Looking Back on 2017: What I Learned on My Job Search and How I Plan to Rock 2018

2017…what a year. I can’t say I’m sorry to see it go! When my husband and I were both laid off over the summer, I had no idea how we were going to bounce back. Luckily, it wasn’t as bad as it could have been. We both found new opportunities within a couple months, which I’m very thankful for. 2017 will go down as the year I took the biggest risk in my career yet, and I’m still not quite sure how it will turn out. I guess I’ll find out in 2018.

Here’s what I learned during the great job hunt of 2017:

  • When they say the pay is “competitive”, sometimes they mean it’s competitive on Mars.
  • I got comfortable with saying “no”. Sometimes it even resulted in a better offer.
  • I started asking the questions I used to be too afraid to ask, such as how do you handle conflict as a manager? Regardless of the response, I got the answers I needed to make the best decision possible.
  • Sometimes they ask for a unicorn, but they’ll settle for a pony.
  • It’s okay if they don’t like what they see in me—having to be someone I’m not at work is way too stressful.
  • Being a comedian is probably not in my future, but I still love to make people laugh.
  • I need to work on listening to my instincts. There were a few times I ignored them this year (because I wanted them to be wrong) and ended up having a negative experience. Denial has never gotten me what I wanted in life.
  • If an employer is treating me poorly during the hiring process or they make commitments they don’t keep, I can walk away.
  • Sometimes what seems like a dream job is far from it. And sometimes a “boring” sounding job can be so much more than expected. I can’t judge an opportunity too soon.
  • I need to work for a cause I believe in—that’s when my best stories come out of me.
  • My cover letter and resume can always be better—even when I think I’ve nailed it this time.
  • Some employers will give you feedback when you ask how you can better present yourself (whether it’s your resume, portfolio, or interview skills). I asked for the first time this year—and the answer was almost never what I expected.
  • When describing my accomplishments, I embraced the importance of data and statistics and dropped the pointless adjectives.
  • Being a woman in a male-dominated profession (video production, in my case) is still an uphill battle. But it’s not one I intend to give up.
  • Being a woman with ADHD is a challenge. It’s also a gift—my imagination has no bounds, people.
  • Rejection still sucks—it will always suck—but the faster I move on, the faster I get over it. There will always be other opportunities.
  • I found myself disappointed a lot this year. Maybe I need to re-adjust my expectations or maybe I need to fight harder for change. More than likely, it’s a little of both.
  • Taking two part-time opportunities with two very different organizations isn’t exactly conventional, but the conventional route hasn’t taken me where I want to go so far. So, why not?

As I said above, I’m taking the unconventional route, splitting my time between two very different organizations—a start up and a large non profit—and writing for the awesome folks at TalentWorks. But I plan to go into 2018 with an open mind. I’m excited about all the possibilities. What stories will I dream up? What will I learn about these new industries I’m in? How many new people will I get to know and work with this year?

So, how do I plan to rock 2018? 

  • I’m going to keep asking questions. Why are we doing things this way? Can we do it better or more efficiently?
  • Being an introvert, it can be hard for me to develop new working relationships. But in 2017 I learned just how important those working relationships can be. I plan to make an extra effort to get to know my colleagues this year.
  • I’m going to push back when I need to, even when it’s intimidating.
  • I’m going to make it a point to learn something new.
  • I need to practice better self-care and set boundaries. In particular, this means not checking work email or thinking about work issues when I’m off the clock and making exercise, wholesome meals, and proper sleep a priority. I’m more productive at work and at home when I have “me” time.
  • No matter how well things are going, I know I can lose my job tomorrow. It’s time for me to start taking “saving for a rainy day” seriously.
  • If I find myself needing to hunt for a job, I’m going to be more selective about the roles I apply for. Unless I need a survival job, I’d rather wait to find the right job than take a role that’s wrong for me.

What about you? What did you learn this year in your job search that you’ll apply in 2018?

Did you like this post? Share it with your friends!

All I Want for Christmas Is My Dream Job

With one rough year coming to a close and a new year ahead, a seemingly blank canvas, I’ve been doing a lot of dreaming. A lot of assessing where I am, how I got here, and what I want for my future. But I’ll leave that assessment for my next post.

Right now I want to dream with a mug of hot cocoa next to me. Care to join me in a little self-indulgence?

Most of us have to work for a living—there’s no escaping that. And, let’s face it, there are a lot of crappy jobs out there. But what if you could hop on a computer and design your dream job? What would it look like? What would you be doing? Sometimes, when we allow ourselves to dream, no holds barred, we realize what we think we want and what we actually want are very different.

My “dream” job looks different this year than it did last year. I’d been managing creative departments for a few years, and I was hoping to finally land my coveted role—Creative Director. Things didn’t go as planned. And you know what? It changed me. In fact, it changed my entire outlook on what I thought I wanted.

So, what does my dream job look like now?

  • I’m be doing what I love most in life—inspiring and being inspired. I’m a storyteller at heart, but I’m a restless storyteller. It’s not enough for me to just type words on a page. I want to create entire visual experiences. My dream job would involve telling stories through design, video, music, and photography.
  • No more 60-hour weeks. I want work-life balance, even if it means a salary cut or taking a less glamorous job title. A title is just that—a title. Being able to experience life on my terms, with those I love most, is more important than anything else.
  • I’m working for an important cause—anything involving animal rescue is a big passion of mine. But I’m also passionate about helping and inspiring others with disabilities and promoting youth literacy. I want more kids to read and I want them to dream big. If I can help make that happen, I will.
  • I have time to keep writing books for kids and young adults. The letters I get from young adults who’ve been helped in some way by my books inspire me to keep growing and keep dreaming. There are so many stories inside of me left to tell.
  • The people I work with don’t have to be perfect. We all get grumpy. We all disagree—life would be boring if we agreed all the time. But I like my team to be passionate about what they do, creative, and open to new ideas and perspectives. I thrive best in open communication environments where we are free to speak our minds and share our best ideas. We can laugh at ourselves and we aren’t afraid to be goofy just for the hell of it. Where people say – what can we do to make this better instead of this is just how things are. Change is possible if you want it badly enough.
  • A guacamole bar would be nice. Just sayin’.
  • A flexible work environment that lets me work where I’m most productive. Sometimes that’s having a brainstorming session with my team (in person), sometimes it’s at home, and sometimes it’s on top of a mountain. As long as the work gets done and we’re successful, does it really matter?
  • A manager or leader who has faith in me and my strengths. They give me autonomy and creative freedom in my area of expertise until I give them a reason not to.
  • Hiking meetings. Who says we can’t have a meeting, enjoy nature, and get some great exercise at the same time? Talk about efficiency.
  • Lastly, I’d like to bring my beloved cat (and best coworker ever) to my place of work.

Your turn! Tell us what your dream job would look like?

 

 

 

 

Did you like this post? Share it with your friends!

2 Interviews I Totally Biffed and What I Learned from Those Moments

We all have those interviews we look back on and think—if only. If only I’d taken ten minutes to review the company website. I might’ve said something better than “um” when they asked me what I knew about them. If only I didn’t forget my portfolio. If only I’d sold my skills more. We all make mistakes, just like we burp at the most inopportune times. But, in my book, mistakes make us more interesting. I grow a lot more as a human being when I make them.

Here are 2 of my not so glamorous interview moments and what I’ve learned from each experience.

Interview 1: When I showed up with my shirt inside out.

Yes, I actually showed up to an interview with my shirt inside out. Granted, it was one of those dress shirts, where the “inside” isn’t immediately distinguishable from the “outside”. I mean, it’s something you’d notice if you weren’t running fifteen minutes late and didn’t grab the first thing out of your hamper.

But I was running late, because… Okay, I didn’t have a good reason. I simply got distracted and lost track of time. So, I showed up at 8:59am (the interview was at 9), short of breath, because it was one of those maze-like office buildings and the suite was the last door I came to. You know, just like when you’re late for a plane, your gate is pretty much guaranteed to be at the end of the terminal. I discovered my shirt was on inside out, tag hanging out and all, right before the interviewer appeared to greet me.

Can you imagine how I came off when we shook hands? I watched their lips move, but all I could think was—oh my god. My shirt is on inside out. Have they noticed? Just how bad does this look? Should I ask to use the restroom or will that make everything worse? It’s probably rude to ask that now and make them wait. I was so inside my own head, I didn’t even realize the interviewer had asked me a question. Now they were looking at me expectantly.

Me: I’m sorry – what was that?

Interviewer (looks at me like I grew an extra head): Did you find us okay?

Me: Oh, yeah!

As you can imagine, the interview didn’t go as well as I’d hoped. I was so distracted by my shirt that my normally cool and confident demeanor was replaced by nervous rambling.

What did I learn from this experience?

The importance of preparation, for one thing. These days, I make sure to pick out my interview outfit the night before and have it ready to go. I also put every interview on my Google calendar and have notifications turned on (I set mine to remind me thirty minutes before I have to leave). That way, when I get caught up in a project for a client, the latest book I’m working on, or even just a text conversation with a friend, I get a reminder to stop whatever I’m doing and start preparing to leave. So, if you’re easily distracted or have ADHD like me, you may want to consider setting reminders for yourself, even if it seems tedious or unnecessary.

When I come to an interview prepared, my mind is clearer and I just feel more confident.

Interview 2: When I let myself get rattled.

Sometimes interviewers don’t ask you the questions you expect. They throw things out at you to see how you respond. It first happened to me early in my career. We were having a standard interview until…

Interviewer: How many gas stations do you think there are in the city of Seattle?

Me: Um… I don’t know?

Interviewer: Take a guess.

Me: A hundred?

Interviewer: (smirks) Do you know the population of Seattle?

Me: Six hundred thousand or so?

Interviewer: So, you think there are a hundred gas stations in a city of six hundred thousand?

Me: I…honestly don’t know.

Interviewer: Well, how did you come up with that answer?

Me: The fact that I can never find a gas station when I need one?

Interviewer: (laughs) No, seriously. How’d you come up with that?

Me: Uh… (mind goes blank)

In that moment, I felt foolish. My answer must have been completely off the mark—why else would the interviewer look so amused, I thought. I didn’t realize that it wasn’t about the answer—it was about my thought process. But I’d let myself get rattled to the point of being speechless. For the rest of the interview, all I could focus on was how that one answer had completely did me in. Not surprisingly, I didn’t get a call back for a second interview.

Look, I don’t agree with that particular style of interviewing, even though I can see its purpose. I think it’s demeaning and not a great predictor of future performance or how well the candidate will fit into the role. I feel the same way about assessments. Not everyone tests well or fits into a neat little box. But some companies (and hiring managers) believe in them, so we, as candidates, either need to deal with them or refuse to move forward with companies that require them. Unfortunately, the latter isn’t an option for a lot of us.

What did I learn from this experience?

I realized that any interview I go on can have a curveball (or five) thrown at me, and I needed to learn how to take the unexpected in stride. It’s not about how fast I can answer a question. If I need time to answer a question, I ask for it. The world isn’t going to end if I don’t have the right answer. Like in the above example, it’s not even always about having the correct answer. It’s about how you handle the situation. Staying calm and having confidence in myself has made a huge difference in how frequently I get called back for second interviews.

How do I stay confident? I remind myself of my strengths. I also do my research on the many types of questions employers can ask and prepare myself for them. For example, when I schedule an interview with a company, I look them up on Glassdoor. Sometimes, under the Interviews tab, there are quite a few “reviews” from other candidates about their interview experience with the company, including what questions the hiring manager asked. This can often give me a clue about what to expect.

I’m always going to make mistakes. Some interviews just aren’t going to go well, no matter how much I prepare or how much experience I have under my belt. Maybe I didn’t sleep well the night before or I don’t mesh at all with the interviewer. Beating myself up over it isn’t going to do me any good. The only thing I can do is get back up, have a good laugh at myself, and move on to the next opportunity. After all, I want to find the right one for me.

Now it’s your turn. What interviews have you totally biffed and what did you learn from the experience?

 

Did you like this post? Share it with your friends!

The Worst Types of Interviewers on Your Job Search: #3 The Flighty One

We’ve met The Downer and The Egomaniac. Well, hopefully you haven’t had the pleasure in IRL. If you have, my condolences. Have a piece of dark chocolate with me and laugh it off. As with most things in life, a bad interview can be a learning experience. At the very least, it’s a lesson in how not to interview when you’re on the other side of that desk.

Today, we’re going to meet another “worst type” of interviewer. The Flighty One.

Have you ever had an interview that went like this?

Interviewer: (Texting on cell phone) Hey—have a seat! I’ve just got to answer this real quick.

Candidate: Sure thing. (Sits down and waits)

Interviewer: (texting)

Candidate: (waiting)

Interviewer: (still texting)

Candidate: (staring at the parking lot outside. watching cars back up and drive away. so fascinating.)

Interviewer: Okay! Sorry about that. Sometimes people are so impatient. (rifles through the mountain of papers on desk) Hmm… I haven’t actually had a chance to go over your resume, Jenny. Why don’t you tell me about you?

Candidate: Well, my name is Jane, and I just graduated with a BA in Human Resources Management. I’ve been working part time as a human resources assistant at–

Interviewer: (cell phone rings) Sorry, Jenny. I’ve got to take this really quick.

Candidate: Oh, okay.

Interviewer: (hangs up after a five-minute conversation about weekend plans) You worked at that law firm on 7th, right?

Candidate: No… I’ve never worked at a law firm.

Interviewer: (laughs) Oh, sorry. I’ve been staring at resumes for days. I can’t even see straight! You’ve been in retail for a while—is that correct?

Candidate: Nope. That’s not me either.

Interviewer: Okay, Jenny. Let’s start over. Tell me about you!

Candidate: My name is Jane. Would you like me to spell it for you?

Oh, the things we wish we could say in these moments. The Flighty One might seem like a fun person to be around, if only they could remember your name. Can you imagine what they’d be like as a boss? Even if a hiring manager has interviewed twenty people that day, they should make knowing who you are (or at the very least your name) a priority. Making you wait while they take phone calls (unless they truly are urgent or emergencies), calling you by the wrong name, or not bothering to review your resume beforehand are all signs that hiring you isn’t a priority. You are just someone and they need to hire someone. And when they hire that someone, they will continue to be someone (until The Flighty One remembers that someone’s name—but don’t hold your breath). Someone will be given expired login credentials for every account, resend emails multiple times (because The Flighty One does not do searches), take on urgent projects that stop being projects a day later, and constantly remind The Flighty One there’s no front desk person because they haven’t hired one yet. This is how I imagine it, anyway.

Here are ways I’ve dealt with The Flighty One in an interview:

  1. I tell them I’ll wait while they review my resume. The last time an interviewer told me they hadn’t reviewed my resume yet, I handed them a copy of my resume and said I’d wait while they reviewed it. They gave me a strange look—but, hey, at least they stopped calling me by the wrong name.
  2. I’ve told them we could reschedule the interview, if they needed to. When a hiring manager is taking phone calls or stopping and starting our interview multiple times, I’m not afraid to ask if they want to reschedule. Yes, their time is valuable—but so is mine. They’ll either take me up on it or suddenly realize how they’re coming across. Okay, well, sometimes this doesn’t work at all—and they’ll say, no! Now is fine. In which case, you could consider walking out when they take their next phone call?  In all seriousness, sometimes forgetfulness and lack of focus is a sign that the hiring manager is overworked. There is the chance that, once they get some very needed help, they will learn your name and even appreciate what you do.
  3. I ask how busy they are. When I’m not sure if a hiring manager is oblivious or just overworked, I ask if they’ve got a lot going on and how the new hire might be able to help them. Sometimes it’s clear they are dealing with a difficult situation, and I need to cut them some slack. And other times…
  4. I vent to trusted friends and family. Let’s face it. The interview process can be brutal, and some employers can treat you very poorly throughout the process, from ghosting you after an interview to calling you by the wrong name. It’s normal to feel frustrated and angry. Sometimes you just need to get it all out!
  5. Onward and upward! When I have an interview with a hiring manager who doesn’t know my name, I try not to take it personally. Because it’s not about me—it’s about them. Maybe they are a really nice person who is horrible at multi-tasking and time management. Maybe they fully intended to review my resume, but the day—once again—got away from them. The best thing I can do is keep applying and scheduling more interviews. After all, some hiring managers not only know my name, they’ve looked up every book I’ve published and are full of positive feedback about my work. That’s always a pleasant surprise!

 

Have you ever had an interview like this? How did you respond? Feel free to share your story below!

 

Did you like this post? Share it with your friends!

Yay-You Got a Job Offer! Now What?

You finally got the call. Maybe it’s an offer for your dream job, or maybe it’s for a job you’re less than excited about. Either way, you’ve got a big decision to make. Hopefully, you have at least a few irons in the fire—meaning you’ve been interviewing with other companies. When it comes to the job hunt, you want to have as many options as possible. Job offers can fall through for various reasons.

Early in my career, I’d accept job offers the moment they were offered to me. I was afraid they’d be offended and pull the offer if I said I wanted to think about it. And they just might. Some employers get pretty huffy when you don’t accept right away. But, for me, that sends up a huge red flag, and I’ve worked in enough not-so-great situations to pay attention. If they’re being this rigid now, what will they be like when I start working for them? Plus, why would they want you to make a rash decision? It’s better for both parties when you’ve had a chance to think everything through.

So, now that I’m older and wiser, here’s what I do when I get a job offer:

I let them know I’m grateful for the offer and that I’d like some time to think it over. Asking to think over an offer is not an unreasonable request, regardless of how an employer reacts. They will do what’s in their best interest, so you need to do what’s best for you. The length of time I ask for depends on the situation. If I’m more interested in other jobs I’ve interviewed for or I’ve received another offer, I ask for as much time as possible—but never more than a week. Most employers I’ve dealt with are at least willing to give me a couple days.

I contact other employers I’ve interviewed with and let them know I have an offer. Like I said, options are good. I don’t want to be asking myself what if or feel like I’ve been too hasty in accepting an offer. Seeing if there’s any other interest helps me feel like I’ve explored every possibility. If nobody else is interested, that makes my decision easier. But sometimes I do have other interest, which makes things a wee bit more complicated.

I ask for the offer in writing, information on benefits, and a copy of the employee handbook. A written offer doesn’t mean the job is a guarantee. But it does allow you to see all of the terms in writing, so there are no misunderstandings. I always ask for benefits information, so I can compare it with competing offers (if any) or just make the most informed decision possible. I also request the employee handbook, if the company has one. This can actually tell me a lot about the company culture. Are there a gazillion rules that remind me of grade school? If so, I’ll pass. Does it talk to me like I’m an adult who deserves the benefit of the doubt? That’s a definite plus.

I think about what is most important to me in a role and negotiate based on that. You can ask for the stars and the moon, but that doesn’t always mean you should. Remember salary is just part of the package, and it’s not the only thing you can negotiate. It’s good to do some research on what other people in your role are being paid, particularly in your area. Payscale.com is a great site for this. Salary isn’t the most important factor for me—although it’s important to me that I’m being paid what I’m worth. Let’s say I get two offers for jobs that interest me equally—Offer A and Offer B.

Offer A: Pays 50% medical insurance and gives 10 days of PTO. No remote work allowed.

Offer B: Offers 5k less than Offer A. Pays 100% of medical insurance and gives 20 days of PTO. Allows me to work remotely 1-2 days a week.

Work-life balance matters a lot to me, so I’d actually take Offer B. Those insurance premiums can add up, and the extra two weeks off makes a huge difference. Plus, I don’t have to deal with commuting every day of the week (yay for less stress), which will help me save on gas.

Would I still try and get Offer B to come up on salary? Sure. I’d ask if they could match Offer A. And sometimes, I get a nice surprise and they do! But sometimes they simply can’t or won’t go any higher. At that point, I try to negotiate other perks, such as more PTO or remote days (if they don’t offer them). The worst they can do is say no. Well, I guess the worst they can do is rescind the offer, but—frankly—I wouldn’t want to work for an employer who responded that way to reasonable requests. And that’s the key. Keep it reasonable. Don’t ask for 100k when the market rate for your role is 50k. Don’t ask for paid summers off, a new car, and a trip to Hawaii. Use common sense and be ready to tell them why they should pay you more.

I ask any final questions I have. Now is the time to ask anything else you’d like to know. After all, this is a big decision. When I’m debating between job offers, these final questions will often swing me one way or another.

Remember—you need to look out for you. Know your worth and stand by it. Ask the questions you need to, and take heed if an employer refuses to answer them. If you’re feeling anxious or uneasy about an offer, trust your gut. It’s easy to shove those feelings away, because you want and need an opportunity to work. I’ve totally been there. But I can’t say ignoring my instincts has ever worked for me. On the other hand, a job that fills you with excitement and anticipation is worth checking out, even if it’s not perfect. I dare you to show me a job that is!

How do you handle job offers? Share your story below!

Did you like this post? Share it with your friends!

8 Ways to Rock Your First In-Person Interview

So, you dazzled them during the phone interview, and they’ve invited you in for the next step… An in-person interview with the hiring manager. First off, congratulations! It’s not easy to make it even this far, so pat yourself on the back for all the hard work you’ve done to get here.

It’s time to remove the cat slippers and those soft thermal pants and slip into something stiff and uncomfortable aka professional attire. Nobody said the job hunt was easy. You’ll have to assume the employer is interviewing at least a few other people—maybe it’s five or maybe it’s fifteen. It really depends on the job and the people in charge of hiring. Either way, from a purely statistical standpoint, the odds of getting the job are still against you.

I don’t get an offer for every job I interview for (far from it), but in the last two months, I’ve gotten six job offers, and I’ve made it to the final stages with several other places. This wasn’t always the case for me. Getting to this point, where I got to choose between multiple offers, has taken a lot of work and growth on my part. And let’s just say I’ve made a few mistakes along the way (which I’ll save for another post).

So, how have I helped improve my odds over the years? Here are 8 things I do to try and rock my first in-person interview.

1. I do my research and come prepared. I actually do research before I apply, so I can personalize my cover letter. It’s also a great idea to visit the company website and learn what they do before a phone interview or prescreen. By the time you’re invited for an in-person interview, though, you really should come in knowing your stuff. What does the company do? What is their mission? Where do they need help and how can you help them? You should also bring extra copies of your resume, because it’s very common to interview with multiple people. Show up prepared and ready to offer suggestions, and you’ll most likely have a leg up on other candidates.

2. I aim to show up ten minutes early. I know there’s conflicting advice out there. Show up early—but not too early. I think people stress way too much over this. Just get there before your appointment and don’t be ridiculously early. You can always wait in your car or go for a walk to kill time—no biggie. Ten minutes works for me, because it gives me enough of a cushion to get lost (which happens even with the robot lady yelling at me to turn left, turn left!) It also gives me enough time to decompress in the waiting area, but not enough time to overthink anything.

3. I keep it real. Your personality and how well your interviewers relate to you can have a huge impact on whether or not they decide to hire you. People can tell when you’re faking it, and it makes everyone in the room uncomfortable. Early in my career, I tried to be the person I thought they wanted me to be. I acted all bubbly (I’m so not a bubbly person), and I said things, like, sure, I love talking on the phone (I’d rather clean bathrooms). The end result was what you’d expect. If I landed the role, I was exhausted and miserable trying to be someone I wasn’t.

Look, sometimes you need that survival job. So, do what you’ve got to do. But don’t stop looking for something that’s a better match for you. It might take some patience and persistence, but your happiness is important. Unless you need a survival job, it’s better to let hiring managers see who you really are. I’m a laid-back person (with a goofball streak), and I tend to be a calming and grounding influence on a team. I also love making people laugh. Some hiring managers love that about me, and others want someone who is more extroverted and energetic. And you know what? I’m glad we can figure that out during the interview. It’s much better to land on a team where they need me—not someone else. Also, don’t lie about or exaggerate your qualifications. I know it’s tempting when employers post ads, demanding a superhuman set of skills. But here’s the thing. I’ve seen this come back to bite many people. If you haven’t mastered a skill that is important to the job, you’re going to be stressed out of your mind trying to fake it, and they’re going to figure it out. A better way to handle the situation is to say something like, “I don’t have a lot of experience in that area, but I want to learn more. I’d be happy to take some trainings.” Remember—taking the wrong job makes it that much harder to find the right job.

4. I try to make it a conversation instead of an interview (if possible). Some interviewers are more open to a back and forth dialog than others. Sometimes they must stick to the list of questions in front of them. I go with the flow here and take my cues from the interviewer. Are they super serious and just wanting answers? Have they joked around with me? Are the questions more casual and conversational? Regardless of the situation, I do try and ask questions when I have the opportunity. More often than not, this can turn a stiff and formal interview into more of a conversation, which is a lot more pleasant, and it (hopefully) makes you more memorable.

5. I try to give thorough but focused answers. I’m a rambler by nature, and most interviewers really don’t like it when we ramble. It makes us seem nervous or unsure of ourselves. I’ve worked on this pesky habit of mine by recording myself answering questions. Is that a completely dork thing to do? Probably. But it’s a dork thing that works for me, so I’ll take it. If you’re a rambler, an um—uhher, or you turn into a deer-in-headlights, I recommend doing this. Make a list of common interview questions, hit record on your cell, and practice your answer. Make sure your answer is easy to understand and completely focused on the topic at hand. It might take you three tries—or a hundred (nobody has to know), but at some point you’ll get there. Need an example?

A not-so-good answer:

Interviewer: Tell me about a time you dealt with a really difficult customer. How did you handle it?

Me: Well, uh… Um… Oh, wow. I don’t know. This is hard. Okay, well. Yeah… There was this one time when a lady was seriously pissed about her credit card being declined. And her hair was, like, sticking straight up. I mean, it was winter and super dry in there. They always had the heater way too high, and we were constantly getting shocked. I mean, constantly. Oh, and it made my co-worker’s asthma way worse. He had to quit. So, yeah, anyway, she was really pissed. I stayed calm and told her there wasn’t anything we could do. Oh, and I offered to call her bank and let her talk to them and then we were able to figure it out.

A better answer:

Interviewer: Tell me about a time you dealt with a really difficult customer. How did you handle it?

Me: Sure, give me a moment to think about that.

Interviewer: Of course.

Me: Okay, one time a lady became very upset when her credit card was declined. She was yelling and causing a scene. I listened and told her it’s happened to me too and I get how frustrating it can be. I offered to dial up her bank and let her talk to them—and she calmed down and took me up on it. They’d flagged the transaction as suspicious activity, so she was able to clear it up. She thanked me for being so patient with her.

If you need a moment to think about an answer, don’t be afraid to say so. It’s much better to take a moment and compose yourself. Otherwise, you risk giving them a play-by-play of your every thought.

6. I’m not afraid to share my strengths. I used to have a hard time selling myself. I was afraid I’d come across as arrogant—and it’s better to be humble, right? Not so much. Confidence sells. Which plumber would you hire? The one who says, “I’m pretty sure I can fix the leak. I mean, I’m not the best plumber on the planet or anything. But I try really hard, and I can give you a great discount.” Or the one who says, “The fittings on your pipes are faulty—they were recalled a few months back. I’ve got a lot of experience replacing these and can recommend some good options.”  There’s a way to share your strengths without coming across as cocky. The trick is to show, not tell. Don’t just say “I’m the best marketer ever.” Talk about the challenges you faced and how you conquered them.

7. When I am invited to ask questions, I ask these questions. Remember to always have questions. You are there to assess the company and the role as much as they are there to assess you.

8. I reiterate my interest in the role. If I’m still excited about the role after our conversation, I make sure and let them know. I also tell them to feel free to reach out to me if they have any further questions.

What interview techniques have worked well for you? Tell us your story below!

 

 

 

 

Did you like this post? Share it with your friends!

Job Seekers: Don’t Underestimate the Phone Interview

It finally happened. An actual human being sent you an email about a job you applied for. They say the magic words—we want to learn more about you. Let’s schedule a call. In larger companies, this email may come from a recruiter or HR person, and the call is a prescreen for the hiring manager.  But sometimes, especially when you’re dealing with a start-up or a smaller company, the email comes from the hiring manager. Regardless of whether you’re speaking with someone in HR or the hiring manager themselves, it’s still an interview. Their first impression of you. You need to stand out from all the other candidates who’ve made it to the prescreen stage.

In my younger job seeker days, I didn’t prepare as well for phone interviews as I should have. My goal was to pay my rent, and I didn’t have a lot of experience under my belt, so I focused more on the quantity of jobs I applied to instead of taking my time to research each company and figure out if I’d be a good fit. I assumed that the HR person would fill me in on the nitty gritty details. After all, it was just a prescreen. They didn’t expect me to know everything about the company, right?

Yeah, don’t be like young me. Take the initial phone interview as seriously as you would a first in-person interview (but you can totally wear your pajamas). In fact, since they can’t see your body language and facial expressions, a phone interview is a unique beast. Sarcasm, for example, might not be perceived as such, and your enthusiasm might not come across as well.

So, how do you rock a phone interview? Here are 5 things I’ve done that helped me move on to the next stage:

1. I’m more selective about the roles I apply for. I get it. When you need a job, you need a job. And those applicant tracking systems seem like they take years from your life. You figure the more jobs you apply to, the better your odds of finding something quickly. Who has time for research? But this method can lead you to landing the wrong role and looking for another job much sooner than you’d like.

Read the job descriptions thoroughly and pay a visit to the company’s website. If they sell vacuum cleaners, and you have a vacuum cleaner phobia, you probably want to skip applying. It’s a waste of their time and yours. It’s also important to make sure you are passionate about the company’s mission or at least have an interest in the products or services they offer. Enthusiasm is a lot easier to demonstrate…when you actually have it.

2. I express why I’m interested from the start. I actually do this in my cover letter—mention why I’m specifically interested in the company I’m applying to and highlight any relevant background I have. But I make sure to reiterate this early on during the phone interview. Here’s an example:

Interviewer: Hi, Tara. Is now still a good time to chat?

Me: Definitely. I’m glad we have a chance to speak further.

Interviewer: Great! What do you know about us so far?

Me: Well, I know you save the lives of a lot of animals every year, and you’re struggling to reach a wider audience. That’s why I’m so excited about this opportunity. I’ve volunteered at shelters for years, and I’ve been a foster mom many times. Promoting animal welfare is important to me. There are so many stories to tell and get out there. I want to make sure you and the animals you rescue are heard.

When you’re passionate about the service or product an organization offers, people can hear it in your voice. You won’t have to fake excitement (which most interviewers can pick up on right away), and authenticity goes a long way.

3. I research what the company does and try and determine how I can help them. It’s never too soon to let a company know how you can help solve their problems. In fact, your cover letter is a great place to mention it. The phone interview might be shorter and less in-depth than a second or third interview—but it’s also 2017. They do expect that you’ve at least visited their website and have a basic idea of their mission and what they do. In the vast majority of my phone interviews, “what do you know about us?” is often one of the first questions they ask. Like I said, I got caught off guard by that question early in my career—and it was a cringe-worthy moment. You see, I tried to be all sly and go to their website while we were on the phone. Only I mistyped the web address and went to the wrong site (with an almost identical name). I bet you can guess how that went. Preparation, my friends. It really is a good thing.

4. I’m not shy about asking questions. Even if I’m talking to a recruiter, I prepare a list of questions. Usually a recruiter can’t answer technical questions about the role or go in-depth about what your day-to-day might look like, but they can answer more general questions, such as what the culture is like, company goals, and why the role is open. Having a few initial questions during your phone interview is a genuine way to show your enthusiasm and interest. It’s clear that you’re prepared, and you’re assessing them as much as they’re assessing you.

5. I reiterate my excitement about the role and ask about next steps before hanging up. If I’m still interested in the job after our conversation, I let them know before we say goodbye. And since it sucks to be left hanging, I also ask about possible next steps and what their timeline looks like. Usually they will say something to the effect of “We need to confer with the hiring manager, but you can expect to hear from us by the end of the week if we’re moving forward.” Fair enough. Granted, there can often be delays—so don’t get too discouraged if you don’t hear from them when you were supposed to. Delays in the hiring process are so very common.

You can’t control the outcome of any phone interview you have, no matter how much you prepare and dazzle them with your ideas. You can only control what you do. So, prepare as best you can for that first phone call and let the conversation take you from there. Sometimes I could tell a role wasn’t a good fit within the first couple minutes. And you know what? I was straight up about it. For example, if they brought up salary right away (some employers bring it up first thing), and it was a lower range than I could accept, I’d ask if they could come up to my range. Sometimes the conversation ended there. That’s cool – no hard feelings. Then there are the cases where you feel a connection immediately. It’s more of a conversation than an interview, you talk about your favorite moments from Buffy (this has happened to me a couple times), and the benefits are killer (come on, that always helps, right?)

At the end of the day, trust your gut and how you feel after hanging up. Is your stomach knotted up with anticipation and excitement or do you feel queasy? If it’s the former, I’m keeping my fingers crossed you’ll be invited to move on to the next step soon! Otherwise, keep applying and moving forward—you want to work for the employer who gets you and loves your ideas.

Did you like this post? Share it with your friends!

The Worst Types of Interviewers on Your Job Search: #2 The Egomaniac

A couple weeks ago we met The Downer and talked about ways to help determine if the role is as bad as the hiring manager makes it sound. Now, it’s time to meet The Egomaniac.

Have you ever had an interview that went like this?

Interviewer: Tell me about yourself!

Candidate: Sure. I’ve been a social media manager for the last five years, where I–

Interviewer: That’s great. I can read. But what have you done?

Candidate: I was just getting to that. When I started at my current employer, I developed a new social media marketing plan that increased engagement by 80% and–

Interviewer: 80%? Is that supposed to “wow” me? I’ve increased engagement rates by over 1000%. Engagement is just one piece of the puzzle, anyway. What about followers?

Candidate: We started at around five hundred and now we have almost nine thousand on Facebook. On Twitter–

Interviewer: Nine thousand? We’ve got almost forty thousand here.

Candidate: Well, you’re a much bigger brand that has been around awhile. We’re a start-up–

Interviewer: That’s my point. I’ve never heard of you. Your marketing plan must not be working that well

Candidate: Actually, if you look at the increase in followers in the last year–

Interviewer: See, if I was in your shoes, I’d be asking myself why I only have nine thousand followers. When I first started here, I doubled our followers in a month.

Candidate: That’s…very impressive.

Interviewer: It wasn’t easy. I was pulling seventy hour weeks, giving up my weekends. But that’s me. I don’t stop at good enough. I break records.

Candidate: Good for you!

Interviewer: Look, I’ve got more than two hundred applicants for this job. You’re my tenth interview today. This is a one-of-a-kind opportunity. I’ve turned around every company I’ve worked at–quadrupled their business. You will not find a better mentor. But I’ve gotta wonder–do you want this bad enough?

Candidate: Are you sure there’s enough room for me? Your ego is making it hard to breathe.

Don’t you wish you could say that last line? If your interviewer is frequently interrupting or talking over you and/or cutting down your achievements, while boasting about their own, chances are you’re dealing with what I like to call The Egomaniac. The interviewer might not be as over-the-top as the above example, but the impact is the same. You are being made to feel small. If this is your would-be supervisor, take heed. You’re getting a taste of what your daily life might feel like. Unfortunately, unless you enjoy working for an egomaniac, taking this job probably isn’t the best idea. But that doesn’t mean you have to let them get to you.

Here are ways I’ve dealt with an egomaniac in an interview, when they’ve tried to make me feel small:

  1. I don’t let them rile me up. I once had an interviewer attack my website and portfolio, piece by piece. In fact, it seemed like they’d called me in just for this purpose. I listened, mentally pasting a big, red clown nose on them while they spoke (I’m a designer, after all), and reminded myself that this wasn’t about me. Plenty of employers had complimented me on my portfolio, and I had the stats to back up the success of my work. After they were done, I remained calm and thanked them for the feedback. When they called for a second interview, I told them I wasn’t interested.
  2. If I’m on the fence (is it them or am I just having an insecure day?), I ask them what their expectations are – what do they want me to achieve within the first three months? If their expectations are unrealistic, I know this probably isn’t the right opportunity for me.
  3. I vent to trusted friends and family. Let’s face it. The interview process can be brutal, and some employers can treat you very poorly throughout the process, from ghosting you after an interview to giving you false hopes. It’s normal to feel frustrated and angry. Sometimes you just need to get it all out!
  4. Onward and upward! When I have an interview with someone who makes me feel small, I vent about it and then I move on. Life is too short to let someone like that take up any more of my time. I’ll save my energy for the hiring managers who do see what I can offer and understand the power of positive feedback and encouragement.

Have you ever had an interview like this? How did you respond? Feel free to share your story below!

Did you like this post? Share it with your friends!

The Worst Types of Interviewers on Your Job Search: #1 The Downer

I’ve had some incredible interviews, and I’ve also had some real doozies. Sometimes I think back and say, man, I wish I could’ve said… A bad interview can leave you feeling disappointed and frustrated. You might even blame yourself, wondering if you left the wrong impression. I’ve blurted things out that had me reaching for the invisible delete key. One time a hiring manager looked at me with a grin and said “You’re not a morning person, are you?” To which I’d answered, “No, not at all.” It was instinct. They’d been talking to me like we were old friends, and I’d let my guard down. They stopped grinning. At that moment, even though I’d tried to reassure them I could start at 8 instead of 9 (I’d done it for years), I could tell they’d made up their mind about me. In hindsight, the role wouldn’t have been a good fit for me. I do best with employers who are more about my results than what hours I come in, and I’m definitely more productive when I can start at 9.

But there are interviewers out there who just aren’t great at interviewing. Maybe they’re socially awkward or they’ve never interviewed anyone in their life. I can deal with that. But sometimes their behavior sends up a huge red flag, whether they are unprofessional or just a huge downer.

Have you ever had an interview that went like this?

Interviewer: Sorry for the mess. We don’t have much time to clean up around here.

Candidate: No worries. How’s your day going?

Interviewer: Well, I’ve got more projects than I can handle and my phone won’t stop ringing. My assistant just quit on me, so I have no help.

Candidate: Oh no. That sounds really stressful.

Interviewer: (sighs) It’s crazy, but that’s how it is around here. Don’t go looking for anyone to hold your hand. You’re not the type who needs your hand held, are you?

Candidate: No, I’m pretty used to teaching myself anything I don’t know. Plus, I prefer more autonomy.

Interviewer: (chuckles) Well, I didn’t say anything about autonomy. We’d like you to be a self-starter and figure things out, but any decisions need to be run by upper management. And they need a lot of convincing.

Candidate: Ah, ok. Good to know.

Interviewer: So, I was reading through your resume, and I’m wondering if this is the right fit for you. It seems like you have a big creative streak, and there isn’t a lot of room for creativity in this role.

Candidate: Can you be more specific?

Interviewer: We’re not like one of those fun, hip agencies with ping pong tables. We don’t come to work to play. It’s a tight ship around here and it’s a very high stress environment. Upper management wants things done a certain way and we have to stick to that.

Candidate: Got it. So, what would a typical day look like?

Interviewer: Chaotic. If you like to take breaks, it’s probably not the right environment for you.

Candidate: I see. Um… What are some things you really love about working here?

Interviewer: Uh… Hmm… Well… (eyes roll up toward the ceiling) Since we have too much to do, very little resources, and some very unrealistic expectations to manage, every day is a new challenge. There are some days my heart is beating out of my chest, you know?

Candidate: Huh. Let me rephrase that question a little. Why on earth should I work here?

Okay, maybe don’t say that (it’s so tempting, though, isn’t it?) I like to call this interviewer type The Downer. Instead of selling you on the role and the company, they seem to be saying—run and don’t look back! Even when pressed to say something positive about the company, they can only come up with more negatives. Is the employer really that awful to work for or is the interviewer just a “the glass is always half empty” kind of person?  Sometimes it’s hard to know! So, when I find myself in this situation, here are some ways I try to figure it out:

  1. I look up the company on Glassdoor and other employer review sites before I go on the interview. Are there several negative reviews that mirror what this hiring manager is saying?
  2. If there are other people in the interview, I ask them what they love about working there and what they wish they could improve. If their answers are similar, that tells me what I need to know.
  3. I ask for a tour and the chance to meet any potential coworkers. Body language and the general vibe of the office can tell me a lot.
  4. I reach out to my network to see if anyone knows anyone who has worked for the company. Then I write that person and ask for the scoop.

If The Downer is your would-be supervisor, you also have to ask yourself—can I work with someone who seems this unhappy, regardless of the reason? Never underestimate the importance of your relationship with your manager.

Have you ever had an interview like this? How did you respond? Feel free to share your story below!

Did you like this post? Share it with your friends!

10 Questions to Ask Before You Take That Job

Ever start a job and realize it’s not for you? You thought you were hired as a copywriter, but the only writing you’ve done so far is taking notes at meetings. Your coworker turns into a gremlin after lunch and throws peanuts at your head. Your manager, who vehemently denied being a micromanager during your interview, stares over your shoulder while you work and expects hourly check-ins. Oh, and that great office they told you about is actually a cubicle that smells like sweaty feet.

Okay, hopefully your experience wasn’t that bad. Still, you can’t help but feel deceived and resentful when this happens. It seems like they flat out lied to you about this job. In some cases, this might even be true. But maybe you didn’t ask the right questions.

With each interview, I understand more about what I want, what to look out for, and–most importantly–what to ask.

While I’m not an HR professional, I’ve been a job hunter more than a few times in the last decade, due to layoffs, the Great Recession, or just not being satisfied in my current role. A study done by the Bureau of Labor Statistics suggests that younger baby boomers had an average of 11.7 jobs by the time they turned 48. I suspect that number may be even higher for us Gen X’ers and millennials. In fact, according to LinkedIn, job-hopping has nearly doubled over the last twenty years.   

…according to LinkedIn, job-hopping has nearly doubled over the last twenty years.   

Given those stats, we should all be interview experts, right? I know I’ve had dozens of interviews this year alone—and I won’t even try to count how many I’ve had over the last decade. Every interview matters, thoughWith each interview, I understand more about what I want, what to look out for, and–most importantly–what to ask.

Here are 10 questions I ask in interviews to help me determine if an opportunity is right for me.

What might a typical day look like for me?

This innocuous question can give you a lot of valuable information. In my experience, job descriptions can be difficult to interpret. For example, they list graphic design as one of your main duties and you think—sweet, I get to design ads, brochures, and websites half the day. But their definition of graphic design is asking you to “pretty up” a Word document once a week.

Asking the hiring manager to describe your day will usually encourage them to go into more detail about your actual duties and the working environment. They may say, well, you come in at 8am and you answer emails, at 9am we have our daily catch up meeting, and at 10am you’ll be working on such and such. In which case, you have to ask yourself if such a structured environment will work for you. Or they may say—well, I don’t know. What do you think your day should look like? Then you have to decide if you’re comfortable with minimal or no direction. Either way, you should get a much better picture of what the job actually is and isn’t. If they are being vague or you still find yourself unsure – don’t be afraid to ask for further clarification.

What personality type and/or management style would work well for this role and your team?

I’m a huge fan of this question, because it helps me find out whether or not I’d be a good cultural fit. If they say they want the “life of the party”, for example, I know I probably won’t be a good fit. Feeling a connection with your potential manager and coworkers is a good sign, but it doesn’t mean that your working styles mesh. Make sure you’re considering all factors.

What is your management style and how do you prefer to communicate?

Your relationship with your manager can have a direct impact on your job satisfaction. A Gallup report in 2015 found that half the people they surveyed left their jobs due to their manager. So, it makes sense to find out if your communication styles mesh early on—preferably during the interview. Are you a self-starter who prefers autonomy? Then a manager who says they want daily status reports or involvement in every decision may not be the best fit for you. Likewise, if you love email and hate the phone and your manager hates email and loves the phone, you may be in for a challenge.

What is the culture like?

It’s always good to straight up ask about the culture, especially if you’re interviewing with more than one person. The answer isn’t just in what they say, it’s how they say it. If they say it’s the best culture ever, does their facial expression or tone match that sentiment? Are they avoiding eye contact or looking at each other knowingly? Is there a pattern to the answers? Are people struggling to come up with a description or something positive to say (not a good sign)? Keep your eyes open and trust your gut.

What does success in this role look like after three months? How about after a year?

Afraid they’ll have unrealistic expectations or you won’t be given clear goals? Then these are great questions to ask. When employers decide to hire for a role, they should have a clear need for that role—problems to solve and goals to achieve. Job security, people.

Are they expecting you to still be learning after three months or are they wanting the answer to the meaning of life? Can they articulate where they’d like the company to be after a year and where you’d fit into that? We all have different comfort levels and expectations, but your employer’s goals should mesh with your own career goals, and you should know from the very start what it is you are working to achieve.

What do you really love about working here and what would you like to improve?

This is one of my favorite questions to ask, because I find—more often than not—it catches my interviewers off guard and gets them off-script. You’ll be spending a lot of time with these people. This question takes the focus off you for a moment and allows your interviewers to show who they are and what they see as perks and challenges in their environment. Can you help them improve what isn’t working so well? Do you want to? Do their “loves” match what you love in an environment (you know what they say about great minds)?

This is also a great way to discover any hidden deal breakers. For example, maybe you’ve found you can’t concentrate in loud, hectic environments and you’re looking for a quieter, more low key environment. If one of your interviewers says there are more distractions than they’d like, you may want to ask them to elaborate.

What equipment is provided?

As someone who works in the creative field, a lack of resources has been a common theme. The computers, software, and equipment needed to produce quality videos, for example, doesn’t come cheap. Sometimes you have to work with the bare minimum and be creative and resourceful. Resourcefulness is actually a great skill to learn—it can help you as much as your employer.

But you also want to know if their expectations are realistic. Can you actually do your job with what they can provide and—if not—are they willing to give you what you need? If you’ve only used OSX and they’re a Windows-only office, are they willing to provide you with a Mac? If they’re not willing to work with you, chances are the role isn’t a good fit.

Can I see where I’d be working?

This is actually a really important question—one I didn’t think to ask for a long time. And there have definitely been a couple times where I wish I had! Don’t get me wrong. I’m not a diva. But I also know I don’t work well in small rooms, sitting nearly shoulder-to-shoulder with my coworkers. The constant noises and ongoing conversations distract me, and I start to feel rather claustrophobic. On the other hand, some people thrive in close-knit environments like that. Given you’ll be spending 8-10 hours of your day in this space, it’s important that the space works for you and allows you to be productive. If they aren’t willing to show you where you’d be working, that’s a huge red flag!

Is overtime expected? If so, how much and how often?

Are you looking for more work life balance? Then this is a very important question to ask. Sometimes the topic of overtime never comes up unless I ask about it. If they give a vague answer like “sometimes” or “once in awhile”, ask them what that means. For me, “once in awhile” means a few times a year. To them, it might mean once a week. Try and get an estimate of how many hours they expect per week. Is this a 40 hour per week job, in general, or is the expectation more like 50 hours a week?

Do you see room for growth in this position?

Unless this is your dream role, and you’re looking to do it for the rest of your career or you’re a newbie looking to gain some experience, you probably want the answer to be some form of “yes”. If their eyes seem to be searching the ceiling for an answer or they say something non-committal, like “it’s a possibility”, consider whether or not this is the best move for your career right now and how likely it is you’ll get bored after a year or two. The ideal answer here is one that includes specifics, like we’re planning on this Marketing Specialist role growing into a Marketing Director role within the next year. While nothing is ever set in stone, at least you know they’ve given your role some thought and have a plan for the future.

 

 

 

 

Did you like this post? Share it with your friends!