You are in an interview. You’ve successfully made it past the “tell us about yourself” chat. You hit it out of the park on a few other questions. And then, some variation of this question:
“Tell us about your greatest weaknesses?”
The normal advice is take a strength, frame it as a weakness, and then bring it back to a strength again. Like this:
“Well, I’ve been known to work too hard on my projects to ensure they come in on-time and on-budget. I can’t stand to miss a deadline that I’ve committed to, especially if it would impact the company revenue. The good news is that I’ve never missed a deadline!”
Bam! Out of the park, right?
Let me suggest a much better, more appropriate response to that question:
“That is the dumbest question you can ask me. I know you are fishing for some reason I might fit here, and we both know that everyone is supposed to do the strength-weakness-strength response. But seriously, that is just tacky. How about if we spend time on what I would do in the first 90 days at this job to fit in and make a difference? I’d much rather talk about that.
Okay, I’m sure you aren’t going to respond that way (at least, not out loud). However, if you do, feel free to say “well, Jason Alba, of JibberJobber, said to say this….”
But seriously, here’s the deal: the interview is not a time for you to sit there and answer 15 dumb top interview questions that the interviewer just printed out.
It might take some practice, but you can actually have a bigger influence on the interview. Or, maybe we should call it the conversation.
I know that sounds presumptuous, and it kind of is. But you will melt in with the other wall-flowers if all you do is answer the ill-prepared questions, and not have a real conversation, which is two-way.
How do you do this?
Find someone you can do mock interviews with. This might be an interview coach, or someone at a free resource like a church or state-based job center. Maybe you do it with your mentor, or someone in your industry who is in a lot of interviews. Practice with others, practice on camera (and watch how you did), practice in front of the mirror.
Have YOUR OWN questions ready, and bring them up at the appropriate times.
I’m not suggesting you disrespect the interviewer, and hijack the questions. But you might be able to figure out a way to drive the interview, be way more memorable, give the right impression, and even get information about the role or decision-making process that other interviewees don’t get.
Or, you can just do the cliche strength-weakness-strength thing, like everyone else.
In my job search I went to a weekly meeting where they would ask if we did certain things (or, hit certain metrics) for the previous week. One of the metrics was to have 2 “interviews” each day.
I thought this was kind of ridiculous, because I really didn’t have that much control over whether I was going to get a chance to have and interview or not. But then, they explained that it could be an “informational interview,” which is something that I did have control over.
Over the years I’ve thought about the types of interviews that a job seeker could have. Here are the three interviews that every job seeker should know about:
The Formal Job Interview
This is the one that everyone thinks of… a company has an opening, they bring you in, and ask you questions that they just pulled off of google. Whether this is effective or not is questionable, but it’s part of the process. Sometimes they are checking to see if you are competent, other times they want to meet you in person so they can judge whether you will fit into their organization or not. Much has been written about succeeding in a formal job interview.
The Informational Interview
This is one of my favorite topics, and a super high-value activity that every job seeker should incorporate into their strategy. The basic idea is that you ask for 20 to 30 minutes of someone’s time so you can have a conversation with them. You don’t ask for an “informational interview,” and you don’t give them your resume or ask about openings at their company. The information interview is really networking on steroids… it is very purposeful and tactical, and by doing them correctly, you should see great strides in your job search results. That is, if you do enough informational interviews well, you should start to see more formal job interviews, and learn about real leads, and get introductions to hiring managers who have openings that are right for you. Sound unreasonable? I dare you to make informational interviews the bulk of your time.
You can learn how to do effective informational interviews in this course, which you can access for FREE (see how here).
The Informal Interview
The informal interview is what happens every minute of your waking hours. When you walk in a room, I interview (aka, judge) you. When you talk to me, I interview (aka, judge) you. When we are at a restaurant together, I watch how you treat the server. If you treat the server with respect and dignity, I make a mental note of that. If you treat the server with disrespect, I judge you and think that you’ll treat others on my team or at my company with disrespect. When you follow-up with me, I judge you. If you don’t follow-up with me, I judge you.
See how I changed from “I interview you” to “I judge you”? I did that on purpose.
I’m not hiring anyone right now. But I’m always looking for people to be on my team.
Does that make sense? I don’t have any openings, but if the right person comes along, with the right skills and the right attitude and the right work ethic, I might find a way to get them on my team. I will move budgets around to get the right person “on the bus,” as Jim Collins wrote in Good to Great.
Here’s an example of what I’m talking about… whether this happened or not, it’s highly believable (sorry for the insinuation of potty language, but it’s in context):
Karma – the guy who pushed past me on the tube and then suggested I go F myself just arrived for his interview…with me…
The thing is, you don’t have to be so blatantly rude, or off your game, for me to make a decision about you, and whether I want you on my team or not. It really could be something as simple as being at a network meeting or conference, and judging the quality of your question to the presenter. Or how you spend your time. Or what you chose to wear.
I don’t want to sound that shallow, but this is reality. People are constantly judging us. Some wonder “would I hire this person?” Others wonder “Would I want to work with this person on my team?”
Here’s the clincher: some of the people “interviewing” us are not in a hiring capacity at all. That church lady who offers to help us… she’ll wonder if she could make an introduction for us, to her friend. If she judges us to be in a bad place (or rude, or not good enough, etc.), then she might not make the introduction.
So there you go: three interviews that every job seeker should know about. Now, what are you doing about any of these three?
Nick Corcodilos, Ask the Headhunter, shared 6 Secrets of the New Interview from his book, The New Interview (an instruction book), on this blog post.
Here are his six, with my commentary:
1. Insiders have the best shot at the job. They also have the best shot at recommending outsiders for the job. Are you networking with people at your target companies so that you could be recommended by an insider? This, my friends, is what I would call working the hidden job market. How do you keep track of all of your networking touch points, and follow-up conversations? Using JibberJobber, of course.
2. The real matchmaking is done before the interview. Nick says “a headhunter never sends a candidate to an interview unless the headhunter already knows the candidate can do the job.” How do you keep track of which recruiters know what about you? Use JibberJobber to keep a profile on your recruiters, and when you send them what information, and who you have referred them to.
3. The interview is an invitation to do the job. Nick says the interview is not an interrogation (even thought it might feel like one, since the stakes for you are so high!). In JibberJobber there’s a section called Interview Prep, to help you prepare for your interviews.
4. The employer wants to hire you, and he will help you win the interview. Combine the idea of interviewing well and having insiders network you in and refer you, and you’ll be ahead more than if you didn’t do those two things! As noted above, JibberJobber helps with both.
5. The boss wants one thing from you: He wants you to solve a problem. Same as #4 – can you, in the interview, prove you can solve the problem? And, do you have insiders that influence the boss vouching for you? JibberJobber helps organize and track this.
6. You will win the job by doing it. That is, not talking about it, but somehow assuring them that you know how to do the job, without any doubt. This, I think, comes down to your personal brand, and how well you have communicated your abilities and success to your contacts. You can use JibberJobber to keep track of which contacts need to know what about you, and whether you have told them the right stories or not.
In Nick’s post he shares a link to the interview flow chart… this is a complex process, and I can see how JibberJobber could add value to almost every step in the flowchart.
I remember going to an interview, after a two day training for job seekers, and thinking “did the interviewer prepare in any way for this interview?” It was horrible. It was embarrassing (for the interviewer). It was a waste of time.
I remember the interviewer reading questions from a printout (thanks Google, five minutes before our interview!), and not really listening to the answers. No eye contact, just reading the next question, then the next question.
An interview is not a checklist task to just get through the questions… it should be an engaging time to figure out if the person can do the job and will fit nicely into the culture of the company/team. But somehow we haven’t figured this out very well.
We let things… discrimination and stereotyping… get in the way of the job search interview. Sometimes how a person looks, or what they where, or how charming their smile is, will trump how anyone responds. I’ve seen this in real life.
Jon proposes that the format of a programmer’s interview is scrapped, and they are tested with real situations to solve… kind of like puzzles, from the work environment. I read Jon’s proposal and think “wow, that sounds intense….!” But here’s the line that really caught me:
“Now, this does require one huge prerequisite: every candidate must have a side project that they wrote, all by themselves, to serve as their calling card.”
A side project… their calling card. In the creative world this might be considered your portfolio.
Whatever you call it, I totally agree with Jon. What can you point to that you have done/accomplished/figured out?
This becomes part of your personal brand messaging. Swap spots at the interview table for a minute and image that you have 10 final resumes in front of you… and they all look kind of the same. They all have similar education, similar years of experience, similar titles at similarly impressive companies… they all look great, but none really stand out.
The one who has had a side project, and talks about it. Perhaps there is a website or blog where you can learn more about this person or their side project. Where the other 9 resumes are just names on resumes, with nothing else to distinguish them, this person’s resume stands out because you read a few blog posts, and saw pictures, and got caught up in the stories. You read about their project and realized that they have skills and experience that didn’t quite come across in the resume.
You learned about their portfolio because they had one.
Jon has a lot of great points, but this one stuck out the most.
What’s in your portfolio? What are your side projects that you can point to?
You know, when you are in a job interview, the question the interviewer asks might not really be the question they want you to answer. Or, to put it another way, they might ask a question just to see if you have… issues.
Here’s a great youtube video where Ford Myers addresses the why’s and how to answer specific questions in a job search interview:
On LinkedIn there is an article proposing the ultimate interview question. I don’t agree with the author.
Spoiler alert: he says the ultimate interview question is “What did you learn last week?” The author makes a case for this being the ultimate question… but I’m guessing he is someone who really values learning and curiousity… both great things. My experience, though, is that most interviewers aren’t even close to ready to ask that question, much less understand great answers to the question.
If I were to interview someone right now, I would ask questions about their skillset (we are a technical company and I need to know you have the breadth/depth of skills for the job) and experience and results (if it’s a sales role, I need to know you’ve been a rainmaker). My series of questions, and their answers and attitudes, will hopefully help me understand if this person has integrity, will fit into my culture, and of course able to do the job.
But none of the questions I ask would be the ultimate interview question. Most of these questions will sound run-of-the-mill and boring.
The ultimate interview question, I think, will be the one that the job seeker asks.
You see, I’ve got my list of questions I’m going to ask the final 10, or 5, or 2 candidates… and after a while all the answers will sound the same. Once I get it down to the best of my list, you will all be admirable. Each of you will have your own strengths, and some weaknesses, but overall, any of you might be the right hire.
If you really want to knock my socks off, and show me that you CARE, and WANT this job, then don’t wait for me to ask the ultimate interview question. You should bring your own question. Show me that you’ve done your research. Show me that you understand my company, customers, competition, challenges, etc. Show me, with your question(s), that you are a smart thinker, and anxious to attack some problems.
I want to hire someone who is, as my college programming professor said, “high speed, low drag.” That means they aren’t going to sit around waiting for me to give them direction. Show me that you are ready to take initiative, and you don’t need me to hand feed you your tasks.
Having laid that foundation, what are some great questions you could ask in an interview? I’m not sure there is one question that will show all of those things… it will depend on the company, industry, culture, and how the interview is going (and how interested/engaged the interviewers are)… but what are some ideas of questions you might ask to position yourself as the right person to hire?
Her points (read the article because she has more details):
Find Out The Next Step
Don’t Think The Worst
Use Your Common Sense
Leave A Great Follow Up Voicemail
Send A Thank You Letter
Include A ‘P.S.’ In Your Follow Up Letter
Send A Follow Up List Of Short Testimonials
Note three opportunities to FOLLOW-UP! As you follow-up, focus on potential long-term relationships, not just on a yes/no answer. Of course you want a yes/no answer, but if you change your mentality from “it’s a numbers game,” you’ll leave less casualties on your job search journey and strengthen your network size and depth (of relationships).
Attitude is so powerful, isn’t it? Just going through the motions without the right attitude will be detrimental (trust me, I did that).
Many years ago I heard about the brilliant idea of pasting your resume, or a job description, into a word cloud generator to get an analysis of what words and phrases were commonly used. We now have a tool to help you do this type of analysis in JibberJobber. What we have now is Phase I of a bigger project, with some really cool and useful enhancements in the planning stage.
This type of reporting and analysis can help you create better resumes, and prepare for interviews better. If I had an interview I was preparing for, I would do this analysis on ten jobs with the same titles and then compare, side-by-side, what the analysis shows me. Smarter resumes, smarter cover letters, smarter interviews, smarter networking dialogs… it all comes from understanding better what companies are looking for.
Below is how our word cloud stuff works (this is all on the Jobs Detail Page – I would create a “Job” record of just my resume, and do the same analysis of my resume as I would of a job description):
First, put a Job into JibberJobber. You can see this is for a Senior Systems Analyst / release Manager:
Then, scroll down on the Detail Page (the page after you save the job, not the Add/Edit page), and you’ll see these three tabs (right above the Log Entries area):
The first tab is for Notes, which is what we have in the other Detail Pages, and what we’ve had in JibberJobber since 2006. The second tab is where you paste the Job Description, which is a simple Copy/Paste from LinkedIn, Indeed, Monster, Dice, etc. The third tab is where you will see the Word Cloud, and other analysis (see below).
Here’s what a Job Description looks like, pasted into the second tab (NOTE that double-clicking on the tab will allow you to add/edit the Notes, and add (paste) a Job Description):
Now that we have a job description in, we can click on the third tab, and see the Word Cloud (first tab), and the Analysis. Here’s what the Word Cloud looks like… notice I can change the output to different types of word clouds, and I can show x% of the top words/phrases:
So that’s it – that is what most word cloud systems let you do (afaik). The next thing we do is show you a simple statistical analysis, under the Analysis tab:
NOTE the last line in this image (there more more below this one) is TWO words… we allow you to create multi-word “phrases (see more below), as well as blacklist words or phrases, in the last two tabs.
So, click on the Phrases tab and you can see that we can force phrases – if “computer systems” are two words right next to each other, we force them to be a phrase, instead of making computer one word and systems another word… pretty cool way to “clean up” the results:
We can also blacklist words, like and or the or something else we don’t need to see in the analysis. This also helps clean up the analysis:
SO that’s it’s for Phase I. There are some REALLY COOL features that I want to introduce in Phase II… stay tuned! If you have any requests to enhance this analysis and reporting, let me know: Jason at JibberJobber dot com – thanks!
Note: I don’t blog about that because my competitors like to read my blog posts to see what we’re up to, and see what they can squeeze into their system…
My call with Fred Coon was awesome. There were a lot of gems throughout this call. I have two regrets:
We didn’t have more time. It seems like Fred just skimmed the surface on an 8-step plan… I think we could have talked for hours more. BUT, what he was able to share in 90 minutes was a great foundation for anyone.
I asked Fred, impromptu, to provide a little banjo music in the back while I wrapped it up. He did, I wrapped up, and I mistakenly stopped the recording when I was done instead of when he was done. I’ve never been banjo’d before… it was very cool
Below is our conversation. I encourage you to take notes, and if you want, let us know what impacted you most, and the minute mark of that impactful moment, so we can get to it easier.
Enjoy! (vimeo provides a full screen option comes on after you click play, but there is no visual… you can put this on while you do something else (like take notes?))
Why is this a must-read? Not everyone here is a writer… but everyone here is a communicator!
This list is all about taking normal conversation and enhancing it. The goal is not to confuse people with fancy words (like sagacious, which I would actually have to look up). The goal is to have more impactful communication. Say or write your message differently to have more impact! Can you imagine being a job seeker in an interview, or a salesperson in front of a prospect, and being the most memorable because you were the most impactful?
It’s really that important. Check out this brilliant list from Amanda Patterson in South Africa