Monday, July 20, 2009

Will They Hire Me?

Having spent years working in Human Resources and now training and coaching managers, I’m use to getting questions about creating high performance in staff, dealing with those who don’t meet expectations, managing conflict, and effectively communicating both up and down the chain of command. But lately, I’ve been getting questions about interviewing skills - how to stand out among all the people applying for a job.

With unemployment at its highest in decades, the job market is tough and competitive. Candidates are looking for that “edge”. That “thing” to set them apart from the other applicants. The key is to remember that even in this world of "business casual", the good old fashion rules still apply.

I have seen my share of resumes, have interviewed many, many people, and have trained hiring managers on recruiting and selecting employees. And while I don’t think there’s a magic bullet, but rather a combination of several things working in your favor, I will offer you some tips to help put you ahead of the pack.

Tip #1: Cover Letter
YES – THE COVER LETTER. Putting the job you are applying for in the subject line and attaching your resume is not enough. The cover letter allows you the chance to brag on yourself. Did you increase sales by 25%? Say it! Did you reduce production cost by 15% while increasing quality? Say it! Did you design a training program that is now taught throughout the company? Say it! Did you lead a team of people to launch a new product that beat the deadline? Say it!
If the job description or ad mentions a specific skill or knowledge area, the cover letter is the perfect place to speak to what they are looking for.

Tip #2: References
Many people put “references provided upon request”. Why? If the CEO will brag on you, why not put it out there. If your former boss is willing to speak with a potential employer, let them know upfront. Providing your references gives a sneak peek into your professional circle – and lets the hiring manager know that you’ve got some credible people that will vouch for you. By the way – they should always be PROFESSIONAL references. No one wants to talk to your high school piano teacher no matter how sweet she is!

Tip #3: Know the Company
In a world with Google, there is no reason why you can’t tell your interviewer how you can specifically help them reach their mission (which means you should know their mission). Did the company recently win an award? Develop a new product? Have their most successful annual meeting? Layoff 1/3 of their workforce and are now moving in a new direction? Whatever the case may be, let them know that you already see yourself a part of the organization. When they ask you - "What do you know about us?" Make sure you can answer!

Tip #4: Tell Them You Want the Job
I was always amazed at the number of people I interviewed that never told me “This is the job I want.” Hearing those words with enthusiasm and passion at the end of an interview always lingered with me and I tended to remember those candidates the most. Don't let them think this is one interview in a long line of interviews. Make sure they understand why you would be an asset and that you can't wait to be a part of their team.

Tip #5: Send a Thank You Letter
Email is nice and quick – but could get lost in the shuffle, or worst yet, forwarded to HR without a glance. But a handwritten note can go a long way. In this world of junk mail, it’s quite refreshing for a manager to get “real” mail. Plus, the thank you note gives you one last chance to talk about why you’re the perfect fit for the job.

Now, there’s also some things you shouldn’t do! I found this list of The 25 Worst Job Interview Mistakes. And, yes, I know it seems like common sense, but you’d be surprised how many people still make these mistakes (I've witnessed many of them over the years!).

1. Arriving Late
Nothing makes a worse impression. If you can't turn up on time for the interview, what on earth would you do as an employee? If there's even the remotest chance that weather, traffic or hard-to-follow directions might be a problem, leave absurdly early just to be sure. If a meteor hits your car, go to a phone booth and ask to reschedule.

2. Arriving Early
Getting to the office building at 3:30 for a 4:00 appointment is good; presenting yourself to the receptionist at that time is not. As Jeffrey G Allen explains in How To Turn An Interview Into A Job (Fireside, 1983), "When it comes to interviewing, only fools rush in." It pressures the interviewer - and could make it look as though you have nothing better to do than read magazines in the waiting room. Instead, go to a nearby restaurant for a last-minute cup of coffee and a final check of your hair and clothing.

3. Dressing Wrong
Speaking of clothing, it matters. How you look has a lot to do with how you're seen. "Oftentimes in the very first few minutes of the interview, the decision is made whether it's going to be a turndown or a second interview," stresses John L. LaFevre, a human resources director based in Ohio and author of How You really Get Hired (Arco/Prentice Hall Press, 1986). "It either clicks on or it clicks off, and the remainder of the interview is spent validating that early judgment." Dressing too casually or flamboyantly can ruin your chances. The safest choice for any interview is a tailored suit in a conservative color like navy, gray or tan. Even the executives in wildly creative fields (TV, music, advertising, etc.) will respect you for knowing that a job candidate should look businesslike.

4. Dressing In a Rush
Don't. If you select your clothes right before you leave, you won't have time to fix the loose button or scuffed shoe you've just discovered. On the job interview, neatness counts more than it has since your last grade for penmanship. Try on your entire interview attire the night before the appointment, if not earlier. That way you can make any necessary improvements or repairs.

5. Smoking
In one Seattle University study, up to 90 percent of all executives surveyed said they'd hire a nonsmoker over a smoker if their qualifications were equal. Anyway, smoking makes you look nervous.

6. Drinking
Even if this is a lunch or dinner interview and others are ordering cocktails, it's better to stick to mineral water or club soda. At the very most, ask for a white wine spritzer (a tall glass of wine and club soda on the rocks) and don't have more than one. You need to be alert for this experience, not mellowed out.

7. Chewing Gum
Gum is not a good substitute for cigarettes or self-confidence. Gum chewing looks appropriate only in vintage movies.

8. Bringing Along a Friend or Relative
Tempting though it may be, resist the urge to bring someone along to hold your hand or help you fill out applications. Even being seen saying goodbye to your best friend or your spouse at the building door can make you look as if you didn't have the nerve to get there on your own. Being picked up afterward also reeks of dependency.

9. Not Doing All Your Homework
It isn't necessary to memorize the company's annual sales and profit figures, but you should know something about their products or services. One candidate lost out on an AT&T interview by mentioning their involvement in a news story that had been about ITT, and there was no way for the candidate to regain credibility after such a glaring error. Check out information about large companies in business magazines or corporate directories at your public library, or call the company to ask for a copy of the annual report. For smaller organizations you may have to rely on the grapevine; some of the best information can come from people who used to work there.

10. Skipping a Dress Rehearsal
You wouldn't make a speech to your PTA or church group without planning what you're going to say, yet people walk into job interviews every day just assuming that brilliant words will leap to their lips. Don't assume. Make a list of the questions you'd ask if you were interviewing someone for this job, and then rehearse the best possible answers using a tape recorder and/or a friend for feedback.

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  1. Well said. I always appreciate your insight.

  2. What about salary? I never know what to say when they ask how much money I want to make.


  3. Good question, Michelle. Your future boss or HR may try to persuade you to state your salary range early on. Try to avoid this if possible by asking what salary range they are offering instead (we always have a range no matter what they tell you!). Let them know that factors beyond the salary play into your decision, including benefits, culture, and the contribution you will make to the company.

    However, be sure to do your research to know what the position - and you - are worth so if you are pressed into a corner to be specific, go for the top end of the salary range. You can always negotiate down. Also, I recommend not filling in the salary for previous positions.

  4. Glad you have shared these valuable tips..
    Thank you.

  5. Thanks for your comment. I think sometimes people forget the basics and hopefully this will be a good reminder.