The pause that destroys a job interview

shocked woman

It is not when YOU pause that destroys you.

Silence is golden when you can’t think of a good answer.  (Muhammed Ali)

An interviewer said, “Tell me what your biggest weakness is.” The candidate gave one example.  There was a pause. The interviewer looked puzzled. Uncomfortable, the candidate gave another weakness.  The surprised interviewer sat for 10 seconds after that admission trying to gather his thoughts.  The candidate gave another weakness.  In all, the candidate gave six weaknesses.  The interview was over a few minutes later.  The candidate was not hired.

When you finish answering a question and the interviewer looks at you without saying anything, what do you do?  Do you start talking again?  No! Stop! Shut up!  You need to learn to outwait your interviewer.  If he wants more, let him ask. If he raises an eyebrow as if to say, “Is that all?”, then you should look puzzled or confident and wait for him to talk.

Most interviewers do not consciously use silence as a weapon.  They will be happier if you let the silence stretch.  They are gathering their thoughts.  Don’t interrupt them.  Let them have the time they need to feel comfortable.

Interviewers who purposely use silence will be impressed if you have the guts to let a silent break stretch to 30 seconds while looking them in the eye, occasionally glancing down to their hands.  To them it is a sign of self worth and assurance.

A big turn-off for many managers is someone who just can’t stop talking.  Make use of the old saying, “It’s better to remain silent and be thought a fool than to open your mouth and remove all doubt.”

Something To Do Today

Practice talking and then being quiet.  Watch how the person you are addressing gets nervous. Just for today, don’t let them off the hook.  Be the strong silent type today.

————————–

Tomorrow:     What are your weaknesses?

Later:              What do we have to pay you?

Why are you leaving your job?

Will you do anything we ask?

Where else are you interviewing?

Should you tell them where else?

Why don’t they give you an answer, Yes or No?

How to deal with interview traps

bear trap

Questions that are really interview traps can kill your chances

Thumb screws and the iron maiden are no longer considered proper interview tools. Nasty traps are rarely set for candidates.  The most common snare is a reasonable question or a pause that becomes the killing moment in an interview.  We’ll talk about pauses another day.

Reasonable questions that are dangerous include:

  • What are your weaknesses?
  • What do we have to pay you to get you to work here?
  • Why are you leaving your current job?
  • Are you willing to do anything necessary to get the job done?
  • Where else are you interviewing?

When you get a dangerous question you should answer it accurately.  That doesn’t mean you need to go into a lot of detail.  Over the next few day we’ll touch on each one of these questions.  For now, remember to be brief.

Any one of these questions can bring out old job wounds.  Job wounds are things that happened at a previous job that you are afraid will happen again.  Get over them. This is a new company.  Don’t yell, whine or complain about the past.  If you have to mention something that is ugly, state the fact in one short sentence and stop.  Don’t explain.  Don’t fill in the details. Let your interviewer assume what he wants. You will find that their imagination is often more generous to you if you are extremely brief and only mention facts.

The secret to avoiding interview traps is to prepare an answer in advance.  Use that answer and avoid going into areas that are painful for you. Brevity is a key.

If all the world’s a stage, I want to operate the trap door. (Beatty)

Something To Do Today

Write down a one sentence answer to each of the questions above.  Next week compare those answers to the guidelines for each question.

————————–

Next:     Pregnant pauses

Later:              What are your weaknesses?

What do we have to pay you?

Why are you leaving your job?

Will you do anything we ask?

Where else are you interviewing?

————————

How to answer unasked interview questions

scared kid in a bag

If the interviewer won’t ask, answer anyway.

Séances and interviews sometimes have a lot in common. Primarily, no one really believes in the person being interviewed.   The answers are suspect.  Everyone involved is afraid to act on what they heard.

Interviewers believe you may lie about the following questions:

  1. Will you work hard?
  2. Can you do this job?
  3. Will you make the team better?
  4. Do you want this job?

Because they don’t trust your direct answers, they ask a lot of indirect questions.  There is only one way to answer.  To be believed you must give concrete examples.

Give concrete examples

You must be enthusiastic, positive, believable, happy and self-assured.  But, that’s not enough.  They won’t believe you unless you give concrete examples. Examples in the last year or two are most effective.

Let me help you come up with believable examples.  Write down the answers to these questions:

Will you work hard?

When did you work late?  Did you get in early regularly to finish a project?  How often did you carry a beeper?  What assignments did you volunteer for?  Who did you take over for when they were on vacation? Did you travel out of town on assignments? How much work did you do from home after hours?

Can you do this job?

What parts of this new job have you already done in your old job?  When did you work independently on applicable tasks?  How do you do research on related problems? Who did you mentor that had these responsibilities?  Which similar projects did you manage? How big was the team you worked on?  Did you lead a team doing this kind of job?

Will you make the team better?

When did you take over for a team member? How did you deal with a difficult coworker? Did you work late to help someone else? When did you back your manager in a tough call?  Were you a mentor?  What questions did everyone come to you with?  Which team awards did you win?  Why did they pick you to lead a team?

Do you want this job?

(Be careful NOT to complain and whine.  Don’t beat up your old team or boss.) What will the new job let you learn?  How much can you bring to this company?  Why will you be able to hit the ground running? Can you start in 2 weeks?  What do you like most about the team members you met so far?  Which facts about the company appeal to you most?  Which specific projects sound fun?

If you have answers to all these questions, you can turn your interview from a séance into a fact finding session.  Give short specific examples and you will be believed.

Something To Do Today

Take a notepad and jot down specific proof from the last two years. How have you absolutely proved your answers to the unasked questions?  Write down undeniable examples.

Take those undeniable examples with you to review right before your next interview.

————————–

Later:    Other most common interview questions – traps, money, intimidators

———————-

What they would have to say to ask you the question they really want:

I’m not intending to imply insult or judgment here but I am curious to know in order to be able to respond to your posts in an appropriate manner, so please forgive what appears to be, but in fact is not intended as, an insulting question:  Are you stupid?  (Shore)

The most common interview questions – asked and unasked

interview mouse trap

Yes, that question is a trap. Get the cheese without danger.

 

Have you asked, “Why didn’t I get the job when the interview went so well?”

Often it is because an interview question was answered wrong.

The most common interview questions are:

  1. Tell me about yourself.
  2. Will you work hard?
  3. Can you do this job?
  4. Will you make the team better?
  5. Do you want this job?

Only the first question is usually asked straight out.  The rest are so obvious that interviewers don’t want to ask them plainly.  They figure you will lie.  So let’s deal with #1 today, and the rest later.

Tell me about yourself

When an interviewer can’t figure out what to ask next, they say, “Tell me about yourself.”

You now get to tell the interviewer what to ask next.

Your answer should prepare the interviewer to ask about your greatest accomplishments and your job progression.  They don’t need to know about your dog, fishing, or your marital problems.

Set them up to ask about how you can help them. What have you done that would help them the most?  What were you recognized for doing very well?  Why did you get a past job or a promotion?  What have you been doing well in your latest job?

Keep your answer short. 60 seconds is fine. You are setting up your interviewer to ask questions.  A 20 minute speech on your part is not going to help.

Practice answering, “Tell me about yourself.” Each interview is different.  Make sure you briefly mention the things that are most important for THIS job.

Tomorrow we’ll start dealing with the other questions.

Something To Do Today

Write down the two most important things you have done as far as your interviewers are concerned.  Practice working those accomplishments into an answer to “Tell me about yourself.”

Do you think Titus Livius was in a job interview when he said:

I approach these questions unwillingly, as they are sore subjects, but no cure can be effected without touching upon and handling them.  (Titus Livius 59 BC – 17 AD)


Later:  Unasked interview questions

Other most common interview questions – traps, money, intimidators

How To Be Imperfect and Highly Paid – 3 things 

unique girl in a crowd

What makes you stand out? Worth more?

What about you is unique? Amazing? Unemployable? Mediocre? Inspiring?

My daughter Merrilee has Down Syndrome and is low functioning within that group, but she is amazing.  My son James got a perfect score on the SAT Advanced Calculus II college entrance exam. He is amazing. Each can do things the other can’t.  We look at James and say, “He can do anything!”   No, he can’t.  He doesn’t have the patience his sister does.  They have different realities and infinite possibilities.

The highly paid people I recruit all know their strengths and weaknesses.  When I call up their references, every reference lists the same strengths and weaknesses the candidate lists.  Often the poorly paid people give me a list of strengths and weaknesses that bear no resemblance to what their references think.

Really knowing your strengths and weaknesses allows you to do three things:

  1. Play to your strength
  2. Get someone to cover for your weaknesses
  3. Turn your weakness into a strength

Man is equally incapable of seeing the nothingness from which he emerges and the infinity in which he is engulfed.  (Pascal)

Stephen Cannell flunked three grades in school.  He is severely dyslexic. He can’t write readably. He also won two Emmy awards for his writing. He created 40 television shows and 6 novels.  He has learned to compensate for his severe problem. He plays to his greatest strengths, creating fun characters and complex plots. His assistants translate his unreadable typing into the words he wanted to put on paper.

Figure out what your talents really are.  Do you have one or two real weaknesses that prevent you from exploiting that talent?  Find a way to compensate.  Get help. Find out what others have done to overcome that weakness.  You may have to adequately do the part of the job that the weakness prevents you from doing excellently. Better yet, can you get someone else to help with your weakness?

No one can do everything.  Figure out what help you need to achieve your dreams.

Something To Do Today

Take an aptitude test and a personality test.  Free ones are available at your local Job Center.  Some are available online. Do you know anyone who would dare to tell you what your real strengths and weaknesses are?  Ask them.

Make sure you know your strengths and weaknesses.  Are you exploiting your best qualities?

————————–

Later:     The most common interview questions – about you

Other most common interview questions – traps, money, intimidators

He ignored $100,000,000 to get a new job – it’s magic

ace up his sleeve

Resume magic may get you a job.

I turned a $100,000,000 food scientist into a Java programmer. Seriously, I did. I used resume magic to give him a career change.

It wasn’t as easy as it sounds.  He was proud of his PhD, and that was hurting him.  He had to stop emphasizing the $100,000,000 product revenue stream he had generated for his company.  Instead he had to emphasize his work in developing computer systems.  He had to finish getting his Java programming certifications. He also agreed to a 40% pay cut.

When we finished, he found his own job.

Writers fall in love with their work.  Every word is a work of art.  When you put together your resume, you are even more in love with your work because it is about you.  You can’t possibly leave out how you gave CPR to a chipmunk and saved its life. Leave it out anyway.

Now do something even harder.  Stop looking at the things YOU find most interesting.  Look in your career for proof that you can do the job you are applying for. Make a list of all the duties of the job you want.  Now make a list of all of the times you have done those duties.

That food scientist had helped design computer systems.  He had put together a few small applications to help him track data.  He passed the Java certification test.  We expanded those programming related accomplishments.  It took him a year, but he got the job.

Magic is the art of misdirection.  Illusion is achieved by getting people to concentrate on what you want them to perceive.  Put a little magic into your resume. Get rid of the things that don’t apply, even if they are your proudest achievements.  Emphasize what is important.

You are never given a wish without also being given the power to make it come true.  You may have to work for it, however. (Bach)

Something To Do Today

Just for the exercise, take a job you want to apply for and create a ½ page resume for it.  Only leave your greatest accomplishments that apply towards that job.  I’ll bet you cut out a lot of fluff.

————————–

Later:  Imperfect and highly paid

Is your job like rollerskating in a buffalo herd?

buffalo blocking traffice

You can’t drive in a buffalo herd either.

I talk to many job seekers who want to change careers.  Some of them are accountants who should be salesmen.  They got into accounting because it is safe, pays well, and has a great future. Their personality is wrong for accounting.  They don’t like carefully following precise rules.  Reporting on what other people are achieving gives them the itch to do more, not the pleasure of a job well done.

Some people who want to change careers are salesmen who should be accountants.  Salesmen make so much money that, for some, it is irresistible to get into sales.  The “should be accountants” are great with logic, and to them, buying is all about carefully planned decisions.  But developing relationships quickly is not their way of living. Pressing emotional buttons feels somehow wrong.  Sales is just not working.

A favorite song of mine says, “You can’t rollerskate in a buffalo herd, but you can be happy if you put your mind to it. Knuckle down, buckle down, do it, do it, do it.”

If you have the wrong personality for your career field, CHANGE.  Do it now.  You will only have more obligations in a couple of years.

The first step is to work within your current company to see if you can switch careers.  Will they let you go from being an accountant to being a salesman?  Can you go from being a salesman to being a sales engineer or financial analyst?  Is there a way you can exploit your current job?

Often you have to change companies to change your career. You will probably have to take a big cut in pay.  Only you can decide if it is worth it.

One more thing to consider.  Is your career the problem, or the people you are working with?  I don’t know any accounting companies that are filled with rollicking, frolicking, totally off the wall, hard charging adventurers.  I do know that accountant personalities range from nearly dead, to micromanaging bosses from hell, to nurturing versatile entrepreneurs with great attitudes.  Carefully look at your situation.  Make sure that your company and the people you work with are not the real problem.  You may still need to change jobs, but your career may be fine for you.

Don’t settle for a job or career that you just can’t be happy with.  Seriously look at what it will take to work with a better bunch of people or to switch careers entirely.  Life is too short to choose misery.

Something To Do Today

Go online or to your local job center and take a personality test.  You will be surprised how accurate they are.

————————–

Next:   Resume magic

Later:  Imperfect and highly paid

Which Reference Is Knifing You In The Back?

ninja with a knife

Which reference is killing you?

Trust enthusiasm. Fear okay.

If something always goes wrong in your job interviews after the point where references are checked, you probably want to rethink your references.

References – phantom friends

Some of your references may be knifing you in the back.  They are your phantom friends. You thought they would give good references.  They were always friendly.  Still, they may have thought you were a poor worker.  They might just be unable to compliment anyone.

Trust enthusiasm, fear “okay”

You can’t trust a reference to tell you directly, “I’m going to say bad things.”  If you ask someone to be your reference and they say, “I’d love to.  You were a great worker.  I will brag about how well you did.  You were wonderful”, they are probably a good reference.  If they only say, “Okay”, be careful.

Interrogate okay

Ask Mr. Okay, “Will you say that if it was up to you, you would rehire me?”    If you get any hedging, don’t use this reference. For instance, “I’ll tell them I would rehire you under the right circumstances,” is hedging.  “Jim, you know I don’t have the authority to rehire you,” is also hedging.  “Of course! I’d rehire you and give you a raise.  I really wish you were still here,” is the positive reference you are looking for.

If you are concerned that someone might be a phantom friend, drop them from the reference list.  Find someone else.  That’s the safest bet.

Have someone else check your references

You can always have someone check out your references for you.  They will call up and say, “I’m checking Jane Doe’s references. Would you recommend her for the same job she had?”  They also have to ask, “Would you rehire her?”

Your references are one of your strongest job search weapons.  Make sure they really are good references.  It will make a huge difference.

Something To Do Today

Go back over that list of potential references you gave yesterday.  Make sure none of them are phantom friends.

————————–

Next:               You can’t rollerskate in a buffalo herd

Later:               Resume magic

Imperfect and highly paid

The most common interview questions

How To Deal With Bad References That Cannot Be Avoided

Evil man with a banana

The best way to protect yourself from a bad reference

What can you do if you know a reference check is going to kill you?  Here is what happened to a candidate I placed.

He told me, “I only have 3 references from my previous job. That’s all the guys who worked there.  My 2 coworkers will tell you how well I worked.  The owner will only bad mouth me.  He’s mad that I am leaving after 3 years.”

I called, and the owner was a terrible reference.  Since I checked all the references I was able to prepare the hiring company for what I heard.  They wanted to call to verify what I said. I cautioned them to find out what really ticked off the old boss.  It was things like, “He only gave me 6 weeks notice before he left. I may not have given him a raise in 3 years, but he’s essential to the project.  He knows that, and he is leaving.  He’s a quitter. I hate him and would never recommend him to anybody.”

I had them really dig into performance. I gave them specific questions to ask. The boss couldn’t deny the candidate’s accomplishments.  His answers were, “Yes, he did that well, but you don’t understand.  I hate the guy because….”

That candidate was hired. He got a 50% raise at his new job.  No kidding.

The easiest way to deal with a bad reference is not to give out that name.  In some cases the company insists on a specific reference, and you know it will be bad. Tell them in advance what the complaints will be.  Tell them precisely what to ask and how to word it. What does the bad reference have to confirm you did well?

It’s an uphill climb, but you can often overcome a bad reference you can’t avoid. You just have to prepare the ground in advance.

Something To Do Today

Go back over that list of potential references.  Expand it again.  You will never be hurt by having too many good solid references to choose from.

Next I’ll talk about the references that you don’t know are killing your job opportunities.

————————–

Coming up:     References – phantom friends

You can’t rollerskate in a buffalo herd

Resume magic

Imperfect and highly paid

The most common interview questions

9 Job References Most People Overlook

be believable

Be believable with great references

Why do you have to have real job references? To be believable.

When you say it, it’s suspect selling.  When your old boss says it, it’s absolute proof.

When your friend puts your resume on the desk of her boss and says, “Jill is the best salesperson I’ve ever met,” that’s not a reference. She never worked with you. It is only a fantastic introduction.  So get your friend to do that, and also find real references.

The people you choose as references need to know how well you work.  If you provide your pastor, a bowling buddy and your son’s Scoutmaster as references, it will work against you.  People who check references want to know how well you work, not how well you sit in church, drink beer, or drop off hikers.

When you give people you have not worked with as all of your references, you wave a big red flag in front of your candidacy.  The hiring manager will wonder why you have no coworkers you can trust.  Isn’t there someone you worked with in the past who can say something nice about you?

Don’t limit yourself to coworkers and bosses.  Try these references:

  • A secretary or administrative assistant who you constantly worked with
  • Suppliers you dealt with extensively, more than just order takers
  • Contractors you worked with, supervised, or reported to
  • People you sold to
  • Salespeople you negotiated with
  • The person who always came to you with questions
  • A business rival you constantly competed with and sometimes beat
  • Someone from where you do a lot of real work as a volunteer – hours weekly
  • A teacher who supervised a big project (only if you are fresh out of school)

Your current job and previous jobs are your biggest assets in a job search.  Use your jobs to prove how well you will work for your new company.  The bad news is if you screwed up on two jobs in a row, you are going to have a hard time getting hired. The good news is if you impressed three people at your old jobs, those are the only three you have to give as references.

Something To Do Today

In your job journal list the people you impressed in the last 5 years.  Use the suggestions above to add people beyond your coworkers, bosses and subordinates.

————————–

Coming up:Bad references

You can’t rollerskate in a buffalo herd

Resume magic

Imperfect and highly paid

The most common interview questions