Archive for January, 2009

Interview Success: The J.O.B. Interview Method

January 25, 2009

The art of the interview is about managing what’s and how’s of the information you present to the employer. Content, order and delivery all matter. The following J.O.B. framework is a useful tool for interview preparation and delivery.
Before explaining the J.O.B. framework in depth it is helpful to look at the interview from the employer’s perspective. The employer is looking for a candidate with the technical expertise and ability to perform the position’s responsibilities and who has the overall skill set to succeed. Finally, the employer is seeking a candidate who will be a good cultural fit in the organization.
The J.O.B. framework offers candidates the opportunity to deliver the right information at the right time, and that’s what interviewing is all about. J.O.B. framework:
• Job specific skills and experience
• Overall skill set and experience
• Being a good cultural fit
Job specific skills and experience. This is the most important information to share. In an interview it is vital to exhibit the technical, job specific know-how, skills and abilities to perform the specific job for which you are interviewing. For example, if you were interviewing for a sales management position in the pharmaceutical industry you would want to stress your strong sales management background, pharmaceutical experience and degree and proven track record in coaching your team to higher performance. Other examples include specific software programs, six-sigma expertise, re-engineering experience, patent law or tax accounting experience. Focus the interviewer early and often on the idea that you have the specific skills and experience to do the job.
Overall job skills and experience. These are the skills needed to succeed at any job and are a lot more generic. Examples include, hard working, diligence, honesty, persistence, good communication skills or results orientation. These skills can be claimed by anyone, regardless of position, so they are less persuasive, but still important.
Be Compatible. Whereas the 2 previous points speak to your ability to perform the job this speaks to your ability to perform the job at a specific company. Are you a good fit for the department or corporate culture? Are you willing to work the hours and meet the travel requirements? Are your compensation and job growth expectations in line with what the position offers?
The J.O.B. framework provides a helpful approach to interviewing because it lets you understand and convey what is important. When preparing to interview you should split your responses into 2 main categories. First, list all your specific job experiences that relate to the position. Next, order the skills and experiences with the most important first. To find out what is important to the employer, you should review the job description to identify the skills the employer is seeking and present your experience in the same order since the job description states what the employer thinks is important.
Next, list the overall job skills and experience. While these lack the import and weight of the specific skills these should be shared, but are not critical. Try to sprinkle these throughout the interview, but only after you share your job specific skill set. Once again be sure to back your claims up with evidence. For example, if you say you are hard working explain that you regularly work nights and weekends.
Cultural fit is simply observed, but you should remain close to the vest on your cultural and job preferences until you have a sense of what the employer is seeking. So stay general in terms of your preferences and delve into them more deeply after you have received a job offer. For example, if you want to work in a home office, but are not sure if the position is home or office based, state that you are open to where you work as long as you have the tools to succeed.
Prepare for your next interview by using the J.O.B. framework and you will deliver the right information at the right time, and that is what interviewing is all about!

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Project Strength Instead of Weakness During An Interview

January 11, 2009

Recently, I was interviewing a strong candidate who lost his position when his company went under. The candidate had a solid educational pedigree and work experience. He was bright and articulate and was just about 5 minutes away from receiving an offer. Then the following exchange occurred.
As the interviewer I said: “Tell me what areas each of your last 2 managers would say you can improve on.”
Candidate: “2 jobs ago my manager said that I was not completely engaged because the job was not what I was looking for, and at my last job my manager would probably say that the role was not the right fit for me and because of it I was bored at times. That said, I am passionate about this job and think it is going to be the right fit for me.”
I interpreted the candidate as effectively telling me that his past managers were unhappy with his effort, focus and commitment and that unless he found the perfect fit he would not give his best and total effort to a position. The candidate was professional, impressive and close to an offer, but I could not take the risk that he would be unhappy.
In this hypercompetitive, buyer’s job market you must not offer interviewers reasons not to hire you and that is exactly what the candidate did. Instead of offering to go above and beyond, he presented himself as unpredictable. No matter how nuanced, exhibiting or intimating a bad attitude, laziness, lack of commitment, focus or teamwork can kill your opportunity.
Employers know that past performance is predictive of future performance and will ask interview questions to find out about past behavior. But how can you show positive past behaviors that predict the future successes while addressing a negative or offering examples of weaknesses?
There is a simple 3 step process that will allow you to construct negatives into positives. The 3 steps are:
1. identify a non-core area for improvement
2. position it so it can be seen as a positive
3. show how you are working on improving the area.
First, only identify weaknesses that will not devalue you as a candidate. So identify the 4 or 5 core roles for the position you are interviewing for and be sure to not address any of them in the weaknesses area. For example, if you are interviewing for an engineering management position that uses specific software you should not identify basic engineering, the software or management skills as areas for improvement. In addition, you should not show weaknesses in the area of work ethic, learning, commitment and getting along with others. These are core traits that are necessary in all jobs.
In the example from above, the candidate stated his last 2 managers did not think he worked “that hard.” Some people put in a minimal effort while others work hard, but in this economy no one needs to take a risk on a “lazy” or “unmotivated” candidate.
Second, look for an area that is a negative, but can be perceived as a positive. For example, you can say “I try to take on too much work” or “I try to balance multiple projects” and have missed some deadlines because of it. This statement can position you as a hard worker. Since managers can help employees manage workflow or time, but cannot put the fire in an employee’s belly this subtle approach can have a powerful impact. Either of these answers can present you as a candidate who will work hard and who can flourish with a little guidance.
The third and final step is addressing the weakness. For example, “because I recognize the importance of meeting deadlines I have begun to manage my projects on a timeline so that I do not bite off more than I can chew and can meet my deadlines. But this is an ongoing process for me.” All of us can improve in different areas but here is a candidate actually endeavoring to do it!
These’s tips will help you turn your weaknesses into positives and help you land your next job!

Are You Sabotaging Your Career?

January 2, 2009

As a Director of Human Resources and someone who has dispersed a great share of career advice over the years it never ceases to amaze me how often people engage in irrational, self-sabotaging career behavior. Career Coaches help their client’s careers by offering advice and expertise and taking the emotion out of decisions. Below are some of the most common forms of career self-sabotage I have witnessed and how to avoid them.
Overreactions/Underreactions. Years ago, while in graduate school, I had a professor who purposely elicited emotional responses from his students. We would watch regularly as students would have strong emotional reactions and lose control. Calmly, the professor would say that when someone overreacts there is a reason that generally has little to do with the actual event. So why do you overreact at work? Pent up frustration, anger, fear or excitement?
Taking things personally. Jobs and careers are critical to our identity and generate income, savings, introduce you to friends and create a sense of self-worth. When things happen at work it is easy to be emotionally involved and take things personally. But is it is not always personal. Take a step back and look at the situation with an unemotional eye.
Lack of self-knowledge. Knowing your strengths and limitations enables you to properly assess your skills and abilities. Without understanding your unique value proposition you cannot appreciate the interplay of forces that impact your career and may not properly assess situations or read the tea leaves. So what are you good at? What can you improve on?
Fear of taking risk/failure. You want a promotion and raise. Are you willing to pay the price and take the risk? Are you willing to risk rejection? This often manifests itself with people failing to seek the promotion, ask for a raise or a place on a key project team. Ask and you shall receive.
Following others (Lemming Effect). Following the wrong person is what I call the Lemming Effect. There are a lot of leaders, official and unofficial, in the workplace. It is critical to align yourself with the right person, one who is professional, well thought of and well connected. Too often I see people associate with negative people who help to make decisions for them and have their career stalled. Independently, analyze the situation and don’t rely on the herd to do it for you. Use common sense.
Making decisions without all the facts. While information does not lead to better decision-making, it helps to effectively understand the situation. Get enough facts and brainstorm your choices. Viewing the breadth of choices is empowering and leads to better decision making. After gathering a reasonable amount of information, do a cost benefit or risk reward analysis. Your analysis should look at the pros and cons of your choices, their likelihood and magnitude of success and failure. Understand the downside consequences.
Making decisions without seeking feedback. Before making decisions seek feedback and input from others. Get advice from people educated and trained differently, perhaps even those in different businesses. They may be able to offer you unique advice.
Failure to adjust. Evaluate your decisions and adjust accordingly. If you see you made a mistake, cut your losses. Do not continue down a bad path to fix a mistake. For example, if I realize I hired the wrong person I fix it as quickly as possible. To do otherwise will only lead to more downside.
I always thought it strange that to ensure that they make the proper investment decisions, many people engage Financial Advisors. These Advisors get paid handsome sums of money by helping people make prudent investment decisions. Yet far fewer people reach out to career coaches who can ensure that people have the money to invest in the first place. Career coaches help clients make rational, well thought out decisions and remove the element of emotions from the decision making process. It is worth the investment.