Archive for December, 2011

Life Tips and Interviewing

December 20, 2011

Knowing how much my wife and I appreciate cactus flowers, my cousin in Tucson emailed us a PowerPoint presentation of many different cactus photos along with inspirational tips for living a better life.  The photos were beautiful.  I’ve never seen so many different kinds of blooms.  As you can well imagine, though, some of the tips were outright schmaltzy.  Do I really need to be reminded to eat breakfast like a king, lunch like a prince and dinner like a beggar?  The daily arguments I have with my pants make it abundantly clear that I’m doing just the opposite.  And no, I’m not always going to smile while I walk.  I live in Boston.

Cheesiness aside, I thought about some of the sayings and how they apply to the wonderful world of interviewing.  Since I eat, sleep and drink recruitment, I can’t help but see how other facets of life apply to recruitment, job hunting, candidates, hiring managers, and interviewing cycles.  I’ll bet at times, you see the world through your line-of-work glasses, too.  Call it passion.  Then again, call it not taking enough time off.  Regardless, here are some recruitment related interpretations of these self-help tips:

“Life is a school and you are here to learn.  Problems are simply part of the curriculum that appear and fade away like Algebra class, but the lessons you learn will last a lifetime.”

Interviews are all about learning.  As a candidate, your job is to prepare for the interview by researching and learning as much as possible about the company, the space it plays in and the people with whom you’ll interview.  In the interview, you should come prepared to ask a number of thoughtful and poignant questions.  You’re also chartered with studying the many nuances involved in interviews and how  interviewers conduct themselves, the kinds of questions they ask, how genuinely interested they are in learning about you, their ability to establish rapport, and how accommodating they are in answering your questions.

In Algebra class, you expect to be picked on to answer questions and subjected to pop quizzes.  Same thing in interviews.  It’s part of the curriculum.  In these circumstances, you tend to do well if you’re well-prepared, in a state of constant learning and adapting, and view challenges in positive terms.

This tip applies to hiring managers as well.  Hiring is a necessary evil.  It’s problematic because your plate already runneth over.  You don’t have time to interview, hire and onboard.  Yet, it’s critically vital to your business that you strive to meet your hiring needs and in turn, attain your business objectives.  If you don’t commit the time needed for successful hiring, the timelines will invariably become stretched.  What should have been a 6-week recruitment campaign swells into a 3-month albatross.  You can’t escape it.  Interviewing is part of the curriculum, so you must prioritize it, give it the time it requires, and be ultra responsive and trusting with your recruiting resources, whether internal, external, or both.

One thing that applies to both candidates and hiring managers is that ideally, you should come away from interviews with newfound knowledge about yourself as an interviewer or interviewee.  After all, it’s not like we had the luxury of taking courses on interviewing in college.  Get introspective and think about what went well and what could have gone better.  Seek feedback and learn from these experiences.

“Live with the 3 Es:  Energy, Enthusiasm and Empathy.”

As a candidate, you’ll rarely lose points for exuding energy and enthusiasm.  It translates into being engaged.  It implies that you’re an upbeat go-getter and the kind of person who makes things happen.  And empathy can manifest itself by demonstrating superior listening skills and truly relating to the challenges and issues being discussed.  More importantly, if your mannerisms don’t convey these attributes, you can be labeled as disinterested, negative and plagued with poor interpersonal skills.  People will not gravitate towards you.  As I’ve counseled many candidates in the past, don’t try to be someone you’re not.  You must be yourself.  No one expects you to arrive at the interview dressed in a clown suit, swinging from the chandeliers while belting out your most heartfelt rendition of Sinatra’s “My Way.”  Instead, use common sense to think about what an interviewing manager would likely prefer to see from a candidate.

Once again, this tip applies to hiring managers as well.  Regardless of the current economic climate, the pendulum has already begun to swing in the other direction.  Attracting and engaging with strong capable candidates is getting tougher and tougher.  You must remember that interviewing is a two-way street and thus, it behooves you to sell candidates on the opportunity just as much as they are selling you on their candidacy.  The best way to do so is to describe the company, its people and environment with passion, optimism, and excitement.  Tell candidates what attracted you to the company.  Give examples of how new hires, who went on to do a stellar job, were rewarded with acknowledgement, appreciation, and career advancement opportunities.  Remember, you’re not the only high flying, innovative, market breaking solutions company around.

“Don’t compare your life to others’.  You have no idea what their journey is all about.”

That’s the beauty of life, or as a microcosm, our careers.  We all have taken our own distinct paths and thus, everyone brings a unique perspective along with a particular set of skills and experiences.  As a hiring executive, you’d be doing your organization a disservice if you sought out individuals who thought and acted just like you or your highest performing employees.  True, some personality traits and intangible qualities may make for a stronger fit, but last time I checked, you cannot breed employees.  Please be open to differences and the potential strengths those differences will bring to your organization.

As a candidate, you have seen others in your area of specialization land an exciting new position, advance to a role of greater responsibility, or remain in a job while others were laid off.  You wouldn’t be human if you weren’t at least a little bit envious.  Yet, you’re special and gifted in your own way.  It’s just that the right people (at the right time) haven’t yet discovered all you bring to the table.  Forget about comparing yourself to others.  It’s time to work on your own brand.  For hiring companies to pay attention to you, you better get the messaging right.  Why (what purpose) do people hire you?  What specific combinations of things do you do well?  What problems do you solve?  These points need to be stated emphatically on your resume and must come across in the interview.

Between holiday thoughts and New Year’s resolutions, this seems to be the time for heightened reflection.  The next time you hear a saying, think about how it applies to job hunting or hiring.  It may seem trite and irrelevant at first, but you just might surprise yourself at the flash of insight it provides.


Action items:

1.  Over the years, we’ve all had to learn life lessons.  Shouldn’t the same be true of interviewing and hiring?  Seek out those everyday life lessons and tips to see how they apply.

2.  Remember, nobody’s an expert at interviewing.  We’re all works in progress.  Thus, we need to proactively seek out opportunities of improvement (i.e., constructive feedback) or at least thoughts that inspire improvement.

3.  “The best is yet to come.”  Then again, “However good or bad a situation is, it will change.”  This must mean that both the best and worst are yet to come.  Hmmm… Better batten down the hatches while preparing to celebrate.