Tuesday, June 12, 2012

When you don't get the job

A blog I read recently asked the employment question, "Have hiring practices changed?" The article is amusing: You can read it here. It reminded me that folks who are unemployed often work with recruiters because they're told we have relationships with hiring managers and even HR and that's true enough. That can be a real benefit to the job candidate who feels that submitting their resume through a website is the same as tossing it into a black hole.

Unfortunately, we don't always get feedback about why our candidates weren't chosen for an interview or, if they interviewed, why they weren't chosen for the job. It's frustrating for everyone.

Sometimes you think you did very well in the interview. Sometimes the job seemed as though it was created just for you. Sometimes you just need a job so badly you would have taken what they offered. Sometimes the promotion slips away. Hiring managers make mistakes, bad decisions are made, pay offers are too low, expectations are too high. The reasons are legion.

But sometimes, just sometimes, it's a blessing in disguise.

Discuss the skills listed on your resume

One of my candidates interviewed at a client recently and didn't answer questions very well. Has this ever happened to you?

When I first met with this person, he impressed me with quick thinking and sharp answers. By sharp, I mean that he quickly understood what was being asked and answered appropriately. Sometimes in interviews, candidates don't listen closely to the question and end up providing an answer that doesn't address what was asked. A simple example is, "Tell me about yourself," which is a question that sometimes brings an avalanche of information that isn't relevant to the discussion.

The questions that didn't go well in this recent interview were drawn straight from the candidate's resume. A skill was mentioned in the resume summary, but when asked about the skill, the candidate said he really didn't have much experience with it. Another question came from a bullet point listed under a job from a few years ago. When asked how he had used that skill, the candidate said he didn't remember anything he did with it.

Be prepared to discuss the skills listed on your resume. You don't have to discuss a skill at length, but you should be able to say at least one thing.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

HR surprises two job candidates with unexpected phone calls

When I was first in sales, my boss insisted that I begin each phone call to a client or a prospect with the following words, "Am I calling at a bad time or do you have a few minutes?"

It was good advice. Apparently not everyone got the memo.

Last week I had two different job seekers tell me they were ambushed by human resources calling without an appointment to conduct a telephone interview.

Ambushed is my word. I think it's fair.

Today's job seekers are sensitive to the job market and will do anything to accommodate an interviewer. Does everyone think that's a fair statement?

One of the job seekers had her two young children with her and tried to answer the interviewer's questions, but her focus was shot by both the unannounced intrusion and her need to look after the kids.

In my opinion, this particular episode was the rudest of the two. Not only because children were audible in the background, but this was no brief fact-finding mission on the part of HR. During this interview, the job seeker was asked where she saw herself in five years. In frustration, she answered, "Looking for another job."

I say good for her. Human Resources should know better. They may think they are getting a good idea of how a person reacts in a pressure situation, but I call it what it is: bad manners.

If you are trapped into a telephone interview with no warning, be assured that you can tell the interviewer it isn't possible to speak freely and you will have to talk to them at another time. Ask them to schedule a time.

If they refuse or never call you back, you may have spared yourself working at a company that doesn't get it or doesn't care.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Two-page limit? Why your resume should be as long as it needs to be.

Your resume needs to be as long as it needs to be to get you noticed.

I've had it with forcing a candidate to one page and making them feel silly for having a (gasp!) two-page resume.

I had a conversation today with a new candidate whose resume wasn't equal to his skills. He has a difficult-to-find programming language in his tool belt, but his resume focused solely on accomplishments and neglected technology. It was also one page long.

He said he had done some research on the internet and all the best sources told him to keep his resume limited in length. You've heard the old message: no more than 2 pages.

But if you're a job candidate in the 21st century, you've also heard about keywords and if you've really done your research you've also heard about applicant tracking systems.

All those keywords can make a resume long!

The two messages clash, but if you aren't in the industry you may not realize that. In fact, I wonder if people in the industry realize they're sending a crazy, mixed-up message. A recruiter in my office just this morning spoke to someone whose sister-in-law, a recruiter in the healthcare industry, told her to keep the resume to no more than two pages.

Here's why I am always saying longer resumes are not evil. If an applicant tracking system is comparing your resume to a job description and the job description is looking for a receptionist who can answer phones, then your resume had best mention answering phones. If the job description is for a business analyst, then your resume needs to mention gathering requirements.

You simply can't expect anyone anymore to read between the lines or assume that most receptionists answer the phone and most business analysts gather requirements.

Don't laugh! I've seen programmer resumes that have no mention whatsoever of their programming language. I've seen help desk and PC technician resumes that have no technologies listed. When asked why, a candidate I spoke to this winter said he had to keep his resume to one page, so something had to go. He chose to eliminate all technologies.

I can't make this stuff up.

Your resume must include all pertinent technology, old and new, including tools that are used with your skill set. It also needs basic job skills that leave no room for interpretation or assumptions on the part of the hiring manager or the applicant tracking system.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

You ought to be in pictures: videotape an interview

Today's suggestion comes from an instructor and isn't about video interviewing via Skype. It's about seeing yourself as others see you. 

I was talking to a friend of mine about mannerisms in interviews and how distracting they can be. He said they often videotape instructors so the instructors can see their own mannerisms and speech patterns. A recent candidate had wild gestures and a few nervous habits that went beyond hand wringing, finger weaving, or fidgeting. 

This candidate would raise his arms, lace his fingers and bring his hands down to his knee as he leaned forward. Sometimes both feet were on the ground, sometimes one leg would be crossed over with that foot resting on the other knee. After getting into this pose, he would lean forward while he spoke. He did this repeatedly and I began to be distracted by his actions rather than listening fully to what he was saying. 

These days most people have access to video. It's on your phone, your Flip or your tablet. So set that to "record" and have a friend or family member interview you. Treat the interview seriously, then watch the video. You may be surprised to find that you are doing things you didn't realize you were doing. You may also discover that you are projecting an image you didn't intend to project. 

Let friends and family watch the video as well. Take their criticism in a positive manner, make adjustments and then do the exercise again until you look like the person you want to be during every job interview. 

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

How can you know if you fit on the manager's current team?

In an interview, the interviewer may try to determine whether the job candidate is a fit for the team that's currently in place. According to Dr. John Sullivan on ERE.net, there is "little evidence that untrained managers can accurately assess "fit" in 60 minutes."

Depending on how the interview is going, you might consider asking the manager to describe the current team. What makes them work well together? What characteristics do team members have in common? What would the manager do to get the team through a tough project?

The answers may provide information about how the manager interacts with the team. You might learn a lot about the manager who talks about the team but uses the word "I" instead of "we" or even "they" when referring to the team.

This question also may provide for you an opportunity to address characteristics you possess that may make you a good "fit" for the team. But don't press it too hard. Listen and learn and if the opportunity presents itself, show yourself to advantage through the course of the conversation.

Monday, February 6, 2012

Should you participate in an exit interview?

I believe the exit interview is not in the best interests of the exiting employee, so my answer to this question is always no. Bear in mind that I'm not a lawyer and I don't pretend to give legal advice. Having said that, I also caution against signing anything.

Human Resources may invite you to participate or may issue something that sounds more like a command, but you do not have to participate in the exit interview. The most basic theory is that HR wants to you to reveal issues they may not know about. Further, the hope is that HR will do something about the problems inherent in (let's face it) any organization.

But an exiting employee has announced their disinterest in working further with an organization and no longer has a personal interest in seeing the company change. So HR may discount any "bad news" delivered during an exit interview as sour grapes on the part of the departing employee. If they want to improve the organization,  they might be better served to ask employees who are still committed to the organization.

Also, everything you say or any survey answers you reveal during an exit interview will be noted and kept in a file. If there is any desire on the part of either party to litigate, everything you say can and will be used against you if it will strengthen their case. Again, I'm not a lawyer.

You may think that not attending an exit interview will reflect poorly on you and that may be the case. You can burn bridges by attending and by not attending. The decision is up to you. But as I see in interviews in my office, it is difficult to hide anger, resentment and bitterness, especially when those feelings are fresh.

If you do attend an exit interview, keep your comments short, sweet and simple. Above all, keep everything positive. Don't give in to the desire to tell them just how poorly they treat people, how bad management is, what awful policies they have in place or any other issue that is burning on the tip of your tongue.

The success of the organization doesn't actually rest in your hands.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Do you, like, know what I mean?

We all have little sayings we fall in love with and sprinkle liberally throughout our conversations. We get into the, like, you know, groove of our train of thought and we, um, forget that the listener is keeping, oh...what's the word? Track. Right. They're keeping track.

I was talking to a candidate who said the same two phrases so many times that I could now kick myself for not counting them for the duration of our time together. In answering questions, he said, "If you know what I mean" and after making an explanation, he said, "If that makes sense."

Before you can break this habit, you need to know what it is you say too frequently. While I think most of us have an idea of what sort of habits we have in this area, just to be certain you're on the path, you should ask someone who will tell you honestly what you're saying that no longer needs to be said. Ask your best friend or your parents. Be careful not to put the wrong person on the spot. You may want to ask a couple people, but you need for them to be honest. You'll want to choose people who want to help you succeed.

There are tactics you can use to help you break the habit. You can go cold turkey, you can put a rubber band around your wrist and snap it every time you say the offending words, you can start charging yourself a quarter every time you catch yourself saying it or you can pay someone a quarter every time they catch you...whatever works for you.

During an interview, you have only a short period of time to make a good impression, so while these little phrases and words might be okay with friends and family, you want to put your best foot forward from the very beginning of each interview.

If you know what I mean.

Tuesday, January 31, 2012

He that can have patience can have what he will. ~ Benjamin Franklin

One of my candidates recently took a new job. When I first met him, he said he wanted more in a job. He wanted to learn more, be challenged more. He had been in his current job for years and felt that, although he liked his employer and his work, that he wasn't growing or moving forward.

I introduced him via email to a manager, who interviewed him. That manager introduced him to a client. The client met with him and then, over the course of several months, scheduled a series of interviews. Everyone seemed to like each other and through many interviews, he moved with glacial speed through the organization's hierarchy, meeting people and telling his story to someone new each time.

At each step of the way, I talked to him about the most recent interview and his impressions of his progress. He was confident about his skills and patient about the process. These characteristics speak well for the candidate during the interview process, coming across as respect for the organization's need to move slowly, process information and possibly the need to include a large number of people in the interview process.

Finally, a last meeting was scheduled and the offer was presented in person. The candidate countered for more money and the manager couldn't respond immediately. Waiting a little longer, the response was positive! He was given the salary he wanted, but maybe more importantly, he gets a return on his investment from knowing the organization better than many candidates who are hired after only one or two interviews.

I'm not suggesting that everyone should go through such a lengthy process, nor am I saying this is the only way to get to know a candidate or a company. Unfortunately, I've had candidates go through several interviews only to be turned down.

The takeaway is this: Taking your time, remaining confident and patient and showing respect for the organization's needs are great characteristics to develop regardless of how long it takes to get the job.

Friday, January 27, 2012

Cold! If the thermometer had been an inch longer we'd all have frozen to death ~Mark Twain

An interview tip I recommend is to be prepared to open the conversation with something neutral and easy going...like the weather. I had a candidate in my office and by way of chit chat, he was asked how long he had been in Iowa. 

"Five months," was the reply. The person asking the question, a native, asked how the candidate liked it so far. "I hate it," was the reply. He went on to say that the winter was awful. He was serious and I was taken aback by the bitterness in his voice. He genuinely dislikes Iowa and now he wants me to find him a job? In Iowa?  

We who live in Iowa know that the winter we've had this year so far has been a cake walk, but when he said he hated it, we laughed politely and said that anyone's first winter here could be enough to drive them away. 

My first winter here almost did. The July day I arrived in town, it was 100 degrees and we couldn't unload the moving van until almost midnight due to the heat. Then winter started in September and two months later, I experienced my first blizzard. I had lived in Chicago and Central Kansas, so I thought I knew about cold and snow. When clients would ask me why I moved to Iowa, I would joke, "For the weather." 

In fact, one reason why companies in my neck of the woods will balk at relocating someone, particularly a contractor, is because they get here and don't stay. The winters are cold and the summers are hot. People say they understand, but often when reality hits them, they complain and then they leave. There are jobs in locations with hurricanes, tornadoes, earthquakes, squalls, humidity and what might seem like non-stop rain. 

Even with all the curve balls Mother Nature throws at us, weather should be a simple, safe, straightforward, uncomplicated topic. But maybe it does not go without saying, so I'm saying it now: It should be a positive topic as well. 

When the topic of weather comes up in an interview, say something positive about it or make an easygoing joke about it. 

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

How you just lost my interest in your job search

There are some things candidates do that make recruiters crazy. I recently spoke to a man about a position I believed he might be qualified for, but his resume listed no technologies.

He is a desktop technician, a support analyst, a help desk, configuration, deskside, tech support sort of guy: Let's call him Guy. The job description called out a few technologies such as Windows operating systems, Active Directory and working on PCs in a networked environment. Judging from the companies he has listed, I think he's a likely candidate.

Also, I believe that a bad resume doesn't mean someone isn't qualified, so I called him about the job. I kicked off the conversation with Guy, whom I have met in person once before, by explaining that I needed to verify some technology and oh, by the way, why isn't there any technology on your resume?

He wants to keep his resume to one page. One page! His resume goes back to 1998 and he has had five decent, technology-industry jobs, so that means he has to leave something out. He chooses to leave out technology.

Lesson 1: Don't get so caught up in the "rules" you've heard in the past that you get left behind. 

I explained how resumes are read by databases and when a resume like his is searched for keywords that are basic to his experience, his resume will never show up as a search result. To his credit, he seemed concerned about that and I am hoping to get a more appropriate resume from him soon.

I still think he is qualified, so I dive into the job description to cover certain aspects of the job because it is possible he is missing one or two key elements. I'll recap the most baffling parts of the conversation:

Me: Do you have experience with Windows XP and Windows 7?
Guy: I have very little experience with 7. Only three or four of my clients used it.
Me: Do you have experience working on PCs in a networked environment?
Guy: Well, I can't patch networks or configure routers. They need a network administrator.
Me: This is not a network administrator job. They want a first level PC tech.
Guy: I did help convert XYZ Company from token ring to Ethernet.
Me: This job simply calls for someone with experience on PCs that are connected to a LAN.
Guy: I always assume they want someone with middleware experience.

Lesson 2: I can't make you want the job. 

I'm not sure if Guy is simply confused or if he doesn't want the job, but at this point, I'm not questioning his skills, I'm questioning how he will do in an interview. Maybe I haven't completely lost interest, but for a level 1 help desk job candidate, I now see that he is going to take a great deal of time and effort on my part and he could still shoot himself in the foot in an interview.

There are many ways you could lose a recruiter and then wonder why they never get in touch with you again. Many recruiters will stop after a contact like the one I'm describing. Carefully consider if you've ever been in Guy's position before.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Brace yourself: Listen to those questions carefully

Today I want to ask you to listen to a question carefully before responding. Some questions are answered quickly because the answer is clear and well-known to us. Some questions need thoughtful responses. It's perfectly ok and even wise to give yourself the time to craft your response. Listening carefully to the questions means quieting your mind and tracking what the person is really asking.

I am in a position of having job candidates in my office while several people interview them. So one job candidate may get the same question 3-4 times by different people. I'm always interested in how the responses change as the interviewers change. One person comes off in an aggressive way and most people don't respond well. They answer quickly and give half-replies. Another one of my account managers takes his time asking the same question in a more relaxed manner and he gets more thoughtful and informative answers.

Different, better answers to the same question.

The job candidate is the common denominator. Right before my eyes, I see the person being affected by the person in front of them. Learn to control yourself so you aren't buffeted by the force of the interviewer's personality or their nerves or their style.

Your goal is to give the thoughtful and informative answers no matter what sort of person sits before you.

That is probably the best interview advice I have have ever received!!! ~Neal C.

I wanted to talk to you again before this interview because you really geek interview tips. ~Chad T.

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