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.

Photo via freedigitalphotos.net

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.

Photo credit 123rf.com     

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

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!

Struggling with a Difficult Choice? The Answer Can Be Fit to a “T”

Making the right work decision can be stressful, even paralyzing. We just don’t want to get it wrong.

“What if I:”

  • End up looking like an idiot or incompetent
  • Lose all the career ground I’ve gained
  • Cost myself or the company money
  • Cause terrible embarrassment or brand damage

Too often we over-focus on the downside of our choices. However,  being overly optimistic about the upside can be a problem too.

“Finally I’ll:”

  • Be the next in line for promotion
  • Get a great bonus or raise
  • Put the company/my work group on the map
  • Have the team I need to lead like a champ

Too much pessimism and too much optimism are the enemy of sound decision-making.

Use your head not your knees!

Knee-jerk decisions can cripple your career. We decide that way when we’re:

  • Overly emotionally about expected outcomes
  • Impatient with the time factors and/or complexity of the choice
  • Confused by things we don’t understand about the options
  • Stressed by the pressures to decide

There’s no getting away from these realities, but you can replace those jerky knees with a calm and disciplined head.

There are lots of different kinds of decisions we have to make around our careers like:

  • Which job offer to accept
  • Who to hire or promote
  • Which policy recommendation to accept
  • What the most important priorities are

Usually, you’ll have a specific window of time when you have to make a decision, so you need a reliable tool to put into practice each time.

The “T” chart to the rescue!

“T” charts (or tables) are simple analytical tools. They rely on you to identify and weigh the right factors in advance of your decision, so you will balance the positives and the negatives.

Let’s say you have two reasonably comparable job offers and decide to use a “T” chart for each job that you’ll review side-by-side to help you make your choice. Here’s how.

  1. On a blank sheet make two large “T” shapes–one for each job you’re looking at.
  2. Across the top of each “T” write Pros and Cons.
  3. To the left of both “T’s” write the criteria that you are looking at for both jobs.

Consider criteria like:

      • Total compensation
      • Characteristics of the work group
      • Leadership and corporate culture
      • Stability of the business
      • Opportunities for growth
      • Authority and autonomy
      • Nature of the work

4. Write the pros and cons for each criteria for each job as you see them on each “T”.

5. Compare both jobs and base your decision rationally the facts you’ve assembled.

You can repeat this process for other kinds of decisions using different criteria in situations like:

Hiring/promotion decisions by considering the candidate’s

      • Skills and knowledge
      • Interpersonal style
      • Leadership qualities
      • Growth potential
      • Experience

Management policy changes:

      • Impact on the bottom line
      • Employee readiness
      • Timing and potential fall out
      • Regulatory/legal implications

The more specific and relevant your criteria, the more likely you will assess your options effectively. The key is not to stack the deck and select criteria that support what you may want to do at an emotional level. You need to keep it real.

Weigh your options.

The cons (the negatives) are often seen as the deal breakers in any analysis. Many of them should be. However, all cons are not created equal.

Once you have looked at your decision-making data, revisit the cons column and see if any negatives can be mitigated. Are there legitimate ways you can make them less of a problem? If, for example, the total compensation for the job you want is less that your other choice, consider whether their job training and opportunities for promotion offer a better chance to advance and make more in the future.

Using a “T” chart to help you make important decisions doesn’t guarantee that you’ll always be right, but it will keep you honest with yourself. It’s just the rationale approach you need for a sound move forward. Choose away!

Photo from paul spud taylor via Flickr

Hungry for a Great Internship? Know Where to Find the Meat.

Internships are considered a must-have for many college students (and even some high schoolers) looking for a leg up in getting a job upon graduation. They hunt to find them, compete to get them, and strive to multiply them–all for good reason.

Internships are real workplace experiences that build and showcase the job knowledge, skills, and behaviors essential to career success.

So why do so many complain about those internships once they’ve been landed?

  • The work is too menial. I feel like a lackey.
  • I don’t have enough autonomy.
  • There’s too much/too little/no supervision.
  • I’m left on my own to figure out what to do.
  • I do all this work and don’t get paid (or am paid a paltry sum).

Welcome to the business world!

There is often a misconception that, once you get a real job with a real title, all the work is meaty, independent initiatives are applauded, your supervisor is supportive, and the compensation commensurate with the work. Sorry this isn’t so, but internships can help you recalibrate your expectations.

Internship Lesson #1: Teach yourself to see and understand the realities of the work place and what drives it.

You can’t see what’s really going on unless you look. Too many student interns limit their focus to the work they are asked to perform and not the experience as a whole.

Initially, there’s good reason for that: the tasks are new to them and they want to do them well. That’s a good thing but not the only thing.

The real meat is between the bun.

Internship Lesson #2:  Learn what did or did not fit you about the company, the work, and/or the environment and why.

Your internship helps clarify what you need from a job to perform at your best and stay motivated.

That means discovering are how effectively you:

  • Handle ambiguity and too little/too much direction
  • Perform under pressure
  • Communicate with executives, managers, your boss, and coworkers
  • Overcome flagging self-confidence and self-doubt
  • Use strengths and overcome weaknesses
  • Make independent decisions and come up with new ideas
  • See your work in the context of the company’s big picture
  • Influence or take the lead when there’s an opportunity
  • Stay positive and avoid getting caught up in office gripes
  • Put knowledge and skills to use in the right way

You need to make your internship as much about discovering who you are within the dynamics of the job as you do about future line items on your resume.

Here comes the judge.

This week I served on a panel to judge internship presentations at a local university. The fifteen students in this six hour undergraduate course interned with major corporations like AT&T, Guardian Life, Allstate, Abercrombie & Fitch and small businesses including a restaurant, spa/pool company, law office, and long-term care facility. Most students were business and/or marketing majors.

The students who stood out were those who discovered the most about themselves while interning. One learned he didn’t want to be in law because he knew he couldn’t defend someone he knew had committed the crime. Another loved the company she interned with (they wanted to hire her) but realized she wanted to work for a large firm. Two other students surprised themselves at how effective they were talking to front-line employees as well as the company president, seeing how they were able to adapt their communications styles successfully. Others learned how it felt to own and defend their web design assignments.

Win-win internships

There are no bad internships unless you choose not to learn anything from them. Every business is fascinating in its own right. Each has a unique business model, leader-driven culture, performance history, cadre of employees, and customers/clients. No matter what your internship role, you are always in a position to observe, explore, and contribute. So whenever you can, take a big bite and savor the flavor.

Photo from Lego-LM via Flickr

Bankrupt or Flush with Transferable Skills? A Telling Story


Transferable skills get us hired or promoted. They’re our career currency. Without them, there’s no deal.

The more transferable skills we have the more valuable we are. Resumes market them. Interviews showcase them. 

Can you list your top ten, most marketable transferable skills, right now?

Bankrupt or flush? 

Transferable skills are attached to us all the time, not just at work. It’s time to get a handle on your bank of skills.

Pick a recent life event and write it down.

As you uncover your transferable skills, insert them like I’ve done here.

Casey, down for the count 

I start every day (dependability) in the barn, feeding my horse, cats, and Casey, my seven-year-old, Lab-golden retriever mix. Casey’s a busy dog, full of energy who, as a puppy, wouldn’t tolerate being a house dog. The barn was way more interesting. So she got her way.

About two weeks ago, I noticed that she wouldn’t eat (attention to detail) her breakfast. That happens sometimes, so I went about my other chores. Then I noticed that when she tried to go into the horse stall, her back end faltered. Three minutes later she was down and couldn’t get up.

My large animal vet was at a conference, my small animal vet on vacation. I suspected I didn’t have much lead time (problem assessment) to get help for Casey.

There is a veterinary hospital about four miles from me where I had never been a client. I called (decision-making) at 6:30 AM to learn they opened at 7.

I lifted 79-pound Casey into my car, drove to the vet hospital, and waited in the parking lot for someone to show up (assertiveness).

The receptionist was the first to arrive. I explained that I wasn’t a client but had a dire need (communication). She looked at me kindly and explained that she didn’t have an appointment open until 10:40, but she’d let the doctor know when she came in at 9:30. I scheduled the appointment as a back up (planning), took a deep breath (stress management), went home and waited.

I parked the car in the shade and brought Casey some water (safety and initiative). She lay quietly. I took a shower so for my next appearance at the vet hospital, I wouldn’t look so shabby (brand management).

At 8 AM the phone rang. The veterinarian was there and would see me. Relief.

It took me and a technician to carry Casey into an exam room (collaboration). The veterinarian examined and then admitted Casey. After some blood tests, it was clear she had Lyme disease (big surprise, I had it and my horse too) plus a seriously low potassium count.

The decision was to keep Casey overnight with IV fluids. I received several update calls from the veterinarian and one that unnerved me a bit. Since the hospital didn’t have 24-hour coverage, did I want them to transfer Casey to a monitoring facility about 35 minutes away (risk assessment)?

I opted to keep her where she was, thinking it would be less stressful  (decision-making and accountability).

The next day the vet called saying that Casey was a “new dog,” on her feet, hungry, and wagging her tail. She could go home with medications and a few restrictions.

The technician hugged me when she brought Casey to me. I struggled to hold myself together (self-control).

Next I wrote a commendation letter to the veterinary hospital owner, the case veterinarian and technician who cared for Casey (communication).

I admit I was braced for the worst. I’ve been through other events here at the farm that didn’t have a happy ending. Each time I have to face uncertainty, I need to draw on those experiences and transferable skills for strength.

Finding yours

 You have your own transferable skills that you undoubtedly take for granted since you’re using them without thinking.

It’s time to make your transferable skills part of your consciousness and your conversation. They are the building blocks of your career and your business fitness. Uncover them and use them well.