Like everyone else on the planet, I hate looking for a new job. The only thing worse than hunting for a new job is having to find a job when you are already unemployed. We have all read accounts about the latest thumb-screw technique for sifting out prospective employees; these include companies that code applications and resumes as “unemployed“, which effectively makes you the girl or guy who couldn’t get a date to the prom. That being the case, no one else wants to take you out either. No doubt a modern employer’s jaundiced view of your work ethic seeks to justify such distinctions, though strong evidence exists which demonstrates that the unemployed are no less or more talented than the person who has managed to retain his or her job. So, while probably illegal and definitely nonsensical, this prejudicial wrinkle makes a grueling task a greater nightmare.
Solution #1: Never be completely unemployed. If you are out of full time, well-paid work, it doesn’t mean that you should not be working. After expending $20 on professional-looking business cards, you can transform yourself from vagrant to consultant with specialized expertise. Investigate the market, and offer your services, free or paid, to non-profit organizations, and small or large businesses. If you become aware of a specific need within an organization, suggest that you develop a plan for the project on spec. Write about aspects of your work and publish them on Yahoo, Suite101, or one of the myriad other sites that gobble up copy like Dennis the Menace llet loose in an ice cream parlor.
Or, perhaps you need to have recommendations for a potential job, but the ones you have do not focus on the skills the employer is looking for. It would not be prudent to call a referee and tell him that he did a bad job in writing the recommendation.
Solution #2: There are two ways to handle recommendation needs of this kind and both of them have worked for me.
1. Write a recommendation similar to the one you already have but with the required additions. Call ahead to the referree and let the person know you are forwarding a slightly changed, but nonetheless accurate, version of the original recommendation. Ask if the person would be willing to put it on letterhead, sign it, scan the text and return it by email, or mail you two or three signed copies.
2. Write a note to your referee and let them know that you need a skill specific recommendation for a potential job. Make notes of what you hope to see in the new recommendation, with appropriate phrasing as needed. Send the email along and then follow up with a phone call a couple of days later. If the referee says that he does not have time to do a rewrite, offer to do it yourself and send it back to him or bring it by for a signature.
Congratulations, you got the interview and now all you have to do is transform yourself into a combination Superman, Bill Gates, and Nelson Mandela. No problem. Consider using the word “audition” instead of “interview”. Why? Because an audition will have a body of preparation behind it, whereas an interview sometimes feels as though the interviewee is powerless. Not so. You can prepare for this in ways you can’t imagine and be completely confident when the interview actually takes place.
1. Internet review and study: There are dozens of websites that can help you understand the kinds of questions an interviewer may ask. Search for: “Standard interview questions”, “retail interview questions”, “office work, interview questions”, “IT, interview questions”. By doing this, you can find out what kinds of questions might come up, what sort of questions should not be asked by the interviewer, and, just as important, what kinds of questions you might ask that will sink your employment ship. A few of these last include:
- What does your company do?
- What jobs do you have available?
- Where can I earn the most money?
- How much vacation time do I get?
The interviewer should not query you about:
- Future children or current pregnancy
- After-work activities
Websites, such as CNN – (http://www.cnn.com/2009/LIVING/worklife/03/04/cb.answering.tough.interview.questions/), offer valuable information on standard and more difficult interview questions, going so far as to suggest possible answers for the most ticklish of the bunch.
Your Homework – Make a list of 20 possible questions, especially those which may be specific to the industry in which you want to work. Write down your responses to those questions in detail. You will not offer that detail in the meeting, but it will help you to construct a “body of information” on each particular subject. The more you know and have reviewed about your own work history and personality, the better you will perform in the interview room.
For example, one tricky favorite is, “What are your weaknesses?” This is not your opportunity to confess that you are in therapy for anger management, nor that you were fired for being late to work. In an ideal world, you might be able to disclose such things and be given the benefit of the doubt. But, we don’t live in that world. Also, don’t mistake the question for an opportunity to turn a positive characteristic into a weakness. “Oh, people always say I work to hard, so now I am trying to find balance.” Uh, hunh. Instead, tell the truth, but one indicates this is an area you are working on.
“I work very well on a team and really enjoy the interaction. However, when it comes down to the crunch, I have to fight the desire to “do it myself” and instead, remember to rely on the skills and work ethic of my team members.”
Mea culpa – I went to a meeting with a new employer last week. I already had the job, teaching an online class, but we needed to discuss the technology and student orientation. I was late. I was mortified. I had left home early, followed a route I knew well, only to run up against road repairs. There went my route and my time frame. Thankfully, the job was mine, and the apologies were made, but an employer will NEVER forget an applicant who arrives late.
Solution #4 – Plan, plan, and plan some more. When possible, find a coffee shop within a mile of the interview site and grab a table an hour ahead. Read a book, review your notes, chant your mantra, sip your latte, and relax as much as possible. Then a half hour before, pack up, go to your car, and drive to the appointment slowly and carefully, trying to arrive no more than 15 minutes ahead of time. Too early is almost as bad as too late. You appear overeager. You throw off their schedule. You may make other applicants more nervous. Granted, that sounds like a good thing, but it is not. You want these early moments to be glitchless. No asking for a pen or even a Kleenex. You are supposed to be in charge of having life’s necessities. Don’t let on that you haven’t a clue.
The interview is going well. Your confidence is growing, though you hold off asking for any hints. Then the interviewer, having smiled and nodded through all your questions, suddenly turns the tables on you. “So, do you have any questions for me?” Whoa!! You thought you were prepared. All those detailed answers are floating around in your head, but none of them cover “questions for me”.
Solution #5 – Always have questions for the interviewer. You don’t work for the company, but your questions should reflect a passing knowledge of the company or companies in general. One way to get past the first question is to refer to the work environment in some way:
2. “What would you say was your greatest challenge to retaining quality staff members, and how can individual employees impact this?”
3. “What would employees say is the best thing about working here?”
A second area of inquiry is the future. Asking about the company’s future indicates that you are thinking of remaining there for a long time:
4. “What would you say are the biggest challenges facing the company this year?”
5. “What is one thing you would like to see improved in the company?”
6. “How can someone become a valued employee at this company?”
Remember always, that one of the goals of the interview is to see how well you think on your feet. The better prepared you are on all levels, the more likely everything will sail along smoothly. Don’t break a leg, but definitely put your best foot forward.