Interview Questions: Ask this…don’t ask that

 

UnhappyThere is advice everywhere you turn about how to prepare answers to questions you’ll be asked in an interview.  There is less said about questions you should ask…and not ask.

It is my contention that interviewers learn as much about you from the questions you ask as from the answers you give to their questions.  It is crucial that you have intelligent, well thought out questions to ask.  Never say no to Do you have any questions for me?

Your questions should indicate that you understand the role and are knowledgeable about the organization.  Picture yourself in the job – what would you want to know.  I like organizational questions.  Can you please tell me about your organization – how many employees and what are their roles?  You’re asking for a verbal org chart.  What would you say are the strengths of your team?  What’s working well?  Where are the weaknesses, areas where you can use some help?  Depending on the answer, this is a good time to explain how you may be able to help them in those functions.  What other departments does your team [or this role] interact with and how is that going?

Another excellent way to convey what you know about the organization is to preface your question with something you’ve learned from your research.  I understand that name-of-company has made a number of acquisitions in the past year. How have these impacted your team?  From what I understand, your leading competitors are X and Y but that you are gaining market share. What would you say is your competitive edge?

There are some questions that you should not ask, specifically something negative like, I’ve noticed that name-of-company’s stock has been declining steadily.  What’s wrong?  If you’ve received an offer or getting close to it, then you can do more due diligence prior to making a decision.  I advise my clients not to ask about company culture and I receive a lot of pushback.  I ask them what it is they really want to know.  Companies like Google that have distinct cultures they’re proud of have made it well known and/or will offer it to you without your asking.

Are you wondering about benefits and perks such as a game room and catered meals?  Are you wondering if working long hours is expected on a regular basis?  You already know that neither of these are questions you should ask in an interview. What’s more important is how the interviewer will interpret your question.  There’s too great a chance there will be a miscommunication.  Learn the culture by doing research, both online and talking with people who work or have worked there.  Even better, make it a point to pay attention to what’s going on in the office when you’re on site.  Ask the people you meet what they like/don’t like about working there.

Overall, you should stick with questions like those above that relate to the job and company.  You’ll come across intelligent and thoughtful.  Good luck!

 

KRON InterviewMauri Schwartz is President/CEO of Career Insiders, a career management and talent acquisition consulting firm. She speaks frequently at business and professional conferences and career panels. Her favorite client update is, “I did everything you told me to and I got the job!”

Career Insiders’ Talent Acquisition services are focused on executive and senior management level positions in sales/marketing, finance, technology, corporate legal, and HR.

Mauri has an MBA from the Haas School of Business, University of California, Berkeley and a BS in Mathematics from Tulane University. Career Insiders has been certified by the City and County of San Francisco as as a Small – Local – Woman-owned enterprise S/L/WBE.  Contact Mauri directly at Mauri@CareerInsiders.com.

Get Your Groove On!

Interview

Get Your Groove On and Ace That Interview!

Yes, I mean it.  After you’ve prepared as much as you think you can for that critical interview with the Executive Director, what can you do to calm down?  I propose two ways to eliminate the anxiety that creeps in and prevents you from performing at your best.  Music and comedy.  I’ve never seen these recommended anywhere else, but they work…trust me.

While on your way and/or while you wait in the coffee shop next door (remember my admonishments in previous postings not to arrive too early), listen to some of your favorite upbeat music, whatever makes you feel the best.

Most of us have experienced the incredible, mood-altering power of music.  Dozens of research studies have shown that listening to music can lower blood pressure and reduce anxiety.  One even found that listening to music works as well as a massage at lowering anxiety!

The Mayo Clinic points out that music can have effects ranging from reducing feelings of physical pain to boosting memory.  A doctoral thesis from the University of Gothenburg reveals that listening to music every day lowers stress. The thesis was based on the results of two studies which showed that people who listened to music also felt positive emotions.  Other studies show that listening to music improves cognitive performance and helps people execute better in high-pressure situations.

Personally, I like to listen to comedy because laughing always makes me feel exceptionally good about myself.  As the old saying goes, laughter is the best medicine.  “As a powerful antidote to stress, nothing works faster to bring your mind and body back into balance than a good laugh.  Humor… connects you to others and keeps you grounded, focused, and alert.”

These are all qualities that make for a strong interview performance.  Use one or both, but not simultaneously, before your next interview and revel in how much better the outcome is.

 

KRON InterviewMauri Schwartz is President/CEO of Career Insiders, a career management and talent acquisition consulting firm. She speaks frequently at business and professional conferences and career panels. Her favorite client update is, “I did everything you told me to and I got the job!”

Career Insiders’ Talent Acquisition services are focused on executive and senior management level positions in sales/marketing, finance, technology, corporate legal, and HR.

Mauri has an MBA from the Haas School of Business, University of California, Berkeley and a BS in Mathematics from Tulane University. Career Insiders has been certified by the City and County of San Francisco as as a Small – Local – Woman-owned enterprise S/L/WBE.

Contact Mauri directly at Mauri@CareerInsiders.com.

What Shall I Wear

Dress for Success 1At a time when hardly anyone dresses for anything anymore, it’s hard to know how you should dress for an interview. The old rule used to be to wear a suit (men and women) for any business interview. We all know that’s not the case anymore.

Just the other day, I purchased tickets for an evening cabaret performance in San Francisco, and this is how they described their dress code: 

We ask that our guests do not wear shorts, baggy, torn or ripped jeans, athletic gear, sandals, ball caps, chains, or sweatshirts or shirts with hoods. Cocktail attire is recommended or nice denim.

Cocktail or nice denim? What a choice! And I can’t tell you the last time I wanted to go out dressed in athletic gear! For this venue, it seems that any reasonable outfit will be fine.

It’s a bit trickier when it comes to interview attire. And it totally depends on the situation, mostly the company and its industry. Most companies have adopted a casual dress code and you may see employees dressed in jeans, especially in the tech industry. However, you should not go to the interview in jeans or shorts. The best rule of thumb is to dress up one or two levels. Business casual clothes are most often appropriate – nice slacks/skirt, with a button-up shirt/blouse or an appropriate sweater. Add a nice jacket for an appropriate addition and in many cases, a tie, for men of course.

For most traditional business situations, you’ll want to dress up a notch, a jacket for sure and sometimes a suit. This is especially true for companies in finance, management consulting, and others with customer facing roles. Recently I delivered a presentation to a group of employees in a large financial services corporation, a very traditional, conservative environment. I was sure to wear my nicest suit and carefully observed attendees’ clothing.

All of them were dressed in “formal” business attire. The men wore dark suits with white or light blue shirts and fairly conservative ties. The women were also dressed in “formal” business attire, and it was noticeably fashionable, almost every one. Not trendy, but up to date and appropriate for the occasion. This included a few dresses, mostly with matching jackets.Dress for Success 2

As part of your research in preparing for the interview, conduct an investigation to determine their “dress code” by asking a friend if you know someone who works or has worked there, or by calling HR.

It is most important to wear clean, pressed clothes and freshly polished shoes. In deciding between two choices that meet these criteria, choose the outfit that you feel most comfortable in. I hope I don’t need to say that you must not wear anything that is sexy or shows skin between your neck (or a bit lower) and knees. Basically you want the interviewer’s attention to be focused on you and your qualifications, not your cleavage or clothes, jewelry, etc.

Dress for Success 3 Additional tip: Since many people have allergies/sensitivities to perfume, be careful with fragrances. Most body and hair care products are scented. Choose products that are fragrance free or have a very faint fragrance.

 

 

KRON InterviewHi I’m Mauri, President/CEO of Career Insiders, a career management and talent acquisition consulting firm. I speak frequently at conferences, job fairs, and career panels. My favorite client update is, “I did everything you told me to and I got the job!”

Career Insiders’ Talent Acquisition services are focused on executive and senior management level positions in sales/marketing, finance, corporate legal, and HR. Please contact me for more info.

 

Ace the Phone Interview

Interview - comks12851 - $50

Congratulations on getting that interview!  These days it takes hard work to get even that far in the search process.  That is unless you have expertise in some esoteric programming stream processing framework like Storm, S4 or Samza.  Huh?

Anyway, back to the issue at hand.  First, consider a phone interview pretty much like a face-to-face meeting. Prepare in detail just as you would normally.  Dress the same too.  Create a private space without noise or distraction to take the call, one where you know you will get the best phone reception.  Be ready a few minutes ahead of time and operating on all cylinders – be at your best.

The nice thing about phone interviews (that are not Skyped) is that you can have some notes in front of you, but be very careful not to have too much. You don’t want to be in the position of making noise by shuffling papers or taking too much time to answer because you’re searching through your notes to find it.

Use your computer to help you, one with a big enough screen to be useful.  Not your phone; it’s not big enough. I highly recommend that you bring up the person’s LinkedIn profile so that you can talk to the person directly. It’s not ideal in that the facial expression is fixed and you won’t be able to read body language, but I believe you can still tell a great deal just from a photograph.

And don’t forget to prepare ahead.  You can download a free copy of my proven Interview Prep Guide from the Resources page of my web site.  Good luck!

Do Unto Others: Don’t Drop the Ball

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One of the most common complaints that job seekers have is the silence that frequently follows resume submissions and interviews.  I can’t even count the number of times I’ve heard one of these statements.

Ÿ “I sent in my resume 2 weeks ago but haven’t heard anything in response.”

Ÿ “The recruiter reached out to me to see if I might be interested in a specific position.  After a brief conversation, she said she’d talk to the hiring manager and get back to me.  That was 3 weeks ago and I haven’t heard from her since.”

Ÿ “Last month I interviewed with the hiring manager and it seemed to go well.  I was told that I would be contacted in a couple of days to schedule follow-on meetings with his staff, but it’s been radio silence since.  I even called the recruiter and she hasn’t responded.  I just wish someone would tell me something one way or the other.”

I find it incredible that the recruiters involved in these situations fail to communicate to the candidates.  The common wisdom is that if you don’t hear anything, they’re not interested.  So what?   If this is the case, the recruiter should have the common decency to contact the candidate to let him know that he will not be considered further, preferably by phone but at the very least by email, including an indication of the reason for rejection.  This show of respect will allow him to move on to other opportunities and perhaps adjust his search strategy, grateful for the feedback.

But to the ever hopeful job seeker, silence doesn’t always equate to rejection.  Many things could be happening.  The hiring manager could be on vacation, traveling for business, caught up in an office emergency.  Any number of issues may have occurred to slow the process down.  Communicate this to the candidate, providing status updates with a revised timeframe for continuing the process if applicable.  Even if you don’t have any substantive information yourself, notify him of that.  He would much prefer to know even if the news is negative.  Avoiding contact, not responding to emails and phone calls, is not acceptable procedure.

Sure, we’re all busy and time can easily slip away from us, but this communication doesn’t need to take long.  I think we may have become too complacent and fail to realize just how important these common courtesies are, both in terms of etiquette and the effect they have on your personal and corporate brands.  Perhaps it would be more obvious if you think of yourself as an employee working on the other end of the business, in marketing or sales, and consider each of these applicants as a customer who will carry away an impression of what it is like to work with you and your company.  Behave as if you expect to see yourself reviewed on Yelp or Glassdoor…and as you would like if you were in their place.

Mauri in Orange BlouseHi my name is Mauri, and I am the President of Career Insiders, a career management and talent acquisition consulting firm. I speak frequently at conferences, job fairs, and career panels and have been invited to speak at HR West 2013 in April. I consult with career centers at universities including UC Berkeley’s Haas School of Business, Tulane University, Mills College, and others, and contribute regularly to publications such as TheLadders RecruitBlog. I am what some might consider a professional “people person.”

Finally got an Interview? Don’t screw it up!

Interview - comks12851 - $50

A client recently approached me to help her prepare for an interview with an organization that she had been trying to get into for the past six months. She was very concerned that she perform well because she knew she wouldn’t get another chance…and rightly so.

In today’s job market, it is so difficult to land an interview that you need to make sure you do a good job.  As they say, you only have one chance to make a first impression.  Here are some good tips.  Study the job description carefully and identify the four or five most important criteria.  What skills do they need the most?

For each of the criteria that you have defined, write a couple of sentences that indicate how you fulfill that requirement.  Describe one or two achievements that most illustrate your ability to carry out that function.  Be sure to write complete sentences, not just notes. This way you will be comfortable speaking in full sentences during the interview. Make your statements concise and be sure to highlight the positive results of your actions.

Don’t take these notes into the interview but practice reading them, keeping in mind that you need to stop when you reach the end of your answer.  I emphasize this because it will help prevent you from rambling which is one of the most common interview mistakes.  You will want to deliver the information and stop.  It will then be up to the interviewer to move on to the next topic or ask follow-up questions.  Select accomplishments that are among your most significant, ones of which you are proud.  However, be sure to use examples that are most relevant to the specific position.

Remember that this is not about what you want; it’s all about what they need.  Refrain from bringing up experiences that are not germane.  This will only cloud the issue with extraneous information.

If you have properly prepared this framework, you can use the information to respond to a variety of questions.  For example, if you are asked, “Tell me about yourself,” the interviewer does not want to hear you recount your life history or even your professional history from the beginning to the present.  By the time you get to the most recent / most relevant information, you may have lost their attention.  Tell them the aspects about yourself that show them you will do their job successfully.

If you are asked, “Why should we hire you,” this is another ideal time to respond with the key points in your framework.  If you are asked to describe your strengths, make sure they correlate directly with these same points.

Throughout the interview, show enthusiasm for the job and the company even if you aren’t sure you will accept an offer.  At the conclusion, be sure to thank them and let them know you are interested.  If the information is not provided, ask them to tell you what the next steps in the decision process will be and when you should expect to hear back.  Also, ask for business cards so that you can write a thank you letter as soon as possible after the interview, preferably the same day and by email so that they receive it immediately.

Good luck!

(Please email me for a free copy of my Interview Prep Guide)