Interviewing

Why My Clients Get Job Offers!

In the past few weeks I’ve coached half a dozen people on interview preparation, all of whom were made an offer. I’ve made one crucial observation.

Most people answer the question “What are your strengths?” incorrectly, and poorly.

When I speak with prospective clients I ask them to describe their strengths to me. Here are some examples I’ve noted:

I’m organized and detail-oriented.

I’m committed and hard-working.

I get things done.

I’m good with people.

I am passionate and driven.

Now, let’s set aside the fact most of these are not strengths. A strength is a talent, yet most of these are behavioral traits. I won’t split hairs about this, however, because there is a greater problem afoot.

Let’s take these traits and juxtapose them next to the following question:

Would you, as a decision-maker, hire me if I told you the following?:

I’m unorganized and often miss the details.

I lack commitment and I’m not very hard-working.

I don’t get much done.

I’m bad with people.

I lack passion and drive.

All I’ve done is rephrase the prior answers as opposites, which strongly reinforces a salient point: The traits most people provide as strengths in interviews arerequirements of every candidate in the mind of the interviewer.

When you are explaining your strengths, be sure to share natural talents that you possess – those things that set you apart  that are not in abundant supply. What did you do in your previous jobs that others did not do nearly as well?

Here is a client example of two strengths, defined:

Achiever – You have a great deal of stamina and work hard.  You take great satisfaction from being busy and productive.   Your drive is the power supply that causes you to set the pace and define the productivity levels for others.

Learner – You have a great desire to continuously improve.  Learning enables you to thrive in dynamic work environments where you are asked to take on short project assignments and learn a lot about the new subject matter in a short period of time.

Instead of simply saying, “I work hard and like to learn things”, a more effective strategy is to create a strength narrative that both explains the strength, andprovides a story to back it up:

“Two of my strengths are Learner and Achiever, which means I catch on quickly and have interest in many things. When these strengths work together they influence strong goal achievement. I enjoy learning, and then doing something productive with that knowledge. It’s where learning meets application for me. For example, the last two jobs I’ve held I didn’t meet the minimum qualifications, but because of my strong ability to learn and ramp up quickly, and my desire to be productive every day, I consistently outperformed tenured team members in exceeding productivity goals.”

 The best way to hone in on your most natural strengths is to take the Clifton StrengthsFinder assessment, and receive a debrief on your strengths. This provides both the awareness and the language to help you convey your strengths effectively, naturally, and confidently.

Once you know your true strengths, you will knock the socks of an interviewer like no other candidates.

So, what are your strengths?

Don’t Be Caught Off Guard on this Interview Question!

​Inc.com’s Minda Zetlin published an interesting article on October 13, 2015 called The Deeply Revealing Interview Question No One Ever Asks–But You Should.

The question: “Who are your negative references, and would you trust me to talk to some of those people?”

I recommend reading the article, which is employer focused and provides coaching on how to execute this question as an interviewer.

This article is a companion piece to assist job seekers in managing the question from their side of the table in three steps.

1. Prepare ahead of time. Think about your career, and identify 3 or 4 people with whom you failed to make a Love Connection at work; those people you’re fairly certain weren’t members of your fan club.

Try to recollect and jot down a list of themes surrounding your luke-warm or strained working relationship, as well as the details of any memorable negative events. There’s often a perceived threat when someone doesn’t get along with you, and the S.C.A.R.F. model will help you pinpoint the cause of your relationship strain. 

Status – Your presence in the workplace presents a threat to the status of the other person. They may be jealous of your accomplishments, or they might perceive you are treading on their area of expertise.

Certainty – Certainty deals with what the future holds. Uncertainty involves fear of future loss or harm. Perhaps the person felt you were out for their position, or if you managed them, perceived you to create lack of clarity or uncertainly in their work.

Autonomy – Did this person resent your authority, or having to collaborate with you on projects instead of doing their own thing?

Relatedness – This refers to the connection the other person feels to you. The less connected, the greater the perceived threat. Differing personality traits are the largest contributor to issues of relatedness, such as big picture vs. detailed thinking, fast-paced vs. moderate paced work habits, direct vs. indirect communication styles, enthusiastic vs. reserved emotional states, and methodical vs. fluid approaches to work tasks. This is probably the most common cause of relationship breakdown.

Fairness – Your co-worker may perceive your promotion — despite being less tenured than they were — to be unfair. Or perhaps they felt you treated them unfairly in some way.

Tips:

  • When selecting your negative references, it’s best NOT to choose people who are likely to share information that three reasonable people would consider you squarely in the wrong.
  • Do not select people who currently work with you if your employer is unaware you’re seeking to leave. Your negative reference should not be provided with information they could use as ammunition at the water cooler.

2. Give a heads up. Consider sending a brief message through LinkedIn, or to their work email to advise you’ve provided them as a reference. If you’re comfortable calling them, this is the best approach. Contacting them allows you to provide context so they’re not caught off guard and defensive, which could lead to a stronger negative reference. It allows you to explain the employer requested references of people who likely have balanced feedback, rather than only saying wonderful things about you. Here is an example of what you might say:

Dear Steve,

I am sending you a message to advise I’ve been asked to provide references for a position I am interviewing for. The employer asked me to provide the name of someone who may have experienced challenges working with me. I didn’t want you to be caught off-guard. I am thankful for all of the professional experiences I’ve had, and I’m certain your perspective will be valuable. Thank you, in advance, for your time.

Best regards,
Kristin

The note is gracious, considerate, appreciative, and mature. Hopefully such a note will create a chain reaction for the recipient to respond in kind when giving your “negative” reference. It’s important not to try to manipulate the person for what they might say. It will confirm negative qualities about you in their mind, and if they share with the employer that you attempted this tactic, you’re sunk.

3. Prepare your response

The good news is you’ve done most of the leg-work in identifying the root cause of the relationship conflict using the S.C.A.R.F. model. Sharing these insights as to what went sideways with the relationship with show your reflective and insightful nature!

Keep in mind:

  • Never openly blame the other person. There’s simply no way to navigate blame-shifting and come off looking good.
  • Share objective facts only, allowing the interviewer to draw their own conclusions based on the facts as you know them to be true.
  • Do not add color commentary, opinion, feelings, or assumptions about the other person’s behavior or motives. If the other person was threatened by you, you don’t have to state it. You can explain the person was “the only subject matter expert on the team” prior to you joining, and the conflict appeared from the outset. They’ll pick up what you’re putting down, and you’ll come across more emotionally intelligent.
  • Choose to say what you appreciated about the person as you discuss the situation. It will demonstrate you can be objective and take the high road. 
  • State what you’ve learned from the experience. 90% of problems are people problems — no one has the expectation you’re perfect — but they do want to know you’ve learned how to better manage similar situations in the future, even if the other person truly was at fault.

Have you ever been asked this question in an interview? If not, hopefully you are now well-prepared!

What Body Language Says in an Interview

You can learn a lot about an interviewer by observing their body posture and gestures, and an interviewer can also learn a lot about you, because 55% of communication is nonverbal.

When I was a hiring manager I tried to be conscious of my body language in interviews, and I watched the gestures closely of those I interviewed.

We learn to control and mask our facial cues more than any other part of our body, so the most unmasked, truthful body language is observed at the extremities. 

Below are some body language considerations to take note of while interviewing.

Non-verbals of the Feet and Legs

When someone turns their feet away from you, either both feet or one foot turned away creating an “L” formation, this means they are ready to depart the conversation. They may even swivel their chair so their lower body and torso is pointed away from you.

Alternatively, when a person’s feet (and torso) directly face you, this is a sign of engagement.

When a person has crossed legs, and begins bouncing their upper foot, this can be a sign of discomfort or lack of interest.

If you notice someone disengaging from the conversation with their legs and feet, make note of your body to ensure you’re not initiating their discomfort with your non-verbals. After the interview, perhaps you can determine what you were saying when you noticed a change in their body language.

Watch what your feet and legs convey:

  • Keep your ankles uncrossed. Crossed ankles suggests insecurity or discomfort. I’ve seen many interviewees do this.
  • Don’t jiggle your legs. It projects nervousness and anxiety.
  • Keep your feet pointed directly at the interviewer.

Upper Body Non-Verbals

People tend to lean back and away from someone in an interview when they are not connecting with them. However, this can also be a territorial posture when coupled with splayed legs (usually in men). Conversely, we lean into people when we are comfortable with them.

Arm crossing is a protective gesture. When someone blocks their upper body with crossed arms, it’s an indication they’re being guarded toward you. Gripping the arms while crossed is an elevated sign of discomfort.

Watch what your upper body conveys:

  • Don’t allow your shoulders to rise up. Keep them pulled down and slightly pulled back in proper posture. Shrugged or slumped shoulders displays lack of confidence.
  • Leaning forward slightly is preferable to leaning back, or sitting stiffly, as it displays approachability and comfort with the interviewer.

Non-verbal hand gestures

When an interviewer is leaning in toward you and has interlocked fingers with their thumbs pointing upward, this is a comfortable, open, conversational position.

Watch for hands in pockets, especially if they are leaning back in their chair. This is a dismissive posture.

Watch what your hands are saying:

People tend to wring their hands, or rub their palms together when they are nervous. Pay attention to how you use your hands in an interview. It will be noticed.

Women are especially guilty of touching their hair in an interview, whether pushing away their bangs, or tucking it behind their ear. It’s distracting, and comes across unprofessional. Consider wearing your hair in a style that reduces the chance you’ll touch it if this is a habit of yours.

Another hand consideration is to avoid wiping yours after shaking hands with the interviewer, either with your other hand, or on the side of your pant leg or skirt.

 One of the most confident hand positions is steepling your hands, finger tip to finger tip. You can have them steepled on your lap, or rested on the table in front of you. Try not to appear wooden — no need to keep your hands in one position the entire interview.

Loosely interlocked fingers are a comfortable alternative if you aren’t quite ready for steepled fingers. 


Facial cues

Some negative non-verbals from the face include:

  • Furrowed eye brows
  • Tightly pursed lips, with or without the corners of the mouth down-turned
  • Squinting
  • A delay in opening the eyes after closing them
  • Polite smiles where the corners of the mouth move out toward the ears, instead of curving up toward the eyes

Watch your own facial cues to ensure you’re not projecting these negative non-verbals. In addition, avoid licking your bottom lip. If you’re nervous, you may do this to soothe yourself unconsciously. 

When you smile, ensure the corners of your mouth are upturned, exposing your teeth. Smiles with closed lips often appear forced.

A slight head tilt is also positive sign. People convey openness and receptivity with this gesture. People don’t tend to head tilt if they don’t like you.

Have you observed telling or interesting body language in an interview? Please share with readers in the comments.

All the best to you!​

I Had My Interview. Now What?

The best approach you can take post-interview is a proactive one. Many candidates take the sit-and-wait-to-hear-back approach. Being proactive takes away that helpless feeling of waiting, and also positions you in a positive light to the employer.

Here are 5 things you can do after you’ve had the hiring manager interview (this might be your second interview if you’ve already had an HR phone screen):

1. Follow up

The same day of your interview, send a thank you email to the hiring manager and consider sending a thank you note in the mail. You can ask the recruiter for contact information, or to pass it on if they won’t release it.

A hand-written note is optional in a number of cases. I had a client once tell me written cards would not be viewed positively in a research institution setting, so I told him he should go with that instinct.

When composing your note, if you’re interested in the position, say so. If you’re not, simply thank them for their time. There is no need to send a note of rejection unless you’re faced with an offer. There may be another position you’re interested in some day, so you want to retain positive connections in the company.

The brief email should contain one connection between what you bring to the position and something they mentioned they’re looking for in the selected candidate. Include the connection only if you’re interested in the role.

Example email if you’re not interested:

Dear Ms. Jones,

Thank you for meeting with me to discuss the HR Business Partner position. It was a pleasure to meet you and I truly appreciate your time today.

Best regards,
Jane Doe

Example email if you are interested:

Dear Ms. Jones,

Thank you for your time today to discuss the HR Business Partner position. It was nice to meet you, and also to learn about what you’re seeking to accomplish through this role. After hearing your description of the successful candidate, I’m confident my ability to build strong relationships across an organization and the political savvy to navigate all levels of a company position me as a solid candidate.

I will follow up with you next week to see if you have any questions and to discuss the status of my candidacy.

Best regards,
Jane Doe

Follow up once weekly by email to inquire on the status of the position. During your follow up you might share an interesting article based on something you discussed with the hiring manager, or an article in the news about the employer with a positive comment. I recommend following up a minimum of 4 weeks, and no more than 7.

Dear Ms. Jones,

I hope you are doing well and having a good week. I am following up to express my continued interest in the HR Business Partner role, and to discover the status of my candidacy for the position.

Based on our discussion of the importance of customer service, I thought you’d enjoy this article.
<Insert URL>

I look forward to hearing from you.

Best regards,
Jane Doe

The exception to the weekly follow up rule is if you’re given a follow up schedule by the hiring manager. For example, if they say please contact me again in two weeks, wait two weeks as directed.

2. Prepare for the salary discussion

Ideally you should research salary prior to applying and interviewing for a position, but if you haven’t completed that step, not to worry. However, you don’t want to be caught unprepared with an offer on the table and no time to research salary information.

Some salary research tools are:

www.salary.com

www.onetonline.org

www.glassdoor.com

Here are two articles to help prepare you for salary negotiation:

 3. Prepare for the next step in the process

If you work in a field where testing is likely, you might consider working on sample projects to be more prepared. For example, if you’re a technical person, and it’s been a while since you’ve interviewed, you could conduct an online search for sample interview tests for your field.

If you’re in marketing, sales, or training, you might be asked to give a presentation. Ensure your presentation skills are up to snuff.

If you work in communications, instructional design, or a field with writing or design samples, ensure you’ve selected something stellar from your portfolio if you’re invited to the next round of interviews. You may have already provided a work sample earlier in the process, but it can’t hurt to bring another.

Some employers provide a scenario and ask candidates to create a proposal, strategy, or solution to aid their final hiring selection. Do your best to research the interview tactics common for the organization you are interviewing with (e.g.www.glassdoor.com), or search common interview formats for your field. This is especially important if it’s been a while since you’ve interviewed, as things change with time.

If you’ve taken personality tests in the past that would illustrate a good fit for the role, offer to share the results.

4. Get ready for references

Be prepared with a list of three professional references. Call or email people that are best suited to provide a reference for this opportunity and ask if they’re willing to provide a positive recommendation for you.

References can be a two-way street. Feel free to ask the employer for references (only if an offer is extended), from people who currently work, or have previously worked, in their department.

5. Make an offer

This approach is not right for everyone and is best suited for certain types of positions, or roles that can be performed as a consultant or contractor.

After meeting with the hiring manager, you could create a proposal that addresses a need they have, your services, the time it will take to complete the services, what results they can expect, and the fees associated with it.

For example, if you notice they could use some help with their LinkedIn or Facebook company page, and you possess these skills, you could submit a proposal to perform value-added services to improve their internet or social media presence.

Alternatively, if during the interview the hiring manager shared something he or she is trying to accomplish through the role, you could submit a one-page proposal outlining how you’d tackle the problem, and request an opportunity to discuss it. It doesn’t matter if you don’t have all the details, they’ll be impressed at your initiative.

Be proactive after the interview to ensure you’re better prepared for the next step, demonstrate an action-oriented approach, and set yourself apart from the candidates that are quietly waiting in the wings!

What post-interview steps have you taken that have worked well in the past?

All the best to you!

Interviews with No Offers? 5 Reasons Why.

Not too long ago, I had a prospect contact me because he wasn’t getting job offers. He had impressive experience and was getting a lot of interviews, yet, every opportunity died on the interview table. He assumed he was doing something wrong, but what?

Being a coach I’ve learned to tell hard truths to people, because it’s in their best interest.

Following are some real issues I’ve encountered both as an interviewer, as well as obstacles I’ve helped clients overcome that were getting in the way of their success. The list is not exhaustive, and I welcome your adds in the comments.

1. Carrying anger or resentment forward from a previous position

Were you laid off unfairly, fired by a manager who disposed of you for their personal agenda, or some other disappointing circumstance?

It’s absolutely essential you let it go. Today.

Any root of bitterness in you is detectable in your tone or body language by an interviewer, even if you’re unaware of it. The only way to truly let it go is to forgive the person that wronged you and move on. You’re not doing it for them, you’re doing it for you. Living with resentment or anger toward someone gives them power over you. Don’t give them that control.

2. An off-putting personality trait

The person I was telling you about that wasn’t getting offers? He suspected he was doing something to put people off. 

My client’s initial attitude was, “I’m going to be myself and if people don’t like me, too bad. I don’t want to work there if I have to fake who I am to get hired.”

If being likable requires faking, that’s a problem that needs to be addressed.

A woman at a networking event I attended two weeks ago mirrored his sentiment. She said, “People don’t need to like me, we just need to be able to work together.” While not everyone is going to like you, proclaiming you don’t care if people like you suggests that’s something you commonly encounter. Hiring managers have plenty of candidates to choose from that they can work well with… and like.

If you share this attitude, remember, everything happens through people. Expecting others to accommodate a bad attitude when you’re not accommodating what they need from you is an unrealistic expectation. In the long run, it’s more work dealing with the conflict a bad attitude creates in your life than the effort totransform your attitude. Don’t be the reason you don’t succeed.

Some other off-putting personality traits in an interview are arrogance, humble bragging, defensiveness, and lack of confidence.

I’m happy to report I did some interview coaching with my client and the very next interview resulted in an offer. I did, however, provide some tough love on what would be necessary to ensure he retained his employment!

3. Brutal honesty

You always want to be truthful in an interview, but you have to evaluate if some things are wise to share. I once interviewed a woman to whom I asked one area where she felt she needed personal or professional development. She told me she had a really bad temper. I wasn’t keen to experience it. Be honest, but don’t be brutally honest.

4. Your speaking style: Mumblers, fast or slow talkers

Many interviews start with a phone screen. I once did telephone coaching with a client I struggled to understand because he mumbled. One day I asked him, “Has anyone ever given you feedback that it’s difficult to understand you over the phone? You mumble, and also speak very rapidly, and I can see this being a obstacle for you– especially for a phone interview.” 

No one had spoken truth to this man about his mumbling. Simple awareness of his issue enabled him to speak more clearly and slow down. After more than a year of unemployment he landed a job in under a month.

Rate of Speech

University of Michigan researchers have found people who talk really fast are seen as out to pull the wool over our eyes, while people who talk really slow are seen as not too bright, or tiresome. It is especially important not to speak too fast if you have an accent that differs from the interviewer. Practice answering interview questions with people who are willing to tell you the truth if you’re speaking too fast, or too slow. 

5. Rambling

I once interviewed a guy who spent 25-minutes of a 30-minute phone screen answering only the first question I asked. I writhed in pain in my chair, and the only thought going through my head was that weekly one-on-one’s would be torture with this guy.

Rambling can be caused by nervousness, lack of preparedness, a misguided notion that the interviewer requires every detail of your story, or unfamiliarity with best practices for answering interview questions.

One way to avoid rambling is to use the STAR technique to ensure succinct answers to questions, explained here. You should also prepare a list of your top performance results to link to what the employer seeks in the job description. Step-by-step instructions are found here.

It is vitally important to have a coachable spirit and openness to feedback. If you’ve had several interviews and they’re not converting to an offer, I recommend participating in mock interviews, and seeking feedback to determine if you’re erring in any of these ways. It may just be that other candidates were more qualified, but it can’t hurt to be sure.

All the best to you!