Thoughts on acing an interview

Thoughts on interviews:
  • Most people interviewing you have no formal training on how to do so. Many think they need no training because they see themselves as a “good judge of character”.
  • Many people interviewing you will have grabbed your resume from a printer just before they walk into a room (or connect on Zoom) to interview you.
  • You can just about count on getting a variation of each one of these four questions:
  1. Tell me about yourself.
  2. What are your strengths?
  3. What are your weaknesses?
  4. Tell me about a time when things did not go your way?
Thoughts on how to answer:

1. Tell me about yourself
Do NOT do the boring regurgitation of your resume. Be different. Say something like: “Is it safe to assume you have read my resume? Since you have, would it be OK for me to address what I think are the top three qualities you are looking for in this position and focus on experiences in my job history that speak to those qualities.” If the interviewer consents to your proposed approach, launch into three stories that follow this pattern:
  • You are looking for someone who excels at X
  • When I worked at Y we had this [problem/situation]
  • Here is what I (or my team) [did/directed/organized/…] (showing X kind of qualities)
  • And this resulted in: [benefit to employer]
Don’t spend more than 3 minutes on any of your stories. Do insert some silence in between the stories you tell.

2. What are your strengths?
Do NOT use sentences starting with “I am”, instead think about endorsements. Nike does not say “we make the best shoes”, they use the endorsement of athletes who use their shoes. You can either have a document with you that has excerpts of past professional evaluations showing nice things previous bosses have said about you or you can state something like: “If you call my references I know they will speak about my strengths in A, B, and C.” You are not saying "I am strong", you are saying: “others are saying I’m strong”.

3. What are your weaknesses?
Do NOT say: “My weaknesses are…”. (In my case I won't say "I'm impatient".) The theory here is to:
  • Generalize
  • Minimize
  • Turn into an advantage
Here is one of my stock (memorized) answers to that question:
“I suppose, like everyone else, there might be a thing or two I’d like to work on just a little bit. For example: I’m a quick learner so I tend to understand things pretty rapidly. I can see issues to conclusion without copious amounts of data so I can get antsy when someone is delving into details in a presentation. I have learned over time to let them continue without interruption as there may be others in the room who prefer more data for decision making.”

Let’s analyze the above:
  • Generalize: “like everyone else”
  • Minimize: “there might be a thing or two I’d like to work on just a little bit.”
  • Turn into an advantage: I did not say “I’m impatient and prone to interrupt people in meetings” (which might be a true statement). I said: “I’m a quick learner and I tend to understand things rapidly.”

4. Tell me about a time when things did not go your way?
Do NOT come across as someone who is upset their management did not understand her. Use an example from way back from your first job when you were an intern. State the facts, own what you did, and don’t blame anyone else. The most important thing is to state what you learned from this incident.

Think like a recruiter to tweak your LinkedIn profile

Over the last two years I have networked with many executives who were going through a career transition. I have also networked with  several top-notch executive level recruiters. I have identified some trends in the way recruiters are going about filling positions:
  1. Reliance on job boards is going away. By the time a position gets posted on job boards, it is more than likely suitable candidates have already been identified.
  2. LinkedIn has become the tool of choice for recruiters to search for suitable candidates.
How can you capitalize from those trends? Don’t rely too much on finding job postings and do everything you can to help recruiters find you! As I have stated before, it is not who you know, it is who can find you.

So this is the best advice I can give you:
  1. Write a job requisition for your ideal job. Pretend to be your mythical next employer and write a detailed job description. Imagine you are going to retain an a recruiter to find suitable candidates to fill this position.
  2. Now pretend you are that recruiter. Use LinkedIn and Google and conduct searches to find suitable candidates. Did your LinkedIn profile pop up on the first page? Did your name come up at all on the first couple of Google search results? If the answer is yes, congratulations! If not, you have work to do.
It is more than likely you are using fluff in describing yourself as a “charismatic leader able to achieve synergy by aligning resources to achieve corporate goals”. Do you really think a recruiter is out there using the words charismatic and synergy in their searches. A more likely search would include the keywords: Denver, VP, Director, Supply Chain Management.

Tweak your LinkedIn profile, wait a day or two for your changes to be indexed and search again.  Look at my earlier article on this blog about using search engine optimization (SEO) for ideas. Keep doing this until you consistently come up on the searches for someone trying to hire someone for your dream job.

Have fun with your job search!

Think Search Engine Optimization for your LinkedIn profile

LinkedIn is a business-oriented social networking site. It is a great platform for re-connecting with past and present colleagues and classmates, giving and getting advice with fellow industry colleagues, and finding jobs or business opportunities. Think of your LinkedIn profile as your extended professional calling card.

As a professional seeking new business opportunities you may have heard the old adage: “It is not who you know, it’s who knows you”. In this day and age, I would expand that to include, “it’s who can find you.” That is where Search Engine Optimization comes in.
Search Engine Optimization (SEO) is the art and science of increasing the volume or quality of visits to a web-site from search engines. For the purposes of this article, those search engines include not only the ones that  readily come to mind (Google, Yahoo!, and Bing) but the search capability within LinkedIn as well. Your LinkedIn profile IS your web-site. You are well advised to use SEO to help people find you. Here are some suggestions:

1. Update your LinkedIn summary to ensure you are found

The key to SEO is to think in terms of how someone trying to find you might conduct a search for someone with your skills or background. A cursory look at random LinkedIn profiles reveals that people tend to write about themselves in “fluffy” terms that would not be used in actual searches. Some examples:

  • seasoned (as in peppery?)
  • highly skilled
  • results oriented
  • stellar track record

If I were seeking candidates to fill a CFO position, would I search for “seasoned highly skilled financial executive with stellar track record” or would I search for “Denver CFO VP Finance renewable energy”?

Another example (from the owner of a Denver based SEO firm) is for folks in the restaurant business. It is not unusual for a restaurateur to be proud of their food — perhaps based on their grandmother’s recipes. Although this reference might look cute in a menu, basing a web-page on this factoid makes no sense from an SEO standpoint. What was the last time you typed in “grandmother’s recipes” when searching for a restaurant? More than likely you typed something like “best comfort food Denver”.

2. Use the “Specialties” section to your advantage

A bullet list of relevant search terms in the “Specialties” section in the summary of your profile will help those search engines find you. Keep it relevant and don’t stuff it with every three letter acronym in the book. If you are CEO material your specialties might include business development and strategic planning. Do yourself a favor and don’t include COBOL, Excel, Word, or PowerPoint as core competencies if you are indeed CEO material. I am amazed by how often I have seen this.

Look at some tools to come up with search terms that people are actually using. They are a great source of ideas.

3. Complete your profile

It is interesting to see how many people leave their work experience blank or only list employer names. If it’s not there, it will not show up on a search. You may also think about highlighting your accomplishments, not just stating what you worked on. Stating you “worked on IT governance” does not quite carry the same punch as “reduced IT spending by $1M by designing and implementing a client computing governance program”.

4. Expand your network

The number of people who can find you on LinkedIn is proportional to how many people you are connected to. Add pointers to your personal blog or web-site if appropriate. See my LinkedIn profile for example.

5. Get endorsements and recommend others

The possibility of your profile coming up on a search may depend on how many people have recommended you as well as how many people you have recommended. Think about getting endorsements from managers, peers, direct reports, vendors, etc… No better way to prompt them to do so than by recommending them first.

Now that some potential customer, business partner or recruiter has landed on your LinkedIn profile, how do you keep their attention?

Engaging you visitors

1. Evaluate your profile for readability

Make sure you make effective use of white space. Add bulleted lists and blank lines. A “wall of text” may turn some people off.

2. Keep your profile relevant to your profession

If you are a CIO, display your membership to IT professional groups. You may want to turn off displaying your membership to the World Class Procrastinators, or to the Executives in Minimum Security Prisons professional groups.

3. Make it easy for people to contact you

You can embed your e-mail and phone number at the top of your summary section.

4. Make it personal and easy for people to relate you

You should have a clear, professional picture of yourself on your profile. Pictures of pets, spouse, children, or cartoon characters belong on other social media sites (i.e. Facebook). Make sure those sites are ONLY searchable by your close friends and family and not searchable by the general public.
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