The GREAT JOB SOONER Blog

Interviewers Can’t Take Your Word for It

job interview, interviewingLet’s face it, employers know that many candidates exaggerate or even lie in job interviews. You know you’re honest, but how could they know? Many candidates lie in interviews.

Even if you weren’t lying, many of the claims job seekers make are matters of opinion. Why should the interviewer trust your opinion of yourself?

I tend to believe my clients when they tell me about the things they’ve accomplished. But then, I’m not risking thousands of dollars in staff time and lost productivity, as employers are – every time they make a hire. If employers seem a bit paranoid, they have reason to be.

Employers want evidence, but not necessarily the kind you’d need in a court of law. Sometimes it’s enough just to tell the story in a way that would be hard to fake. Whatever claims you make, back them up with specifics. If you tell about a project you did a good job with, paint the picture with specific details so the employer gets a sense that the story is real.

If you improved customer service, what are the metrics that prove it? Did 98% of clients renew at the end of the year? If you kept your department running smoothly after the manager quit, what does “smoothly” mean, specifically?

Another way to give “evidence” for your abilities is to have the praise coming from someone other than you. Getting excellent recommendations on your LinkedIn profile, well in advance, is one way to do this. Another is to quote someone else word-for-word, especially if you can back it up with a reference later.

I recently helped a client – I’ll call him Jim – prepare for an interview for a project management job. He is intensely excited about the job and has outstanding skills, but the results of his work are sometimes difficult to quantify. Nor does he have any contacts inside the organization. So how will they know it’s true when he tells them how well he has performed?

I asked Jim, “Well, how do you know you do a good job?”

“Partly from what people say to me,” he said. “My last boss used to say ‘Anytime I ask about any project, Jim instantly knows all the facts, the status, and any special considerations. He’s totally on top of it.’ He’s giving me a reference, too.”

References are generally a last check, once the decision has already been made. The glowing remarks of this supervisor may never be heard unless the employer can hear them before making a decision.

“Bring him into the interview,” I said, “by mentioning his name and that he’s a reference, and then quoting exactly what he says to you.”

Provide evidence to back up your claims. This will make a huge difference in your interview skills.

 

This article was originally published in 2013 and has been updated.

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.

 

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.

Job Interviews & No Offers – Why?

Job Interviews and No Offers?You’re an intelligent, talented professional. You’re no beginner – you don’t make the obvious job interview mistakes like being late or leaving your phone on. But you’re not getting offers.

Let’s check your interview skills. Chances are good you’re not doing all of the following. Are you…

…emphasizing your key selling points?

Do you know the top 3-5 facts about you that are most likely to make you stand out from the competition?

Clue: They aren’t basic requirements like having the required number of years of experience (unless that’s truly hard to find in your field), or having outstanding ethics (which is essential but assumed). A key selling point is something more, better or remarkable – the things job postings sometimes list as “desirable” but not required, or that special talent you were known for at your last job.

Or sometimes it’s just being a “purple squirrel,” that rare candidate who matches an unusual or exhaustive set of qualifications.

Once you know what makes you stand out, make a point of emphasizing it throughout the interview, especially at the beginning when the interviewer says something like “Tell me about yourself.”

…backing up intangible claims with evidence?

An interviewer will probably believe you when you say you have a master’s degree (although they’ll also do a background check). But they can’t take your word for it when you talk about your skills – especially those intangible soft skills like communication.

Don’t just claim it – prove it, demonstrate it. Refer to LinkedIn recommendations or letters of recommendation that vouch for it. And of course, a good example or story helps make any claim more believable.

…coming to the interview with plenty of stories?

I often encounter job seekers who feel they’re all set because they have five good stories about their accomplishments. Not enough! In a behavioral interview you could go through all five in the first 10 minutes. And what if there are multiple interviews?

This is a time-consuming but crucial part of your interview preparation. List and rehearse at least a dozen stories, preferably far more. Think SOAR: Situation, Obstacles, Actions and Results.

Mini-quiz: Which two of those four parts do you think most people neglect?

…being very specific about results?

Bingo. Most job seekers short-change themselves by neglecting to say enough about the results of their work: that the project was successful, that it saved money or time (how much?), that the boss loved it, or that their solution was copied in other departments. Be very complete about this – it’s the juiciest part of the story!

…telling how you overcame obstacles?

Let’s say you thought up a better process and you launched it with X marvelous results. Great. Was it easy? If you had to deal with huge resistance from staff, a ridiculously aggressive deadline or a shoestring budget, say so – and describe the skillful way you overcame the difficulties.

…being concise?

Do you digress, repeat yourself or waste time on unimportant details that don’t add value? (If you’re not sure, record a mock interview and listen to yourself – or work with an interview coach.) Overcome rambling tendencies by planning out the key points of your answers to likely questions.

…asking good questions?

When the interviewer asks “What questions do you have for me?”, you must have several good questions to ask that show that you’ve done your homework and have a serious interest in the job. You need to prepare about 10 good questions (written on a notepad or memorized), because several of them will probably be answered before you get a chance to ask.

…(at least) 100% ready to wow them?

Employers expect dedication. They’re looking for star employees who go above and beyond what’s required. Be more prepared than the competition. Nail every detail. Know more about the company and its environment. (Do your research not just online but by word of mouth as well. That takes time, and it’s one reason why you want to identify target companies and have these conversations in advance.)

Is there something extra you can offer to bring – a portfolio, a presentation? Some executive candidates prepare a 30/60/90-day plan to show how they would add value quickly after hire. What will you do to show you’re more motivated than the rest?

How many of these interview skills are you consistently applying? Nail them all and your job interviews will start resulting in offers. It’s challenging, I know! If you’d like an expert partner in all this, contact me. Interview coaching is an investment that pays off generously in career success.

Mental Practice for Job Interviews, Part 2

Mental Practice for Job Interviews, Part 2Was it about job interviews that someone once said “There is no glory in practice, but without practice, there is no glory”?

It may not initially seem like fun to do mental practice for job interviews, even if you know that mental rehearsal can dramatically improve your performance, as it does for famous musicians and athletes. 

You may be surprised to discover how enjoyable and empowering it is.

In my previous post, I explained how mental practice, mental rehearsal, imagery or visualization (I’ll use these terms interchangeably) can help you do a winning job interview, and I laid out steps to follow.

The idea is to experience, in your imagination, the way you want to feel, think, talk and act during your next interview.

On some level, your mind stores this imagery/visualization as learning – as if you had physically practiced going through the whole interview. Naturally, that practice sets you up for successful performance in the real world. This isn’t necessarily a mystical or new-age thing; it’s supported by scientific research.

In this post I’ll address some difficulties many people experience in trying to use mental practice, and how to overcome them.

Let go of distractions.

Even if we’ve found a quiet place, turned off the cell phone and hung a “Do Not Disturb” sign on the door, we may have distracting thoughts. “What did my boss mean by that comment yesterday . . . I need to go to the grocery store . . . I wish it was the weekend already . . .”

When distracting thoughts arise, just smile and let go of them, returning your focus to what you see, hear and feel in the successful interview you were imagining.

The more you can be kind to yourself about these distracting thoughts, the more energy you will have for deepening your focus on the visualization.

A recording to keep you on track can be extremely helpful. I’ll say more about that below.

Let go of imagining failure.

For many of us, a desire to always be “realistic” (or just to avoid disappointment!) leads to the bad habit of repeatedly, reflexively imagining negative outcomes.

If you find yourself doing this during your imagery session, let go of it. Nobody is asking you to guarantee you’ll do a great interview, just to imagine it for a moment. Experiment with imagining success.

Motivate yourself.

You may find yourself reluctant to try using this technique. Maybe you’re skeptical whether it will work. Try thinking of it as an experiment, just for the heck of it.

Or maybe you just don’t like to think about interviews! That’s understandable. Realize that you are free to imagine an interview so pleasant and successful that it will actually be fun.

In other words, talk yourself out of your reluctance and give it a shot. Why not?

Don’t get hung up on details.

How long should your mental rehearsal be? How should you start? The great thing is, these details aren’t so important.

You can spend 10 seconds, 10 minutes or a half hour if it works for you. You can start anywhere – visualize the whole day of the interview, or leap straight into hearing a job offer at the end! Just do it.

You don’t have to see clear inner pictures.

Not everyone can see images clearly inside their mind. Some people are more inclined to imagine via words, sounds and/or feelings. If your “visualization” focuses on hearing the sound of the conversation and cultivating feelings of confidence and connection, that’s great!

Stay awake.

Can’t relax and close your eyes without falling asleep? Try sitting very upright in a straight-backed chair or cross-legged on a cushion. If necessary, keep your eyes open, gazing toward the floor or another blank surface while you turn your attention to your inner experience: arriving at the interview site, feeling the perfect blend of calm and excitement as you take a moment to breathe deeply, knowing it’s going to be a great interview…

Enlist assistance with interview coaching and/or a customized guided imagery recording.

If you have questions as you experiment with imagery, you can contact me for a quick word of advice or a guided imagery session.

Guided imagery recordings can be very helpful in keeping you focused and deepening the experience – especially one that’s custom-made for you. I offer customized “Relax and Psych Up” recordings recorded during a coaching session with you.

We can get together in person or via phone or Skype. I’ll learn about your goals, strengths and challenges, and record a process you can listen to as often as you like. Listen on your cell phone or other portable device at home, on your lunch break or in your parked car at the interview site.

Practice makes perfect! Have fun training yourself to do great job interviews through mental practice and guided imagery.

In the Part 3 of this series I’ll describe several advanced techniques to make your guided imagery more powerful and enjoyable.

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 Follow-up: Another Way to Stand Out!

Interview Follow-up: Another Way to Stand Out!Following up after your job interview is more than just a formality and a matter of common courtesy.

More than 75% of interviewers said a thank-you note has an impact on their decision-making process, according to a survey by TheLadders.

What your follow-up can achieve:

  • Reinforce the employer’s memory of you – your brand, your unique selling proposition. 
  • Demonstrate your continuing interest and excitement about the job and the company.
  • Help resolve any concerns the interviewer expressed.
  • Build on things that went well – for example, saying a bit more about an accomplishment or skill the interviewer seemed especially impressed by.
  • Demonstrate your follow-through, communication and people skills.
  • Make you stand out. If five people interviewed for a job, three didn’t send any note, one sent a boring, generic note, and the fifth sent a dynamic and memorable note reinforcing their brand – who’s looking good?

Here’s an example:

Hello Mr. Williams,

Thank you very much for making time in your busy schedule to meet with me yesterday.

As I said then, I’m convinced that this dynamic role and the projects coming up are a great fit with my proven skills in automating procedures and collaborating across departments to improve productivity. You may recall the example of the reporting process I streamlined at Simple Solutions.

Since we aren’t connected on LinkedIn, I’m not sure you’ve seen the recommendation there from my former manager, Maria Liu: “… Meredith has an amazing way of saving time for her team, with significant impacts on productivity….” [You could even refer to an attached screen shot, PDF or printed copy of your recommendations, if it seems appropriate.]

I am confident that I can have a similar beneficial impact on your organization, and remain extremely interested in working with you and Golden Gate Consultants.

Warm regards,

Meredith Madrigal

(123) 444-5555

“What if I don’t hear back?”

There’s a lot to be said for following up more than once. For example, you might:

Send a quick email on the same day, or a handwritten note mailed immediately. “Just a quick note to thank you… and I’ll follow up more properly by tomorrow.”

Send a slightly more detailed follow-up after that, perhaps in a different medium than the first note – email to follow a handwritten note, or hard copy letter after an email.

Make a phone call a few days later, “to make sure you have everything you need from me,” perhaps adding an update about some aspect of the interview discussion. Think of it as a continuing conversation.

If you’ve followed up several times, and a long time goes by without hearing back, send one last message saying something like this:

I’m still very interested. However, I’ve had to focus my attention on other opportunities, so I think I’ll stop checking in. But please don’t hesitate to call if you’d like me to come in for another discussion. At any rate, let’s keep in touch!”

If you don’t get the job:

Just because you weren’t chosen this time, for this role, doesn’t mean there might not be an opportunity at some other time. So why not send a LinkedIn invitation, even a friendly update after you land elsewhere? Networking and career management are ongoing processes.

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.)

“Where do you see yourself in five years?”

"Where do you see yourself in 5 years?"“Where do you see yourself in five years?”

How should you answer this tricky interview question?

If you’re like most people, you grimace at the thought.

It’s best to prepare your answer in advance – not necessarily memorizing the exact words you’ll say, but knowing what your key points are, and then practicing saying it in a natural way.

Start by just blurting it your answer to yourself, without any attempt to be strategic. Make sure you’re clear what’s true for you. If your answer is “I have no idea!” look a little deeper. Chances are you do have some idea where you’d like to be heading.

A great interview answer is one that is both authentic and strategic. It’s the best answer that’s true and shows you’re a good fit for the job. So your next step is to put  yourself in the employer’s shoes.

If you were the employer, you’d be looking for an employee who will not only stay a reasonably long time, but also will be 100% engaged in the job. Managers learn from experience that the best employees are often those who have goals. Where a candidate thinks he or she will be in five years (or three, or 10) has an effect on the energy they’ll bring to the job between now and then.

Too many employees have mentally “checked out” from their jobs, going through the motions day after day. Often it’s because there’s a mismatch between the job and their career goals.

If you’re not sure what your goals are, you’re not alone! It may be hard to decide now what you’ll want a year from now, let alone five years. Use your difficulty with this question as a wake-up call to explore your career options and make some decisions. There are resources that can help with career planning, including websites like CareerOneStop and career counselors like those at Bay Area Career Center (an organization I recommend but am not affiliated with).

Your answer to the five-year question doesn’t have to be extremely specific. It may be enough to say something like this:

“I see myself continuing to grow with this organization, deepening my skills, taking on new challenges. I am interested in growing into (new area that’s a realistic next step within the company, such as mastering new technologies, team leadership or management) over time, once I’ve proven myself in (role for which you’re interviewing).”

or:

“Being a recent graduate, I’m still exploring my career path, but I do know it will involve (skills or subject matter), so this job is a great fit. I admire this company because (reasons based on your research), and I can see myself continuing to develop my career here.

Key point: Show a balance of motivation with patience, ambition with realism, goal-setting with adaptability.

Be careful if your goal is to get your boss’s job – or if they might suspect as much and feel threatened. Communicate loyalty and flexibility in your answer.

If there’s a standard career path that is expected for people in this position, and you’re interested in exactly that, then your answer may be easy. Just show a combination of motivation to move up and also a strong commitment to excelling thoroughly in the current job, as in the first example above.

What if your goals require leaving the company in less than five years? Maybe you see this job as a stepping stone, which might be a problem for the employer. This is an ethical and also practical question that each person must settle for themselves. Consider these points:

  • How long do you think you will stay?
  • How long do most people stay?
  • How long do you think the employer expects you to stay?
  • Will leaving sooner than expected look bad on your resume?
  • Will it prevent you from getting a good reference?
  • Will it damage your reputation? (People do talk, whatever the official policy may be.)
  • Can you live comfortably every day with a secret (your impending departure)?
  • Is there a reasonable alternative to taking this “stepping stone” job?
  • Would the employer benefit from hiring you even if you don’t stay long?
  • Can you make this a win-win? How?

Your answer to the five-year question may be brief, but it’s wise to prepare – so you can respond with confidence.

Interview Questions We’re Afraid to Ask

Interview Questions We're Afraid to AskMany job seekers are nervous about asking the following questions. They may seem a bit bold, but they can help you get the job.

The first one is a question about a question:

“Before I answer that, may I ask you for a little more information?”

During the interview you may be asked a question you aren’t sure how to answer because you aren’t familiar with the context, or aren’t clear what the interviewer is looking for. Asking for clarification can enable you to give a much better response.

Just be prepared for the slight possibility of hearing “No, I’d like you to answer it just as I asked it.”

Another very powerful question is about yourself as a candidate.

“Now that we’ve talked a while, what do you see as my greatest strengths for this position? And on the other hand, do you have any concerns?”

The answer may provide valuable insights. What positives you can build upon in the second interview or followup communication? What weak impression might you correct?

Similar questions include “How do I compare to the competition?” or “Is there any reason why you would not offer me this job?”

Knowledge is power. The knowledge you gain from asking questions can give you the power to make the best possible case for your hire.