Interviewing: Come Bearing Gifts And Prepared To Run Through Walls
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Interviewing: Come Bearing Gifts And Prepared To Run Through Walls

I’ve been wanting to write this post for a while and Tristan Walker’s latest post on how he got his job at Foursquare inspired me to take the plunge this weekend.

Interviewing is a necessary evil in our society and we all need to go through the process at some point in our lives (unless we’re born entrepreneurs). There are countless books written about the topic and thousands of self-proclaimed experts who try to prep us so we’re ready to handle any conceivable question. There are even entire MBA courses devoted to the subject. Those types of resources have certainly helped hundreds of thousands if not millions of job candidates around the world land the job of their dreams. The reality is, however, that jobs are more competitive than ever before and the traditional interview is changing, especially in the startup world. You’re not going to land the perfect job by just having a solid resume anymore, you need to find ways to differentiate yourself.

Throughout my career, I’ve learned, first hand, that the best resumes don’t always win. The people who win interviews, more often than not, are the ones who run through walls to demonstrate that they’re deeply passionate about the role and the company. They go the extra mile. The winners track down colleagues and acquaintances who are connected to the company and hiring managers. They also send catchy and convincing emails like the one that Tristan sent to Dennis and Naveen. Most importantly, they bring gifts to the interview and shower the hiring manager with confidence. What do I mean by that?

Gifts, in an interviewing context, are the things that resumes will never be able to communicate They’re the ideas, the relationships, the execution, the intangibles that are impossible to capture on paper. There are a variety gifts that a candidate can bring along to an interview and here are some of them based on my experience.

If you take anything away from this blog post, do everything in your power throughout the interview process to prove that you can do the job better than anyone else starting immediately. Show you can deliver value even before you leave your first interview. If you’re successful in doing this, the hiring manager will have confidence in you and you’ll make the hiring decision more difficult. As you can see from above, there are many different gifts (and probably many more) that you can offer to separate yourself from the pack. The next time you’re gunning for your dream job, bring gifts and you’ll be at an advantage. Good luck!

This post originally appeared at Schlaf Notes.

The Ten Worst Things to Put in Your Cover Letter

It’s never too early to make a bad impression.

A cover letter or introductory email is often the first thing a potential employer sees when reviewing a job applicant. It’s the first opportunity to impress recruiters and hiring managers and, therefore, the first opportunity to disappoint them. Everything from copy mistakes to inappropriate jokes in a cover letter could derail an application.

Here are the top ten worst things to put on a cover letter:

Six Keys to Being Excellent at Anything

Written by: Tony Schwartz is the president and CEO of The Energy Project and the author of Be Excellent at Anything

I’ve been playing tennis for nearly five decades. I love the game and I hit the ball well, but I’m far from the player I wish I were.

I’ve been thinking about this a lot the past couple of weeks, because I’ve taken the opportunity, for the first time in many years, to play tennis nearly every day. My game has gotten progressively stronger. I’ve had a number of rapturous moments during which I’ve played like the player I long to be.

And almost certainly could be, even though I’m 58 years old. Until recently, I never believed that was possible. For most of my adult life, I’ve accepted the incredibly durable myth that some people are born with special talents and gifts, and that the potential to truly excel in any given pursuit is largely determined by our genetic inheritance.

During the past year, I’ve read no fewer than five books — and a raft of scientific research — which powerfully challenge that assumption (see below for a list). I’ve also written one, The Way We’re Working Isn’t Working, which lays out a guide, grounded in the science of high performance, to systematically building your capacity physically, emotionally, mentally, and spiritually.

We’ve found, in our work with executives at dozens of organizations, that it’s possible to build any given skill or capacity in the same systematic way we do a muscle: push past your comfort zone, and then rest. Aristotle Will Durant*, commenting on Aristotle, pointed out that the philosopher had it exactly right 2000 years ago: “We are what we repeatedly do.” By relying on highly specific practices, we’ve seen our clients dramatically improve skills ranging from empathy, to focus, to creativity, to summoning positive emotions, to deeply relaxing.

Like everyone who studies performance, I’m indebted to the extraordinary Anders Ericsson, arguably the world’s leading researcher into high performance. For more than two decades, Ericsson has been making the case that it’s not inherited talent which determines how good we become at something, but rather how hard we’re willing to work — something he calls “deliberate practice.” Numerous researchers now agree that 10,000 hours of such practice is the minimum necessary to achieve expertise in any complex domain.

That notion is wonderfully empowering. It suggests we have remarkable capacity to influence our own outcomes. But that’s also daunting. One of Ericsson’s central findings is that practice is not only the most important ingredient in achieving excellence, but also the most difficult and the least intrinsically enjoyable.

If you want to be really good at something, it’s going to involve relentlessly pushing past your comfort zone, as well as frustration, struggle, setbacks and failures. That’s true as long as you want to continue to improve, or even maintain a high level of excellence. The reward is that being really good at something you’ve earned through your own hard work can be immensely satisfying.

Here, then, are the six keys to achieving excellence we’ve found are most effective for our clients:

I have practiced tennis deliberately over the years, but never for the several hours a day required to achieve a truly high level of excellence. What’s changed is that I don’t berate myself any longer for falling short. I know exactly what it would take to get to that level.

I’ve got too many other higher priorities to give tennis that attention right now. But I find it incredibly exciting to know that I’m still capable of getting far better at tennis — or at anything else — and so are you.

How social media can affect your job application

The next time you apply for a job, don’t be surprised if you have to agree to a social-media background check. Many U.S. companies and recruiters are now looking at your , Flickr and other accounts and blogs — even YouTube — to paint a clearer picture of who you are.

“Almost all employers do some form of background screening because they have to avoid negligent hiring,” said Max Drucker, chief executive of Social Intelligence, a consumer-reporting agency. “An employer has an obligation to make the best effort to protect their employees and customers when they hire.”

And now the Federal Trade Commission has decided that companies that research how you spend your personal time and what your passions and hobbies are do not violate your privacy. The agency recently investigated Social Intelligence, which scours the Internet for the information, pictures and comments you freely share with the world and sells that data to your potential employers. The FTC found the company compliant with the Fair Credit Reporting Act. In other words, the Internet is fair game.

“When someone puts their public life out there publicly, it’s there to be evaluated,” said Kim Harmer, a partner at Harmer Associates, a Chicago-based recruiting firm. “You find out lots of things about people just by Googling them.”

It’s not the party photos

You can breathe a sigh of relief about those party pictures plastered all over your Facebook — most employers and consumer-reporting agencies will look past them, unless, of course, you’re underage.

“I look at their Facebook and see how they approach what they put on it,” Harmer said. “Is it immature? Appropriate or inappropriate? I’m not judging their activity but looking at how they communicate what they do and their thoughts and their judgments to the public as a reflection of what they will do with clients and team members.”

Drucker said he only searches for what the companies direct him to find and stays away from giving employers information that might be considered discriminatory to the hiring process. Employers, for example, cannot legally make hiring decisions based on race, religion, marital status or disability. But they can make decisions based on whether or not they like your attitude or your ethics.

A Social Intelligence report to a company would include racist remarks, sexually explicit photos or videos, or flagrant displays of weapons or illegal activity, Drucker said. And your decision to post a naked picture of yourself might not go over well with a potential employer.

“That might not be relevant to the job, but an employer gets to determine if that’s the kind of person he wants representing his company,” Drucker said.”We don’t make the decisions. We just generate the reports.”

He said he has been surprised by how many racist comments and flagrant displays of drug use people post online. “It’s not just smoking marijuana. It’s snorting cocaine, talking about doing Ecstasy on Twitter or a forum or message board, showing it in photos or video-sharing sites,” he said.

Some companies are mining photo- and video-gathering sites using facial-recognition software. If you were among those rioting in the streets of Vancouver after the National Hockey League championship, for example, a potential boss could find you the same way the police tracked down those responsible for some of the bedlam — in the pictures.

“We are going from the Web being a place of extraordinary anonymity to a place where your every movement could be traced if someone’s taking pictures of you and posting them,” said John Challenger, chief executive of Challenger, Gray & Christmas, an outplacement-consulting firm. “Job seekers need to be careful because of that,” so they don’t make a mistake and lose a job as a result, he said.

They also need to know that not all companies use reporting agencies like Social Intelligence. Some take a hodgepodge approach to mining your data.

“People are slowly becoming aware of the consequences of posting too much information on the Web,” Challenger said. “But they shouldn’t wait until they make a mistake and lose a job because of it.”

What you should do

Here are some tips:

Jennifer Waters is a reporter for MarketWatch, where this story originally appeared. Write to her here.

50 Common Interview Questions and Answers

1. Tell me about yourself:
The most often asked question in interviews. You need to have a short
statement prepared in your mind. Be careful that it does not sound
rehearsed. Limit it to work-related items unless instructed otherwise.
Talk about things you have done and jobs you have held that relate to
the position you are interviewing for. Start with the item farthest
back and work up to the present.

2. Why did you leave your last job?
Stay positive regardless of the circumstances. Never refer to a major
problem with management and never speak ill of supervisors, co-workers
or the organization. If you do, you will be the one looking bad. Keep
smiling and talk about leaving for a positive reason such as an
opportunity, a chance to do something special or other forward-looking
reasons.

3. What experience do you have in this field?
Speak about specifics that relate to the position you are applying for.
If you do not have specific experience, get as close as you can.

4. Do you consider yourself successful?
You should always answer yes and briefly explain why. A good
explanation is that you have set goals, and you have met some and are
on track to achieve the others.

5. What do co-workers say about you?
Be prepared with a quote or two from co-workers. Either a specific
statement or a paraphrase will work. Jill Clark, a co-worker at Smith
Company, always said I was the hardest workers she had ever known. It
is as powerful as Jill having said it at the interview herself.

6. What do you know about this organization?
This question is one reason to do some research on the organization
before the interview. Find out where they have been and where they are
going. What are the current issues and who are the major players?

7. What have you done to improve your knowledge in the last year?
Try to include improvement activities that relate to the job. A wide
variety of activities can be mentioned as positive self-improvement.
Have some good ones handy to mention.

8. Are you applying for other jobs?
Be honest but do not spend a lot of time in this area. Keep the focus
on this job and what you can do for this organization. Anything else is
a distraction.

9. Why do you want to work for this organization?
This may take some thought and certainly, should be based on the
research you have done on the organization. Sincerity is extremely
important here and will easily be sensed. Relate it to your long-term
career goals.

10. Do you know anyone who works for us?
Be aware of the policy on relatives working for the organization. This
can affect your answer even though they asked about friends not
relatives. Be careful to mention a friend only if they are well thought
of.

11. What kind of salary do you need?
A loaded question. A nasty little game that you will probably lose if
you answer first. So, do not answer it. Instead, say something like,
That’s a tough question. Can you tell me the range for this position?
In most cases, the interviewer, taken off guard, will tell you. If not,
say that it can depend on the details of the job. Then give a wide
range.

12. Are you a team player?
You are, of course, a team player. Be sure to have examples ready.
Specifics that show you often perform for the good of the team rather
than for yourself are good evidence of your team attitude. Do not brag,
just say it in a matter-of-fact tone. This is a key point.

13. How long would you expect to work for us if hired?
Specifics here are not good. Something like this should work: I’d like
it to be a long time. Or As long as we both feel I’m doing a good job.

14. Have you ever had to fire anyone? How did you feel about that?
This is serious. Do not make light of it or in any way seem like you
like to fire people. At the same time, you will do it when it is the
right thing to do. When it comes to the organization versus the
individual who has created a harmful situation, you will protect the
organization. Remember firing is not the same as layoff or reduction in
force.

15. What is your philosophy towards work?
The interviewer is not looking for a long or flowery dissertation here.
Do you have strong feelings that the job gets done? Yes. That’s the
type of answer that works best here. Short and positive, showing a
benefit to the organization.

16. If you had enough money to retire right now, would you?
Answer yes if you would. But since you need to work, this is the type
of work you prefer. Do not say yes if you do not mean it.

17. Have you ever been asked to leave a position?
If you have not, say no. If you have, be honest, brief and avoid saying
negative things about the people or organization involved.

18. Explain how you would be an asset to this organization.
You should be anxious for this question. It gives you a chance to
highlight your best points as they relate to the position being
discussed. Give a little advance thought to this relationship.

19. Why should we hire you?
Point out how your assets meet what the organization needs. Do not
mention any other candidates to make a comparison.

20. Tell me about a suggestion you have made.
Have a good one ready. Be sure and use a suggestion that was accepted
and was then considered successful. One related to the type of work
applied for is a real plus.

21. What irritates you about co-workers?
This is a trap question. Think real hard but fail to come up with
anything that irritates you. A short statement that you seem to get
along with folks is great.

22. What is your greatest strength?
Numerous answers are good, just stay positive. A few good examples:
Your ability to prioritize, Your problem-solving skills, Your ability
to work under pressure, Your ability to focus on projects, Your
professional expertise, Your leadership skills, Your positive attitude.

23. Tell me about your dream job.
Stay away from a specific job. You cannot win. If you say the job you
are contending for is it, you strain credibility. If you say another
job is it, you plant the suspicion that you will be dissatisfied with
this position if hired. The best is to stay genetic and say something
like: A job where I love the work, like the people, can contribute and
can’t wait to get to work.

24. Why do you think you would do well at this job?
Give several reasons and include skills, experience and interest.

25. What are you looking for in a job?
See answer # 23.

26. What kind of person would you refuse to work with?
Do not be trivial. It would take disloyalty to the organization,
violence or lawbreaking to get you to object. Minor objections will
label you as a whiner.

27. What is more important to you: the money or the work?
Money is always important, but the work is the most important. There is
no better answer.

28. What would your previous supervisor say your strongest point is?
There are numerous good possibilities:
Loyalty, Energy, Positive attitude, Leadership, Team player, Expertise,
Initiative, Patience, Hard work, Creativity, Problem solver.

29. Tell me about a problem you had with a supervisor.
Biggest trap of all. This is a test to see if you will speak ill of
your boss. If you fall for it and tell about a problem with a former
boss, you may well below the interview right there. Stay positive and
develop a poor memory about any trouble with a supervisor.

30. What has disappointed you about a job?
Don’t get trivial or negative. Safe areas are few but can include:
Not enough of a challenge. You were laid off in a reduction Company did
not win a contract, which would have given you more responsibility.

31. Tell me about your ability to work under pressure.
You may say that you thrive under certain types of pressure. Give an
example that relates to the type of position applied for.

32. Do your skills match this job or another job more closely?
Probably this one. Do not give fuel to the suspicion that you may want
another job more than this one.

33. What motivates you to do your best on the job?
This is a personal trait that only you can say, but good examples are:
Challenge, Achievement, Recognition.

34. Are you willing to work overtime? Nights? Weekends?
This is up to you. Be totally honest.

35. How would you know you were successful on this job?
Several ways are good measures:
You set high standards for yourself and meet them. Your outcomes are a
success.Your boss tell you that you are successful.

36. Would you be willing to relocate if required?
You should be clear on this with your family prior to the interview if
you think there is a chance it may come up. Do not say yes just to get
the job if the real answer is no. This can create a lot of problems
later on in your career. Be honest at this point and save yourself
future grief.

37. Are you willing to put the interests of the organization ahead of your own?
This is a straight loyalty and dedication question. Do not worry about
the deep ethical and philosophical implications. Just say yes.

38. Describe your management style.
Try to avoid labels. Some of the more common labels, like progressive,
salesman or consensus, can have several meanings or descriptions
depending on which management expert you listen to. The situational
style is safe, because it says you will manage according to the
situation, instead of one size fits all.

39. What have you learned from mistakes on the job?
Here you have to come up with something or you strain credibility. Make
it small, well intentioned mistake with a positive lesson learned. An
example would be working too far ahead of colleagues on a project and
thus throwing coordination off.

40. Do you have any blind spots?
Trick question. If you know about blind spots, they are no longer blind
spots. Do not reveal any personal areas of concern here. Let them do
their own discovery on your bad points. Do not hand it to them.

41. If you were hiring a person for this job, what would you look for?
Be careful to mention traits that are needed and that you have.

42. Do you think you are overqualified for this position?
Regardless of your qualifications, state that you are very well
qualified for the position.

43. How do you propose to compensate for your lack of experience?
First, if you have experience that the interviewer does not know about,
bring that up: Then, point out (if true) that you are a hard working
quick learner.

44. What qualities do you look for in a boss?
Be generic and positive. Safe qualities are knowledgeable, a sense of
humor, fair, loyal to subordinates and holder of high standards. All
bosses think they have these traits.

45. Tell me about a time when you helped resolve a dispute betweenothers.
Pick a specific incident. Concentrate on your problem solving technique
and not the dispute you settled.

46. What position do you prefer on a team working on a project?
Be honest. If you are comfortable in different roles, point that out.

47. Describe your work ethic.
Emphasize benefits to the organization. Things like, determination to
get the job done and work hard but enjoy your work are good.

48. What has been your biggest professional disappointment?
Be sure that you refer to something that was beyond your control. Show
acceptance and no negative feelings.

49. Tell me about the most fun you have had on the job.
Talk about having fun by accomplishing something for the organization.

50. Do you have any questions for me?
Always have some questions prepared. Questions prepared where you will be an asset to the organization are good. How soon will I be able to be productive? and What type of projects will I be able to assist on? are examples

Interview tips

Here are some interview tips which could help you:

How to prepare your CV

The following will help you prepare your CV:

  • Prepare a detailed CV and a 2 page CV – to suit whatever is requested by a prospective employer.
  • The format must be simple and easy to read.
  • Personalise your covering letter to suit each position you apply for. i.e. bringing to the fore the skills and qualifications the company is looking for and why your experience would suit this position. A short paragraph is sufficient.
  • For IT technical candidates a skills matrix is essential – listing all technical skills obtained, what period of time worked with, up until what date worked with, and rate yourself between 1 – 5. Be careful to rate 5 unless you are quite confident you know everything within this skill set. 4 is considered a good score.
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