email interviews

Your path to the future is paved with questions

One of the most powerful resources in your career and networking toolbox is curiosity. Yeah, the insatiable desire to try to understand how things work or don't work, what is success or failure and how is it measured?; what are the best practices?; who is considered the best or the leader?; what are the trends and therefore the scenarios of the future?

Questions shape our understanding and define our thoughts, opinions, and our preferences. Good questions lead to better conversations. And great conversations generate important relationships. Questions matter. Questions

Question authority. Did he pop the question?

Yet, there seems to be a dearth of well formed questions. You would think that learning would motivate our questions, wouldn't you?

We all evaluate dozens of organizations and individuals every week. Vendors, partners, colleagues, friends, restaurants, product providers, etc. We accept and tolerate many issues and challenges in our daily experiences. Often they trigger questions about how to improve something, somebody. Questions about the goals or expectations of a service, a project, or an organization.

There are the profound questions we have to ask ourselves everyday, every month, every year:

  • Who am I?
  • Where am I going?
  • Am I on track?
  • What is meaningful to me?
  • What do I want?

Questions are the lifeblood of the conversations that make mentoring and networking relationships work and thrive. What you want to know, what perplexes and stymies you, where you think there are gaps or weaknesses--this is the fuel that powers the engines of personal and professional change. But they can not be questions just about you and what you want.

We seem to be more interested in using our questions to purchase a car or a new computer than to choose our next job or career? We invest more time and energy into the quality of our material possessions than the due diligence of the work we do and how it will help us grow and advance.

Not having answers should motivate us instead of depress us.

I meet a lot of people. People who want to find jobs, people who want something, people who are searching, people who are lost, and people who want to partner. And overall, the quality or in some cases the absence of questions is surprising.

I look at resumes the same way I review business plans, or grant application. Where have you been, where are you going, why did you make changes, where have you succeeded, where have you failed, what makes you unique, why should I affiliate with you?

I could not make up the stuff I hear and see in interviews. Sometimes it is a reality show of outtakes from American Idol or America's Got Talent. Once in awhile it is invigorating and inspiring but that is the exception.

Here are my top five favorite meaningless questions that I have been asked by job candidates in the first interview?

  1. How many days off will I get?
  2. How much do you love working here?
  3. Are the dental benefits any good?
  4. How soon would I be promoted?
  5. Do you have a strategic plan?

It's like, "Did you just say that out loud?" There is zero interest in how the employer is doing or what is going on? Are you so self absorbed and ill-prepared that you have no genuine interest in the business, the challenges, and the results?

The most irritating sound outside of the vuvezelas at the World Cup is the worst radio station in the world, WII-FM. What's In It For Me. When this radio station plays so loudly that it drowns out even the semblance of what others want, then failure and rejection will be your listening mates. WII-FM makes one's questions seem self-absorbed and selfish.

We all know that asking questions has to be accompanied by thoughts on the answers. You can't just verbalize queries without ideas. Otherwise you are just another whiny solution-less member of the chorus of complainers. And there is little room in our crowded lives for this irritating irrelevant noise.

All of us have an exaggerated level of confidence in our ability to ad-lib, address impromptu situations, think on our feet. In general, when we rely on this non-existent skill, we look stupid. The only way to avoid this embarrassment is to prepare questions. Writing down questions. Thinking about what questions you would ask yourself if you were hiring you.

Our quest is looking for special people, special opportunities, special moments, and ulimately a greater sense of fulfillment--the diamonds in the rough, the needles in the haystack. We find these things by following our hearts, our intuition and our questions. We discover these things by being insatiably curious.

What are your questions?

The important thing is not to stop questioning. Curiosity has its own reason for existing. Albert Einstein

Thanks for reading. John


Email and Phone Interviewing: Think and Sync

When there is furious competition for scarce few jobs, employers invoke intuition, subjectivity, and instincts to govern their decisions. Assessing talent has to be done quickly. Otherwise, you lose the great candidates. Great candidates are perishable and the not so great have a much longer shelf life. Quicker and "more efficient" filters to determine which candidates move ahead are being instituted. Job openings are precious and making a mistake would be inexcusable. Being smart and fast is vital. That position has to be filled with someone who "fits" to keep up with the increased workloads of the surviving employees and the great desire to keep the ship afloat and moving ahead. Scarcity

A friend's brother, who I have been coaching thru job interviews, just had his 6th phone interview for the same position! He was not prepared for this. He is anxious to meet the people in person, but has had to endure protracted inquisitions with teams of telephonic interviewers. It has tested his ability to remember that each successive group had not heard his answers before. Without body cues and facial expressions, he learned he had to listen, think before he answered, and confirm he was in sync with the interviewers.

Everyone knows why this is happening. Everyone understands that there are a lot more qualified people chasing a fewer number of jobs. Interview and selection processes have changed with these circumstances. However, many candidates have not adjusted their approach to respond in kind. They just prepare their resumes, cover letters, and interview the same way they always have. And many hit the buzz saw of change and don't know what hit them. The key is to think and then sync.

Business computer and phone Email and phone interviews are just two of these changes.

E-mail interviews: Either a follow-up to your online application or just a regular interview step, email is being used to clarify questions about your resume and your qualifications. This is a quick test of your writing ability. Can you write about yourself and about your candidacy? Writing clearly and completely is a must. Here's a sample of e-mail interview questions.

  1. Why did you leave your last position?
  2. Why are you applying for this one?
  3. What is your minimum salary requirement?

Seemingly innocuous questions. But how you answer matters. Short terse answers show you do not care. Long rambling ones show you can't write. Thanking the sender for the opportunity and crafting a few pithy sentences that directly address the questions is the goal. Think and sync.

Phone interviews: Your preparation here is no different than for an in-person interviews. In fact, they carry more weight because they determine whether you advance. Most phone interviews are trying to see if the candidate is a fit. Increasingly, these are group phone interviews. Multiple people to listen and participate, again to speed up the process and gain consensus. The big difference is using your ears to connect to the interviewers.

Some basic tips:

  1. Schedule the interview when you are in a quiet place and ideally not on your mobile phone.
  2. Write down the names of all of the participants on the call, so you can address them by name and then thank them at the end.
  3. You smile while you talk. People can't see your face but they can hear your smile.

Here's more on etiquette and tips for phone interviews.  

In the end, all interviewing is about thinking and syncing. Listening to the question (or reading), answering it, and verifying you answered it. Did you help the questioner understand your unique qualifications and what makes you a great candidate? Did you express yourself in a way that helps the reader/listener get to know you?

Knowing your story and your BIT is crucial. There is no substitute for practicing your answers to questions you know will be asked, so you can be confident and comfortable.

This new world of supply and demand gives the prepared candidates an edge over the under-prepared. The positive candidates a better chance over the hesitant ones. Whatever interview process they throw at you, you should think and sync. If you do, you will distinguish your candidacy and show off why they should meet you in person. 

Thanks for reading. John