Sunday, September 28, 2014

Interviewing: The Most Frequently Asked Interview Question

Tell me about yourself!
And so the interview begins.  The interviewer asks this "ice breaker" question as much to start a conversation as to actually learn about the candidate sitting in front of him or her.

The question: "So why don’t you tell me a little about yourself?” is generally considered the most frequently asked interview question.  Not a particularly good question by a long shot, nevertheless is is most commonly asked in order to get the conversation - the interview - going.

And while appearing on the surface to be a simple question to answer, in fact, it not only throws many candidates but throws them right out of the competition!  Why?  Because an unprepared candidate can sound like this.

Umm, well I grew up in Florida , lived there most of my life, went to Florida State University, majored in philosophy, and then I took a year off to help my Dad out in his printing business.  My first job was in 1972 when I was hired as a  clerk in . . . ."

The interviewer listens patiently, acts interested, but is secretly thinking: “What does this have to do with the job he's applying for as a business analyst?  Get to the point."

The interviewee continues to rattle on,  clears his throat a time or two, and continues their monologue that goes on way, way too long! 

Sound familiar?
If you have ever sat in the interviewee's seat and experienced the situation just described, you are not alone.  In fact, many, if not most job seekers, have had a similar experience. You know what we want to say about yourself your job-related experience; you can can’t seem to say it!

Make a good first impression
In an interview, any job seeker wants to make a good first impression.  You want to convey that you are the right candidate for the job and that you can get the job done!  You want to appear motivated and capable. You want to show that you are qualified to perform the duties of the job and then some.  You just can’t seem to say it as well as you would like.

Why not?  What goes wrong?  What’s missing? 
Generally when a job seeker stammers, and hems and haws at the beginning of an interview, or is just too wordy, what is missing is a prepared and practiced short presentation that "tells the interviewer about yourself."  This short, precise presentation, highlighting relevant experience, qualifications, and skills, is -- by another name  -- an "L"vator speech!

What is an “L”vator speech?
An "L"vator speech is a professional self-description that can be said in 30 seconds or less.. Theoretically, it can be said in the time you travel in an elevator from the 1st to the 14th floor. . . .hence, the term "L"vator speech!  AND, when you're done, your listener has a pretty good  idea of what you do and do well.

In other words, your “L”vator speech is a short, concise, prepared in advance, and well-practiced description of your expertise, abilities, skills, and accomplishments that are relevant to the job you are interviewing for.

How do you do it? . . .  With this 5-Step Model
It can be a bit mystifying to try to figure out how to describe the essence of your experience in less than 30 seconds.  So, here's a method to do just that.  Below is a 5-Step Model for preparing your “L”vator speech.  The model allows you to tell the listener, in 30 seconds or less, what you do and what you are expert at.  It helps you showcase your skills, and highlight relevant accomplishments.  It provides you a way to ask for your desired outcome from the discussion.  So, . . . take out a pencil and paper and begin to craft your "L"vator speech --  your answer to the #1 interview question:  "So why don't you tell me a little about yourself?"

5-Step Model to craft your "L"vator speech
Step 1. Start with your profession.  State what you do in a couple of words?
    I am a ________________________________    
    I’m an electronics engineer.   I’m a manager.  I’m an administrative assistant.

Step 2.  Identify your area(s) of expertise. What makes you stand out from the crowd?
    I'm a ____________,with in-depth experience or expertise in ________________
    I’m an electronics engineer, with extensive experience in designing systems that . . . 
    I’m a manager who consistently runs departments that function like clockwork.
    I’m an administrative assistant who never misses a deadline.

Step 3.  Identify your areas of skill that are relevant to the job your are seeking.
    I’m particularly skilled in______________,  or I’m adept at _____________________
    I am skilled in helping the customer implement new systems with no downtime.
    I’m really effective at planning and budgeting so that the programs I manage come in on time and within budget.
    I’m current in the latest office computer software so I’ll be productive right off the bat!

Step 4.  Identify knowledge, strengths, and unique attributes that are relevant to the position.
    I am certified in__________, or, I am trained in__________, or I was awarded the__________
    I hold a Master's degree in advanced electronics engineering.
    I am a certified Program Manager.
    I was recognized as the “Employee of the Year” by my previous employer and earned a cash award.

Step 5. Ask for what you want.  What are you trying to achieve?
    I am looking for__________, or, I am seeking __________, or I hope to__________
    I am looking for a Systems Engineering position that uses_____________
    I am hoping you can refer me to a person in your network who is familiar with ___________________
    I am seeking an opportunity to _________________

Using the 5-Step Model will help you craft an “L”vator speech that gets to the point and accomplishes your objective of “telling the listener about you." 
For additional information on marketing yourself and your capabilities, please refer to the many articles found under the Articles tabs of the AJC–Career Strategy website.
 ____________________________________________________________________________                 AJC - for Your Career Path
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Twitter:  @AfterJobClub
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Illustrations of questions per the 6 categories

5 Categories of Questions

The 5 categories of questions that interviews probe are listed below.

1.  Your background, skills, and experience = Can you do the job?

Questions in this category or area are aimed at one thing:  Can you do the job?  Interviewers probe your experience, skills, certifications, background, to find out if you have:
    - Hands-on experience in each of the key performance areas?
    - Managed the key performance areas (if the job is managerial in nature)
    - Managed subordinates, teams, or colleagues at designated experience levels, educational levels, salary levels
    - how handle employees who can’t perform, or misfit

This question also gets at salary level.  Experience tells experienced and “compensation-knowledgeable” recruiters what your level of experience pays in the marketplace.  This is a concept that often surprises job seekers; companies employ teams of “compensation experts” whose role it is to constantly survey their industry to ascertain what skills and experience pay in the marketplace and in various geographic areas of the marketplace.

2.  Your goals and objectives
Questions in this category or area gauge if your goals are appropriate for the job, the program (in the federal contracting arena), the department, the company, the corporate culture.

This area of questioning probes motivations for wanting the job.  Are you under-motivated for a “cracker-jack” company culture; or are you aims too high or aggressive for a more laid-back organization.

If you’re not in sync you will make folks in the company uncomfortable initially, irritated later.  And, you’ll feel like a fish out of water?

How much do you want the job?
Hint: There is only one answer to the question: “Are you open to relocation?”

3.  Your education and training
Questions in this area seek to determine if you have the right amount of education and training,

This area of questioning probes goals/motivation:  Are you under-educated or are you over-educated?

or if you are amenable to getting the right amount.

Hint: There is only one answer to the question: “Are you open to going back to school?”

4.  Your weaknesses and potential problems = Potential land mines!
Questions in this area uncover “landmines” which the company would prefer to uncover before they step on one.

In the words of a employment manager colleague of mine, “I don’t need to hire another problem; I’ve already got enough problem walking around here.”

5.  Sensitive issues or areas
Questions in this area

Answer the following two questions for each category:

    (1)  What do you think the interviewer is looking for when probing this category?

    (2)  What would your best strategy be to make the most of the opportunity in answering the question?

Friday, September 26, 2014

Interviewing: What's Your Greatest Strength?

"What's your greatest strength?" asks the interviewer.
     "Well, mmmm. . . , I would say I'm . . .  un . . . ." stumbles the interviewee.
A missed opportunity to succinctly and reasonably tell your interviewer a couple of your key attributes that make you stand out from the crowd and why hiring you would be a good thing!

"What's your greatest strength?"
This frequently asked interview question throws a lot of interviewees as much as its closely related cousin:  What's your greatest weakness?  On the surface, it shouldn't. It seems it should be the easier of the two questions.  But, it throws a lot of job seekers anyway.  It seems that saying "good things" about yourself and your job performance is not as easy or as comfortable as it might seem.

So, in answering this question . . . 
  1. Consider what you want interviewers and networking contacts to know about your job performance, and   
  2. Plan what you want to say as carefully as you do in answering the flip-side question:  What's your greatest weakness?
Almost all interviewers will askWhat's your greatest strength?
Almost all interviewers will ask this question.  They want to know what you bring to the table.  In other words, they want to know:
  1. How can hiring you, benefit them? 
  2.  But, they also ask it to see how you handle this question and what it reveals about you in terms of how you see yourself.   It tells them a lot.
While some candidates for positions overdo it with self-serving comments that come across as "bragging," this question really allows candidates to 
What is to be gained from answering this question well?  Lots!
1.  It begins the sale - your sale of you to the hiring company, or to a network contact who - if impressed - will refer you.
2.  It makes the sale.  If your strengths -- abilities, aptitudes, attitudes, skills, knowledge, education, job history & interpersonal skills -- impress and convince the hiring manager that you are what he or she needs to solve problems or attain growth, you're hired!

A particularly good interview question
Unlike its close cousin (What’s Your Biggest Weakness?) which is not a particularly good question, “What’s Your Greatest Strength?” is a particularly good question; in fact, it’s a great question!  

It allows candidates to:

(1) State their case for hiring them, and 
(2) Move their cause forward.  
A well thought-out fact-based answer, can convince the HR interviewer, the hiring manager, and other members of the interviewing panel that hiring you is a good thing!

A strategy

As with its close cousin, this question can work against you if 
you are not prepared.  Without a strategy, some job seekers provide a foot-in-mouth answer that knocks them out of the competition entirely.

Below is a strategy to follow that delivers a thoughtful fact-based answer:
  • Step 1 Choose a strength, or 2 or 3 strengths, that relate to key requirements of the job. 
  • Step 2.  Review your professional accomplishments and select one (or better 2 or 3) that demonstrate how you used the strengths you've chosen in performing work.  Since these should be stated as Accomplishment Statements (i.e., bulleted points on your resume), they should be easy to find.
  • Step 3.  Practice telling the story of each Accomplishment Statement.  State (1)  the situation, challenge, or problem you faced; (2) the actions you took; and (3) the result you achieved.
A triple win
Using the strategy just described above, you score a TRIPLE WIN!
1.  You provide a fact-based response, backed up by your story.
2.  You show self-awareness.
3.  You not only talk about but demonstrate how you used your strength(s) to achieve a successful outcome to a problem you tackled or situation you encountered.  

In summary, effective interviewing is not easy, but it's not rocket science either! While there are 1000s of interview questions being asked, many are common and frequently asked questions.  Do some homework.  Learn what these frequently asked questions are, plan credible responses in advance, and sail through your interview!

For additional information on marketing yourself and your capabilities, please refer to the many articles found under the Articles tabs of the AJC–Career Strategy website.  View
Nancy's Nine Cardinal Rules of Interviewing for more advice.
___________________________________________________________                 AJC - for Your Career Path
  Linked In:        
Twitter:  @AfterJobClub

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Strategy: Be Cautious When - and Where and What - You Post

Looking for a job?  Seeking a career transition?  Be very cautious about what you post.  It can -- and does - come back to you haunt you!  Take action now to prevent career casualties down the road.

Recent events in the news about ill-advised photos posted on-line make the point, once again, that the on-line world is not a private place.  This has happened time and time again, and while there is public outrage now, it will be short-lived and folks will go about posting more private messages and comments until it happens again.  It's a cycle.  

Photos, comments, articles, rants, . . . that are posted are there to stay and for all to see, including prospective employers, potential business partners, and network contacts.  Ill-advised postings ruin reputations and along with it chances for new career opportunities.

Reputations ruined; careers de-railed
It’s a topic worth carefully thinking about and considering your future actions.  If you are seeking new career opportunities, don't let postings, comments, and photos that show you in a negative light ruin your chances in the short-run and even de-rail your career long-term.  Ask yourself:  Is a momentary rant worth a long-term consequence?

Your social media presence is out there for ALL to see.  All means potential employers, recruiters, prospective business partners, network contacts, educational institutions, and potential professional and business associations you desire to join.  They will all review your on-line presence in social media as they seek to know who you are and if they want you on their team.

Take steps to secure your professional future
So, job seekers, take some steps now to secure your professional future:
  1. Review each social media site on which you participate.  
  2. Decide if it is in your best interest professionally to continue to use that site.  Close down accounts that don't enhance your standing in your professional community -  . . . YES, that means even those personal sites that you use to chat with friends and think "no one else will ever see."
  3. Check your postings on every social media and networking site on which you decide to keep the account open and continue to use.  Delete any material - comments, photos, rants - that does not enhance your professional reputation, including sites you consider personal such as Facebook.
  4. Read every word of your Linked In profile.  Revise and update it.  Employers with almost 100% certainty will visit this site and view your profile before hiring external candidates, and before promoting, expanding the duties of, or championing for high-potential its internal candidates.
  5. Clean up your e-mail accounts and delete e-mails that you don't want seen --accidentally.  
  6. Review your e-mail address book, and eliminate potential trouble spots.
  7. Close down e-mail accounts that are NOT useful to you.  Keep open only those e-mail accounts that you use and monitor regularly!
  8. Use the STOP rule before sending any e-mails, texts, or comments when you're angry or in an emotional state:
    1. S - stop and take a breath before you touch that keyboard!
      1. Don't post a "cute" photo of you that with a clearer head you realize is questionable at best.
      2. Don't respond too quickly to any comment or article you read on any social media site.
      3. Don't respond immediately to any e-mail that makes you mad.
    2. T - take a time-out.  
      1. Walk around your office, the building, down the street in order to give your emotions some time to settle down and yourself some time to think.
    3. O - opt for writing your message on a medium that can't be sent anywhere.  
      1. Getting the feelings out is OK if you do it in a medium that can't hurt you.  
      2. Write the old fashioned way with paper & pencil on a tablet, or type if you must but type your thoughts in a Word document that you type and file away.  
    4. P - pause any actions you want to take for 24 hours.  
      1. A day later, the situation might look very differently, and you'll be glad you STOPPED an action that could have held professional consequences for you and your career.
A Valuable Tool . . .  IF . . You Manage it well
Social media, including the various networking sites and your e-mail accounts, can be a very positive tool for a job seeker who manages it well.  It can speed up your search, enable you to make new contacts, allow you to do research with the click of a key, promote your professional skills and competencies, enhance your professional image, and allow faster communication.

However, as we have seen, it can also have the opposite, or negative, effect.  Take action now to prevent career casualties down the road.

For additional information on marketing yourself and your capabilities, please refer to the many articles found under the Articles tabs of the AJC–Career Strategy website.  
___________________________________________________________                 AJC - for Your Career Path
  Linked In:        
Twitter:  @AfterJobClub