Job Search

4 failing job search attitudes of people working in small businesses

At a holiday party this past week, I tuned into an interesting career conversation from a person who works at a small business. Essentially, this person didn’t believe that they needed readiness to do a job search like bigger companies because only in bigger companies do they do mass layoffs.

This person is capable, competent — and naive. But getting past the beliefs to convince the person that they need to be ready to find the next job even though they feel secure in the current one is tough.

Let’s look at the beliefs stated by this person, working in a company that started 2009 with 29 employees.

I won’t get laid off because my impact on the customer is huge

In a smaller company, every employee’s interaction with an end customer is bound to be larger than someone working in a 50,000 employee company, no doubt. But just because there are more people interacting with the end customer doesn’t mean people won’t get laid off — financial impacts on businesses exist whether the company is large or small. And if the company’s customers no longer need the services or products of the company, there is no reason to have the person still there that used to interact with that customer.

I won’t get laid off because small companies don’t like laying people off

Sure, small companies don’t like laying people off — and, perhaps, even risk going longer to hold on to some employees. But large companies don’t like laying people off, even though the reporting of the layoffs make it sound like it is a standardized process with no feelings behind it.

But layoffs are huge distractions to companies and impact the morale of the remaining employees. No one likes to lay off people — but that doesn’t mean companies of any size won’t.

I don’t need a resume — I’m not looking for a job

When you have a belief that you won’t get laid off and you are not looking for a job, it is somewhat natural to not pay attention to job search essentials.

This belief, one of not needing a resume or thinking that when you do it will simply create itself, is simply disaster for the job seeker. Not in just this job market either. The world has changed and people need to constantly update their accomplishments so they are ready for the next job search.

When asked “what if you got laid off,” the answer was that this person would just create their resume, not realizing how much resumes have changed in the last five years and how much performance information needs getting baked into the resume.

I don’t need to document my results — I can get references from my customers

This person produces good stuff on the job — but you would never know it based on documentation. Without the documentation, it will be difficult to write a resume to include the numbers needed to show performance.

When pressed about how to get the documentation needed if this person was laid off, the answer was that it wasn’t needed — this person will just get references from customers. Casting your fate to the wind is usually not a good idea, but this is simply abdicating control and influence over a job search, if not career.

Customer references are great if you can get them — but the references fade quickly when looking for results from a year ago. Or a month ago if your customer contact leaves their company and you haven’t followed through with getting and keeping contact information.

These attitudes are prevalent; not just in small businesses

Certainly, employees today are much more aware of the fragility of the job market. But, as the saying “it’s a recession when someone else loses their job and a depression when you lose yours” goes, the awareness has not translated into action.

Readiness in looking for the next job needs to happen right now. Yet, despite the overwhelming evidence of the past year, people are complacent right up until they get laid off.

This person’s wife isn’t worried about her husband getting laid off either. She’s worried that at the beginning of 2009, the small company had 29 employees. And today the same company has 18 employees. A layoff? Not a problem. The company going out of business? Yeah, that might happen, but even that isn’t motivating enough to get ready to do a job search.

How would you try and convince this person to take action to get ready to look for the next job?

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Job Search

How To Answer The “Why Do You Want To Work For Our Company?” Interview Question

When preparing for an interview in this job market, it is surprising to find that even the simplest questions can seem overwhelming. When a potential employer asks you why you want to work at their company, it can almost seem like a trick question. This is actually a very common job interview question, which is why it is helpful to always be prepared to stay on your toes during the interview process.

If you are interviewing for a new job, then you do need to expect to be asked why you would like to work for the company. This is actually a very revealing question, and the employer is hoping to find out if you know anything at all about the company that you are interviewing with. This question will also reveal if you really want to work for that company, and if you would fit in with the company if you were to work there. This is a standard and recommended interview question, so be prepared for it to be asked of you more often than not.

Research first

Start out by doing your research about the company that you are interviewing with. You don’t necessarily need to sound as if you have memorized information, but the Internet is a wonderful tool to give you background information about your future employer. You may have interviewed with many similar companies, especially in this job market, so before your interview, prepare yourself with specific facts about this potential employer.

The best way to answer this question about why you would like to work for this company is to include two or three things that you like or appreciate about the said company. These should be things that are unique to the company, such as what sets them apart from their competitors. Obviously, if you are interviewing in a specific department, like accounting or sales, then it is helpful to include detailed information about the department that you are interviewing for.

Avoid the tactless answer

Avoid a tactless answer that may make you sound insincere. Meaning, don’t simply answer this question by telling the company that you want to make more money or have health benefits. This has absolutely nothing to do with your job position, and the company wants to hear that you are specifically interested in them and not the benefits that they could offer you.

Give your reasons — and match your fit with the company

Also, take this question as an opportunity to turn it back onto yourself. When your future employer asks you why you want to work for their company, begin by telling them several positive things about their company, and then turn it back around onto yourself to conclude with how you would be a good fit for the company. You don’t simply want to answer this question by sounding like you have memorized the company’s brochure, and you want to conclude the question by highlighting how your strengths would be an asset to the company.

For instance, if one of the main things that you like about this company is their extensive training program for new employees, then turn that around to also let them know that you take pride in training new employees and would love to be a trainer in the program someday.

Last of all, don’t make the mistake of making up anything about the company or talking about something that you have not completely researched. Be prepared for the employer to want to discuss your answer with you, and don’t just answer the question with something that you have read briefly about the company online. This is your opportunity to shine!

Helping me during my move is this guest post from…

Chuggin McCoffee is a coffee fanatic that has spent the entirety of his career cultivating and studying all of the best uses and brewing styles for optimal coffee and espresso flavor. His specialty site for all coffee needs, supplies, and Bunn Filters can be found at www.thecoffeebump.com.

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The Interview
Job Search

The seven biggest interview mistakes

There are lots of articles out there about mistakes that are made during interviews that prevent candidates from showing their worth. This article isn’t about “dressing right” or “showing up late” — common sense stuff — but about the big mistakes people make that loses the job offer.

Let’s take a look.

1. Failure to research the company

You might think you know a great deal about the company you are interviewing with. Bank of America, after all, is a bank and does what banks do. And General Motors makes cars. So you think you know the company. That’s not the kind of research I’m talking about here.

Instead, you need to research how the department you are interviewing for fits into the company or division. You need to research how your team contributes to the rest of the company.

Why so specific? Because if you do the research, you will be able to ask credible questions about the position and show that you have a bigger picture about the work that is directly tied to the position. Plus, if you are asked a question you don’t quite understand, you will have better context about the question from your research on the department so you can ask better clarifying questions.

2. Failure to research the hiring manager

It is becoming a common practice to search you out on the Internet to see what gets returned. Why shouldn’t you be doing the exact same thing with the hiring manager?

The point on researching the manager is not so much to ask about what you found as research, but, instead, to enable you to ask good questions about the manager’s management style. Knowing the manager from a social media standpoint helps you frame the answers to your interview questions in a way that shows better fit for the job than other candidates.

Just remember: make sure you get the right manager in your research. Spell my first name incorrectly and you’ll think I’m a business strategy consultant — in Zurich. I’m not.

3. Failure to practice answering interview questions

Athletes practice to hone their skills. Speakers practice their speeches before speaking. Yet, in one of the most important events in our business life, we casually walk into an interview without practicing our answers to obvious interview questions (“What’s your greatest weakness?”).

And while an interview, at its best, is like a good business conversation, the truth of the matter is that you need to weave your business results into the answers you give. Putting in results in an answer isn’t natural both because it requires numbers and it sounds like bragging. You overcome this with practice so all of it becomes a natural response to interview questions.

4. Failure to create success stories

Hiring managers will remember answers to interview questions — but everyone remembers stories better. After interviewing twenty candidates for a position, wouldn’t you want your success story to be the one answer the hiring manager remembers best?

Powerful stories about how you brought business results as an answer to an interview question will show best how you are differentiated from all the other candidates doing the interview.

5. Failure by criticizing management

Paradoxically, the number one reason a person leaves their job is because of the manager. Including managers. But, in an interview, criticizing management is the kiss of death to getting a job. There is simply no percentage in criticizing your past managers to getting another job — because the hiring manager isn’t looking for criticism, but people to help achieve the business goals.

I listened, in vain, to a former co-worker of mine while I interviewed her for a job at my new company. Mostly what she did during the interview was talk about the poor management practices of where she was still working. While I agreed the company had poor management practices, she thought because she knew me it would provide reasons for getting the job. But, I was looking for how she could help me and my team meet our business goals. She never had a chance compared to others who were showing how they reached business goals at their current job.

6. Failure to remember there are only three answers to interview questions

Every interview will throw you a loop on some questions. Then, we panic. It wasn’t a question that I practiced answers to before the interview. It wasn’t mentioned in the job description. I didn’t find it in my research.

Then we blow the answer to the interview question by doing all those no-no’s other pundits write about like taking forever to answer a question.

Instead, remember there are only three answers to interview questions: can you do the work, are you motivated to do the work, and will you fit into the team?

Every question, in one way or another, comes down to these three. So if you are asked a question that is throwing you for a loop, you can ask a clarifying question to determine if the hiring manager is looking for something about your job skills, your motivation, or how you will fit into the team. No panic, just a clarifying question to help you formulate your answer.

7. Failure to follow-up after the interview

Follow-up is two-fold. First, you write a thank you e-mail to the person doing the interviewing. And if it is “panel” interview, a thank you to every person on the panel.

Not writing a thank you note to the people interviewing you is now so common that the failure to do so stands out as a person not motivated enough about the job to even write a simple thank you note. It may not cost you the job, but it will hurt your chances.

So make sure you get e-mail addresses from the people interviewing you or their business card (you have yours, don’t you?) so you can follow-up appropriately.

Second, you need to set a calendar date to follow-up on the interview. Hiring managers rarely interview everyone in a single day and they have to go through some process to hiring anyone. Consequently, calling the next day for a status on the job doesn’t make sense.

Your job, with the hiring manager during the interview, is to determine the right time to do a follow-up inquiry about the job and the right person for the inquiry.

Then, when you do follow-up, you can reference back the mutual decision for the follow-up. That helps you a couple of ways: you collaborated with the manager about the timing so it reminds the hiring manager that you both agreed to the follow-up. Plus, you really followed through and didn’t just talk about following up.

The interview is about getting a job offer

Job candidates sometimes forget the objective of the interview is getting the job offer. Everything in the entire interview process is getting to the point where you are presented an offer. There are successes along the way, of course, like getting the phone interview from your resume. Getting the face-to-face interview. Getting the second interview.

All good things to happen. But none of it matters until you get the job offer. Avoid these seven mistakes and you will put yourself in the Cubicle Warrior position to do just that.

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Job Search

Fail: I will leave my job when the economy improves

Deloitte is out with a new survey talking about the willingness of people across the generations to leave their jobs for new ones at different companies. They note:

“that only about 37 percent of Gen Xers said they planned to stay in their current jobs after the recession ends, compared with 44 percent of Gen Yers, 50 percent of baby boomers and 52 percent of senior citizen workers who said the same.”

While I don’t have arguments about the statistics, I’d contend that Cubicle Warriors aren’t waiting for the recession to end to seek work that matches their next job. Sure, it may take longer — but that is still less time than “waiting for the economy to improve.”

Indeed, “waiting until the economy improves” fails on many levels:

When will the economy improve?

When people say that they are waiting until the recession is over until looking for a job, they never define for themselves when the recession is “over.” Economists are arguing that the recession is over right now, so how come these people are not looking for jobs right now?

Or, perhaps because the unemployment rate is over 10%, they believe there are no jobs out there so they will wait until the unemployment rate gets lower before looking. But, how much lower? When it hits 8%? 6.5%? 4%?

When people tell you they are “waiting for the recession to be over” or “waiting until the economy improves,” it just means they haven’t seriously thought about what’s next and going after it.

Kicking the can down the road and not making decisions about your career isn’t what Cubicle Warriors do. They are constantly evaluating their position and acting on what’s next.

If you wait, you miss opportunities

Waiting until the economy improves before looking for a job simply means you are allowing yourself to be trapped in the job you have.

The Deloitte survey notes that an “inability to be promoted” is one of the reasons people will leave their jobs — but after the recession is over. Well, what if you were looking for a job that was a promotion right now? You might actually find a position that’s a promotion and bypass being trapped in your job until some undefined time when things are “better.”

And if you complain about pay, are you looking for a job that pays better?

If you wait, your job skills become stale — and so do your results

It’s easy to fall into the “waiting until the economy improves” trap — and while you wait, your job skills deteriorate and your results don’t measure up. After all, you are “waiting.”

Hiring managers want to hire people who are looking to expand their job skills, motivated to do the work and have impressive results from their work. If your results are dropping because you are “waiting” until the economy gets better, you’ll find that you won’t have the results you need when you start looking.

Cubicle Warriors know when positions end

Every position makes sense to a person for a limited period of time. After that, the risk of poor results — or the position being eliminated — goes up. The Cubicle Warrior consistently evaluates when the position will end and then starts looking for different work well in front of that time to get the new position.

Yes, jobs are hard to find right now. But abdicating the control you have to find new work by “waiting for the economy to improve” is a recipe for career disaster.

Do you need a different job? Then start looking now. Waiting until the economy improves is putting off a decision and an action plan that needs doing now.

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Job Search

How to personalize your job search

The job search is moving from art form to science. With the changes in the job market, plus how companies are posting for positions, what you did in 2001 to find a job won’t work in 2010. Or, at least, not work as well.

Cubicle Warriors know that when you have six people competing for every available position, the beginning of an inefficient job search begins when you start looking for a job without having a job search strategy for you. In the past, it was simple — check the newspaper, check a big job board, get the job.

That was then. This is now and the world changed.

Your job search strategy needs to focus on three different areas that will personalize your job search:

Job boards still work — if you use the right ones

If you want to get lost in Monster, be my guest. Far better to use job boards that are targeted to the types of jobs that you have skills and experience that you can use to focus your search.

While I don’t know the exact number, it is safe to say that many job postings on job boards are being used to see what type of talent responds to the posting with no job opening in sight. Companies and their recruiters do this to find talent, judge the level of competition for the job, to see the competitive salary requirements (read: lower) and to see what competitors employees might be looking for a change.

But you can still create employer and recruiter interest in your skills and work through job boards and using ones focused on your career is the better way to use them.

Plus, if your targeted searches on the job boards brings up hundreds of good jobs, it tells you one thing. If your targeted searches used to bring up hundreds of job openings and they now bring up one, that tells you something else.

And don’t overlook directly going to company web sites to see job openings and register with their site. It makes sense that companies will post their jobs there first since it costs them little and they can see the unfiltered responses for their effort. This is especially true of medium to small companies who want to minimize cash outlays for job boards.

Social networks are in the mix

Social networks are increasingly good ways to to know about and find potential openings. LinkedIn is probably the best known for jobs and they have their job postings.

But another way of using LinkedIn is targeting one of your linked associate’s connections as a gateway to a company. For example, if there is an opening at XYZ company, you can search your linked associates to see if they have any connections through LinkedIn with people that work for that company. A competent introduction is done and now you are talking to a real live person instead of trying to beat a computer at accepting your resume for a position you are qualified to do.

Twitter is trying to be a gateway into the job market as well. Searching for jobs or following recruiters in your area of expertise can provide leads that you might not see through the traditional job boards. And, through examining the posts on your type of job, you will get a sense of the market.

Now companies are starting to place positions on their own Fan pages on Facebook. This is yet another way of avoiding the fees for different job boards, advertising in other media or even using recruiters to fill positions. Although, in my opinion, a good recruiter is a great asset for a company to use to find good people for job openings.

And if you don’t know how to use these social media tips or wonder what all the fuss is about, it’s not 2001 anymore. Time to learn.

Networking still rocks

A good friend of mine just ended an eight-day job search by accepting an offer that was known to him by one of his former co-workers. The candidate walked into the door with a recommendation from that former co-worker as well.

Cubicle Warriors know they get an unfair advantage going into job interviews when the job opening is unadvertised and accompanied by a recommendation from someone in their network. Wouldn’t you like to have that advantage?

The key question is how to utilize your network so that you can help people as well as your network helping you. There are tools that can help you manage your network (and I don’t mean your LinkedIn network or your Facebook or your Twitter network — but your network…).

My favorite tool is Jibber Jobber. It is a tool that not only helps you do a job search, but also helps you manage your career. Networking and managing your network is part of this comprehensive tool. Remember, our job environment is one where people need to know when they think their job will end and will continuously need to know of open positions in their field. Jibber Jobber is a great tool to do just that.

Another good tool is UpMo, which stands for upward mobility. Basically, this tool is used to help you identify your network and then looks at your career goals. Based on how you do your work, UpMo then provides you a networking pattern that can be used to consistently communicate with your network and help you reach networking goals.

The point here is that ad hoc networking doesn’t cut it anymore. Cubicle Warriors know that constantly building, maintaining and communicating with their business network is one area where they have control over their career. Having a robust business network gets them into the know about positions, jobs and opportunities faster than those who simply think networking is where you hand out your business card at a meeting somewhere.

Using these networking tools gives Cubicle Warriors a big advantage over others who don’t.

You can’t job search like it was 2001 anymore

If you want to inefficiently use your time to find a job and have poor results, you can do what you did in 2001. People focused on their careers adapt to the changes in the job market as well as embrace the tools that support the job search.

Are you still doing a job search like it was 2001? Or have you ramped up your game so that you are ready for 2010?

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Job Search

Why you are not ready to find a new job even when you say you are

Most people think that if the unthinkable happens — they get laid off or their company goes belly up — that they are immediately ready to look for another job. I know this because Robert Half published a survey that asked — and 82% of the respondents said they were ready right now.

Next, they asked this question: “When did you last update your resume?”

That’s when things got interesting:

…if they lost their jobs tomorrow, only 20 percent had updated their resumes in the last three months. Forty-four percent hadn’t revised their resumes in more than a year.

Ready to look for your next job — even in your own company? Not without a current resume.

The killer quote, spot on, is this one:

“Workers who are prepared in the event of a sudden job loss also are ready when new employment opportunities arise, including those within their own companies,” said Reesa Staten, senior vice president and director of workplace research for Robert Half International. “A current resume is an essential career tool — the longer it remains untouched, the harder it is to update, since specific achievements are not always easy to recall.

How do Cubicle Warriors beat out their coworkers on the resume front?

You need to know what you want in a job so you can put it on a resume

This is totally obvious, right? But many people are so into the weeds from their current position — or trapped — that they really haven’t thought through what type of work they like, the type of management that works best for their style of work and what kind of team they’d like to work with to produce their best work.

Once you have sat down and worked through your ideal working environment, you can focus your resume on showing your accomplishments in the areas of work you like best.

You need to track your accomplishments

I was asked for some resume advice this week and noted that this person needed to put the results of their work on the resume so recruiters and hiring managers would see their success.

And then came the story of throwing out all of the past performance reviews (“I thought I’d never need them…”) and all of the reports that showed the metrics necessary to show accomplishments.

Cubicle Warriors know their accomplishments are all that separate the great employee from the average and the good job candidate from the great job candidate. Tracking helps you write your performance review, too.

Review your job and resume once a month

Time flies. And conditions change. Your job that looked so safe last month all of a sudden looks like a risky proposition. I worked for the largest savings and loan in the country — what could go wrong? And then Washington Mutual went belly up…

Plus, that fabulous project you worked that provided so much growth in your old position no longer matters much when companies are desperately trying to cut costs. Yet, the resume shows the great growth project and casually gets set aside because what is important now is not what was important then.

Reviewing your work and resume monthly with a critical eye on conditions is almost the only way to ensure your resume is up to date.

Move your accomplishments off of company systems

When I was laid off from Washington Mutual, I walked out of my manager’s office, turned in my laptop, Blackberry, building pass and was out the door in fifteen minutes (my rule: one box, ten minutes and I can be gone — they took longer getting my company assets back!). Not that I was some sort of threat by staying; management simply decided all the people laid off were done being in the offices that day.

Now, think about that. If I had the current version of my resume only on my company laptop, I no longer have it. If my performance reviews were sitting in my desk drawer, I’d no longer have access to them. If all the reporting about my performance and work were sitting on corporate servers, I’d no longer have access to them.

Your career is far more important to you than anyone else. So why would you store all of your career information on corporate premises when a company can lay you off in a cold-blooded minute?

I’m not suggesting you break Code of Conduct stuff; but you have a responsibility to be responsible for having the information that supports you getting your next job. Your company won’t care. You need to.

Are you ready to find your next job? Really?

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Job Search

4 job description ingredients candidates would love

True story: I asked an exceptionally capable candidate what jobs she applies for based on the job descriptions she sees on career sites, including company career sites. Answer: any that are remotely close to the job skills our exceptionally good candidate has.

You might think that’s a terrible thing to do, but when you ask the exceptional candidate why, you get this: “Companies put out the worst job descriptions. The work you end up doing doesn’t even match the job description. So you apply and see if they are interested, qualified or not.”

And it’s true. You get the cookie-cutter job description created from standards that attempt to match the marketplace and then wonder why you get cookie-cutter resumes in return. You list 100 job skills needed to do one job and wonder why no one has 100 matching job skills when your current employees don’t have the 100 job skills either. You want people to know standard office software and then wonder why they can’t create a spreadsheet that has formulas referenced to a worksheet three levels over.

We get thousands of resumes for our cookie-cutter job description instead of fabulous candidates.  To get fabulous candidates, what we need are four job description ingredients that candidates — and hiring managers — would love.

1. The job description specifies the goals the candidate will work on

What’s going to happen once an employee is hired? The manager is going to sit down with our new hire and give them goals to achieve. Goals that are part of the new hire’s performance review.

So why not put the goals to achieve right in the job description? You can mask the proprietary information, of course, but what’s wrong with saying a goal in a job description is to reduce the budget by 5%? Or increase sales by 3%? Or create a dynamic territorial sales force that will increase market share 1%?

Goals are what fire people up about their work. They see the goal and can specifically address how their job skills have done the work in the past and share their ideas about how to reach the goal.

2. The job description describes critical skills needed — and how they are used on the job

It’s one thing to say you need to know WordPress (the software on this site) in a job description. It’s completely different to say you need to administer WordPress so as to do upgrades to the software, manage plugins, update plugins, work with themes to best present information, and know how to use the administration panel.

Electrons are cheap. There is no reason to not tie the critical skill to how the skill will be used on the job.

3. The job description describes the “typical” day for the candidate

You might think there isn’t a “typical” day, but, if that’s the case, you really haven’t defined the job very well. There should be a core level of work output done during the day or a day during the week so that the candidate can determine the fit to the work.

When you describe the typical day, you not only get the job skills in play, but also the social aspects of a job that are critical to knowing how a candidate will fit in with the team and the manager’s style.

This needs to be specific — not “work in a challenging environment that requires attention to detail.” Bleh.

How about “the candidate will compile four daily operational reports that are produced for the department. The operational reports drive how the department is managed so they need to be produced despite setbacks in getting data from systems that sometimes have technical difficulties.” Now that’s something you can talk about in a cover letter or an interview.

4. The job description describes the culture of the team

This is not “working in a fast-paced environment.” Seriously, what environment isn’t fast-paced?

Instead, you want candidates that will compliment your team to make it better. You want candidates that will understand and thrive within the style of management the department uses. You want a person that “works well on their own accomplishing their goals without significant collaboration with the team.”

Or, you want a person that “works well in an environment where 50% of the time is spent in meetings making decisions that will then get carried out by the team members. Collaborative confrontation is needed to clarify the work duties and tasks to get done.”

You can have excellent cover letters and interviews about fitting in with the team if this was in the job description.

There are only 3 answers to interview questions – use the job description to find them

I’ve often noted that there are only three questions asked in an interview. The first question is “can the person do the work?” If the job description really described the goals the candidate will need to achieve and the critical job skills with how they are used on the job, you’d get better descriptions from candidates answering how they can do the work.

The second question “is the person motivated to do the work?” If the job description described the “typical” day for the job and the circumstances that impact the typical day, you’d get better answers on the motivation for doing the job.

The third question is “will this person fit into the team, including the management style?” If the job description described the culture of the team and the manager’s style, you’d get better answers.

If companies are serious about getting the best people for the job, we could start with job descriptions that are significantly different than the standardized, cookie-cutter, “work in a fast-paced environment” we have right now.

What else would you as a candidate love to see in a job description?

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Job Search

Interview Question: Tell me about yourself

It isn’t used as much, but the dreaded “tell me about yourself” interview question is still out there. The question is designed to give you an open-ended question (one with no “right” answer) so as to determine how you will do on the job.

In my opinion, it’s a cheap question designed to ask something the hiring manager isn’t willing to ask. But it is an interview, so we deal.

What is your mantra?

The first part of answering this question is knowing your “mantra.” Your mantra is the short sentence about what you bring to a job.

For example, I have two mantras. The first is “Rubber Meets Cloud.” I’m the person that looks at theory and knows how to implement it. The second mantra is “I take chaos, use creativity, and create structure.” This is taking a fluid situation, understanding it and then using creativity to find the best solution to the issue.

Once you can describe your mantra, you are in a position to answer this question.

How does your mantra fit the job description?

Without much to go on, the best information about the job is in the usually poor job description. But, it’s what we’ve got to work with, so that’s what we use.

What you want to do next is figure out how your mantra fits with the job description in the best fit possible. Is this a situation where you have a new process, don’t know how it will work and want someone to deal with ambiguity? I’ll take the chaos, use creativity and create some structure.

Is this a new strategy? What I do is take strategy and turn it into action steps that result in an excellent implementation. Yes, rubber meets cloud.

So take your mantra — your central value you bring to a job — and apply it to the job description.

Show your mantra delivers results

The final step is to show that what you do delivers results, especially in relation to the job description. It is important to tie all of this to results — because the hiring manager wants to hear results even though the question is simply to tell you about yourself. Right.

“What I bring to a job is what I call the “rubber meeting the cloud.” I take the theoretical — like the new strategy that is described in the job description — and break that strategy down into action steps that each of us can do to get the strategy done. When I did this for a new direction in running the operations of a division of a Fortune 100 company, I was able to implement the software, processes, and business methods of the strategy on time and on budget. That’s how I help companies reach their goals.”

It’s not talking about my family, my wife, my hobbies, my management philosophies or what I think about office politics. Instead, it is a mantra married to a job description that describes the results I can bring to a company.

In the corporate world, that’s “tell me about yourself.”

What’s your answer to “tell me about yourself?”

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Job Search

3 Killer Interview Questions to Evaluate Your Manager

The biggest indicator of success in the job is the relationship that you have with your manager (even if you are a manager…). The better the relationship with the manager, the more likely you will like your job. As well, your relationship with your new team is critical to your success in the new job. Groove with the team and support is yours.

So part of what a Cubicle Warrior does during an interview is evaluate the manager and team to determine if the relationship is the right fit. You don’t get a lot of time in the interview to ask questions, so your questions need to give you the best ability to analyze your potential manager. Here are three killer questions that do just that.

Interview Question One: Why do you believe your team is best prepared to meet your goals?

This question opens up two areas of discussion. The first is how the manager has prepared the team to meet the goals of the department. The second is the manager’s view of how the team is organized, the skills they bring to the department, and how they work together.

All of these areas give you great insight on the manager’s view of the job and the manager’s role in preparing the team to meet goals. This would be the same role the manager would have in supporting you on the team.

Interview Question Two: What are the biggest challenges facing the people you manage and why are they challenging?

Rather than asking something about the goals of the department that can simply be stated and provide no insight, ask about the challenges facing the group. The challenges facing the department often are not about the goals, but something else that is preventing the department from reaching their goals.

As well, the challenges, in corporate speak, are problems to solve. Since you want to show how you solve problems, this question also allows you to show how you have solved the exact problems the manager is facing.

Interview Question Three: What would you say are the two biggest strengths you bring to your management team?

The manager you will work for is also part of a team of managers. Your potential manager’s peers are also using their people to reach their goals. Managers help each other just as your coworkers help you.

This question gives you insight in how the manager sees him or herself contributing to the manager’s team. It will bring out what the manager thinks are the two biggest strengths and those two tend to be the same strengths the manager brings to your potential team.

All three of these questions give your potential manager an open-ended question to answer that can go in many different directions. What you are trying to determine is if your best way of working is supported by the manager and team dynamics.

If the manager provides the support that best helps you perform well, then there is a good chance of success. If not, it may still make sense to take the job, but success will be more difficult to achieve.

What other great questions have you asked in interviews to evaluate your potential manager?

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Job Interview
Job Search

Your job interview is not about job skills

Do you think the most important part of the job interview with the hiring manager is your job skills? You might think so since so many managers spend so much time on your job skills to their peril. Instead, let’s look at the real purpose of each of the stages of the job hiring process.

The purpose of a resume is to get an interview. Nothing else really matters about the resume save its success in getting interviews. What do our resumes speak to? The job skills we have and the results we have achieved with them.

The purpose of a phone interview is also about your job skills and your results. Someone, before sending you off to a hiring manager, is determining if you can do the job through your skills and experiences. But the purpose of a phone interview is to get a job interview with a hiring manager and the people supporting the hiring manager’s decision.

When you get to the hiring manager, your job skills matter, but not as much as you might think — you would not be doing the interview if your resume didn’t have the requisite job skills needed for the job nor would you have gotten past the phone interview. The purpose in the hiring manager interview is to determine your fit with the group so you can get a job offer.

But it is the big interview. Don’t job skills count?

So what is the hiring manager interview all about? Your motivation for doing the job and determining how well you will fit with the manager’s style and team.

Alison Green notes in How Employers Choose From Among Many Great Candidates that the choices have virtually nothing to do with job skills — that’s assumed — and all about “get(ting) along with the manager” or the “fit with the company’s culture” or the candidates “want(ing) this particular job.”

And since I like wine — and jobs, comparing the impressions you leave behind after an interview with tasting wine is a sure-fire way to get my attention. In Job Interviews: 10 Impressions You Leave Behind After Your Job Interview talks all about the energy you had during the interview, the sense of who you are, your flexibility and others — none of which have anything to do with your job skills.

Can I work with you? Do I WANT to work with you?

Even though job skills is an important part of the job search and job interview equation, business is a social environment. Often an environment that has great pressure, short time frames, and seemingly impossible tasks. Consequently, it is important to feel comfortable with the people you work with because there will be lots of times when the going gets tough.

It is important to know if the group you will be working with is right for your best working environment. You need to be just as comfortable working with them as they do working with you. You need to know their motivations for doing the work as well as figuring out if you can work with them or you will drive yourself crazy if you get the job.

After the interview, it isn’t about the job skills. It’s about wanting to work with you and you wanting to work with them.

What questions do you ask to determine if your potential employer is right for you?

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Job Search

Three reasons to practice for your interview questions

Most pundits, including me, will tell you that you need to practice for your interviews before going on them. Even if you have gone on several interviews and think you have all the interview questions down cold, you should still practice.

There are three good reasons to practice for your interview questions.

Practice gives you confidence

No matter how often you’ve done interviews, nor how high up the corporate food chain you go, interviews are different then meetings, conferences, or networking events. Interviews make you nervous. And nervousness comes across badly in interviews even though it is completely understood by the person doing the interview.

Practice, on the other hand, ensures 80% of your answers are completely natural (I made that number up, but you get the idea). The other 20% is about making sure the answer fits the current position and specific wording of the question.

You should know your job skills, motivations and how you best work. By practicing questions in those areas, you will confidently get your point across without thinking too much so you can concentrate on the nuances of the question.

Practice helps you tell your interview stories

Interview questions need strong interview stories to help the hiring manager really hear your strengths. Subscribers to the free Cube Rules News found out why these powerful interview stories make a difference.

In a choice between simple answers to interview questions and answers demonstrated through powerful stories, people who tell the powerful stories will draw the attention of the hiring manager.

Practice prepares you for the unique components of this position

Going through the job description is often boring — and boilerplate. Yet, many job descriptions have one or two lines in them that are not standard. Plus, they aren’t covered by your standard interview questions.

Going through the job description and identifying more unique requirements gives you the opportunity to build answers to the interview questions — something your competition probably won’t do.

Practice won’t make you perfect

Practice, as all athletes know, is not the same as a game situation. But practice is done so that when the game starts you can think about the game, not the plays. It’s the same with interview questions — practice allows you to focus on the hiring manager and the questions, not trying to figure out a good answer from the great number of possibilities from your work.

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Job Search

How Job Descriptions Prepare You for Interview Questions

To be clear: most job descriptions suck. They are standardized, boilerplate, Corporate Speak documents that rarely describe the actual work to do on the job.

But job descriptions are often all we have to help us figure out what the job is about and how we relate to the job. How should we use the job description to help prepare for your interview questions?

Categorize the requirements into skills and fit with the team

Remember, all interview questions have three answers: I can do the job, I want to do the job, and I can fit in with my manager and team. Just those three.

The motivation for wanting the job comes from you, but the job description can help us determine the job skills the hiring manager is looking to acquire and some clues for fitting in with the team.

Match work performance with job skills

For each of the job skills, pull from your work performance an example of how your work demonstrated the job skill. The best answers are ones contained in powerful interview stories that show your work, how you overcame obstacles and produced verifiable results to the department or business.

You probably won’t have every job skill listed; especially true today where every employer wants a PhD in thinking and experience in every job on the planet for an entry level position… But this fact also gives you clues to the work. The list of job skills tells you how complicated the job is — or if having every job skill represented means the manager has no clear direction for how to do the work. Honing your interview questions of the manager in this area is needed.

If you don’t have every job skill on the job description and you get the interview, you’ll need to determine from your interview questions how important the skill is to have for your success. Or determine how to get the job skill so you can add it to your portfolio.

Will you fit in?

The job description usually includes information about the company, department, or team environment. Don’t you love all the “work in a fast-paced environment” requirements out there?

In preparing answers to interview questions about how you would fit in with the group, this company, department and team environment information is where you start.

You have two tasks here. First, you need to prepare answers to how your work and personality fit into the environments described. How do you work in a fast-paced environment? How do you tell that to a hiring manager?

Secondly, if the environment sounds like standard, Corporate Speak “plays well in the sandbox” talk, you’ll have to develop some interview questions of your own to ensure the corporate culture will fit your best way of completing your work. If you want heads-down time to complete tasks and the corporate culture is all about 1000 meetings a day, your chances of success in the new job diminish. If the job description sounds bland, you’ll need to ask.

And, of course, you’ve already figured out the best working environment for you…right?

Preparing for the interview by consciously going through the job description won’t give you all the answers since so many job descriptions are poor representations of the job. But you’ll be far ahead of your competitors by preparing to answer interview questions from the job description.

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Job Search

Interview Question: Where do you see yourself five years from now?

Don’t you just love this interview question? All I have to do is consider what I was doing five years ago. Then look at what I am doing today. Then laugh at the thought that somehow this is where I would have seen myself five years ago. Do that right now. If five years ago someone would have told you that today you were doing x, y, and z, would you have believed them?

On the face of it, this question is answered with: I have no clue.

But interview questions need answering

OK, so you probably won’t get the job if you answer the interview question with “I have no clue” even if it’s accurate. I get that. So lets look at the question a little more closely.

Remember, all interview questions have only three answers: you can do the job, you are motivated to do the job, and you will fit in with the manager and team. Just those three.

The “where do you see yourself five years from now?” question goes to what motivates you in your work? By thinking through this, you can show you mesh with the job at hand and show how you will continue to do good work in the future.

Of our three answers, you need to point your response to how you are motivated to do the work.

Answer the interview question with the framework you want from the job

Think about how President Obama answers these questions. He always answers questions about what bills he would sign as President with the principles the bill should have in it. “It needs to not add to the deficit.” “It needs to provide as near universal coverage as possible.”

Using the same idea for answering this interview question, you should have a good idea of the type of environment where you work the best and working on what interests you about the job. That requires some preparation in that you need to know your best working environment as well as one or two items that interest you about this job.

If you work best in a collaborative team environment and are interviewing in a job where you are at the beginning of the possible career path, for example, answer with something like this:

“I hope to be working in a strong team that has well-balanced skills between its members. And I hope to have grown enough in this position that I’ll have proven that I can handle additional responsibilities in my work.”

What you don’t want to do is answer with some specific position or title like “In five years, I want to be the new CEO.” You have to tie where you “want to be in five years” with the current job you are interviewing for right now. You have to show the hiring manager that you want to improve your skills and responsibilities and this particular job is a great way to do just that.

And then…

Because the truth of the matter is that no one can predict the future and say what they will be doing five years from now, answer the question and then look at the hiring manager and ask:

“Where do you see yourself five years from now?”

Listen to the answer because this is a person who will have tremendous influence on your work while in this position. A person you could work with over the course of time in different departments or companies. Remember, the hiring manager is interviewing you to determine if you can help reach the hiring manager’s goals — and you are interviewing the hiring manager to determine the exact same thing.

Where do you see yourself five years from now?

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Job Search

Use interview questions to evaluate the team

Did you notice there is a ton of organizational churn out there? With the number of layoffs companies have made over the last year and the constant reorganizations that happen within companies, who knows what’s going on in a team when you walk in for an interview? It’s not like you can go on the Internet and figure it out.

So you need to use interview questions to evaluate what you’re getting into with the team you’ll be working in if you get the job.

What do you need to know about the team?

There are four elements about a team that can tell you a lot about what you are getting into.

How long has the team been organized as it is now? This is important to know because of stability. If the team was reorganized last week, that sets off red flags to me. If that is the case, I need to know why they are hiring for the position, how the team’s focus will change and how they set up the organization. Did the reorganization, in fact, make sense?

On the other hand, if the team has been organized this way for a year, it shows more stability in this ugly employment environment. There are follow-up questions to ask, but your evaluation has to do with stability versus chaos with this question.

How long have the team members been part of the team? This also looks at stability, but also at the ability for you to break into the team’s culture. If there is constant churn in the team members, it usually means the job is a burnout job or the work is not fulfilling. If there is no or little churn, it means the team has jelled into some level of performance and culture that your arrival will do little to change that level.

Part of a job is how well you “fit” within the team’s culture and management style. The length of the team’s tenure affects how you fit.

What is the focus of the team now compared to a year ago? This is a subtle, but important question. If the focus of the team now is the same as a year ago, then there is a functional organization. If, however, the team didn’t exist a year ago or is now focused on something substantially different a year ago, someone made an organizational decision that is filled with risk.

If it is a new team, it means there is a big problem to solve in the organization and you need to help solve it. Without success in solving the problem, the team will simply go away through a layoff.

If the focus is substantially changed from a year ago, there is an exceptionally high probability that the job skills needed for the team to function well won’t be there. While you like to have job skills that can cover many functions, you don’t set yourself up for the best success if the people doing great at project management are now in charge of compliance reporting. Sure, much of both jobs is about reporting, but the bigger skills are different.

How long has the manager managed the team? If the manager has been managing the team for a year or more, it means there has been a complete cycle of goals, budgets, projects and performance reviews. All of those processes will have settled, for better or worse. The likelihood of how the manager will manage the team changing is low unless there is a management change (which often happens). But, at least with this manager, you know what to expect.

If the manager is new, on the other hand, the entire team will still be adjusting to the new manager’s style, goal setting process, and figuring out how performance ratings will be done.

Part of what your job is during an interview is to determine if the team you will be working with will work right for you. The only way to figure that out is asking great interview questions to help you understand your risks.

What other great team questions would you ask?

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One on one coaching
Job Search

Interview Question: Why should I hire you?

Open-ended interview questions from hiring managers are great ways to solicit information from job applicants. What’s lousy about the open-ended questions, however, is when they are simply open-ended and not open-ended about the job.

As a result, “Why should I hire you?” is a dangerous interview question. You have no context with which to orient your answer to what the hiring manager is looking for in the position. So your answer can be spot-on or wildly off base. Just what you want in an interview…

Start with your value to work; your personal brand

While each of us have done work that qualify as a “position” — let’s say a nurse — each of us also brings particular skills to the job that differentiate us among nurses.

For example, my tag line is “rubber meets cloud.” I’m good at implementation of projects. I can see the high level of work and gateways and management intentions while being perfectly capable of getting into the weeds of the tasks with anyone to get the work done. That’s one of my special job skills that I bring to project management.

Or, my special skill as a manager is that I figure out how to get the best work out of each individual on my team. I have various ways of doing that, but I have a track record of getting teams working well together to get stuff done.

You have that same unique set of skills for the work you do as well. It might be delivery, creativity, focus, problem solving, process fixing or a hundred other things.

Use your personal brand to show value to the job description

When you get asked an open-ended question about you rather than the job, the only criteria about the job you can fall back on is the job description.

Consequently, before the job interview, you need to have already decided what value you bring to the major portions of the job description. You start with your personal brand values and then go through the job description and apply the values to the job.

If the job description reads that the person needs to work in a fast-paced environment and one of your unique skills is your ability to quickly reorient your focus, you can build part of an answer to a “why should I hire you?” question based on the fact that you quickly change focus as the daily pace changes while still achieving your goals.

Having 2-3 of these “unique performance values” related to the “job description” will give you the cleanest way of beginning to answer the “why should I hire you?” question.

Why should I hire you?

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Job Search

Use interview questions to uncover problems to solve

Rare is the department that doesn’t have problems to solve. Problems like finishing a critical project on time, fixing a broken process, figuring out how to do the mountain of work faster or with better quality. How to cut the cycle time of getting products to customers. The list, shall we say, is endless.

Your work needs to solve problems

The hiring manager interviews people to solve a problem. Sure, you can say the hiring manager needs someone to handle the workload in the department, but smart managers also try and build out their team so that they can solve more problems. The more problems a department solves, the better reputation for the department, manager and team. Like you.

So one of your objectives before or during the interview is to figure out what problems need solving in the department and then show how your work can help solve the problems.

Figuring out what problems to solve is tough

Yet, too many managers are reluctant to talk about the problems in the department. They are afraid of admitting problems to their own management team much less to you, this nice person they are interviewing that they have never seen before.

Consequently, it can be tough to determine what problems are out there to solve.

And that’s where your interview questions of the manager can uncover problems to fix.

“Problem” is the right word, but “challenge” is the one to use

No one likes to admit having a problem; managers are no different. So the first way to uncover problems to solve is to use the word “challenges” in the question.

“What is the biggest challenge your team overcame last year?”

“What is the biggest challenge your team is facing right now?” (and if it is the same one as last year…run!)

“What is the biggest challenge your team will face in the next six months?”

Any of those questions will give you good insight as to what the team is facing that you can help solve.

Blend your skills to the challenge

Once you find out the challenge (better to find more than one), you need to blend your answers to the interview questions to the challenge at hand and show how you have solved problems like the current one in the past.

Use your answers to not only show you have solved the problems in the past, but that you learned from each situation and built your job skills. Managers are human; no one likes someone who thinks they can solve every problem on the planet — especially theirs. So combine showing your performance that solved a similar problem, but be humble enough to also show what you learned from the experience.

Business, despite all of it’s “objectivity” and “data,” is really a social medium of  people working together on a common purpose. People don’t like to talk about their problems to strangers and like it less when the stranger they are talking to thinks they know the answer.

The Cubicle Warrior job skill is to uncover problems to solve through interview questions and then show how you can help the hiring manager solve the problem through your performance with humility.

It’s not easy, but getting there will put you in the front of the pack looking to land your next job.

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One on one coaching
Job Search

Answering interview questions with humor is dangerous

There is no percentage in answering interview questions with humor. Too many things can go wrong for the humor to work.

Consider, for example, that before Chris Rock goes on his famous HBO specials, he tries out his humor hundreds of times in small clubs so he can gauge his subject, timing and physical and facial gestures to maximize the humor. Hundreds of times to refine one show.

It shows, too, in his special when they show Chris in four different cities on two continents and they cut away from one city to another between sentences and you see Chris in a different set of clothes — in exactly the same position, with the same facial expression and the same tone of voice. What looks unscripted and extemporaneous is, in fact, worked out down to the most detailed level.

And, yet, we think we can walk into an interview and crack jokes, insert a satiracle comment when the interviewer makes a statement, or have our face show irony at a comment.

Humor is especially dangerous in an interview if you know the person doing the interview. You think, because you know this person, you can have an easier time with humor, but the reality is the hiring manager is under more pressure to ensure you get the work and can implement the department goals. That pressure doesn’t get them in the right position to hear humor.

Now, I love funny stories as much as the next person. And my style of humor is irony. But even on this site, I’m reluctant to write irony because misinterpretations abound just because people are so different.

Humor gone wrong in an interview makes you come off cocky, or dumb, or not motivated, or not interested in the position, or not sensitive or a hundred other characteristics that are all bad.

So pack your humor in your backpack and answer the interview questions with facts and opinions based on your performance. You can crack up your new manager after you get the job.

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Job Search

3 new job search truths you must learn

We’re in the longest recession since the Great Depression. Despite all the “green shoots” that are supposedly coming out in the economy, the truth is the unemployment rate will stay high for a long time to come.

The length of the recession, the breadth of the unemployment across all industries and the battering of consumer’s finances all mean the rules of the job search are changing. Here are three new job search truths you must learn:

You’ll find your next job through your business network

Companies are in no mood to hire. Plus, if they do want to hire, they have hundreds and hundreds of applications to choose from. Clearly, trying the “job posting, apply” method will have diminishing results.

Instead, your competitive advantage will be the person already working in a company that knows about openings — and your work. That inside recommendation from someone in your business network is priceless.

If you haven’t been building your business network, you will get behind the smart Cubicle Warriors looking for work.

Your job search will last much longer

Just like the days of selling your home in one week and casually moving across the country for another job are over, so too is the quick job search. There aren’t as many jobs out there; in fact, the market is still shrinking (just not at the stunning pace it was at the end of 2007). There is more competition for jobs.

This fact results in new job search truths: you will need to plan your job search campaign and have a significantly higher level of savings in place in case of a layoff — at least one year’s take home pay in the bank.

Without the planning and the financial resources to match up to the longer job search times, you risk your family to the whims of corporations.

You need a portfolio of job skills

Gone are the days where having a solid concentration of one job skill will be enough for getting a job. Instead, positions are now dealing with multiple types of tasks requiring multiple job skills to perform. No longer can you simply program code, you must now know how to project manage small projects  in your area. No longer can you do one function for a team; now you need to be able to do any function in a team to help out in case of layoffs or pinch hitting for vacations.

Lead with your strongest job skills, of course, but know that the rest of your job skills now need to fulfill a portfolio of needs in a department.

When times are tough, the rules change. Building your business network, planning your job search with significant savings in place and having a portfolio of job skills to offer employers will help the job search.

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Job Search

Build powerful stories to answer interview questions

You should answer interview questions with powerful stories. But what are the characteristics of a great interview story? Stories that answer interview questions are necessarily different than stories that describe a fun time on vacation. Interview questions demand particular information — and you have to build the information into the stories you tell.

Stories show context

When asked an interview question, it is easy to simply provide the response. Like it was a list. How much did your work increase sales that year? 5%. How did your work improve the process? We increased productivity 20%.

Direct answers to specific questions have their place of course. But answering interview questions gives you the opportunity to provide context for the results. You can talk briefly about the problem you were solving, or how you overcame obstacles, or how important the work was to your manager.

Context shows the hiring manager why your work was important — and why you were important for the work.

Stories show how you fit the job description

Job descriptions are often poor. But when managers have a difficult time explaining the work (or giving you goals…), the place to fall back to is the job description. From a preparation viewpoint, the job description is about as good as it gets to having an idea what to say during the interview.

As you prepare for the interview, make sure your stories address the specifics of the job description for both the hard skills as well as the soft skills (like, “teamwork”) needed for the job.

Stories show numbers

After telling a great story with context and fitting the job description, people will often fail to deliver on the important conclusion to the story: the results of the work.

Hiring managers want to know how your work impacted the department and helped your manager reach goals — because they want you to help them reach their goals.

Having results is not only saying the work “improved productivity,” but by how much. You must use numbers in the story to solidify the power of the story. Saying you improved productivity is nowhere near as powerful as saying you “improved productivity by 20% because we reduced the cycle time by two days.”

Everyone can say they improved something, but very few candidates are able to build in the numbers that really make the story rock.

How do you construct your stories for interviews?

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Job Search

Answer interview questions with powerful stories

Answering interview questions is tough. The interview questions vary, the same question is asked by different people, and you have to wonder what people will remember from your interview when it comes down to making decisions about whom to hire.

That critical point — the hiring decision — is where the stories you tell will make a difference.

Remember when

When people get together after not seeing each other for a long time, at some point the conversation inevitably turns to “remember when we …” And out comes the stories of shared victories, defeats, good times and bad.

Or, upon hearing about the death of a friend or loved one, there is the grief. But then, there are the stories of this person’s life that showed how this person helped others or helped us be better people.

People are social creatures and one of the best ways of relating to each other is through the stories we tell.

People remember stories

Because people remember stories, it is important that your interviews contain stories that demonstrate how you achieved results in your positions. You need to tell stories that show how you worked with difficult customers and carried the day to the satisfaction of both your company and your customer. You need to tell stories about how your accomplishments impacted the business in a positive way.

Hiring managers will have a checklist of stuff about you — your job skills, your accomplishments, and how they think you will fit into the team.

But they are just checkmarks and, like the multiple-choice test with a score, are just some number on a piece of paper. We don’t hire numbers on a piece of paper. We hire people.

When you can tell concise, relevant, and engaging stories about how you operate at work, hirning managers will look at the checkmarks and remember the stories. It’s the Cubicle Warrior difference.

What stories would you tell your hiring manager in an interview?

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