Career Adventure

career development from both sides of the interview table

Interview Question of the Week: Why are you looking for work?

Last week, we covered the top start question for any job interview.  Once you’ve established your professionalism and excellent prep on that question, the next one down the pipe can be a minefield — your motivation for job searching.

If you’re interviewing with me, there are two major aspects of your answer that I’m looking for at the start.

  1. DO NOT badmouth your current/previous company or supervisor.
  2. Disclose enough information that I believe the answer is authentic.

Yes, in some situations these goals are in direct conflict, so giving some thought as to how to handle this question in advance is well-advised, especially if you find rule #1 a tough one to follow.

Still, the answer should always be the TRUTH.  So the first step is to examine your motivation.  Then, keep the following in mind.

The gainfully employed

What the employer thinks: If this is your position, you’re in great territory.  An employer’s ideal is someone who is employed and thriving in their role, so make sure that’s what they see.

What you say: Talk about how much you’ve grown and the opportunities you’ve had to contribute, then focus on what you hope to contribute in a new opportunity.  A lack of growth opportunities or interest in learning a new industry or returning to a previous industry are valid.  New insights on your highest and best use or underutilized talents are also fine.

Sample script: “I’ve really enjoyed my five years with Company X, and it has prepared me for the next step in my career.  I believe I’m ready to handle project management responsibilities, and that kind of growth is not currently available within my organization.  Your organization seems like a great opportunity for me to apply the skills I’ve developed while really stepping up and adding more value.”

The unemployed by choice

What the employer thinks: This can raise some red flags.  If the ideal is to transition from one successful role to another, the interviewer wonders why you deviated from the norm.  They may think you were actually terminated but aren’t saying so, or perhaps you made a rash decision to leave in reaction to too much stress or a dispute with your supervisor, neither of which are good things.  Your job is to allay those fears.

What you say: Again, honesty is important, but you can stay at the high level.  If you had a family issue, say so.  If you did make that rash decision or if there were other issues, touch on them on the high level, then emphasize the lessons you’ve learned and how you plan to move forward.  If you’ve been unemployed for some time, be sure to mention how you’ve used the time to better position yourself for growth.

Sample script:  “After five years with Company X, I realized that my career aspirations weren’t in sync with the company’s direction.  At the close of my last major project, I saw an opportunity to transition out with minimum disruption to the organization.  Since then, I’ve been pursuing a certification in project management and exploring career paths that appeal to me.  I now feel confident that I can add value in a role like the one we’re discussing today.”

Laid off/Downsized

What the employer thinks: Take heart.  In today’s economy, no one will doubt the veracity of this claim.  In fact, it’s likely not to affect your image when interviewing.  Still, you have to lay it on the table.

What to say: Be honest, and give just enough detail to prop up your story.  Then focus on your next move.

Sample script: “In October, my company elected to eliminate my division as part of cost cutbacks.  I was one of five people laid off at that time.  Since then, I’ve been actively looking for an opportunity that is a good fit for my background and skills and where I feel that my talents will be well utilized.”

Dismissed for cause

What the employer thinks: Okay, can’t lie.  This one is problematic.  You need to help the employer understand why your previous issue is not a predictor of future results.

What to say: I think the only way to emerge from this successfully is to keep it short and simple, insert a mea culpa of some kind, and talk about either why it will never happen again, or why this position is a completely different situation.

Sample script: “To be perfectly honest, my employment was terminated.  The scope of my position had changed significantly in the last six months of my tenure, and my results were not on target with the new expectations.  I learned that operations is not my forte, and that’s why I’m looking for a sales-focused role like this where I’ve had proven positive results in the past.”

That’s it. But your answer will not stand alone.  Two more things to keep in mind:

  • A company with sound hiring practices will check your references, so anticipate the information that might come out and handle it tactfully and professionally.
  • Anything you say invites follow-up questions.  After you prep your response, brainstorm potential follow-ups and be prepared for those as well.

This can be one of the most uncomfortable questions to tackle, the other biggie being salary which we’ll tackle later.  If you can confidently tackle this one, you will definitely set yourself apart from the crowd.

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Filed under: howto, Interview Question of the Week, job hunt, , , ,

Neuroscience and You: Working with your brain on your job hunt

One of the most enriching parts of Human Resources work for me is involvement in coaching.  While I’m searching for a new position, I’ve been taking the opportunity to catch up on research, discussion and methodology to hone my coaching abilities.

So, wandering through iTunes today, I ran across some recordings from the 2008 Asia Pacific Neuroleadership Summit via Results Coaching Systems in Australia.  Listening to “Coaching with the Brain in Mind” brought forth a point that may be worth considering in prepping for your next job interview:

Stress can literally short-circuit your ability to put forward your best self

David Rock shares the following about the way the brain works:

  • We have the capability to change the way we think and behave, but it requires significant conscious effort and attention.
  • The brain contains vast amounts of information.  As a way to maximize efficiency, the brain’s natural instinct is to move information that we utilize on a regular basis from working memory, which takes a lot of energy and resources, to our “hard wiring.”
  • Stressful situations, especially situations where we fear for our image or sense of self, overwhelm the brain with electrical activity.
  • This increased activity causes the brain to seek self-preservation through stasis, reverting to those behaviors that are hard wired and automatic.

Prepping for an interview is essential to putting forward your very best self.  But how do you target your prep so that you can overcome the effects of stress and focus on the content of the interview, rather than the context?  Answer: move as much as possible into your hard-wiring so that you can focus your attention on the fine-tuning.

Level 1:  Behaviors

The straightforward piece of this is identifying behaviors that might interfere with your perceived professionalism, energy or intellect.  Things like posture, rate of speech, word choice, facial expressions or manner of dress all have an impact on your first impression and the way you connect with an interviewer.  Luckily, these are all things you can practice every day, not just in an interview situation.  Make a list of things you’d like to work on.  Ask trusted friends, family or colleagues to help you identify areas of improvement if you need an outside perspective.  Then look for opportunities to practice more effective behaviors.  Maintain good posture while driving.  Put a quarter in a jar every time you say “like” or “um.”  Whatever it takes.

Level 2: Content

One of the best ways to prepare for interviews is to create narratives around your past projects and experiences that demonstrate your work.  In another post, we’ll talk about how to craft effective answers for behavioral interviewing questions.  For now, understand that every experience and project listed on your resume is ripe for questioning.  Take time to develop short speeches, one to three minutes each, identifying how these experiences have qualified you for the next step in your career.  Then practice, practice, practice.  If you can ensure that your attention in an interview doesn’t need to be on the details of your experience, you can better customize the story to the situation or react to facial expressions or body language that may tip you off to questions or concerns the interviewer holds.

Power Tip: Refining the system

Last thing to do: institute quality control.  If you’re in a situation where you recognize that these behaviors you’ve been practicing didn’t come through, take note, then practice that behavior more.

With work, you can develop a more professional, confident demeanor that comes through in the most stressful of circumstances.

Filed under: job hunt, mindset, , , , , , , ,

About Career Adventure

Career Adventure is the blog of Kristi Daeda, a Human Resources and recruiting pro sharing thoughts on career development from both sides of the interview table.

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