State of the Unemployed Union

The Best Interview

May 4, 2010
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Last week I had what was the best interviewing experience I have ever had.

I was interviewing for a Receptionist/Financial Associate position with a local brokerage firm. The position had all the components I was looking for – client service, database administration, and serving multiple Financial Advisors. This position even required the occasional travel to other branches, which would have been a first for me, but I really liked the idea of working with multiple branches.

The itinerary for the interview followed the typical formula: meet with the HR Specialist first, then a panel interview with the Branch Manager and Branch Administrator. The HR Specialist, Mandy, was probably the best Human Resources person I have ever met. She was warm, personable, and displayed a great sense of humor. She was comfortable to talk to. I have had the unfortunate experience in the past to meet with Human Resources personnel who did nothing to assuage my nerves and seemed only to want to intimidate the candidate (me). Mandy did none of that – her interview provided a comprehensive view of the company and gave me an insight into its corporate culture. It felt more like an invitation to the company.

After speaking with Mandy, I met with the Branch Manager and the Branch Administrator. These two people, Malcolm (Branch Manager) and Dianne (Branch Administrator), seemed to be an extension of Mandy herself, which in turn was an extension of the company. Both were very personable, comfortable to talk to, and also displayed a great sense of humor. (Note: humor is very important to me as it is how I get through the stress of a workday) We talked about the responsibilities of the Receptionist/Financial Associate position, my past experiences, and my future goals. We talked in-depth about the company, its culture, and how it had managed during the recession. This position also had a great future outlay – the possibility of managing my own small book of business. It would be a challenge, but I love a challenge and haven’t met one yet in the workplace that I couldn’t best. Our meeting lasted about an hour and fifteen minutes with no awkward pauses or discomfort of any sort.

Mandy had said that they had wanted to move very quickly to fill this position as the incumbent was moving out of state and that the second round of interviews with the brokers would be conducted the following week. It was a comfort to me that the position was open only because of the previous Financial Associate’s personal needs and not due to any economic or office/political issues. In fact, this company had managed very well through the recession in comparison to other local companies. That, too, impressed upon me that this was the company I had been looking for all along.

The next Monday came and I had heard nothing from Mandy so I placed a follow-up call. She was out of the office for personal reasons and referred callers to another Human Resources staff member. I left a message with the Director of Human Resources. She said she would email Mandy and that I would hear from her the next day when she returned to the office. And then something happened that I completely did not expect – Mandy called me from home that evening. I was surprised, to say the least. What kind of person would take time out of their personal day to return the call of a candidate? A professional who is dedicated to her company and who fosters positive relationships with her candidates, that’s who.

Mandy began this conversation by explaining their method for narrowing down the candidates for the second interviews. She said that they had chosen three candidates to meet with the brokers. One was an internal candidate and the other two had more years of experience than I had. I did not make it to the second round. I was disappointed and I am sure Mandy could sense it. She emphasized that everything about me was great and that their decision was not an easy one to make. They took it down to the number of years of experience and the other candidates simply had more years of experience than I’d had. I have to respect the company for their decision – they allowed the numbers to be their decision point and not any personal factors. And that makes me feel good.

Mandy ended the conversation by stating that if anything changes with the original three candidates in the second round she would recommend that the brokers meet with me. She also said she would think of me for future positions and she wished me luck in future endeavors. I thanked her for having had the opportunity to meet with them in the first place. But I felt like I hadn’t fully conveyed to Mandy how grateful I was to have had this very positive interviewing experience.

All in all, despite that I wasn’t granted a second interview, this was the best interviewing experience I have ever had. Mandy, Malcolm, and Dianne represented their company very well and each made me feel very comfortable during our meetings. And if this company ever does come calling again, you can bet I will answer.

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Pre-Interview Panic Attack

April 26, 2010
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I have my second interview of this year tomorrow afternoon. Yes, you read that right. Just my second interview of 2010. And I am kinda wigging out.

The telephone interview that I had with the HR Rep for this company on Friday went amazingly well, as far as screening interviews go. We talked about my resume, my recent foray into temping, and what I have been doing for the past one-and-one-half years since my last full time job. We bonded. We laughed. We discovered common ground in that I have actually worked in tandem with this company in past employment. I felt really good after this call.

This morning I received a call from a staffing agency that I recently temped for about a sure-fire permanent position with a decent hourly wage. The hiring company wanted someone who would immediately commit to a permanent position. I told her about the interview that I had already scheduled for tomorrow. The staffing agency rep decided not to pitch me for this sure-fire job because I am not really ready to commit to a company whose industry I am not familiar with. I have nine years of experience in the industry of the company that I am to meet with. And at this point I want the freedom to interview.

I received an email from the HR Rep of The Company this afternoon containing the itinerary for the interview and the job application that I will bring completed to the interview. I will be meeting with three different people tomorrow. The Branch Manager, the Branch Administrator, and the HR Rep. This meeting could take up to two hours.

I am in full panic mode right now. I have done, survived, and even secured employment after panel interviews. This concept is not new to me. But I am all manner of hyped up about this meeting. Am I good enough to work for this company? Competition is tight right now. I will be up against candidates who have college degrees, more years of experience, and securities licensing. I could also be up against candidates who happen to have friends within the organization. How do I have any chance against that? Add to that – did I just pass up the perfect opportunity from the staffing agency? Have I set myself up for failure? I am going to hate myself if The Company doesn’t hire me and I had lost another opportunity for a job that I would certainly get.

My mind has been racing since opening that email. It has been on auto-pilot cruising through my past experiences, my skills, my strengths, my weaknesses, my personality, etc. It has been rehearsing my end of the interview that has not even happened yet over and over and over again. And it will not stop. I will definitely require a sleep aid tonight.

One thing I can do at this moment is remind myself to breathe. In through the nose. Out through the mouth. Another thing I can do is to remind myself that I am good at what I do. I am an Assistant Extraordinnaire. I have built solid relationships with past managers and they each have agreed to serve as references. I have built great rapport with clients in past jobs. In fact, I have never had a complaint lodged by a client. Not once in ten years. That’s a pretty tasty treat for my mind to munch on.

I have also taken on greater responsibility with each position I have held. I have stretched myself to learn things that I didn’t think I could learn. I have helped bring a company back into legal compliance after someone did something illegal. I helped close that company, too. I have a keen understanding of business. I think like a business owner and use those thought processes in order to anticipate the needs of the owner/manager.

I have even written a business plan for a teen nightclub for my local area. I couldn’t get the money together to make the club a reality, but I did do all of the research necessary to put a complete business plan together. I researched property, vendors, costs, employment law. And I did it on my own.

I have been working on a novel for the past two years. It is a fantasy based on my deceased sister. It is not nearly finished because I want it to be the perfect tribute to her. But I am confident that it will be wildly popular when it is finished.

I am talented. I am self-educated. I have confidence in my abilities. I know with every fiber of my being that I would be a successful addition to The Company that I am meeting with tomorrow. And I know that this interview will be perfect.


Interviewing Analysis

November 16, 2009
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In  my last article we celebrated the first anniversary of the loss of my job. Now I would like to explore the dynamics of the job interview.

Immediately after losing my last job I began seeking new work by updating my resume on every online employment site I could find. These sites, like CareerBuilder.com and Monster.com, offer many helpful resources for the job seeker. These resources include resume review, salary comparisons, and interview preparation.

I delved deeply into the interview preparation advice provided on several sites. I found that many of these sites rehash the same information regarding how to dress for an interview, how to respond to various types of questions, and which questions to ask the interviewer. 

I expected the advice for questioning the questioner to be particularly helpful. So I wrote down several of the questions provided for use during my own interviews. Some of the questions I decided to use include the following (not necessarily in this order):

  1. Describe a typical workday for this position.
  2. How has this company/industry been affected by the current economic conditions?
  3. What are the skills and attributes you value most for someone being hired for this position?
  4. Describe the corporate culture.
  5. What are the performance expectations for this position over the short- and long-term?
  6. What is the next step in the interview process?

As I prepared for each interview, I made sure to clean and press my suits, print clean copies of my resume and professional references, and prepare answers for questions that I might be asked. I even prepared my list of questions to ask the interviewer.

Now, Reader, I will remind you that in the year that I have been unemployed that I have only had nine interviews. This does not include the numerous interviews that I have had with staffing agencies. I am only talking about the interviews for legitimate open positions. Nine. In one year. So I developed the routine as mentioned above and have followed it religiously.

Sometime after applying for a position – usually three to four weeks – I would receive a call from an HR manager conducting the initial screening telephone interview. Typically, that person would have to confer with departmental managers before scheduling a personal interview. Within a week of the telephone screening interview I would receive an invitation to a personal interview.

I would complete my preparation the night before the personal interview. The day of the interview I would be fresh, clean, pressed, and fully prepared. Arriving about ten minutes early, I would be greeted by a receptionist and be offered a seat in the lobby. The receptionist would notify the interviewer of my arrival.

Some time would pass, typically ten to fifteen minutes, before the interviewer would finally come to greet me. We would exchange the usual pleasantries, shake hands, and he or she would lead me to either an office or a conference room where the interview would be conducted.

Generally, the interview would begin with a description of the available position, an overview of the corporate culture, and a review of the employee benefits. And then the question – or statement – I dread the most comes. “Tell me about yourself”.

This question makes me cringe and I have to be mindful that I don’t give that away with non-verbal cues. I answer honestly with the things I have learned about myself over the years and hope that my self-description fits the model the interviewer is looking to hire. I am energetic, self-motivated, and my energy and motivation increase during periods of stress. I am proficient in the entire Microsoft Office Professional Suite, as well as a cadre of other software programs, primarily contact management and financial management databases. I have had technical training self-study in the past, have been a securities licensing candidate, and am currently pursuing a degree in Business Administration. I have consistently built a great rapport with clients, managers, and co-workers in each position I have held. These things I relay with a practiced but moderated enthusiasm. Confident, but not self-impressed. Eager to please without begging for the job.

And then comes the second question that I have come to dread. “Do you have any questions for me?” Why, yes, I do. I proceed with my handy dandy list of questions for the interviewer. I have found during this phase of job seeking that interviewers do not really want to be asked questions. Some interviewers have actually seemed perturbed that I did have questions to ask. They will answer politely and thoughtfully, but without any enthusiasm. Some interviewers have literally flubbed their way through their answers, hemming and hawing, betraying the fact that they were completely unprepared to be questioned. I have had to finish the interviewer’s sentences on more than one occasion.

These are the people who make the decisions. They have a measure of power over your professional life, namely whether or not you are chosen to join their company. And the pros tell you to ask certain questions during a job interview to show your interest in the company, the position, and to display your professionalism. These questions are supposed to help you get the job. But not under today’s job-seeking/employee-seeking environment. Under today’s conditions the job-seeker is expected to smile (but not too much), answer numerous in-depth questions (politely, but not too enthusiastically, nor too honestly), and wait however long the company decides to take to let you know whether or not you make it to the next step. (Oh, also, don’t follow up after an interview. I have followed that advice consistently and have determined that hiring managers do not want you to show any initiative)

Conclusion: Hiring managers do not want to be questioned by you. They want you to answer their questions, smile, don’t be too eager or too confident, and certainly do not show any initiative by following up with them after an interview.

So why do the so-called career experts tell candidates to prepare for interviews with specific questions and answers that no interviewer cares to hear? Interviewers are busy. Many of them have responsibilities outside of interviewing and taking the time to interview candidates takes time away from those other critical duties. How can a candidate win a job when following professional advice falls on distracted ears? It’s a no-win situation.

Reader, I ask you to submit to me your interviewing experiences. Tell me about the interviews that went bust and those that went boom. Maybe in sharing our adventures in interviewing we can glean tactics that work, learn which tactics to avoid, and eventually win that coveted next job.