Revamping Your Interview Strategy

Oh, interviews. The bane of many job seeker’s existence. The thing that causes stress, anxiety, and frustration. The part of the job hunt that we try to prepare the hardest for and yet it sometimes doesn’t seem to be enough. The one thing that has us beating our brains, trying to figure out where we went wrong if we end up not landing the job. After being a job seeker and then a recruiter, I can safely say there is no magic formula to help you be an expert interviewer. However, regardless of how strong of an interviewee you are, there are still plenty of ways for you to properly prepare yourself to make you feel confident in your abilities. After being rejected several times when I was a job seeker and then working on the other side of the interview table, I soon found ways that have helped me and the candidates I’ve coached be more successful during this portion of their job search.

Here are some best practices to help you prepare for your interviews:

  • Review the job description and company details in depth: look over the job description and get a feel for the types of skills they seem to be looking for. Really absorb the verbiage they use when describing their expectations. Once you feel you have a clear understanding of this, make sure to check out their career site and company details. Take the time to understand their company culture, their mission statement, and even try to find employee testimonials to gain some insight of what it would be like to work there. Having these details will set you up nicely for the next step.
  • Take stock of you own skills: more often than not, candidates end up talking themselves out of a job. Either they say too much or they say too little. It’s important to find that middle ground that allows you to provide the information you intended to without causing the interviewer’s eyes to glaze over. Compare your experience against the job description. Can you sum up your experience and skills in a couple solid sentences that seems to hit the key things they’re looking for? Make it easier for the interviewer to see your transferable skills by finding ways to express your experience clearly, concisely, and in a way that will closely match their job description.
  • Write it down: many times, the first interview is an introductory phone screen. It will be very beneficial for you to write down the skills you assessed in the step above to ensure you have all the details readily available. Additionally, write down examples of how you used these skills on the job. Aside from general questions about your experience, recruiters will also ask you situational or behavioral questions that help them assess your level of experience in the skills they’re requiring. Having these examples written down already will allow you to get straight to the point without getting stumped or providing unnecessary details. It can also allow you to reduce your nerves when you’re racking your brain for an example without causing too much of an awkward pause.
  • Use your network: there are many people out there that you can connect with that have either worked in a similar job, a similar company, or actually worked/works at the company you’re interviewing at. Take the time to talk to them about their interview experience. There may be a chance that certain interview questions stuck out in their mind. Knowing these questions beforehand can help you be one step ahead. If you don’t feel comfortable connecting with people you don’t know, do a general search for interview questions relevant for the job you’re going for. They may not be the exact questions, but they could give you a good feel of what you may be asked throughout the interview process.
  • Use your resources: the internet is a wonderful tool. Candidates have the ability to research the company in depth. PR pieces, forums, and blogs can help job seekers get a sense of what’s happening in the company or get an idea of what others are saying about the company. Websites like Glassdoor provide detailed reviews in regard to employees’ overall feelings about working for the company. Some interviewees also give details about their interview experience, things to look out for, questions they were asked, and provide general advice. Not only will reviewing these details help you with your interview, but it can also help you formulate impressive questions for the recruiter.
  • Show that you did your homework: recruiters are often impressed by candidates that have done their homework. They’re even more impressed by the candidates that seemed to go above and beyond and looked deeper than just what is on the company website. In that same regard, they also enjoy well-thought out questions that are a step above the general ones that they’re typically asked. Did you see something on a blog that interested you? Ask them more about it. Was there an employee review that sparked up something that concerned you? Try to get clarification on the situation. These are the types of things that help the interviewer feel like you genuinely care about the company you’re recruiting for.
  • Follow up: doing well in your interview isn’t the last step of having a good interview. It’s also about what you do AFTER the interview. If you have a LinkedIn account, be sure to connect with the individuals you spoke with. If you have the email or phone number of those individuals, be sure to send a follow up message to thank them and reiterate your continued interest in this position. This can help them feel that you are serious about this job.

Interviewing is definitely a tough thing to master and although I wish I had a way to assure you that this will help you land a job 100% of the time, I can’t. The important thing is to use this as a guide to help you build the confidence and skills you need to do better during your interviews. But above all else, the best thing you can do is learn to be adaptable. If something you tried during an interview didn’t work out as you had hoped, take the time to evaluate what went wrong and find a way to tweak your tactic so you have better luck next time. Eventually, all your hard work will pay off.

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Clearing the Misconceptions about Recruiters

Recently, a friend forwarded me a snarky blog post written by an individual giving technical recruiters “tips” on how not to be hated by technical candidates. I get it- technical candidates are contacted multiple times a day by recruiters and sometimes with job openings that aren’t relevant to their skill-set. I would be annoyed after a while, too. But as I read through the blog post further, I actually started to see that he was off-base on a lot of points he made and seemingly generalized recruiters into one “type.” After thinking about this, I started to wonder if other people who weren’t familiarized with the recruiting and talent acquisition industry had the same thoughts. If so, then I think it would be best to break them out of this one-size-fits-all mentality about recruiters.

I would like to clear the air about the following areas and help people outside of this industry understand our purpose a little bit better:

  • We don’t all work for commission: Yes. There are recruiters out there that work for agencies that only pay based on certain metrics. But that only makes up a small portion of recruiters. I’ve had people angrily say to me, “Well, what do you care? You’re only doing this to make your commission.” No. Wrong. Whether I hire you or not has no effect on my paycheck. Making a bonus has no part in the reason why I’m contacting you. I honestly reached out to you because I’m trying to find quality candidates for my client and I thought you were a potentially high caliber candidate.
  • We’re not sales people: Sure, sometimes recruiting duties have some similarities to sales functions. But that doesn’t make me a sales person. Some metrics are just to ensure that we are not only finding quality people, but that we’re also finding it in a timely manner. As much as I would love to find the best person ever, sometimes companies don’t have that time luxury. But regardless of this, it still does not make me a sales person. What I love about recruiting is the ability to help people find work and help companies find the person that can make their organization better. It’s about discovering the connection that benefits both parties.
  • We’re not all looking to hire temporary or contract employees: Sometimes companies don’t have the bandwidth to handle the tedious and long processes it takes to source and recruit candidates. They sometimes hire outside help to assist with their time sensitive positions. A good portion of those times, the positions are full-time, permanent, direct hires with the companies. So it may be best to clarify this with a recruiter before writing them off.
  • Trust me, we’re doing our homework: Just like you don’t appreciate having your time wasted by people reaching out to you for completely irrelevant job opportunities, we don’t like wasting our time searching for and connecting with candidates that aren’t a fit. In the blog article I mentioned earlier, the individual said something to the effect that “recruiters don’t do their homework.” I know several recruiters, including myself, that spend hours every day trying to educate themselves through various means. We try our hardest to wrap our heads around the lingo, the details, the expectations, and so on but sometimes we fall short. There is only so much we can learn about a job or industry without actually going to school for it or without actually working in it. It would almost be the same case as when a candidate first broke into their new job or first started going to school for a specific subject. Sometimes you can’t fully learn something until you do it for a while.
  • We take your feedback into consideration: On the same note as the “homework” thing, I’ve had plenty of candidates give me some detailed reasons about why a job was or was not a fit for them. Some even explained a few of the industry terms to me. Not only did I appreciate it, but I also shared it with my team so they can learn. Additionally, if the candidate said they weren’t a fit but gave me details of what they’re looking for, I’d happily pass them to someone who is recruiting for something more relevant. Your feedback does not go in one ear and out the other.
  • We’re not always recruiting for ONE job: We may reach out to you for one job because it seems like that’s what you’re most fitting for. However, there are plenty of times that we are recruiting for other positions or know someone who is recruiting for other positions. Instead of ignoring the phone or email, give us an idea of what you’re looking for (even if it’s passively) so we can hopefully help you down the line.
  • We’re extremely connected with each other: I wish I kept track of how many times I passed along a candidate to recruiters inside and outside of my organization. Sometimes I can’t help a candidate but know someone who could. I’ll try and get that resume to the appropriate person. I’ll try to help even if it doesn’t benefit me or my company. This seems to be pretty common in our industry (at least to me it seems so). I’ve worked with recruiters in different companies and different hemispheres to help candidates and vice versa. But just like a recruiter can positively recommend a candidate to someone, they can also be the reason why a candidate is not recommended. Remember to keep your interactions professional to ensure all recruiters have the correct perception and impression of you and can make those positive recommendations.

There are so many more points I can touch upon but I think this will do for now. Yes, there are recruiters out there that fit the negative outlook that the blog writer had indicated in his post. But it’s only hurting him to shut out all recruiters because he thinks this is how they all are. Recruiting is not an easy job. It involves a lot of research, strategy, and learning. We’re not just looking for ANYONE to fill a position, we’re looking for the RIGHT ONE. So before a candidate assumes that they’re just another random contact that has to be made to meet a recruiter’s metrics and goals, please consider the fact that we may be reaching out to you because we honestly think you could be the right person that our hiring manager is looking for.

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The Candidate Experience Faux Pas

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Last week on #tchat, we discussed the importance of the candidate experience. A few job seekers and candidates were very interested in hearing what this all meant. Some have been out of the job hunting scene for several years so they didn’t realize how the whole interviewing experience had changed into something more than simply submitting a resume and having a quick interview or two. These days, landing a job is a process and candidates may come into contact with several different people throughout the interview cycle. In the end, a candidate may decide whether or not they accept employment at your company due to their experiences. If this is the case, how do you think your company would stack up?

There are so many scenarios that a candidate can face while applying and interviewing for a job. Is your company an offender of any of these things:

  • The black hole: a candidate applies to a job posting and never hears back from anyone. Several months still pass by and there is not even so much as a generic email letting them know the status of their resume.
  • The disengaged recruiter: sometimes, recruiters are so overwhelmed with candidates that they only have a few minutes to chat to each one before determining if they’re going to move them forward or not. Sometimes, recruiters may realize within the first few minutes of their conversation that the candidates are not a match. In these circumstances, there are plenty of times that candidates can blatantly tell that the recruiter is rushing through the interview, not completely listening, or only half-heartedly conversing with them.
  • “Don’t call us, we’ll call you”: a candidate might make it to the phone interview round or even make it through several steps of the interview process. The recruiters or hiring managers will promise to give them an update, provide feedback, or set them up with the next step and suddenly fall off the face of the earth. A candidate may reach out to find out when to expect an update and the recruiter becomes unresponsive, leaving the candidate to come up with their own conclusions.
  • The unrealistic job preview: candidates may speak to the recruiters and hiring managers about the job, expectations, company culture, and so on, which may have been displayed in a glorified version. The candidate gets hyped up about the opportunity and excitedly accepts a job offer only to discover that it was not at all like it was advertised.

Although there are plenty of other situations that candidates experience aside from the ones listed above, the important thing to remember is that none of these things are good. A candidate experience is crucial when it comes to attracting talent. This experience can even affect candidates other than the ones that have applied to your jobs or have interviewed with you. A candidate’s experience with you can define how external individuals review your employer brand. What’s more, their experiences can be easily shared with others thanks to social media, blogs, technology, and sites like Glassdoor.

So maybe that candidate wasn’t a fit for your job. That’s completely fine, not everyone is going to be. But how did you treat them? Did you leave them feeling positive about your organization or job regardless if they didn’t get it? Do you feel like they would tell others to apply to your company? Would they want to give you referrals?

If they did accept a job after having a bad experience, how do you think they would perform? Would they lose respect for your organization? Would they be disengaged? Would they already be looking for other opportunities, ready to abandon ship once they found something better?

How you treat your candidates matters in more ways than just for those who you’ve directly interviewed with. It affects your organization’s brand and reputation. It affects your internal employees’ morale. It can help or hurt your engaged and interested talent pool. It can aid or hinder your ability to reel in passive candidates.

Being a job seeker is tough these days. Keep this in mind and think of how you would feel if the roles were reversed. It can help you provide an experience that these candidates deserve.

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Prepare for the Interview Battlefield

 

Over the weekend, a friend of mine reached out to me because she was seeking some advice on how to properly prepare for the interview process. She had been out of the job seeking world for a few years now so the current concept of interview loops seemed foreign to her. Even though I studied human resources, talent acquisition, and have been in the field for a few years, I also struggled with this when I was searching for work a year ago. I thought I would have had the knowledge to beat the odds but I soon realized that whatever plan I had initially used during interviews was severely flawed. I began to feel like being a job seeker was like walking into a battlefield with the awareness that everyone is betting against you. It’s tough and winging it these days isn’t going to cut it.

You may never really be able to fully prepare for your job interviews, but it would be unwise to think that you can’t prepare yourself at all. The best thing I did for myself when I was getting ready for a phone interview was prepare organized notes that I could review while speaking to the recruiter. This helped me greatly so I suggested that my friend should get ready the same way I did:

  • Compare your skills/experience to the job description: the recruiter is trying to find out how much of a fit you are for the job role. Look at the job description requirements and duties and briefly write down your own experiences in a way that flows nicely against the description. Many people get caught up in unnecessary details or verbiage when the recruiter asks them about their experience. This can help you get straight to the point and make it easy for them to see that your skills will transfer well to this role.
  • Write down examples: a lot of the time, recruiters will ask you behavioral questions relevant to the job. This is a way to see how you would potentially handle realistic situations that may happen in the day-to-day. Having solid examples, details about the actions you took, and the result will be a great way to show the recruiter that you can handle any curveballs thrown at you.
  • Be ready for the tough questions: of course, you may not have been able to handle every curveball gracefully throughout your career. If a recruiter asks you about a time that you failed or about a weakness, make sure you have an example. More importantly, make sure you show them what you learned from this experience.
  • Don’t forget your accomplishments: there are times where you may have gone above and beyond in your company or you may have even accomplished things outside of your job scope. Sometimes, candidates mix this in when they’re explaining their work experience and this can throw off the recruiter. Having these examples separate can make sure the recruiter will see that you have relevant experience but also that you have the initiative and drive to do more when you have the bandwidth.
  • Have 2-5 great questions: recruiters love it when candidates ask solid questions. However, make sure you have thoughtful questions. Nothing is more irritating than getting asked a question that could have been easily answered if you read the job description. To really wow the recruiter, do some digging and take the time to research. Go beyond their company website and even look into news about them, their blog, or press releases.
  • Keep it organized: having notes is great but make sure you keep it organized. This can allow you to refer to them quickly so you don’t miss a beat in your response.

I loved having notes. Honestly, I’m not all that great thinking on my toes. If I’m taken off-guard, I’ll end up talking in circles. If I take the time to think it through, my nerves of taking too long to answer will force me to respond before I can even think of a good reply. I’ve heard this happening to plenty of people, which is why I strongly suggest taking the time to have these notes prepared. Having this ready may even help reduce some of your stress and interviewing jitters which can allow you to display confidence.

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Early Career Lesson: The Thing I Wish I Knew

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More often than not, my friends like to joke around saying that I have a tendency to interview everyone I meet (I guess it’s naturally in my blood). I suppose that could be true but it’s mainly because I’m generally intrigued by people. It’s a common occurrence for me to ask probing questions to someone I’ve just met. Where are they from? Why are they here? What do they do for a living? Is it something they love? How did they fall into that? A simple story of someone’s life, no matter how boring it might seem to them, is actually one of the most interesting things I can come across. After one of these conversations over the weekend, I finally had the chance for someone else to turn the tables and ask me some thought-provoking questions. The one that stuck out the most to me was: what do you wish you knew getting into your career?

I met a younger woman this weekend who was just starting out in the full time, professional working world. She was smart, hopeful, ambitious, and driven, which just impressed me. Needless to say, I was ecstatic when she asked me about a life lesson I wish I knew when I was first starting out. I know all those sayings: hindsight is 20-20; the lesson is in the journey; and so on and so forth. Yes, I agree that sometimes you need to stumble and fall in order to learn what you can do better. But if I had a chance to pass on some life lessons to someone that was eager to learn, I definitely wasn’t going to waste that opportunity.

I remember being extremely frustrated early on in my career. Just like the young woman I met, I was hopeful, ambitious, and driven. I wanted to do great things and I wanted to be given the opportunity to contribute something to the company that I worked for. I wanted to leave something behind if I ever felt the need to move on. Those feelings and dreams were soon crushed after a little while of working at my former employers. I waited…and waited…and waited. And finally, I was so disengaged and disheartened by my employers’ lack of opportunity, that I would find myself leaving places to see if I had better luck elsewhere.

After years of this, I quickly realized that I shouldn’t be so dependent on my employer. It wasn’t up to them to offer me projects, education, or promotions. I shouldn’t have believed that they were the only way I could progress in my career or expand my learnings. My lack of growth wasn’t their issue, it was mine. My employer isn’t my only resource for career development and knowledge building. If I truly cared about my progression, it was my job to make that happen.

If the opportunities to partake in conferences, take classes, or network with industry professionals weren’t an option at my company, I needed to make the effort to do that on my own. If there wasn’t a stretch project that I could do that would enhance my career, I needed to pitch it to my employer and make it happen. Sometimes, you need to go outside of your immediate circle (aka organization) to grow and then bring back that value. You need to take initiative to take control of your own future and position yourself within your company. You need to find your worth and not wait for someone to hand it to you. Define yourself.

When I finally realized this, I found that my confidence had skyrocketed. I found a voice, I began to offer opinions, and I felt like they mattered. I’ve learned so much that it makes my head hurt some days. It’s indescribable when my managers now come to me for suggestions or advice. I felt like I did myself a favor.

Some days I wonder what would have happened if I realized I was in control of my development sooner. Would I have progressed further than where I am now? Would I be an industry expert or consultant? I’m not really sure but I am glad that I figured this out early enough to make a decent impact throughout my professional career so far. So, if there was one thing I could teach early careerists (or really anyone), it would be that you need to take initiative to develop your own career. We live in a time where resources are infinite and possibilities to do this are endless. Do yourself a favor and make the effort as soon as possible. You’ll be happy that you did.

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Job Seekers: Don’t Talk Yourself Out of a Job

There are plenty of articles, books, infographics, and videos which discuss the best interview tips for job seekers. They provide insightful ways to research companies before the interviews. They teach you about the different interviewing steps. They provide interviewing blunders so seekers can learn from them. And they give suggestions on how to make a candidate stand out in the interview process. Mostly, these are all great resources for job seekers to use, but what about teaching them how NOT to talk themselves out of an opportunity during an interview?

Although I’m in a recruiting role now, I have also dealt with the ups and downs of being a job seeker. As I perfect my recruiting skills and collaborate with other recruiters, I’ve learned some of the mistakes I’ve made when I was searching for a job. I realized that sometimes saying too much could actually work against a candidate and extra information could cause a recruiter to think the following things:

  • You’re all over the place: I completely understand when a candidate wants to talk about all of their experiences in detail because it shows some additional skills and initiative that they believe will add value. Sometimes this is true, but if you present it wrong or overelaborate these experiences, you may take away from the core point that you were trying to make. The purpose of the interview is to show the recruiter that you are perfect for that specific position. If you clutter it up with other details, it might cause some confusion.
  • You’re not as skilled as they initially thought: Your resume might say you have five years of experience in a specific position, but if you go off on a tangent about all the other duties you preformed while in that role, the recruiter might believe that your job didn’t focus solely on the function they’re looking for. You may have gained those skills through additional side projects. If this is the case, make sure you present it in a way so recruiters know that it was something extra that you did and that your previous job fully-involved all of the duties that the recruiter is targeting.
  • You don’t know what you want: One of the biggest things I’ve seen when it comes to this is the fact that candidates tend to talk a lot about irrelevant experiences and skills they have. They may think it helps show their diverse skill-set and years of professional experience, but it can make a recruiter wonder where your true passion lies. Are you just taking this job because you have enough experience to meet the requirements or will this job keep you engaged enough?
  • You talked yourself into a corner: make sure you ask the recruiter questions in regard to what they’re looking for in a candidate and what the expectations are. The last thing you want to do is have to backtrack a previous statement you made about why you didn’t like a specific job/duty or what you thought you were the weakest at. It’s extremely hard to recover from that.

I won’t lie, I’ve been this type of candidate before. I was excited to land an interview and wanted to tell the recruiter everything I possibly could about my professional experience so they thought I could be an asset to their company. I thought my broad skill-set would help them see that I was adaptable and flexible. Unfortunately for me, it was quite the opposite. Instead, the recruiter received a jumbled amount of information that didn’t help them easily see how my skills perfectly matched their job opening. Even if I did have a great match of skills, they couldn’t determine that with all the additional chatter about “this” and “that”.

I strongly suggest for candidates to take the time to really re-read details about the job and the company and then consider great examples from their previous experiences that fluidly matches what the recruiter is looking for. Think of these answers beforehand so you can get straight to the point effectively and don’t include any unnecessary details that isn’t relevant. As a candidate, you want to paint the best picture for the recruiter so they can see that your transition into this position will be a smooth one.

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Interns Should be More Than Your Coffee Lackey

Many years ago, interns used to be called “apprentices.” In these roles, the mentor would teach the apprentice how to do the job, provide details about the industry, and give a realistic expectations. The mentor took time to add value to the individual they were teaching and, as a result, allowed the individual to gain skills and knowledge to perform well once they were ready to start their career. In present day, interns are joked to be the “coffee lackey” or the “errand runner” for the company they’re “working” at. Sadly, these terms came about because some companies have delegated these tasks to the individuals who initially came there to learn. But how is getting a coffee order right going to help anyone?

As a support system and mentor for some of my interns, I often have a weekly call with them to discuss some of the things they’re learning from the team/department they’re interning in. I’ll attempt to answer any questions, build a support system, and offer some guidance. Of course, I’m always intrigued to hear about their previous interning experiences compared to their current ones and also to hear about their dislikes and likes from each experience. Needless to say, it shocked me when I heard that there are plenty of times when these interns literally were delegated the bare minimum. They’d tell me that these situations didn’t allow them to learn anything useful and that they felt like they wasted their time. More importantly, their experience at the company made them want to rule it out as a potential employer down the line.

What bothers me about this situation is the fact that we’re not doing anything or anyone justice if we aren’t utilizing our interns the best that we can. These interns come to companies in hopes to get a realistic view of what the world of work really is like. They came to put their school studies to practice and build their skills in ways that textbooks and classrooms can’t provide. They’re making a conscious effort to build their resumes so they are an attractive candidate once they’re ready for full-time work. They came to your company because they potentially wanted to build a relationship so you could consider them once you had a relevantjob opening. And how are they repaid for their effort? By having companies waste their time and make them feel expendable.

Here comes the irony: I often hear recruiters and hiring managers complain that there isn’t enough good talent for their entry-level positions. The reason for this is because some companies have turned internships into an opportunity to have someone do the unfavorable tasks that they don’t want to do rather than actually mentoring them. This could be an opportunity to allow them to reach their potential. As a company that has internship programs, it’s your responsibility to help build the talent for the future workforce. If you want great employees coming out of college, then it’s imperative for you to help them build their skills at a time where they are eager and inspired to learn.

Interns come to companies with natural motivation, desire to learn, drive, and ambition. They’re hopeful for their future and are looking up to their mentors to guide them in the right direction. Essentially, mentors of the internship programs are the ones who are helping shape our upcoming workforce. What are you doing to help contribute?

If this topic interests you, be sure to join in or listen to the #InternPro radio show.

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