Henry Ford said, "Quality means doing it right when no one is looking."
This quotation is great advice for any involved in a job search. Whether your checking jobs online or setting up a networking meeting or preparing for an interview, the job search is often a solitary activity - "no one is looking." The only way to be successful is to hold yourself accountable to work through the silence and rejection that comes with looking for work. If you want a good job and a career with a future, pay attention the quality of how you look for work.
I’ve often cautioned readers about one size fits all rules. Too much career advice is based on the words always and never. Here’s another example: Stay at a job at least a year before leaving. In most cases, it’s good to do this. However, there are circumstances when we should leave a job as soon as possible.
Mark (not his real name) is a client who received an offer to work for a company everyone would recognize. During his interview, Mark felt uneasy about the person who would be his supervisor. He talked to his family about not taking the job. They told him that he had to take it because working at this company would look good on his resume.
Mark called me after working at his new job for only four months. In that time, his two co-workers had quit because they could not take the boss’s constant belittling and bullying. Both employees went to HR, but nothing was done to change the way they were treated. Mark was worried about how it would look if he left a job before completing at least a year. I told him that it would be a concern for some employers, but he had to weigh that concern against how he was being treated.
Why should anyone stay in such job? Mark’s challenge will be to explain why he is leaving so soon. We talked about how he can do that in a way that doesn’t bring up his boss or his problem with the job. We also discussed how he can present what he has accomplished in his short tenure. A good employer will look beyond how long Mark stayed at this job to see what he has accomplished at other jobs and in school. The worst thing Mark could do is stay in a job where he is exposed to unprofessional treatment. My advice: Why wait eight months? Start looking now.
Clients often come to me to help with interview preparation. In almost every case, they express anxiety about the process. This is true of young people starting their career and senior level professionals. What’s behind this concern? Practice. We do our jobs every day and are confident we can do them. Depending on how long we have been with an employer and how long it takes to find a job, a person could go on just a few interviews over span of years or decades. Confident professionals are often terrified to go on job interviews.
Interviewing is a skill, and, like any skill, it takes practice. Imagine if you played golf or pool or bowling (individual sports). If you played that sport on a regular basis, you would know your level of skill. We are anxious when we interview because we do it so infrequently. If you were a good golfer, but hadn’t picked up your clubs for ten years, you would approach the first tee with anxiety. The same principle holds true in interviewing.
What can you do to be calmer? First, practice your skills. Focus on building a dialogue with the interviewer and demonstrating your strengths. Another cause of anxiety at job interviews is the mistaken belief that a job interview is like a test. Applicants are so worried about how they word an answer and giving the “best” answer that qualified people make themselves sound like they can’t do the job. Listen to what the interviewer is saying, and engage in a conversation. That will help calm things down. The most important thing you can do to be calm at an interview is to know your strengths and present them in a way that makes the employer want to hire you.
Interviewing is never easy. But, if you practice the right way, it can be less stressful.
Clients will frequently tell me that they’ve found a great job. That’s half the battle. A job description gives you an idea of what you’d be doing at a given company. It cannot help you with a bigger issue: the people you’ll be working with. A perfect job on paper can turn into a nightmare if your new boss is a micro manager or your co-workers are dysfunctional. When you interview, pay attention to the personality projected by your prospective boss. If possible, ask to meet your co-workers and get a feel for who they are and what they would be like to work with. Take the time to evaluate all aspects of a potential employer, especially the people you will be working with
This is one of the nastiest questions that can come up in a job interview. Mille Montejo of the National Resume Writers Association linked to a great post from Donna Svei’s blog Avid Careerist. If you’ve ever been fired, I urge you to read this post and take what it says to heart. I thank Donna and Mille for sharing this advice.
As I often put it to my clients: Only look back when it helps you look forward
A client called today to go over some points before a job interview. He was worried about a small gap in his resume and the level of his Excel skills. I reassured him that a small gap was not a problem. I also pointed out that his Excel skills may not be a problem. He would learn more about that during the interview.
While it is important to think about any weak points before an interview, it is more important to know and be able to present your strengths. Here’s a simple way to evaluate your strengths: Why are you good at what you do? Make an inventory of your achievements and success stories. Be sure these points are highlighted on your resume and that you are able to present them during a job interview.
We tend to focus too much on the question: What can go wrong? That leads us to think about our weaknesses. A good interview must convey competence and confidence, not weakness. Know your strengths and be able to sell them. That’s the key to a good interview.
One of my clients called today. He’s received a job offer from one company. However, another company, one he’d rather work for, hasn’t gotten back to him after three interviews. He asked me what he should do. My answer is simple: Follow up.
There is no harm in letting a company that might be interested in hiring you that another employer has made you an offer. What do you have to lose? Both companies have shown interest in hiring you. The one that has not made an offer might be dragging its feet, but it could still be interested. You’ll never know if you don’t follow up.
The job market is challenged. Salary offers tend to be low. The only way to get a good offer is to give yourself every opportunity to test the market. If you’re lucky enough to be involved in multiple interviews, follow up on the offer.
I’ve been a Resume Writer for more than 10 years. In that time, I’ve met very few clients who were offered and accepted a job without meeting their immediate supervisor. However, in those rare cases when an applicant is hired in this manner, employment tends to be short term and ugly.
Most supervisors resent it when their boss makes a hiring decision without their input. They see the new employee as an outsider, maybe even a threat. In a recent case, one of my clients was written up two weeks after starting her job. She asked her supervisor for help, but received no support. A few weeks later, she tried to call her boss about a problem that needed immediate attention. The call was never returned. When she asked her boss about the situation, the answer was curt: “You should have known what to do.”
Needless to say, my client did not last beyond a 90 day probation period. What could she have done differently? Ask to meet her supervisor before accepting the job. As I said above, this situation is rare. But you should be ready if you encounter it. Always know who your supervisor will be. If that person is not part of the interviewing process, ask to have an interview with the supervisor before accepting an offer. If that request is denied, take it as a big red flag about the employer and how it operates. Be very careful about choosing to work for this type of company.
One of my clients has worked for the same employer for more than 10 years. For much of that time he has felt undervalued and underpaid. Recently, two of his co-workers moved to a competitor. They arranged for my client to interview. His current employer heard about this, which could lead to dismissal. In Illinois, an employer can use looking for a new job as a reason to terminate an employee.
Needless to say, my client was very nervous when his boss called him into the office. Rather than fire my client, his boss promoted him and gave him a significant raise. In a time when promotions and raises are rare, this example shows the value of interviewing. It also underscores the importance of knowing your industry and maintaining good relationships with co-workers. If my client’s co-workers had not set up the interview, he would not have received the opportunity for promotion and a raise.
Did my client take a risk? Yes, he could have been fired. But, by taking that risk, he has moved his career forward. If you don’t take risks, you don’t move.
Interviews are all about questions, so the most important interviewing skill would seem to be answering questions. Many book titles play off this assumption, offering 100 or 200 best answers to interview questions. In coaching clients at all stages of their career, I’ve found that there is a skill that is much more important: listening.
A job interview is not a test. Companies evaluate potential employers based on a variety of factors. Interviews are usually the final evaluation, and they often get down to intuition about who will be the best fit. Employers offer positions to candidates who make them the most confident. Someone who is listening will speak more clearly to what an employer needs. Rather than spitting out scripted answers, someone who is listening will build a dialogue with the people who are interviewing her.
When we show that we are listening, we also demonstrate that we respect other people’s ideas and opinions. We also show an ability to understand other people and what they need from us. If a candidate doesn’t listen well during a job interview, how will that person perform after she has been hired?
To improve your odds of landing a good job, it is important to improve your listening skills. Practice interviewing with a friend, and have her occasionally ask you to repeat the question that was asked. Another good tactic is to repeat the resume or key word or phases in the question at the beginning of your answer. Listening is a skills, and it can be improved with practice.
Here’s one final benefit of focusing more on listening and less on having the perfect answer: You will be less nervous during interviews. People who script answers go into an interview with an anticipation that they know what questions will be asked. The problem is that interviews seldom follow the script. By listening, you will be engaged in a dialogue with the interviewer. You will be speaking to her questions and asking questions that will help you show what you can contribute as a new employee. You will also be more relaxed because you will not be focused on uttering the perfect answer. Listen first – that’s the key to a great interview.
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