Leaving “I” out of the interview answers is NOT noble. Use a 4-step process to answer interview questions

When I ask my workshop attendees to answer an interview question, some of them refuse to talk about their role in a past assignment. An article on Recruiting Blogs details this problem jobseekers have, the unwillingness, or inability to describe their role in a situation.

For example, I ask my workshop attendees a question like, “Tell me about a time when your diligence paid off in completing a project on time.” An incorrect answer sounds like this: “We were responsible for putting out the quarterly report that described the success of our training program. We worked diligently gathering the information, writing the report, and sending it to the Department of Labor. We met our deadline and was commended for our efforts.”

Problem: there’s nothing about the jobseeker’s role in the situation. I don’t want to hear about what the team accomplished, nor will employers. I want to hear about a candidate’s contribution to the overall effort.

This answer, using the STAR formula,  is more satisfying, as it describes the candidate’s specific contribution.

“As part of a five-member team, we were charged with writing a report necessary to continue funding for an outside program (situation). I was given the task of gathering information pertaining to participant placement in jobs and then writing a synopsis of their training and jobs they secured.

My action started with noting how I recruited 12 participants for the training program, a number I’m happy to say exceeded previous expectations of 10 participants. To do this required outreach to junior colleges, vocational schools, and career centers where people desiring training were engaged.

Step two involved writing detailed descriptions of their computer training, which included Lean Six Sigma and Project Management. Then explaining how this training would help them secure employment in their targeted careers. I collaborated with the trainers to get accurate descriptions of the two training programs.

Next, I interviewed each participant to determine their learning level and satisfaction with the program. All but one was extremely satisfied. The person who was not satisfied felt the training was too difficult but wanted to repeat the training.

As well, I tracked each participant over a period of four months to determine their job placement. Jobs were hard to come by, so at times I approached hiring managers at various manufacturing companies in the area in order to speed up the process. I was responsible for directly finding jobs for four of the twelve people, even though it wasn’t my responsibility.

Finally I took the lead on writing a five-page report on what the members of the team and I had accomplished in the course of  three months. Other members of the team were of great help in making sure all the “i’s” were dotted and “t’s” were crossed and that the report was delivered on time to Boston.

The result was that we delivered the report with time to spare and were able to keep funding for the project for another year. I worked hard and was integral to proving to the DOL that the project was successful, but it took a lot of collaboration to bring project all together.

Certainly there are times when employees don’t work alone and require the assistance of others, but they always have a specific role in the situation.  Prospective employers want to hear about the candidates’ role in the situation, not the teams’ overall role. It is best to answer the question using the STAR formula, which demonstrates the situation, task (your), action, and result.

Allow me to quote directly from the article:  “…after an hour I still don’t quite understand what this person’s involvement was on any of their most recent projects even though they were all delivered successfully, on time and under budget.”   What I did understand involved a whole lot of we, us, and the team, which leaves me to wonder whether they’re a good team player or just a player on a good team.  I don’t have a spot on my team for the latter”…

This is what I’m talkin’ about.

3 Ways to improve your job search with LinkedIn Updates

One of the things LinkedIn users might take for granted is the Updates feature which can be found on your home page and profile. In short, this is where jobseekers and business people can use LinkedIn to network and heighten their brand awareness.

Updates answers, among other questions: What have you been up to? What skills do you have to highlight?  How can you tell potential employers about your expertise and professional activities? How can you stay on recruiters’ and employers’ radars?

Laura Smith-Proulx, CCMC, CPRW, CIC, and executive director of An Expert Résumé, writes about three uses for updates in an article published by Examiner.com. I particularly like reason number 2:  Updates offer a glimpse of your professional interests and expertise. Here is a snippet from it:

Just like any other flow of information, your Update strategy is an integral part of your brand message—and it’s one that can strengthen your reputation as an expert in your field (and promote your credentials as a candidate).

Think about it: if you’re reading someone’s Profile (and admit it, you do), consider the impact of that Update at the top (the one that mentions how they’re finding a renowned industry book to be relevant in their work). You’ll easily be able to perceive this connection as staying on top of his or her field.

Read the rest of Laura’s article. It explains why using the Updates feature is so important to your networking endeavors. I’m in the habit of telling my LinkedIn workshop attendees to update at least once a day, and if I’m feeling boisterous I tell them to up the ante to four times a day. Think of updating as having mini conversations with your network and, of course, a way to better brand yourself. Read my article on updating on LinkedIn.

Career Development: How to Create Your Career Development Plan in 3 Steps

Guest post from Dorothy Tannahill-Moran – Your Career Change Agent

If you are pondering your career direction and how to get where you want to be, there are some simple steps you can take that will help you come up with a plan.  Let’s not be confused by the word “simple”.  Sometimes the simplest of concepts or steps can be tough to do, because they require some thinking and some effort.  Yet, your think time and effort are an investment in your future and happiness, which make it all very worthwhile.

Step 1:  Figure out your destination.  As with all efforts, you must be clear about your direction.  You don’t take a road trip without knowing where you want to end up.  You also don’t need to overly complicate this task.  I think the following questions are helpful in thinking out your destination.

Where do you want your career to be in 2 years?

  • I like this question because this window is close enough to your current reality that it is easy to visualize.

Where do you want your career to be in 5 years?

  • If you see that your 2-year goal is merely a step in an overall direction, then this question helps you define a longer term goal.  Sometimes it’s difficult to see that far out in time, as life and opportunities present themselves and can cause you to reset your plans.  That’s ok, but it’s good to be looking “2 steps ahead”.

What makes these targets resonant for you?

  • Don’t make a goal just for the sake of making one.  You need a goal that really rings your chimes and helps to motivate you into action.  If you’re making a goal based on what someone else wants, it also isn’t going to be that compelling for you.  Being clear on your direction means being clear that this direction is inspiring and motivational and knowing what is driving you to it.

Step 2:  Do a Gap Analysis.  A gap analysis is where you figure out the differences in the qualifications between where you are right now and your 2-year goal or next step.

Using a job posting or job description for the position you are aiming at is a good way to get specific information about the skills and experience that are expected.  I think it is good to get more than one job description (perhaps one with your company and one with a competitor) in order to ensure you aren’t missing any key items during your analysis.

Go through the job description line item by line item and rate your current state of skills, education or experience to what is listed.  Your rating system can be as simple as 1-10 with 10 a perfect match and 1 being completely missing.  As you rate, make notes about your thinking for future reference.

Once you have completed this exercise, identify all of the items where there is anywhere from a fair amount to a substantial amount of development that is needed.  Look for commonalities and clump those together as a category.  You will discover that there will be themes to your gaps.  Also, don’t get too compulsive about where you don’t think you’re a perfect match, but think you have fairly developed skills.  If they are mostly present, they will make you a competitive candidate and shouldn’t require too much development attention.

You now have a list of development items.

Step 3:  Create your development plan.  You are now fully armed with a clear 2-year goal and all the details of where and what you need to develop to get you where you want to go.  Your plan will be best if you can consult with your boss and/or a mentor to help you with ideas of how to get the skills you need to add.

There may need to be some logical order to a few of the items on your list.  Sometimes you need to do x before you can do y.  Make these among the highest priority items so you can accomplish these things and move on to others.

Usually there are multiple ways of accumulating the needed skills.  You may also want to have multiple ways of beefing up your skill set to add depth to it.  An example is if you want to move to a project management position, you may want to get certification and also to ask for project responsibilities.  Initially, these may be small, which are fine; they will give you an opportunity to grow and learn.

You may need to research various ways to get the skills you need.  Once done, it will give you ideas on how you can approach these items.

You need dates.  You need to keep yourself accountable to your plan; and the best way to do that is to give yourself a “start by” date.  You can’t predict how long or how much work you will have to do in order to develop the skill at the level you need, but you do have control over the action you take to get started.

Keep track.  You need to pay attention to your plan a minimum of twice per year.  This will allow you to stay focused on your progress and remind you of next steps.

Career development is the sort of thing that you can easily forget about until you wake up one day to realize you have gone nowhere and aren’t having fun.  You are responsible for where you go in your career.  With a little bit of planning you can accomplish great things.

For more career tips and advice claim your Free Instant Access to the Career Makeover Newsletter AND eWorkbook “Should I Stay or Should I Go” – both dedicated to Your career success, when you visit

http://CareerMakeoverToolKitShouldIstayorShouldIGo.com/  From Dorothy Tannahill-Moran – Your Career Change Agent from www.nextchapternewlife.com and www.mbahighway.com

The #1 way to stand out on your resume

By Laura Smith-Proulx

Worried that your resume won’t stand out for that perfect job when compared to hundreds of eager job hunters?

One of the BEST ways to distinguish yourself is to measure and document your performance against that of peers (or previous incumbents).

Competitive intelligence isn’t new. Anyone who sells solutions is constantly positioning their product for a win against similar offerings. And guess what? In a job search, YOU are the product.

Therefore, your resume must explain the reasons you’ll continue to outperform others in your next job.

Here are 3 tips to help gauge your work against others, and then add the results to your resume:

1 – Assess your predecessor.

Most employers find it necessary to reorganize teams from time to time, so you’ve probably found yourself taking over a role from a former colleague.

You may have even been hired to replace an underperforming manager, which gives you a great foundation on which to base achievements. If so, you’ll want to quantify the results you gained over that of the previous incumbent.

Turnaround performance is a great differentiator, and was used as part of the strategy on this resume for a Denver-based COO in the real estate investment industry – showing how he walked into specific challenges and removed obstacles to revenue success.

2 – Compare yourself against colleagues.

Believe it or not, a side-by-side correlation between your results and that of your peers will help your resume writing skills.

Think carefully about efforts you’ve handled at work such as special projects or collaboration with leaders at your company. Ask yourself these questions:

  • Was there a reason your boss selected you to lead a particular initiative?
  • Were you promoted faster than your colleagues?
  • Are you frequently pulled into leadership meetings to provide strategic input?

If any of these situations apply to you, document the ways you’re differentiating yourself, and then leverage them!

This example of a Sales Resume for a B2B sales executive in Minnesota shows how we compared his revenue achievement to peers – demonstrating better (and faster results) that intrigued employers.

3 – Evaluate your performance against the entire industry.

Here’s where economic conditions come into play. If you’re in a sales role, you might find that you’ve earned Top Producer ranking in a down year… when others in your industry struggled to even make quota.

Take stock of your performance against that of peers in other companies. Did your company stay in business – even when others shut their doors?

Were you able to produce revenue-generating or market-capturing strategies in an industry known for slow growth?

If these scenarios apply to you, note both the achievement and the conditions on your resume. Employers are keen to hire candidates that are able to address and resolve obstacles, especially in a recession!

In summary, even if it seems that you’ve just “done your job” throughout your career, chances are good that you can think of ways your performance differs from that of other team members or executives.

Adding comparative analyses to your resume – with a full description of your results against others –will help you make a stronger, standout impression.

Laura Smith-Proulx, Executive Director, National Columnist, Author, LinkedIn expert, and former recruiter.

As a social-media savvy leader in the resume industry, Laura combines a lifelong passion for writing with recruiting expertise, global recognition, awards, and master-level credentials held by less than 30 resume experts worldwide.

The system’s flawed; 5 reasons why you didn’t get the job

The process of getting a job at a company for which you’d like to work can be grueling, cruel, and full of questions and uncertainties; but I don’t need to tell you this if you’ve been conducting a rigorous job search.

A jobseeker who attended a number of my workshops and sat with me for a mock interview and a résumé critique, recently got a job. I was extremely happy to hear of his success, but it wasn’t an easy process for him. He worked diligently to land his job, while suffering through multiple rejections.

He and I knew he was qualified for the positions for which he applied. He made it to many last-round interviews only to find out he wasn’t selected. Recruiters continued to knock on his door to set him up for increasingly more interviews; at least one a week. He was becoming despondent, and I was trying to be supportive. His story ended positively.

Sandra McCartt writes in her article, It’s Not Your Fault—It’s a Negative Flawed Process. Deal with It Positively, jobseekers who enlist the help of recruiters often don’t understand what goes on behind the scenes during the hiring process, what goes terribly wrong when jobseekers think they have the job wrapped up.

You may have not considered or want to accept this, but there are various reasons why employers erroneously hire who they do. “First, this process does not always result in the best candidate being selected. There are a whole host of good reasons for this to occur,” writes Ms. McCartt. There are also as many poor reasons for why candidates aren’t hired.

  1. Legitimate reasons. Ms. McCartt mentions legitimate reasons such as relocation, compensation, or other financial issues. Hiring a candidate is a business transaction, so if you’re going to put too much of a dent into the company’s pocketbook, there’s only one solution—the company ends the business transaction.
  2. They went with someone inside. It’s very common for a company to advertise a position even when they have an internal hire in mind. But the company wants to make certain that they hire the best possible person, so they test the water and conduct a traditional search. You’re better qualified but not as well known as their internal candidate. As well, the company is fostering good will among its employees.
  3. You’re too good. Many jobseekers have told me that the hiring manager who interviewed them was less knowledgeable; that they could do the HM’s job. Understandably the HM felt insecure, harboring “you’ll-take-my-job” feelings and decided to go with a safer, less qualified candidate. Perhaps one of the other candidates the recruiter sent to them for consideration.
  4. Hiring managers are sometimes incompetent interviewers. Many HMs aren’t trained to conduct interviews to capture the most complete candidate. Their priority is usually hiring someone who has the best technical qualifications. In finding someone who can handle the responsibilities in their sleep, the HMs neglect another important aspect of the job—the personal fit. Great interviewers realize an interview that involves a combination of traditional and behavioral-based questions is the most effect way to find the best overall candidate, you.
  5. Unfortunately hiring managers make decisions based on personal biases. Nepotism is one blatant reason why people are hired for a position. One of my customers was told she was being let go so the owner could hire his cousin. He actually admitted it. And there’s always a candidate’s appearance, attractive or not, that may come in play. “Am I going to tell a less than attractive candidate that they didn’t get the job because the hiring manager thought they were butt ugly?” writes Ms. McCartt. “Of course not, they can’t do anything about it. The next hiring manager may be double dog ugly and think that candidate is a doll.”

What we’re left with after a candidate isn’t hired for one, or many, of these reasons mentioned above is a disheartened jobseeker; a recruiter who won’t receive her bonus; and an HM who hopes he has hired the ideal person for the job. There’s only one winner out of the possible hundreds of candidates in the process. I’m not stupid enough to believe telling you the reasons why you didn’t get the job will provide you any solace, but hopefully you’ll understand that you’re not to blame.

Unfair as this seems, it’s a fact of life that makes the job search process suck. What should you do in the face of such adversity? “Accept the rejection as just that, the result of a flawed process with vague outcomes,” Ms. McCartt advises. And never take it personally.

Don’t take the telephone interview lightly; be prepared for 4 or more potential problem areas

Recently a former customer of mine told me the great news that he was offered an engineering position. He was extremely happy about getting the job and thought he’d enjoy working for the company, even though he never met anyone at the company.

After four interviews he was offered the job. These interviews were all conducted over the phone. I was in shock. I had never heard of anyone who was hired based completely on telephone interviews.

If you think a telephone interview isn’t a real interview, you’re sadly mistaken. Telephone interviews are generally thought of as a screening device, but they carry a lot of weight and, in some cases, they’re full-fledged interviews. Often times jobseekers don’t take the telephone interview seriously, and this is a huge mistake.

This is the type of response I sometimes get from my workshop attendees when they tell me they have a telephone interview, “It’s just a telephone interview. I hope I get a face-to-face.” I tell them to prepare as hard as they would for a personal interview. Don’t get caught off guard.

Yes, the face-to-face is the next step, but you can’t get there without impressing the interviewer on the other end of the phone, whether she’s a recruiter, hiring manager, HR, or even the owner of a company. Generally the interviewer is trying to obtain four bits of information from you, areas to which you can respond well or fail.

Do you have the skills and experience to do the job? The first of the interviewer’s interests is one of the easiest to meet. You’ve applied for a public relations manager position that’s “perfect” for you; have experience and accomplishments required of a strong public relations manager. Your communications skills are above reproach, demonstrated by excellent rapport with the media, business partners, and customers.

In addition, you’ve written press releases, customer success stories, and assisted with white papers. You’ve added content to the company’s website that even project managers couldn’t supply. One of your greatest accomplishments was placing more than 50 articles in leading trade magazines.

Are you motivated and well liked? Your former colleagues describe you as amiable, extremely goal oriented, and one who exudes enthusiasm. The last quality shows motivation and will carry over nicely to your work for the next company. You’ve done your research and have decided that this is the company you want to work for; it’s on your “A” list.

When the interviewer asks why you want to work for the company, you gush with excitement and feel a bit awkward telling her you love the responsibilities set forth in the job description. But your enthusiasm for the job and company is well noted by the employer. Further, through your networking you’ve learned about the corporate culture, including the management team. You tell her it sounds a lot like your former company and will be a great fit.

Why did you leave your last company? This one is tough for you, because even though you were laid off, you feel a bit insecure and wonder if you were to blame. Your company was acquired and there would be duplication with the marketing department that exists for the company that bought yours. You keep this answer brief, 15 seconds and there are no follow-up questions. You’re doing great so far.

What is your salary expectation? “So Bill, what do you want?” The question hits you like a brick. “Excuse me,” you say. “What do you expect for salary? What will it take to get you to the next step?” the interviewer says. Your mind goes blank. You’ve been instructed to handle the question in this order:

  1. Try to deflect the question.
  2. If this doesn’t work, ask for their range.
  3. And if this doesn’t work, give them your range.
  4. When all else fails, you cite an exact figure based on your online research and networking.

You’ve forgotten everything your job coach told you and blurt out an exact figure. “At my last job I made $72,000.” But this isn’t the question asked. The interviewer wants you to tell her what you expect for salary, not what you made at your last company. “Is this what you had in mind?” you timidly say.

There’s a pause at the other end, and finally the voice thanks you for your time. She tells you if you’re suitable for an interview at the company, you’ll be notified within a week. She says it looks promising for you….

But you know right then that the position hangs in the balance. You’ve spoken first and within 10 seconds said something you can’t take back. You were prepared, but not prepared enough. You didn’t think this interview counted; you’d do better at the face-to-face, if you get there.

Response to the Frustrated Recruiter Lady

While reading an article titled, “You are the Laziest Jobseeker Ever,” I felt sympathy for a recruiter who writes in near stream of consciousness describing lazy, apathetic jobseekers. From the sounds of it, she had certainly had enough of jobseekers who don’t give a damn. She is a frustrated recruiter lady.

I once wrote an article on jobseekers who actually care about their hunt and make great efforts, despite being rejected many times over. They are the people I meet on a regular basis in my workshops and coach them through the process, the ones who go about the search the proper way—networking, sending targeted résumés, using LinkedIn, etc. They are not the ones portrayed in this article from the Frustrated Recruiter Lady.

Frustrated Recruiter Lady describes in her article jobseekers I optimistically like to think don’t exist, ones I conveniently store in the back of my mind. They are the people over whom my colleagues and I pull our hair out. “Does this person want this job?! He won’t even return a phone call on a sure thing. The employer says she wants him,” we say with exasperation. But these jobseekers are far and few between.

Frustrated Recruiter Lady exasperatingly writes that when a jobseeker responds to her with a fragmented e-mail instead of a well thought-out cover letter, it is inexcusable and deserves her wrath. She writes, “THEY did not sign their names or include their phone numbers which means that I had to go back to CareerBuilder to look them up… well guess what YOU MOVE TO THE BOTTOM OF THE LIST THAT WAY!”

Chill out, lady, I want to say when she overuses those all-cap words. Doesn’t she know writing in all caps is like shouting? But I can also  understand why she is misusing capitalization; she is frustrated, as I would be.

“So I am not going to dig back through Careerbuilder to find you again?” she continues. “Yes I most likely saved you in a folder or put you on my work list, but still, your lack of investment in the process makes me think you are flighty.”

This is how she reacts when she gets a response like, “I’ll get back to you.” I’ll get back to you? No, I think, you should answer Frustrated Recruiter Lady’s message IMMEDIATELY. (Yes, I’m shouting.)

I have to admit that my desire to help this type of apathetic jobseeker is minimal at best. The way it works with recruiters is that they are not working for the jobseekers; they’re working for the companies that pay them money to satisfy a very important need—filling a vacant or soon to be vacant position. They are not the jobseeker’s best friend, but by helping their customer, they are ultimately helping the jobseeker. They’re simply the middleman…woman. The jobseeker holds only one card, the card that tells them to put it on the line.

The recruiter is the person who won’t or can’t penetrate the walls of companies who prefer to engage in the Hidden Job Market.

I understand Frustrated Recruiter Lady’s annoyance, and it’s not because of the way she capitalizes the eleven words above. It’s the same way I feel when I’m leading a workshop and an attendee forgets to turn off her cell phone. And when it rings she doesn’t turn it off. She lets it ring until I mockingly say, “I like that ringtone. Where did you get it?” Many in the room laugh at my sarcasm.

Yes, Frustrated Recruiter Lady, it should be the way you want it to be, as long as you’re fair and honest and care one little bit about your next-body-to-fill-a-position person. When you think about it, the job of a recruiter can be difficult. So give her the respect she’s owed and pick up the phone or send a cover letter. That’s the way the game is played.

One of my jobseekers approached me the other day and asked if she should send a quick text to a recruiter’s inquiry or reply with a well-thought-out cover letter and résumé. I smiled and, of course, told her to play her card the right way.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 3,326 other followers