Bestselling 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’m getting ready to job-hunt for the first time in years, and, to be frank, I’m terrified. I’m basically an introvert and live in fear of having to start conversations with people I don’t know. I’m also not too happy about having to face multiple interviews, especially if it’s a group interview. I’m a benefits analyst, and I spend most of my workdays doing my thing without much interaction with others. Do you have any strategies for introverts like me to ease the pain of job hunting?
You aren’t alone: No one likes job interviews. But what is particularly scary is a failure to win over interviewers; that can stall your whole career.
Fortunately, easing your fear with knowledge and tactics will help diminish the problem to a manageable level. I’m not saying you will ever enjoy going to interviews, but you can learn to manage them with greater confidence and success than ever before.
Why This Fear Isn’t Your Fault
Growing up, you were likely told “Get an education, get a job, work hard, be loyal, make sacrifices, and everything will be fine.” It’s unlikely anyone has ever told you that over your work life, you could easily have 12-plus jobs and three or more distinct career changes, and that learning to manage your career successfully would mean repeatedly developing new skill sets.
What are the skills that will empower you to achieve success, stability and fulfillment over a career that spans half a century? In a world without job security, the four primary skills are obvious: writing a compelling resume, building useful networks, executing an effective job search and, most importantly, turning interviews into offers.
Your Most Critical Professional Skill
Of all the career management skills important for your long-term survival and success, the most critical is your ability to interview well, because this is the skill that will put food on your table and keep a roof over your head. It probably also is your weakest professional skill because people so rarely have the opportunity to practice this skill.
Essential Interview Preparation
All jobs exist to help companies maximize profitability. You support these corporate goals with how effectively you anticipate, identify, prevent and solve the problems within your areas of responsibility.
When you identify the responsibilities in job descriptions, you can begin to predict the questions you’ll be asked. Once you do that, you’re in a position to develop answers that address the work you’ve already done and the achievements you’ve already realized in each of those areas. Planning in this way will help you answer questions about your skills and previous job responsibilities thoughtfully.
We all evaluate job candidates based on how their answers to questions demonstrate an ability to do the job. At the same time, the questions candidates ask tell us a lot about the person, her competence and her likely engagement with the job. It’s easy to make yourself stand out as a candidate when you ask intelligent questions.
For instance, by asking about the benefits package, you make a clear statement about your priorities. But by asking a question like “What are the biggest challenges you expect opening this new facility?” you become a candidate who is truly engaged with the issues that make the difference between success and failure. This tactic also encourages the interviewer to tell you more about what kind of person the company is looking to hire and why, giving you more ammunition for persuasive communication.
So when you answer questions thoughtfully and then tag on questions that show real engagement with the job, you turn a one-sided examination of skills into a two-way conversation between professionals discussing a common interest. While there are many tactics for acing interviews, this tactic alone has proved to generate job offers.
Turn Weaknesses into Strengths
With a more intimate understanding knowledge of what you have to offer, and the tools to identify what the employer wants, you can turn the fear of job interviews into a career management strength. Given the insecurity of our world of work, building the skills required for acing job interviews will pay dividends for your career and a lifetime of improved communication skills.
Have a question for Martin? 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. We look forward to hearing from you!