The Best Way to Deal with the Issues You Hope Interviewers will Not Bring Up

We all have them: Things which we wish we had not done. Things we hope the interviewer does not know about. Things we pray our references will not mention.

The good news is that ninety-nine times out of a hundred, interviewers don’t know and if they did know they would not care. Human beings have the bad habit of magnifying their problems out of all proportion. Other people’s problems are simple; ours are monumental. It’s the old joke, “If you break your leg it’s a pity; if I break mine it’s a catastrophe!” (I said it was “old;” I didn’t say it was “funny!”)

This is a serious issue. Not because coming up with a reasonable explanation is difficult. It’s not. The problem is obsession. We obsess over it. Instead of practicing the answers to questions that may actually be asked, or, more importantly, practicing the questions we are going to ask, we obsess over the “what if”s which, as noted, probably won’t happen. And that usually results in a bad night’s sleep prior to the interview, which is never a prescription for success!

The best way to deal with these issues, the ones you hope will not come up in the job interview, is to practice the old saying, “Never cross a bridge until you come to it.” If the subject does come up, just like with any difficult question of a personal-professional nature, the rule is simple:

Tell the truth and keep it short. The more you talk the more your credibility will suffer. If you like game theory, it’s a zero sum game between length of answer and depth of credibility. In scores of cases, I have never had a career counseling client, panicking over how to explain an unfortunate occurrence, leave without having a short, honest explanation. I can remember once when a client took an hour to explain to me what happened. I did not interrupt him. He just kept talking. And when he was finished, I told him what to say. I literally gave him a 10-second explanation which was totally truthful and completely credible, which turned the issue into a non-issue. You see, when you remove all the extraneous details, the story usually is very simple. But, because he was so emotionally attached to the situation, because he knew too much, he could not eliminate the irrelevancies. Everything, for him, was of equal importance. He could not differentiate. And that inability is what could have cost him a job offer.

So to summarize: focus onwhat is likely to happen, and have short, honest and simple answers to the difficult questions. It really is not all that hard to do. Oh, and have a good night’s sleep!


If you want a job, learn to think on your feet

A while back I had a client who came to me because, for the first time in 20 years, he was looking for a job.

Nothing new there.

What was new was that a year earlier his daughter had graduated from college and, in preparing for her job search, had bought half a dozen books on job interviewing. She gave them to her father who proceeded to write down every question that the books’ authors suggested interviewers would ask, and he prepared answers for each and every one. Then he got his first interview and not a single one of the questions that the authors said he would be asked was asked! (Thus his call to me.)

I’d like to be able to say that when I prepare a candidate for an interview all of the questions I pepper them with are asked. But that would be a lie.

With the exception of job description review, there is no way to know what you are going to be asked. Of course, you still have to prepare for the expected questions and, more importantly, have excellent questions to ask the interviewer(s), but the best preparation of all may be life experiences.

You can’t learn to think on your feet from reading books. You can’t even learn how to think on your feet from reading posts on LinkedIn! But you can from life.

Perhaps the best exercise you can do, prior to an interview, is to put away the rehearsed answers and questions, sit back in your favorite chair, or lie down in bed, put on some soothing background music, and think back to all the times you were surprised. When you were a kid you got caught doing something. In class the teacher called on you unexpectedly. At work you were asked something by your supervisor that came totally out of left field. And you reacted. Sometimes well, sometimes, not so well. Why did you have the answers in the former instances, but not in the latter? Think about it. If you do, you should be in the proper mindset for a surprise-filled interview.

I had one executive recruiting candidate who totally fell apart during an interview. She told me that everything was going well, the conversation was flowing, she had all the answers to questions about the company and the job, she had good questions to ask, and then…

What was the last book you read?

Brain freeze! Big time! She could not think of anything. She could not even remember what a book was!

The interviewer wanted to see how she coped with the unexpected. And she was not coping.

What seemed like minutes was probably only seconds. She then had a stroke of genius:

Winnie the Pooh.

She then explained that she was looking after her nieces and, to avoid the, “Just one more” cries of desperation, let each choose two books. By the time she started reading the fourth, they had all fallen asleep. (Who among us has not had a bedtime story for a child become a bedtime story for us too?!)

The interviewer laughed, shared a similar experience, and by that time she was able to remember the last “big girl” book she had read.

She passed the test and got the offer. She proved she could think on her feet, and had a sense of humor to boot. (He probably also liked the fact that she was a proud aunt.)

The lesson: Don’t think that the surprise questions will be work related. The interviewer knows you are prepared for those. The surprise questions will almost always be about something personal.

Why job seekers should attend irrelevant networking events

I don’t know how many career counseling clients I have had who, before coming to me, would spend their time “networking” at events for job seekers. Obviously a mistake.

That said, attending events that are not in your industry, and may appear to be of no value to you, may, in fact, be worthwhile to attend if professionals will be in attendance.

For example, I co-chair the Entrepreneurship Council of the Manhattan Chamber of Commerce. The other night we had an event about securing funding. It was, obviously, aimed at business owners. Imagine my surprise when one of the Angel investors on the panel recommended posting resumes on the website, (That’s not a typo; it’s .co not .com.)

If you go to the site you will see that it appears to be aimed at people who want to work for startups. But the impression I got was that it is used by Angels looking for good people.

Why not give it – and some irrelevant professional events – a try?!

The Components of a Successful LinkedIn Marketing Campaign

LinkedIn can and should be the nexus of a successful corporate marketing campaign. In addition to being able to write full-length articles, the beauty of the system is that it has the features of most, if not all, of the other major social media sites: You can share short messages (updates), pictures (photos), and multimedia (audio and video) files and, most importantly, you can interact with virtually no limitation, with current and potential clients/customers, whether they are your direct (first-degree) connections or not.

It is how I built my brand which equates to my business. And while it is a long, on-going, process that takes commitment and an investment of time, it’s relatively easy to do.

What are the steps?

First, obviously, create a personal profile. But what some business owners neglect is to create a Company Page as well. While not obligatory, it may be helpful, depending on your type of business. There may be some things you don’t want to have on your personal profile but would want on your Company Page. This is similar to Facebook complementing your website. You do some things on the former that you would not do on the latter.

Of course, if you do not let the world know what you are doing, then you are doing nothing. You can’t be the best kept secret in town! And this is what takes time. You not only have to write articles (posts), but share updates and (business related) photos, but also promote any of your PR successes, such as quotations on news sites, podcast or radio interviews, television appearances, and speaking engagements (all of which may come as your reputation builds).

The foundation of your LinkedIn world is your network. You can literally invite the world to join you. That is a strategy that works for some but not for others. It depends on your type of business. I, for example, need connections in all industries across the United States. A realtor in New York City only needs first-degree connections in the “Greater New York City” area. That said, she still will want to be known outside of New York so that if someone is moving to the City they will reach out to her for advice and assistance. That is accomplished by becoming a recognized industry leader.

This brings me to Groups. In addition to writing articles and sharing updates (not just about your activities but also professional articles/news stories), and photos, it is important to lead and participate in discussions in LinkedIn Groups, which is why joining Groups is so important. It is also a great way to promote your LinkedIn articles.

But let’s return to those first-degree connections. Once you have them, you have to use them. If you don’t interact with them, professionally, through messaging, it would be like going to a party, getting the phone numbers of persons in whom you are interested, not calling any of them and then complaining that you don’t have a date for Saturday night!

Additionally, you should not ignore other social media. For example, make certain to Tweet about your LinkedIn and real-world activities. (This can easily be done by using the social media message scheduling site, HootSuite, which, like all the other sites mentioned here, excluding LinkedIn, are free.) That will help to broaden your name recognition and will result in your receiving requests from LinkedIn members to join their networks. As soon as you are discovered on LinkedIn, based on your activities, people will want to have you in their networks.

(For the record, there is a free LinkedIn account. That said, you need a premium account because there will be no limitations on the number of searches you can conduct. You need to conduct searches to find members to join your network.)

A great website to help further build your reputation is Help A Reporter Out. Sign up as a “source” and every day, three times a day, you will receive literally hundreds of questions from reporters. Answer those that pertain to your profession or industry and, before you know it, you will have media citations which you can share with your LinkedIn and social media networks and include on your personal Profile and Company Page.

Similarly, opening an account on the podcast site BlogTalkRadio, can also help in the building of your brand. If you are proactive, you could be a guest on podcasts. Once the interviews go live, so to speak, you will then have links to share as updates, not to mention having something to add to your Profile and Company Page, thus making them multimedia.

There is no doubt that this is a time-intensive activity, but if you have the time, it is time well spent. And, if not, there’s someone you can hire to do the work for you.

Employers: Only Ask Neutral Questions When Interviewing Candidates

You ask a question. You mean one thing. Your listeners interpret it differently. They answer based on what they hear, not on what you thought you said. Now you are in trouble.

Let me reword that: In a job interview, you never want to prejudice an answer by asking a question based on your personal convictions. If you do, you may get the wrong answer or, if you prefer, the correct answer to the wrong question, meaning, not the question you meant to ask.

I thought of this when I saw a photo update on LinkedIn featuring the following photo:

It did not ring true. But note the heading, “Muslim Ban.” So it is safe to assume that the premise of the question was that President Trump’s recent executive order was against Muslims. The question probably was, “Do you in favor of, or do you oppose, President’s Trump ban on Muslim’s entering the country?

Now, to be fair, that poll was taken on December 8 and 9. Even so, I doubt that support has grown over the past two months for a “Muslim ban.” Yet, two months later, when a poll reported by US World & News Report asked about a “travel ban,” the results were totally different:

Politics aside, and while not related in any way to employment, this is a great visual reminder that, when interviewing candidates for a job, you have to be specific and neutral. Never reveal a bias in a question. If you do, your decision making will be flawed because the information you receive will be inaccurate. You could end up hiring the wrong person.

How to Answer Interviewer Questions with an Ulterior Motive

The classic example is, “What are your weaknesses?” What the interviewer is really asking is, “Why shouldn’t I hire you?”

But let’s forget about the classics. A career counseling client just asked me how to respond to two questions she was recently asked, the first at a job fair and the second at an actual interview.

How is your job search going?

No, you can’t say what you want to say. “None of your business!” is not a proper response.

What’s behind the question? What are they really asking? Here are the possibilities:

Nothing at all. The person is just being friendly. So you have to provide a substantive answer, without saying anything concrete. Why?

They may not be friendly. Maybe they want to know if they can get you cheap. If you say things are going poorly you are weakening your bargaining position.

On the other hand, if you say they are going well, maybe they will think you will cost too much or maybe, since things are going well for you, being friendly, they may choose the person who is having a tough time – assuming that you are both equally qualified for the position.

And, naturally, this could all just be paranoia and you are overthinking. It was just an innocent question. So how do you respond?

I think there is a turnaround. I feel like there are more jobs but, on the other hand, it appears that more people are reentering the job market, so there is greater competition. What are you seeing?

First, you have shown that you know about the latest job creation/unemployment stats. Second, you have properly analyzed them without getting into politics. And, third, you have turned it around by turning the question into a conversation. You have answered without providing any real personal information. You have nothing about which to worry.

Where else are you applying?

You are in an interview. It is going well. And then out the blue comes the “Where else are you applying?” question is asked. Why?

Again, this is none of their business. Except that it actually is THEIR business. They are hoping to find out from you about their competition. You have nothing to gain from answering the question. If there are a lot of places, you can come across as desperate and unfocused and unwanted. If there are only a few, they might think they can get you cheap because of your limited choices.

But I doubt the question has anything to do with you. As stated, it has to do with their competition. They are using you for an exercise in legal corporate espionage.

So what’s the answer?

Confidentiality is very important for me. Just as I will not talk about you with other prospective employers, I won’t talk to you about them. I would not be comfortable doing so.

If they object, you know you don’t want to work for them and, in all likelihood, the job isn’t real. (It does happen!) In any event, you have shown that you are ethical so you can leave with your head high.