Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Interview Help for the Average Joe (or Jane)

I enjoyed your website, which I discovered from the AARP links. However, as with almost all "interview" guides and advice, they are always focused on a certain level and class of jobs. What about most of the millions of jobs out there that are just plain common jobs? How does one older worker who has had a variety of "worker" jobs in their past (administrative assistant, courier, business service rep) interview for entry-level jobs with a new college degree and no experience?

To say investigate the company, find out about their interviewer, and all that is unrealistic when it comes to most worker jobs. These hints are fine for management and other higher level positions, but most people would not have the time nor the access to obtain this suggested information, and I don't believe it would have much relevance to their position, and might even put off the interviewers, who most likely are low level themselves.

I think most guides need to separate their classes of employment and interview tips and suggestions for the various occupational and professional levels that are out there. Most resumes are written by and for high-level achievers, those in power positions, and those in upper levels. What about the millions of good, solid, loyal and hard-working people who do not have any power in their positions, have little decision making other than minor details of their job, and the only real accomplishments they can say are that they did a good job, and feel good about it? How is that supposed to be marketed?

Thanks for listening. I get frustrated when reading all the help materials because they seem only to focus on a select few within the work environment, and leave out millions.

by Susan Ireland

Arlene, thank you for expressing your views so clearly. Your criticism is totally fair. More attention should be paid to the non-management worker whose qualifications are often measured differently than those for management folks.

I want to introduce you to Yana Parker, who has addressed many of the issues you wrote about. Although Yana passed away in 2000, she left us with some wonderful resources including her much loved book, The Damn Good Resume Guide. I think you will find many answers in both her book and on her website, damngood.com. Her self-help quiz, How to Uncover Your Special Skills and Talents, is an excellent tool for helping job seekers discover and articulate their “achievements” even when bells and whistles don’t go off when they do their work well. Yana wrote the quiz to help people figure out what to write on their resumes, but this exercise is also great for practicing what to say in interviews when asked about performance.

Here are two questions Yana taught me to use to help job seekers define their achievements when their good work is hard to measure.
1. If you had to be out of work for a week or so, what are all the things that might go wrong if the person who took your place was terrible at doing your job? Turn that around to understand what you do so well on the job.
2. If you had to train a new employee about your job, what special “tricks and tips” would you teach her so she’d become an excellent employee?

Arlene, you’re right in saying that it isn’t practical for many workers to research their prospective interviewers. In some cases, the job seeker may not meet with their prospective supervisor; they might meet with a low-level interviewer from Human Resources who asks a list of canned questions. That being a possibility, here’s what I suggest you do in preparation for the interview:
1. Pretend that you are the interviewer. Make a list of questions you would ask a job seeker in your line of work. For example: What sort of timelines are you used to working under, and how did you measure up when working within those timelines in your previous places of employment? Or, when performing the same duties each day, how do you stay fresh and interested in your work?
2. Review your resume and think of questions that it might cause the interviewer to ask about your specific situation. For example: I see that you worked many years for our competitor, ABC company. If hired here, do you think you will feel a conflict of interest working for the other team? Or, could you explain this gap in employment between 2001 and 2003?

Then practice answering your questions, even the “scary” ones like “Why did you leave your last job?”, until you’re comfortable with your answers.

Take a look at my list of Practice Questions for Everyone (which is different from the list of Questions for Executive Job Seekers) and see if any of them ring true for your job search.

Thank you for bringing up this issue. I hope readers will tell us (in the Comments section) about other resources they know of to help the millions of hardworking non-management folks with their job searches.

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