Conquer the Behavioral-Based Interview

January 26th, 2012

Ever wondered why you go on one interview after the next but never seem to get the job?  Or perhaps you have been submitting one resume after the other but just can’t seem to get a shot at an interview.  Well, this series of blogs, The Making of a Star Candidate, may be just what you need to fine-tune your skills and bring your job search to the next level.

In the fourth and final post of the series, we’ll take a look at something that stumps many candidates—the behavioral-based interview.  As the name implies, these questions assess how an interviewee acts in particular situations, the idea being that past performance predicts future performance.

With traditional interviews, we have trained ourselves to look at a list of questions and memorize responses.  With behavioral-based questions, the possibilities are nearly endless, which makes memorization an unrealistic solution.  It won’t hurt to be familiar with a few classic questions (see below), but before you burn the midnight oil surfing the web for sample questions, let’s regroup and consider a different approach.  The interviewer is going to be asking specific questions about your experience, right?  So why not look at the primary source—your resume!

By now, you have hopefully crafted your resume with pithy, brilliant bullet points (If not, check out some resume tips).  Go into the interview knowing your resume, which sounds obvious, right?  However, can you look at the bullet points and elaborate upon experiences connected to each qualification and job duty listed?  Also remember that interviewers want to know about a real situation and what you DID do, not about a hypothetical situation and what you WOULD do.  If you provide hypotheticals, you did not answer the question.

So now you have your homework assignment for behavioral-based preparation:  use your resume to refresh your mind with situations from past positions.  Instead of trying to anticipate which questions to practice, invest your time in creating an arsenal of pertinent work situations as the foundation of your interview preparedness.   While this approach does not give you a memorized list of questions and answers, the foundation you create will be a source you can draw from to tactfully apply your experiences to each behavioral question asked.

And now for one last but very important piece of advice:  be true to yourself!  Distorting behavior, preferences, etc. just to fit the needs of a particular position may end with a job offer, but you and your new employer will soon realize the lack of compatibility.  In this situation, nobody wins—neither you nor your employer.  So yes, always put your best foot forward, but also be sure that your responses are a true reflection of you as a candidate so you end up in a positive, productive employment situation.

As promised earlier, here are four common behavioral questions that you may encounter in some form or another, just to help get you started:

  1. Tell me about a time you went above and beyond to get a job done.
  2. Give an example of the most rude or irrational person you have had to deal with.  How did you handle it?  What would you do differently now?
  3. Tell me about a time you set and achieved a goal.
  4. Tell me about a time when you had to be persuasive and sell your idea to someone else.

Ace Your Interview!

January 19th, 2012

Ever wondered why you go on one interview after the next but never seem to get the job?  Or perhaps you have been submitting one resume after the other but just can’t seem to get a shot at an interview.  Well, this series of blogs, The Making of a Star Candidate, may be just what you need to fine-tune your skills and bring your job search to the next level.

In this third post of the series, we’ll move beyond the resume and onward to what should hopefully be the next step—the interview.  And as we review the following common interview issues, remember that these are things over which you have total control.  So grab the reins and create your successful interview!

Not prepared
No knowledge of the company that’s interviewing you, not asking good questions as an interviewee, and not answering questions well.  When going on an interview, it’s best to look proactive and interested by doing some research.  And while doing this research, you will likely come up with some very pointed questions for your interviewer, which solves two of the three aforementioned interview preparation faux pas.  Easy!

In terms of interview questions, there are tons of resources online for practice interview questions.  Look at a few lists and have answers to the questions.   But don’t stop there!  Take it to the next level.  Answer each question out loud—literally, out loud.  You may be surprised at how that clear answer in your head struggles to make its way to your lips in a cohesive fashion.  Answer each question over and over until you can provide a solid, dependable answer.

Badmouthing previous employers
This one seems easy and common-sense until you are faced with the question, “What did you dislike most about your current/most recent job?”  We all have had negative work experiences, and there are diplomatic ways to explain the downsides of your last job.  The worst thing you can do is to create a laundry list of judgments and complaints against your previous employer.

Late for your interview
Don’t be late.  Simple as that.  Show up 10 minutes before your appointment.  If you realize you are going to be late (got lost, traffic, etc), call to see if it is still ok to come or if it is best to reschedule.

Underdressed
Dress to impress!  You really never have to worry about upsetting your interviewer by being overdressed.  In fact, plan to be dressed more formally than your interviewer.  After you have the job, you may be able to relax your attire a bit.

Avoidance of questions
Don’t try to evade the question the interviewer is asking.  Even if you are blessed with the gift of gab, you will not be able to distract the interviewer from the fact that you completely avoided the question for which he/she needed an answer.  When interviewees do this, it sends a red flag, so you may as well just work through the question the best you can.  Worst case scenario, you have a new question to master for your next interview!

Myth-Busting: The One-Page Resume

January 12th, 2012

Ever wondered why you go on one interview after the next but never seem to get the job?  Or perhaps you have been submitting one resume after the other but just can’t seem to get a shot at an interview.  Well, this series of blogs, The Making of a Star Candidate, may be just what you need to fine-tune your skills and bring your job search to the next level.

The second post in this series is dedicated to debunking a well known myth—the one-page resume.  Almost weekly, candidates ask us about this, and they oftentimes are seasoned professionals who simply cannot get it down to one page without scrapping tons of great material!  Well, the good news is that the days of the one-page resume requirement have come to an end!  But before you pop open the bubbly, let’s dive in and see what impact this has on your next resume update.

So why did this whole one-page limit come into existence in the first place?  Back in the day, employers were flooded with resumes that were so “fluffed up” that it was impossible to reach the heart of the document and the applicant’s actual qualifications.  So the reaction was to make the rule that all resumes should be only one page long because it forced candidates to be very concise and include only the most pertinent information.

These days, resume styles have changed a bit.  For example, the current trend encourages applicants to create a summary section and a skills section at the beginning of the resume.  So with that information taking up one third of the page, how does one then fit all his or her expert experience within the remaining one-half page of space?  The answer is, you don’t!  Instead, the applicant should do the unthinkable—go on to a second page.

Of course, there is a rather large “but” coming up right about now.  Applicants cannot allow this new trend to excuse a return to the fluffy two-page resume.  While it is okay now to proceed to a second page, it’s still important to approach the resume writing with the same pithiness and exactitude used when trying to keep everything to one page.  Otherwise, the dreaded one-page resume trend may once again rear its ugly head!

So here’s the take-home message for you on this topic.  If you are able to convey your experience AND keep the resume to one page, absolutely do so.  However, if staying to one page means you cut out quality experience that is applicable to the position for which you are applying, then go on to a second page.  Always remember that the purpose of your resume is to convince the reader to call you for an interview.  And based on studies, your resume has about 30 seconds to accomplish that goal, so make every second of that review count by fashioning a concise, brilliant resume.

The Resume of a Star Candidate

January 6th, 2012

Ever wondered why you go on one interview after the next but never seem to get the job?  Or perhaps you have been submitting one resume after the other but just can’t seem to get a shot at an interview.  Well, this series of blogs, The Making of a Star Candidate, may be just what you need to fine-tune your skills and bring your job search to the next level.

The first post in the series is dedicated to looking at some common errors in the all-important resume.  We’ve picked our brains trying to think of the most common resume blunders we see so we can share them with readers.  Here’s what we came up with:

Not customizing your resume to the role.  This is huge.  Today’s world focuses so much on personal expression and customizing services and items to individual needs.  The job search now takes part in that trend.  Candidates can no longer create one resume to mass distribute, waiting for the phone calls to roll in.  Each job for which you apply requires its own resume.  Look at the job description and specific duties, and consider your background.  Then create resume bullet points that connect your skills and qualifications to the job requirements.

Streamline with bullet points.  Is your resume in paragraph form?  If so, you may be missing out.  Employers see tons of resumes and will likely not find time to slow down so they can read paragraphs of text.  You’ll have a better chance of being read if you break down your dense thickets of text into bullet points.  Start each bullet with an action verb (vary the verb choice throughout) and stick to one topic per bullet.

Typos.  This does seem very common-sense, and perhaps it is.  Regardless, employers receive resumes with typos on a daily basis.  We all know that spellcheck won’t pick up on grammatical errors, and grammar check remains an insufficient substitute for legitimate proofreading.  If you don’t trust yourself to pick up everything, find a fresh pair of eyes.  It can make all the difference in the world.

Listing jobs from 20 years ago.  For the most part, a good rule of thumb is to go back the last 10 years.  If you have really great experience that goes back further than that, it may be okay to include it.  But remember, even if the experience is significant, changes in technology and/or the job market have probably made even significant experience somewhat obsolete, so be sure to think critically and use your judgment.

Unfortunately, some aspects of the job search are beyond your control.  The good news is that the resume—your first impression—is 100% in your hands.  You can make the proactive choice to do a little extra work and make your resume the resume of a star candidate.