Category Archives: Headhunters

How to Position Your Branded Value and Expertise with the Two Most-Dreaded Interview Questions

nervous candidate in office

I should file this post under “More Nonsensical Advice from (Former) Recruiters” but I won’t. I just watched a couple YouTube videos from “career experts” that claimed two of the worst interview questions a decision maker can toss your way are these:

  • “So, tell me something about yourself…”
  • “What’s your worst work habit or greatest weakness?”

They are only the worst questions if you aren’t prepared because most candidates don’t anticipate these questions or don’t know how to respond by promoting their branded value and expertise.

Let’s begin with Question 1: “So, tell me something about yourself.” This is NOT the time to respond with “uh…what do you want to know?” or reciting your résumé…for crying out loud, the decision maker probably has your résumé on his or her desk and has looked at more than a couple times if you’ve been called in for an interview. You’ve been given a golden opportunity to promote your branded expertise and value (“branded expertise and value” is a key phrase I use a lot, so learn what it is and how to apply it). I enjoyed asking this question because I wanted to see if the candidates really got the idea behind it.

Here’s a template for your response: “I’m a <personal fact No. 1>, a <personal fact No. 2>, a <personal fact No. 3>, a darn good <position for which you are interviewing>, and I have an eye on your <No. 1 key item of importance to decision maker> and your <No. 2 key item of importance to decision maker>.  Here’s a real-life response from an Android platform programmer I interviewed back around 2009 (I hired him on the spot):

“I’m a cello playing kids’ soccer coach, a member of the PTA; I’m a darn good Android programmer who has an eye on your project schedule and project budget.”

Wow! He nailed it. I learned that he, like myself, played classical music, was involved with his kids and the community, and he knew two things that were important to ME: project schedule and budget. And he did it in one sentence that took less than 15 seconds! He didn’t recite his experience or education; he didn’t “brag” (I don’t consider self-confidence as “bragging” because he had the background to back it up), and he didn’t beg or plead for the job. He positioned his branded expertise and value in such a way that influenced the hiring decision.

Let’s look at Question No. 2:  “What’s your worst work habit or greatest weakness?” Why on earth would ANYONE give a “brutally honest” answer to this question? If a compulsive liar says that he’s a compulsive liar, how will that influence whether or not he gets a job offer? It’s almost a trick question and no interviewer worth his or her credentials would ask such a question of candidates, but they do. You can try to soften the response with something like, “My co-workers would say that I’m tenacious at problem-solving and won’t quit until I have the solution” which is a softball-type of response that (1) decision makers are wise to; and (2) it’s not really a “worst” work habit.

I once responded to this question with: “Only my wife and my pastor know what my greatest weakness is, but for my worst work habit, my references are in a better position to provide unbiased assessments.” That response didn’t hurt my chances of moving forward in the hiring process at all because it showed that I protected my branded expertise and value by not blurting out some stupid response that would have stopped my progress cold! It’s 5-star impression management!

So, that’s how you respond to those two most-dreaded questions that not only preserve your value, but better position you to influence a decision to hire you or buy from you. I teach these techniques in my “Power of Presence” seminars that reveal the steps behind engaging –> positioning –> influencing –> and converting decision makers to become your ally, advocate, champion, client, customer or whatever your end goal is.

What are your experiences with such questions? Any other good responses?

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Are you a meeting professional with an upcoming conference that needs a dynamic speaker with a program that offers high energy and high takeaway value? Give me a call at (512) 797-3035 and let’s see whether my programs would be a good fit.

Speaker, award-winning author, and positioning/influence strategist Donn LeVie Jr. has nearly 30 years experience in various leadership and management positions with such Fortune 100 companies as Phillips Petroleum, Motorola, and Intel Corp., the federal government (U.S. Dept. of Commerce – NOAA), and academia (adjunct faculty, University of Houston Downtown College, Dept. of Natural Sciences and Mathematics). He is the author of two award-winning books on professional development positioning and influence strategies and a popular conference keynote and seminar speaker. He holds certifications as a “Certified Fraud Examiner” (CFE) and in “Project Risk Management” and “Managing Projects in Large Organizations” from George Washington University. 

Request Donn’s free e-book, ACCESS GRANTED: A 10-Step Social Media Plan for Gaining Access to Decision Makers

 

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“One Million…One BILLION Résumés Reviewed!” And Other Recruiter Nonsense Claims

 

Dr. Evil

I found this statement on a career expert’s blog (he’s actually a former recruiter):

“I’ve reviewed more than 500,000 resumes during my career and have developed an optimal resume format that works for 95% of the workforce.”

horse wagon fertilzer

Sorry, but that’s a load of horse fertilizer. Let’s look at the math first: It doesn’t really lend itself to the actual idea of “reviewing” in detail all those résumés. Let’s assume this person has reviewed 500,000 résumés over a 30-year career. That comes out to 16,666 résumés reviewed per year, or 320 per week for 52 weeks (no vacations). Taking it down one more step, that’s 64 résumés per day or 8 per hour.

Is that possible? Well, MAYBE, if that’s all you ever do day in and day out every year for 30 years.

In my 30 years in management and leadership positions with hiring authority for Fortune 100 companies, I will guess that I’ve reviewed somewhere between 1200 and 1500 résumés TOTAL, mostly for positions on my team or in my department. Let’s do the math on the 1500 over 30 years. That comes out to 50 per year, a little over 4 per month, and slightly over 1 per week. That’s probably a little high, but close. But it came in spurts. I might have reviewed 10 to 12 résumés over the course of a week and perhaps called in a couple of candidates for interviews. Then I might not see another résumé for 6 or 7 months. That’s in addition to managing people, projects, stakeholders, in-person interviews, meetings, travel, etc.

But, a recruiter doesn’t “review” résumés in the true sense; they “scan” them for defined criteria sent to them by the company that hired them to screen applicants. They may receive a shopping list from a client company that states, “Send me only candidates with MBA or MS degrees, 7 years experience, and knowledge of XYZ.” A three-second glance can tell recruiters if they need to review any further.  Recruiters may also conduct phone screens or preliminary in-person interviews to brief the candidate on the background of their client and what they are looking for.

If a client wants people with MBA degrees, any résumé that crosses a recruiter’s desk without that MBA degree listed is quickly discarded. Does that count as a “reviewed résumé”? One former recruiter told me, “If I touch it, it’s been reviewed.”

But consider the compensation structure for many recruiters: the more candidate résumés a recruiter can forward to the client that come close to meeting the criteria for the position, the higher the odds the client will find one or two candidates to interview and offer a position to one of them, and the sooner the recruiter gets paid the commission.

Let’s look at the other problem with that recruiter’s statement: That he has “an optimal résumé format for 95% of the workforce.” Second load of horse fertilizer.

There is NO SUCH THING as an optimal résumé “format.” There are, however, certain criteria every résumé should have once you get past the education or “years experience” requirement: How you convey your branded expertise and value through accomplishments and achievements that contributed to the higher strategic objectives of your previous employers. Forget “duties and responsibilities” (well, don’t omit them, just don’t think they will differentiate you from others) because everyone with a job has duties and responsibilities.

I have spoken and written about this many times: if you are changing jobs within an industry or profession, use a reverse-chronological style résumé that focuses on what you did and accomplished for each employer starting from your current or most recent employer.

If you are re-entering the workforce after a long absence or changing careers altogether, a functional style résumé best serves your purpose because it focuses on the transferable functional skills you can bring to that new career. There’s less importance on previous activities with former employers and positions (you won’t find bullet lists of “duties and responsibilities” on such formats).

If you’re seeking a full-time teaching position at a university, the curriculum vitae (or CV) style will address that purpose, though some institutions request a résumé. The CV is a multi-page document (often 10+ pages) that details your education history, your teaching experience, publications you’ve written, edited, contributed to (you’d better have more than a few books or peer-reviewed journal articles on that list), and lots of references.  Some legal and medical positions require CVs instead of résumés, and in England and other countries, the term “CV” is used interchangeably with “résumé” where they are considered different documents in the United States.

There are also composite or “blended” résumé versions that contain elements of both the reverse-chronological and functional formats.

YOU are the expert on YOUR experience and expertise. Be very careful about allowing a recruiter to edit/revise/enhance your résumé without first getting approval from you and THEN getting approval AFTER they make any changes. The compensation model has just enough incentive built in for some unscrupulous recruiter to modify your experience to make you look better than your actual skills or experience. That could doom you to failure at your next employer.

One last consideration: recruiters can and do expedite the onboarding process for client companies. I’ve worked with some great professional recruiters who were tuned in to the type of candidates I wanted; however, recruiters are removed from the final hiring decision because that’s the client’s domain. The decision maker that counts is the one with the most direct knowledge of the position, and that’s often a manager or executive with hiring authority.

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Speaker, award-winning author, and positioning/influence strategist Donn LeVie Jr. has nearly 30 years experience in various leadership and management positions with such Fortune 100 companies as Phillips Petroleum, Motorola, and Intel Corp., the federal government (U.S. Dept. of Commerce – NOAA), and academia (adjunct faculty, University of Houston Downtown College, Dept. of Natural Sciences and Mathematics). He is the author of two award-winning books on professional development positioning and influence strategies and a popular conference keynote and seminar speaker. He holds certifications as a “Certified Fraud Examiner” (CFE) and in “Project Risk Management” and “Managing Projects in Large Organizations” from George Washington University. 

Request Donn’s free e-book, ACCESS GRANTED: A 10-Step Social Media Plan for Gaining Access to Decision Makers

PART 2: Do You Need Professional Career Help? Coaches, Résumé Writers, Recruiters

Do I need Professional Help

Professional Résumé Writers

Let me start off right away with this: I am not a proponent of having someone else—a résumé writer, for example—document your professional skills, knowledge, and experience for your career strategy. Your mileage may differ if you’ve had a positive experience. No doubt there are truly skilled and knowledgeable résumé writers who understand how to best present your experience in a favorable light based on the information you provide them. But rephrasing your verbiage using a thesaurus and reformatting your content in a pleasing template will not necessarily garner the interest of a hiring manager.

Many résumé writers are freelance writers who perhaps specialize in business writing or business communications. Some may have certifications such as Certified Leadership & Talent Management Coach, Certified Professional Résumé Writer (CPRW), Nationally Certified Résumé Writer (NCRW), while others may have little or no experience in career counseling or in human resources – or even have years of experience vetting candidate résumés. Entrusting someone who does not have near the knowledge of your own experience as you do to write your résumé can be a risky investment.

What about using a Certified Resume Writer?

A “certified résumé writer” obtains certification by paying a fee to first joint a national association, pay another fee to have résumé samples reviewed, pay another fee for a certification review/exam, and if any part of the exam is failed, pay another fee for re-examination six or more months later. Continuing Education Units (CEUs) are awarded for books published on writing résumés and cover letters, and for other education participation.

That’s all well and good and serves to provide some degree of competency for those who wish to become certified résumé writers (there are checklists and study guides available to help along the way).

A word about “guarantees” from anyone offering career help for money. No one can offer a guarantee that you will find a job with their personal assistance as there just are too many other variables beyond any one person’s control that influence one hiring manager’s decision to hire. Changes in hiring practices, job market fluctuations at different times and in different regions of the country, the overall up and down gyrations of the economy, even your likeability factor dictate to varying degrees decisions to hire. Beware of anyone making any kind of guarantees of finding you a job or career and requiring an upfront payment. The only guarantee that can be offered realistically with a résumé writing service is that you are satisfied that the résumé someone else wrote adequately reflects your skills, knowledge, and experience. If you aren’t satisfied, you’ll probably receive a free rewrite (something you can do for yourself).

But the question remains: who is the expert on your previous experience, skills, and knowledge? Who is the expert on what it took to help the organization achieve some higher strategic objective or revenue goal? Whose fingerprints should be all over the documents that attest to your expertise? Who knows best the long hours, the endless meetings, the challenges you met and overcame for every bulleted item on your résumé? I think you know the answer to those questions.

Next Post: Why YOU are the Best Option for Writing Your Résumé and Cover Letter

P.S. Many thanks to the folks who have recently elected to follow me on Twitter!

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Do You Need Professional Help? Coaches, Recruiters, and Résumé Writers

 Do I need Professional Help

 (This is the first of a 3-part blog post. The comments represent my own experience reinforced by nearly 30 years in various hiring manager positions where I have reviewed over one thousand cover letters and résumés, conducted hundreds of job interviews, and hired and managed countless technical/scientific, marketing, and communications professionals. Comments also reflect my experiences with hundreds of career strategy clients showing them how to shape a career strategy from the hiring manager’s perspective.)

In my May 2013 post on “Coaching” I related a story about participating in a panel discussion at a national conference with an HR representative, an executive coach, two professional recruiters, and a certified life coach.  We were asked to answer a variety of questions about the job market, résumés, cover letters, interviews, job and career strategies, and so on. But that experience revealed that not all career professionals are created equal. Refer to that post for the details.

Recruiters and Headhunters

Some companies use recruiters to screen résumés from applicants while others may use HR personnel (or internal recruiting subcontractors) for the task. Throughout most of my experience, hiring managers provide HR or a recruiter with the necessary requirements and prerequisites for the available position based on the overall team need.  When working with HR, they establish a competitive compensation package to start with. HR or the recruiter forwards to the hiring manager’s attention only those résumés that meet the job criteria. This approach streamlines the process for everyone involved and is an efficient way to determine which candidates deserve additional evaluation.

I have worked with internal and external recruiters in the past—some great; some not so great. The very good ones listen to what I need in a candidate and forward ONLY those résumés that meet that criteria. They also help candidates put a polish on certain elements of a résumé to better address job prerequisites. The not-so-good recruiters often forward résumés to me that reflect their own assessment of the candidate’s expertise, regardless of my stated requirements. But here’s the thing: a recruiter can forward to me a résumé that meets every single item on my “needs” list, but I, as the hiring manager, still have the final word on who gets called in for an interview. I need to get an in-person “feel” for a candidate not only through structured interview techniques, but also to gauge that candidate’s “likeability factor.”

Given that, Ladders.com reports that the average recruiter (not the hiring manager) spends six seconds scanning a résumé, looking at the candidate’s name, current and past titles, start and end dates of positions, employers and education. Hiring managers when first scrutinizing résumés spend about 10 seconds on the upper 2/3 of Page One. When recruiters are involved in the hiring process, résumés of people who meet the specific criteria as set by the hiring manager are forwarded on to the hiring manager for further evaluation.

While the use of recruiters can expedite that aspect of the hiring process, the organization must respond with expedited offers to qualified candidates to realize efficiencies and effectiveness. I’ve had many great candidates who were first vetted by recruiters become lost to competitors because the organization was slow to respond with a job offer, and any perceived cost savings associated with recruiters in the hiring process went out the window.

Using recruiters works for some and some folks steer clear of recruiters for many reasons. Just be sure you understand how the process works, and remember that the person who knows your career expertise best is you.

Next post: Résumé Writers

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