I Just Work Here: Best to be on the ball during — and after — the interview
WE ARE all — like it or not — job searchers.
It doesn’t matter whether we’re employed or unemployed. The modern working world shifts swiftly and unexpectedly. One moment we’re secure, the next we’re pounding the pavement, so keeping our minds tuned to job search best practices is a wise and cheap insurance policy.
Allow me to help you be wise and cheap. (Or something like that.)
I recently came across a list of sensible job interview tips by Ford Myers, a career coach and author of “Get the Job You Want, Even When No One’s Hiring.”
One tip in particular struck me: “Set the stage for effective follow-up. Developing your follow-up strategy BEFORE the interview will even enhance your behavior DURING the interview.”
(Those of you who already have a job should think about this advice in terms of a meeting with your boss, whether it’s an annual review or just a chat about an idea you would like to pursue. It’s as applicable to that as it is to a job interview.)
I spoke with Myers, and he said this: “What most people do is they just show up for an interview. They haven’t even done any research in most cases; they haven’t studied about the person or the company or the culture. It’s a huge mistake. It’s like lambs to the slaughter.”
So to make sure you properly prepare, think about how you want to position yourself once the interview is over.
“Let’s say the interview goes really well,” Myers said. “What do I want to get out of it? What is my objective? Most people say, ‘I just hope I come out of it alive.’ That’s not good enough.”
Most of us have heard the goal of a first interview is to secure a second interview. That’s correct, but you need something new to talk about in that second meeting.
Myers suggests you think of yourself less as a job candidate and more as a consultant. Ask probing questions during the initial interview: “What are the challenges, what are the needs, what are the company’s biggest problems, what have they tried, what has worked or not worked. When you come back for the second interview, you’re going to walk in with a presentation which is based on the notes you took and everything you learned at the first interview.”
This is about trying to be in control of the process. You don’t let an interview happen; you grab hold of any part you can and lead it in a favorable direction.“When the interview ends, the worst thing you can do is say, ‘OK, I hope to hear from you, bye,’” Myers said. “You want to maintain control. You say, ‘I see our meeting is coming to an end. Can you please tell me what the next steps are and when I can expect to hear from you? And if I don’t hear from you by next Tuesday, can I call you?’ You want to keep the ball in your court.”
And if the interview tanks, don’t surrender: “Say after 20 minutes, the interviewer says you’re just not the guy for this job — do you just get up and leave? No. Ask the person, ‘Can you tell me why?’ You might learn something. Or maybe they say you don’t have enough experience working with outside clients, and you say, ‘Well, actually I have a lot of experience with outside clients. May I tell you about it?’ Then you tell them something that got missed in the interview, and five minutes later you’re back in the game.”
Maybe both you and the interviewer acknowledge you’re not the best fit for the job, but you happen to know a person who would be ideal. Don’t be afraid to recommend someone else. You’re not getting the job anyway, but you could leave a remarkably good impression on the interviewer.
“They might say, ‘You’re really an unusual guy. I like the fact that you have a positive attitude,’” Myers said. “They might say, ‘Hey, I left a company a year ago, and I happen to know they’re expanding and looking for someone with your particular background. Why don’t I call them.’”
The bottom line is you want to squeeze every bit of value and potential out of the interview. Maybe you get a second interview and walk away with the knowledge to impress. Maybe you don’t get a second interview but at least get some sound feedback. Or you make a good connection with the interviewer, knowing that every good connection helps.
This is zooming in on one element of job searching, an element that can help immensely with the process. It gets you thinking strategically and playing out different scenarios.
And, as I mentioned earlier, it’s applicable to both workers and job seekers. There have been many times in my career when I’ve met with someone to suggest an idea and walked away with no clear concept of how the idea resonated or when I might get more feedback.
If you don’t think ahead, you lose control of the situation.
“Whether you’re working in a McDonald’s or as CEO of a company, you want to have these skills and be thinking about these things,” Myers said. “It’s not about job search; it’s about career management. Nobody’s going to manage your career for you.”
So take job search advice when you can get it, whether employed or unemployed. It’s my favorite kind of insurance policy — wise and cheap.
Rex Huppke writes for the Chicago Tribune. Send him questions by email at email@example.com or on Twitter @RexWorksHere.