Overwhelmed by all of the job seach advice? Do this …

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Have you ever attended a job search meeting and felt bombarded by all of the various advice and recommendations? Do you hear something different from everyone you meet to the point of being overwhelmed with what to do?

Recently I attended a highly valued networking meeting of management level job seekers that also included several representatives from respected recruiting/retained search firms.

During the meeting the representatives from the recruiting/search firms had the opportunity to answer questions and provide many tips, tactics and approaches they believed vital to landing a job. Some of the information was valuable. At the same time some of the other advice provided in particular by one representative who has a considerable number of years in his field to me wasn’t valid and actually counter-intuitive . Having conducted a job search a few times in my career I have learned what works consistently, what works some of the time and in certain situations, and what only sounds good in theory. Equally important, I learned what works for me may be slightly different than what works for someone else.

No one has all of the answers, all of the right tactics, or all of the right approaches and methods to a job search, and yet this person presented his ideas as of if only those approaches worked. No one approach or person can state there is only one approach in job search. Why? Because quite simply every person is different and therefore, every hiring manager is different. Therefore, no two interviews and hiring processes are the same, no matter how many you have experienced. I have learned not to trust, or rather, question every job search approach or tactic no matter the source. Yes, consider it, evaluate it, but also question it.

What is the right course of action for you in your job search?

Question everything you hear or are directed in a job search. Why? Because what worked for another person may not work as well for you. You have your own style and may excel at one job search tool or approach than another. For sure, you must have a solid resume and practice at being able to convey who you are and your talents. Attempt to use all tools available and yet use what works for you and feels right. I have also discovered much of job search is not about a tool or tactic and rather comes down to using your own skills and trusting your intuition as to how to conduct a job search.

There are a myriad of job search tools and tactics and I do recommend you consider at least reviewing them. Then decide what works best for you, or rather, how to use the tool, but in your own style and ability. For example, I believe networking is a vital component of a successful job search. Initially I failed miserably at networking fearing it was like cold calling someone and I simply was not comfortable with that approach. Once I learned how to network through a referral process, I excelled at it because I had the opportunity to learn about someone in one-on-one. This approach has proven to be much more comfortable to me and fit who I am and my style. Meeting someone in person continues to be an extremely valuable venue for effective networking.

Further, and most important, I found for me, that simply, some tactics touted by many, are not effective. Specifically, having spent years researching personal development I discovered that many tactics touted as being effective often lacked an understanding of the way people think, act and believe.

For example, I don’t believe in elevator speeches as they are too rehearsed and say little. Sure, understand how to explain to someone what makes you a special hire, but I have found other approaches to delivering that information. The human element behind the concept of producing an elevator speech is partly about you being able to state what you do, what you excel at, and how you do it, all in 30 seconds. The real importance is for you to decide what you want to be when you grow up. What do you want to do, what matters to you, where do you want to go and why are you good at it? Most people struggle with those questions. Once you answer these questions, then an elevator speech isn’t an elevator speech at all. Instead of sounding rehearsed, your information will flow smoothly in a relaxed style. If you want to turn someone off, just start spouting an elevator speech. If you watch the recipient’s body language, it will strongly tell you that they stopped listening a few seconds after you began your speech.

I also don’t believe in target lists, although it is a constant promoted approach in every job search meeting. Some people believe they work great. But I have seen how they hindered many candidates. (But that concept is for another day as I will soon publish another article and post on this specific topic.)

One key I learned is our own inner thought process, our beliefs and actions determine our job search success more than any tactic or approach. To put this in perspective, when we are employed we are making decisions every day regarding what project to work on when, who to meet with to collaborate on a project, and much more. Conversely, when unemployed, it is easy to feel as if someone has grabbed the TV remote control from us. Hence, we feel out of control. We are at the mercy of when someone returns our call, or responds to an email, or simply waiting to hear on the status or outcome of an interview or potential job offer. As you have discovered, there are some factors you can control and impact, and there are some factors out of your control. Knowing how to manage the factors you can impact and understand mentally and emotionally how to deal with the factors for which you have no control is the essence of a job search.

If we are seeking response from an email, voicemail, or interview we begin to think like waiting to hear from someone after a first date: Will they call back, when will the call back, what should I say when they contact me, how long should I wait to contact them if I don’t receive a response, and does no quick response mean they are not interested? Spending time on these questions can distort our view of reality potentially making you appear too aggressive, or impatient or potentially bothersome to the hiring manager. At the same time understanding that the hiring manager during the interview potentially was more focused on meeting an urgent deadline or responding to an important email after the interview are challenges few discuss yet every interviewee encounters. You are sure to hear all sorts of suggestions from others on how to manage this challenge. Sort through the potential options and do what works best for you.

But if someone tells you that it should only take a certain amount of days for you to land a job or not to use a tactic for which you found value, such as not talking to anyone you meet at an networking meeting outside of the meeting, then don’t follow that advice. Consider it, question it, and then decide for yourself.

The confusion in job search and requirement that we question everything is best demonstrated by asking someone for advice on a resume. Ask 20 people and you will receive 20 answers. Instead when I first conducted a job search 15 years ago, I asked for a copy from everyone in which I met, especially from those who landed a job. From there I pulled what struck me as highly effective as well as incorporated some of their input.

In your job search, listen to everyone, but determine what makes sense to you. Often people providing job search advice have never been on the other side of the table; your side as being interviewed. Sure, you can ask many a hiring manager why they didn’t hire someone. We all hear many stories, of crazy answers to questions, not being prepared, mistakes on resumes, and much more.

But in the end getting hired boils down to what really is the most nebulous factor of all: that you are a good fit. Only the hiring manager can describe what a good fit is to them. At yet every hiring manager will have a different belief on what constitutes a good fit. The greatest challenge in the interview is seeking to determine and convince the hiring manager that you are a good fit – and I would contend this can be more important that being able to fix their immediate problems which is often stated as the key to interview success.

From my experience there are 2 vital components of a job search that have the greatest impact on landing the job. These 2 components can’t be provided or directed by someone else. Only you can determine and must decide what exact type of job you want; you must know exactly what you want because often a hiring manager isn’t sure. Hiring managers often are not sure exactly what they need other than someone to fix an immediate problem. And often that problem is not revealed in a job description and rarely fully conveyed in a job interview. I often discover from researching a company, talking to my network about the company and officers you can determine how to help the hiring manager. Having worked a many size companies, I have found that your experience can often provide you insight into what the hiring manager needs, sometimes before they do.

The other vital component is self-confidence. You radiate your self-confidence of lack of it, to everyone you meet. Everyone can feel if you are cautious or confident. When confident, you will be much more relaxed and the real you will be revealed to each person you meet. Answering interview questions and projecting your knowledge will flow easily in words and body language.

Most likely some of you will not agree with some or all of my suggestions. And I can say, good! Question what I have said and determine what works for you. The key is to understand no one has all of the answers. Determine what works and feels comfortable and use what intuitively feels right. Tactics don’t land you a job, you land a job. Believing in your ability sets the stage for an effective job search. And you can question everything, and even question yourself. And when you answer with confidence you are ready for landing a new job.

The strange reason you didn’t land the interview

 

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How many times have you seen a job description for which you believed your experience and skill set matches exactly and yet never landed an interview? You submitted your resume and networked and yet never heard back, leaving you to ponder what you might have done wrong in the submission process.

You also take that a step further and begin to doubt if your experience is lacking somehow to have failed in at least obtaining a response from the company. Was it your resume or something on your LinkedIn profile, or did you not submit your resume on the right day at the right time, or should you have called the hiring manager, or maybe your cover letter was lacking?

Most likely it was none of those reasons. A job description can have 20-30 criteria and although you can make the assumption they are listed in order of importance, often they are not. Wouldn’t it be great for job seekers if these criteria were weighted to show you just how important each requirement is to the hiring manager? Unfortunately, there is another factor: the criteria changes over time – even during the hiring process.

All of this leaves job seekers in a quandary and most certainly a large degree of frustration. I am sure you have been on interviews only to discover even the job title does not match the listed job requirements or the perceived grade level of the job responsibilities.

With this said, the question is really “What can you do about it?” There is something you can do, and at the same time nothing you can do. Business and people are all different and it is important to understand you will never understand their actions or decisions. At the same time this scenario screams for why it is imperative you have a powerful network. You at least need a chance to get in front of the hiring manager and discuss your experience in detail and ask questions. However, this still may not be enough, but at least you give yourself a chance.

In the end if the hiring manager decides she must have someone with extensive industry experience similar to the company, and yours is modest in that industry, then as hard as you sell yourself, it may all fall on deaf ears. But you need that chance in front of the hiring manager, and if you aren’t granted one, even with great referrals, step back and consider that was not the best fit for you.

Maybe during the entire interview process senior management pushes a project to the front and demands most resources be focused on timely completion of that project. Although you may have been in the running at one point, you may now be moved to the back of the line because someone else has more experience solely in that project completion. Networking at least gives you a chance that you might be heard.

The other challenge is that the hiring manager may not be exactly sure of what he really wants. Sure, we know every job description asks for every conceivable job expertise, but which ones are really the key drivers for the hiring manager? The hiring manager often is not exactly sure what the best combination of skills and talents is for the job – almost as if he will know it when he sees it. Unfortunately, for you the job seeker, that puts you in a major dilemma – how can you possibly answer questions not really knowing what the hiring manager wants if the hiring manager is not exactly sure? This is another reason why asking questions in an interview is more important than having cute answers.

Consider the job search process from the hiring manager perspective. If you have ever been in this position, you first look around for someone internally to fill the position or ask around if anyone knows anyone. Eventually HR and even Legal push you to write a job description and in haste you put down everything you can think of to require of a candidate. Yet if the hiring manager was going to talk first to a referral of an internal candidate for example, the hiring manager would not have this extensive list of requirements in mind. Instead the hiring manager would be more focused on if the person was a good fit in a key areas. See how crazy this is? Bottom line, you can’t really be sure if your experience and expertise is what the hiring manager really wants.

But what if you never receive an opportunity to interview and your experience aligns perfectly with the job requirements? Sure, as we know there are hundreds of other candidates with similar great experience and something in their background caught the hiring manager’s eye. However, remember that a job search comes down to fit, and that fit has to be there from both sides. I have discovered that when I was turned down or was never provided an opportunity to interview at a company that eventually not only a job offer came from another company, but the opportunity proved to be better than I had planned for.

This is not just wishful thinking. Looking back I can see that my skills and expertise would not have been fully utilized at some companies, or the company ended up years later struggling financially, or merged with another company changing their culture. At the same time the company where I landed was always the right company for me to learn, grow and excel as long as I remained focused on what I truly was looking for and desired in my next position. Most important each company set me up to take on the challenges and responsibilities of my new position.

About 10 years ago there was a company at which I interviewed and wanted to work, believing the position looked like a great fit. There was another company at which I interviewed, and yet of which I knew little about them. As it turns out the first company got buried in the economic collapse of 2008 (they were a home builder!). I did not get the job at the first company and instead I landed at the second company and eventually was given more responsibility than anticipated and it turned out to be a perfect growth and learning opportunity.

So remain vigilant and know there is a place where you belong and where you will excel. Instead of lamenting a lost opportunity, or negative thinking on how the company made a wrong decision in not hiring you, realize instead the right decision was made in not hiring you – because you belong somewhere else to achieve goals and add skills and make a difference.

The real reasons you get asked stupid interview questions

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I recently read about how to respond to stupid interview questions and thought, but “Why do you get asked stupid questions in the first place?”

You may reason that asking trick questions gives the interviewer the upper hand, or the interviewer wants to try to make you look inferior, or try to unsettle you.

Yet, at the core, these aren’t the real reasons you get asked these stupid interview questions. There are 3 main reasons why you actually get asked these crazy questions:

1. Most hiring managers are not highly skilled at interviewing. Most hiring mangers lack the expertise and knowledge of how to ask a question and then read the person’s body language during the response. They lack the ability to listen clearly (they may be distracted thinking about the email they need to write once out of the interview, or the project their boss has demanded they get finished in the next 30 minutes) and therefore they don’t pick up on everything you say. Due to their lack of interviewing skills, they depend on the interviewer’s playbook – a list of standard interview questions, such as tell me your strengths and weaknesses and tell me why you want to work here.

These standard questions unfortunately have been asked so frequently that candidates have learned how to answer with well scripted responses. The answers all sound the same and provide little insight into the candidate’s ability nor differentiate them from any other candidate. The result is the well scripted answers make the hiring decision even more difficult.

Turning to clever questions gives a hiring manager something you never thought of: an easy out in the interview process. Whoever answers with the most clever answers is remembered and in turn helps the hiring manager forget about what really matters – if you are a great fit, have passion, skill, expertise and knowledge for the job. Since most people struggle to determine the value of one candidate compared to another, the easy choice and decision becomes to ask a stupid question, and worst of all, let that be the deciding factor on who lands the job, or at least gets to the next round! (I will give you my answers to the stupid questions at the end of this article.)

The problem with this approach is that what you focus is what is achieved. The silly questions are an attempt to weed out less talented candidates, but the result is they weed out the better candidates. When you focus on not hiring a lesser candidate you end up with a lesser candidate. Focusing on hiring the best candidate is not achieved by asking the candidate what animal you would want to be or what is to be on your tombstone. You hire the best candidate by asking the tough questions and by being willing to dig deeper into what the candidate is saying by asking follow up questions.

What are the tough questions? Ask the candidate what drives and motivates them, what their passion is and where and how do they obtain their passion. Ask them what achievements are they most proud of and why. Listen how the candidate describes these achievements in detail. And have them tell you what they regret most in life. After all, the word “interview” is to get an look “inside”  someone. Wanting a clever response for a stupid question does indicate the internal fortitude, knowledge, wisdom, expertise and passion of a candidate. Instead, ask the candidate how they work under pressure and to provide examples. Unfortunately, these questions become an afterthought all too often.

2. Too much pressure to make the right decision. Consider this: have you ever wondered why you are required to go through 4, 5 and 6 rounds of interviews and multiple psychological testing? There is extensive pressure today to make the right decision, get the right person to hit the ground running, and add value to the bottom line yesterday. Our resumes are filled with cost savings, revenue created, efficiencies generated and the impact to the bottom line. And yes, even all resumes all look similar rather quickly. Hence, don’t ask the candidate silly questions; rather, ask questions that make the candidate reveal who they are. Asking insightful questions requires discipline, patience and great listening skills. The pressure is on to deliver the perfect candidate. After all, why does the job description require someone with the exhausting list of skills and knowledge?

But, how can a hiring manager deal with the pressure to not make a mistake in the hiring process and relieve themselves from the pressure of not making a mistake when hiring someone? By putting the pressure on multiple people and spreading the responsibility to many people.

Sure, having at least one other person besides the hiring manager interview the candidate makes sense to get perspective. But all too often the candidate ends up coming back for more and more interviews which only frustrates the candidate. Requiring the candidate to continually come back for more interviews is strong indication that the hiring manager and company is unable to make a decision and get it right. In addition the hiring is by committee instead of one person taking the lead and responsibility.

Consequently, the hiring manager can have everyone possible interview you, and from there these people discuss who they like and don’t and collectively the decision gets made. If the person turns out not to fit, anyone can easily state it was a group decision.

Finding and hiring the right candidate simply does not require 6 people to interview a candidate to determine if they are a great fit. The amount of time and energy used in the interview process can easily be offset by hiring someone with the right skills and teach them technical skills if needed. More on that in another article, but for now, let’s move on to the most important reason for stupid questions:

3. Companies are actually risk averse. Although companies like to state otherwise, most are risk averse. The big misconception today is that companies want their employees to take chances, take risks and be entrepreneurs in the business. Sure, companies such as Google and Apple thrive on their employees taking risks as they push creative boundaries. But most companies, and that means over 90% of companies don’t want risk takers, unless you are always right. Too many companies can’t afford for you to take risks because if you do and fail it costs the company money. And most companies today are all about driving shareholder value.

Consequently, all of the testing and interviews are an attempt to be absolutely sure you are the right candidate – the perfect fit. Yet, with closer attention in the interview process it will become apparent rather quickly which are the perfect candidates. Quite often, the interview process is so lengthy that great candidates move on and receive offers or opportunities elsewhere.

In summary, hiring managers are much too careful to take risks in hiring and therefore spend far too long in making the decision out of fear of selecting the wrong candidate. If they select the wrong candidate and projects don’t get completed, their own job is in jeopardy. To be risk averse makes managers spread the risk to others. Employees today are not often rewarded for even being successful at taking risks, so with much more downside than upside, the hiring manager feels pressured to depend on others to make the decision for him/her. Even if you had a string of positive risk taking, so much is about what you have done lately.

But just in case you were wondering, go ahead and ask me the stupid questions and I will tell you what animal I want to be (a dog, because they possess a keen sense detecting genuine character in someone); what I want on my tombstone (I am reincarnating so don’t touch any of my stuff I will be right back), my weaknesses (if I had a bunch do you think I would have gotten this far?) and why do I want to work here (because from my experience I have seen the same problems at previous companies, know how to fix the problems and am excited by the challenge to help fix them at your company). And I can provide examples of being creative (developed and created a website for one company where I worked that is now their main form of communication to the media, press, customers and employees. And I have Finance expertise!)

But when you get done with those questions, be sure to really listen to me (and all of the other candidates) explain and provide examples on how I can directly and immediately impact your company. Sense how my keen business acumen has made impacts on companies from top to bottom. Read my body language, my handshake, how I look you in the eye, feel my passion and excitement combined with the calmness of my self-confidence and sense my perseverance. Gain awareness of why my negotiation, analytical and communications skills are top notch. Feel my desire to build and develop a great team, have proven leadership skills and yet can work side by side with anyone. Go ahead, ask me the tough questions.

The company bottom line will be glad you did.