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To say or not to say? Here is a good article on interviewing for a job!
Here are a few that are considered “red flag words” by interviewers. Avoid these because these words don’t do you any favors. I’ve listed alternatives to use instead!
Perfectionist — another word for “procrastinator”
These people often put off work because they are daunted by the expectations. They begin to write a report and can’t get past the first sentence because they are paralyzed by the belief that their first draft has to be flawless. Psychiatrist Dr. Elana Miller, MD, says that perfectionists are often sensitive to criticism and need clearer guidelines so that they don’t waste time on things that are not important.
What the candidate should say instead: detail oriented
Multitasker — another word for “unfocused”
According to current neuroscience research, our brains can not focus on multiple tasks at the same time, but actually switch between tasks quickly, giving us the illusion of multitasking. Meaning, people cannot listen in a meeting and write an email at the same time – they are doing each of these tasks for a few seconds at a time while constantly switching their attention back and forth. While this sounds impressive, serious productivity is lost in both activities.
Candidates may boast that they can move quickly between tasks, but this lack of focus is actually less efficient, increases mistakes, and can be ultimately exhausting. These candidates may have an inhibiting sense of urgency which will lead to them to work hard, but not work smart.
What the candidate should say instead: organized, can work under competing deadlines
People-person — another word for “I don’t understand what this job entails”
This is an especially common word used in interviews for positions in sales, human resources, recruiting, and customer support. “People-person” is a phrase with no meaning, and is usually said by someone who doesn’t understand the demands of the job. You want the candidate to describe him or herself in a way that shows they understand the specific competencies of the job.
What the candidate should say instead: Collaborative, customer-focused, client-facing
Intelligent — another word for “I don’t have to try”
Adults who outright declare themselves as intelligent often take pride in mastering tasks quickly and ranking well among peers. This self-labeling as “intelligent” starts from a young age, as according to the groundbreaking studies by Claudia Mueller and Carol Dweck in 1998.
In a series of experiments on 5th graders, children who were constantly praised for their intelligence preferred easier tasks where they could quickly show mastery and were focused on their competitive standing among others. In contrast, children who were praised for their hard work sought out new challenges and adopted an internal sense of competition of beating their personal best.
These mentalities can follow us to the workplace, and those employees who assert that their intelligence is their greatest strength may display high competitive nature between coworkers, avoidance of unfamiliar tasks, and poor reactions to failure.
What the candidate should say instead: analytical, big-picture thinker, fast learner
In a crowded job market, the last thing you want to be is forgettable.
Yet people do it every day with this one mistake: not asking any questions in a job interview.
The mistake is understandable. You’ve been so busy preparing to answer questions, that you’re forgetting to show the curiosity that lets interviewers see what you really want to know. After all, even if every single one of your responses are flawless and on point, by not asking a question or two of your interviewer you run the risk of coming across as generic.
On the other hand, you don’t want to ask terrible questions. That’s even worse.
Here’s how to show the person interviewing you how you’re different and why you stand apart from the rest.
Why did you join the company?
Mark Phillips, who runs a top office for Sanford Rose Associates, one of the largest recruiting networks in the U.S. had a simple question that could be quite complicated. If the interviewer tells you it was because of vacation days or benefits, chances are good that there isn’t all that much below the surface. If, however, they tell you about the creativity or integrity of the brand, you know you’re potentially going to work for a winner.
How does this role further your company’s mission?
Kelly Lavin, chief talent officer for newly launched Canvas, the first text-based interviewing platform suggests you ask this because “While job duties and company culture are important to understand, determining why a company and role exists is just as, if not more, important.” It will also allow you to better understand if you “align with the company’s mission and will feel a sense of purpose in your new role.”
Tell me about your most successful employees. What do they do differently?
Believe it or not, this one is almost a trick question for potential employers Lavin says. “The answer to this question will help a candidate understand how a company defines success and what specific behaviors can lead to that success.” In one fell swoop you’ll find out what success means to this company and how you can better achieve it.
What do you expect someone in this position to accomplish in the first 60-90 days?
University of Richmond Career Advisor Anna Young says, “Great candidates hit the ground running, find out how you will be expected to jump in and start contributing to the organization from day one.” And in case you’re wondering, it’s fine to modify the question for an internship and ask about expectations for the first few weeks.
What, if anything, in my background gives you pause?
Roberta Matuson, President of Matuson Consulting, says this is pretty much the one must ask question job seekers should ask in an interview. She says “By asking this question, you’ll be able to overcome any objections the interviewer might have before you leave the room.” And if you’re smart, you can find a way to combat any preconceived notions by addressing them in a follow up note.
What is the turnover in your company, in the executive suite and in the department, I am interviewing for?
Dave Arnold President at Arnold Partners says as a leading independent CFO search consultant for technology companies, he’s had 100’s of people go out to interview with clients, and he thinks that’s a question worth asking. While people no longer expect to stay at any given job for decades or more, it’s nice to know how long you can expect to stick around if given the opportunity. If the interviewer grows uncomfortable or shares the fact that turnaround at their company is higher than Dancing with the Stars, you might want to think twice before accepting the position.
What are the opportunities for growth and advancement?
Young says, “This can help you to understand the structure of the organization and if there are opportunities to move up and advance your career.” It’s also a great way of finding out about different ways to progress or move into different roles “Also, it could help you to learn if they offered continued training or professional development for employees.”
If you had a chance to interview for your company again (knowing what you know now), what questions would you ask next time?
Ashley White, executive director for Human Resources for APQC, a member-based non-profit that produces benchmarking and best practice research suggested this toughie.
This one is slightly sneaky because it also allows you to surreptitiously monitor the interviewer’s hidden signals. Do they suddenly look uncomfortable before spouting the company line? Do they greet this with a giant grin? You might have more answers to this question by what they don’t say, than even by what they do share.
What haven’t I asked that most candidates ask?
Phillips also suggested asking this question, which sets you apart immediately. On the one hand, you’re lumping all the other applicants together and showing a level of confidence; on the other hand, you’re gaining insight into your potential competitors: they asked this, but it never even occurred to me.
One last thing: so that you don’t spend the coming days or weeks on pins and needles, it’s always a good idea to ask this next question.
What are the next steps in this process?
Young says, “If they haven’t already shared this information, it’s important to ask about their timeline so you’re aware of when you could be notified of a second interview, or a potential offer.”
What to ask yourself
Shannon Breuer, President at Wiley Group was once one of 800 laid off at her former job, Shannon now draws on her own personal experience to provide clients with career coaching and transition services. She offers a list of questions you should ask yourself before an interview, and if needed – you can flip them and ask the interviewer.
- What level of work-life balance do you wish to enjoy?
- How casual do you like to dress?
- Is your ideal employer an up-and-coming small business, or a century-old corporation with time-tested values and a clear path for future promotions?
- Do you like the management style of the leadership team?
- What are the company initiatives you can stand behind?
I read this article today and thought of you. Are you representing yourself appropriately?
Published: November 8, 2016 by Brian de Haaff, CEO, Aha!
Resumes take time to craft. I know that. And smart job seekers invest great effort in getting job descriptions and career highlights just right. But in spite of that hard work, your resume is likely landing in the “NO” pile. Why?
It is true that many job candidates show ambition and drive. That is admirable. But too many of us are also forgetting something in our rush to impress — character matters .
I read an article recently that hit on this. It cited a book by Harvard Business School professor Amy Cuddy, who studied the science behind making a good first impression. She found that there are two questions people mentally ask when they meet you:
- Can I trust this person?
- Can I respect this person?
At Aha! we receive hundreds of resumes each month. With limited time to review them, we know exactly the skills and characteristics that we are looking for and quickly weed out the ones that do not show those qualities. Obviously, we prioritize people with the right experience. But we are also looking for integrity, focus, precision, effort, and a natural curiosity. In other words, a strong character.
Reading a resume is a lot like meeting someone for the first time. If hiring managers cannot find reasons to trust and respect you, your resume will quickly land in the trash.
So before you send in a resume, put yourself in the hiring manager’s shoes. Will your resume inspire trust and respect?
To answer this important question, look at your resume and ask the following before you send in that next application:
Am I being considerate?
Respect the hiring manager’s time, and they will respect you back. This starts with carefully reading the job description and making sure you meet most of the criteria or have a very good reason to apply if you do not. The key is including a simple cover letter if you can along with a short and focused resume. Show that you care by perfectly formatting your resume and avoiding typos. Include relevant work that mirrors the responsibilities found in the job description.
Are my goals clear?
Hiring managers want to know that you take your career seriously and have direction. Make this clear with a results-driven resume. By highlighting major accomplishments, you are showing off that you are focused on achievement. You are proving that you not only have goals but that you work hard to realize them.
Is there too much jargon?
Do not waste limited resume space on industry jargon or tired cliches. These overused phrases are meaningless. The problem is that they lack transparency. And your results should speak for themselves. So edit out the buzzy language and replace it with clear explanations of your duties and achievements in previous roles.
Do I give credit?
No one expects you to have accomplished everything by yourself. And even if you have, what is that really saying about you? Acknowledge when you achieved results as part of a team. This signals that you are a considerate and reliable team player — the kind who can inspire both trust and respect.
Am I telling the truth?
Too often people exaggerate their skills, inflate their titles, or attempt to obfuscate. An embellishment might land you an interview, but the goodwill will not last long. So be honest from the start to build trust. If you do not have the exact skills required, show that you are eager to learn. If your work history is unique, explain what those experiences will bring to the company. But above all, tell the truth.
Hiring managers are looking for people who are skilled and admirable. Show them that you are — that you can be both trusted and respected. If you do, you will likely make it to the next round.
But do not stop there. Consider taking this advice beyond the job-hunting stage and into every aspect of your career. Character is developed over time. So continuously work on yours, and you will find that success follows.
What character traits do you think are important when job hunting?
Check out this article….don’t let fear kill your search for the perfect job. Do you need an updated resume? Message us today!
We got a call from Shaun, who was in a very bad place.
“I’m really down on myself,” Shaun said. “I wrote two Pain Letters and they both worked! I had two interviews right away. I was on top of the world for a week.”
“Then what happened?” we asked.
“I had the first interview with a VP of Operations. He’s not the guy I sent my Pain Letter to. I sent it to the Director of Purchasing, because I’m a Purchasing person.
“I guess the Director of Purchasing gave my Pain Letter to the VP of Operations, his boss. The company has 120 employees.
“The VP of Operations is looking to fill a new position he’s created called Manager of Supply Chain Operations, so that’s what he and I talked about.”
“How did that meeting go?” asked Molly.
“Badly,” said Shaun. “The VP seemed to know exactly what he wanted, and seemed to feel he was wasting his time with me. That’s the impression I got. Of course that begs the question ‘Why did he call me in for an interview if I didn’t have the background he was looking for?’ I haven’t figured that out yet.
“He basically dragged me through the mud as I apologized for living the life I’ve led and having the experiences I’ve had. I was a wreck when I got home.”
“As a consultant, what’s your take?” I asked.
“As a consultant? I guess I didn’t have my consulting hat on,” said Shaun. “I was an eager-to-please job-seeker, trying hard to impress a guy who didn’t seem to want to be impressed. I wish I had had my consulting hat on. I basically turned to jelly and melted into a puddle.”
“Great learning! Don’t be so hard on yourself,” we said. “That’s how you grow muscles. You haven’t interviewed in years, and you expect to go out and kill it the first time? You’re getting back into the game. You had a particularly brutal experience your first time out. It’s fine. That’s how you learn.”
“I have no confidence in myself on an interview,” said Shaun.
“When I wrote my two Pain Letters I felt charged up and full of confidence. Somehow when I got to the actual interview, I lost my nerve. I ran out of steam. I sat in the chair exactly the way you tell people not to, and answered the VP’s questions like a Sheepie Job Seeker. It was worse than that. I was desperate to impress the guy, and I failed utterly.”
“How did the other interview go?” we asked.
“Oh!” said Shaun. “That was a day to remember. I had written my second Pain Letter to the CEO of the company, a local start-up with about 80 employees. They’re growing. Everybody around here knows who they are.
“I was excited, again. I met with the Director of Administration and Operations there. She’s a nice lady. It was a general interview. They don’t have a specific job open. My Pain Letter impressed her, she said.”
“So what happened?” we asked.
“I did it again,” said Shaun. “I devolved into Sheepie Mode. Something about the interview room, the questions, and the formality of the whole scene – I basically froze. When the Director asked me ‘What are your views on supply chain management applications?’ I said ‘I don’t know a thing about them.'”
“Can you remember how you felt in that conversation?” asked Molly.
“Very clearly,” said Shaun. “I felt cold and clammy. I felt as though I were going to the gallows. I had just enough self-awareness to notice what was happening in my body, but not enough to do anything about it.”
“Painful experience!” I said, “but great learning!”
“How is it learning?” asked Shaun. “What makes you think I’ll do any better the next time?”
“You were laid off a few months ago,” said Molly. “I’m sure you remember what that experience was like.”
“It was horrible,” said Shaun. “Well, that might be an overstatement. It was really discouraging and hurtful. I worked so hard to help that company succeed. My boss all but promised me my job was secure, and then one day Pfffff! I was done.”
“How do you feel about it now?” I asked.
“I have mixed feelings,” said Shaun. “I hated that job by the time I left. I wasn’t sleeping. It felt like pushing a rock uphill every day. I still feel bruised about the way my termination went down, but I know I’m capable of more than what I was doing. My confidence comes and goes, and so far, two out of two times, it’s completely deserted me when I needed it most — in a job interview.”
“The two interviews you described to us just now?” asked Molly.
“Yes,” said Shaun, “those are the only two interviews I’ve had. I made a huge breakthrough writing two Pain Letters and getting two interviews. Then I failed miserably twice in a row!”
“You didn’t fail!” exclaimed Molly. “You got powerful learning. If you don’t go to work at one of those two companies, then they weren’t the right places. Let’s look at them again.
“The VP in the first case is hiring a manager-level new hire reporting directly to him to look after the supply chain, which in my experience is the responsibility of the VP himself along with the Purchasing Director, not to mention anybody else they’ve already got on the team.
“Don’t you think something is broken? They’re thinking about spending an extra six figures a year, or close, to bring in a person directly under the VP to do a job that doesn’t exist in most organizations their size. That’s a huge red flag.”
“The VP kept using the term ‘change agent,'” said Shaun. Molly and I groaned.
“That’s the universal signal for ‘I can’t do my job in this VP spot, so I’m bringing in a sacrificial lamb to try and move things forward that I’ve been unsuccessful moving forward myself!'” I said.
“Who needs a change agent when you’ve got a VP’s title and authority already?”
“Perhaps you’ve heard the adage, ‘You can tell the Change Agent by the arrows in his back,'” said Molly. “Of course, it could just as easily be ‘her back.'”
“I had the feeling that was a screwy deal,” said Shaun, “but what about the other place?”
“That Director asked you one question about software, you said you didn’t know anything about it, and then what happened?” asked Molly.
“I saw the look on her face,” said Shaun. “The interview was effectively over.”
“Perfect,” I said.
“When you answered her question about software applications, you informed the Director that you’re not going to spare her the valuable life experience of learning about supply chain software.
“She doesn’t want to do it. She doesn’t want that learning. She wants someone to save her the trouble. God bless the poor woman, how could you grow your flame under her?”
“I don’t want to sound like Mister Sour Grapes, but that’s how I felt, also,” said Shaun. “I felt like she didn’t have any vision.”
“Let’s be grateful for the nudges that push us away from situations like your first two interviews,” I said. “We are trained to think ‘I have to get this offer — otherwise I’ve failed!’ Do you feel that you’ve failed when you go on a date with someone and there’s no chemistry?”
“Funny you should ask that!” said Shaun. “That happened to me not long ago. That’s a great analogy. No, I don’t feel that I’ve failed when I go on a date with someone and it’s not a good match.”
“You can’t look at an energetic mismatch on a job interview as a failure, either, Shaun,” I said.
“I feel like I’m sabotaging my own job search efforts,” said Shaun.
“In a way, you are!” said Molly. “You’re sabotaging yourself not by failing at interviews, but by going to the interview believing that it’s a pass/fail exam. It’s not, Shaun! It’s a conversation meant to determine whether you and another person can resonate together.
“The point of a job interview is not to get anyone’s approval. You can’t spend your time in the interview trying to please and impress people. Your power will disappear if you do that.
“You have to stay in your body, stay in the conversation and let them think whatever they want to think.
“Who cares what they think? You are highly qualified. If they don’t get you, they don’t deserve you.”
“I have to retrain my brain,” said Shaun. “I’m programmed to think that if everyone isn’t dying to hire me, I must have screwed up. This conversation is really helpful.”
“You haven’t screwed anything up,” I said, “but you will feel better when you get a little looser, and don’t care so much about the outcome of every interview.
“We talked about the day you were laid off. You said that it was a tough experience but that now you’re glad you’re not working there. You probably thought at the time that your boss was a jerk and a villain.”
“I totally did,” said Shaun. “Honestly, I must say I’m grateful to him now. Of course, that’s right now – ask me again in a month when my severance runs out.”
“You’ll be busy then,” said Molly. “You’ll be consulting. That’s our first piece of advice to you. Have more conversations. Don’t wait for job interviews. When you’re in business conversations every day, through your networking and your consulting, each conversation won’t feel like a high-stakes event.
“Meetings and business conversations willl be commonplace for you. You’ll be talking to people about pain and solutions all the time. Some people will have pain, some won’t. Some people will have money to solve the pain, some won’t.”
“It’s amazing how quickly your consulting brain will kick in,” I said. “You won’t fall out of consulting mode so easily and feel like a Sheepie Job Seeker. You’ll be more skeptical.
“You’ll have more tough questions for the hiring managers and HR screeners you meet. You won’t believe that you have to impress anyone. Let them impress you!”
“What’s my problem?” asked Shaun. “Why do I beat up on myself?”
“Why do you beat up on yourself by asking yourself why you beat up on yourself?” we laughed.
“Guess what, Shaun? Everyone beats up on him- or herself. We have to reinforce each other. That’s why spending time around other people is so important in a job search, especially if you’re not working.”
“I’m going to start doing that,” said Shaun. “What else should I do?”
“Get some consulting business cards,” I said, “and start networking like crazy. Any kind of networking is good for you — big events, small events, one-on-one coffees and breakfasts – whatever kind of networking you like. Your mojo will start to come back. You’ll see how easy it is for you to help people with their business problems.”
“I have to do that,” said Shaun. “I don’t like networking events, but I love to talk to people one-on-one.”
“Then focus on that,” said Molly. “You know a lot of people. Get out there for coffee, lunch, brunch and breakfast! You can give each of your friends and contacts one of your new consulting business cards.
“Send out one new Pain Letter every day. A Pain Letter doesn’t say ‘I’m a job-seeker.’ A Pain Letter only introduces the idea that a particular manager might have the same sort of pain you solve. Whether that turns into a consulting gig or a full-time job is up to you and your client.”
“That’s one thing I love about Pain Letters,” said Shaun. “They come from a more elevated place than a grovelly ‘Please hire me, your Majesty’ cover letter and resume.”
“You’ll dive into the consulting, networking and Pain-Spotting activity and the right job will find you,” I said. “That’s how it always turns out.”
That’s how it turned out for Shaun. When he was having so much fun consulting that he didn’t know whether he’d be open to a full-time job or not, a headhunter called him with a great opportunity. Isn’t that always how things go?