Category Archives: Interviews

What Do You Bring to the Party?

Companies make hiring decisions on more than one level, even if they claim to focus on skill sets and job specs.   Once it’s clear you can do the job itself (and if you are coming in as a trainee, associate, or intern, remember there is no real job–yet) your less obvious gifts come in to play.  Are you hyper-responsible, affiliative, competitive, or tenacious?  Does the employer you care about care about any of the gifts you can bring to the party?

There’s the job, there’s the company, but then there is the organization you are joining.  Organizations, being made up of imperfect people as they tend to be, look for people who can add dimension, energy, enthusiasm, or even a moderating influence when the forces of go-go-go need a good set of brakes.

You have to know who you are in order to know what you can bring, and you have to be able to articulate that information in the appropriate way.  That means you don’t state it like this:  “I’m the kind of guy/gal who . . . . ”

Of course, if you have arrived at the time and place where you can say anything at all, by building relationships and making friends with people you’d like to work with, they already know you and the discussion is elementary.  But if this is different, then take these steps:

1.  Ask people you trust what it’s like to work with you on the kinds of things you’d be doing.  Accept the answers graciously, but not necessarily literally.  Everyone is different, every experience exerts different influence and calls out different behavior in each of us.   The important thing is to listen and draw some conclusions for yourself.

2.  Reach for the defining stories of your work life, within yourself, and write them down.  The writing down part is very important; things aren’t real if they aren’t written.  Shape the stories to articulate how you influenced the outcomes you wanted, not just in terms of company outcomes, but in terms of your own future and your own priorities.

3.  Consider how you serve those around you, and in what manner you create the environment you want to live in and work in.

My favorite work story of all time is this one (name changed to protect my friend):

We hired a new secretary for one of the office departments; his name was Darrell.  Darrell identified himself as a really terrific assistant, organized, detail oriented, active, engaged, and especially, he noted, helpful to everyone.  Making him very much unlike every other secretary in the division.  On about his third week, and still during his “tryout period” (also called probationary in some places) we had a scheduled “all hands” meeting, in which the big boss would speak to the entire employee population.  Save one person: the receptionist, whose job it was to answer phones while all of this communicating with employees was underway.  The receptionist, lowest on the secretarial heirarchy, never got to go to the State of the Company meetings.  The other secretaries declined to provide back up, and their bosses backed them up.

Until Darrell came along.  Learning of the situation, he went to his boss and said that he’d be happy to get a briefing from the others after the meeting, and would be pleased to fill in for the receptionist for the duration of the meeting.  Since most of the calls were from customers, he felt sure he’d be useful in the role, and he was the right guy for the job.  Maybe in the future they could all take turns, he said.

So was the course Darrell set for himself.  Soon his value as a willing partner with initiative and a rational sense of right, his pleasure at being able to do favors for coworkers, his knowledge of how the office really worked, and might work better got him coveted invitations to sales conferences, trade shows, and meetings, as the set-up and go-to guy.  You could not miss the renaissance in the ranks of support staff.  He went from tryout to full-time regular with no delays or questions.

He was not a likely candidate for leading culture change.  But he was hired not because of his secretarial skills, which were certainly more than adequate.  He was hired because he noted, convincingly and with examples, his helpfulness.   In doing so, he brought fun to the interview and communicated with considerable confidence just what he might be like to work with.  He expressed personal interest, wasn’t stuffy, and asked really good questions.  We knew we’d like him, and so would everyone else.

The point is that part of why we get hired is not just what we can do, task-wise, but who we are and how we get things done, and help others get them done.  Although human resources professionals and hiring managers will speak in terms of competencies and cultural values, what is really at the heart of the question is “What’s it like to work with you?”

Are you patient?  Judgmental? Critical of others?  Blameless at all times?   Caring?  Authentic?  Self-aggrandizing? Administratively challenged?  Organized?  Need to be right? Focused?  Self-righteous?  Driven to pursue excellence?  Creative?  Friendly?  Kind?  Understanding?  Do you even think about these things?  I.e., do you know what you bring to the party, or why you might not be invited?

Telephone Interviews: Tips for Improving Your Performance

Telephone interviews are highly effective screening tools used by employers to save time and money, screen “on the fence” applications, or whittle down an oversized file of good possibilities.   As an HR professional I’ve done a lot of phone interviews, almost always for the purpose of deciding whether to include or exclude someone who is not otherwise a clear choice. Headhunters use them–a lot more often–to build a slate of candidates.

I’ve screened and been screened using the phone interview; it isn’t quite the same as interviewing in person, because you can’t rely on your physical appearance, clothing choices, or body language to get yourself screened in.  But you can set yourself up for success through planning and self-management.  Here’s how:

  1. The interviewer should schedule the interview in advance, identifying a time, phone number, and the name of the person to whom you will be speaking.  Be sure that you a.) confirm who is to call whom,  b.) confirm your interviewing phone number, if you are going to be the call recipient, and c.) schedule it for a time when you can devote your full attention and control your surroundings.  “Now” is never a good time.   Never–even if it’s “just a few questions.”  The polite response to that is “This is not a good time.  May I return the call?”  Believe me, it will not ruin your chances.
  2. Do not interview on a cell phone.  But when you ignore this advice because you think I’m either old or crazy, do the following: Make sure the battery is fully charged and that you have reliable service.  If your house is a dead zone, don’t do the interview there.  Use your hands-free head set; if it’s the Bluetooth, make sure it’s charged.   Cell phone functional difficulties interrupt the flow of your conversation, and that is not helpful to you.
  3. Don’t use the speaker setting on whatever phone you choose.  It makes you sound distant.
  4. Do not participate in the interview from work, from your car, from a public location like an airport or shopping mall, from a place where there are barking dogs or demanding children, or anywhere that interferes with your attention.  Don’t ask a friend to join you and signal you or help you.
  5. Dress for success.  While you may not need to wear a suit and carry a briefcase to the phone interview, some people do this to provide themselves with the cue that this is that important.  I do not recommend doing an interview in your jammies, unless you want to sound like you are in your jammies.  Somehow it comes through the phone; I imagine there are all kinds of theories about why.
  6. Practice.  Have someone conduct a twenty minute interview with you and give you feedback on a.) how close you hold the phone, b.) how loud you talk, c.) your phone manners, like do you interrupt or talk too long, d.) clarity of your words, e.) ambient phone noise on your chosen telephonic equipment, and f.) pleasantness.
  7. Aim for warmth; smile when you speak.  It comes through the phone in a very good way.
  8. Don’t use your keyboard, make lunch, walk around a room with hard floors, watch tv, or read the mail while on the phone.  For some folks (like me) phone focus is difficult.  But the one split second when your listening falters as you see an email  land in your mailbox will be the second the run-on sentence turns into the question, and you are dead.  It happened to me.
  9. This is an interview.  Manners are the same: “Hi, Bob, nice to meet you.”  “Thanks for your time, Jane, I’ve enjoyed our conversation.”  “Frank,  I hope to hear from you.”  “John, If you need further information, don’t hesitate to call or email me.”  If you do a lot of interviewing, you may by now be used to glancing at name tags or desk signage to remind you of the name of the person you are talking to.  So, when your interviewer identifies himself or herself–and not before–write down his or her name and keep it in front of you.  And use it.
  10. Be certain that your call is disconnected when the interview is over and you believe that no one can hear you.  Oh, yes, it does happen; be sure it doesn’t happen to you.

I’m sure you’ve been having phone conversations since you could talk; most of us have.  But there are tricks to performing well when you can’t see or be seen by an interviewer, someone who can move you along to the next phase or place your candidacy to the side of the “definitely worth a look” pile.  Remember that the phone interview is usually reserved for folks who’ve made it over at least one hurdle—make sure you get over this one, too.