The GREAT JOB SOONER Blog

4 More Interview Mistakes Smart People Make

You aren’t making dumb interview mistakes. You’re never late to a job interview, and you don’t complain about your past boss to the person you’re hoping will be your next boss. So why haven’t you landed an offer yet?

In last week’s post I pointed out three common pitfalls you may not have been aware of. Here are four more you can correct for greater success.

Being too modest.

Think this isn’t you? Think again. As an interview coach I find that about 90% of my clients are failing to say enough, or to be specific enough, about the good results they’ve achieved in their work.

Don’t just tell them what you’ve done in your current and past jobs – tell them how well you did it and the impact it had. If the impact was large, quantify it, whether in terms of money, increased market share, greater efficiency, time saved, or whatever metric is relevant.

Look for extra bragging points: Is the process you created still in use five years later? Say so. Were you given a bonus or a recognition? Don’t be shy. Did you receive a memorable kudo from a customer or your manager? Quote from it.

Thinking it’s all about competence.

An interview isn’t only about proving you can do the job well. It’s also about chemistry and rapport. We all want to work with people we like and trust. So be authentic. Don’t recite memorized answers. And let your enthusiasm show. Reveal what you truly love about your work.

Think about the interviewer as a person. Wonder what you’ll like about him or her when you’re working together. Realize he or she may be just as nervous and hopeful as you are.

Not preparing a great answer to that killer question.

Is there a question that scares you a little? Or a lot? Like, why do you want to leave your current job, or have you ever been fired? If you don’t have an answer you’re comfortable with, work on it. Research it online, discuss it with a trusted friend or a coach. There’s always a best way to answer, and it’s usually better than you think.

Not preparing plenty of good questions to ask the interviewer.

Good questions show that you’ve researched the company, are curious and motivated, and are already thinking about how you can do a great job. I recommend preparing 10 good questions, because if you only have five, you may find that they’ve all been answered by the end of the interview and you’re stuck with nothing.

Holding your questions ’til the end.

Look for opportunities to ask questions early in the interview and throughout. This can make the interview feel less like an interrogation and more like a conversation, which is much more enjoyable for both parties. Your questions may also lead to information that helps you give better answers.

You’re human. Chances are you’ve made at least one of these interview mistakes; we all live and learn. But with diligent effort these missteps can be eliminated – giving you a much better chance in each interview and a shorter job search!

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.

 

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?”

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?

Stay tuned as I explore more of the most common interview questions. The next post is about the question “What’s the biggest mistake you’ve made?”

Interview Advice? Think Twice!

Interview Advice? Think Twice!Have you been given misleading advice about job interviews?

The following commonly-heard suggestions range from misleading to just plain wrong – not necessarily in that order.

“Lie.”

Misrepresenting your background or abilities is not only unethical but it can easily backfire and ruin your reputation.

If you’re having trouble figuring how how to tell the truth and still get a job, you need a good interview coach to help you sell your strengths and downplay your weaknesses – without deception.

“Just be yourself.”

At the other extreme, answering an interviewer the same way you might answer your best friend may be charming, but it’s unlikely to get you hired.

Let’s say you’re asked “What famous person from history would you want to have lunch with?” You may be thinking Linda Lovelace, Che Guevara or Mother Theresa, but is any of those answers going to help you get a job in Human Resources?

You’ll earn more points with an answer that’s relevant to the business world and avoids reference to sex, politics or religion. Everything you say in an interview should be not only authentic, but strategic. Every answer should communicate why you’re right for the job.

“It’s easy to over-prepare.”

There’s a grain of truth here, but only a grain. True, you shouldn’t plan all your answers word-for-word and memorize them. Few of us could do that without sounding phony. Employers don’t trust canned answers.

However, in my experience as a career coach, I rarely meet anyone who has spent too much time researching the company, thinking about how to best present their experience, developing stories that demonstrate their skills and doing mock interviews. The vast majority need more preparation, not less.

If you’ve been preparing a lot and it’s feeling stale, try this: Do a mock interview with a partner whom you have specifically instructed to ask unusual questions and to interrupt your answers with additional questions like “Can you give me another example besides that one?’ or “What would you have done if that hadn’t worked?” That may knock you out of your rut.

“Write down your answers to all the common questions (and memorize them).”

Yes, you should study as many interview questions as possible, but don’t script your answers word-for-word. Instead, jot down a few words to remind you of the key talking points. Memorize those – then flesh it out into fresh words as you go along.

“Find good answers online and use them yourself.”

The sample answers you may see in blog articles are just that – samples, intended to give you an idea. If you copy them, you won’t sound real.

“Keep your answers short.”

If you’ve received expert and/or repeated feedback that your answers are too long, this may be good advice for you. But it’s also possible that those answers you’re worried about are actually only seconds long. Try timing yourself.

Are your answers really too long, or just not well thought-out? That’s the real point.

Knowing the key points you want to cover can help you get to the point more quickly, making time for the truly relevant, meaningful details that help the interviewer picture you doing a great job.

An in-depth answer is appropriate and necessary for many questions, especially crucial ones like “Tell me about yourself,” “Why do you want to work here?” or “What was your best accomplishment at your most recent job?” A good answer to those questions might take up two full minutes. (That sounds short, but right now, try watching a clock with second hands, or counting slowly to 120. Two minutes is a pretty long time!)

There’s a lot of job search advice out there aimed at the general public – but not at you, specifically. Articles like this one can’t substitute for one-on-one help. The best guidance is personalized coaching from an expert who knows your background and goals.

(Thanks for your ideas, members of Job-Hunt Help.)

Interview Questions: Remember to Read Between the Lines!

interview questionsInterviewers know better than to directly ask “Are you easy to manage?” or “Do you get along well with others?”

Instead, they’ll say something like this:

“How would you describe your ideal supervisor?”

Then they’ll read between the lines.

So beat them to it: read between the lines of what they say, and make sure you address that subtext, as well as the question on the surface.

Ask yourself two questions about each question:

  • What is she trying to find out by asking that?
  • How can I sell myself with my answer while still being authentically “me”?

With the “ideal supervisor” question, for example, the interviewer is not trying to find out how the company can choose the right supervisor for you. They’re probably not looking for input on how the existing supervisor can best work with you, either. They want to “read” your answer for insights on how you work with a boss.

Most candidates, if they don’t think much about it, will say something like this:

“My ideal supervisor would be someone who is very fair, always available for questions, and gives clear guidance but doesn’t micromanage.”

This answer is clear and true – both important qualities – but it doesn’t address what the interviewer is really interested in, and it does nothing to sell you. In fact, it may make you sound hard to please. A better answer would show that you perform well with various types of supervisors, ideal or not.

Here’s another common question:

“Tell me about a time you had to  work with a difficult person.”

What are they trying to find out? They want to know about your willingness and ability to deal with difficult behaviors and achieve great results nonetheless. They want to know specifically how you have done this. They also may be testing you to see whether you are fair and discreet in what you say about others.

How are you going to remember, right there in the interview, to identify what the interviewer is looking for? By preparing and practicing. Look up lists of common interview questions in advance, analyze them and practice your answers.

Even if the interviewer asks totally different questions than you prepared for – as they will – you’ll “wing it” more effectively because you will have internalized the skill and the habit of approaching interview questions strategically.