This post is a follow up to my original Some lessons for the Job Seeker post from August of 2003.
I’ve been interviewing to fill a vacant position in my sales organization over the past few months. The position has been advertised for about two months now. I’ve received about 100 resumes and have personally screened every single one of them. Something I’ve found frustrating and interesting at the same time is that 95% of the resumes I’ve received tell me about people that don’t have all of the requirements for the job opening as posted in the advertisement.
You know what that tells me? Lots of people aren’t qualified for the jobs that are being created out there. Lots. That, or the people I really want aren’t a) hearing/reading about the job opening I have or b) aren’t interested in the position. Or, very possibly (probably most likely) I’m asking for too qualified an applicant than I’ll get from an advertisement. I probably really need a personal reference to get the ‘perfect applicant’. Either way, the result is the same for the job seekers who have been sending me their resumes. 95% of them are all equal in my eyes. They aren’t fully qualified, but some of them have better qualifications (on their resume) than others.
So, I’ve been doing a lot of phone interviews. I’ve probably called 50% of the applicants to the position.
I’m also doing a lot of in-person interviews, because I need to see and talk to the people that are interviewing for the outside sales position I have open. I need to talk to them so I can fully explain the job, the company and the oppotunity I have for them. I generally spend and hour and a half with the promising interviewees and less than 30 minutes with the ones I can tell aren’t going to make the final cut. I’ve learned a few things and hope me passing them on here will help someone:
When interviewing for a sales position specifically, and for just about any position, keep these ideas in mind.:
1. Bring a copy of your resume to the interview. Bring 2 or 3 if you can, just to be safe.
Print out your resume on the nice pretty paper you want to use (though honestly if the paper is white and good quality, I’ll like the paper better than if it’s beige or pink or has ruffles), all formatted in the format you’d like it to be seen in, and bring it to the interview for me.
All but 2 of the resumes I’ve received from applicants have come in through some-sort of online application. Either emailed directly to me, or forwarded through a job-board. None of the resumes coming through an electronic application system are presented well. They’re readable, yes, but they look like crap, and span two or three pages when printed from Outlook. Sometimes the characters in the resumes weren’t ASCII text, so the pretty bullets the person used in Microsoft Word got translated to question marks when copied and pasted into a form online and then emailed to me, the person responsible for hiring. So, those applicants that bring me a nice pretty resume and give it to me at the beginning of the interview always get a leg up on the other applicants for at least 5 minutes. It shows me that they care about the impression they make on me. That’s important in sales (and in most other jobs).
2. Dress Sharply.
I’ve said this before, but wear a damned suit if you a guy or nice business attire if your a woman. I don’t care what the job is, it almost never hurts to over-dress for a situation, but almost always hurts to under-dress. I personally wear a suit to the office every day, and if I’m wearing one when I shake an applicants hand, and they’re not even wearing a tie, it immediately makes them feel badly. I’ve had two applicants tell me “I honestly wish I’d have dressed up more for this interview” while in the interview with me. I don’t make an issue of the situation or their dress in the interview, but in my head, when they’ve said that my first thought was “Well, then why the fuck didn’t you dress better?”
Dress up for that hour folks, it can’t hurt.
3. Ask plenty of questions, or at least ask really damn good ones.
People that aren’t good at interviewing will talk a lot. I’ve caught myself talking waaay too much in interviews. I’ve let the interviewee take control of the interview, and that helps elevate the interviewee in my mind. Take your cues from the person interviewing you (if they don’t like a lot of questions, don’t ask too many, but ask good ones. Here’s the scenario I’m in as a hiring manager: I’ve interviewed 25 good applicants in person. I can honestly only remember two of the interviews right this second without my notes.
Those two applicants too control of the interview (as much as they could) and asked a lot of really good questions. I remember them for two reasons: a) I am looking hire someone with good in-person sales skills and b) I feel like I need to know more about those two people so I can decide which one I want to hire. The other 23 applicants I’ve interviewed in person don’t stand out enough in my minds for some reason, and I have to believe it’s because they didn’t ask enough questions to know if they wanted (or could do) the job I need done or they didn’t ask the right ones.
“Needs analysis” is a big part of consultative selling (which is what I like to see in my employees that are in sales) and those two applicants did it well.
4. Be enthusiastic
I’ve interviewed two people in person that sounded great on the phone, but turned in to duds in person. I understand being nervous. I’ve been there (all of us have). I can empathize with people that might not be at the top of their game during the interview (we’ve all had bad sales calls). Waht I can’t accept is pure apathy. I can’t accept or enjoy someone that doesn’t seem interested in the job during the interview and then ask for the job at the end of the interview.
In sales (which is what every interview is) you have to know when to ‘ask the customer to buy’. In an interview that step is the “I really want this job” statement from the applicant. It’s the pistachio in the ice-cream. If you act like melted ice-cream during a 30-45 minute interview and then all of the sudden throw a pistachio at me, I’ll probably just spit it out, because the ice-cream was mushy. Act like you’re interested even if you’re not. I’m the one with the job to offer and you’re the one looking. Act like you’re interested in it and you might get the offer. If you don’t act interested, you won’t.
5. Be prepared for a second interview. Don’t reschedule it after it’s scheduled.
I want to hire the right person the first time I fill a position. So, I’m going to have a second interview with the truly qualified applicants. I’m going to have someone else interview them for me… maybe role-play a sales call… maybe just come in and say hi. It’s going to happen. If you want the job, don’t re-schedule the second interview. That’s the one where you’ll get the job offer (it might not happen until the third or fourth interview).
If you reschedule the second interview, where I’ve got two other people lined up to talk to you, you’re hurting your chances. Not with me, but with those two other people that might be talking to you. They’ll probably remember that you bailed on the first one (for them) and their time is probably very valuable to them. Don’t give them a reason to doubt that you know that, especially for a sales job. They’ll think that’s how you’ll treat clients.
6. Don’t try to change the job before you have it.
If the job doesn’t sound like something you want to do, ask more questions to be sure that your impressions are correct. If the job truly sounds like a wrong fit, say so. If you want to do something other than what’s being described and detailed for you, say so in the interview. That position may be open somewhere else, but don’t try to change the position that’s being discuss into something else in the interview. If you’re looking for a career path (let’s say the job opening is for an entry-level position and you’re seeking something that requires more experience, or that you need more pay, say so, but also be prepared for an answer like: I’m sorry, that’s not what we’re hiring for right now, and then make up your mind about the job that’s offered to you, if it’s ever offered). Don’t change the job in to what you want it to be, take the job for what it is, or don’t take it.
7. Be ready to pass a thorough background check.
I won’t go in to too much detail here, but, more and more companies are running complete background checks: drug tests, driving record checks, credit history checks, resume detail verification, and reference checking are all things that you might have to go through after you’re offered a job and before you can start working. Some companies will allow one or two discretionary ‘problems’ to go through the HR department with an “ok to hire” stamp, but some times they can’t. If the job requires driving, have a clean driving record. If it requires handling cash, have a good credit history. If you don’t, give it your best shot, but, if you can, keep your background clean.