Ask Not What the Company Can Do for You, but What You Can Do for the Company

Sound familiar? I saw JFK’s famous quote recently and thought that this same mindset can be applied to the candidate interview process. Questions asked by candidates in an interview speak volumes about the person, so you want to be sure that you are asking the right ones and are avoiding those that will turn prospective employers off. Your questions in the beginning of an interview process should say to the employer, “here’s what’s in it for you” versus “what’s in it for me?”. Regardless of your career level or interviewer, here are 10 questions that you should never ask during a first round interview or in the beginning stages of the process:

  1. How much vacation time will I get?
  2. When would I be eligible for a raise or a promotion?
  3. What do the benefits and employee perk packages look like?
  4. My commute here would be long, would a later start and end time be acceptable?
  5. Is there flexibility in working from home?
  6. How many hours on average do you think I’ll be working?
  7. Are my responsibilities limited to my job description or will I be performing duties outside the position scope?
  8. How does the company recognize and reward its employees?
  9. Can you describe the company’s employee review process, commitment to diversity and ongoing training/professional development programs?
  10. What would my onboarding and initial training period look like?

While some of these may certainly be factors you are considering in your employment decision, you should wait until you move further along through the interview process to broach these subjects. Once you’ve proven you’re the perfect fit for the job and have sealed the deal, ask away. In addition to dazzling interviewers with your responses to their questions, you need to impress them with questions asked by you. During your initial meetings, stick to questions that are related to the organization, the business, the department and the role. Some good examples are:

  1. How has the business or department evolved over the past five years?
  2. What’s the company’s vision? What are the projected growth plans over the next five years?
  3. What are the company’s biggest priorities?
  4. What are the biggest challenges facing this department currently?
  5. In which area are you looking for the person in this role to make the greatest impact?
  6. What do you hope the person in this role achieves within the first six months?
  7. What would be the first big assignment/project/task that the person in this role would take on?
  8. What does success look like in this role?
  9. What do you see as the biggest challenge in this role?
  10. What competencies do you think are most critical for success this role?

These questions demonstrate that you’re thinking in broader terms, have a genuine interest in the company and are thinking about how you could potentially fit into and add value to the business. Responses to these questions will also help you to further determine gaps that exist in the organization or department and how you could work to fill them.

Bottom line: avoid “what’s in it for me?” questions during the job interview until you’ve proven your value.

What are your thoughts? What other questions do you think candidates should never ask in the beginning stages of an interview process? Hiring Managers, Recruiters and HR Professionals – what questions have been asked by candidates that have turned you off?

Your Likeability Will Make or Break Your Chances of a Job Offer

Your Likeability Will Make or Break Your Chances of a Job Offer

So just how important is your likeability factor in getting hired? Make no mistake about it – very. Whether you are interviewing for your next $30,000 or $300,000 position, your personality plays an integral role in the hiring decision making process. You could have all of the talent in the world – intelligence, experience, skills, and knowledge, but if you’re not liked, you won’t stand a chance in getting an offer. In the book, The Likeability Factor, author Tim Sanders reviews the four factors of your personality that work to enhance your likeability: friendliness, relevance, empathy and realness. It’s a great read and provides insightful advice on how to hone these critical traits.

In a job interview, these same factors will allow you to win every time. Why? Because very simply, people want to work with people they like. This doesn’t mean that you have to have the most dynamic and engaging personality ever, but it does mean that you need to demonstrate your likeability in an interview. Prospective employers want to know that you’ll get along with your colleagues, boss and direct reports and that you’ll be able to accomplish your work through and with others. You can still project confidence, communicate the value you could bring to an organization and show how fabulous you are without being abrasive, arrogant and disingenuous.

Over the years, I’ve said and heard time and time again:

“He’s a really talented guy, but he seems to have a big ego that people just won’t like.”

“I think she’s really smart and could bring a lot to the team, but there is just something about her that rubbed me the wrong way.”

“He came across like a used car salesman. There was something that wasn’t very genuine about him.”

“He’s got such great experience, but I just don’t think people will relate to him.”

“Both candidates have exceptional experience, but Mary’s personality and abruptness may really turn people off.”

If the hiring decision has come down to two final candidates for a given position, both with similar skills and experience, the one who is more liked will get the job every time. We see this same scenario play out in real life every day when all other deciding factors remain equal (and sometimes even when they don’t). We shop in stores where people are nicer. We buy products from the salesperson we like better. It’s human nature to gravitate towards people who make us feel good, project positive energy and who are just nice and pleasant to be around.

Here’s a list of some Dos and Don’ts that will help to showcase your likeability in an interview:

  • Do smile and project energy and enthusiasm in your voice.
  • Do show some personality and lighten up – you can still be professional without being overly serious and formal.
  • Do greet people you meet at reception and acknowledge others as you walk around the halls.
  • Do ask questions to show that you are interested in the company, position and the person with whom you’re interviewing.
  • Do engage in small talk to help break the ice and showcase your interpersonal skills.
  • Do practice active listening by reflecting on what is being conveyed and show the interviewer that he or she is being heard – “It sounds like the team is really struggling with x, here’s how I could help…”
  • Do keep your responses focused and succinct.
  • Do convey a sense of optimism and passion for what you do.
  • Do leave your sarcasm and quick wit at the door.
  • Don’t ramble and talk too much.
  • Don’t interject and try to outtalk the interviewer.
  • Don’t be negative.
  • Don’t tell your personal life story and provide a “back story” for every example you provide.
  • Don’t provide “canned” answers and sound like your reciting a script that you rehearsed. Speak naturally and from the heart.
  • Don’t tell them what’s wrong with their company before they’ve told you.
  • Don’t challenge the interviewer or share negative experiences unless asked directly.
  • Don’t speak poorly of your past employer, boss or colleagues.
  • Don’t share examples of your strengths and accomplishments that are not relevant to the position or organization.

Bottom line: enhancing your likeability will improve your overall success in today’s competitive job market.

Don’t Be Afraid to Ask Interviewers Where You Stand

Wouldn’t you like to leave the interview knowing exactly where you stand with a given employer?

Start asking. Think it’s too aggressive or forward? It’s not. Time after time, I ask my clients the same question and get the same response. “How did the interview go?” “I think it went well.” You think? How come you don’t know? The solution is simple. Just ask. No more wondering if an employer will call. No more spending countless hours following the interview thinking what you should have said or not said. No more guesswork. You have absolutely nothing to lose by asking a potential employer what they think of you. If it is not the right fit, then you’ll know and can immediately shift gears and focus your time and energy on the next great job opportunity.

This is important. If employers want you, they will undoubtedly tell you. Why would employers allow fabulous candidates to leave their offices without telling them that their interested? The point is that they don’t. They would never risk losing their next great talent. However, if they aren’t as impressed, they might not tell you the exact truth. Be prepared to hear something like, “We have a few more candidates to see before we make a decision on next steps” or my personal favorite, “We’re still in the early stages of the interview process and have some additional candidates to see.” That’s usually code for “We’re just not that into you” or “You haven’t completely sold me, so we’d like to keep our options open before committing to you.” Whether the news is good, bad or indifferent, it’s still better to know than to be kept guessing.

If I had a great candidate sitting in front of me as a hiring manager and HR leader and thought the person was the perfect fit for a position, I told him or her so. I never let candidates leave my office without them knowing exactly where they stood. Unfortunately, not every interviewer does this. However, I can tell you that every interviewer does form an opinion (sometimes positive and sometimes not so much) throughout the course of your conversation. Trust me, by the end of your interview, the person sitting across from you (or next to you if he or she is skilled) has a definite impression of you. Employers know exactly whether or not they will be inviting you to continue through an interview process or offering you a position. It’s up to you to ask. You deserve to know where you stand and not to be left hanging in limbo.

Here are some recommendations on how you can get interviewers to tell you what they really think:

  • Based on everything I’ve heard from you today, I think I’d be the perfect fit for this job. What are your thoughts?
  • I’m really interested in this position and in working for XYZ Company. Is there equal interest on your end?
  • I’m really excited about continuing through the interview process. What are your plans for next steps?
  • Do you have any concerns or is there anything about my skills or experience that I could clarify for you?

Would you ever consider leaving the doctor’s office without asking for your results? I don’t think so.

Bottom line: don’t ever leave another interview without knowing exactly where you stand.

Don’t Throw the Job Out the Window Before You Even Get in the Door

Too often, I hear job seekers underestimating the value of a phone call with a potential employer. In their minds, they are usually “just talking to a HR person or recruiter” and place more stock on the hiring manager or an in-person interview. This is a huge mistake. The phone screen is the most critical part of the interview process since it can make or break your chances of getting in the door. Your face-to-face interview is dependent upon your success over the phone. If employers are not immediately impressed with you during this usually brief conversation, you will not be given the opportunity to present and sell yourself in person. Phone screens are a way for employers to quickly identify the best candidates from the pack of resumes they’ve reviewed to determine who they’ll be moving along in the interview process. Employers do not want to waste their time or yours and want to assess for the “right fit” over the phone. They’re aware of your qualifications on paper, but are looking to you to bring your skills and experiences to life. They want to get a feel for who you are as a person and discover more about you: your personality, your ability to articulate your experiences and strengths, your interest in the role and the company and your salary requirements. Here is a list of some common questions employers use to phone screen candidates. Being prepared with thoughtful responses will help you to ace this critical part of the interview process.

  • Walk me through your resume, taking me through each of your experiences (you should be able to do this in 60 seconds or less).
  • What brought you to this point in your career and why are you looking for new employment?
  • Describe a typical day in your current or most recent position.
  • What interests you about the company and this particular position?
  • What did you like most about your last position? And least? (or current position if still employed)
  • In reflecting on your entire career, what are your most significant accomplishments?
  • What specifically are you looking for in your next opportunity?
  • What makes you unique and what are your greatest strengths?
  • What are your minimum salary requirements?

Here are 3 quick tips to help you ace this critical part of the interview process:

  • Don’t answer the phone unless you know who’s calling– Don’t accept an impromptu conversation. During your job search, you’re applying for a variety of different positions and sending your resume out to countless people. You don’t want to be caught off guard when a potential employer calls. You want to be sure you have all of the facts and are in the right frame of mind. Give yourself a little time to mentally prepare for the conversation and gather your thoughts. Call them back and schedule a time that’s mutually convenient. This will ensure that you have the necessary time to prepare and research before connecting with a potential new employer.
  • Think of it as an open book test – You can prepare in advance and have your answers in front of you. Do your research – learn about the business, the company and the culture. Know the company’s products/services, financials (if available), history and goals/missions. Know the major role responsibilities for the position to which you applied. Be able to clearly articulate what specifically interests you about role and the larger organization and why you’d be the perfect fit. Review every detail of your resume, outline key points that you want to be sure that you convey and develop key questions that you’d like to ask.
  • Be confident and positive – Nothing more frustrates employers than when a candidate is disappointing over the phone. They don’t want candidates who are downbeat, flat and uninspiring. Employers are looking to establish an immediate connection with you. They want your passion, energy and enthusiasm for what you do to shine through. Try smiling, standing up or moving around. You’d be amazed to see what a difference this makes in how you communicate over the phone. When you’re on your feet, you think more quickly and express yourself more clearly. Remember to smile and inflect your voice. A person on the other end of the phone can always tell if you are smiling and can easily detect a positive person. Your conversation should be casual, but professional. Don’t be overly formal or stiff. You should be succinct in your responses and project confidence and ease.

This is important to know. If your phone screen is successful, the person on the other end of the line will tell you so. He/she will not hang up the phone without telling you that they’d like to invite you in for a face-to-face interview. If you hear something like, “Thanks for your time today. We’re in the process of talking to several potential candidates and will be in touch if we’d like to schedule an in-person interview”, don’t hold your breath – they won’t be calling back. Don’t despair though – brush it off and learn from your mistakes so you can ace the next one.

Bottom line: don’t underestimate the power of a phone screen – it could make or break your chance with a potential employer.