Trash all the job search advice you've heard and do this instead
Hi guys! I'm back to talk about everyone's favorite topic: job interviews! Throughout my career, I've been on dozens of interviews. Some have failed spectacularly (at my first ever interview for a web design job, I showed them the website I made for my dog. Spoiler alert: I didn’t get the job). I learned the hard way, and I've used lessons learned from successful and unsuccessful interview campaigns to develop a series of techniques for not only landing job interviews, but getting job offers.
I've been the interviewee (always nerve-wracking) and I've been the interviewer (also always nerve-wracking). My unique approach to job interviews and job search advice was recently featured on Business News Daily and I wanted to share some of my other insights with you here.
Unless you have a crystal ball, or (this actually happened to me) you're invited to participate in a group interview with a dozen other candidates who want the same job, it can be tricky to try and figure out exactly what hiring managers are looking for, and impossible to size up the the competition and know what you're up against - is it an even playing field? How can you use your skills and talents to your best advantage? (Spoiler alert part deux: nailed it, and got the job offer following the group interview). How? Keep reading to find out.
I've been the interviewee (always nerve-wracking) and I've been the interview-er (also always nerve-wracking). My unique approach to job interviews and job search advice was recently featured on Business News Daily and I wanted to share some of my other insights with you here.
Trash all the job search advice you've heard (and don't show off the website you made for your dog)
Now, let's be clear. This approach comes with a HUGE asterisk.* You need to know the rules and conventions before breaking them. This approach requires a very mindful strategy in order to stand out from the crowd and get noticed by hiring managers.
The real work begins after you get that coveted interview. In the past, I've employed the traditional interviewing advice perfectly and was still turned down for jobs. I spent days lamenting: why? I was so confused. I met every qualification requirement! We clicked! The manager gave me a cubicle tour! Even the feedback was positive: "Larissa has a great attitude and is extremely talented. It just wasn't a fit."
There were even times when the hiring manager as much as promised me an offer would be forthcoming, only to coldly hear from the recruiter a week later: "They loved you but they went in a different direction. You're great, though. Better luck next time, we'll keep your resume on file."
Sorry, what? Talk about confusing! Why didn't they hire me? Because it wasn't enough. I didn't stand out. My answers were too vanilla and my value proposition wasn't strong enough.
I'd failed to demonstrate that, in addition to filling the qualifications of the role, I also possessed the right mindset to fulfill those soft skills, the ones that aren't outlined in the job description, and the hiring manager wasn't convinced of my ability to navigate their workplace culture, solve their particular problem, or fill a gap in their process.
Craft a strong value proposition to become unforgettable to hiring managers
Before the interview is scheduled, you've got to leverage your credentials, education, and experience to elbow your way into the candidate pool. Don't be fooled by phone screens - initial phone interviews are specifically designed to screen you out of the interview process.
You want to stay in the game! Your answer to every question up until this point must be structured in a way that conveys to the HR manager: "Yes, I can solve that problem for you."
But what happens next? The cold, hard fact is:
Everyone who's invited to an in-person interview is qualified for the job - you've got to stand out from your competition in a different way
An interview is an invitation to learn more about you, for the hiring manager to discover the ways in which you're their missing puzzle piece. Are you a creative problem solver? Do you have a positive attitude? Do you maintain proper personal hygiene?
These are soft skills (in jobs and in life!) that the hiring manager is seeking to answer, without ever asking you any of this directly (let's face it, they'd get fired if they asked you about your deodorant usage habits). But they still want to find out.
Hiring managers have come up with all kinds of creative techniques for learning more about you from simple observation, mindful questioning, and active listening practices - without ever directly asking you what they really want to know.
By putting this knowledge to work for you, and being equally creative in the ways you convey what they really want to know, you're well on your way to getting a job offer.
Hiring managers see through all your BS. Do what nobody else can: Be you!
I'm going to let you in on a little secret that's often overlooked: hiring managers can smell your bullcrap from five miles away.
Even if they don't say so to your face, I guarantee that 1) it's noticed and 2) it will be discussed at the post-interview round table with the entire team.
Everybody knows that interviewees present themselves in the best light possible and factor that into their decision accordingly.
And guess what? Hiring managers know it. They know it because at some point or another, they've done exactly the same thing. They've been where you're at now. They've tried to BS their way through an interview. So they know precisely what you're up to. And when nine out of ten people they interview answer a question with the exact same answer, well...you get the picture.
They also know the realities their team faces in day-to-day business interactions. They're hoping you're the one (TBH, the interview process is an interruption from their routine activities and they want it to be over soon so they can resume their regularly scheduled programming - they need to interview people AND still get everything else done. It's a huge inconvenience, and is time consuming).
Here's the great news: Hiring managers want YOU to be their solution!
Be you! Show them how competent and capable you are. Be their needle in a haystack. Use my tried-and-true interview techniques to make yourself stand out and get that job offer.
You must demonstrate a 360-view of yourself - craft a landscape of your attitude and work ethic
Contrary to popular belief, this includes an open and honest conversation around not only your myriad positive contributions, but also the times that you failed. Because you will fail at work - through your own fault, or issues outside of your control - and hiring managers know this. They see it every day. They want to hire intelligent, competent employees who are capable of navigating often-volatile corporate environments and pick up after a setback.
Warning! This approach could backfire miserably if you aren't strategic. You must convey all of this in a positive light - even the negative experiences.
"But how, Larissa? Negatives are bad! That's impossible!"
Baloney. It's not impossible. Life is full of contradictions and I will teach you how to use them to your advantage during your job search. You can do it (I promise) and it will set you miles apart from your competition.
Do not - I repeat, DO NOT - stop reading here and employ this method half-assed. Because then it won't work, and you'll come running back to me and complain about how I suck and my interview advice is rubbish. Well, I'll tell you what: even when I suck, I turn around and use it to do better next time, and you can, too.
Keep reading to learn how, the last three times I was job-hunting, I landed in-person interviews within 48 hours of reaching out to recruiters, got job offers from the very first interview, and had the luxury of being able to select from multiple offers and go with the best fit - this is priceless for both myself and the company.
Continue reading for my answers to commonly held interviewing myths, and how you can curate your approach to impress the hiring manager and land the job of your dreams.
Ditch this advice: Read job interview advice online and listen to your elders, what worked before will work now
Try this instead:
Throw almost all the job search advice you’ve heard out the window! At a minimum, take it with a grain of salt. Every single applicant to that dream job of yours is Googling the same advice. What happens then? The interviewer hears the same answer from dozens of people - and that’s only the ones who have made it past the phone screening. If you know of anyone working in your field who has been interviewing lately, talk to them and ask them to share their experiences!
A bonus card you can play if you are a student is to set up "informational interviews" with real companies you will be targeting for future job searches, This establishes a connection to someone inside the company, and also gives you low-stakes real insight as to how they operate and what their challenges are.
Ditch this advice: Research the company and the hiring manager
Try this instead:
Focus your efforts and energy. Read between the lines, read then news and stock reports, to discover what problems the company is trying to solve by hiring a person like you. You can gain more insight as to particular issues your potential manager or department may be experiencing by reading through their tweets and LinkedIn.
(Protip: LinkedIn recommendations and articles hiring managers have shared are a goldmine!) You can use this information to tailor your answers in the interview.
Ditch this advice: Treat a phone interview exactly as you would an in-person interview
Try this instead:
This is where you should pay attention to the spirit of the advice - what you should take away and remember is that phone interviews are important and must be taken seriously! This is your opportunity to get past the gatekeepers and have the opportunity to make yourself stand out.
But (this is important!) your strategy for a phone interview must be different than the strategy you employ during an in-person interview or an interview with the hiring manager - especially if the phone screen is with someone from HR and not the direct manager.
Yes, a phone interview is a real interview - but it requires an entirely different strategy than the in-person interview. Phone interviews, particularly at larger corporations, are routinely conducted by HR personnel, not by the actual hiring manager. It’s hit or miss as to whether the HR department has spoken directly with the hiring manager for insight as to the role.
Large companies frequently keep databases of job posting “profiles” and pull keywords from there. Phone interviews are designed to exclude you from the candidate pool. Therefore, your goal during a phone interview is to score an in-person interview with the hiring manager. Hook them, and give them enough information to invite you back. Your answer to every question should be formulated around your ability to help solve a problem the company is facing.
Ditch this advice:
Answer the dreaded “What is your greatest weakness?” with something that isn’t actually a weakness, such as perfectionism, and turn it into a positive.
Try this instead (THIS IS GOLD!!)
Employing this one simple job interview strategy will set you apart from EVERY SINGLE OTHER CANDIDATE, aka, your competition:
Answer this question honestly. Hiring managers know that problems arise. Hiring managers want capable, resourceful people on their teams who can deal with it, ideally without getting the manager involved. This takes away from the manager’s own workload and may cause her to miss important deadlines or postpone other priorities.
As I told Kiely Kuligowski over at Business News Daily, who recently featured my job-hunting advice, I recommend using the STAR (Situation / Task / Action / Result) interview response approach for all questions, but particularly for this one. I began nailing every single interview after I changed my approach to this single question.
Describe a real problem that didn't turn out well, what you learned from the situation, and how you applied those learnings in the future to achieve success
Every (and I mean every) other candidate who wants this job is going to describe a non-situation, or a non-weakness. They're going to talk about how they're super detail-oriented, how their perfectionism can be a setback, or how they had a problem that they overcame and everything turned out awesome (these are also great situations to discuss, because you do want to highlight your achievements, but hiring managers know that you also face adversity in the workplace and want to understand how you approach it).
I describe a problem I faced in the workplace that did not turn out well.. I have a few of them that I choose from, depending on the type of company and the vibe with the interviewer. I explain the situation, factors I believe that contributed to the problem, what I did to try and course-correct it and how those efforts were received by colleagues, and what the end result was.
This next part is KEY to success with this strategy:
End on a positive note. The outcome of the situation doesn't have to be positive, but you must follow up with your learnings from the situation, and how you employed those learnings in the future with better results.
This demonstrates an ability to acknowledge my personal errors and mistakes, to take responsibility, and to grow from experience. This is key to becoming a successful, long-term team player and employee.
Give it a try, see what you think, and never give up! Take this advice, pair it with your personal experience and insider knowledge of your industry, and use it to craft an interview strategy that works for you.
Remember: You are someone's needle in a haystack. Your skills and experience are exactly what some company is looking for - you've just got to find the right match. Never forget: You're interviewing the company as much as they're interviewing you.