Archive for the ‘Interviewing’ Category
Every so often I hear the comment that “nobody reads cover letters.” That’s because most of the letters jobseekers send are just too hard to get through! Follow these rules and not only will your letter be read, but you’ll greatly improve the odds of getting the result you want.
Rule #1: Make your letter easily “scannable”
These days, work is too fast-paced to allow for reading through a long, dense letter. DON’T take a page out of your English Literature 101 class. Instead, make your letter a quick, easy read by:
- Using short paragraphs– no more than seven lines in any one paragraph (assuming an 8.5×11 Word document). Less than seven lines is better.
- Using bullet points (e.g. like this).
- Using bold-face and/or underlining of key phrases to bring them out. Make sure you use this technique sparingly– if too much is in bold or underlined, it will defeat the purpose and look terrible.
- Considering the use of sub-headings. This blog post, with it’s use of the “rules” subheadings, is an example.
- Minimizing repetition. You don’t need to mention your extensive marketing background three times– once is enough.
bbbbSo make sure you minimize repetition.
Rule #2: Default to using email
Start with the presumption that you are going to write your letter of introduction, cover letter, or interview/meeting followup as an email, then “convince yourself” why using postal mail would be better. The reasons you want to default to email: first, it works (as I see every day with clients), and second, sending an email is so much faster. You can skip finding/buying stamps, getting the envelope to print properly, and remembering to mail the letter (it usually takes me about three days!). The table below summarizes the pros and cons of sending an email vs. mailing a letter.
Email vs. Postal Mail in a Job Search: Pros vs. Cons
Your job search time is valuable. Perhaps you’ve heard of the expression “the perfect is the enemy of the good.” There’s so much that you need to do in a job search, so go for “good” or even “great” in your search and let go of “perfect.”
That said, there are several situations where sending a letter by mail will get you a better result.
- If you’ve had an informational or networking meeting and someone really helped you, a handwritten note of appreciation is a very nice touch!
- If you feel the person to whom you are reaching out is more “old school,” e.g. from an older generation, more conservative, etc. then a letter may be more appropriate.
- A letter will stand out more than an email will, improving the odds of it being read. To help a letter stand out even more, consider sending it by “Priority Mail.” If you have the time, you could send an email and, if no response, then a letter.
Rule #3: Always include the “letter” in the body of the email, as people don’t like to open attachments. Enough said.
Rule #4: Engage them with the Email Subject Line
If you do use email, the subject line is key to your message being read. Don’t make it too salesy or pushy. Mention something that they are interested in so that your email gets opened! Examples include:
- “Your article about Supply Chain in…”
- “Referred by Susan Smith, re:…”
- “Open to discussing Fundraising at Ivy University?”
- “Our three mutual connections and shared group on LinkedIn”
- “Hello, and question…” <if you know them>
Rule #5: Make sure your email address is professional
firstname.lastname@example.org won’t cut it. email@example.com will make a better impression and make you more likely to get past the spam filters.
Rule #6: Focus on them
I get so many drafts that are all about “me me me” when the tone/language should be “here’s how I can help you…” , “I believe this meeting would be mutually beneficial because…” or “Your company’s Vision resonates…” If you want them to help you, show appreciation, as in “I would greatly appreciate…” A simple “thank you” can of course go a long way. Sounds easy and obvious but too many clients forget these basic rules of relationships.
Rule #7: Include your pitch (if you haven’t in a prior letter)
Inform the people to whom you are writing of your background and link it to how you can help them. Summarize your background in one or two sentences, and then share some relevant background highlights by including three to six “bulleted” accomplishments. Don’t assume that even your best, closest work colleague knows how you want to position yourself, or remembers the great things you’ve done. Also, strangers will, naturally,want to know from whom they are hearing. A powerful pitch in your email can really help to illustrate how you can help an organization, engage the reader, and spur the action you want.
Rule #8: End with a clear call to action
Say “Would you have 20 minutes available on your calendar to meet?” (it’s so easy for them to hit reply on an email and say yes.) And/or, say “I’ll contact your office to see if I can get on your calendar in a few days, assuming I don’t hear from you first.”
I’ll be posting more in the near future about how to write great email content that gets you the meetings you want, as well has how to follow up with a phone call.
Whether your goal is to sell, inform, or land a job offer, telling engaging, relevant stories can turn even a so-so presentation into a great one. Illustrating your points with the right stories will have a far stronger impact than many other things you can do, including slide design, body language, eye contact, and so forth.
Telling stories is so effective because people more easily remember the images that make up a story, as opposed to “facts.” They remember the problems, the struggles, the triumphs, the places and the names. And by the way, emphasizing these elements is exactly how you tell a compelling story. Keep it simple, and aim for the emotion, the drama. Don’t bury the listener in jargon or product/service features.
In my webinar I recommend the following storytelling framework to help you organize your delivery: Situation (or problem)/Action/Result — that is, SAR. Describe the situation or problem that you/your department/client/etc. faced, the action you took to improve the situation, and lastly the result of your efforts. And, make sure you tie the story directly to the point you are making with your audience! Rehearse the stories ahead of time, until you’ve got the telling down to a smooth, natural delivery.
Note, if you are demonstrating a product or service, which is essentially a real-time story, you can follow the exact same “SAR” format. (I use this format all the time when demonstrating LinkedIn, Twitter, and other social media to clients and audiences.)
The three case studies below (“stories” if you will) illustrate how story-telling works.
A job interview
The interviewer asked one of my clients, Susan, a typical question– “What is your greatest strength?” Susan might have simply said “My analytic skills” and stopped there, leaving an opportunity on the table to make a strong positive impression.
Instead, she said “My analytic skills– let me give you an example so you can see what I mean. Last year we were seeing a retention problem in our division— accounts were closing in droves. No one was sure why or what to do about it, and the revenue loss was threatening layoffs! So I took the initiative to analyze the data, looking at x, y, and z. It became clear to me that the people were leaving as a result of a change in a product’s service terms. I presented my findings to management, and suggested they combine a marketing initiative with another revision to the service terms. They adopted my recommendation and over the next six months our retention problem reversed itself.”
In telling her story to illustrate the point about her analytic-skills, Susan followed the SAR format:
- Situation– people leaving in droves.
- Action– took initiative to analyze x, y and z.
- Result– problem reversed itself in six months.
Susan used this format to turn a dry subject into an emotional, engaging one, making her point about her analytic strength memorable and real for the interviewer. Notice– no jargon, no mention about the specific service terms that were changed, the product features, etc. (she could have easily drilled down into these discussions if asked). She kept it simple, engaging and interesting. And yes, she got the offer.
An Information Technology Director’s recommendation
A client was presenting to his I.T. leadership team. In the presentation he included a proposal that his Chief Technology Officer push for a new technology platform. What helped win over the CTO? According to my client, it wasn’t a description of the features and benefits of the new platform vs. the current one (although that helped). Rather, it was the story he had rehearsed and shared about the difficulties a business unit end-user faced with the current platform, how it ended up costing the company a substantial expense, and how the new platform would have changed the outcome.
Influencing an audience to purchase a service
I went to a presentation several weeks ago delivered by someone who was pitching a service. His physical delivery was almost designed to turn the audience off; He spoke in a flat affect, used dense wordy slides, and appeared somewhat disheveled. Yet the two powerful, emotional stories he shared with us about how his service solved clients’ difficult problems are still with me. In fact, they are the only thing I (and my colleagues at the presentation with whom I’ve discussed this) remember! Those stories are probably the main reason we are looking to re-engage him, since it enabled us to both “experience” and remember how his service could help solve client problems.
I’ll have a lot more to share with you regarding how to Deliver Powerful Presentations that Get RESULTS in my September 6th 12-1pm EST webinar.
This blog entry was originally posted in the Glasshammer’s website.
Some clients who first come to me for help after a long and frustrating search attribute their difficulties to something they can’t control, such as age, experience (i.e. over- or under-qualified), weight, ethnic background, gender or, less often, some other physical feature. Yes, these biases do surface at times in the job search. But, once these clients start describing their search in more detail, nine times out of ten, I see that the problem is actually in their job-search strategy or execution!
So, if you have that “out of control” feeling, here’s a checklist of 10 things to make sure you are doing, to help you get back into the driver’s seat and on the road to the job you want.
1. Are you “positioning” yourself correctly? That is, are you focusing on how you can help your target audience? This means dropping the jargon that is only relevant to your current or last job, and using the language of your next.
2. Are you too general, or trying to be all things to all people? This strategy can be tempting because this way you don’t rule anything out. The problem with the too general approach, however, is that people are not going to take the time to figure out how you can help them. Or, they will put you in a place you don’t want to be! Having a specific resume and pitch for each job target is the way to go.
3. Are you too scattered, trying to go for many different job targets at once? It really helps to focus on one thing at a time, with some overlap. You want to be perceived as an “insider” in the industry or profession you are targeting, and to do that you need to focus and build your network within your target. Become known, have conversations with lots of people!
4. Are you going out and getting what you want, or just waiting for the ad to show up or the headhunter to call? The way people find most jobs these days is via leveraging their network and contacting people directly who they don’t know. LinkedIn can be a great help with these latter two approaches.
5. Are you being proactive at all stages of your job search? That means, you need to be following up, and keeping in touch, with people in your network or people you have met with. Don’t let these contacts disappear into a black hole! A client once followed up with 23 phone calls (not messages– just leave 1 or 2!) before he got to speak to the person he was trying to reach– and then they thanked him for being so persistent and gave him an interview!
6. How are you communicating? Is your “message” getting lost because of poor delivery? Get feedback from someone on how you come across in all your communications channels – resumes, emails, phone-calls, cover letters, and interviews.
7. Are you meeting with both the right people, and enough of the right people? At the Five O’Clock Club, we say that you must have six to 10 “things” (i.e. conversations) in the works with people who are in a position to hire you at any one time, because five of those six things will fall away through no fault of your own. Don’t just hang all your hopes on that one position you are interviewing for! Building up enough volume is key– if you are doing everything else right, it’s still a numbers game.
8. Are you targeting enough positions? If you have only 10 companies that you are going for, each with two positions that would be suitable for you (whether the position is open or not), that means only 20 positions you are targeting. It will thus take you forever to get a job because you have to wait for one of the 20 people to leave (or for a new job to be created)! The Five O’Clock Club recommends as a rule of thumb that you target 200 positions. Again, it’s a numbers game.
9. Are you spending at least 35 hours a week on your search if you are unemployed, and 15-plus if you are employed? I tell clients to treat their job search like a full time job. Get to your desk at 9am and leave at 5pm! Don’t kid yourself that you are in a serious job search if you spend only one or two hours a day on it!
10. Are you having fun? Take breaks from this search and go do what you enjoy doing! If you’re not taking care of yourself, it will come through in your interactions with potential employers! Spend at least a couple of hours a day doing something you enjoy.
Job-search clients often ask me whether they should mail or email their cover or followup letter. I tell them to default to email unless there is a compelling special case for sending a traditional letter. The reasons I recommend email:
- It works—I see the positive results all the time with my clients.
- It’s much easier on you, the jobseeker, to send an email then to start fiddling with the printer, stamps, etc.— which is important both from a time management perspective and psychologically.
- It’s easy for the recipient to just hit reply.
- Email is the language of business these days—everyone reads email.
- You may appear too old-fashioned if sending a letter.
That said, you will need a compelling subject line to get people to open the email, so it doesn’t go into spam (e.g. “referred by…”, “saw your article…”, “Our meeting last week…”, etc.). You also need an email address that has your name in it, both so that the email will be less likely to go into spam, and to take advantage of this opportunity to market your name. That is, firstname.lastname@example.org works well, while email@example.com — not so good. Include the letter in the body of the email, not as an attachment– make it as easy and likely as possible for your message to be read.
Letters do have the advantage that they can stand out given the deluge of emails (if the postal mail is read in a timely way—not always the case these days), they show care and effort, and may appeal to “old school” hiring managers, so don’t rule them out completely. Also, if someone did you a favor, sending a handwritten thank you note is always appreciated.
Many (or most) of you are probably on LinkedIn to some extent (if you’re not you should be– www.linkedin.com). LinkedIn is an awesome tool for getting results in your job search. But are you really getting the value out of it that you could be? Use LinkedIn to advance your search in three ways: 1) Research career options, organizations, people you should contact, or to prepare for meetings/interviews, 2) Get interviews via building and leveraging your LinkedIn network, and 3) Get interviews by contacting people directly who you don’t know. All of these are of course covered in my book. In this post, I’m going to share some LinkedIn features that are useful for job-related research.
A note on the importance of research: it’s your best friend in the job-search. Use research to a) explore career/industry changes- research possibilities to narrow down the list, b) learn how to market and “sell” yourself effectively for different positions, c) find companies you want to work in, to focus your efforts, d) find people to contact in those companies, e) prepare for meetings or interviews. Here’s an overview of the LinkedIn features (all accessed from the top menu) to use for each of these areas. For more information, check out LinkedIn’s help feature (in the main menu under “More”, “Learning Center”), or read my book!
LinkedIn “Answers”: Use this feature to ask people in different fields or industries about their professions, the skills you need to excel, how to position yourself effectively for career change, which career is right for you, etc.
LinkedIn “Groups”: Find groups that represent targets you may be interested in. For example, if you are interested in Human Resources Management, do a search using those keywords, and join one of the groups you find. Then monitor or contribute to the discussions, or ask questions of group members. For this approach to really be effective, you need to find high-quality groups, meaning– a) a good number of active, interesting discussions (many groups have this feature, but other unmoderated groups are dominated by member sales-pitches), b) a large number of members who are employed doing what you want to do (or who can hire you).
LinkedIn “Companies”: When you go to the company page, you will see a list of the organizations people recently left the company for, or came from. This feature can be useful in coming up with ideas for other organizations to target in your search.
“Advanced” People Search: Use keyword searches, job title searches, etc. to find people in your network or in shared groups who do what you might be interested in doing, or who are in a position to hire you. Then contact them for informational meetings (initiating this contact is both a science and an art– the subject of a future blog post).
LinkedIn Profiles: Do a search under the names of your job-target role-models. Their public profiles (if they are complete enough) could give you a clue as to how to attain similar success, or make a similar transition. Similarly, look at the profiles of people who you are meeting/interviewing with, to help you prepare– e.g. asking the right questions, proposing the appropriate solutions or sharing the right examples from your experience.
The Five O’Clock Club has a four-step approach to salary negotiation that I have used to help clients (and myself!) negotiate thousands more in compensation. Thought I would mention a few highlights from this approach.
First off, salary negotiation in a job search is best postponed until after the offer is received. This is because once hey make you the offer, all the negotiating leverage has switched over to you. After the offer is made, the hiring manager wants you to start “yesterday”– they are focused on you, they don’t want the other candidates. So negotiation is more of a possibility. Before the offer, citing a salary requirement that wasn’t in line with their thinking could have immediately excluded you from consideration, no matter how well you were doing otherwise (in an interview they are looking for ways to screen you out!).
A couple of other key elements of the four step process. Always place yourself on the same side of the table as the hiring manager (or your boss) when negotiating. Do not be an adversary– re-iterate how much you’re looking forward to contributing. A related item– focus on negotiating the job, not the salary. That is, make your case for compensation by showing that you will be helping them with more than the job posting. Or, by saying that you need to be brought in at a higher level to get the respect and attention you need to do your job effectively.
And lastly (for now), take into account all aspects of compensation when you negotiate. It’s not just base salary, it’s bonus, profit sharing, 401k matching, amount of raises, frequency of raises, tuition reimbursement, and on and on. In short, everything is negotiable, and you should consider the big picture when negotiating. This means you need to have all the information about compensation before you negotiate.
There’s so much more to say on this subject (including how to manage the negotiating session and how to address salary questions in an interview), so you’ll be hearing more from me on this!
Difficult interview questions fall into a few different categories, including stress questions (“I don’t think you’re good enough…”), seemingly off-the wall questions (“how do you find a needle in a haystack”), behavioral questions that assume a negative (give me an example of a time when you had a difficult employee…”) and “greatest weaknesses” types of questions. In answering these questions, the key thing to remember is, as we say at the Five O’Clock Club, to play the interview “game”. That is, you don’t necessarily have to literally answer the question as it is asked. Instead, pause, and quickly ask yourself: “How can I keep this as positive as possible”, and “Can I use this question as an opportunity to either learn about the issues they are facing, or to illustrate how I can help them using one of my success stories?”
If you can’t use the question this way, then you are either wasting time or hurting your chances. In that case, it’s best to just answer briefly and get back to playing the game to win, i.e. illustrating how you can help them using your success stories.
Let’s address the greatest weaknesses types of questions (I’ll tackle the other types in future blog entries). These include “What is your greatest weakness”, “Give me an example of an area for development that was in your last review”, or “tell me about a criticism a boss once gave you.” Don’t get tripped up here by going all negative– it is not the place to say “often after lunch I tend to fall asleep at my desk.” Another rule about interviewing— keep it as positive as possible! Negativity is a no-no.
Here’s how to answer a question like one of these. Take an example of something that happened to you a while ago, say 5 or 10 years ago, that illustrates a weakness, a criticism, or something on your development plan. Then talk about how you learned from it, and how it has helped you become more successful. Then end with an example from one of your “success stories” to illustrate how you’ve learned from it. This way you end on the most positive note possible, and essentially change the subject back to illustrating how you can help them!
Here’s an example. A client, in answer to the “greatest weaknesses” question, said “about 10 years ago I realized that I have a tendency to get carried away by my enthusiasm for a project, and I make mistakes—in this case I didn’t get the results I wanted with a proposal I was making. But I’ve learned from that experience, and it’s made me better ever since. In fact, that learning experience has been a key to my success in, for example, winning the contract for <insert success story here>…”
Telling stories about your experience is one key to making a powerful presentation in the job-search process. Illustrate how you can help an employer by using interesting examples from your experience. Go beyond just telling them what you are good at or what you can do. Give examples– paint a word-picture. Organize your thoughts and presentation using a story-telling format. One example of such a format is Situation/Problem-Action-Result, or SAR. That is, describe the situation or problem your department faced, then the action you took to improve the situation, and lastly the result of your efforts.
Don’t give too much detail, or too little. Rather, focus on making it interesting! Use images, and even drama. Your presentation will resonate far more with your audience when you do. Some clients pretend they are telling the story to a child, which makes it all about interest and drama, and not about boring detail and jargon.
Here’s an example. An interviewer asked one of my clients “What is your greatest strength”. This client didn’t just say “My analytic skills” and stop there. Instead, she said “My analytic skills. For example, two years ago we were seeing a retention problem with our accounts—people were leaving in droves. No one was sure why or what to do about it, and it was threatening the department’s plans. So I took the initiative to analyze the data. I looked at x, y, and z. It became clear to me that the people leaving were all related to one product where we had recently changed the service terms! So I presented my findings to management, and suggested they do x. They adopted my recommendation and over the next six months our retention problem reversed itself!” (Yes, she got the offer)
At the Five O’Clock Club, we recommend that you have two or three such stories ready to share in an interview, examples that are highly relevant to your potential employer’s needs or situation. Look for opportunities to tell these stories throughout the interview (and getting-interviews) process.
Below are four of the areas that I focus on with clients when helping them to prepare for a job interview. They stem from my training and experience as a Five O’Clock Club Career Coach.
1) Be a consultant (take a strategic approach to the interview)
This is a whole mindset that can change the dynamic of the interview. You do this by figuratively sitting on the same side of the table as the interviewer, helping the interviewer solve her or his business problems. It’s NOT about just memorizing the answers to their questions and then asking three of your own (this is the way many job-seekers approach the interview). It IS about preparing extensively through research (like any consultant would), anticipating what issues they face, and gaining the understanding needed to demonstrate how you can help them.
2) Seek to tell two or three “stories” about your experience that are relevant to the interviewer, and that you’ve practiced beforehand.
Make it your goal to get these stories out in the interview. Use them in answering most of the interview questions you receive. Telling a story, or illustrating your expertise (i.e. saying “I have strong analytic skills, for example…”), can make all the difference between a lackluster interview and a powerful, compelling presentation. I tell clients to use a storytelling format, such as “situation, action, result” (or SAR), and make it interesting!
3) Surface objections to your candidacy by asking these two questions at the end of the interview…
1) How do I stack up against the other candidates? 2) Any reason you couldn’t see me in this position? These questions are essential to conducting an effective followup (see below). There’s a saying that the sale doesn’t begin until you find out what their objections are.
4) Follow up effectively (like any consultant would)– don’t write a thank you letter– write an influence letter.
Use the answers you receive from the questions above, and other questions you asked about their needs/issues, to write that powerful followup. Address their objections to your candidacy, if any, and show how you can help them solve their problems. The follow-up is often more important than the interview itself– I’ve seen numerous cases where candidates have turned a “no” into a “yes” from an effective followup.
You’ve sent an e-mail to someone you don’t know seeking a meeting– maybe you are hoping it could lead eventually to an interview, or information about the company or industry, or possibly a valuable referral. Whatever the objective, don’t just wait and hope that the person will respond– you need to maintain control of the process and follow up with a phone call three or four days later. At the Five O’Clock Club we’ve found that it takes an average of eight phone calls to reach someone. When people don’t call you back or respond to your e-mail, it’s usually not personal. It just means that they are swamped at work. It’s up to you to keep trying.
Now, this doesn’t mean leaving a message every time you call. In fact, leave just one message. If it’s voice-mail, clearly state your purpose (include a reference to the initial e-mail you sent, and/or the person who referred you), leave your contact information, but then say “I will be in and out of the office so I will try and reach you again as well.” In other words, always keep control of the contact– don’t just leave it to them to call you back. If you are having trouble reaching someone, try calling them before 9am or after 5pm, the only time most busy people are at their desks!
If you get them on the phone, have your “script” ready. It should be a 20-30 second version of your Two Minute Pitch. Try to avoid mentioning that you are looking for a job initially, so they at least hear you out. Here’s a rough guide, in sequential order:
1) State the Purpose of your call
2) Value to them
3) Two-three “selling points”, i.e. very high level accomplishments
4) Reiterate the purpose, and,
5) Action Requested– i.e. “do you have 20 minutes available on your calendar to meet?”
Make sure when you speak with them, it sounds very conversational, that is, not like you are reading off a page! Here’s a quick example from my own experience that was a key stepping stone in landing an interview:
“Hi, my name is Rob Hellmann. I’m calling to follow up on an e-mail I sent you a few days ago about Fundraising at Ivy University. Did you by any chance see it?” <yes/no>
“Well, to summarize, I saw your interesting article in the Chronicle… about how you use Database Marketing to support Fundraising at Ivy. I myself have over 20 years of experience in Database marketing, including success in contact management and prospect segmentation. While not yet looking for a job, I’m starting to explore how I could use this background to support fundraising at Ivy down the road. I’d really appreciate hearing your perspective, and perhaps you would find some of my own experience useful to hear about. I think it could benefit both of us if we met.”
There’s a lot more to be said on this topic, e.g. how to deal with “gatekeepers” or other scenarios, but hope this helps get you started!