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This week's column gives advice on how to show an interviewer you are ready for the job. 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 have been getting many phone and in-person interviews. I know I've also been one of the final two candidates in several circumstances—just not getting any job offers. What else can I do? I try to go in prepared for the interview, and I ask good questions (so I've been told). I follow up with thank-you letters. I can provide good references. I can't figure out where I'm going wrong. Got any ideas? Please help. Any advice is greatly appreciated.
That is one complex question with an almost infinite number of variables. Typically, the reasons why one candidate was chosen over another can range from a skill deficit to body odor to personality issues. Let's assume you can do the job and that you aren't malodorous or difficult to be around; we can also safely say that you appear to know your job. So let's discuss ways of thinking about your work, which could well influence the way you answer questions and the questions you ask yourself.
Let's begin with a dose of harsh reality: Your job is secure for just as long as it takes to replace you with a piece of software, someone younger and cheaper, or someone in another country who will do the work for pennies on the dollar. Given these realities, why does your current job exist and how can this knowledge help you set yourself apart from contenders for the new job you are seeking?
Companies only ever add staff when there are problems to be dealt with that, left unattended, would reduce sales or increase costs—both of which depress profits. This means that, in one way or another, all jobs exist to serve the company by making money or saving money or by increasing productivity—which likely achieves both.
Analytical/problem-solving skills are at the heart of every job, regardless of its title. So let's take a look at problem-solving as it applies to your job and how this can help you give better answers and ask more penetrating questions.
Your suitability as a candidate is going to be evaluated by both your answers to interview questions and the questions you ask that demonstrate the depth of your understanding and engagement with the job. Your informed questions turn a one-sided examination of skills into a two-way conversation between professional colleagues; it can change the tone of an interview entirely.
In determining your ability to do the job, smart interviewers want to know that (in your area of responsibility) you can identify, prevent and solve the problems that interfere with maximum profitability. Interviewers want to know that:
If you think about your job in these ways, your answers to interviewers' questions will demonstrate a deep understanding of the job's deliverables and therefore greater competency. The questions you ask will only cement the depth of your understanding and engagement with the guts of the job.
A job exists to eradicate problems that interfere with the profit imperative. The offer goes to the candidate who best demonstrates how to prevent problems and deliver solutions.
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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