The Magic Elixir in Interviews

August 25, 2014

Of all the ingredients that make for a successful interview from both the interviewer’s and candidate’s perspective, there’s one ultimate element guaranteed to ensure a next step. Rapport, interest, honesty, consistency, credibility, suitability, inquisitiveness, intellect, self-awareness, passion, vision, drive, listening skills, and respect – they all lead to one must-have destination: trust.

People buy from people based on trust. In the interview setting, it’s no different. Both hiring executives and candidates go through mental checklists – either consciously asking themselves questions or tapping into their own intuition. Let’s look at some of the common checklists that help to determine trust.

* Is the candidate telling the truth? Short of a polygraph, there are specific attributes interviewers assess to help determine honesty. Consistency is a good starting point. Does the resume align with the LinkedIn profile, back-channel reference feedback, and answers to interview questions? Have answers to similar questions from all members of the interview team been consistent? When answering questions in a face-to-face interview, does body language vary much from answer to answer?

* To what extend is the candidate exuding candor? It’s one thing to tell the truth. It’s another thing to tell the truth in a forthright manner. When asked about areas of improvement/personal development as well as to recount specific times when they faced adversity, do candidates answer in an open, complete and humbling manner, revealing all related warts and pimples? By contrast, are the answers more guarded, delivered less naturally compared to other answers, and presented with minimal detail or with glaring omissions?

* How deep is the candidate’s expertise? Interviewers are looking to see detailed answers, flowing naturally and staying on point without too much thought. They want to see someone able to articulate the inner workings, nuances, and inherent challenges of their role. They need to be convinced that the candidate possess a deep understanding of the space the role serves (e.g., target audience, industry players, market dynamics and trends, etc.). When discussing specific scenarios from past experience, are candidates providing complete fact-based pictures? In asking how the candidate would approach the new position, interviewers are seeking detailed, organized and logical thought process in the candidate’s response.

* Does the story make sense? Every candidate has a career story to tell. Yet, does it all add up? There’s an implicit credibility check that every hiring manager conducts in their mind, at least to some degree. For example, does the candidate’s purported extensive experience and ongoing success in a particular discipline match up to their ability to convey an equally deep understanding of the role and all related intricacies? With such broad, real world experience that the candidate supposedly brings to the table, they should be able to present themselves as a subject matter expert with ease and authority.

* Will they fit in? From a personality, communications and interpersonal skills standpoint, candidates must help interviewers envision a cultural fit. Hiring managers need to be convinced that the upbeat, charismatic and personable communicator they are interviewing will remain so once they’re hired. Even the most subtle signs of a Jekyll and Hyde syndrome in the interview process could threaten trust of a fit. Most interviewers are quick to pick up on candidates’ personality and communications style that include occasional hints of negativity, abrasiveness, crudeness, or air of superiority. While nearly all candidates have experienced troubling situations that caused them to leave a company, it’s the way in which candidates recount these events that can have a significant bearing on the cultural fit determination. For example, a candidate who reflects back on such career moves with negativity, a victim mentality or resentment, is not helping their own cause.

Interestingly, all of these questions apply to the other side of the interviewing fence. Candidates need to believe that hiring managers are being open and honest about the opportunity. Does the company’s story make sense as well as the reason why they’re hiring for the position? How credible is the hiring manager’s depiction of the company’s culture, financial well-being, and vision for sustainable growth? Can they back it up with specifics? And every company has its share of warts and pimples, too. Are they willing and able to describe those candidly?

In the hiring process, establishing trust is key to risk mitigation. Whether a manager making a critical hiring decision or a candidate seriously considering a new career opportunity, there is plenty at stake for either side. A manager’s poor hiring decision can result in a multi-faceted setback – opportunity cost to the team’s (and company’s) growth and momentum, deleterious effect on cultural health and team cohesion, and decreased confidence from others in the organization. Likewise, a candidate’s ill-fated career move can reflect poorly in terms of an unsavory job hop, questionable judgment and inability to handle difficulty.

In the interview process, trust is more than a nice-to-have, warm and fuzzy feeling. It’s a critical milestone that must be attained in order to proceed forward in the hiring process.

 

Action items:

  1. Consistency and candor go a long way towards engendering credibility and preventing the proverbial BS meter from activating. Tune in to these attributes when engaged with others.
  1. Every candidate has a career story to tell just as every hiring manager has a company story. Focus on the elements and progression of the story to see if it makes sense and that there are no glaring elements missing or conflicting elements. Check with other people who can corroborate the story.
  2. Trust is a two-way street, and for both parties, it is in their best interest to ensure that trust justifiably exists on both sides.
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Behind the Scenes Reasons Why Candidates Are Passed Up

July 28, 2014

On a regular basis, seemingly strong and credible candidates are removed from consideration. First interview, second interview, final interview, or even before the interview process begins – it happens during all phases. And on the surface, candidates seem to be passed up for no apparent reason, at least from their perspective.

Naturally, though, there are reasons for every hiring decision that takes place. Some are logical and clear while others appear vague. Let’s take a deeper look at three of the common overtly nebulous reasons why candidates are told they weren’t selected and explore some of the real reasons behind them.

NOT A CULTURAL FIT

The almighty catch-all for multitudes of reasons why candidates are eliminated from consideration is “not a cultural fit.” Essentially, hiring managers are trying to envision the candidate fitting in, both with the team and the greater organization. Often times, candidates are their own worst enemy when it comes to their impact on hiring managers’ ability to foresee the fit. Here are some specific examples:

  • Appearance – poorly dressed; disheveled; BO; halitosis
  • Communications – Poor grammar; unfavorable word choice (e.g., swearing); poor listening skills; talks incessantly
  • Mannerisms/Interpersonal Skills – Lack of eye contact; slouching in chair; too loud or demonstrative; too quiet or passive; argumentative; zero rapport; strange behavior; visibly nervous; didn’t seem interested enough or enthusiastic about the opportunity
  • Subliminal Reminder of Bad Experience – Said something eerily similar to that of a poor performing employee who was fired (ask me about a funny story related to this); resume reminiscent of a past bad hire; name, appearance or mannerisms bear subtle resemblance to someone the interviewer didn’t get along well with

DIDN’T DO WELL IN THE INTERVIEW

Many hiring managers make hiring decisions based solely on how well a candidate follows standard interviewing protocol. It is widely believed that: “You get what you see in the interview.” Thus, they base their hiring decision on the candidate’s performance in the interview. And yes, interview performance does conger up images of actors on a stage. If the actor deviates too much from the script and doesn’t fully embody the part, the role will go to another actor.

  • Didn’t answer certain questions with the preordained answers the hiring manager was seeking
  • Didn’t express enough enthusiasm for the opportunity
  • Didn’t ask the right (or enough) questions
  • Communication exchanges seemed awkward, disjointed or unnatural
  • Didn’t bring extra copies of their resume
  • Didn’t bring a notepad to take notes
  • Didn’t sufficiently prove that they did their homework (i.e., researching the company, market, industry)
  • Didn’t try hard enough to sell themselves, especially when given openings to do so
  • Didn’t go for the close

NOT ENOUGH OF A FIT TO WARRANT AN INTERVIEW

For a hiring manager to decline a candidate prior to the interview stage, there must be a blatant red flag.

  • Resume Troubles – Didn’t tailor the resume to the specific opportunity; poor grammar; disorganized; inconsistent formatting; too much content (law of diminishing returns); missing much-needed compelling content; multiple job hops; multiple significant job gaps
  • Contacts in Common — A back-channel reference painted a less-than-stellar picture of the candidate or their intelligence conflicted with information on the resume
  • No Advocate – Candidate submitted resume directly instead of getting in and being endorsed via a networking recommendation, employee referral or recruiter

While some of these deal-breaking reasons are beyond a candidate’s control, most of them come down to an interviewing self-awareness deficit – the delta between how a candidate is coming across and how they think they’re coming across. Candidates who are self-aware and coachable will do all they can to learn from their interviewing experiences and course correct. Again, there are real reasons behind every decision. The sooner a candidate learns those that have adversely affected their ambitions, the sooner they’ll be able to overcome them and attain the position they’re vying for.

 

Action items:

1. Proactively seek out brutally honest feedback from interviewers who have disqualified you from contention. They may not divulge all the sordid details, but hopefully, in the spirit of personal development, they will oblige at least to some extent.

2. Ask trusted colleagues and mentors, who are accomplished at interviewing, to conduct mock interviews with you and provide insight into how you’re really coming across. Adding video to mock interviews will help you identify non-verbal cues that may need attention.

3. Before interviewing at a given company, ask insiders with whom your are connected with, such as an employee at the company or the recruiter who got you into the opportunity, to give you an understanding of the interviewer’s hot buttons and interview style. And in the midst of the interview, try to mirror the pace, energy and vibe that the interviewer puts out.

Seven Mistakes Hiring Companies Make

June 30, 2014

Many hiring companies seem to have missed the talent market pendulum shift. News flash: It’s no longer 2009! We are in a full-fledged candidate-driven market and a company’s competition is not just others that play in their space. It’s every other company that’s vying for the same talent. The companies that adapt to market conditions will win the talent war. As the legendary recruiter, turned talent acquisition thought leader Lou Adler states: “You can’t use a talent surplus model in a talent scarcity situation.”

As both a long-time hiring executive and recruiter, I’ve seen (and made) a fair number of hiring mistakes. Some were process shortcomings while others were misguided priorities. Whatever the case, it’s vitally important to identify them and make course corrections, aimed at improving hiring effectiveness. While there are many hiring problems that companies bring onto themselves, here are some of the most prevalent and debilitating ones I come across.

1) HR IN A VACUUM

Ah yes, our good ol’ trusty Human Resources comrades. Some of them get it. They realize that it’s not all about them and their own stringent rules and processes. Ultimately, it’s about results and catering to their internal customers’ hiring needs. What better way to cater to a hiring manager’s needs than to fully involve them in formulating the candidate profile as well as truly understanding what a person needs to do to be successful in the role. Moreover, hiring managers must have a direct tie to the recruiter throughout the entirety of the hiring process. Unfortunately, many HR folks take an exclusionary stance, pushing their own agenda as both the gatekeeper and soothsayer of all things hiring.

2) COMPENSATION INFLEXIBILITY

Many of the most successful and forward-looking companies understand that for any given position, setting a rigid compensation level based on a budgeted line item in a spreadsheet represents a needless self-inflicted wound. The best companies prioritize getting the right person on the bus, and in doing so, let the market dictate what takes to acquire top talent.

The talent market is highly dynamic, meaning that compensation levels from candidate to candidate are all over the place. They will vary from week to week and candidate pool to candidate pool. Thus, setting an inflexible arbitrary compensation level is bound to be incongruous with what the market will bear. Naturally, all hiring executives need to set budgets and manage to them. That’s where external resources, like search professionals come in real handy when it’s budget-setting season as they can provide a realistic compensation range based on current market conditions. And yes, compensation includes non-cash components, such as equity and differentiating benefits – all necessary to help bolster competitiveness in a candidate-driven market.

3) FITS AND STARTS

Understandably, both hiring managers and their HR colleagues have much more on their collective plates than interviewing and hiring candidates. In many high-growth environments, interviewing and hiring could be a full-time job. Regardless, companies should not endeavor to hire top talent unless they are willing and able to commit the time and priority to make it happen.

All too often, I’ve been approached by companies desperate to hire for what is deemed a critical position. And as usual, they’re months behind on their hiring timeline. After completing the candidate development phase of my search, I present several strong, well-qualified and engaged candidates. But then, when the rubber needs to meet the road, schedules become too full and calls and emails go without response, resulting in interviewing delays and multiple rescheduling. What do you think this says to the candidate? “This company doesn’t have their act together.” “I guess this is not a critically important hire afterall.”

4) GET VS. DO

Simply put, many companies make hiring decisions based on candidates who can get the job (i.e., polished interviewees who say precisely what interviewers want to hear) instead of those who can do the job. They ask their very clever (and sometimes tricky) interview questions, looking to hear the “right” answer. Instead of treating the interview like a game show, interviewers would be better served to focus on performance-based criteria, such as behavioral and real-world situational interviewing. By the way, sometimes the most talented and qualified people are not necessarily the most polished interviewees, especially if they haven’t been out there interviewing much over the last several years.

5) INTANGIBLES CHALLENGED

It is far too easy for hiring companies to base their decisions on tangible elements in candidates’ backgrounds. Examples include educational pedigree, number of years in each position, specific domain experience (e.g., worked for a company in the same space, marketed/sold to the same target audience, coded the same type of software, etc.), and big (or small) company experience. While some of these factors may bear relevancy for a given role, they do not encompass the universe of hiring criteria. In addition, some of these areas – such as software and target market, can be taught.

One of the biggest mistakes I see hiring companies make is hiring based on tangibles, only to end up firing for the lack of intangibles. As a hiring executive, I quickly learned to prioritize hiring based on the attributes I couldn’t teach: passion, drive, inquisitiveness, coachability/self-development, aptitude, positive mental attitude, and self-awareness. More times than not, this led to the greatest hires.

6) NOT A THROUGH STREET

As an adjunct to intangibles, many hiring companies will not consider candidates who took the road less ventured. Many of the top talent took a circuitous path to greatness. Perhaps they took a chance with some early-stage start-ups that only lasted a year each. Or maybe they started in a technical role, but discovered along the way that they were more effective in sales than the salespeople they were supporting. These highly talented “non-traditional” candidates aren’t even given a chance by many hiring companies. Big mistake.

7) YOU HAVE TO SELL ME

Granted, candidates must keep their sales hats on throughout the interview process to make the case for their value and fit. But again, this is not 2009 anymore. Companies that act as though they are the only high-growth, innovative place where people are clamoring to join are simply delusional. The interview is a two-way street and in these current times, it is difficult enough just to engage with top talent. By and large, companies do a masterful job at marketing to their prospective customer base to generate revenue and market share growth. Yet, they tend to do a lackluster job at selling to the very candidates who could help drive further growth and favorably impact the shape and direction of the company’s future.

No doubt, there are plenty of other mistakes hiring companies make. And candidates are not without fault, either. I’m amazed by all the great talent out there, many of whom do such a disservice by not positioning and promoting themselves in the most flattering light possible. It’s as though they’re leaving it up to hiring companies to discover the diamond in the rough.

Ultimately, a hiring company that is behind the curve on attaining their hiring objectives (i.e., most every company out there), would be best served to do a deep dive assessment on their current hiring practices. Perhaps consider bringing in an objective third party who can evaluate with a fresh perspective and cast a light on every facet of the hiring process – warts and all. With a constructive and open approach, mistakes become opportunities.

 

Action items:

1. What are your hiring objectives, associated hiring timeline goals and employee retention figures? What is the delta between your goals and actuals?

2. How well are the new hires working out long term and why did the ones who left or were terminated not work out?

3. Take an honest look at your hiring practices and compile a list of processes, mindsets and tendencies that might be inhibiting desired results. Start working on these issues internally or with the help of an objective third party resource.

Top Reasons Why Candidates Don’t Do Well In Interviews

May 21, 2014

If I had a dollar for every time a candidate told me how great their interview went – only to hear the polar opposite from the hiring manager, I’d be a wealthy man. And when a candidate says it went “pretty well,” that’s usually code for it stunk to high heaven. Over the years, I’ve heard so many reasons why candidates didn’t rise to the interview occasion. Here are the most common causes.

* Nerves – Nervousness is quite common. After all, interviews can be intimidating. Plus, there’s a lot at stake, especially if the candidate really wants the job. I’m putting nervousness first because it leads to many other reasons why candidates don’t make the cut. Nervousness in and of itself is not a reason, unless that nervous energy isn’t controlled and channeled in constructive ways.

* Loquacity – What do most people do when they get nervous? They talk too much. Questions don’t get addressed on point and one run-on sentence mercilessly leads to many more. Landing the plane becomes elusive. Since a hiring manager is trying to envision a cultural fit, how could someone who can’t answer questions succinctly fit in the organization without annoying everyone? And what does this say about self-awareness?

* Lack of Listening Skills – Again, nerves can play a role here, too. It’s astounding how an otherwise good listener suddenly loses all control over comprehension. Instead of focusing in the moment, some candidates overthink and answer questions with TMI or go off on unrelated tangents. Answering questions directly demonstrates good listening skills. If a question is vague or convoluted, it behooves the candidate to seek clarification before trying to answer.

* Lack of rapport – Granted, some hiring managers don’t exude warm and fuzzies. Yet, they tend to give off at least some hints about themselves that enable candidates to at least make an attempt at establishing rapport. Mirroring the interviewer’s demeanor, pace and use of language can help in an underlying, almost subliminal way.

* Losing touch with the past – Many interviewers ask for specific examples that invite candidates to draw upon their past experience to help paint a picture of a job fit. Yet, many candidates draw a blank, struggling to give good, specific examples of relevant situations. This compromises credibility.

* Weak moves – Another credibility compromiser. Everyone has made career moves and should know what happened and why they decided to move on. Explanations that engender more doubt than plausibility will make interviewer wonder what really happened.

* Extemporaneous challenged – All jobs, no matter the role or level, necessitate the ability to think on one’s feet. In the interview, some questions are designed to see how well a candidate can articulate thoughts extemporaneously. It might be pop quiz questions about technical skills, or perhaps a creative thought question. These aren’t easy as it involves thinking on the fly. But again, many roles require this ability.

* No prep – Candidates who don’t demonstrate preparedness, by doing deep dive research into the company and corresponding market, formulating thoughtful questions, and anticipating discussion points, will come across as having a lack of initiative an resourcefulness.

* Questions as an afterthought – Similar to lack of preparation, the inability to prepare and ask thoughtful and poignant questions is usually a death sentence. Many hiring managers put just as much weight into the questions candidates ask as the answers to the interview questions they’re asked. Good questions posed by the candidate point to forethought, strong thought process, genuine interest, and a natural sense of inquisitiveness – all critically important traits. The “what’s in it for me” questions (e.g., benefits, compensation) amount to interview suicide. If all goes well in the interview process, there will be plenty of opportunity down the road for the company to sell you on the opportunity.

* No sale – Many candidates, including sales candidates, seem to have forgotten the importance of selling themselves. Without being overbearing or schmaltzy, candidates can and should extol their relevant virtues. This demonstrates persuasiveness and confidence – two positive attributes. It also portrays a candidate who wants the job.

* Listlessness – Energy and enthusiasm, combined with a positive mental attitude, speak volumes and generally attract interest and appreciation from others. Lacking these characteristics makes it exceedingly difficult for any interviewer to come away with an uplifting feeling. No, we’re not expecting candidates to swing from the chandeliers and finish answering each question with chest thumps and high fives. But being engaged, interested, poised, and confident will help the cause in a big way.

 

Action items:

1. Self-awareness is key. As a friend or trusted mentor to interview you and give honest feedback afterwards. Knowing how you come across and how you can control it, is powerful.

2. Proactively seek honest feedback, either directly from the interviewer, or later from your recruiter. You can’t address what you don’t know.

3. Prepare, prepare, prepare. This means researching the company and space they play in; researching the interviewers to learn ahead of time about their background, tendencies and hot buttons; formulating thoughtful questions; reviewing examples from past work situations that highlight your strengths and relevancy; and anticipating questions about your ability and experience relative to the role.

The Ebb and Flow of the Interview Cycle

April 23, 2014

In the last two weeks, one of my candidates was in the throes of closing on a new home. Do you remember going through that major life event? I surely do. The process involved multiple specific milestones that had to be accomplished within a stringent schedule – everything from getting an attorney to review the P&S, getting a home inspection done, and compiling stacks of paperwork – bank statements, tax returns, paychecks, etc., required by the mortgage company. All parties involved operated with a heightened sense of urgency. I even recall those specific words being emphasized at the beginning of the process.

Needless to say, my candidate has been completely unavailable. I’m sure that in his few spare moments, his mind was consumed with this home-buying checklist, let alone contending with the angst of making such a monumental financial commitment. I remember those sleepless nights like they were yesterday. Actually, they were yesterday, but were not talking about spousal snoring.

The home-buying/home-selling process is not unlike the job interview process. The difference, however, is the two parties – candidate and hiring company, are rarely in sync on the urgency front and don’t have legal documents and accompanying attorneys formalizing and pushing the process. Candidates have their current workload, family emergencies, planned vacations, and unplanned illnesses. Hiring managers have their current workload, fires to put out, Board of Directors and senior leadership meetings, quarter-end push, business trips, planned vacations, and unplanned illnesses.

There are simply too many reasons why the interview and hiring cycle can get delayed or completely derail. And behind the scenes, companies slow down the process for all kinds of reasons that candidates usually aren’t privy to. Here are the most typical examples I’ve seen:

* An 11th-hour candidate came into the fray and the company needs that candidate to catch up to the other candidates who are farther down the interviewing road

* The position’s scope and requirements have changed midstream, requiring all involved to take a step back and re-evaluate the candidates currently in the running

* The position itself is being called into question – is this the right role, right time to hire, right priorities organizationally?

* The company delivered poor operating results for the past two quarters, necessitating a halt to new headcount and reassessment of current roles and future hiring

* The company discovered an internal candidate who could potentially take on the role, making for a more cost-effective alternative than hiring externally

* The company decided to make a strategic shift in direction that renders the position irrelevant

* Product release date slipped, causing a domino effect that impacts new hires needed to support the product

* The company can’t get their act together on committing the time needed to manage the entirety of the interview cycle – due to being overbooked, unforeseen all-consuming situations, being poorly organized, or some combination thereof

While it is a widely accepted truth that time kills all deals, a lack of urgency/prioritization and sustained momentum on the part of both hiring companies and candidates hits more to the point. When I, the recruiter, find myself operating with the greatest sense of urgency compared to the candidates and hiring managers involved, I know there is likely trouble ahead. Inevitably, most interview cycles succumb to some hiccups throughout the process. After all, this is not a legally binding, formalized process like buying and selling a home. Yet, the more all parties involved operate with urgency and dedication, the more likely mutually acceptable results will occur.

 

Action items:

1. While it is unfortunate that the world doesn’t stop for candidates and hiring managers to get through the interview process, prioritization is key to a successful outcome. Don’t commit to hiring if you and your interview team cannot carve out the time and attention needed. Don’t commit to throw your hat in the ring for an exciting new position if you cannot make yourself available for phone and in-person interviews, let alone the time to research and prepare for them.

2. Hiring companies can delay or stop the interview process in its tracks for seemingly no legitimate reason. As a candidate, be aware and wary if such delays occur. Ask your recruiter or trusted contact for the inside scoop as to what’s really going on.

3. Hiccups do occur. Be careful not to overreact or read too deeply into them. With the first or second occurrence, give people the benefit of the doubt. If hold-ups and cancellations keep happening, then consider it emblematic of a more deeply-rooted issue.

Interview Preparation for Both Sides

March 28, 2014

This last week, one of my candidates did a dry run drive-by to the hiring company’s headquarters a day before her interview. On the surface, this may seem needless, but on several levels, I see her taking that extra step as brilliant. It got me thinking about the secret sauce both candidates and hiring managers use for effective interview preparations. Let’s talk about candidates first.

For better or worse, the interview is like a dance. If you don’t follow the right steps, you’re not doing the dance correctly and your dancing partner will be thrown off and frustrated. As silly as it may be, many hiring managers assess candidates on how well they do the interview dance (i.e., follow interviewing protocol). It’s rather unfortunate that despite their best intentions, these interviewers end up hiring people who can get the job instead of those who can do the job.

Regardless, there’s much candidates can do in preparation for the big dance. First, there’s the matter of having answers ready for those all-too-trite interview questions, such as “What is your biggest weakness?” or “Where do you see yourself in 3 years?” I’m not going to spend time on these and the other typical interview questions. Candidates can Google “interview questions” and in short order, see the common ones appearing on multiple lists. The point is that it’s important to have well-thought-out answers ready to be recited on a dime.

More importantly, candidates need to conduct deep dive research into the company. They need to take the time to fully understand its solutions and associated value prop/key differentiators, the markets it targets, the competitive landscape, its people, its financials, and latest news/press releases. When an interviewer asks, “So, what do you know about our company?” candidates should be ready to provide a clean and crisp response.

Moreover, it behooves candidates to research the interviewers. It shouldn’t be hard to find their LinkedIn profiles or executive bios. Speaking of LinkedIn, candidates should see who in their network or extended network is connected with employees at the company. Those people could potentially give the inside scoop on both the role and hiring manager. And of course, candidates that have the benefit of working with a recruiter should tap that resource to gain insight into the interviewers’ personalities, interviewing tendencies, past hiring decisions, and current hot buttons.

After all that research, the next step for candidates is to anticipate role-related interview questions and prepare specific examples that substantiate a solid job fit. After all, a candidate’s job is to help the interviewer envision a fit, both with the role and with the company’s culture. For example, for a technical support position, the interviewer may ask, “How do you diffuse a frustrated customer?” Instead of answering with generalities or philosophies on handling irate customers, candidates would be better served to give a specific example from their past. Briefly outline the situation, explain the task, point out the specific actions taken, and give the result (hopefully a turned around happy customer).

Finally, candidates should prepare poignant, thoughtful questions to ask interviewers. Questions should vary from day-in-the-life inquiries about the role, to current events (e.g., latest news about the company, current financial performance, company culture, biggest company challenges, etc.), and on to forward-looking matters such as company direction, product roadmap, anticipated growth, and career advancement opportunities. I always recommend that candidates print out these questions in advance. Not only does this demonstrate preparedness, forethought and organization skills, but since candidates tend to get at least a little nervous in interviews, it’s helpful to have a cheat sheet. Naturally, other questions will likely come about from the discussion itself. Yet, it’s nice to have plenty of questions ready to go, if needed.

Speaking of nervousness, it’s imperative that candidates really tune in to their demeanor. The more self-aware, the better control. Generally, nervous people tend to talk too much. Thus, I regularly advise my candidates to keep their answers concise. They can always ask the interviewer if they’d like additional detail. My rule of thumb is if it feels like your answers are too short, then they’re probably about the right length. Nervousness can be channeled into enthusiasm and positive energy, if properly harnessed. And as for the candidate who did the day-before-the-interview-drive-by, that left her with one less thing to be nervous about. On the day of the interview, she knew precisely where to drive and where to park. The building was familiar, too, making it appear less intimidating.

Interviewers are not exempt from preparation, although many seem to think they are. Viewing the candidate’s resume 5 minutes before the interview does not constitute preparation. I recommend taking the extra time to fully examine the candidate’s credentials. Beyond perusing the resume, review the recruiter’s synopsis and visit the candidate’s LinkedIn profile to spot any additional (or conflicting) information as well as seeing if there are any contacts in common.

Next, interviewers should formulate specific questions to help flesh out any concerns, holes in the story, or simply areas that need probing for greater detail. Use experience-based behavioral interviewing questions to explore how the candidate dealt with relevant situations. This also helps to give insight into a candidate’s thought process.

Ask them what they love to do and take note of their heightened enthusiasm. Generally, people cannot fake passion…and they can’t hide it well, either. Ideally, the things they love doing tie in to the position they’re interviewing for. Ask about times they received critical feedback and what they did with it. Along the same lines, explore their self-development goals and what they’re doing to achieve them. These kinds of questions help to shed light on intangible qualities, such as self-awareness, personal drive, initiative, coachability, and positive mental attitude.

For candidates and interviewers alike, preparedness doesn’t foster staleness or over-thinking. Rather, it signifies that considerable care and thought have gone into the interview, making it clear that this is a high priority event. And who wouldn’t want to feel like the person on the other side of the table considers this meeting to be a high priority? Progressing one’s career and making a critical hire are right up there in the pantheon of major life events. To progress through the interview with the desired outcome, effective preparation is the not-so-secret sauce – a lot of little things add up to increased focus, greater organization of thought and bolstered confidence.

 

Action items:

1. Interviews are by nature unnatural, contrived and protocol-ridden events. The more candidates and interviewers conduct effective preparations, the more productive and less nerve-racking interviews will be.

2. I’m amazed by how little research is done on the people with whom both candidates and interviewers will be meeting with. Between LinkedIn and other online resources, there’s a wellspring of information and potentially valuable insight to be gained about the person. Aside from the professional implications, this can also help with the personal side insofar as helping to establish rapport.

3. Preparation can make a big difference, helping to diffuse nerves while bolstering both poise and confidence. That extra bit of research about the company, taking a bit more time to anticipate interview questions, and printing out thoughtful, poignant questions ahead of time, can help to give an edge.

Your Demeanor Speaks More Than Your Words

February 25, 2014

As we all know, air travel isn’t so glamorous these days.  Between extra fees, long lines, enhanced security measures, minimal legroom, maximum germs, and frustrating delays, our expectations for an enjoyable trip seem virtually nonexistent.  Yet, against all odds, I had an enjoyable flight the other day.

Oh sure, all those inconveniences were still there in the forefront, but something quite powerful put their ill-effects at bay.  The flight attendants appeared genuinely happy, exceedingly helpful, available when you needed them (without being intrusive), and humorous.  They weren’t control freaks, overly serious, or obviously dying to get off the plane more than us passengers.  Quite the contrary, they were loose, engaging, and funny.

Over the P.A., they said little things to get people to chuckle, such as “Should your flight become a cruise, your seat bottom can be used as a flotation device” and at the end, “Thank you again for flying with us.  We hope you enjoy your stay here in the Boston area or wherever your final destination may be.  This is a recording.”  A six-year-old boy was celebrating his birthday.  The flight attendants let him announce over the P.A. that it was his birthday.  Everyone sang Happy Birthday to him.

At any given time, I saw a flight attendant smiling or laughing.  And we all know that at 30,000 feet, those tiny packages of mini pretzels magically transform into 18 karat gold nuggets.  The flight attendants kept coming around to offer extras along with multiple cookies and drink refills.  Jackpot!

Their ebullient nature was infectious.  People seemed at ease, even upbeat.  I didn’t pick up on any of those customary stuck-in-a-plane stress vibes around me.  And when it came time to deplane, everyone was incredibly helpful and courteous.  So many smiles, laughs, and assistance pulling down luggage from the overhead compartments.  We had all become those flight attendants.  Except for one jerk, who didn’t wait for his turn and just barreled his way out before others.  What do you expect?  There’s always one.

The point is your demeanor carries an immense subliminal impact on others around you.  Some of the greatest sports teams won championships because they were loose and had fun doing their job.  This certainly applies in the interview setting.

Having been both a candidate and hiring executive, I’ve seen how the power of favorable mannerisms can sway the person on the other side of the table.  Hiring managers who exhibit charisma, conviction in their beliefs, candor, an upbeat disposition, and some humor, have a way of making people want to come work (hard) for them.  They signify the existence of a strong, constructive and enjoyable culture, not to mention a winning team.  Similarly, candidates who are engaging, strong listeners and exude a positive mental attitude seem to have an innate leg up on their competition.  Positivity breeds positivity.

No doubt, this is not easily done…especially on those days when nothing seems to be going right.  Yet, I’m sure those flight attendants deal with all kinds of hassles day in and day out, including pompous and rude passengers, scheduling problems and the same delays you and I face.  But you’d never know it from their demeanor.  They genuinely appear to like their jobs and that’s infectious.  Their outlook and approach carried more weight than their words.  Keep that in mind the next time you partake in an interview.

 

Action items:

1.  For difference reasons, interviewing can be a stressful experience for both candidates and hiring managers alike.  Yet, their positive demeanor can diffuse an otherwise angst-ridden setting while favorably impacting the impression one gets from the other.

2.  Word choice and thoughtfulness are paramount in a successful interview, but so is the delivery of them along with positive non-verbal cues.  When you have a moment, watch yourself in a mirror as you practice asking and answering questions.  How are you coming across?

3.  On your next plane ride, listen to the flight attendants for a change.  You just might be surprised at what you hear over the P.A.

When Do You Need a Recruiter?

January 28, 2014

During one of the recent polar vortex induced cold snaps which included a 14-inch snowstorm, our winterized cottage offered up quite a surprise.  After shoveling 4-foot-high snow drifts to dig out the front door, I discovered our heating system was running, but blowing out cold air.  The temperature inside the cottage was a brisk 19 degrees.  Needless to say, all the pipes and fixtures had frozen and burst.  While sizing up the magnitude of this calamity, I managed to compose myself enough to compile a working list of recommend plumbers.  Of course, this sort of thing always happens weekends, doesn’t it?

I called no fewer than seven plumbers.  One called me back fairly quickly and offered to stop by within an hour.  Another called back shortly after that and offered to stop by as well.  The others never returned my call – not even during the ensuing week.  Of the two who responded, I gave my business to the one who was the most prompt and communicative, and who could best assure me that he knew how to tackle the situation.  He and his team did a great job.

The point is I didn’t know when I’d ever need a plumber until I found myself right in the thick of it.  The same holds true in the recruitment world.  When do you need a recruiter?  Often when you least expect to and are least prepared to work with one.

By the time hiring clients and I discuss their hiring needs, they’re already behind the curve.  They’ve missed their target hiring timelines, no doubt trying to do the recruitment work themselves.  They soon realize that in this candidate-driven market, recruitment is a full-time job and not something that can be easily accomplished by reaching out to those in their network or by engaging in reactive recruiting (i.e., posting a job on the career websites).  The money these hiring companies thought they’d save by doing their own recruitment quickly put them in the red by way of opportunity cost from not hiring, onboarding, and ramping up their much-needed new employee within the timeline their business requirements dictated.

On the candidate side, by the time most candidates and I discuss their needs to find a new position, they have already been laid off, see layoffs looming right around the corner, or for a variety of reasons, can’t bear another day with their current employer.  Generally, this doesn’t bode well for job searches and interviews.  In these circumstances, candidates may feel more desperate than they ought to be, resulting in less compelling interviews or settling for a less-than-ideal career move.

Worse yet are the hiring companies and job-seeking candidates that do engage with recruiters, only to mismanage the engagement by not committing the time and accessibility necessary to bolster the chances of a positive outcome.  Have you ever been met with radio silence when trying to follow-up with someone you’ve been in touch with?  Perplexing, isn’t it?  Exasperating as well.  Granted, hiring managers and job-seeking candidates don’t have the luxury of putting aside their many other responsibilities until they have this one taken care of.  Yet, not responding to your recruiter for days or weeks at a time is nothing short of cutting off your nose to spite your face.

Ultimately, the optimal course of action is to line up your resources before you actually need them.  I’m not necessarily talking about tapping into your crystal ball to gain sagely premonitions on upcoming needs for a recruiter.  It’s more a case of treating recruiters like other valued networking contacts throughout your day-to-day endeavors.  Get them on your radar and get on theirs.  Treat them respectfully and well, just as you’d want to be treated (i.e., return their calls and reply to their emails!).

Meanwhile, I think I better line up a good electrician and carpenter.  Not that I need their services right now, but you never know when the next calamity may hit.

 

Action items:

1.  Whether a candidate or hiring manager, don’t wait until you’re behind the eight ball to source a recruiter.  Do it before the need arises and keep in touch.

2.  When engaged with a recruiter, don’t go radio silent on them.  If you’re going flat out, simply reply back, letting them know you’re booked solid and try to schedule a time to speak.

3.  On an ongoing basis, treat recruiters as networking contacts.  You just might need them sooner than you think.

What Happened to Consistency?

December 22, 2013

One of my friends and longtime recruiting colleague posted on Facebook a cartoon of a recruiter at his computer with his hands outstretched.  The caption says, “No!  I think it’s a great idea to interview four people before deciding what your real hiring requirements are…said no recruiter, ever.”   Hmmm.  Hits a little too close to home for me.  This happens more times than I care to recall.

From where I stand, consistency in direction, action, thought process, and communications seems increasingly lacking in the interviewing world.  And yes, this applies to candidates as well as hiring executives.  It rears its ugly head across all physical and electronic venues, too.

What happens when someone, either consciously or subliminally, picks up on someone else’s inconsistency?  Very likely, it leads to tinge of doubt. Questions of trust arise as an air of disingenuousness permeates from such divergence.  It’s these subtle (or in some cases, not so subtle) undercurrents that can lead to a “not a cultural fit” verdict.

I see all kinds of inconsistencies between candidates and hiring managers.  Let’s look at a few of them.  Have you ever received an email from someone that was friendly, warm and thoughtful…only to speak with that person on the phone or face-to-face and find that they’re not so personable after all?  It also happens the other way around, in which their emails are terse and seemingly put together with no thought or care, only to meet with that same person and find them to be expressive and considerate.  Granted, email is not the optimal venue for furthering a relationship.  It is an efficient means to convey data.  Yet, there’s something to be said for consistency of style.  If you send a lackluster or snippy email to a hiring manager, that person may wonder what you’ll be like when you’re emailing colleagues or customers.

Inconsistency comes in many other forms.  I’ve seen highly talented candidates, with exceptionally organized thought processes and strong subject matter expertise, go into an interview shooting from the hip.  Suddenly, they’ve lost prioritization of ideas, focusing solely on one facet of the role at the expense of other components, or running on and on with their answers to interview questions when in prior conversations, they exhibited control in staying on point and landing the plane.  In this case, inconsistency reflects a lack of preparedness or at a more fundamental level, lack of self-awareness.

Look at all the inconsistencies within resumes and LinkedIn profiles.  First of all, the two should not conflict with each other.  Content, dates, and over messaging should be very similar.  And there’s always that tried and true chuckle-worthy disconnect, seeing candidates tout their attention to detail, only to sport typos and formatting irregularities.

Getting back to my friend’s Facebook cartoon, hiring managers must take the time to truly define the role and its associated responsibilities.  They need to formulate a profile of what the optimal candidate looks like for that role and determine which attributes they can be flexible on and which ones are must-haves.  It is a colossal waste of time for everyone involved, hiring executives included, when the job specification turns out to be a moving target.  Sure, company direction will change and roles tend to evolve, but not during the few weeks earmarked for interviewing and hiring.

I’ve seen inconsistency amongst the interview team, too.  This is why I counsel candidates that amongst the array of questions they plan to ask the interviewers, reserve several key questions to ask all the interviewers and see what kinds of discrepancies take shape in their answers.  While it’s perfectly fine for interviewers to offer additional perspectives and visions on the same issue, answers that directly conflict with other interviewers’ answers could spell challenges with organizational cohesion and objectives alignment, decision-making, internal politics, and communications effectiveness.  Any one of these issues could have a deleterious impact on the role the candidate is vying for.

Finally, consider the interview process itself.  All too often, candidates come out of an interview amped up and excited to proceed with the next step, as outlined by the hiring executive.  Then a week or two goes by because Mr. Buzzkill hiring manager isn’t prioritizing interviewing and hiring the way he appeared to be during the interview.  Of course, even without interviewing, hiring and onboarding, hiring managers already have a full plate.  However, not following through in a timely manner between interview rounds will likely spark questions in candidates’ (and recruiters’) minds – Does this company have their act together and how important is this role they’re looking to fill?

Consistency in approach, demeanor, messaging, decisions, and actions has everything to do with credibility.  And credibility is key throughout the hiring process.  Candidates need to see consistency in the way hiring companies conduct the interview process as that may be a harbinger of things to come as an employee.  Hiring managers need to see consistency in how candidates think and communicate.  Consistency requires effort.  Yet, any effort that breeds credibility and trust is effort well spent.

 

Action items:

1.  Whether a candidate or hiring manager, walk the talk without major variance.  Be the same person all the time, through all venues and methods of communications.

2.  As a hiring executive, solidify the position you’re looking to fill and meet with the interview team you’re putting together to talk it out.  Make sure you have everyone’s buy-in on the role and its impact in the organization.

3.  Consistency is synonymous with integrity.  Without it, people will be hard pressed to overcome the inherent lack of trust.

The Road to Networking Roadblocks

November 27, 2013

Everyone talks about the power of networking.  It’s pervasive in many facets of our society, and with the addition of online resources, has gone into overdrive.  No matter what motivates us to network, we must do it.  Too bad there aren’t college courses on networking as they just might prove to be more relevant to the real working world than “How to Watch Television” (Montclair State University), “Getting Dressed” (Princeton) or “What If Harry Potter Is Real?” (Appalachian State University).

What kind of networker are you?  If Woody Allen is correct, and 80% of life is just showing up, then perhaps you don’t need to be the world’s most prolific networker.  In this Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter riddled world in which we all show up, the real question is to what extent do you enable and promote networking?

Last month, I found a highly qualified candidate for one of my searches.  Looking forward to having a discussion with her regarding this career opportunity, I went to her LinkedIn profile.  Lo and behold, I was dismayed to see that she didn’t allow for any contact.  So I had to some heavier lifting and found other means to reach her.

Sure enough, she was quite interested in new career opportunities.  After conducting a phone interview with this candidate and receiving her updated resume, I moved ahead with presenting her to my client company.  She’s now in the throes of the interview process with them.

Just yesterday, I was contacted by a highly accomplished C-level executive who just left his position and is now actively seeking his next move.  Once again, in perusing his LinkedIn profile, I see that he does not allow for any correspondence.

Similarly, I found what I thought might be a potentially strong candidate on The Ladders.  This candidate didn’t upload his resume or even provide a general overview along with his contact info.  What’s going on here?

One can only surmise that people who go to the trouble of establishing a presence on a business networking site would enable networking opportunities.  Similarly, on a career site, where you’ve already given your name and current position, why would you inhibit potential contact?

On the surface, disabling contact due to concerns over protecting one’s current job may seem plausible.  After all, you don’t want to give your current employer any signs that you’re looking to fly the coop.  Yet, given LinkedIn’s ubiquitous state as the de facto business networking standard, the issue of concealing intentions has all but dissipated.  Even if your employer has too much time on their hands and resorts to scanning employees’ LinkedIn profiles to see what kinds of contact they’re amenable to (the default being all kinds, by the way), what can they prove?  Besides, being contacted by fiendish recruiters like me to discuss career opportunities with arch rivals or companies in tangential spaces can be considered to be pertinent and potentially valuable market intelligence.

At nearly every networking event I attend, I meet handfuls of interesting people.  Invariably, at least one out of ten has mysteriously “run out” of business cards.  How can that be?  Amazing what can happen if you pack three measly business cards to bring with you!  And no, networking neophytes aren’t the primary offenders as this syndrome seems to occur more with seasoned mid-level professionals on up. Perhaps these folks don’t intend to give off an air of networking being beneath them.  But it’s either that or an utter lack of planning, forethought and organization skills.  Whatever the case, it doesn’t reflect favorably.

No matter your impetus for establishing and maintaining a networking presence — online or in person, it behooves you to treat every potential networking opportunity as valuable.  I’ve learned over the years that by taking an extra few minutes to engage with someone new or to introduce people to each other for mutually beneficial purposes, I’ve planted seeds more times than I can account for.  These seeds have sprouted into happenings I never would have anticipated – new business, new friendship, new mentoring, new support…even a new career.  The point is if you’re going to merge onto the networking road, be prepared to drive.  And make networking occur because of your efforts, not in spite of them.

Action items:

1.  Networking is less about being good at it and more about being open to it, committing to it on an ongoing basis and fully enabling it.

2.  Double-check all of your online networking settings and ensure that people can contact you.  Giving the wrong impression about your networking interests, combined with being prone to spam, are fair concerns.  But unless you’re a candidate for the Witness Protection Program, the long term benefits of being an open networker outweigh any potential short term drawbacks.

3.  If you block the road, then you’re blocking everyone, including potential visitors that you would wholeheartedly welcome.  And those visitors just might come bearing gifts.