Let Me Hire You, Part 2: The Five Other Things

OK, great! You followed my earlier advice precisely and landed that interview. Let’s move on to the conveniently-numbered five other most important things you need to know to address every possible interview with every possible company and boss in the world, probably.

Thing 1: Your phone voice matters. Fake smile while you talk.

Much as I am faced with a sea of similarly-acronymed, Jobvite-processed resumes and look for a decently written cover letter to differentiate one from the other, when I call you on the phone, I want to hear someone who I might like to talk to, day after day if I hired you. So, cheer up, huh? Try putting on a smile when you answer the phone.

Me: “Hi, it’s Rian calling from Innovation Concepts. Is this Lisa?”
Good answer:
You: “Hi, Rian! Yes, this is Lisa. How are you today?”
Less good answer:
You: “Uh… Yeah. Byron from what-all again?”

You took the time to apply for the job, right? You’d be amazed at how many times applicants have answered the phone as though they had absolutely no idea why I was calling or as if I was going to charge them a nasty fee for the interview– in one case, ordering a hot dog at a CostCo during the pre-arranged phone interview. True story.

Make a list of places you’ve applied. Set aside some time for the call in a quiet place. Have your notes about the company, the job, your experience as it relates to the job, and questions you might want to ask… which reminds me:

Thing 2: Ask non-trivial questions. Please.

Whether we’re doing a phone screen or an in-person interview, you are almost certain to be asked if you have any questions for me. Have them. Ideally, have questions that pertain specifically to something we discussed or specifics about the company. Less ideally, just ask something generic about the culture, management style, or development processes, for example.

Me: “So, Tom, do you have any questions for me?”
Good answer:
You: “Thanks… Yes, in fact, I was reading that you’d adopted Schmolacracy. Can you tell me how that affects the decision making process?”
Less good answer:
You: “No… not really… or, wait… no… yeah, not really.”
Equally not good answer:
You: “When can I take my first vacation? And… are you going to eat that?”

You might say “but, but… that first part is a question about the job!” And, it is, but save it until you’ve got the offer, unless it’s a deal-breaker. Even then, my opinion is that you should save it until you’ve got a pretty good sense that you’re in. First things first.

You must have something that you want to know about me, the job, or the company. If not, what does that tell me about your curiosity and thoroughness in an important decision making process?

Thing 3: Dress for success. Whatever that means.

Oh, boy. I know I’m going to catch hell in the comments for suggesting that how you dress at an interview matters or that anyone should want to “fit in.” Well, I’ll go back to the fact that I don’t know anything about you, yet. If you show up to your interview in flip flops and jorts, and everyone else is dressed in business casual, I can only assume that you DID dress up and that you’ll show up for your first day in your underwear and ear muffs. That’s just going to be distracting for everyone.

There’s a sweet spot at most places that’s somewhere I’d describe as a little better than what everyone else is wearing, but not much. Obviously, if you’re applying to a bank in London, you’d dress differently than if you’re applying to an marijuana dispensary in Santa Cruz. Still, you don’t want to overdress and appear so out of touch with the company culture that it casts doubt on your interpersonal judgment and perceptiveness.

You also don’t want to overdo it. If you show up at Zappos wearing a tie, you’re likely to leave with it cut off and attached to the wall behind you. While it’s easy to over-dress for a place like Zappos, just dressing a little nicer than average gives the impression that you are at least familiar with the culture of the company or industry. Done right, I won’t take the slightest notice of your attire. That’s what you want. You want me to listen to what you have to say.

Thing 4: Don’t freak out. You’re good enough. You’re smart enough.

You are also almost certainly going to be asked questions to which you don’t know the answers. And that’s… OK. For example, when I interview a front-end developer, I tend to go through a series of questions on Javascript that very few would get all right. I expect even a really good developer not to know the answers to some of the later questions.

I’m asking them for a couple of reasons. First, what do you know? There’s a continuum of expertise among front-end developers, and my questions are intended to find out roughly where you fall on that spectrum. Second, if you don’t know, how do you handle it? I like to hear how candidates think. Give me some idea of how you might approach the situation or question. Be honest. Tell me you don’t know, but you might try this or that and why. I am honestly not trying to frustrate you for my own entertainment.

My main point is ‘don’t freak out.’ With the exception of some very specific technical jobs– say, a bomb disposal technician– you can get answers wrong but still do really well in the interview. Part of any interview is an assessment of how well you’ll handle problems for which you don’t know the answer. Stay calm and show me what you’d do when faced with such a thing at work.

Thing 5: Keep in touch, you know, in a non-stalkery way.

After you get home from our interview, let me know what you thought. Are you still interested? Do you have concerns? While it might seem like a dated formality, a thank-you note, whether paper or electronic, is good form. Obviously, it’s a courteous thing to do, and I think it can go either way without the need for a feeling of status struggle about who goes first. I’ll often send a candidate a thank-you note after our interview for the same reason.

I recommend taking the initiative as the candidate to send the note when you get home and possibly use it as an opportunity to ask any follow-on questions that you neglected to ask at the interview– like when I might make my decision.

Now, after a few days, if you haven’t heard anything, drop me a line. Ask if anything’s changed with the process. Let me know you’re still interested and happy to provide any additional information that might help. If you’ve got a competing offer, let me know that if you’re still interested in working for me. It’s sure to light a fire under me if I’m dragging my feet for some bureaucratic reason.

The reality is that we’re all pretty busy. While hiring’s a priority, there are others, and sometimes things just take longer and are more distracting than originally anticipated. If we have a security breach, it’s likely that I may neglect to let everyone in my world know. So, once you’ve sent that thank-you and a follow-up note (or two, maybe), you’re faced with a choice: move on or be patient, but I’d advise against the daily barrage of “why haven’t you called me?” emails.

If you haven’t heard from me in a week, I’m either a bad person and too cowardly to let you know that you didn’t get the job, or more likely, I’m distracted by something and either haven’t seen your email or had a chance to respond. In either case, pelting me with daily requests for updates isn’t going to help, nor is ramping up the tone from “I’d appreciate an update” to “I don’t deserve to be treated like this, you bastard.”

Bonus Thing: You might not get the job.

After my last post, I got a lot of feedback that people had tried all the things that I suggested and STILL didn’t get the job. Some other managers said that they NEVER read cover letters. Still others said that I didn’t understand how to read resumes, am shallow and lazy, and I was missing out on all the good candidates who would never put up with my crap.

The painful truth is that there are several if not millions of companies and hiring managers out there. Each one is a little (or a lot) different. Some will never read your cover letter, want lots of acronyms listed even if they don’t get any indication what you know about it, and will hire you if you show up late and with your shirt on inside out. Some rely heavily on computers to help them do their job and may screen you out for simply answering honestly that you aren’t an expert at SAP, Hadoop, Cobol, Objective-C, and Erlang.

And for each job that I’ve posted, in the most competitive of markets, I’ve had dozens of applicants. In those cases, if there were only two equally qualified applicants for the job, one of them didn’t get it. He was a good fit. He interviewed well. And he didn’t get hired by no fault of his own.

My advice is not to take it personally or as a general statement about your employability. Dust yourself off, get plenty of rest and exercise, and get right back to work building your network, polishing your skills, reading job listings, and writing cover letters. Sooner or later, the stars will align, and you’ll nail the opportunity. Keep working on your game and give it time.

Good luck!

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