New tip of the week

Roadblock #2: Skills needed to do the job versus years of experience

Let’s face it, in this tight employment market, finding a candidate that matches up to a long laundry list of “must haves” is like finding a needle in a haystack. The problem is that many employers are still trying to hire as if there were an unlimited supply of interested and qualified applicants. They get caught up in the “years of experience” trap versus focusing on the skills needed to do the job.

Hiring Managers often use the previous employee’s background and number of years of experience in the industry as the yard stick for the next hire. There are many challenges with this approach.

First, job duties change over time due to technology. A job that used to be primarily back office administration focused, may now be a mix of client facing and admin duties that require fast computer skills and advanced client relations abilities.

Second, the team make up and dynamics change over time. Work flows evolve to accommodate specific team skills and abilities. Often times when a time member resigns, work load is reallocated in the short term and the team realizes that the job duties have also changed resulting in the need for different skills to fill in the gaps.

Third, salaries are increasing due to cost of living. Many firms have traditionally tied compensation directly to the number of years of industry experience. In consulting with some of my clients, it is not uncommon to hear that they can’t pay a new hire their current salary, let alone a reasonable increase for changing firms, because they don’t have as much industry experience as others already on the team.

Instead of using years of experience as the basis for the hire, it is much more effective to figure out what the candidate needs to know how to do. My advice, put the old job description aside, and have the hiring team figure out what duties this new person will need to know how to perform on a daily basis. By drilling down to the day to day job functions and agreeing on the importance of the specific skilsl needed in the job, it will become clear which skills are “must haves” and which are “nice to haves”. You will then be able to better define the criteria that each candidate must have to be considered for a first round interview and will not fall into the years of experience trap.

By focusing on skills instead of years of experience, you will be able to cast a broader net and will be able to consider more candidates. You will be able to design your screening questions so that a candidate can explain where they performed a skill, how they did the job, and how their performance was measured. This is especially important in larger firms where often the person doing the initial screening interview is not directly involved with the hiring team on a day to day basis.

Another benefit to focusing on skills instead of years of experience is that it allows you to look at more junior talent that you might have overlooked in the past. Often times people with less experience have received state of the art training, have experience with the latest software programs, and have innovative ideas that they can bring to the team. They may not have worked for 10+ years in the industry, but can do the same work as someone who has. If salary parameters are set in stone, this also allows everyone in the hiring process to understand the level of experience that corresponds to the position’s salary range and eliminates considering candidates that are not affordable or who try to negotiate for a far higher salary at the end of the process resulting in frustration for everyone involved.

In my next post, I will discuss the initial screening interview and the pitfalls that can happen when it is not handled correctly.

Why did I lose my best candidate?

How to answer the interview question: “Why should I hire you over my other applicants?”

“Why should I hire you over my other applicants?”

This is one of those questions that you truly can’t answer because you typically don’t know who else they are interviewing. What the employer really wants to know is: WHY YOU?

Tips to Answer this Interview Question:

This question usually comes up towards the end of the interview, but sometimes it is one of the first questions asked. The key to answering this question is to sell yourself based on your understanding of the problems/pain that the employer is encountering by not having the position filled.

If you are interviewing for a job that is open because a long-term employee has moved away, you know that the pain the employer is trying to avoid is losing loyal customers to their competitors.  You also know that just because the position is vacant doesn’t mean that the work has moved away too. The work load has been dispersed among the remaining team members and they are probably not too happy about it.

If you are interviewing for a new “growth” position, you need to show that you are efficient, flexible, a fast learner, and can adapt quickly to change.

Example of an open position for an Account Manager: “You want to hire me because I understand what it’s like to work in a short-staffed office due to a key employee leaving. Often the Producer is scrambling to keep the customer, and the work load has been dumped on the rest of the staff who may not know the accounts very well.  You could also be at risk of losing the account to your competitors once word gets out that your key account manager has left. I was hired into this very same situation in my last position.  I was able to quickly work with the remaining account managers to understand the computer system and office procedures. I was able to review the files with the Underwriters and make contact with the clients who were up for renewal. I’m proud to say that we didn’t lose any business with the transition.”

The key to answering a comparison question like this one is to make sure the employer understands that regardless of who else they are interviewing, you “get it”. You understand the problems they are facing; the upset in the office due to the vacancy, the competition internally for the role, and most importantly, you show that you have the confidence to tackle the job head on.

If you are in the wrap up phase of the interview, ask the employer this question: do you see any reason why I wouldn’t be a great fit for the position? Remain silent, and if the employer is truly seeing you in the role, they will tell you that, or they will tell you their concerns.  Either way, you will know where you stand and hopefully will be one step closer to the job offer.

How to answer the interview question: “What are your weaknesses?”

“What are your weaknesses?”

This is one of the toughest and least liked of all of the interview questions.  The problem with this question is that you have to answer it, if you say, I don’t really have any”, then the employer won’t believe you or will think you may be hiding something, however, if you say the wrong thing, without an explanation, you can be out at first base.

So what is the right answer?  It depends on how the question is asked.  Very few employers will ask this question directly anymore.  Often times it is couched inside of a more positive sounding question, such as “what are some of the areas that you have been coached on in the past?” or “what is an area that you have been working on for self-improvement?”  These are much nicer questions, but don’t be fooled; the hiring manager is asking you to reveal your weaknesses.

Tips to Answer this Interview Question:

The key to answering this question is advance preparation!  Start by thinking about the constructive comments that former managers have given you.  Criticism is never easy to stomach, so you need to think about the changes in behavior that you made, if any, as a result of your boss’s coaching. List the behaviors that were pointed out as “areas for growth and development”, another nice way of saying weaknesses, and think about how you responded to the advice. Think about how you applied the advice and changed your behavior in the workplace.  What were the results with your peers, with customers, with your supervisors?

Here’s some examples:

Too chatty in the office/not focused enough on your work: Explain that you were coached that you needed to be more focused and less chatty in the office. Show what you did to correct the situation, explain how you were able to handle more work in less time, and then give an example of the positive feedback you received from your boss and peers once you corrected the behavior.

Turning in work late/problems with prioritization: Explain that you used to have challenges with personal organization and task completion. Then show how you solved the problem by getting up an hour early or get everything ready the night before so that you aren’t running around frantically in the morning looking for things.

Spelling/grammar problems: Talk about how you took some remedial classes to correct the problem and how your boss complimented you on your improved written communication as a result.

Don’t let the “weakness” question get you down.  Show that you are accountable for your behavior in the office, are coachable, and can solve problems.

 

 

How to answer the interview question: “Do you have any questions?”

“Do You Have Any Questions?”

I can’t tell you how many times hiring managers have told me they aren’t pursuing candidates because they didn’t ask enough questions and didn’t know anything about the company. When I follow up with the candidates and tell them this, I get, “What do you mean? I asked a lot of questions,” or “They didn’t really give me a chance to ask any questions”, or “They answered all of my questions in the interview.”

Why does this happen? Your questions aren’t the right questions — the ones the interviewer wants to hear!  Preparing your questions ahead of time is the key to mastering the end of the interview Q & A.

Tips to Answer this Interview Question:

Keep this simple thought in mind: you are probably one of five or more candidates visiting on that day or over a short period of time. The interviewer has lots of work they should be doing, their own deadlines, and they know they’ll have to work late all week to catch up. This is especially true of line managers who will be your supervisor. These are busy people who are frantically fitting in interviews around their already over booked schedule.  You need to make sure they don’t see your questions as a waste of their time.

The key here is to avoid questions that don’t advance you in the process or demonstrate your knowledge and understanding of the position. You want to pose the right kind of questions to the appropriate people. Often times a miss in this key question area is the difference of landing the job or getting a “no” form letter in the mail.

Example of questions for a Team Lead of a Service Department: This person is interested in making sure that you will follow procedures, get your work done quickly and efficiently, and not be a headache to the rest of the department. You are going to get a “technical” type of interview from this hiring manager. Don’t ask this person about far-reaching topics a CEO or Partner would answer, such as corporate giving or corporate vision. Ask about things that are important to this person such as the day-to-day job duties and procedures. Ask for specifics about how renewals are handled, documentation, claims advocacy, face time with the client, etc.  Remember, the quality of your question shows your understanding of the industry and the job you are applying for.

Make sure you listen to the answer and follow up with two more questions that reflect your understanding of their answer.  Make sure your follow up questions make sense and are not random. This is your chance for give-and-take; you don’t want to look like you need to get through a laundry list of questions.  Also the way that the interviewers answer your questions (with specifics, vaguely, or dismissively) will give you clues as to what it might be like to work with them on a daily basis.

A great question strategy is to use words like “we” and “us” and “I” in your questions, then listen to see if the employer responds back with answers that include the word “you” or if they respond with “the candidate we choose”.  You want them to see you in the position, and when they include you in their answers, you know that they feel positive about hiring you for the role.

For example: “When I start on a renewal, will I sit down ahead of time with the producer to work through a strategy or will I get all the quotes together and then present my findings to him?” If the employer sees you in the role, they will respond with a “we” or “you” in their answer.

At the end of the Q & A session, you will start to feel the interview “wrap up.” Your goal is to get the employer over the speed bump of indecision. You want real feedback so you know where you stand. Don’t be afraid to ask when they will make their decision and whether they see anything that would prevent them from moving you to the next stage of the process.  If they present you with concerns, it will give you an opportunity to correct any misunderstandings.  If they see you as a “go” for the next step, you will have the opportunity to schedule a follow on meeting or at least know that they intend to include you in a second round of interviews.  Either way, the interviewer will appreciate your candor and desire for the job.

 

How to answer the interview question: “What is your greatest failure?”

 

“What is your greatest failure?” 

The dreaded question; this one is even touchier than the weaknesses question because you have to admit a failure, not just a weakness.

Tips to Answer this Interview Question:

This one requires you to prepare an example ahead of time. It should be work-related, but you can discuss a personal experience if it is closely related to a work-like event.

The key here is in the presentation of the failure example. You do not want to come off as a victim. Do not blame others for the fact that something didn’t work. You must take ownership of the situation. Employers use this question to see how you deal with adversity. Do you take responsibility for your decisions or blame the world for what went wrong? This is especially important since you most likely don’t know about the inner workings and politics of the firm at this point. Always take the high road, even if your former company made decisions that derailed your project.

An example of a personal failure: “I didn’t graduate from college, I didn’t have the money to go.  I haven’t let it hold me back though.  I am constantly learning new things and I’m a student of self-study.  It is very important to me to keep current with changes in the insurance industry and I’m currently working on my  insurance designations.”

An example of a work-related failure: “I wanted to reorganize the work flow in my department to give us greater compliance and more detailed analytics. In short, my solution did not work.  Work flow bogged down, my team didn’t like the increased data entry, we started to lose employees, and moral was at an all-time low.  I ended up asking my team for ideas to put us back on track, and together we figured out how to improve work flow and our overall quality improved as a result.  Now I make sure that I get department consensus before making sweeping changes to any type of work flow.”
Remember, some of the best successes in the work place start out as huge failures.  Make sure you show the employer how your failures guide your decision-making today.

Employer Blog: Road Block #3: The Screening Interview: Is it helping you or hurting you?

Here are some of the of the biggest complaints that I hear from good candidates when I ask them about screening interviews:

  • They are poorly conducted and the screener is often late in calling or misses the appointment
  • The screener does not have day to day knowledge of the job duties
  • The screener asks random questions from a list that doesn’t pertain to the candidate’s resume
  • The screener admits in the call that they haven’t really had time to review their resume
  • The screener asks flat, random, and lack luster questions
  • The screener leaves the candidate hanging by telling them that the company will get back to them if they want to move things forward, but won’t comment on a time table even when asked

There is no timely follow up after the screening interview leaving the candidate wondering if the employer is a viable prospect

The net result is that any one of these items can put a bad taste in the candidate’s mouth right off the bat, and in this tight market, you can’t afford to not make a great first impression!  Sadly, I have found, that Hiring Managers and/or owners are not aware that they are losing top people due to poorly managed and constructed phone screening interviews.

Whether you like it or not, candidates are judging you and your firm from the moment you make the first contact with them.  They are evaluating the speed with which you respond to their inquiries, as well as the tone and quality of the communication; is it friendly, welcoming, or the dreaded “we received your application, we will get back to you if we are interested”?

My advice is to put yourself in your applicant’s shoes and think about the “message” that your firm is sending during the first screening interview.  Ask yourself, the following questions:

  • Is our front end screening process in line with our corporate culture and values, or are we projecting the wrong message to candidates and losing them in the process?
  • Are we letting them know we are interested and are we aggressively following up with our top candidates and moving them quickly into a face to face meeting?
  • Do we have knowledgeable people who know the job and how it fits into our organization, doing the initial screening interview, and are they asking good logical questions to allow for meaningful Q & A?

By re-thinking your screening interview, you will increase your chances of attracting top talent and most importantly, keeping them interested as you go through your interview process.

In my next post, I will be discussing the first face to face interview and how to make it more meaningful and effective for all involved.