Asking Questions During the Interview Process

Interviewing is never easy no matter how skilled or comfortable you are when it comes to selling yourself.  Preparation prior to the interview can be involved and the amount of interviews within an interview loop can be demanding. The agonizing waiting period between the final interview and offer can be stressful. But, throughout the whole process, many job seekers are more focused on impressing the interviewer and landing that offer, causing them to forget that the interview is mutually beneficial for them, as well. This process is a prime time for a job seeker to investigate the company by asking deep questions to as many interviewers as possible. This can ensure that the company is worth the effort.

When I was in talent acquisition, I’d often ask my candidates if they had any questions at the end of the interview. A good portion of the time, candidates didn’t have any. Or if they did, they were often very basic. The questions typically covered things like pay, expectations, management style and so on. Many of those questions could have been answered by simply reviewing the job description or doing research on the company. In the end, the responses didn’t clearly show a candidate why this is a good employer for them for the long-term. Knowing salary details and day-to-day duties are important, but it doesn’t get to the core regarding what else the candidate would face if they accepted an offer. More importantly, the answers could easily be a canned, elevator-speech that gives no deeper insight. When all is said and done, a candidate may accept a job only to realize that there are a ton of deal breakers that they missed.

Whenever I’m interviewing somewhere, I like to take the time to ask each interviewer unique questions. It’s a fantastic way to learn about their experiences and the variations between them, allowing you to get a fuller picture of the company. It doesn’t necessarily have to be job-specific; the questions can have a range between job details, company culture, values, general experiences/examples and so on. The important thing is not to just listen to the responses, but also to take notice of their reactions when answering. Does their face light up? Do they seem cautious and guarded? Is it a genuine answer or does it seem practiced and calculated? These things can help you see which responses are more honest and which ones seem suspiciously reserved.

Some questions might include:

  • What was a defining moment at the company that made you say, “This is why I’m here”?
  • Do you have an example of a situation internally or with a client that resonated with you?
  • What makes you proud to work here?
  • What is the dynamic of the team you work with? How do they function during good times? More importantly, how do they work together during the bad?
  • What makes your experience with this employer different from previous ones? What makes you stay?
  • What is one project that you could work on at the company, whether you believe it would be implemented or not?

Hearing their stories is a great way for a candidate to envision themselves at the company. Even if all of the responses are positive, some of the answers might shed light on things that a candidate does or does not want to face at their workplace. These things should be considered heavily along with the traditional aspects such as compensation, benefits, perks, culture, employee value proposition, job, department, managers and the like.  When an individual spends a significant time at work, it’s best to identify whether it is a right fit or not.

Rediscovering Your Identity

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Identity is a funny thing. We spend our time trying to distinguish it, both personally and professionally, and then spend our lives trying to build and protect it once we know what it is. Our experiences and surroundings transform it. We go through cycles of trying to fit in, to making sense of who we are. Other times we are trying to stand out and become indispensable. And when we find a place where our identity makes sense, we get comfortable with the easy flow of knowing who we are and where we fit. But what happens when that comfortable place is gone?

It’s been a while since I’ve written last, mainly because I’ve been going through a transition that has tested my feelings towards my identity. In 2012, I developed my personal brand without even realizing it. I started this blog, joined online discussions, participated in Twitter chats, guest blogged, networked and so on. I was sharing my knowledge about HR, talent acquisition and business. And with each conversation, research and experience, my knowledge continued to grow to the point where I was able to provide valuable insight and suggestions. From the people I networked with, to the company I worked for and the clients I supported, I was able to make an impact. I started to work harder, I tied my name and experiences with my professional work and I truly believed I was going to build my career with that one company for at least five years, if not more. I was set… until I wasn’t.

A move to Boston from South Carolina made it difficult to keep up with the cost-of-living increase. I struggled but I tried hard to make it work. After all, I had built a reputation internally and externally. People from all levels, interns to c-level, came to me for brainstorming, mentorship or suggestions. My personal brand had seemed to merge into my company brand.  I excelled because my company was able to give me the things I needed to move forward that I couldn’t get myself. So, naturally, I wanted to be loyal and give back. We were a unit—an equal balance of give and take.

When it came to the point when I had to regretfully move on, I dealt with the loss. I fell silent; on social media, with those I networked with and with blogging. I had become so ingrained in the company and what I was doing there, that I truly believed that without my employment, all the things I’ve done over the last 2+ years was suddenly lost. As if with the end of that employment came the end of my worth and my ability to be impactful and valuable. It had been the first time I had felt so loyal and deeply connected to a company, that I wasn’t sure how to accept that I was now an outsider. I was no longer able to voice suggestions, develop strategies, author something or get recognition for a job well done. I was floating along without a home, without a purpose.

As I stated in my last blog, sometimes you just need time to handle the changes in life. You can be sad, in shock, in disbelief or even happy. Whatever you feel, it’s important you face it head on as soon as possible so you can start to make a plan for your next step. Over the last few weeks, that’s exactly what I did. I dealt with the sense of feeling orphaned and questioned who I was as a professional. Would my opinions matter without the backing of an organization? Or would I just be a random person who’s “faking it until I make it” and in which everyone can see right through?

But then I remembered something.

I built my personal brand before this company found me. My blog, my conversations and my interactions on social media were mine. Even while employed there, my thoughts were still my thoughts. Some of the ideas we implemented came out of my head based on what I knew or researched and my ability to make sense of it. Sure, my work at the company did help me learn more and helped me develop my professional skills because of hands-on experiences. But my capability to absorb that and develop it into something useful was because of what I knew on my own.

My identity is still my identity as long as I’m still breathing and pursuing it. It didn’t come about as some Frankenstein experiment developed by a specific employer. No; it was a compilation of several experiences and the way I processed it. My identity won’t change unless I change it myself, no matter if I’m employed by one employer for the rest of my life, work for myself or become a freelancer. This identity comes with me.

And with that notion, I began to feel better about the change. Maybe I haven’t found my “home” yet, but I no longer feel like I’m a wanderer that doesn’t belong. This is all about growing up and the sooner I get used to it, the better I’ll be at bouncing back without missing a beat.

I know well enough that I’m not the only one who has experienced this situation when going through a transition, voluntary or not. Letting go, moving on and getting used to a new chapter in your life (personally and professionally) is not always easy. An important reminder is to know that no matter what happens; you don’t lose yourself or what you’ve accomplished when something comes to an end. In fact, it’s just another addition to help shape your transformational identity.

 

How Working at a Startup Could be Good for Your Career

While in college and early in my career, it was beat into my head that startups were not a viable choice as an employer. My peers and I were taught that startups were unstable and hard work. We were told that they couldn’t offer the desirable things that big corporations could, such as career growth, benefits and a retirement fund. But as years went by and people within my social circles matured, I’m now suddenly surrounded by individuals who have/are creating startups, work for one or have a desire to work for one. And by learning from them and comparing corporate experience against startups, I’m starting to wonder if we were all taught wrong.

Yes, startups are hard work. As some have told me, there are a lot of challenges when it comes to working at a startup. There are times where one day things are going great and then the next day you could be out of a job. Long days and late nights are common. Also, let’s not forget the anxiety of the daily uncertainty that comes with working at a startup. However, despite all of it, these individuals still prefer that environment over a corporate one… and for good reason.

Startups can be a great experience for recent grads and young professionals who are still developing themselves. Even if you have 5+ years of experience working in an established company, an experience with a startup might not be a bad thing to consider. In fact, the experiences one would face at a startup might be the very things that help you progress in your career faster than in a traditional setting. Here’s why:

  • You learn to be resourceful and independent: Unlike in established organizations, things in a startup aren’t neatly mapped out for you with standard operating procedures and extensive training. Additionally, you may not have experienced professionals to turn to if you have a problem or need help. Even though this might seem like a negative, it can actually be considered a positive because you’d have to learn how to be resourceful through research and self-education. Being independently resourceful, working closely with others and experiencing trial and error can boost your critical-thinking skills more than learning through traditional training. Critical-thinking and problem-solving skills are among the most desired skills by employers, even more so than actual job experience sometimes.
  • You’re exposed to new job functions: Because a startup is typically in a development, maintained or growth state, organizational structure might not be set in stone yet. Also, many job functions may not have been established yet due to lack of capital resources to put towards those full-time salaries. It’s not uncommon for people in a startup to wear multiple hats in order to keep the company afloat and progressive. Because of the blending of roles and the fact that multiple departments will work together, you could be exposed to new skills and knowledge. Diverse skills can help you become better-rounded and understand business on a deeper level. Also notable, it might boost your engagement because you aren’t strapped down to a monotonous job function. Consistently being challenged is very important when developing yourself professionally.
  • You learn a sense of accountability and loyalty: Since startups are generally small or mid-sized, there tends to be a level of transparency in the organization. Not just about the company details but also how your contributions make an immediate impact. Some of the laxed atmospheres of startups also allow people to voice opinions and suggestions and work to make them happen. Having a voice and seeing how your work directly impacts the business can create a sense of accountability and loyalty. Suddenly, you know exactly how you’re making a difference and that can be something to be proud of. You can see how you’re valued. In larger organizations, it might be a bit harder to get that feedback and see how you are helping the company. Also, some might feel like they can be easily replaced because the lack of transparency.
  • You have more control of measuring your results: Going off of accountability and seeing your personal impact, this can also help you measure your results better. Because you’re deeply involved in processes from start to finish, you can have better insight into measurable results. This can not only help you improve processes but also gives you a better look as to how you are progressing in your role. Having control over this and truly understand how it’s being measured may offer better feedback than a traditional performance review.
  • You can keep your integrity: For me, this one is a big one. We’ve all seen it in the news; major scandals in large corporations; employees being mistreated; leaders stealing from pensions; unethical business dealings… just to name a few. Competition can get the better of companies and suddenly they’re overpromising to secure business and end up under-delivering. Boosting bottom lines can mean compromising the moral fiber of the company and then these leaders expect their workers to support those skewed values. It’s a pretty terrible feeling to compromise your own integrity just because the company culture has shifted into something lacking basic values. With startups (at least good startups that haven’t been tainted), people still believe in the greater good. They’re working towards something that matters. Yes, making money and staying afloat matter but egos, pressure and cockiness seems to be less present.

Of course, the aforementioned isn’t true for every startup or every traditional organization. The key is to be sure to do your research. There are plenty of types of startups out there, from small to mid-sized, shipping to funded and more. It’s important to know what your basic needs are to support your livelihood and understand what qualities you respect in an employer. Knowing these things can help you find the right startup culture for you and hopefully that can help you build the skills you need for a stronger professional path.

Looking for a job at a startup? Check out StartupHire.

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Revamping Your Job Descriptions

Keep It Simple

Recently I’ve had the opportunity to consult and/or redevelop job descriptions for several organizations and I’ve discovered a lot of trending issues. Whether you are a Fortune 500 company with a fantastic reputation or a small company just trying to attract new talent, your job description can be the deciding factor of whether or not someone will complete an application. In a recent study by iCIMS, it was noted that 93% of candidates fall out during the application process at the job description step. Could your job description be causing you to lose applicants?

Revamping job descriptions can be a lengthy overhaul depending on how many resources you have or how many job descriptions you have available. However, if you’re looking for something simple, consider changing up the following:

  • Content: Sometimes I come across job descriptions that are so wordy, redundant or overdone that it completely turns me off from even reading it. I’m assuming that’s not a far cry from what candidates are experiencing. People’s attention spans are waning and unnecessarily long job descriptions filled with fluff words and irrelevant information is not going be well accepted. First thing you should do is simplify, cut redundancies or combine points to make it concise. Also, make sure the information makes sense for the audience and demographic. Don’t get too technical for non-technical jobs. Don’t incorporate VP-worthy language for entry-level positions.
  • What you can offer a candidate: Another thing I see in job descriptions is a focus about what the employer wants. They go over the responsibilities/duties. They discuss the requirements and qualifications. Some of the content even comes off as stern when mentioning the absolute must-haves of a candidate. But when all’s said and done, the candidate doesn’t get anything in return. A job description has to answer the candidates’ questions of, “What can this company offer me that another employer can’t?” With more employees having shorter tenure at an employer, an organization would do well if it didn’t assume the candidate needs it or its job. It has to be a balance of give and take and an employer should remember to include attractive information as to why they are an employer of choice.
  • Supplemental information: Job descriptions don’t give a full picture and this is where employer branding comes in. Adding relevant links in the posts, images or videos can allow candidates to investigate the job, department, project and/or company further. This can also create an opportunity to really hook the candidate and get them excited about going through the application process.
  • SEO and keywords: With many job boards and web crawlers out here, your job postings could get lost in the sea of other postings. To ensure you’re getting the most reach and coming up faster in searches, optimize keywords (both in the body and title) and SEO tactics. Coming up faster in the results means more opportunity for applications before the candidates get burnt out from reading job posting after job posting.
  • Company information: Along the lines of supplemental information, be sure to include company information so the candidate can get a better sense of who you are and what industry you’re in. A boiler plate can be sufficient. Taking it a step further, you could even incorporate your EVP.

It’s can be a challenge to gain the attention of candidates to the point that they even consider looking at your job site. But engaging and retaining their attention to the point of completing an application is another thing. Don’t miss your chance to yield applications from qualified candidates—keep it simple!

 

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LinkedIn Mistakes Job Seekers Make

LinkedIn Mistakes

As an active or passive job seeker, the job market can be a bit tricky. Even more so, job seeking can seem intimidating when a seeker is constantly reminded of all the things they need to do in order to stand out to a recruiter. One of the popular tools job seekers and recruiters now utilize is LinkedIn. Although this has been used for several years now, seekers who are new to the platform or haven’t used it often enough may not know the ins and outs of this social media platform, including the expected etiquette. As a recruiter, I’ve seen the painful misuse of this site which may or may not have cost candidates a job opportunity.

Yes, LinkedIn is a social media platform. Yes, it’s used to build networks and communicate. However, LinkedIn is NOT a lot of things. For example:

  • LinkedIn is not Match.com: this is by far the worst offense myself and other recruiters have experienced. LinkedIn is a site for professionals to network and shouldn’t be utilized as a primary source to find an intimate relationship or hook up. More importantly, these intentions (either sweet or inappropriately worded) should not be the first form of communication to a new connection. If you are a job seeker at a job fair, would you approach a recruiter at their booth/table and say the same things? No.
  • LinkedIn is not Facebook: LinkedIn is a fantastic way to share news, industry-related content or even promote your own content to build a personal brand. Plenty of professionals have used this well and I’ve found it to be a great source of information. However, there are a few people out there who use the “update status” section as a way to post useless information. Honestly, there are plenty of people who misuse the same feature on Facebook, but at least that site is a bit more casual in comparison to LinkedIn. If you’re a job seeker trying to get your name out there, do you think irrelevant or inappropriate posts are going to help you show prospective employers your worth?
  • LinkedIn is not Instagram: Of course, some professions are much more creative than others and LinkedIn can definitely be used to promote these portfolios. However, if you are in this type of profession or even if you’re not, there should be a limit to what you post. Much like the inappropriate dating emails or irrelevant status updates, images shared on LinkedIn should be reflective of how you’d want to present yourself to a recruiter or hiring manager. Nix the awkward selfies as your profile pictures. Try to avoid “oversharing” by posting pictures unrelated to what should be shared to your network.
  • LinkedIn is not Twitter: Twitter is a great way microblog, self-promote, network and just post a quick update. It’s not uncommon for people to post several times a day and with Twitter chats being a great way to virtually network, it’s not uncommon for people to post several times an hour. However, this elevated amount of posting should be kept exclusively to Twitter. LinkedIn’s newsfeed is already bombarded with an obscene amount of content. Limit your LinkedIn postings to a reasonable amount on a daily basis or weekly basis. You don’t want to annoy people with your over-posting to the point where they end up hiding your updates. This could seriously work against you if you ever do post any updates you want seen.

Of course, no one is perfect and there’s no perfect way to be a LinkedIn member. Even I’ve been an offender of some of these situations. Some people might like what you share, while others won’t. Some posts might work for certain professions while others don’t. The important thing is to do your homework, understand how this platform works and really research your “audience”. And always err on the side of caution. If you think your postings can work against you in your job hunt, then reconsider before you post.

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Recruiters: How Deep Does Your Research Go?

Richard Branson Reputation Quote

Lately, I’ve somehow found myself in the position of an informal career coach. I’ve been assisting job seekers who have been off the job market for several years and who were overwhelmed and intimidated by the way this whole process has changed. I was able to guide them through the process, from resume writing, personal branding, researching companies, and developing questions to ask during the interviews. As I went through this journey with them, I was surprised to learn that some of these questions have left recruiters scratching their heads. When I recalled my own experience in recruiting, I remember being in the same boat as these individuals. It wasn’t until later in my recruiting career that I realized how important it was to do deep research about a company to be able to confidently provide the information that these candidates wanted to hear.

To really create a positive and informative candidate experience during the interview process, a recruiter has to think like a candidate thinks. I know when I was a job seeker, the first thing I would do was essentially stalk anything and everything about a company before my interview. If I came across something negative, I wanted it cleared up early in the process so I knew whether or not to move forward. When applying this knowledge to my recruiting career, I noticed a huge difference. Transparency helped me build a trust with my candidates and they felt more confident when it came down to making a decision.

How can recruiters go the extra mile?

  • Talk to people within the company: Even if you work at the company you’re currently recruiting for, it’s important to speak to several people in different roles or departments. Getting an overall idea of employees’ opinions of the company can help you paint a solid picture for your candidate. So rather than saying, “It’s a great place to work,” you’re able to provide several perspectives, making your examples well-rounded.
  • Check out reviews on Glassdoor: Alright, I get it. I’m kind of a snob when it comes to this point but it’s definitely something that needs to be discussed. I’ve had plenty of job seekers tell me that they completely stumped a recruiter when they referenced specifics from these reviews. Needless to say, the job seekers would drop out of the interview process because they felt like there was a disconnect or that the company was potentially hiding something.
  • Know your employer brand: Employment branding is a topic that is near and dear to my heart. Being on the marketing side of things, I see the amount of effort companies put into their brand to make sure they have various examples of why working for the company is great. The content put out can be a fantastic resource to provide to the candidates and can help keep them engaged throughout the process.
  • Do a deep Google search: What’s your reputation? Employment branding and content pushed out by a company attempts to paint the company in the best light, but what about the stuff that WASN’T put out by the company? What are brand ambassadors, customers, clients and/or competitors saying? Do credible news sources or amateur bloggers have something worthy of sharing? Are your employees bashing or praising the company on social media? Knowing these things beforehand can help you discredit things that aren’t true, give a deeper explanation for things that are, or promote things that are aligned to what the candidate values.

When I started doing this in my own recruiting practices, I was able to really make the most out of my conversations with candidates. If they mentioned something they were interested in, I had the specific details they needed. If they were concerned about something, I was able to ease their mind or give them the hard facts so they could make the call. If I was a job seeker, I would hope that the interviewer would do the same for me. After all, job seeking is hard these days and accepting a job offer can be nerve-wracking.  Essentially, a candidate is making a big decision based on referrals and other people’s opinions. It would make a huge difference if recruiters were able to incorporate these details during the interview loop.

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Marketing and the Recruitment Professional

Don't jump bus advertisement

I remember when I first started learning about talent acquisition and recruitment. It seemed like the role focused more on keyword searches to find a bunch of resumes on job boards. Once a large stack of resumes was acquired, I then spent time interviewing individuals for jobs. If a job wasn’t open, I performed discovery calls to proactively build talent pools in the event that a new position opened up. Search, review, interview, document, and repeat. After a few months of going through this cycle, I felt turned off by the systematic approach. I thought this function was supposed to be about communication and genuine human interaction, not a robotic process. I bowed out from the recruitment role and eventually came back a couple years later to discover that it had morphed into something bigger and better.

When I originally decided to pursue a degree and career in human resources, I never dreamed that marketing skills would be imperative to have. When I returned back to the recruitment field, I soon learned that the role had taken on a new form and the successful recruiters were the one who blended talent acquisition skills with marketing. No longer did recruiters source the job boards for hours on end. Instead, they had structured their day to have equal time for sourcing/recruiting, interviewing, and now, marketing. After I got a sense of what people were doing, I dove right in and created a marketing strategy of my own.

  • I said farewell to posting and praying: Instead of posting job openings and waiting for people to apply, I became more proactive. How was I going to share this with people? More importantly, how was I going to make this engaging? My job promotions had started off as a link to the job with the title and location. Soon, I developed it into mini-marketing campaigns. These campaigns offered details that job seekers really cared about: company culture; things happening in the company; details about the office environment; details about the people they’d work with; and more insight to the projects or things they’d impact if they took the job.
  • I went to the places that allowed resumes to come to life: If you guessed social media, you’d be partially correct. Although social media sites like LinkedIn, Facebook, and Twitter have been great, there is so much more out there. I started researching candidates and found blogs, portfolios, interest groups, other specialized social sites, and more. This helped me see more of what they had to offer than what their resume initially stated. It took their resume and made them into a 3D version of a candidate. I loved it.
  • I nixed the template messages: When I receive a message that seems even remotely “spammy”, I typically delete it before I even read it. How do you think candidates feel when it’s obvious that they’re just another person on a list for recruiter spam? I took this into serious consideration and decided to spend more time on message customization. After I researched the candidate thoroughly through social sites, read more about what they like, or learned about what opportunities they were looking for, I got cracking on some message creations. I let them know why I was contacting them and what individual characteristics stood out to me. Additionally, I’d include specifics about the opportunity based on what the candidate seemed to be interested in. Does it take extra time and effort to do this? Sure, but the response rate increased because of it.

Of course, there are plenty of other things that a recruiter can do to blend marketing skills into their recruitment strategy but these were some of the first ones I eased into once I got back in the game. It was nice to start seeing a candidate as an individual, talented person rather than a keyword search result. It was also amazing to see how people responded to my creativity. In a sense, it felt honest because I was spending more time connecting opportunity with the right people and vice versa. If you’re in talent acquisition/recruitment and you haven’t tested these skills out yet, I highly recommend it.

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