Jun 19 2012

Job Tip: Go On An Interview

Carlos Portocarrero

This is Day 9 of the 39 Days to a Better Job series, where we review actionable tips to make you better at your job.

Job interview

Job interviews can be very stressful: you’re trying to give the interviewer an accurate picture of who you are and what you can do while “selling” him/her on the idea that you’re  a great hire—not an easy balance.

It’s tough, especially since most people only interview when they’re in a position of weakness. They either don’t have a job or are desperate to leave the one they’re at.

Talk about zero leverage.

Practice Your Job Interview Skills

When you aren’t desperate to get the job, you’ll notice a huge difference in how you approach a job interview. You’re more calm, you answer questions easily and without hesitation, and you aren’t nearly as nervous.

You become more confident, and that makes you look a lot better. 

You’ll be surprised at how confident you feel when you’re interviewing for practice. Instead of focusing on saying the right thing or trying to hit every checkbox that the interviewer is trying to fill, you’ll find yourself asking some questions about the company and the position. Is this a place you would even want to work at? Is this someone you would want to work with?

I’ve gone on several interviews that started out as “practice” for myself and ended up as really interesting opportunities. That’s the other interesting bit of this experiment: you never know what you’ll find out there unless you’re looking. And as a good friend of mine once told me, “I’m always looking.”

Another reason I like this exercise is because once you get a company showing some interest in you (whether you intend to leave or not), your current job will be easier. I’m telling you, there’s nothing like going on an interview and feeling wanted and valued by another company to make the stresses and annoyances of your job go up in smoke.

It reminds you that you don’t have to be there. You don’t have to deal with this stuff. You could leave at any time.

It’s a very empowering feeling.

Let’s recap all the advantages of interviewing for practice:

  • Confidence booster
  • Improves/sharpens your interview skills
  • Liberates you at your job
  • You might find a better job
Seems like a no brainer, right? Now go out there and get an interview!

Image by bpsusf

May 21 2012

Find an Insider Before Your Job Interview

Carlos Portocarrero

This is Day 4 of the 39 Days to a Better Job series, where we review actionable tips to make you better at your job.

Spy figure in doorwayWhat a perfect segue:  after talking about pumping up our networks, here comes a tip that is going to help you get an edge once you have a job interview lined up.

Think about your last job interview and how nervous you were: maybe you really wanted the job so you were very careful about what you said and how you said it so you would come off as the perfect candidate.

Well guess what? The person on the other side of the table is just as nervous.

It’s their responsibility to fill the position and they have to get a good read on all the candidates so they make the right decision. Because trust me—if they hire someone who turns out to be “the wrong person,” they’ll be the ones interviewing for another job.

So the person making the hire wants as many positive indicators as possible before making an offer that this person is the right candidate.

And there’s no better feeling that when someone who already works in the company vouches for candidate.

The Power Being Recommended

If you ever have to hire someone, you’ll know why this is such a big deal. It’s why people ask for references and try to talk to as many people as possible before making a decision on a new hire: there’s so much uncertainty about people until you actually get them in the door and they start working.

So if you have someone that’s already an “insider” and knows the vibe that can vouch for a new person, then that goes a long way.

Why do you think so many people wind up hiring people they worked with in the past at other jobs? They know what to expect—they’re a known commodity that takes some of the mystery out of filling a new position.

How to Find an Insider

Once you’ve pumped up your network, it’s not that hard. All it takes is spending some time sending out some emails and getting creative:

  1. Go to LinkedIn and search for people at the company you’re interviewing for
  2. If you have any that are first-degree connections, you’re in luck! Send them a message and ask if they can help out
  3. If not, move on to the 2nd degree connections and see if anyone is in the department you’re going for
  4. Make sure you check out the “Your College Alumni” tab of a company search: if you can talk to someone that went to your school that makes the introduction less awkward
  5. Send some messages/emails and follow up in a few days (depending on the interview date)

What to Say

It’s not that hard. It’s some variation of:

Hi XXX, It’s Carlos from Boston College. I just wanted to reach out because I have an interview at Apple next week and wanted to chat with someone beforehand so I could get a better idea of the hiring process, the general vibe of the Marketing department, and maybe some insight on Bill S., the person I’ll be interviewing with. Could you email me back at [email address] or call me at [phone number] to chat for a little bit? Thanks!

If you aren’t first-degree connections then you reach out to the person that stands between you and the person you want to talk to:

Hey XXX, it’s Carlos from that writing seminar we took with Professor Smith a couple of years ago. How are things going? I just wanted to reach out because I have an interview next week at Apple and I wanted to be as prepared as possible. I see you’re LinkedIn friends with [connection]. He works in the department I’m interviewing for and I was wondering if you wouldn’t mind introducing us? My interview is next week and I’d like to connect by Thursday. Can you help me out? Thanks!

It’s not rocket science: most people are more than willing to help providing you haven’t burned any bridges or are a total nutcase.

Finding these connections is easy with big companies, but you’ll be surprised how easy it is to find a connection of a connection that has a connection at almost any place out there.

What to Ask

Once you get the introduction, what should you ask?

  • Be smart: you want to get information but you also want to make a good impression
  • Don’t ask anything that Google can tell you: it reeks up unpreparedness
  • Ask about the culture, the hours, advancement, the bosses: the things you care about or are curious about
  • Be honest: if you’re a good candidate it will come through
  • Have a 30 second pitch where you summarize your skills, what you’re looking for, and ask if that person thinks it’s a good fit (better to find out now)
  • Ask them if it’s OK for you to mention that you talked

That last bullet is crucial.

Whether they do it or you do it: you need to make sure this new connection is known to whoever is making the decision. So when you come in you aren’t “The dude from Boston College” or “The kid with the awesome resume.”

You want to be “The guy that Chad knows.”

Because this will create safety and familiarity. The more of a known commodity you are, the better. Your odds of being hired at the gig you want just got better.

My Own Experience

I was able to find a person at a small company that was one connection away and this method worked great for me. I got a job before the interview so I didn’t need to put it into play, but I was surprised at how helpful people that I hadn’t talked to in so long were when I asked for help.

All you have to do is be polite, do some work up front, and ask for help. Most people have no problem helping someone out that’s a friend of a friend.

And if you’re out of work, mention that as well, because that’ll make some people try even harder for you.

Image by Tony Fischer Photography