Monday, November 26, 2012

The 5 most obvious mistakes made in job interviews - Part 2

Our blog has moved. You will find this blog post and fresh content on our new Global Engineering Jobs blog.
Mistake #2- Getting the Talking / Listening Balance Wrong

When all is said and done you’ll either win or lose in a job interview. Everyone involved in the process – on both sides of the table - should be attempting to win. If it’s a mutual win, great. If it’s just you who wins, that will do.

In most cases, the winner will be the person who listens most.

How do you ‘win’ at interviewing? Simple. You put yourself in the position where you have the decision making power as to what happens next.

If you’re the candidate, that means that the interviewer wants to hire you and you understand enough about the role to know whether or not you should take it. As an interviewer, that means that the candidate wants the job for sure, and you've learned enough about them to know whether you want to pull the trigger.

There are two mutual wins in interviewing. First, the right candidate is offered the job and they accept. Second, the wrong candidate is not offered the job and moves on to other things. 

To get to one of these mutual wins, you’re going to have to get the balance of talking and listening right. Interviews are a collaborative exercise - you can't drive a successful meeting entirely by yourself. You have to meet each other half way and share the burden of making the meeting flow. A meeting that's awkward and disjointed is highly unlikely to result in a mutual win.

Within this context, you will have a choice of listening and encouraging the other person to talk, or talking yourself. Try to come down on the side of listening.

Most people don’t listen with intent to understand; they listen with the intent to reply. says Stephen Covey, the late great business writer. Job interviews are especially prone to this behavior. From the candidate’s perspective, this is pretty reasonable. After all you’re there to be judged on your answers, it’s not surprising that you might spend the time when you’re not talking, thinking what to say next. Then you have your internal monologue to contend with – am I presenting myself well? Does she like me? How is this going? Will this help me find a job? With all of this going on, it’s not surprising that you might struggle to listen effectively. And listening is critical to the process you’re engaged in.

I’ve had countless candidates come back from interviews and say that they didn’t really talk much themselves – that the interviewer did most of the talking. He or she gave an extensive history of the company, talked about the team and their objectives. The candidate is usually worried at this point, because they tend to feel like they haven’t been given the chance to adequately impress the interviewer. They seem surprised when I tell them that this is a good thing. They are skeptical, but I know that the vast majority of people who find themselves in this position end up getting through to the next stage in the process.

Human beings are never happier than when someone is listening. Whether we are ego maniacs who want to inflict our opinions on people by making speeches to rooms full of people (or by writing blogs that amount to the same thing) or if we take pleasure in quietly telling our husbands and wives about the day we’ve had. The words you listen to me too much were never spoken by anybody ever. We want to be listened to; it is us being told that we matter, that what we have to say is important.

If we feel like someone is listening to us we tend to like them. We reflect their respect. All the more if we’re talking about something we’re passionate about. I swear I’ve been at dinner parties where some guy is rambling on for an hour about their latest project or interest. Whatever is exciting them. They talk and talk, and out of sheer politeness beyond all reasonable expectation – the curse of the British – I sit there and listen, nodding with interest at the right moments and occasionally intimating surprise or agreement wherever I feel like they need it. Later, the host will say to me –‘Oh Jerry said you and he were getting on very well, he really enjoyed your conversation.’ I chuckle. I barely said a word, but Jerry was so pleased to talk about his kid’s advanced placement program and so bursting with good feeling that he’d projected those feelings on to me. For all he knew I wanted to talk to him about applying Scientology principles to a new interpretation of Mein Kampf. But in his mind – I was someone he liked. And he had no basis for this. He was talking into a mirror. 

So as candidates for jobs if we prove ourselves good listeners, we’re likely to see the interviewer leave with a positive impression. Any sales person worth their salt will tell you that a good sales meeting is one where the prospect does most of the talking.

In a job interview situation, whichever side of the table you’re sat on, you need to make sure that you are listening enough to make it productive. (As always, we’re not talking about basics here – long protracted silences are bad, so are short answers and introverted refusal to let conversation flow – we will take some things as read.)

The point is that in a healthy conversational interview, you should always lean toward listening if you’re allowed to. Asking questions, showing genuine interest – these things will help to keep your interviewer talking, and if they’re enjoying talking to you, the chances are they’re liking you.

Good listeners win friends easily, they attract people to them and they take part in successful job interviews.

Nobody ever listened their way out of a job. 

Next Week - Part Three  – More Interview Mistakes

Some questions for comments: What are the most common mistakes you’ve seen? How do you think people can make interviews easier on themselves and others?

Richard Spragg writes about engineering and construction jobs, and business advice in staffing and recruitment

Thursday, November 15, 2012

The 5 most obvious mistakes made in job interviews

Our blog has moved. You will find this blog post and fresh content on our new Global Engineering Jobs blog.
Last month we focused on resumes and the importance of building effective written introductions to your experience and skill set.

This month, across our various channels, we’re going to be talking about the importance of interviews, the most regularly made mistakes and the potential that a well structured interview offers for both sides of the table.

During my years in recruiting, HR and marketing in the staffing industry, I’ve interviewed hundreds of people. I’ve always considered it to be the most important hour of the hiring process; while resumes can misrepresent things and offers can be accepted or declined – It is the first meeting, between the two people who could end up working together that will get to the heart of the real potential and pave the way for future employment.  

As a starting point for this month’s discussions, I’m offering the first of the five biggest mistakes made by interviewers and candidates, with advice from all three perspectives.

Mistake #1 - The First Impression Trap

The evidence suggests that human beings give far too much credence to the immediate emotional responses triggered in meeting someone. The legendary ‘first impression.’ We make a basic decision about whether we like someone or not almost immediately; while this reaction can be reversed, we often begin to act upon it in a way that makes a reversal less likely. If you want the science, read about the amygdala hijack and the role of the neo cortex. For our purposes it’s best to accept the brain's physical and chemical reactions and focus on what happens next.

For Interviewers:

Here’s the crux – studies suggest that if you like someone you ask them easier questions and their easier answers reinforce your positive perception. If you take an instant dislike to someone, you tend to ask tougher questions and use their relative difficulty in answering them to solidify your negative impression.

Awareness of the problem will help. You should make a conscious effort not to allow your emotional response to guide you, at least in question setting.  A consistent set of questions fixed in advance will help you stay on track. You should also keep a clear thought in your head throughout the process. ‘I owe this person the whole of the time I have allotted to create an impression on me.’ They might come back strong – you must give them the chance to do that if you want to get the most from the process. It’s your time, don’t waste it going through the motions after a rushed decision, when you could be constantly resetting your impression and allowing for something to surprise you and change the game.

For Candidates:

You should assume that the vast majority of interviewers will be oblivious to the dangers of their immediate conclusions. You should put every effort into making a strong first impression.

When I was a young recruiter in London, we used a system called magic wand – a set of instructions for candidates that we believed would statistically increase their chances of getting hired. This is nothing to do with dressing appropriately, or shaking hands with eye contact or anything else any applicant for any job should take for granted. These are slightly less obvious tips.

Don’t settle down in reception.
If you do your immediate first impression will be of someone trying to clamber out of a sofa and reach for your bag. If you’re on your feet, bag in hand, you look prepared and ready for action, you will meet your interviewer face to face.

Have small talk prepared.
A lot of key time can be spent between the elevator and the interview room. The days of secretaries doing all the work are long behind us. If you come to interview with me, it’s going to be me who meets you in reception; this is true of hiring managers and executives all over the US., particularly on engineering jobs, where an all hands on deck mentality prevails.

Compliment something
Positive remarks about the building / area or anything else are a good, simple way to make a first impression. Keep it realistic, if the building is shabby and in a terrible area, you’re unlikely to get away with – ‘Wow, this is such a nice building.’ But if you can, you should. Any kind of positive comment on their working environment will contribute to first impressions. “How’s that little Italian restaurant on the corner? It looks great.”

Say Yes.
Just say yes to things. If you’re offered water, say yes – even if you don’t want it. Saying yes to things creates a positive atmosphere. A glass of water also provides that vital extra three seconds of thinking time before you answer a question. You can’t just sit there staring into space for a moment while you gather your thoughts, but you can take a nice slow sip on a glass of water without anybody noticing the break.

There are more of these, but these are the ones that affect first impressions. The more of these things you do, the more likely you are to get that good start, and if you do, you could find the questions getting easier as your interviewer starts to work with you.

For Recruiters, who are sending candidates for Interviews, you would do well to acquaint yourself with these tools so you can pass them on. Preparing your candidate properly for their interview is a vital part of the agent’s role. A good agent gives both their customers the best chance of success. It’s in everyone’s interests that the interview be productive and that the right candidate doesn’t lose out on an opportunity they were a god match for because of poor interview technique.

When we talk about best fit talent, this is what we mean. The engineering recruiter’s job isn’t to find the world’s greatest professional, it’s to find the best person to fit the job that’s on offer. Part of this endeavour includes getting them through the physical process of hiring and helping them to shine. If you’re just sending your candidates to interviews with a date and time, you’re not doing enough for them or your client. You should focus most of your attention during the recruiting process on the interview.

Interviews are where jobs are won and lost, roles are filled or left unfilled and recruiter targets are hit or missed. Whatever your role in the process, you’re not alone. Everyone wants this interview to end in a successful hire, make sure you’re doing your part to make that happen. Don’t lose a perfectly good hire in the First Impression trap.

Next Week - Part Two  – More Interview Mistakes

Some questions for comments: What are the most common mistakes you’ve seen? How do you think people can make interviews easier on themselves and others?

Richard Spragg writes about engineering and construction jobs, and business advice in staffing and recruitment

Friday, November 9, 2012

Cracking the myth of effective multitasking

Our blog has moved. You will find this blog post and fresh content on our new Global Engineering Jobs blog.

It was only fairly recently that I cracked the myth of multitasking, and found an attitude toward it that I am comfortable with. 

These days, I see it this way. A housewife (if you’ll forgive the 1950s stereotype that follows – but the idea of the multitasking superwoman is perfect for this purpose) needs to cook dinner, tidy up the lounge of toys and change a nappy. She leaves some sauce simmering on the stove, picks up a couple of soft toys and throws them in the toy chest, then takes care of the baby’s nappy. She returns child to crib, washes her hands, picks up the books that were on the floor and slides them back into the bookshelf. She returns to the stove, adds some basil, reduces the heat and goes to answer the doorbell. This is the classic stereotype of multitasking. That skill, much maligned by the stereotype useless male – unable to sit upright and breath in and out at the same time – that results in incredible productivity.

But this is not really multitasking.

At no stage was the housewife engaged in two tasks at once, nor should she have been. True multitasking would have involved changing the nappy, while using the baby’s legs to stir the sauce and kicking the toys and books one by one toward the place they were supposed to go. The result? Burned feet, nappies on the stove, books nowhere near the bookshelf and a lot of mess to clean up.

Thus stands the multitasking myth. Because what you’re really talking about is not the ability to complete multiple tasks at once, but the ability to switch between tasks effectively, without hindering the effectiveness of your contribution to any of them. This is what you should focus on improving if you want to be a multitasker. How can you flip between jobs productively? Your working routine is bound to require it; nobody's working day ever allows them to focus on one thing only, but they are seldom required to actually do two things at once.

So multitasking remains one of the biggest myths in the modern workplace, whether that work place is an office, a construction site or a household.

That’s not to say it doesn’t exist, or that it can’t be done. There are number of ways that you can multitask effectively, and putting some thought into structuring your day to allow for these real examples of multitasking is what will help to make you more efficient.

Here are a few things you can do that constitute real multitasking.

Schedule phone conversations when you’re driving (hands free please.)
My car has some clever green tooth or blue eye thing that means I receive calls from a button on my steering wheel. But a $10 earpiece has much the same effect.If you have an hour long commute involving traffic (and if you’re working on engineering jobs in Houston for example, I know you do) you can make it work for you. It doesn’t have to be business; it can be anything that will save you time earlier or later in the day. Sit on hold with whichever bank is currently abusing your custom. Call Mom. If it’s something you would have to find other time to do otherwise, it’s saving you time.  (Make sure you are complying with all legal responsibilities for safety reasons.)

Combine Audiobooks with basic physical tasks
Again, the car is good. But so is the bath, the kitchen while you’re cooking dinner (one of my responsibilities at our place – who’s 1950’s now?) or the treadmill at the gym. You don’t have to read, to get that book read. It was a big day for me when I realized that iPods weren’t just for music. Audiobooks (that you pay for) or podcasts (that you don’t) offer a vast range of opportunities to learn and develop during dead time, like when you’re on the stationary bike, or boiling the water for the pasta. 

Combine Conference Calls with almost anything
Be honest. A good number of conference calls require less than active participation. If I find myself on one of those calls, I look for the mute button and for something else to do. If I’m in my office at home, I’ll do a wash load or clean the kitchen. The combination of mindless physical task and passive mental task is a good one. You should be careful not to try anything too engaging. It’s difficult to build a PowerPoint presentation or write a detailed e-mail and stay on top of the subject matter of a conference call, even if you’re not talking very often. You need to pay attention, but a physical task that requires no thought should allow that.

Multitasking can only be effectively achieved with the right balance of mindless physical tasks and stationary mental ones. As soon as anything blurs the lines on that distinction, you’re in trouble. Beware overreaching. I suggest you take my word for the fact that stationary bikes and food preparation are not a good match. Weddings and audiobooks can also result in injuries of a different kind. Throughout this process, one must pay attention to what is potentially dangerous, or just plain inappropriate. It’s easy to offend people if they should get the impression they don’t have your full attention.

At the end of the day, which task you are neglecting, and which you are diligently carrying out is all a matter of perception. As my school chaplain once told me – “You can’t smoke while you pray. But you can pray, while you smoke.”

Multitasking suggestions and party fouls welcome in your comments…

Richard Spragg writes on various subjects including business practice,  global engineering jobs, global engineering staffing and marketing in the technical sector.

Thursday, November 1, 2012

5 free online tools that you might actually find useful (you know, for business)

Our blog has moved. You will find this blog post and fresh content on our new Global Engineering Jobs blog.

1.     Twitter

Common perception: 
It’s a way to tell people what you just ate for dinner

It’s a way to find out what your potential clients need right now

You don’t need to tweet anything yourself. It is unlikely that anyone in the world wants to know your every unedited thought. I wish this message would get through to athletes everywhere, who seem intent on Twitter-assisted career suicide by sharing every response to the boss/coach/owner’s latest statement without any pause for thought.

The key to Twitter is to follow and listen. Follow all of the customers you have and all of the customers you want. They are talking constantly on Twitter. At some point, a 15-year-old marketing consultant told them all they’d be bankrupt in 6 months if they didn’t start tweeting every day. And they listened. The result? Genuinely live information reaching the market faster than any corporate PR announcement or press release ever did. ‘ABC Ltd is pleased to announce Jane Smith as the company’s new head of engineering and construction jobs.’ This kind of information should be gold dust to your sales teams in staying ahead of the game.

2.  YouTube
Common perception:
A total distraction

It’s the best training resource in the world

Yes, there are dogs in party hats and teenagers kamikaze stunts on skateboards. But there is a lot more besides. YouTube is to training what the Nintendo DS is to parenting. It may be a shortcut, and it can’t replace the real thing – but it’s extremely useful when you’re stretched.

YouTube contains videos from genuine experts on every subject from How to Input a Table of Contents in MS Word, through to explanations of the Liquid Natural Gas industry. Running a business in New Zealand and don’t know enough about doing business in China? How about an interview with the New Zealand Enterprise Commissioner & Consul General in Guangzhou? It’s called ‘Doing business in China.’

PowerPoints are good. Training sessions are great. But unless you’re going to commit resources to the design, production, execution and updating of these materials, you may find YouTube better value for money. Its available 24/7, anywhere in the world and can be immediately accessed. It’s also free.

3.   Trello

Common Perception: 
What’s Trello?

It’s a life changer

If you haven’t discovered Trello yet, you might be one of a good number of people whose world it could change forever. Are you using MS Outlook to perfectly integrate all your action lists with your calendar and e-mails? No? Nor am I. If you’re one of the 0.1% who have actually mastered the full functionality of Outlook and found a way to make it practical and interactive across your team, congratulations. You may stop reading and go for some frozen yoghurt from that stall you like in the mall. 

For everyone else, there is Trello. Trello is an online system of post-it notes on the wall. Like the post-it notes on your desk and computer, you can move them around, add a new one easily and take down the ones you don’t need. Unlike the post-it notes, you can share them with others across the web, attach notes to other people, organize them into easy lists and protect their security. You can change their color coding, keep them in various different projects, and get updates every time someone adds or subtracts anything. Most importantly it works because it’s like your post-it notes. It’s simple and visual for the non-superheroes amongst us who just don’t want to forget anything.

4.     Skype

Common Perception: 
It’s an instant messenger where my staff can distract each other all day, or avoid picking up the phone for tricky stuff

It’s free international video conferencing.  

I talk to my team almost every day using this tool. I feel like I’m in the room with them. This is helpful, because with Talascend’s global footprint and our global engineering staffing framework – I’m not often actually in the room with them. This tool has changed the way we operate. Get a $30 web cam, click call and start enjoying the instant benefits of a tool that used to cost high-end big businesses a fortune. And on the weekend, you can call your mom and make her day.

 5.    Join.Me

Common Perception:
GoToMeeting and WebEx are the only solutions

No they’re not

Join.Me requires no permanent downloads, is available immediately and is completely free. All you need is a phone (or better still Skype) and you can share your screen (and control of your screen) with anyone you like in a secure and simple environment. No planning required, just a link you cut and paste in seconds. Sometimes you just need to see what your colleague is talking about. Join.Me lets you do that.

So there it is – five tools that can make a genuine contribution to your business. Yes, there are down sides to each of them. But one of the best pieces of advice I was given when I wanted to ban a distractive tool from a team I was running was this – you have to manage the people, not throw away the tool. If your systems are blocking any of these tools – I understand why, but I’d urge you to find another means to manage their use that doesn’t involve dispensing with the real benefits of the technology.

I’d also urge you to make sure your perception of every available tool is accurate. You could be missing some major opportunities to streamline the way you work, whether it’s just your own workload you’re balancing, or if you’re managing a team, a region or an entire business. 

Richard Spragg writes on various subjects including global engineering jobs, staffing and marketing in the technical sector.

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