When I’m analyzing a client’s or student’s career transition, trying to create a diagnosis of what may be going wrong, I’ll take a look at several critical elements:
Are there two or three clearly defined targets? How were these chosen?
Are there well-designed pitches for these targets that will establish the value and unique qualities of the job seeker?
Is his/her networking leading to contacts with decision makers?
Are networking meetings resulting in new information, a reinforced or new relationship, and new potential contacts?
If interviews have taken place, is there a problem getting to the subsequent rounds?
It is the last item on this checklist that is one of the most difficult to figure out. The job seeker is getting interviews, which is usually the most difficult part of the process. That means all the other components are working, indicating that what I consider to be the toughest aspects, especially relationship-building, have been successful. And she or he is getting past the first round of interviews, also a tough obstacle.
I think the interview is generally the easiest part of the career transition process to fix. Learning how to answer the difficult questions, how to present well, how to actively listen and respond accordingly are more mechanical and direct than the somewhat amorphous nature of building networks.
But something goes wrong when the applicant doesn’t get past that second round. Sometimes it’s pure chemistry, and sometimes it’s just not a good match. It can also be luck of the draw, perhaps even the timing of the interview. And, too often, it’s impossible to figure out what didn’t work; prospective employees end up trying to read tea leaves, endlessly.
When the process ends after the second or third round (or later), I will ask a client or student to tell me details of all of the interviews. What I’m particularly interested in is – what was the difference in substance and tone between the second and third rounds or between subsequent ones?
In a majority of situations that haven’t worked, I have learned that the applicant’s tone has changed.
The problem, then, might be one of two issues that occur in the advanced stages of an interview process. First, there’s the sales notion of “closing the deal.” In other words, pitch and sell hard. Be more direct. Change tone and be more assertive.
I usually advise job seekers to maintain the same tone that got them there in the first place. If an applicant gets past the initial screen, it means a representative of the organization feels it’s a good fit, stylistically and substantively. So why change in the next – or the one after that - round?
I think it’s important to stay the same throughout the process, continue being the person they thought was a good fit at the beginning. The only thing that should change, perhaps, is adding more “war stories,” more behavioral examples of accomplishments.
The other potential problem in advanced rounds is an assumption that it’s “in the bag,” so acting like it’s a done deal, with confidence, will reinforce the interviewer’s positive perception.
Never assume anything. The selling nature of interviewing should be continued throughout the entire hiring process, including negotiations. It doesn’t stop. Not even when a decision-maker indicates that you’re the lead candidate. (How many times have job seekers heard that one, and then never heard from the person again?) The tone should stay the same, and the selling should continue.
For as long as I can remember, I’ve advised people in career transition to always stick to my version of President Kennedy’s often-quoted inaugural speech, “Ask not what the organization can do for you; rather, ask what you can do for the organization.” That should be the focus of all interviews, and especially the later ones. With no change of tone.
Ellis Chase is one of Manhattan’s top career consultants and executive coaches. His book, In Search of the Fun-Forever Job: Career Strategies That Work, was published by Bacon Press in April.
You can learn more from and about Ellis on his website, www.ellischase.com and via his blog.
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