The GREAT JOB SOONER Blog

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.

Turn a “No, thanks” Interview into a “Yes!” Later

You had a job interview but you didn’t get the job. Just forget about it, right?

Not completely. I found a surprising fact in a CareerBuilder study from last year: 54% of employers re-engage with past candidates who were not offered the job. I take that to mean they consider them later for another opening – or even for the same one.

I’ve seen this happen. One job seeker I coached, let’s call him Steve, was disappointed by an interview rejection involving an instructional designer position. Three weeks later he received a call from the company. The candidate they had selected had accepted the job but backed out at the last minute to accept another offer elsewhere. Was Steve still interested? He was! He started two weeks later in this job, and it was a major leap forward in his career.

This isn’t the only scenario. In other cases there may be additional positions that open up in the coming weeks or months. So when you hear “no,” think of it as “not right now.”

Here’s how to keep yourself open to opportunities post-interview:

  • Be gracious after being turned down. Send a nice letter to the recruiter and hiring manager thanking them for having considered you and stating that you hope there’s an opportunity to work together in the future. Maybe mention that you hope to see them at a certain industry event coming up. Very few people send such a letter, so you will stand out and be remembered.
  • If there was a good rapport, you might invite them to connect with you on LinkedIn and/or Twitter.
  • Keep your eyes open for future opportunities with this company, whether full-time or consulting.

For more tips about interviewing, read my book, Get That Job! The Quick and Complete Guide to a Winning Interview or contact me to see if one-on-one interview coaching could help you get your new job faster.

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.

 

“Tell me about a difficult person you had to work with.” Most Common Interview Questions, #6

Interview questions about “a difficult person” are job search land mines. Watch your step!

This post is an excerpt from Get That Job! The Quick and Complete Guide to a Winning Job Interview, available from Amazon as a softcover or eBook.

How should you answer this tricky interview question?

Sometimes the question is phrased a little differently: “Tell me about a time you had to work with someone you didn’t like, or who didn’t like you.”

However the question is asked, don’t project an image of yourself as someone who dislikes or is disliked by others. Reframe it as a situation where it was a challenge to work effectively with someone.

This question requires you to say something negative about a co-worker, which is generally a no-no in interviews. So be tactful by not giving any information that could identify who this person is.

Take an emotionally neutral tone. Resist the urge to kvetch, even if the interviewer encourages it by offering you sympathy.

Avoid characterizing the co-worker in judgmental terms like “Nothing was ever right as far as he was concerned” or “She wasn’t a team player.” Instead, describe the specific behavior objectively: “He would often make negative comments about team members” or “We needed her to provide a report every Monday, but it usually wasn’t done until mid-week.”

Be very brief about the difficult behavior, focusing primarily on what you did to make the best of the situation and how well it turned out. Treat this as a success story, emphasizing the positive results.

If you weren’t able to get any positive results, tell a different story! Remember, this question is not about the other person, it’s about you and your ability to collaborate with or manage others, to manage your own emotions and behavior, to resolve conflicts, and to use discretion and fairness in discussing a difficult situation.

Looking for more tips on handling tricky interview questions?

For a more complete interview guide, read Get That Job! The Quick and Complete Guide to a Winning Job Interview.

Interested in more tips about answering the most common interview questions? You can start with the first post in the series: “What are your weaknesses?”

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?”

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?

Interviewing: 5 Good Ways to Wrap Up Your Answers!

Interviewing: 5 Good Ways to Wrap Up Your AnswersWhen you’re answering a job interview question, do you find yourself meandering at the end, repeating yourself because you’re not sure how to stop?

As an interview coach, I often hear mock interview answers that wander around in circles or trail off into something like this:

“… and, uh, yeah, that’s about it.”

(That’s one of the worst endings you could use, because it implies that the good things you were just saying were all you have!)

Here are 5 better ways to wrap up your answer to an interview question.

Relate your answer to the company and/or the opening.

“So that’s the accomplishment I’m most proud of, and it shows one of the approaches I might take in marketing your products in Latin America.”

Summarize or refer back to the question.

Let’s say the question was “What would you be looking to accomplish in your first 30 days on the job?” You might end like this:

“… so these relationship-building and planning activities are what I’d want to accomplish in the first 30 days, in order to build a foundation for achieving the longer-term goals.”

If you’re talking about an accomplishment, specify the beneficial results.

“… so I was able to complete the project right on time despite the challenges I mentioned.”

“… and my plan resulted in a 20% increase in revenue.”

“… The division manager said the new process was ‘brilliant’ and invited me to present about it at a leadership meeting.”

Briefly add something positive beyond what was asked for.

For example, if asked to name your greatest strength, you could add another.

“… so that’s my greatest strength, and if I may add one more, a close second is …”

End with a question to encourage dialogue and to gain useful feedback.

“Is there anything more you’d like to know about what I’ve just said?”

This is especially useful in answering an initial request like “Tell me about yourself.” If there was something you said that particularly intrigued them, a chance to say more about it is bound to be beneficial to your cause. On the other hand, if they have concerns or confusion about anything you’ve said, it’s useful to surface that right away and respond to it.

Try out all of the above before your next job interview, and don’t over-rely on any one type of ending. With a little practice you’ll find that most of your answers come to a natural, effective close.

Good endings like these can help turn what could be a stiff, awkward job interview into a smoothly flowing conversation – leaving the employer impressed with your communication skills and wanting to talk with you again!

Interview Question: What Are Your Weaknesses?

Interview Question: What's Your Weakness?Some of the trickiest job interview questions are the ones about your weaknesses. Questions like these can make you feel a little paranoid!

  • “What is your biggest weakness in your work?”
  • “What are three areas in which your supervisor wants/wanted you to improve?”
  • “What’s your growing edge – what do you wish you could do better?”
  • “What are your strengths and weaknesses?”

Why are they asking this?

While it is always possible a candidate will reveal a deal-breaking issue, thus saving the employer thousands of dollars by avoiding a bad hire, I don’t believe this is most interviewers’ primary motivation.

Employers know you’re not perfect. What they don’t know is whether you are coachable, whether you take feedback well, whether you’re self-aware enough and motivated enough to see what you can improve – and actually improve it. Can you turn your weaknesses into strengths, or at least effectively work around them to get the job done superbly?

Tips for planning a good answer to interview questions about weaknesses:

  • Talk about a weakness you’re handling really well, or a skill you’re currently improving. If you can be specific about how you’re improving it – e.g., “I’m taking a class at UC Berkeley Extension” or “My manager wrote great things about this in my recent performance evaluation” – all the better.
  • Sandwich a weakness between strengths. Notice that the answer above starts and ends with positive results.
  • Mention a weakness you’ve largely overcome already. If you take this approach, be careful not to sound like you’re dodging the question. Be authentic.
  • Address a weakness the employer is already well aware of, for example lack of a certain qualification, while making the case for your ability to obtain that qualification and/or excel without it.
  • Name a skill you lack that is so cutting edge that the very fact that you’re concerned about it shows that you set high standards for yourself.
  • Don’t disqualify yourself by bringing up a weakness that casts serious doubt on your ability to do the job. For example, if you’re interviewing for a job as a project manager, don’t say you lack assertiveness.

Try out your answer on a friend or an interview coach, and ask for feedback. Does your answer to “What’s your weakness?” show that you’re a mature professional who knows he/she is not perfect but is constantly growing and gets great results?

Interview with the CEO? Questions to Ask

Interviewing with the CEO: Questions to Ask“I’ve got an interview with a senior executive at (company). What questions can I ask to get a sense of how their style and priorities will affect my day-to-day work?”

I was asked this question this morning in coaching a client who is interviewing for project manager roles.

Her concerns may be a lot like your own. So let’s explore what you might ask if you wanted to know the following:

What kind of company culture is filtering down from senior management?

  • “How does communication happen between senior management and other levels?”
  • “How are the values, vision, plans and strategies communicated?”
  • “How does this company reward good performance?”
  • “How would you describe the company culture here?”
  • “How is that culture evolving?”

Is senior management committed to the department I’m interviewing in?

  • “Where do you see the company expanding or focusing its efforts in the next few years?”
  • “What upcoming initiatives do you find particularly exciting?”
  • “How do you see (relevant department)’s role in the company’s growth?”

Do they set direction in a firm, consistent way?

  • “How and when are goals for this department set?”

I like working under management that has a “servant leader” style where the leader shares power and emphasizes developing people. Does this executive believe in this, and practice it?

Asking directly about a specific style may cause the executive to become defensive or question your compatibility with the organization. Instead, ask more general questions and “listen between the lines.”

  • “Can you describe your leadership style for me?”
  • “What’s your ideal or philosophy about senior management’s role in the company?”
  • “How does this company foster leadership at all levels?”
  • “What is your approach to motivating and developing talent?”

What is holding the company back?

  • “How is this company looking to evolve so that it continues to compete effectively, and how could a person in this role support that evolution?”

Obviously, these are more questions than most non-executive candidates will have a chance to ask in their brief time with a senior leader, but they can guide your own research as well. Read up on the executive in the business press and on social media. Talk to people who know the company. Then prioritize your questions for the interview. You may get a chance to ask many of them, or just one question, or none, if the CEO talks the whole time!

Choose your questions wisely.

The questions you ask say a lot about you. Are you excited about the role, or worried? Interested in the big picture (the executive hopes so!), or just your own job?

The “right question to ask” depends on many factors, including the roles, authority levels and personalities of the individuals involved. For example, if you’re an executive yourself, you may not need to be as deferential as a mid-level candidate. Consider the suggestions above as “food for thought” – and use your own best judgment.

Keep in mind, also, that the executive may not simply answer your question. He or she may ask counter-questions such as, “Why do you ask?” or “What leadership style do you prefer?”

Be prepared to bring a harmonious blend of authenticity and strategy to this conversation.