Video Job Searching Advice

On a tip from Bill Suits, I checked out the following video:

which has some pretty good, though basic, advice on interviewing.  While video interviewing is not being adopted as fast as some people thought, perhaps videos of interviewing advice will.  🙂

There is a whole series of videos from this group, which are linked to in the lower right corner of the screen.

Check them out!

Behavioral Interviews

I attended a Webinar today on behavioural interviews, and thought I’d share some of their tips with you.

They cited a statistic that behavioral based interviewing is 2 to 5 times more likely to result in a successful match than traditional interviewing. Good news for both sides!

Behavioral questions are used to try to predict on the job behavior, and make sure the candidate will fit into the culture of the company. It can also reveal why the candidate is ready to leave their current company, why they behave the way they do, and sometimes can reveal how the hiring company compares to the competition. They can also uncover information that would not have been covered in a traditional interview, and it’s harder for the candidate to just give the answers they think they interviewer wants to hear.

In any interview, the interviewer is trying to asses the candidate’s knowledge, skills and abilities (KSAs) and how they match those needed for the position. These might include communication, problem-solving ability, coaching, creativity and innovation, and so on. Specific KSAs will be required for each position, and will be identified in advance by the company. A behavioral question will ask the candidate to provide a specific example of a time when he/she has exhibited each trait. To follow up, probing questions are used to make the candidate elaborate, and will often reveal if the candidate is fabricating. By asking each candidate the same questions, companies can avoid any appearance of favoritism or bias.

The interviewer is trying to draw out as much information and as many examples as possible, so they can really get an understanding of how the candidate thinks, and acts. The answers are then quantitatively evaluated against “ideal” answers, and higher scoring candidates are further evaluated.

Know Your Audience

I am currently in the midst of preparing 5 talks that I will be giving over the next 3 weeks. In each case I am using a variant of a talk I have given before, tweaking it for the anticipated audience and particular venue.

While I think I’ve done a pretty good job of customizing them, I always do an “audience analysis” at the start of each presentation. I ask the audience members about their level of education, background, and expectations for the talk. In that way, I can tailor it even more, to make sure I’m giving them what they want. Sometimes I cheat, when what they want isn’t what they need, but I do my best to always cover both.

Nowhere is this more important than in the job interview presentation. David G. Jensen has a great article on this topic, entitled Tooling Up: The Finer Points of Giving a Job Talk, where he talks about knowing your audience, as well as other typical interview talk mistakes. Check it out!

Do the Interview Write

I had lunch with a colleague today, to catch up and talk about his career. During the course of our lunch, we talked about interviews and interviewing. He mentions that his company now gives a writing test as a standard part of the interview process for PhD scientists. He mentioned on candidate who gave a great seminar, but “blew off” the writing test – he didn’t take it seriously, and didn’t spend the time to craft a good answer. That decision ended up costing him the job.

Yesterday, I heard about an applicant who submitted a resume to a large company. After an initial screening interview, she had a timed intelligence test, video interview, then a problem solving test before being considered for an on-site interview.

I am seeing more and more of this – formal testing as part of the interview process. If the company is taking the time to do it, as an interviewee you had better take it seriously. Finding out what the company is trying to find out about you can also give you insight into the company culture, and help you decide if you want to work there.

Oral Communication – More Resources

In response to my recent post on the importance of good oral communication skills, Andrew Dlugan pointe out that he maintains a list of public speaking and presentation skills blogs, which currently has over 90 entries.

He also pointed out his article that reviews the data presentation techniques of Hans Rosling. Dr. Rosling’s 20 minute talk is fascinating to watch, and presents data as complex as any chemist is likely to do. Andrew then points out the various techniques used to make the data understandable, and even exciting.

Packaging Matters

I was in New Orleans for the ACS national meeting, and was able to sneak out for a visit to the French Quarter. It was almost as I remembered it, and I was able to find my favorite needlepoint store there. What I like most about the store is not what they have for sale (which is lovely, but mostly not the type of stuff I do). What I like is how they wrap your purchases. I always find something to buy, because they make the package so festive. When I get home, I set the package on my chair and admire it, and it’s almost too pretty to open. (Almost!)

On a related note, does anyone remember the Cosby Show? I remember one scene, where one of the daughters had surprised her parents by bringing home a boyfriend of whom she did not think they would approve. In talking to the boyfriend, the Dad compared him to a steak dinner with all the trimmings, that had been served on a garbage can lid. No matter how wonderful the dinner was, no one was going to eat it because of the way in which it was presented.

What does all this have to do with your career? Presentation matters! You may be the perfect candidate for the job, but if you show up for the interview in torn jeans, you’re not going to get it. If you meet a new colleague for the first time and are needy, instead of helpful, they’re not going to want to help you. And finally, if you hear about a career path that sounds perfect for you but is being presented badly, do some investigation to find out if it’s really a steak dinner, just being delivered on a garbage can lid.

Too Much Practice?

A colleague of mine is teaching a career management class at his local university. After presenting a mock interview, two of his students told him that “they did not need to practice interviewing. They knew their material and do not feel that preparation would allow them to feel natural. It would feel and appear too rehearsed.”

I certainly agree that you don’t want to have scripted, canned answers to the interview questions that you know you’re going to get. You should know what you’re going to talk about, but not have word-for-word memorized script. Similar to when you give a scientific presentation – you want to have the opening and closing down pat, but in the middle you just need to have confidence in your subject matter, know the story you’re going to tell, and know what segue you’re going to use to get to the next slide.

However, different interviewers will ask different questions, and the conversation will go down different paths. Maybe they’ll ask a question you never thought about, or make you think about something you did in a different way. An interview is not where you want to say “Gee, I never thought of that before!” Even if you don’t want to practice formal job interviews, you should spend time talking to colleagues and others about your possible career paths, your personal values, motivators and skills, and so on. Yes, you are the primary expert on yourself. But sometimes, it’s hard to put things into words – especially non-concrete things like feelings, wants and aspirations. The more you think about these things, and actually articulate them out loud, the better you will become at it.

And the better you become at articulating your own career goals, the better you will be able to not only understand, but also explain to a potential employer how your goals and theirs match. And isn’t that the point of the interview?

How to Conduct an Informational Interview

As a technical writer, I spend a lot of time interviewing subject matter experts (SMEs). My goal is to learn about how the device I’m documenting (usually scientific software) works, so I can design a manual that tells the end users what they need to know, when they need to know it. The SMEs goal is usually to get me out of their office as soon as possible. To make both of us happy, I spend a lot of time preparing for the interview, and try to make the interview itself as painless as possible. Many of the techniques I use are also applicable to informational interviews, where the SME may know about a particular company, professional area, or career direction you are interested in learning more about. Here’s how to make the experience more pleasant for both parties.

Step 1. Prepare Beforehand
Before I interview an SME, I request, and READ, any existing specifications or design documents. If possible, I use the software and become comfortable with the interface. I find out which engineer is responsible for which parts of the design and implementation.

If you’re going to conduct an informational interview, do your research ahead of time. You don’t want to waste your SMEs time, so find out the easy, factual stuff on your own. Save their time for opinions, predictions, and personal anecdotes that you can’t get to any other way.

Step 2. Set up the Interview
For some reason, everyone thinks all meetings should last one hour. That’s a lot of time. Many SMEs will be much more cooperative if you ask for 30 minutes, then stick to that limit. You can always meet again later, once you’ve digested what you learned in the first meeting.

Step 3. Conduct the Interview
Start with easy, yes/no or short answer questions to get your SME warmed up. These may be clarification on things you found out in your research, general background questions, and so on. This allows the two of you to get to know each other, and get a feeling for each person’s level of understanding of the topic, as well as communication styles.

Listen carefully not only to the words, but to the SME’s tone of voice, body language, and so on. Nonverbal cues can be critical in identifying which information is most important. On your part, maintain eye contact (without staring), smile or not to indicate understanding, don’t fidget, and take concise notes – all of which indicates your interest in their words.

As the interview progresses, and you become more comfortable, you can move to move open-ended questions following up on earlier responses.

Step 4. Close the Interview
Once you’ve gotten answers to your questions, don’t be afraid to rephrase in your own words. This again shows you were listening, and ensures that you did not miss any important points.

A good final question might be “Is there anything else I should have asked, or that you think I should know?”

It should go without saying that you sincerely thank your SME for their time.

Step 5. Document the Interview
It’s a good idea to write up your notes as soon as possible after the interview. This limits the amount of information you’ll forget, or get confused with future interviews. Some of the material may require more thought later, but you can at least get all the facts down before you forget the details. Also, writing them down will help you digest what you learned, and point out holes in your knowledge.

If appropriate, send a copy to the SME and ask them to review for accuracy.

That’s it! Are there any other steps I’ve left out, or tips you’ve found useful? Post them in the comments!