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Career-Life Times, Issue #46--The Unspoken Question
March 11, 2008
During a job interview, it’s important to keep the interviewer’s perspective in mind. You must answer his/her unspoken question, “What’s in it for me?”
While many questions asked during job interviews appear to focus on your past accomplishments, here’s an important tip: they may be asking about what you did, but what they really want to know is what you can do now, for them.
Think of the disclaimer that accompanies every advertisement for a mutual fund or investment firm: “Past performance is not an indicator or guarantee of future success.” That’s the interviewer’s perspective while listening to you talk about your accomplishments.
The key is to talk about your past accomplishments in a way that shows how they are relevant to the specific job for which you are interviewing. Doing advance research about the company (such as at their web site or at www.hoovers.com) and the position will be extremely helpful.
Here’s an example with two candidates, Joe and Mary, competing for a job as a dog groomer. The interviewer asks, “What is the most difficult challenge you’ve faced, and how did you overcome it?” (A very common interview question, by the way.)
Joe answers with, “In one job I was delivering pizzas and I kept getting lost. By the time I’d find the address, the pizza would be cold, the customer would be unhappy, and my boss was ready to fire me. I overcame this problem by buying a GPS navigation device and installing it in my car. Now I never get lost!”
Mary answers, “In my current job at Stylish Hounds, management ran a special promotion to increase the number of customers who use the dog-grooming service. It was a bit too successful because we suddenly had more customers than we could handle. Management would not hire additional groomers to help with the workload. Instead of turning customers away or significantly delaying their appointments, I devised a new grooming method that was twice as fast. Then I developed a new work schedule. Both efforts maximized productivity and we were able to handle the increased workload effectively without upsetting our customers.”
Joe’s answer shows initiative and commitment (he bought that GPS gadget with his own money, after all).
But Mary’s answer relates specifically to the job for which they are applying. Mary had done research about the company and discovered it was about to expand it’s dog-grooming operations. So she picked an example from her past that addressed an issue the interviewer was likely to apply to a future situation in his company. See the difference?
Here’s another example: Joe and Mary are asked, “What’s your greatest accomplishment?”
Joe answers, “I won an Olympic Gold Medal during the 2004 Olympics in the high-jump competition.”
Mary answers, “I was named Stylish Hounds’s Dog Groomer of the Year in 2007 for increasing productivity in my section by 47%.”
Joe’s accomplishment is pretty spectacular! But remember the interviewer’s perspective. He might be impressed, but he’s thinking “What’s in it for me? What does being a world-class high-jumper have to do with helping me to increase sales in my dog-grooming department?”
Mary’s answer is much less spectacular than Joe’s, but it’s relevant to the position and indicates that she has what it takes to be successful in this particular job. It tells the interviewer, “I have what you’re looking for; I can help you with your specific needs.”
Looks like Mary has a new job!
(Note: This is from an element of my Job Interview Success System called “45 of the Easiest, Toughest, Silliest and Most Common Job Interview Questions—and How to Answer Them!”)
A reader recently asked:
“Dear Bonnie: I made a mistake. I took a new job, but it isn't working out as expected. How can I approach my previous employer and ask for my old job back without sounding desperate?”
What you should do in this situation depends on how you left your old job. If you were unprofessional in any way, you’ve probably burned that bridge and should look for a new job elsewhere. If you were professional and on good terms with your boss when you left, your chances of success are better.
But the first thing to consider is why you want your old job back. Was it really such a great job? Or are you just desperate to leave your current position and think getting your old job back will be easier than starting a fresh job search? Make sure you go for what you really want; don’t just retreat from something you do not want.
If you’ve considered that, and still feel that trying to get your old job back is the best course of action, here are a couple of ways to go about it. Choose the option you feel most comfortable with, based on the circumstances and your relationship with your former boss.
Option 1: Use the Indirect Approach. Call or visit your former boss. When he/she asks about how your new job is going, say something like “It’s going OK. It’s not quite what I expected, though, and to be honest, I miss working with you and the old gang." See how your former boss responds to that remark. If he/she jumps on that opportunity to ask you to think about coming back, you’re in a good position to be rehired. Smile and say “Make me an offer,” and go from there. If your former boss does not take the bait and says nothing about rejoining the old team, let it drop. Either he/she isn’t eager to rehire you, or there is no place left for you at the old company. Look elsewhere.
Option 2: Use the Direct Approach. Contact your former boss and explain your circumstances earnestly and honestly. “My new job is not working out as I expected. This experience has helped me to realize there’s more to a great job than a higher salary [or whatever the reason was that you gave for leaving your old job]. I realize now that leaving [name of old company] was a mistake, and I was wondering if my former position is still available. I'd be very interested to rejoining your team."
I think Option 2 is the best approach.
But regardless of which option you choose, be prepared for your former boss to want reassurances. You left your old company, you’re already eager to leave your current company--be ready to explain why your old boss shouldn’t worry about you leaving again after he/she gives you another chance.
Also, be sure you don’t insult or say negative things about your current boss or company. If you badmouth your current employer, your former boss might get the impression that you did the same about him/her as well. Plus no one wants to hire (or rehire) a complainer.
Be honest, be professional. If you were a good employee, your former boss may hire you back.
But don’t get your hopes up. Depending on how long ago you left, your old position may have already been filled. So even if your former boss wants to bring you back, there may be no place for you any more. This doesn’t necessarily mean he/she can’t help you. Ask your former boss if he/she knows about any openings in other departments or companies, and if he/she will give you a good reference/recommendation.
All is not lost if you can’t get your old job back. You can learn from this experience and move forward. Who knows… maybe an even better job awaits!
Job hunting is like… well… hunting!
Can you imagine a hunter starting a hunting trip without first deciding what he’s going to hunt, where he’s most likely to find it, what weapon he will use, and how he’ll get the best shot? Can you picture him just blasting away at whatever moves, without taking aim or even checking to see if he hit anything? (If it makes you feel better, think of this “hunter” as a photographer armed with a camera.)
This scenario is ridiculous, right? Any hunter who acted that way would be crazy to think he would succeed.
So why do some job hunters act that way?
They send generic resumes or e-mails to any company or web site for which they can get a mail or e-mail address, asking to be considered for “any openings.” I receive at least a dozen such e-mails each year… and yet I have no employees and offer no jobs!
Sending out mass untargeted “please give me a job because I really, really want one” messages is like running through the woods blasting away at every leaf that moves.
How do these job hunters expect to succeed?
Even if I was an employer looking for someone to hire, I’d never consider anyone who demonstrated such poor job hunting techniques. With so much “how-to” information on the Internet these days, there’s really no excuse for it.
Here’s how to hunt effectively:
1. Decide what you are hunting for. Pick a job you not only want to do, but actually qualify for. If you want to be a chef because you like Rachel Ray, but can’t cook, perhaps you should consider a different line of work (at least until you’ve had some cooking lessons).
2. Learn where you are most likely to find it. Find companies that have the type of job you want. If you want to be a chef and know how to cook, do research on restaurants in the town where you want to work. Determine which ones have good reputations, happy employees, great benefits, etc. Then apply to those.
3. Choose the most effective weapon. Once you’ve picked your desired job and potential employers, prepare a customized resume and cover letter. Make sure they are specific to the companies for which you’re applying. Highlight specific relevant accomplishments, not just your skills. Also, if a company asks you to fill out application form, don’t neglect to do that just because you submitted a resume.
4. Take the best shot by aiming carefully at a specific target. Use your research on the company you’re interested in to help you prepare for the job interview. Note what they’re looking for in the job announcement. Learn about the company’s mission, goals, accomplishments. Anticipate likely interview questions, then prepare and practice answers that not only highlight your qualities, but offer solutions and benefits for the company. Thorough job interview preparation is your best shot at success.
5. Check to see how you did. Follow up after the interview. Send a thank-you note immediately. Call a day or two after the time they told you they’d make their decision and ask about the status of the opening. If they selected someone else, ask if they can give you any advice on how you might improve your chances if another opening comes up.
6. Make adjustments if necessary, and don’t give up. If you didn’t get the job, think about what you can do better next time. For example, if they asked questions on a subject you weren’t familiar with, you can study that topic before your next interview. Treat each interview as a learning experience; never as a failure. Hunters who come home empty-handed may be disappointed, but they still enjoyed the hunt; and they hunt again.
If you practice these effective hunting skills, your odds of success will be much greater. But even the best hunters sometimes hire a guide. A career coach may be worth considering if your hunting isn’t netting your desired results.
What your body language says is often more important than what you say verbally, especially when the two conflict. When they’re in sync, your movements are a reflection of what you’re thinking and what you’re feeling: your conscious and your unconscious. But when they aren’t, the unconscious prevails.
Why? Because while people will make themselves conscious of their words, few are conscious of their feelings and how that translates into body language, much less what that body language is saying. And in an interview, that can result in sending a message opposite from what you intend.
A person who was recently fired or laid off is a good example of this dichotomy, especially when the termination takes place for reasons that have little to do with any situation the individual instigated. You did nothing to cause the severance, but you feel responsible anyway.
Since few job seekers know how to put a termination in perspective and handle it appropriately, it comes out in how they move and how they conduct themselves. Almost every action is an apology. You knock gently on the door when the administrative assistant says, “Mr. Jackson can see you now.” You not only ask permission to sit, but you ask which chair. You either over-explain or under-answer.
Instead of speaking smoothly in a relaxed manner, your voice is too loud or can’t be heard. You say “um” or “ah” at the beginning and in the middle of your sentences. Everything about you screams insecure, even though you’re managing to articulate your accomplishments.
The result is that the hiring authority is puzzled as to how you managed to achieve so much, when your manner isn’t conducive to making things happen. It leaves him with a question about you. Hiring authorities don’t like to be left with questions; they want to be 100% confident of who they hire. So you’re out of the picture.
But this conflict doesn’t only occur with those have been dismissed by their employer. It can also happen when someone doesn’t have a degree, but has excelled in their career and frequently ends up competing with those who do. Or when you’ve been unemployed a long time, and you really need a job. Or if you’ve had your eye on being part of this company and finally you’ve snagged an interview. Or if you’re just plain insecure.
There’s a plethora of articles that list hundreds of body language cues you should pay attention to. But that’s like trying to learn the different interview styles and how to respond to each one. It’s a waste of time. You’ll spend so much time trying to remember what to do, how to do it, when to do it, if what you’re doing is correct or not, that it becomes difficult to focus on selling yourself and learning if the company is compatible with who you are and what you want.
It starts with your head. If you don’t feel confident, then stop thinking you aren’t. Find the reasons why you’re an asset to a company. List your skills and contributions. Put together a sales pitch on yourself, and then take it to heart. Actions mirror thoughts and thoughts mirror actions. When you’re thinking confidently, you behave confidently and vice versa.
At the same time, you can program one to follow the other. Pay attention to yourself, what you’re feeling and what’s going on around you. If you notice yourself shuffling in through the company door, pick your head up, put a smile on your face, and walk into the office as if you belong there, because you do. You have an interview, and they’re expecting you.
An interview is a sales presentation. You’re the product, and the hiring authority is the buyer. If you’re communicating that you’re not good enough to be hired, why would a company think differently?
Judi Perkins, owner of Bethel-based VisionQuest, was a job search consultant for 25 years. She now operates the Web site www.FindThePerfectJob.com.
More Articles. You can find more articles on my website: Article Index. Here are three new ones you might enjoy:
The Covey Community. Are you a fan of Steven Covey, bestselling author of “7 Habits of Highly Effective People” and other terrific self-improvement books? If so, you’ll want to join me in exploring his website, which is brand new and still in “beta” mode. Here’s where to find it: www.CoveyCommunity.com.
Zen Habits. I discovered this fascinating blog by Leo Babauta about three months ago, and it instantly became one of my favorites. Zen Habits provides helpful, well-written articles on achieving goals, productivity, being organized, motivation, eliminating debt, saving, getting a flat stomach, eating healthy, simplifying, living frugal, parenting, happiness, and successfully implementing good habits. If any of those topics interest you, check it out here: ZenHabits.net.
Attention Shutterbugs. If you enjoy taking photos with your digital camera, you might want to take a look at this site that promises to show you how to earn *m*o*n*e*y* doing that: CameraDollars.com
Job Interview Success System. This is my guaranteed step-by-step system for helping you ace a job interview. See the details here: Job Interview Success System.
and begin at once, whether you’re ready or not,
to put this plan into action.
The time will never be just right.”
Political Correctness Lessons
How to speak about women and be politically correct:
1. She is not a "BABE" or a "CHICK" - She is a "BREASTED AMERICAN."
2. She is not "EASY" - She is "HORIZONTALLY ACCESSIBLE."
3. She is not a "DUMB BLONDE" - She is a "LIGHT-HAIRED DETOUR OFF THE INFORMATION SUPERHIGHWAY."
4. She has not "BEEN AROUND" - She is a "PREVIOUSLY-ENJOYED COMPANION."
5. She does not "NAG" you - She becomes "VERBALLY REPETITIVE."
6. She is not a "TWO-BIT HOOKER" - She is a "LOW -COST PROVIDER."
How to speak about men and be politically correct:
1. He does not have a "BEER GUT" - He has developed a "LIQUID GRAIN STORAGE FACILITY."
2. He is not a "BAD DANCER" - He is "OVERLY CAUCASIAN."
3. He does not "GET LOST ALL THE TIME" - He "INVESTIGATES ALTERNATIVE DESTINATIONS."
4. He is not "BALDING" - He is in "FOLLICLE REGRESSION."
5. He does not “HAVE HIS HEAD UP HIS ASS" - He develops a case of "RECTAL-CRANIAL INVERSION."
6. It's not his "CRACK" you see hanging out of his pants - It's "REAR CLEAVAGE."
Consider More than the Math. The rising cost of gas is driving me crazy. I drive to work about 220 days a year (I work a flexible schedule that means long hours but every other Friday off; I take two weeks of vacation). My round-trip commute is 80 miles. I pay a bridge toll of $4 each commute. I'm paying $3.50 a gallon for the "cheap stuff" right now (I live in California) and my Mustang gets 23 mpg. I hate math, but figured I'm paying about $16.18 every day I drive to work. That's about $3,560 each year. Just to get to work.
I considered a carpool, but I love to drive my Mustang convertible. It beats riding in a minivan listening to people complain about their job, their kids, their president.
Of course I considered the cost of the long commute before accepting this job nine years ago. It was worth it. I was younger then. I hadn't considered the "non-monetary" cost: 90 minutes of my life, being in traffic full of crazy California drivers, each roundtrip. Because I'm older and wiser now, I know how to make the most of that 90-minute roundtrip commute: I learn. I listen to audios (books on CD or MP3 downloads) on topics I'm interested in. So I don't think of my commute as a waste of time; I consider my car a mobile classroom.
But when I was hired the price of gas was about $1.59 a gallon and the bridge toll was $2. So I'm now paying more than twice as much to get to work as when I accepted the job. Is it still worth it? Yes. Fortunately the salary I'm earning is far superior to what I could earn closer to home and still more than covers the rising cost of my commute. But that's not my priority. I truly enjoy the work I do, the people I work with, and the organization I work for. I realize that's a rare thing, not to be taken for granted or easily given up for a shorter commute, or even more money.
If you're considering a new job, realize there should be more to your decision than just the math.
So, what did you think of this issue? Any suggestions? Topic ideas? Questions? I really appreciate your feedback. Please send me a note at Bonnie@Best-Interview-Strategies.com
Please forward this to your friends!
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