The Perfect Candidate

Behavioral interviewing tells us a lot about a person – especially their perceptions of themselves, their actions and experiences. In a behavioral interview, the interviewer asks probing questions and the way they are answered can often be the best way to predict a candidate’s future job performance. In other words, what you see and hear is a sort of preview of upcoming attractions.

Questions are framed to uncover and understand the candidate’s past job behavior, work experience, intellectual capacity, interpersonal skills and what motivates them. It’s difficult for a candidate to avoid answering as each question is designed to be open-ended, and a simple “yes” or “no” just won’t do.

Believe it or not, there are self-perceived ‘perfect candidates’ lurking amongst us. These are the candidates that can’t seem to recall anything that would portray them as less than perfect. Really? That would be correct. These candidates attempt to strategically dodge each and every question, often never admitting to any mistakes they have made or incorrect actions they took. It’s not realistic nor believable for anyone to not have the self awareness to admit that they have made mistakes during their career. Let’s face it – that’s how many of us learn. Stepping up to the plate and admitting a shortcoming or bad decision shows that yes, you are human, you made a mistake and grew from that experience. It’s ok.

In behavioral-based interviewing the candidate is often asked how to describe an activity that centers around their experience, technical capability, leadership/management skills, analytical skills, interpersonal/writing skills and other critical areas important to the role they are seeking.

I challenge you to prepare and practice examples of moments during your career where you know you made mistakes. Don’t try to “reach for an answer” during an interview. It comes across disingenuous and downright phony, and can also disqualify your candidacy.

Develop the answers now so you will be prepared for questions like the ones noted below:
Tell me about a time when you had to take the initiative and drive a project for your team that was not going well. How did you use that experience to coach and mentor?
Tell me about a time when you had to deal with a difficult provider during an implementation. How did you handle the situation and what was the result?
Give me an example of a challenge you faced in your current role and elaborate on how you solved it.
Tell me about a time when you had to handle a very difficult leadership situation. What did you do?
Give me an example regarding a conflict with a coworker and how you resolved it.

While these are not rocket-science questions, they deserve genuine and honest answers to help demonstrate your value to an organization that may be placing high bets on you and the future of the establishment.

Listen to the question, pause and think about the answer for a few seconds. Be yourself – be honest and above all – don’t candy coat the answer. We are all human.

Knowing When to Discuss Compensation

I get a kick out of candidates that (from day one) start off each conversation about what to expect regarding the compensation once they’ve interviewed with one of my clients. Forget discussing the Where, What and the Why of a potential new role – let’s skip all of that and move to the meat of the matter and discuss what’s really important: the amount they’ll be receiving and how often they’ll get paid! It sends a hiring manager a very clear message when the candidate brings up compensation too early in the interview process, especially when the candidate has not even made it to first base (yet). But wait, there’s even worse: asking the hiring manager for a copy of the benefits package in the same breath. I’ve seen it done (over and over), and yet I’ve never seen it play out quite the way the candidate would hope. You need to understand the range for a new role. I get that. But once you know you are in the right comp range – park the money conversation until a later date.

C’mon people – we are smarter than that! Is compensation important in considering a new role? Absolutely! It’s just not what needs to roll off your tongue on the first interview. It should be a natural process that ultimately leads to discussion, but should never be the focal point for why a candidate’s interested in changing jobs. If it is , then we’ve got a problem! It’s also very bad for the hiring manager to ask about compensation too early. I always tell my candidates to try to avoid answering the question. Instead, I advise them to focus on learning more about the organization, culture and the role before discussing compensation. And talking about compensation could wind up becoming a moot point anyway – if the fit is not there, then it’s just not going to happen. There is so much more to consider and compensation is only one of the four C’s to consider when making a career move.

In the end, making a change is stressful enough. Being eliminated early in the process because you’ve placed too much focus on how you’ll get paid just adds to the stress. Let things play out naturally. A close friend of mine used to tell me “You either create your value internally or externally”.

If you are the right person for the role then money will take care of itself.

It always does.

Top 6 LinkedIn Candidate Debacles

Social media has certainly been a game-changer in today’s competitive job market, and LinkedIn is a very important part of a candidate’s virtual representation of their career accomplishments. With over 135 million members and two new accounts signing up per second, LinkedIn is becoming an ever more important professional networking and job search tool. If you think having a stellar resume is the way recruiters or future employers will evaluate and vet you as a candidate, think again. Your resume, while still a key requirement when seeking a new employer, is only part of the hiring equation. I’m baffled when I talk to an outstanding candidate who has an incomplete LinkedIn profile or a profile that’s… let’s just say is less than flattering.

Try to avoid (at all cost) falling into the “disqualified” category and make sure your Linkedin profile does not negatively impact your ability to land a new gig. Here are some tips from someone (that’d be me) who looks at hundreds of profiles every week:

Profile Photo– Stay away from unflattering photos of you having a beer with friends. It’s just not smart. Also, lose the outdated (by 20+ years) photo of yourself in your attempt to convince the world that you’ve found the Fountain of Youth. Most importantly, use a photo of yourself – not some silly cartoon avatar. We live and work in a professional world so make sure your photo is current and represents your professional self! It’s fine to have a casual photo of yourself as long as it is in good taste.

Work History– Make sure your work history is an accurate mirror image of your resume, especially in terms of its chronology of the Who, What and Where you’ve been during your career. Make sure any between-careers gaps are reflected with a consulting role (if you’ve had one). If you took a sabbatical, it’s ok to list that both on your resume and LI profile. Be accurate and disclose, disclose, disclose…

Contact Info– There is a section in your profile that gives the reader Advice for Contacting you. Make sure you use that field to input your e-mail address. The actual place to input your e-mail on your profile may vary depending on your LI subscription – but find a way to make your e-mail visible.

Interested In- If you want to be contacted about new job opportunities, LI has a specific place for you to “Opt In”. This section gives those sending an InMail way to contact you that matches the things you are most interested in. For example: Tim is interested in: Career Opportunities, Consulting Offers, New Ventures, Job Inquiries, Expertise Requests, Business Deals, Reference Requests, and Getting Back in Touch. If you turn this feature OFF, you are also limiting people from contacting you. Make sure you understand the importance of this feature.

Stay Current- Make sure your latest role and title are current with where you are today. So many candidates start a new job with a new organization, new title, new geography and perhaps more responsibility and forget to update their LI profile to reflect the changes. Make sure you check your profile for accuracy, and add any new content including educational courses or certificates you’ve earned.

Recommendations/Endorsements– This becomes important when a recruiter or hiring manager has a relationship or knows the person who wrote your recommendation, whether it’s personal or through the HCIT industry. Make sure people who write a recommendation for you have actually been an eyewitness to your work! Having no recommendations… it’s not recommended!

Hope this helps.

You Really Can’t Judge a Book by its Cover

I crossed the Arthur Ravenel Bridge last week on my way to Mt Pleasant to meet a friend for lunch. As I approached the red-light at Houston Northcutt I spotted Hassie Holmes – the newspaper guy. At first glance you might be a little intimidated in buying a newspaper from Hassie. He sends a vibe that he’s on his last nickel and even makes you wonder if he’s homeless. He is always moving around on the same corner of a busy intersection at U.S. Highway 17 and Houston Northcutt Boulevard in Mount Pleasant. He does not change spots. Always works in the exact same spot – 7 days a week. He’s been a fixture there for 20 years selling newspapers. In an article the local newspaper did on Hassie he explained to the reporter, “You can’t judge the book by its cover”. “The strangest thing is misreading somebody. If you just misread this cat, who else have you misread?” He traverses the same busy stretch of highway on a 3-wheeler bicycle to and from his home in nearby Greenhill, and most locals know that Hassie arrives in the morning and works well into the late afternoon – always. He has a basket on his bike but also pulls a small wagon to carry his large inventory of newspapers and magazines.

Holmes grew up in Charleston, but left the area in 1969 and moved to Connecticut, and remained there for nearly 25 years. Hassie earned an associate degree in electronic engineering technology at the University of Hartford’s Ward College of Technology, and later taught physics at public and private schools in Connecticut. He returned to Charleston in 1993, where he spent one semester as an adjunct professor at the College of Charleston and another semester at Trident Technical College, also as an adjunct professor. This story about the same guy in dreadlocks who resembles an old Bob Marley throwback look – just having fun selling newspapers on the side of the road. I guess it’s true that everybody has a story.

I enjoyed my lunch and started back towards the bridge waving at Hassie and thinking how many people pass by who would never dream of buying a newspaper from him, let-alone talk to him. The sad part of the story is that they’ve made up their mind about him and stereo-typed Hassie into being someone he is NOT. It made me think about the old adage that people sometimes say when they are ready to meet a candidate, “I can sum someone up in less than a minute.” Really? Can you?

I’ll share one more story on this topic with you. Nearly three years ago, I ran an ad for a Director of Administration for our firm. I had several highly qualified candidates that applied. On the day of the face to face interviews most were decked out to the nines in an effort to impress me and land a new job. I interviewed them all and had one last candidate to meet. Then, without fanfare, Elise walked in. She was not dressed to the nines but instead dressed comfortably in nice casual clothes. I noticed immediately that she sat on the edge of the chair as if she would be leaving soon and wanted to get a head start out the door.

I wrapped up the initial interviews and asked two candidates to return for a final interview. Elise was on the short list. Again, one candidate was decked out in a dress, high heels shoes and complete with fresh makeup. Elise, on the other hand, came back to the second interview once again dressed casually wearing flat comfortable Birkenstock style shoes. Like before, she sat on the edge of the chair ready to bolt out the door as soon as she heard the anticipated bad news. To add fuel to the fire she made eye contact with me as we were wrapping up the interview and said “It’s been nice meeting you and while I probably won’t get the job – I want to thank you for your time”.

I simply said “When can you start?” She has been the best administrative person I have ever hired in 30+ years in business. Bar none. It really goes to say that all of us should look a bit closer before we pass judgment when sizing up a candidate. You really can’t judge a book by its cover. You just can’t.

The Many Pitfalls of Interviewing via Cell Phone

I get it. More and more Americans are removing traditional land-line telephone service from their homes. I did it more than four years ago and have never looked back. Our home phone rarely rang anyway, and if it did, it was a phone solicitor trying to sell something or a computer-generated survey call to gather information so they could auto-dial me later to sell me something! In a USA Today story last spring a reported 25% of all US households have ditched their phone service and only use cell phones, for a variety of reasons.

What I don’t get is why a candidate would to use their cell phone to interview for their next position, knowing any number of issues could (and probably will) turn up. It’s a horrible idea. Here are a few common cell-phone/interview incompatibility scenarios that I seem to encounter time and time again:

  • You have bad cell coverage. Everyone’s cell phone has a bar indicator informing us about the strength of an area’s coverage at any given time. Knowing cell coverage is spotty at best and still choosing to do an interview on your mobile phone is just a bad idea. Multiple dropped calls get very old, very fast for the person conducting the interview, and it demonstrates some seriously poor judgment on your part.
  • You are driving. It’s a proven fact that humans are unable to process more than one piece of data at a time, so why you would elect to have a critical phone interview while driving at speeds of 70 MPH or in a rain storm with rain pelting down on your windshield?! This poor judgment call leads to multiple interview gaffes, as you are forced to ask the interviewer to speak up so you can hear them, or you ask them to hold while you attempt to navigate and impress your audience at the same time. Bad call. Pull over on the side of the road if you find yourself in your car when talking to a potential new employer.
  • Low Battery. This one is really inexcusable, but, believe it or not, has been behind many prematurely terminated interviews, just because the candidate had not thought though the consequences of running out of battery life (i.e. having to reschedule the call because of poor planning). Not a good plan. Nope!
  • Sitting in a coffee shop or restaurant. So you slipped away from the office to hole up in your favorite cafe or coffee shop, and while it may work for you, the background noise is a total distraction for the person conducting the interview. God forbid you actually order something while the person on the other end of the phone patiently waits for you to complete your request! This has actually happened!!!

It’s always best to use a landline, but if you have to use your cell, make sure to charge your phone, and avoid bad coverage areas, driving, and crowds. These risks may put you in a position where you hear the sound of dial tone on the other end of the phone because the call, the interview, and the opportunity is over!

Being Left “High and Dry”

Not to send a message of sour grapes with a recent candidate experience I had, but… why not? When I bring a candidate to the table, prep him for an interview, negotiate an offer, and then he decides to no-show for a position he’d accepted, it sends me a loud message to me and the countless others who’ve put their time into the search – we’ve been left “high and dry'”. It’s surreal to step back and think that all the effort that went into this search was wasted.

It’s human to make mistakes and to sometimes change our minds on important issues. I get that. What I don’t get is when someone doesn’t have the decency or strength of character to pick up the phone (or even return a phone call after pulling out) to explain what’s happened and why the candidate decided at the very last minute not to show up. It’s called business etiquette (or proper protocol, or whatever you want to call it) and in this case, it did not happen. Receiving that call from a client trying to find out why their new recruit has failed to show up on Monday morning is completely embarrassing. This is after they’ve invested time and resources to prepare for the new employee’s arrival, of course, including:
Setting up voicemail
Establishing an e-mail account
Ordering credit cards for travel-related expenses
Ordering and paying for a new cell phone
Ordering and paying for a new laptop
Booking airfare for an upcoming trade show
Scheduling a complete training and on-boarding plan
Announcing the “New Employee” to the entire employee population

So by now I think you get my point. Backing out of an offer – after telling everyone involved how excited you are about joining the organization, signing and accepting the job offer while continuing to look for a better deal like some NFL or NBA free agent – is just plain wrong. You’ve destroyed your brand equity and your reputation in the market and risk having this story told to others who may know lots of influential people in this space.

If you do find yourself struggling with a decision to accept an offer, then by all means, listen to the little voice inside your head and opt out early. Do it out of respect for the very people who’ve invested time, energy and money in vetting you as a candidate. Leaving them high and dry has real consequences downstream, not just for the organization and recruiter, but also for you and your brand.

PIMPING for the Big Interview

OK, before you draw any conclusions, I’m taking the high road as far as the use of the term “pimp” goes. Although most of us prepare by reading material on the person we will be interviewing with, we’re probably not fully (mentally) prepared before we “go live” as an active participant in an interview.

PIMP = Pre-Interview-Mental-Preparation (in this case). It’s sort of like when athletes use visualization techniques before swinging a bat, kicking a field goal, throwing a touchdown or putting a golf ball into the cup. It is absolutely essential to be mentally prepared and not distracted before you engage in a phone or face-to-face interview. If you’re not, the interviewer may interpret your behavior as being less-than-fully engaged, and could even send the wrong message about your interest level. While knowledge of the audience, questions and company details are critically important, it is equally important to plan for a great outcome in advance. One of my all-time favorite quotes on this subject comes from Dr Denis Waitley who said: “Your imagination is your preview of life’s coming attractions.” I believe he’s right.

William Cole actually suggests his 29 strategies to mentally warm up for your interview. Whether you use his techniques or ones you develop on your own, you should be sure your head is in the game just before your interview gets started. At minimum you should clear your plate and focus on the questions you will be asked (and how you will answer them) well before the interview takes place. Make sure you spend time with the search consultant to get a few pointers on your audience, and ask questions to help you become better prepared. Take a few deep breaths to relax your nerves and clear your mind, and for God’s sake, TURN OFF your cell phone or any other electronic devices that may distract you from achieving the outcome you desire. Most of us have never thought about the mental preparation when we’re getting ready for an interview – but we should.

Now that you have been PIMPed, get ready, prepare your mind, relax your nerves and have a great interview. Plan in advance the outcome you want, and go make it happen!

Language, Liquor, and Lies

People are simply amazing, wonderful creatures to watch, especially in an interview setting. Some candidates prepare for days while others rely on their people skills to get them through without any preparation whatsoever. Bad move. To totally rely on your gift of the gab is risky, especially when the interviewer begins to ask questions – or peels back the layers of the onion. Without some advance prep, most candidates just can’t keep it up – a few softballs – and then, game over.

Even if you are incredibly prepared, you should always stay focused on the mission – why you are there. Letting down your guard makes you vulnerable and gives the interviewer more information than they probably want to hear. In my business, I’ve seen it all. Here are a few of my favorites:

Language– I’ve written about this phenomenon before. It goes both ways – at some point in the interview process, a candidate or client suddenly feels comfortable and that they’re really (no, not really) connecting with their audience by dropping inappropriate language. They feel like they’re building rapport – forging a solid relationship – by sharing their ‘human side’ with other person. Dropping ‘F-Bombs’ is NEVER appropriate during an interview. Just last month one of our candidates decided to use inappropriate language in their very first interview with the client, and it went over like… well, it didn’t. And it never will.

Liquor – I’m not a fan of boozing it up during a dinner interview (and please, never at lunch), but some people feel compelled to order a drink if the person conducting the interview decides to enjoy a beer or a glass of wine. This can feel like a way to connect with the person you are with – especially is they could become your future boss. I always suggest abstinence when you can, and if you can’t, just one, please (and nurse it for a very long time). I’ve seen cases of over-consumption of alcohol during a dinner interview (loose lips prevailed), and it’s always downhill from there. When it doubt – club soda with a twist of lime always works, and sounds cool too!

Lies– People in HCIT leadership positions most likely know someone who knows someone who knows you. Name-dropping is never a good idea- especially if the interviewer knows that person well. This, of course, becomes very problematic when a candidate embellishes the truth about a career milestone or tries to take credit for something they never did on their own. Remember the onion analogy above? Be careful! A safe answer that is always acceptable is “I don’t know,” or “I don’t remember”. I have story after story of how stretching the truth came back to bite the candidate in more ways than one. Go ahead and tell it like it was!

My final tip is regardless of how comfortable you are with the audience (on the telephone or in person), remember to NEVER let your guard down!

RELO on the Cheap?

Earlier this year we were engaged to find a senior executive for a leading healthcare organization which would likely involve relocation. Relos have somewhat declined in our practice post-economic meltdown, largely due to the upside-down equity that many Americans have in their home values. That, in turn, forces a very geocentric talent search – starting out in the area the client is based and usually expanding state-wide, then regionally and eventually nationally. We’ve certainly done a number of relos in the past few years and employers, while interested in having a broad slate of candidates to choose from, still seem to be stuck in the fall of 2008 – afraid to make the relocation investment to find the perfect candidate.

I was asked earlier in the year to conduct a national search, but to make sure the candidate understood that the client was offering a relocation-lite. Less filling – got it! So exactly what does that mean? To some it’s a U-Haul and a Chick-Filet sandwich, while others put a cap on actual expenses incurred for moving expenses only. Both send a very clear message to the new recruit about the value they’re place on them – leaving the new hire to deal with the massive losses they’ll likely incur trying to unload the old address while hoping they’ll see upside on their new home. It’s a very delicate issue, but one that needs some careful thought and consideration to keep from sending out the wrong message.

One way to accomplish this is take a broader look at the hiring process of someone who will require relocation.

This includes:
A salary adjustment (if the cost of living is higher in the new location).
At least two trips to the new location so the family can visit the area and select the right neighborhood, find a home, schools, and make sure everyone (really) loves the new town.
Hiring and paying for a professional relocation to manage the many details of the new employee’s relocation on behalf of the company.
Reimbursement expenses like packing, materials, insurance and transportation to the new location.
Temporary housing, if required (I’ve commonly seen 3-6 months).
Some financial off-set to aid the employee in selling their old home. This may include making a fixed number of mortgage payments or paying a relocation flat bonus amount in an effort to help the new employee. Most organizations no longer buy homes as the risk to far too great in this (still) declining real estate market.
Some organizations offer low interest (recoverable) loans to help with down payments or if the new employee has to show up at the closing table with a check in order to sell their underwater home.

It’s still a bit dicey out there, and employers have to be creative and compassionate when it comes to dealing with relocation issues. While the offer of the U-Haul and Chick-Filet are appreciated – Relo-lite tastes bad in so many other ways.

Check your EGO at the Door, Please

I hear it from clients all the time – candidates who apparently do no wrong, can part the Red Sea and can literally (if needed) ‘walk on water’. Why? I’ll never know. When dealing with candidates’ large egos, I lose interest quickly. Life’s too short.

And guess what?

I’m not the only one who’s turned off by this sort of behavior.

Organizations need team players to fall in line, embrace it’s strategy, and deliver services and technology – and do it with a high degree of quality. Organizations also need leaders to lead by setting a good example and by driving the strategy in a professional and positive manner. What is NOT needed is a bunch of EGOMANIACS either on the team or leading it. These individuals have an inflated sense of self-worth and know no other way to behave. If there is an organizational morale issue – it’s clearly never their fault.

Without trying to be cruel (ok, maybe I am), I just have low (zero) tolerance for people with big EGOs. They are destructive to building high-performance teams, and a big reason why great talent goes looking elsewhere for employment. It’s ‘their way or the highway’ as they rarely contemplate making a mistake or – heaven forbid – admitting to such an atrocity. C’mon people! Who wants to work for (or with) someone like that? I once had the unpleasant experience of working for an egomaniac, and it absolutely killed the entire team’s morale. I spent more time looking for a job than focusing on the trivial tasks this knucklehead doled out.

During the hiring process, employers and recruiters should evaluate and assess candidates in the pre-screening process to determine how inflated an individual’s head really is. If they can’t check their ego at the door, it’s best to shove them out the door early-on. Hiring BIG EGO employees has a very predictable outcome. And it’s never good. Trust me!