To maximize your success in interviews you need to be prepared to tell a compelling story – your story. This is not a fantasy tale of the dream you but the true story of your experience, competencies and goals. The interviewer will have your resume in advance of the interview so they already have the facts. You need to add the context to the facts by telling your story successfully.
Define Your Story – In the job search, you are your own personal brand. Consider carefully who you are and what value you bring to the employer. Think in advance about how you best present that story in your interview. It is not simply stating the facts. They know you pursued your MBA from your resume. Be prepared to talk about why you chose to pursue further education, why you chose the particular school, what your learned that has been most valuable in your career, etc. Show the interview your thought process and motivation while providing context for the facts.
Market Yourself – Often career decisions are motivated by certain realities in the moment but with hindsight you can see a path the evolved from those decisions. You are selling yourself in the interview process so focus on the bigger picture. Instead of saying you went back to school because you’d be laid off, explain that in a difficult economy you realized that you needed to hone your business skills to be successful in the long term. This was the perfect opportunity to seek further education to make a career change or to accelerate your career advancement. Maybe you left a particular job to gain more experience in a new area that would be critical to your longer term goals.
Be Confident and Prepared – These are the questions interviewers expect you to nail. It is your story, you know it better than anyone else. Be well prepared so you tell your story confidently without hesitation when asked. You should not need time to think about the answers to these questions. Practice with a friend to ensure that you can articulate your story effectively. Often you can skip the boring I left this job to this and then took another job to do that. Weave a story to show your progression and motivation while highlighting the skills you developed along the way.
Effectively telling your story in an interview can significantly increase your success.
I’m often asked if networking is really necessary in the job search. The answer is “only if you hope to be successful.” Networking is the reality of the current job market. It is rare that sitting behind your computer sending multiple online applications per day yields the desired results. Networking is a critical component of a successful job search.
What if the job seeker is shy or uncomfortable with networking? Here are some tips to ease reluctant networkers into a successful process.
Start with Low Hanging Fruit – Do not start with a cold call to a senior level contact at your dream company. That is much too stressful and could cause a shy person to swear off networking for life. Think about your circle of friends and family. Do any of them work at companies that interest you? Who do they know that they could introduce you to? What about former work colleagues who have moved on to new companies? What about colleagues from school? Starting with people you know enables you to build your confidence and skills as you conduct information interviews. With each interview you are learning about different companies, roles and career paths while you hone your technique and build your skills. Remember to ask each contact who else you should be talking to given your specific goals and interests.
Be realistic – While it is important to put your best foot forward, you are not interviewing for your dream job. Be prepared to gather information and learn while you share your story. You are not asking for a job, you are asking for information. Most people enjoy talking about what they do so be a good listener and ask probing questions to gain the insights you desire.
Attend Events with a Buddy – Walking in a room full of people networking can be a bit intimidating. Consider attending professional association meetings and events or alumni networking events with a buddy. Encourage each other to make new connections and have relevant conversations. Do not spend the evening talking to each other. See how many people you can meet and collect cards for follow-up.
Prepare for Success – Being prepared for your information interviews will enable you to be more confident. Research the company website in advance. Identify questions you hope to ask prior to your meeting. Preparation enables you to have a more meaningful discussion, helps you make a positive, professional impression and helps you reap more value from the meeting.
Build a Plan – Just talking about networking doesn’t make it happen and provides no results. Define a plan and hold yourself accountable. Start with an achievable goal – maybe one informational interview per week. After a few weeks of achieving that, push to goal to two and keep moving. Track your progress and reward yourself for meeting your goals.
Celebrate Success – After a successful informational interview with a networking contact, take a few minutes to reflect on what you learned. Capture some key notes for future reference. Think about what you did well. If there was an awkward moment, think what you could do differently next time. Reflect and learn from the experience. Send a thank you note to your contact to show them you valued their time and insight. Take a walk or do something you enjoy to celebrate your successful meeting and your achievement of your goal.
Learn more about generating good fortune in your job search! Appearing in Career Attraction, this piece will show you what role luck plays in the job search process. Please read the full blog “What’s Luck Got to do With It? How to Generate Good Fortune in Your Job Search”
Do you feel compelled to always figure things out on your own? Do you worry that asking a question demonstrates weakness? Unfortunately, it is common for people to have these feelings in the workplace and as a result they undermine their own credibility and success. It is important to your success to ask appropriate questions and to accept assistance when needed.
Ask once – Particularly in a new job or new responsibilities, it is expected that you will have questions. You can save yourself and others time by asking insightful questions. It can be helpful to keep a list of questions as they arise so that you re prepared when you have a few minutes with your manager to review your outstanding questions. Being prepared makes a positive impression. Keep track of the questions and the responses so you do not ask the same question repeatedly. Your manager or co-workers will grow quickly frustrated if you continue to ask the same questions.
Curiosity is an Advantage – Use questions to demonstrate your curiosity and inquisitiveness. Don’t just ask how to do something. Also ask questions about why things are done a particular way. Ask where the input data comes from and how it is collected. Ask what happens with the analysis that you prepared. It is important to understand how your work fits in the larger picture of the organization. Asking these types of questions demonstrates your interest in understanding the process not just performing your step of the cycle.
Assistance Required – If you are unable to perform a key part of the process, ask for help. Take notes and ask appropriate questions so you will be able to do it next time. Don’t wait until the last minute to let your manager know that you can’t do it. At the last minute there may not be other resources available and the stress of missing the deadline could eliminate or reduce the learning opportunity. Admit when you don’t know how to do something but show a clear interest in learning.
Advance Warning Please – If you miss your deadline, someone else relying on your input will also miss a deadline and on it goes through the organization. If you are moving more slowly than antipcated, give your manager advance warning. With some advance warning contingency plans can be implemented to keep the project on track. If you wait until the end, you’ve eliminated many of the other options. Of course you want to meet deadlines whenever possible but when you hit a significant roadblock let your manager know that you need help.
Knowing when to ask for help can be a sign a self-awareness and valuable project management skills. Asking for help appropriately can be a strength not a weakness.
Congratulations, you’ve landed a new job. You may think the hard work is behind you now that you’ve landed your exciting new role but don’t rest on your laurels. You need to prepare yourself for the success. The first three months on the job can set the tone for long term success.
Here are some suggestions to make the most of those critical first three months:
- Positive First Impression – While you obviously made a positive impression in the interview, you need to set the right tone as you start your new job. If possible ask what material you can review prior to day one. It eases your transition but also shows your interest. Arrive on time and professionally dressed. Be prepared to take notes. Show your delight in being there and your willingness to learn. Greet everyone with a smile and a firm handshake.
- Build Relationships – While the work you do each day may bring you satisfaction and challenge, you don’t work in a vacuum. From day one, pay attention to the relationships since they will be critical to your long term success. It will be much easier later to get the information you need if you build strong working relationships throughout your functional area and across the organization. Show interest in what other people do. Ask how long they have worked for the organization. Show appreciation when they share information and insights. You do not have to be best friends with those you work with each day but it can significant enhance your work experience and your future career plans to build strong relationships.
- Clarify and Confirm Expectations – You sold yourself throughout the interview process. Be careful as you start the job that you don’t set yourself up for failure by over-promising. It is normal to be eager to deliver results and prove your value but over-promising leaves everyone disappointed and frustrated. Assume that it will take longer than you think to accomplish your early tasks since you don’t know how things get done or who to contact for information. You do not have all your relationships established so you’ll be building them as you go with your first projects. Be sure that you and your manager both share the same expectations.
- Observe – You can gain significant insights in to the culture of an organization by observing others. Notice how people dress and always dress for the next position you aspire to. Notice if people take lunch as a group or eat at their desk. Pay attention to communication styles. If your boss prefers email use that but if they prefer a face to face conversation that ‘s what you need to do. Don’t be the last to arrive in the morning or the first to leave in the evening. Be a keen observer in your early weeks on the job to support your assimilation into the organization.
- Listen – Particularly in the early weeks on the job, it is critical to listen more than talk. Learn from the colleagues who have been there about what works, what doesn’t and why they do things the way they do. Don’t be quick to judge. There may be changes needed over time but don’t cause people to shut down early in your tenure because they feel threatened. Show a willingness to learn the organization and build relationships to ensure your future success.
- Admit Mistakes – It is likely you will make a mistake or two in those early months as you settle in. Be quick to claim responsibility. Own your mistakes and learn from them. Demonstrate from the outset that you won’t fall into the trap of the blame game. If you or your team make an error, admit it and learn from it. This will go far in building your credibility.
- Seek Feedback – During those first few months on the job, seek regular feedback from your manager and your peers. Learn what is going well and what needs further fine tuning. The sooner you understand the culture and expectations, the more quickly you can reach full productivity. Show that you are listening to the feedback by implementing changes.
The reality is that once you have the job, you do continue to sell yourself just in a different way than you did during the interview process. You earn credibility and respect by learning the organization, building relationships and listening to others. If you make these critical investments early on, you significantly increase your likelihood of success in the long term.
Career fairs offer a unique opportunity to meet multiple employers at a single event. To maximize the benefits of your participation, here’s some advice.
Preparation Matters – Obtain a list in advance of the participating companies. Rank the companies A, B or C given your level of interest. Research the websites of all companies and make some notes. Identify key questions you want to ask. For your “A List” companies, do additional research on Hoovers or other business sites to gain additional information. Identify an alum who works there and conduct an informational interview prior to the event if possible. Demonstrate your interest in the company by being well prepared and asking insightful questions. Asking the representative, “what does your company do” is a quick turnoff for the employers.
Have a Strategy – Identify in advance the companies you must meet while you are at the event and a list of “nice to have” companies as well assuming that you will not have time to spend with every employer. When you arrive, to a quick loop of the room to familiarize yourself with where your top companies are located. Start with a company or two from your “B List” to get yourself warmed up. Be interested and engaging with these companies but save your best for your top priority companies. If you top companies have a long line, watch later in the day to see if there is an opportunity to go back for a further conversation.
Be Your Professional Best – You want to put your best foot forward. Dress as if it were an interview in your best professional attire. Be sure your shoes are shined and your nails are clean. Carry only a padfolio with copies of your resume. Make a positive first impression by looking and acting like the successful business professional you aspire to be.
Focus on the Employers – The employers are taking time away from their office to be at the event to meet you. Give them your attention throughout the day. This is not the time to stand around talking to your friends. It sends a very negative message to the employers. If an employer has no visitors, stop by and introduce yourself. Make them feel welcomed and valued. Even if it is not your top company, it may be someone else’s. While many employers bring give away items, collecting all the items is not the goal of the event. Focus on making valuable connections. You can always follow up at the end of the event to collect the items. Don’t miss the opportunity to shake hands because you are carrying a stress ball.
The Visa Issue – If you require visa sponsorship, do not approach the booth and ask is they sponsor. The automatic response for most employers will be no. You need to make them want you first. Sell yourself and your skills for the job and then they may be willing to sponsor. Don’t close the door by asking too soon.
Be Flexible – The company may not currently have an open position that interests you. Do not miss the opportunity to introduce yourself, demonstrate your interest and gain additional insights. Make connections at the companies of interest so you have a connection when the job does open. Often the recruiters will bring back resumes to hiring managers who they expect will have opportunities in the future. Make the most of the opportunity by making a positive impression.
Bring your energy and enthusiasm to the event to make the most positive impression possible.
Job seekers often become so focused on their desired end result, they forget to enjoy the journey. This may sound strange if you are desperately seeking a job but your search process is a valuable learning experience in and of itself.
Informational Interviews – These valuable conversations give you insights into the companies on your target list and the types of roles you are seeking. You have a unique opportunity to learn things you’d never find on a company website such as the culture, the nature of the day to day work and the interaction between departments. Explore the career paths of people in the positions you aspire to in the future. Enjoy the opportunity to learn more about the companies and positions. These insights will help you should an interview opportunity come your way.
Networking – If you are conducting a successful job search, you are investing significant time in networking. Enjoy your interaction as you meet interesting people in the process. Also consider how you can maintain these connections in the future to provide a valuable pool of resources as you progress in your career.
Managing the Process – Build a target list. Identify contacts in each of your target companies. Engage contacts in informational interviews. Participate in networking events. This is valuable project management experience as you define a goal and execute your plan. Keep track of your progress and your contacts. This provides documentation of your efforts and your progress.
Consider Alternatives – One of the benefits of networking and informational interviewing is to think about new and different opportunities to utilize the skills and experience you already possess. The process also can help clarify what it is you do not want to do which is an important baseline for your search. Cultivate self-awareness throughout the process.
While the end result is very important, the journey itself can add significant value if you pause to enjoy each stage.