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Answering the "Tell Me About Yourself" Question

Answering the "Tell Me About Yourself" Question

Your Guarantee for Making an Impressive Interview First Impression

Jeff Skrentny, CPC/CTS, ATMG/CL

Copyright © 2000-2005, Jeff Skrentny & JEFFERSON GROUP CONSULTING

Let's face it; interviewing is stressful enough without having to answer stupid interview questions. But unfortunately, many interviewers, because of habit, lack of preparation time, poor training, or yes, even laziness, often ask stupid interview questions. Of those, one of the most challenging is the oft used "Tell me about yourself?" interview opener.

What most candidates ask me about this insipid interview question is "What do they want to know?" They want to know about you the candidate as a potential employee. They don't want to know about your family, your last vacation, your hobbies, your religious beliefs, that you like the Cubs, or that you are a proud member of AA. Yes, I have had candidates give each of those responses to the infamous "Tell me about yourself?" question. I don't recall any of them ever getting hired by the employers who interviewed them.

Interviewers also think it is improper, a sign of your lack of preparedness, or even rude, for you to answer their "Tell me about yourself?" question with a question like, "What would you like to know?" If you are prepared, and seriously thinking about making a career change, you will have a prepared and thoughtful answer to this question BEFORE you begin interviewing.

Why? I am glad you asked, and I think one example should convince you I am right.

Let me share just one story about this opening interview question that cost a candidate a job they REALLY wanted. It is a perfect illustration to make you understand why you must plan a response for this question whether you are asked it or not. The scenario was this: The candidate was a financial services professional, a recruiter had a financial services client that was looking to fill a VP position for a 125k base + 25k bonus. The candidate had an ideal background and skills set, and the client thought they were a perfect fit. The candidate knew the client and was thrilled to interview with them. The client joked that when the candidate came to the interview the recruiter should send the candidate with an invoice for the fee, because they thought they might make an offer on the spot.

You can more or less guess how the story ended. The candidate didn't get the job, but please pay attention as to why, because that is the part of the story that matters most. To start the interview the candidate was asked the dreaded "Tell me about yourself?" question. Thinking that it was an inconsequential icebreaker question, they retorted, simply intending to cause an opening chuckle, "Well as you can obviously see, I am 15-20 pounds overweight."

They were only joking! Yet, due to the impact this answer had on the client, for all practical purposes the interview was over as soon as they said this. That "amusing" answer to what the candidate viewed as a seemingly innocuous question convinced the employer that this $150k

VP had an image or low self-esteem problem. Despite the recruiter's insistence that it was just a joke, the employer declined to make the candidate an offer. The retort was just a joke! But not really. It was no joke to the candidate who lost the $150k dream job. It was no joke to the recruiter who had invested so much time in finding the employer this ideal candidate. This candidate attempted to humorously break the ice, but the interviewer misinterpreted the response to a stupid question, and became convinced the candidate was not VP material.

This whole fiasco could have been avoided if the candidate had just been taught a very simple formula for answering this question. Sure, we know this question is a stupid and unnecessary

question with which to begin an interview. But because interviewers open interviews with this question, candidates need to know how to respond to this question intelligently. The formula I've learned has worked wonders for hundreds of my candidates, and those of thousands of recruiters I have shared it with over the last half dozen years.

Many, in fact a sad majority, of interviewers open with some form of the "Tell me about yourself?" question. It would be an easy question to answer if candidates answered with a prepared and well thought-out initial marketing statement of themselves and their skills, which are applicable for the open job. This sounds pretty straightforward, but few of the thousands of candidates I have interviewed in the last 15 years have EVER been able to answer this question in this intelligent manner. The best candidates typically respond with a narrowing question like: "What would you like to know?" But let's get one thing straight: It is extremely poor form to answer the opening interview question with another question. Yet, that is how the BEST candidates do typically answer this question, due to its ambiguous nature. Though it seems to be a logical approach, you must prepare to do better.

Candidates must teach themselves to answer this question with a three-part pre-planned marketing statement that can more or less be reused from interview to interview. Part one of that three-part marketing statement is always a one-sentence summary of the candidate's career history. For example, let me share with you a former candidate's opening sentence:

    "I am a five-year veteran of LAN/WAN Admin and Systems Engineering with substantial experience using Novell, NT, Cisco, and Lotus Notes/Domino."

You get the picture; your whole career needs to be condensed into one pithy sentence that encapsulates the most important aspects of your career, the aspects that you want to leverage in order to make your next career step. Few candidates seem to be able to condense a career into one sentence, but it must, and can be done. Ask any recruiter for help here, this is what we do.

Part two of the pre-planned marketing statement will be a one, maybe two-sentence summary, of a single accomplishment that you are proud of that will also capture the potential employers attention. It immediately follows your initial career summary sentence from above.

This accomplishment should be one that the employer will be interested in hearing, one that is easily explained or illustrated, and one that clearly highlights a bottom line impact. When done correctly this will build interviewer intrigue about the accomplishment so that they inquire further, giving you an opportunity to further discuss a significant career success. The above candidate's accomplishment statement was:

    "Recently, as a long-term contract employee at a local regional bank, I learned they were about to install Lotus Notes/Domino and were planning to use outside consultants for the project. I let them know I had done a similar installation at my last assignment, outlined how we could get the job done with in-house staff, and successfully completed the install for $55-65k less than it would have cost with outside consultants."

Part three, the final piece of the marketing statement, is probably the most fluid piece. It needs to be a one-sentence summary of specifically what you want to do next in your career. The reason this third part is difficult is that it needs to specifically address what you want to do next, AND it needs to change from interview to interview to make sure it matches exactly what the INDIVIDUAL employers will be interviewing you for. Continuing with the above example of one of my past candidates, two of his final sentences, which were used for two different employers, follow:

    "For the next step in my career, I would like to move away from contract work and find myself as a direct employee of a large firm where I could join a substantial IT team and be involved with a group that focuses on email and network security applications, while having access to the knowledgebase that would come with a large, diverse, IT group."

But for a second employer, this ending was significantly altered because of the candidate's multiple interests in differing opportunities, to:

    "For the next step in my career, I would like to find myself as a direct employee of a small to medium sized firm that was looking to hire an in-house IT generalist so I could continue growing my career by getting exposure to multiple IT areas, such as networking, help desk, security, and application issues for the users of the organization. As the firm's IT needs grew, I would love to apply my past team project management skills to managing the second or third members of a small growing IT team."

These were two very different endings that perfectly matched two very different employer needs. Clearly you can see why the first ending wouldn't have worked for the second employer or vice versa. With some simple revising, the candidate made sure that each employer heard that they were interested in doing exactly what the employer was interested in hiring them for. That revising is what makes the third piece fluid and sometimes challenging, as candidates don't always see the need for being this specific from job interview to job interview. Most tend to be generalized, hoping that a shotgun approach will work. But it is the rifle sharp shooters, those who get specific in what they want from interview to interview, who get the best results. With some simple planning BEFORE an interview, you, the candidate, will quickly realize the benefit of a targeted third sentence in these pre-planned opening statements, as employers feel you are perfectly suited to do just the job they are interviewing you for.

If you take the time to prepare this way as a candidate, it will be apparent to an interviewer that you are a prepared and serious candidate right at the beginning of the interview when you answer the "Tell me about yourself?" question with this memorized, brief marketing statement, which combines a career summary, an exceptional accomplishment, and employer-specific career goal as in this example:

    "I am a five-year veteran of LAN/WAN Admin and Systems Engineering with substantial experience using Novell, NT, Cisco, and Lotus Notes/Domino. Recently, as a long-term contract employee at a local regional bank, I learned they were about to install Lotus Notes/Domino and were planning to use outside consultants for the project. I let them know I had done a similar installation at my last assignment, outlined how we could get the job done with in-house staff, and successfully completed the install for $55-65k less that it would have cost with outside consultants. For the next step in my career, I would like to move away from contract work and find myself as an direct employee of a large firm where I could join a substantial IT team and be involved with a group that focused on email and network security applications, while having access to the knowledgebase that would come with a large, diverse, IT group."

Clearly you can understand how the candidate who opens with this type of prepared response to the "Tell me about yourself?" question will make a significantly better first impression than a candidate who responds to this question by answering, "What would you like to know?" or worse yet, "Well as you can obviously see, I am 15-20 pounds overweight." Plus candidates who prepare in this manner are typically more confident at the interview's start, make a substantial and positive verbal first impression, give a clear indication of their interest in making a career move, and force the interviewer to get past the icebreaker questions to the parts of the interview that will help both parties begin the process of seriously determining if this is a solid match. As you can see, there is a great deal of bang for your preparation buck.

Clearly these three simple steps of, summarizing what your experience is as candidate, sharing an impressive career accomplishment, and then summarizing what would be an ideal next career step for you, one that matches what the employer is looking to hire, is the key to beginning your interview with a competitive advantage. Candidates who take the time to do this, significantly improve a their initial verbal impression, get their interview off to a confident and focused beginning, and more often than not get called back for second interviews, or better yet, for offers of employment with employers who are impressed.

Jeff Skrentny, CPC/CTS, ATMG/CL, began his career in the recruiting industry after graduate school in 1987 with one of Chicago's largest recruiting firms. In 1996 Jeff successfully started his own technical search firm, the Jefferson Group. Since 1987 Jeff has placed more than 1000 Chicagoland professionals. Jeff also does motivational training for numerous recruiting companies & associations, and publishes a free electronic newsletter for recruiters, the JEFFERSON RECRUITERS REPORT™. He attended Marquette Universiy from 1980-86, where he studied English, Economics and Political Sci for his BA, & English for his MA work. Jeff is a hopeless Cub fan, a marathon runner, and an award-winning speaker with Toastmasters International. Any questions, problems, feedback, successes or criticisms you'd like to share, can be emailed to him at He will gladly respond as time allows.

How to Ask for - and Get - the Job

reprinted from the


from the publishers of the Wall Street Journal: Dow Jones & Company, Inc.

How to Ask for - and Get - the Job
If you want to be hired, you must 'close' the sale

By Niels H Nielsen

As a job seeker, you may view an interview as an interrogation or exchange of information. It's neither. Interviews are sales calls. And, as any sales pro knows, you only get the sale by asking for it.

You aren't begging for a handout when you ask for a job. You're offering prospective employers your experience and ability to contribute to their goals. If employers don't need your skills - or if you can create the need - you'll get the job.

It may surprise you to learn employers like to hear candidates say "I'd like to work here." Dick Stone, a recruiter for Gemplus, a SmartCard manufacturer in Montgomeryville, Pa., says, "I like it when [candidates] give me the feeling they like us. A little flattery goes a long way. Often the missing part in the interview is the commitment from the candidate to the firm."

Sounds easy, but for most job hunters, it isn't. Asking for the job in lieu of silently waiting for an offer is the hardest part. This step is what sales people call "closing" the sale.

Anyone can learn to apply the tricks of the sales trade to a job interview and close a sale. Following these nine steps will help you ask for the job - and get it.

1. Prepare for the interview.

Learn what your prospect needs. Research the employer, formally and informally. If you're answering an advertisement, go beyond its sparse facts to learn as much as you can about the organization.

Determine which of your skills, traits or experiences the employer needs. Then you can tailor your credentials to your research findings.

Plan your interview and rehearse your message. This means converting your skills and experience into terms employers will immediately recognize as useful. If you're confused about your benefit to the organization, the interviewer also will be confused and there won't be a job for you. Make your presentation persuasive and believable.

2. Learn about the interviewer.

When you enter the interview, start by learning everything you can about the interviewer. Forget labels and generalizations that categorize personality types. Concentrate on that particular individual.

Put yourself in his or her shoes. Fear and greed are usually at work. A recruiter is taking a risk in recommending a candidate. The hiring manager is taking a bigger chance in choosing a candidate.

If they make the wrong choice, at minimum, time and money are wasted. At worst, a bad choice could jeopardize the recruiter's or manager's job or even the success of the organization. So it's up to you, the candidate, to show the decision to hire you will be a good one.

If you turn out to be as terrific as you say, you bring success not only to yourself but to the people who hired you. Be positive and present good news. Help the interviewer relax and see you as someone who's going to solve his problems.

3. Use "consultative selling."

The type of selling that works best is called "consultative selling." This isn't high-pressure selling. There's an old saw in sales: "Telling ain't selling, asking is." By asking the right questions, you help the employer come to the inevitable conclusion you're the right choice. You identify the problems and show you're the person to solve them. You learn the organization's weaknesses and demonstrate how you can provide the solution.

This technique can create demand. Many times, it leads to the employer exclaiming, "That's just what we need here!"

4. Motivate yourself.

The desire to close - to ask for and get the offer - is essential. It can be scary to be so bold. Most job hunters aren't used to it, but it can be done with practice. You just have to psych yourself up.

Sell yourself first. Expect success and think lucky, and you'll create desire from within. Get rid of negative thoughts and problems before you enter the interview. Be confident and courageous. It takes audacity to ask for the job.

When Judith Gexlb of Lambertville, N.J., was seeking a job in international sales, she sold herself on the idea she was a hot candidate. Next, she lined up interviews. "The fact that I was in demand made me more appealing to employers and precipitated offers," she says. "They can smell when you're being sought after."

When she had two offers pending, she was up front about it. "I made it clear I had two other offers. The employers got worried about the risk of losing a high-potential candidate," says Ms. Gelb. "They quickly made offers. I controlled my destiny."

Many salespeople take comfort in knowing they can't win them all. And you'll encounter many employers who don't need your talents at this moment. (To put it in salesman's terms, for example: I don't need a car right now. But I do need a computer, so it'll be hard to convince me to buy a car now. Maybe later. Unless you have a really good deal for me now.)

There's a 98% chance of being told "no." However, you have a 2% chance of being told "yes." By following these steps, you'll boost your chance for success. The best thing to do is take a chance and try to close the deal. The probability you'll hear "yes" will be higher than if you don't ask.

5. Know when to close.

When should you try to close? All the time. Keep trying throughout the interview in small ways. These are called "trial closings." For example, when you learn the employer has a problem you've solved in your previous job, explain how you solved it. Then ask, "Would this help you here?" The answer will likely be "yes." Do this whenever the opportunity arises.

Hearing "yes" along the way makes it easier and less frightening to ask for a "yes" when the time is right for the big one.

Close whenever the interviewer is ready. Listen for signs of interest, look for body language and sense when there's an opportunity to close. Then ask for the offer.

Some candidates talk so much during interviews that they talk themselves out of a job they've already landed. Or worse, they keep selling after they've made the sale. Then they're dead. Listen and give the interviewer a chance to hire you.

Silence is an amazingly powerful tool in closing. If you don't say anything, the interviewer may feel compelled to fill the void and tell you something vital. Do this discretely. Too many silences can be awkward. Pace yourself with the interviewer.

6. Try these closes.

There are many so-called "closes." Several of them work particularly well in job interviews.

The choice close. This technique is useful when you are setting up an appointment for an interview. Ask, "Is 9:30 a.m. or 2 p.m. better for you?" This presupposes the interviewer will see you. Just asking, "May I come in to see you?" may result in a "no" answer.

It also works when you're asking for the job: "When do I start, Monday or Wednesday?" This may seem aggressive, but it shows you're ready and eager to work for that employer.

Third-party endorsements. When explaining an accomplishment that will help the prospective employer, mention the employer you did it for. "At XYZ company, I…" This gives you credibility and adds the strength of that employer's name to the story. Then ask, "Will this help you solve your problem here, too?"

Assumptive close. This is one of the best closes. You simply talk and act as if you're already working for the interviewer's organization. Use "we" and "us" in your conversation. Describe the situations in which you can see yourself working and accomplishing goals. Become part of the team even before you've been hired. Identify with the interviewer and the organization.

When you follow this strategy, the employer feels more comfortable with you than if he or she has to make a deliberate decision to extend an offer. When you assume you'll get the job, the only question remaining is, "When do I start, Monday or Wednesday?"

A word of caution: Don't appear too eager. You need to maintain your professionalism.

7. Overcome objections.

One stumbling block for many candidates is the inevitable objection: You're over/under-qualified, too old/young, etc." There are hundreds of reasons given why candidates aren't right for the job. Many are just excuses or stalls to avoid the risk of hiring someone.

Turn these objections into opportunities to strengthen your candidacy. Acknowledge the objection. "You feel I'm overqualified. That's possible true." Then turn the weakness into a strength: "However, that means I'll start being productive for you that much faster. As I've mentioned, I solved this problem at XYZ company." Make a list of standard objections that apply to you or that you encounter and work out the answers.

Overcoming objections is an art unto itself. The key is to remember that patience and persistence pay off. Don't take no for an answer. Try one more time. The secret to closing is to keep trying.

8. Sum up and ask for the job.

When appropriate, summarize. Say what you have to offer based on your accomplishments. Sales people call these "features." Show how the features will benefit the employer. Keep it simple and brief. Stick to basics. Prepare one dramatic sentence on why you're the person for the job. Remind the interviewer how you've contributed at your previous employer and reiterate how you'll contribute to the success of the prospective one.

9. Confirm the close.

Repeat the terms of the offer as you've discussed it. Ask for clarification of any terms not fully described or understood. Each time you close, ask the interviewer, "Do you have any questions?" When you've been completely clear about how you'll help the employer - then and only then - close.

Be sure to thank the interviewer at the end. Write the words "thank you" in your follow-up letter, too, and repeat the statement of benefits you used to close. Also add the other features and benefits you wished you'd expressed during the interview. The thank-you packs a punch. As Mr. Stone says, "You don't often get thank-you letters. They mean a lot."

Asking for the job intimidates most of us. Fortunately, these techniques can make it easier to close the deal and get the job. Practice these tips and you'll soon grow comfortable with these methods and use them automatically.

Reduce Your Interview Anxiety via Prep and Preparation

reprinted from


from the publishers of the Wall Street Journal: Dow Jones & Company Inc

Reduce Your Interview Anxiety
For most job seekers, the best antidote for this job-search stress is
practice and preparation

By: CB Bowman

Nervous about an upcoming interview? That's normal. Fear of the unknown, rejection or failing is behind most job seekers' interview anxieties. But by managing the interview process, you can control your fears.

If you view interviewing as a business procedure and take charge of every phase, from choosing a career, conducting research and creating a personal marketing plan to meeting with employers, following up and negotiating a salary, you can keep your emotions on an even keel.

You may assume that the best way to deal with interview fears is by willing them into submission. But people who constantly control their emotions and situations create a self-defeating cycle when interviewing. They concentrate on trying to control the meetings instead of preparing thoroughly and following the interviewer's lead.

This prevents them from focusing on what the hiring manager is saying - virtually guaranteeing rejection. Their listening skills will seem poor and they may have difficulty bonding with interviewers. They also may appear haughty, adversarial, arrogant or disinterested.

A controlling job searcher once told me, "I would never ask for a job. It's not my style." But when you're competing with several equally qualified candidates for every desirable position, this attitude may lead you to a long period of unemployment.

Being passive when job hunting is just as harmful. Unless your interviews are interactive, you won't know how well a meeting is going. To reach your goals, including career objectives, "you have to ask for what you want in life," says Charlie Adamo, a former vice president for Kraft Foods in White Plains, N.Y.

A Seven-Step Approach

Asking for what you want is part of managing the interview process. To reduce your fears and boost your confidence, you must conduct research and honestly assess yourself and your skills, traits and interests. The following steps can help you to prepare:

-Manage your expectations. Candidates often make wishful statements such as, "I hope that I land this position," or "This is my dream job." But wishing for a job won't make it happen. To manage your expectations, you must have a firm grasp on reality.

This doesn't mean being negative. Don't say, "I can't possibly land this position," or "I

don't really want or deserve this job." Instead, seek an achievable middle ground. Tell yourself, "I'm interested in this position and I'm going to do as much as I can to land it. If I don't receive an offer, I'll keep searching for something equal or better and use what I've learned to improve my job-hunting skills."

Managing expectations allows you to participate fully in the interview process. You'll know not to expect a job offer immediately after your first interview and you'll be able to focus on learning about the company and moving the process forward. Asking about the hiring timetable and what your prospective department or hiring manager needs is appropriate and expected and shows you're interested in the company and job. What you learn will help you to follow up after the meeting, earn an offer and negotiate more effectively.

Visiting the company before the interview also can help you reduce anxiety. "Discreetly visit your location a day or so in advance," says Barbara Barra, executive vice president of Lee Hecht Harrison, Inc., a New York-based career counseling firm. "You'll learn how to get there and how long the trip will take and be able to observe employees to get a better sense of their culture and dress code."

-Know your goals and what you can contribute. Many employees are never told their value to their companies or don't bother to keep track of their past successes. It's no surprise, then, that they have difficulty writing resumes or communicating their worth to potential employers. If you don't already, start keeping track of your projects and successes by asking yourself these questions:

What was the task?

What was the purpose of the task?

What was the result?

What role did I play in reaching the solution/result?

What lessons were learned?

How did the project affect the company/client in terms of: x Money saved/spent x Increase in volume/share of the market x Time saved/spent x Productivity (increased/decreased) x Effect on the organization/division

Keep a file of your successes and activities. Review your achievements and create "stories" that you can tell interviewers when asked about your accomplishments.

-Do research. Before interviewing, become familiar with industry trends, the company and its competition. Visit relevant Web sites, review help-wanted ads and search on-line research or clipping services for information. Industry associations, trade journals and business periodicals are other good sources.

Try to learn appropriate industry terminology for the position you're seeking. This will help you connect with interviewers, communicate your transferable skills and be seen as part of the team. Industry terminology can be subtle. With the widespread use of computerized resume systems and key-word searches, using the wrong terminology may mean you won't be considered for suitable positions.

    Also try to learn answers to these questions:

    What challenges do the industry, company and division face?

    How is company or division growth determined?

    What's the company's financial outlook? How is your division tied to the company's bottom line? How does it fit with the company's vision and strategy?

    What projects are key and why? How are they supported?

    Are any lawsuits pending against the company?

    What type of management process, organizational structure and culture can you expect?

    Is the fit right?

    Is the company likely to be acquired, reorganized or downsized and why?

    Is a relocation likely in the near future?

    What's the rate of employee turnover?

    Networking with former and current employees, customers and suppliers may help you answer these questions. Ideally, you should locate an insider who knows your prospective interviewer and can tell you about his or her background. While you may not learn everything you want, your investigation will uncover useful information to help you manage your interview jitters.

-Know your worth.

Determine the average salary and bonus level for the position you're seeking and other pay information that can help you to negotiate effectively. To gauge this amount, find out the market value for your skills at similar size companies in your prospective industry.

Industry and professional journals often conduct and publish salary surveys. Other sources include consulting firms and business periodicals. The publication also publishes an annual review of salaries for executives and professionals in more than 30 fields and industries.

By networking, you may be able to determine what the company's competitors pay for similar positions. Also investigate how long the position has been available and why, and if you're likely to be promoted in the future.

-"Own" your resume. Always write your own resume. The struggle to compose it will give you a deeper understanding of your accomplishments and how to communicate them to decision-makers. The process also will build your self-esteem and ability to think quickly during the interview.

If you're stuck, you may want to seek advice from a professional career coach. However, put your document in your own words. When asked about information on their resumes, many candidates falter and lose credibility because they can't express the information in their own words.

-Practice communicating and thinking on your feet.

Besides responding to the interviewer's queries, you'll need to state essential points you want to make and ask appropriate questions during your meeting. Your listening skills, body language and appearance also are critical to making a good impression.

Before the meeting, ask a friend or colleague to bombard you with unexpected interview questions and record your answers. Try to answer without hesitation. Seek honest feedback about the quality of your responses. Typical questions you should practice, include:

    Tell me about yourself.

    What kind of salary are you looking for?

    Why are you interested in this position?

    Why are you in the market?

    What are your strengths and weaknesses?

    What prevents you from being more productive?

    Have you ever had any failures?

Why do you want to change careers (for career changers)?

Visit the library or local book store and review job-search and career guides, which often include chapters devoted to potential questions. Answer the questions on your own before reviewing the recommended responses. Don't memorize the suggested answers and repeat them verbatim to interviewers, since you may sound suspiciously like other candidates who scanned the same career books.

Such guides also can help you develop a strategy for responding to inappropriate or illegal questions, such as: Are you married? Do you have any children? Do you plan to have any children?

Based on your research, decide what you want to communicate so the hiring manager will understand your capabilities, experience, achievements and skills. Gear this information to how hiring you will help the company solve a problem.

Also develop a list of questions to ask during the interview. "A great part of managing your tension is realizing that the interview is a two way street," says Ms. Barra. "It isn't an interrogation, but a conversation." Both parties have a similar agenda: determining if you have the skills, knowledge, motivation and interest to do the job and the values to fit in, says Ms. Barra.

Practice your nonverbal communication skills by asking a friend or family member to videotape your practice interviews. Also review reference books on body language to identify bad habits and improve on good behaviors. Squirming in your seat, clicking pens, bouncing feet and legs or fiddling with your hair shows you're nervous and distracts interviewers.

Use your knowledge to analyze what the interviewer's body language is saying about how the meeting is proceeding. Focusing on your questioner will also help lower your anxiety and improve your listening abilities.

Your appearance also communicates a message to interviewers and may cause you to be misjudged. If you're not certain that you're making the right impression, ask an image consultant or career professional for advice.

-Remember the basics. Before the meeting, get a good night's sleep, reduce built-up stress by exercising, eating properly and avoiding caffeine if you're sensitive to it. Select clothes that you feel confident and comfortable wearing and make sure they're clean and pressed.

Arrive 15 minutes before the interview so you can relax, review your surroundings and visit a rest room to check your appearance. Model yourself after professional speakers, who often arrive one to two hours before presentations to observe, check their equipment and seating arrangements, review their material and relax.

Practice smiling and showing enthusiasm during the meeting. This can be infectious and have a positive effect on the interviewer. By concentrating on something besides your nerves, you'll deflect your jitters.

You can't eliminate interview fears simply through an act of will. Instead, calming yourself requires practical steps, including research, learning what the interviewer wants and rehearsing potential questions. Practice will help you become mentally agile. You'll be ready to focus on your immediate concern: to communicate successfully and manage your nerves.

The Right Way to Ask for What You Want

Many job hunters don't know how to ask interviewers for what they want. The chart below illustrates positive and negative methods of making requests during interviews.


Communicating your goals respectfully to the listener (mirroring his/her personality may be effective).

Contacting decision-makers or designated representatives directly.

Being clear and precise.

Being flexible (always prepare alternative solutions to desired goals).

Being creative about negotiating.

Stating your accomplishments in relation to the listener's needs.

Proving your "committed" interest in the company and outlining what you can contribute.


Demanding what you want.

Going around the decision-maker, thereby underestimating his/her authority.

Being indecisive and vague.

Being rigid and demanding.

Being myopic about negotiating.

Exaggerating and overstating your accomplishments (especially out of context).

Asking why you should be interested in working for the company (proving only self-interest).

Tricky Questions Reign in Behavioral Interviews

Tricky Questions Reign in Behavioral Interviews


reprinted from the


from the publishers of the Wall Street Journal: Dow Jones & Company Inc

Behavior-based interviewing first gained favor when the labor market was an employer's paradise. When there were always more than enough candidates to choose from, employers could afford to be choosy.

Now that the job market has improved for candidates, it's less common for interviewers to rely solely on behavior-based questions. However, most interviewers routinely include several behavioral questions along with more standard general questions. Their goal is to make sure they don't hire a candidate who can talk a good game but can't deliver a great performance.

Built on the belief that past performance is the best predictor of future success, this interviewing style relies less on general questions and more on specifics. Questions usually begin with such phrases as "Tell me about a time when..." or "Give me an example of…"

Interviewers who favor this format usually develop their line of questioning around the traits and skills deemed important for success in the position or organization. For example, if a job involves a lot of customer service, an interviewer might ask you, "Tell me about a time when you had to handle an irate customer." For a position that requires extensive teamwork, you might be asked to "Give an example of a situation where you demonstrated your skill as a team player."

Similar Preparation

Knowing how interviewers structure their questions makes it easier for you to prepare good responses. If an interviewer prepares by reviewing the job description to determine a job's required skills and traits and asks for specific examples that demonstrate those characteristics, you need to go through a similar preparation process.

Katy Piotrowski, a career counselor with JobWorks in Fort Collins, Co., uses job descriptions for a specific position or function to prepare clients for behavioral interviews. With the descriptions, clients can determine the skills and traits interviewers are most likely to ask about.

If an employer wants someone who's a "team player," you can expect to be asked some of the following: :

"Tell me about a time when you had to rely on a team to get things done."

"Provide an example of a time when you had to persuade people to do something that they didn't want to do."

"Give me an example of your leadership style."

Candidates who understand the technique and are prepared to handle these types of interview questions have an edge over those who are unaware of this trend and must be coached by interviewers to respond appropriately.

Start With Your Resume

An easy way to start preparing for behavioral questions involves resume review. By going through your resume line-by-line (in search of relevant examples), you'll become comfortable with how you plan to answer likely questions.

The less confident you feel about a specific circumstance or qualification, the more you need to prepare and rehearse your response. For example, a Colorado educator interviewed for a position as a director of distance learning technology. Although she had an extensive background in continuing education, she didn't feel qualified to handle the technical aspects of the position.

By brainstorming, she realized that she had coordinated teleconferencing sessions for an audio tape series and worked on a planning program for developing Internet-based programming. When she had finished reviewing her resume and accomplishments, she realized she could do the work.

"The idea behind behavioral interviewing is that you can tell much more about a person's attitudes, work habits and skills by hearing them describe real actions taken in real circumstances than by letting them speak in the abstract about themselves," says Allen Salikof, president and CEO of MRI Inc., a Cleveland-based search firm.

Expect interviewers to ask negatively phrased questions that reveal your weaknesses and flaws as well as your strengths. Don't fall into the trap of demeaning yourself just because you're anxious to comply. If the stories you tell don't reflect positively on you, there's no reason to tell them.

A Three-Step Approach

Some candidates find the format of behavioral questions is unsettling. In the pressure of the moment, they can't think of a single example. To overcome that obstacle, develop a list of experiences that cover the skills and characteristics required for the position you seek.

Try the following three-step approach:

Determine your chief skills or strengths and actual experiences which exemplify each one. Remember dates, names, quantities or measurements of success and other details that will convey the situation to the interviewer.

Understand the job's description and be prepared to recall specific actions and behaviors that address the required skills.

Don't make vague proclamations of your skills. Small but telling actions and behaviors are more important than grandiose but unsubstantiated claims of job success.

Structuring Your Stories

It helps to use a P-A-R (Problem-Action-Result) formula to structure your stories. Review your resume and decide which stories to tell. Next, you should write, edit and rehearse your stories. This is time consuming but worth the effort. Since most people aren't natural storytellers, it's good to know what you plan to say and how you plan to say it. That way you minimize the risk of drawing a blank, telling the wrong story or rambling.

Here's an example:

Problem: Sally was a sales representative for a publisher. She was hired to replace a disreputable former rep who had tarnished the company's image with existing and potential customers. Sally's challenge was to rebuild the company's reputation and restore customers' faith.

Action: Sally reviewed the files of existing customers to determine where problems had occurred in the past. Then, she met with each current and former customer in her territory to introduce herself and assure them that past problems had been remedied. She guaranteed that she would oversee personally their accounts to make sure problems didn't recur. With her manager's permission, she offered price incentives that would encourage them to try again. When orders arrived, she maintained a hands-on approach to ensure that customers received the best possible service.

Result: Of lapsed clients, 75% became active again. More than half of existing customers increased sales. Net result: over $500,000 in new business the first year.

Disconcerting as behavior-based interview questions can be, they're really nothing more than requests for examples to accompany standard responses. To prepare, make sure your answers to typical questions include such illustrations.

To put a unique spin to the P-A-R format, try a R-A-P format. Start with the result, because accomplishments capture an interviewer's attention. Then describe the actions you took and finally the problem that was solved. In that way, your accomplishments stand out boldly.

If you're really savvy, you can vary your approach by using both strategies within the same interview. For example, if you're describing a tough problem, you might want to use the P-A-R approach to emphasize the very real challenge you faced. If you achieved a particularly spectacular end result, you might want to use the R-A-P format, which emphasizes your results.

Here's an example:

Result: Sally could choose to start her story by saying "I increased sales by more than a half-million dollars in my first year with XYZ company."

Action: "When I first took over the new territory, I knew it was important to develop strong relationships with customers. I wanted them to know that they could trust me to deliver what they needed. I made it clear that this was a new beginning, that whatever problems they had in the past were in the past, and that I would personally supervise their accounts and guarantee the results.

"Because I was dealing people who had some difficulties with our company in the past, I was able to offer financial incentives to bring back lapsed customers and encourage existing customers to expand their orders."

Problem: "What I needed to address openly was the fact that many customers had problems with our company in the past but that those days were over. Fortunately, I was able to win their trust and, equally important, I was able to deliver what I promised -- which is why I achieved such good financial results."

When You Don't Know the Answer

Behavior-based interviewers can be like bulldogs. They won't give up until they get the information they want. But you don't have to answer a question just because it was asked. At times, you really won't have the answer. Much as it may hurt to say, "I'm sorry but nothing comes to mind," that may be the most honest answer. Rather than lie, you're better off being honest about what you have and haven't done.

You also can ask for clarification. If you don't understand what the employer is looking for, ask him or her to be more specific. Most employers will appreciate your interest and thoroughness.

That said, don't ever provide information that will hurt your prospects. When faced with negative questions, look for the positive spin. This could mean taking the initiative to rephrase the questions.

For example, if asked to describe a time when you failed, you might reply, "I need you to help me out here. Since I tend to view most events as opportunities to learn, I'm not sure I know what you mean by the term 'failure.' If you learn something from an experience, it can never be a failure. And I try to learn from everything I do. Would you like me to share a learning experience with you?"

If you're asked to describe a time when you lost your temper, you might say, "I get angry at times but I almost never lose my temper."

If the tone or content of a question throws you off-balance, don't be afraid to buy time to regain your composure and collect your thoughts. In those cases, you might say to the interviewer, "Do you mind if I take a minute to collect my thoughts?"

Although silences can be uncomfortable, they also can be productive. Rather than rush into an ill-advised statement, make sure that you're in control of your response. If this takes more time, the interviewer will need to wait. Most interviewers will appreciate your thoughtfulness.

Strategizing Behavioral Questions

Behavioral questions pose a real challenge to interviewees who are striving to make the interview a conversation between equals rather than an interrogation. This isn't impossible, however. Many of the same techniques you use with standard questions can be employed successfully in this situation. For example, you can finish up a story or response by asking for feedback: "Is that the kind of example you were looking for?"

Nor should you be afraid to ask for clarification: "I'm not sure what kind of information you'd like me to provide here. Can you be more specific?"

Fortunately, the tight labor market has forced interviewers to soften their styles a bit. In some cases, you may be given a list of behavioral questions you'll be asked before the interview. This is because employers recognize that it's difficult to think of examples on the spot.

This raises an interesting point. Employers primarily use behavioral questions to gauge your skills and accomplishments. But they also may want to see firsthand how you function, think and communicate under pressure. You can give yourself a competitive edge by anticipating questions and formulating your responses in advance. This will reduce the pressure and make you seem clear thinking, level-headed and well-prepared. Given today's frenetic business climate, those are traits any employer would value.

-- Ms. Hirsch is a psychotherapist in Chicago and author of the "NBEW Guide to Interviewing" (Third Edition, 1999, John Wiley & Sons Inc.), from which this article is adapted.

The 25 Most Popular Behavior-Based Questions

Tell me about a time when you . . .

…worked effectively under pressure.

…handled a difficult situation with a co-worker.

…were creative in solving a problem.

…missed an obvious solution to a problem.

…were unable to complete a project on time.

…persuaded team members to do things your way.

…wrote a report that was well received.

…anticipated potential problems and developed preventive measures.

…had to make an important decision with limited facts.

…were forced to make an unpopular decision.

…had to adapt to a difficult situation.

…were tolerant of an opinion that was different from yours.

…were disappointed in your behavior.

…used your political savvy to push a program through that you really believed in.

…had to deal with an irate customer (co-worker/boss/subordinate).

…delegated a project effectively.

…surmounted a major obstacle.

…set your sights too high (or too low).

…prioritized the elements of a complicated project.

…got bogged down in the details of a project.

…lost (or won) an important contract.

…made a bad decision.

…had to fire a friend.

…hired (or fired) the wrong person.

…turned down a good job.

Why Companies make Counter Offers
Why Companies Make Counter-Offers

You've been offered a new position with a company that will allow career growth, new opportunity, and more rewards for the contributions that you make. After careful deliberation and a lot of soul searching, you have accepted or decided to accept the new position. However, upon tendering your resignation, your employer asks you to stay. A meeting is held with you and your decision to leave is called into question. Emotional appeals are made to you to not break up the team. Proposals are made to make you reconsider your choice to leave. This process is known as a counter-offer. This is very common in a competitive marketplace but it can come as a shock to find that your decision is not being willingly accepted. Why are they suddenly trying to make you feel guilty about leaving and making all sorts of promises to make you stay? Why don't they just accept that you've decided to leave and wish you well? Why are they making it so difficult for you?

It is important to understand what a counter-offer is and what it means.

Counter-offers are often made with some form of flattery:

" You're too valuable, and we need you."

" You can't desert the team/your friends. "

" We were just about to promote/raise you, and it was confidential until now."

" What did they offer, why are you leaving, and what do you need to stay?"

" Why would you want to work for another company?"

" Why didn't you tell me you were unhappy?"

" How can you just throw away what you've built here?"

" I know what it is like out there, you won't find another company like ours."

" The President wants to meet with you before you make your final decision."

Counter-offers usually take the form of:

Money or some other tangible benefits

Increased responsibilities/promises of future promotions

Changes in reporting structure (especially if an inter-personal conflict exists)

Promises for upcoming salary reviews

Remarks about the new company or job

Emotional pressure to reconsider - guilt/anger tactics -

These discussions induce confusion, buyer's remorse and cause you to second-guess your initial decision.

The fear of change can surface. You are about to leave a comfortable job, friends, location, etc. for an unknown opportunity where you have to prove yourself all over again. Fear of change can influence your decision to stay.

No matter how good the new opportunity is - it can sometimes seem more comfortable to submit to the

pressure put on you to stay. These are common human reactions and counter-offer proposals focus on these sensitive points to change your mind.

Of course, we all like to think we are irreplaceable, and it is pleasant to hear how valuable we are, but accepting a counter-offer or appeal to stay is ultimately not in your interests.

Consider: Why are they willing to raise your salary when you were not expecting a raise for some time? The reason is that when a resignation is tendered an employer can often obtain a quick fix by throwing money at the problem. Recruiters, employment advertising, training costs all affect a department's budget. Why spend that kind of money when some well applied pressure might turn you around and solve the problem? It is much cheaper to keep you - even at a higher salary.

Employers do not like to be fired. Employer-managers are concerned that they may look bad, and this could affect their standing because they are judged by their superiors partly by their ability to retain staff. When a contributor quits, department morale may be affected. Further, your leaving might jeopardize an important project, cause a greater workload, or affect the vacation schedule. It's never a good time for someone to quit, and it may prove very time consuming to replace you.

Some employers will actually tell you that your counter-offer is usually a stopgap measure because they couldn't afford a defection at that point in time. The pressure of having to make a counter-offer can often affect the level of future trust between the hiring manager and the employee.

It's nothing personal. While your employer may truly consider you an asset, and may genuinely care about you as a human being, you can be sure that your interests are secondary to your company's interests. In other words, tempting offers and comments are attempts to manipulate you into doing something that is in your employer's best interests, and not necessarily yours.

Points to consider:

Where did the money or new responsibility come from? Was it your next raise - just early? Will you

be limited in salary growth in the future? Will you have to threaten to quit to get your next raise? If

the department is so dependent on one person leaving, then the company has more fundamental

operational problems and issues.

You'll likely not be considered a loyal team player again. You've demonstrated your unhappiness, or

your lack of team loyalty. Many employers will remember this at the next review period, and trust, once broken, is very difficult to re-establish.

Statistics show that the majority of those accepting counter-offers leave, or are terminated, within

6-18 months. Apart from a short-term solution and treatment, nothing really changes. The reasons

why you started looking are still there. After the dust settles, the same problems very often reappear.

A counter-offer demonstrates disrespect for your decision and commitment to the new company.

A decision to make a career move is a personal choice not to be taken lightly.

When you submit your resignation, it should be after having weighed carefully the pros and cons of making the move.

You've committed to the new company, which has made plans and preparations for you. They are counting on you to act responsibly. Don't sell out, or back out. Stand by your word. Everyone will respect your integrity.

Look at the two opportunities, your old job and the new position. Which holds the most real potential? Probably the new one, or you'd not have accepted it in the first place. Remember why you chose to leave in the first place. When you are receiving emotional pressure to stay, it is easy to lose sight of the basis for your initial decision to leave.

Why aren't they respecting your decision?

Your manager, to get to his/her position had to come from somewhere unless he/she was born, bred and raised in the company. In other words, people make career moves for their own reasons and not respecting your choice is the same as saying you have no right to choose to leave. When a manager says I don't accept your resignation, what is being said is I don't respect your right to freely choose where you go in your career.

Don't I benefit by getting the immediate change I want now?

Ultimately, the decision to accept a counter-offer has one far-reaching consequence: it affects your personal integrity. Simply put, accepting a counter-offer is allowing your loyalty to be bought. Following through on your decision is being true to yourself and trusting yourself to make the right choices.

Holding firm to a decision to move on in your career is an expression of faith in your ability to decide your own future.

One last tactic used by employers is to refuse your standard two weeks notice and insist on three or even four weeks, explaining that it will take some time to find someone. When you have given your notice you have indicated your decision to leave and formalized it. Some employers take that as a challenge to get you stay – at least longer than the customary notice to have another opportunity to work on your resolve. Don't let anyone persuade you off your chosen course of action. Two weeks is the accepted norm at all levels of experience.

We've all been there at one point or another in our careers. Weathering the emotional pressure isn't always easy. Keep the end goal in mind: positive new change and challenges. Don't let anyone tell you directly or indirectly that you shouldn't trust your own intuition and logic. They are your dreams and aspirations. Trust yourself.

Overcoming the Fear of Change

Overcoming the Fear of Change
By Bill Radin
©1998 Innovative Consulting, Inc.
Career Development Reports

You and I are lucky -- we live in a world rich in possibilities. Besides being able to select from an unlimited variety of occupations, we also have the right to find happiness in our daily work.

Naturally, everyone has a different definition of job satisfaction. For example, the job that seems fine to you may not be of much interest your best friend, and vice versa.

The fact that you live in a free society gives you the privilege to decide your own fate. You have as much power in determining where you work as you do in selecting a spouse, a home, a car, or a pet. Your choice of jobs really depends on how much you want to shape your career, and how much effort you’re willing to spend to make the necessary improvements in your life.

If you’re considering a job change, it’s probably for one of three reasons:

[1] Personal -- You want to change your relationships with others. For example, you may have discovered that you’re incompatible with the people in your company. Perhaps they have different interests than you; or they communicate differently or have different educational backgrounds.

[2] Professional -- You’ve determined the need to advance your career. For example, you’ve found that you won’t reach your professional or technical goals at your present company; or that your advancement is being blocked by someone who’s more senior or more politically oriented; or that you’re not getting the recognition you deserve; or that you and your company are growing in different directions; or that you’re not being challenged technically; or you’re not being given the skills you need to compete for employment in the future. Or you’ve simply lost interest in your assigned tasks.

[3] Situational -- Your dissatisfaction has nothing to do with personal relationships or career development; it’s tied to a certain set of circumstances. Maybe you’re commuting too far from home each day, or you’re working too many hours, or you’re under too much stress; or you want to relocate to another city (or stay where you are rather than be transferred).

Whatever your personal, professional, or situational reasons may be, you’re motivated by the desire to improve your level of job satisfaction and make a change.


The Complete Job Description

In order to translate your needs into results, let’s begin by evaluating your present position -- it’s the first step in any job change.

You’d be surprised how many people are unclear about what they actually do for a living, and the way their jobs make them feel.

For example, whenever I interview a candidate, the first thing I ask for is a complete job description.

"So tell me, Bonnie, " I begin. "What is it that you do at your present company?"

"Gee, Bill, I thought I told you already. I’m a systems analyst."

"All right, fair enough," I reply. "But would you please describe to me in detail the following two things:

[1] What are your daily activities? That is, how do you spend your time during a typical day; and

[2] What are the measurable results your company expects from these activities? In other words, how does your supervisor know when you’re doing a good job?"

Often, I discover that people are hard pressed to come up with solid answers about the specific nature of their work. They’re not exactly sure about their job responsibilities, and their lack of focus results in stress or counter-productivity.

While a little bit of stress may is natural in any job, a steady diet of it can destroy your incentive to work. In fact, a recent study indicates a direct correlation between a person’s lack of task clarity and their level of job dissatisfaction.

Try this exercise: On a sheet of paper, write a complete, current job description in which you list your daily activities and their expected, measurable results. This exercise will not only help you clarify your own perception of your work; it’ll be useful later on when you begin to construct a resume and communicate to others exactly what you’ve done.

The Positive Power of Values

Once you’ve described all the facets of your job, the next step is to understand the relationship between what you do and the way you feel.

I use the term values as a descriptor of personal priorities; as a yardstick to help you:

• Understand what types of work-related activities you really enjoy;

• Determine which goals or accomplishments are important to you and give you a feeling of satisfaction; and

• Evaluate whether your personal priorities are in balance, or in harmony with your job situation.

Although it’s fairly simple to decipher which daily tasks you really enjoy, the task of scrutinizing your personal priorities can be tricky. That’s because there are often factors unrelated to your job that can come into play.

To demonstrate the importance of values in our decision-making process, consider the following:

• I witnessed a job-seeker turn down a position because he was an amateur athlete and he didn’t like the air quality where my client company was located.

• Not long ago, I placed a candidate who was a long distance runner. He took the position largely because his new boss was also a runner, and would understand his need to take off work twice a year to run the New York City and Boston marathons.

• I arranged for an engineer to take a job with a company that offered him a demotion, since being highly visible within his current employer’s department made him feel uncomfortable.

• I helped a radar engineer change to a lower paying job. The reason? The engineer was a member of the 1988 Olympic rowing team, and the new company was near a river.

• I once found an excellent job for a chemist who was also an avid taxidermist. At the last minute, the chemist turned down the job, which would have required his relocation from Utah to northern California. The chemist explained that the climate in California was unsuitable for stuffing ducks.

The point is, we all have highly personal motivations which guide our career choices.

The Job Description Makeover

Now that you know how to clearly define your values, the next step is to describe the changes you’d like to make in your new job.

To illustrate, listen to the way Pat, Craig, and Neil talk about their respective situations, and how they take their values into consideration:


"I want to have more autonomy where I work. That would mean having a flexible schedule, working different hours each day at my discretion, without having to ask permission. I’d be able to leave early on Thursdays to take my daughter to her acting class, and in return, I’d be willing to spend several hours working at home during the evening and on weekends. With my personal computer, I’d have access by modem to the database in my department, and I’d be able to make a significant contribution to the workload, any time, day or night. Most importantly, I’d be evaluated solely on my performance, not by the number of hours I’ve punched on a clock."


"I’d prefer to work closer to my home. I didn’t think the amount of time I spent commuting was very important when I joined the company two years ago, but now it really wears on me to sit for an hour a day in traffic. It’s not only nerve-wracking to deal with all the crazy people on the freeway; I could be using the commuting time to be with my family. The reduction of stress would improve my attitude, and give me a higher quality of life. If I could find a job similar to what I have now within a few minutes of home, that would make me happy."


"I’m interested in my own career advancement. If I stay at this company too much longer, I’ll work myself into a corner technically and never achieve my potential. The people here are nice, but I don’t share their ‘lifer’ mentality. Look at Ed, my boss. He’s been here 17 years, and although he’s a really solid engineer, he’s not familiar with any of the latest advancements in technology. He’d have a hard time finding another job in this market, and it makes me worried, knowing I might someday be in his situation. Besides, I won’t be promoted until Ed retires. So I’d better leave soon, while I’m still attractive to other companies. That would give me the salary increase I deserve and the opportunity to learn new skills with people who are upwardly mobile and aggressive like myself."

Now it’s your turn. As any advocate of goal-setting will tell you, the more specifically you’re able to communicate what you’re looking for, the faster you’ll be able to get what you want.

Naturally, you’ll want to be realistic with your expectations, and think like a grown-up when considering your gripes. I’ll never forget Barry, an engineering candidate I interviewed a few years back, who came into my office with a suicidal look in his eyes.

"Bill, you’ve really got to help me," he moaned. "My job is ruining my life."

"Your situation sounds pretty serious," I replied in my most empathic tone. "How long have you felt this way?"

"Gosh, I don’t know, but I’ve got to make a change. My personal life is awful."

"How do you mean, Barry?" I asked.

"I mean I’m never at home, and don’t have any time to spend with my wife and kids. My company makes me travel constantly."

"Well, I can see how that might make you feel torn between your work and your home life. What can I do to help you?"

"See if you can get me a job where I don’t have to travel all the time. I just can’t stand the separation from my family," he pleaded.

My heart went out to him. "Sure, Barry, anything to help. But first tell me something. Exactly how often is your company making you travel?"

"Oh, it’s terrible," he cried. "They make me stay overnight in a hotel at least one night every three months!"

Your Job Changing Strategy

Someone recently asked me whether I helped people get "better" jobs or jobs that made them happier.

My answer was that the two were the same.

Of course, if you were to look at your career from a purely strategic point of view, I could give you four good reasons why it makes sense to change jobs within the same or similar industry three times during your first ten years of employment:

[1] Changing jobs gives you a broader base of experience: After about three years, you’ve learned most of what you’re going to know about how to do your job. Therefore, over a ten year period, you gain more experience from "three times 90 percent" than "one times 100 percent."

[2] A more varied background creates a greater demand for your skills: Depth of experience means you’re more valuable to a larger number of employers. You’re not only familiar with your current company’s product, service, procedures, quality programs, inventory system, and so forth; you bring with you the expertise you’ve gained from your prior employment with other companies.

[3] A job change results in an accelerated promotion cycle: Each time you make a change, you bump up a notch on the promotion ladder. You jump, for example, from project engineer to senior project engineer; or national sales manager to vice president of sales and marketing.

[4] More responsibility leads to greater earning power: A promotion is usually accompanied by a salary increase. And since you’re being promoted faster, your salary grows at a quicker pace, sort of like compounding the interest you’d earn on a certificate of deposit.

Many people view a job change as a way of promoting themselves to a better position. In most cases, I would agree.

However, you should always be sure your new job offers you the means to satisfy your values. While there’s no denying the strategic virtues of selective job changing for the purpose of career leverage, you want to make sure the path you take will lead you where you really want to go.

For instance, I see no reason to make a job change for more money if it’ll make you unhappy to the point of distraction. Not long ago, I placed a project engineer with a company that offered him a $47,000 a year job. Later, he told me that the same day he agreed to go to work for my client, he’d turned down an offer of $83,200 with another company. The reason? The higher offer was for a consulting position with an aerospace company in Detroit -- a job that would have taken him down a road he felt was a dead end.

To me, the "best" job is one in which your values are being satisfied most effectively. If career growth and advancement are your primary goals, and they’re represented by how much you earn, then the job that pays the most money is the "better" job.

Your responsibility when contemplating a change is to evaluate what’s most important to you. Whether you focus on a single aspect of your job (like Pat, Craig, and Neil did), or on the overall nature of the job you’d like to improve,

The more clearly you connect your values with your work, the greater the potential for job satisfaction.

Executive Recruiters: Your Job-Search Commandos

Executive Recruiters: Your Job-Search Commandos
By Bill Radin
©1998 Innovative Consulting, Inc.
Career Development Reports


Executive recruiters (also known as headhunters or search consultants) have firmly established themselves as a visible and highly valued fixture in today’s employment landscape. Through their aggressive matchmaking, headhunters affect the careers of individuals, the lives of their families and friends, and the profitability of entire corporations.

No one knows exactly what the business world would be like without the influence of headhunters, but one thing’s for sure: sometime in your career, you’ll either receive a call from a headhunter, or initiate contact yourself. In either case, you should learn how to work with them effectively, and take full advantage of the many benefits their service provides. Here’s what you get from establishing a relationship with an executive recruiter:

• Greater exposure. Headhunters not only maintain a myriad of existing contacts within your field, they can also scout out new companies you never heard of.

• Increased efficiency. Headhunters are obsessive networkers; they spend their time researching and penetrating the job market. Their knowledge can save you time in identifying and pursuing prospective employers.

• Personalized public relations. Employers generally look more favorably towards a candidate who’s professionally recommended. Headhunters stake their reputations on the quality of their candidates, and will always present you in the best possible light.

• Confidential representation. Some job search situations require a great deal of discretion. For example, you may want to explore an opportunity with your present company’s direct competitor. In such an instance, a headhunter can present your background confidentially, thereby protecting your identity, and eliminating (or at least minimizing) your risk of exposure.

• Authoritative career consulting. Headhunters can help you determine the job or career track that’s right for you, based on current market conditions and your own values and abilities. They’re also in a unique position to walk you through (and monitor) each step in your job changing process.

• Private training. Headhunters can give you practical, time-tested suggestions on how to strengthen your resume and improve your interviewing technique. In many ways, a headhunter acts as a personal coach.

• Third-party representation. As experienced brokers, headhunters find ways to put favorable deals together, and iron out differences you and the hiring company may have regarding your salary, benefits, and relocation package.

In addition, working through a headhunter can actually improve your chances for success once you’ve been placed. That’s because the search fee the hiring company paid the recruiter represents a sizable financial investment in your future success -- an investment worth protecting.


Headhunters: The Missing Link

Headhunting is a multi-billion dollar international industry that acts as the missing link between a half million job seekers and employers each year. At last count, there were over 125,000 executive search practitioners in the United States, according to The Fordyce Letter, the industry’s leading trade journal.

There’s hardly an industry or profession that hasn’t spawned its own coterie of recruiters. They cover every conceivable pocket of the job market, from food sales to machine design to motion picture financing to mortgage banking to freight hauling to data communications to haute cuisine to college administration to city management.

Generally speaking, headhunters work within well-defined niches. To make sense of a complicated employment market, headhunters classify their candidates according to:

• Title or function, which refers to their descriptive title or rank within the company, such as president, plant manager, staff accountant, director of nursing, and so on;

• Skill or application, which refers to their specialized abilities, such as tax accounting, IBM AS/400 programming, secured lending, and the like; and

• Product or service, which refers to the industry in which the candidates do their work, such as plastics, minicomputers, industrial tools, public administration, hospitality, and so forth.

To give you an example, a recruiter might place project engineers (title) with computer-aided design experience (skill) into positions with companies that built submarine hydraulic systems (product).

Other headhunters might place CEOs (title) with plant management experience (skill) who work for companies that process frozen broccoli (product); or district sales managers (title) with marketing degrees (skill) who work for companies that make high-top leather sneakers (product).

Think of your own experience. How would you classify yourself? Your answer will not only help you put your career into perspective; it’ll help the headhunter determine whether you "fit" into his or her market niche.

Of course, recruiters can use other means to define their markets. Some take an industry-specific approach. Let’s say you work in the retail industry, or in construction. You’ll probably find a recruiter who doesn’t care what your title or function is, as long as you have experience in that target market. I knew a recruiter named Jim, who specialized in the printing industry. No matter what you did in the past, if it had anything to do with printing, Jim would gladly take you under his wing.

The opposite approach is taken by the skill-specific recruiters. To them, the product or service of the host company is secondary to the skills of their candidates. This is the preferred method of recruiters who specialize in placement of data processing, accounting, or clerical personnel.


Don’t Get Lost in the Shuffle

Even though headhunters can’t guarantee you a new job, you have much to gain from working with them. And vice-versa, since you represent an addition to their continuously perishable inventory. While it’s true that headhunters owe their allegiance to their client companies (who pay the fees), without candidates to fuel the fire, headhunters simply wouldn’t exist.

For each search assignment, headhunters may prescreen hundreds of prospects. Therefore, the majority of their time is spent with the finalists for each open position, relegating to their file drawers the "reject" or the "maybe next time" candidates they encounter. These candidates are often highly skilled professionals who simply don’t fit the specific qualifications required by the headhunter’s client company -- they’re simply in the wrong place at the wrong time.

For that reason, you should always press for a realistic appraisal of your chances of being placed. If one isn’t forthcoming, you can assume the recruiter is giving your candidacy a low priority. In that case, you can opt to let your resume languish in a headhunter’s file, or seek the help of a recruiter who’ll take an active role in finding you a new position.

I try my best to be up front with every candidate I talk to. If your skills fall outside my area of expertise, I’ll steer you to another headhunter who can be of assistance, or provide you with some general coaching which I hope will be of value.

Always look for a headhunter who takes an interest in your background, or who specializes in your industry. The last thing you need is to pin your hopes on someone who’s not in a position to help you. Be prepared for mixed reviews when you talk to recruiters. You might very well receive a brush-off like, "I’ll call you in a week to 10 days"; or bad advice, such as "You’ll never find the job you want with the background you have"; or discouragement like, "Nobody’s hiring now." Just keep plugging away at your job search -- and never take "No" from a headhunter.

Of course, even the most qualified candidacy is subject to the whims of a supply and demand job market. In many cases, a headhunter simply won’t know what your chances of getting another job might be until he or she puts out feelers or sends you out on an interview. To work most efficiently, invest your time with a recruiter who really wants to help you.


Sigmund, Sherlock, and Donald

Headhunters come from a wide variety of backgrounds, and exhibit the same range of personal merits and character strengths as the rest of the human race. The majority are honest, hardworking entrepreneurs, who work diligently to help candidates find meaningful, rewarding jobs.

I’ve found that headhunters can be divided into three different personality types:

[1] The Sigmund Freud headhunter is a kindly, wise, and empathic counselor. He or she listens carefully when you describe your values, your job preferences, your personal goals, and your family commitments. The Sigmund Freud headhunter wants to place you with a company you’ll feel comfortable working for, and will spend lots of time getting to know you.

[2] The Sherlock Holmes headhunter is a clever, relentless, goal-oriented detective, who’ll track down and contact every company which might provide a match for your skills. This type can be quite creative in discovering aspects of your background which can be successfully marketed to companies off the beaten track, or only peripherally related to your present industry.

A perfect example of the Sherlock Holmes headhunter is Norman Roberts, who works out of an office in Los Angeles. It was his ingenuity that led to an unlikely (but highly successful) match in 1984. He took an unknown travel industry executive -- Peter Ueberroth -- and placed him as the head of the U.S. Olympic committee.

[3] The Donald Trump headhunter is the consummate deal maker. This type is less concerned with whether you’re a round or square peg, as long as you can be crunched into whatever hole may be available, or convenient. Headhunters like this tend to give the search industry a bad name because of their insensitivity to the true needs of their clients and candidates; and although they can often produce positive results, many times their high- pressure tactics lead to short-term employment.

While personality and style are important aspects to consider when selecting a headhunter, you should also evaluate the headhunter’s past results. Assuming you feel a modicum of comfort with the person you’re dealing with, it’s a good idea to check into their track record and experience level. If you discover a consistent pattern of success, you’re probably off to a good start.

Otherwise, you might find yourself stuck with the fourth type of headhunter: the Inspector Clouseau. This type embodies none of the above personality traits, only the endearing, bumbling incompetence of the movie character portrayed by the late Peter Sellers. In his Pink Panther movies, Inspector Clouseau was able to crack the trickiest cases; but only through sheer serendipity or plain dumb luck.


The Two-Party System

You’ve probably heard of the so-called schism in the world of executive search between "retained" and "contingency" headhunters. True, differences exist, especially in regard to billing methods, candidate salary levels, and operational procedures.

However, I prefer to think of the entire search industry as a microcosm of the American political system, in which both Republicans and Democrats live in peaceful co-existence.

"Gee, that’s a far-fetched analogy, isn’t it?" you ask.

No, not really. Republicans and Democrats are both loyal Americans; they just have different views concerning society and the way the country should be run.

The same could be said of the retained recruiters (who get their fees paid in advance and work to fill higher level positions) and the contingency folks (who only get paid once their candidates are hired). Each serves a different slice of the employment population, and each has a different concept of how the search business should work.

Interestingly, the lines of demarcation have begun to blur in recent years. Just as Republicans and Democrats have cross-bred portions of their constituencies, so have the retained and contingency headhunters. Although the traditional break point in salary is around $75,000 (with retained above and contingency below) it’s no longer unheard of for a contingency recruiter to place a CEO at $200,000 a year; or a retained headhunter to place a manufacturing manager at $55,000. What’s more, each camp will, if the situation warrants, borrow from the other’s method of billing the client. Lately, I’ve heard stories of contingency recruiters charging partially retained fees, and retainer headhunters accepting assignments "on spec."

As the search industry continues to evolve, it’ll matter less and less how the client is billed. Currently, there are about a dozen different billing schemes, from flat fees to hourly fees to itemized service charges. One clever recipe combines contingency with retained to produce -- voila! -- "contained" search.

Understanding these broad divisions will help avoid confusion and save you time if your salary level is fairly polarized. That is, if you’re currently earning, say, $35,000, there’s virtually no chance you’ll be working any time soon with a retained headhunter. Similarly, if you’re earning over $100,000, the odds are, the headhunter you work with will be retained by the client company.

Both contingency and retained recruiters play for big stakes. Fees generally run from twenty to as high as thirty-five percent of a placed candidate’s first year compensation. With that type of arithmetic, it’s easy to see why headhunters develop ulcers, not to mention a healthy skepticism towards their clients and candidates. All it takes is for an employer or candidate to change his mind at the last minute, and the headhunter has lost, say, $10,000 or $20,000 in personal income for months of work.


Some Common Sense Ground Rules

Let’s talk turkey for a minute about what to expect from headhunters, and how to establish some common sense ground rules. Here are seven issues you’ll want to discuss before you set any relationship in stone:

[1] Compatibility -- Make sure you feel comfortable with the style, personality, intensity level, and integrity of the headhunter. As in any other business relationship, you want the other person to understand your needs and act accordingly.

[2] Confidentiality -- Make sure your resume isn’t going to get plastered all over town without your knowledge. An inept (or anxious) recruiter can overexpose your candidacy; or worse, reveal your intention to change jobs to your own company.

[3] Good Judgment -- Make sure you’re being sent to interviews that match your background and interests with the needs of the recruiter’s client company. The most common complaint from both candidates and employers is that recruiters "throw candidates against the wall to see what sticks."

[4] Honesty -- Make sure there’s either a bona fide job opening or an upgrade possibility where you’re being sent to interview. Otherwise, you’ll be spending your valuable time on one wild goose chase after another.

[5] Tempo -- Make sure to let the recruiter know at what pace you want to proceed in your search for a new position. If you’re not ready to make a change until a later date, or simply want to explore the market, don’t let the recruiter waste your time by sending you on an interview.

[6] Arm-twisting -- Don’t be pressured into accepting a position or a compensation package simply to please the recruiter.

[7] Exclusivity -- It’s fine to work with a recruiter on an exclusive basis, as long as you feel comfortable with the arrangement, and the recruiter has earned the right of sole representation. On the other hand, you might not want to limit your options. Despite what you may be told, no recruiter has the exclusive "ownership" of your candidacy.

By the same token, you must be fair with headhunters. For example, if you’re pursuing a job search on your own or through another party, keep the headhunter aware of your activity, so you don’t cross paths. A recruiter’s time and reputation are his most valuable commodities; he or she deserves better than to be manipulated or left in the lurch.

Recruiters can’t work miracles by waving a magic wand over your resume; all they can do is match your background with a suitable opening, and help guide you through the job changing process efficiently and competitively. While it’s true that headhunters have their limitations and can’t be all things to all people,

It makes good sense to build a solid relationship with a competent headhunter.

Seven Keys to Interview Preparation

Seven Keys to Interview Preparation
By Bill Radin
©1998 Innovative Consulting, Inc.
Career Development Reports


It’s been said that Napoleon won his battles in his tent; that is, he did all the planning the night before the battle was joined, so that every contingency could be adequately covered. Interview preparation is similar. You never know exactly what will happen on the battlefield, but by being ready, you can eliminate a lot of the uncertainty, and know how to react to different scenarios.

Later, we’ll look at ways to effectively conduct the interview itself; but for now, let’s focus on the list, each item at a time.


One: The Resume

Of course, bring a couple of copies, and be sure to read your resume before the interview, so you’re completely familiar with everything you’ve written. Nothing is more embarrassing (or potentially fatal to your candidacy) than being quizzed on some aspect of your background that appears on the bottom of page two -- and not being able to remember the details.

You might also bring materials which would be particularly good at illustrating an important aspect of your work, such as creative designs, writing samples, and so forth. Just remember to use your better judgment.

I once interviewed an engineer who brought with him a lawn and garden string trimmer made by his current company, so he could show me the design improvements he’d made on the product. It turns out his engineering efforts had lowered the trimmer’s cost to manufacture, which resulted in increased profits for his company. His version of "show and tell" was a bit extreme (my whole office was buzzing for weeks about my Weed Eater candidate), but at least his real-life picture told me a thousand words.

Be careful, though, not to overdo it with the props. College diplomas, letters of commendation, and company bowling trophies should be left at home. When in doubt, just bring your resume and your business card -- they’re the most important props you’ll ever need.

It’s a good idea to carry a leather folder or day runner with you so you can take notes or store written materials the company might hand you during the course of your interview. A briefcase is also fine, although I prefer a folder, which is lighter to carry, and less cumbersome. Always remember to bring a pen or pencil.


Two: Appropriate Dress and Appearance

Much as I find some aspects of the New Dress for Success (Warner Books, 1988) formula as espoused by author and wardrobe consultant John T. Molloy a bit disheartening, there’s simply no practical excuse for dressing any way other than the book suggests. Sure, we’d all like to think that we’re being judged on our qualifications, skills, and depth of character. But the truth is, when it comes to interviewing, in most cases, clothes make the man. To think any other way is to ignore reality.


Three: Directions To the Interview Location

Try to get directions at least a day before your interview, so you don’t get lost and arrive late. And here’s a tip: Always bring some cash to pay for parking. Never ask an employer to validate your parking stub, or reimburse you for parking. Not only is it impolite, you’ll create a negative impression, since it’s considered common courtesy to pay your own expenses for a local interview.

If you’re coming from out of town, then it’s especially important to get directions. Naturally, if the expenses for your interviewing trip are going to be covered by the employer, wait until the interview has concluded (or better yet, the next day) to settle up. Usually, the company will prepay the air fare, or other major expenses, and will reimburse you for the rest, such as your car rental, cab fare, hotel room, and meals. It’s customary that you pick up certain non-essential expenses, such as long distance phone calls from your hotel room, or the bar tab from the lounge in the hotel lobby.

A few years ago, a client company of mine flew a candidate to Los Angeles for an interview. The candidate, unfortunately, was unemployed at the time, and was in pretty dire financial straits. He charged the phone calls he made to his wife back in Wyoming and all his dry cleaning expenses (he only brought one shirt with him for two days of interviewing) to the company. When they got his expense voucher a few days later, they got pretty upset -- they never expected to pay for all these add-ons. It was too bad, too, because he was generally well received when he interviewed. I’d hate to think it was these little charges that were responsible for his not getting a job he really wanted.

The best time to arrive for an interview is precisely when you’re scheduled, not early or late. It can irk an employer to be told that the candidate for a 2 o’clock appointment is waiting in the lobby at one thirty-five. The employer will either become distracted knowing there’s someone hanging around waiting to see him, or he’ll scramble to rearrange his schedule to accommodate the candidate, which disrupts the rest of his day. If your appointment is at two, then arrive at two.

If for some reason you’re running late, call ahead to ask if you can reschedule for later the same day, or if not, later in the week. If something unexpected happens that you have no control over, simply explain the situation to the employer when you arrive.

I placed a candidate named Alan recently, who was over an hour late to his first interview. He’d been caught in a monstrous traffic jam and was unable to call ahead; but fortunately, he handled the situation like a real pro. When he arrived, he apologized for being late, and got right down to the business of interviewing. He simply put all the anxiety and frustration behind him, so that he could concentrate on the reason he was there, not the reason he was late.

If you’re ever caught in a situation like Alan was, stay cool, take a deep breath, and remove whatever misfortune befell you from your mind.

Four: Name and Title of the Interviewer(s)

When you arrange the interview, find out who you’ll be talking to, and what their function is within the company. Will you be speaking with the hiring manager? The manager from another department? The personnel director? The internal recruiter? A peer level employee or subordinate? A staff industrial psychologist?

You might already know the person. If that’s the case, you’re ahead of the game. If not, send out feelers among your own contacts within your industry, or look in your industry’s trade publications to see if the person you’re going to be meeting is distinguished in any way.

It’s also helpful to find out whether you and the person you’ll be meeting have any commonalties or interconnecting points of interest, in the way of origins ("Hey, you’re also from Wisconsin?"), schools ("My brother went to Duke, too. How did you like it?"), professional achievements ("My article appeared in Ad Week a month after yours did."), or personal interests ("I heard you were the Nebraska state ping pong champion. We’ll have to get together sometime for a match."). These tidbits can break the ice when an interview begins, and create a bond with the interviewer.

Five: Understanding the Company’s Hiring Procedure

To correctly guage the sequence of events surrounding or following your first interview, ask these questions:

• Can you describe to me, step by step, the hiring procedure for this position?

This is important to ask, because you want to find out if (and when) the company needs to schedule a second or third level interview. Some companies will make hiring decisions on the spot; others will take months of meetings and endless signatures to process a simple request for a second interview.

• Will I be asked to take any tests?

And if so, what are they, and how long will they take to administer? Proctor & Gamble, for many of its professional positions, requires candidates to take a one-hour math and abstract reasoning test. Some companies require a full day of psychological, aptitude, technical skill, and intelligence testing. With most companies, failure to pass the tests means automatic elimination from consideration.

Most drug tests are simply referred to as "physicals," and may take several days to schedule and process. Often, you’ll have to use your own doctor or clinic.

• How long will it take before you reach a decision?

This will help you measure your progress through the hiring process, and could spare you from getting the jitters if you don’t hear something immediately.

I once got bent out of shape because a new client company was taking a long time to make a decision whether to bring back one of my candidates for a second interview. Later, I found in my original notes that the company was right on schedule; they’d told me up front that it would take them several weeks to reach a decision. As it turns out, I had no reason to complain.

• Do you currently have any finalists?

This question lets you know if you’ve entered the race late, and your interview with the company is only a formality. In a situation like this, isn’t it best to know where you stand?

• Who will be making the hiring decision?

Find out if the decision will be made by a committee. If it is, must the committee come to a unanimous agreement? Or, will the decision be based on the recommendation of a single person?

The more information you can dig up about the hiring procedure, the better you’ll be able to give a more confident, thoughtful interview. What’s more, arriving at an interview armed with a bastion of facts will help you shield yourself from the fear that occurs as a result of feeling out of control.


Six: Background Information On the Company

While the amount of background information you can gather about a company is practically endless, it would be ludicrous to try to become a walking encyclopedia of corporate trivia. However, knowing something in each of these categories should significantly improve your odds of getting hired:

• The company’s personnel -- who the major players are, who was recently hired or let go. It’s also a good idea to know something of the history of the company, and who the founders were. For example, if you were interviewing for IBM, it might be considered a faux pas to look puzzled and ask, "Who?" at mention of the name Thomas Watson, Sr.

• The company’s basic structure -- what products or services they provide to which customers, what the various divisions are, and whether they’re privately or publicly held.

• The company’s vital signs -- how the company is doing financially. Are they solvent or struggling? Are they involved in a hostile takeover, or merging with another company? How’s their stock faring? You get the idea. Many of my candidates like to look through Value Line before they interview, so they can talk intelligently about the company’s financial picture.

• The company’s divisional or departmental details -- the changes that are taking place that could potentially affect the position you’re interviewing for. Is there a new product introduction or marketing strategy in the works? Or how about an overhaul in the company’s accounting methods, capital equipment, or computer system?

By arriving for your interview adequately briefed, you’ll make a strong impression on the interviewer. Best of all, you can spend your interviewing time discussing your background and the company’s needs, not the corporate biography, or company financial report.


Seven: A Complete List of Questions You Want to Ask.

During the course of an interview, your dialogue with the other person will spawn a number of questions spontaneously. However, there may be important issues to discuss which will never come up unless you take the initiative. For that reason, you should bring a list of questions with you that will address these issues, so that you don’t leave the interview uninformed.

Premeditated questions can be grouped into four different categories:

[1] Company questions deal with the organization, direction, policies, stability, growth, market share, and new products or services of the prospective company or department;

[2] Industry questions deal with the health, growth, change, technological advancement, and personnel of the industry as a whole;

[3] Position questions deal with the scope, responsibilities, travel, compensation policies, and reporting structure of the position you’re interviewing for; and

[4] Opportunity questions deal with your own potential for growth or advancement within the company or its divisions, and the likely timetable for promotion.

You may have specific interests or concerns surrounding topics in each category. For example, if you’re interviewing with a computer manufacturer, you may want to ask about the future growth of the industry. Or, let’s say you’re interviewing for a position with a company that’s known for its high rate of personnel turnover. You might want to prepare a carefully worded question that deals with that issue.


Leave Your Laundry List at Home

Naturally, you need to be careful not to come on too strong by asking too many questions -- it may turn the interviewer off. Presumably, if there’s mutual interest, you’ll get all your questions answered at a subsequent interview. The general rule of thumb is to limit the number of premeditated questions to about a dozen or less. While it’s true that you’ll be interviewing the company as much as they’ll be interviewing you, the last thing you want to do is turn a dialogue into an inquisition, or come across as a walking encyclopedia of corporate trivia.

You should also be aware that there’s one specific taboo to first-level interviewing, in terms of the questions you should ask. Never, ever bring up the issue of salary or benefits. If the employer initiates a dialogue surrounding these issues, and asks if you have any questions, fine.

But if it appears to the employer that your primary motivation for changing jobs is the new company’s compensation or benefit package, you’ll be out the door quicker than a bolt of lightning. Employers get chills of fear and loathing when they think you’re only on the job market to feather your nest at their expense. They visualize your employment with them as a short term, non-committal, career leveraging maneuver, and understandably, want to avoid being victimized.

Early in my career as a recruiter, I arranged an interview for a qualified candidate with a client company. After the interview, I called Shelly, the employer, to debrief her.

"Well, your candidate didn’t do so well," Shelly said.

"Really? I thought he had the perfect background."

"That wasn’t the problem. I just didn’t like the way he handled the interview."

"What happened?"

"I spent over an hour with him, telling him everything about the company, and introducing him to all the key people," Shelly said. "I even gave him an extensive tour of the manufacturing area."

"And then?"

"And then, I brought him back to my office, and we sat down to talk about what he’d seen. I asked him if he had any questions."

"And did he?"

"Yes. That’s when the interview ended. He looked me straight in the eye and asked, ‘What are your benefits?’"


"And I got up," Shelly said, "and walked him right out the door."

Don’t misunderstand me. The candidate’s actions in no way reflected on his abilities or his character; his intentions were perfectly honorable. But after that incident (which cost the candidate a job and me a placement fee), I learned to caution interviewees not to initiate the subject of salary or benefits.

My suggestion is to take the John F. Kennedy approach to interviewing: "Ask not what your company can do for you, ask what you can do for your company."

This way, you can present yourself as a loyal, hard-working, virtuous, and dedicated candidate, rather than as an opportunistic job-hopper who’d prefer to live off the fat of the land.

While it’s unthinkable to accept or even consider a job without first knowing the financial rewards (or the details of the benefit package), there are better and more timely ways to broach the subject, without endangering your candidacy.

Interview preparation is perhaps the single most overlooked aspect of the job changing process. A candidate who’s fired up and ready to go at the time of the interview has a tremendous advantage over a candidate who’s not.

The more carefully you prepare for your interview, the better your chances of getting hired.

How to Master the Art of Interviewing

How to Master the Art of Interviewing
By Bill Radin
©1998 Innovative Consulting, Inc.
Career Development Reports

To a large degree, the success of your interview will depend on your ability to discover needs and empathize with the interviewer. You can do this by asking questions that verify your understanding of what the interviewer has just said, without editorializing or expressing an opinion. By establishing empathy in this manner, you’ll be in a better position to freely exchange ideas, and demonstrate your suitability for the job.

In addition to empathy, there are four other intangible fundamentals to a successful interview. These intangibles will influence the way your personality is perceived, and will affect the degree of rapport, or personal chemistry you’ll share with the employer.

[1] Enthusiasm -- Leave no doubt as to your level of interest in the job. You may think it’s unnecessary to do this, but employers often choose the more enthusiastic candidate in the case of a two-way tie. Besides, it’s best to keep your options open -- wouldn’t you rather be in a position to turn down an offer, than have a prospective job evaporate from your grasp by giving a lethargic interview?

[2] Technical interest -- Employers look for people who love what they do, and get excited by the prospect of tearing into the nitty-gritty of the job.

[3] Confidence -- No one likes a braggart, but the candidate who’s sure of his or her abilities will almost certainly be more favorably received.

[4] Intensity -- The last thing you want to do is come across as "flat" in your interview. There’s nothing inherently wrong with being a laid back person; but sleepwalkers rarely get hired.

By the way, most employers are aware of how stressful it can be to interview for a new position, and will do everything they can to put you at ease.

The Other Fundamentals

Since interviewing also involves the exchange of tangible information, make sure to:

• Present your background in a thorough and accurate manner;

• Gather data concerning the company, the industry, the position, and the specific opportunity;

• Link your abilities with the company needs in the mind of the employer; and

• Build a strong case for why the company should hire you, based on the discoveries you make from building rapport and asking the right questions.

Both for your sake and the employer’s, never leave an interview without exchanging fundamental information. The more you know about each other, the more potential you’ll have for establishing rapport, and making an informed decision.

Basic Interviewing Strategy

There are two ways to answer interview questions: the short version and the long version. When a question is open-ended, I always suggest to candidates that they say, "Let me give you the short version. If we need to explore some aspect of the answer more fully, I’d be happy to go into greater depth, and give you the long version."

The reason you should respond this way is because it’s often difficult to know what type of answer each question will need. A question like, "What was your most difficult assignment?" might take anywhere from thirty seconds to thirty minutes to answer, depending on the detail you choose to give.

Therefore, you must always remember that the interviewer’s the one who asked the question. So you should tailor your answer to what he or she needs to know, without a lot of extraneous rambling or superfluous explanation. Why waste time and create a negative impression by giving a sermon when a short prayer would do just fine?

Let’s suppose you were interviewing for a sales management position, and the interviewer asked you, "What sort of sales experience have you had in the past?"

Well, that’s exactly the sort of question that can get you into trouble if you don’t use the short version/long version method. Most people would just start rattling off everything in their memory that relates to their sales experience. Though the information might be useful to the interviewer, your answer could get pretty complicated and long-winded unless it’s neatly packaged.

One way to answer the question might be, "I’ve held sales positions with three different consumer product companies over a nine-year period. Where would you like me to start?"

Or, you might simply say, "Let me give you the short version first, and you can tell me where you want to go into more depth. I’ve had nine years experience in consumer product sales with three different companies, and held the titles of district, regional, and national sales manager. What aspect of my background would you like to concentrate on?"

By using this method, you telegraph to the interviewer that your thoughts are well organized, and that you want to understand the intent of the question before you travel too far in a direction neither of you wants to go. After you get the green light, you can spend your interviewing time discussing in detail the things that are important, not whatever happens to pop into your mind.

Don’t Talk Yourself Out of a Job

I’ve got a friend who’s the hiring manager of an electronics company. He told me once that he brought a candidate into his office to make him a job offer. An hour later, the candidate left. I asked my friend if he had hired the candidate.

"No," he said. "I tried. But the candidate wouldn’t stop talking long enough for me to make him an offer."

Don’t misinterpret me. I’m not suggesting that an interview should consist of a series of monosyllabic grunts. It’s just that nothing turns off an employer faster than a windbag candidate.

By using the short version/long version method to answer questions, you’ll never talk yourself out of a job.

The Prudent Use of Questions

Beware: An interview will quickly disintegrate into an interrogation or monologue unless you ask some high quality questions of your own. Candidate questions are the lifeblood of any successful interview, because they:

• Create dialogue, which will not only enable the two of you to learn more about each other, but will help you visualize what it’ll be like working together once you’ve been hired;

• Clarify your understanding of the company and the position responsibilities;

• Indicate your grasp of the fundamental issues discussed so far;

• Reveal your ability to probe beyond the superficial; and

• Challenge the employer to reveal his or her own depth of knowledge, or commitment to the job.

Your questions should always be slanted in such a way as to show empathy, interest, or understanding of the employer’s needs. After all, the reason you’re interviewing is because the employer’s company has some piece of work which needs to be completed, or a problem that needs correcting. Here are some questions that have proven to be very effective:

• What’s the most important issue facing your department?

• How can I help you accomplish this objective?

• How long has it been since you first identified this need?

• How long have you been trying to correct it?

• Have you tried using your present staff to get the job done? What was the result?

• What other means have you used? For example, have you brought in independent contractors, or temporary help, or employees borrowed from other departments? Or have you recently hired people who haven’t worked out?

• Is there any particular skill or attitude you feel is critical to getting the job done?

• Is there a unique aspect of my background that you’d like to exploit in order to help accomplish your objectives?

Questions like these will not only give you a sense of the company’s goals and priorities, they’ll indicate to the interviewer your concern for satisfying the company’s objectives.

Give It Some Thought

Here are seven of the most commonly asked interviewing questions. Do yourself and the prospective employer a favor, and give them some thought before the interview occurs.

[1] Why do you want this job?

[2] Why do you want to leave your present company?

[3] Where do you see yourself in five years?

[4] What are your personal goals?

[5] What are your strengths? Weaknesses?

[6] What do you like most about your current company?

[7] What do you like least about your current company?

The last question is probably the hardest to answer: What do you like least about your present company?

I’ve found that rather than pointing out the faults of other people ("I can’t stand the office politics," or, "I don’t get along with my boss"), it’s best to place the burden on yourself ("I feel I’m ready to exercise a new set of professional muscles," or, "The type of technology I’m interested in isn’t available to me now.").

By answering in this manner, you’ll avoid pointing the finger at someone else, or coming across as a whiner or complainer. It does no good to speak negatively about others.

I suggest you think through the answers to the above questions for two reasons.

First, it won’t help your chances any to hem and haw over fundamental issues such as these. (The answers you give to these types of questions should be no-brainers.)

And secondly, the questions will help you evaluate your career choices before spending time and energy on an interview. If you don’t feel comfortable with the answers you come up with, maybe the new job isn’t right for you.

Money, Money, Money

There’s a good chance you’ll be asked about your current and expected level of compensation. Here’s the way to handle the following questions:

[1] What are you currently earning?

Answer: "My compensation, including bonus, is in the high-forties. I’m expecting my annual review next month, and that should put me in the low-fifties."

[2] What sort of money would you need in order to come to work for our company?

Answer: "I feel that the opportunity is the most important issue, not salary. If we decide to work together, I’m sure you’ll make me a fair offer."

Notice the way a range was given as the answer to question [1], not a specific dollar figure. However, if the interviewer presses for a exact answer, then by all means, be precise, in terms of salary, bonus, benefits, expected increase, and so forth.

In answer to question [2], if the interviewer tries to zero in on your expected compensation, you should also suggest a range, as in, "I would need something in the low- to mid- fifties." Getting locked in to an exact figure may work against you later, in one of two ways: either the number you give is lower than you really want to accept; or the number appears too high or too low to the employer, and an offer never comes. By using a range, you can keep your options open.

Some Questions You Can Count On

There are four types of questions that interviewers like to ask.

First, there are the resume questions. These relate to your past experience, skills, job responsibilities, education, upbringing, personal interests, and so forth.

Resume questions require accurate, objective answers, since your resume consists of facts which tend to be quantifiable (and verifiable). Try to avoid answers which exaggerate your achievements, or appear to be opinionated, vague, or egocentric.

Second, interviewers will usually want you to comment on your abilities, or assess your past performance. They’ll ask self-appraisal questions like, "What do you think is your greatest asset?" or, "Can you tell me something you’ve done that was very creative?"

Third, interviewers like to know how you respond to different stimuli. Situation questions ask you to explain certain actions you took in the past, or require that you explore hypothetical scenarios that may occur in the future. "How would you stay profitable during a recession?" or, "How would you go about laying off 1300 employees?" or, "How would you handle customer complaints if the company drastically raised its prices?" are typical situation questions.

And lastly, some employers like to test your mettle with stress questions such as, "After you die, what would you like your epitaph to read?" or, "If you were to compare yourself to any U.S. president, who would it be?" or, "It’s obvious your background makes you totally unqualified for this position. Why should we even waste our time talking?"

Stress questions are designed to evaluate your emotional reflexes, creativity, or attitudes while you’re under pressure. Since off-the-wall or confrontational questions tend to jolt your equilibrium, or put you in a defensive posture, the best way to handle them is to stay calm and give carefully considered answers.

Whenever I hear a stress question, I immediately think of the Miss Universe beauty pageant. The finalists (usually sheltered teenagers from places like Zambia or Uruguay) are asked before a live television audience of three and a half billion people to give heartfelt and earnest responses to incongruous questions like, "What would you tell the leaders of all the countries on earth to do to promote world peace?"

Of course, your sense of humor will come in handy during the entire interviewing process, just so long as you don’t go over the edge. I heard of a candidate once who, when asked to describe his ideal job, replied, "To have beautiful women rub my back with hot oil." Needless to say, he wasn’t hired.

Even if it were possible to anticipate every interview question, memorizing dozens of stock answers would be impractical, to say the least. The best policy is to review your background, your priorities, and your reasons for considering a new position; and to handle the interview as honestly as you can. If you don’t know the answer to a question, just say so, or ask for a moment to think about your response.

Wrapping It Up

At the conclusion of your interview, you can wrap up any unfinished business you failed to cover so far, and begin to explore the future of your candidacy.

During your interview wrap-up, it’s a good practice to make the interviewer aware of other opportunities you’re exploring, as long as they’re genuine, and their timing has some bearing on your own decision making.

The fact that you’re actively exploring other opportunities may affect the speed with which the company makes its hiring decision. It may even positively influence the eventual outcome, since the company may want to act quickly so as not to lose you.

However, your other activity should be presented in the spirit of assistance to the interviewer, not as a thinly veiled threat or negotiating tactic. I’d advise you to play it straight with the interviewer.

And remember to maintain a positive attitude. In today’s job market, you’d be surprised how often victory is snatched from the jaws of defeat.

The better your interviewing skills, the greater your chances of getting the job.

How to Evaluate a Job Offer

Position Comparison: How to Evaluate a Job Offer
By Bill Radin
©1998 Innovative Consulting, Inc.

Career Development Reports

Let’s assume your employment interview went well, and there’s sincere and mutual interest on both sides.

Now you need to decide two things: first, whether the new position is right for you; and if so, what sort of offer you’d be willing to accept.

To evaluate the pros and cons, ask yourself the following: Does the new job meet the criteria you spelled out when you first began your search? Will the new job improve your level of personal and professional satisfaction? Or will it simply offer you a rehash of what you already have? Hopefully, the unique qualities you’re seeking will be within your grasp.

Keeping Score

If you’re not sure about the new job, or need help in being more objective, take the following test as a way to compare the two positions. You should be able to get a feel for how the job you interviewed for stacks up against your current position by selecting which considerations best suit your needs.

The position comparison test can be "scored" two different ways. You can either tally the totals (the best job has the highest score); or you can use the test as a way to examine your priorities.

Let’s suppose your score was 15 to seven, in favor of the new company. Does that mean you should change jobs?

Well, not necessarily. It depends on which considerations are most important to you. If an increase in travel will ruin your marriage, then it won’t matter how many positive considerations point to the new job. (This is assuming you want to stay married.)

However, a simple tallying of the score can be very helpful when the decision is a tough one, and no single consideration acts as a "knockout" factor. Besides, mathematical "logic" can always be used to justify what you already feel to be the right decision.

The Economic Factor

Compensation, of course, will be a key factor in your decision whether to accept a new position.

Oddly, few people take the time to really understand their economic choices, mostly because there are so many hidden factors, such as cost of living, benefits, relocation expenses, and so forth.

Regardless of where compensation ranks on your list of priorities, it’s a good idea to know what you may be getting into when faced with a career decision.

To help you put your economic choices into perspective, use this compensation comparison to evaluate both your prospective compensation package and what you’re currently earning.

The best time to make your calculations is before an offer is made. That way, you can form a clear idea of what you’ll need, without having to dicker (or experience shock) later on.

If you’re looking at an opportunity that’s in a different geographic location, you might want to do some investigating before you even interview. For example, if you live in a nice suburban community in Lawrence, Kansas, what would it cost you to maintain your current lifestyle in an area like San Francisco? Your answer (and your willingness to make the necessary trade-offs) will help determine your level of interest when considering the new position.

Figuring the Bottom Line

The best approach to putting the deal together is to decide whether you want the job before an offer is extended. This allows you to clarify whether the job suits your needs. Unless you’re motivated solely by money, it’s doubtful a few extra dollars will turn a bad job into a good one.

If the job interests you, then determine the conditions under which you’ll accept. These fall into two categories: Bottom Lines and Porcupines.

The term "bottom line" refers to the amount of compensation you feel is absolutely necessary to accept the job offer. If, for example, you really want $46,000 but would think about $45,000 or settle for $44,000, then you haven’t established your bottom line. The bottom line is one dollar more than the figure you would positively walk away from. Setting a bottom line clarifies your sense of worth, and helps avoid an unpredictable bargaining session.

I recommend against "negotiating" an offer in the classic sense, where the company makes a proposal, you counter it, they counter your counter, and so on. While this type of tit for tat format may be customary for negotiating a residential real estate deal, job offers should be handled in a more straightforward manner.

Here’s how: Determine your bottom line in advance, and wait for the offer. If the company offers you more than your bottom line, great. If they offer you less, then you have the option of turning the offer down or revealing to them your bottom line as a condition of acceptance. At that point, they can raise the ante or walk away.

Lay Your Cards on the Table

Once the bottom line is known, you can avoid the haggling that so often causes aggravation, disappointment, or hurt feelings.

My experience has shown that it’s much better to lay your cards on the table in the beginning than to barter to get what you want. An employer can get very irritable when a candidate says, "I’ll think it over," or keeps coming back with new demands again and again. Even if you get what you want, you’ve created a negative impression with the company which will carry over after you’ve been hired. In effect, you may win the battle, but lose the war.

By determining your own acceptance conditions in advance, you’ll never be accused of negotiating in bad faith or of being indecisive. Whether you’re representing yourself or working with a recruiter, learning to differentiate between financial fact and fantasy will facilitate the job changing process.

You may want to itemize your bottom line, and, if it’s appropriate, show it to the company (or your recruiter) as a means to justify your salary request. Carefully figure your total package, and document any loss of income that may result from a differential in benefits, geographic location, car expenses, and the like.

If a recruiter asks for your bottom line, he or she isn’t trying to manipulate you or conspire with an employer that plans to "lowball " its candidates. The recruiter is simply making a good faith effort to discover what makes you happy, and put together two interested parties.

The Porcupine Category

Of course, there are considerations aside from money that usually need to be satisfied before an offer can be accepted. Factors such as your new position title, review periods, work schedule, vacation allotment, and promotion opportunities are important, and should be looked at carefully.

To understand the candidate’s needs, I use the porcupine approach to quantify each consideration or "point" made by the candidate as a condition for acceptance. Once I understand each point, I can work with the company to put the deal together, without having to go back later to get "one more thing."

Once you know your bottom line and each condition, or point on the porcupine, you’re in a better position to get what you want, since you’ve established quantifiable goals to shoot for.

How an Offer Is Staged

Every company makes hiring decisions differently. Some will encourage shoot-from-the-hip managers to make job offers on the spot. Other companies will limit the decision maker’s ability to act quickly and unilaterally, and require a drawn-out series of staff meetings, subsequent interviews, corporate signatures, and so on.

These days, it’s not uncommon for the hiring cycle to last weeks or even months, regardless of how "critical" the position might be. The best approach is to maintain contact with the company, allowing for the fact that there’ll probably be some delay. Presumably, you asked what the hiring procedure was when you first interviewed. Their answer should give you some indication as to when a decision will be made.

Offers can be extended by either a letter, or verbally from a hiring manager. They can also be made through a third party, such as a recruiter. In either case, be careful. An offer needs to include these three components before it can be considered official:

[1] Your position title;

[2] Your starting salary; and

[3] Your start date.

Before you resign from your present job, make sure you nail down each of these components from a company official, either verbally or in writing (in the form of an offer letter). Even if the offer comes through a recruiter, you should always contact the employer directly, and if possible, get a letter of offer or acceptance to verify the deal (although a verbal offer and acceptance will act as a legal contract).

Not long ago, I was working with a candidate who interviewed for a position with one of my client companies. The interview went extremely well; so well that the VP of the company called the candidate at his home that evening to discuss the offer.

"Well, Paul, we really like you," the employer told the candidate. "The job is yours if you want it."

"I want it," said Paul. "When do I start?"

"Well, I’ll call Bill tomorrow and work out the details," replied the employer.

Understandably, Paul got excited. Filled with pride, he drove his ailing grandmother by the new company the next day, so he could show off his new place of work.

But guess what? The employer never called me, and never called Paul, either. For some reason he changed his mind, and didn’t have the decency to let anyone know.

The reason I tell this story is to warn you that even when the cat seems to be in the bag, it ain’t over ’til the fat lady sings. An offer has to include a position title, a starting salary, and a date of start to be official; just telling you the job is yours isn’t enough.

Here’s another word of caution: Offers sometimes have strings, or contingencies attached. Don’t be surprised if the fine print requires you to:

• Pass a physical examination;

• Document your citizenship or immigration status;

• Obtain a security clearance;

• Undergo a thorough background investigation, in which your credit history, police records, and travel history might be examined;

• Verify your academic credentials; or

• Provide proof of your past employment, salary, or military service.

Very often, these contingencies must be satisfied before you can to report to work or receive a paycheck.

Accepting the Offer

If everything about the new position is satisfactory, go ahead and accept the offer. If you’re expecting an offer from a second company, you should let the second company know about your offer right away, so they can speed up their decision. That way, you’ll avoid jeopardizing one deal for the sake of another.

Once an offer’s on the table, it makes common sense to accept or reject it within a day or so. Otherwise, your inability to commit will reflect poorly on the way you make decisions; or it will telegraph your lack of enthusiasm to the new employer. In either case, you’re likely to be bruised by waiting too long.

If you have legitimate concerns, or you still have questions that need to be answered, now is the time to bring them up. Rather than tell the employer, "I’ll have to think it over," use the following script:

"Mr. Employer, this job looks very good to me, and I’m enthusiastic about coming to work for your company. I’ll be in a position to accept your offer and start in two weeks if I can just clarify a couple of things..."

The answers you get will make your decision for you, and you’ll either accept or reject the company’s offer.

If you decide to reject an offer, remember that it’s almost impossible to resurrect the deal at a later date, since the position will be offered to someone else, or the employer will feel insulted, and close the door on your candidacy. Whatever you do, make certain your decision is final.

New Angles and Unusual Deals

Most deals come together quite cleanly, with little need for haggling or creative financing. Sometimes, though, it takes a little imagination to satisfy both parties.

Money can present a problem for employers when your salary requirements exceed the published range for the position, or create an inequity within the department. In fact, internal equity issues (in which your expected salary might be greater than someone on the staff who has more professional or company seniority) are the cause of most deals that fail to close for financial reasons.

To satisfy money matters, look for ways to increase your overall yearly compensation, rather than your annual salary. Here are a few added goodies you can shoot for to boost your earnings without ruffling too many feathers:

• A sign-on bonus to be paid in cash on your date of start;

• A performance bonus to be paid after thirty, sixty, or ninety days, assuming your clearly defined goals are met;

• A discretionary bonus to be paid in a lump sum, or over a specified period;

• A generous relocation bonus to be paid on your date of start to cover expenses (but which can be spent at your discretion);

• An accelerated review which would occur after three or six months, rather than on your first anniversary of employment, in which your salary would be increased; or

• An early participation in the company’s bonus, stock purchase, or pension plan; or other employee benefit program.

When required, companies will sometimes serve up these tasty morsels to hungry candidates who recognize that overall compensation consists of more than salary alone.

The craziest deal I ever put together involved a candidate who’d just purchased a home and was beyond commuting distance to the interested company. Since the candidate wouldn’t sell his home and relocate, the company president agreed to buy the candidate (who had a pilot’s license) a single engine airplane so he could fly to work each day. It just goes to show, where there’s a will, there’s a way.

Careful evaluation mixed with a little bit of creativity will help you get the deal you want.

Position Comparison Guide

 Candidate _________________________________ Current position ______________________________________

Current employer _______________________________ Prospective employer _______________________________

Old position _____________________________________ New position __________________________________

Today’s date ________________________________ Prospective start date __________________________________

• Directions: Compare the position you have now with the one you are considering, according to the following elements:


Current job New job Element under consideration

[ ] [ ] Position title

[ ] [ ] Supervisory responsibility

[ ] [ ] Project authority

[ ] [ ] Decision-making autonomy

[ ] [ ] Freedom to implement ideas

[ ] [ ] Freedom to affect change

[ ] [ ] Promotion potential

[ ] [ ] Challenge of tasks

[ ] [ ] Ability to meet expectations

[ ] [ ] Access to skill training

[ ] [ ] Professional growth potential

[ ] [ ] Company/industry growth

[ ] [ ] Company/industry stability

[ ] [ ] Starting salary

[ ] [ ] Future compensation

[ ] [ ] Company benefits, perks

[ ] [ ] Commuting distance

[ ] [ ] Travel requirements

[ ] [ ] Working environment

[ ] [ ] Rapport with co-workers

[ ] [ ] Rapport with management

[ ] [ ] Comfort with corporate culture

[ ] [ ] Other considerations (specify)

• Score: ____________ Current job ____________ New job New job differential (+/-) ___________

Position Compensation Guide

Candidate __________________________________ Current position _____________________________________

Current employer ______________________________ Prospective employer _______________________________

Old position ___________________________________ New position _____________________________________

Today’s date ________________________________ Prospective start date _________________________________

• Directions: Compare the position you have now with the one you are considering, according to the following elements:

Current job New job Element under consideration

$________________ $________________ Base salary

$________________ $________________ Bonus, perks

$________________ $________________ Profit sharing potential

$________________ $________________ Value of stock or equity

$________________ $________________ Pension

$________________ $________________ 401(k) contribution, tax savings

$________________ $________________ Reimbursed expenses

$________________ $________________ Cost of living differential (+/-)

$________________ $________________ Non-reimbursed moving expenses

$________________ $________________ Job-related travel expenses

$________________ $________________ Insurance premiums

$________________ $________________ Property taxes

$________________ $________________ State taxes

$________________ $________________ Sales taxes

$________________ $________________ Other expenses (specify)


Current job $________________ New job $________________ New job differential (+/-) $___________

The Proper Way to Resign

The Proper Way to Resign
By Bill Radin
©1998 Innovative Consulting, Inc.
Career Development Reports

Congratulations. You’ve accepted a new job.

Now take a deep breath and prepare yourself for the challenge ahead. Even though you may be floating on cloud nine now, there are a lot of emotional and logistical hurdles yet to clear.

As you’ve already learned, the job-changing process arouses all sorts of feelings. During the transitional phase that begins with your acceptance of an offer and ends a month or two after you’ve started your new position, the emotional limbo you’ll experience will be especially acute.

Why? Because suddenly, the reality kicks in. After all this time, the changes you’ve been contemplating are actually going to happen.

This jolting realization will be followed by a sense of guilt. Oh, my God, you tell yourself. I’ve been cheating on my present employer. Having an affair is one thing -- but divorce? I never knew it would come to this!

Then the fear of reprisal begins. My boss is gonna kill me, I just know it. He’s really gonna make me suffer.

And if the fear of guilt and reprisal don’t give you enough to worry about, consider the buyer’s remorse you’ll probably feel. What if I made a mistake? you ask yourself. I’m gonna ruin my life. Aaauuuggghhh!

Don’t Let the Demons Get You Down

Relax. Everyone who changes jobs is plagued by these demons, to a greater or lesser degree. It’s only natural.

But rather than dwell on the past, imagine for a moment that you’re in your new job.

Isn’t this great? Think of all the changes you’re making, and how your new life is a huge improvement compared to what you had before. Think of the new people you’re meeting, the new skills you’re acquiring, and the new opportunities you have to advance your career.

Now, are you going to let your fears unravel everything you’ve accomplished in the way of self-evaluation, planning, resume writing, interviewing, and putting a deal together? No way. You’re not the type of person who’s going to allow cold feet to put the chill on changing jobs. You’re a person of action, and you seize the moment. You know that those who back away from golden opportunities may never get another chance.

Self-affirmations like these can do wonders for maintaining your positive energy and high self-esteem. And by projecting all the beneficial aspects of your new job into the present tense, you’ll ward off the demons that can distort your judgment, and make you vulnerable to a counteroffer attempt.

Considering the Counteroffer

Of course, if your motivation for getting a job offer was to position yourself for a counteroffer, then you’re in the catbird’s seat -- you can’t lose either way.

Or can you? Some employment experts point out that accepting a counteroffer is the equivalent of career suicide.

According to Paul Hawkinson, publisher of The Fordyce Letter, your acceptance of a counteroffer could very well blow up in your face.

Here’s how. Let’s say you announce your plans to leave your current job. This, in effect, blackmails your boss, who makes you a counteroffer only to keep you until he can find your replacement, at which point you’re dropped like a hot potato. In the meantime, the trusting relationship you’ve enjoyed with your current supervisors and peers abruptly ends, and your loyalty becomes forever suspect.

Is this sort of scenario accurate? I guess it depends. My experience has been mixed. That is, some of the candidates I’ve known who’ve accepted counteroffers have remained at their old jobs for years, and have smoothed over whatever difficulties caused their split in the first place.

It’s precisely for this reason that I’m so cautious when I work with currently employed job seekers. I want to feel confident that their motives are pure before we both invest a lot of time and energy in testing the market.

However, there’s a lot of evidence to support the theory that candidates who accept counteroffers become damaged goods once they’ve been herded back into the fold.

Here Come the Three Stages

If your intention to make a change is sincere, and a counteroffer by your current company won’t change your decision to leave, you should still keep up your guard. A counteroffer attempt can be potentially devastating, both on a personal and professional level. Unless you know how to diffuse your current employer’s retaliation against your resignation, you may end up psychologically wounded, or right back at the job you wanted to leave.

The best way to shield yourself from the inevitable mixture of emotions surrounding the act of submitting your resignation is to remember that employers follow a predictable, three-stage pattern when faced with a resignation:

[1] They’ll be in shock. "You sure picked a fine time to leave! Who’s going to finish the project we started?"

The implication is that you’re irreplaceable. They might as well ask, "How will we ever get the work done without you?"

To answer this assertion, you can reply, "If I were run over by a truck on my way to work tomorrow, I feel that somehow, this company would survive."

[2] They’ll start to probe. "Who’s the new company? What sort of position did you accept? What are they paying you?"

Here you must be careful not to disclose too much information, or appear too enthusiastic. Otherwise, you run the risk of feeding your current employer with ammunition he can use against you later, such as, "I’ve heard some pretty terrible things about your new company" or, "They’ll make everything look great until you actually get there. Then you’ll see what a sweat shop that place really is."

[3] They’ll make you an offer to try and keep you from leaving. "You know that raise you and I were talking about a few months back? I forgot to tell you: We were just getting it processed yesterday."

To this you can respond, "Gee, today you seem pretty concerned about my happiness and well-being. Where were you yesterday, before I announced my intention to resign?"

It may take several days for the three stages to run their course, but believe me, sooner or later, you’ll find yourself engaged in conversations similar to these.

More than once, candidates have called me after they’ve resigned, to tell me that their old company followed the three-stage pattern exactly as I described it. Not only were they prepared to diffuse the counteroffer attempt, they found the whole sequence to be almost comical in its predictability.

How to Tactfully Resign

The first thing you need to consider is the timing of your resignation. Since two weeks’ notice is considered the norm, make sure your resignation properly coincides with your start date at the new company.

You should always try to avoid an extended start date. Even if your new job begins in 10 weeks, don’t give 10 weeks’ notice; wait eight weeks and then give two weeks’ notice. This way, you’ll protect yourself from disaster, in the unlikely event your new company announces a hiring freeze a month before you come on board.

And by staying at your old job for only two weeks after you’ve announced your resignation, you won’t be subjected to the envy, scorn, or feelings of professional impotence that may result from your new role as a lame-duck employee.

Some companies will make your exit plans for you. I placed a candidate once whose employer had the security guard escort him out of the building the moment he announced his intention to go to work for a direct competitor. Fortunately, he was still given two weeks’ pay.

Your resignation should be handled in person, preferably on a Friday afternoon. Ask your direct supervisor if you can speak with him privately in his office. When you announce your intention to resign, you should also hand your supervisor a letter which states your last date of employment with the company. Let him know that you’ve enjoyed working with him, but that an opportunity came along that you couldn’t pass up, and that your decision to leave was made carefully, and doesn’t reflect any negative feelings you have toward the company or the staff.

You should also add that your decision is final, and that you would prefer not to be made a counteroffer, since you wouldn’t want your refusal to accept more money to appear as a personal affront.

Let your supervisor know that you appreciate all the company’s done for you; and that you’ll do everything in your power to make your departure as smooth and painless as possible.

Finally, ask if there’s anything you can do during the transition period over the next two weeks, such as help train your successor, tie up loose ends, or delegate tasks.

Keep your resignation letter short, simple, and to the point. There’s no need to go into detail about your new job, or what led to your decision to leave. If these issues are important to your old employer, he’ll schedule an exit interview for you, at which time you can hash out your differences ad infinitum.

Make sure to provide a carbon copy or photocopy of your resignation letter for your company’s personnel file. This way, the circumstances surrounding your resignation will be well documented for future reference.

In all likelihood, the human resource staff will want to meet with you to process your departure papers, or cover any questions you may have concerning the transfer of your medical insurance or retirement benefits.

Relocation Specialists

Now that you’ve gotten your resignation out of the way, you need to shift your attention to the new company.

If a relocation is required, and you haven’t done your house hunting, let me make a suggestion. Work with a relocation specialist, to give you a hand in finding a place to live in your new city or town.

Relocation specialists are brokers who make their living by matching candidates and locations, similar to the way recruiters match candidates and employers.

Relocation specialists will interview you and your spouse (or significant other). Once they discover your housing and lifestyle needs, they’ll refer you to Realtors who are familiar with the local communities that satisfy your needs. Relocation specialists receive a commission or finder’s fee from the Realtor, once a property is sold. There’s no charge to you or your new employer.

Often, relocation specialists will be able to prequalify you for a mortgage loan, or refer you to an amenable mortgage broker or lending institution.

Relocation specialists can also be good at handling unusual situations. For example, a relocation specialist I was working with a few years ago was able to help a candidate’s wife transfer her teaching credential from California to Michigan. Without the transfer, the candidate wouldn’t have been able to accept my client company’s offer.

In another instance, a relocation specialist was able to pinpoint the exact housing needs of a candidate and his wife, show them the perfect property, qualify them, and arrange a 5-percent down mortgage loan with a bank -- all in one morning. That afternoon, the candidate went to his final interview with my client company and accepted their offer, secure in the knowledge that his relocation wouldn’t be a problem.

If your new company has a relocation specialist on staff, fine. If not, ask for a recommendation. Your relocation is too important to leave to chance, or entrust to a randomly selected real estate agent. In the event you’re unable to find an independent relocation specialist, you can probably hook up with a realtor who works mainly with executive corporate transfers. Century 21, for example, does an outstanding job of matching out-of-town buyers with desirable, local properties.

Culture Shock and Task Clarity

At last, you’ve arrived! Welcome aboard.

In the beginning, your new job may seem overwhelming. After all, there are new people to meet, new systems to learn, new schedules to keep, and new personalities to adjust to. In many ways, culture shock might be the best way to describe your first week.

The real key to early success with your new company boils down to the issue of task clarity. Task clarity refers not to your ability to do a certain job, but to your understanding of how the job’s defined.

Task clarity is dependent upon the quality of communication between you and the person assigning the task. Any breakdown of task clarity will result in frustration or poor performance, or worse.

To illustrate, let me tell you the story of John, a technical writer I placed with a high tech client company in California. Three weeks after John started in his new position, I called to ask him how everything was going.

"Fine," he answered. "They love me here. I’ve completed the documentation on everything they’ve assigned me."

Later that day, I placed a call to John’s boss, expecting him to heap praise on me for my recruiting genius. Boy, was I in for a surprise!

"Bill, I’m afraid I have some bad news for you," said the manager. "I’m going to fire John this afternoon. It looks like we’ll have to start the search all over again."

"Really?" I was stunned. "What seems to be the problem?"

"John hasn’t produced any of the documentation we need for our customers, and we have to get the work done to meet our deadline. If John can’t do the work, I’ll have to find someone who can."

"That’s odd," I said. "I talked to John this morning and he’s under the impression that the documentation he’s producing is exactly what you asked for. When was the last time the two of you sat down to discuss his assignment?"

"Oh gosh," replied the manager, "it must have been about three weeks ago, right after he started to work here."

"Well then, let me make a suggestion. The two of you should talk this through, because there’s obviously been a communication breakdown. As far as John’s concerned, he’s doing a terrific job based on his perception of the assignment."

Changing Jobs: A New Beginning

A simple failure to communicate the task clearly in the beginning had almost resulted in John’s termination three weeks after he started his new job.

Fortunately, we were all able to dodge a bullet. After my call to the employer, John and his boss sat down to discuss the project. The assignment was quickly clarified, and John went on to complete the documentation needed to meet the deadline.

John was lucky that my intervention helped save his job.

If you’re working with a recruiter, make sure he or she keeps in touch with the company, to monitor your progress.

You owe it to your career to sharpen your task clarity. Ask for a weekly review for the first month or so of your employment, and try not to let things get set on automatic pilot, especially in the beginning.

With a little bit of planning, it’s possible to make a smooth transition from one job to the next.