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.

If you’d like to keep up with our Interview Question of the Week, be sure to subscribe in your feed reader to receive updates to the site.

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

HowTo LinkedIn #2: Write a killer headline

If you missed it, you can check out HowTo LinkedIn #1: Creating your unique URL here.

Go check out the competition.  Search LinkedIn for keywords that might find someone like you.  Chances are, you see hundreds or thousands of search results within miles of you.  Your profile can easily be lost in a sea of people with similar backgrounds and career interests.  How do you get attention from a potential client, employer or influential contact?

One way to break through the clutter: a killer headline.

A headline is your chance to make a personal statement about who you are, what you believe, and what you have to offer.  It’s an opportunity to pique a reader’s interest or connect with an employer’s need.  While the profile speaks to qualifications for a job, a headline can speak to motivation.  Profile: professional, Headline: personality.  Use this space to sell yourself as the individual that you are.

Some things to keep in mind when writing a headline:

  • Keywords — Ultimately, the higher in a search you appear, the more likely you are to be scoped out by a potential connection.  Understand what keywords are most likely to be used in a search for someone like you.  You’ll want to pepper them through your profile, but having them in your headline will help your search positioning.
  • Catchy — If your headline can make a reader stop and wonder, you’re in good shape.  Try to craft something that will induce someone to click on your profile, even out of sheer curiosity.

Some examples:

Marketing maven with a passion for online communities.

IT specialist devoted to creating stable, scalable solutions for small business.

Office Manager and your next indispensable right hand.

Or, whatever makes sense for your situation.

Now, if you’re looking for a new opportunity like me, you may also want to consider putting that information in your headline.  Here’s my current headline as an example:

linkedin-headline2

So, go take a crack at making your own splash in LinkedIn search, and let me know how it goes.  What’s your headline?  Share it in the comments below.

Filed under: howto, networking, web tools, , , , , ,

Finding the humor in job loss

Humor is the instinct for taking pain playfully.

–Max Eastman

Everywhere you go nowadays, it seems someone has lost their job.  Your brother, your cousin, your dry cleaner’s daughter…  The bright side for the unemployed?  The stigma of job loss is dissolving.  Chances are if someone hasn’t experienced it personally, they’ve either known someone, or watched competent peers go through it in their own companies.

So, job loss is less shameful, perhaps.  But is it ever funny?

An article from Workforce.com examines the controversy over recent ads by Monster that use humor to point out that not everyone is in the right job.  Some say that humor in light of the slew of corporate layoffs and ever-increasing unemployment is out-of-step with public sentiment, as so many people are either out of work or grateful to have any job, regardless of how well it may suit them.

Job loss can be difficult, demoralizing, scary.  But dwelling on the negative doesn’t benefit anyone.  So, here are some guidelines:

If you have lost your job… Make all the jokes you want, but don’t focus on mocking either your former employer or yourself.  If you indulge in negative talk about your employer, either seriously or in jest, you may find this tendency sneaking out at inappropriate times.  Like a job interview.  Harboring resentment doesn’t get you anywhere, and if you’re not vigilant, you may reflect it in your body language or tone of voice.  And don’t be too hard on yourself, either.  Your mindset about your own capabilities will affect your effectiveness while networking or interviewing as well.

If you are a “survivor”… Recognize that times around your workplace are tough.  A little laughter can break the tension, but you want to avoid comments about those individuals who did not survive the layoffs, as you don’t know who maintains close relationships with those individuals.  You can lose trust and credibility with your coworkers.  And don’t think that just because someone doesn’t come to the office every day that they don’t hear what’s going on.

If you’re managing survivors… You’re subject to the same rules as above with one additional restriction: no jokes about who will be the “next to go.”  The possibility of further layoffs will be on your team’s mind and interfering with their productivity.  Bringing additional focus on the possibility, even in jest, won’t help them regain focus.

Alright, so a little levity on a Friday is in order.  Want to enjoy some job-loss humor without risking your career?  Thank Dilbert.

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

Offer: Free resume critique

If you would like to be considered for a free resume critique in the future, please contact me.  As part of an upcoming feature on this site, your resume will be reviewed and suggestions offered.  You can participate anonymously or get a little extra exposure for your job search, as you prefer.  Submissions should be in Word format (.doc, .docx).  Looking forward to hearing from you!

Filed under: job hunt, offers, resumes, , , , , ,

Interview Question of the Week: Tell Me About Yourself

Today I’m launching a new feature: Interview Question of the Week.  Each week I’ll share a new potential interview question, along with some thoughts on effective and ineffective answers.  Different interviewers have different goals with various questions, so if you have a different take, please share in the comments.

In keeping with kicking off the series, this week’s question is the one that so often kicks off interviews: Tell me about yourself.

Now, I’m sure your poodle, Fluffy, is delightful and your ballroom dance classes are really paying off, but this isn’t what I’m looking to hear about here.

Your answer to this question is the interview equivalent of an elevator pitch, your opportunity to create a picture of who you are and what you offer in 2 minutes or less.  It should be:

  • Well-rehearsed. If nothing else, this.  This is a softball question — after all, what could you know more about than yourself?  If you can’t knock this one out of the park, your following responses will be overshadowed.
  • Professionally focused. I am all for injecting personality into the speech.  It humanizes you as a candidate and sparks conversation.  But such tidbits should be garnish.  Your experience, background and career focus should be the meat.  So, if you must tell me about Fluffy, great, but do so after I hear about your success leading teams, developing software, meeting sales quotas, or whatever it is that you do.
  • New information.  An interviewer has your resume.  Some of your intro will have to touch on items on your resume, but take this opportunity to fill in the context.  Share motivation, challenges, turning points, whatever is appropriate to flesh out the narrative.

If you’re struggling with what to say, rephrase the question in your head.  Answer the question: “Why are you here today applying for this job?”  Tackle, tactfully, why you’re looking and what you think you have to offer.  The train of thought probably looks like this.

You focused:

  1. My name is _____ and I’ve worked in _____ for _____ years.
  2. I started my career with …
  3. Over time I moved up the ranks to work in _____ and _____.
  4. Most recently I’ve worked for _____ in their _____ area.
  5. I joined the company to help them with …
  6. But over time my role grew to include …
  7. While I’ve enjoyed the opportunity I’ve come to believe a new position is appropriate at this time because…

Position and Company Focused:

  1. I learned about your company through …
  2. I know that you have a need in _____ area …
  3. My knowledge about your company strategy/culture/etc. made me believe that I may be able to assist you because…
  4. I think my experience could assist you with …
  5. And I’m pleased to have the opportunity to discuss how I can assist you here today.

Write and rewrite your basic script.  Use descriptive language.  Use humor if you can.  Understand that this speech isn’t just designed to provide background — it’s designed to make the interviewer like you.

If you do well with this question, you will surpass the vast majority of your competition, and you may just pave the way for a more congenial, enjoyable interview.

Any luck with this method?  See things differently?  Let me know in the comments.

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

Another reason to diversify

Your job efforts, that is.

New statistics show that online job searching is skyrocketing, especially on some of the less-known job sites.

The same article points out that women spend more time on searching online.  Their conclusion — women are being disproportionately affected by the economy.  I’ll throw out an alternative — women may be less likely to use their networks to find their next opportunity.

So, keep in mind that the competition online is getting tougher, and adjust the time you spend there accordingly.  Then, find a way to distinguish yourself from the crowd.

Filed under: job hunt, trends, , , , , , ,

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, , , , , , , ,

The five things I want out of a job candidate

There are dozens of places to find tips on interviewing, including this one.  Much of the advice you’ll find is foundational — the basics that are required to get your rear end into the interview chair and to be considered on the same plane as your fellow candidates.

The basics are important.  Trust me, plenty of people get them wrong.  But my wish-list when I’m looking for new staff includes more than shined shoes and plenty of fresh resumes.

Nothing pleases a recruiter more than a candidate that just rocks the interview.  When the conversation pops.  When you want to trade them their fresh resume for the employee handbook and keys to their new office.  But these people are few and far between.

These five things are so rare to see, but so powerful.  If I have anything to say about it, they’re guaranteed to get you an offer:

  1. Clarity — Show me that you’ve thought about this opportunity and exactly how it will fit your master career plan.  Tell me exactly what you want out of a new employer, and exactly why you think my company might be able to offer it.  But first, tell me what you do best and how you think it fits with what we’re asking.  If you hem or haw you’ve lost me.  Don’t be a know-it-all — I know better than you do what I’m looking for — but use what you do know to connect to what you have to offer.  I’ll help you fill in the gaps.
  2. Blue-sky attitude — The last thing I want is a that’s-not-my-jobber, the person who performs within their job description and checks out at 5 pm.  Think of where your value is in the organization, and how you can grow your contribution.  Be open to change.  Bonus points for proof you’ve initiated it.
  3. Curiosity — I always leave about a third of the interview time, sometimes more, to answer a candidate’s questions.  Please don’t be the shortest interview of the day by not having any.  My ideal candidate wants to understand the organization even if they don’t get the job — they can always file info away under “industry knowledge.”  Specific questions about the company, industry, market trends, challenges, opportunities, growth plan…  all of these show an interest in what makes the organization tick, and make for a much more interesting conversation.
  4. Energy — Don’t get too comfortable — you’ll look like you’re on auto-pilot.  Stay engaged in the conversation.  Lean towards me; smile.  Gesture precisely.  Walk confidently.  Then tell me about the time that you put in eighty hour weeks to crank out a client deliverable or the fact that you spend weekends working with Habitat for Humanity.  I want to see someone who thrives off of challenge, enrichment, personal development.  If I as the employer can offer you that, I can expect an engaged, successful performer.
  5. Action — This one is the most important.  The first four show ability and state of mind.  Action is what gets results.  Behavioral-based interviewing is very common, with questions like “Tell me about the time you managed a project against a difficult deadline.”  These questions give you a chance to show me not just what you know, but how you use it.  Tell me in detail what you did and what came of it.  Action, result, action, result, wash, rinse, repeat.  Prove that you’ve delivered value in your previous roles, so that I can expect the same.

Demonstrating these qualities in an interview will put you far ahead of your competition.

Filed under: job hunt, ,

Don’t let job loss get in the way of job found

Even the most hard-nosed executive harbors some self-doubt — the little voice that questions decisions and pauses in the face of challenge.  And if one thing can turn that little voice into a frenzied chorus of criticism it’s job loss.

It’s been almost two weeks since I found myself on the corporate chopping block.  In the first days, I experienced shock and panic.  Now, my job search and daily activities operate over an undercurrent of malaise.  I have more difficulty focusing.  I notice myself reading and re-reading my correspondence.  My train of thought occasionally derails in Worst Case Scenarioville.  None of these helps me project my very best self to potential employers.

If you’re in a similar boat, it makes sense to spend at  least part of your focus mentally preparing yourself for your job search.  Here’s a few ideas for moving past a layoff into a brighter future:

  • Get it out —  Find a way to purge your feelings about the situation.  Write nasty letters to your former employer that you’ll never send.  Jump up and down and scream a bit.  Hit the gym and run it out of you.  Whatever you need to do.  Spend time destressing each day for the first week or so, and then whenever you feel those doubts and fears sneaking up on you again.
  • Get a goal — My first instinct was to rush out and get a job.  Any job.  Please someone, anyone, just employ me!  But then I realized that rarely do you have the opportunity to devote all of your energies to identifying and pursuing your highest and best use.  What a shame to lose that chance.  Consider where you want to go next.  Type of job.  Type of company.  Geography.  Compensation.  Look at everything, and make a plan.
  • Get moving —  Take control over something that will move you closer to your goal.  Take a class to enhance your skills.  Network with anyone and everyone.  Make sure you spend time each day taking concrete, if small, steps that move you towards your goal.
  • Get comfortable — Understand that a job search takes time, and adjust accordingly.  Trim your budget, get a handle on time management, and accept that this may be your state of being for the foreseeable future.  As long as you’re being productive, allow yourself to take advantage of the positive aspects of unemployment.  Spend more time with friends and family.  Read that fantastic book that’s languished on your nightstand. (Business book?  Even better!)  Balance will help your state of mind.
  • Get your story straight — It’s common to feel shame after a job loss, regardless of the circumstances, but shame doesn’t get anyone a new gig.  Write yourself a “why I’m looking for a new job” spiel that focuses on the positive.  Look in the mirror and repeat out loud until you don’t see any sign of weakness.

Don’t know where to start?  Here, you can have mine:

I’m looking for a new opportunity after being downsized due to economic conditions.  I really enjoyed my time with Company X and had the opportunity to work on some fantastic and challenging projects, and I’m glad that those experiences have prepped me for the next step in my career.  I’ve had the opportunity to really focus on where I can add the most value to my next employer, and this opportunity seems like a great fit.  I’d love to learn more.

Or, you know, something like it.

With some mental prep work and a ready made, positive answer for the inevitable question of why you left your last position, you’ll be able to confidently shift the interviewer’s focus to where it belongs — what a great asset you would be to their company.

Filed under: job hunt, , ,

Job Boards: Minimum Attention, Maximum Payoff

Even though job boards aren’t the most likely source of your next job, they’re a staple of the job search process.  But successful use of job boards balances effectiveness against invested time.

The more you can focus your efforts, the better your ROI.  Consider this:

  • Choose your job boards wisely. Oftentimes jobs are posted to more than one of the major job boards (Monster, Careerbuilder, Yahoo! hotjobs).  Consider choosing one that you’re most comfortable with and focusing your efforts there.  Once you’ve got that decided, look for niche job boards in your field or industry.  Professional organizations often offer free job postings to members, so you may find postings not available elsewhere.  Plus, you’ve pre-qualified yourself by way of membership or industry focus, making your application more likely to be reviewed.
  • Let the jobs come to you. Most of the sites offer a job alert function that will email you pertinent job postings as they are posted.  Make this tool work for you.  Select specific keywords for the search and set up multiple searches, if necessary, to make sure all of your bases are covered.  Be ruthless with the parameters, so you can focus on converting good opportunities to interviews, rather than sifting through the chaff.
  • Keep an eye on your privacy. You are a hot commodity.  You know it (or you should, before you hit that big interview), and I know it.  So don’t put yourself on fire sale.  Think twice before posting your resume publicly and consider if it’s in keeping with your career goals.  Recruiters may not have the time or the budget to look for you, especially when they have no idea if you’d be interested in what they have to say.  If you’re looking for a position that’s fairly widely available, posting your personals may pay off.  But if you are targeting a high level role or a niche industry, save yourself the spam — use your online resume for applications only.

Of course, if you’re cruising the job boards in stealth mode, you’ll have to reach out to that potential perfect employer.  Keep an eye out for the next in the series for tips on how to make an impression.

Filed under: job hunt, ,

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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