Making a Strategic Exit
Do yourself a favor by never leaving a job interview empty-handed. Rather than quietly fading into history, memorize these four important points.
- Immerse your departure in interactive selling. Sales professionals use this term to mean a great deal of back and forth, give and take, and questions and answers. You’re alive!
- Reprise your qualifications and the benefits you bring to the job. You’re a great match and a wonderful fit, and you’ll be quickly productive.
- Find out what happens next in the hiring process. Mysteries are for crime show viewers.
- Prop open the door for your follow-up. Without paving the way, you may seem desperate when you call back to see what’s up.
Your parting sales pitch
Haven’t you sold yourself enough during this ShowStopper interview? Yes and no. People — including interviewers — often forget what they hear. Start your close with another chorus of your five best skills.
Do you see any gaps between my qualifications and the requirements for the job?
Based on what we’ve discussed today, do you have any concerns about my ability to do well in this job? Any reservations about hiring me?
You’re looking for gaps and hidden objections so that you can make them seem insignificant. But if the gaps aren’t wide and the objections not lethal to your candidacy, attempt to overcome stated shortcomings. You can make this attempt based on what you found out in your earlier research. Here’s an effective formula you can use to engage the interviewer:
- Sell your qualifications (skills and other requirements for the job).
- Ask for objections.
- Listen carefully.
- Overcome objections.
- Restate your qualifications (using different words).
After you restate your qualifications, you may find the time is ripe to reaffirm your interest in the job and subtly lead toward an offer. Here’s one example to illustrate how such a scenario might play out:
I hope I’ve answered your concerns on the X issue. Do you have further questions or issues about my background, qualifications, or anything else at this point? This job and I sound like a terrific match.
Depending upon the interviewer’s response, make your move.
I hope you agree that this position has my name on it. As I understand, your position requires X, and I can deliver X; your position requires Y, and I can deliver Y; your position requires Z, and I can deliver Z.
So there seems to be a good match here! Don’t you think so?
I’m really glad I had the chance to talk with you. I know that with what I learned at Violet Tech when I established its Internet website, I can set up an excellent website for you, too.
Leaving the door open
How can you prop the door open for a follow-up? You seek the interviewer’s permission to call back; with permission, you won’t seem intrusive. Use these statements as models to gain the permission:
What’s the next step in the hiring process, and when do you expect to make a decision? (You’re trying to get a sense of the timetable.)
I’m quite enthusiastic about this position. When and how do we take the next step?
May I call if I have further questions? Or would you prefer that I e-mail or text you?
I know you’re not done reviewing candidates; when can I reach you to check up on the progress of your search?
I understand you’ll call me back after you’ve seen every candidate for this position; would you mind if I call you for an update or if I have more questions?
I appreciate the time you spent with me; I know you’re going to be really busy recruiting, so when can I call you?
I look forward to that second interview you mentioned — can I call you later to schedule it after my work hours so I don’t have to throw off my current employer’s schedule?
You say I’m the leading candidate for this position. Terrific! That’s great to hear —when shall we talk again?
In the final moments, be certain to express thanks to the interviewer for the time spent with you. Say it with a smile, eye-to-nose, and a firm but gentle handshake: This position looks like a terrific opportunity and a great fit for me — I look forward to hearing from you. Then leave. Don’t linger.
How Hard Should You Sell?
How hard you should sell and how eager you should be depends on such things as age, critical experience, and the level of the job you’re seeking. No behavior is perfect for every candidate and every situation.
When you’re in a sales field, are just starting out, lack experience in a job’s requirements, or aren’t obviously superior to your competition, don’t hold back on selling your advantages or showing your enthusiasm.
When you have relevant experience and offer in-demand skills or are being considered for a senior-level job, allow yourself to be wooed a bit. You don’t want to be seen as jumping at every opportunity. It’s the old story: The more anxious you seem, the less money you’re offered.
When the gap between your qualifications and the job’s requirements is the size of the Grand Canyon, accept the fact that the job will go to someone else. Suppose, for instance, that the position requires five years’ experience, including two years of supervisory experience. You thought you could talk your way through the gap with your three years of total experience and no years of supervisory experience. Fat chance!
When you just don’t have the chops for the position, salvage your time and effort by acknowledging that although you may not be ideal for this particular position, interviewing for it has caused you to admire the company and its people. You’d appreciate being contacted if a better match comes along.
Follow Up or Fall Behind
What takes place after the first selection interview — when candidates are ranked — decides who has the inside track on winning the job.
Your follow-up may be the tiebreaker that gives you the win over other promising candidates. And even if the employer already planned to offer you the job, your follow-up creates goodwill that kick-starts your success when you join the company.
Follow up vigorously. It’s your caring that counts.
Your basic tools are
- Print letters
- E-mails and other media
- Telephone calls
How much do post-interview thank-you letters really impact hiring decisions? It depends on the letter.
When your letter is canned, flat, routine, boring, and of the “Dear Aunt Martha, Thanks for the graduation gift” model, interviewers may yawn and toss it.
But when your letter is a persuasive self-marketing communication masquerading as a thank-you letter (see Figure 12-1), interviewers are likely to pay attention to you as a thoughtful and conscientious top contender.
In constructing a thanks/marketing letter that actually does you some good, use the same powerful concepts you would employ for a targeted resume that directly matches your qualifications with the job’s requirements
Prime-time pointers for letters
Get started with the following content capsules for your thanks/marketing letter aimed at converting your candidacy into a job offer.
- Express appreciation for the interviewer’s time and for giving you a fresh update on the organization’s immediate direction.
- Remind the interviewer of what specifically you can do for a company, not what a company can do for you. As you did in closing your interview, draw verbal links between a company’s immediate needs and your qualifications: “You want X, I offer X; you want Y, I offer Y; you want Z, I offer Z.”
- Repeat your experience in handling concerns that were discussed during the interview. Write very brief paragraphs about how you solved problems of interest to the company.
- Tie up loose ends by adding information to a question you didn’t handle well during the interview.
- Overcome objections the interviewer expressed about offering you the job. For example, if the job has an international component and the interviewer was concerned that you’ve never worked in Europe or Asia, explain that you’ve worked productively in other cultures, notably the Caribbean and in Mexico.
- Reaffirm your interest in the position and respect for the company.
Looks, timing, delivery, and frequency
Content isn’t the only factor to consider when preparing a follow-up letter. The following considerations can cause it to be read or rejected.
- For an important job, a letter (suitable for printing) is impressive and memorable. Write a thank-you letter for the interview within 24 hours to strengthen the good impression you made in person. Deliver it via e-mail, drop it off at the company’s front desk, send it by courier, or mail it at a post office.
- In most instances, the letter will be effective when limited to one page with five to seven short paragraphs. But a killer letter can run two, even three pages, if it is flush with white space, easy to read, and written for a professional-level position.
- Some very savvy people swear by handwritten notes. But here’s my take: Even when your penmanship is good, a note doesn’t readily lend itself to heavy-duty service as a marketing tool.
- When an employer leaves you stranded — waiting for a hiring decision — try to think of new facts to add in a second or even third letter.
- After the third letter, switch to sending a note with a relevant news clipping or even an appropriate cartoon. The interviewer will know what’s going on, but at least you’re keeping your name where it can be seen. Remember the truth of the adage, “Out of sight, out of mind.”
Figure 12-1 shows you a sample letter to impress interviewers.
In this digital age, an e-mail follow-up is fine for most jobs. Consider these observations on communicating after an interview by e-mail:
- E-mail is more conversational and easier for a quick reply. On the other hand, it’s also easier to say no in an e-mail message than on the telephone.
- Use e-mail if that’s the way you sent your resume and especially if the employer requested electronic communication in a job ad.
- Use e-mail when you’re dealing with a high-tech firm; the firm’s hiring authority probably doesn’t remember what paper is and may think voicemail is a bother.
Don’t make blanket assumptions about whether spam filters will prevent your message from reaching the interviewer. Instead, ask the interviewer or a receptionist in advance about the best way to send an e-mail message.
The content for a thank-you e-mail need not differ much, if at all, from that of a paper thank-you letter (see Figure 12-1). You can write a couple of lines in your e-mail referring to your attached letter:
I was impressed with the warmth and efficiency of your offices, as I explain in my attached letter.
Or you can enclose the letter’s content within the body of your e-mail if plain text is satisfactory.
Other digital media
Newer media tools — chiefly the casual communication of texting, instant messaging, and social networking — have jumped in to the job search, mostly driven by younger generations. Reports so far suggest an age-based cultural divide on short-form messages. What about employer acceptance of thankyou messages after an interview?
Hiring professionals are frowning at such quickie and lax communication — everything from sending an SMS message to a recruiter after an interview in texting lingo, to adding the interviewer as a friend on Facebook. They consider such throw-away thanks disrespectful.
Another new idea — creating a 30-second video e-mail to send interview thanks to a hiring professional — doesn’t have a track record yet. But I can see how it could be a fresh tool to stand out from the crowd. Using search terms such as “video e-mail,” “vid mail,” video messaging,” and “vmail,” browse for services that provide this option; add the year of your inquiry to your search.
Once upon a time, all that job seekers had to worry about when calling about potential employment was getting past gatekeepers. They solved that problem in various ways, by adopting a pleasant and honest manner and making an ally of the assistant by revealing the refreshing truth about why they’re calling, as one example.
Some job seekers battled back by trying to reach the interviewer before 8:30 a.m. or after 5:30 p.m., when the assistant wasn’t likely to be on deck and the interviewer alone would pick up the phone.
Those were the good old days. Now voicemail has joined gatekeepers in throwing 800-lb. roadblocks in front of job seekers who try to follow up on interviews.
The big voicemail question for job seekers is whether to leave a message on voicemail. Opinions vary, but, as a practical matter, you may have to leave a message if you don’t connect after the first few calls. All your calls won’t be returned, but your chances improve when you say something interesting in a 30-second sound bite:
This is _____. I’m calling about the (job title or department) opening. After reflecting on some of the issues you mentioned during our meeting, I thought of a solution for one problem you might like to know. My number is _____.
Opening the conversation
Here’s a sprinkling of conversation starters:
- Is this a good time to talk?
- I think you’ll be interested to know _____.
- I understand you’re still reviewing many applications, but. . . .
- I forgot to go into the key details of (something mentioned during the interview) that may be important to you.
- While listening to you, I neglected to mention my experience in (function). It was too important for me to leave out, since the position calls for substantial background in that area.
- I was impressed with your _____.
- I appreciate your emphasis on _____.
Keeping the conversational ball rolling
Try these approaches to maintain the conversation:
- Remind the interviewer of why you’re so special and what makes you unique (exceptional work in a specific situation, innovating).
Let me review what I’m offering you that’s special.
- Establish a common denominator — a work or business philosophy.
It seems like we both approach work in the (name of) industry from the same angle.
- Note a shared interest that benefits the employer.
I found a new website that may interest you — it’s XYZ. It reports on the news items we discussed. . . . Would you like the URL?
Reminding your references
References can make all the difference. Spend adequate time choosing and preparing the people who give you glowing testimonials. What they say about you is more convincing than what you say about yourself.
Call your references and fill them in on your interview:
I had an interview today with (person, company). We talked about the position, and it sounds like a perfect match for me. They wanted (give a list of key requirements), and that’s just what I can supply.
For instance, I have all this experience (match five key requirements with five of your qualifications) from when I worked with (name of company).
Would you like me to fax you those points I just mentioned? . . . I was so happy about the interview I just wanted to thank you once more for all your help and support. I couldn’t have done it without you.
Be stingy with references
“Don’t give references to anyone unless they’re ready to offer you a job you’ll accept,” advises John Lucht, author of the bible of executive job hunting, Rites of Passage at $100,000 to $1 Million+: Your Insider’s Lifetime Guide to Executive Job-Changing and Faster Career Progress in the 21st Century (Viceroy Press).
Lucht says the first time references are contacted; they put on their best performance. He explains what happens next: “The second time, they’re a bit more hurried and perfunctory. As that sequence lengthens, they’ll become less enthusiastic and begin to wonder why, if you’re as good as they originally thought, are you still repeatedly referenced and not hired?”
Pre-Employment Contracts Promise Protection for Everyone
Although your verbal job offer covers such specifics as the term of employment, duties, and compensation, what happens if disputes arise in the future and memories fade? It’s your word against theirs. He said, she said. That’s why getting your offer in writing is to your advantage. (Would you buy a house or an insurance plan without a written contract?)
A written pre-employment contract, or its little brother, the job offer letter, also benefits an employer because you, as an employee, agree to provide specific work benefits and make certain promises (for example, you promise not to reveal company secrets or steal company customers).
Legally, no iron-clad contract rules apply in every state, and each employment contract is different.
Fifty years ago, employment contracts were reserved for theatrical royalty and big-shot corporate executives. That’s changing. Employment relationships are increasingly contract oriented for professional, managerial, technical, and administrative positions.
So when you’re asked to sign a pre-employment contract, you know that the company considers you an investment it wants to protect. But what should you do when a contract’s provisions include factors that you don’t like and haven’t verbally agreed to? Can you negotiate the boilerplate? In most cases, the answer is yes — to a degree. You have more leverage to negotiate a contract to get what you want in tight labor markets; you have less leverage in surplus labor markets when ten people are standing behind you ready to grab the job.
What do pre-employment agreements cover? Usually they regulate one or more of the following issues:
- The position being offered and accepted.
- The compensation that will be paid.
- Whether the job is for a specified length of time or at will. (You or the employer can call it quits at any time for any reason.)
- Specific benefits regarding paid leave time (like vacation and sick days) and whether such time accrues from year to year.
- Responsibilities of both parties concerning the work to be done.
Danger points for you to recognize and investigate fully before signing your acceptance include the following:
- Repayments of training cost or relocation expense that are required under certain conditions.
- Noncompete clauses that prevent you from working elsewhere in a given locale for a specified period of time.
- A statement that the terms of the agreement are subject to change in the future.
- A statement that you are to be bound by the terms of the company’s employee handbook, which you may not yet have seen. (The handbook itself usually notes that it is subject to change at any time by the company.)
- Agreement to arbitration and other alternate dispute resolutions that come with a muzzle clause prohibiting you from discussing settlement details of disputes. Arbitration is a contentious issue with employees, who often feel that arbitrators (wishing to be hired again) may side with companies because they’re more likely to be repeat customers. St. Louis employment attorney Sheldon Weinhaus comments: “Companies keep track of previous awards. It is much harder for a worker to know the history of any arbitrator.”
If you’re required to sign a pre-employment agreement that mandates arbitration, ask that language be inserted requiring that the arbitrator be chosen from a list maintained by the American Arbitration Association or another selection organization that operates with a code of ethics.
A job offer letter is the minimum promise protection you should have in any work opportunity requiring you to resign your current job or relocate out of your residence. A job offer letter is a condensed pre-employment contract outlining the basics of your employment. In small companies, a job offer letter may be written without a lawyer’s help. Details and samples of offer letters are available on an About.com website, http://jobsearchtech. about.com; scroll past ads to Job Offer Letters.
Pre-employment agreements and job offer letters are generally legal and enforceable — but not always. If you can’t afford to consult an employment lawyer before signing a pre-employment contract, bulk up your knowledge; run a Google search for “pre-employment contracts” and “employment contracts.”
Last Chance to Back Out
Maybe you’ve decided to accept the offer. Before popping a champagne cork, make sure that you have the salary, benefits, and starting date in writing. Assurance that you correctly understand this information is critical when you’re being asked to relocate or give up a job.
If you received the offer over the telephone, ask whether the company can mail you a job offer letter; if not, you write one, perhaps calling it a “letter of understanding.”
Sometimes you decide the job isn’t for you. Don’t feel obligated to accept it merely because you’ve been dickering over your potential employment for weeks. If you ultimately decide to pass on it, send an amiable letter that reveals no details. Say that while you greatly appreciate the offer and the interviewer’s time, you have made a difficult decision and that you have accepted a position with another employer (or that you have ultimately determined that you aren’t a good fit with the company).
When the job offers the breakout role you’ve been searching for, throw a wrap party. Pop the champagne. Cheers all around!
Your After-Interview Checklist
Experts in any field become experts because they’ve made more mistakes than the rest of us. After your interview, take a few minutes to rate your performance. The following checklist can help you curb bad habits and become an expert at job interviewing:
- Were you on time?
- Did you use storytelling, examples, results, and measurement of achievements to back up your claims and convince the questioner that you have the skills to do the job?
- Did you display high energy? Flexibility? Interest in learning new things?
- Did the opening of the interview go smoothly?
- Did you frequently make a strong connection between the job’s requirements and your qualifications?
- Was your personal grooming immaculate? Were you dressed like company employees?
- Did you forget any important selling points? If so, did you put them in a follow-up e-mail, letter, or call-back?
- Did you smile? Did you make eye contact? Was your handshake good?
- Did you convey at least five major qualities the interviewer should remember about you?
- Did you make clear your understanding of the work involved in the job?
- Did you use enthusiasm and motivation to indicate that you’re willing to do the job?
- Did you find some common ground to establish that you’ll fit well into the company?
- Did you take the interviewer’s clues to wrap it up?
- Did you find out the next step and leave the door open for your follow-up?
- After the interview, did you write down names and points discussed?
- What did you do or say that the interviewer obviously liked?
- Did you hijack the interview by grabbing control or speaking too much (more than half the time)?
- Would you have done something differently if you could redo the interview?
Onward and Upward
You’ve done it all — turned in a ShowStopper performance at your interview and followed up like a pro. Keep following up until you get another job or until you’re told you aren’t a good match for the position — or that while your qualifications were good, another candidate’s are better.
Even then, write yet one more thank-you/self-marketing letter, expressing your hope that you may work together in the future. Sometimes the first choice declines the job offer, and the employer moves on to the next name — perhaps yours.