Although a candidate may be extremely focused on their own behavior and speech, it is just as necessary to pay attention to what the interviewer discloses through conversation or body language throughout an interview. In addition to debriefing an interview to learn where improvement may be required, a review can also help you pick up on clues the employer provided that could alert you to a dysfunctional work situation.
It’s always best to know of potential issues/personalities you might encounter in advance, so your interpretation of any odd behaviors is closer to the mark. When advance information from insiders isn’t possible, the following are some things to pay attention to and their potential causes.
The interviewer(s) arrived on time. An interviewer arriving and beginning the interview on time shows respect for your time. It also shows they have planned ahead. Certainly there are reasons someone might end up running late. The key is in how they approach the issue. If they’re not apologetic, or if the late start is not even acknowledged, this could illustrate how other meetings are approached or how your time is valued.
You met the person (or people) you expected to meet with. It’s great when the people you expected to meet are the ones actually present, but it isn’t unusual to be greeted by someone else. When people send stand-ins because they are unable to follow through as planned, it can work out ok if the replacement is someone actually prepared to interview or has a stake in the situation. It can turn into a problem if the person you end up meeting with appears to have little interest or awareness of your potential contribution or role with the company. A late replacement can be a sign of disorganization, or an indicator of how tough it might be to get the real decision maker’s time or attention on other important issues down the road.
The interviewer(s) seemed genuinely interested in meeting you. It’s important to look for signs that the interviewer is actually engaged in your conversation. Did they take notes? Did they give eye contact? Smile? Did they nod or offer affirmations to your comments/answers? Yawns are a pretty sure sign of disinterest, but so can stoic stares. If the interviewer was watching the clock throughout the discussion or allowing interruptions, it can be a sign that their mind was elsewhere. Ultimately, this can lead to a colossal waste of time for each of you. It can mean they were overbooked, or had already mentally checked out because they have an earlier candidate pegged. Or, they truly have an emergency to contend with and are feeling pressed to “carry on” with the interview because you are there. If you see extreme signs that would indicate they are preoccupied or their attention is slipping away, it might be helpful to simply ask if they are running late for another meeting. It might even be necessary to offer to reschedule.
The interviewer(s) was prepared. It is always a nice experience to learn that an interviewer has actually read your resume with care. Seeing a marked up resume with key points highlighted can be a very good sign. When specific questions about your personal past experiences or skills are asked, it shows that someone took the time to dig into your background. There may be something of particular interest they wish to expand on and will lead the way there. A good sign the interviewer was prepared will also show up in the order they ask their questions. Typically building on one piece of information to the next to help them develop a full picture is a sign of interest and understanding. When an interviewer clearly shows signs they have not seen your resume and is completely unaware of your background, it can be an indication of a number of things that might not be in your best interest. They may not have taken the time to think about you at all before your arrival or they may not be completely present in the moment. They also may not have a vested interest in you or your role and may have already made up their minds about another candidate, or they may simply choose to shoot from the hip when making other important decisions. Going through the motions by asking the same old, rote interview questions, in random order, can also either be a sign of inexperience or disinterest. The question remains: how will they treat you once you are an employee?
The interviewer(s) listened to your answers. When the interviewer asks questions and is carefully listening to your responses, even asking clarifying questions, it shows they are engaged in what you are saying. That isn’t always the case, however. Many of us have experienced the interview that progressed with the interviewer doing all the talking. When the “discussion” turns into a “monologue” about the interviewer’s experience or interests, there is a good sign they are more concerned about impressing you than learning about how you fit or can add value. It may also mean they are trying too hard to impress you, which could mean they are covering up other issues. A talkative interviewer might not sound like a problem, if you are a good listener. It might not immediately be a problem, if they end up presenting you with an offer. The real problem could come along later if they end up NEVER listening to you or acknowledging your value or contribution. When it comes to solving a problem or getting a promotion or a raise later, their behavior of not listening could become a problem. Or, if they had only been talking to cover up any unrevealed issues, you may discover them at a later date.
The information provided was consistent from all sources. It’s always important to pay careful attention to the input you get from all participants. If there are glaring contradictions, it could be a sign of communication breakdowns, disagreements or even all out wars. It would be a good idea to ask an open ended question to help clarify, correct or expose something that could be very important at a later time. If an open ended question gets them to talk more, it may expose more inconsistencies, or in the best case, it may prove to clarify something. If more unraveling occurs, then pay attention. Don’t try to brush it off as something insignificant. Contradicting information can be signs of unrest, and may be fertile ground for the next person to serve as a scapegoat. A clarifying question could be: “Earlier I heard Mary say that the project was slated to begin on the 8th, and I thought I heard Joe say it was the 12th. Could you please tell me more about the anticipated start date?”
The interviewer(s) was comfortable or poised during the interview. Granted, some interviewers are inexperienced and may seem uncomfortable because they are nervous. Others may be uncomfortable because they know more than they are sharing or because they really don’t have the time to interview someone. If someone is getting fidgety, try not to take it personally, but do take care to pay attention to how you might be contributing to their response. If your answers are long, are delayed in getting to the point or you have said something that could be interpreted as off-task, off-color or politically incorrect, it’s time to stop talking. Pay attention to their body language before you continue down the same path. If the discomfort appears when they are talking, it might also be a sign that they are having difficulty shielding a sensitive issue.
Each of these scenarios could expose information that would make a difference to you. Lack of punctuality, disinterest, distractions, stress and inconsistencies could all be indicators that things in this workplace are not ideal. Although none of these issues need to be deal breakers, don’t assume little things are unimportant or are an aberration. In order to maximize any employment situation, it is vitally important that you are aware of what you are getting into. Knowing the pitfalls in advance allows you to develop strategies for avoiding derailment at an inopportune time down the road.
What red flags have you encountered in an interview? Please tell us what happened if you ignored it until it was too late.
The internet is seductive. It is so much easier to believe it holds the answers to life’s mysteries, than to imagine what it would be like without it. Granted, it really does hold a HUGE amount of information, but it still cannot replace our feelings, values or perceptions of what we hold dear. You might be thinking: what in the world does this have to do with business? And I would have to say: almost everything.
Whether you are looking for candidates, employers or service providers, making assumptions about their ability to fill a need can get you in hot water if those assumptions are not checked out. Trusting the words without evidence can backfire. Leveraging established relationships with trusted resources can help point a candidate to the right company, an employer to the properly skilled and personality matched candidate and a customer to the right service provider. In order for the recipe to work, each source needs to be accurate about their skills or needs and stop relying on “key words” as the answer.
Relying solely on information and processes devoid of real human connections tends to leave us at a disadvantage when we are attempting to build relationships. Although the written word can explain a great deal, proof comes from observable action. It is the evidence of consistent behavior that builds trust in relationships. Being able to thoroughly articulate skills/abilities, then substantiating them with evidence goes much further than using “key words” or SEO to get someone’s attention.
Candidates that are unclear about their direction or are unable to articulate their value accurately may end up in roles that are a complete mismatch. Likewise, employers that inaccurately or incompletely describe the roles they need to fill may end up wasting considerable time trying to identify the correct solution. A company that describes a culture that is contrary to what people actually experience is another source of potential conflict. The internet can provide a vehicle, but passively using it as the destination without digging for input from real, live people can lead to huge wastes of time and resources.
Although a profile can present descriptions of a person’s competence or skills, and a website can expound on an organization’s culture, learning about real life perceptions of a situation or actions requires a conversation. The proof of the pudding comes from people that have engaged with the person or business in question. It requires advance research over time, not a click and a quick connection. Passing on referrals or chasing job postings because “key words” sound familiar is insufficient. To thoroughly understand the needs of all parties and make real matches requires more thoughtful evaluation; otherwise it ends up the same as throwing spaghetti at the wall to see what sticks.
If you have been engaged in a passive search (mining databases for job postings), or if you are a recruiter relying on databases to solve your staffing needs, or if you have a business and are trying to find the right customers, it might be time to take a different course:
- Try asking tough questions of hiring managers, team members and customers to learn what’s really under the surface before you proceed. Find out where the real pain is generating from.
- Get out and talk to people, or should I say, listen to people. Networking is more than schmoozing. Prepare thoughtful questions to ask people at networking events.
- Show interest and concern. It isn’t all about you.
- Pay attention to what people/companies need before you ask for something or try to “sell” something.
- Help others. Find ways to pay it forward.
If you have received a job announcement from a recruiter that had nothing to do with your skill set, a resume from a candidate with few skills related to your needs, or spam from a business offering a service that you nor anyone in your network would be interested in buying in a million years, then I think you know what I am talking about.
Tell them to stop throwing spaghetti at the wall.
Many people seem to believe networking is only about visibility, i.e., the more people that know of you, the more successful you are. Visibility to a targeted audience may come through a dressed up LinkedIn profile, personal website, Facebook page, resume or through conversation (blog, group post or in person), but it doesn’t automatically result in “relationship”. Nor does visibility necessarily lead to an accurate representation of a promise or the development of trust.
Effective referrals tend to be based on trust and the existence of a relationship that is deeper than a superficial social networking connection. A referral is typically most useful when the referring party can speak first hand to the skills or behavior of the referred party. The referring person needs to trust that the referred person can provide what has been promised. Additionally, there is a level of trust assumed by the 3rd party that the referring person will represent the referred person with accuracy. To develop trust of this nature, there must be evidence of consistent, repetitive behavior that is witnessed over time.
What sometimes gets overlooked by those asking for referrals is the need to model behavior that matches what has been promised. It’s been my experience that many times the words reflecting someone’s value proposition are nothing more than a hyped marketing pitch. The actual behavior exhibited by more than a few people is an extreme contrast to the promise.
Examples of the most notable conflicts I encounter are project managers that consistently miss deadlines or arrive late for meetings, accounting professionals that are delinquent with payments and writers that submit materials with grammatical errors and typos. Each time I observe behavior of this type (and I see this pretty frequently) I wonder what in the world they are thinking. Regardless of the verbal promise, the evidence developed through actual behavior is much more reliable. Ultimately, a person saying one thing and doing another develops a roadblock that may be impassable.
When your targeted audience observes behavior that is inconsistent with the brand that is represented through spoken words or with content in a profile or website, the seed of disbelief is planted. From that point forward, mistrust can develop quickly. In many cases, as the erosion of trust begins and mistrust grows, it may not even be articulated or acknowledged for some time. The result may be shown through passive, non action, as evidenced by reluctance to help or share information.
If you are in the market for a new or better job, or need more customers, make sure the promise offered in your branding materials is one that can be evidenced in your behavior each and every day.
The following examples are types of behaviors to be conscious of:
Project Management: Are you on time to meetings? Are you able to easily access information? Do you appear to be organized when asked for data? How well do you negotiate change? Coordinate groups?
Engineering: How well do you solve problems? Show evidence of persistence or due diligence? How well do you follow directions?
Technology: Are you able to find solutions to other’s issues quickly? Are your skills up to date? How well are you able to communicate technical concepts to nontechnical audiences?
Marketing: How clear and concise are your communications? Is your work error free? Are you able to creatively solve problems? Do you engage easily with others? Do you have a website or portfolio of written work ready when asked for samples?
Sales: Do you ask questions that will lead to further conversation when networking? Get commitments from people who promise information? Set times for following up? Deliver on promises? Find solutions for problems? Manage relationships? Are you reliable? Do you have a strong network?
Service/Support: Do you arrive to meetings or events on time? Do you look for ways to help others? Do you offer to help others or wait until asked? Are your communications on time, clear and complete?
Human Resources/Recruiting: Do you show an interest or concern for others? How well do you solve problems? Do you respond to communications from others in a timely way or with sensitivity? Do you listen for hidden meanings in conversations? Have strong relationships/networks to reply on?
If you are not “walking the talk”, it’s time to get conscious about what people see. If you have experienced a situation when the “promise didn’t match the brand”, please tell us about it and include the outcome.
Networking is typically the best way to learn about new opportunities, whether it is work related or otherwise. But random efforts produce random results. If you are not getting the results you had hoped for by attending events or “hanging out” with friends, then perhaps your preparation for those meetings needs a little work.
Being open and available to meet new contacts is a large part of what it takes to become aware of new opportunities, although your encounters may be unplanned or unexpected. In order to capitalize on every situation that might spring up, it is important to map out a plan, be clear about your expectations in advance and prepare questions that will actually produce helpful and appropriate information. The following steps are likely to result in more fruitful exchanges.
Have a clear goal. If you are going into conversation or meetings with people with the idea that they will “hit on” a solution for you or read your mind, you are probably not coming away with much. Setting clear goals, then identifying the objectives needed to achieve those goals, will provide you with much clearer information to help you determine what you actually need to know or learn from someone.
Prepare in advance for new connections. When using Linkedin or other social networking sites with intent beyond connecting to as many people as possible, you will be much more likely to produce favorable results. Having hundreds of new connections won’t make things happen for you unless you are clear about what you need and what you can offer. Being prepared with a specific request for information or expressing a sincere interest in meeting someone is much more likely to get a favorable response when asking for an introduction to a new contact.
Know what you don’t know. While that sounds like a contradiction, it isn’t really. If you set out to identify a solution without thinking through what it might require, then you will be all over the map. You could pot shot potential options and end up missing the mark entirely. Develop targets first (companies, customers or projects) and identify what you would need to know to be able to have a successful exchange with anyone connected with your target. By knowing what you need to learn, you are in a better position to solicit helpful inside information that can contribute to the development of a strategy to proceed on track.
Strategize. Developing a strategy and working through a carefully thought out plan typically produces a better outcome than wishing and hoping. Sure, miracles can happen. Great timing can look like a miracle. But if you haven’t had your miracle happen yet, then maybe it is time to develop a plan. Information is power, and the more you know about your target, the more you will know about how to position yourself to get where you want to be. Just ‘knowing’ someone or ‘being acquainted with’ someone isn’t enough to turn into a hot lead. Be clear about what your contacts need to know about you. Be clear about what you need to know about your contacts so your communications are appropriate and relevant.
Set the stage. Introduce yourself with a prepared statement that gives people enough information to act on your behalf without putting them to sleep. Memorize it. Know what you need to convey, in words that communicate what you would want someone to remember. Too much info will result in them forgetting most of what you said. Funny, cute and clever may get someone’s attention, but unless they have more time to learn the rest, they won’t know what they need to remember to be able to help you.
Prepare thoughtful questions. Take the time to prepare thoughtful questions of the people you encounter. Practice them enough to ensure they are on the tip of your tongue, so that you are not blurting out “do you know of any openings” or “can you refer a customer to me” before the person even knows anything about you.
Follow up. Meeting new people, but dropping the ball by failing to follow up, can end up wasting everyone’s time and energy. Make sure you take the time to follow up after every meeting or conversation in a professional and timely way, even if it was a casual or social event. Leaving a lasting impression through genuine interest and responsiveness is a good way to develop productive relationships.
Please share what you have done to prepare for networking events that has worked out well.
Much of my work involves helping people become more effective at work, and if they are not working, more productive in their job searches. It is necessary for me to observe behavior and identify the ways people may be setting themselves up for disappointments or mis-communications so I can help them avoid them in the future.
Over the years I have observed and interacted with people from all professions (healthcare, IT, engineering, manufacturing, finance, marketing, sales) and have found some interesting behaviors often shared by people within specific occupations. Some behaviors are often overwhelmingly consistent. You most certainly could accuse me of stereotyping in my thinking and you would be accurate.
An example of what I see within some occupations is what most people might think when they visit a hair salon and the stylists are all having “bad hair” days. That image doesn’t really make one feel comfortable getting help with a new style, does it? Or, when we drive by a mechanic’s personal residence and see six broken down cars. I think you can catch my drift here. Regardless of the labels, my point in sharing my observations is to remind people that anyone’s behavior off the job is often seen as a reflection of what their behavior would be on the job.
That said, my intent is for readers to consider the impressions they create when interacting with others outside of the context of their “jobs”. In order for anyone to feel comfortable enough to refer you, there must be trust in the fact that you will perform well and as promised. If you exhibit any of the following behavior, please consider how that behavior impacts others’ impressions and their ability to refer you.
- If you are a Project Manager, how organized do you appear? How often do you find yourself over booking or forgetting appointments? How reliable are you? How often do you lose information or records of conversations or events? How well do you manage your time? Do you show others that you typically exercise good judgment?
- If you make a living by writing, are you proofing materials before you submit for job applications to ensure there is not one typo? How well do you communicate with others?
- If you are presenting yourself as an expert in technology, how many times do you use your “malfunctioning technology” as a reason for not completing a task or communicating in a timely way?
- If you are in science, how much effort do you put into research before you ask others for information that could be easily found on the web or through other simple research? How often do you lose important emails or important reference material?
- If you are a project coordinator or provide administrative support to others, how well do you adhere to deadlines? How often do you allow procrastination to get in the way of your accomplishing more? How well do you adapt to competing interests? Are you on time for meetings?
- If you work in a creative field, how well do you solve problems? How often do you allow outside influences to control what you do, perhaps preventing you from following through with commitments? How good are you at crafting creative solutions to obstacles that allow you to stay on task?
These examples are intended to prompt some thought, not create debates. Beyond that, I hope at least one person is compelled to work on their “professional image” before asking for their next referral.
A candidate’s ultimate goal from an interview is to receive an offer of employment. The employer’s goal is to select the right candidate. Contrary to how candidates have approached interviews in the past, waiting for the interview to learn what you need to know to determine if this is the right decision, is much too late. Many employers have figured that out, too, and that is why they research candidates’ backgrounds in advance of the interview, or prefer to work with candidates referred by a trusted source. The employer will typically know what they need (not always) and what they are willing to pay (a range) in advance of an interview. If they truly don’t have a range, then it could be red flag. It may mean they haven’t researched to know what is reasonable, or worse, don’t have a budget, which means they may not be fiscally prepared to add to staff.
Regardless of how prepared or ill-prepared either party might be, every interview potentially ends with an offer and subsequently a negotiation. To retain a position of power throughout the process, the candidate’s negotiating strategy begins with their advance preparation, the resume they send and the first conversation. Contrary to popular belief, a strategy cannot begin after the offer is made. Any attempt to negotiate without a strategy is only a reaction or response. The person without a strategy is in a less powerful position than the one with a strategy.
The following examples illustrate how easy it is to lose your power prior to or during an interview, when there has been little preparation and no strategy developed prior to the first conversation. Immediately following are recommended actions to help a person maintain a position of power and to reinforce the ability to get what they want.
Ways to Lose Your Power:
1. Reacting to an opportunity without goals and a strategy. If you are unclear about what it is you really want, why and how you are going to accomplish it, it is impossible to present a compelling case for why you are a fit for the role or the company.
2. Not preparing for the call before you speak with them. Without preparation, it is too easy to get side tracked with tough questions. People say things they shouldn’t say, and say things in ways that can be easily misinterpreted.
3. Talking about money before an interviewer knows anything about you (other than what’s in you your resume). Until you have presented a case for why you are worth anything, suggesting you should have more than what they might be offering will typically close the door on the opportunity. Yes, recruiters ask what you want. Just because they ask, doesn’t mean you need to tell them. (I’d like a home in Mexico. Anybody going to pony up?)
4. Disclosing current or previous compensation. Don’t compare apples and oranges. The employer wants to know they are not wasting their time. If you are changing roles or moving from an area with a different cost of living, this information is irrelevant. There are many ways to assure them you are fine with what they may offer.
5. Making demands or setting boundaries about what you will consider before a formal offer has been presented. If they haven’t decided they really want you and absolutely have to have you, then it is premature to discuss what you want. It can tip the cart and actually prevent an offer from coming forth.
6. Assuming who the decision maker is. Don’t take any conversations lightly. A receptionist or support person may not be listed as a participant, but they certainly may be in on the hiring decision. At the very least, information they pass on about you could make a difference in the outcome later.
7. Not knowing what the interviewer’s needs are. If you over speak when talking with any interviewer (trying to sell yourself by addressing issues that are not of interest to the person in front of you), you may completely miss the opportunity to move forward.
8. Making assumptions about the interviewer’s viewpoint or company’s position on key points without clarifying their needs. Expanding on your opinion about something without being absolutely certain it is in line with their thinking leaves too much to be wrongly interpreted.
9. Emailing communication that can be interpreted badly or will lose translation. Conversation about any conflict, money or a concern of any kind should not have a permanent trail.
10. Asking questions about “what they can do for you” before you have presented value to them. Don’t imply you will have special requests before they are clear about “what you can do for them”.
11. Talking beyond the business at hand before it is a done deal. If an offer hasn’t been presented for the role that is in front of you, then changing direction midstream without fulfilling their initial need can take you completely out of the game. Discussion about future options can be interpreted as if you are not interested in the original position or are overqualified. Even though the conversation seems pleasant enough, the reality of what is still left unfilled may resurface after you have left, and you could be dropped like a hot potato.
12. Assuming any discussion is a formal offer when none has been made. You can’t assume that because one person loves you, and says everything is a go, that it is a done deal. Talk is cheap.
How to Maintain or Build Your Power:
1. Be clear about your goals and how a particular role or company will contribute to your being able to achieve them.
2. Know what you need to know about an industry to be competitive before you begin any conversation.
3. Research a company and be as aware of important information about it before you have a conversation with a recruiter or hiring manager.
4. Set the stage that money is not your highest priority, but the fit and contribution to the company’s needs are.
5. Deflect questions about current earnings. Don’t be pushed into comparing apples and oranges. Research the current market range and suggest it. Certainly finding out from inside sources prior to an interview is optimal if the range isn’t posted.
6. Find out who the real decision maker is.
7. Make sure you know what is important to every person you interview with.
8. Don’t take a stand about anything. Rather than discussing your “opinion”, tell them what you have done in the past so they don’t need to guess what actions you might take when given a tough scenario to maneuver through.
9. Ask open-ended questions to learn more about the role, department and company. Let them talk! Ask open ended-questions to build your awareness of their motivation before coming to any conclusions.
10. Discuss complex issues in person (or by phone if that is the only option other than email).Create a positive impression with all communications.
11. Save discussions about “future advancement” until they have confirmed their immediate need has been met.
12. Ask for a formal offer. Get it in writing.
Negotiating what you want after you understand their position, you are clear of what you need and an offer has been presented is much more likely to end in a win-win.
An interesting point was made during my networking group’s recent discussion about how to stay in touch with people in our network. As I was offering some techniques I personally use to stay in touch with my network, someone blurted out: “But that’s your job!” Her point was that as a coach, it was my job to keep in touch with people that could assist my clients, it was my job to stay in touch with people that could provide industry insight, and it was my job to stay connected. I think you can catch the drift here. Others in the room began to giggle a bit and someone else retorted: “Networking is a part of all of our jobs!”
To many, networking has been viewed as a mandatory activity for sales people but perhaps as an extracurricular option for others, or an activity only to be pursued when a person is in between jobs. Somewhere the paradigm has shifted and many people now recognize it has become a mandatory part of everyday life for anyone in the workplace. Others have jumped on the social media bandwagon believing that “exposure” is the answer to unemployment or career development. Exposure isn’t the entire answer. Networking for effective results is really not that simple.
Social networking has prompted the medium for getting connected, but there is still a need for coaching around the concepts of why we need to be connected and how to develop or nurture new or existing relationships. Using social media to build exposure is one approach. But simple exposure does not develop relationships and does not develop trust. Relationships develop over time, not with a click and a connection. Developing relationships requires an awareness of a purpose and having an objective, followed by thoughtful communications that will support that objective.
It seems many jobseekers are under the impression that having mass visibility will not only get them a job, but that they will also automatically be happy with it. My assessment is that much like the rush to use career databases to post resumes years ago, the mad rush to use social networking sites to build visibility with the assumption that a passive approach leads to “happy ever after”, is just as unrealistic. Vast exposure with no plan or strategy is no more effective in developing rewarding results than the popular method of shot-gunning 500 resumes to random businesses was in the ‘70’s and ‘80’s.
The belief that visibility is the answer is misguided, as it is only a piece of the puzzle. Visibility means others can find you. It doesn’t mean that you will be prepared for the conversation when it is initiated, or that you will have the faintest idea of what you might be getting into when invited to interview with a company you may not have heard of an hour before the contact. Social networking can be a recruiter’s dream; easy access to more and more candidates. Conversely, the candidates that are contacted are at the mercy of the person reaching them. They are more likely to be caught off guard, unaware, unprepared and put in a position to act on something they had not enough time or information about to consider a reasonable approach. Flattering? Perhaps. Productive? Not necessarily. Certainly not as much as one would hope for.
There is a connection between the “job” of staying in touch with your network and making yourself visible through social networks. It is important to ensure your visibility creates the kinds of opportunities that are consistent with your goals. And, that your visibility is supported by the strength of your trusted relationships. By staying in touch with people that are able to share insight about your areas of interest, you are much more likely to have some semblance of composure or clear context the next time you are randomly contacted by an unknown recruiter.
The thing about a missed opportunity is that you typically only figure out that it was missed in hindsight, and many times, there is no going back. The following are a few examples of what can happen from a job seeker’s perspective and from a sales perspective when assumptions are made and not investigated. I’ve co-mingled examples of both because the aspects of an employment opportunity are very much the same as with sales opportunities.
1. Know who you are dealing with. One of the easiest mistakes made by people is to rely on a title to reflect value or power, (or lack thereof) without fully investigating that assumption. An opportunity to speak with the real decision maker can be missed because the title of the person you communicating with doesn’t reflect a position of power, but may actually be a huge influence in the decision making process.
A background in sales taught me to be respectful of gatekeepers, and to never underestimate the power they hold when it comes to recommending a vendor or cutting off all access to the final decision maker. A caller can be stopped because the person on the receiving end either didn’t perceive value, or were simply put off by a sales approach. To succeed, I was also prompted to dig a little deeper to learn about a company’s needs beyond what was visible on the surface. In a similar vein, I watch as job seekers ruin their chances for getting in the door with a company because they were disrespectful of the lower level employees they had contact with. Either way, the scenario typically begins with an assumption and may end without gaining traction unless the assumption is thoroughly researched.
2. Know what you are dealing with. It is also possible to mistakenly overlook an employment opportunity because the title of the position you learn about sounds too junior. I have seen job seekers miss out on prime opportunities to get their foot in the door with a company that could lead to a great future. They thumbed their noses at lower level roles because they felt the roles were “beneath” them. Before you ask: “won’t the company perceive a candidate with a recognizably higher current/former title as being overqualified?” I’ll respond by answering “not necessarily”.
Sometimes the “fit” with the organization is so highly regarded by an employer they will follow up with a candidate based on a referral, even when they are not an exact match with a posted position. They may even adjust the role to fit the candidate’s full qualifications after meeting and discussing their needs.
Researching the culture and hiring practices of an organization through current/past employees prior to applying can give a candidate a leg up. Many companies can and will create a new role, at a different compensation level, based on a referral, the candidate’s willingness to break in at the lower role, and their enthusiasm about the organization. If the candidate is called in for an interview, you can bet the company was interested in what they saw on paper. What comes next depends on how well the candidate leverages the company’s interest and parlays the opportunity to speak to them.
Interviewing for a lesser position can lead to a referral for an impending higher level role a candidate was unaware of. Or, another outcome can be that a new position opens up in the same department because someone else moves on within a brief time of the new employee coming on board. Mind you, an immediate or quick promotion can’t be assumed or counted on, but if the candidate shows the willingness to contribute in any way the company needs them to in the beginning, you can bet they will be regarded highly when that next opportunity opens up.
Similarly, a salesperson that researches the needs and buying practices of an organization before calling on them, and subsequently impresses the person influencing the decision maker, can help identify an expanded need for products/services beyond what had originally been anticipated.
3. Know what is needed. After an interview, when a candidate reports “they thought I was over qualified”, I immediately wonder what was said to lessen the company’s interest. Certainly something caused them to change their minds about considering the candidate after their initial interest was piqued with the receipt of the resume. During an interview, prematurely speaking beyond the position can lead an employer to believe the candidate is not interested in the role at hand at all, and that can be a turn off. Boasting about experiences that are beyond the needs of the role is not productive, and may cause the employer to immediately lose interest. The fear is that the candidate will bail when a more interesting position pops up, or will get bored or become too impatient to wait for the right opportunity within the company. It is the candidate’s responsibility to convince the employer they really have a strong interest in the organization, not just a great job.
To do that, it is critical to satisfy the organization’s immediate need first. Once this need is clearly satisfied, then it is possible for the candidate to address questions about growth by inquiring about their business plans and future challenges. This is very different from asking straightforward questions about “growth opportunities” from an employment perspective. By understanding their current status and needs now, it is possible to segue into how you can help down the road. Show a clear understanding of the need for the current role right now, and then connect it to how it naturally relates to their future needs.
Not dealing with or resolving the immediate need is like trying to sell a fleet of cars when only one car is needed. At this point, regardless of the fact that more will be needed later, the sales opportunity will be gone with the wind if a salesperson hasn’t met and confirmed a company’s immediate need first. Talking too much about the wrong points or being too “self-assured” can also lead to a very misdirected sales effort.
4. Go in prepared to have a productive conversation. The key take away from this blog is not to make assumptions. Get your facts straight about what the company really needs, where they are headed and what level of influence your contact has before you make a decision to pursue or discard a lead, or engage in a conversation. Researching a company in advance to thoroughly understand its culture, needs and reasons for making buying decisions, whether it is for team members, products or services, will ultimately lead to a much more productive outcome.
If you have learned enough about an organization prior to applying for a position or presenting a product that changed your approach and ultimately led to a different opportunity than anticipated, please share your experience.
It continues to surprise me when I receive emails from people I have either not heard from for months, or have never heard from before at all, that go something like this:
“I have an interview with XYZ Company tomorrow. Do you have any tips?”
Many thoughts go through my mind when I read an email like this, but to keep from losing some readers at this point, I’ll focus on the more helpful things I can offer, so that you don’t end up being one of those people with a last minute request of this nature.
1. Know the organization. First of all, if you are only applying to posted roles on Craigslist or Indeed without researching companies ahead of time to be better aware of what is a fit for you, then you have put yourself at a disadvantage. It means you have to act quickly to get attention (within 24 hours), and, you have little time to get in touch with people to learn more before a call from the employer is expected. To avoid being caught in this predicament, it is critical to have researched your industry and targeted companies so you are already familiar with them. The best circumstance could be that you are alerted by an insider before the position is posted. Keeping in regular communication with contacts inside of companies you have targeted provides a resource for information to help you prepare for the interview you are hoping to get one day, and it also will help you determine if the organization is really a fit for you.
2. Tailor your resume to fit. When you take the time to tailor your resume to exactly meet the needs of a position, you are accomplishing two things. The first is that you are more likely to get a response, and the second is that you have already mentally prepared yourself for the interview. Sending a vague or generic resume only means you have to answer more questions about your background at some point, and it is typically harder to think of the answers under the duress of an interview. If some of the basic information is already included in the resume, then the questions asked during a first interview ultimately move to something of a more significant nature. A first interview can turn into more of what happens at a 2nd interview, simply by eliminating the usual general information gathering questions like:. “How much was your budget? How many people did you supervise? “, etc. Instead, the questions may move into how you did things, which allows you to connect at a deeper level, sooner.
3. Get your act together in advance! I think the reason those last minute requests annoy me so much is because I know there are hours of work to do to prepare for an interview. The night before is not the time to begin. Any time you are looking for work and sending out resumes, the intention has to be to get a response. (Aren’t you anticipating being called in for an interview??) Interviews will typically include many of the same questions, which means you can prepare your answers for many questions in advance.
4. Make sure you know who you are meeting with. Interviewing on the fly rarely produces the results you would get if you know more about the organization, their needs and the people you are interviewing with in advance. Even with the use of LinkedIn, trying to learn as much as you can with short notice is not typically effective.
5. Plan time for following up. It is important to thank interviewers after your meeting. This may be in the form of an email, a card or a letter. Whichever is appropriate for your industry or role, it is still necessary to plan the time to do this within 24 hours of the interview. Missing this opportunity to show you are courteous, have listened, and are interested may make the difference between you or someone else receiving an offer if all else is equal.
6. Get your priorities straight. If you need to go to work, then it is necessary to do all that it takes to achieve your goal. This means planning ahead and scheduling time to do all that is necessary before the call for an interview comes in.
Have you experienced different results from your interviewing experiences with preparation? If so, please share.