Recently, I sat down with Career Coach Alex Freund, who specializes in helping his clients improve their interview performance, to get some inside information on the hiring process. With an office full of books on interviewing, social media, and other work-related issues, Freund admits to being just a little bit obsessed with his work!
Freund’s qualifications for career coaching are grounded in his professional experience, maturity, and expertise. He’s held management positions at Fortune 500 companies such as Honeywell and Tyco International where he has been responsible for hiring talent, giving him a firsthand understanding of what the hiring manager is thinking during an interview.
Aside from coaching, Freund helps hundreds of people a year better their interviewing and networking skills by leading several job-search networking groups as well as running workshops at churches and various public libraries in New Jersey. To learn more about Alex Freund, visit his website, www.landingexpert.com and be sure to check out his blog, www.landingexpert.posterous.com.
What is a hiring manager?
A hiring manager is a title given to anyone that has authority to hire. The hiring manger can be a supervisor in the shoe department or a vice president in the IT department, or the CEO of a company, for example.
What’s going on in an interviewer’s mind when he or she is doing an interview?
Interviewing is just one activity of many during a ten-hour workday. Most likely, the interviewer just wants to get the interview over with so they can go back to his or her other responsibilities. The hiring manager is not excited about the interview, and it’s a mistake for you, the interviewee, to think so. This is often disappointing to you since you arrive at the interview excited to meet this person who could potentially offer you a job.
Finding out about a candidate’s skills is only a part of what happens in an interview. The candidate’s skills have been evaluated via his/her resume before the interview. In other words, if you, the candidate, don’t have the skills, I, as a hiring manager, am not going to invite you for an interview. So every person that is coming to my office could potentially be offered a job based on skills.
Typically, the final decision isn’t made during the interview. At the time the hiring manager makes a decision, you are not there; the interviewer makes a decision not on you, but on your image. So when you come for an interview, you leave an image in the hiring manager’s brain. The hiring manager retrieves that image and weighs it against the images of the other candidates interviewed for the position. In essence, the hiring manager makes a decision on your image and not on the words that were said during the interview. That’s the reason we dress up for interviews and smile.
What can a person do to create a strong positive image for the hiring manager?
If you would like to be 20 years younger, you can’t do that. If you are very overweight, you can’t lose two-thirds of your weight before an interview. However, there are basic things that you can do such as being well groomed and appropriately dressed. You can be trained to be an excellent interviewer. Nobody was born knowing how to interview. Some people are better than others, but everybody needs practice. Would you take an exam in college without preparation?
What are employers looking for when they are interviewing?
They are primarily looking for fit. I have a survey that tells what employers are looking for, and every person answered that he or she was looking for fit into the workplace culture. Remember, you are in the hiring manager’s office hand picked for an interview because you have the skills to do the job. So all of the people that the hiring manger is going to interview are qualified for the position. Now the hiring manager is looking beyond skill.
Can you define fit?
Fit is, do I like you? Did you make a good impression? Is your ideology aligned with mine? Are you the one that I trust? Will you support me? Will you make me look good? Knowing my staff, will one of them come to me and say, “This person just joined us a month ago, and I want to make you aware that there are some issues with her”?
What are employers looking for when they ask “Tell me about yourself”?
Most people don’t understand this question. If you screw up “Tell me about your self?” you can’t really recover. But if you answer well, you are basically riding a beautiful wave.
The essence of the “Tell me about yourself?” is that you need to start addressing the interviewer’s problems that you could potentially help him/her with. You have to meet the interviewer at his level.
The interviewer is thinking, “I need someone that can do this, this, and this.” You, as the interviewee, should use “Tell me about yourself?” as an opportunity to explain how your experience and knowledge can fit the interviewer’s needs. But, you have to do it succinctly too.
What are some of the most common mistakes that people make besides flubbing “Tell me about yourself”?
Not understanding what is behind each question. If you think about an iceberg, what’s visual to the eyes is only the part that is above the water. But there is a whole other part of the iceberg beneath the water that you can’t see. If you understand what the hiring manager is after, then you can give the right answer. For example, why do hiring managers ask the question, “Tell me about your weaknesses”?
I always figured that they wanted to know how you could demonstrate the way you deal with your weaknesses.
The weakness question is really about honesty. Hiring managers are looking to see if you give an honest answer, not just make something up that really isn’t true. You also need to provide a concrete example in your answer.
Can you give a few more examples of what hiring managers are looking for when they ask certain questions?
When employers ask, “Why would you like to work for us?” they want to see that you demonstrate passion and excitement.
If you are being asked, “What do you know about our company?” the hiring manager is checking to see if you did your homework by thoroughly researching the company. You can rephrase the question like this, “Do you really want this job? If so, demonstrate it with your knowledge of our company.”
There are also questions that target your behavior. Hiring managers often ask, “Give me an example of how you solved a unique situation and what the outcome was?” The thinking behind this question is that if you behaved in a certain way in the past, it is indicative of the way you will behave in the future.
Who should new college grads practice interviewing with that can give them reliable insight into their performance?
I really think that if you live in America in 2012, knowing the competition for jobs is fierce, almost unprecedentedly fierce, you cannot enter this competition unprepared. Isn’t it worth it to pay a good career coach and get the instruction you need so at least you have a chance to be hired? Working with a career coach early on will help you throughout your career.
What would you tell people about using social media appropriately?
LinkedIn is the most widely used business platform in the social media arena. Twitter is a great tool, but be smart and careful. The fact that you ate a doughnut at the local coffee shop is not an interest to the world. If you want people to be attracted to you on social media, you better send something smart out there. I’m also reminded of a saying that goes, “tell me who your friends are, and I’ll tell you who you are,” when I think about Facebook. My point is, keep Facebook friends separate from your professional connections. Mistakes with social media can rarely be corrected.
What do you say to people who are in their 50s and out of work?
I always tell people that I can’t promise anything accept that I will do my darnedest to help them. These clients really need to be motivated and be willing to put in a lot of hours; they need to step out of their comfort zone, accept reality and adjust to it. Some professions die out. If you were a mainframe programmer, chances are not good that you will find a job in this area. You need to make effort to morph into tomorrow and not yesterday.
Age discrimination is huge. But when we talk about age discrimination, it’s not just about age discrimination per se, it’s about the expectations that employers think potential employees have about salaries because of their age. If you are 55 or 60, employers think that you are inflexible and that perhaps you lack motivation and are lazy but expect very high pay because that’s what you used to get in the past. Some of it is true, and some of it is not. Through good interview techniques you can overcome perceived liability. In fact, a client of mine who is 70 years old recently got a job offer.
Can you explain what perceived liability means?
Say I’m the hiring manager and I look at your resume and see that you don’t have an MBA, and I say, “Oh Suzanne, you mean you don’t have an MBA?” The way I put it is in a way that shows that I hold it against you. How do you deal with it? Do you just bow your head and say, “No, Alex, I don’t.” Or can you give a good comeback? I teach my clients a system for how to deal with any perceived liability. In fact, it’s similar to what politicians do when they are interviewed on camera.
There are a lot of career coaches out there. What should people do to find a good coach?
First, go to LinkedIn and do a search on career coaches in your state. But also note that a lot of career coaching is done via phone or Skype. Most importantly, look for how many recommendations a career coach has. Don’t make the mistake of judging a coach based on qualifications. Years ago, when I was in transition, I worked with an individual with two master’s degrees and numerous certificates. Regretfully, that individual’s help was pretty much worthless.
Go on the Internet. Act like the FBI and CIA when they have to investigate a subject. Look at what feedback people give about a particular career coach similar to the way you would look for reviews to decide what type of a coffeemaker you want to buy. Also, it’s a good idea to contact people to see if they know any career coaches. If the general consensus about a particular coach is good, then that coach is probably good.
But, if a coach wants money up front, it’s a red flag. Have you ever had a plumber come to your house and say, “Give me 500 dollars and if you have any problems in the next two years I’ll come fix it”? It just doesn’t happen. A good career coach will never have to tell you how many sessions you need. You will know when you are ready to “graduate.”