Monday, January 10, 2011

Women and the Workplace - Free Workshop!!

Join me for a "Women and the Work Place" workshop on Friday, January 21st at 6:30 p.m. at the Whitman Wellness Center in Whitman, MA Click on the link below for address and more information!

I am offering a series of three workshops to Women and the Workplace starting Friday, January 21st at 6:30 p.m. The topics include how to find joy in your job, practical job search strategies for those in transition, and a short discussion on managing the now more common breadwinner/home-maker role (and role-reversal!). Attendees are encouraged to bring pen and paper, and their best/worst job search stories. Anyone can participate in the discussion or, if you prefer, just sit back and listen. Hope to see you there!

Saturday, January 8, 2011

Hold the Phone! Is this really an Interview?

Phone screens have become a more common first step in the interview process. Understanding the advantages and disadvantages, and using proper "phonetique" can help you secure an in-person interview. While screening a candidate over the phone certainly can save the hiring manager time, it also puts you (the interviewee) in a vulnerable position. For HR screens, a phone interview offers a cursory glance over you as a person, communicator and professional. It can also provide both parties a rapport building opportunity in advance of a first meeting. But there are a few pitfalls that unwitting candidates can avoid to ensure an in-person interview will follow the phone call. Here are a few insights on what hiring manager's and phone screener's (HR) are looking for during that brief call:

1) How do you sound? Not just the quality of your communication skills, but do you sound approachable? Connected and engaged? Do you sound like a smart person? Are you comfortable with yourself? Do you have confidence and charisma? Do you sound like you know what you're talking about? This is the hard part. Everyone has a filter, and what someone chooses to hear is completely out of your control.

The primary problem with phone interviews is they rob you of critical sensory information, data that can actually help you self-correct in an interview. When you don't have the benefit of eye contact and body language, you have no clue as to what the interviewer is perceiving and responding to in that moment. Knowing whether they may be bored, distracted, or disinterested can sometimes be detected by eye contact, posture, physical movements or even by the way they are breathing. Can you tell if someone is smiling over the phone? Sure you can! Can you tell if they are listening with rapt attention or reading their emails? No, you can't. If the interviewer is simply going through the motions of the screen and has already determined you're not a good fit, you're going to waste a lot of time and energy trying to re-engage them. So, it's a good idea to employ active listening skills and "check in" after you've finished a sentence to ask whether they want you to expand or move onto the next question. During a phone interview, or any interview for that matter, go for balanced talking/listening time. Make sure you and the other person have equal portions of time for information exchange. You don't want them to hang up with more questions than answers, and vice-versa.

2) Do you fit the position? While you may not have a deep technical conversation during a phone interview, the hiring manager or HR person you are speaking with will run through the requirements of the position to ascertain whether your background fits the basics of the role. Education, career progression, industry, title, comparative company sizes, functional experience, where you "sit" in the organization, and compensation will be a few of the primary indicators of fit. But they may also ask you details about your prior positions and companies you have worked for. This is a distinct advantage of the phone interview and one that interviewees sometimes overlook. Having your resume in front of you takes an enormous amount of pressure off of you to blindly recall details and dates, specifics about your projects and accomplishments. It is normal to draw a blank in the middle of an interview when an interviewer asks you what month you left a company or the name of the software system you worked on ten years ago. The beauty of the phone interview is that you have that information at hand and no one will judge you for glancing down at your resume for key reminders.

3) Interest level. You don't know enough about the job yet, so how do you communicate the appropriate amount of interest and enthusiasm? Overstating your interest might make you sound naive or too eager, while understating it may give the impression that it's not your top choice or there's something about the opportunity that turns you off. Don't gush, instead simply state that you're highly interested in the opportunity, eager to learn more about the company and looking forward to meeting them in person. Also be sure to ask them for feedback if they felt, for whatever reason, you were not the right fit for the role based on what they learned during the call. This information can help you prepare for the next time a phone interviewer comes calling.

The difference between a phone screen and a phone interview is determined by who is conducting the interview, the amount of time they have allocated for the call, and the information they are gathering from you. As corporate "gate-keepers", the HR screen is often a way to determine in advance whether you are well spoken, appropriately aligned to the role and the corporate culture, and whether you have done your due diligence on the company and the position, and fall within the budget relative to compensation package.

A phone interview with the hiring manager should never be mistaken as a phone screen. Often this will be your one shot at convincing the decision maker they need to meet you in-person. It is your opportunity to demonstrate your fit relative to overall experience, soft skill set, caliber and personal chemistry with them. If you are not asked to come in for an in-person round during the phone interview, it's not necessarily a bad sign. They may need to run the process through the proper channels to ensure both HR and additional team members are scheduled accordingly. Or, they may be in the process of phone interviewing others and will hold off on making decisions about in-person invitations until after they have spoken with all viable candidates. It is perfectly acceptable to ask a hiring manager or HR where they are in the process and what to expect for timing on next steps. It is also in your best interest to ask how long the position has been open for and what their timing is on making the hire. Knowing this allows you to better manage your own process and timing relative to other potential interviews.

The best advice I can offer candidates who are not natural interviewers and struggle with connecting to another human being through a hand-held device is this; pretend that you are talking to a friend or colleague. Be yourself, be calm, be energetic but be aware of your speaking speed and volume. If you tend to be a "fast" talker, try to speak slowly and through a slight grin. When the corners of your mouth are turned up, you also tend to lift your voice. The perception is that you are a happy person. If you want to experiment with this idea, try it on the phone with a family member or friend. Don't tell them what you're doing, but ask them if you sound cheerful or phony. You will find most will feedback that you sound good natured and friendly.

If you really want to come across as a polished and professional executive, dress for the phone interview. Most home-based employees will tell you that they are far more productive, focused and feel more professional when they dress for their home-based desk. Though it's more common to dress for comfort, or stay in pj's and fuzzy slippers as most people do for morning phone interviews, putting on professional garb can boost your mindset and energy to a perceptible level of readiness that comes across on any medium. It is also a good practice to dress before a phone interview because you never know when a hiring manager may make a last minute suggestion to speak over Skype!!

As the US continues to evolve into a mobile workforce, our reliance upon technology to keep us connected will only increase over time. Getting comfortable with virtual connection to others is not only critical to your search process, it may someday soon become a requirement of employment. Now is the time to develop good virtual practices and stellar "phonetique" own word for phone etiquette and technique.

If you are looking for more tips on how to ace a phone interview, feel free to contact me for a consultation!

Sunday, January 2, 2011

The Name of the Game

Three of the most stressful events almost every person eventually faces besides death and divorce are getting married, moving and changing jobs. In almost all of these situations, the position of power, choice, control and decision-making is in the hands of those completely invested in the process. All, except one. When you are in a job search, the process of decision-making and power of choice rests almost completely in the hands of the company and their hiring manager(s). Your destiny can very much rest with the person sitting across from you who has spent less than half a day getting to know you. What did they learn about you?

Interviewing is stressful, unpredictable, and anxiety provoking. There are under-qualified people who are born interviewers that know exactly what to say, how to say it, and can overcome almost any obstacle in the process. Interviewing is, for lack of a better term, a game...of sorts. When you consider that your image is going to count for more than 15% of the overall impression a hiring manager has of you, and another 15% or more is directly related to how well you communicate both verbally and physically, the only two things left to tip the scales in your favor are hard skills (50%) and gut instinct...though, not your gut instincts.

The fact that each of the meetings set up in the interview process is called a "round", immediately conjuring up the image of a golf club or a gun, it's no wonder you're anxious. The word "game" pretty much describes how the interview process can feel to some people. In a best-case scenario, you may experience an interview process like a wonderful day out on the course with three of your newest friends. In the worst-case, it feels like target practice. Except you are on the bad end of the gun. To have been called for the interview in the first place is a lot like winning the lottery, so the comparison to a game is not far-fetched.

Lets start by considering that your job search begins with a resume patiently and perfectly crafted to reflect years of professional experience and personal investment. It is then transported through the miracle of technology into a massive database of other perfectly crafted resumes to rest patiently for the fateful moment when a company's HR person happens to key in the exact sequence of search terms that then return a result including your resume...along with 300 others. The fact that the phone rings at all seems like a scratch-ticket moment.

Resume screening and selection is an almost completely data-driven, fact-finding process. Using complex key search terms, functional titles, industry jargon, and geographic indications, the human resources department is able to weed through hundreds or thousands of applicants to find the most data-relevant resumes in their database. Even in companies where resume gathering and selection is done less with technology and more traditionally, the same methodology applies. Find the best matches based on the hiring manager's specific criteria...and it's almost always data-driven/fact-based indicators. Overall years of experience, career progression over a specific time period, title, industry, zip code and salary.

This is wonderfully effective most of the time because it helps the hiring manager to stay focused on precisely the background and skills demonstrated by the candidate in order for them to be successful in the role. It offers the hiring manager supporting evidence and essential proof points to demonstrate the due diligence applied and utilized to make a final candidate selection. And sometimes they have a first, second and third candidate choice. Well done!

But did you know that often the final decision is made solely on one completely immeasurable, proof-less, and sometimes unjustifiable notion? It's gut instinct. That little bit of nagging doubt on the part of the interviewer that, for whatever reason, prevents him/her from finalizing the offer letter. There is the irony that always seems to strike from a distance. A highly data-driven, fact-based methodology can be completely undone by one inexplicable feeling.

And that's the beauty of the interview process. And, that's why you should take every interview, every meeting, every opportunity to meet a potential hiring manager. Because you just never know who you and your resume will resonate with, and where the best fit for you might be found.

In addition to learning about a company's mission, its culture, the position itself and the overall opportunity, you can also make an indelible impression on a hiring manager who may have more than one position to fill. Or, will remember you the next time an opening develops in his/her group. The personal take-away is the opportunity to develop, practice or enhance your interviewing skills. This can be invaluable for those who have not interviewed in many years, or are natural introverts and have difficulty connecting with complete strangers. Becoming a strong interviewer requires a strong sense of your own personal strengths, an awareness of your presence and interpersonal skills, and the ability to handle rejection with dignity and grace. Practicing gratitude and mindfulness when receiving feedback will also demonstrate maturity and ability to handle a challenging situation.

In terms of interviewing, practice makes perfect. As with any game, the more you play the better you become. Though you may spend more time on the bench at first, use that time to prepare for the field. Read and research interview techniques, target lists of interesting companies, and work on developing a confident presence. Ask a trusted friend or former colleague to run you through a mock interview...and ask them to give you fair and complete feedback. The right opportunity will not require you to be someone else, but learning how to bring your best self to the table takes practice. This not only means overcoming the anxiety and stress of the interview process, but developing the confidence to connect with a virtual stranger on both the professional and personal level. Have patience with yourself and keep playing the game.