Archive | November, 2011

Employers: Interview questions and the answers to expect

30 Nov

Much is written for graduating college students and other job seekers about how to interview effectively. However, no matter how much the candidate practices, if the interviewer does not know how to conduct an interview or what questions to ask and answers to expect, all the practice in the world is wasted effort.  The problem stems from a lack of planning and direction for those who are in the interviewing role. That may be a problem, but remember, interviewing is still a two-way street. Let’s start by cruising down Applicant Avenue. If you are the person applying for the job, and the interviewer talks 70-80% of the time, it’s up to you to ask questions about job duties, the organization and mention what you have to offer. Don’t just sit there nodding, smiling and wondering when you will get to speak. When the interviewer comes up for air, ask if he/she has any questions about your resume and qualifications. Even if the interviewer doesn’t have questions, prepare and share a 30-second commercial of what makes you right for the job. And now a word for all you interviewers….

The Intersection of Applicant Avenue and Employer Drive

As an employer in today’s world of work, interviewing may be one small part of your job. The number of candidates applying for every one job opening may be as high at 100. Yet finding the right candidate is a critical business process. Whether you are a small business owner or hiring manager for a large corporation, the way you structure the actual interview is important to selecting the right person. It’s the interviewer’s responsibility to create a good framework for two-way discussion and gain useful information needed to make a hiring decision. Every organization’s business needs are different, but here are a few tasks to complete before inviting candidates into your selection process:

  • Prepare a well-written, job description–know what you’re looking for and why. What business problem are you trying to solve? What process needs to be maintained or improved? What skills are necessary and what skills would be nice to have? Is the salary you’re offering competitive in your market/industry? Are there cross-functional responsibilities?
  • Require a resume and conduct other screening before inviting candidates in for an in-person first interview. This can be via phone, Skype or simply conducting a Google and social media search of the candidate’s name.
  • Develop a minimum of five consistent, standard questions you will ask of every candidate ( see below). Formulate and ask more specific questions of each candidate during the interview but make sure you don’t go off on tangents. Take notes during the interview– jotting down key words or phrases alongside each candidates name. If you are seeing a lot of people you may forget who said what.
  • Create a candidate rating system or sheet. Nothing elaborate but some way to compare overall impressions and desirability of each candidate. You may also choose to take your notes on this document before rating the candidate.

Preparing and planning how you will interview and what questions you will ask can make the experience better for both you and the candidate. I recently provided a leadership training workshop to a group of sales managers and small business owners. We discussed the typical first interview questions and how to evaluate the answers. Here’s some of what I shared:

Question 1: Start the interview with introductions of your interview panel, names, titles and a general, non-threatening opening question. You may also set-up how the interview will proceed. The opening conversation should serve to calm down both you and the candidate. If you have allocated an hour to interview each candidate, you should spend at least the first two minutes trying to connect on a neutral topic or setting up the interview process. Let the candidate know upfront that you have a few structured questions and then signal that the interview is about to start. Help the person feel at ease and you’re likely to gain better information—and more honest responses.

Option 1: How was your holiday/weekend/day/morning? How are you doing today?

Question 2: Tell me about yourself. This is really a general statement designed to see if a candidate knows what is appropriate to reveal without rambling. The candidate should not try to tell you every detail of their life, family or work history. Listen for information related to three points: education, transferable skills/experience and maybe one interesting personal item (i.e. community service, recent overseas trip, etc.). The personal items serves to show they are human, it may also help you remember something unique about them. The candidate should be able to keep the answer brief yet give you basic insight into general facts about who they are and why they are interviewing for your position (i.e their personal brand statement, perhaps?) The candidate should always highlight at least one or more past experience that points out relevant transferable skills that makes them right for the position.

Question 3: Describe a time when you had to overcome a major obstacle. This statement will help you get a clear picture of the candidate’s past performance, self awareness and ability to choose an appropriate situation. The candidate should choose a work-related or academic example and not an overly personal one. Listen to see if the person plays the victim or the hero in the situation. The way the candidate recalls a situation gives you an indication of how they might solve simple to complex problems.

Option 1: Describe a time when you made a mistake, how did you handle it? Follow-up with: If you had to do that again, how would you do it differently?

Question 4: What interests you about this position?You should expect the candidate to talk about transferable skills already highlighted on their resume and to tell you what they know about your brand, customers, reputation, or any other key statistics found on your website. The answer may also be personal such as a connection to your customers or experience with your brand. Any of these answers (or a combination) are acceptable. A personal answer could indicate a sincere connection to the business and a sense of ownership in whatever role they might play in the organization.

Option 1: What do you know about this company or organization?

Option 2: What motivated you to apply for this job?

Question 5: Do you work better with a team or alone? Depending on the job, a candidate should be able to confidently choose one and explain why. However, it is acceptable for a candidate to say they can do both, depending on the tasks you expect them to perform. A good candidate should give more than a one word response. They should follow-up with a brief explanation of how and why they work well in either or both of the situations. You’ll also want them to give an example of a team experience and the results of the team’s work.

Option 1: Do you work better independently or with close supervision?

Option 2: Tell me about a time when you worked as part of a team. What was that experience like for you?

Question 6: If you were a tree what kind of tree would you be, and why? Go ahead, laugh! But this question can help you see how the candidate deals with surprises or obscure situations. This type of question helps break the cycle of well-rehearsed answers. As long as it’s not a one word answer or too long, virtually any response is a good one. The key is to pay attention to attitude. Will the candidate play along? How much ease or difficulty did the person have in coming up with a response? The candidate who becomes too flustered or too serious, may indicate inflexibility. Beware of the candidate who avoids an answer altogether, this may indicate an inability to make basic decisions quickly.

Option 1: If you were a pencil would you be the lead (pronounced led) or the eraser?

Option 2: If you were an animal in the zoo, what kind of animal would you be,why?

Question 7: Describe a time when you encountered conflict with a co-worker (or boss)? How did you handle it? The purpose of this question is to learn more about the candidate’s judgement and decision-making skills. This is an example of a situational question, but it also illuminates the candidate’s thought process. You want to see whether the candidate deals with negative situations honestly yet diplomatically. They should be able to identify a specific example and talk about comfortably.

Option 1: What would you do if a co-worker got behind schedule on part of a project or task for which you were responsible?

Question 8: Why are you interested in this position? With this one you run the risk of hearing a phony, drawn-out answer about how great the company is, but listen carefully for whether or not the candidate truly understands what you expect based on what they know about your organization or the skills needed to perform the job. This question is also about getting a sense of values, motivations and how much of a keen understanding the candidate has of your needs. Concepts like values and culture can be subjective, but you should be looking for someone whose work ethic, motivations, skills and methods best match the company’s.

Option 1: What keeps you coming to work besides the paycheck?

Question 9: What are your greatest strengths and what are your greatest weaknesses? Yes, this age old question still works. It helps you find out if the candidate is self-aware and comfortable talking about what they do well and what they need to improve. These should be asked as two separate questions. Watch for the ability to describe strengths in meaningful, work-related terms. “I’m a people-person” tells you nothing. Instead, “I connect easily when meeting new people.” With weaknesses, listen for the ability to describe traits or characteristics that are honest, not overly personal and demonstrate an attempt to improve or grow from a weakness. The typical, rehearsed answer is, “I’m a perfectionist,” ICK! it’s overused. You should look for an answer like, “I have high standards and get frustrated when others don’t do their best.” Good candidates will always be able to describe both their strengths and weaknesses with equal comfort.

Option 1: What would your colleagues say you do well? What would they say you need to improve?

Question 10: Why did you leave your last job? The answer to this question can help you determine the candidate’s wisdom and diplomacy. The candidate should never criticize a former company, boss, or colleagues. A good candidate will focus his answer on how this new job will give him/her the opportunity to contribute more in a particular area or use a skill that is key to helping your organization become more successful. A good candidate might use this question as an opportunity to suggest ways to improve processes or services in their previous or current role.

Option 1: What did you dislike about your last job/boss/company?

It’s always good to close the interview with: What questions do you have for me? Reversing roles communicates that you care about the candidate, and it will demonstrate how curious and knowledgeable a candidate is about your organization. If the candidate doesn’t ask any questions about the job or the business, it’s safe to assume they are just applying for any job. Listen for insightful questions that demonstrate a sophisticated understanding of the job duties, long range vision or the competitive landscape of your industry. A good candidate will always have at least two questions. It is still wise to be concerned about the candidate who asks about vacation days or pay is during a first interview, it  might signal they are running from their current job and interested in your organization for the wrong reasons.

Besides these, be sure to ask questions customized to your specific industry and/or position. You’ll want to leave the table knowing that person understands your business environment. Even if you need to fill a position quickly, take time to review your notes, compare answers and remember first impressions are lasting impressions– sometimes you must listen to your gut. Give yourself at least 24 hours before making a decision or extending an offer no matter how overworked you are. If you have the time, conduct a second interview with your top two candidates only. Eliminate as much internal red tape as possible and move to the selection and hiring stage quickly.

Applicants: Have you ever had a bad interview? What happened?

Employers: What other questions do you ask candidates? What answers do you expect? What do the answers reveal? Leave your comments below.

6 Linkedin Tips for Your Jobsearch

15 Nov
Yes, everyone’s writing and talking about it. Career services professionals, resume writers and other career coaches are encouraging everyone to create Linkedin profiles. It is the place to see and be seen when networking, acquiring talent or seeking employment. Whether you are a recent grad, about to graduate from college or are a seasoned professional, it is important use Linkedin intentionally and understand the etiquette associated with it.
1) When using Linkedin, don’t ask for recommendations from those who do not truly know you or your work. This is equivalent to asking someone to serve as a reference when they have only met you in passing. It’s awkward when you send the generic recommendation or connection request. Be sure to customize the auto-generated message when asking for a connection or recommendation. Remind the person of what you’re looking for and what you have to offer. That way, they can write a specific, targeted, more impressive recommendation. Make sure the person writes in a way that actually conveys useful, credible information. Any recommendation that says, “Ryan is a great guy” or, ”I enjoyed working with Kathy,” adds no value or perspective to a future employer. Always ask your recommender to list specific skills, knowledge and abilities that you will bring to a prospective employer along with any other character comments or fluff and stuff. Professors, former employers, church staff, pastors, professional staff at colleges and those who manage any community service work you have done, are good sources for recommendations. As for a connection make sure you customize the request.
2) Many recruiters tell me it is quite acceptable to add your Linkedin public address to your resume. Recruiters say they will check social media sources tied to your name anyway, so go ahead and make it easy for them. Write your Linkedin profile in a manner that provides a snapshot of your accomplishments and key skills–not just a list of duties from previous employment. Hmm…sounds a lot like an even tighter version of a good resume, doesn’t it?
3) Join Linkedin groups where you can gain insight and participate in discussions about a career, topic or field of interest. If you have good advice to share from your life and career perspective, share it frequently. If you have a question, pose it professionally and intelligently to the group or an individual. Start by joining your college or university’s alumni group. Don’t just stalk groups. Share expertise, ask questions and participate openly.
4) If you blog, add a link to your blog on your Linkedin profile. Be sure the blog content demonstrates your professional knowledge or expertise in an area along with your creativity and writing skills. Your mindless ramblings or even intelligent rants on political or religious matters can close doors–unless you have the luxury of waiting for a job to open up with your exact political party or religious affiliations. Don’t ever sacrifice or hide your beliefs, values and morals, but be wise in how they may come across to those who may be thinking of hiring you. Convey opinions and values wisely. This applies not only to  what you say on a blog, but also what you do when you think no one is watching!
5) If you are a recent grad or unemployed, avoid posting a Linkedin status or headline statement as: “Need a job!” It sounds desperate. No one will be as interested in helping Needy Nellie.  Also, if you have a job, be respectful of your current employer and keep your search confidential, avoid posting, “Looking for a new job.” You never know who in your organization is one connection away. Use the jobs tab and follow companies that you might be interested in. Many Human Resources professionals tell me Linkedin has replaced some of their traditional sources of advertising for open positions.
6) Proofread your Linkedin profile just as you would a resume. A sloppy profile might mean a sloppy worker. Check your grammar, spelling and punctuation. I shouldn’t have to say it, but don’t use text language or incorrect grammar in your profile. Make sure your phone numbers and email addresses are up to date and professional. Your credibility, image and reputation is being conveyed in this moment. Make the moment matter. Revisit your profile from time to time and add any new experiences that will enhance your personal brand to potential employers.
Finally, take a moment to Google your name. You might be surprised to find out what or who is associated with your name or a similar name. If you ever created dicey web pages or humorous Facebook groups as a joke in college, it may come back to haunt you or send the wrong impression to a current or future employer. Check your digital dirt and if you can’t remove it, make sure you can provide an explanation if you are asked about it.
Now step away from the computer! Pick up the phone and schedule a breakfast, lunch, coffee or other in-person appointment, with a targeted list of people who can provide timely, realistic career advice or informational interviews. Let them see your dazzling smile, hear your great enthusiasm, see your fabulous personality all backed up by a solid education, meaningful results, transferable skills and an eagerness to grow.What tips have you found effective when using Linkedin? I’d love to hear from you!

Fall, football and careers

3 Nov

In the south, football is like a religion. As fall gets into full swing, I’ve noticed both men and women stay abreast of college football, high school football and the NFL. Everyone has a favorite team. Some can quote game scores, player stats. and team standings quicker than a Bible verse. Now I’m not criticizing this ability, it simply fascinates me. Football fans often show who they support by wearing their team’s colors. On game day, many come out in full regalia. Team jerseys, caps, window stickers, flags on cars and more.

Since I was born and raised in Wisconsin, I consider myself a Green Bay Packer fan. When I lived in Wisconsin, I even went to a game or two. I was impressed by the excitement and energy in historic Lambeau Field. Packer fans area special breed and some would paint their faces and scream at the top of their lungs during the game. During below zero, frigidly cold weather, some guys strip down to dislplay a message on their beer-filled bellies, painted in green and gold. I even sported a cheesehead once. No photos to prove it, thank God! I remain intrigued by the time, energy, passion and planning nto rooting for a football team.

In our lives and our job search we need good planning and a support system. It’s easy to give up and become discouraged during the job search process. Who’s rooting for you in your job search efforts? Now if you know anything about me, you know that I am not a football expert. You have just read the full extent of my football knowledge. So I cannot even believe I’m about to make these points using football analogies! This football season can teach us a lot, so here we go:

1) Maintain good stats. Keep a online spreadsheet or binder/notebook to document the name of the company, the date you applied/sent resume, contact names, date you will follow-up and an “other notes” section. This helps you track the number of employers you’ve contacted and keeps you moving forward.

2) Get a cheering section. Surround yourself with people who will encourage you and provide good information. I’ve heard people say, “There are no jobs out there,” so they avoid even trying. They listen to the news and do nothing but complain. Yes, it’s a tough job market but you must be flexible and creative. Few people work in a job that is the same exact major they chose while in college. The perfect job may not be your first job. Avoid taking advice from people who are not in the know about local and national job trends, recruiting methods and interivew skills. Whether it is prayer, positive conversations with friends or family or motivational quotes, find ways to stay encouraged during your job search.

3) Show your team colors. Make sure your marketing tools are consistent and compelling. Yes, it STILL starts with a good, clean, easy-to-read resume. A good resume tells a story about your experiences. A student recently told me he did not need a resume because his dad was a prominent politician in this state who get him a job. That may be true, but I still think this young man should take responsibility to have a resume to give to his father’s contacts. When networking, a resume is your calling card.

4) Practice your plays. If you get an interview, take time to practice basic interview questions with a career services professional. Make sure it is someone who knows what employers want in your industry or field. Make sure they will give you honest feedback even if it is corrective. It is a must to answer questions aloud instead of writing them down and thinking about an answer in your head. The words don’t always come out the way we think about them.

5) Cheer for someone else. Finally, always give back. If someone helps you, you should help another person and expect nothing in return. It’s the right thing to do and it feels good. Someone else needs something you already have. Pay it forward, even if has nothing to do with your job search.

During this football season, I expect to see even more people wearing their team colors, cheering wildly, tailgating at stadiums and gathered around t.v. sets for the big game. If you are searching for a job, make sure you have the right tools, focus on the right teams, stay consistent and use smart tactics. Go Pack Go!