Why Personal is Not Interview Friendly

December 15th, 2017

Life is complicated! And not all of our jobs end in ways that are easy to explain, especially in an interview when we’re concerned about putting our best foot forward. When unsure as to how to respond to this question, quite often, an interviewee will say they left for personal reasons. The downside to that is most interviewers aren’t necessarily inclined to assume the positive.

In the interviewer’s mind, the personal reasons response is often code for “something happened that might make me look bad so I’m going to hide it.” Some interviewers will push for more information. But others avoid probing just in case it brings out information that we are legally not allowed to seek. In the end, the interviewer’s imagination runs wild trying to figure out what’s so horrible that you can’t just fess up to it.

But now for the good news! Most interviewees are often incorrect when they assume that certain answers automatically mean you have screened yourself out. Nearly every situation can be openly, diplomatically explained without making an interviewee look undesirable.

Common personal reasons

  • Left the job to take care of an ill family member
    This is actually very common, and there is no reason for red flags. If you also had to relocate to the area to be close to said family member, the interviewer may ask questions around your intention to stay in the area for the long term, but that’s likely the only question that would arise.

  • Issues with a supervisor or colleague
    This one is a bit more complex in that it requires more reflection so you can formulate a tactful way to express the situation. But with that said, we spend lots of time at work each week; it’s ok to move on because of a personality or cultural mis-match. This is especially true if you behaved professionally and did everything in your power to work things out before leaving. In your response, you can also offer details of what you tried to do from your end to make things work.

  • Disciplinary Issues/Terminated
    First let me say that I have interviewed many candidates who were terminated and/or had disciplinary issues and it did not mean I could not or would not work with them. Here, it’s best to be up front. While it’s not ideal to have this in your work history, you can turn that around at least a bit by owning the outcome and the errors that lead to it. Learning from your mistakes is a sign of intelligence and maturity.

  • Medical/Health Issues
    Of all the examples discussed, this is the one that truly is personal. An interviewer cannot ask questions around this topic; he or she can only ask if you are able to perform the position with reasonable accommodation. From personal experience, this has never been a red flag for me. Medical situations arise and are not fault-based. If someone is sitting across from me, he or she is ready to return to work. Should you choose to cite a medical situation in an interview, this is an instance where you do not need to go into detail at all. Simplicity works beautifully, and it addresses the question openly and fully.

Adam Lafield, Recruiter & Marketing Specialist

Why those parts of the application are necessary

November 15th, 2017

Is it necessary to submit a cover letter with my application? Do I really have to fill out all the fields on the application even though the answers are in my resume? These are just two examples of questions job seekers face when submitting resumes and applications. Happily, many of these questions can be easily demystified, giving you the tools you need to ensure your submission stands out in a good way.

Are cover letters necessary?
In some cases, the answer is quite simple: yes. When a job advertisement asks for it, there is absolutely a reason. If you choose not to submit one, this may be something that screens out your resume early on simply through lack of following instruction.

If it’s not required, then you have a choice. Personally, I always recommend it but with one very important caveat: the cover letter must be customized to the job. The purpose of a cover letter is to help you stand out from the influx of faceless resumes. One of the biggest benefits of this document is its ability to connect the dots for a reader. In other words, the resume lists the skills you have, but it’s the cover letter that really explains to the employer why you are a good match for a specific role.

On some websites, like CareerBuilder or Indeed, you sometimes have the option to save a cover letter that will automatically send when you click apply. This time-saving step seems like a lifesaver, but it’s not the ideal approach. Not customizing the letter to the job makes for a weaker approach because there is nothing that speaks to why your qualifications are an ideal match for this specific role. There is no compelling case for why they should consider you. While the customization is more time-consuming, it can have a huge positive impact on your likelihood of securing an interview.

Online Job Applications
Online applications have become a staple in the job search process. Sometimes these questions feel redundant, especially because they almost always ask for information already present in your resume. Unfortunately, writing “see resume” does not fulfill the requirement. Having endured applications, extensive online surveys, and online customer service simulations, I completely understand the desire to find ways to work around these seemingly unnecessary steps—they add time to the process.

Regardless, they’re a necessary evil and very often serve a purpose on the back end of things. For example, I have heard of many companies (and actually worked for one) that use this application process as a test; those who haven’t put in the time and effort to get it perfect have essentially screened themselves out of the process. But then there are other organizations where the information provided is vital to how their system works and serves a very practical purpose. Either way, taking the shortcut may mean your resume gets screened out.

One last thought to keep in mind is that some online job boards or applications create resume-like documents using the information you submit. As you can imagine, missing or incomplete information with the data-entry translates into a less than ideal outcome.

Written by
Adam Lafield, Recruiter & Marketing Specialist

Why Proofreading Must Never Go Out Of Style

October 25th, 2017

While sometimes quite laughable in a text to a friend, random typos and spellcheck/autocorrect issues can really cramp your style in the professional world. In the best-case scenario, they end up raising an eyebrow. Other times (especially in a job search) they could be a deal breaker.

Does this tool make us more efficient, or does it mean we don’t review our work quite as closely as we used to in the past? Thinking back to the old days, I remember the Microsoft version that included spellcheck but without the modern function that underlines questionable words as you type them. Even though we had that handy ABC icon, there was nothing that immediately brought attention to where we had to focus, so proofreading and spellcheck still went hand-in-hand.

Regardless of which era of software marked your entry into the spellcheck world, there is one concept that applies to us all: the limitations of spellcheck mean that we still have to manually check our documents for errors. For example, here is just a small list of distinctions that spellcheck cannot make on your behalf:

  • form versus from
  • manger versus manager
  • advise versus advice
  • of versus off
  • collage versus college
  • their versus there versus they’re
  • too versus to
  • its versus it’s
  • and versus an
  • on versus in
  • current versus currant
  • customer versus costumer

Most likely, you have seen a few of those before. Yes, sometimes grammar check can pick up on issues. But like its cousin spellcheck, grammar check is not foolproof. In this case, the old fashioned simplicity of proofreading is one’s best approach.

At face value, this concept doesn’t seem to apply to professional communication because it’s not usually associated with computers but instead with mobile devices. However, many of us now use phones and tablets to send professional emails, so concerns about autocorrect and its habits apply quite directly to the professional realm.

I’m not sure that any of us knows exactly how autocorrect works. What I do know for sure is that I have, on several occasions, typed a word correctly and had my device change it to another word. Sometimes, the new word isn’t even a real word. Maybe I habitually mistake the spelling of a word often enough where my phone has decided that the wrong word is truly a word. Or perhaps my phone is just asking to be thrown out the window. These things I simply don’t know. What I do know, however, is that autocorrect (somewhat ironically) has made it very important for us to proofread any professional message before hitting the send button.

One final thought on the subject. For those of us who may occasionally use pottymouth words while texting, autocorrect seems to get accustomed to those words (even with voice texting, if anyone is interested) and will not underline those words as misspelled. Now you have another reason to double check and ensure you’re really talking about a Shift Supervisor and not another (likely rather unpleasant) job altogether.

Written by Adam Lafield, Recruiter & Marketing Specialist

Interview Like a Boss-Different Interview Formats

October 18th, 2017

Series: How to Interview Like a Boss

Different Interview Formats

There are a number of different ways to format an interview and really the possibilities are endless. Some common methods like the panel, group, and interview over a meal can provide you with great insight into the candidate’s personality while also getting the answers to the key questions you want to ask.

Interviewing Over a Meal
There can be many benefits to conducting an interview outside the office. This is a great option if you need to keep your interview quiet from the rest of the office staff. If you are interviewing a candidate who will be responsible for entertaining clients, you definitely want to include a meeting over a meal to see how they conduct themselves in a social setting. This is particularly important for key management positions as well as those who are in a role to generate new business for the company.

Typically, this casual setting will allow for a more informal conversation where you can get a glimpse into the candidate’s personality. In particular, pay attention to their interactions with the wait staff noting if they are appreciative and respectful or maybe behaving with an air of entitlement. They will probably remember to be on best behavior with you, but you will likely get to see the “real person” in how they interact with others in the restaurant.

The Panel Interview
The panel interview has multiple interviewers in the room at the same time with one candidate. This allows for all the interviewers to ask questions and also hear the answers to questions others asked. The panel interview works very well when you want a group of peers to meet with the potential candidate. The peer panel usually feels like a more conversational type of interview to ensure there is a good cultural fit with the working team. This same method can also work by having the management team as the interview panel, though this is a very stressful set-up for the candidate. The management team panel lends itself well to fact-finding interview questions where you want to determine skills and technical knowledge.

With either panel set-up, there will need to be pre-planning by the interview team so everyone knows what questions they will be asking and what the order of the questions will be. Without planning, this type of interview will lack the cohesiveness needed and may serve to turn off the candidate.

The Group Interview
The group interview is very different from the panel interview. In this case, there are multiple candidates all being interviewed at once. This format can be very beneficial as a first round interview for those positions with lots of interaction with the public, like a receptionist or customer service representative, who will need to be able to think on their feet. I have also seen this successfully used for management level positions as an end stage interview to evaluate leadership skills in action.

The group interview has been regaining steam recently and can be a great way to save time in the interview process; think about the difference between meeting five people in one hour, verses holding five separate 1-hour interviews. This interview format ends up looking a lot like the classic TV show, The Dating Game, where you ask the same or similar question to each person as you go down the line. This type of interview should immediately make clear who performs well under stress.

Each of these interview formats will allow for the same types of questions to be asked. A little bit of pre-planning to determine what you want to get out of the interview will help in choosing the interview format that is best for your process.

Written by Tiffany Appleton, Director of Accounting & Finance Division

Interview Like a Boss-The Behavioral Interview

October 3rd, 2017

Series: How to Interview Like a Boss

The Behavioral Interview

Behavioral interview questions will provide insight into the candidate’s thought process and personality traits. Often times, the behavioral interview format is not used for the entirety of an interview. A typical interview usually includes both traditional, fact-finding questions, as well as behavioral interview questions. The fact-finding questions will ensure the candidate has the right technical skills and experience for the role while the behavioral questions indicate a proper cultural fit.

The premise of the behavioral interview is to ask open-ended questions which show examples of skills and experiences they have used in prior situations that directly relate to the position. The logic is the candidate’s success in the past is a positive indicator toward success in the future.

Some of the favorite questions in this category include:

  1. Give me an example of a goal you reached and how you achieved it.
  2. Have you ever made a mistake? How did you handle it?
  3. Give me an example of a time you faced a conflict while working on a team. How did you handle that?
  4. Sometimes it’s just not possible to get everything on your to-do list done. Tell me about a time your responsibilities got a little overwhelming. What did you do?

One particular thing to pay attention to is that they answer all parts of the question asked and don’t become sidetracked with the background of the story to never bring you through to the end. Many candidates will be well prepared with examples of stories to share in response to common behavioral interview questions. If you get the sense a candidate’s answer is too concise, follow-up questions are a great way to learn more about the example beyond their canned response.

Some great follow-up questions to example #1 above could be:

  • How long did it take you to reach your goal?
  • Did you ever feel like giving up? If so, what got you back on track?
  • How did your manager or team support you in reaching your goal?
  • What bumps along the way did you encounter and how did you overcome these bumps?

The story the candidate chooses to share can be telling as well. It can be indicative of how forthcoming they are, as well as provide you some insight into their personality. Overall, behavioral questions may provide some vision into the possible cultural fit within your organization.

Written by Tiffany Appleton, Director of Accounting & Finance Division

Interview Like A Boss–The Prescreening Interview

September 26th, 2017

Series: How to Interview Like a boss

The Prescreening Interview

A prescreening interview, performed via phone or video, is a great tool to help you streamline your hiring process. In a 10-20 minute conversation, you can quickly determine if an in-person interview makes sense as a next step.
The prescreen interview will typically include basic questions to determine if there is a match. These questions can be lumped into three major categories.

General Resume Background and History:

  • Verify the resume history. Get or verify dates of employment for each role/company. Ask for reasons for the recent job changes.
  • Tell me about your major responsibilities and duties in your current position (or the role that is most relevant).
  • Why are you looking for something new at this time?
  • What are your salary expectations?

This Role and Questions to Determine a Potential Match:

  • Provide an overview of the role including the day-to-day duties and what they should accomplish if they are successful in the role.
  • If the role requires travel, non-routine hours, or relocation, share this information and ask how they feel about these requirements.
  • If there are specific skills needed for this role, ask about their relevant experience.
  • Why would this job be a good next step for you in your career?

General Personality and Cultural Fit Questions:

  • What are you looking for in a new role?
  • What are you looking for in a company?
  • Ask questions about their career goals.

The amount of time you spend on these questions will likely be determined by how well you think the potential candidate may be a match. If you know early on, this is a good match, feel free to move forward with scheduling an in-person interview and make note to revisit the unasked questions during the in-person session. If you are on the fence, continue probing by asking more of these questions or follow-up questions. As soon as you feel the candidate may not be a good match, politely share this information and end the call.

In this prescreening process, there are red flags to look for. The big ones are inappropriate energy level for the team/company/manager, focusing on money and benefits too much, the inability to articulate what they want next in their career, and the inability to give a compelling reason for considering a job change at this time.

You should always listen to your instincts; if the prescreen just isn’t feeling right, don’t move forward. This step can save you the time and trouble involved in meeting a person who, despite a strong resume, does not meet all your needs.

Written by Tiffany Appleton, Director of Accounting & Finance Division

LinkedIn Messaging the Right Way

September 19th, 2017

You’re searching on LinkedIn to find and connect with a recruiter who works for an employer at the top of your priority list. Success! You’re connected, and now it’s time to say hi with a message. But first, there are specific elements you should include in this message. With only one chance to make a first impression, let’s make certain it’s a positive one.

Get started on the right foot
Put simply, say hello in some form and use the individual’s name. Next, explain why you’re making contact, just as you would at the beginning of a cover letter. Maybe you’re really interested in this company in general, or perhaps there is a specific role or type of role that you’ve seen them advertise and you feel like you may be a great match. Whatever the case may be, this need not be a lengthy statement—one or two sentences will usually suffice.

You’ll notice there is no option here to simply type “Hi” and wait for a response as in a text message. While that approach is well intentioned, it provides neither context nor substance and is something most recruiters will not respond to. In order to create the desired reaction, this interaction must be treated as if you are typing a professional email or a condensed cover letter.

A crucial piece of the puzzle
With the intro done, now it’s time for the even more important part—a sales pitch, of sorts. Sell yourself within a couple or a few sentences.

Here, I like to emphasize the concept of exchange. In writing this message, you are likely asking for help of some kind. When asking for something of value, it’s crucial that you offer something of value in return. Ideally, this something is a skill or set of qualifications relevant to the needs of this individual. Recruiters in the corporate world get tons of these messages every day, so it’s important to let them know why they should keep you at the forefront. Otherwise, you may find yourself not receiving responses from LinkedIn outreach.

The closing
And finally, take no more than two sentences to close out the message, and part of that closing should be used to ask if you can send a resume. Since you aren’t yet acquainted with this recruiter, it’s not the right time to ask for career advice, help with the search, or for any other useful resources you feel this individual may have. Requests of that kind may be reasonable at a later date, but asking those questions early on won’t really help you. Again, it’s important to give them something of value before you ask for favors in return.

Written by:
Adam Lafield, Recruiter & Marketing Specialist

Salvage Relationships while Declining a Job

September 12th, 2017

During the interview process, you have a chance to learn a great deal about the position and the employer. So what happens if all this information leads you to conclude that you don’t want the job? I’ve certainly been there before, and the most important thing is to handle things in a way where you don’t burn any bridges. The good news? It’s quite simple and makes you look supremely professional.

The mid-interview technique
If you’re still in the interview when this realization hits, you have a couple options. I have had several occasions where I chose to end the interview. I felt that to continue would be a waste of everyone’s time. So instead, I very diplomatically ended the conversation, saying something like “[interviewer name], I really don’t want to waste your time here. Based on the information you’ve given me, I know this just isn’t going to be the right match, and here’s why…”

This approach has yielded nothing but incredibly favorable responses. For me, the key elements are honesty and diplomacy. It’s essential to give the interviewer a real, honest reason. If the real reason is awkward, however, keep reading into the next section.

If this method is just too direct, then certainly finish the interview like normal. If they invite you back, you’ll have to respond promptly to their request and let them know where things stand. But if they don’t call you, then you’re off the hook. However, if you’re feeling like the position isn’t a match because of a personality issue or a concern about cultural fit, it may be best to get the jump on the situation to ensure a tactful handling of things. That brings us to the next method…

For situations where the truth would hurt
Let’s go with the example where you’re not jiving with this prospective supervisor. That would certainly be an awkward conversation to have! Here, I would suggest a proactive thank you note right after the interview. After you thank the interviewer for their time, you can then add something to the effect of “While there are many great things about the opportunity we discussed today, I have decided to pursue a different direction at this time.” First, the beauty of that statement is the fact that it’s wrapped up within a thank you note. No interviewer can ever be upset that you’re saying thank you. And the other benefit is that the statement is not terribly specific, yet it also doesn’t tend to generate follow-up questions.

The job offer that you just can’t accept
Here, we’re not talking about taking a cut-throat approach to negotiation by faking a rejection. This is for when you truly wish to decline the position. While it often feels easier to leave a voicemail, send an email, or worse, just never respond, these approaches tend to burn bridges.

Saying no to an offer requires a specific reason as opposed to a general statement about taking a different direction. When someone is making an offer, they’re in a bit of a vulnerable spot. They’ve met with you and several other individuals, but they have decided to invest in you. This investment involves money, time, energy, and many other resources. Plus, you won them over! It’s a business decision yet still somehow a bit personal for those involved. When you say no, it’s a form of rejection, which most of us don’t particularly enjoy.

However, it’s quite well received when delivered properly and in a way that provides closure. The best route is to have a real conversation that involves some thank yous and an explanation as to why this is just not the right direction for you to take at this time. It does not have to be a lengthy explanation. The person on the other end of that conversation will leave the situation not feeling rejected, and you will manage to deliver bad news without tarnishing your name or reputation.

Written by:
Adam Lafield, Recruiter & Marketing Specialist

Candidates: Why You Should Interview the Interviewer

August 22nd, 2017

At an interview, do you jump through hoops to prove your worth to the interviewer? This is exactly what I did during the early days of my career. We aren’t wrong for wanting to put our best foot forward, but taking it to the extreme to make them like us leaves out an important part of the interview equation—how YOU feel about THEM! Only because we already know all about the value of appealing to a prospective employer, I’m going to jump right to the part that focuses on you, the candidate.

The Big Picture
In the long run, nobody wins when we end up in a job or with a company that isn’t the right match. We aren’t happy, successful, or productive. This directly affects the employee and the employer.

When you arrive
There are many things you can assess right from the start. For example, how were you greeted upon arrival and what was the experience like? If possible, see how coworkers interact. Is it positive? Or do they not interact at all? Maybe there aren’t any coworkers at all and you would be working alone. Is the office so quiet you could hear a pin drop?

Your prospective supervisor
While you do your best to impress him/her, be sure you’re auditioning them, too. Does the vibe or connection feel right? Do you feel like you’re being talked down to or interrupted? How would you feel if every work day began with a morning meeting across the desk from this person? Would you feel motivated and excited to get your day started, or would you instead feel heavy and dread starting your day?

While it’s not always easy to know 100% whether or not you can work with someone based on a 30-minute conversation, it’s usually quite possible to see if there are immediate red flags or warning signs.

Meeting the team
Ideally, your interview process will offer you the chance to meet the team (assuming there is one, of course). If that chance arises, apply the same filter to these individuals that you used for your supervisor interview. Sometimes these meetings are done as a group, which would be a great chance for you to see how the team interacts together.

Many examples here focus on potentially negative interaction during an interview; those red flags are the easiest to spot. But sometimes, situations aren’t necessarily about a supervisor or a team being unpleasant. The rest of this task relies upon you the candidate being honest with yourself about your goals, preferences, and limitations you have when it comes to certain environments/personalities. Truthfully, we all have these. It doesn’t make us wrong, but it does mean that some teams, supervisors, or organizations simply aren’t right for us. Using that self-awareness will help you to align yourself with the best opportunities for you.

Written by
Adam Lafield, Recruiter & Marketing Specialist

Why You Should Write Thank You Notes

August 15th, 2017

Post-interview notes are sort of like flossing; we all know we should be doing it, yet it seems to fall through the cracks. Reasons for this vary, but I typically receive one of two explanations. Either candidates simply aren’t sure how to write a thank you note, or they tend to believe that this is a generic move that doesn’t really set one apart from the crowd.

How do I write one?
It’s quite easily done! You’ll end up with a greeting and three basic paragraphs:

  1. Greeting: This varies. You may start with Mr/Mrs/Ms Last Name. In other situations, using the first name is appropriate.
  2. Introduction: You simply thank the interviewer for his/her time and say that it was a pleasure to learn more about the company/position. Keep it simple and straightforward.
  3. Body paragraph: Here, briefly connect the dots between your skills and the job itself. Now that you have learned more about the role, you’ll be in the perfect position to make the case. Feel free to directly reference something discussed in the interview. Again, keep it simple.
  4. Conclusion: And finally, close the note by thanking the interviewer again, reiterate that you’re still interested, and assure them that you are happy to pursue any required next steps in the process (additional interviews, meet with other members of the team, etc.).

A few caveats:

  • Regarding email versus an actual letter, email is the more efficient option. However, hardly anyone ever does a hand-written card these days, so following the email with a card is certainly a nice touch.
  • If you met with multiple individuals, you’ll want to write a separate note for each one. In that case, vary your language instead of sending the same exact letter to each person. Coworkers talk (especially when they’re excited about having received a thank you note!), so they’ll be comparing thank you notes with one another.
  • Of course, proofread for spelling and grammar. A typo can help you stand out in all the wrong ways!

Does it really help one to stand out from the crowd?
Since the thank you note is a basic, standard item in the interview process, some candidates assume everyone writes them, the letters are generic, and they don’t accomplish anything. I can personally say that nothing could be further from the truth! Having spent several years interviewing, I can vouch for the fact that very few interviewees actually write thank you notes. So immediately, you are standing out from the crowd.

Even further, on the occasions I have received thank you notes, I can assure you they were very well received. With a flurry of emails and letters coming in about payments due, bad news, or problems, it feels great to have a positive ray of light coming at me in the form of a thank you note. A simple, properly written message has all the potential to help you stand out quite nicely.

Written by
Adam Lafield, Recruiting & Marketing Specialist
Tiffany Appleton, Director, Accounting & Finance Division