Thursday, May 7, 2009

Shoes, Phones and Backpacks: What They're Really Looking at During Your Job Interview

As I mentioned in my previous post, I got a real kick out of spending time recently with college students about to enter the job market. But it got me to thinking that no matter how many "rules" I provide about networking and resumes and other stuff, there are always those tricky little things that can trip you up if no one tells you. And believe me, the stuff I'm about to reveal often isn't discussed out loud. It's not that it's some dark, little secret, but it is so subtle that it's often not talked about as much.

So, here are the 10 things you should know when you're entering the job market:

1.They look at your shoes. You need professional-looking shoes. Not the 4-inch stilettos. Not the pseudo-dress shoes that are a cross between a sneaker and a loafer. Not shoes that have a broken shoelace that you've knotted back together. Real shoes that you've practiced walking in so that you don't resemble a giraffe on stilts.

2. Your hair is a problem. If you have Zac Efron hair, get it cut or at least use some kind of super glue to keep it out of your face. If you are female and wear it deeply parted on one side so that you're constantly doing this weird side head sweep to keep it out of your eyes, get the same super glue. If any part of your hair is the color of Kool-Aid, get rid of it.

3. Sit up straight. Slouching when sitting in a chair makes you look like a sullen teenager. Always sit up straight with your feet on the floor. Slumping makes you look bored -- and a possibly even a little stupid.

4. Ditch the backpack. If you're carrying the backpack you schlepped to school, it probably is not only dirty, but smells. Plus, it makes you look like you're headed to class. You want to look like you're headed to a job. You don't have to have an expensive satchel, but get one that is clean and streamlined. And don't put any buttons or stickers on it.

5. Don't play with your phone. While you may know enough to mute your phone during an interview, you also can't even look at it. Don't try to discreetly check it when someone texts you and don't hold onto it like it's your binky. Put it away so you're not even tempted.

6. Put on a watch. A huge pet peeve for many employers is employees who are late or who otherwise can't adhere to a schedule. Even if you don't look at it, wearing a watch shows that you're at least aware of the time. (Make sure it's professional looking -- no Hello Kitty or Mickey Mouse watches.)

7. Use formal forms of address. When meeting someone for the first time, always say "Ms." or "Mr." unless invited to do otherwise. This includes the receptionist, the office manager and the person who sorts the mail. These people often are asked for their impression of you, so if the only thing they can say about you is that you were respectful -- that's a big plus for you.

8. Know you're always being watched. Don't litter in the parking lot, fail to hold the door open for someone else when you enter the building or throw paper towels on the floor in the bathroom. Read industry materials while waiting.

9. Avoid eating and drinking. If you carry coffee or a drink with you into an interview, it's a distraction and can make you appear too casual. Don't eat something while waiting for your interview -- it can give you bad breath and you risk getting something stuck between your teeth or crumbs on your clothes. (And the receptionist will notice if you're a sloppy eater.) When you're further into the interviewing process, you may be invited to have a meal, but in the beginning stages just focus on the questions, not your latte.

10. They pay attention when you leave. Did you say "thank you"? Did you shake hands? Did you smile, make eye contact and tell the receptionist goodbye or hurry away? Were you on the phone or texting or taking off your jacket and loosening your tie before your feet hit the exit? Did you pick up some company brochures on your way out? Remember, your last impression is often the most lasting. Make sure it's one that they will recall as professional and positive.

What are some other subtle tips to make a good impression?

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Monday, November 3, 2008

The Seven Stupid Mistakes People Make on a Telephone Interview


"Mr. Jones? This is Mr. Smith from Acme, calling for our telephone interview?"

"Oh, yeah, sure. Can you hang on a sec?"


(A toilet flushes.)

"Whew! OK, much better. Wassup? Mr. there?"

"Uh, yes, I'm here. Now, Mr. Jones, I'd like to ask you about your work experience."

"Sure....prob....lots of..."

"Mr. Jones? Are you there? I seem to be losing you."

"Oh, damn. Sorry about that. My cell phone reception is lousy in this part of the city."

"OK, well, let's move on to what you believe your strengths to be for this job."

"I'll take a dozen chocolate with a large coffee to go."

"Excuse me? Mr. Jones?"

"What? Oh, I'm not talking to you." (Chuckling) "Just ordering some breakfast. Did you say something?"

"Mr. Jones, perhaps this isn't the best time for an interview. You seem to be busy."

"Mmhhmph?" (Slurping sounds) "No, no, now is fine. I really am interested in this job. Go head."

"Thank you Mr. Jones. I believe I will -- go."

Phone disconnects.

Welcome to the world of telephone interviewing. It's how many employees make their initial contact with an employer -- and how many of them lose that contact forever.

I've interviewed hundreds of people over the phone as a journalist, and I've been on the other end as I was interviewed over the phone for magazines, newspapers, radio and television. And one thing I know for sure: Giving a good telephone interview takes work.

Why? Because for most people, talking on the phone is as natural as breathing. They don't think much about it. But a telephone interview is so different in so many ways, I think it's a good idea to review proper telephone interview techniques:

1. Avoid cell phones. I don't care if it's the only phone you have, find a land line to do an interview. Low batteries, bad reception, weird feedback, etc. from a cell phone all disrupt the natural flow of a conversation, making the interview an endurance test for the hiring manager. Trust me, it's exhausting trying to interview someone and take notes with these problems, and I've never done a cellphone interview without such problems. At the same time, try not to use a headset (often has the same problems as a cellphone, including an echo chamber effect), and don't use the speaker phone.

2. Get rid of background noise. Lock yourself away in a quiet space to do a phone interview. That means no crying or noisy children should be in the background, or a barking dog, loud music, sounds of a toilet flushing, you scarfing down food, chewing gum, etc. You want the interviewer focused only on you, not the sound of you washing dishes or tapping computer keys as you Twitter while you interview -- or blaring your horn as you drive. Turn off your email so it doesn't distract you or give a "ping!" that the interviewer will hear. Also, don't forget to disable the "call waiting" feature on your phone. (Check with your local carrier for the code.)

3. Stand up. Your voice will emerge much more energized and confident. It's OK to sit down when listening to the interviewer, and will also make it easier for you to take notes.

4. Be prepared. As with a face-to-face interview, you need to research the employer and the industry so that you can contribute meaningful comments. But with a phone interview, you also can research where the hiring manager is located. Are they having snow in that area? Did a local college just win a major championship? Does the interviewer belong to an organization where you participate? These are all "pleasantries" you can mention since you won't really be able to win over the interviewer with positive body language or a firm handshake.

5. Listen to how stupid you sound. Before you do a phone interview, tape record a "practice" interview with a friend or family member. You'll be embarrassed, trust me. Your voice will either sound squeaky or weird, and you'll say "like" and "you know" too much. You'll cough into the phone instead of covering the mouthpiece, and your laugh will sound like you're snorting drugs. These are all things you can work on and find a way to present a more professional voice and demeanor over the phone. If you're saying "uh" too much, you need to practice your answers more so that you can say them smoothly (just don't read them from your notes). If you talk too fast, move your hand when you talk -- this helps even out your breathing and slows your speech.

6. Don't worry about filling in silences. The interviewer may be taking notes, so avoid blabbing nonstop. It's often difficult to know what's going on when you can't see the other person, but it's important you give your answer and then shut up. Motormouths have a bad habit of digging themselves a hole during phone interviews. And never interrupt the interviewer, no matter how excited you are.

7. Follow up. After a phone interview, you can send a thank-you e-mail, but also send a personal note via regular mail. Make sure before the interview ends that you have verified all the contact information, such as the correct spelling of the interviewer's name, the company address, phone number, e-mail, etc., and what the next step will be.

What are some other tips for phone interviewing?

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Wednesday, July 2, 2008

If You Were a Salad, What Kind of Dressing Would You Be?

Anyone searching for a job knows the excitement of finally landing an interview. But just imagine how you would feel, after prepping for hours to make sure you're ready to answer questions about why you'd be great for the job, to have a hiring manager lean earnestly forward and ask:

"If you could compare yourself with any animal, which would it be and why?"


Welcome to the whacky new world of interviewing.

Lynne Sarikas, director of the MBA Career Center at Northeastern University in Boston, recently filled me in on some of the, er, creative interview questions being asked of job applicants:

* If you could have dinner with anyone from history, who would it be and why?
* If you were a car, what type would you be?
* If you had only six months to left to live, what would you do with the time?
* If you could be a super hero, what would you want your superpowers to be?
* How do I rate as an interviewer?

OK, I think I see the point. The point is the try and rattle the job candidates a bit, because if they've followed the advice that I and others have given them over the years, they've done their homework and prepared good, solid answers to many of the standard (sane) interview questions.

But ever since the high-tech companies started asking questions designed to evaluate how a person thinks (why is a manhole cover round?), interviewers are starting to push the envelope in coming up with off-the-wall questions.

Sarikas says the key is not to panic. There really isn't a right or wrong answer to these questions, but the point is to see how you react when asked to think on your feet. The first thing you do is take a deep breath, so you don't blurt out something like, "Are you kidding me? What kind of crap is this?"

The second thing is to give an answer, even if you feel like an idiot. So, when the interviewer asks, "If you were a salad, what kind of dressing would you be?" answer it to the best of your ability.

"Why, ranch of course," you say. "I go with just about anything, and am favored by most."

Still, if you're feeling it's time to turn the tables a bit and see what this employer is thinking, maybe you could ask some creative questions of your own:

* If your CEO were an animal, what would it be? (If they mention hyena, turkey buzzard, boa constrictor -- you might want to head for the exit.)
* If you could have one person in this company on a deserted island with you, who would you pick? (If the interviewer can't name one person, you may want to reconsider the lack of friendliness within the ranks.)
* If you were asked to compare the supervisor for this job with a food, what would it be? (If a lemon, prune or lima bean is mentioned, be careful in accepting this job. Very careful.)
* If a book were written about this company, what would the title be? (If "Loserville," "Eaten Alive" or "Insanity" is mentioned, again, head for the exit.)

Do you think these kinds of questions being asked of job candidates are fair? Do they serve a purpose?

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Friday, March 28, 2008

Surviving the Loaded Interview Questions

Have you ever had a job interview and felt like it was going well until the hiring manager asked you a question and you thought: "Holy Sh**!"

It might be something like:

1. "What are you going to say to your boss if we offer you this job and he or she gets upset when you say you're going to quit?"

2. "The economy is tough right now...are you one of those people who is has been caught up in this credit mess?"

3. "What skills do you feel you need to improve?"

The reason a hiring manager asks you questions like these is simple: He or she wants to make you sweat. Even if it's just a little. Because if they're going to put their necks on the line and recommend you be hired, they want to make sure you've got what it takes to be calm and level-headed under pressure. If you hem and haw and get flustered or say "that's none of your damn business!" then the hiring manager will probably toss your resume in the shredder as soon as you leave.

The other reason they ask you these kinds of questions is because they are trying to get a better handle on who you are and what "baggage" you might bring to their workplace. If, for example, you're interviewing for a job dealing with money and they discover you're losing your house in the mortgage debacle, they might wonder if you'd be tempted to let some extra cash fall into your briefcase each night. Or, they may wonder how you'll deal with a boss who yells at you.

In his book, "Acing the Interview," Tony Beshara offers some answers to questions like these that will have you appearing so cool, calm and collected, the hiring manager will wonder if you ever even require deodorant. Here are some answers to the questions listed above:

1. On the boss's reaction: "I'm sure my boss will be somewhat disappointed, but he or she has always been the kind who wants what's best for everyone in the organization. If finding a new job is best for my family and me, well, my boss might be unhappy about the situation for his or our company, but he will be pleased for me."
2. Personal finances suck: The hiring manager is going to try and find out how personally responsible you are, and don't be surprised if a company runs a credit report on you. Don't lie. Admit that you've run into a rough patch, and then briefly explain the circumstances. If you financial history is pretty rough, it's best to be proactive and address it before an employer does a check on it.
3. Show you've got game: Always demonstrate that you're working on improvement, both professionally and personally. Talk about seminars or professional events you've attended, any classes you've taken, or self-improvement books you've read.
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Monday, March 17, 2008

Turning a Rejection Into an Opportunity

The pubs will be full today with revelers celebrating St. Patrick's Day, but the truth is many people will be swilling that green beer not to celebrate, but to drown their sorrows.

Times are tough, as any job seeker will testify. The latest news of Bear Stearns Cos. being sold at garage sale prices has sent another shudder through the job seeking masses, because they know that more people are nervous and will begin dusting off their resumes to join the ranks looking for new work.

Looking for a job is tough, and rejections are never easy to handle.

But there's something that many job candidates miss: "No" doesn't always mean "no."

Sometimes a hiring manager tells you that you didn't get a position after you've interviewed, and you consider that the end of the road. Time to head for the green beer, right?

Wrong. Now is the time to use that contact -- however brief -- with the hiring manager to establish a firmer relationship. Begin by saying that you really like the company, and would like to be considered for another position. Is there anyone else the hiring manager could refer you to? Being able to use the hiring manager's name with another department head is very valuable.

Also, tell the hiring manager that you would like to learn from the process. Was there something you did or did not do that eliminated you from the position? Was there a particular skill that the winning candidate had? Most managers will remember positively the job candidate who didn't take his or her rejection personally, but instead focused on personal improvement.

Another idea takes some chutzpah: Inquire whether the hiring manager knows anyone else who is hiring. Managers belong to professional associations and have networks of friends and colleagues that may be looking for qualified job candidates. Even if they don't know someone right away, your name will come more easily to mind in the future because you inquired specifically about it. Be sure and follow up in a couple of months with the manager to still express your interest in working for the company -- persistence often pays off.

Finally, make sure that you send a hand written note to the manager, thanking him or her for the consideration and giving your best wishes for the company's success.


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Thursday, March 6, 2008

Impress the Hiring Manager -- and the Receptionist

You stroll into the job interview, feeling pretty confident. You’re got the qualifications the employer is looking for, and believe you really connected with the hiring manager. When you leave, you expect to be getting a call soon. You feel you’ve got this job in the bag.

But after you leave, something happens. The executive asks the administrative assistant, or secretary, to step into the office.

“So,” says the executive who interviewed you. “What do you think of the interviewee who just left?”

“Well,” says the secretary, “I don’t know what that person’s qualifications are, but I can tell you he was rude to me and looked everyone up and down who came in the door like he was already running the show here. And to top it off, I saw him swipe one of our magazines off the coffee table and stick it in his briefcase.”

At this point, your star just fell from the sky. Because for many hiring managers, your evaluation started the minute you walked in the building. That office tour you were given? It was more than a chance for you to admire the copy machine and the break room -- it was also an opportunity for others to look you over.

Remember: Hiring decisions are so critical these days that many companies rely on input from a variety of people -- including employees of all ranks -- when making a decision. So, when you go on a job interview, here are some ways to make sure you get off on the right foot with everyone:

· Make eye contact with everyone you see upon entering the building. One manager told me the first thing she does when a job candidate leaves is consult the receptionist on how the person treated her. Was the candidate "demanding" to see the boss, or behaving in some other way that wasn’t pleasant? Managers are going to be looking to see if you have a sudden personality shift when you go from meeting administrative staff to executive staff.

· Smile. Don’t beam a 500-watt fake grin constantly, but greet others with a friendly smile, and try to relax so it doesn’t look forced.

· Dress appropriately. While casual dress is common in many workplaces, always follow the old rules of dress when applying for a job. Men should wear a suit and tie with shined shoes, and neatly combed hair. Women should wear nice dresses or suits, with shined shoes and neat hair. Don’t wear anything that will distract others from what you are saying. First impressions are critical when meeting potential new co-workers.

· Be prepared. Do your homework about the company, but also be ready to converse with everyone from the administrative staff to other managers. If you’re at a loss, you can always ask the person to explain his or her job and what they do day-to-day. Be prepared to discuss industry trends. If they want to know if you have questions, be prepared to ask some. That shows your interest.

Finally, remember that you should not ask employees you meet about benefits, days off, and if the company offers memberships to health clubs. You don't want to come off as focused only on your own wants and needs -- use the time to ask questions about their jobs.

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Tuesday, September 25, 2007

"I'm NOT a people person"

We all like to take our digs at hiring managers, with many of us having stories of how ill treated we have been by these people. They ask us stupid questions (or none at all), they are rude, dismissive and won't return phone calls or e-mails telling us whether or not we are still in contention for a job.

But there are two sides to every story -- and the tales some hiring managers are telling may explain why some of them treat us like alien beings.

Some 150 senior executives were asked to tell about the strangest pitches they've ever heard from potential hires. Those include:

  • The person who told the interviewer "he was allergic to unemployment."
  • The candidate who said the employer should hire him "because he would be a great addition to our softball team."
  • The musical candidates -- one sang all her responses to interview questions, while another delivered his entire cover letter verbally as a rap song.
  • The applicant who admitted she wanted the job "because she wanted to get away from dealing with people."
  • The mother who came with the applicant and did all of his talking.
  • The job seeker who said "he should get the job because he had already applied three times and felt that it was now his turn."
  • Because the company had good benefits, the applicant was happy "because he was going to need to take a lot of leave in the next year."

If any of these sound familiar, because you've done something nearly as boneheaded, I urge you to get a grip. Remember that when you're applying for a job, you want to make the employer sees you as the best candidate for the job based on your skills and abilities (not your ability to rap or play ball).

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