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Posts Tagged ‘communication skills’

Mastering the Phone Interview

Thursday, January 5th, 2012

By: Alison Green

More and more employers are using phone interviews as screening mechanisms to narrow down their applicant pool before deciding whom to interview in person. Phone interviews can range from short and perfunctory, to long and in-depth, but they’re generally intended to obtain some basic background information about you and to get a better sense of who you are.

The keys to acing a phone interview are being professional, prepared, and enthusiastic. Here are 10 ways to ensure you are.

1. Be prepared. You want to go into the call understanding who the employer is, so before the interview, go to its website and read enough to get a good feel for its clients, work, and general approach. Don’t leave the site until you can answer these questions: What does this organization do? What is it all about? What makes it different from the competition?

2. Know the job description. There’s nothing worse than a phone interview where the candidate doesn’t seem to grasp what the job is all about and why it would be a good fit. So as part of your advance preparation, go through the job description line by line and think about how your experience and skills fit with each line. Don’t be alarmed if you’re not a perfect fit; people get hired all the time without being a line-for-line match. The idea is simply to have thought through how you are a match, so that those thoughts are easily retrievable and can be turned into answers on the phone.

3. Think about the questions that you’re likely to be asked, and write out your answers to each of them. At a minimum, cover these basics: Why are you thinking about leaving your current job? What interests you about this opening? What are your strengths and weaknesses? What experience do you have doing ___? (Fill in each of the major responsibilities of the job.)

4. Think about how you’ll answer questions about salary history or expectations, so you’re prepared with an answer and not caught off-guard if this common topic comes up.

5. Come up with several questions of your own, because at the end of the conversation you’ll likely be asked what questions you have. Good questions at this stage are about the role itself and open-ended inquiries about the office culture. Make sure to end by asking what the next steps are and what the timeline is for getting back to you.

6. Pay attention to your tone of voice. On the phone interview, the interviewer can’t see your body language or gestures, so tone of voice matters more than ever. Your goal is to sound upbeat, interested, and engaged, not sluggish, distracted, or unenthused. And let your personality come through; after all, a major reason for the phone interview is to get a sense of what you’re all about.

7. While you shouldn’t sound stiff, don’t have an overly casual manner either. While the interviewer wants a sense of your personality, a phone interview is still an interview, not an informal phone call with a friend. I’ve phone-screened candidates who I’m pretty sure were lounging on the couch, watching the game with the sound down, and snacking while we talked. That’s not the impression you want to make!

8. Remember that a great benefit of phone interviews is that you can have notes in front of you. Take those answers you wrote down in step #3 and keep them in front of you. Just make sure you don’t sound like you’re reading a script.

9. Keep your answers to-the-point. One thing employers look for in phone interviews is the ability to answer questions directly and concisely, because they want to hire people who can organize their thoughts and convey needed information quickly. So keep your answers fairly concise. Of course, if there’s more to tell after your short answer, you can certainly ask, “Does that give you what you’re looking for, or would you like me to go more in depth about this?”

 10. Don’t do a phone interview while you’re driving. You won’t be able to fully concentrate, and if the interviewer realizes you’re driving, it will come across very poorly—because of safety and because it looks like you’re not treating the conversation as a priority.

Acing the Interview: Secrets of a Hiring Manager

Wednesday, October 5th, 2011

By Alison Green

Job interviews are nerve-wracking, and job seekers often agonize over what the interviewer is looking for and how to best present themselves. As someone who has interviewed thousands of candidates, here are eight interviewing secrets from the other side of the desk.

1. The small stuff counts—sometimes a lot.

Candidates often act as if only formal contacts, like interviews and writing samples, count during the hiring process. They’ll send flawless cover letters but then follow up on their applications with poorly written emails with spelling errors. Or they’ll be charming and polite to the interviewer but rude to an assistant. Hiring managers are noticing all of this, so it’s crucial to pay attention to the little things, too.

2. Interviewers can tell who did their homework.

The difference between candidates who spent time preparing and those who didn’t is stark. Before any interview, candidates should spend time on the employer’s Web site, getting to know the company. Read enough to get a good feel for its clients, work, and general approach. You want to come away able to answer these questions: What does this organization do? What is it all about? What makes it different from its competition?

3. Candidates should ask questions too—and they should be good ones.

The interviewer wants to know that the candidate is interested in the details of the job, the department, the supervisor’s management style, and the culture of the organization. Otherwise, the candidate will come across as not that interested or not that thoughtful. Good questions at this stage are clarifying questions about the role itself and open-ended questions about the office culture. Save the questions about salary and benefits until the employer makes an offer.

4.  Being likable, matters.

Interviewers are human. We want to work with people who are pleasant to be around. So be friendly and try to really show interest in the people you’re talking with.  Don’t feel you have to hide your personality, or be so formal that you become stiff or impersonal.  We want to get a sense of who are.

5. Enthusiasm matters, too.

Job seekers sometimes worry about looking desperate. But it doesn’t look desperate to express your interest in the job or check in to ask about the hiring timeline. However, enthusiasm does cross the line if you are calling more than once a week, calling earlier than the date by which they said they’d get back to you, or sounding like you’re eager to take any job as opposed to one in particular.

6. Be prepared with stories.

As you talk with your interviewer, look for ways to share specific experiences from your past that illustrate how you might approach this job. Give concrete examples of times that you’ve used the skills they’re looking for, so that your interviewer can almost “see you in action” —something that hypothetical answers don’t allow.

7. Avoid cliché answers.

If you’re asked about your weaknesses, don’t offer up clichés like “I work too hard” or “I’m a perfectionist.” Interviewers have heard these answers hundreds of times, and you’ll come across as disingenuous. Instead, talk about a real weakness, and then follow up with what you’re doing about it. For instance, you might say something like, “I realized in college that I wasn’t as naturally organized as I wanted to be. So now I make lists religiously, and I check them every morning and every afternoon to make sure that nothing is slipping through the cracks and all my priorities are correct. I haven’t lost track of anything since I started this.”

8. Treat the interview as a two-way conversation.

It’s easy for candidates to feel that an interview is an interrogation where they’re the only one being judged. But the most successful interviewers are two-way conversations in which the employer and the candidate have an honest discussion of the needs of the role. But your interview won’t be a two-way conversation if you’re just waiting for the employer to deliver a verdict. So remember that you should be assessing them right back, by gathering info about the job, about the manager, about the company culture, so that you can figure out if this is a job in which you’d do well and be happy.

Phone Etiquette for Job Seekers

Wednesday, October 5th, 2011

By Miriam Salpeter

As a job seeker, once you have a resume circulating, it’s important to focus on details to be sure your job hunt is successful. One important, often overlooked, job seeker tip: Pay attention to your telephone etiquette. In a competitive climate, every impression you make on a potential hiring manager affects how you fare in the job hunt.

Typically, a recruiter or hiring manager interested in interviewing you will pick up the phone and call the number on your resume. What number do you list? Hopefully, you haven’t included a work number or home phone that your roommates, parents or children may answer. Be sure to offer a number only you answer, typically a cell phone with good sound quality and reliable reception. You don’t want to give the impression you conduct personal business at work, have to worry that someone will be rude to a potential interviewer, risk missing a message, or have your five-year old answer the phone when your dream job calls.

The next thing to keep in mind is your outgoing voice-mail message. Keep it basic and professional; make sure it includes your name, so the caller knows he or she reached the right number. Eliminate musical interludes, political or religious comments, and anything the listener could interpret as silly or frivolous. Stick to a polite, brief, “This is (your name), I’m sorry I missed your call. Please leave a message and I will get back to you as soon as possible.”

Providing a mobile number for prospective employers doesn’t mean you should answer the phone whenever it rings, no matter where you are. Eager job seekers often make the mistake of picking up calls when they are in no position to be able to carry on a reasonable conversation. When shouldn’t you answer the phone? During a sporting event, while driving in heavy traffic, at a birthday party, sitting in a busy coffee shop…The list goes on and on! (Your future boss doesn’t want to hear you curse at a driver who cuts you off or listen to background noise that makes it impossible to accomplish anything on the phone.)

Unless you are in a quiet place where you are able to hear the caller, write down notes, and reasonably carry on a conversation, do not answer your phone if you think it may be someone calling about your candidacy for a job. (That’s any call you don’t recognize once you have a resume circulating.) If you can’t pick up the phone right at that moment, be sure to get somewhere you can return a hiring manager’s call as soon as possible.

No employer wants to try to have a discussion with someone who’s repeating, “Can you say that again, I really can’t hear you very well in this gym.” Or, “I’m driving and can’t write down that address right now. Can you call back and leave it on my voice mail?” It’s important not to inconvenience someone who may want to hire you or to give the impression you don’t have good judgment regarding telephone etiquette. Consider any interaction with a hiring manager as part of the interview process; never let your guard down. Make good choices along the way to demonstrate your excellent communication skills.

You Applied for the Job… Now What?

Wednesday, June 8th, 2011

By Andrea Santiago

Some of the most common job search questions often involve the method job seekers should utilize to follow up with a potential employer or hiring manager after submitting a resume to a potential employer for consideration.
Many career experts, including Lindsay Olson from US News & World Report’s Money/Careers blog, agree that how you follow up depends upon a number of variables, and you need to approach each situation accordingly.
However, there are several common denominators that apply to most circumstances, and these guidelines will help you when you’re trying to navigate the job search process after you have submitted your resume.
The best resume follow-up strategy is to submit such a fantastic resume that you don’t have to follow up. If your resume is spot-on for the position, the hiring authority may contact you first, before you even have to follow up on anything.
So how do you “wow” hiring managers with your resume?
Customize your resume – Pay close attention to the verbiage used in the job ad and job description. Incorporate the potential employer’s words and key phrases into your own resume, (where applicable of course—true to your qualifications of course!)

Research Resume Samples – There are numerous websites that now provide resume samples and resume builders for a variety of industries.

There are many ways to create an attention-grabbing resume. But even the best resumes will still require you to proactively reach out to the hiring authority to get feedback regarding your application and status. If your resume does not stop the hiring manager in his or her tracks, and you don’t receive a call from anyone inviting you to an interview, it doesn’t mean that you are not qualified. The hiring manager may simply be overwhelmed with many good applicants. Sometimes, you can draw additional attention to your resume and help yourself stand out over the other applicants if you are able to follow up effectively and professionally.

How you proceed depends upon the circumstances of your application. Did you apply online, through a friend, via a job fair, or some other method? If you know someone in the organization, it may be acceptable to contact that person directly. Otherwise, you should be careful not to contact the wrong person, or follow up too frequently. Below are a few basic resume follow-up tips that apply to most situations:

  • Be courteous and respectful of the person’s time.
  • Don’t stalk the hiring manager or over-communicate. You could come across as desperate, or you may just annoy the hiring manager so much that they could rule you out based on that. A good rule of thumb is no more than 1-2 times per week, for 2-3 weeks.
  • Don’t go above or around the hiring manager or contact listed on the job ad. Some career experts recommend it, but in my experience as a recruiter, and as a hiring manager, that tactic usually does more harm than good.
  • Your follow up should be brief, well-written, (or well-spoken if you’re leaving a voicemail), and free of errors, typos, or grammar mistakes.
  • Email is less intrusive and generally more accepted than phone calls.

If you follow those basic guidelines when following up on your resume or job application, you will convey a high level of interest, tenacity, and professionalism that employers want from their prospective employees.

Cover Letters for Recent College Graduates

Monday, March 28th, 2011

Recent college graduates are often anxious and confused about what to write in the cover letters that accompany their job applications. As a result, they tend to make two major mistakes: they either don’t send much of a cover letter at all, or they use the letter to simply summarize the information that’s on their resume.

These are crucial mistakes. A cover letter can be one of the most effective ways to make an application stand out, particularly for recent grads, who generally are at a disadvantage when it comes to experience.

The reason a cover letter can make such a difference is because, for most jobs, picking the best candidate is rarely solely about skills and experience. Those obviously take center stage, but if that’s all that mattered, there would be no point in interviews; employers would make a hire based off of resumes alone. But in the real world, other factors matter too—people skills, intellect, communication abilities, enthusiasm for the job, and simply what kind of person you are. A good cover letter effectively conveys those qualities.

Here are some keys to a great cover letter. Using these tips, in conjunction with Job & Career Accelerator’s Cover Letter Builder, can really help move a candidate to the “call for an interview” pile.

  • The cover letter should be written in a conversational, engaging tone. Recent grads sometimes feel that business writing means being stiff or overly formal; the best cover letters are more conversational (without being overly casual, of course).
  • The letter should show personal interest in working for this particular organization and in this particular job, and it should be specific about why. Doing this makes it clear that this isn’t not the same form letter that the candidate is sending to every other job she’s applying for.  Employers want applicants who are interested in this job, not a job.
  • The letter should not simply summarize the resume that follows. With such limited initial contact, applicants are doing themselves a disservice if they squander a whole page of the application on repeating the contents of the other pages!
  • Instead, a great cover letter should provide information about the candidate that will never be available from a resume, like personal traits and work habits. For instance, if a candidate is applying for an assistant job that requires top-notch organizational skills, and the candidate is so organized that she alphabetizes her spices and color-codes her bills every month, most hiring managers would love to know that! And that’s not something that would ever belong in a resume, but the cover letter is a perfect place for it.
  • One tip for a great letter: Read the ad and deduce what traits are needed to excel in the position, and then write straightforwardly about those. For instance, a job-seeker might write, “Reading over your ad, I suspect you’re looking for someone detail-oriented and organized, and that’s why I’m responding.”  Or, if the ad specifically listed those qualities (and thus no deducing was necessary), the candidate could write, “Your ad called for someone detail-oriented and organized, and I’m continually lauded for those qualities.”
  • (Of course, candidates need to be smart and genuine about this. Writing “Your ad called for someone with an English degree and I’m continually lauded for mine” won’t pass a straight-face test. People are rarely lauded for their degrees by anyone other than their parents.)
  • A great letter avoids sounding overly salesy. Recent grads tend to be especially prone to hyperbole in their cover letters, perhaps because they’re not sure what else to say and they’ve been told to sell themselves. The best letters avoid statements like  “You won’t find a candidate better qualified than me” or “I’m the best candidate for the job”; these sorts of statements come across as overly cocky, naive bluster (especially from a candidate without significant experience). Instead, they’re simply straightforward and explain why the candidate is a strong match.
  • A great letter gets the details right. I can’t tell you how many cover letters I receive from candidates who get the title of the job they’re applying for wrong, or who ignore specific instructions that were in the ad.  It’s important that grads realize that little things really do matter.

Approaching cover letters this way will help grads stand out from their competition, the vast majority of whom aren’t tailoring their letters this way.

Of course, this approach does take longer, so job-seekers may argue that they have no time for this kind of personalization when they’re applying for 50 different jobs. But if they narrow it down and focus on fewer jobs and take the time to write a truly compelling cover letter tailored to each specific job, it’s likely they’ll find that 10 truly personalized, well-tailored applications get better results than 50 generic applications.