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Your resumé only partially communicates your qualifications for a job. Software (or people) can screen your resumé to see if you match a sufficient number of keywords in the job description. Provided you meet the minimum required criteria you’ll be contacted for an interview. The obvious information is what’s written. There may be additional information that speaks about your passion and tenacity that cannot be known by only reading your resumé. This is where you have to make the interviewer understand what it took for you to get where you are. In film parlance this is called the “backstory”.  

Your backstory talks about the challenges you had to overcome and informs the (in this case) interviewer about your journey. It reveals more about who you are. Did you have to work multiple jobs to pay for school? Were you studying during breaks at work or on your commute? Did you have to catch buses, Uber or other modes of transportation to school? Were you raising a family or caring for loved ones while going to school or working? Whatever challenge you had to overcome, don’t be hesitant to let the interviewer know. These are important details that show your resiliency in the face of obstacles. It’s more than just finishing school.

There are also obstacles that must be negotiated in your professional life worth mentioning. You may have taken additional courses or certification programs to acquire or enhance a particular skill. Did you stay late or work at home to improve your craft? Did you seek out a mentor or other trusted advisor to assess your ability and provide guidance? Talk about how you regularly look for opportunities to hone your skills and acquire new ones. Show you have a thirst for knowledge and are passionate about your industry or field.

None of those things are knowable about you from a word or pdf document. The majority of the time should be spent discussing your academic and professional accomplishments, but be sure to weave these important details into the discussion to give depth and context to your journey. You wouldn’t be there if you didn’t meet the minimum criteria but sharing your backstory gives the interviewer an understanding of your competitive nature and a glimpse at how you’ll succeed in their organization.

These challenges may not make you entirely unique to other candidates but most won’t talk about it during their interviews. Revealing information about your struggles and triumphs helps you stand out from other candidates. Make it a source of pride that comes through when you talk about it. Whether the details are large or small include them in your backstory to build rapport and leave a lasting impression.

There is a long list of questions you can find to ask in an interview. For senior level positions the interviewing process is much longer so the candidate has the opportunity to ask (and be asked) many, many questions. For everyone else interviews are much shorter so you don’t have a chance to go down a list of questions. When your time comes, the questions you ask need to show your grasp of the opportunity and give you important information. These 5 questions give you very useful information about the position and what to focus on with the interviewer.

Here are 5 questions to ask when it’s your turn:

1.    What are the performance metrics for this position? - Every job has a set of expectations and measurements that indicate performance. Learning what is being measured helps you know what is important to the company and should influence your responses and further questions. The response will also give you an indication of the company’s values. Is more emphasis placed on creating a great environment or are they driven to meet goals no matter the cost?
2.    What about my resumé appealed to you? - Get the interviewer to discuss your favorable attributes from the beginning so try to ask this question early on in the meeting, if possible. There were many other applicants and something about your resumé stood apart. Sometimes the things that you thought were appealing may not have been what piqued their interest. Pay close attention to the answer because these are things you want to emphasize during the remainder of the interview. This information is particularly important if you’ve been able to ask the question before they ask you the typical “Why should we hire you?”.
3.    Is there something in my experience that concerns you about my fitness for this job? - If you can ask this question early on in the interview you can use the answer to assuage the interviewers concerns. The second benefit is that it shows that you’re invested in becoming successful and want to understand your limitations in their eyes and can accept constructive feedback.
4.    What have successful people who’ve had this position gone on to do? - This question gives you information on two fronts. First, if the position is clearly defined with measurable objectives there should have been someone who succeeded and used it as a springboard to greater opportunities. Second, it gives you information about their ability to hire the right candidates and give them the necessary resources to succeed.
5.    Has anyone failed in this job? If so, why? - You want to know if others have failed in the job. There should be a high ratio of success to failure in the position. This lets you know (as mentioned above) that the position is well defined. For new positions you want to know about retention rates overall in the company. This gives you important information on the company’s culture and the employee morale. Pay attention to whether many people have failed or whether most people have succeeded.      

These five questions give you the necessary information to determine if this opportunity is right for you. Both sides in the interview are trying to determine if there’s a match and both sides have power. Learning essential information to help you know where to focus your responses is invaluable to establish yourself as the best candidate. Make sure that you get actionable intelligence from your questions and use it effectively throughout the meeting. As a bonus you can ask the interviewer what career opportunities are available with them in the company. Although not all, most people aspire to advance in their career. Listen carefully to see if they have a clear idea of future opportunities within the company. Using this information effectively will help create a positive impression on the interviewer and further distance you from other candidates.

The hiring process can be a long protracted ordeal. Applicants are put through applicant tracking systems, reviewers, perhaps multiple phone screenings and only then if all goes well the rounds of face-to-face interviews begin. We’re frequently asked two questions:

Q.  Are all of these steps normal?
A.    In many cases, yes.

Q.  Is there any way to bypass some of them?
A.    In some cases, yes.

Companies overriding concern for making the wrong decision has extended the hiring process unnecessarily with little regard for candidates’ time. A process that could be concluded in 3 weeks can drag on for more than 6 months. There is no data on retention to suggest these lengthy hiring processes yield higher quality employees. Here are 3 things you can do to shorten the timeframe:

1. Bypass the Interview Merry-go-round - When you press send and submit your resumé (application) you’ve essentially accepted their rules for proceeding. All applicants go through the same impersonal evaluation. You have no way to get a “leg up” on the competition. To navigate around this step use LinkedIn to find someone who works for the company you’re interested in. Inquire about their experience at the company. This may take some time communicating with them. To open this line of communication initially look for ways you can offer assistance to them. Find an interesting article related to their company or field and send it to them. Find out if they are looking to expand their network and perhaps you could make an introduction to someone you know. After you’ve offered to assist them you’ve earned the right to ask for their assistance. If there’s a position at their company, you want to let them know you’re aware of the opportunity and ask who you should contact to learn more about it (the hiring manager). Ask if they’d be willing to make an introduction on your behalf.
2. Change How You Approach the Interview - Create and present a game plan for how you would begin working at the company. This information is gathered from your company research prior to the interview. Even if your assumptions are wrong you’ll lead the discussion towards specific information about the company’s needs. As you learn more about their needs weave in how your experience and skill set will solve the problems. The objective is to not just talk about your resumé content but to proactively have the interviewer thinking about you on the team. The discussion is about the work and not focused solely on your background. Remain inquisitive throughout the interview. Don’t wait until the end to ask questions. The more information you’re able to gather through questioning the better you’re positioned to ask about the next steps at the end of the interview. The meeting has been a success if there’s an equal exchange of information and not just you answering questions the entire time.
3. State the Obvious - If asked whether you’re pursuing other opportunities indicate that you are. You want them to know that you’re in demand and your time is limited as well. For follow up interviews give the appearance you have small windows of availability to create more urgency for them to move forward with you quickly. They need to feel the fear of missing out on you if they delay their decision.     

These steps can help you shorten the time to getting an offer and beginning the next chapter in your professional journey. Use the power you have to expedite the process.

The interview is going well and you’re connecting and finding common ground and the meeting is lively and engaging. You have been able to confidently answer every question. All of a sudden, you’re asked a question you don’t have a response for.

You are sitting there dumbfounded trying to come up with an answer, but can’t. It’s obvious to the interviewer that you don’t have an answer. The longer the moment lingers the more harm you can potentially do to your candidacy. Before the beads of sweat form on your brow, take a breath, collect yourself and use one of the two suggestions below to navigate the situation.

Here are two options to get the train back on the rails and not let the awkwardness ruin the interview:

A.    Determine the intent of the question. Is it a legitimate question related to something about the job or a detail on your resume (Give me an example of a time when you used “x” software to deliver a project)? Or is it a behavioral/situational question designed to catch you off guard to see how you handle it (How would you handle a customer telling you they think you’re not right for their account)? In the first example, if you never used the software to completely deliver a project describe a time when you did use it and how it helped reach the desired outcome. Acknowledge that its’ use was a portion of the work but not its’ entirety. Explain your familiarity and the processes you’ve used to succeed in completing the task. In the second example you can acknowledge that you’ve fortunately never had that specific situation arise, but you can share an example of how you overcame a difficult situation where you needed to solve a problem for a customer (internal or external). This is a crucial pivot. Describe the nature of the problem, who was involved and how you arrived at a solution. As you give that example you’re buying time to craft your response to the original question while conveying important information about your ability to solve problems. Once you’ve given a real world example, circle back to the original question and give a reasoned response after you’ve had a chance to collect your thoughts.

B.    Involve the interviewer in your response. Companies hire problem solvers and collaborators. Let’s take the hypothetical question above (unhappy customer) as our subject. Here’s how you could involve the interviewer in your response and improve your chances of getting their “buy in” on your response. “Let’s say you and I were together with a customer and they said they don’t think we’re right for the account. We were caught off guard. First, I would ask them what expectations they have that we’re not meeting. After understanding their expectations (and acknowledging their frustrations) I would indicate our combined experience and the resources available to respond to their needs. I would then tell them we’d put together a documented plan to satisfy their concerns and would like to present it in 48 hours and give them a timeframe for measuring our progress.” Ask the interviewer if they feel this would be a positive approach to solving the customers’ problem or if they feel there is something they would like to include. This brings them into the situation and demonstrates your ability to think quickly and diffuse a problem situation. You are proposing a solution and measuring the effectiveness at specific intervals.

The key to overcoming being stumped is to maintain your composure. Storytelling is always valuable in communicating. Having a few “go to” stories from your past (personal and professional) can be useful. It can help you navigate the surprises that periodically arise during an interview. The objective is to get the interview flowing again and remind them why they wanted to interview you in the first place. Intelligence, confidence, and being thoughtful always leaves positive impressions on the interviewer.

The interview’s over and you’ve sent thank you notes to everyone you met. You’re hopeful they’ll contact you about further interviews or, even better, to request references. How much time should you let go by without hearing anything before contacting them? What should you say when you do?

First, at the end of the interview you should ask when you should expect to hear from them:

“I’m very excited about the position and all of the terrific people I’ve met. When do you expect to make a final decision?”

Start by following up with the person who said they would contact you. Give an additional 48 hours from the time you expect to hear from them before reaching out. This gives them time for the inevitable delays in the process and doesn’t make you appear desperate. If possible, respond back to a prior message so it looks like a continuing conversation and more likely to be opened. If that is not possible, here’s a sample subject line:

“Hi Steve, It’s Emily Johnson, Marketing Manager candidate”

The body of your email should reinforce your interest in the position and give a specific skill you have that qualifies you for the position. It’s also good to include something specific from the interview to refresh their memory of you:

Hi Steve,

It was great meeting you the other day to discuss the Marketing Manager position. I’m following up on where you are with making a decision or the next steps. Everything I heard from you about the position is very exciting. I think I’d be a perfect fit based on my familiarity with Acme’s products and my 3 years of experience with Zoho CRM. Any updates?

Thanks again for taking time to meet with me, Steve. I look forward to hearing from you soon.

Sincere regards,
Emily Johnson

This email specifies the position and gives defined reasons why you’re qualified. They’ve probably reviewed many resumés and interviewed several candidates, so reiterate why you applied and what makes you the right person.       

Completing interviews and making a final decision takes time so don’t send a follow-up message the next day after the interview. That’s when you send thank you email(s) or the following day (at the latest). Make sure your email is professional (with a touch of personalization), polite, brief and clearly states your purpose. Everything matters, so don’t treat the subject line or body casually.


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