(Part 2 of 2)
The day before yesterday, I published part 1 of 2 of this article. Below are the remainder of my recommendations for those in transition, those who have had their hours cut, and those facing the prospect of being unemployed in the near term.
1. Preparing for the Interview: Do Your Due Diligence
It should come as no surprise that this aspect of the job journey is critical, so it is important to invest a substantial amount of time in it. Those who are invited to interview by phone, video, or in-person (in the future), must pivot from marketing themselves to selling themselves. Your job at this juncture is to influence the interviewer that you have what it takes to perform the job and will fit within their culture. If you do this successfully, you are more likely to be moved forward in the process.
Although the labor market in the recent past has been very tight, and unemployment has been at historic lows, given the global pandemic, this may change. If the impact is dramatic, this may negatively affect your statistical chances of being selected as more displaced and underemployed individuals enter the labor force. For these reasons and more, you need to do your due diligence and be overprepared rather than just adequately prepared.
It is also critical to do your homework on each prospective employer’s company prior to your interviews. Be sure to familiarize yourself with the company, its products, recent news and press releases, their strategic partners, general financial state, etc. In addition, practice your answers aloud multiple times, and consider rehearsing them with others. Getting plenty of sleep the evening before an interview can go a long way towards enabling you to ace the interview.
2. Prepare for the Interview: Eat Healthy and Exercise Now and on Interview Day
Although it’s more of a challenge to do so since we are sheltering in place, it is important to exercise to release stress and keep our bodies and minds well-oiled. Maintaining a healthy diet also plays an important role. This is especially true on the day of the interview. I always suggest to coaching clients that they ensure that protein is the first thing that touches their palate in the morning. Some individuals are subject to wide fluctuations in mood and energy levels and if they first drink orange juice, eat carbs like bagels, donuts, or cereal, they may experience an initial spike in energy when these foods metabolize and then a dramatic drop. The goal is to ensure that your energy level remains stable so that you do not crash at an inopportune time.
3. Prepare for the Interview: Create, Refine and Practice Your Elevator Pitch Aloud
In networking meetings, an elevator pitch or speech is ideally a 30-second snapshot of who you are professionally. It showcases your skills, possibly a few relevant past titles in your career progression, it can include your training and education, and ideally includes at least one or more accomplishments that some refer to as “a hook.” It should come across as a short, succinct, relevant, and compelling capsulized version of your professional suitability for the next target role. Such an elevator pitch can also be used when you are networking in person, and especially now when you are first introducing yourself on a networking call or leaving a message to both express interest in a company and generate interest in your candidacy for a specific role.
However, when you are directly or indirectly asked to summarize your skills during an interview, your elevator speech answer can be a bit longer. Most of the best answers I’ve heard are about 90 seconds, but they range from approximately 60–120 seconds. Some candidates keep the answer on the shorter side of this range and give the interviewer an opportunity to follow up with any clarifying questions.
It may seem too late in the game to be investing time to create an elevator pitch, but the fact is that variations of the question relating to who you are, emerge one or more times in most interviews.
For instance, when an interviewer says, “Tell me about yourself,” he or she is asking you to summarize your background, skills, and experience in a way that demonstrates that you are aligned with the needs of that role. Your response should include technical competencies as well as workstyle, past titles that may have prepared you for that role, etc. In effect, this question can be answered by rewording your elevator pitch.
The same applies to when you are asked, “What do you think best qualifies you for this role?” In this instance, you are distilling down the most pertinent soundbites of your elevator pitch in a bulleted or otherwise laser-focused manner so that the interviewer clearly sees that you are a fit.
A third way that a well-constructed elevator pitch can be parlayed into a response that comes across as confident and polished is when you are asked, “Why should I hire you?” For some, this question may cause a defensive response, but it is merely a way for an interviewer to separate the wheat from the chaff and identify those most qualified.
Many years ago, I developed a very basic elevator pitch builder. I have just posted this tool on my public website free of charge. It can be found along with the other free job search tools.
4. Prepare for the Interview: Create, Refine and Practice Your CAR Stories
Assuming your resume was constructed optimally with results-oriented bullets, you are two-thirds done with most of the CARs you will need. CARs are no more than success stories that showcase your achievements. The abbreviation, CAR is short for CHALLENGE, ACTIONS, and RESULTS. CARs are essentially the same as SARs and STARs in that they are stories with a short beginning, a long middle, and mid-length end. I typically suggest that job seekers spend 10% on the Challenge just to frame the circumstance they faced, then 60% on all the actions taken to tackle that challenge, and about 30% on the results. Be sure to give others credit as appropriate, unless you truly were a “Lone Ranger” for that CAR.
Therefore, if your resume contains the series of actions you took to achieve the results, all you need to do is add the beginning of the story, meaning the challenge―what you inherited or started with. These CARs should be compared to the job description or job posting, and you should rehearse the ones that tie to your target role aloud, numerous times until you become comfortable with them.
There are various ways to rehearse, but the best way is to first write or type the question on one side of a card and on the back, list three to five keyword “triggers.” (Instead, you can just type these questions on equal quadrants of normal 8.5” x 11” copy paper, and staple or tape the answers on the reverse side. Then cut up the answers into four sections.) I do not suggest writing out long responses and memorizing them verbatim. Instead, focus on the keywords essential to your answer, organize the keywords in a logical order and aloud in a quiet room by yourself. Some job seekers use a mirror, but that can be distracting for some.
Once you are comfortable, if possible, hand the most difficult questions to someone you know and trust, and have them evaluate your answers, ensuring that you cover all the keywords on the back.
5. Prepare for the Interview: Prepare and Rehearse Conference Call Technology
Now that nearly all interviewing is virtual, it is important to get familiar with whatever technology the prospective employer is using. Here are some quick technology interview tips.
· If possible, sign up for a free account and download, install and run any executable files. Many of the most popular platforms such as Zoom and Google Meet provide instant access to videoconferencing technology.
· Test audio (both the speaker volume and microphone) and video/camera.
· Position your camera so that it is eye level and be sure to look into the lens to establish eye contact vs. getting distracted looking at the interviewer on screen.
· Check your lighting (ideally at the same time of day you will be interviewing). Make sure you are not over-lit or under-lit. If your camera is facing a window, be sure you are not back-lit such that your face is in the shadows. If so, consider closing your blinds or curtains.
· Interviews can be unnerving, so be sure to establish rapport in between answers by smiling subtly, if it’s appropriate to do so. Some of my coaching clients draw a smiley face on a post-it note and position it near the camera lens. They also keep water nearby to remain hydrated and reduce nerves.
· Ideally have someone else conference with you on the same videoconferencing platform — whether it is someone in your household or outside of it.
· If you have control over the time of the interview, make sure it’s not on trash collection day or when the gardeners are coming. Some services are still operational. Similarly, set up your computer in a quiet part of the house if you have neighbors with dogs that tend to bark or small children who may be apt to enter a room unexpectedly.
· If the call is strictly a phone interview, many of the above tips apply, but I also suggest not using a speakerphone or headsets. (I have conducted many interviews where sound quality and level go in and out because headset battery strength is too low or there are other functional or technical issues that do not make for a distraction-free, fluid interview.) Using the speakerphone mode also comes across to many as impersonal, so err on the side of not using this function.
· Make sure that anything within the camera range is free of clutter as well as distractions. The background should be neutral or simple. You can display a wall hanging, ceramic vase, a bookcase, or something else that expresses your style, personality or brand.
· Also, if you are being interviewed by phone and especially if you are using a cell phone vs. a landline phone, test the call in several rooms to ensure that there is no interference from microwaves or other technologies.
· As for reminders, position sticky notes within view (nearby the camera lens if you are videoconferencing) but be sure that they only contain keywords that trigger responses vs. a commentary style response that you will need to read. Reading an answer will have you come across as unprepared, potentially disingenuous, and lacking in confidence.
· Regardless of what technology is being used to conduct the interview, be sure to prioritize at least three to four questions that are time-appropriate and for which you believe you genuinely want to know the answer. Other questions may emerge as a result of the interview, so be sure to re-prioritize your questions as necessary. Bear in mind that there may not be enough time to ask all your questions.
A FEW EXTRA BONUS TIPS:
6. Post Interview: Follow Up with a Thank You Note & Be Patient
Once your interview has concluded, it’s important to reflect on the conversation and identify the essence of that job. What are the two to three things that are critical for you to be successful? Replay the interview in your mind. Did you effectively represent your ability to meet and/or exceed the performance requirements? First, be sure to thank the interviewer for his or her time. Then, consider mentioning something insightful or helpful that they covered. It is often a good idea to bulletize the two or three reasons you believe you would be successful in the role. Close the email by reiterating your sincere interest or excitement about the role. If you do not have email addresses for all, and a recruiter coordinated the interviews, remember to thank that person, as well, and respectfully request that he or she pass along your thank you note.
Also, even if the employer outlined a timeline in which they would be getting back to candidates, recognize that it is a best guess and may be subject to change. In this dynamic environment, even well-intended guidelines and deadlines slip. We are all in a business as UNusual mode, and the selection process may take longer than anticipated as businesses adjust due to current circumstances and try to settle into a “new normal.”
7. Final Note: Put Your Eggs in More Than One Basket
Fortunately, the job market has been fertile. Of course, some companies may postpone or cancel certain requisitions in light of our world health crisis. The playing field has been leveled. If we’ve learned nothing else as a result of this global pandemic, it’s that we are all so much more connected than most of us ever truly imagined.
The news is not all gloom and doom. Some industries will also experience growth as a direct result of this global pandemic. Even in times of utter catastrophe and tragedy such as the pandemic we are experiencing, opportunities emerge. Look for those opportunities. Proactively reach out to employers as most are sorting through this and determining their next steps and immediate needs. If you can help them bridge gaps, offer a unique skill, or restore some sense of normalcy, you may be surprised to get a welcome reception.
Of course, network like crazy as this is statistically the best way to land a job including unpublished opportunities. In addition, apply for mainstream roles that seem suitable. Having more applications submitted brings you one step closer to having more irons in the fire. It provides a better sense of control, especially if one opportunity falls through. Know that applying for jobs can be a numbers game. Those who are in sales know this only too well. They don’t expect to get every sale, but with every “No” they know they are statistically getting closer to that “Yes!”
Happy (sheltering-in-place while adhering to social distancing) hunting!