How to Say It: Last words in the job interview

Your job interview is almost over. You want to stand out, to be memorable to the hiring manager, to close the deal, to get an offer… What should you say?

That’s the topic of the August 4, 2009 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter. (You don’t get it? Then you… don’t get it… So get it. It’s free.)

If you missed the newsletter, I’ll post my suggestion about this baffling challenge. But first I’d like to hear from you: What do you say at the end of your job interviews to cinch the deal?

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Promotion, raise, bad vibes… How to Say It

In last week’s edition of the Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, a reader complained about getting a promotion but only a meager raise. Her VP admitted that if an external candidate had been hired, the offer would have been higher!

Readers lambasted the cold-hearted employer. Could this be handled better? Absolutely, says I.T. industry guru Bob Lewis. “I’ve been on both sides of this situation, and what’s particularly pathetic about the company’s response is that it had a better one that wouldn’t have cost a dime. Here’s what HR and the VP could have said…”

How to Say It: “You’re right that if we hired someone from the outside with the right credentials we’d have had to pay more. That’s one of the reasons we’re promoting you instead of hiring from the outside. Your proven ability is, of course, another important factor.

“With the economy and profit picture as it is, we’re scraping every dime from the expense line we can. We’ve laid people off, frozen salaries, and cut bonuses. So right now isn’t the time we can give you a raise that would take you to the compensation mid-point for your new title.

“What will happen is that you’ll be in a position with a new compensation range and a higher ceiling. For the same level of performance on your annual reviews you’ll receive a higher raise than you’d receive in your current position. So while you won’t see one big raise that gives you the emotionally satisfying bump you’d like (and that we’d like to give you), you’ll definitely do much better financially over the span of a few years than you’d do in your old position.

“I wish we could do better. As things stand, though, we can’t.”

Of course, an approach like that by the employer requires integrity and follow-through. Those raises had better deliver an overall “bump!” But Bob’s point is much bigger. Companies need to pay attention in times like these. Employees expect more than, “That’s the policy!” when news ain’t too good… They expect and deserve an honest effort by their employer to do the right thing.

Bobs Book!

(Thanks to Bob Lewis for his suggestion! And in a shout-out to Bob, I’d like to remind readers of this blog that Bob is the author of a book that will make you a better employee: Bare Bones Project Management — the project management guide “for the rest of us” who need to keep our work on a leash so it doesn’t eat us up. It ain’t just for project managers…)

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Top 10 Stupid Inteview Questions: #8

Reader Mike Urbonas did a nice post about my 1997 book (not to be confused with the new book, How to Work with Headhunters) … Thanks, Mike! … But that’s not what’s so cool about his post.

Mike brings up an old story published by Mr. Angry (Melbourne, Australia) that’s very instructive and a good reminder that just because some guy is asking you stupid questions in a job interview doesn’t mean you have to behave stupidly, too. Pointless Interview Questions actually conks us all on the head — and rips interviewers a new one.

Top 10 Stupid Interview Question #8 (well, maybe it’s #7) that a recruiter asked Mr. Angry:

How would you move Mount Fuji 1/2 a kilometre to the South?

And part of Mr. Angry’s let’s-come-back-to-reality response:

How could that possibly benefit the business?

Why do employers ask stupid interview questions? Mr. Angry reveals the sad truth — interviewers can’t justify the canned questions they ask. They’re asking them simply because they read somewhere that asking what animal you’d be if you could be any animal reveals deep truths about a candidate… Gimme a break.

Mr. Angry’s transcription of his interview is a must-read. His handling of the interviewer is funny, but it’s much, much more. His responses are dead-on. All kidding aside, I’d use a personalized version of what he said to the interviewer without hesitation.

Thanks, Mike. Mr. Angry — kudos to you!

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How to Say It: HR should report to PR

While many companies take pride in how they interact with the professional community from which they recruit, others are clueless about the damage human resources (HR) departments inflict on their corporate image and reputation.

Sometimes a reader’s question reveals what’s wrong with Amercia’s employment system. This is one such story. In the June 23, 2009 edition of the newsletter, a reader recounts “phoner torture” at the hands of a personnel jockey — who lays waste to the employer’s credibility during a “phone interview.” And loses the candidate. The candidate wants to know, how should she tell it to the hiring manager? Good question.

But this raises more significant questions. It kinda makes you wonder about the board of directors at this company. After spending enormous sums on public relations (PR) to create a positive corporate image, does the board have any idea that HR is trashing the company’s credibility? Do hiring managers have any idea how HR treats the professional community from which those managers need to recruit people?

My guess is no and no. The board thinks HR is handling human resources, but it’s also in the business of public relations. As an important interface to the company’s professional community, HR’s staffers are in a position to inflict serious damage to the corporate image. Maybe HR should report to PR just so there’s some oversight of HR’s behavior out in the real world.

So the reader asks, How should she tell the hiring manager what just happened?

How to Say It:

“I enjoyed talking with you last week. Thanks for inviting me in for an interview. I was looking forward to meeting so we could discuss the job, but it’s clear that’s not going to happen. Someone from your HR department called me. It was a very disturbing call. I’m sorry to tell you this, but I believe it’s important to be frank. As a result of that call, I’m not sure I’d consider a position with your company. Is your board of directors aware of how your HR staff portrays your company and how it treats job applicants?”

You can read the whole story in the newsletter along with a bit more detailed advice in the How to Say It section.

Is it too risky to take such a strong position? Or is it risky to fool with a company that doesn’t monitor how HR interacts with its professional community?

What should this reader say to the hiring manager?

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How to say it to voicemail

When you’re job hunting, it’s hard enough coming up with something to say when you call a manager you don’t know. What will stimulate a peer-to-peer discussion that might lead to a job or to a good referral to another manager?

But when you get voicemail — that’s another level of anxiety. Take a look at this reader’s question about How to Say It:

“Repeated calls to a manager I don’t know get me nothing but the manager’s voicemail. I don’t want to have my caller ID coming up like I’m a stalker. I want to leave a voicemail message that will produce a call back. How do I say it when I’m talking to a recorder?”

In the new edition of the newsletter (June 16, 2009) I offer this suggestion:

“Hello! My name is Linda Jones. Mark Smith at Systems Inc. suggested I give you a call. I read the article in Widget Monthly in which you were quoted. You can reach me at 999 555-1212. I look forward to talking with you. Thanks.”

Never say anything about the substance of your call. Create an obligation: Always refer to someone you know in common. Stimulate interest: Allude to an article or event that reveals the person you’re calling is highly regarded. Do not make the call until you have a name in common and a credible allusion.

(There’s a new How to Say It in every edition of the newsletter.)

When you’re trying to get in the door, how do you leave voicemail that will ensure a return call? What works? (What fails?)

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How to Say It: I’ll take less money

A few weeks ago we started a How to Say It challenge in the newsletter, and submissions have been voluminous! Here’s a good one:

I think your tree analogy in Taking a Salary Cut to Change Careers is an excellent way to describe the potential pitfalls associated with climbing the wrong branch, and the rewards associated with backtracking and choosing a more fruitful branch.

However, how do you convey to a potential employer that you are willing to take a salary cut (perhaps a substantial one) without actually saying those words and cheapening your overall worth?  The company I am interested in working for (in a different industry) has a lower pay scale than my current employer, but based on my research, has greater potential for advancement and rewards.

Isn’t it frustrating when you want to say something that’s so clear, so honest — but you’re afraid it will be misunderstood? I find that the solution is often just as simple as your intent. Engage the other person in a discussion and ask for their candid advice:

Use the tree analogy that makes so much sense to you. Describe to the manager what you read in Taking a Salary Cut to Change Careers: “I think I see the wisdom in that article. This is the industry I want to work in. While I’d like to keep my current salary, I’d like your candid opinion about this idea of moving down one branch to go back up a stronger branch. What do you think about the cost of making the transition? …Every step along my career is an investment, and if I can see profit at the end of the tunnel, I’m willing to go in… So please tell me what you think. If I’m motivated to make change into this industry, how do you think that would affect my earnings now and in the long term?”

That’s how I would say it. Other suggestions?

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