Top 10 Interview Mistakes

To ace your next interview you want to avoid these top ten mistakes.

  • Arrive Late – It is critical that you arrive for an interview a few minutes early. If you don’t know where you are going, do a dry run in advance.  Allow time for traffic jams and parking issues.  Demonstrate your interest in the opportunity and your professionalism by arriving a few minutes early.  Being timely also demonstrates your preparation.  Use the few minutes you have in the lobby to gain your composure and focus.  In a true emergency, if you are running late, call ahead to let them know and give them an expected arrival time.
  • Dress Inappropriately – First impressions matter. Demonstrate your interest by showing up in a professional business suit and polished shoes.  Avoid anything flashy or distracting.  Leave noisy jewelry and strong fragrances at home.  Err on the side of being conservative.
  • Ask No Questions – Your inability to ask the interviewer questions leads them to believe you are unprepared and uninterested. Have insightful questions prepared in advance to ask your interviewers.  Clearly demonstrate your interest and preparation.
  • Demonstrate Lack of Preparation – Never ask, “So, what does your company do?” Do your homework and research the company, the industry and the competition.  Prepare questions in advance.  This demonstrates your interest and your professionalism.  It helps interviewers take you seriously as a candidate.
  • Share No Examples of Your Experience—Don’t just talk about your project management skills, share an example of how your applied those skills and the resulting benefit to the company. Briefly describe the situation, how you approached the problem and the results of your actions.  Always be prepared to support your claims with examples.  Have specific examples prepared in advance that you can share when needed during an interview.
  • Have No Response to Questions – Employers are looking to see how you think on your feet. You need to be prepared to answer any question.  Review lists of commonly asked interview questions and be prepared to answer them.  If it is an unusual question, you can always clarify the question to give you a moment to think.  Have an answer and be prepared to justify or explain it.  With a case question, they are more interested in seeing how you think than in a specific answer.
  • Say “um” or “like” Incessantly—Communication skills are an important part of any job so demonstrate your ability to communicate throughout your interview. Avoid the repetitive fillers such as “um” or “like” which can be very distracting in an interview.   You want the interviewer to remember you for your answers and your experience not how many times you said “um.”  Take a breath and compose your answer without fillers.
  • Fail to Make and Maintain Eye Contact – The lack of eye contact leaves the interviewer feeling the candidate is not trustworthy or confident. Establish and maintain eye contact to convey your interest and confidence.
  • Focus on What You Want – This is not all about you. Focus on how you meet the needs of the business and how you can make a difference for the company.  They really don’t care about your specific wants.  Think about what matters to them and your interview will be more successful.
  • Fail to Say Thank You and Ask for the Job—Don’t lose the job because you fail to end the interview by thanking the interviewers for their time and expressing your strong interest in the opportunity. Let them know you are interested, don’t assume they figured it out.  Send a handwritten thank you note within 24 hours to differentiate yourself from the competition.

If you avoid these common interview pitfalls, you should be able to ace the interview and land the job.

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The Recruiters’ Perspective of You

Great news!  You were invited for an interview so obviously the recruiter saw something in your resume and cover letter that they believe would add value to their organization in this position.  The interview is your opportunity to sell yourself.  You prepare for your interview and assume that the hiring decision will be based on your responses to the questions asked.  Think again – recruiters also consider other factors in evaluating you as a candidate for this position.

Your Social Media Presence

Most recruiters will check you out on social media prior to an interview.  Expect them to look at your  LinkedIn profile.  Does it match your resume in terms of your work experience?  Do you have recommendations?  What skills have you chosen to highlight?  What types of connections do you have?  What groups are you in?  What can they learn in advance about you?

Some recruiters will also look on Facebook.  If your security settings are not carefully set they can see your photos from spring break, your rants about the election, and whatever other personal aspects of your life you have shared.  What kind of impression will this make on the employer?  I’ve seen candidates eliminated from the process because of what employers learned on Facebook.  They will also check Twitter and other social media platforms.

Google yourself prior to the interview.  See what the employer will see when they do it so you are prepared for questions.  Is there someone with the same name and a notorious past?  Don’t be caught off guard, know what they will see when they check you out.

Your Attire

While workplaces are generally much more casual these days than in the past, it is important to remember that you are dressing for an interview not a day at work.  Even a casual environment wants to know that the candidate can present themselves effectively in a client meeting.  Professional attire can also signal to the recruiter that you are taking this opportunity seriously.  I’ve heard of candidates not be hired because they didn’t dress appropriately but have never had an instance where the candidate was not hired because they showed up in a suit.  For an interview, be conservative, and dress professionally to make the best possible impression.

Your Non-Verbal Communication

You communicate with so much more than words, particularly in an interview.  Are you sitting up straight, making good eye contact and using an appropriate tone of voice?  Slouching in the chair, staring out the window, fidgeting with your pen, or playing with your hair can all send a very different message to the recruiter.  Present yourself as confident and engaged throughout the interview.  This can be even more challenging during a phone interview when it is only your voice that conveys your presence.  For a phone interview, keep a small mirror nearby to remind you to smile since it will show in your voice.  Do not do anything distracting since that will take focus away from your responses to the questions.  While verbal, be very careful of using filler words such as “like”, “um”, “ah” or even too many “ands” to string your thoughts together.  This can be distracting to the recruiter and it implies that you are less prepared and confident.

Your Fit with the Organization

Recruiters know that there are often multiple candidates who have the appropriate skills to be successful in the specific job.  Their goal is to assess the fit of the candidates for the organization.  Is this someone the rest of the team will want to work with on a daily basis?  Does this individual fit the culture of the company?  Will this candidate be aligned with the mission of the company?  Fit matters and leads to successful hires.

Your Follow-up

You may have the most amazing interview but if the last time the recruiter hears from you is when you shake hands at the door, you are damaging your chances of landing the job.  Follow-up is critical.  In an interview situation, it is critical to follow up to demonstrate your interest and your professionalism.  If time is of the essence (and it usually is), send an email to each person your interviewed with and thank them for their time.  Reference something you specific you learned from that person or something interesting you discussed.  Do not send a group email.  They deserve an individual thank you.  Follow up your email with personal handwritten thank you notes to each interviewer.  Send it within 24 hours of your interview.  You will be remembered.  It makes a huge impression.  Even if you don’t get the job, they will remember you and will often consider you for the next available opportunity.  After all the preparation for your interview, don’t skip the final step.

While preparation for your interview questions is still critical, pay attention to these other factors that consistently impact how a recruiter perceives and evaluates a candidate.

Soft Skills Critical for Success

Employers clearly want candidates with the appropriate technical skills to do the job but what differentiates a great candidate from a pool of good candidates is typically the soft skills.  What soft skills are critical for success?

Communications Skills

Communication is critical to success is almost all jobs these days.  The ability to communicate effectively via email has become a key component of success in business.  Can you present your ideas succinctly and clearly?  Can you prepare a PowerPoint to present the problem and your recommended solutions?  Can you present to a team or managers or executives and clearly and succinctly present your case?  Are you able to effectively listen and capture the key points?   Success on the job is often highly dependent on the employee’s communications skills.

Interpersonal Skills

Most jobs don’t exist in a vacuum.  In order to get your job done you have to work with other people.  Can you effectively lead a team?  Can you be a valuable team member?  Can you motivate others to provide the input you require to do your job even when you have no authority over them?  To be successful on the job, you need to work well with your peers, your managers, and everyone you come in contact with at the workplace.  You don’t have to be best friends but you need to build mutually effective relationships across the organization to be successful.  You need to build your reputation as someone they want to work with because you get things done, bring good ideas to the table and respect your colleagues.

Work Ethic

It is critical that you build the necessary skills to meet or beat your deadlines with quality work.  You want to establish a reputation as someone who does what they say they will do.  When possible you want to strive to exceed expectations – do more than the minimum, anticipate the follow-up questions and next steps.  Demonstrating a strong work ethic is critical to success.

Time Management

Conflicting priorities often arise.  The day isn’t always long enough to get everything done.  Can you effectively keep your projects on track, keep your manager informed and ensure that you are meeting the high priority deadlines?  Time management skills are critical to building your professional reputation.

Self-Confidence

You want to earn the trust of your manager and colleagues.  Be someone who does what they say they will do.  Be willing to learn.  Be confident without being cocky.

Ability to Take Feedback and Act Upon It

In order to learn and grow professionally, you must be able to take feedback and act upon it.  Seek out feedback if it is not readily given.  Don’t wait for the annual review process, seek feedback regularly to ensure that you are constantly improving.  Seek opportunities for professional development or new projects.

Attention to Detail

Accuracy matters.  Being quick accomplishes nothing if your work can’t be trusted.  Always double check your work.  Step back and think about whether the data really makes sense and anticipate the questions other would ask so you are prepared in advance to address them.  To become a trusted resource in the workplace you must build a reputation for doing quality work.  And if you do make a mistake, own it!  Admit the mistake and build a process to ensure you never make that mistake again.  We are all human and make errors but you differentiate yourself when you own it and take action.

 

Paying attention to the soft skills will make you more successful in your current job and makes you more marketable for whatever opportunities lie ahead.

 

Making a Great Impression in Your New Job Search

Starting a new job is the perfect time to make a good impression.  You want the employer to be confident that they made the right decision in hiring you for the position.  The first hundred days in a new job can be one of the most critical times of your career.  Here are some recommendations based on feedback from our employers. Click here to learn more about making a great impression in your new job!

Leverage Emotional & Social Intelligence

I found several definitions of emotional intelligence but it is what allows you to influence the people around you.  It is the foundation of conflict management, adaptability and teamwork.  Clearly there is an expectation that an employee is aware of and in control of their emotions in the workplace but I think it goes much further as a success factor in the workplace.  Social intelligence implies an awareness of the social environment and the needs of others.

Teamwork – To succeed in business these days, most positions require an ability to work with a team –sometimes as a leader and sometimes as a contributor.  Knowing how to effectively work in team, manage the conflicts, meet deadlines, keep all members engaged, etc is critical to success In many organizations.  Teamwork also means working with others who are not like you – they may not have the same skills, the same strengths, the same backgrounds or even the same expectations of the group.  Building clarity around purpose and deliverables is critical.

Communication – To succeed one must be able to effectively communicate their ideas and proposed solutions to peers ,managers and senior staff.  Both written and verbal communication is critical.  It is not about writing thirty pages, it is more about pulling the critical information into a succinct and actionable summary.  It is really about telling them they really need to know.

Negotiation and Persuasion – These skills are critical in getting things done.  Often you have to persuade others to provide the information you need even when you have no authority over them.  Negotiations need to be win-win.

Relationships – Bottom line, business is done by people.  Building relationships across the organization can be critical to success.  Learning how to interact with individuals at different levels of the organization is critical to career success.    Helping other people look good can win you a long-term ally.  Empathy for others is also important in building and maintaining professional relationships.

Cultural Fit – It is important during the interviewing phase to ensure that your personal style fits with the organization’s culture.  A poor fit often manifests itself in poor social interactions and intelligence.  Without strong relationships within the organization it is difficult for the employee to success.

5 key skills for success

Employers identified five critical skills for success on the job and these apply to positions in all departments and functions.

  • Ability to Communicate – To succeed in most jobs the employee must be able to communicate effectively both orally and in writing.  You can be very smart, you can have great ideas but if you can’t communicate you risk being passed over for the next exciting project.
  • Work Effectively on a Team – The ability to effectively work as part of a team is critical to success in most organizations.   That means sometimes being a leader, sometimes being a good follower, monitoring the progress, meeting deadlines and working with other across the organization to achieve a common goal.  Employers want employees who can effectively work as part of a team, not as a lone contributor.
  • Ability and Willingness to Learn – The world is changing, business is changing and the pace of change continues to accelerate.  To succeed in most organizations you need to have a passion for learning and the ability to continue to grow and stretch your skills to adapt to the changing needs of the organization.  Little demand for dinosaurs these days.
  • Ability to Influence, Persuade and Negotiate  – There are few jobs you can do in a vacuum.  In most roles you need other people to do things so you can do your job.  There are steps in the process before your area of responsibility and often steps after you do your part.  Usually you do not have authority over those people.  You need to have the skill to develop mutually beneficial relationships in the organization so you can influence and persuade people to do what you need them to do in turn ensuring you are delivering what they need.  You need to be able to negotiate win-win solutions to serve the best interests of the company and the individuals involved.
  • Ability to Analyze the Data – With increased computer skills, many employees can build spreadsheets and manipulate the data in various ways.  What elevates an employee above the crowd is the ability to analyze the data.  Don’t just total the columns, calculate an average and sort the data.  What story does the data tell?  What questions does it raise?  Are there different ways to interpret the data?  Instead of handing your boss a spreadsheet, give them a business summary and highlight the key areas for attention.  Suggest possible next steps.  Using the data to manage business decisions is a critical differentiator.

Image Courtesy of Google

A Good Rep Goes A Long Way!

How does one enhance their own reputation at work? Check out “A Good Rep Goes a Long Way” by Dawn Klingensmith on Job Week, Content that Works!

For more of Lynne’s advice on how to become a rising star and develop a good reputation, see Lynne and Dawn’s Question & Answer interview below.

Courtesy of Google

Dawn Klingensmith (DK): If one wants to build or enhance one’s reputation, I imagine it’s important to first determine what one wants to be known for. A subject matter expert? A creative genius? A problem solver? A disgruntled client whisperer? This may sound silly, but is there an exercise someone can do or questions to ask themselves to determine how they’d like to be known to their boss, colleagues and in the industry?

Lynne Sarikas (LS): While it would be great to know what you want to be known for, in my experience it becomes obvious over time.  I’ve observed that the problem solver or subject matter expert in one job often becomes the same expert in another position and often even in another company.  We use Career Leader which helps identify where skills and interests intersect.  This can be helpful in determining career paths but doesn’t specifically address what you want to be known for.  Self awareness is critical.  There is also a level of inherent ability.  You may wish you could be the creative genius but if you do not have that skill set it is not likely to happen.

DK: I imagine there are behaviors one must do consistently to build a relationship as a solid, reliable, loyal employee — in other words, a good hire for the company. What are some of those? Which of those behaviors and habits overlap when one is trying to go beyond that to develop a reputation as a rising star and a standout in the company and industry? Someone born to be a leader? Which behaviors/habits must one cultivate to be known as the shining star?

LS: Before you can become the rising star, you have to build a reputation as a solid, reliable employee.  Do you job and do it well.  Be the first to volunteer for additional assignments and new challenges.  Deliver results consistently and in a timely manner and it will be noticed.  Commit yourself to continuous learning on the job.  Be willing to train others.  Set high standards in all you do and meet or exceed those standards.

 DK: What are some worthy relationship-building goals, and tactics for getting achieving them?

 LS: To become a rising star you need to build strong relationships.  You should ideally have a mentor in a more senior position who can advocate for you and offer guidance.  You need a strong relationship with your manager.  Make your boss look good.  Build collaborative relationships across the organization.  Many people box themselves in by limiting their interaction to their own department. Know how to get things done across the organization by building a strong network.  Be someone that others want to work with.  Be someone they will request when they are putting together a cross-functional team.  Never speak poorly of your manager or your company in public.  Respect confidences. 

 DK: How important is image? How does appearance play into that, and what else besides appearance? (Poise in meetings and public speaking, voicemail and email etiquette, etc.)

 LS: Image can enhance or detract from your reputation for getting things done but it doesn’t replace the critical work being done and the relationships being built. For roles that involve client interaction, image becomes much more important since you are seen as a representative of the company and their brand.  Communication skills are paramount in building a strong reputation.  Public speaking, managing meetings, voicemail and email etiquette as well as general business etiquette are all important to rise within the organization.