Category Archives: Interview

The Point of Cover Letters

So if you wanted a good laugh today, here are some fun reads from the world of recruiting…ah, yes. The notorious cover letter. Done well, they can distinguish you from a stack of resumes in a recruiter’s inbox. Done poorly…well…you end up on blog postings like this. 😉

My personal favorite?

“My name is ____, and I kick ass. See resume for details.”

Ironically, it would still probably catch my attention because of its sheer absurdity. 😮 So I guess it would work. But that’s just me.

Personally, I was never a fan of cover letters while in the corporate space. Why? Because 9 out of 10 times, they were poorly written and really didn’t add much value beyond re-hashing the person’s resume (which is pointless).

So if you’re applying for a job at the moment and a cover letter is a must, here are a few pointers so you DON’T end up on a list of bad cover letters somewhere in the blog world:

  • Keep it relevant –– if all you do is copy and paste the same cover letter from job application to job application, you’ve got it all backwards. You need to customize and make your letter relevant for that specific position (yes, this can be a pain in the butt. But ask yourself: do you want the job?). Look through the job description for pointers on what that organization is looking for…then incorporate the top 1 or 2 things you feel they desire in a candidate in your letter.
  • Know why you’re unique –– what makes you stand out from the crowd for this position? Most recruiters read the same generic cover letters day in and day out. Figure out a way to stand out, and you’re one step closer to getting face-time with the organization.
  • Keep it concise –– one or two paragraphs max (3-4 sentences per paragraph). The challenge here is to write something relevant and unique…while trying to cram it into a space that you probably don’t feel does it justice. Yes, this makes the exercise of writing a cover letter hard. But no recruiter wants to read a five paragraph essay on why you’re a perfect fit.

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The Art of the Job Interview – Part 3

This is the last post on my series about job interviewing. You can check out Part 1 here and Part 2 here. This last post is about what to do AFTER you’ve interviewed with a company.

A lot of people fall into the trap of thinking if they’ve nailed the interview part of the entire process, they’re good to go. They couldn’t be more wrong. Obviously how you fare during the actual interview counts, but I can’t begin to tell you how many people botch the process after the interview.

As soon as you’ve completed your interview, you need to:

  1. Say “Thank You”: If you paid attention to my last post about getting people’s contact information, this is where it pays dividends. Almost immediately after you come home from your interview, begin working on writing thank you cards for each person you met throughout the interview process. Two reasons for this. First, it’s easier to remember what the heck you talked about with each person right after an interview vs. a week later. Why is this important? It allows you to customize your thank you’s to each person by placing one or two details you took away from your conversations with them. Second, shooting off your thank you’s to people immediately afterwards always leaves a good impression. It sends the message you want this position.
  2. Stand Out, Send Snail Mail: Another reason to get working on those thank you’s is because I always recommend people to send physical cards. Why? It helps you stand out. Anyone can send an email that says “thanks.” In fact, that’s what pretty much everyone does nowadays. If you really want to stand out, pick cards that directly relate to what that person spoke about with you. For instance, I once sent a card that looked like a baseball because the hiring manager talked about it for  5 minutes of the interview. Yes, it may sound like brown-nosing a little. But guess what? I got the job, and the first thing my new manager said to me on my first day was how much he laughed when he saw that card. It left an impression. That’s what you want. Oh, and don’t forget to thank the recruiter or HR contact!
  3. Follow Up: If you haven’t heard from the company by the specified time they told you, you need to make sure to follow up. If they never mentioned when they’d get back to you, I typically recommend giving at least 3-5 business days after the interview before you reach back out to them. Sometimes people get shy about this, but I always have to tell people to be proactive when it comes to this. Sometimes, companies honestly get so bogged down that they forget to follow-up with candidates (yes, even if they really liked them and want to hire them).
  4. Be Gracious: Regardless of what happens, always keep this in mind (especially if you don’t get the job). Sometimes, people forget this general rule of thumb whenever they get passed over for a position. It’s unfortunate, because I’ve seen many times where that person who didn’t get picked was identified as a sure-hire when the company had another opening…only to ruin their chances by not being gracious when they learned they didn’t get the job the first time. Remember, always use these opportunities to form relationships regardless of the outcome. You never know when an opportunity may arise for you to re-enter the picture for a company.
  5. Always Try to Learn: Whether you get the job or not, always make it a habit of asking the recruiter or HR contact why they decided the way they did. The point here is to understand what qualities about you they liked…and which ones may need a bit of growth. I find that sometimes people are hesitant to offer constructive feedback (mainly because of HR compliance law fears), but if you let them know your desire to constantly improve/learn…you might find a person willing to give you some insight that’s specific enough to be valuable to you.

By doing these simple things, it helps cement the case in the company’s head that you’re the right person. It can also help with other things such as salary negotiations if you manage to get the job offer; if you’ve been extremely professional and gracious every step of the way, the company’s desire to hire you should be at an all-time high –– allowing you to capitalize on it by negotiating for a higher salary, better benefits, etc.

Hopefully these posts were helpful for those of you in the interviewing process. Feel free to reach out to me if you have any specific questions!

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The Art of the Job Interview – Part 2

In a previous post I began a three part series around interviewing successfully. In this post I’ll be covering what to do during an interview to ensure you leave a great impression.

Before I begin, I do want to state that this isn’t meant to be some exhaustive checklist of do’s and don’ts for someone stepping into an interview. There are tons of those available all over the internet. Instead, I’ll focus on some key things that can’t be ignored (based on my past experience in HR/Recruiting).

In the lobby

  1. Show up early: How early? Generally five to ten minutes will do. DON’T be the person who shows up super early to an interview. Nothing makes it more awkward for the hiring manager when a candidate shows up thirty minutes before their appointed time (yes, someone has done this to me before). And of course, don’t be the person who shows up late because “you got lost” or “stuck in traffic.” Those are poor excuses…you might as well tell the company “I don’t value your time that much.”
  2. Chat with the gate-keepers: Another reason to show up early is to spend a few minutes speaking/getting to know the front desk person (who also happen to act as gate-keepers of the office). Why, you ask? Because I’ve seen first hand how HR personnel or recruiters rely on these gate-keepers to learn more about candidates before they even speak with interviewers. Everyone knows you’ll be on the your best behavior when you’re chatting up the VP of Sales. But how do you treat and interact with other people? Southwest Airlines is famous for tactics like this.

When you’re in the interview room

  1. Observe your surroundings: Remember, even though you’re getting interviewed for the position, you’re also interviewing the company at the same time. Observe everything you can while you’re there. How do they dress? Do the employees you see in the hallways seem genuinely happy? Do they mind the details (for instance, is the interview room in neat order or is it in disarray from a previous meeting)? Picking up on these types of things are small clues to the overall culture of the firm.
  2. Turn on the charm, but be yourself: Trust me…everyone’s tempted to put on their charm full blast when interviewing for a good position. There’s nothing wrong with that, as long as you’re still being authentic. Just don’t fool yourself or the company interviewing you into believing that you’re a good match. You’re only hurting yourself in the long run.
  3. Don’t get fancy: Another thing I’ve seen from candidates is their use of industry jargon or business “buzz” words when they have no clue what they really mean. In other words, it’s clear that the person only has a very superficial understanding of the industry but no deep knowledge. This is a deal killer for many specialized fields (such as IT development). I’ve actually seen this mostly from people who have just graduated college and are trying to land their first job. Resist the temptation and stick with what you do know. You never know when you’ll get that one hiring manager who’ll call your bluff and ask you about the intelligent-sounding buzz word you just used but have no true understanding of. In other words, don’t act like you know it all. Instead, exercise humbition throughout the interview.
  4. Close strong: Nothing helps a face-to-face interview more than closing strong. What does this mean? Have strong questions for each interviewer. Make sure each person understands you want this position (but at the same time, you’re not smacking of desperation). Thank everyone you meet after your time with them, and make sure to get their business card so you can follow up with them later. Your job is to make sure each interviewer walks away feeling like you were engaged throughout the conversation, asked intelligent and insightful questions, and genuinely interested in the position.

On your way out

  1. Wrap it up: Whoever set up the interview with you will probably walk you out. Again, make sure you close strong with this person (whether they’re HR, a recruiter, or a middle manager). Get any contact information you need if some of the interviewers you met with didn’t have business cards on them.
  2. Follow up: Make sure you ask them when they might follow up if no one has mentioned anything to this effect. This will also tell you how much time you have to follow up with each person in the coming days after the interview.

So there you have it. Again, this isn’t supposed to be an exhaustive check list –– these are just a few of the major things that I’ve seen work best in my own experience in my HR/Recruiting past life (as well as experience as a hiring manager).

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The Art of the Job Interview – Part 1

Every now and then, I get asked to help others prepare for job interviews based on my previous experience in the HR/Recruiting field. Recently, I found myself doing it again with a good friend…and afterwards, it made me wonder whether others could benefit from the tips I’ve learned through the years.

For those preparing for a job interview in the near future, I’ve put together a few tips to help you put your best foot forward. I split this series into three parts: What to do before, during, and after a job interview to give yourself the best shot at landing a job you really want. Today, I’ll cover some basic tips on what to do BEFORE you even arrive for your interview.

Say you just got called up by a recruiter who did an initial phone screen with you. You managed to not scare them off. Congratulations, you just scored an in-person interview at the company’s office. You hang up the phone, thinking all you have to worry about is coming to the interview ready to answer questions and not make a fool out of yourself. In other words, you think your work is done until show-time.

Wrong. You actually have some work to do beforehand. Here’s what you have to do:

  1. Ask Questions: Once the recruiter mentions that you scored an in-person interview, this is where your work begins. Ask the recruiter who you will be meeting with (get specific…ask for their name and position). It even helps to have the recruiter clarify in what order you’ll be meeting people in, and how their interviews are generally formatted (do they give case studies during interviews? Will they ask behavioral style questions? Etc.). The more information you can get from the recruiter, the better position you’ll be in heading into the interview.
  2. Research and Dig: Armed with this information, you can now do a bit of pre-interview digging. Main rule of thumb: be curious and learn as much as you can about the things mentioned below. Using popular tools such as LinkedIn, Hoovers, Vault, Glassdoor, or even Google, search for the following information:

    • Information about each interviewer: How long have they been at the firm? What business unit do they belong to? Where did they go to school (especially important if you went to the same one)? Will they be your direct manager if you’re hired? Yes, it may sound a bit like stalking, but knowing this kind of information is invaluable to helping you navigate the conversations you’ll have during the interview.
    • Information about the company: Are they a public or private firm? What’s their dress code? Who is their common enemy? What do they pride themselves on? Basically, understanding the company as much as possible will help you create questions for the interview, make you look knowledgeable about their industry or products, and help you avoid looking like a bozo (like asking about a product of theirs that got discontinued).
  3. Prepare: Aside from making sure the basic things (such as directions to your interview, extra copies of your resume, etc.) are ready, one of the most overlooked aspects of preparing for an interview is creating a strong list of questions. As a general rule, try to have 2-3 strong questions for each person you meet. So if you’re meeting 3 people during your interview, plan on having around 6-9 total questions. And avoid using the same questions for every person. Have at least 1 question tailored just for that person…this is where all that research you did in step 2 pays off. You probably won’t have time to go through all your questions, but it’s always better to have more than enough prepared. It’ll send the message that you came ready and are interested in the position.

If you follow these three basic steps, you’ll be on your way to having a strong interview. Next, I’ll be covering what to do when the big day comes.

Questions? Feel free to leave them in the comments!

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