Tag Archives: interviewing

Two Excellent Books: One on Interviews, One on Career Management

Careermageddon – Cracking the 21st Century Career Code; If you have a job today, you need a plan for when you no longer have it. If you are looking for a job today, this book will show you how to get it, and more importantly how to sustain a career which isn’t at the mercy of an uncertain economic outlook.

Ask the Headhunter: Reinventing the Interview to Win the Job  – Offers detailed advice and insider tips for making it in today’s new business world, the age of downsizing, by explaining how to interview properly and show off one’s best skills in a short period of time in order to make an impression. Original.

 

Articles for job seekers

Please do keep in mind, I’m on a job search too.

  • Product Design Engineer (strength in plastics design, but I can do other things too)
  • New Product Introduction Engineer
  • Cost Reduction Engineer
  • Manufacturing / Process Engineer

North of Boston, MA, ideally in the medical devices or defense industries.

===

7 (Really Hard) Interview Questions You Must Answer Properly

http://www.inc.com/jt-odonnell/7-intense-interview-questions-you-need-to-answer-correctly.html

There’s a fine line between penetrating questions and interrogations. In the best of all possible worlds, an interview should be a conversation. Not necessarily an easy one at all times, but a conversation nonetheless! If you’re being treated like a suspect, or you feel you’re having to prove – at every step – the veracity of what you say, then that’s a red flag about their culture.

Boomerslang: The Clues in Your Resume That Can Out You as an Older Applicant

https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/boomerslang-clues-your-resume-can-out-you-older-daniel-baitch-ph-d-

Even if you can hide your age in a resume, they’ll know when you walk in the door. That happened to a person I know – they’d be all enthusiastic at his resume, and excited after the phone interview… and he described how, time after time, he’d go into a place that was gung-ho about his visit, and their faces would fall when they saw his white hair and wrinkles. More:

55, unemployed and faking normal: One woman’s story of barely scraping by

http://www.pbs.org/newshour/bb/55-unemployed-faking-normal-one-womans-story-barely-scraping/

The comment that age discrimination starts at 35 YEARS OLD was frightening. We’re approaching a world where, at 40, you’re thrown on the trash heap. What a waste of capability and experience! Related:

The Recruiter Said ‘At Your Age, You’d Better Take What You Can Get’

https://www.forbes.com/sites/lizryan/2017/03/23/the-recruiter-said-at-your-age-youd-better-take-what-you-can-get/

An open question: Do people who commit ageism truly believe that, when they get older, it won’t happen to them?

3 Reasons Baby Boomers Are Getting Fired

http://www.inc.com/jt-odonnell/3-reasons-baby-boomers-are-getting-fired.html

In the details, there’s some good advice here. In the grand scheme, however, I think J.T. O’Donnell is full of it in this essay (she’s done a lot of other, very good, ones). IMHO the single biggest objection companies have to older workers is NOT “tech savvy” or “higher salary” or anything else typically cited… but rather the strength of character of older workers to:

  1. Not sign on to the latest frenzied craze; life experience teaches that this is often a lemmings-off-the-cliff scenario. Experience breeds an ability to resist drinking the faddish Kool-Aid but, instead, say “Let’s take a serious and considered look at this, not scurry like ants that have had a wet lollipop dropped on the nest”. 
  2. Having a brain and a spine, and a willingness to NOT accede to insane demands on time. Crisis OT is one thing – no white collar professional objects to that. But when, to get your regular job done, it is necessary to spend 60 (or even more) hours a week at work, and to be expected to be accessible 24/7, older people push back.

 Side anecdote: A friend of mine from a former employer had his boss send him a meeting request for Monday morning at 8 AM… that prior Sunday afternoon. Had my friend not logged in to check, he’d have missed it.

Also, don’t forget the dreaded THREAT TO THE HIRING MANAGER’S CHAIR.

3 Common Negotiation Pitfalls And How To Avoid Them

https://www.forbes.com/sites/alexandradickinson/2017/02/16/3-common-negotiation-pitfalls-and-how-to-avoid-them/

I read this and think of the scene from “Devil’s Advocate”… “Are we negotiating?” “Always!”

Answer to Interview Question: “Have You Ever Been Fired?”

https://www.interviewsuccessformula.com/interview-questions-and-answers/answer-to-interview-question-have-you-ever-been-fired.php

The trick, IMHO, is not to song-and-dance, or worse, lie, but to give them enough to answer the question without uncovering the rabbit hole for them to pursue. That never ends well.

Long-Term Unemployed? 5 Options to Fill that “Employment Gap”

https://www.job-hunt.org/recruiters/filling-employment-gaps.shtml

The trick can be getting contract work too. And… a quote: “Remember, in this economy, it is not uncommon to hit a bump in the road during your career. How you handle it is what makes the difference going forward.” >> While I agree with all this, in my opinion there is still a huge “empathy gap” for people who are in the situation on the part of people who – purportedly – value EQ. Mentioned at the end of the article:

Overcoming the “Unemployed Bias” https://www.job-hunt.org/recruiters/overcoming-bias-unemployed.shtml

My one objection to this: Cranking up the confidence can lead to being perceived as arrogant. Where’s the window on that? One person’s confidence is another’s arrogance; one person’s low key is another’s passivity. And so on.

10 Powerful Headhunter Interview Tips That Will Help You Land the Job http://www.youtern.com/thesavvyintern/index.php/2017/03/15/headhunter-interview-tips-land-job/

Questions you may be asked!

The Cover Letter Formula That Skyrocketed My Interviews From 0% to 55% http://www.payscale.com/career-news/2017/02/cover-letter-formula

Worth reading, but I don’t think it’s something that can be reduced to a formula.

The last remaining human skill

http://40pluscareerguru.blogspot.co.uk/2017/02/the-last-remaining-human-skill.html

Excellent point. And those that help people are better off than those that just absorb.

The best kept networking secret for jobseekers

https://www.forwardmotioncareers.com/the-best-kept-networking-secret-for-jobseekers/

Everyone out there is networking (if they’re paying attention). The trick is to network in places and in ways that sets you apart.

 

Ask 5: Some more penetrating questions to ask at interviews

This is the fifth in a series of questions I’ve come up with for candidates to ask in job interviews. The prior ones are Ask, Ask 2, Ask 3, and Ask 4.

Based on our conversation thus far, what do you think I will like most about this job?

This is inspired by a question I saw from Lavie Margolin. It’s a test of how well the hiring manager has “read” you. And by using the word will it’s also a subtle way to prompt the hiring manager to envision you in the position. An optional flip of this is:

And what do you think I will like least about this job?

No job is 100% fantastic all the time, and this is a good way to probe how the boss – and possibly co-workers – views the lesser aspects of the job, in particular in light of their understanding of you. Forewarned is forearmed. The advantage to this question is the opportunity to glean a clue about how they see you and the job, and the possible mismatches in their vision of how you might fit. The danger in asking this is that it brings dislike and your candidacy to mind in the same time frame, something to avoid and which I discussed here (thanks to Neil Patrick of 40pluscareerguru for republishing that essay).

In one sentence, can you tell me the top thing you’d want me to accomplish in the first six months?

This is a different take on the standard question “What would you expect me to accomplish in six months?”. It requires the hiring manager to focus on and articulate what is truly important to them. If you can squeeze this into the conversation early on, it will tell you how to target your conversation focus in a SPARTACUS approach (again, thanks Neil).

What were the characteristics of the best hire you’ve ever made?

Another way to “get inside” the head of the hiring manager to understand what they value in a person. If asked early in a conversation, you can use this to subtly highlight things that will draw an analogy between you and that “best hire”. Note, however, you should not ask the reverse one – once you bring negative traits to mind in the context of hiring, you run a strong risk of the hiring manager starting to try to pin those on you (even just unconsciously).

What do you like most about managing this group? (And the obvious reverse, what do you like least about managing this group?)

This can give some good insights into the group’s dynamics, and how the boss views their role as supervisor, coordinator, and leader.

What’s the most fun you’ve had at work in the last month?

This is for both hiring managers and co-workers. Work is not always fun – that’s why it’s called work. But if a person has to really, really stop and think about the last time they enjoyed their job, that’s a warning sign. And if the hiring manager also has to really scrape through their memory for the last time they enjoyed their job, that’s a huge red flag that they’re not happy – and you know what rolls downhill.

© 2015, David Hunt, PE

Fuzzy Limits

In high school my Physics teacher asked a very intriguing question: How do you know when you’ve reached a limit?

The answer, of course, is that you don’t. You know when you’ve exceeded a limit. Even at the limit of strength, a string remains unbroken, a compressed spring retains its resiliency; an ID is still 100% good the day before its expiration, but utterly useless the day after. Something on a slope with a specified coefficient of friction will not slide at a maximum angle “X” but will slide if the angle goes above that value. And so on. What’s the common key here? All these things are objectively quantifiable and predictable.

People Have Fuzzy Limits

Unlike the above examples, people are not inanimate things with immovable limits. Depending on their mood, experiences, memories and past associations, likes, dislikes, hormones, their being rested or not, their nutritional intake, stress level, and myriad other factors, peoples’ limits while interacting with others are… fuzzy.

Take jokes for example. As the late comedian Milton Berle said, “Laughter is an instant vacation” and I fully endorse this view; I am a firm believer in the idea that life is too serious to take seriously. Even between longtime friends, however, one person can hear and think a joke is hysterically funny, but in sharing it with another, the other person may not appreciate it. A joke about divorce may rile a person who, unknown to the joker, has just been told by their spouse that their marriage is over. So many factors go into whether someone likes, or doesn’t like, humor that there is no one-size-fits-all in this.

In a similar vein, citing the workplace, interactions are both necessary and yet ripe for misunderstanding especially as people grow to know each other and relax. As an example, take the universal “Harassment Training” that is part of every company’s new hire orientation. Now, I need to make clear that I am not advocating harassment of any sort; whether racial, sexual, religious, or anything else, making disparaging statements – open or veiled – about another as an individual or member of a group is absolutely out of bounds. Nor, to cite sexual harassment specifically, are comments about another’s physical attributes, sexual proclivities, hypothesized “amorous behaviors”, etc. – let alone, of course, leveraging power differentials for “favors”. Unacceptable, period. No exception.

But people are people, with fuzzy limits. A comment, of any nature, from one speaker that might be taken at face value by one listener on one day, could be taken completely differently by another listener, or even the first listener on a different day. For example, a genuine, spontaneous, and truly innocent compliment about a unique and/or noticeable broach, scarf, or tie can be taken as a wonderful compliment, or it might be considered unwanted or intrusive. Thus, even as people speaking need to keep in mind what they say, especially in a professional environment, listeners need to have a tolerance for what others say (given the potential for such a comment to be innocent; many comments have that potential, but some will clearly be beyond the pale and I opine that the latter are typically very clear).

The Flea Market Rule                                                                                                   

I love going to yard sales and flea markets (I keep hoping for something like this to happen to me). At the latter, I haven’t been to one where, somewhere, there hasn’t been the sign “One man’s trash is another man’s treasure.” And so it is with human interactions as well, especially at the beginning when people first meet.

Take, as an example, interviews. I was speaking with a recruiter recently, and they described a person they were attempting to place at a company. Their client rejected the candidate, citing that the person came across as “too aggressive”. Upon being told that feedback, the candidate altered their presentation to be more low-key… and was rejected at their next interview as “not dynamic enough”.

One man’s confidence is another man’s cocky. Is a person humble, or uncertain? Dynamic and enthusiastic, or aggressive? Accomplished and proud, or arrogant? Low-key by nature, or disinterested? A delegator who knows how to manage their work load, or a slacker who sloughs their tasks off on others? Bubbly and effusive, or a gabby motormouth? Diplomatic, or wishy-washy? Straight-forward, or abrasive? And so on.

There is the Halo Effect, where a person reacts subconsciously to like someone who acts, dresses, or otherwise presents as similar to themselves. Likewise, one person can engender a sense of like or dislike in another simply because they connect to a memory totally unrelated to them. And first impressions, formed in seconds, can determine the outcome of an interview before skills, accomplishments, and job history are even opened as topics of the discussion.

Beginnings Are Unstable

As people meet for the first time, whether in interviews, first dates, or any other venue, the possibilities are rife for misunderstandings and misperceptions. (Sometimes, thinking about this, I am amazed people ever form friendships and relationships given all the potential for missteps and snap-judgments.)

Ultimately, people are the way they are. I’d rather deal with someone who presents honestly than a person who tries to pass themselves off to me based on what they think I want to see and hear. And in the quest for harmony – whether at work, at home, or life in general – we ignore the dynamic interchange that comes from others who have different personalities, backgrounds, interests, faiths, etc. For it is from that intellectual and personality diversity, Infinite Diversity in Infinite Combinations, that we grow both as professionals and people.

No Telepaths Here

Perhaps the most famous telepath in science fiction these days is Professor Charles Xavier, leader of the superhero team The X-Men (Marvel Comics). A mutant with the ability to read minds and ascertain the true thoughts of a person if he chooses to use his powers, misunderstanding is impossible. Similarly able to read people, Deanna Troi, a character in Star Trek: The Next Generation, had the ability to read others’ emotions due to her being a hybrid between a human and a telepathic Betazoid.

But we here in reality have no such abilities, thus the possibilities for misunderstanding are legion. So as you meet new people in life, whether socially, at work, or if you are an interviewer or a candidate, may your minds be open to the diversity of others, and may your limits and judgments be fuzzy.

 

© 2014, David Hunt, PE

Why Am I Here?

In replying to someone’s comment on my posting Am I a Fit? in a LinkedIn group, I had a flash of insight for another essay.

When writing resumes, and especially when in an interview, there are several acronyms for techniques used to outline your accomplishments.  The one I know is SPAR.  Situation, Problem, Action, Result.  What was the Situation – the environment, the product or service – in which you were working?  What was the Problem you faced; what Action did you take; what Result came from that action (ideally something quantifiable)?

But there’s something missing.  And so at the risk of creating an unwieldy acronym, I want to propose:

SPARTACUS

Situation, Problem, Action, Result… Transferrable, Aimed, Customized, and US.

Transferrable: Based on your research, can you highlight the skills you exercised in this item that can transfer directly to the company where you are interviewing?

Aimed: The examples need to be aimed at specific problems they’re having – or are likely to be having.

Customized: The more you can customize your story to that particular company, the better.

US: Try to discuss the problem and your transferrable skills as if you were already there.

Now that I’ve probably got your head spinning, let me back up.  Much of this presupposes that you already understand specific problems the company is having.  Well, as many job search advice articles hammer home… do your homework.

Read up on the company, both on their own website, the product line, competitors, and the industry in general.  Peruse the job description word by word.  Often times the order of duties in the description/posting is keyed to the problems they’re experiencing.  Can you network to people in the company through LinkedIn or elsewhere to learn more – assuming, of course, that you have the time to do this.  But even an after-hours phone call can yield great information; you don’t need a face-to-face lunchtime informational meeting.  An article on LinkedIn gives some interesting tips for this.

Can you post to topical LinkedIn groups?  Put out the word on your own network (alumni groups can be of enormous help in this) that you will be interviewing at the company… not only will you – hopefully! – get some good info, but it’s entirely possible that someone from that company might see your request for information.  First, they might offer to help.  Second, they may know someone who is interviewing you (or be one of the interviewers).  Showing publically that you have an active interest in being informed can, IMHO, do nothing but good things if the company learns you are doing solid preparation.

Next, there’s the interview itself.  Take charge.  As the hiring manger enters the room, be standing already.  Proactively go over as they come in, shake their hand; “Mr. So-and-so, glad to meet you.  I’m really excited at being interviewed for <position title>; what kinds of problems would you have me working on out of the gate?”  (Remember, many people don’t like doing interviews; so long as you’re not pushy about it, they may appreciate your taking an active role in the conversation.)

Wham!  You’ve shown you have energy, drive, and you’ve opened the door for them to vent about their “pain points”.  You’ve also painted yourself as if you’re already in the position ready to get started on Day One.

As they talk, take mental notes.  The things they say will then guide your SPARTACUS answers from then on.  Remember – you are not in an interview because you need a job, but because they have problems they need to solve. 

By taking a SPARTACUS approach to the interview conversation you:

  1. Highlight accomplishments you’ve already made
  2. Show how you can transfer skills to their problems – don’t rely on them to make those inferences
  3. Demonstrate enthusiasm and initiative because you’ve clearly taken the time to do your homework
  4. Get the interviewer to envision you in particular in the role

 

© 2014, David Hunt, PE