Interview Questionnaires

image_print

Some of my clients like to send out a brief interview questionnaire prior to scheduling an in-person interview. They provide a set of questions designed to see how the candidate communicates in writing as well as learn about some specific skills and experience.  The human resources and hiring managers put a great deal of thought into what to ask in order to learn more about the candidates.

I forward these interview questionnaires on to the candidates so I’ve seen more than most people when it comes to what types of questions are out there. I always include a link to the company web site so the candidates are able to research the company.

It is surprising to see how little effort some candidates put into providing responses.

The following are a few examples of questions, what the question really means and how short and sweet is not always the best way to move forward:

Question: The job requires significant travel.  Are you ok with traveling up to 80% of your time and working odd shifts to accommodate the customer’s schedules?

Answer: “Yes”

Feedback: This is your chance to tell the hiring manager how you feel about travel.  How excited you are to travel.  How you love to travel.  How you have traveled in the past and where and how well you interact with different cultures.  Possibly even mention you have some additional language skills that may be useful.  Or let them know you have a passport or want to get a passport or have always dreamed of having a job that allows you the opportunity to see the world.

Question: How well do you know MS Office?  Explain.

Answer: “Excellent computer skills.”

Feedback: This is your opportunity to elaborate on how you have used the various MS Office products in the past.  How you use Word and Excel on a daily basis.  How you are a guru with MS Project or Access or feel that you can use Outlook to its full capacity.  You could also list computer software training courses you’ve already taken.  You could offer to take computer software training courses in areas where you feel you could learn more.

Question: How much do you know about our professional product line and equipment?

Answer: “Some”

Feedback: This is where you can show off your technical expertise and experience and show your excitement for the opportunity to work for this company and its products.

Even these seemingly unimportant pre-interview questionnaires are examples of you and your work. Remember to think through your reply and always proofread everything!

It’s great to be concise and to the point with your answers and you don’t want to babble on without making a point, but be mindful of what the question is really asking and respond in a way that showcases your skills in the best possible way.

Mini Job Application Tests

image_print

All parts of the application and interview process could be viewed as “mini tests.” When applying for a new job there are so many major ways to make mistakes.  There are also a variety of actual tests (personality profiling, technical skills, etc).

There are some very subtle ways to mess up as well. Many companies use a variety of methods to screen out candidates and you don’t even know it.

For example:

Did you follow the directions in the job posting and apply correctly?

Did you send in an HTML or PDF when you were specifically asked for a Word document?

Did you include a cover letter, if requested?

Did you include a portfolio or references, if requested?

Are there spelling and/or grammatical errors on your resume or cover letter?

Did you spell the name of the company correctly?

If you received an email, text or phone message asking you to call, did you do it?

Did you schedule an interview and arrive late? Not show up?  Show up, but not dressed appropriately?

Did you go to an interview and not do any research about the company before hand?

While, any one of these could be a very minor mistake, it could also be what rules you out completely.

Every little thing you do and say can be viewed as another “test.”

Salary Requirement

image_print

We all know the mantra “He or she who states the salary requirement first loses.”  As a recruiter I struggle with the salary requirement question all the time.

There’s too much advice out there instructing job seekers to never tell the potential employer what they want for salary because it might be too high or too low.  What about it might be in the range?  What about how much time you are wasting if you really must have $300K per year for salary and the range goes up to $75K.  Are you really interested in the job at that rate?

That example is a bit extreme; however, I’ve seen potential candidates talk their way out of even getting an interview by trying to coyly avoid answering the question “What is your salary expectation?”

That’s a tough question. Answers I’ve heard that didn’t work:

Salary.com says the range should be (insert range here) and I’m fine with that.

It depends upon the exact package…(so if I say it pays minimum wage but the company pays for your medical insurance and has a pool table in the break room, will that work for you?)

I’ll tell you my salary expectation as soon as you tell me what the top of the range is… (then it will be the top of the range)

I’m flexible.   (What exactly does this mean?)

Money is not at the top of my list, the job responsibilities are more important to me.  (Does this mean you will work for free if you love your job?)

The one thing I know for a fact, when it comes to salaries:  When I say the range is $50 – 100K, the only number the candidate hears is $100K.  I honestly don’t know why everyone looking for work feels they automatically will receive an offer at the top of the range but I’ve never once had a candidate tell me $50K is exactly what they are looking for based on that range.

Unemployed Is NOT Who You Are

image_print

For so many people who they are, is tied into what they do.  I have noticed when you meet someone for the first time; it’s acceptable to ask “What do you do?”

Many people seem to define who they are as a person by stating what they do for work. So then, what happens when you lose your job?

“What do you do?” becomes a dreaded question seeming to require admission that you’re unemployed. As if this is the equivalent of saying you have the plague or you’ve just discovered you are totally worthless.

Being laid off, RIF’ed (reduction in force), down-, right- or smart-sized, redeployed, being part of a simplification, shaping, or optimization of the workforce, having your job outsourced or whatever the term of the day is does not mean you have no value.  If you have never had any of these things happen to you, you are extremely rare!

You are still a person and can still use your career as part of your definition of yourself. It is important to have a positive attitude and a smile!

Some responses I’ve heard from some very upbeat people to the question “What do you do?”

  • I’m currently an unemployed Electrical Engineer, but I’m working on finding a new employer and in the meantime I’m working on some design ideas of my own.
  • Right now I’m a Nutritional Delivery Expert (aka pizza delivery) but I plan to go back to Software Programming and I’m taking on-line courses in cutting edge technology (insert latest software language here)
  • I’m an Accountant. While I’m searching for my next position I’m studying for the CPA exams.

Whatever you say, make it a positive statement that indicates you are seeking something appropriate, you’re not just waiting for a job to fall into your lap, you’re keeping current in your field and you have a sense of humor.

Never under estimate the value of a good sense of humor!

Cover Letters

image_print

I am often asked if cover letters are really all that important. How much work should be put into tailoring and customizing a cover letter to submit with a resume?

My answer is “it depends.” Some hiring managers read cover letters just as carefully as the resume. Some people put more emphasis on the cover letter than the resume itself. Others skip them completely and just focus on the resume.

If the job posting specifically requests a cover letter, omitting it could get your resume rejected automatically.  Including a well-written cover letter, even if it is not required, adds a level of professionalism to your application.  Not everyone takes the time to write them.

However, sending a cover letter that you have cut and pasted from a previous application is dangerous.  The most common mistakes include:

  • Forgetting to change the name of the company
  • Forgetting to change the salutation
  • Forgetting to change the job title
  • Including a detailed list of your specific skills and how they apply to some other job

All of these mistakes will detract from your overall presentation.

Sometimes the request for a cover letter is a test to see how well you follow directions and communicate. This is especially important for management positions and roles that typically require written correspondence as part of your daily tasks.

Cover letters should never have any spelling mistakes, typos or grammatical errors. If you are a Technical Writer, Marketing candidate or Editor, your resume will be viewed even more critically.

Sadly, I once received a resume from a highly degreed Technical Writer. His resume had thirty-two spelling errors in it.  When I pointed that out, his response was, “Well, if the company can’t see beyond that, then I don’t want to work for them.”  The feeling was mutual.

For some brief examples of poorly written cover letters, see http://www.calm-water.com/interesting-cover-letters%e2%80%a6/

 

Networking Your Way Into a New Job

image_print

Is networking your way into a new job the best approach? When it comes to questions like this my answer is always “it depends.” I don’t see the world as black and white.  To me there are always gray areas.

There is so much black and white/one-size-fits-all advice on job hunting. I see people taking this advice to heart and not getting the results they thought they would get.

Standard Advice says:  Network your way into the hiring manager. Don’t go through Human Resources.  Use social media sites and all of your networking connections to find the name and contact information for the person who is ultimately hiring for the position you want.  Then, contact that person directly and ask for an informational interview.

That advice actually works, sometimes.  Other scenarios I’ve seen have not worked well at all.

In some cases, I’ve seen the job seeker succeed in getting the information.  They have bypassed all the gatekeepers including Human Resources and are in direct contact with the hiring manager.

Depending upon the size and configuration of the company, they may have just succeeded in eliminating any chance of getting the job.

If it’s a very small company, the Human Resources person may be related to the owner/president of the company.  The HR person may have more influence than you think.

If it’s a very large company, the Vice President of Human Resources may have the ultimate signature authority on the position.

Either way, they won’t be smiling favorably on someone who didn’t bother to submit a resume through the proper channels.

“Informational interviews” have become synonymous with trickery.

What used to be a good way for someone to find out if a career field, company culture or company mission was the right place for them, has turned into a sneaky way to get a job interview.

So many people use a request for an informational interview for the wrong reasons now; it is increasingly rare for anyone to agree to it.

While this method of job hunting may still work in some situations, be very careful who you bypass, step on or step over on your way to that perfect job.

Remember, even if you get the job, you will have to work with the people you avoided, alienated and in general ticked off.

 

Why Leave Your Current Employer

image_print

One of the most common interview questions is, “Why do you want to leave your current employer?” There are many old adages that apply here:  “Misery loves company” and “honesty is the best policy” spring to mind.  While it is human nature to complain, vent and whine, be careful when and where you do this.

Sadly, some people just want or need to complain all the time. And complete and total honesty is not always the best response.

If you have a job with a miserable boss, coworkers, environment, culture or something is bothering you and you just need to get it off your chest, that’s one thing. But as much as you might feel better about letting it out, don’t do it all the time and be very careful when and to whom you share. And remember not everyone wants to hear why you want to leave your job.

It’s fine to tell your best friend, a family member, a coworker who shares your point of view, or a counselor. Of course you have to be careful with the coworker confidante because that might backfire on you when your coworker starts sharing your point of view with others in the office.

If you easily fall into the routine of venting about work, you need to be extra careful when you go on an interview. At some point you will be asked why you left a previous job or why you want to leave where you work now.  This is not the time to dump out every horrible thing that has ever happened to you.

Figure out why you want to leave and word it in the most polite and precise way possible. Short, to the point, professional and non-defensive reasons are the best way to respond.  Even if you need to leave because your boss is chasing you around your desk with a meat cleaver, you want to say something less obnoxious and perhaps a tiny bit less honest.

Perhaps you’re looking for an opportunity with growth potential, new and/or different challenges, a shorter commute, a chance to work in a different industry or a more stable work environment.

Even if it’s true; saying your boss assigns everyone in the company days and times to babysit her toddler during work hours, it isn’t going to make a very good impression. And while that is not the strangest reason I’ve heard for leaving a company, who would believe you?

Building a Job Search Team

image_print

Job searching is a lonely endeavor. It doesn’t need to be and it’s so much easier if you have a job search team to help you.

If you were starting a company, you would reach out to various people for advice. You would probably even have a core team of mentors or a board of directors or advisers. These are all people you can count on to help guide you. People you can call when you have a specific question, specialists in various areas where you know you may need some help or are feeling like you just need a sounding board.

The same goes with a job search. Put together a team of friends, family members, career coaches, resume writers, recruiters, etc. As with a board of directors, some of these people will need to be paid. Many of them will be open to just being there for you and helping on an as-needed basis.

Other suggestions for members of your team could be former coworkers or supervisors, members of your church or other groups (e.g., Toastmasters, the Elks, the Rotary, and Masons). Every person you know has connections you don’t know about. Ask politely if they would be willing to “help” you and don’t expect someone to do it all for you.

As a recruiter, I often tell candidates, “Just think of me as part of your job search team. I may have an opening that I think is right for you and I’ll be in touch. If I post an opening and you see it and think it’s right for you, call me!” I have worked with candidates who have connected with me on LinkedIn and see that I know people at a company where they want to work. They call and we talk about whether or not my connections can help provide insight into the company or get them connected to someone who can help them get referred for a specific job. Yes, sometimes that means I get paid by the company for finding and placing a candidate. More often it just means I’ve connected people for free and that’s fine with me. That’s not always acceptable with all recruiters, but it works for me.

My advice is, don’t do this alone. Build your own job search team.

 

 

The Dangers of Applying for Every Job

image_print

You’re new to job searching or you’ve been out of work for months or years. At some point, it may seem like a good idea to apply for every job posting you see.  While there may be something to the technique of blasting your resume out to every job posted….Don’t do it!

While you may just be thinking you would be happy doing any type of work as long as it brings in some money or you genuinely believe you are equally qualified to be a Research Scientist or a Certified Public Accountant, think some more about that before you submit your resume for both.

If you actually have a CPA license and a PhD in Chemistry and have done both jobs over the course of your career, you should have two separate and distinct resumes tailored to pursue these two completely different jobs.

The dangers of applying for every job should be obvious.

First, you dilute your image. If you are submitting your resume for everything, you have likely spent some time rewriting it to make it as generic as possible so you seem to be somewhat qualified for everything.  So when you submit your resume for a job that you truly want and have a stellar background that applies to this job, your resume has been watered down to the point where you’ve left all the good parts off.

Second, if you are applying to the same company or the same recruiter for every job posted, after seeing the same resume multiple times, it will just stop looking right for anything. Most likely, we’ll just stop looking at it at all.

Third, it sends a message of desperation. While you may feel desperate and things may seem desperate to you, the last thing you want to do is present yourself in a manner that makes you look desperate.

One of the most difficult parts of a job search is attitude. Getting to a positive state of mind and staying there is vital.  Do whatever it takes to keep your confidence level up, your sense of self-esteem and that includes being selective about what you are applying for in the first place.

For more information on keeping a positive attitude see:

http://www.calm-water.com/unemployed-doesnt-define-who-you-are/

 

The Importance of Returning Phone Calls

image_print

A quick reminder on the importance of returning phone calls, especially when you re in job search mode. This applies to any phone call for any position you have applied for and even for some you have not, but is most easily demonstrated with the specific discipline of sales candidates.

I have never seen a job description for Sales that does not include phone/communication skills. Therefore, when I post a job for any level or type of Sales opportunity, if the resume I receive looks like a possible match, I reply to the email with a message such as: “Please call me to discuss.”

Close to ninety percent of the candidates do NOT call me. And, yes on many occasions I have called and left messages or sent texts in addition to responding to the email asking for a phone call.

This makes my job easier.  If the candidate isn’t the type of person to pick up the phone and follow up on my email, then they are not likely going to be a stellar sales person for my client.

If you are truly looking for a new opportunity and someone calls you to discuss, it is very important that you actually return the phone call.