Best-selling author Martin Yate, a career coach and former HR professional, takes your questions each week about how to further your career in HR. Contact him at the e-mail address at the end of this column.
I am wondering what is the best way to get your foot in the door with a company to start your career in HR. I have done a lot of contract work in human resources, but it never leads to any other HR opportunities. I get interviews for contract HR positions sometimes, but never any job offers.
You should always go to an interview with the single intent of getting a job offer. All too often a candidate will waste an interview by going in with the wrong goals, wondering and asking questions to help decide if this is the right job, right company, the right work environment, etc. While these are all good questions, they are entirely irrelevant until there's an offer on the table. You go to interviews to get job offers; evaluating that job happens once an offer is on the table.
Ask yourself this: In your whole life, how many job offers have you won? When you look at all the professional skills that help you survive and succeed over a long career, you'll see that the most important, and also probably the one you are the weakest at, is your ability to turn interviews into job offers. Yet this is the skill that puts food on your table, keeps a roof over your head and dictates the quality of your life outside of work.
Your only concern at every job interview should be to improve your ability to get job offers. Treat every interview as an opportunity to build this most crucial survival skill. Nothing else matters, not the pay, the benefits, or the work environment; they are all irrelevant until an offer is on the table.
It's All About Problem Solving
There are many considerations that can impact your tactics at a particular interview, but they all boil down to this: No matter what you do or at what level you do it, everyone gets hired to perform the same skill. We are all hired for our ability to identify problems, anticipate them, prevent them where possible, and solve the ones that arise within our area of responsibility. Why is this? Because problems hinder profitability, and if the problems didn't exist, then the job wouldn't exist and you wouldn't be going to an interview. When you cut right to the heart of it, we are all hired to be problem identifiers, problem preventers and problem solvers.
The candidate who is best able to identify and discuss his or her skills and experiences and how they relate to the recurrent problems of that job is the one who gets the job offer. He or she seems to be the best-suited to taking problems off the hiring manager's desk or even preventing them from getting there in the future.
When you think about every deliverable of the job in terms of the problems it presents and how you identify, anticipate, prevent and solve those problems, you have accurately isolated the very areas that every hiring manager is most concerned about.
The Questions You Ask
Hiring decisions are based on how you answer questions and also on the questions you ask, as the questions you ask show your engagement with and grasp of the job's essentials. When you ask questions that go to the very heart of the job, you demonstrate a degree of understanding most other candidates will never approach.
When you show yourself to be someone who "gets" the very core of that job and someone who recognizes and can handle the problems that it serves up every day, you become the candidate who will always get the job offer.
Have a question for Martin about advancing or managing your career? From big issues to small, please feel free to e-mail your queries to YourCareerQA@shrm.org. We'll only publish your first name and city, unless you prefer to remain anonymous—just let us know.
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