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Career Tips 3 - Interviews and HR
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This is a letter of mine published in Business Week a few years back. It was about the Founder of Atom Films who went on to become very successful but was rejected by 125 out of 126 companies to whom he applied when out of school.

How To Hire The Candidates Least Likely To Succeed

"Net movie mogul" (Voices of Innovation, Mar. 20) illustrated a disturbing and widespread problem with corporate hiring practices: Mika Salmi possesses proven drive, ambition, persistence, and the ability to recognize opportunity. Yet 125 companies rejected him outright.

Many companies today use software to screen résumés based on keywords and rely mostly on human resources clerks with little or no true business experience to review selected résumés. How can they recognize the traits shown by Mika and people like him? Steve Jobs, Bill Gates, and Mark Cuban would have been rejected by HR departments at many companies. Career ads for these companies need to carry the disclaimer: "Achievers and mavericks need not apply."

Most managers are assumed to know how to interview and hire, yet I am fairly certain that few of them actually go through any training for that important part of their jobs. Therefore many would fall back on what they went through in their interview process years before. Sure, they might personalize it somewhat with specific questions related to the job at hand. Heard the "Where do you want to be in 5 years lately"? Let me assure you that good interviewing takes knowledge and experience.

So much for "our people are our most important asset" A company that spends $80K a year on a machine or service would make sure that the decision to spend this money had been well researched and that an expert had ensured that this was the right decision. Yet, for its people, who are dealing with your customers, or designing your products, they would rely on an inexperienced clerk to make the decision whether a person is even a contender.

As well, the screening process is reversed from what it should be. Human Resources screens the resumes and decides which ones are to be forwarded on. Most of them don't have any operational experience in the areas with the hiring requisition, be it engineering, operations, sales or marketing. They try to match the resume to the Job Description, often one the Hiring Manager asked them to create as they don't have the time. In reality, it should be the hiring managers who review the resumes, and the HR will process the candidates from this point in HR related issues. Screening hundreds of resumes and applicants is not an easy or glamorous job, so the hiring managers don't want to do this, and the experienced HR personnel don't want to do this as well, so its the Junior HR people that get tasked with this.

HR often also has to justify their role in a company, so they tend to become gatekeepers. Its scary sometimes to see who is making the decisions on which are the right people for X company or organization.

True, generalizations are just that, there are many HR practicioners that are very good at what they do and add value to their organizations. Are they the norm?

HR will hate me for saying this, but as a Job Seeker, try your best to have your application to a company or organization go through someone else, either a Manager or an Executive, so it comes from the top down.


So, despite all of the above, what are interviews and how to handle them? Often people assume that this is an Interrogation, a question and answer session when it should be a conversation, and one that you can direct. This is even more crucial if you are interviewing for a role that requires strong people interaction. I would be reluctant to hire someone who just waited for my questions and responded accordingly, but made no effort to manage the process, or guide the conversation without pissing me off.

Have a conversation with the people in the room.

They are humans just like you. Find points of mutual interest and talk about them. Make sure to include all the people in the room, not just the one who seems to be the leader. This requires confidence in yourself and in your knowledge of your type of role, the company and the industry. General knowledge is also good, as it helps to add to the conversation if need be. In general, I always suggest, read, read and read some more.

There are tons of books out there on the details of interviews (when to bring up compensation and benefits and the like) so I won't get into that.

Follow up

I am not a big fan of the recommended follow up of send a letter or email thanking the interviewer. HR people read "What color is my parachute too" If however, you send along a reference and include a thank you in that note then that would be better received. It also depends on the type of role, the size of the company etc.

DO NOT CALL THE COMPANY AND ASK IF THEY RECEIVED YOUR RESUME. I recall in the Dot Com days when I would get this kind of call once in a while when I was running both Operations, HR, Purchasing and a multitude of other roles. "Did you get my resume?" which is really asking "Stop what you are doing right now, find my resume and interview me" This is insulting and a sure way to get rejected. Lets face it, how often would you hear about someone who followed up their resume submission or interview with a call and heard "Oh, Jim, Thank God you called us to remind us to hire you, it completely slipped our minds. When can you start?"

Thanks for listening and good luck.

Cervelo R3 and Cannondale Synapse, Argon18 Electron Track Bike
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Re: Career Tips 3 - Interviews and HR [cervelo-van] [ In reply to ]
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That piece about HR is amazing. Do you have a link to the article? A couple of my friends are without jobs right now -- we've said the same things you point out in this post. Thanks CV.
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Re: Career Tips 3 - Interviews and HR [JoshV] [ In reply to ]
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This is the original article in Business Week http://www.businessweek.com/...t/06_12/b3976032.htm

In Reply To:
That piece about HR is amazing. Do you have a link to the article? A couple of my friends are without jobs right now -- we've said the same things you point out in this post. Thanks CV.

Cervelo R3 and Cannondale Synapse, Argon18 Electron Track Bike
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Re: Career Tips 3 - Interviews and HR [cervelo-van] [ In reply to ]
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Hey Cerevlo-van,

Thanks for the great info...

just another perspective here again....

I dunno... HR's not all that bad in all companies. I have 16+ years in HR... now a director ... we do have recruiters manage applicant tracking systems and to handle screening... It's not that HR needs to "justify our position in a company" hello...the 80's called and they want their organizational effectiveness functional chart back...

if a dept vp or director is spending a lot of his / her time trying to be the sole person to source, field, interview and hire his / her staff, we (HR -- the police) and his / her boss start to become concerned if he / she is actually working, growing the business and managing the bottom line.

HR (Talent Acquisition Management) is a full-time job for Fortune 500 and companies who pubically file. The line people should partner... partner with a good HR partner to hire top talent for the company. We (the company) need to demonstrate to the public that we follow the practices.

HR may even put a line manager on a performance warning if he / she goes beyond policy and tries to interview candidates without following policy, public filing and legal requirements.

We (HR) protect the company from possible litigation... a wrongful hire / wrongful action against EEO can lead to millions of $$$ in settlements...and a public mess. Then there's SOX.. don't get me started on SOX.

HR's purpose is to mitigate / eliminate any exposure to violation of EEO and all other employment law matters -- Any outside person who hands a representative of a company a resume becomes a "candidate" and any person who completes an application becomes an "applicant" ... There are certain filing and records retention proceedures needed to track and file "candidates ' " and applicants' " documentation.... This is done through the resume / applicant tracking HRIS. We need to protect the company and handle this documentation appropriately.

That responsibility is not a job a line vp, director or manager.

hope that explains a little bit why HR is on the payroll... :)

just my 2 cents...
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Re: Career Tips 3 - Interviews and HR [perfcctionist] [ In reply to ]
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Difficult/Probable Interview Questions and How to Answer Them:

1. Tell me about yourself.
Since this is often the opening question in an interview, be extracareful that you don't run off at the mouth. Keep your answer to a minute or two at most. Cover four topics: early years, education, work history, and recent career experience. Emphasize this last subject. Remember that this is likely to be a warm-up question. Don't waste your best points on it.

2. What do you know about our organization?
You should be able to discuss products or services, revenues, reputation, image, goals, problems, management style, people, history and philosophy. But don't act as if you know everything about the place. Let your answer show that you have taken the time to do some research, but don't overwhelm the interviewer, and make it clear that you wish to learn more.

You might start your answer in this manner: "In my job search, I've investigated a number of companies.

Yours is one of the few that interests me, for these reasons..."

Give your answer a positive tone. Don't say, "Well, everyone tells me that you're in all sorts of trouble, and that's why I'm here", even if that is why you're there.

3. Why do you want to work for us?
The deadliest answer you can give is "Because I like people." What else would you like-animals?

Here, and throughout the interview, a good answer comes from having done your homework so that you can speak in terms of the company's needs. You might say that your research has shown that the company is doing things you would like to be involved with, and that it's doing them in ways that greatly interest you. For example, if the organization is known for strong management, your answer should mention that fact and show that you would like to be a part of that team. If the company places a great deal of emphasis on research and development, emphasize the fact that you want to create new things and that you know this is a place in which such activity is encouraged. If the organization stresses financial controls, your answer should mention a reverence for numbers.

If you feel that you have to concoct an answer to this question - if, for example, the company stresses research, and you feel that you should mention it even though it really doesn't interest you- then you probably should not be taking that interview, because you probably shouldn't be considering a job with that organization.

Your homework should include learning enough about the company to avoid approaching places where you wouldn't be able -or wouldn't want- to function. Since most of us are poor liars, it's difficult to con anyone in an interview. But even if you should succeed at it, your prize is a job you don't really want.

4. What can you do for us that someone else can't?
Here you have every right, and perhaps an obligation, to toot your own horn and be a bit egotistical. Talk about your record of getting things done, and mention specifics from your resume or list of career accomplishments. Say that your skills and interests, combined with this history of getting results, make you valuable. Mention your ability to set priorities, identify problems, and use your experience and energy to solve them.

5. What do you find most attractive about this position? What seems least attractive about it?
List three or four attractive factors of the job, and mention a single, minor, unattractive item.

6. Why should we hire you?
Create your answer by thinking in terms of your ability, your experience, and your energy. (See question 4.)

7. What do you look for in a job?
Keep your answer oriented to opportunities at this organization. Talk about your desire to perform and be recognized for your contributions. Make your answer oriented toward opportunity rather than personal security.

8. Please give me your defintion of [the position for which you are being interviewed].
Keep your answer brief and taskoriented. Think in in terms of responsibilities and accountability. Make sure that you really do understand what the position involves before you attempt an answer. If you are not certain. ask the interviewer; he or she may answer the question for you.

9. How long would it take you to make a meaningful contribution to our firm?
Be realistic. Say that, while you would expect to meet pressing demands and pull your own weight from the first day, it might take six months to a year before you could expect to know the organization and its needs well enough to make a major contribution.

10. How long would you stay with us?
Say that you are interested in a career with the organization, but admit that you would have to continue to feel challenged to remain with any organization. Think in terms of, "As long as we both feel achievement-oriented."

11. Your resume suggests that you may be over-qualified or too experienced for this position. What's Your opinion?
Emphasize your interest in establishing a long-term association with the organization, and say that you assume that if you perform well in his job, new opportunities will open up for you. Mention that a strong company needs a strong staff. Observe that experienced executives are always at a premium. Suggest that since you are so wellqualified, the employer will get a fast return on his investment. Say that a growing, energetic company can never have too much talent.

12. What is your management style?
You should know enough about the company's style to know that your management style will complement it. Possible styles include: task oriented (I'll enjoy problem-solving identifying what's wrong, choosing a solution and implementing it"), results-oriented ("Every management decision I make is determined by how it will affect the bottom line"), or even paternalistic ("I'm committed to taking care of my subordinates and pointing them in the right direction").

A participative style is currently quite popular: an open-door method of managing in which you get things done by motivating people and delegating responsibility.

As you consider this question, think about whether your style will let you work hatppily and effectively within the organization.

13. Are you a good manager? Can you give me some examples? Do you feel that you have top managerial potential?
Keep your answer achievementand ask-oriented. Rely on examples from your career to buttress your argument. Stress your experience and your energy.

14. What do you look for when You hire people?
Think in terms of skills. initiative, and the adaptability to be able to work comfortably and effectively with others. Mention that you like to hire people who appear capable of moving up in the organization.

15. Have you ever had to fire people? What were the reasons, and how did you handle the situation?
Admit that the situation was not easy, but say that it worked out well, both for the company and, you think, for the individual. Show that, like anyone else, you don't enjoy unpleasant tasks but that you can resolve them efficiently and -in the case of firing someone- humanely.

16. What do you think is the most difficult thing about being a manager or executive?
Mention planning, execution, and cost-control. The most difficult task is to motivate and manage employess to get something planned and completed on time and within the budget.

17. What important trends do you see in our industry?
Be prepared with two or three trends that illustrate how well you understand your industry. You might consider technological challenges or opportunities, economic conditions, or even regulatory demands as you collect your thoughts about the direction in which your business is heading.

18. Why are you leaving (did you leave) your present (last) job?
Be brief, to the point, and as honest as you can without hurting yourself. Refer back to the planning phase of your job search. where you considered this topic as you set your reference statements. If you were laid off in an across-the-board cutback, say so; otherwise, indicate that the move was your decision, the result of your action. Do not mention personality conflicts.

The interviewer may spend some time probing you on this issue, particularly if it is clear that you were terminated. The "We agreed to disagree" approach may be useful. Remember hat your references are likely to be checked, so don't concoct a story for an interview.

19. How do you feel about leaving all your benefits to find a new job?
Mention that you are concerned, naturally, but not panicked. You are willing to accept some risk to find the right job for yourself. Don't suggest that security might interest you more than getting the job done successfully.

20. In your current (last) position, what features do (did) you like the most? The least?
Be careful and be positive. Describe more features that you liked than disliked. Don't cite personality problems. If you make your last job sound terrible, an interviewer may wonder why you remained there until now.

21. What do you think of your boss?
Be as positive as you can. A potential boss is likely to wonder if you might talk about him in similar terms at some point in the future.

22. Why aren't you earning more at your age?
Say that this is one reason that you are conducting this job search. Don't be defensive.

23. What do you feel this position should pay?
Salary is a delicate topic. We suggest that you defer tying yourself to a precise figure for as long as you can do so politely. You might say, "I understand that the range for this job is between $______ and $______. That seems appropriate for the job as I understand it." You might answer the question with a question: "Perhaps you can help me on this one. Can you tell me if there is a range for similar jobs in the organization?"

If you are asked the question during an initial screening interview, you might say that you feel you need to know more about the position's responsibilities before you could give a meaningful answer to that question. Here, too, either by asking the interviewer or search executive (if one is involved), or in research done as part of your homework, you can try to find out whether there is a salary grade attached to the job. If there is, and if you can live with it, say that the range seems right to you.

If the interviewer continues to probe, you might say, "You know that I'm making $______ now. Like everyone else, I'd like to improve on that figure, but my major interest is with the job itself." Remember that the act of taking a new job does not, in and of itself, make you worth more money.

If a search firm is involved, your contact there may be able to help with the salary question. He or she may even be able to run interference for you. If, for instance, he tells you what the position pays, and you tell him that you are earning that amount now and would Like to do a bit better, he might go back to the employer and propose that you be offered an additional 10%.

If no price range is attached to the job, and the interviewer continues to press the subject, then you will have to restpond with a number. You cannot leave the impression that it does not really matter, that you'll accept whatever is offered. If you've been making $80,000 a year, you can't say that a $35,000 figure would be fine without sounding as if you've given up on yourself. (If you are making a radical career change, however, this kind of disparity may be more reasonable and understandable.)

Don't sell yourself short, but continue to stress the fact that the job itself is the most important thing in your mind. The interviewer may be trying to determine just how much you want the job. Don't leave the impression that money is the only thing that is important to you. Link questions of salary to the work itself.

But whenever possible, say as little as you can about salary until you reach the "final" stage of the interview process. At that point, you know that the company is genuinely interested in you and that it is likely to be flexible in salary negotiations.

24. What are your long-range goals?
Refer back to the planning phase of your job search. Don't answer, "I want the job you've advertised." Relate your goals to the company you are interviewing: 'in a firm like yours, I would like to..."

25. How successful do you you've been so far?
Say that, all-in-all, you're happy with the way your career has progressed so far. Given the normal ups and downs of life, you feel that you've done quite well and have no complaints.

Present a positive and confident picture of yourself, but don't overstate your case. An answer like, "Everything's wonderful! I can't think of a time when things were going better! I'm overjoyed!" is likely to make an interviewer wonder whether you're trying to fool him . . . or yourself. The most convincing confidence is usually quiet confidence.
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Re: Career Tips 3 - Interviews and HR [afie] [ In reply to ]
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Good list afie, and food for thought for someone coming back on the market after 20 years with the same company.

You forgot the two classics though:

What are you strengths and what do you see as your weaknesses?

"How bad can it be?" - SimpleS
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Re: Career Tips 3 - Interviews and HR [JulianInEngland] [ In reply to ]
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Good addition Julian, although experienced interviewers don't ask these questions phrased exactly that way.

I recall years ago when asking candidates about their weaknesses and getting answers like " I tend to work too hard" It got to the point that I said to myself, The next person I interview and ask that question and who replies to me, "My weakness is that I am lazy" gets hired, because at least he/she is honest.

Discalimer. Your mileage may vary
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Good list afie, and food for thought for someone coming back on the market after 20 years with the same company.

You forgot the two classics though:

What are you strengths and what do you see as your weaknesses?

Cervelo R3 and Cannondale Synapse, Argon18 Electron Track Bike
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Re: Career Tips 3 - Interviews and HR [cervelo-van] [ In reply to ]
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It's only a good question if people are self aware enough to be able to lok inside themselves. Usually, if they haven't thought about it prior to the interview you will not get a response of value. Similarly, sometimes responses are not given credibility.

My response to the question last time was the same for both questions: I play particular attention to detail and love black and white answers, good on the face of it but being a perfectionist can be perceived as a liability in a short term project.

"How bad can it be?" - SimpleS
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Re: Career Tips 3 - Interviews and HR [afie] [ In reply to ]
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very helpful post @afie! my recruiter and I were discussing some of these very same questions just the other day (have to say, even though a recruiter salary is average to low, they are extremely helpful in finding a job for you as she had me placed within a couple of weeks). while I didn't use your suggestions to prep, I had to answer all of these so I've forwarded this to all of my friends who are looking for work in this recession....thanks again.
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