Tag Archives: behavioral interviews

How to Answer, “Tell Us About a Time When You Were Successful at Work.”

By Bob McIntosh

“Tell us about a time when you were successful at work” is a behavioral-based question you might face in an interview. This is a common question which can be challenging if you’re not prepared for it.


Most people who I ask about their successes at work have difficulty coming up with one on the spot.

Some believe that as children we’ve been conditioned not to promote ourselves. We have been told talking about a success is bragging, and we should not brag.

Nothing can be further from the truth if we’re asked by an interested party — interviewers in this case — who are trying to determine our value.

We should be able to talk not only about one time we’ve been successful at work. We should be able to recall many times we’ve been successful.

How to answer this behavioral-based question

A vague answer is not going to impress interviewers. In fact, it might eliminate you from consideration. Remember, how you have succeeded in the past is of great interest to interviewers, so interviewers want a specific answer.

The purpose of behavioral interview questions is for interviewers to understand how you have responded to certain situations in the past to gain insight into how you would act in similar situations in the new job.

Keep the following thoughts in mind:

1. Show enthusiasm  

When you describe this situation, be enthusiastic about your success, but stick to the facts. Describe a specific time when you were presented with a challenge and overcame it. This scenario makes the best success stories.

But don’t embellish, and don’t take credit for anyone else’s work — in fact, share credit with co-workers, management, or others, as appropriate.

2. Understand their reason for the question  

Interviewers are looking for high achievers who show motivation and don’t shy away from hurdles in their way. They want to hear about your actions which led to a positive result.

They also want to know if you succeed by yourself or as part of a team, and how you succeed — demonstrating your intelligence, your leadership skills, your diplomatic skills, or some other skills you have.

Tell them about a relevant accomplishment demonstrating the skills required for this job. You can gain an understanding of what’s relevant by carefully reading the job description to determine their most pressing need.

3. Have your story ready

Be prepared to describe a true situation when you were successful at work. It’s best to write your example, as well as others, down in order to better tell it. We learn best by first writing what we must say. It becomes ingrained in our mind.

Think of an example of leadership or management success for a manager job, an example of creativity or problem-solving success for an individual contributor job, an example of closing a big sale for a sales job, whatever is appropriate and relevant to the job.

Sample answer

What is very important in answering this question is to go into the interview with a specific Situation in mind. This is the beginning of your story. The remaining parts of your story are: your Task in the situation, the Actions you took to solve the situation, and the Result.

Let’s look at a STAR story to answer: “Tell me about a time when you succeeded at work.”


I was managing one of the largest ABC stores in New England. Although we were leading in revenue; we also had been experiencing a two percent loss due to theft.


I was tasked with reducing theft to one percent.


My first action was to have my assistant manager do a full analysis of the items which were stolen most frequently. Not surprisingly, smaller items like pencils, staplers, and calculators were stolen off the shelves.

However, large amounts of other items of all types were being stolen by my own staff and not making it to the shelves. This was of most concern to me, as the majority of money lost was happening here.

For the theft committed by customers, I instructed my staff to smother the customer with kindness. In other words, attend to any customer who seemed to need help or who was lurking around.

For the theft from the dock, my assistant and I brought our un-loaders into my office one-by-one and asked each of them if they were skimming merchandise from the trucks. One out of five admitted to doing this, so I released him without pressing charges.

I instituted a policy that prevented any vehicles to park or drive to within 100 feet of the unloading dock. I also had cameras installed facing the point of delivery. Previously there were no cameras.


Both the external and internal theft was reduced significantly. The policies, extra personnel, and cameras I implemented were successful in reducing theft to .75% and have been doing the trick ever since.

Bonus – Learned

I learned that while most employees can be trusted, unfortunately a small few can’t. I also learned that theft can be reduced at a minimum cost, e.g., I didn’t have to install more expensive cameras to cover every square inch of the store. After all, the store wasn’t a casino.

The Bottom Line

Expect behavioral questions to be asked by most interviewers. Have examples of how you have handled difficult situations, structured as STARs so you clearly present both the situation and the positive result.

This article originally appeared in Job-Hunt.org.

If you enjoyed this article, check out others about tough behavioral-based questions:

Photo: Flickr, Marc Accetta

10 common interview questions; the good, bad, and the ugly

Nevervous Interviewee

Preface: I will always believe that behavioral-based and situational questions are better than the ones discussed in this post; however interviewers feel differently.

There are interview questions that have survived the test of time and are still being asked at interviews. Some of these classics are good, others are bad, and still others are ugly. In this post I talk about these questions and rate them from 1 to 10.

Your opinion might be different, so feel free to add your comments at the end of this post.

The Good

Do you have any questions for me?  This is my favorite classic question. Why, you may wonder. It’s a question that many candidates have difficulty answering. Their response may be that they asked questions during the interview, so they have none left. Not good enough.

The interviewer wants to hear intelligent, thought-provoking questions you’ve formulated during the interview and ones you’ve brought with you. Go to the interview with 10-15 questions written down on note cards or a piece of paper. Ask if you can refer to your questions; this shows preparedness and interest in the position and company.

I give this one a 9.

Why should we hire you? I like this question because it makes you address three major components employers look for in a candidate—your ability to do the job, your willingness to do the job, and your ability to fit in. This question is one of the most important of the classics an interviewer will ask.

The interviewer asks this question to hear how you’ll articulate the answer. After all, she’s trying to determine why she’ll hire you. Make it clear why she should hire you with a concise, value-added answer. Telling her you’re a hard worker, well liked, outgoing is not going to impress her, nor should it be a reason for her to hire you.

This question deserves an 8.

Tell me about yourself. This is more of a directive and one you should expect in least in 7 out of 10 interviews. It challenges your nerve and sets the tone for the interview. You’re being tested on how well you summarize your strengths and relevant accomplishments, as well as how confidently you deliver your answer.

Knowing your personal commercial (or elevator speech) and knowing how to adapt it to the job and company to which you’re applying will make this directive easier to answer. There’s no reason why you shouldn’t answer this question easily, yet many a candidate slide under the table when faced with this directive.

In my mind this question is also an 8.

Why are you looking for this sort of position and why here? This two-part question is another way of testing your enthusiasm for the job and company, as well as asking why you left your previous company (or are leaving your current company). Well played by the interviewer.

Talk about the challenges you look forward to facing and how you want to make the company stronger. Also be careful about revealing too much information about your departure from your last company. There are three possible scenarios for leaving your last company: you were laid off, let go, or quit. (Click on the links for great post on how to handle each one.

This one is also an 8.

The Bad

What would your former boss say about you? You can think about your strengths and accomplishments till the sun sets, but the interviewer makes you think about what someone else thinks of you—not what you think of you. And there’s a chance your former boss might be contacted.

I suggest you contact your former boss, providing you’re on good terms, and ask him how he would answer this question. It’s best to be on the same page, and you can lead your answer with, “My former supervisor often told me I was someone people in the office would go to if they had questions regarding technical marketing content.”

I give this question a 7.

What are your plans for the future? Better than, “Where do you expect to be five years from now?” because it’s testing your self-awareness. Do you want to advance in the new company, remain an individual contributor, or even take a step back from your management responsibilities?

All three answers are fine, as long as you will add value to to the company. Talk about how you plan to develop new skills, contribute to the company’s bottom line, and show your leadership skills (whether you manage or not).

This question is worth a 6.

What is your greatest strength?  This is one of my least favorite questions. Why? Because you can practice answering this in many different variations. It’s easy to adapt to the situation. The company needs a great leader, well there you go. Communication skills, bingo. Technical knowledge, you get the point.

You should have no problem with this question as long as you know the most important skill required for the position. Review the job description and assume the first requirement is the most important.

This question also earns a 6.

The Ugly

How does your previous experience relate to this position? Really dumb question. The interviewer wants to know if you have the job-related skills, something that should be obvious from reading your resume.

To answer this question you need to know the job requirements and how you qualify for every one of them. Do your homework. Also think of transferable skills that can contribute to the position.

This question deserves a 4, because it only requires you to read the job description and connect the dots.

What is your greatest weakness? Here’s the thing, no one is going to admit to their greatest weakness, and everyone is so nontransparent that this question should be barred from all interviews. A word of advice, never tell the interviewer you’re a perfectionist. Read why here.

On the plus side the interviewer is trying to gauge your ability to say a fraction of the truth. In other words show some transparency. He wants to see if you are aware of your faults and how you are trying to correct them.

Nonetheless, the score for this question is a 2 out of 10.

If you were a tree, what kind of tree would you be? Resist the urge to giggle; some argue that there is a good reason for asking this question and questions like it. They say it determines your knowledge of the work environment. For example, the environment is fast and progressive, so you want to be flexible like a birch.

My suggestion for answering this question is to play along. Most interviewers who ask this question are inexperienced and have no idea of why they’re asking it. However, some interviewers do.

Regardless, I give this question the lowest score, 1 out of 10.

These questions have popped up in article after article. My clients report being asked them in their interviews. These questions, as good or ugly as they are, are timeless. So expect some, if not many of these classic questions, in your next interview.

Final thought: questions like these are the easiest to answer because you can arrive at the interview with the answers already in mind. If you’re wondering which questions deserve a perfect 10 our of 10, behavioral-based interviews like “Tell me about your greatest challenge, what you did about it, and what did you learn from your actions?” is more like it.

7 tips for your interview stories

Telling Story

If you’ve read my posts, you probably realize I like to begin them with a story. I do this because stories are an effective way to get your point across to readers. The stories I’m talking about in this post are the ones you’d tell at an interview.

In one of my posts I began by telling how my son wouldn’t listen to my basketball advice (why should he; I’ve never played b-ball in my life) and how my attempts to teach him the importance of being able to lay up the ball with his opposite hand relates to my attempts to get my customers to listening to common sense career advice.

Now I’m going to set the stage for the importance of being able to tell a story during the interview. When I interview customers, I ask them behavior-based questions. The reason I do this is because the majority of blue chip companies use behavioral interviewing techniques to find the best candidates; and I want them to be prepared.

If the jobseekers aren’t prepared for these type of questions, they will commit a number of blunders. Their stories will be too long, they may not use the proper format (STAR) in telling them, they may go down the wrong path, or they may simply crumble and lose their composure.

But those who are prepared for behavioral-based questions will tell stories that knock my socks off. Here are seven tips for telling a successful story.

1. You show your ability to relate your experience in a concise, yet persuasive manner. Using the STAR formula, your answer is no longer than two minutes, two and a half at most. Keep in mind that interviewers have limited time and, after many interviews, short attention spans. The crux of your story is the actions you took to solve the situation.

The situation (S) and task (T) are brief and set the stage, the actions (A) are longest because that’s what the interviewer/s are most interested in, and the result (R) caps off your story. Make sure you hit the major points in your stories. I’ve had to ask my customers, “So what was the result?” One said, “Oh, we won the five-million dollar contract.”

2. You demonstrate self-awareness. You get the directive, “Tell me about a time when you reversed a problem for which you were responsible.” First you need to briefly own up to a problem you caused, as this isn’t the core of your answer. This, like all questions that involve a story, demands truth.

“There was a time,” you begin, “when I instructed my team that a product had to be shipped a week after the actual delivery date. I had miscalculated.” This is the situation, or problem. You are owning up to a mistake you committed. “I took the following steps to correct the late delivery….In the end, the customer was slightly angry but he stayed with us as a loyal customer.”

3. You reveal more skills than asked for. Your stories delivered during the interview will reveal more skills than what the interviewer asks for. A question about how you were able to improve communications between two departments at war with each other will show not only your communication skills, but also your interpersonal, leadership, problem solving, coordinating, etc., skills.

Because your stories deliver more than what is required, one story can answer multiple questions by putting a twist on the stories. More importantly your stories give the interviewer more insight into your behavior and personality than traditional-type questions that can be answered with speculative or theoretical answers.

4. You elicit follow-up questions. When the candidate has achieved success, a couple of things can happen. First, the employer may smile and indicate approval by saying, “Thank you. That was a great answer.” This likely means that your story addressed the question and adhered to proper form.

Or the employer may come back with follow-up questions, such as, “How did you feel about volunteering to take over the webmaster responsibilities? What did you learn about yourself?” Bingo. You’ve gained the interest of the employer who follows up with additional questions.

5. You show enthusiasm. In your story you talk about organizing a fundraising event that leads to donations that exceed last years’s event by $50,000. That’s a big deal, yet your voice is monotone. There’s something missing, isn’t there? Or you were able to establish a relationship that you nurtured through understanding your client’s needs and providing customer service, which lead to increased revenue. But there’s no excitement in your voice.

When you tell your stories, make the interviewers’ care about your accomplishments as much as you do. Lean forward in your chair and look each interviewer in the eye, smile when you talk about your actions, and speak a little louder to capture their attention.

6. Your stories are about your value. There’s a fine line between talking only about yourself or just about your team. I’ve heard answers to my questions which left me wondering if my customers had performed the actions or someone else. You don’t want to leave the interviewer/s wondering the same. Don’t be afraid to use the word “I.”

On the other hand, employers want team players; so sprinkling in “we” every once in awhile is a good thing. If you led a team that did a great deal of the work, while you oversaw their work and corrected any errors; make sure to mention this. Give credit where credit is due, demonstrating you’re a leader who doesn’t take all the glory.

7. Preparation is paramount to success. There is really only one way to prepare for telling your stories. You have to completely understand what’s required of the position. Know what competencies the employer is looking for, e.g. time management, leadership, problem solving, problem assessment, and customer service skills.

Based on this knowledge, you will construct five stories in anticipation of questions being asked about the identified skills. Also keep in mind that not all questions will require a positive result; some may ask you for a negative outcome. Note: Three stories may cover the five skills you’ve identified.

Many interviewers will tell you that one story about a particular skill is not enough to determine that past performance is a true predictor of future performance. You’ll be asked to tell multiple stories about a time when you successfully, and unsuccessfully, performed desired skills. One thing your stories will prevent you from doing is fibbing; it’s very hard to veer from the truth.

Photo: Flickr, Besttoptrends

11 traits of the best interviewer ever

Best InterviewerAs I read articles on the five traits employers look for in the ideal job candidate and others like it, I think about what traits the  ideal  interviewer would demonstrate in the hiring process.

Job candidates are responsible for showing they’re the most qualified person, but who’s to say interviewer/s shouldn’t be accountable for hiring the most qualified person for the job?

According to an article from CareerBuilder.com, a whopping 69% of employers say they’ve hired people who aren’t qualified to do the job or aren’t a fit. Furthermore, employers are losing humongous sums of money because of their poor hiring decisions, as much as $25,000-$50,000 per bad hire.

I don’t know about you, but this doesn’t bode well for employers’ hiring strategies and, more specifically, how they interview and choose their candidates.

Interviewing people for a position isn’t the easiest thing to do, nor is it the most pleasurable part of a job according to most hiring managers I’ve asked. I didn’t particularly like it myself, but it was a necessity. Who is the best interviewer ever? He or she has the following 11 traits:

  1. She’s prepared from the beginning. The success of an interview depends a great deal on whether the best interviewer ever has taken the time to prepare for the big event. This means identifying the skills and experience she seeks in the candidates, as well as recognizing the weaknesses she wants to avoid. She prepares answers in advanced and doesn’t rush around asking people in the office what interview questions she should ask five minutes prior to the interview.
  2. Doesn’t care that the candidates are nervous. Some jobseekers don’t interview well, but that doesn’t mean they can’t excel at the duties of the job. It’s a totally different matter if they’re not prepared for the interview or commit all of the faux pas described in the hundreds of published books and online articles. The best interviewer ever will overlook such poor first impressions.
  3. Puts the candidates at ease. Related to the previous trait, the best interviewer ever will try to bring out the best in the candidates by making them comfortable, trying to reduce the stress level. A great opening statement might be, “I’d like you to relax and consider this a conversation. I’m interested in getting to know you so I can make a good judgement about your skills and experience.” This certainly will bring out the best in the candidates.
  4. Asks the candidates relevant questions. These would include questions that were well thought out, not ones that the interviewer read from a book, or questions that were devised three years ago by Human Resources that meet the requirements for previous HMs. The best interviewer ever does her due diligence before the interviews begin by meeting with the HM to determine his needs and wants.
  5. Asks tough questions that get to the core of the candidates. Most employers would agree that besides the questions that determine someone’s technical abilities, behavioral-based are the best at predicting how the candidates will perform in the future, based on past behaviors and their motivation to overcome obstacles. Related to #2, the best interviewer ever knows these questions will stress candidates more than more traditional questions, so will be less concerned about performance.
  6. Interviews candidates for a job that exists. Oh sure, there’s a need for someone to fill a position in the company; but the company plans to go with an inside candidate and is holding the interview for appearance sake. This is a waste of time for everyone involved and a letdown for expectant candidates. This is plain wrong and may not be on the head of the best interviewer ever.
  7. Interviews candidates for the correct position. The best interviewer ever doesn’t interview candidates for a position that has different requirements than advertised in the job posting. Many of my customers have told me they prepared for the ideal job only to find out the requirements were beyond their reach, making them obviously unfit for the position. A big waste of time.
  8.  Doesn’t ask illegal questions. “How old are you?” one of my customers was asked during a phone interview. Other illegal questions include: what country are you from? Do you have any children? Are you taking medication? The best interviewer ever will refrain from asking questions about race, color, sex, religion, national origin, birthplace, age, disability, and marital/family status, etc. The best interviewer ever knows better.
  9. He doesn’t make a decision based on appearance. I once worked for someone who hired very young, attractive women; and the running joke was that he was a “dirty old man.” This makes one wonder if many qualified people were passed over because they didn’t meet his appearance standards. The best interviewer ever will disregard appearance and focus on technical and personality fit, ultimately hiring people who are right for the job, not better suited for modeling.
  10. She provides feedback if a rejected candidate asks. This is a tough one because a few candidates might cry foul or press the best interviewer ever for more details. However, many of my jobseekers simply want to know how they can do better at the next interview, nothing more. I applaud an interviewer who will provide critique on how a candidate answered certain questions, what skills they lacked, or if they wouldn’t be a personality fit for the company (there is such thing).

As mentioned earlier, making great hiring decisions is not as easy as people would think, ergo the 69% of hiring managers who make wrong hiring decisions at one point or more in their career. But if said interviewers consider their goal of hiring the best candidate, they must think not only of themselves but rather consider how best to get the necessary information from the people they’re considering hiring.

Oh, lastly, 11. He sends a rejection letter. A little bit of courtesy will go a long way.

Photo: xianrendujia, Flickr

Stories are important to the job search, but how many are necessary?

I have a hard time remembering my brothers’ birthdays, so you can imagine how difficult it would be for me to remember the specifics of my customers’ occupations and goals for employment. I need to know more than: software engineer in the defense industry, or nurse in pediatrics, or physics teacher in high school with a dual license in middle school.

I need a story, and not just any story, from my customers. A story that shows accomplishments and highlights  numerous skills. Employers feel the same way; they’re going to remember you best if you tell them compelling stories. You may wonder how many stories you’ll need in your arsenal to succeed at an interview.

How many stories are enough? Katharine Hansen in her blog titled, Create a Memory in Job Interviews By Telling Stories, talks about the importance of telling stories to help the employer remember you.

When I have taught students or conducted workshops about using story in job interviews,” she writes, “I have participants develop three stories—largely because most audiences can develop three in the short time period of a class/workshop. I’ve found that with even just three stories, participants can adapt the stories into responses to many, if not most, interview questions.”

Katharine continues to explain that preparing for an interview will probably require more than three stories. She refers to both Ellyn Enisman, author of Job Interview Skills 101, and Richard Bolles, What Color is Your Parachute, of the importance of the number seven—the magical number of stories a person needs to succeed at any interview.

Really, how many stories are enough? Katharine pushes the envelope, saying that 10-20 would be a better range of stories to tell, but then recants and says that the number seven is more realistic. I agree that the goal of 10-15 stories is a bit demanding. I encourage my customers to identify in a job ad the most important competencies for the position and write a story for each one. If there are eight competencies, develop eight stories. But this, I believe, is also pushing the envelope.

Stories tell more than one story. One wonderful thing about stories is that often they reveal more skills in the candidate than the interviewer originally asks for. For example, the interviewer asks you a question based on leading global teams. You tell a story that reveals not only leadership skills, but also problem solving, time management, and communication skills…with positive quantified results. The story is told with such conviction and confidence that it covers potentially four questions.

How to prepare your stories. There are many acronyms you can use to organize your stories. One I present to my customers is (STAR) situation/task (their task in the situation), actions, result/s. There are also (PAR) problem, actions, result/s;  (CAR), challenge, actions, result/s (OAR) opportunity, action, results, etc.

Regardless of which structure you use to tell your story, try to structure it the following way: 20% for the situation/task; 60% for the actions, and 20% for the results. Employers will be most interested in the actions you took to arrive at the result/s, so make sure you describe your role in the situation.

What if….It’s also important that you not only prepare success stories; you also prepare stories that address failures. These types of stories contain the same elements: the situation/task, the action you took to meet the situation, and the result; which in this case is mildly negative. You’ll also keep the “failure” questions short and sweet; don’t elaborate as you would with the success stories. It’s advisable to prepare a failure story for each competency. When you do the math, you may double the number of stories from seven or eight to fourteen or sixteen.

What you’ve read is a lot to stomach. The important thing to keep in mind is that stories when told well are powerful and memorable. Once you have written your stories based on the competencies required by the employer, most of the hard work is accomplished. The next step is telling your stories at the interview.

2 ways employers can do a better job of hiring employees

Not to beat a dead horse, but employee (overall) fit keeps popping up in the news and conversations. Increasingly more employers are finding that the people they hire aren’t working out because they lack the right attitude, and they are quick to release those who don’t meet their expectations. This doesn’t  bode well for employees and employers.

An article in Forbes.com states that in a study of 2,000 hires only 46% worked out in an 18 month period. This is certainly alarming given that almost 50% of hires aren’t working out. What’s particularly telling is that 89% of those who failed, failed because of their attitude.

“Lack of coachability, low levels of emotional intelligence, motivation, and temperament, accounted for 89% of those bad hires,” according to the Forbes article.

Not for nothing, but this doesn’t surprise many people except, apparently, employers who eagerly interview and hire job candidates who look great on paper—e.g., meet most if not all the technical and transferable skills—but don’t put much weight into assessing their attitude. In other words, employers are falling down on the job of hiring the right people.

One way to determine if applicants possess these skills is by asking better interview questions.

The traditional questions like, “What is your greatest weakness?” or “Why do you want to work here?” or “What is your definition of a great manager?” are losing their effectiveness. Jobseekers can rehearse and provide the answers employers want to hear. The tougher questions, namely behavioral ones, will get to the heart of the matter with job candidates.

If the employer needs to know the person has or lacks leadership skills, a series of behavioral questions will draw this out. For example, “Tell me about a time when you inspired your subordinates to perform beyond their job description.” On the flipside, “Tell me about a time when you could have handled a personnel issue better, and how did you correct the issue?”

Questions like these will reveal more than typical traditional questions or tests that judge a person’s technical abilities. Employers who are asking behavioral questions tend to land candidates that last longer—up to 5 times longer, according to some, than those who are asked traditional questions.

Another way to determine if the applicant possesses the right attitude is hiring through referrals.

But it’s not only the questions employers need to ask to ensure better hires. The article states that referrals are employers’ ultimate choice when it comes to hiring people. That’s because the people making the referrals can vouch for the candidates’ personality and ability to go the distance for the company. As well, employers trust candidates’ references; they’re known by employers as people with whom they work, have worked, or know on a professional basis.

Jobvite.com conducted a survey in which it asked employers to rate the methods of hire that yielded the best results. Out of 10 points, referrals ranked the highest at 8.6. Job boards, incidentally, rated tied for last at 6.1. This makes me wonder why employers continue to advertise on Monster.com, SimplyHired.com, CareerBuilder.com, Dice.com, and so on. I guess it’s hard to break habits, even if they’re ineffective.

So what’s the secret behind hiring people who will stick for longer than 18 months? Better interviewing methods and relying on referrals, according to Forbes.com.

What this means for jobseekers. They must be prepared to answer behavioral question, as well as connect to people who know someone at the company or know someone who knows someone at the company. For ways job candidates cans prove their worth, see Recruiters and staffing agencies say your soft skill are important too.

This post was published a year ago, but ti’s still relevant today. Bad fit is one of the biggest complaints among employers, so what are they going to do about it?

Recruiters advised to interview properly; jobseekers advised to be well prepared

Listen up jobseekers! Recruiters are looking for and finding better ways to interview you. In-house or third-party recruiters are being advised to find the right candidate, not the one who interviews best, but the one who can do the job. The one who can still do the job six months from the time he/she’s hired. 

What does this mean to you? Everything recruiters are advised to do, you must follow their lead…and more.

In Ben’s (simply Ben) article, 5 Ways a Recruiter can Improve Their Interview Technique, posted on http://www.recruitersblog.com/, this recruiter offers his colleagues some sage advice on how to hire the best talent through proper interviewing techniques and attitude. What he has to tell his colleagues is exactly what those of you who seek the help of recruiters should know. What follows are a few of Ben’s notable points.

Recruiters shouldn’t base their decision on interview “performance.”

There are those who interview well but can’t do the job. In other words they’re frauds. Conversely, there are those who don’t interview so well, but can do the job. They suffer a bout of stage fright. Ideally recruiters would like to present people who have both qualities to the hiring manager; but the latter is much more preferable than the former. Side note: unfortunately performing well is still something you must strive to do. Prove you can do the job and then do it.

“I’m sure we’ve all had experiences we’re we’ve hired someone because we got on with them at the interview stage,” Ben writes.  “Then, six months into the role, he or she were still great people but couldn’t/struggled to achieve what was required of them in the first place.”

Don’t focus on first impressions.

Another thing I admire about Ben’s thinking is how he tells his colleagues to deemphasize the first impression interviewers make. Don’t ignore it completely, but don’t make it a deciding factor like we’ve heard done so often in the past. Some say a recruiter or employer will make his/her decision within the first 30 seconds. Here’s what Ben suggests to his colleagues:

“My challenge to you? Be really disciplined on this one. Take those first impressions (we’re all human after all and can’t switch off this natural reaction) but park them.  Write them down somewhere at the beginning of the interview and refer to it again at the end to compare with your final thoughts.”

Use behavioral interview techniques.

One last thing I’d like to point out is the value of behavioral questions. Ben nails this one on the head when he talks about speculative responses as opposed to proven responses. All of us can rehearse for the traditional questions, but the answers we provide to a behavioral question are proven over and over to be accurate…and truthful:

“Just because a candidate says they will do something in 5 weeks time if X Y or Z happens doesn’t mean they actually will.  Instead of asking them what they would do if something happened simply switch the question around.  Ask them for specific examples where they’ve encountered that situation and what they actually did. What were the results? What were the challenges? What were the biggest lessons and how did they change as a result?”

Job search advisors are hearing more and more about how recruiters are employing the best practices to present the right people to the employers, candidates who have not only the technical skills but the transferable and adaptive ones as well. Jobseekers can hope that recruiters and employers will practice best interview techniques, but they must also be prepared for poor interviewers.

Don’t overlook the value of One-Stop career center job search workshops

The other day I was talking with a neighbor who has been out of work for over six months. He’s a project manager who worked at a medical equipment conglomerate for five years. I asked him how his job search was going. He told me great; he had sent out more than 10 resumes that day on a number of job boards. I cringed—in to the black hole they went.

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I encouraged him to come down to the One-Stop career center, for which I work, for help with his job search. “The Unemployment Office?” he asked. Obviously he hadn’t been to a career center, where unemployment insurance assistance is one of many services the career centers offer.

“No the career center. We can help you with your job search. We have workshops on all kinds of job-search topics….” I also wanted to tell him that he’d feel very comfortable at our career center. He’d fit in.

Adapting to a Rapidly Growing Professional Job Seeker Clientele

One common misconception of One-Stop career centers is that the only people who attend job search workshops are those who know little to nothing about seeking employment or are non-exempt workers. For a vast majority of people, nothing could be further from the truth.

Increasingly more job seekers who attend workshops are savvy job seekers who come from all types of occupations. Positions like marketing, engineering, sales, pharmaceutical development, document control, manufacturing management, as well as mechanics, construction workers, et cetera.

To better serve the more experienced job seekers, career centers have had to upgrade many of its services. Workshop Specialists (WS) are finding the challenge of serving experienced job seekers to be both exhilarating and mentally stimulating.

They’ve had to up their game and are meeting the challenge. The consequence of not enhancing their knowledge is letting savvy job seekers down and driving them away. Below are some of the more popular workshops that WS’s have developed.

LinkedIn: To answer the demand of the LinkedIn aficionados, many career centers are offering workshops on Intro to LinkedIn and Advanced LinkedIn. The latter workshop addresses the elements that make a LinkedIn profile appealing to employers who are enabling the Hidden Job Market by searching for passive or active job seekers via LinkedIn. Employers are increasingly foregoing the traditional search process and instead using LinkedIn and social media like Facebook and Twitter. Approximately 80% of employers are using LinkedIn.

Advanced Résumé Writing: This is another area of the job search where advanced job seekers expect more than the rudimentary theories on writing this important marketing piece. Many of them have received costly assistance from outplacement agencies and professional résumé writers, so they know the drill when it comes to writing an effective marketing piece. Advanced Résumé Writing workshop focus more on Strategy, Positioning, and Selling one’s skills and experience. Workshop Specialists stress results that are quantified and related to the jobs to which jobseekers apply.

The Interview Process: Advanced jobseekers need to know more about the interview process than simply the etiquette one has to demonstrate at an interview, e.g. steady eye contact, a firm handshake, and good body posture. The importance of researching the job and company comes to no surprise to them, but combining the power of LinkedIn and reading the company’s website for additional details of the job is some food for thought. (The more experienced job seekers have an advantage over the ones who haven’t looked for work in more than ten years.) Behavioral questions and how to prepare for them is often new even to advanced job seekers. Many of them haven’t experienced behavioral questions, and if they have they were often taken off guard.

Networking: There is a clear divide between the experienced and inexperienced job seekers in a career networking workshop. The advanced job seekers have been attending networking groups once or perhaps twice a week, so they’re familiar with organized networking technique. The focus on how networking enables one to penetrate the Hidden Job Market. It’s fascinating to see workshop attendeess’ faces when WS’s talk about today’s hiring process—that 80% of employers are hiring from within, not advertising the very best positions and entertaining only the savviest networkers.

Job Search Letters: Experienced job seekers know the importance of effective written communications, but in this workshop they’re reminded of how important it is to be proactive in one’s job search. WS’s talk about approach letters as a way to network. Cover letters are always sent with a résumé unless instructed otherwise. When asked how many send cover letters with résumés, most don’t raise their hand. Jobseekers are encouraged to go beyond the typical cover letter with the typical first sentence, and write a vivid tagline that grabs employers’ attention. Boring doesn’t win brownie points with employers—it’s simply boring. The thank you letter is the conclusion of the interview process.

The next time you see someone who is biding his time applying online for jobs, suggest that he visit a One-Stop career center; talk to a career counselor; look into training; and, of course, join as many workshops as possible. Jobseekers of all experience levels shouldn’t turn their nose up to One-Stop career centers that are making a great effort to accommodate the expanding number of experienced job seekers…and often succeeding.

Recruiters and staffing agencies say your soft skills are important too

Based on two recent blogs I read on LinkedIn Today (a great feature), recruiters and staffing agencies are not only concerned about job candidates’ hard skills; they’re also concerned about their soft skills. And this makes sense. Who would want to hire a dud who brings the operation down with his attitude? Jon Prete, “Who would you hire: Charlie or Ashton? It’s all about attitude!” and Jeff Haden, “The 5 Biggest Hiring Mistakes,” both emphasize the importance of hiring someone who will be a good fit.

This said, how should you prepare for the job search with this in mind? Here are five areas of your job search to focus on.

1)       Be the round peg for the round hole: “The outstanding salesman with the incredible track record of generating business and terrorizing admin and support staff won’t immediately play well in your sandbox just because you hired him,” writes Haden.

Let’s face it; if you’re difficult to work for, you have one strike against you already. Look at yourself long and hard and determine what areas in your personality you might improve. Also determine in which work environments you feel most comfortable. If you’re a demanding person with little tolerance, you might consider an atmosphere with other demanding people…where you can’t terrorize other people.

2)      Show it on paper: Many jobseekers say writing about their soft skills on their résumé and in their cover letter is irrelevant. This is bunk, especially with your cover letter. I don’t suggest that you use clichés like, “hard worker,” “team player,” “dynamic.” I suggest you illustrate these traits through your accomplishments. Show rather than tell.

A Manufacturing Manager who has a team-work approach and leadership skills might write: Consistently met production deadlines through collaboration with colleagues in various departments and providing effective leadership to (formerly) unmotivated subordinates. Result: Products were shipped to customers with a 97% return rate.

3)      Talk about your soft skills while you’re networking: “I hate bragging at networking events,” I’m constantly told. “Nobody wants to hear about my personal qualities.” Yes they do. If someone is going to recommend you to a solid contact, wouldn’t you like to be assured that she will tell him that you loved what you were doing; you were a positive influence on you co-workers? Demonstrate your enthusiasm while you’re networking, whether at events or on the sidelines of your daughter’s soccer game. Instead of saying, “I’m innovative”; say, “I came up with ideas that were often implemented and led to significant cost savings.”

4)      Of course demonstrating your soft skills at the interview is important: This goes without saying. Interviewers today are using behavioral questions to find the people with the right attitude. “If crafted properly,” states Prete, “behavioral questions can provide a glimpse into a candidate’s decision-making process as well as their values. [Leadership Development Advisor, Beth Armknecht Miller] believes that a great majority of employees fail in a company because their soft skills and values don’t match those of their manager and company.”

Unlike the résumé where you have limited space, the interview provides you the platform to tell your stories using the STAR (situation, task, action, result) formula. You may be asked about your ability to effectively discipline subordinates. “Tell me about a time when you were effective in disciplining an employee. How did this help the employee perform better?” Have a story ready.

5)      Seal the deal: The interview is not concluded until you’ve sent a follow-up letter, I tell my workshop attendees. This is another opportunity to emphasize your strong personality skills, making you a better fit for the position than other applicants. Many jobseekers fail to send a thank you note, and some don’t get the job for that reason.

A former customer recently wrote me, “The HR person really liked my hand-written thank-you note; said it was rare.” The message here is that you can stand out as a courteous, professional, and follow-through type of candidate simply by sending a thank-you note.

Jobseekers generally think that recruiters and staffing agencies care only about the technical skills. (After all, recruiters can’t present a zebra with orange stripes to their client when a zebra with black stripes is called for.) But two recruiters are telling you that employers want a great personality fit, as well. Take their advice and sell yourself as an all-around employee from the very beginning.