When I interview, one of the first things I look for is common sense. If the candidate does not possess a basic understanding of how things work, I have a very hard time visualizing them working for me. I always feel I can teach someone to say, sell diamonds or drive a forklift, but I can’t teach them common sense.

Today, the National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE) published its 2013 Outlook Ranking Candidate Skills. These were ranked in the order of importance to the interviewer. Guess where Technical knowledge of the position came in?

So here are the TOP SIX Skills/Qualities employers are looking for:

  1. Ability to verbally communicate with persons inside and outside the organization
  2. Ability to work in a team structure
  3. Ability to make decisions and solve problems
  4. Ability to plan, organize and prioritize work
  5. Ability to obtain and process information
  6. Ability to analyze quantitative data

Seven was technical knowledge related to the job. So the first six skills employers are looking for sound to me like NACE Qualities and Skills Employers are looking for in JOB searchescommon sense. In fact, if you look at the definition of common sense:  sound and prudent judgment based on a simple perception of the situation or facts (Merriam-Webster dictionary) these first six skills are all about common sense.

I’m not saying a solid technical foundation won’t land the job, but remember there are many applicants who have the technical skills. This survey, and my years of interviewing experience, suggest that there is more to the interview than just presenting your skills. If your future employer can’t see that you have common sense, they will have a hard time seeing you as a part of their team.

 

The more I speak with job seekers, the more I am certain that those who are getting hired tell a better story. They have taken the time to think about their past experiences and have practiced telling specific stories about specific actions they have taken.  They can tell an employer what the problem was, what action they took to solve the problem and how it came out.

During an interview for any position that involves interaction with customers, you will most likely be asked something like “tell me about a time when you had a problem customer; what was the problem, what did you do to resolve the problem and how did it turn out”?

Here are three ways people answer:

1. Having interviewed several thousand applications, almost two-thirds  will gloss over their answer. It’s as if they are taking a few experiences and mashing them together, then talking in general terms about it. There is a generic “someone was upset, I called a manager, I think it was ok”. Even getting that out of many applicants is a struggle. Sadly, many applicant stand out because they can’t tell a simple story of how they helped someone.

2. Without a magic potion that will make the applicant’s nose grow with each “untruth” they tell, an interviewer can never be 100% certain if the applicant is telling the truth. Yet some applicants feel the need to embellish their story in order to make themselves look better on paper or sound better in an interview. Most experienced hiring managers will understand what is going on. Just be yourself, sincere, honest and enthusiastic. Making up stories is never the right answer.

3. Having taken the time to think about your job experiences before the interview and the ways you have helped customers, you pick the experience that most closely fits the job you are applying for and you simply relate the story like you would tell it to a family member.

“It was Christmas Eve, I was the store manager for Best Products in Hopewell, VA. My phone rang about 8:30 PM and it was a customer who had bought a large ride on car for his 4-year-old son for Christmas. He was putting it together and found the battery was missing. He was very upset that his son’s Christmas was going to be ruined.

I told him to meet me at the store and I would get him the battery. I called my assistant manager to meet me there, just in case it was a setup (it wasn’t) and I went to the store. We found the battery the man needed and his son’s Christmas was saved.”

While you may not have solved a customer problem on Christmas Eve, I am certain you have gone out of your way to take care of a customer issue. Maybe you dropped off a set of plans on your way home, you called someone and got a needed repair done quicker or  you beat a deadline for a customer and made him or her look good as a result.

Take a few minutes right now and go back through your customer service experiences. Then you will be ready for your next interview, standing out for the right reasons. You will set yourself ahead of two-thirds of the applicants just by this one idea.

And if you feel like sharing, I know we would all benefit from hearing your personal “Christmas Eve” story.

Has this ever happened to you? You hear about a job and review the posting. The job description reads just like your resume. You have done everything that the company is looking for. Your references and your on-line presence confirm you are that person. You apply and get a call for an interview. The job seems destined to be yours! But something goes a little sideways during the actual interview and two weeks later you learn they hired someone else. What happened?

Employers really are only looking for three things. The first two are what get you into their office for the interview. The third is what actually gets you the job.

The Three C’s of Interviews are:
First, they want to know if you can do the job. Some major employers now use keyword software to sift through on-line applications looking for specific skills. Make sure you read the posting completely and include references to the exact skills being advertised.

1.Capability
2.Character
3.Compatibility

Second, employers want someone they can trust. Be sure to coach your references so they know what position you are applying for. Remind them of specific projects that you were involved in so they have a positive story to tell about your abilities. And review your on-line presence. Know what an employer will see when they Google your name.

The third C is the hardest to measure. Before the interview make sure you have done your homework about the company, the industry and the major players in the organization. As you enter the building, the office or the conference room, you must be observant. Look at the posters and pictures on the walls. How are the employees interacting? Are there clues you can pick up about the culture?

Years ago I had an interview for a management position. The Executive I was to speak with was seated at his desk. Behind him was a huge photo of a sailboat. I was the Commodore of our sailing team in college and had lived on a sailboat for a year between high school and college. It was very easy to find a mutual interest that showed the interviewer I was compatible. Conversely, at another company the poster behind the interviewer said “we are going to have a sales contest, the winner gets to keep their job”. That was a very different kind of interview.

In the end, you can feel pretty confident that you have gotten past the first two C’s when they call you for an interview. Your job during the interview is to make them “C” you fitting in. Do that and you will be sitting in a new hire orientation for your new job.

Yesterday I had an eye exam. I was left alone by the nurse and I was looking at all of the equipment. I realized that together these were tools to help my Doctor understand clearly what was going on with my eyes, helping him bring my vision into focus.

As he was very busy, I had a few minutes to ponder how job seekers could bring their search into focus. Before he came into the examining room, I came up with five:

1.Know What Your Greatest Strengths Are – If you really understand what you do best, you can match that to specific job postings, not wasting your time “spraying and praying”.
2.Include Key Words on Your Resume – If you are applying online and you are not doing this, you are probably wondering why you haven’t heard from anyone. LinkedIn offers help with Key Words. Click on Your Profile, go into “more” and you will see Skills and Expertise. Enter key words from the job posting and you will see additional ideas
3.Do Your Homework – If you need to ask the interviewer “what they do”, you are wasting their time. Set up Google alerts for every company you are considering. Search the companies websites for interesting facts. Read up on regulations that may affect the industry.
4.Practice – The more you practice interviewing, the more comfortable you will be. Enlist a friend or family member and conduct mock interviews. Or put sample questions on cards, stand in front of a mirror and practice answering them,
5.Stay The Course – It’s easy to get very excited when the phone rings. Landing an interview could mean you are one meeting away from a job. But you need to treat your job search as an on-going process. Your focus needs to be on the big picture, which means continuing to research companies, continuing to send out resumes and continuing to follow up on applications you have submitted.

My Doctor, when he finally got to see me, corrected my vision and brought things into focus. You can bring your job search into focus by doing these five things.

Bleak May unemployment report suggests economic recovery may be stalling

The Labor Department reported on Friday that the nation’s economy added only 69,000 jobs in May, bringing the unemployment rate to 8.2% – The Washington Post

Until this morning, the Jobs reports over the past few months have been encouraging. People are actually quitting jobs. In some sectors, good paying jobs are going unfilled. So why did the one point uptick send the markets into a tumble and cause network reporters to spend the day saying “the jobs sky is falling”?

The shocking truth is that things really haven’t changed since 2008. People are playing their cards closer to the vest. Employers are stretching the limits of their existing employees productivity rather than hire. And businesses, unsure of the political climate, are reluctant to invest in long-term projects which create new jobs.

WASHINGTON — A new study from the Labor Department’s Bureau of Labor Statistics shows that the Great Recession that technically ended in 2009 has doubled the time it takes before the average unemployed person either finds a job or gives up looking for work.

Each month, BLS announces the latest unemployment rate and several other characteristics of the workforce, including the length of time people have been jobless. Last Friday’s announcement brought news that the average unemployed person had been looking for work for 39.7 weeks as of May (the median length of unemployment rose to 22 weeks). Huffington Post

So the truth is landing a job is going to be work. You need to have a long-term focus even if “you need the job now”. If you start with the right attitude, you will greatly increase your odds of success. Avoiding highs and lows helps keep your emotional energy intact. Make sure you set goals for how many interviews you will have, resumes you will send and the amount of time you will spend networking to find work.

When you get interviews, think of them as just a step in the process. Keep your routine going until you find yourself in a new hire orientation. Then you can relax and congratulate yourself for a job well done.

I recently heard from a gentleman who is 60. He has  a very long record of success in his industry. He has gotten many first  interviews, but is not getting called back. He feels the interviews go great, but I told him if that were true, he would be hired by now.  I then suggested several specific things he could do during his next interview.

Having a positive attitude is one of the best attributes a person can have during the hiring process. But it shouldn’t get in the way of thinking clearly about how you are approaching your interviews. As with the gentleman above, he didn’t think there was anything wrong with the interview from his side, yet he is not getting hired. Once he opens himself up to seeing the situation from a different perspective, meaning from the interviewer’s eyes, he will begin to see what he needs to change to land the job.

The whole process of putting yourself out there in an interview can be intimidating. It is a contest of sorts, with the winner getting the 401k and the two weeks paid vacation. We pump ourselves up before the interview, do research about the company, practice interview questions and then arrive early for the appointment. But what do most people do after the interview?

Well, after sending a hand written thank you card, the serious candidate will honestly assess the interview.  George Bradt, of Forbes Magazine says there are only three true job interview questions: 1. Can you do the job? 2. Will you love the job? 3. Can we tolerate working with you?

Assessing my 60 year old candidate: Yes, he really does have the experience for the job. Second, he has a passion for the work, you can hear that when you speak with him. So on some level, the interviewer must have felt he wasn’t a good fit for their organization.

Preparing for the interview is a huge part of landing a new job. Facing the music after the interview, though, may be more important

Think On Your Feet – Part Two

Posted by | February 13, 2012 | Interview Tools

In part one I said that the ability to “think and speak on your feet” is an important skill that often determines your success in job interviews. And once you land the job, many kinds of careers and occupations require this skill. To practice for your upcoming interviews try this exercise.

The exercise had you: print out a list of questions before you read through them. Cut them apart and put them in a jar. When you are ready to practice “thinking on your feet”, stand in front of a mirror, pull out a topic at random and talk to the mirror for two minutes about whatever is on the paper.

Now I want you to do the same exercise, but this time with real interview questions. It’s ok to look at them before you cut them up and put them in the jar. In fact, I would suggest you write notes for yourself about each question before you begin the exercise. When you actually practice your responses out loud, do not use the notes, as you won’t be able to do that in the actual interview.

Interview Questions

  • Tell me about yourself
  • Why do you want to work here?
  • What is your greatest strength?
  • What is your biggest weakness?
  • Can you give me an example from a previous job where you have shown initiative?
  • Where do you see yourself in five years?
  • Are you a team player?
  • What qualities do you find important in a coworker?
  • Can you think of a time when you dealt with a customer problem? What was it, what did you do to resolve it and how did it turn out?
  • How does your previous experience relate to this position?
  • When can you start?
  • Do you have any questions for me?

 

If you have been on interviews and were asked questions that you had trouble with, be sure to add them to your list so you will be better prepared the next time. And feel free to post those questions in a comment so I can share them with other job seekers.

The more you practice, the easier the next interview will be. Let me know when you hear those wonderful words, “you’re hired!”

According to Hire Right, a firm that specializes in employee back ground checks:

80% of all resumes are misleading
20% state fraudulent degrees
30% show altered employment dates
40% have inflated salary claims
30% have inaccurate job descriptions
27% give falsified references

These are sobering statistics. The playing field is not level. Those that chose the path of un-truths or who stretch the truth run the very real risk of being found out. Most employers have a clause on the application making you verify that what you are saying is the truth. And when you’re information is found to be untrue, they will fire you.

Make the most out of what you have done, but don’t feel you need to embellish to the point of lying. No job is worth that.

Can you think on your feet?

Posted by | February 8, 2012 | Interview Tools

The ability to “think and speak on your feet” is an important skill that often determines your success in job interviews. And once you land the job, many kinds of careers and occupations require this skill. To practice for your upcoming interviews try this exercise.

Print out this list of questions before you read through them. Cut them apart and put them in a jar. When you are ready to practice “thinking on your feet”, stand in front of a mirror, pull out a topic at random and talk to the mirror for two minutes about whatever is on the paper.

  • If you could travel anywhere in the world, where would you go first and why?
  • If you could have only 3 electrical appliances in your house, what would they be and why?
  • Why does glue not stick to the bottle?
  • What nocturnal animal would you be if you had to choose and why?
  • If Abe Lincoln and George Washington got into a fight who’d win?
  • If you had a snail that could magically grant wishes, what would you name it?
  • If you had the chance to go back in time for 24 hours, where and when would you go?
  • What’s your worst/best memory of high school and why?
  • What was your favorite pet you had as a child and why?
  • What is the most rewarding experience you have had and what made it so?
  • Who or what inspires you and why?
  • If you could travel back in time and meet yourself as a 10 year old kid what advice would you want to give him/her?
  • Who is your favorite super hero?
  • Which is your favorite cartoon character?

Now that you have practiced thinking on your feet, you are ready to answer specific interview questions. Check back soon, I will post a list of interview practice questions that you can do the same exercise with.

Have an Attitude?

Posted by | February 8, 2012 | Interview Tools

I was talking with my dentist recently, which is hard to do when he has his fingers in your mouth. We were discussing his office staff and I was remarking how well the office flowed. He said that it wasn’t always that way.

When he first began his practice, he hired based mainly on qualifications, degrees achieved and schools attended. He hired a very qualified staff. But he realized later that he didn’t hire employees who understood his customer service philosophy. This created tension between himself, his patients and the staff. Once he realized he needed to find employees who shared his ideas on office etiquette, thinks began to click. Ten years later, he has virtually no turn over and business is better than ever. It seems odd to say but it’s almost a pleasure to go to the dentist

When  looking for a position, attitude is key. The right attitude can get you hired.  So let your positive attitude shine and land the job you’ve been searching for.

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