Thursday, April 23, 2009

Is Credibility on the Job Becoming More Rare?

I know a lot of people are afraid to tell the truth right now. They're afraid if they don't "embellish" their credentials they won't get the job. They're worried if they say what they really think at work they'll alienate colleagues and be accused of not being a team player. They're concerned that in order to be interesting in today's hyper 24/7 world, they need to be something they're not.

It's a weird sort of phenomenon: At a time when we use "transparency" and "authenticity" with abandon, some of us seem to be moving further and further away from it. It's as if these buzzwords have killed the simple art of telling the truth.

I hear from employers every day who say that one of the things they are most concerned about with job applicants is that these people are who they say they are -- that they actually believe the views they espouse and they have the skills they claim.

At the same time, employers worry that current employees may be hurting the company's credibility if they're not behaving in a trustworthy way with clients and customers. They fear they are one Twitter away from having their reputation trashed by some employee's bad behavior or judgment.

I think one of the solutions may be that we all go back to basics. We need to remember that what we say and do has power -- the power to destroy our credibility or the power to establish it.

Let's consider some ways to stay on the up-and-up:

* Don't exaggerate. Cable television and the Internet have certainly increased the rhetoric regarding certain subjects, but sometimes it descends to the cesspool level. Don't try to "one up" yourself or the competition with words or ideas that belong in a soap opera. If you worked on an award-winning project as part of a team, then it's fine to say so. But don't stretch the truth by saying that you headed the project or did it all by yourself. It's easy to verify your role, and once you're caught in a lie, it will be difficult not to be labeled as an exaggerator -- or worse. Keep in mind that once you're known to over-dramatize the truth or cry wolf too many times, others may simply give you an eye roll and ignore anything you have to say in the future.

* Follow through. We've all said, "I'll call you" and then forget. If that happens, say so. But don't say "I'll call you" and then have no intention of doing so. Don't offer to help with a project, and then not respond to an e-mail requesting that help. It's important not to make promises you can't keep. These days, I think everyone understands, "I'd like to, but my plate is really full right now." Or, "I just don't think this is a good fit for me right now, but I appreciate you thinking of me." It's humiliating to be the person who has to keep trying to chase you down for an answer as if you're the Queen of England and we're trying to get an audience.

* Give respect to get respect. If you're known as a gossip, as someone who is unkind, self-centered or grumpy, don't expect anyone to value your input. Your attitude is likely to be delivered back to you in the form of disrespect and a lack of trust. Your credibility is shot, and in your career, that's a critical element for success.

* Don't rush. If you're new to a job or position, it may take you time to gain credibility among your peers or customers. But if you try and push yourself on others too fast, it can backfire because they may mistrust your motives. Credibility isn't something you can make happen. You will have to earn it through your consistent actions and words. If you make a mistake, admit it and move on. In fact, messing up sometimes may gain you more credibility because you're seen as human and more likely to be understanding of another person's mistakes.

Finally, look at your credibility as your responsibility. If you don't work to establish it in a real and honest way, it won't be able to withstand tough times. Building it with care will be something that will pay off in your career for a long time.

What are some ways you build your credibility?

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Thursday, December 11, 2008

The Idiotic Things People Say in Interviews

"Welcome, Ms. Jones. Thank you for coming in for an interview today. I'd like to spend some time talking with you about your application and past work history."

"Oh, thank you for calling me. I'd be very happy to answer any questions you might have."

"OK, well let's start with an obvious one: Why do you want to work here?"

"Well, I just think it's a great company. You have such a great reputation, and I think my skills would be of great benefit to you. I'd work really hard."

"How nice. Well, can you be more specific about --"

"Oh, and it would be so nice to work with people who are educated. I mean, some of the people I work with now. Well, let's just say they're not the sharpest tools in the shed...."

"Uh. OK. Well, let's talk about this project you mention on your resume where you headed up the team that brought in a very lucrative project."

"You bet. We got that contract because I kicked ass and wouldn't take any crap from anyone. I didn't want to hear a bunch of whining about sick kids or lung transplants. I mean, we were there to make money, and I made sure we did that."

"I see. So...."

"You know, I just want to be clear here. If you hire me, I'm going to pull my weight and then some. When my parents kicked me out when I was 17, I didn't sit around and complain about poor little me. I did what I had to do, and sometimes it wasn't pretty. But it got the job done. And that's what I'll do for you."

"Ms. Jones, you certainly have given me a lot to think about. We have several other candidates to interview, so I appreciate you coming in."

"Sure thing. I can't wait to get out of this suit, anyway. These pantyhose are cutting off my air, and my feet are killing me in these stupid shoes. I'll wait to get your call."

(Ms. Jones leaves. Hiring manager wads resume into a tight ball and lobs it into the trash can.)

I'll bet there's been a time in your life where you've regretted something you said. Maybe it was a harsh word to a friend or a criticism of a loved one. You may have gone back and apologized, or tried to make it up in some other way.

But the problem with saying the wrong thing in a job interview is that you probably won't get another chance. If you're annoying, unprofessional or just plain weird, chances are you're not going to hear from that potential employer again.

So, here's a list. Memorize it. Recite it as a mantra. Text yourself. Just don't forget to:

1. Stay positive: Interviewees may try and explain why they want to leave their old job, or why getting laid off hasn't been such a bad thing. But instead of saying they're looking for a new opportunity, they talk about how Bill in IT was a dork and the boss was a real a**hole. This is an immediate turnoff for interviewers -- if you talk trash they know you may do the same about a new employer.

2. Clean up your mouth: While swearing may seem like a minor thing to some people, to some people it is a very big deal. And how do you know the interviewer isn't one of the latter?

3. Keep confidences. Don't reveal personal details about others. "Ted is a great guy but more than once I had to take his car keys after some company party. He just doesn't know his limits." Interviewers have to wonder if you'd blab company secrets or personnel confidences if they employed you.

4. Be a grown-up. Whining and complaining about people or events, talking about what a bad temper you have or how you suffer from low self-esteem will not get you hired. Hiring managers will see you as a boatload of anxiety or trouble that they don't need.

5. Keep your personal life personal. While some interviewers may try and lead you to talk about yourself in order to understand you better, it's best to steer clear of comments that put you in a negative light. For example, don't talk about how you used to be a "wild child" or "rebel" or "party girl." It's also best to refrain from saying "I'm a typical Irish guy" or "my religion is very important" or "during baseball season I'm a maniac." You want the interviewer to focus on your professional skills, not your personal life that they may feel will interfere with your ability to do the job.

Finally, remember that it's the interviewer's job to make you feel comfortable so that he or she can really get to know you and your strengths and weaknesses. It's your job not to let your guard down so much that you think you're chatting with your best friend and say things you will come to regret.

How else can a job candidate prepare for an interview?

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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 10, 2008

Don't Blow It When the Boss Asks for Your Help in Making a New Hire: How to Ask Great Interview Questions

In my previous post, I wrote about how important it was to make a good impression on everyone you meet when you go for a job interview, because the boss may ask various workers for their opinion about you.

But what if you're one of those employees who is introduced to the job candidate and asked to "chat" with a potential hire? What are you supposed to talk about? The score of last night’s game, the latest technology or if they have a family? You may not be aware of it, but what you talk about may have a big impact on your career.

That's because this little chat may not only be a test for the job candidate, but for you, as well. Not only is the boss looking at how the job candidate performs, but he's also looking at how you handle the situation. Your performance during this interaction can be important if the boss is trying to decide whether it's time you moved on to bigger and better things.

Specifically, if you give an insightful, logical assessment of this person’s skills and the ability to fit into a current culture, then you’ve proved you have another useful job skill that directly impacts the boss and your company's bottom line. But if you blow it, and can't offer the boss anything more substantial than the fact that the candidate likes the Red Sox, then you've failed to take the opportunity to show the boss that you can handle whatever is thrown your way.

So, the next time the boss provides an opportunity for you to interact with a job candidate, be prepared to show that you can rise to the challenge. Here are some points to becoming an effective interviewer:
· Think about what it takes to succeed in the job. If it’s important that the interviewee have strong people skills, then ask about team experience, or how customer complaints are handled. You might even relate a real experience (omit names) that caused problems, and see how the interviewee would handle the situation.
· Ask about past jobs. Find out what the person liked most or liked least about former positions. What was the atmosphere like?
· Inquire about organizational skills. The last thing you need is more work dumped on you because a new hire is disorganized and inefficient. Ask how they make sure they meet targets on time, how they schedule their work, how they decide what they should do every day when they show up for work.
· Find out whether past training or education would be beneficial. Maybe the candidate spent three summers in France and is so fluent in the language that he or she could handle the clients you’ve been having difficulty with in Paris. That might be a key point supervisors would miss, but your inquiries would net this new information.
· Try to avoid “yes” or “no” responses. Don’t ask, “Did you like your last job?” but “Tell me about your last job.”
· Be professional. Greet the candidate with a smile and a handshake, and avoid interruptions. When it’s your turn to talk to an interviewee, it’s best to do it in a quiet place, with no ringing phones or people walking by. Find out how much time you’ve been allotted, then stick to the schedule. This will prevent you from chatting too much in an endless sessions.
· Avoid legal minefields. Ask only job related questions. It’s against the law to ask about sexual preferences, religious affiliations, disabilities, age, race, marital status, child care arrangements, citizenship and memberships. At the same time, do not ask if the person has ever been arrested or convicted of a crime, or make any mention of gender.
· Motivating factors. Find out what the candidate sees as their personal motivation: money, creativity, chances for advancement, etc. If the answers don’t fit in with what the company offers, it means that this person would probably become quickly dissatisfied – and you’ll be repeating the interviewing process sooner than you -- or your boss --would like.

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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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Thursday, January 3, 2008

Keep Job Desperation Under Control

When interviewing for a job, most people get a little nervous. And if you’ve recently been laid off or fired from your last position, that fear may escalate since recruiters and companies tend to avoid anyone who seems even the least bit desperate.

But there is a way to help set aside those prejudices and put a positive spin on the fact that even though you're currently without work, you're still a viable candidate for a position.

If you have been fired: Present the logic of how your "de-hiring" (being fired) happened in four or five sentences. You should at all costs avoid saying that you were "fired" since interviewers tend to not hear anything else once that word has been said. Instead, say that you left by "mutual agreement", and never sound defensive or cast blame.

If you've been laid off: Be honest. There will be a certain degree of understanding from the interviewer since it has become more common across all industries. Again, avoid sounding bitter or resentful toward the company or management. You can tell an interviewer that you received a terrific severance or buyout package that you decided to accept -- if that is what happened.

The key to putting a positive spin on either being fired or laid off is to tell an interviewer that you used the time to pursue additional education, or that you used it as family time to reassess your life and carefully plan your future. By expressing these actions as real acts of courage -- that it's often difficult to look ahead but you did it -- then you give the interviewer an impression of strength.

Further, make sure you tell the interviewer how taking these actions brought improvements, such as furthering your education or having meaningful time with your family that helped crystalize your future plans.

Finally, make sure that you are well-prepared to answer questions from an interviewer by practicing with a family member or friend, or even videotaping yourself to look for areas of improvement. Always have specific examples that demonstrate how you've used your skills to handle situations on the job or at home, and make sure you end the interview with a positive statement.


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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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