that can be verified.

Skills can be tougher, especially soft skills like communication. Most job applicants claim to have excellent communication skills. By itself, this claim is so subjective – such a matter of opinion, really – that it’s almost meaningless. Until you give evidence for it. Your evidence might be something like this:

  • The skillfulness of your spoken and written communications with the interviewer. (Thus, you’re demonstrating these skills rather than just claiming to have them.)
  • A story about the time when you diplomatically sorted out a misunderstanding and kept a client from leaving.
  • The fact that you wrote documentation that reduced service calls 50%.

Now your claim of exceptional communication skills has credibility!

You’ll notice that we’re using these terms – verify, prove, evidence – a bit loosely. We’re not talking about proving your skills with legalistic or scientific precision. The point is to be able to back up your claims enough to make them reasonably convincing to the interviewer.

Example: One Candidate’s Interview REV Points

Denise Williams is a sales manager looking for a new job. The most relevant, exceptional and verifiable reasons she’s the right person to hire are:

  • Track record of consistently over-achieving goals and earning awards in Fortune 500 companies
  • Exceptional talent for effectively anticipating and navigating change through cross-functional collaboration (with stories to “verify” this and make it real)
  • Learns quickly and positively impacts the bottom line within the first few months on any job (again, verified by stories)

Using Your REV Points

Now that you know the top 3 or top 5 things that will make you stand out, how do you use them to get the job?

  • Emphasize them throughout the interview process.
  • Start the interview with them. Make a great first impression by bringing up these points as you answer the first question in the interview, which is often “Tell me about yourself.”
  • Tell stories (examples) from your work that bring each of these key points to life. These stories can also help you improve your resume and LinkedIn profile.
  • End the interview with them. People tend to remember what they hear first, but also what they hear last. Include some or all of these points in your closing statement at the end of the interview, as well as your follow-up communications.

Want help figuring out your key selling points? Sign up for my FREE five-lesson course, Stand Out In Your Interviews.

3 Interview Mistakes Smart People Make

You’re too smart to make those silly mistakes like reeking of cologne at a job interview or forgetting to turn off your phone. But maybe you’re still not getting offers. How can you change that?

This post and next week’s will identify some less-obvious pitfalls to eliminate.

Not being proactive about marketing yourself.

There may be 500 reasons why the company should hire you, but they won’t remember 500. They may remember three, or five. So go into your interviews knowing what your key selling points are and make sure they come across clearly and memorably. This is also known as your unique selling proposition.

Wasting the “first impression answer.”

Your answer to the first question interviewers ask – usually something like “Would you tell me a bit about yourself?” – can set the tone for the whole interview. People tend to remember what they hear first. So make sure your first answer focuses the interviewer’s attention where you want it – on those crucial key selling points. Here are some tips on answering this crucial question.

Being vague rather than concrete.

Too-general answers sound generic and unconvincing. Be specific. Tell stories that demonstrate your outstanding skills.

I won’t lie to you – it may take hours to prepare your key selling points, craft a great “Tell me about yourself” answer and plan the right interview stories. For step-by-step guidance, you may want to read my book, Get That Job, The Quick and Complete Guide to a Winning Interview.

Key selling points, an effective first answer and compelling stories will help you get that job offer a lot sooner!

See next week’s post for “4 More Interview Mistakes Smart People Make.” Better yet, subscribe and get free tips on interview preparation, resumes and other job search topics in your mailbox once a week.

What are your job interview selling points? (Podcast)

To really stand out in a job interview, you need to know your the top 5 (or top 3 or whatever) “selling points” – the qualities or facts that will make the interviewer’s eyes light up – and to proactively emphasize them right from the start.

In a new podcast on CareerCloud, I discussed how to identify your unique selling points and make them work for you, powerfully. Listen now.

 

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! 

The next post will help you answer the question “What are your salary expectations?”

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?”

How to Be Concise in Job Interviews

How to Speak Concisely at Job InterviewsLong, rambling answers – padded with repetition and irrelevant information – don’t win job interviews.

If the interviewer is bored, they won’t remember you afterwards. Or they might remember you as “the last person I want to listen to in staff meetings!”

We all know it’s better to answer interview questions concisely. Easier said than done. How do you do it?

Edit your interview answers.

To avoid verbal wandering, plan a clear path! Put together a good, long list of questions you’re likely to be asked, then write a simple, bare-bones “talking points” outline of your answer for each one. (Don’t write full sentences, because you’ll end up reciting a script and sounding phony.)

Then edit your outlines. Ask yourself, Which details will “sell” me as the right person for the job? Make sure you include those! Which details could be left out? Delete them.

Now, practice saying your concise answers aloud until they flow easily.

After going through this process multiple times over several days, you may find yourself speaking more succinctly even in answers you haven’t prepared!

Know how to stop.

Sometimes interviewees ramble for lack of an ending. Here are some ways to end an answer smoothly:

  • Refer back to the question: “So that’s how I’d describe my management style.”
  • If you’re telling a story, end with the successful results you achieved.
  • Relate what you’ve been saying to the job you’re interviewing for: “…and I imagine you’ve had similar situations here.” or “Does that sound like a strategy that could work here?”

See my article Interviewing: 5 Good Ways to Wrap Up Your Answers for more help with this.

Still wandering off into the verbal weeds?

It’s a habit. To break it, practice giving answers that are actually too brief, followed by a question, such as: “Would you like me to go into more detail?”

If you catch yourself rambling, practice “bottom lining” your answer: stop yourself with a statement like “To get straight to the bottom line…” or “The most important part of this story is…” Then get straight to the point.

Practice.

It’s one thing to read tips, but quite another to build skills you’ll use when the pressure is on. Practice, practice, practice – with a mirror, a buddy or a job interview coach. Practicing turns tips into skills – and winning interviews.