Prepared for the Job Interview Finale? Getting Caught Off-guard Can Kill Your Chances.

It’ll get you every time. That last question in a job interview that catches you off guard.job interview 131426

Serious job candidates spend lots of time preparing what they’ll say to make a positive impression on the interviewer.

They work hard to:

  • Anticipate the questions to be asked and the experiences they’ll draw on to answer them
  • Master the behavioral interview process (those situation, steps taken, and results/outcomes responses)
  • Deliver concise and precise answers, clearly articulated
  • Conduct themselves in ways that respect the company’s culture; dress appropriately
  • Demonstrate a calm and comfortable demeanor, even though they’re nervous

You do this because at least 80% of the interview is about you presenting yourself as the candidate of choice.

And then, when you least expect it, there’s one more question. Your answer becomes the tag line of your interview.

Nail it and raise your value. Blow it and wonder.

Seize the moment

At the end of your interview, anticipate that the tables will turn. In a blink, the control will switch from the interviewer to you.

It happens when the interviewer poses this simple question to you:

Do you have any questions for me?

The second you have a deer in the headlights look, you’ve set yourself back. It will be plain that you haven’t given a thought to anything beyond the vacancy itself.

If you recover like a slingshot by asking about salary, benefits, time off, training, and promotional opportunities, you’re cooked. The interview isn’t the time for those questions. You ask them when you’ve been given an offer.

The interviewer’s question can feel like a kind of sucker punch. It quickly reveals whether or not you see the job only in the context of your personal needs or as an opportunity for you to  contribute to the success of the organization.

Consequently, the questions you ask the interviewer have the potential to differentiate you from other candidates in a big way. If your questions are lame, shallow, or vague, you   won’t learn much and the interview will end on a flat note.

The object of your questions is to demonstrate your interest and intelligence while getting valuable information about the company’s culture, competitive challenges, and/or role in the community.

The best questions will engage the interviewer in the kind of conversation s/he would likely have with a business colleague. In short order, s/he may forget you are a candidate and momentarily consider you a coworker. That may very well give you a serious leg up.

Nail it.

In order to nail that last question, you have to prepare for it by learning all that you can about the company before the interview.  Then come to the interview equipped with your questions.

Have them ready when you are asked. But if you are NOT asked at the end of the interview, pause and say, “I have a few questions for you. Do you have the time to answer them for me.”

If the interviewer’s answer is no, that tells you a lot about the company. If it’s yes, you’re gold.

Your questions should specifically fit the company and the opening. Here are a few to give you an idea of a direction to take:

  • I understand that the vision/mission of the company is XYZ. Are there specific organizational performance goals that have been established for this fiscal year that  you can share with me now?
  • What is required by your employees to achieve those goals?
  • In what way does this vacancy, when filled, help the company achieve one or more of  those goals?
  • In order to help the company grow, are there specific projects that would be a natural outgrowth of this job?

There is a sequential progression to these questions which demonstrates your intelligence, insight, and strategic awareness.

You may, in fact, catch your interviewer off guard with your questions more than likely, in a positive way.  When you’re given an opportunity to step up to the plate. take a big swing. Then go ahead and knock it out of the park.

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Fatal Distraction–When Your Resume Highlights Work You Don’t Want to Do

resume 14255685-hiring-and-job-search-concept-in-word-tag-cloud-on-white-backgroundResume panic–that unique feeling of crippling dread that overtakes you when facing the need to promote your skills and experiences to get a new job.

Needing a job is unnerving enough. You’re in transition, going from where you were to someplace new.

The competition for that new job starts with a resume that can get you an interview.


Ditch the panic.

Panic gets you nowhere. In fact, it puts you  at risk.

When athletes panic, they make crucial mistakes that cost them the game. The same is true of business leaders, investors, and trades people.

Panic is stress on steroids…and stress makes people stupid.

So if you want to land the right job for yourself, start by taking a deep breath and clearing your head.

Being between jobs gives you a chance to restart or refresh your career. You have the time and space to think about what you really like to do and what you’re good at.

The biggest mistake many job seekers make is writing resumes for jobs they think they can get, instead of ones they want.

 If the stresses of being a supervisor caused health problems, don’t extol your accomplishments running a call center. If you don’t like working directly with people, don’t promote the duties you had clerking at The Gap. If you do, your resume becomes the fatal attraction for a job you really don’t want.

Hit your reset button.

Before you start updating your resume, dedicate a good block of time to thinking about the best next job for you. Talk to people who know you and whose views you respect, consider talking to an experienced career coach or an expert on resumes.

Remember: Your resume is a marketing tool, so it needs to showcase the knowledge, skills, and experiences that you are eager to bring to the job where you will add real value.

If your resume is cluttered with everything you’ve ever done, it demonstrates that you have no real career focus–that you are, in fact, panicked.

To be sure your resume attracts jobs you want, avoid these two big mistakes:

Big Mistake #1: Listing all the duties, tasks, and responsibilities from your prior jobs.

If there’s work you don’t like or want to do, don’t tell the screener via your resume that you know how to do it and are even good at it. When you aren’t looking for that kind of work, it  just clutters up your resume. (Caution: the screener may have another opening full of all that stuff you hate to do and you’d be perfect for it. Ouch!)

You want to list the outcomes you achieved in your prior jobs that excited you.That’s       how your value is measured. Past behavior is a predictor of future behavior.

Big Mistake #2: Showing your entire work history, even down to high school jobs.

Your resume is a marketing tool not evidence in a jury trial designed to prove you’ve         worked hard all your life.

Use your resume space to present relevant work and/or academic experience, the           kind that aligns with the requirements of the job. The fact that you worked at McDonald’s   when you were in high school and as a coach’s assistant in college doesn’t market your    talent for strategic planning or app design.

If you’ve been in a professional role and want to stay there, only include your professional experience. If you’re just starting out, align the tasks you performed in those early jobs and internships to the kind of work you’re seeking.

Attract don’t distract.

Attract what you want. Your resume is the bait. The tastier it looks, the more likely you’ll get a bite.

The same is true for the jobs you’re seeking. They have to look yummy to you too. It’s not just a meal you’re after, it’s sustenance for a long time.

The best jobs come when both you and your employer have hungered for the same thing and found it on a shared plate. Let your resume be the appetizer.

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Ready to Reboot Your Career? How “Reinventing” Worked for Me, More Than Once.

Careers can get old for a lot of reasons:WLI Conference 2008 2

  • Boredom when the work gets too predictable
  • Declining fulfillment from achievements
  • Disenchantment with a job going no where
  • Curiosity about what’s out there
  • Compensation ceilings that won’t meet future needs

I’ve experienced all of these at different times. Each one caused significant stress, confusion, and frustration–sometimes all at once.

I tried to force my way through them, telling myself that they were just temporary and would pass. But, of course, they didn’t and they don’t. The only way to get beyond these bumps is to change–not our favorite thing.

It’s not about reinventing your self.

Finding your way to a different career is not about reinventing who you are. Rather, it’s about redirecting your path so you can do work that fits who you are.

In my view, unless you are severely limited by problematic behaviors, trying to remake your essential self is an exercise that keeps you from going where you need to go.

Instead, redirect yourself by aligning your capabilities, interests, and energies to a more suitable line of work.

On the surface, this may sound pretty easy, but it isn’t. Each redirection means:

  • Acclimating to a different industry and/or workplace
  • Forging new relationships
  • Adapting to financial impacts
  • Dealing with potentially negative feedback from friends and family
  • Fear, self-doubt, and a new learning curve

There is, however, something exhilarating about a big change, so long as you’re ready for it. Newness, discovery, and challenge have the power to put you in high gear.

Keep options open.

This is a timely post for me since I’m getting ready to redirect my “career life” again, building on and remolding the pieces that have served me along the way.

My career unfolded like this:

Primary Career Path: Teaching Management   Consulting

I love words and how they can help us deal with life. So with an undergraduate degree in English, I became a high school teacher. Over ten years in the classroom, I learned how to instruct, manage groups, handle multiple priorities, and influence change.

Eventually, I got bored by routine, frustrated by some decisions, and curious about the world outside the classroom.

I decided to learn about big business by asking to speak to managers in HR about how public education could do a better job preparing their future employees.

Those meetings gave me a comfort level with business people and led to my first job at a large electric utility. There I learned how to manage effectively and lead when the stakes were high.

I also learned how the business worked and where its weaknesses were. After 20+ years as a senior manager there, I’d achieved my goals and realized I didn’t want to go any further.

I left and started a consulting practice, an entrepreneurial venture that would have to support me. I had done some freelance consulting that prepared me for this new venture which has been ongoing since 2002.

Corollary Career Paths: Production Sales

I’d always had a dream to own a horse so I started taking riding lessons when I was 30. Eventually I bought and boarded two horses. I wanted to care for them myself,  so I bought a small farm that needed plenty of work, all of which was new to me.DGL anad Foal

Before I knew it, I was breeding horses (production) for the race track and the show ring. This was an entirely new and foreign industry for me which fulfilled my curiosity, challenged me intellectually, and increased my fulfillment for almost 20 years.

Concurrently, my horse enterprise led to ownership for ten years of an equestrian art gallery, where I learned about retail sales. This rounded out my business resume.

Together, all of these efforts to redirect my career have created a range of experiences I  continue to draw on. Fortunately, careers don’t have to come to an end.

What next?

Career management is our job. It takes introspection and exploration, a good bit of courage and some luck. As our careers evolve, we evolve with them, learning what really floats our boat and what doesn’t.

I still have my original love of words, that’s why I blog. I love the quiet beauty of my farm where I can think and unearth new perspectives free from distraction. I am seeking to uncover how I will redirect again. Ideas come to mind and then fade into others. The same will happen for you until the right answer appears. Let’s continue to keep our options open. I’ll keep you posted on my progress and hope you will do the same.

What’s in your mind right now about how you might redirect your career? What challenges do you face? Sometimes writing it down makes it clearer. I’d love to hear from you.

Career Not Going Your Way? Try Relaxing Your Grip. | Words from the Wise

Feeling stuck? Frustrated? Just plain mad?relax grip 3325065380_252a4c50de_m

Choosing a career and getting the chance to pursuit it doesn’t always happen the way we’d like.

Careers are unpredictable beasts. They come with promise but no guarantees. While they seem to be about us, they’re actually more about others giving us the opportunity to make their organizations successful.

We often start out believing our careers are within our control. Then reality sets in and we hear ourselves saying:

  • “I’m knocking on every door and still don’t get even an interview. Why?”
  • “I’ve been performing at a high level in this job for three years and still no promotion. Why?”
  • “I never thought the work I do would frustrate me like this. What can I do?”

Too often, we can’t answer these questions. They’re too big, too encompassing, and too far beyond our understanding of the conditions that drive them.

So we keep pressing, driving ourselves forward, dragging our frustrations with us. Some just curl up in a ball and do nothing. Sadly, this doesn’t fix anything.

Words from the Wise

Struggles with career choices and direction have gone on for centuries. Human beings generally want to do work that will support them and bring some satisfaction.

Especially in modern times, the hardest part is figuring out what we like and want to do, given our skills. Once that’s somewhat figured out, we set out to find the right employment.

This figuring-out process requires introspection, which many fail to do. It also requires owning what you know about yourself and the career you want, so that  you can set your direction with an uncluttered mind.

I’ve  worked for many years with job and promotion seekers who have been battered by rejection when they’ve pursued job titles, salary levels, and big name companies rather than the work they enjoy. They’ve held on so tight to their preconceived career must-haves that they have tuned out other opportunities.

I use this quote from Robin Fisher Roffer’s book, Make a Name for Yourself: 8 Steps Every Woman Needs to Create a Personal Brand Strategy for Success, to help clients (both men and women) get free of themselves:

The universe is waiting for you to say what you want…Everything that you are seeking is also seeking you.

Then I add these wise words from Henry David Thoreau in Walden:

 Men (and women, right Thoreau?) are born to succeed, not to fail.

Just think about how complex it is to get all the parts  aligned just right so that you and anyone else can intersect your objectives at the same time.

That means: The job you want has to present itself when your skills and experience are seen as the right fit for the company and when the political forces see you as having the right nature to meet expectations. Whew!

Your successful career starts with your willingness to “put out there” what you sincerely want and then to allow your conscious and subconscious thinking to work together to connect the dots. Your prospective or current employer is doing the same thing.

Relax your grip.

Lots of good things happen when you take that chokehold off your career pursuits and replace it with a realization that what you are seeking is also seeking you.

The benefits can be palpable:

  • Less self-imposed pressure, negative self-talk, and energy-sapping stress
  • A refreshed ability to see and hear snippets of ideas you might otherwise have missed
  • An openness and excitement that blunts feelings of frustration and isolation
  • A renewed belief that you will get there and commitment to the effort
  • Recognition that your attitude and effort are what you control; success will follow

Your career path is a function of the work you’ve done to offer value to an employer and the initiatives you take to get hired/promoted. Your biggest challenge is to be authentic in the process and prepared to act effectively when opportunities present themselves. Taking your hand off the throttle can help you make a nice smooth turn.

Photo from ladybugrock via Flickr

5 Ways to Avoid Sabotaging Your Career

feet 166161247_9e1be2f4ff_mA job is a building block. A career is what we build. When starting out, we’re never quite sure what we’re actually building, if anything. We could end up with a useless pile of sticks or a really cool house on a mountaintop.

Careers are not built by ourselves alone. So we need to understand the roles we play (including how we play them) and the potential impact of the supporting cast.

All eyes are on you.

It’s often said: “My career should grow because I do really good work.”

But good work is only one part of it. Well-chosen and savvy professional relationships are another. Without a cadre of colleagues at all levels who attest to your competence, value, and ability to “get along,” your career will likely advance slowly, if at all.

The quality and effectiveness of your workplace relationships are noticed and become part of your personal brand. You can shoot your career in the foot easily by saying or doing things at work that  paint the wrong picture of who you are.

5 cautionary steps

These five steps can help you avoid sabotaging your career along the way:

  1. Don’t get ahead of yourself

The way employees move up is different in every company. Start by figuring out what the leadership sees in those who have been given more responsibility. Be alert to what is said about those who have been promoted. You need to know but don’t have to agree.

Advancement is not about when you think you’re ready. It’s about what the decision-makers think. Until you know, for sure, that you have regularly met the company’s performance standards, defer asking to be promoted or given plumb assignments.

  1. Keep your wants close to your chest

Managers are generally the ones who create opportunities or obstacles to your growth. You may want to assume that your boss is on your side, but that isn’t always the case. So it’s important to build a strong, credible performance portfolio.

Once you tell your boss what you want from your career, s/he has the leverage to help or hinder. So be prudent about how much you let on and when. Timing can be very important.

I once had a client who, at each job change, told his boss that he was “title sensitive” which was also code for wanting to be a big player. In each case, his career stalled.

  1. Don’t screen yourself out of opportunities

Too often, I’ve heard job seekers and careerists express an interest in positions and job challenges that are a notch up. They say, “I read the duties but I don’t meet  all of them, so I don’t think I should apply.”

It’s not your decision to (de)select yourself. That’s what management’s paid to do. It’s rare to find anyone fitting all the requirements of a job or assignment. What companies are looking for is the one who brings the best blend of knowledge and experience to the role. That may very well be you.

  1. Don’t follow someone else’s plan

The most important person to please with your career is you.

Lots of careerists pursue paths that well-meaning others have suggested or chosen for them. Then they wonder why the work doesn’t make them happy.

The first sign of self-leadership is our willingness to identify a life plan and then to start putting the  building blocks together, including those that construct our careers. When you don’t follow your own plan, it’s easy to go adrift.

  1. Don’t get seduced by the glitz

The trappings of better pay, high-sounding titles, greater authority, and any number of perks have a price. I’ve seen many people chase those things without seeing the personal and professional tolls that go with them.

There are advantages to career growth, but you need to make sure you understand how important they are to you…not to someone else…to you. Sometimes we need to see what’s behind the big door before we choose it.

Avoid self-sabotage

None of us ever sets out to make a mess of our careers. Sometimes we just do because we weren’t paying attention or had lost confidence in our ability to turn things around. By taking hold of your career, you can avoid self-sabotaging it.

Photo from davemendelsohn via Flickr

Calling All Grads! Here’s Help to Land That Job.

Straight talk about how to get a job and keep it is often hard to come by, especially in a concise guide. Marco Buscaglia fills the bill with Calling All Grads! Turning a Degree Into a Job, an e-book he edited that covers all the bases. He put his staff  at Tribune Media Services, Inc. to work mining expert advice on what new grads need to know about the job market and how to engage it. I was invited to comment on his 74 pages of practical, resource-rich advice tailored specifically to new grads. Great stuff!

Graduating is a big deal. It marks the end of those years of formal study and, for some, life on a college campus where living essentials are provided.

For most, the goal of graduating is to get a job, so you can live on your own and chart your own course. That can be motivating or paralyzing. In all cases, it means stepping up to the plate.

What’s your MO?

News Flash: When you’re unemployed, your full-time job is job hunting. To land a job and launch a career, you have to work for it.

Proactive grads have already started their search big time before they put on their caps and gowns. They’ve experienced meaningful internships, attended job fairs, scheduled appointments with campus recruiters, and engaged in some serious networking.

For the others, I offer this New Grad Alert: There is no hiring pixie waiting to put a job offer under your pillow.

If you approach the search creatively, you’ll find that it’s a stimulating adventure and Calling All Grads! Turning a Degree Into a Job by Marco Buscaglia provides both treasure map and tools for digging.

Buscaglia writes:

In putting together this book, our staff writers interviewed career experts, hiring managers, authors, other employment specialists and students themselves to present a concise but thorough guide to getting a job during difficult times.

The guide’s job facts, insights, and advice are the product of named experts and career authors who deal with the needs and issues of grads each day. They are an important leg up.

Cutting to the chase.

The guide neatly captures five phases of the job search and gives you an unfiltered look, using job and salary data as well as behavioral examples, at how they work and what you need to do:

    1. Explore your options and possibilities, then jump right in
    2. Who you know, who you meet are the keys
    3. Craft the right resume, cover letter to score an interview
    4. Master the interview through practice, patience, professionalism
    5. You’ve been hired. Time to ditch some old habits

It’s a book of straight talk:

If you want someone to hire you, that someone has to know who you are. Sounds obvious, right? Then why do you keep posting resume after resume to mammoth job sites, hoping a recruiter will simply gravitate to your name based on your education and experience? Wait, you‘re not the only one with great academic credentials and a record of decent part-time jobs? Well, what do you do now? You get out there, that’s what.

It’s advice encourages and forges positive perspectives:

Granted, you‘ve just finished college and are fully expecting to grab that first job. But remember, your career is a marathon, not a sprint. You‘re in this for the long haul and you‘ll have to make a few adjustments along the way.

The importance of networking is strongly reinforced as the most important job search strategy:

To make the most of networking, realize that everyone you know — from family and friends, to your former professors and co-workers — is a member of your network. You can also realize new opportunities by joining civic, volunteer and professional organizations.

The guide covers many topics like:

  • on-line image building and the need to balance it with face-to-face contact
  • attending job fairs and turning temporary jobs into permanent ones
  • crafting the resume and that all-important cover letter
  • interviewing approaches and skills (unfortunately there was nothing on  behavioral interview questions, alas!)
  • dressing the part, questions you should ask, and writing the “thank you” note
  • how to be successful once you get the job

No more delay

The job search can feel arduous. That’s how a full-time job feels some days. But you still have to slog through it. New grads need to answer the call of the marketplace and their own sense of self by knuckling down and doing the work that lands that all important job.

The help is there in Calling All Grads. It’s worth a look. Perseverance pays!

Stumped About Why You Didn’t Get Hired? | Here’s the Back Story

To many job candidates, the all important hiring decision is a mystery. More often than not hiring managers don’t say much about the factors they considered. In January 2010, I wrote this post to lift the veil a bit, clear the air, and add some motivation.

Myth: The job candidate who flat out “nails” the interview gets the job.

Truth: The decision about who gets the job is, well, complicated. 

For all the years that I was a senior manager at a Fortune 500, every time I didn’t select internal candidates who thought they had the “right stuff,” I was questioned. Actually grilled!

Filling job vacancies from an internal or external candidate pool isn’t as simple as having an opening, interviewing candidates, and picking one. It would be nice if all business decision-making were linear, but it’s not.

It’s not always about you!

A lot goes on behind the scenes in the hiring process and it’s different in every organization.  (I’m not here to judge either the ethics or the efficacy of those processes.)

It’s just important that, as candidates, we understand that these are business decisions, not personal ones.

Typical reasons why candidates aren’t selected

The hiring manager knew the person s/he wanted from the outset. 

Many companies have a mandated hiring process whenever there’s a vacancy. The preferred candidate participates in the process along with others, although his/her selection may be a foregone conclusion.

That may sound unfair, but if you are a competing candidate, it still gives you a platform for showing your stuff. How you perform in the interview will be remembered and can one day work in your favor.

The company wants to develop a high potential employee or add diversity. 

All companies need to build a bench so they can fill sensitive positions down the road. They look for candidates who have the potential to take on increasing responsibilities or need to broaden their company knowledge.

For those companies that have been slow to incorporate diversity into their workforce and their management ranks, vacancies are an opportunity to remedy that. In both cases, these are business best practices that can add needed capabilities.

Once again, simply by being a participant in the candidate pool, you gain important visibility.

You don’t complement the “chemistry” of the hiring manager’s work group.

The ability of people to work effectively together is important to every hiring manager. Any time a new person is added to the mix, the “chemistry” of the group changes. You may have great capabilities, but if your work style and personality don’t “fit” well within the team, then you will likely not get selected.

The hiring manager doesn’t feel comfortable about supervising you. 

This is a very personal thing. Hiring managers don’t get many perks. The one they do get is to hire people who will make their work life more pleasant and easier. So if there are two equally qualified candidates, they will likely say to themselves, “When I come to work on a bad day, which one of these two people do I want to deal with?” That will be the tie-breaker.

Why this is so hard to swallow. 

If these realities are frustrating to you, I understand. Remember, for you the hiring process is solely about you getting the job. For the business the decision is multifaceted. The best hiring decisions weigh the potential for the candidate to take on increasingly more complex work and then to be ready for advancement in a reasonable period of time.

The only piece of the hiring process that you control is yourself. 

Because there are so many variables contributing to the hiring decision, your best course of action is to simply do your best. Pay attention to the way the process is conducted, the questions you are asked, the responses and feedback you receive. Build on those insights.

Remember: Hiring decisions are business decisions. So don’t take them personally.Your best approach while job hunting is to:

  • Be prepared
  • Present yourself well
  • Have confidence
  • Keep at it

In time the right position under the right company circumstances will present itself, and you will be well-positioned to accept it. In the meantime, throw off your frustration and concentrate on becoming a candidate to be reckoned with!

Photo from Giulia Torra via Flickr