Pre-Interview Prep

Congrats!  You’ve received a call back and are scheduled for an interview.  What should you do now?

1.Return their call/email right away to schedule your interview. Right away doesn’t mean immediately 2 seconds after they contacted you but it should be the same day if possible.  Confirm date, time, location, and person(s) you are meeting once you connect.

2. Start your research.  Research the organization/company, the person/people you’re meeting, and any current events that pertain to the organization/company.  My very first interview out of college my interviewer asked me if I had seen the organization in the news recently.  Before the interview I went over the website but blatantly missed the section on press releases.  When I said no, he made a face and told me about the story that featured the org that was all over the news.

3. Review the job posting and know what the job requires backwards and forwards. Sometimes they’ll ask you to tell them about the job to see if you have a good grasp of the position.  If you fully understand all aspects of the position you can better articulate why you’ll be a good fit.

4. Review your resume.  Make sure you know what you’ve written.  It seems silly but sometimes people don’t remember what they’ve listed on their resume.   In the midst of a job search, when was the last time you actually read not skimmed  your resume?  Going over your resume will also allow you to identify and develop answers for any red flags. Do you have gaps?  Why was the length of time at that last position so short? Did you take a pay cut/demotion?

5. Get directions to your interview location and figure out travel time.  If possible print up alternate directions because you never know what can happen the day of.  If the location is unfamiliar, don’t feel shy about asking the person who’s scheduling your interview for directions.   Decide what time you need to leave and leave about half an hour earlier than that.  Lateness can lead to no interview or an interview where the employer has already decided they won’t consider you.  If you get there early, walk around for a bit until you have about 15 mins before your interview time.   Too early isn’t good either because they’re not ready for you yet.  Use that extra time to calm yourself down.

6. Make sure your suit is ready to go.  Yes your suit. Every adult should own at least 1 full suit.  Business dress varies by sector but that’s after you have the job.  No one will fault you for wearing a suit to an interview but there’s a chance that someone will fault you for not wearing a suit.

7. Print out copies of your resume if possible on resume paper.  When you get to your interview someone might ask you if you have a copy of your resume.  Most of the time they have your resume already, they just want to know if you came prepared.  Other times you might meet with someone else that hasn’t had time to review your materials.

8. Think of some questions to ask.  These questions shouldn’t be general information that can be found on the website.  They should deal more with the culture of the org, the goals for that program, the goals for your prospective supervisor etc.    You want your interviewer to know that you are engaged and interested.  If you really can’t think of anything at least ask them what is their time-frame for hiring for the position  and what are the next steps.

9. Practice your pitch (tell me about yourself) and some basic interview questions.  What are your major strengths?  What are your weaknesses?  A weakness is something that you have trouble with but are working to improve. “I have difficulty waking up on time for work” is not a good weakness (Yes, someone actually said this to me).   I like to “interview” in front of the mirror so that I can see what I’m doing with my hands and  faces when i’m describing something.

10. Get some rest!  You’re nervous and excited but try to get some rest.  You’ll do much better fully rested than if you’re up all night trying to prepare.

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To suit or not to suit

Some people have asked me if it’s necessary to wear a suit to an interview.  My personal opinion is that every adult should own at least 1 full suit and said suit should be worn for interviews.  It’s true that various sectors are more laid-back than others and might have a more relaxed office dress-code but you can take advantage of that once you’ve been offered the job.

You never know who you will encounter during your interview and what their personal preference will be.  People make snap judgments when they first meet you, especially when you’re going in for an interview.  What if you interview with the one guy in the office that although there is a business casual dress-code still believes in business professional attire everyday?  That person will probably think to himself, “I would have worn a suit to an interview,” and now you’ve started off on the wrong foot.

Aside from that, there are various degrees of business casual all subject to your employer’s personal opinion.  At one job I was told that business casual meant having a blazer everyday.  I kept a black blazer on the back of my chair.  At another job I was told that I just had to look “neat and professional,”  (slacks, skirts, collared shirts, etc.).  The point here is that what was considered business casual at one place wouldn’t have been at another.  Do you want to take that chance at your interview?

Answering the Salary Question

Sometimes they’ll ask you to send your salary requirements within your cover letter.  Other times it’ll be a question on your application or they’ll ask you during the interview. Regardless of how they ask, they will ask.  

The discussion of salary is a dance between employer and potential employee. As the employer, I want to know how much you’re willing to take first.  That way I’ll know if I can get you for less or if you expect too much all together.  As the potential employee you want them to give you a number first for the same reason. You don’t want to give them a number that’s low and risk losing a higher salary and you also don’t want you to price yourself out of a position.

As a jobseeker, the standard rule is to say open. This allows you to see what they’re offering first so that you can determine how to negotiate.  Most employers will press you for a number after you say open so be prepared to offer a relevant range.  Your salary range isn’t an arbitrary amount that you think you should be paid.  This range should be based on research for different positions in your industry/sector related to your level of experience and education. 

Recently during a telephone interview I asked the candidate about her required salary.  The number that she gave me was about 20K more than we were willing to offer for the position.  It was also about 20K more than her current salary  More importantly, her experience and background didn’t warrant a salary that high even if we did have the higher amount in our budget.  She effectively priced herself out of that position.

As a job seeker you should know how much people are being paid for the kind of work that you want to do and you should be able to justify why you should receive that amount.  You should also be able to  realistically figure out where you would be within the range that you provide.  Let’s say the salary range for your position of interest is $40K – $55K.  If you have limited experience (entry-level to less than 3 years) without a Masters degree (if it’s preferred), expect to be on the lower end.  Concurrently if you have more than 5 years of experience plus supervisory experience and an applicable Masters degree, expect to be on the higher end.

Several factors go into salary offers: your current salary and salary history, program/organization budget, the outgoing person’s starting salary, possible room for an increase down the line (if your status might be changing in a few months with a new certificate or degree, there’s a chance they’ll offer you more at that time so they can start you off lower to make room for that increase), industry salary standards for that position, etc. Ultimately the employer wants to remain competitive but at the cheapest price possible. 

 In order to make sure that you’re still in the running, do your research and come to the table prepared.  If your range is on target for your field and you can provide concrete evidence that  XYZ pay rate is justified (i.e. skills/qualifications, educational background, increased level of responsibility, etc.), you’ll be able to settle on an offer that makes both you and the employer happy.

Websites to Research Salaries

http://www.payscale.com (Nice site.  You can evaluate your current salary to see where you fall within your field, evaluate offers, and research)

http://www.salary.com/(You can research specific positions to see national averages and generate salary reports. They also break things down by level of experience).

http://www.glassdoor.com/ (Most people are familiar with this site.  Besides salary information it’s also good to read reviews)

Can you recover from a Nic Cage resume bomb?

By now I’m sure most have seen the Nicholas Cage resume faux paus.   A job seeker attached a picture of Nicholas Cage instead of her resume and cover letter.  Hilarity ensued for those that read the story but for the actual job seeker (if she’s real), she was probably mortified.

No one has ever sent me a picture of Nicholas Cage (yet)  but I have received a few questionable attachments.  Some job seekers have sent drafts of their materials, resumes and cover letters in track changes, resumes and cover letters in a non-compatible format,  papers or other writing assignments and my favorite, a blank word document.

Usually if I have time, I’ll contact the applicant and let them know that the resume they sent was actually blank.  I do this primarily because they’ve probably been sending that word doc entitled “resume 2012” for some time now without any response and won’t understand why until they actually open that word document.

How does one recover from this?

Step 1: Apologize profusely and point out that your faux pas in no way reflects the quality of work that you would provide as an employee.

Step 2: Make a joke (if you’re funny).  Depending on the sector and type of position they might welcome your sense of humor.  Make sure your joke is appropriate (and funny).

Step 3: Move on.  We tend to look at the closed door for so long that we let other opportunities pass us by.   You sent a blank document to a prospective employer.  Is this the only position that you’re applying for?  No!  You’ve apologized and provided the correct information.  If they get back to you, great! If they don’t, that’s great too.  There are plenty of other positions that you can apply for.  Mistakes happen.  As a job seeker and employee you’re supposed to be perfect but the reality is that mistakes will happen.  The most important thing is that you accept responsibility for your mistake and make an effort to correct it.

To prevent situations where Nicholas Cage and his crazy eyes can make their way to your job application, set up some safe guards.

-Entitle your documents something that accurately describes what they are, “M.Honeypot_resume 2012.”

-Once documents are attached, open them and review them to make sure they’re correct.

-If you have gmail, set up a send delay just in case you spot something that shouldn’t be sent to a prospective employer.

-Save your emails as drafts and come back to them in a few hours. Sometimes a fresh pair of eyes can spot mistakes.

-Don’t save gifs of Nicholas Cage and his crazy eyes.  (Probably the most important thing to do).

For those who have not seen ithttp://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/07/09/accidental-nic-cage-resume-picture_n_1659343.html

Tell Me About Yourself…

Probably the most difficult question to answer.

Most interviews will begin with, “tell me about yourself and what brings you here today,” or some variation of that statement.  This is your opportunity to intrigue your interviewer with your personal elevator pitch.  It’s an opportunity to focus the interviewer on your strengths and successes and to make them think about what kind of impact you could possibly have within their organization.  It is not the time to discuss your favorite pastime or random hobby. (One person told me about their love of “hanging out” and dancing then asked what I wanted to know).  It’s a great time to highlight important information. The employer wants to know what you deem as important information.

Ideally your pitch should be about 30-60 seconds long. Too short – what did you really tell your interviewer, too long – did you lose them along the way?   It should effectively summarize the pertinent strengths that you possess and relevant accomplishment. You want to sound confident and composed so take time developing and practicing your pitch.

Where to start

Your pitch is specific to you and will sound the most authentic coming directly from you but here’s a roadmap to help get you started (feel free to tweak and adjust as necessary):

1. Most recent degree and college information (mention what you studied, how it relates to your professional interests, specific skills learned or licenses acquired, etc.)

2. Previous jobs and accomplishments (mention relevant accomplishments achieved or skills learned that would make you a good fit for the position that you’re interested in).

3. Segue into current interest (link your previous experience with what you want to do now).

Example:  I graduated from XYZ University in 2009 with a Masters Degree in Social Work and earned my LMSW in 2010. My concentration in community organization, planning and administration provided a solid background in necessary management and leadership principles, advocacy, and program development.  As director of workforce development for ABC Settlement, I put my educational skills to practice and effectively designed a standardized evaluation program that allowed all program directors and senior management staff to have a realistic view of program performance in real-time.  From this project I realized I wanted to work on a tool that allowed an agency with multiple departments to evaluate each program individually against contract demands and collectively against each other; the senior program officer position and DEF Global seemed like the right fit to transition into this role.  

You want to sound authentic, not rehearsed.  Draft your pitch and practice. Practice it in front of a mirror then practice in front of a friend.  Practice until you feel comfortable.

When you’re called for an interview, the employer is about 75% sure that they could offer you a position.  The actual interview is your time to alleviate any fears and affirm to them that you are most certainly the right candidate for the position.   The best way to do this is to start the interview with a confident, composed highlight reel of your past experience that will make them think of how great of a job you will do for their company if hired.

“I’m Interested in Any Position That’s Open…”

This might very well be the truth but the employer doesn’t need to know that.  With each application that you send you’re trying to convince the employer that you’re the best candidate for that position.  Out of the hundreds of resumes that they’ve received, they should contact you because you will do the best job in that particular role.  How can you convince them that your specific mix of skills and qualifications make you a good fit for that position if you tell them that you’re interested in any position that they have open?

Whenever I see this blurb in an intro email or even worse an actual cover letter, I hit delete.  In some rare instances, I will actually reach out to the candidate and ask them to review the positions listed then get back to me with an updated cover letter for the position of interest.  I usually tell them that positions vary so much and listing “any” doesn’t give me a good sense of their skill set or interest.

As a jobseeker many years ago I made the same mistake.  Either there were multiple positions that I was interested in from that particular organization or I wanted them to know that I was flexible in case the position I was applying for was already filled.  What I didn’t realize was that internally, good candidates get passed around regardless of what position they’ve indicated on their application.

You do want your employer to know that you’re flexible but you always want them to know that you have purpose and drive.  Sending a generic cover letter and resume with an intro email that basically says that you’re interested in any position that’s open will convey to them that you’re lazy.  Take the extra time to review positions, assess your skill set, and apply to the one that best fits you.

Length Does Not Equal Substance

When I look back at my resume after my second job I wince.  The content was good but the resume was entirely too long.  As a college graduate with one previous full time job, internships, and campus jobs, there was absolutely no reason for my resume to be more than one page.  

Remember in college and high school when you had to write a paper of a certain length and you were stumped?  You started adding all of these extra words, definitions, reiterations, and what not to achieve whatever the goal number of pages was.  Some teachers/professors might have commented that you had too much fluff.  Others might have let it go.  Either way, your resume is not the same thing.  There shouldn’t be any fluff present. You don’t get extra points for fluff.  You don’t get an interview because of fluff.  No one cares that you attended XYZ conference in 2001.  Did you actually facilitate a workshop at this conference? No, you were a participant in the conference.  Leave it out unless you received some type of certificate that the employer is interested in.

As a screener, I’ve seen many job candidates fall into the same trap; you want to make sure to include every bit of relevant information (or what you deem relevant) so that the employer knows all about you and will be convinced that you are a good fit.  What actually ends up happening is laundry list that alienates the reader.  I’ve seen resumes from candidates with bachelors and masters degrees that are well over 2 pages long.  The actual part of the resume that details their past work history usually doesn’t start until page 2 or 3 and no duties or skills are listed just titles. By the time I’ve reached the page with information that i’m interested in, I honestly don’t want to read anymore.

Most employers spend about 30 seconds skimming your resume.  They look for keywords, titles, specific qualifications or training, education, etc., and start making piles of people to call back, throw away, or people to revisit at a later time.  Yes these employers are skimming but at some point they actually go back and read your resume.  If you can make it through the first cut, someone will actually read what you’ve written to get a better idea of you.

Page length will vary depending on your level of experience and type of job sought.  If you’re applying for a senior level VP position, and have more than 20 years experience, you can fill 2 pages with quality information that will provide a good summary of your skills and background.  It will also depend on specific instructions given by the employer.  They might ask you to include workshops, papers you’ve authored, grant proposals you’ve written, etc.  In this case include the information they’re asking for but make sure all other information is relevant to the position that you’re applying for (i.e. no fluff).

For most people just starting out or even mid-career, 1 page should be enough.