Archive for the ‘Interviewing’ Category

How to Minimize Weight Discrimination in the Job Interview

Wednesday, April 29th, 2015

Some years ago, I was a guest on an hour-long radio program and the interviewer was the top dog for a large organization. He was charming and personable on-air, but during the breaks he showed his true colors.

When he asked my age I thought it was inappropriate, but I wasn’t offended. Later he told me about a receptionist who used to work for him, the operative term being “used to.” I asked him why she didn’t work out he responded with incredible insensitivity: “She was fat. How can you have a fat person representing an organization? I was embarrassed to have her at the front desk.” He bragged that he quickly found an excuse to give her the heave-ho. His bluntness and crushing insensitivity shocked me, and I found it interesting that his off-air persona was so different from the one he portrayed to his listeners.

Note that he didn’t fire her because of her performance. In fact, when I asked about that he changed the subject, as if to say, “What does that have to do with anything?” She was fat. That, he was certain, was all he needed to say about the matter. When I asked why he hired her in the first place, he said, “I didn’t. My associate did. If I’d done the interview, she would never have gotten the job.” I had to grit my teeth to make it through the rest of the program.

According to Lennon Simpson in an article for eHow, “Obesity reigns as one of the most socially accepted basis for discrimination.” Research bears this out: A 2006 Western Michigan University study found that weight discrimination affects all aspects of employment, and that women are more likely to be discriminated against based on their weight than men.

Dress Appropriately for an Interview

As a résumé writer and career consultant for more than 25-years, it has been my experience that larger women and men already know this, and it can be a source of considerable anxiety when preparing for an interview. The temptation is often to over-compensate: wearing a bold colors and then accessorizing with huge jewelry. Of course, there’s also the other extreme: wearing old jeans and/or an over-sized sweatshirt in an effort to hide one’s body.

At all costs, avoid either extreme. Wear something that is conservative and professional. Darker colors are good, but you don’t have to look like you’re going to a funeral. Throw in a splash of color, but remember not to over-do. For women: when putting on jewelry, reach for the pearls or a single chain, and opt for smaller earrings rather than the three-inch hoops. Also, wear simple pumps that are comfortable and classic. For both men and women: When in doubt, remember that it’s always better to be a little understated.

Of course, it’s possible to be too understated! The key is to look professional, regardless of size. Slacks and a nice blouse or shirt, perhaps with a jacket, are fine. And for women: the old rule about having to wear a skirt for an interview went out with the 60’s. Today it is optional, so wear what makes you feel the most comfortable.

Attitude: The Linchpin

Of course, wearing exactly the right outfit won’t do you much good if you walk in with an attitude. And, as with the mode of dress, there are two extremes.

One is the chip-on-the-shoulder attitude. The other is the I-hate-my-body-and-I’m-too-fat-to-ever-get-this-job attitude. Either one is a killer.

When you meet the interviewer, smile, extend your hand, and give a firm (not limp) handshake. Look him or her in the eye, say their name (“It’s nice to meet you, Mr. Smith”), and be prepared to explain what value you bring to the position based on your prior experience. Don’t brag, but don’t sell yourself short, either! Convey enthusiasm and remember that if you don’t tell this company what you can do for them, nobody else will.

Also, do your homework ahead of time and then interact positively, asking questions about the company and the position. Search the Web prior to the interview to learn about the organization’s history and values, and when the opportunity arises work what you’ve learned into the conversation. Believe me, nothing impresses an interviewer more than a person who conveys a genuine interest in the company.

Then, immediately after the interview, write a thank you note to everyone who interviewed you. (It’s perfectly acceptable to ask your interviewers for their business cards.) The note can be hand-written on simple stationery or a note card, or you can send it out via email. Hand-written is a little unusual these days and adds a personal touch that may make you stand out. Emails, on the other hand, get to the recipient faster.

Nevertheless, the thank you letter is a small courtesy that speaks volumes about your professionalism and follow-through. In fact, I’ve had interviewers tell me that for some positions they don’t hire people who fail to send a thank you note, regardless of their qualifications. Others have told me that, when all else is equal, the person who sends the thank you note gets the job.

Let’s face it, discrimination is a fact of life, but people overcome all forms of discrimination everyday. You can, too. Regardless of your size, dress appropriately, look and act like a professional, remain positive and confident, and hone in on what you can do for them. And regarding the very rude and ignorant radio talk show interviewer I had the misfortune to meet, I determined within a minute or two into our conversation that the woman he fired was well rid of him.

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Copyright 2013, Anne Follis, CPRW. All rights reserved

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How to Answer the Question “Tell Me About Your Weaknesses”

Friday, March 1st, 2013

A question I am frequently asked is how to respond to the interview question, “Tell me about your weaknesses.” The traditional (and very canned) response is to take a strength and disguise it as a weakness. For example, you may say, “I’m a perfectionist, or “I’m a work-a-holic” or “I’m always early and most days I start work an hour ahead of time.” These answers are from the-interviewer-is-an-idiot school of thought, and they aren’t likely to fool anyone. You’d be better off mentioning a genuine weakness that you’ve recognized and made progress in overcoming.

For example: “I’ve had trouble delegating work in the past, but with recent cutbacks we’ve all been overloaded. So I implemented team meetings and cross-training, and I’ve had to learn to trust the people under me more than I normally would. To my surprise, production has gone up and morale is improved. It can be a blow to the ego to discover that you’re not the only competent person in the office, but it was something I needed to learn. I think it’s made me a better manager.”

This tells the interviewer three things: You’re not perfect (actually, he or she already knew that), you’re honest, and you’re able to acknowledge your weaknesses and learn from your mistakes.

Be careful about the interviewer who keeps pressing you to describe more weaknesses, however. After you’ve given one, or at the most two weakness stories, it’s entirely proper to say, “I’m sorry, that’s all I can think of right now.” Some interviewers press on this question in an attempt to find out what’s beneath the surface, and if you’re not careful, you can talk yourself into a corner.

~ Anne Follis, CPRW

© Copyright 2013, Anne Follis. All rights reserved.

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How to Prepare and Use a Portfolio for Your Interview

Wednesday, June 4th, 2008

He was a mechanical engineer who had developed any number of creative process improvements over the years, saving his company millions of dollars. And he was proud of his work. In fact, when I first met with him to go over his history and begin the resume development process, he brought me a shoe box full of photographs and diagrams. I was so impressed with his creativity and enthusiasm that I suggested he create a portfolio to use during an interview.

A portfolio? He had no idea what I was talking about.

People in creative fields routinely prepare portfolios: teachers, graphic artists, writers. But portfolios can be used for almost any position, and for people at all levels: new grads to executives. If done effectively, a portfolio can give you a unique opportunity to showcase your talents.

It can run the gamut from a single sheet of paper as an adjunct to your resume, with graphics and a list of accomplishments, to a notebook full of original photographs and materials with succinct and creative headings. You might even create a leave-behind DVD of you at work doing what you do best. Below are some strategies for putting together a portfolio, and some suggestions on how to use it in an interview.

How to Create an Effective Portfolio

Keep in mind that your portfolio must present you as a professional. Don’t hurry the process, and don’t skimp. Contrary to the maxim, a book is almost always judged by its cover! Purchase a classy folder and use plastic sleeves to display and protect materials. It should be a nice size, but not so large that it’s awkward to carry or display.

Put the most impressive information at the front of the portfolio, because you don’t know how much time you’ll have once you get to it in an interview (more about that later). In fact, you can re-arrange the information for each interview, depending on the responsibilities of the position for which you’re applying.

Some Information to Include in Your Portfolio

It varies, depending on your areas of expertise and experience, but you may want to include some or all of the following:

  • Table of Contents, tabbed for easy access.
  • Your resume. Your transcript, certifications, awards, and/or licenses.
  • Evaluations of your work and/or letters of recommendation (only if they are glowing).
  • Newspaper or magazine articles that feature you and/or your work.
  • Writing samples.
  • Samples of brochures or business forms you’ve developed, or diagrams of some of the process improvements you’ve designed.
  • Photos with brief captions, and these should include samples of your work. For the mechanical engineer, it included pictures of his innovations on the plant floor. But they could also be photos of a company picnic or customer appreciation dinner that you coordinated.

Presenting Your Portfolio During an Interview

Bring the portfolio with you to the interview, and when you meet and greet your interviewer say, “I’ve brought along a portfolio with highlights of some of my achievements if you’d like to see it.” Then, at some point, the interviewer is likely to say something like, “Okay, show me what you’ve got.”

Now you are in the spotlight! You have the unique opportunity to give a sales presentation – about you, and what you can do for this company. It’s important to do this right, because you will only get one shot at it, so I recommend you put a lot of thought into your presentation. And try and keep it to about ten minutes.

Go through it page by page and practice your explanations prior to the interview. For example, “Here’s a photograph of the United Way Campaign that I managed for our company. That’s me in the clown suit, and the other executives are wearing costumes, as well. The campaign was the most successful in the company’s history, bringing together people from all levels. The CEO told me later that she’d never seen such a spirit of cooperation throughout her years with the company, and we broke all records for employee donations.”

If you don’t get the opportunity to go through your portfolio during the interview, offer to leave it behind. This serves two purposes: first, the employer may have the time to look over your work more carefully. It also gives you an excuse to drop in on him or her a week or so later to pick it up.

The mechanical engineer took my advice and put together a very impressive portfolio. He called me about a month later and said, “Anne, you won’t believe it. I got the job! The boss told me when he called to make the offer that I was the only one who had a portfolio, and he was very impressed with it. Thanks for the suggestion!”

(Resume writers LOVE getting those calls, by the way. :-) )

Need I say more? In a competitive job market, a creative and attention grabbing portfolio can make the difference.

~ Anne Follis, CPRW

© Copyright 2010, Anne Follis. All rights reserved.

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How to Dress For the Interview

Wednesday, June 4th, 2008

If you have the questions nailed for the interview, more power to you. But the right response won’t do you any good if you aren’t properly dressed. In fact, research has indicated that people form a first impression in about 30 seconds, and once that first impression is formed, it’s very hard to break. So making a good first impression when you walk in that door is of critical importance.

Here’s the rule-of-thumb for how to dress for an interview: find out how people dress on-the-job and dress just a cut above. If it’s casual, wear a nice pair of slacks and a knit shirt (for men and women) or blouse (for women). If it’s formal, break out that suit. And make sure everything is clean and pressed. (Am I beginning to sound like your mother?)

But how, you ask, do you know how people dress for this employer? Easy: ASK! Call someone you know who works there, check out the photographs on their Website, or call the company’s switchboard operator or HR assistant. Better yet, call and ask to speak with the administrative assistant in the department where you’ll be interviewing and ask her or him. For larger corporations, dress codes can vary from department to department, so it helps to narrow it down. I recommend you be succinct: “Can you tell me what mode of dress is common in the XYZ department?” If, by chance, they ask why you’re inquiring, simply say, “I have an interview and want to make sure I’m dressed appropriately.” Nobody will think less of you for it; in fact, it might even win you some points!

If you are over-dressed, people will fear you won’t fit in with a casual work environment; if you are under-dressed, you may come across as unprofessional. So make the calls, do the research, and dress accordingly.

~ Anne Follis, CPRW

© Copyright 2010, Anne Follis. All rights reserved.

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The 2-Minute “Elevator” Speech

Tuesday, July 10th, 2007

It’s a good idea to prepare a one- to two-minute introductory speech that you can use when networking, contacting job leads, or during an interview. (This is sometimes called an “elevator speech”: it’s something that can be tweaked for a short elevator ride.) Then memorize it, and practice so it doesn’t sound memorized, and so you can easily adapt it to different situations.

I cannot overstate the importance of this. The biggest complaint from people receiving networking and job-search calls is that they are rambling and unfocused. No one wants to help you figure out what you can do for them, so your initial contact must be prepared, polished, and direct. This will also be a life saver the first time an interviewer says, “So, tell me about yourself.”

Following is a sample introductory speech:

Ms. Smith? This is Fred Fine. Jack Jones from Ace Manufacturing suggested that I give you a call. Do you have a moment, or would it be better if I call you at another time? . . . For the past 14-years I’ve been in marketing and management with Strong Products, where I’ve progressed from an outside sales position to director of their marketing division. My responsibilities include researching and expanding into new markets. I’ve been successful in more than doubling our client base in the past four years. You may have heard about the reorganization at Strong, and as a result I’m one of 12 management employees who’ll be leaving there in the next month. Do you anticipate any openings for anyone with my qualifications? . . . Do you know of any openings elsewhere in your company? . . . Can you recommend anyone else I might speak to you in your company? . . . Can you recommend anyone outside of your company who might be looking for someone with my qualifications . . . May I use your name when I call him?

You probably won’t get a chance to ask all of the questions that you’d like, and you don’t want to push it, but ask the ones that fit into the conversation. Then follow-up with a note of thanks, accompanied by your resume.

The introductory speech can be adapted for an interview. For example, in response to the question, “So, Miss Reardon, tell me about yourself . . .”

I have more than ten years’ experience in office management and administrative support. In my most recent position with Briggs Electronics, I was Executive Assistant to the CEO. Along with managing the day-to-day office operations, I supervised two assistants, prepared payroll for 120 employees, and acted as liaison to upper management. While I was there I had the opportunity to implement cross training in the department, I set-up procedures and developed job descriptions, and I worked with a programmer in upgrading our system. I’m proficient in a variety of computer software, I’m well organized and able to balance multiple responsibilities, and I believe my history indicates that I have particularly strong communication skills, both written and oral.

~ Anne Follis, CPRW

© Copyright 2007, Anne Follis. All rights reserved.

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Thank You Letters, the Interview Follow-Up

Friday, July 6th, 2007

After every interview, it’s very important that you send a thank you letter immediately. Send a letter — via e-mail or snail mail, hand-written or typed — while the momentum is still on your side. If you wait even a few days, much less a week or more, they may not even remember who you are! Send a letter to everyone, yes everyone who interviewed you. If you are interviewed by a group of people, it’s acceptable to request a business card from each person before you leave. And if you are interviewed by one person several different times, send that person a thank you letter after each meeting. Following are some suggestions of things to include:

Introduction/Thank You: Thank the interviewer for his or her time, and mention how helpful the information they provided about the company/position was.

Mention Something That Was Said During the Interview: This might be upcoming growth within the company, the teamwork in the office, or a challenging client base, but refer to something that the interviewer noted, and that you can speak positively about.

Mention One More Time How Wonderful You Are! This may be your last chance! Use what you have to say about the company as a lead to point out how your skills and/or background are a good match. Also, if there was a problem in the interview, take the time here to explain how you can overcome it. For example, “I realize that I haven’t had much experience in Adobe software, but I’ve taught myself how to create spreadsheets and graphics on four different software programs. I’m sure if you give me the opportunity, I’ll be up to speed on your system in no time!”

Conclusion: Keep it short and sweet, as in, “Thanks again. I hope to hear from you soon!”

And a final word: even if you are not interested in the job, send the thank you notes. A little professional courtesy can go a long way, and you never know when another, and perhaps better, position will open up for which you will be qualified.

~ Anne Follis, CPRW

© Copyright 2007, Anne Follis. All rights reserved.

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Questions to Ask the Interviewer During an Interview

Friday, July 6th, 2007

Toward the end of an interview, it’s customary for an interviewer to ask an applicant, “Do you have any questions?” While you may be tempted to ask about benefits, salary, or vacation days, save those questions until you are made a solid offer. At this point, a thoughtful and intelligent response is sure to work in your favor. It’s also important to remember that every interview goes two ways. While the interviewer is judging whether or not you, the applicant, are a good fit for the position, you are also judging whether or not the company and the position are right for you, so take advantage of the opportunity. Following are some sample questions for you to ask the interviewer:

What major strengths should a person possess to perform well in this position?

What are your highest expectations for the person who fills this job?

Why is this position open? And how long has it been open?

To whom would I report? And with whom would I be working?

If I am offered and accept this position, what do you see me accomplishing after two years with the company? Five years?

What kind of turnover does your company (or this department) have? May I speak with some people in the department and/or the person who held the position for which I’m interviewing? (These questions are designed to give you an idea of what the company’s employees think about the organization. If the interviewer objects to this, it may be an indication that things are not as they seem.)

~ Anne Follis, CPRW

© Copyright 2007, Anne Follis. All rights reserved.

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Sample Interview Questions

Tuesday, June 12th, 2007

When I was teaching and coaching speech communication, I would constantly say to my students, “Practice, practice, practice.

Of course, whether giving a speech or an interview, you don’t want to sound too rehearsed (like you’re quoting a memorized script), but you don’t want to respond to critical questions with a blank stare, either – or, worse, give a long-winded response that really doesn’t answer the question. It’s important to think through your skills, strengths, and specific achievements prior to an interview and be prepared to back up what you say with concrete examples.

For example, one starter question is often, “Tell me about yourself.” I have seen people ruin all chance at a job by their inability to succinctly answer that simple question. Remember to answer it in relation to your professional background, rather than your hobbies or outside interests, and give a specific example to back up your answer to every question. For example:

Answer to the question “Tell me about yourself”: “With 12-years experience as an Executive Assistant, I have learned to multi-task with the best of them!”

Specific example: “In my most recent experience, I answer to the CEO of a multi-million dollar corporation, and also serve as his liaison to people throughout the company, both domestically and internationally, as well as critical customers. In addition, I am expected to provide up-to-date marketing, budgeting, and sales numbers on a moment’s notice to executives and managers throughout the corporation daily.”

Additional interview questions might include:

What is your greatest strength and how will this affect your performance?

When and how did you solve a problem relating to your job? What were the results?

What are your long-term goals, and how did you determine them?

Do you believe you have supervisory potential? Why?

How would you go about influencing someone to accept your ideas?

Describe your response to a difficult work situation that you would handle differently if given the chance?

Describe an assignment you successfully completed despite feeling the odds were stacked against you.

Why are you leaving your present position?

Under what conditions have you been the most, and the least successful?

In your current [or most recent] position, what do [did] your co-workers think of you?

In your last job, what did you like most about it? What did you like the least?

What do you think of the way your current [or most recent] boss managed you?

How do you handle pressure on the job?

Give an example of a project or new process that you had to convince someone else to support. What was your strategy, and what were the results?

Describe a situation when you had to deal with an angry customer?

Tell me about a time when you saw something that needed to be done and you took the initiative to implement a solution or strategy for change.

~ Anne Follis, CPRW

© Copyright 2007, Anne Follis. All rights reserved.

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How to Prepare for Performance Based (or “Behavior Based”) Interviews

Friday, June 8th, 2007

The traditional interview format is sometimes called a “beauty contest,” and it’s very subjective: The employer asks general questions and forms a judgment about the candidate. Today the trend is toward performance based (sometimes called “behavior based”) interviews: asking a barrage of very specific questions about the candidate’s performance in response to various situations, with the goal of gaining a more objective understanding of the applicant’s capabilities based on past performance. The experience can be grueling for the person being interviewed, but it’s also a great opportunity to shine — IF a job seeker knows how to prepare.

The performance based interviewer isn’t looking for general answers (“I pick up new software quickly,” “I’m an open supervisor,” or “I’m a people person”). He or she is looking for specific examples of your performance relating to the job. HOW are you good with people, WHAT computer software have you picked up, give an ILLUSTRATION of how you are an open supervisor. You will be asked – and sometimes even grilled – to provide concrete examples to back up what you say, and the more specific you can be the better.

For example, if the job requires problem solving skills, you will be asked to give an illustration of when and how you solved a problem. Without lingering over extraneous details, you need to be as concrete as possible. Describe a specific problem and talk about how you approached it, how you resolved it, and what the results were.

During the stress of an interview, you may find yourself unable to think of what you want to say, so do some brainstorming about your job performance and achievements ahead of time. Regarding problem solving, instead of saying, “I cleaned up the warehouse,” you might say, “When I took over as plant manager of XYZ Manufacturing, I was challenged to cut operating costs. I quickly realized that we were paying a fortune for a huge warehouse full of inventory, much of it outdated. I worked with the warehouse staff to remove the outdated inventory and transition all processes to computer. I also negotiated with suppliers to have key materials delivered as we needed them, reducing the need for storage. The result was a 70% reduction in inventory levels and a 60% reduction in warehousing costs.”

Now that’s an interview response to make an applicant shine!

~ Anne Follis, CPRW

© Copyright 2007, Anne Follis. All rights reserved.

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