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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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

The Internship Game—Step Up or Get Left Out

Internships are almost a right of passage to getting hired. The thirst for them has stirred businesses of every stripe to offer internship opportunities, particularly unpaid ones. 

There’s an upside and a downside to unpaid internships. So you need to know how to get the most “up” out of your choices. 

Make your free labor pay. 

The CBS Sunday Morning program ran an eye-opening segment called, “Internships: A foot in the door?” 

Lauren Berger, blogger known as the Intern Queen, made this telling comment: 

“The most common question that employers are asking in that job interview after graduation is, ‘Where did you intern?’ And if the person next to you even had one internship and you didn’t, there’s a good chance that that other person is gonna land the opportunity….” 

Internships are like any other commodity. If the demand for internships is greater than the supply, then economic principles take over. Businesses have work they can’t or won’t pay for, but if they can get it done for free, they’re in. Voila, the unpaid internship. 

Here’s how internships are playing out according to the Sunday Morning segment:

“In a 2010 survey, 42% of college students who graduated with an internship on their resume received a job offer, compared to just 30% for students with no intern experience. And, those graduates with internships received a higher starting salary, about $42,000, compared to just $35,000 for those without.”

It’s not, however, any old internship that’s going to deliver positive results. It’s only internships that add to your skill set and experience base. So if you’re going to work for free, you have to get marketable value from it. The only one who can convert the asset-value of free work into paid work is you.

No plan. No chance.

If you go into the internship race without a plan, you’ll likely end up losing. When you go after an unpaid internship you’re making an investment, not in dollars but in time. And you know that time is money.

Internships are the starter kit for your career. When you’re selecting an internship, you need to be specific about what you want from the experience. After all, you’ll be using your internship experience on your resume, so it needs to give you outcomes that will mean something to a recruiter.

Select internships that provide opportunities to:

  • Learn and/or apply knowledge that aligns with your career interests (i.e., IT, customer service, marketing, teaching, finance)
  • Lead, work independently, and/or assume responsibility for outcomes
  • Build your interpersonal skills, confidence, and experiences
  • Meet and build relationships with all kinds of people (i.e, customers, vendors, leaders)

There are great internships, awful ones, and everything in between. Your job is to land the ones that will do the most for you.

Working for free is a luxury that not everyone can afford. This reality can be tough to swallow. 

In the Sunday Morning piece, here’s what Ross Eisenbrey, vice president of the Economic Policy Institute, a non-profit Washington think tank, explained:

 “…increasingly the top internships are going to kids from the top of the income ladder. ‘Who can afford to come to Washingtonand spend $4,000 on housing and food and then work without being paid? It is not the children of farm workers or factory workers or, you know, the children of people who are unemployed right now. It’s going to be upper middle class kids….’”

This reality intensifies the need for planning way ahead to get internships that fit and make you a more attractive candidate for the next work-for-free opportunity or that all important paid job.

Keep working

Internships aren’t just for college kids anymore. Unemployed workers abound. People used to working don’t like being idle. So, unpaid internships are in their line of sight too.

There is no better credential than meaningful work where you add value and demonstrate your commitment to your career. Even though there are arguments decrying unpaid internships, they’re here to stay. Now is the time to make them work for you.

Photo from Samuel Mann via Flickr

Doing What’s “In You” | An Interview with Steven Leibensperger

I met Steven Leibensperger at an edgy little coffee house to give him a sell job. The executive director of the Lehigh Valley Arts Council and I, as president, were hoping we could convince him to join the board. He would be the only working artist and the youngest member by a lot. He gave us a “yes” and a lot more. Now I know why. 

DL:  Did you always want to be an artist? 

SL: It’s hard to say. I just know that when I was a kid, I loved to draw. On every holiday, my relatives gave me crayons, markers, paints—all types of art supplies. Creating art was what I wanted to do. It’s the same today as it was then: Things I see, like something in nature, in a magazine, or out a window, inspire me to create something visual. 

DL:  How did your career get started? 

SL: By high school, I’d decided that I wanted to pursue an arts career, initially as a fine artist. I was really lucky to have a high school teacher who became my mentor. He suggested that I think about taking graphic design in college since there would be more employment possibilities. That’s what I did, getting my B.A. from Kutztown University. The hard part was after that—getting a job. 

DL: What did it take to get work in the arts that could support you? 

SL:  I didn’t wait until I graduated to find work. I always did freelance graphic artwork while I was in college, sold some of my fine art pieces, and even did paid photography work. I used both paid and unpaid work to build my portfolio and get client referrals which helped when I applied for employment. 

After graduation, I was pretty much willing to do anything. My first job was working full-time for a printing house, doing print production set up, although I really wished I could have been designing. Still, I learned a lot about that part of the business. 

Then I had a chance to work for an exhibit design company on a temporary contract basis, but the print company didn’t want me to leave. To make a long story short, I ended up working just about full time for both, covering two different shifts. That was pretty taxing, teaching me how to function with little sleep. 

My next stop was a packing and product design company inPhiladelphia where I finally had real full-time employment as a graphic designer. It was great but I wanted to return to theLehighValley. 

Then I applied for a job as graphic/exhibit designer at the Crayola Factory, where I’ve been for the past four years. It’s a great company, committed to arts activities, and an amazing job with so much variety. One minute I’ll be designing a magazine ad, then a T-shirt, an interactive exhibit, a postcard, and even a snow globe. 

DL:  It seems that you never stop “doing” art in some way.  

SL:  That’s true. There always seems to be something exciting to create. In 2006 I started Muero Apparo, a T-shirt and apparel design company. I love creating T-shirt designs and helping other artists get their designs on clothing. I sell shirts on Facebook, at concerts and other events. 

Because it’s important to me to help other artists get visibility, a friend and I started the Lehigh Valley Art Wars, an arts contest, where artists create work live before observers for a cash prize. It was a big success. 

DL: Why is it so important to you to help other artists? 

SL: I know how hard it is to support yourself as an artist. I’m so grateful for all the people who helped me along the way, so now it’s my turn. Artists really benefit when they feel part of a community, and Arts Wars, for instance, was one way to start building that. 

It’s great for me too. I’ve met so many amazing artists who are now part of my network. 

DL: What is it about art that keeps you going?  

SL: I know that making art makes me feel good. When you have people tell you that you’re good at what you do, you want to do more. It’s a rush to know that you do good work. Take that away and you can feel lost. I think that’s true for any passion that drives your career or your life. 

DL: Sticking to what we know will make us happy in life is challenging for many of us. Thanks, Steven, for showcasing the courage it takes to pursue the career that’s truly “in” us.

You can follow Steven Leibensperger on Facebook, Linkedin, and at Muero Apparo on Facebook. There’s also  more on Facebook about Lehigh Valley Art Wars.

Photos courtesy of Steven Leibensperger.

3 Questions Interviewees Must Ask or Risk Doom—After Getting the Job!

Job interviews are the beginning. It’s the moment when we begin our relationship with a future boss. 

We tend to look at the hiring process like a game show. We’re picked as contestants, and if we answer the questions correctly, we win the prize. 

The game show winner takes his/her winnings and goes home. When you get the job, however, you’re expected to report to work every day, take direction, complete assignments, and work well with others. Then you get your weekly prize—your paycheck. 

The problem 

We often forget, however, that getting the job means accepting all that goes with it: 

By the time the interview is over, the company knows way more about you as a prospective employee, than you know about the company, particularly your prospective boss. 

Your manager is the most important variable in any new job. The wrong boss can seriously wound your spirit, opportunity, and future. 

S/he sets you up to succeed or fail, based on the leadership style used and the work culture perpetuated. You need to get a line on the hiring manager, so you know whether you should say “yes” to the job, if offered. 

The big 3 

In an interview, there should be time at the end when the interviewer asks, “Now do you have any questions for me.” That’s your moment.  

When it’s your turn to ask your questions in the interview, commit to getting the information you need about the environment you’d be entering. 

Asking these 3 questions, your way, will demonstrate your interest in understanding the manager’s expectations. At the same time they’ll reveal what you may actually be getting into: 

  1. When this position is filled, what will be the immediate expectations of employees, coworkers, other departments, and/or the senior leadership?  

The manager’s answer will give you insights into the political climate, the pressures on him/her, whether or not s/he’ll have your back, and the likelihood that you can succeed  

  1. How would you describe the current culture/work style of your work group/the company? 

If the description is uncertain, vague, or hopefully clear, you’ll know if your future boss gets it about his/her employees and their importance to success. That’s the fold you’d be joining.

  1. What will be the biggest challenge for the new hire? 

Now you’ll know what you’d need to deliver right away. If the answer is measurable/observable, you’ll be on solid ground. If it’s general, abstract, and conceptual, that’s a red flag.  

Together these questions reveal the leadership qualities of your prospective boss:

  • Command and control or collaborative style
  • Strategic or reactionary
  • Micro-managing or delegating
  • Politically savvy or naïve
  • Clear or vague communicator
  • Self- or employee-centered 

Together his/her answers reveal the work environment in front of you. 

Protect yourself 

Getting a job is a big deal: Getting the wrong job even bigger. To build a strong resume, we need to demonstrate that our job decisions have worked out. 

You don’t want to get fired for poor performance or asked to resign. You want a work experience that is satisfying, helps you grow, and builds a positive track record. 

That’s why you need to look out for yourself, conducting your own due diligence about who you’ll be working for. Bosses are people with every kind of personality, leadership/management approach, and expectations. 

It’s up to us to be just as careful about whom we pick to work for as the hiring manager is in offering us their coveted job. 

Please don’t be careless about your career. The right questions may save you a lot of future heartache. 

 Photo from Marco Bellucci via Flickr