SMITH BRAIN TRUST – Planning to look for a new job in 2019? Study the job market, know where you fit and why, get your targeted resume in perfect order, draft that short and value-laden cover letter, and when you get to the interview stage, avoid raising the five most common red flags, Maryland Smith’s Patricia Reich says.
Red flag: You’re late or unprepared.
“The job interview is a business meeting,” Reich often says.
Successful applicants show up to the interview meeting on time and ready, demonstrating respect for their interviewers as they would for their colleagues and clients at any business meeting. “That means being prepared,” says Reich, assistant dean and executive director of the Office of Career Services at the University of Maryland’s Robert H. Smith School of Business.
“This particular business meeting is short. It is time-bounded. For our business students, it’s often 30 minutes, so it’s important to make full use of the entire time by being intentional about what you say and what you do.”
Red flag: You haven’t done your homework.
“It’s really important to think ahead of time about the five most important things the company is looking for. What do they need this hire to accomplish for them? ” she says. “Then, relevant to that hiring need, what does the company need to know about you in order to recognize you as the top candidate?”
Reich recommends preparing “conversation content,” stories that narrate your work history and accomplishments and that address those five needs. It can be tricky to come up with relevant, compelling anecdotes on the spot, so mining out examples of your value ahead of time is a must. No one knows your stories better than you so, so with a little time and concentration, you can put together an impression library of storyware. “That’s what people respond to – the real story that you lived and that they can come to believe in,” Reich says.
Research the company before you arrive at the interview table. Find out what’s important to the firm, what its values are, what its culture statements have said, and who its rivals are. Find out what strategies it has deployed and what the results have been. “Who are the luminary leaders of this company?” Reich asks. “Who is being recognized? Who is providing leadership not only inside the company but outside the company and what is meaningful about that? And how do you connect with that?”
Red flag: You’re bitter about a past employer.
Not all of our job experiences are happy ones. Sometimes we have a less-than-stellar experience with a supervisor or other higher-ups. Sometimes things happen at an organization that create a negative atmosphere, and that can have an effect on anyone. But the job interview is never the place to badmouth a past employer, Reich says.
“If you are coming out of a less-than-optimal work situation, do not interview until you have recovered,” she says. “Do not go out and actively engage in conversations about new employment scenarios if you are still carrying negativity, anger or if you are in any way still skeptical.”
Find something else to do while you process and wait out the emotions. Consider advancing your degree or your skills, or pursuing a parallel professional experience.
“Wait until you are ready to look back at that less-than-optimal work experience from your own perspective, in terms of which parts of it you owned, what you learned and what’s different about you now, and why you’re ready to move forward constructively,” she says.
Red flag: Your story doesn’t make sense.
You’ve got a cover letter and a resume, but the interview is where you really get to tell your story – to explain what motivated you, intrigued you, rewarded you – to share your emotional dimension. Practice doing it, Reich says.
Almost every interviewer opens with the question, “So, tell me about yourself.” They want to know what paving stones brought you to that conversation, and they want to know why you belong in that conversation. “It’s that chronological, developmental story of your work life and your life life.”
“If the story doesn’t make sense, if the threads don’t run through it, if there’s not a tapestry, if the themes are not interwoven in a way that makes sense – you might signal that there is a weakness in the fabric,” she says.
Are there gaps in employment in your resume? Any short employment stints? How did those moments in your story contribute to your current wisdom? This is the moment in the interview where you can address inconsistencies.
Tell your story on your LinkedIn profile. Employers in the past year have increasingly turned to LinkedIn to find out more about candidates. “What’s great about LinkedIn is that it mixes up media. If you want to tell your story in text, you can. If you want to upload a video of you telling your story, you can,” she says.
Reich says recent MBA students have posted on LinkedIn the professionally produced videos that Maryland Smith creates for students in the program and have drawn thousands of hits on those videos. “Human beings are wired for stories. They really pay attention when there is a great story being told,” she says.
Red flag: You interrogate the hiring committee.
“The interview is intended to be a dialogue,” says Reich.
“Sometimes I have job candidates who say, ‘I’m going to interview them just as hard as they are going to interview me.’ And I have to hold up a finger and say, ‘Let’s talk about that for a moment.’”
There is an unwritten protocol, she explains, to the interview process. “Early in the relationship, it is the employer who is running the interview. They are in charge of this business meeting.”
The employer expects to set the agenda and pose most of the questions. They get to vet you first, because the interview has been at their invitation.
“There is a moment in the interview, when they will say to you, ‘What questions do you have for me.’ And that’s your chance as the job candidate to bring forward questions that you have created ahead of the interview, that really show that you have done your research and you have some deeper insights. You should be asking meaningful questions at that time, but not the hard ones, yet. Never put your interviewer on the spot. No one likes a ‘gotcha’.”
Don’t expect answers to all your questions in that first interview – “maybe one, maybe two,” she says. And choose the questions, she says, that explore further the needs of the firm.
Save questions about work schedules, compensation, reporting obligations, family benefits and vacation policies, and the more defined aspects of the employment experience for later in the process. “Until you get to that stage, you need to remain as open as possible and not telegraph your strict preferences that might lead the interviewer to think that you are inflexible,” she says.
The final interview round, when you have been identified as the most desirable candidate, is the best time for those questions. “At that point,” Reich says, “they are motivated to address what’s important to you.”
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