Originally published in Leasing News
Wednesday, Feb. 7, 2018
Don't bring your dog on an interview. Or your cat. And definitely not your parrot. It's enough that you brought an elephant.
Many years ago, I sent a candidate on an interview who, without my prior knowledge, brought his dog with him. He got the job. That was a novel incident, and I’d say that getting the job under that circumstance was an anomaly. When he was asked about the dog – almost immediately at the onset of the interview – he explained that since his territory was rural, he travelled everywhere with his border collie, and that the dog not only kept him company on long road trips, but often helped warm potential clients to him.
Although he got the job, I would never, EVER recommend bringing a dog (or any other animal) to an interview unless it’s a service animal whose presence is a necessity. And while perhaps not the best analogy, or segue into my subject, many candidates will bring an elephant with them.
The elephant in the room may be a period of long unemployment, a series of short term jobs or perhaps a conflict with a former supervisor. It could be something direr, such as a former bankruptcy, an addiction or even a criminal record. Each of these kinds of issues have, for each candidate, its own unique impact; some, such as a spotty job record, may be apparent from the résumé; others may not so blatant; some may have been the result of matters beyond the candidate’s control; or be excused by a legitimate explanation; or perhaps may now just be a part of the candidate’s history. But, like the dog my applicant brought to his interview, each elephant will need to be addressed; and should be addressed, like the dog, immediately.
Many subscribe to the practice of sharing only that which needs to be known. I agree. But I am also an advocate of honesty and transparency, and where it comes to information that your employer’s perception may impact negatively how he feels about your ability to do your job, or even hiring you, for that matter, the elephant needs to be addressed.
Notwithstanding the animal itself, while there may be plenty of wrong ways to bring it into the conversation, there is no guaranteed right way. Depending on the circumstances, an interviewer might open the door by asking about what is apparent. “Why were your last two jobs less than a year each?” Or, “Why has it been so difficult for you find work in almost a year?” Alternatively, a candidate may have the opportunity to provide the narrative in his response to a typical opening such as, “Tell me about yourself,” or, “We’ll need to do a background check. Is there anything we need to be aware of?” Lacking these openings, it may be incumbent on the candidate to finesse an opening. However the elephant gets brought into the interview, here are a few tips on how to help make sure it doesn’t sit down on the interviewer’s lap.
A word to employers and interviewers here. Since you’ve already invited the applicant in for an interview, be considerate and show empathy when he must deal with personally sensitive matters. Good people do stupid things. A person’s actions may or may not be excusable but hear him out without prejudgment. He may be worth someone going to bat for.
And a final word to anyone going into an interview. Don’t bring your dog, especially if you’re already bringing an elephant.
Hal T. Horowitz
Originally published in Leasing News
Wednesday, Jan. 31, 2018
Your interview is winding down and you’re confident about your responses to the questions you anticipated. You covered your technical knowledge, how rates are calculated and the importance of understanding the impact of basic financial ratios on a company’s ability to repay its debts. You spoke to your soft skills, your management style, work ethic, creativity and you’re feeling good about how you demonstrated your ability to communicate and interface with others. You covered your background, your goals and your vision, and you stressed your accomplishments; you spoke to your knowledge of your market and you brought it all together explaining how the aggregate of your skills and experience will add value to the firm if they hire you.
And then your interviewer asks how you see the next quarter shaping up. Or what you foresee trending in your market this year. Caution: This is not a casual question aimed at creating small talk to wind down the interview. This is a question, the answer to which may be subjective, but also in which your interviewer already has a preconceived opinion. And since his opinion, whether it agrees with yours or not, wasn’t formed in a vacuum, neither had yours better be.
Whether your primary discipline is commercial banking, equipment financing, asset-based lending, consumer finance or investment banking, there is a myriad of resources providing year end wrap-ups, quarterly forecasts, indices, confidence levels and just about any other trending activity in your field and market. “I think we’re going to have a good year,” is just not going to cut it in an interview. If you’re not up to date on what is happing in your industry, you are not the strongest candidate for the position, and not likely to make the short list. With the information and discussions put out on social media sites and by trade associations, house organs, blogs, newsletters, search engines and the seemingly endless list of Websites they tag that are focused on your specific industry and market demographic, you have no excuse for not having an informed response to what’s going on. Or what is likely to occur.
This is not a test that you should need to cram for before an interview. It’s just common sense, or so it seems to me, that you need to anticipate any potential volatility, even in the most stable of times, to adapt quickly to change, said to be the only constant. And if change doesn’t occur rapidly, or you don’t have an interview this week, the fact that you can speak, not just to what you do, but the macroenvironment in which you do it, adds value to you, as a candidate and as a professional. Having an informed and plausible vision, knowing which of your competitors are merging or being acquired, whether housing will remain stable, machine tool sales are likely to increase or when to anticipate a rate modification by the Fed, should all be a part of your kitbag of talent. It will command as much respect by your interviewer as your ability to parse financial statements or assess the value of collateral.
Keeping abreast in today’s ultra-connected business world is not difficult. It need not take more than mere moments a day to read a blog open and read a Google notification. White papers, webinars and podcasts abound. News articles are shared, forwarded and retweeted constantly. Many, if not most, of these resources are free and all of it can easily be accessed. You’re either reading or downloaded this from one such free source right now.
To say the market is due for an adjustment just because you heard someone else say it, and not be able to debate your opinion is meaningless and will be counterproductive to your goal. You don’t want to do well if you’re interviewing or pitching a new customer. The market is too competitive to do well. You want to nail it. Your next employer needs to know how you’ll represent the company. Your next client needs to know that for him to rely on your direction, you need to know what’s happening in the other directions. You need to know what you’re talking about. You need to stay topical.
Originally published in Leasing News
Wednesday, Jan. 24, 2018
Often enough, at least to where it’s problematic, candidates will tell me that their interviews just didn’t go well. They didn’t articulate their backgrounds, skills or achievements clearly; they failed to express adequately why they left one job, or took another, or why they want this one. Perhaps they didn’t have enough time during the interview to explain how their value-added proposition. Despite having anticipated many of the questions they’d be asked and how to field them, they just couldn’t respond adequately, or in some cases, even get a word in edgewise. They didn’t feel in control.
And too frequently they weren’t, at
least not in control of the conversation.
Professionals, in several areas including sales, collections and relationship management, know the necessity of “controlling” the conversation. For some, that seems to come easily; for others, however, not so much, and even less so during a job interview where we are wired to expect the interviewer to be the alpha. In the context of an interview, control is not speaking louder, longer or over the interviewer, but simply keeping the meeting conversational. Last week we discussed the importance of establishing rapport, which is difficult, at best, if your time turns out to have been a two-hour Q&A session. You cannot afford to squander the finite amount of time you have to present your skills, experience and accomplishments, and get your own questions in during your interview. If your interviewer is a hindrance, here are some steps you can take to redirect the conversation.
Get things started. Many interviewers get hung up on breaking the ice. Michelle Gielan, a positive psychology researcher and author of “Broadcasting Happiness,” says when walking into a meeting to use a “power lead,” not necessarily a big thing, but enough to telegraph your positive attitude to set the tone of the meeting. Let the ice get broken, then move on. “I’m very interested in this opportunity. Tell me more about it, please,” will often get the interview on track.
Interrupt if necessary. Yes, you were brought up being told it’s impolite to interrupt, but if your interviewer has been going on incessantly about the company, overselling it nonstop, or providing its history dating back to its ancient Greek philosophy, look for an opportunity that needs clarification that will change his direction, and don’t be afraid to interrupt. Do it politely, and certainly not frequently. Lower your voice a bit so your interviewer will need to stop talking to hear you better and try something like, “Excuse me, but does that mean…?” with the question directed toward something more relevant.
Power responses. When responding to your interviewer, be assertive, even passionate. Enunciate and project your confidence. Often interviewers want to see how you assert yourself. It is critical, however, that you control your passion, or you will lose control of the interview.
Visuals. If you’re losing your interviewer’s attention, try switching from verbal to visual stimuli. If you don’t have a PowerPoint presentation or a whiteboard available, use your finger to direct your interviewer’s attention to an item on your résumé and stress its relevance.
Ask questions. It’s said that he who asks the questions controls the conversation. If your interview turns into a third degree and you find yourself just answering one question after another without really getting your most salient points across, you’re not asking enough questions. When you are asked a question, answer, but then follow up with a question of your own, preferably on a related topic.
Change the subject. When you’ve been asked the same questions in a dozen ways, it’s time to steer the interview in a different direction. You’ve likely said everything you have to say on that matter, anyway. Respond directly and respectfully structuring your answer to segue into a discussion about your skills or to provide an example of how you’ve done something in line with the question, but which drew on other of your strengths that you need your interview to understand that you have.
Unlike hard skills, technical knowledge or achievements, character traits and soft skills, including communications skills, are best demonstrated than articulated. When you exit the interview, if you feel good about the way you held your own during the conversation and kept the talking points on track, then there should have been no need during the interview, when you were asked what your strengths are, to have said that you are a strong communicator. It showed.
By Hal Horowitz
Originally published in Leasing News
Wednesday, Jan. 10, 2018
Immediately following my candidates’ interviews, I am on the phone with my candidate and then my client, collecting the juicy details of their meeting. Our discussions include an assessment of the candidate’s technical skills; if he’s a fit for the company culture; how well the position matches the candidate’s requirements for challenge and opportunity; whether each is interested in moving the process further along; if compensation was discussed; and, the concern I ask about first, how was the chemistry between them.
Did they hit it off on professional level? Did they each break the ice comfortably? Was there a trust-bond established? Did they find their dialogue open and credible? Did they communicate horizontally or vertically? Could they see themselves working together in their respective capacities? I ask about the chemistry between them because that is what will set the tone for the entire rest of the interview. It’s my guestimate that probably 80% of the decision to hire someone over other equally qualified candidates is based on the rapport the candidate and the interviewer were able to establish.
In some ways, an interview is much like a date. You each want to impress the other, enjoy the time you spend together and end it on a high note, hopefully wanting to see each other again. In other words, you hope you and your date will feel the chemistry. But while an enjoyable date can last several hours over a dinner, perhaps, and a movie, the chemistry that needs to be created during an interview must typically must happen in a more restricted and finite amount of time.
You cannot force chemistry. But there are steps you can take to help you quickly connect with a complete stranger and enhance your odds for another meeting.
Assess. Take a moment to look around your interviewer’s office and see if there is anything that jumps out at you that might establish shared interests. Family pictures, sports paraphernalia, a nice view of the city, or even they commonality of chosen fields of interest. Use these as brief ice breakers. Be cautious of seeming to pry or wasting too much of your interviewer’s, and your, time on non-job-related matters. Take note of your interviewer’s personality traits; will she be looking for succinct or detailed answers?
Feeling a connection with your interviewer doesn’t have to mean she will become your lifelong friend, your advocate or your mentor. Many jobs are attainable without having to make any kind of connection, and others, even with good chemistry are not. What having that chemistry with your interviewer does, though, is give you a leg up as an applicant for that position (especially if the position requires that you establish, develop or manage new and/or existing relationships, or need to interface extensively with others), and that leg up, that chemistry that you were able to establish with your interviewer? Well, it might have been the deciding factor between you and some other equally qualified candidate.
Some time ago I sent a candidate on an interview to a bank. He was intelligent, personable and, most importantly, well qualified. Not unexpectedly, he got the job – but not without having had to do some serious damage control following his second-round interview which involved two more, previously unscheduled interviews; a second with HR and the fourth with peers and the CCO again.
Fortunately, his first interview, with HR and then with the hiring manager, the Chief Credit Officer, went very well. Both he and the CCO told me after the interview that it had gone very well on all accounts, and they already wanted to schedule a meeting with the bank president. That interview took place the following week, but my candidate came away feeling something had been unsaid or unasked; he wasn’t as sure of himself as he had been following the earlier meeting. He was right.
My candidate was ushered into the interview that morning by the president’s admin who asked if he would like some coffee or water before she left. He thanked her but declined. As she walked out of the office, however, he let his eyes linger on her for a moment (as the president told me) and then commented, “She’s a very attractive lady.” That was a red flag. “We have some concerns about his character,” I was told. “…just not sure he’d be a fit here. We can’t afford to have any problems.”
That was a little over ten years ago, and as I said, he got the job, but not without convincing the chief credit officer that what he had said was intended only as a compliment, an innocent comment, not even a flirtation, and, his background check verified that he was a friendly person, easy to get along with, and had never previously been accused of any sexual innuendo or harassment.
Fast forward >> 2017. I’m not so sure he would still pass that test. If employers were gun-shy then, they’d have to think they’re facing a firing squad today if that kind of flag went up. Employees, both women and men, are coming forward recently, largely empowered by the bravery of others whom have done so, and are speaking out about having been previously harassed, fondled, debased, threatened, and even raped. They’re naming names. They are identifying companies that we thought were good working environments but, instead, harbor, hide and even cover-up the inappropriate actions of many of their top executives; companies which have had to pay out literally millions in undisclosed settlements.
Our corporate brethren don’t want that anymore, so, what we’re seeing now is, in many cases just by seemingly credible accusation, people being let go or suspended or offered the opportunities to leave of their own accord. Harvey Weinstein. Bill O’Reilly, John Lassiter, Roger Ailes, Kevin Spacey, Glenn Thrush, Charlie Rose. These are some of the people as of this writing, though I’m inclined to believe we’ll see more, whose characters have called into question – and that doesn’t include politicians who cannot be fired quite so easily. [Since the original edited version of this blog appeared in Leasing News, Matt Lauder was let go by NBC.]
There is no room in the workplace for sexual misconduct, harassment or innuendo. Companies are finally getting that, although while the management of many are becoming more protective of their employees because it’s the right thing to do, the motivation of others is that it’s the right thing to do for its owners. And, even though it may not be as visible as the high-profile cases, many smaller and midsized firms are learning that wolves belong in the wild, not in the office.
This is not about asking a coworker to have a drink after work, or even perhaps ending up in a fully consensual relationship. We’re talking about abusing power. Sexual harassment and predatory behavior is wrong and any hint of it during the hiring process, even an offhand, “innocent” remark is inappropriate and will most likely, as it should, result in having to continue one’s job search. Harassment is not victimless. Like bullying or any other kind of abuse, sexual misconduct leaves scars, feelings of guilt, inadequacy and shame. It negatively impacts work-life balance and job performance. And in the end, it can destroy people’s careers, both predator and prey.
Neither side of the fight-or-flight response, the former being continued denials, the latter issuing a mea culpa and acting like the bigger person because you’ve accepted accountability (though maintaining an unwarranted sense of justification for your actions), should not, and eventually will not, work on the job anymore. Abusing power and showing disrespect for others on the job are fast no longer falling under the category of things that are not easier to seek forgiveness than asking permission for. The scars don’t magically disappear when you say, “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to hurt you.”
Employers are gun shy and do not want to hire potential problems. Keep that in mind when you interview.
Stop Using the "L" Word in Interviews
In fact, stop using the "L" word in professional conversations
by Hal Horowitz Nov. 3, 2017
The "L" word is "like." I mean, it’s “like” poison, man. You know?
This is a test. I’m going to give you just a few abbreviated examples of interview Q&A. None of the answers are necessarily incorrect, but I want you to spot the errors.
Unless you’re like, um, you know, a total wonk, I’m gonna’ guess you’ve already flushed out the errors that make these answers suck.
If you cannot articulate what you mean in an interview, how do you think your interviewer will expect you will perform as her new Chief Communications Officer? Or Receptionist?
The examples above were taken from actual interviews that I conducted, and they don’t even begin to tap the ways we misuse and abuse our language. That may sound trivial. It may sound harsh and label those who find it annoying as purists whose opinions don’t really matter. But it may also cost you an opportunity. In debriefing my clients’ interviewers, I often hear responses like “He really wasn’t clear about…” or, “She seems to understand how to do the analysis, but I’m not sure she’ll be able to present her recommendations…” and, “He was just annoying to listen to.” I’ll add here that candidates aren’t the only guilty ones. I’ve gotten feedback on employers as well about how their interviewers might not have been able to articulate their own job descriptions, or used annoying interjections like “um,” or “you know what I mean?”
Very few of us are, or are expected to be, perfect linguists and grammarians. Personally, I think not being able to end sentences with a preposition is a stupid rule, and one I break frequently.
Most of what comes out of our mouths that sounds like garbage is the result of the following:
Here’s a brief compendium of the should-ofs and could-ofs that you want to eliminate from your professional vernacular.