Dealing with Health Issues in a Job Interview and the Power of Networking

A few years ago I was invited to participate in a panel discussion on interviewing which was focused on veterans and the disabled. (And, no, I was not crazy about the juxtaposition but I understood the intent of the organizers and let it go.) One of the attendees, I believe he was a veteran, asked the question, When should I tell an employer about my disability?

The panel moderator asked one of the other panelists to respond. She said, “As long as it has nothing to do with your ability to do the job, say nothing.”

This is not an uncommon response. A few months ago I spoke to a group of students. One asked the same question. Before I had a chance to respond, their teacher said, “After they offer you the job.”

Terrible advice! Almost as bad as the response of my former fellow panelist.

What’s the problem?

You have a disability. It has nothing to do with your ability to do the job, so you don’t tell the employer. That may be fine. But what if the employer looks at it differently? What if the employer is thinking safety? They are located on the 20th floor of a 30-story building. What if there is a fire? You’ll still get the job only now the employer will know to report the issue to the building’s Safety/Security Director before there is a crisis. But there is now the little matter of the boss now thinking to herself, What else didn’t he tell me?

You have a disability and it is related to the job. You follow the teacher’s instructions and after you are offered the job you say, “Oh, by the way. I have this disability which means I will need this ‘reasonable accommodation’.” Well, the employer doesn’t agree with your definition of “reasonable” and, moreover, she does not like the fact that you waited until the last minute to tell her. (In fact, you literally wait until the first minute to tell her!) It looks like you are preparing for a lawsuit, not a new job! So she rescinds the offer because of the “accommodation” issue but, more importantly, because she does not trust you. What else are you hiding? Employers do not like to be surprised.

So my advice was always to do the following. We’ll use a veteran as an example.

The veteran is ushered into a conference room for the initial interview. After the pleasantries are over he says,

“Before we get started let’s address the 800-pound gorilla in the room. I know you can’t ask, but we all know you are thinking about it. So let me tell you upfront, I have no disability.”

The unspoken issue is no longer an issue and the employer likes the candidate because he was honest and showed that he understood her concerns.

Second scenario:

“Before we get started let’s address the 800-pound gorilla in the room. I know you can’t ask, but we all know you are thinking about it. So let me tell you upfront that I have X. That means Y. From the perspective of the job, it should have no impact but I will need the following ‘reasonable accommodation’.”

The employer is now happy. She has a candidate who understands her concerns and took the initiative to raise a delicate issue. And he is honest and forthright. He explained it. She understands it. It is not a last-minute surprise. She agrees with his definition of “reasonable.” The issue is no longer an issue. Now let’s start the interview!

How do I know that I am right and you deal with health issues up front?

Simple: It has worked for me!

I had a health issue at the end of May. I spent two days in the hospital and five in a dump of a nursing home (out of which I checked myself). One of the first letters that I opened when I got home informed me that my doctor had closed his practice and had transferred it to a new group of physicians. So in addition to having to deal with Social Services, I needed to find a new primary care physician, who referred me to two specialists and then I had to deal with tests, etc., all while trying to complete the paperwork for Social Services, a document which is a foot in height!

And, while doing all of this, I had to cope with the stress of an unknown health issue and financial worries. Meaning very little sleep and very little appetite. (If you want to know how to lose 25 pounds in a month, give me a call. On second thought, don’t!)

It took me a couple of weeks to get over what I had gone through and get control of what I was going through. My concentration was shot. I could not read and I could not write. I was obsessing over my situation. Never a good thing.

So how did I turn things around? I took my own advice!

First, networking. I reached out to everyone for whom I had an email address and with whom I had worked, primarily those individuals who knew me from my days with the local Chamber of Commerce. There were a lot of people I had helped with free advice or introductions. I had the network and I was going to use it.

So I wrote to everyone. Basically, they all got the same email. It began by my briefly explaining what had happened and that I was now medically fine and could return to work. I also told them that because of the bills that were pouring in (don’t ask!) I could no longer afford to work on a commission basis and would even consider a “job job.” I highlighted for them my skill set, attached a copy of my resume and told them that they could share it, and the email, at their discretion.

The following day Outlook started to hum and the phone started to ring. While a good percentage never responded, those that did first were concerned about my health and then they had specific employment-related questions. The end result:

One paid me a retainer, and has yet to give me the search! Another introduced me to his HR director who offered me a consulting gig to help her screen candidates. Others introduced me to their friends via email. I have had half a dozen phone interviews with friends of friends. In each case, I begin by reassuring them that I am fit to work. No restrictions. No “accommodations” of any type required. And in each case, without exception, they have all thanked me for being honest and upfront with them and broaching the subject myself.

Bottom line, by being honest and upfront, I have uncovered jobs that are not being advertised and have had one job created just for me. I turned being sick from a negative into a positive. If I can do it, why can’t you?

(Another advantage is that I now have a new appreciation for what some of my long-term unemployed career counseling clients were going through!)

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Bruce Hurwitz is an executive recruiter and career counselor. (Don’t miss out on his discounted Summer Career Counseling Special!) He has helped scores (thousands if you include attendees at his presentations) of people, including veterans, not only change jobs but, on occasion, change careers. Having successfully transitioned from academia to non-profits to the recruiting industry, he has been there and done that!

Bruce is a recognized authority on job search and career issues, having been quoted in over 700 articles, appearing in some 500 publications, across the United States, and in more than 30 foreign countries. His posts on LinkedIn have been read over 350,000 times and have garnered national and international media attention, including television appearances on Fox Business Network and Headline News (CNN).

An advocate for the protection of job seekers, visit the homepage of his website, www.hsstaffing.com, to read about questionable offerings of so-called job search assistance companies and to learn about his upcoming speaking engagements. Follow him on Twitter at @HurwitzStaffing.

Lastly, he can help you make the most out of LinkedIn by doing the mundane tasks so that you are free to do what only you can, grow a real-world network of potential employers, clients or customers, as the case may be, thus allowing you to achieve whatever it was that brought you to LinkedIn in the first place.

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.

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Bruce Hurwitz is an executive recruiter and career counselor. He has helped scores (thousands if you include attendees at his presentations) of people, including veterans, not only change jobs but, on occasion, change careers. Having successfully transitioned from academia to non-profits to the recruiting industry, he has been there and done that!

Bruce is a recognized authority on job search and career issues, having been quoted in over 700 articles, appearing in some 500 publications, across the United States and in more than 30 foreign countries. His posts on LinkedIn have been read over 330,000 times and have garnered national and international media attention, including television appearances on Fox Business Network and Headline News (CNN).

In addition to serving on the Board of Directors of the Manhattan Chamber of Commerce, he co-chairs their Entrepreneurship Council, hosts their weekly podcast – The Voice of Manhattan Business – and serves as an Ambassador.

An advocate for the protection of job seekers, visit the homepage of his website, www.hsstaffing.com, to read about questionable offerings of so-called job search assistance companies and to learn about his upcoming speaking engagements.

What not to wear or bring to a job interview

No, I am not going to write again about wearing fancy jewelry to an interview.  That seems to be a sensitive subject and as one woman wrote, emotion sometimes takes over and the message gets lost.  But the question has been asked, and as always I am happy to provide an honest real-world answer.

The question which I have been asked is, Is there anything else (besides Hope Diamond-class rings) that should not be worn to a job nterview?  To that I add, “or bring.”

You smell nice

It has always been my understanding that the French invented perfume because they did not want to bathe.  Saying to someone, “You smell nice,” may appear to be a compliment, but what entices one person’s olfactory senses may repel someone else.  Why smell at all?

Yes, I know, the theory is that because humans react strongly to smell, as I believe all mammals do, it’s a good way to catch a mate.

Well, if you are going on a job interview to get a mate, you have more problems than just looking for a job.

I don’t remember all of the bad interviews I have ever had with candidates but the ones that I do remember most vividly are the ones that I ended quickly because I was literally sickened to be in the candidate’s presence, and the amount of time it took to air out the room!

In a job interview you should not smell at all.  No perfume.  No cologne.  No scented after shave.  There is no reason to have any odor in an interview, and just because you and your friends think you smell nice does not mean the interviewer will.  Nothing scented.

Smoking can kill you in more ways than one

One good thing about the ordinances against smoking in public buildings is that it has been a while since I, or rather my nose, has confronted a smoker.  But it is still relevant for some people.

I don’t care how much rinsing a smoker does with mouthwash, or how many breath mints they consume, smoke does not just get in your eyes, it gets in your clothes.

If you are a smoker, take your interview clothes to the dry cleaner.   On the day you pick them up, take your car to the car wash and get an interior wash and dry.  Make certain there is no odor.  And before you leave for the car wash, clean out a closet of anything that smells and could smell (the smoker probably will not be able to tell) of smoke.  Then soak down the closet with a good air freshener.

When you get home, keep the clothes in the plastic, put them in the clean closet, and only remove them when it is time for the interview.  And one more thing, quit smoking!

The sounds of silence

We have dealt with smell, now comes sound.

I cannot tell you how many times employers have complained to me that throughout an interview a candidate’s pockets, bags, what-have-yous, were ringing, buzzing and humming.  Turn off, not mute or silence, turn off all of your electronic devices.

It is annoying when they go off.  It is devastating when the candidate cannot find the offending device or is unable to turn it off.  It’s obviously because of nerves but, if that is what happens in an interview, it may be an indication of how you will respond in an important, stressful meeting.  Not a good mental picture to paint.

By all means, bring a pen and paper.  Take notes.  But if you are taking notes on a device, especially your phone, employers/interviewers will not know if you are, in fact, taking notes or texting.  Go old school.

The only sound an interviewer should hear is the enchanting rhapsody of your voice.

Next comes sight.

I don’t want to see that

The first point is easy: don’t fidget.  It’s a sign of being nervous.  And an interview is nerve racking.  Everyone knows that.  If you are a woman who plays with her hair or a man who plays with his beard, hold your hands.  And if you have a piece of jewelry that you fidget with, or anything else for that matter, leave it at home.  You want to send the message to the interviewer that in pressure situations you never let the other side see you sweat.

There is an old saying, “You only get one chance to make a first good impression.”  That is not so.  If the first impression is based on a fact the interviewer could not possibly know, you will get a second chance.

Case in point:  I had an interview with a candidate for an IT position.  When I approached him, he was holding his cell phone up against his nose.  The collar of his shirt was unbuttoned.  His tie was loose and crooked.  When I put out my hand he stared at it for a moment and then gave me a “dead fish” handshake.  I was not impressed.

Of course, when we sat down for the interview, and right at the beginning he told me that he was legally blind, my initial impression was replaced with one of deep respect, admiration and curiosity as to how he could do his work.  And, yes, I submitted him.

Now despite the fact that, based on the reaction to my previous posts, a lot of job seekers don’t think that interviewers look at them and judge them accordingly, and a lot of interviewers don’t want job seekers to know that they look at them, they do, and there are some things they do not want to see.

For women, and there is nothing new here, a lot of people, men and women, are turned off when a women comes to an interview showing off her physical attributes.

For men, cleavage is not a problem, it’s their shoes.  Dirty shoes send a very bad message.  It makes the person look sloppy.  Clean your shoes.  (Of course, this is true for women but, in all honesty, I have never seen a woman wearing dirty shoes, weather aside.)

In general, for both men and women, my rule is to always err on the side of conservative.  Depending on the job for which you are applying, always dress one step up for the interview.  And, no, this does not mean that a man who will be wearing a suit at work should wear a tuxedo to the interview, or a woman an evening dress.

I was teaching a class of tradesmen – carpenters, electricians, plumbers – and when I suggested that they wear a nice pair of slacks and a collared shirt to a job interview, there was no objection.  Then I said they might want to wear a tie.  They laughed.  They stopped laughing when one of their classmates said that he got his last job because he had worn a tie.  He had been one of a good dozen or so candidates.  He was hired.  On his first day he asked his new boss why he had chosen him and not one of the others (all of whom had to have had more experience than he because he was just getting started).  The response, “You were the only one wearing a tie.”

Just as an aside, and I know it is silly, but when I was a fundraiser meeting with the affluent, both male and female, I was regularly complimented on my pen.  It looks (I still have it) fancy but it was hardly expensive.  I don’t remember what I paid for it, but I bought it at Staples.  The point is that they noticed and complimented me on it.  You never know what will attract someone’s eyes or how.

My point is that interviewers will remember what they smell, what they hear, and what they see.  (They also remember what they feel so make sure you give everyone a firm handshake to send a message of confidence.)  Think about the message you send when making every decision regarding your appearance and demeanor.

Why not share your experiences in the Comments section?

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Bruce Hurwitz is an executive recruiter, career counselor and business advisor.  His posts on LinkedIn have been read over a quarter of a million times and have garnered international media attention.   In addition to serving on the Board of Directors of the Manhattan Chamber of Commerce, he chairs their Entrepreneurs Network, hosts their weekly podcast – The Voice of Manhattan Business – and serves as an Ambassador.  An advocate for the protection of job seekers, visit the homepage of his website, www.hsstaffing.com, to read about questionable offerings of so-called job search assistance companies.

What You Can Learn when Negotiating Salary from My First and Only Golf Game when I Hit Two Holes-in-One

OK. It was not actually a game. But I did get two holes-in-one.

Years ago, as a director of Marketing, I was working a charity golf event. Prior to the start of play, I was standing by the putting green (I think that’s what it’s called) next to the club house. One of the players asked me if I played and I said no. He then handed me his putter and told me to give it a try.

I placed the ball on the ground at an acceptable distance from the hole. I surveyed the grass pretending that I knew what I was doing. Rose. Took a fake swing next to the ball. Took a deep breath. Did the “Hello ball!” routine from The Honeymooners. (If you are too young to know to what I am referring, LOOK IT UP! It’s one of the funniest scenes in television history, almost as good as Sammy Davis, Jr. kissing Archie Bunker – and if you don’t know what that is then you are an uneducated, uncultured, uncivilized heathen who should not be permitted access to the general public, children or puppies!) Hit the ball and, of course, it went it.

Everyone laughed. I admitted “beginner’s luck” and went to the other end of the green, placed the ball, aimed, hit and, of course, it too went in.

I then handed the putter back to it’s owner and said, “Thanks. This game is not for me. I like something with a challenge.”

I don’t have to tell you the reaction as I walked away in smug triumph.

I was reminded of this a few minutes ago when a career counseling client called to ask my advice. He had just been offered a job. As I had taught him, he negotiated a higher salary because he did not need some of the benefits the company offered.

After they had agreed to his request, he said that he just wanted to discuss it with his wife and promised to get back to them within the hour. (They wanted it settled today; there was a second finalist.) He could not reach her so he called me. As he was going home, he realized that there was something else he wanted. It was a “want,” not a “need.” He asked if I thought he should reopen the negotiations.

I told him my golf story and ended with, “Quit while you’re ahead!”

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Bruce Hurwitz is an executive recruiter, career counselor and business advisor. His posts on LinkedIn have been read over a quarter of a million times and have garnered national and international media attention.  In addition to serving on the Board of Directors of the Manhattan Chamber of Commerce, he chairs their Entrepreneurs Network, hosts their weekly podcast – The Voice of Manhattan Business – and serves as an Ambassador. An advocate for the protection of job seekers, visit the homepage of his website, www.hsstaffing.com, to read about questionable offerings of so-called job search assistance companies and to learn about his upcoming speaking engagements.

How to Get a Job in the US AND KEEP IT!

First, let me make this clear.  I am not an attorney and nothing in this post should be interpreted as offering legal advice. 

Second, this post is meant for foreign nationals wanting to move to the US.  Be aware, there is no shortage of charlatans who will try and con you out of your money.  Remember: No one can guarantee you a job.  If someone promises to get you a job if you pay them, even if it is only an “administrative fee,” they are lying. 

The purpose of this post is to help foreign nationals outside the United States to understand what it takes to get and keep a job in this country and to announce the launch of a new service which I am offering to these individuals.

Of course, the simplest way to get a job here is to enter as a student.  Get as many internships as possible.  Do a great job.  Have an employer who hired you for an internship sponsor you.

Alternatively, work for a company in your home country with offices in the US.  Like everything else, you will have a lot of competition.  The key to getting a transfer to the US, once you have proven yourself, is differentiation.  Your employer will want to know that you will be able to “handle” the US.  That’s the service that I now offer:  I will make you different from your competition in the ways that matter: communication and culture.

In addition to being a student or a transferee, foreigners can get work visas either as Temporary (Nonimmigrant) Workers or Permanent Workers, for which there are only 140,000 visas.  To say that this is a complicated labyrinth is to engage in understatement.  That is why it is so important to utilize your local US Consulate and, possibly, to have an immigration attorney.

Regardless of which visa you have, when you arrive you will have to have an employer.  It’s the only way to get the proper visa. Countless people contact employers constantly asking for sponsorships.  They are denied because they don’t know how to ask.  They are not prepared.  My clients will be prepared.

Let me reiterate, my concern is not with the legalities of immigration.  For that there are immigration attorneys and, obviously, the US Consulate.  What I am concerned about is that the immigration be successful.  What could be worse than moving all the way to the US only to be fired because “it is not a good fit?”

Just because you get the visa does not mean you are guaranteed employment for life.  Things don’t always work out.  You may have all the professional skills and credentials, but because of a strange culture and language, things may not work out.  In other words, what is missing are the personal skills.  I want to make certain that does not happen to you.

These are the problems that I want to eliminate for my International Career Counseling clients:

  • Knowledge of conversational English. Professionally, your English may be perfect, but your everyday English may be wanting.  You can describe your latest professional project perfectly, but you can’t order breakfast at a local diner.  You will learn to converse in English.
  • But it is not enough to know the words, pronunciation and articulation are just as important. If no one can understand you, you might as well be speaking your native language.  If necessary, I will introduce you to a speech therapist who will teach you to speak clearly.  (It can be done using a Skype-like system.)
  • You may know the history of the United States better than most Americans, but you may not understand the culture. What is acceptable in your country may not be acceptable here.  This is especially true of workplace behavior.  One mistake, even an innocent mistake, could result in your employer being sued and you losing your job.  You will learn what not to do in the workplace and, for that matter, on the street.
  • Looking for a job in the US, from building your brand to networking to cover letters to resumes to interviewing, will be different for you. You need to understand the process before you start the search for a sponsor (assuming you are not coming to the US as a student or a transferee from a local company).  You will learn the process.
  • Once you get the job, and start work, there is plenty that can still go wrong. You may be uncomfortable speaking with your boss or colleagues about certain topics.  You’ll have me to consult with for the first year that you are in the US.

So remember, just because you have that prized piece of paper – the visa – in your hands, guarantees you nothing more than the opportunity to be successful in the United States.  Your success will be dependent on your ability to communicate in English and to understand American culture.  That’s where I come in.

Ironically, after proofreading this post, I stepped away from my desk.  Someone called and left me a message.  I could barely understand him.  It sounded like he said he was from Kenya and that I had gotten a job for one of his friends.  He asked me to call him back.  First problem, I did not understand his name.  Second problem, he did not leave a number.  Third problem, when I phoned the number that appeared on my telephone I.D., I received a message that voice mail had yet to be set up.  This is exactly what I mean by “personal skills.”  This man may be very accomplished in his field, but because he does not understand how things are done in the US, and probably no one has told him about his communication problems, he may not find employment.  Learn from his mistakes; don’t repeat them!

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Bruce Hurwitz is an executive recruiter, career counselor and business advisor.  In addition to serving on the Board of Directors of the Manhattan Chamber of Commerce, he chairs their Entrepreneurs Network, hosts their weekly podcast – The Voice of Manhattan Business – and serves as an Ambassador.  Visit the homepage of his website, www.hsstaffing.com, to read about the latest questionable offerings of so-called job search assistance companies.

The Six Keys to Being a Successful Interviewer

In 2003, while working for a non-profit in the Bronx, I was appointed host and producer of a live half-hour interview program on Bronxnet Television.   It was an award-winning show for the network.

To prepare, I studied those who I considered to be the best interviewers.  Bill O’Reilly would always give his guest the last word.  Tim Russert was always prepared; he knew the subject and he knew his guests.  Johnny Carson would let the guest shine and, on occasion, actually let the guest interview him.  Similarly, Mike Wallace, when not confronting the dregs of society, was interested in his interviews entertaining as well as informing.  And Larry King had one rule:  He never spoke to a guest prior to an interview because he did not want to know how they were going to answer his questions.  Their conversation had to be genuine.

(If you want a free Master Class in interviewing watch these videos.  Watch them twice.  First for the fun of it, and then to learn: Johnny Carson and Bob Uecker on Johnny Carson; Jerry Lewis with Raymond Arroyo – arguably the best interview I have ever seen for reasons that Mr. Lewis himself explains,  and Mike Wallace – pay special attention to the Mel Brooks interview.)

After I left the non-profit, I started my own interview show on BlogTalkRadio, Bruce Hurwitz Presents. (Let me know if you want to be a guest!)  Subsequently, after I joined the Manhattan Chamber of Commerce, I became host and producer of The Voice of Manhattan Business, the Chamber’s weekly podcast. If you add together the 28 television interviews I conducted, and those on the two podcasts, I have interviewed over 400 people.  This is what I have learned:

Job Description

Excluding “shock jocks” whose job it is to entertain by embarrassing and humiliating the guest, and for whom I have neither respect nor patience, the job of an interviewer is to make the guest look good.  (Those were actually the instructions I was given when I accepted responsibility for The Voice of Manhattan Business.)

In order to make the guest look good, you have to prepare.  In that way, as I will cover presently, you will be able to either keep the conversation focused or expand it, as the case may be.  You never want to make the guest tense.  You want them to be calm.  There have been a number of times I could have humiliated guests who simply did not know what they were talking about, but to what end?  I would have been making myself look bad, not them.  They would have garnered sympathy while I would have garnered contempt.  It’s easy to humiliate; it’s hard to make someone who is not all that good, look good.

Listen

The key is to listen.  Because it is a podcast, I can’t see the guest.  I only have their tone of voice to go by.  That is how I determine if they are nervous.  But it is also how I am able to turn the interview into a true conversation.  I listen to their answers, I do not anticipate them and I never think about the next question I’ll be asking, even if it is on the paper in front of me.  If I am not genuinely interested in the answers, not to mention the subject, then IBM’s Watson could do the interview.

Prepare

I never know, from week to week, what type of guest I will be interviewing.  They could be well-versed in the topic (which, by the way, they choose) and very well-read.  Those are the best interviews because the discussion can go anywhere.   Once I was interviewing an expert on funding options for small businesses and ended up discussing Theodore Roosevelt.  It was a good show.

Sometimes a guest knows their topic and is scared to death.  I have to find a way to put them at ease.  I’ll do that by asking simple follow-up questions.  From the sound of their voice I know when they are relaxed and only then do I ask a follow-up questions.  If they don’t relax, I just stick to the main questions, the ones they received in advance.

Then there are the guests that think they are experts but really don’t know what they are talking about.  That becomes painfully apparent when they give the wrong answer to a simple follow-up question.  In that case, because of my job description, I simply say, “Well that’s interesting.  I always thought…  Let’s move on” and then I ask the next question.  I provide the correct answer because I do not want my listeners to be misinformed; I do not debate the guest because I do not want them to look foolish.

Bottom line, I always have to be prepared even if the guest isn’t.  That means learning what I can about the guest and their topic, but also expanding my intellectual horizons so, if possible, I can expand the conversation to other areas, like I did with TR, so as to make the interview more interesting and hopefully to expand the audience.  You have to be well-read.

Questions

While the Chamber’s podcast is live, rarely do any listeners ask questions.  I consider that a compliment.  It means (at least I hope it means) that I am asking the questions they want to ask.  I always begin with definitions so there is no doubt about the subject.  Then I proceed in a logical manner to ask questions building to the end result which both the guest and I want.  My follow-up questions build on the guest’s answers.  They are meant to clarify and expand the conversation.

Amusing examples of great questions are when Johnny Carson, interviewing David Letterman just after Jay Leno had been announced as Carson’s replacement, asked, “How pissed off are you?”  It was funny and exactly what everyone wanted to know.  Then there was Leno interviewing the actor Hugh Grant who had been caught with a prostitute.  Leno’s question: “What the hell were you thinking?”  Same thing: funny and what everyone wanted to know.  And then there is the brilliant question that no one would think to ask.  Carson asked Frank Sinatra, “When you want to be romantic with a woman, whose records do you put on?”  The beauty of these questions is, if the guest can handle them, and they all did, the guest looks better than the interviewer.  (Basically the answers were: If you keep using that language you’ll lose your job.  I wasn’t.  And a singer from the 1930s whose name I do not remember.)

Focus on the Guest not Control

Just because I am the host does not mean I am, nor should be, the star.  The best shows are the ones where my presence is not felt.  It should always be all about the guest.  Leave your ego at the door, so to speak.  I once interviewed a woman whose answers were so intriguing, she was so knowledgeable, I let her speak without interruption for a good 15 minutes before asking my next question.  If the audience is learning and enjoying, what does it matter how much I speak?  I’m always the one in control because I can end the interview any time I want.  The guest can’t do that.  It’s their interview, but it’s my show!

What it Takes to be a Good Host

To summarize, the characteristics of a good host are the ability to listen; intellectual curiosity (being genuine; actually caring about the guest and the subject); being well-read; generosity (making the guest look good; no cheap shots); being a good researcher (preparation); and keeping your ego in check.

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Bruce Hurwitz is an executive recruiter, career counselor and business advisor.  In addition to serving on the Board of Directors of the Manhattan Chamber of Commerce, he chairs their Entrepreneurs Network, hosts their weekly podcast – The Voice of Manhattan Business – and serves as an Ambassador.  Visit the homepage of his website, www.hsstaffing.com, to read about the latest questionable offerings of so-called job search assistance companies.

The Rejection Thank-You Letter

Recently I was speaking to a group of job seekers at the New York Public Library.  When I mentioned the “Rejection Thank-You Letter,” most people scoffed.  With one exception.  A young woman raised her arm and announced that she had actually done it and she got a job at the company that had rejected her.

You applied for a job.  You got an interview.  They told you to call them in two weeks.  Two weeks later you called, got voice mail and they did not call you back.

You applied for a job. You got an interview.  They said they would call you in two weeks.  Two weeks later, no call.

In either scenario you wait another week.  Things happen.

Three weeks pass and you send the following letter, in the mail, paper and envelope, old school.

Dear Jane,

I want to thank you again for interviewing me for the auditor position. 

I assume that you have decided to choose another candidate.  While I am disappointed, I want you to know that I appreciate the opportunity, wish you and your hire the very best, and look forward to seeing you in the future.

Sincerely,

Joe

So what have you done?  You have reminded them about your candidacy.  You have shown class.  You have demonstrated excellent customer service skills.  And you have differentiated yourself from your competition because no one else is going to do this.

Now let’s say that you are wrong.  They have not eliminated you.  You are still in the running.  Since they never contacted you, they can’t blame you for an incorrect assumption.  Other candidates probably called and nagged.  You did not.

Or you were correct.  They decided not to go with you.  It was because they did not like your style.  You just showed them your style and now they like it.  You are back in the running.

Or you were correct.  You did not get the job.  But now they see you in a different light.  Since the Rejection Thank-You Letter is unique, they remember you and, as happened with the young lady at my talk, when something else opens, they remember you, and you get the call.

This actually can work.  And what will it cost if it doesn’t?  An envelope, sheet of paper, a bit of printer toner, and a stamp.  Big deal!

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Bruce Hurwitz is an executive recruiter, career counselor and business advisor.  In addition to serving on the Board of Directors of the Manhattan Chamber of Commerce, he chairs their Entrepreneurs Network, hosts their weekly podcast – The Voice of Manhattan Business – and serves as an Ambassador.  Visit the homepage of his website, www.hsstaffing.com, to read about the latest questionable offerings of so-called job search assistance companies.