While Flora is on vacation, enjoy this highly-regarded reprint…
Lately a friend asked me to assist her with seminars to help folks find and land jobs. I have met a wide variety of people who are looking for work. Some are executives who may need to sell the second Benz to make payments on the cabin, others are passing up dental exams and fresh vegetables to make ends meet. In either case, I find that they tend to think only about their side of the desk when it comes to interviews. Entirely the wrong approach. Here are some suggestions to prepare for interviews that think about people on the hiring side of the desk.
Assume I’m From Missouri The show-me staters know that you can say anything, it’s the doing that counts. Bring in samples of your work. Not just creative types need portfolios. I had a CFO recently show me her interview packet with samples of reports and charts she has used in the past to track cost reductions. Bring in forms you have created, examples of work you have done. If you are a tradesman, bring in photos of cabinets you have made, junction boxes you have worked with – even welds that you were proud of. Show me what you have done. It also makes it easy for you to have something to talk about if you get the verbal stumbles.
Show Up. Then Be Flexible. You wont know whether I am anal about promptness or a person who was late to my own wedding. Be prepared to succeed in either case. ALWAYS be on time. No excuses. Nope. None. I can’t say I have ever known a hiring manager who hired someone who was late for their interview. ’Nuf said. On the other hand, interviewing managers are constantly late to interview candidates. No matter what the circumstance, smile graciously and assure them that it is all right to begin at their convenience. This is your first opportunity to show that you are flexible and able to handle change with poise. If you need to cut the interview short to catch a flight or pick up a child, just let them know and tell them how excited you are to have another chance to build on the interview with a second interview.
→ TRUE STORY: I was flown in for an interview from South Carolina to Minnesota. The company picked up the airfare, taxi, hotel, etc. I showed up on time for my scheduled interview. I waited over 2 hours before my series of interviews began. PLENTY of time to get nervous about the company and my interview. But, I brought a book (I planned to read on the plane) and made great small talk with the embarrassed administrative assistant while I waited. When the hiring manager showed up with her “we are just crazy around here” I smiled and said, “That’s probably why you need someone like me here to help you through all this.” She gushed about the issues she was trying to manage and we dove directly into a strong business conversation. Instead of asking me about my GPA or my strengths, she could evaluate what a helpful partner I would be by my active listening and suggestions. What a great interview……yes. I got the job.
Don’t Tell Me About Your Ex-es. It is as true on dates as it is in interviews. I don’t care about your last boss. I don’t care if you worked for Satan himself . (Haven’t we all?) Describe her as challenging, difficult or intimidating. Fine. Then move on to how you excelled despite that. I don’t want to hear that she walked the halls at 5pm Christmas Eve or that she required you to attend company rallies you hated. Don’t care if she had ADD or split personalities or Turrets syndrome. I am not interviewing your old boss. Every minute you spend justifying yourself is making me nervous about how you will behave once you uncover my faults. ”Do you need me to be perfect?” I am thinking. Show me all the great things about you and how well you work with other people. That you are smart and flexible and able to learn new things quickly. Wouldn’t it be better to land this new job as revenge against your old boss rather than tarnish yourself bad-mouthing her?
Really? REALLY? You Knew EVERYTHING? Yes, you should be positive and let me know that you are bright and capable. But there is a warning light that goes off in my head whenever a candidate tells me “I knew we couldn’t keep our margins at 40% but no one listened to me.” or “I had a plan, but management decided to lay us off even though we started to see improvements.” Chances are I can most closely identify with the management team that had to make those hard choices. You either sound like someone who is ineffective at communicating your great ideas (if I believe you had them) or someone who is bitter. Actually, either way you sound bitter. I probably don’t need any more bitter people on my staff.
Be Persistant. Yes, this job is important to you and it should be important to me to get it filled. But, honestly, I have a dozen other things to do and bringing a new person on board is going to mean a lot more work for me and everyone else on my team until the new guy is up to speed. So I may have a reason to drag my feet. Follow up with me. Send an email or thank you note – that’s fine. But if I don’t get back right away, it’s OK to call and leave an upbeat message. I wont think you’re rude. Did you find something after the interview that expanded on your thoughts? Maybe an article or blog post? It’s OK to send it if it was truly relevant to our conversation. Did you remember I love the Michigan State Spartans? It’s OK to send a congratulatory email when we beat Ohio State or Michigan. (But we really don’t count Northwestern.)