Interview Feedback – Should Not be an Attack

I am often asked by candidates, why they did not receive an offer.  They want feedback so they can improve their interview style or technique and do better on the next interview.

Often what I hear for feedback is:

• not a good cultural fit

• lacked industry specific experience

• failed to show enthusiasm for the position

• failed to follow up with a thank you letter or email

• failed to make eye contact

Recently, I relayed the company’s decision and the candidate asked me for specifics.  The hiring manager did not feel that the candidate connected with him during the interview and did not believe the candidate would be a good cultural fit for the company.

Instead of saying thank you I got harassment (eleven phone calls and 48 emails).  I was still trying to get the candidate to understand my client had offered someone else the job.

If you ask for feedback, don’t take it as a personal attack. Sometimes it just wasn’t meant to be and it truly has nothing to do with you personally.  Sometimes it’s meant as constructive criticism and to be helpful. Wouldn’t you want to know if you are not making eye contact?  Or you are twirling your hair or blinking insanely or biting your nails?

When we are nervous, some habits and nervous mannerisms appear and you may not even be aware of them.

So if you ask for feedback, please take it as graciously as possible and consider the person relaying the information may truly just be trying to help.

First Jobs and Things you May Not Know

It’s getting to be that time of the year when new graduates are finding and starting their first jobs.  Every year I discover some new things that I thought everyone already knew, only to find that some of the basics are not common knowledge.  So while some of this may sound obvious…I’ve heard from more than one person about some new hire who didn’t have a clue.

All fees are paid by the hiring company.  I can’t say this enough.  It’s on my web site in multiple locations and it is the standard when working with the majority of professional recruiters.  Decades ago it was common for a job candidate to pay the recruiting fee out of his or her first pay check(s).  Now, it is extremely rare for a recruiter to charge a fee to the job candidate.  Do not be embarrassed to ask if there’s a fee associated with working with a recruiter.  While it is better to know up front, the majority of us are paid by the company who hires you.

Travel is required.  I’m always surprised by the number of people who don’t want to travel for work because they think they are going to have to pay for it out of their own pocket.  Again, there are always exceptions, however, for the most part if you have a job that requires you to travel, the company will either pay in advance or reimburse you for travel, lodging and meals.  Alcohol and entertainment are not typically reimbursable expenses (unless you are in a sales position and part of your job is to take customers out and provide entertainment).

This is not a license for you to fly first class, rent an expensive car and eat steak dinners every night.  Some companies pay “per diems” (meaning they will set a specific amount per day that they do not expect you to go over to travel, stay at a hotel and eat).  Some companies just expect you to use your own judgment when it comes to expenses.  As a general rule, if you would not normally spend your own money on <insert questionable purchase here> then the odds are the company will think it is out of line as well.  This does not mean starve yourself or stay in a hotel in a questionable area either.

First day paperwork.  Some companies remember to tell you to bring identification with you for your first day.  If no one says anything about this, it’s always a good idea to bring a valid passport or your driver’s license and some other form of government issued identification.  If you’re really curious about acceptable forms of identification see:  http://www.uscis.gov/sites/default/files/files/form/i-9.pdf

It’s also helpful to know your social security number, bank account number and routing information.

You will need to complete an Employee’s Withholding Allowance Certificate so your employer can withhold the correct federal income taxes. W4 Form looks like this:  http://www.irs.gov/pub/irs-pdf/fw4.pdf

Direct deposit is a nice perk that many companies offer.  For this you will need to know the name of your bank, your account number and routing information.  Your very first pay check may not appear in your account automatically and you may have to deposit it yourself.  Don’t assume it went in without checking.  I’ve seen many people throw away their first check assuming it made it through the direct deposit process.  Reissuing a paycheck costs the company and it takes time.

I’m a big fan of mentors.  If you have one or two when you start your career, you are lucky.  If not, it may be well worth your efforts to politely ask some people you know and respect.  A mentor to help with business basics and etiquette and one for technical expertise is a good place to start.

Job Hopper or Not

Today I received an extremely well written cover letter indicating I had found the perfect candidate for one of my job searches.

Among the many qualifications mentioned in the cover letter were dependability, loyalty and dedication.  The candidate went on to explain how her experience was a precise technical fit for my opening as well.

Thinking this resume would definitely be worth reviewing, I quickly opened the attached resume.

My definition of dependable, loyal and dedicated must be different.  Attached was a resume listing approximately twenty different jobs with twenty different companies over a span of less than five years.  None of them were labeled as “temp” or “contract” or “consultant.”

If you are going to lead with these qualities, at the very least, there should be some explanation as to why you haven’t stayed with any of your former employers for longer than six months.

Throughout my recruiting experience, every hiring manager I’ve spoken with has the same feelings about job changes.  “No job hoppers” is a common mantra.

There are times when changing jobs frequently is truly not the employee’s fault.  I’ve seen resumes where the last three jobs ended abruptly because the company was sold, changed management or moved out of the area.  So it is not always within the employee’s control.

When there is no logical reason for five jobs in a year, you may wish to consider adding brief explanations on the resume.  I don’t normally recommend this, as most people feel the need to write a paragraph explaining what happened.

However, wording such as:  “Company relocated” or “Company closed” after the name of the business goes a long way towards assuring anyone reviewing your resume that you may in fact be loyal and dependable, just caught in a bad situation.

 

Follow-up 101

I firmly believe there needs to be a new mandatory college course.  All students, in all disciplines of study must take and pass this course in order to graduate.  It would be called “Follow-up 101.”

Are you looking for a job?  If so, when a potential employer, hiring manager, human resources contact, recruiter, staffing agency, headhunter or anyone who has the potential to help you actually get a job offer contacts you, you have one responsibility:  Contact them back.

There are various means of communication in the business world:  telephone calls, e-mails, social media and text messages, just to list the most common.

It is extremely rare that a job will land in your lap and you will have no responsibility in the process.  (Better odds of winning the lottery).  When a potential employer calls you, call them back.  If they send you an email, email them back.  If they email you and ask you to call them.  CALL THEM BACK.

The only way you can fail at this process is if you do not respond at all.

Sadly, better than 50% of the job seekers who email a resume to me do not answer me when I email or call them and ask to speak with them.

Step two in the job search process is to actually speak with the person you sent your resume to in step one.

In the recruiting world, candidates who respond professionally and in a timely fashion immediately float to the very top of the candidate pool.

Too Much Information

Social media is fun.  It’s a great way to stay in touch with your friends and family, but when it comes to searching for a job it can be deadly.

A candidate sent in her resume for a creative marketing role.

What’s the first thing the hiring manager did? An on-line search to see if there were any samples of her work out there.

What did the hiring manager find? The candidate’s blog.  (Great chance to show off her writing skills, right?)

What the blog told the hiring manager?

The candidate has a really bad attitude and a seriously flawed work ethic.  Her blog was a detailed rant about her last employer, how horrible it was to work there and how she walked out on them in the middle of her second day.

Any chance she’s getting an interview?

NO!

Bad Advice from Friends

This particular scenario happens way more often than you might think, so I’m sharing a recent experience in hopes of saving someone else.

One of my candidates was offered a job. The salary offered was over the top of the original salary range. By the way, this is a clear indication that the company really, really wants to hire you. It is extremely rare for an offer to come in at the top of the range, let alone more than the top of the range.

I found out after it was too late that the candidate took the advice of a “friend.” The friend advised my candidate to push for more money with specific instructions to avoid the recruiter and go directly to the hiring manager with the request/demand. The friend’s point was “What have you got to lose?”

And the answer to “what have you got to lose” is: The job offer. It was withdrawn.

This particular candidate had already exhausted his unemployment benefits and had told me he was desperate to find work. The salary that was offered was more than he had ever earned in any past job and he was convinced by his friend that even what was offered was lower than he could get if he just pushed for more money.

If you are working with a Professional Recruiter, you may want to consider this person actually knows what she is doing and will be able to advise and guide you in a way that your friend can’t.

After all, your friend truly does have nothing to lose when you lose the job offer.

Salary Requirement/Expectation

What is your salary requirement? I ask this question dozens of times every day. Many people seem to view this as a game. There’s so much advice out there basically saying, “He/she who names a number first, loses.” Translated, if you say something too low, you’ve left money on the table and if you name a figure too high, you’ve knocked yourself out of the running.

Personally, I don’t have time to play games. I’m just looking for a ball park figure. What are you earning now? What do you think it would take to tempt you to change jobs? Or if you are unemployed now, what was your last salary and what works for you now?

I don’t want to see anyone hurt by a salary negotiation. But I do find it amusing that no matter what discipline, level, industry of geographic area I’m recruiting for no one has ever said “I’m looking for or LESS.” Everyone says a number and then says “or MORE.” “More would be better.”

I’m assuming that everyone would like to be making more than they are currently earning or at least what they were earning in their last job. Occasionally I do come across candidates who just want to work and really don’t have a set amount in mind. It’s still helpful for me to know where you’ve been and what you feel is acceptable.

The other thing everyone says is: “It’s negotiable.” No, actually it’s not always negotiable. Most of the time, I have a client company that gives me a salary range or I have a sense of what is going to be acceptable to them, or they’ve asked me to submit candidates and include a salary requirement so they get a sense of whether or not they are on target and what level of skill is available at various salary levels.

Believe it or not sometimes I’ve placed a higher level candidate into a job than my client thought they needed originally. I’ve also placed a lower level candidate into a job where the client thought they would have to pay more. If the client and the candidate are both happy with the outcome, that’s what matters.

Company Confidential

What does it mean when a job is posted as “Company Confidential?”

From a professional recruiter’s standpoint, I can explain it. Recruiting is a very competitive industry. It’s rare that an outside recruiter has an exclusive arrangement with a hiring company and can post the hiring company’s name. We are protecting our client and we are protecting ourselves.

There are candidates who say they would never “go around” and apply directly to my client company, some of which were actually doing that while they were on the phone with me. So I learned long ago, that as much as I would love to trust everyone. That’s not a smart thing to do.

There are also recruiting companies who don’t have enough work and find it easier to call other recruiters; find out who you are recruiting for and then call that company to sell their own recruiting service. They, of course, don’t tell the recruiter they are competition. They disguise themselves as viable candidates.

Where I find it confusing is when a company who is running their own job postings doesn’t include their name. There are very few explanations for this that make any sense. The ones that come to mind are:

The company is recruiting for a position that currently has someone in it. They can’t risk losing the person they are trying to replace until they have someone new to fill it.

Perhaps the company doesn’t want their competitors to know they are hiring. Although to me that sounds like a positive thing; perhaps they think it makes them look weak.

My favorite is they don’t want to use their real email address because then they will get SPAM emails and they’ll get follow up emails from the applicants. Heaven forbid an applicant knows who you are!

On the down side of not including the hiring company information…well…where to start? If someone is currently employed, they are certainly not going to risk submitting their resume to an unknown company. I know people who have done this. It’s an awkward situation, trying to explain to your boss why you are looking for a new job. I’ve seen it happen.

Employed or unemployed, sending resumes in to automated applicant tracking systems, computers and even to people blindly is extremely frustrating. Why make it more frustrating for the job seekers? They can’t even track where they’ve sent their resume because so many postings don’t include the company name.

There’s a definite downturn in applicants. I recruit full time and I talk with hundreds if not thousands of people who are either actively or passively looking for a new opportunity. It’s my opinion that giving the job seekers more information is a win/win situation for everyone.

Tailoring Your Resume

One of the many issues that get me up on my soap box is the topic of tailoring your resume for the job you are pursuing.

I am not in any way suggesting you fabricate a resume to match the job opening. What I am saying is, if you have the experience that is being sought, leaving it off of your resume is a huge mistake. Searching for the right job is hard work. Yes, this adds to the work you need to put into the search, but it is definitely worth it.

Assumptions about what can be logically gleaned from your resume are dangerous. For example, assuming the hiring manager will know that because you have 30 years’ experience working with cats; you obviously have worked with dogs as well. Who would know that?

When it comes to technical skills, it’s even less obvious. Because you know C++ does not mean you obviously know Java. Because you’ve spent ten years working in accounts payable, does not mean you know how to work in accounts receivable. The people reviewing your resume are not psychic!

I recently had a conversation with a candidate whose resume had not one single key word match. It had not one single skill, degree, capability or talent that was required for the job. He had never worked in the industry of my client or any industry even remotely connected to my client.

During the course of the conversation he told me he literally spent the last thirty years of his life in that industry. He grew up in that “world.” His father was the vice president of a huge corporation and his entire career was focused on this discipline in this industry. (I hear this one all the time. My father or mother was a brain surgeon; therefore, I am qualified to perform brain surgery. Not quite to that level, but you get the idea. Being related to someone who knows how to do the work does not qualify you to do the work).

When I suggested he tailor his resume and put into writing what he knew about the work, the industry and how his skills and talents could be transferred into this field he knew intimately, his answer was: “I tried that once about 30 years ago and it didn’t work. It’s way too much work and I’m not interested in doing that again.”

I’ve also heard: “If the hiring manager is too stupid to know that I can do this work, I don’t want to work there.” That’s good because they don’t want you to work there either.

It’s far too easy to blame someone else for not seeing your worth and to assume your skills are obvious to anyone looking at your resume. It’s a job search and that means there’s work involved.

Beware of Lists

I see so many articles and posts suggesting questions that you really need to ask on an interview. Top ten questions to ask! Don’t leave the interview without asking these important fifteen questions. Seriously?

What is important is that you ask the right person the right types of questions and be aware that some of them will present you in a way you did not intend.

For example:

How often are performance reviews given?
Are salary adjustments geared to the cost of living or job performance?
How does the company measure success?
What exactly does the company value?

All good questions, but if you ask them all, you are really asking: when am I going to get my first pay increase, how often will I be reviewed and given a pay increase, and what do you base my increases on. One of these questions should open a discussion and hopefully result in additional information, however, all of them will make you appear to be only focused on the salary and nothing else.

Another example:

Is this a new position or am I replacing someone?
May I talk with the last person who held this position?

What are you hoping to learn from these types of questions? Do you want to know if the company promotes from within? Or do you want to know if there’s an issue with the boss and no one stays in this position? Perhaps you are hoping to learn both, but it’s highly unlikely anyone will answer honestly if there is an issue and there is high turnover in this position.

Ask questions that are relevant to your situation of the interviewer who is most likely to know the answer.

Questions about the specific work should be addressed to the hiring manager. Questions about benefits and company culture are likely to be answered better by the human resources professional or peers.

Lists can be helpful as suggestions, but don’t think you need to ask them all.