I. Interview Preparation
Changing jobs may be one of the most stressful times in your life. Next to death and marriage, this experience ranks as one of the most traumatic periods for most people. At the same time, it is also one of the most rewarding and exciting times in your life. No one says that a job change has to be a trying experience, and the following information is dedicated to making this transition as easy and productive as possible. One of our objectives is to reduce the amount of stress you’ll experience by “walking you through” the process.
If your career runs true to form, you will experience at least three job changes during your working life – and more likely as many as five. The reason, very simply, is that very few employers can provide all of the work experiences that good employees need to become well rounded individuals. In modern industry, employers value diversified experience more than stability, and the ambitious employee is often left with no choice but to change employers in order to advance his career and make himself more marketable.
Growth is never comfortable; but there is no real growth without change. Career growth requires adaptability, mental toughness, focus and a long term perspective. We believe it is important to identify and deal with many of the emotions that surround the decision to make a job change. In our many years in the search business, we have seen many logical choices sidetracked by emotions of loyalty, allegiance, commitment, fear and a million other non-issues that cloud a candidate’s judgement.
As a fellow recruiter put it, “If there’s a tie between logic and emotion, emotion will usually win – at least in the short run.” It is important throughout this period to remember your original objectives and ask yourself what motivated you to launch this search in the beginning – Was it more money? greater challenge? greater stability? better location? or possibly a more compatible relationship with your boss?
Said another way, it is wise to ask yourself if you are running away from something negative, or are you going toward something more positive? While there are shades of both in most decisions, generally there is an overriding influence one way or the other. We submit that unless you hope to grow as a result of this change (rather than just to escape from something), you should reexamine your motivation. Career decisions should always be made in a positive light, unless those decisions are made for you, as in the case of a layoff.
It is said that good employees return five times their salary to employers in the form of increased revenues or cost reductions. Said another way, employers want to hire people who are problem solvers. This section is dedicated to helping you package your strengths (or problem solving abilities) so that you can clearly present them to a potential employer.
First, you must know yourself. You can start by asking yourself: What are my career goals – both in the next job and 3 years down the road? What do I like (or dislike) about my current job? What experience do I want to gain in my next assignment? What are my key strengths and weaknesses? It might be good to rate yourself on a scale of 1-10 on the list of traits on the cover page – or to simply write down your positives and negatives on a piece of paper.
Second, you need to “package your positives” so they can be effectively presented to the employer. For instance, you might draw your current company or department organization chart to show where you fit, to whom you report and what your responsibilities are. Prepare a list of major accomplishments – (school, personal and work related). Be specific in terms of dollars saved, percentage increases, units produced, goals achieved, etc. Analyze the things you do well or enjoy the most. These are usually keys to job satisfaction in future positions. Prepare examples of your work to demonstrate your achievements during an interview (if the opportunity presents itself). Design drawings, project notebooks and letters of commendation are all good examples. Prepare a list of special training courses and seminars you’ve attended as well as degrees received with GPA. Request copies of transcripts you don’t already have. In short, you need to assess your ability to help a potential employer solve his problems by reducing costs or increasing revenues!
Third, you also need to “package your negatives.” All of us have shortcomings or failures that we must deal with positively if we are to leave the impression that we have learned from those failures or are working to correct a weakness. While we can’t deal with every possibility, we offer these key thoughts. Never speak negatively of a former employer – at best you will be viewed as a complainer. Try to find something positive that you learned from that experience and stress that in your conversation. When asked why you left a former employer a general “not happy there” is a poor answer. Acceptable reasons would include:
- Lack of challenge
- Poor location
- Not enough advancement or opportunity
- Inadequate compensation
- Instability of employer
- Lack of prestige, pride or acceptable working conditions.
Don’t volunteer negative information or dwell on former failures. If asked, you should have a prepared response which is neither defensive or apologetic. Acknowledge the question, indicating that you learned from the experience and move on! If there is a “skeleton” in your closet – like a criminal record, a personal situation, dismissal or other serious negative, make us aware of it, before your interview, so we can help you and the employer deal with it! Above all, you must communicate the idea that you are aware of your shortcomings and are striving to overcome any deficits that occurred in previous positions – and that you are open to suggestions for improvement. You should have a list of references readily available complete with home and work phone numbers. Peers and supervisors are the preferred references.
Fourth, learn as much about the opportunity as possible. We will help in this regard, but together we should know the following before an interview: Name of company and if they are a division of another firm. Company outline – (number of employees, locations, sales volume). The position for which you are being considered and its main responsibility. Who you’ll see, their titles and for whom you’ll work directly. Employer profitability, stability, major competitors and future prospects. The library has many reference manuals to supplement the data we will provide, but asking others in your field about the company’s image is another excellent source of information. Directions to (and time for) the interview – plus a phone number in case you are detained.
Fifth, prepare a list of questions. Be ready to ask them at the logical time during the interview, but be sure to listen carefully to the answers. Generally, it is best to keep your questions until later in the interview so that you can tailor them to the pertinent topics – or so you can show active listening by asking for amplification or clarification. Examples of questions that stimulate open-ended conversations with employers may include the following (asterisk denotes excellent questions to ask during the first phone interview):
- What are the most important responsibilities of the job?
- To whom will I report and what is his or her background?
- What support or training will be available to help me learn what I need to know to be successful? Will I mainly inherit projects or initiate them?
- Is this a team environment or individual contributor role?
- What is the most important thing I can do to help your firm in the first 90 days of my employment?
- Why did my predecessor leave – or is this a new position? What criteria are used to evaluate my performance? Is there a formal evaluation process? Will I have subordinates? If so, what are their strengths/weaknesses?
- What aspects of my background make me right or wrong for this position?
- What will my work setting be like – (private office, common area, etc.)? How much will I be expected to travel? What is a typical work week? With whom would I interact most? (peers, customers, vendors, etc.) What would be the next logical position after I successfully complete this assignment? What kind of timetable do you foresee? What brought you (the interviewer) to this firm and what is your background? Why would I want to come to work for this firm?
Sixth, have a well prepared briefcase or note book. First of all, limit yourself to one hand-held item (briefcase, purse, or portfolio). Carry it in the left hand so that you are prepared to shake hands with the right without shuffling. In it, you should have: A note pad and 2 pens (black or blue ink is best for completing employment applications). Extra copies of your resume (at least 3) and a few extra business cards. Be sure you verify spelling, grammar and content of your resume prior to this interview. Any gaps in employment must have a ready explanation. Breath mints and any minor medication needed during the day. Information about the employer so you can do a final review while waiting. This booklet, which can serve as a last minute refresher on interviewing skills. Examples of your accomplishments such as design drawings, project manuals, video tapes, etc. (in case an opportunity to use them presents itself). Copies of your transcripts and diplomas. Your complete reference list and letters of recommendation. Copies of your last two performance reviews (if possible).
Now you are ready to visit the employer – except for a couple of very critical things! Arrange your schedule to get a good night’s sleep the night before the interview and avoid the use of alcohol which will leave your skin with an unhealthy pallor. Likewise, overeating or rich foods taken the day before will take a quiet but exacting toll on your energy level the day of the interview.