Tip of the Week: Be Open to the Possibilities

I was sitting in my office the other day, actually a large cube with a view, thinking about what I’d write about this week about career success. And, what came to mind for job seekers is keeping an open mind to the possibilities when they’re searching for a job.

During an interview, or even when you have a job, be certain to be open to the suggestion of various job duties you might not have thought of before. For example, I’ve been a trainer at a biotech company for a few years, and before that had worked as a technical writer. In my current position, I conduct trainings, do some instructional design work, handle logistics relating to project management, and am in the process of backing up other client managers when they’re away.

The point of all this is that in a tough job market, it will always pay off to say that you’ll do more than just what you’re hired to do. If an interviewer asks you if you’d be willing to do certain job duties, in addition to the position you’re interviewing for, it’s usually a good idea to say “yes” or “let me think about it”. You must be true to yourself, but be open to the possibilities. And, if the job you have doesn’t suit you, you can always work with management/human resources to try and tailor your position to suit your needs.

Have a great week!

Top 10 Questions You Should Never Ask in a Job Interview

I recently came across this great article by Liz Ryan on Yahoo Hotjobs, so thought I’d share with you as she has some great advice for what NOT to ask during a job interview. Let’s assume this would be either a phone interview or in-person interview: 

“You know enough to bring a list of questions to a job interview. When the interviewer asks you, “So, do you have any questions for me?” the last thing? You want to say is “No.” But that could be the best option if you’re at a loss for words, because some interview questions are better left unasked.Here are 10 highly unsuitable interview questions that should never make an appearance, unless you don’t want the job:

1. “What does your company do?”
This was a reasonable interview question in 1950 or in 1980, before the Internet existed. Today, it’s your job to research any company you’re interviewing with before setting foot in the door. We need to show up for a job interview knowing what the employer does, who its competitors are, and which of its accomplishments (or challenges) have made the news lately.

2. “Are you going to do a background check?”
It is amazing how many job candidates ask this question, which provokes alarm on the part of the interviewer, instead of the more general, “Can you please tell me a little about your selection process, from this point on?” Lots of people have credit issues that cause them worry during a job search, or aren’t sure how solid their references from a previous job might be. If you’re invited for a second interview, you can broach any sensitive topics from your past then. Asking “Will you do a background check?” makes you look like a person with something to hide.

3. “When will I be eligible for a raise?”
Companies fear underpaying people almost as much as they fear overpaying them, because a person who’s underpaid vis-a-vis his counterparts in the job market is a person with one eye on the career sites. Instead of asking about your first raise before you’ve got the job, you can ask (at a second interview) “Does your organization do a conventional one-year performance and salary review?”

4. “Do you have any other jobs available?”
job search requires quick thinking about straight talk, and if a job is far below your abilities, you’re better off saying so than beating around the bush with this question. You don’t have to take yourself out of the running; you can say, “The job sounds interesting, but frankly I was earning 30% more and supervising people in my last job. Could you help me understand the career path for this role?” That’s the cue for the interviewer, if he or she is on the ball, to highlight another job opening that might exist.

5. “How soon can I transfer to another position?”
You’re broadcasting “I’m outta here at the first chance” when you ask this question. If you like the job, take the job. If it’s not for you, wait for the right opportunity. Almost every employer will keep you in your seat for at least one year before approving an internal transfer, so a job-search bait-and-switch probably won’t work out the way you’d hoped.

6. “Can you tell me about bus lines to your facility?”
Get online and research this yourself. It’s not your employer’s problem to figure out how you get to work.

7. “Do you have smoking breaks?”
If you’re working in retail or in a call center, you could ask about breaks. Everyone else, keep mum; if your need to smoke intrudes so much on your work life that you feel the need to ask about it, ask your best friend or significant other for smoking-cessation help as a new-job present. Lots of companies don’t permit smoking anywhere on the premises, and some don’t like to hire smokers at all. Why give an employer a reason to turn you down?

8. “Is my medical condition covered under your insurance?”
This is a bad question on two counts. You don’t want to tell a perfect stranger about your medical issues, especially one who’s deciding whether or not to hire you. Ask to see a copy of the company’s benefits booklet when an offer has been extended. This is also a bad question from a judgment standpoint; no department managers and only a tiny percentage of HR people could be expected to know on a condition-by-condition basis what’s covered under the health plan. Anyway, your pre-existing condition won’t be covered under most corporate plans for at least a year.

9. “Do you do a drug test?”
If you have a philosophical objection to drug tests, wait until they ask you to take a drug test and tell them about your objection. Otherwise, your question sounds like, “I’d fail a drug test,” so don’t ask.

10. “If you hire me, can I wait until more than three weeks from now to start the job?”
Employers expect you to give two weeks’ notice. If you’re not working, they’d love to see you more quickly. If you ask for tons of time off before you start working — unless you have a very good reason — the employer may think, “How serious is this candidate about working?” In any case, a start-date extension is something to request after you’ve got the offer in hand, not before.”

A TALE OF TWO COMPANIES (AND VISITS TO NEW YORK)

After graduating college with a degree in broadcasting, in the early 1990s, I didn’t really know what I wanted to do. Months of driving around Texas to various television stations left me with an empty tank of gas, little money in the bank, and a lot of rejection from news directors. Ethnic reporters were “in”, and I was just too white with too little experience and nobody willing to give me a chance. 

So, one afternoon, I wrote down a list of all the companies I wanted to work for as well as listed of all the people I knew that worked in the same city as those companies, whom I could use to network and see if they had any contacts I could, well, contact. 

Viacom, the parent company of both MTV networks and VH-1, was at the top of my list. If I wasn’t going to work as a news reporter, I could darn well work as an entertainment reporter, producer, or coffee maker in New York. The details of how I was going to afford to live there, or even where I was going to live, hadn’t entered the picture yet. I just knew I needed to move and would regret not trying!

MTV Networks

I wrote a letter to the chairman of Viacom, Sumner Redstone, who in turn passed my inquiry to Tom Freston, who in turn passed my letter to a Dwight Tierney, a VP of Marketing. His administrative assistant was a real piece of work, not the nicest person on the phone. But, in reflection, I suppose she was just protecting her boss. Or maybe she really was a real dragon. After several months of back-and-forth phone calls (I don’t think there was email back then), as well as a video audition tape, and many clever in-the-mail gifts, I decided it was better if I flew to New York to try and score an interview with Mr. Tierney. Of course, I didn’t have one when I flew to New York with my friend Suzanne, but ingenuity sometimes leads to great results.

While Suzanne was at the Metropolitan Museum of Art one afternoon, I went to Dean and Deluca, dressed in a suit, borrowed one of their aprons, bought a large glass of iced tea and a brownie, which I put into a box with my resume, cover letter, and hotel information and the bottom, and proceeded to take them to the delivery entrance of the Viacom building. 

This was before September 11, so security proceeded to assume I was a delivery man and took me to Dwight Tierney’s office, where I presented my box of goodies to his very surprised secretary. Unfortunately, he was out of the office, but a week after I returned home to Texas, I was invited to return to New York to meet with Mr. Tierney, which I did, as he was impressed by my efforts. Unfortunately, he didn’t have a job for me, despite all of my suggestions of what I could do for the company and his department, but in the end, I felt the satisfaction of knowing I tried my best, pursued every avenue, made all the necessary calls, and never gave up. You might not always get the job, but you will definitely have expanded your career network!

VH-1

A few years later, and having built up my career network, I decided to see if I could get an informational interview with the Director of Marketing for VH-1. As it turned out, my wonderful friend Kimberly, who was working as a corporate concierge in Manhattan, kindly sent me his contact information, along with the contact information for many other people she had met while at various cocktail parties and work functions. Cold calling is never easy, but I did manage get him on the phone (and not hang up). It’s always a good idea to have some sort of reason to be calling a person, and luckily he remembered Kimberly and was happy to set up a time for us to meet for half an hour to discuss his career and VH-1.

I flew to New York, with my updated resume (just in case he wanted to see it). Our conversation was informative and professional, but despite his high position, he did take the time to discuss what it took to get a job at VH-1, and other interesting facets of his career. Remember, an informational interview is always about the person you are speaking to, unless at some point they do ask to see your resume. 

After our chat, he told me to please keep in touch (there wasn’t an opening in his department), which I did for several years, until we eventually we lost touch. Did I regret going to New York twice in search of a job with Viacom? Absolutely not! Was I a bit disappointed that I didn’t get a job? Certainly, but because I did what I wanted to do, and TRIED, it gave me the courage to ask for other informational interviews, be bolder on the phone, learn better interview techniques, and allowed me to have more confidence than I’d ever had before.

Remember, keep on keeping on! 


PHONE INTERVIEWS

A phone interview is a great way for companies to speak with someone about a particular position in order to narrow down the number of candidates they’ll bring in for in-person interviews. While you’re not meeting someone in person, it’s just as important to be prepared well in advance of your phone interview to ensure you’re ready for anything.

A couple of years ago, while employed as a freelance copywriter at Banana Republic’s world headquarters in San Francisco, I decided to find something more challenging to do for work. While it was an interesting place to work, it was only a matter of time before I knew writing page after page of copy about men’s and women’s clothing was going to become dull and boring.

Luckily, I’d recently finished my certificate in technical and professional writing, and my friend Victoria, whom I went to school with, worked for a biotech company I’d been interested in working at. With some encouragement, Victoria helped me update my resume to include my technical writing abilities, and once complete, I applied for a technical writer with the company.

It helps when you know someone who already works for the company, as they can often get your resume into the hands of a hiring manager. As it turned out, that’s exactly what happened to me.

About a week after I submitted my resume, a person who turned out to be the manager I’d later work for called me to say she’d received my resume and wanted to conduct a phone interview. After scheduling the phone interview, I researched the company’s website, as well as spoke with Victoria, to get the inside scoop on company culture. 

On the appointed day and time, the hiring manager called me and we discussed:

* My Background
* Resume facts
* What I was looking for in a position
* Other questions I had regarding the position.

Tips for the Phone Interview

* Prepare! Have an updated copy of your resume in front of you during your phone interview
* Listen carefully to the questions you’re being asked
* Avoid distractions! No gum chewing, loud music, friends in the room, playing with your pet, or taking a shower, please! Your focus needs to be with the person you’re on the phone with at all times.
* Be polite and listen intently. When you’re done, ask politely what are the next steps regarding the interview process. 
* Have a list of any questions you might have for the interviewer
* Follow up with a thank you letter and/or email
* If at any point you feel the position isn’t a good match for you, simply tell the hiring manager. Honesty really is the best policy!

INFORMATIONAL INTERVIEWS

At the company I work for, informational interviews are not only allowed, they’re encouraged. What’s exactly is an informational interview? It’s a great way for you to speak to someone who is either in a career you’re looking to get into, or perhaps someone who works for a company you’d like to find more information about. In short, with the proper strategy, an informational interview is an excellent tool used by the job seeker to gather information they’ll need in order to be successful with their job search. 

For example, after several years in the job market, I decided I might want to move to New York and work for VH-1 networks in their marketing department. A contact of mine knew the Director of Marketing, and after a couple of phone calls, I made an appointment to speak with him to discuss his role, the types of people he liked to hire, and, most importantly, his career background. 

One important thing you must remember is that an informational interview is NOT a job interview, where you’re interviewing for a specific position. It’s an opportunity for you to get “your foot in the door” and hopefully help you to be remembered should a job opening become available. Additionally, it’s a great way for you to chat with someone in a job position you might like to transition into.

Here are a few pointers which have served me well when I’ve tried to set up an informational interview:

Determine Why You Want An Informational Interview

Do you want to know more about their background? Perhaps you’re changing careers and want more information about a specific career. Or, maybe, you’re looking for your first job and need to get some face-to-face time with a hiring manager. Whatever your situation, have a strategy!

Network

If you don’t know someone at the company you’re interested in conducting the information interview at, call their main number, ask friends who might know someone, or use your current business contacts.

Make Contact

Call or email the person you’d like to conduct your information interview with. Be polite, concise, and brief if you speak with them on the phone. Ideally, get them on the phone. Messages may not be returned. Explain who you are, how you got their name (if applicable) and would they possibly have 15-20 minutes to speak with you in person any time in the next few weeks?

If they say no, be polite and thank them for their time. If yes, congratulations!  Remember to stick to the time allotted, unless they suggest meeting for a longer period of time. You’re here to interview them, not the other way around. However, they may ask for a copy of your resume, so have a neat copy of your resume available only if they ask for it. 

Thank Them

Nothing makes a better impression than a nice thank you card or email. Be brief, polite, and thank them for their time. Send your thank you card or email the day after you meet with them. And, be sure to keep them posted of any new contacts, job leads etc. you have followed up on in case they gave you any leads during your informational interview.

INTERVIEW TIPS

I’m not one to enjoy spam when I open my email, but yesterday I received an email from a career website, theladders.com, that I’ve used before (which for some reason went into my spam folder) with their top 10 tips for successful interview tips (see below). Their website is a good choice for jobs in a variety of fields paying $100,000 or more. 

 

  1. Research the company and be prepared with a “good” level of knowledge. Know enough to show the interviewer you respect the opportunity and their time! 
     
  2. Be on time. Ten minutes early is best! Bring a clean, well-presented copy of your resume.
     
  3. Dress the part – business-like and professional is always a smart choice, unless you’ve had a phone interview first and they tell you a tie isn’t needed for the in-person interview.
     
  4. Be kind to every employee you meet – the receptionist, yes, but also the parking lot attendant, the janitor, and the intern.
      
  5. Think “what can I do for this company?”
      
  6. Sell your capabilities to do a job for the company. Stick, mostly, to the business side and how you can solve problems. The interviewer doesn’t want your life story, rather, they want to know your business capabilities.
       
  7. Never say bad, mean, unkind, or even true things about your current or former employer, boss or fellow workers if it makes you look like a big complainer or gossip.
     
  8. Save the “money talk” for last. Focus on the job, your ability to contribute, and all the great things you can provide before reminding your future boss how much of the hiring budget you’re going to soak up. If you’re asked about salary during a phone interview, defer the questions by asking the interviewer, who will often be from Human Resources, what is the salary range they’re offering. Usually, they will let you know, and then you can decide if it falls within your salary needs.
     
  9. Thank the interviewer for their time and ask questions. This shows true interest in the position/opportunity.
       
  10. Send a follow-up email thanking the interviewer and remind them, briefly, what you discussed and how you can contribute. This serves as a good “memory jog” to the interviewer and reminds them of the details you want them to remember from your previous discussion.