Answering Interview Questions 2

In an earlier article, Answering Interview Questions 1 (you can read the article here), I wrote about interview candidates only needing to prepare answers to a few core questions which stem from four concerns of hiring managers. That article then explored how to respond to two questions – one which frequently starts off an interview (Tell me about yourself) and the other that frequently is one of the last asked (What are your salary expectations?). Here I explore other questions that an interview candidate must prepare for and suggest how to do this.

Focused, Competency-based Questions

As the hiring manager needs to establish during the interview whether a candidate can actually do the job, you can expect to be asked specific questions about how you meet the key requirements for the job. Hopefully your resume was focused on this specific job and therefore listed your skills relevant to the job. If so, the interviewer will ask you about them and these questions usually come in a particular format.

The format for asking about your skills is based on behavioural or competency-based interviewing techniques. The thinking behind this technique is that past behaviour is a good predictor of future performance. Therefore, for each skill that is a key requirement for the job (and for all the skills you list in your resume), you should prepare an answer to this question: “Can you give me an example of a time you did XXX?” (Replace XXX with the relevant skill, job task, or responsibility). Another popular way of asking this questions is: “Tell me about a time you did XXX”.

The interviewer is looking for specifics and detail, and if you cannot provide a credible example, you are deemed not to possess that skill. It is difficult to bluff in answering these questions as the interviewer usually asks deeper, related questions to understand the situation better. Such follow-on questions include “How many people were involved and what were their responsibilities?” Or “How exactly did you go about planning this?” “How did you monitor and track progress?” So your answers need to be based on a real example.

The way to answer competency-based questions is to use CAR stories. C-A-R stands for Context, Action and Results (another form of this is STAR stories – Situation, Task, Action and Results). You explain the Context of your example in terms of how the situation came about and any other background details. You then explain the Action you took or the action your team took but describe your involvement. Finally, you discuss the result or results taking this action led to. If the result involved anything quantifiable such as cost savings or increased sales, quantify the results in monitory (dollars $) or percentage (%) terms.

In addition to credibly demonstrating that you possess the skill being discussed, using C-A-R stories adds impact to your interview performance. Everybody loves stories and pays attention to them, so relating your answer in this format makes you memorable.

Questions relating to your Strengths

A sure to be asked core question stemming from the hiring manager’s four concerns relates to those about your strengths and can you do the job. You can be asked about this usually in one of four ways:

What are your strengths? OR

Why should we hire you over other qualified candidates? OR

What would you say are the main things needed to do this job well? Can you do those things? OR

Why should we hire you?

Whichever way the question is asked, you should approach answering it in the same way. Start by stating that you more than meet the three or four top requirements for the job (these are a mix of skills, qualifications and experience) and give examples of when you used them (use C-A-R stories). Then talk about any skills, education and experiences that make you unique – things other candidates probably don’t have or don’t have in the specific combination of them that you have. Throughout your answer, remain aware that you are trying to show that you meet the key requirements of your job target.

What about Weaknesses?

Unfortunately many interviewers still ask this rather pointless question. No candidate in their right mind is going to sacrifice themselves by discussing a weakness that might mean not being offered the job, and other answers are probably not relevant to the position anyway! Trained interviewers are told to avoid such unproductive questions.

If asked, the way to address this question is to mention one or two shortcomings that are not very important to the job, but to discuss them in a way that shows you are self-aware and that you are doing something to overcome the weakness. You could make the answer even stronger by giving an example of a time you overcame the weakness, and effectively make it sound like a strength!

What are your career goals?

Interviewers ask this question to see if you know where you want to go with your career or are drifting through it. Your answer will also give them an idea whether you will stay short-term or longer with their company, and also whether you have done some research on them. If you sound too short-term or drifting, they may not offer you the job if they have another candidate who knows why they want the job and where it fits into their career plan.

The way to approach this question is to convey that you want to work in companies that match your personal and career goals, and align with your work values – linking this to their company will really prove to be a strong answer and have them already viewing you as “one of them”! So firstly talk about the job responsibilities you want to have a few years down the road in broad terms. Then talk about the type of company and people you want to work with (if you really want the job make it sound that this is them!) and explain how and why the company is a good fit for your goals. This will demonstrate that you have done your homework and researched the company, its people and its culture. It further indicates that, since you know a lot about the company and believe it to be a good ‘fit’ with your goals and values, you will stay more than just short-term.

What did you like most / least about your last position?

In some ways your preparation for the previous question is relevant to this one too. The approach should be to link your answer to the requirements of the job target and not to talk about a list of negatives about your previous company or boss – if you talk about your previous company negatively, it might be assumed that you would do so about the target company too.

Instead talk about how you liked most aspects of the previous job and company, but that you would have liked more of “X” in that position. Here “X” should relate to one of the responsibilities of the new position. You could also mention that you are looking for a new challenge or a role with more of a regional focus (but only if the new role requires this). You could also talk about wanting to work in a company with a more “Y” environment or culture – where “Y” relates to something that exists in the new company. Answering in this way puts a positive spin on your answer by making it sound that you are attracted to the role and company rather than just trying to get away from something you dislike about your current or previous role.

Why do you want to work here and what do you know about our company?

This question too is related to the previous two questions and seeks to establish if you are an ‘informed’ or ‘uninformed’ candidate. An ‘informed’ candidate will have researched the company sufficiently to answer this question competently because they will be able to talk knowledgeably and meaningfully about the company and how it ‘fits’ with their personal goals and values. Hiring managers strongly dislike ‘uninformed’ candidates and in surveys report that they won’t hire them even if they meet all other requirements for the job!

You can read more about this in our article “How to Be an Ideal Candidate for the Job” here.

So you don’t have to prepare separately for hundreds of possible interview questions as this article and particular Answering Interview Questions 1 demonstrates.

Answering Interview Questions 1

You only need to prepare for a few core questions

Preparing for a job interview is a daunting task for most people and many people feel overwhelmed with the seemingly huge amount of work involved. But the task doesn’t have to be so overwhelming if planned properly. One area that prospective interviewees should focus on is preparing for commonly asked or otherwise predictable questions.

The hard way of preparing for these is to do an internet search on “interview questions” because you will inevitably end up with hundreds of such questions – that would certainly add to the feeling of being overwhelmed! However, the majority of possible interview questions only require preparing answers to just a few core questions. Let me explain why.

What the Hiring Manager is concerned with

During the interview, the hiring manager (or recruiter if applicable) is concerned about four things:

  1. Can this candidate actually do the job? Have they got all the ‘key requirements’ (a mix of skills, qualifications and experience)?
  2. Who is this person? What are they like? What type of personality have they?
  3. Will this person fit in with my team or company? Will they fit in with the organisation’s culture?
  4. How much is this person going to cost me?

So you don’t need to research and prepare answers for hundreds of interview questions. Instead, all you need to do is to prepare your responses to just a few possible questions that stem from the four main concerns of hiring managers listed above. If you prepare material so that you can competently and confidently discuss these four concerns of hiring managers, you will have prepared answers to most questions you can be asked at interview! The questions may be phrased differently or come in various forms, but essentially they are asking about these four concerns, and the responses to them will be similar – based on your preparation to discuss them.

Make sure to give the hiring manager what they want

In order to do well in the interview, your task is to provide the hiring manager with all the information they require to put the above four concerns to rest. As many hiring managers are not trained in interviewing skills, they may or may not ask appropriate or sufficient questions to elicit this information, so your additional task is to make sure you address them whether asked about all of them or not. In other words, you need to be proactive in the interview.

That start off question: “Tell me about yourself

Some people, both interviewers and candidates, see this question as one to settle you down – an easy question to answer because it is about you. But it is a mistake to respond to this in a casual or informal manner, and a wasted opportunity too. A well-prepared response is as easy to prepare and deliver as a casual ‘history of me’ answer!

This question provides a great opportunity for you to describe your background (i.e. education and work and other relevant experience to date) in a manner focused on showing that you meet the key requirements of the job [you can read an article on how to identify these key requirements here – it is titled “The Single Most Important Task In Your Job Search”].

Answering the question in this way also helps you steer the interview in the direction you want – that is to demonstrate how you meet these key requirements. From your answer, the interviewer will pick up on a few points you mention to continue the discussion – and conveniently you have prepared for these points.

One useful way to structure your answer to the question is to talk about your education (from university or school onwards, whichever was most recent) and your work experience. Then discuss the skills you developed along the way, especially those that are your strengths (you can read how to identify your skills and strengths here).

The skills and strengths you choose to discuss should of course be focused on some of the key requirements of the job. You can follow on from that by discussing one or two of your work achievements, particularly any you are proud of or are relevant to the job target.

The Salary Question

In answering questions that stem from the fourth concern of the hiring manager (How much is this person going to cost me?), the key is to not get into negotiating salary before you are actually offered the job – read how to do this in our article “When Is The Right Time To Talk Money During Salary Negotiation?

Further “Tips for Negotiating a Higher Salary” are discussed here.

Just in case you made a mess of your salary negotiation at an earlier interview or answered too soon or asked for too much in the current interview, read our article “Did You Ask for Too High a Salary During Your Interview? Here’s How to Make A Comeback.”

A following article, Answering Interview Questions 2, looks at other core questions that stem from the four concerns of a hiring manager. You can read that article here.

What is involved in Outplacement Support?

Outplacement support benefits the company as well as the individual

This is a question I have to frequently answer either by e-mail or over the phone. When retrenching a staff member or members, people in the Human Resources department like to offer the person or persons involved various supports to help them secure another job. This is also aimed at protecting the company’s reputation, both internally and externally.

The Benefits of Outplacement Support

Providing outplacement support presents a more human and caring side of the company, and to the remaining employees, it shows that the company is going to great lengths to help the retrenched staff. This lessens the inevitable blow to staff morale that accompanies retrenchment.

To the outside world – customers, clients, suppliers, the media, etc – a company that provides outplacement support is viewed as less mercenary and penny-pinching. Even when people don’t fully understand the need for the retrenchment, by providing outplacement support they perceive the company in a more positive light.

Of course there are huge benefits to the retrenched staff from outplacement support, and as stated in a previous article, it helps their self-esteem as well as places them in the best possible position to secure another job.

So what is involved in outplacement support?

Career Choice and Planning Programme

There are generally two programmes involved. The first, which we in Sandbox Advisors call ‘Career Choice and Planning’, is focused on providing the individual with a clearer understanding of their career goals; the options or choices they have; the constraints they face; their skills and strengths; their work values and motivations; their core interests, particularly those related to work or career; and their personality type and how it affects their career and job search.

This ‘Career Choice and Planning’ programme not only leads the individual to a better understanding of themselves, but helps them identify ideal industries and careers to focus their job search on. In doing so, it broadens the scope of their job search and widens out the variety of jobs they are willing to pursue. In short, it increases their options.

The process also uncovers vital inputs for crafting a new, impactful resume, cover letters, and online profiles such as LinkedIn. The increased self-knowledge also helps prepare them for job interviews and salary negotiation.

The steps involved in the ‘Career Choice and Planning’ programme includes psychometric inventories or personality assessments – the Myer Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) and the Strong Interests Inventory (SII); the completion of a set of self-assessment exercises to uncover achievements, skills and strengths; work values elicitation; and the unearthing of deep aspirations about work and career.

Transition and Job Search

The second programme, which we call ‘Transition and Job Search’, focuses on getting interviews and converting them into a job offer.

Resume, Cover Letter and LinkedIn Profile

The starting point of this programme is the crafting of an impactful resume, cover letter and LinkedIn profile – these are the tools used to secure interviews. To create these impactful instruments, the individual has to complete a workbook that compiles and assembles information in particular formats – they are provided with a guidebook and supporting materials to help them. Their career advisor then uses this to craft an impactful resume and profile.

The Job Search

Once the individual has a new resume, cover letter and LinkedIn profile, they are ready for the job search part of the programme. Their career advisor helps them develop a three-pronged job search strategy focused on the three approaches to job searching – job boards, employment agencies or recruiters, and networking. Using a guidebook and directed by their career advisor, the individual produces a personalised strategy for their job search. This, and the use of the tools discussed above, will attract more interview calls.

Preparing for Interview

The interview preparation part of the programme involves two workbooks. One is focused on presenting the individual’s career achievements and key strengths in an impactful, structured manner – this also provides a structure for answering unexpected questions. The second workbook is focused on answering interview questions, and in particular, focuses on commonly asked and expected interview questions specific to the individual’s job target. When the ‘content’ for interviews is prepared, then there is practice in the ‘techniques’ of successful interviewing, including a mock interview and how to be proactive during interviews. Building and presenting confidence and poise during interviews is also practiced.

Ongoing Support

When the preparation stages described above are completed, we provide ongoing support to the individual for a period of two months. This involves tracking their job search activities and providing advice on how they should tweak their approach if necessary. The individual is also provided with guidance for ongoing needs, such as tips for upcoming interviews and dealing with various job search situations. This support ensures that they ingrain all the best practices for a good job search and that they execute a speedy and effective job search.

The Single Most Important Task in Your Job Search

You need to show that you meet the requirement of the job
You need to show that you meet the requirements of the job

Career advisors are often asked what is the single most important task in the job search process. The answer is undoubtedly the identification of the key requirements for the targeted job.

There is an assumption underlying this statement which is that a resume is to be specifically targeted at one particular job and not used ‘generically’ for a wide range of job applications. However, the identification of the key requirements for a particular job is not only to be used for focusing a resume, but it is also of the utmost importance in preparing for interview too, as we shall see.

Firstly, let us consider the importance of the key requirements when crafting a new resume. All career advisors agree that one must have a very focused resume to get called for interview for one’s targeted job. So how do you focus a resume?

To get called for an interview, the applicant or candidate needs to specifically demonstrate in their resume that they meet all or most of the selection criteria for the particular job. The selection criteria roughly equates to the main or ‘key’ requirements to perform in the job reasonably well. These ‘key’ requirements will be a mixture of skills, qualifications and experience.

The task of identifying the ‘key’ requirements is easier for a publicly advertised position because the ad usually lists both the responsibilities of the job and the main requirements needed to do it well. However, it is wise to check that the advertised requirements is complete by doing some research – see below.

When a position comes from the “hidden” job market – that is, through networking where candidates hear about the job through ‘word of mouth’, there usually isn’t a job description or person specification to go with it. In such cases, the job applicant has to do some research themselves. To start, search the internet for previous advertisements of the same or similar roles – what requirements were listed for these? Then talk to people who are already doing that job – or to their immediate supervisor. Ask for their opinion on what the key requirements for the job are. Thirdly, you could also search an occupational database such as O*Net (www.onetonline.org) that will provide data on the tasks, responsibilities and requirements for a huge range of jobs.

The above research will uncover quite a lot of information and you will need to distill this down to a manageable number. As you need to demonstrate in your resume that you match the requirements of the job, you need to identify and determine just the 6 to 8 “key” requirements for the specific position. Print off this list and have it in front of you as you write your resume. The Summary or Profile and the Key Skills sections of your resume need to reflect these 6 to 8 “key” requirements. In wondering what to include and what to leave out – if something is relevant to the key requirements it should be included, if not, leave it out. In this way your resume will have greater impact as it is focused on showing that you meet the main requirements for the job. And because it does, you will be called for interview.

As stated above, knowing the 6 to 8 “key” requirements for the position also guides your preparation for the interview. As you prepare answers to commonly asked questions, the answers should be focused on demonstrating how you meet the requirements. After all, from the interviewer’s perspective, the interview is about discovering if you can do the job and showing that you meet the requirements meets this objective.

Therefore, for these reasons, identifying the 6 to 8 “key” requirements for the job is the single most important task in the job search process.

Managing That First Impression at Interview

You have to manage that first impression

When you arrive in the interview room, it is only natural that you want to make a good first impression. The impression we make is determined by our non-verbal communication – what is usually referred to as our ‘body language’. Our bodies are constantly giving off signals – they continually communicate what we are feeling and thinking inside – that is why it is called ‘body language’. That first impression takes but a moment – it is both a conscious and sub-conscious process in the mind of the interviewer, and within a few seconds they have an initial impression of you.

Your non-verbal communication is something that interviewers pay close attention to. From the very first moment that they see you, they notice how you are dressed, the expression your face, whether you are smiling or frowning, your handshake, and the way you hold your body. These all contribute to that first impression. So you have to manage that first impression. But how?

There are a few exercises that will help you make a stronger, more positive impact in that first impression. The first of them is something you do before the interview and involves deliberately changing your body posture to control the levels of two hormone. You want to increase your testosterone level and decrease your cortisol level – cortisol is the stress hormone. Power-posing is how you do this, and by power-posing for just two minutes before an interview (or any other evaluative event such as speaking in public), your performance will be significantly better.

Dr Amy Cuddy, a social psychologist in Harvard Business School, gave a TED Talk on how to do this – watch her most interesting talk here, or go to: https://www.ted.com/talks/amy_cuddy_your_body_language_shapes_who_you_are.

The second exercise involves taking control of your breathing. When we feel stressed – and being interviewed is a stressful situation – our breathing tends to be shallow and higher in the chest. By breathing deeply so that our diaphragm pushes our stomach out, we relax our body (again bringing the cortisol level down). But breathing deeply has another positive effect – it bring energy into our body, an energy that can be used to show enthusiasm and interest in the job and organisation you are being interviewed for. This extra energy in your body deepens your ‘aura’ and projects confidence and poise.

To achieve the correct breathing, get balanced with your feet firmly on the floor (whether you are standing or sitting). Breathe in deeply through your nose all the way down to your stomach, and hold the breath for a couple of seconds. Then exhale the breath out through your mouth more slowly – the ideal ratio of out-breath to in-breath is 2:1. Do this for five minutes in the waiting room and you will feel calmer, more relaxed and more energetic – ready to perform better at the interview.

The two exercises above will help you appear more confident, poised and relaxed when you sit in that interview chair. More importantly, inside you will “feel” confident, poised and relaxed.

To round things off, pay attention to your handshake as this too gives off a sub-conscious signal. A wet, limp, cold handshake portrays fear and a lack of confidence, and produces an “ugh” feeling in its victim! On the other hand (no pun intended!), a firm, strong handshake portrays confidence and self-belief, and is a pleasant experience for the recipient, especially when it is accompanied by a smile. But firm and strong doesn’t equate to hurting – so get the balance right. Practice your handshake with a few friends or family members, and smile as you do it. Get their feedback and adjust your handshake as suggested.

When you are in the interview, sit upright but relaxed in the seat with your lower back touching the back of the chair, and your feet firmly on the floor. Take two deep breaths before speaking as this will bring back the effects of the earlier breathing. Now you are set for a good interview!

The Most Important Task in Preparing for Interview and Answering Interview Questions

Its crucial to identify the 6 to 8 “key” requirements of the job

Your objective at interview should be to demonstrate that you are the most suitable candidate for the job. To do this, you need to show that you meet all of the key requirements for the job – but how do you find out what these are?

If the job was advertised in the newspapers or on job boards on the internet, then the task is simpler. Usually a job advertisement will list the main tasks and responsibilities of the position, as well as essential and desirable requirements. The requirements will be various skills, qualifications and experience. However, do not stop there but do some research as well such as that suggested below.

Interviews for positions secured through networking (and as much as 50% of jobs are found through networking) present a bigger problem – there is no advertisement to identify the responsibilities and requirements. So what should a potential interviewee do then?

Search the internet for previous postings of similar jobs. Try to gather the information for a few postings as there will probably be slight variations across different companies for the same or similar jobs. From these, identify the common elements and what seem to be the key requirements.

If you know people who are doing the same or similar jobs, especially in the company you are to be interviewed for, talk to them. Ask them for their opinion of what they believe to be the key requirements to be able to do the job. If you know a manager or someone who has been involved in interviewing for your target job, even better! As them about the key requirements. And if you don’t directly know anybody who can help with this, ask your wider network if they know someone you can talk to.

You can also do a Google or LinkedIn search for people either doing a job similar to your target job or the manager of such people. Connect with them on LinkedIn and then ask for their advice – people like to be asked for advice because it shows you respect their opinion!

Lastly, you can search an occupational database such as www.onetonline.org – this site contains details on nearly every job you can possibly think of.

When you have completed the research suggested above, you will have an unwieldly long list of responsibilities and requirements of the job. You need to distil and reduce this list to the 6 to 8 “key” requirements to do the job effectively, so prioritise and group similar requirements. Having just 6 to 8 “key” requirements is more manageable and easier to focus on, because they are the focus of all your interview preparation.

Your task then is to match yourself against these 6 to 8 “key” requirements – do you have them all? As stated earlier, these requirements will be a mix of certain skills, qualifications and experience. To present yourself as the most suitable candidate for the job, you will have to illustrate at interview that you possess each of these. In preparation, you should expect questions such as those asked at behavioural or competency-based interviews: “Can you give me an example of a time you XXX (used X skill or gained X experience)?” The answer to such a question demands a story which demonstrates how you used the particular skill or gained a particular experience. The best way to do this is with a C-A-R story (Context or Challenge – Action you took – the Result you got) or a S-T-A-R story (Situation – Task – Action – Result). Phrasing your story this way will give it impact and make it credible.

Your focus then at interview is to make sure that you get the opportunity to demonstrate that you have all of the 6 to 8 key requirements and, of course, tell them as CAR or STAR stories.

Why You Need to be Proactive during an Interview

To succeed at interview, be proactive in the process

To ensure success in an interview, you need to be proactive in demonstrating that you meet the main requirements of the target job. To understand why, you need to know what typically happens in a company before it gets to the interview stage.

The interview is happening because a job vacancy has occurred due to either:

  • Someone leaving (voluntarily or otherwise!); or
  • Someone is being promoted; or
  • The team is being expanded (more work, expanded scope, etc).

Either way, once the job vacancy is identified, it will be filled according to a process something like this:

The hiring manager (i.e. the manager who has a vacancy) wonders if there is someone he already knows who could do the job. If yes, then great! If not, he will ask his team and other internal managers if they know of someone. If yes, again great! But if not, the next step is to ask his wider network if they know of someone suitable (he will ask managers he knows in other companies; those he has met at conferences, seminars, meetings, etc; and people he knows socially or plays tennis with, etc).

This networking process frequently produces someone to have a ‘chat’ with – this may or may not be a formal interview, but either way, in the hiring manager’s mind, it is an interview to fill the vacant position. Even though the person has only been ‘referred’ to them, the hiring manager usually takes this as a ‘recommendation’. Unless there is something obvious that indicates the candidate won’t be able to do the job well, they will usually be offered it.

Without a formal job description and person specification, the hiring manager will ask questions based on the presented resume and about some of the key skills involved in the job. The decision will mainly be by ‘gut instinct’ on the basis of “I’ll know it when I see it!

The result of such a process can be very ‘hit and miss’ from both sides. If the candidate doesn’t work out, the company has to go through the expensive process of finding a new person. For the candidate starting in the job, if they don’t have most of the actual requirements for the job – many of which may not have been articulated during the interview – the job won’t be a good ‘fit’ for them, and not only will they not perform well, but they won’t be happy in the job either.

If the networking process doesn’t produce a ‘suitable’ candidate, the job vacancy will have to be advertised in the newspapers or on job boards – or given to a recruiter in an employment agency. The recruiter will usually advertise the job, but will also conduct LinkedIn and Google searches – hence the value of having a LinkedIn profile and even a personal webpage.

For either to happen, the HR department are usually involved, and they will ask the hiring manager to create a job description and a person specification – they will offer to help with these, and with turning them into Selection Criteria.

This is a lot of work and hiring managers hate it! They already have too much work to do and don’t want to be bothered with something they have little expertise in. Even when completed, sometimes the job description and person specification are incomplete or not properly focused. When faced with this work, hiring managers often try to hold out until their networking eventually produces someone!

Whatever the process is that leads up to the interview, it has to go ahead. One or more candidates will be interviewed. And here is the problem – not only are many hiring managers not trained in developing job descriptions and person specifications, they are not trained in interview techniques.

So you as a candidate and interviewee need to help them. You need to be proactive and help steer the interview in the direction it needs to go – and that’s to demonstrate that you have the key requirements for the job and will ‘fit in’ to the team and company.

A following article will elaborate on how to demonstrate this.

What to ask for when networking

Ask for advice, not a job!

Networking can be a complex process for many people! There are different aspects to it and all of them require thought. Starting with a clear objective is important – knowing exactly why you are doing it and what you want to get out of it provides direction and motivation. Knowing who to connect with or meet is also important – otherwise you could end up with hundreds of contacts who can’t help you with your objectives. Knowing how to get connected to or meet the people who can help you in your job search is another important part of networking. These aspects of networking have been dealt with in previous articles on this website.

The question of what to say to people or ask of them once connected is frequently asked. This question typically arises when new networkers hear that the golden rule of networking is not to ask for a job. Asking people you have just met or been connected to for a job can create awkwardness, especially if they don’t have a job for you. Asking for a job directly scares people off and can create a ‘cul de sac’ or dead-end for you. So what do you ask of them instead?

Assuming your objective was to connect with people who are in a position to offer you the type of job you are seeking (or at least to connect with people who know these people and could connect you or introduce you to them), then what you ask for is advice or information. Asking someone for advice is non-threatening – it doesn’t create awkwardness – and frequently strokes the person’s ego as it shows respect and admiration. People ask advice from people whose opinions they believe matter, and when asked for advice, it’s natural for the person asked to assume that the person asking admires or respects them. They therefore are likely to agree to help!

The advice to ask for is about your career or about your job search. Tell the person that they have taken the career path you wish to pursue and that you wish to discuss with them the best way forward for you in your pursuit. You are merely asking for career advice.

Or you might again say something flattering about their position or career to-date, and on that basis you are seeking information or advice on the best way to achieve your career goal (i.e. get that job!). As long as you are not asking them directly for a job, they are likely to agree to meet you or get involved in an e-mail exchange. Meeting face-to-face is the most effective way of doing this, and asking for just fifteen to twenty minutes of their time shouldn’t be too much. Always end such discussions by asking them who else might be able to help you.

Even without asking for a job there is much to be gained from such an encounter. You meet them, discuss your career and job search, and they might actually have a vacancy for you! If they don’t, you will have gained valuable knowledge about your career or job search, and they may refer you to someone else who might have a job vacancy or who can introduce you to someone else who might. No matter what the outcome, it’s a positive one for you.

To back up your position that you are not there to ask for a job, do not bring a copy of your resume with you! If asked, tell them that you are there for advice and information so didn’t bring a resume with you, but that you will send it to them shortly afterwards.

This type of meeting (it’s called informational interviewing) is not difficult to conduct, and consistently produces positive outcomes.

How our values affect our work and choice of career

Values determine our happiness at work

What are ‘values’?

Values are what are important to us in a particular context. In the context of our career or work for example, values are what is important to us about that and may include such things as ‘challenge’, ‘teamwork’, ‘autonomy’, or ‘recognition’. Values are what we want in a particular context.

Money is a value

Money or salary is usually a work value as well, because we all need money to live and pay the bills. For some people, just having enough to live on, look after their dependents (children and/or parents), pay the bills and have a little holiday is sufficient. For others, they want lots and lots of money. The difference between the two is another value which is about what money can do for them – for the person wanting lots of money, money can buy material goods which shows other people how successful they are. The other value here may be a self-esteem related one such as wanting others to look up to them.

Values mean different things to different people

A person who has work values such as ‘autonomy’ and ‘recognition’ will only be happy in work if their boss allows them to ‘get on with it’ – that they are allowed decide how the work is done or the desired outcome reached without being micromanaged by the boss. They also need to be given recognition for the work they do. However, recognition means different things to different people. For some, recognition may have to be in the form of a financial bonus or a pay increment. For others, they may just want the boss to acknowledge that they did a good job or get a ‘thank you’ for doing it. Again, some people want public recognition – i.e. it is also important to them that others know that the boss has recognised their effort – while for others a private word of thanks is sufficient.

Core values transcend contexts

While many of our values are only valid in a particular context such as our work or in our relationships, we also have ‘core values’ which are valid across all or most contexts. Some examples of such core values are honesty, truthfulness, or integrity. These are values that might be important to a person in their work or career, but would be equally important to them in their relationships, or in their buying decisions (where a company would need to have an ethical reputation for them to buy from).

Job satisfaction comes from our values being met

Most of the time we are not aware of our values – they operate in the back of our minds. If a person has work values of ‘teamwork’, ‘collaboration’, ‘challenge’ and ‘autonomy’, they will be happy in work as long as these values are being met. This would require a work environment where people worked together (on projects for example), but where each individual had their own part to play and, once they know what that is, are allowed to decide the best way to achieve their work goal. The work would also need to be challenging in some way – this might be that there is something new to learn or a new kind of problem to be solved. When these values are being met in work, the individual will feel contentment, job satisfaction, fulfilment, and be happy in work.

When our values are violated

But then a new boss takes over the team! This boss is very ‘hands on’ and likes to micromanage his subordinates. He decides the best way the job is to be done and tells people they just need to follow his instructions and do what they are told – no need to work with others. This would also take the challenge out of the job as the boss was deciding how everything is to be done. The person who has work values of ‘teamwork’, ‘collaboration’, ‘challenge’ and ‘autonomy’ will no longer be happy in work – they won’t have job satisfaction or a sense of fulfilment. They will feel that there is something wrong in their life, especially at work, but they probably won’t be able to articulate what or why. It’s simply that their values have been violated. They probably feel a lack of ‘fit’ with their job or the company, and start looking for a new job or even a new career. When our values are violated, we feel disrespected, and know ‘deep down’ that we need to take action.

Using values in career direction finding

When people are looking to find career direction for themselves – whether starting out in their working life or looking to change career – values play an important part. We have already seen the positive and negative impact our values can have in work, so determining whether our values will be met or not in the careers or jobs we are considering, and to what extent, is important if we are to find a career or job we will be happy and content in. Our work values can be our evaluation criteria.

People sometimes take a job that offers them a good salary or makes them look good in some way – it meets these values which can be important to some younger people. Their other values, such as challenge, meaning, or recognition, may not be met in that job, but because their more important value is being met, they work on, sometimes for years. But eventually the allure of the money and ‘looking good’ to others wears off and they feel that they just can’t go on in that type of job – they need ‘something’ more, they just don’t know what it is exactly – they need their values to be met.

Get to know your values for a more fulfilling life

So values are important in all areas of our life, and as this is a career advisory site, we emphasise their importance in work. Get to know your values – have a competent person elicit them for you – and ensure they are being met in your job. If some values are not being met, talk to your boss about it so a way to include them in your work can be found. Doing so has enormous benefits for you, your boss and the company.

Make Networking an Integral Part of Your Job Search

Be ‘strategic’ when networking

Using Job Boards

Some people rely only on job boards when searching for a new job, but using job boards has a low success rate. They also involve the greatest competition – there are thousands of others using the same job boards and many of them are looking for a job similar to the one you are searching for.

Using Employment Agencies and Recruiters

Others use employment agencies where recruiters try to match suitable candidates to a job that a company asked them to fill to – the recruiter gets paid by the hiring company when the position is filled. So the recruiter searches their own database for suitable candidates – this database is of people who have contacted that employment agency in search of a job. If that doesn’t produce a few candidates, the recruiter will look for more by advertising the position on job boards (where the competition for jobs is severe), and also by searching relevant LinkedIn profiles.

Of course, many job hunters use both approaches, and that increases their chances of success. However, in job searching, many jobs are actually filled through word-of-mouth where a hiring manager asks their contacts if they know of a suitable candidate. If they don’t know of someone, they will ask their own contacts, and so on. This is called networking.

Many Jobs Are Filled Through Networking

Networking is how many jobs in Singapore are filled. It also happens online, especially through LinkedIn, where a hiring manager asks their ‘contacts’ (i.e. all those they have connected with on LinkedIn or Twitter or other social media sites) if they know of someone who might be suitable for a vacant position they have. The process also works in the opposite direction where job seekers ask their contacts for help in their job search.

However, many people don’t know how to network – they merely connect with a wide range of people and end up with lots of ‘connections’ that they either don’t follow through with or are of no use to them in their job search. Knowing many people who are interested in flying drones won’t link you up with a hiring manager who is looking for a marketing executive – except by coincidence of course!

Network ‘Strategically’

To use networking productively, whether it be face-to-face or online networking, it must be done strategically – in other words, it requires a specific purpose and a plan to achieve it. Obviously the ‘purpose’ is to find a suitable job, and the plan should involve identifying all those people who are in a position to offer you the kind of job you are looking for. That is the starting point – identifying people who might have the type of job you are looking for. Then you need to identify where these people ‘hang out’ – what forums are they members of or what association meetings do they attend? These are the places a job hunter needs to ‘hang out’ also.

This can be brought a stage further by identifying the people who know or are connected to the people who can hire you for your targeted job. Where do they ‘hang out’? This is where the job hunter needs to spend their time networking. There is no point in meeting lots of nice or interesting people when networking if they are not in a position to help you in your job search. The time to meet interesting people is when you have a job, but when you are in job search mode, you must be ‘strategic’ in your networking – look for and connect with those who can help you.

Getting the Most out of Working with Recruiters (1)

Know how to work with recruiters

The recruiter is not working for you

Recruiters are busy people – they get paid on results, and those results are the successful placement of a person into a vacant job. They are paid only when they fill the position and it is the hiring company that pays them. So don’t make the mistake of thinking that they are working on your behalf – they aren’t! They are working for the company that pays them.

When you as a job hunter deal with an employment agency, bear in mind that the recruiters are busy trying to match candidates to vacant positions. They receive hundreds of applications and speculative resumes for every position on their books and they simply do not have enough time to read all those resumes in detail – they spend less than 30 seconds skimming through them. So you must help them in this process by having a focused resume and clearly showing how you match the key requirements of the job you are applying for.

They are very busy people – so prepare before you call them

Job hunters frequently complain that recruiters are abrupt and don’t spend much time talking to them – as stated above, they are very busy people and simply don’t have the time to talk to people who aren’t a good ‘fit’ for a position they are dealing with. So understand their situation, and when you talk to them, be as brief and concise as possible. If the recruiter phones you, it means there seems to be a ‘fit’ between you and a job, so again remember they are busy and be focused on demonstrating how you meet the requirements of the vacant job. If you talk about irrelevancies, then they will be abrupt in bringing you back to talking about the essentials. For them, time is money!

When responding to a job advertisement, find out the name of the particular recruiter dealing with that position. Sometimes it is stated in the job ad, but if it’s not, call the employment agency and ask who is the recruiter involved. Then use their name in the cover letter / cover e-mail – this slightly more personal touch will always work in your favour. Again, your attached resume must be focused and show how you meet the requirements of the job. If it isn’t thus focused, it goes into the garbage bin.

If you ‘cold call’ a recruitment agency, prepare properly before the phone call – write down what you need to say and ask. Prepare an “elevator pitch” (the 30 second statement of who you are, what you do, what type of position you are looking for, and something unique about yourself) and have it in writing in front of you. The main tactic when talking to a recruiter is being brief, concise and relevantly focused.

View recruiters as partners in your job search

Recruiters may be busy people, but you can still look on them as partners in your job search. To do so, you must be completely honest with them and not try to hide any gaps in employment, or the fact that you were job hopping at a certain stage, or fired from a previous position, etc. They will be able to advise you on how such situations should be presented in your resume and at interview – they will also make sure not to refer you to an employer that they know might have a problem with your particular issue.

If a recruiter phones you but you were unavailable, be respectful and return their call as soon as possible. This is particularly important if you are involved in a job offer negotiation, as there are numerous stories of people who have had job offers withdrawn because they were slow in getting back to the recruiter. Unless your experience and skill-set are very unique, there will always be another candidate to offer the job to! And when a recruiter sends you to a hiring manager for an interview, make sure to promptly provide them with feedback on how things went.

A further posting will continue discussing how to get the most out of dealing with recruiters.

What to Write in a Cover Letter

A cover letter or cover e-mail should entice the recipient to read the attached resume

A commonly asked question of career coaches and counsellors is what to write in a cover letter or cover e-mail. [For simplicity, I’ll just use the phrase ‘cover letter’ to refer to both the written letter form and a cover e-mail.] Some people struggle about what to write and reduce the impact of their resume by sending it with a poor cover letter.

First, let us look at the purpose of a cover letter. It is intended to get the recipient to read the enclosed or attached resume – as such it is the first step in attaining a job in the job search process (the purpose of a resume is to get an interview, and the purpose of the interview is for you to show how you match the requirements for the job and thus secure it). Given its purpose then, a cover letter should entice the reader to pay great attention to the attached resume.

The following format is one you can use to persuade the recipient to just that:

Firstly, the cover letter should be addressed to a specific person in the company, preferably the appropriate hiring manager, but if you can’t find out who that is, then the HR manager in charge of recruitment. This is more personal than a “Dear Sir / Madam” and is more likely to be favourably read. If also makes it easier to follow up later. Of course, this involves a little research and sometimes a little detective work to find the name of the appropriate person, but doing so is well worth the effort.

The letter or e-mail should start by stating the specific position you are applying for and mention where you saw the job advertised. If a particular person told you about the vacancy and especially if that person works in the company, mention who ‘recommended’ that you apply. Similarly, even if the person who told you is from outside of the company but it might still be valuable or worthwhile to mention their name and/or position, make sure to do so.

The next paragraph should briefly indicate how you meet the requirements for the job applied for, and this should be done in such a way that the reader will want to see more and will therefore read the resume as well. This is the most important part of the cover letter and you must spend some time on getting the balance right between showing that you are the person for the job and becoming too long-winded! Being concise is what is required here.

You can either continue in the same paragraph or start a new one if the previous one was in any way long, by highlighting some key or relevant positions you have held. For the positions mentioned, you should select one or two very relevant responsibilities and achievements – very relevant here means that they are specifically related to one or more of the key requirements for the job. Again, you need to be very brief and concise.

To finalise, you should tell the reader how to best contact you and when.

The cover letter (or e-mail) should be no longer than one page in length – if it is longer, you need to edit it. An overly long letter or e-mail won’t be read.