Negative Talk

Don’t engage in it while networking.

There are many reasons people are in the job market.  Unfortunately, some of those reasons aren’t pretty.  You were downsized, the company moved out of state, or you resigned because you didn’t see eye-to-eye with new management.  While it’s important to be honest, there is a fine line between candor and what can be misconstrued as unprofessionalism.  Many candidates, understandably upset with the situation, are quick to finger-point and assign blame.  Maybe the boss was an unreasonable jerk, but saying this is not advisable.

First, companies are interested in candidates that are not just qualified to do the job, but enthusiastic about their organization.  They want someone who is genuinely interested in making a commitment and a contribution.  Plus, they might wonder if they too will be smeared if any difficulties should arise.

Second, we all know by now how small the world is.  Word gets around very quickly.  Social networking allows us to “meet” people with a few clicks.  Therefore, what you say about so-and-so can, more easily than ever, get back to him or her.  This is especially important in niche industries like logistics, where, if you talk to someone long enough, you are bound to know someone in common.

Finally, peppering a conversation with all the ways the previous company wronged you undermines your strengths and detracts from all your shining qualifications.  Don’t avoid questions about why you are no longer with a particular company or why you’re looking for other opportunities, but use diplomacy and tact.  People tend to be more understanding than we think, especially with something out of our control.  You can’t go wrong by staying POSITIVE!

Lose the Sweatpants!

Imagine this:

You score a date with someone you’ve been after for a while.  From mutual friends, you’ve heard nothing but good things about this person.  The phone conversations have been smooth and fluid; emails exchanged have been intelligent and funny.  Finally, you find yourself waiting excitedly for him or her at a nice restaurant.  The moment has arrived!  But your brain has trouble processing what the eyes are seeing:  your object of interest is wearing baggy gray sweatpants, a t-shirt, and an attitude that says “So what?”  Giving this a chance (maybe it’s an anomaly – he had a bad day; she had to rush to the dentist right before dinner), you initiate friendly conversation.  All you get in return are one-word answers, no questions, no discernible interest in the meeting.  Would you ever see this person again?  Would you be surprised if this person remained single until the end of time?

Replace the situation above with a job interview.  Unthinkable, right?  Wrong!  A horrified client recently told me the true story of an applicant whose resume was top-notch and who interviewed very well over the phone, but when he arrived for his appointment, he looked like he’d rolled out of bed, with a slouchy, disinterested posture to match.  I was flabbergasted.

You would think an adult already in the workforce several years would not need to be guided on what to wear – and not wear – to a job interview.  And 99% of people know how to present themselves.  For the 1% who have any doubt whatsoever, it is best to err on the side of a conservative suit, whatever is in style and appropriate for the company.  Obviously if you’re going for a job as a gym coach, the dress code might be a little more relaxed.  In most environments, however, and especially if you’re just not sure (most companies nowadays have business casual dress codes) it is advisable to dress a little more formally until they tell you about the company culture and dress.

In either of the above scenarios, do all you can to make sure you get called back!

Let’s Get Down to Motives!

The interviewer asks the inevitable:  “Why are you looking for a new job?” and, for good measure, why you left your previous posts.  Before immediately revealing that you just want a shorter commute, let’s think about this carefully.

Obviously, if everything were perfect, you wouldn’t be on the market.  So why do they even ask?  Even if you are being recruited – just like “wandering eye” syndrome – you wouldn’t waste your time entertaining the opportunity unless something was missing from your current relationship with your job.  There are lots of legitimate reasons for looking.  Let’s be honest:  sometimes we just want a higher salary, or management didn’t deliver on a promise, or the workload makes even workaholics look lazy.  Should these reasons be disclosed to a recruiter or hiring manager?

Yes and no.  An applicant once told me he was tired of driving an hour, subject to traffic and the fancies of inclement winter weather.  The job he applied for, which matched his skills perfectly, was in his hometown.  But he wanted to make more than my client had budgeted for.  In this case, besides showcasing the employee’s talents and qualifications, I was able to convince my client that the close distance was advantageous:  no worrying about the employee being able to stay late, or being late because of snow.  The candidate got the job, and at his desired salary!  On the other hand, in most cases, we never want to make it sound as if this is the sole reason want to leave.  Many valid reasons for leaving a job, except for those out of our control such as companies closing or moving, can sound very petty and self-serving.  Managers want to know that there is genuine interest in their company, and in how you can apply your experience to helping fulfill their vision for the position.  They want to feel that the enthusiasm for the job and company is sincere, not borne of a desire to drive fewer miles.  Motives should always be positive, emphasizing how the company will be helped by investing in you.

Which brings us to salary.  There’s nothing wrong with wanting an increase, and if your current employer is unable or unwilling to oblige, it’s perfectly fair to see what’s out in the market for your position and skill set.  But again, you don’t want to emphasize that the only reason you are looking is for money.  Like it or not, it comes across a bit selfish and one-sided.  There will be plenty of time to discuss compensation if and when both parties like each other after the initial interview.

And if you end up getting that new job, there will be lots of reasons to be enthusiastic:  a fresh start, new ways to contribute and make an impact, new colleagues – and the shortened commute/new boss/bigger paycheck will be the icing on the cake no one has to know about!

Testing, Testing!

Just when you thought your school days were behind you, you arrive at a job interview, and before you even meet the hiring manager, you are asked to take a couple of tests.  Don’t panic!  Many companies administer one or more of the following types of exams:

  1. General Aptitude: They want to gauge your basic reading comprehension, problem solving and math skills.
  2. Personality Test: We’ve seen this type of test administered mainly to sales professionals.  They want to make sure your personality will be a fit for the company culture and the position, especially if you will be dealing with customers regularly.
  3. Industry Exam: They want to make sure you understand the technical aspects of the job.  It may include questions about the industry, vocabulary, documentation and procedures.

Always allow enough time for the interview and any possible testing or filling out of applications.  Remember that these are being administered to all applicants as a matter of policy.  Take a deep breath, take your time, and answer all questions to the best of your ability.  Pencils down!

Business Plan Requests

A good sales professional knows his or her numbers intimately.  During an interview, she/he should expect to be asked about specific contributions.  Incredibly, we have interviewed countless career sales people who couldn’t quantify the most common measures of success:  revenue, gross profit, even approximate number of active customers in their portfolio!  While it’s not necessary to memorize the figures on a weekly basis, an active, engaged business development professional should be aware of what they bring to the table.  “My company keeps lousy records” is not a valid excuse.  In that case, keep your own – after all, you want to make sure you get the commission you are due, right?

Prior to interviewing for a sales position, we recommend that candidates gather and summarize their achievements, as well as potential new business being worked on.  The more dollar signs and details, the better.  Vagueness or over-inflation (“I have 2,500 business cards!”) may lead the interviewer to think there is no real substance.  Much better:  “I secured a 3-year contract worth $15 million in revenue with a furniture importer.”

If the initial interview goes well, the hiring manager may then request a business plan or forecast.  There are a few reasons for this:

  1. To get a clear picture of expected sales activity and marketing efforts
  2. To determine whether the company has the tools, pricing and personnel to support those targets
  3. To see if the profit generated would more than cover salary and expenses for this rep

Many candidates express concern that the interviewer is just trying to get sales leads and has no intention of hiring anyone.  But most of the time there is no ulterior motive; they are simply trying to find motivated individuals to help them grow.  We simply advise giving general information, such as tradelanes, volume and estimated profit.  This homework should be turned in as soon as possible!

If a company asks for a business plan, it’s because they enjoyed the initial discussion and would like to move forward in the process.  In the end, the opportunity should be a good match for all parties involved.  And sales professionals should keep track of their successes at all times!