Why preparation and practice do make perfect with interviewing; tips for success

Contribution from Dorothy Tannahill-Moran.

Recently, I conducted an interviewing workshop where I polled the group on how many times had they interviewed and how many times had they practiced interviewing.  Out of 16 people, only 2 had interviewed at all in the previous year; and none of them had practiced.  How can you expect to be any good at something if you don’t practice?  How can you be any good at something you only do once or twice a year?  Quick answer: You can’t be any good at interviewing if you don’t prepare and don’t practice.  It’s like expecting a toddler to walk well the first time – it’s just not going to happen.

This is like getting in shape for an athletic event; there are things you need to do and continue doing now and throughout your job search to be at the top of your game.

Interview preparation:

Create a list of interview questions. Obtain a list of most-asked interview questions. You can find them all over the internet. Or, at the next networking event you attend, ask people what questions they’ve been asked during interviews.

Write your response.  Sit down, think through your approach to the response and write down your response to each question.  Walk away from what you’ve done and come back later to reread what you’ve written.  You may discover you were brilliant, or that you need to refine your thoughts.

Read your responses out loud.  When we go through the process of writing and then reading what we’ve written out loud, it helps solidify the message in our brain.  It also helps us really hear whether or not what we’ve written sounds good.  Don’t memorize your responses or they will sound memorized when you do the interview.  Your brain will remember the main points of what you want to convey if you make the list of questions, write your response, and read your response out loud.

Repeat.  Refresh yourself on a regular basis, like weekly or minimally bi-monthly.  You want to read your answers out loud over and over again.

Practice:

Conduct mock interviews. Find other job seekers and friends who would be willing to spend a half hour interviewing you.  They can cook up their own questions or you can give them your list of questions.  Make sure to give them a copy of your resume so they have a basis for their questions.

Ask for feedback.  Find out if your answers sounded good and if you conveyed energy and interest.  Ask if you had any nervous habits that you need to eliminate or body language that doesn’t work well.  This will be one of the few times you might get some useful feedback throughout your entire job search process; so ask for it and do something with it to improve.

If you haven’t done these steps, you aren’t ready for an interview.  You might think well “on your feet,” but think of how much better you will be if you have prepared and practiced.  If you don’t think well on your feet, this is a critical activity you need to be scheduling right now.

Dorothy Tannahill-Moran is a Career Coach and expert on helping her clients achieve their goals. Her programs cover: Career growth and enhancement, Career Change, Retirement Alternatives and Job Search Strategy. Want to discover specific career change strategies that get results? Discover how by claiming your FREE gift, Career Makeover Toolkit at:http://CareerMakeoverToolKitShouldIstayorShouldIGo.com

Don’t neglect this component of LinkedIn, post updates

The last article I wrote on the LinkedIn series discussed the (work) experience section. Prior articles talked about the summary and branding headline. Something that’s not discussed enough is the importance of posting updates on LinkedIn to better network with your connections.

This feature allows you to inform them about matters such as which events and seminars you’ve been attending, share information and advice that pertain to your industry, talk about training courses you’re taking, plus much more.

Share an Update from your homepage or Post an Update from your profile page are two places where you can share any news you find worth mentioning. There are some things to keep in mind when updating.

Do it often: I advise my jobseekers to update at least once a day. This may be too infrequent to effectively network, however. Your network should hear from you at least four times a day. You may not have news about seminars you’re attending, or training courses you’re taking; but this doesn’t mean your input is invaluable. Become a source of information by posting blogs written by industry pundits; even post your own blogs. Simply “liking” a statement someone posted is keeping your presence alive.

Keep it professional: For jobseekers and professionals alike, it’s important to keep your updates professional. An update that would not be appropriate on LinkedIn is, “I just had an interview that didn’t go too well. Oh well, I’ll try it again.”  This is more like it, “I had an exciting interview at a great company. Time to write thank you notes.” You could write an inspirational quote, if you’d like. “Nothing worthwhile comes easily. Work, continuous work and hard work, is the only way to accomplish results that last.” Hamilton Holt

Attach a URL to a blog article: Part of networking is sharing information, so what better way than suggesting an article you found informative and pertinent to your network? If you blog yourself, it’s always great suggesting other bloggers’ articles as a way to network. Click the link “Attach” and copy and paste the article’s URL; LinkedIn will compress the lengthy address like tinyurl.com does.

Give tips: Here are some examples of tips you might update to your network. “Your résumé should sell you and prompt employers to invite you in for an interview.” “A great job search book is What Color is Your Parachute.” “I ran across a great webinar series on the job search, ‘How to Brand Yourself in a Down Market.’ Check it out.” Remember to keep them pertinent to your network’s interests.

Make enhancements to your profile: Your networking efforts can be as simple as making improvements to your LinkedIn summary, experience, or education sections; and writing or receiving recommendations. Be sure your settings for activity broadcasts are on. However, you may want to turn off your activity broadcasts when you are in the process of building your profile.

Participate in group discussions: Every time you comment on a topic in your group/s, the news is delivered to your network. You may not blog or answer and ask LinkedIn questions, so joining group discussions shows others that you’re willing to share information and give advice, both of which are essential aspects of networking.

This topic came to mind when an article I wrote on being on LinkedIn and making use of your time was discussed in one my group’s discussions page. The respondent commented that one should update often to better make use of LinkedIn, to better network. I was remiss in not mentioning sharing updates in that article. Clearly this is one feature of LinkedIn that deserves more attention.

If you’re on LinkedIn, put effort into it

In my LinkedIn workshops I ask how many attendees are on LinkedIn. Some reluctantly raise their hand, clarifying they’re on LinkedIn but haven’t touched it in years. I tell them we’ll do something about that, because otherwise it’s a waste of time.

Alison Doyle of About.com wrote an honest article entitled “Don’t Waste Your Time On LinkedIn.” Let me rephrase: If you’re going to be on LinkedIn, do it right so you’re not wasting your time and the time of others who visit your profile, including employers who are searching for talent.

What I like about her article was that Alison tells it how it should be. I also like the article because she confirms what I’ve been telling my LinkedIn workshop attendees about not engaging in LinkedIn in a half-baked way. It’s better they hear the truth then spend the time starting a profile only to forget about it and take up space on the many servers LinkedIn use s to host over 120 million users.

“If you’re not going to do it right, there is no point wasting your time (and everyone else’s) on LinkedIn,” Alison writes. “LinkedIn is ‘the” site for professional networking.’”

Amen. Furthermore, she explains that when she is invited to connect with people on LinkedIn and goes to their profile to glean information on them, only to find their title or, worse yet, a “Private Profile,” she’s not likely to connect with them.

I sense her frustration and understand the reason for writing her article. She’s absolutely correct. What motivation would I have for connecting with someone who is unidentified? And for you employers, why would you pursue someone who has a profile that gives you very little information in terms of their skills, accomplishments, and related experience? The answer to both is a resounding none.

The bigger dilemma. This leaves the LinkedIn newbies with a dilemma. Should they join LinkedIn and put themselves out there if they’re not going the make the investment needed to succeed in networking on LinkedIn—let alone identify themselves? The truth is a poor LinkedIn profile will do more harm than good. Here’s why:

No photo will send a message to employers and potential networkers that you have something to hide—namely age. Whether we like it or not, LinkedIn wants us to be visible. While business people have no reason to fear age discrimination, jobseekers might. Jobseekers simply have to bite the bullet and have faith that their age will not hurt their job search.

An undeveloped Snap Shot is the quickest way to turn someone away from your profile. I’m referring to more than the photo; there’s the name and title, as well as potential blog or website URLs, that visitors see when they visit your profile. A developed Snapshot includes a full name with a descriptive title. Don’t be vague and announce yourself as a “Public Relations Professional,” when you’re a “Strategic, bilingual HR leader/business partner who achieves strong results through innovative solutions.”

The Summary section is often neglected by people who simply copy and paste their four-line résumé Summary statement. Folks, we have 2,000 characters with which to work. Let’s use them to craft a creative, descriptive Summary that states our value proposition and showcases our attention-grabbing skills and experience. Have fun and use the first person narrative, or even third person narrative if you’re accomplished.

The Experience section is also an area where visitors like to learn more about your identity. Simply listing your job title, company name, and dates of employment says, “I’m too lazy to give this any effort.” This laziness will get you nowhere. List three, four, or five major accomplishments for each job.

The last section I’ll address are recommendations, which do a tremendous job of telling visitors who you are through the eyes of your former supervisors, colleagues, vendors, partners, etc. Ask for and write at least five or six recommendations. This is especially important for jobseekers who need to deliver a quick punch.

Alison Doyle’s article had a little bite to it—I imagine because so many people with poor profiles asked to connect with her. I took a gamble and asked Alison to be in my network. Within half an hour I was accepted and also invited to join her group. Thank You, Alison. I’m glad I passed the test.

Soccer and doing what it takes; 7 things to do in your job search

The other day, my son and I were shooting the soccer ball at the net. He was loving it, and I was hating it for the mere fact that my feet were numb from the cold. Regardless, I was constantly telling him to shoot with his opposite foot. “Why?”he asked me.

“Because you need to be multi-talented,” I told him. “You need to be able to shoot the ball with whichever foot it comes to. If you have to turn your body so you can shoot with your left, you’ll lose opportunities.” I’ve played some soccer in my day, so my advice was sound, albeit not what he wanted to hear.

While I was “coaching” my 10-year-old kid, I got to thinking about the advice I give jobseekers, most of whom listen and others who don’t. The ones who listen are those who send me e-mails or even stop by the career center to tell me about their upcoming interviews or, best of all, their new jobs. It’s all about the effort they put into their job search that makes the difference. They do the hard work, while I simply provide the theory. Such as:

  1. Network, network, network. Tell everyone you know that you’re looking for work. Be clear as to what you want to do and where you want to do it. Clearly explain your occupation (human resources vs. human services is a big difference), your greatest attributes, and your extensive experience.
  2. Look for a job where most people aren’t. In other words, penetrate the Hidden Job Market, which, coincidently, has a great deal to do with networking. “Why?” as my son would ask me. Simple, employers gain a lot more from not advertising than they do from advertising their positions. When they advertise, they spend more money, have to read hundreds of résumés, and interview strange people.
  3. Research, research, research. Always know the requirements for the jobs for which you apply. Know about the companies as well. This will come in handy when you write your résumé and other written marketing material, as well as when you interview for said positions.
  4. Market yourself with targeted résumés for each job, rich with quantified accomplishments and a strong personal profile that makes the employer want to read on. One of my respected contacts on LinkedIn, Laura Smith-Proulx, wrote a great article called Is Your Resume Summary Boring Employers? In it she advises jobseekers to include a substantial, quantified accomplishment in the professional profile.
  5. Send a cover letter with each résumé, unless instructed not to. True, some recruiters do not read cover letters, but many do. And if your job will involve writing, you must send a well-written, targeted cover letter that isn’t boring. Refrain from using a pat opening line that reads something like this, “I was pleased to read on Monster.com of an opening for a project manager….”
  6. Prepare, prepare, prepare. Never go to an interview unprepared. You’ve researched the position and company, so you should have an understanding of what questions might be asked. Prepare your answers for a behavioral-based interview using the STAR formula (Situation, Task, Action, Result). If you are asked traditional questions, you’ll be better prepared to answer them because you’ll have examples to share.
  7. Finally, consider building a LinkedIn, FaceBook, or Twitter networking campaign. Online networking should not replace face-to-face networking; rather it should supplement your networking efforts. LinkedIn is considered the premiere professional networking site, but the other two have garnered results for some people.

I explain some very basic job search methods, yet some jobseekers refuse or don’t understand how to begin and follow through with the basic tenets of the job search. Like my son who shies away from shooting with his opposite foot and, thus, will miss opportunities; these jobseekers will find it more difficult to find a job.

Reverse age discrimination could hurt your chances at an interview

Amy, a colleague of mine who looks no older than 30, came to me to tell me of one of her recent meetings with a jobseeker and to give me some advice. In her rapid voice, she told me that she had just met with a mature male worker who treated her as though she were a child. She was outraged and rightfully so.

Hmmm, I thought, here it comes.

Amy is well revered by the staff at our career center and the customers with whom she meets. She knows a great deal about the job search and training, so being disregarded by this man rubbed her the wrong way. We sat and talked about her meeting with him and wondered aloud if this is how he presents himself at interviews to people younger than he. And if he does, what his chances of success in this job market are. Slim to none, we concurred.

Eventually she calmed down.

Her advice to me was to bring up this attitude toward younger interviewers at my Mature Worker workshop. (She told me three times.) I totally agreed with her and immediately made a change to the presentation slide: “Treat younger interviewers like you would like to be treated.” No, better.

We career advisors always come to the defense of mature workers who experience age discrimination; but we don’t talk as much about reverse age discrimination, such as what my colleague experienced. We are reluctant to tell people who are unemployed how the interviewer might feel about their rude behavior. But this is wrong of us.

Think about if you were on the opposite side of the table interviewing people for a position, where personality fit is as important as technical abilities. How would you react if an older worker looked at you with disdain and without saying it, called you inexperienced and beneath his level? Further, what would you think if you were going to be his immediate supervisor?

Hiring him would not be a marriage made in heaven. You, as the hiring manager, would have to prove yourself to the, albeit highly qualified, candidate on a regular basis. He would question your every decision and tell you how “he” would do things. Any effort you would make to correct his actions or even reprimand him would be met with resistance. You would feel powerless. You’d be crazy to hire him.

Amy and I believe that the large majority of mature workers have a great deal of value to offer employers. They’re knowledgeable in their work and possess life experience that younger workers might not. They want to work and are flexible with their schedule. They’re dependable, able to mentor others, and are great role models. These are but a few qualities of the mature worker.

But there are a few mature workers who think they’re all that or who have a chip on their shoulder. They are convinced that they’ll experience age discrimination at every interview. In other words, they have lost the job before the interview begins.

Susan Jepson, director of the National Senior Network, wrote an article addressing reverse age discrimination practiced by mature workers. She believes that sometimes it’s not intentional, “Without intending to, or without knowing it, mature workers can come across as arrogant, condescending; that behavior can invite rejection. Examine your beliefs and assumptions and work hard to be open and communicative with your interviewer, without prejudice of any kind.”

If you happen to be one who intentionally discriminates against younger interviewers, remember that the person sitting across from you deserves as much respect as you do. Also keep in mind that your livelihood might depend on how much they value you as a potential employee. More specifically, remember:

She earned her job. Whether she has less experience on the job than you is irrelevant. Someone in the company determined that she was the most capable to manage a group of people. And yes, they could have been wrong.

Her job is to hire the best person. You are the best person, but if you show contempt or even hint to your superiority, she won’t see your talent through the less-than-desirable attitude you demonstrate.

She will appreciate your points of view. Once assured you’re not after her job, she may see you as a mentor and role model. Younger colleagues like the approval of mature workers. Take it from someone who supervised someone 20 years my senior; her approval meant a lot to me.

She might have some growing to do. And if you want to succeed, you’ll realize that people of all ages have some growing to do, including you. You can help her through this process by building her self-esteem and confidence. It’s a wonderful thing to see someone grow under your tutelage.

Whether you like it or not, she will be your boss. What are your options right now? Enough said.

You may arrive at interviews where age discrimination is blatant due to no fault of yours. This is the time when you are the bigger man/woman and leave with your pride intact, your head held high. The word humility comes to mind, as he who is humble can adapt to more demanding situations than he who is arrogant.

In the end, my colleague Amy told her customer that his behavior was unacceptable and would do him more harm than good; and he apologized, admitting his error. We are never too old to learn valuable lessons.

When someone writes your résumé, they need to thoroughly interview you. The experts will tell you

You’d think that writing a résumé that is typically one, two, three, or even four pages long shouldn’t be difficult, yet even the most accomplished professionals find it daunting. Self-analysis is not an easy thing, as it involves some soul searching and brutal honesty.

Although some can easily identify their skills and experience, others need help in the form of a résumé  interview. Professional résumé writers will tell you that the interview is just the beginning of the entire process.

My Résumé  Writing workshop attendees often confess that they dread writing their résumé —these are people who have written white-pages, proposals, product documentation, newsletters, and other business correspondences. To answer them, I’ll say, “You just have to do it. Your livelihood depends on this document.”

The workshop runs two and a half to three hours long, depending on the number of questions I get as well as how talkative I am. The focus of the workshop is to help my customers 1) formulate a strategy, 2) position themselves through a Summary/Personal Profile, and 3) sell themselves to the employer by showing quantified accomplishments. This, however, is all theory. In other words, it tells them how they should go about revising an existing résumé , how to make it stronger.

Where my customers benefit the most is when I meet with them one-on-one. They revise their résumé  after the workshop and then send a copy of it to me. I’ll review and write comments on it, usually pertaining to a lack of accomplishments and/or a Summary statement that fails to illustrate their job-related skills. If their résumé  is outstanding, I’ll say so; but in most cases it needs at least some minor work.

What results from the critique is usually a soul-searching meeting where I’ll interview my customers for half an hour to dig into their background. The interview process is where it comes together for them. It’s the “Oh Yeah” moment where they see better their accomplishments and understand why a Summary statement full of fluff is not impressive.

“You say in your Summary that you trained staff to be more productive,” I’ll begin. First of all, employers have seen this claim many times. How can you elaborate on it? Give me a WOW factor.”

“OK. When I trained other staff on how to use the proprietary office management software, I noticed a rapid improvement in their output, perhaps double what they were doing prior to my training. Do you mean like that?”

“Exactly. Now tell me more about your training style. Why was it effective?”

“Oh, and also I won an award for training my colleagues. I, like, totally forgot about that.”

And so it goes. With fresh new ideas in their heads, my job seekers leave my office armed to revise their résumé  for yet another time, and probably not the last.

Some jobseekers have the resources to hire a professional résumé  writer who will guide them through the entire process, beginning with the interview and culminating with a product that should get them a number of interviews.

I won’t dissuade my customers who ask me if they should hire a writer, especially if they can afford the cost. However, there’s one condition I lay down; if a résumé  writer is going to take their money, the writer must interview them for an appropriate length of time before going to work writing it.

I’ve seen too many job seekers come through our urban career center with a poorly written résumé . In some cases, they spend up to $700 for a résumé  that is worth no more than the paper on which it’s printed. One woman I spoke to said she was interviewed for 10 minutes. What she showed me was no more than a work timeline with a long column of keywords. Oh, but it had a nice border around it. Plainly stated, it wasn’t a résumé .

Writing one’s own résumé  takes self-reflection, so it follows that assisting with or writing another person’s résumé  requires the time to completely understand the client’s relevant experience, scope of their duties, and, most importantly, what accomplishments they’ve achieved that separates them from the rest of the pack.

WHAT THE PROFESSIONALS SAY:

Wendy Enelow, Co-Owner of Career Thought Consortium and author of many résumé  writing books, articulates in one of her blogs the need to capture her clients’ accomplishments: “As professional résumé  writers, we all know that a great deal of a résumé ’s effectiveness is based on accomplishments—what a job seeker has done to improve operations, increase revenues, strengthen bottom-line profits, reduce operating costs, enhance business processes, upgrade technologies, and so much more.” To write about a job seeker’s accomplishment, the résumé  writer must invest time in learning about that person. Wendy puts no limit on the time it takes to interview her clients and write some of the best résumé s out there.

Darrell DiZoglio, Owner of RighteousRésumé s, emphasizes the importance of setting his clients apart from the ordinary. He states, “[Clients] want a serious advantage over their competition in the race to get hired and do not mind paying for it. It is my mission in life to give it to them.” I’ve spoken with Darrell on a few occasions and got the impression that he loves what he does and takes pride in producing the best possible résumé s for his clients. When talking about the time he takes to interview his clients, he says, “I don’t wear a wristwatch.”

“The amount of time I spend interviewing a client before pen is put to paper is no less than 2 hours, but there is no restriction on time. Our process is one of working to accomplish a goal that is not driven by time.” states Marjorie Kavanagh, President of Panoramic Résumé s. She also says the interview process helps people realize accomplishments they may not have considered.

Tracy Parish, CPRW, Executive Résumé  Writer, says that sometimes her clients don’t talk enough. But knowing the importance of getting valuable information from them, she won’t give up until she has that information. She mentions a funny occasion when her fear of a silent client was subsided after she used her charm to warm him up, “I’ve also had the extreme where you couldn’t get them to talk at all. I’m usually great at getting them to open up. One guy had his wife sit in on the call too—she warned me he wouldn’t talk much so I thought having her there for input would be nice. However, he talked so much [his wife] was shocked. She told me she had never seen anyone get him to talk so much!”

Whether my customers attend my workshop and a critique session or pay someone to write their résumé , the interview process is an essential component of the process. I understand the difficulty of interviewing job seekers, as do the professional résumé  writers who I contacted; but when done well, it lays down the foundation of the most important document of their life.


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