If you are seeking a new career opportunity, chances are you will be asked to engage in a telephone interview – a screening tool favored by most employers. Telephone interviews allow hiring managers to explore a candidate’s work history and abilities as well as evaluate the candidate’s enthusiasm and interest level before committing to a face-to-face meeting, thus saving companies time and money.
At this stage, your mission is to sell yourself sufficiently to be invited in for a personal interview. By following the guidelines below, you will learn how to create a proper first impression, thereby greatly increasing your chances of reaching your goal.
Schedule a specific time.
Suggest that you will make the call and arrange a specific time for the call to occur; you will be more prepared and more comfortable. Find a quiet place where you won’t be interrupted by possible disturbances (e.g., your boss, family members, friends, pets, TV sets, stereos, etc.) Locating a phone next to a desk or table will be most helpful since you will need several materials in front of you. If you are participating in a phone interview at home, the kitchen is a preferred location – counter space for materials, minimal distractions and room to walk around allowing you to release nervous energy.
Be prepared for a complete interview.
Job candidates often make a big mistake: They treat their first telephone interview with a prospective employer as a minor formality. Don’t be fooled. Companies look for reasons not to bring people in for interviews. If you want to succeed, you must prepare for the initial “phone screen” as carefully as you will prepare later for the face-to-face interview.
In order to “sell” your skills and abilities effectively, you should keep the following items next to your phone: your resume, a list of your accomplishments, probing questions about the company, a notepad, possible interview dates and times and a glass of water.
Be prepared (even rehearsed) to answer the following questions:
Questions for the hiring manager could include the following:
By asking questions during the interview, you subtly start taking control of the conversation.
If you sense the interviewer relinquishing control, continue with your line of questions. Interject short responses intermittently to acknowledge the interviewer’s comments (e.g., “That’s interesting,” “I see,” “Great idea,” etc.). Conclude responses with “check-back” phrases such as, “Does that answer your question?” “Is that what you’re looking for?”
Project a winning image.
In a face-to-face interview, your appearance and body language can help reinforce the impression you are trying to create. Over the phone, however, their impression of you will be based on your voice and your answers. Confidence and strong communication skills are a must. However, you do have an edge – you have your home field advantage, familiar surroundings with your notes in front of you.
Listen to each question carefully and respond enthusiastically with concise, fact-filled sentences; responses should be limited to 90 seconds. Describe your ability to impact the company by using specific dollar amounts and percentages to explain your past accomplishments.
Close for an interview.
As you proceed, try to get a feel for the chemistry or rapport that has been established. If you feel the interviewer is impressed with you, and you are interested in pursuing the opportunity, do not hesitate to close the conversation by pushing for a face-to-face meeting:
“(Interviewer’s name), based on the information you have given me, I am very interested in pursuing this opportunity and would like to schedule a time for us to meet in person. I’m available Tuesday through Friday over the next three weeks.”
If the interviewer agrees that the process should continue but cannot commit to a specific schedule, suggest that both parties should coordinate their respective schedules thru the company’s search consultant.
If you are not interested in the position, don’t burn your bridges. Your misconceptions may cause you to lose out on a great opportunity. Express your concerns with the consultant – he or she may be able to clarify the information due to his or her intimate knowledge of the client.
By following the Sanford Rose Associates guidelines for telephone interviewing, you will come across as a candidate who should be invited in for a personal interview.
Top executives agree that the “good old days” of rewarding employees for 35 years of loyal service are a thing of the past. Years ago, individuals who had experience at several companies were considered “job-hoppers”. Potential employers wondered what was wrong with them and why they couldn’t hold a job. Today, changing jobs has become a necessity if individuals expect to advance their careers. The very traits that made them unstable are now hallmarks of a well-rounded, ambitious and assertive professional.
Change and its associated risks are never easy. To quit or not to quit is often a gut-wrenching decision – requiring careful consideration and soul-searching. It involves one of those passages in life that requires abandoning the comfort of the old and assuming the risk of the new. Should you leave behind your friends, your status and the company that helped you progress professionally. As a professional, your career decisions must be made objectively, not emotionally which is easier said than done.
“When one door closes, another opens: but we often look so long and so regretfully upon the closed door that we do not see the one which has opened for us.” – Alexander Graham Bell
Once the often-agonizing decision to leave has been made, you must plan your resignation and how you will handle your employer’s response. It is important to end your relationship as professionally as possible and not to burn your bridges; you never know when you may need a future reference. Compose a letter stating your last day of employment as well as expressing that your decision is irrevocable. Keep it short, simple and positive. Avoid the temptation to recite a list of grievances. Before you present your resignation letter, you must be committed to leaving. Otherwise, “temporary promises and solutions” in the form of a counter-offer may entice you to stay.
Surprisingly, the very best companies rarely make counter-offers. They believe they treat their employees fairly and wish them well if a better opportunity exists elsewhere. If you work for one of them, don’t be disappointed if you fail to receive a counter-offer.
On the other hand, most employers do not like to be fired. Your departure may jeopardize an important project or vacation schedule, create additional workload and even negatively impact employee morale.
In order to prevent you from leaving and causing turmoil within the organization, your employer may make you a counter-offer. Appealing to greed or ego, companies will offer resigning employees promotions, additional training, more money or simply promises of future consideration. They may also prey upon the employee’s conflicting emotions by creating guilt about the present (“H ow can you leave us at a time like this?”) or uncertainty about the future (“We hear the Justice Department is investigating them”).
Some common tactics include:
“We haven’t given you the recognition you deserve; please give us another chance”.
“You’re too valuable for us to lose.”
“We were just about to promote you (or give you a raise), but we had to keep it confidential until now.”
“The grass isn’t always greener, you know. Why take the chance?”
Counter-offers can be very flattering. Before you fall victim to accepting one , here are a few things to think about:
In fact, statistics prove that nearly four out of five people who accept counter-offers are gone within the first year – and on their employer’s terms and timing.
Although your employer may truly consider you to be an asset and may genuinely care about you, your interests are secondary to your boss’ career and your company’s profit. Counter-offers are attempts to manipulate you to do something that is in your employer’s best interests, not necessarily yours. You should hold a steady course from the beginning and stick with your decision to move on to a bigger and brighter future.
Leaving a job is one of the most exciting things you can do in your career – and also one of the most terrifying. You have decided to leave your current employer because your present position doesn’t offer the growth environment you need. Nevertheless, your company has helped you progress professionally, and as a result, you may feel a bit uncomfortable resigning. What then should you expect when you tender your resignation?
One of the first issues that can strain the relationship is how much notice you owe your old employer. There is never a convenient time to leave a job, and you shouldn’t let guilt about the work you’re leaving behind make you pass up a great opportunity. People quit all the time; somehow the company will survive without you.
Prior to resigning and setting a start date with your new employer, review your company’s policies. The standard notice period is two weeks. However, some senior-level executives or project managers may be required to complete an extended notice period, especially those with an employment contract. Even though your new employer may want you to start immediately, it will most likely wait a few weeks for the right person.
If you arbitrarily offer to stay longer than the traditional two weeks, consider life at your old job once you have announced your departure. It may be uncomfortable – you will no longer be considered a member of the team and may be treated accordingly.
Your Sanford Rose Associates consultant can assist you with your resignation letter. Generally, it should be brief and to the point, simply stating the date of your resignation and last day of employment. To further avoid counter-offers, it’s important to state that your decision to leave is irrevocable. Additionally, there is no need to advise your ex-employer of the name of your new employer.
Prior to turning in your letter of resignation, make sure your desk and files are in order and your personal items can easily be collected, since you may be asked to leave the premises immediately. This is especially true if you are working for a large company, privy to confidential information or leaving to go to work for a direct competitor.
Schedule a time to meet with your manager and plan what you’re going to say and then stick to it. Since you never know if and when your paths may cross in the future, emphasize the positives and avoid the negative aspects of your current position. Inform your supervisor that you will complete any outstanding tasks to the best of your ability and participate in the smooth handover of any unfinished work.
Unless your boss is expecting you to resign, your decision will come as a surprise; be prepared for his or her reaction. Your boss may get emotional or even confrontational. In that case, maintain your composure and professionalism; remember, you’re moving on to something better. You may even be made a counter-offer.
Once your resignation is made public, take a deep breath, relax and conduct business as usual. Make sure your office and projects are in order and try to clear up unfinished business. If your co-workers ask why you’re leaving, make generic statements such as, “It’s a career opportunity I just can’t pass up.” Even if you’re leaving on strained or bad circumstances, resist the temptation to criticize your ex-employer or manager.
You are now an outsider, which makes it difficult to show up for the next nine days (but who’s counting?). Your best plan includes staying busy, maintaining a low profile and keeping your attitude positive and professional. Focus on your new opportunity and the fact that you’ll be out of here soon. Manage your transition well and you will have no regrets.
After two months of interviewing, you are offered the position. What began as a curious whim to give a recruiter five minutes of your time is now about to change our life. Initially, you are excited. However, reality begins to sink in and you find yourself becoming nervous about making the change – even though you know it is a great career move.
Successfully managing change in our careers is a big step – and often a stressful one that involves many emotions. Feelings of insecurity and self-doubt begin to erase the positive thoughts about making the change. You wonder if you can handle the additional responsibilities that coincide with the new title and generous compensation package. You are saddened to leave the friends you’ve made and more than a little anxious about how you will fit in with your new peers. You realize that even the voice mail system will be new and remember the tumultuous experience of learning all the ins and outs.
Recognizing and discussing your concerns with your Sanford Rose Associates consultant can help minimize anxiety – reinforcing the positives that initially interested you in the new opportunity (for example, supportive management team, more prestigious position with greater responsibilities, higher compensation package, opportunities for advancement within a really great company or the chance to live closer to elderly parents).
To help you reach a rational decision, your Sanford Rose Consultant may suggest that you prepare a list of pluses and minuses for both your current position and the new opportunity. This will help clear the cloud of emotion and give you a more objective perspective from which to make a sound decision. Usually, the pluses outweigh the minuses. After all, you probably never would have pursued the opportunity if you weren’t at least a little dissatisfied in your current position – ready for a change.
Once you made a commitment to advance your career, your Sanford Rose Associates consultant will assist you with a resignation letter (see Volume I, Issue IV for a detailed discussion on Resigning Without Regrets), advise you of the perils of counter-offers (see Volume I, Issue III on The Dangerous Allure of Counter-offers) and counsel you through the transition period. New challenges await you, as do new opportunities. Celebrate!
John F. Kennedy once said, “Change is the law of life. And those who look only to the past or present are certain to miss the future.”
Do include company description. Don’t assume that people reading your resume know what your company does. If you work for a relatively unknown company, include its business, revenues and size.
Don’t try to squeeze your resume on one page. It may have been drilled into your head never to submit a resume longer than a page, but if you are several years into your career, you should have more than enough information to spill over to a second page. The acceptable length for a resume is two pages. It is better to utilize a second page than reduce the font so it is difficult to read.
Do consider a bulleted style to make your resume as reader-friendly as possible.
Don’t lie or fudge dates, titles or education on your resume. If a prospective employer conducts a background check and discovers that you have misrepresented yourself, you won’t be receiving the job offer.
Do keep both a plain online text version of your resume and separate hard copy resume formatted with bullets and italics.
Don’t use Objective in the heading of your resume. Employers aren’t sold by your desire to, “Find a challenging position with growth opportunity.” They will be sold on your history of past accomplishments and demonstrated contribution.
Don’t make promotions within the same company look like job changes.
Do list your jobs in reverse chronological order.
Do quantify whenever possible. Use numbers to tell prospective employers how many people you supervised, by what percentage you increased sales, how many products you represented, etc.
Don’t include on your resume your height, weight, age, date of birth, place of birth, marital status, sex, ethnicity/race, religion, health, social security number, names of former supervisors, specific street addresses or phone numbers of former employers, picture of yourself, salary information, the title “Resume,” or any information that could be perceived as controversial, such as political affiliations.
Do think in terms of accomplishments when preparing your resume. Accomplishments are so much more meaningful to prospective employers than run-of-the-mill litanies of job responsibilities.
Don’t include hobbies or other irrelevant personal information on a resume. In most cases, they are seen as fluff or filler.
Do remember that education also follows the principle about presenting information in the order of importance to the reader; thus the preferred order for listing your education is: Name of degree (spelled out: Bachelor of _____), name of major, name of college or university and year of graduation.
Don’t list references on your resume. References belong in a later stage of the job search. Keep references on a separate sheet and provide them only when they are specifically requested.
Don’t include “References available upon request.” It is a given that you will provide references upon request.
Do include as much contact information as possible; for example, how to reach you during business hours.
Don’t include the reasons you are no longer working at your past employers. “Laid off,” “Company sold,” “Left to make more money,” etc. have no place on your resume.
Do target your audience. Sending your resume to every ad in the paper or online has little chance of resulting in a job offer. Only forward your resume to those jobs for which you are qualified.
Don’t include letters of recommendation, transcripts or awards. When you send out your resume, include only your resume. When you go in for an interview, you can bring in those letters and present them if asked.
Do give your resume as sharp a focus as possible. Since employers screen resumes in a few seconds, you need a way to show the employer at a glance what you want to do and what you’re good at.
Don’t use justified text blocks; they put odd little spaces between words. Instead, make your type flush left.
Do keep several versions of your resume targeted towards different positions. For example, if you have a sales and marketing background, you may have one resume focused on sales, one on marketing and a third on sales and marketing.
Don’t use a functional format for your resume to hide employment gaps.
Do include key words in your resume defining your tangible skills.
Don’t use personal pronouns (I, my, me) in a resume.
Do proofread carefully. Misspellings and typos are deadly on a resume.
On more than one occasion an executive recruiter may have called you to share a career opportunity. Did you know what to do? Many professional candidates, regardless of education, experience or salary, often don’t understand what to expect from a relationship with a recruiter or, furthermore, what the recruiter expects of you as a candidate. To ensure that you have the most rewarding and conflict-free relationship with your recruiter during an exciting period of career transition, we have prepared the following explanation to help you understand what search professionals do and serve as guidelines when working with a recruiter.
What We Do:
Sanford Rose Associates recruiters work on behalf of client companies to identify and recruit highly qualified professionals. In every search, we establish a solid working relationship with the client company, which includes developing a thorough understanding of the position, organizational structure and company culture. We then search for the most qualified candidates, using our extensive network of referral sources, research team and internal databases. After identifying and presenting qualified candidates, we arrange interviews, negotiate employment offers and assist with job transitions.
What to do when a Recruiter calls:
Consider it a compliment, and take the call. If you want to talk, but can’t, ask when you can call the recruiter back. If you are happy in your present position, tell the recruiter, but make sure to write down their contact information. You never know when you may need a search professional who specializes in your particular industry.
Just because a recruiter calls you, never assume that they actually know what you do, let alone the nuances of what you do. Make sure you are able to take the time to explain your job in laymen’s terms and remember to speak slowly since this person is probably taking notes. You should also keep these other points in mind:
If you are working with a Sanford Rose Associates recruiter, please be assured that they will be sensitive to your personal needs for confidentiality as they address your questions and concerns. We at Sanford Rose Associates pride ourselves in fostering long-term relationships with both clients and candidates; therefore, we want to ensure a good match is made. Encouraging an inappropriate career move would be contrary to our philosophy and counterproductive to maintaining good client relationships. We will ask for your time only when a genuine opportunity exists.
Congratulations! You have an interview. Whether a recruiter assisted you in obtaining this interview or you earned it through your own efforts, now is the time to put your best foot forward. Many of you have not interviewed for several years and your interviewing skills may be rusty. The following is the first in a two-part series of how to prepare for an interview and make sure your first impression counts.
Initially, you should think of the interview as both an information-gathering session and a sales presentation with you as the product. While visiting a prospective employer, you have the opportunity to peek behind the public image of the company and determine if it is the type of organization in which you see yourself working. When evaluating a potential employer, there are several points to consider. Will you feel comfortable working with the hiring manager and the rest of the staff? Does the company espouse values you believe in? Would you be challenged and have the opportunity to grow?
In addition to information gathering, you should think of your interview as a sales presentation. The company you are interviewing with created this position to solve a business problem, and the solution could be you – provided you have what it takes and can communicate your talents to your interviewer. Your sales presentation should communicate how your experience, skills and credentials can solve the company’s problem.
Before the interview you should be prepared to answer the proverbial question, “Tell me about yourself.” Your answer should be a 60-second introduction to your talents and accomplishments. Limit your answer to work-related topics. While hiring managers may be interested in your personal life later in the interviewing process, your answer to this question speaks volumes about how you view your skills, accomplishments and career aspirations.
Next, you should be prepared to describe your most significant accomplishments as they relate to the position. You should be able to explain the why, when, how and what of your accomplishments. How did you help your company expand internationally? How did your team bring three new products to market in 6 months? How did the changes you made on the production floor increase output by 20%? Be prepared to answer who was involved, the steps taken, the results and the lessons learned, as well as your specific involvement. Be able to talk about your successes and your failures. Hiring managers appreciate individuals who have learned from their failures as well as their successes.
Realize that not all hiring managers are experienced interviewers. If the interviewer does not ask questions pertinent to the job, then you may need to take control of the interview and direct attention to your skills, experience and credentials. Part of the sales process is ensuring that you describe your background as it relates to the position, even if the hiring manager doesn’t ask specific questions.
Before your interview, make sure you adequately research the company. Take time to learn about the company’s products, services, organizational structure, customers, competitors, culture, parent company, locations, sales/revenue, growth, etc. This information can be found on the company’s web site, through its annual report, in business directories and trade publications. The more time you take to understand the company, the better you will be able to demonstrate how your background and credentials are the solution to the company’s problem.
In addition to investigating the company, make attempts to learn the background of the interviewer. If you are working with a Sanford Rose Associates search consultant, that person should be able to provide information about the interviewer, such as how long that person has been with the company, where they came from, their educational background and traits they may be looking for during the interview.
Finally, you should prepare a list of questions to ask the interviewer. A list of well-thought-out questions demonstrates that you have carefully considered the position, the company and the challenges of the job. The interviewer will appreciate the time you spent researching the company and industry. Your efforts will be rewarded when you become a finalist for the position. Again, your goal when preparing for the interview is to ensure you make the best possible first impression.
In the next Candidate Chronicle, Part II of Preparing for an Interview, we will review common interview questions.
In the last issue of the Candidate Chronicles, we provided suggestions to help you prepare for your next interview. The following continues our discussion of making your first impression count by examining some of the most common and challenging interview questions.
When a prospective employer conducts an interview, not only are they looking for a particular skill(s) and cultural match, they also are interested in how you think, make decisions and solve problems. The interviewer also wants to learn about your accomplishments and leadership skills. Before your next interview, take a few minutes to write down your answers to the following questions. You will be better prepared to make the most of your interview.
1. Tell me about yourself.
This question inevitably comes up during the interview, although the wording may be different. Knowing this, you should prepare a 30-60 second ‘elevator-pitch’ about your work and career accomplishments. Stay away from descriptions that are not work related. An employment interview is not the time to tell a prospective employer you have three cats, a frog and play competitive ping-pong on the weekends.
2. Why are you looking to move from your current position?
If you are working with a search consultant, your answer may be that you weren’t looking to move, but the opportunity sounded interesting and you would be regretful if you didn’t investigate it further.
3. In what areas do you feel you need improvement?
This is the alternative question to, “What are your weaknesses?” We all have areas in which we could use improvement and this question tests your self-insight. Be honest, but don’t feel you need to expose all of your imperfections. Refer to the ‘action items’ section in your last performance review to provide ‘safe’ answers to that question. That way, if the interviewer speaks with your supervisor he will hear congruent information.
4. Tell me about yourself part 2.
Make sure you are able to justify the information on your resume. Practice by constructing a story about who, what, where, how, when and why for each accomplishment you list. Good interviewers will judge your accomplishments by the details you provide.
5. What do you expect out of this position and your association with our company?
If you have properly researched the position and the company, you should be prepared to give a strong response. Be able to discuss how your background can solve the company’s business need(s) and by helping the company, how you will be furthering your career goals.
6. If I were to contact your previous boss, what would he or she say about you?
If the relationship with your boss was a good one, you can be reasonably assured the comments will be positive. If the relationship was less than stellar, this is your time to explain your side of the story. Not every workplace relationship is perfect, however boss bashing is never appropriate. Think about your answer in advance so you won’t be caught off guard.
7. Tell me about the people you hired in your last job. How long did they stay with you and how did they work out?
The hiring manager is trying to understand your hiring capabilities as well as management style. If you have hired and managed in the past, be prepared to discuss your failures as well as successes.
8. What do you think about in your job? Where do you spend your time?
This question is actually asking how strategic is your thinking and how well do you utilize time during the day. Be prepared to answer the question with real examples.
9. Why should we hire you over someone else?
If you don’t have a reason why you should be hired, then the employer probably won’t see a reason either. Be prepared to explain how your background and skills will contribute to the company’s success.
10. What do you think are the misconceptions about you?
The interviewer wants to see not only how you view yourself but also how you believe others view you. Be careful; this is a tricky question.
11. What do you think of your former boss?
This question offers you an opportunity to discuss your boss’s best attributes – even if you didn’t always see eye to eye. The interviewer will be watching to understand how you deal with and respect authority. If you provide a negative report of your last boss, the interviewer will quickly wonder what you might say about them should they hire you.
If you are properly prepared, an employment interview can be a wonderful opportunity to showcase your skills and accomplishments. Before the interview, make sure you research the company and think about potential interview questions and answers in advance. In doing so, you will be one step closer to getting the offer!
Maybe you were thinking about a job change when the recruiter called – and maybe not. In any event, opportunity seems to have knocked.
Let’s assume you are not the proverbial “tire kicker” – the kind of person who likes to check out the market periodically but has no real interest in switching jobs. Let’s assume the potential new position is neither a lateral move nor a step backward. And let’s assume it has some genuine excitement attached.
You don’t want to anger the recruiter by feigning interest where none exists, or by continuing to pretend interest after you have ruled out the opportunity. That’s a good step toward career suicide, see Working with a Sanford Rose Associates Recruiter, Volume II Issue I. So at each phase of the interviewing and acceptance process, you have to decide whether to keep going or to call the whole thing off. But how?
When considering a career move (as opposed to a job hop), candidates are well advised to focus first on what it is about their current position or employer that would make them want to leave.
Despite the fact that employees are changing employers with ever-increasing frequency, that doesn’t mean you have to. You may have the perfect job with the perfect boss in the perfect company in the perfect location. You have been promoted frequently, earn more money than you had ever dreamed and are on a fast track to corporate stardom. Being fired is not a worry, because you are guaranteed a terrific severance package and your reputation precedes you in the world of executive search. And on top of everything else, you love your job. If that describes your situation, think twice before leaving. In fact, think three or four times.
On the other hand, perhaps your job is less than perfect. Your boss is a power-hungry egotist, unwilling to share recognition and acknowledge your many contributions. Or the company, once the market leader, has become an also-ran and the shareholders are restless. Or the thought of another winter in Fargo is more than you can stand. Perhaps you have been denied promotion or given a salary increase that must have been designed as an insult. Maybe life in a cubicle is not what you had in mind upon graduation from college some years ago. Given any one or more of those circumstances, you may be ready for a new job. The only question is which.
Here are a few tips for proceeding.
1. As discussed above, make a list of what you dislike about your current job. If you need to remind yourself, make a separate list of what you like about the job.
2. Describe what would be the perfect next job for you – whether at your current employer or somewhere else. Be as specific as possible in terms of responsibilities, reporting relationships, company, location, compensation package (including benefits), promotional opportunities, etc. If this pretty much describes your current career path, stay put unless someone offers you a million dollars.
3. Evaluate the new job opportunity from two standpoints. First, will it solve all or most of the problems you described in Point 1? Second, how closely does it match your ideal job description in Point 2? If the shoe fits, consider wearing it. For a more in-depth discussion on evaluating the new opportunity, see the next issue of Candidate Chronicles, Volume II, Issue V.
4. Be honest about your family situation and include them in the decision-making process. (Don’t come home some night and say, “Guess what, honey? We’re moving to Cedar Rapids.”) When talking to the recruiter, don’t gloss over potential conflicts such as a working spouse, sick parent or daughter in her final year of high school. Get them out in the open and address them; your recruiter may have good advice to offer.
If each day you – and your family – are growing more excited, that’s a good sign. If the opportunity grows dimmer over time, let go of it and let your recruiter know. You will be appreciated for your honesty and candor and will be considered as other opportunities arise.