Archive for the ‘Interviewing’ Category

Spider-Man has a job interview. He knows the interviewer won’t just ask him about his work history, but will also probably do a behavioral interview, i.e. ask him to give examples of times when he saved the world from multi-limbed freaks or greedy uber-ambitious guys who climbed out of  the TV sitcom hellpit. Here are some of the behavioral interview stories he’s prepared:

  • a time when he solved a problem –  “I had to figure out how to save a trainload of people without splitting myself in half, so I focused on the problem and used my finger to create a rope….”
  • a story about handling conflict – “When my best friend wanted to kill me ’cause I killed his father and stole his girlfriend, I successfully negotiated a win-win before I knocked him unconscious.”
  • a time when he defused a potentially volatile situation – “I de-limbed Alfred Molina as he was about to destroy a lot of buildings….”
  • his strategies for handling stress – “To keep my general stress level low, I do some deep breathing, climb walls, and bungee-jump without the bungee.”
  • an example demonstrating how well he worked on a team – “I divided up world-saving responsibilities with my alter-ego based on our different strengths.”
  • a time when he initiated a project or strategy – “I started the Spidey’s-Not-the-Bad-Guy Fan Club.”
  • an example of when he juggled multiple priorities – “Well, I had to save three people who were about to fall to their death, so I perched two of them on the roof….”

The thank-you letter is an important part of the job interviewing process, and should always be sent as soon as possible after the interview. Remember those thank you notes you had to write as a kid for the flowered footie PJs you wouldn’t be caught dead in that your ditzy aunt sent for your birthday? Well, it’s a little like that. Except you don’t want to use notepaper with baby seals on it.

Here are a few  other thank you letter don’ts (sample letters in a later post):

  • Don’t handwrite the letter. You’re not, in fact, writing a thank you note to the aforementioned ditzy aunt. You may hear conflicting views on this point, but all the employers I’ve talked with say they would view a handwritten thank you letter as unprofessional, in addition to being hard to read. And if you think you have the neatest handwriting in the world, you’re probably in denial. The exception to this is if you interview with an extremely touchy-feely, older mom-and-pop company, in which case they might actually appreciate your sending a more traditional and personal type of thank you note. Otherwise, don’t.
  • If you interview on Friday and the employer plans to make a decision by Monday or Tuesday, don’t snail mail the letter. Snail mail is okay, though usually email is preferable (especially if the interviewers are under 30 or so). If a decision is going to be made quickly, though, you want to make sure they get it before they make their choice. if you write a strong letter expressing your enthusiasm about the job and highlighting a point or two discussed during the interview that clearly illustrates how you can slay the company’s dragons, the employer may more likely hire You the Dragon Slayer than Marty the Nose Picker who was interviewed the day before.
  • Don’t just send the letter to one person if 5 people interviewed you. Make sure you get the name and contact info for everyone who participated in the interview and send them each a letter, emphasizing each interviewer’s priority and focusing on what you talked about with that person. In other words, if you interviewed with the CEO and the IT Manager for an IT position, your letter to the CEO would be more focused on the “big picture” stuff, and the one to the IT Manager more specific to the tech problems the department wants you to help them fix. If you have a group interview with the director and their staff, you can email the director and “cc” the staff (by individual name), and start the letter with, “Thank you and your staff for talking with me about the blah blah position yesterday.”
  • Don’t send the letter to the wrong person, or misspell the name. Get the right name and spelling before sending anything. Besides making a really bad impression, the person who gets your letter who never met you might think they’re having blackouts or something.
  • Don’t say bad stuff. Be positive. You want to focus on your strengths that will allow you to help the company solve their problems and are a good match with what they’re looking for. You want to talk about one or two bits of info you learned in the interview that you liked about the company. You don’t want to say, “Although I don’t have experience in blah blah blah and essentially have no clue what I’m doing, I hope you give me a chance anyway.”
  • Don’t wait too long to send the letter. If you don’t send a thank you letter for a month, even if the employer hasn’t yet hired anyone for the position, if they still remember you it won’t be fondly.
  • Don’t make it too long. You’re not Tolstoy, and the employer doesn’t want to read War & Peace. One or two non-rambling paragraphs are enough.


Check out Explode, a comedy thriller/mystery novel. Spontaneous human combustion, or murder?

A career portfolio is always a good idea as part of your job search package, to trot out at interviews to showcase your accomplishments. A job search show-and-tell, as it were.  And no, it’s not just for artists, writers and celebrity bachelor party cake decorators.

Samples of your professional accomplishments, skills, problems you’ve solved, and dragons you’ve beheaded can illustrate what you’re talking about in an interview in a powerful way. Being able to say, “…and I have an example of that if you’d like to see it,” can win you big fat brownie points in a job interview.

Of course, the interviewer may say, “no thanks, I don’t need to see your headless dragon,” but even if they don’t end up seeing anything you’ve got in there, the process of putting your portfolio together is still really helpful.  Going through your materials and work samples can help you a. prepare for the interview,  b. figure out where the hell your career is going,  c. figure out where you want it to go,  and  d. make you feel really good about yourself, because your accomplishments are all laid out in front of you and scattered all over the kitchen floor.

There are many materials you want to include in your career portfolio (more about that in a later post); here are some things you’ll want to leave out:

  • Your dating site photo; the one with the boob shirt. Really, for that matter, any photo unless you’re a model or actor. In addition to being inappropriate, it’s redundant – you’re sitting right in front of them.
  • Different versions of your resume. What is the interviewer supposed to do, pick the one that best matches the color of their walls? Choose the version that’s most relevant to that position/the same one you sent them (ahem – they should be one and the same), and include that one in your portfolio.
  • Stuff in general not relevant to the position for which you’re interviewing. You don’t want the interviewer to say, “Wait a minute. Which position are you interviewing for again?”
  • Reference letters old enough to be on yellowed paper. I don’t really have to spell out the reasons for that one, do I?
  • Confidential or proprietary information, without permission from the company or clients involved. Again, don’t really need to spell that one out.
  • Personal information that a prospective employer doesn’t need to know about. Even if you think the fundamentalist revival you helped coordinate and the tongues you spoke in while there might somehow be relevant to that office manager position, leave the leaflets you passed out at the mall out of your portfolio.
  • Anything that doesn’t demonstrate a success. If you designed marketing collateral for a huge fund raising event, you’re asked about the results, and only 3 people showed up, that’s not going to look too good for you. Showcase successes, not disasters.

Guest post on my talented friend Andy’s blog, Laughing in Purgatory:

straitjacket guyA comedic look at job search and success – “What Color is Your Parachute” meets “This Is Spinal Tap,” if you will. This combination of comedy and advice gives helpful tips to anyone who is searching for a job, or hoping to hold on to the one they have. Topics include contemplating your navel to find your life’s work, idiot-proofing your job search, online disasters, strategic schmoozing, resume do’s and don’ts, interviewing horrors and how to handle them, how to hold on to your job, reflections on bizarre jobs, and weird work stories.

I’m sure you know that nonverbal cues are much more significant in terms of communication than verbal ones (according to one study at UCLA, about 93%). Of course, this doesn’t mean you shouldn’t practice your interview questions ad nauseum, or that you should become so obsessed with what every part of your body is doing during an interview that you become totally spastic. It does mean that you want to pay some attention to stuff like how you’re sitting, and make sure those nervous tics are in check.

Here are some nonverbal don’ts to be aware of:

  • Make sure your hands aren’t flailing all over the place as you’re talking. And especially when you’re not talking, ‘cuz that’d make you look REALLY wacko.
  • Sit up straight like your mom, dad, big brother or childhood guardian told you to. Nothing makes you look less confident than hunching over in your chair like Quasimodo in a suit.
  • Watch the nervous leg jiggle. Okay, the interviewer knows you’re a bit nervous; that’s okay. But you don’t want to look like you’re going through Xanax withdrawal.
  • For God’s sake, don’t do the “I will establish rapport with the interviewer by mirroring their body language” thing. It’s just creepy.
  • Smile naturally, but no fixed smiles like you’re a crazy person.
  • Don’t touch your face incessantly, play with your hair, or engage in other distracting nervous habits.
  • Don’t sit too casually — you know, with your legs open like you’re trying to catch a breeze, or your arm nonchalantly draped over the chair like a teenage boy on a date.
  • Look ’em in the eye. Or the eyebrow, same difference. If you don’t, you’ll look like you’re   a. pathologically shy,   b. a pathological liar, or   c. pathological in general.

Here is an excerpt from What Color is Your Straitjacket? A Pocket Guide to Getting and Keeping a Job Without Going Wacko, soon to be available as an e-book. The artist is my talented friend Glenn Davis.

You’ve done your research about the company. You know how long they’ve been in business, their history, what their current goals are (beyond not going belly-up), and how you can help them achieve their corporate fantasies. You’re prepared to tell them how  you’re their fairy godmother.

You’ve also prepared your answers to questions typically asked in interviews, and thought of (short) stories that show your accomplishments. You have your questions  for them all ready. So how do you field those questions thrown at you by those exhaustingly perky H.R. pod people? How do you respond to queries  such as,

  • If you were an animal, what kind of animal would you be?

Hint: the specific answer to this question is largely irrelevant, as long as you don’t come back with “three-toed sloth, because I’d love to just lie around all day,” “anteater, because I could do amazing things with that tongue,” or “elephant, because they must have huge schlongs.”

  • If you were soda, would you be Coke or Pepsi, and why?

Hint: if you say, “Neither, I prefer whiskey,” you could either be perceived as “thinking outside the box” or “lush.” It’s a toss-up.

  • Who’s your favorite Marx Brother?

Hint: “Harpo, because he didn’t have to talk to anyone,” probably wouldn’t be a good answer.

  • What’s your favorite shape?

Hint: I’d refrain from giving an obvious answer such as, “Brad Pitt in his prime.”

  • Are you pregnant?

Hint: Even if you waddled into the interviewing room looking like you’re about to pop like a 175-pound balloon, the employer can’t legally even hint that your advanced gestational state even entered his consciousness. And of course, even if it weren’t illegal it’s a pretty rude question, especially if you’re not actually preggers but just really bloated that day.

Preparing is key
Think accomplishment stories
Don’t forget breath mints

A group interview
Look everyone in the eye
Or at least the nose

Speak confidently
Don’t jiggle your leg non-stop
They’ll think you’re crazy

Well, that one’s over
Send thank-yous to everyone
On to the next one!

Guest post on (great site for recent grads): Interview Fashion Police – What Not to Wear –

Phone interviews can be tricky. You may think they’re easier than interviewing in person and you can just lounge on the couch in your jockstrap and read off your resume, but guess what? You can’t. Not if you want to get a job.

Here are some tips for phone interviewing:

  • Dress in at least business casual attire. Yeah, I know they can’t see you, but that doesn’t matter. You’re likely to feel — and consequently, interact — less professionally if you’re talking to a recruiter in your jammies.
  • Make sure you’re in a quiet place; turn the TV and music off. If you have a noisy co-habitor, chase them out. If that’s not possible, gag them. Unless it’s a child, in which case you could have Child Services after you.
  • Bullet key accomplishments in each recent position relevant to what the employer needs, as talking points. Keep these notes and a copy of your resume, with these key accomplishments and skills highlighted, handy during the interview. And don’t use your resume as a coaster for your latte.
  • Prepare as you would for a face-to-face interview. Remember this is a screening interview, so if you don’t pass the screen (or they don’t; remember it’s a mutual thing), the face-to-face interview won’t happen, and you’ll be forever plagued by curiosity as to the physical attributes of the forever-faceless recruiter. Or not.
  • Smile. You really can tell over the phone. Don’t smile for the entire interview without stopping, as this might make you sound crazy. But smile when you normally would in an in-person conversation.
  • Move around if you want to. You don’t have to sit motionless the whole time. But be careful if you have an old phone with a cord. A deafening crash could be disconcerting to both you and the interviewer.
  • It sounds obvious, but make sure you know if you’re supposed to call them, or they’re supposed to call you. If it’s you, call on time; if it’s them, be ready and answer the call promptly (not on the first ring, of course).
  • Make sure you get the correct contact info, including accurate spelling of the name, for the person (or persons, if it’s a conference call) who’s interviewing you, and email thank you letters to them within a day or two just as you would for a face-to-face interview.
  • And last but not least, never do a phone interview in the bathroom, for reasons that should really be obvious to everyone, but apparently aren’t. And yes, I have been in a ladies’ room and actually heard someone clearly talking to an employer. I confess I flushed.