MONEY job hunting

How to Ace Any Interview and Land the Job of Your Dreams

Handshake illustration
The in-person, one-on-one job interview is getting a new look. Anna Parini

Forget the traditional sit-down with a rep from HR. Nowadays companies are employing decidedly offbeat hiring techniques. To land the spot you want, be prepared for whatever tests come your way.

Planning your next big career move? Get ­going. Job openings climbed to 4.7 million in June, the highest level since 2001, reports the Bureau of Labor Statistics. And in a recent survey by Challenger Gray ­& Christmas, 77% of hiring managers re­ported trouble filling slots because of a talent shortage.

To succeed in this sunnier market, though, you need a firm grasp on today’s hiring process, one that may be far different from what you faced the last time you hit the circuit. For starters, businesses are going slow, spending an average of 23 days to fill a slot in 2013, vs. 12 days in 2010, according to employer review website Glassdoor. And many are replacing antiquated hiring methods with more offbeat ways to vet job seekers.

“Companies are finding traditional job interviews aren’t identifying the high-quality candidates they need,” says Parker McKenna of the Society for Human Resource Management. Numerous academic studies have unearthed flaws in the process. A 2013 one co-written by psychologist Jason Dana at the Yale School of Management found that many hiring managers are mistakenly overconfident in their ability to assess how well a candidate will perform through a one-on-one interview. To get an edge on your competition, you should prepare for these four types of tests.

The Video Chat

What to expect: Last year nearly one out of five job seekers sat through a video interview, more than double the number the year before, according to a survey by workforce consultants Right Management. Firms want to see your communication skills, says ­McKenna. Plus, recruiters can cast a wider net for candidates without the cost of flying applicants into the office, notes Paul Bailo, author of The Essential Digital Interview Handbook.

Since American Wedding Group, a Huntingdon Valley, Pa.–based provider of photographers, videographers, and disc jockeys, began video interviewing in May, the company has conducted more than 300 screenings. The firm used to interview candidates from across the country by phone. This new approach, says head of human resources Scott Mitchell, works better for a business that places a high value on professional appearance. “We want to be confident the candidate is someone we feel comfortable putting in front of our clients,” he says.

How to be ready: Most video interviews are via Skype, so make sure you have a professional-sounding username and profile photo. Then nail down the mechanics. “Don’t let technology get in the way of getting hired,” says Bailo. That means investing in quality gear instead of relying on your computer’s built-in microphone and fisheye camera. “If you want to get a job, you have to buy a suit,” he says. “If you want to nail a digital interview, you have to buy the right equipment.”

His picks: the Logitech HD Pro Webcam C920 ($100) and Blue Microphones Snowball sound kit ($90). To cut the risk of technical hiccups and a bad Internet connection, do a practice run with a friend an hour in advance.

As with an in-person interview, looks matter. So dress appropriately, head to toe (be ready to stand to adjust the camera). Sit opposite a window for the best lighting, and pick a backdrop that’s clutter-free; off-white is ideal.

During the interview, keep looking at the camera. “If your eyes are shifting around, it distracts from the content of your interview,” says Bailo, who recommends taping a script to the wall behind the camera so that you can hit on key points without having to look down or shuffle through notes.

The Group Session

What to expect: While some employers rely on group interviews to weed through a large pile of applicants, companies more commonly use them to survey a refined pool of potential hires for certain qualities.

You’re likely to be one of three to five candidates, says Dan Finnigan, CEO of the social recruiting platform Jobvite. Typically you’ll be tasked with a group exercise. At Taste of D.C., a culinary event-planning business, groups must work together to develop a marketing campaign, say, or make a presentation. Even beforehand, the company observes how candidates waiting outside the interview room interact in a casual setting, says CEO Steuart Martens.

Adrian Granzella Larssen, editor-in-chief of career advice website The Muse, points out that interviewers are looking for a very specific set of interpersonal skills, such as leadership, communication, and collaboration.

That’s what the Boston-based international tour operator Grand Circle is after when it gives groups a task to complete, such as building a vehicle to transport an egg. “We analyze how candidates react,” says senior vice president of human resources Nancy Lightbody. “We’re looking for natural leaders to emerge.”

How to be ready: No matter how tempting it may be to grab the spotlight, don’t. “Dominate the conversation, and you’ll be perceived as aggressive,” says Priscilla Claman, president of Boston coaching firm Career Strategies. Sit back, though, and you risk being overlooked.

Give others space to offer ideas and then build on what they say. (“Josie brings up a great point …”). “Having the ability to politely piggyback demonstrates you can collaborate and work well with others while taking a leadership role,” says Finnigan. (Letting someone else speak first gives you more time to craft your idea too.)

Being in the same room as your competition, though nerve-racking, may give you a feel for the atmos­phere at your future workplace. You’re getting a glimpse into the types of people the company likes. If the competition is cutthroat, employees may be as well.

The Panel Approach

What to expect: A third of employers put prospects in front of a group, Glassdoor reports. You’ll probably meet with three to five people, such as an HR rep, your prospective super­visor, a senior peer, and heads of departments you’d interact with daily. For employers a panel interview has several advantages. “It eliminates different people hearing different things in one-on-one interviews,” says Peter Cappelli, director at Wharton’s Center for Human Resources.

The insurer Kaiser Permanente asks finalists for midlevel management positions to present to a group. “It creates efficiency for both the candidate and the company,” says Jason Phillips, vice president of national recruitment and HR operations. “Many senior job seekers have a tight calendar.”

Another upside for you is the insight you can gain into the company culture. Pay attention to how panelists interact with one another; in a healthy environment co-workers are collaborative but also welcome and respect other points of view, says Finnigan.

How to be ready: To make it past a board, you’ll need everyone’s buy-in, says Washington, D.C., career counselor Karen Chopra. Contact your point person ahead of time to learn whom you’re meeting and roughly how long the interview will last (some run two to three hours). To give yourself a preview of the folks you’re facing, look up everyone’s profile on LinkedIn.

Introduce yourself to all the panelists and jot down the seating order; you can glance at the chart throughout the session so you can address each person by name. (Save it for writing your thank-you notes.)

Eye contact conveys confidence, says Chopra, so look directly at the person who poses the question, pass your eyes around the room as you answer, and circle back to the questioner as you’re wrapping up. Bring any mum panelists into the conversation, especially if there’s a chance silence means a closed mind. Posing a question about their divisions or clients also shows you’ve done your homework.

The High-Stakes Game

What to expect: Borrow your kid’s Xbox controller—you might need it for a job interview one day. Employers in a number of fields, including energy, consumer goods, and financial services, are starting to take a look at gaming technology to assess job candidates. Through custom-made videogames, companies can measure skills and personality traits that may be tough to pick up in person. “This is in the testing phase,” says veteran recruiter Mark Howorth. “But I do feel like it is about to take off.”

Take Knack’s Wasabi Waiter, a 10-minute game that has job seekers act as a sushi server at a virtual restaurant. Not only are your customer service skills tested, says Guy Halfteck, founder and CEO at the game developer, but “the game evaluates everything from your problem solving to critical thinking, logical reasoning, empathy, conscientiousness, and emotional intelligence.”

How to be ready: Gaming is in its infancy as a hiring tool, and how well the approach identifies ideal workers remains an open question. Nonetheless, get used to the technology. You can play Wasabi Waiter on Knack’s free mobile app, “What’s Your Knack?,” but don’t overthink your strategy: Your instincts are what interest employers, says Halfteck. When you’re finished, though, get back to working on your in-person interview skills. Odds are the last leg of the hiring process will be a face-to-face one.

MONEY Careers

Good Ways to Deal With Bad Bosses

Micromanaging boss puppeteer
James Woodson—Getty Images

Your future advancement depends on your ability to manage the crazies above you.

The top reason people quit their jobs, according to a recent Gallup poll? A bad immediate supervisor. Bully for those who can—and want to—find another position elsewhere, but if you otherwise like the job or need it as a steppingstone, you’ll have to learn to live with that subpar superior. The right coping strategy depends on what kind of lousy your leader is.

The Micromanager

Known for: Hovering. Checking your work. Sometimes redoing it.

How to cope: Work on building trust, which is the micromanager’s Achilles’ heel. Besides making sure your work is A+-worthy, put your boss on a schedule for when she can expect status reports, says Brad Karsh, president of professional training company JB Training Solutions. Start with daily updates, then ask for permission to shift to weekly: “If your in-box is crashing from all these memos, let me know. I’d be happy to start checking in on Fridays.”

The Passive-Aggressive

Known for: Praising you in private, then slamming your ideas in public.

How to cope: “The onus is on you to learn what’s going on inside his head,” says Lynn Taylor, author of Tame Your Terrible Office Tyrant. To elicit honest feedback, appeal to the person’s expertise, says Mitchell Kusy, an Antioch University professor who studies management styles. For example, “I got the sense you didn’t like my idea. Would you mind next time sharing your constructive criticism in advance? It would really help me improve.”

The Praise Thief

Known for: Stealing credit for your work and ideas.

How to cope: Take ownership by saying, “I noticed that the project I developed has taken off with the execs. I’d love to be included in those conversations.” Still being left out? Start sending big-idea emails to your boss and your boss’s boss, saying that you want to get input from both of them, suggests Karsh.

The Hands-Off Harry

Known for: Being so laissez-faire it’s a problem. “You might be working on the wrong things, only to find out later,” says Kathleen Stinnett, founder of leadership consulting firm FutureLaunch.

How to cope: When starting a project, ask your supervisor for specifics on what she’s looking for, then send an email recapping the conversation. You’ll be on the same page and have it on record in the event that there’s a dispute later.

The Narcissist

Known for: Making you work late, calling you on vacation, and generally stealing your personal life. “His time will always be more valuable than yours,” says Gary Namie, co-author of The Bully at Work.

How to cope: Mind the ego. “Narcissists think they’re perfect and hate criticism,” says Jack Zenger, CEO of leadership consultancy Zenger Folkman. So cushion the request to reclaim your life with a compliment. “I admire your commitment to excellence and want to do the best job possible, but my work suffers when I’m fatigued. I need my weekends to recuperate.” Says Namie: “You either challenge the boss or dig your own grave.”

MONEY Small Business

How To Get Buzz for Your New Biz

Miguel Montaner

Three simple ways to make your startup part of the conversation.

Breaking into a crowded market? “Not only can press put you on the map, it can put you at the head of the class,” says Paul Krupin of Direct Contact PR in Kennewick, Wash.  The scoop on how to get media attention

1. Establish Relationships

Reach out to reporters and bloggers who cover your type of product or service. Start a dia­logue by commenting on an article the person wrote or by tweeting him a question. (If you’re an app creator: “Guesses on the iPhone 6 release date @reporter]?”)

2. Beef Up the Press Release

“Words are boring,” says Krupin. He suggests making a 30-second video on the inspiration for your business or an infographic on an industry trend to send to your new contacts along with the release.

3. Riff off Headlines

When relevant news breaks, tweet about it in real time or write a quick blog post including trending search terms (use Google Analytics to find them). That way you’ll pop up on Google News and in searches, says David Meerman Scott, author of The New Rules of Marketing & PR. You may even be contacted by a reporter to comment.

 

MONEY Careers

4 Ways to Find an Unlisted Job

Magnifying glass looking at classifieds
Mikey Burton

With a little digging, you can make sure you’re in the know when a sweet office opens up at your dream employer.

Your next job probably won’t be advertised. When it comes to filling positions at the director level and up, hiring managers prefer to target their ideal candidates rather than sift through applicant résumés. But don’t just count on a call from a recruiter to pluck you from the ranks. “The job seeker who waits to be tapped on the shoulder might be waiting awhile,” says Tonushree Mondal of HR consulting firm Mercer. Take these steps to find the job, since it may not find you.

Talk to the Top Recruiters

Higher-up HR reps tend to be gate- keepers for higher-level positions, so identify recruiters with sway at the businesses you admire. Can’t determine the right person via LinkedIn? Scour the employer’s career page for the most senior posting in your area and reach out to the person listed, says Kurt Kraeger, New York managing director at Robert Walters recruitment firm. Send a note saying, “I submitted my résumé via normal channels but wanted to get in touch directly about my interest.” Stay on the person’s radar with a periodic email. “They may not look at it, but they’ll remember your name,” says Fred Coon, CEO at executive search firm Stewart Cooper & Coon.

Make a Friend on the Inside

Since upper-level jobs are often revealed only internally, it can pay to establish relationships with peers at companies on your wish list, says Edina, Minn., executive career coach George Dow. Use Linked­In to find a second-degree connection, then request an introduction from your mutual pal. Explain that you’d like to learn about what the company looks for in candidates. Once trust is established, ask your confidant for the favor of letting you know of openings. (“Forget about saying, ‘Can you help me get a job?’ or the person will feel used,” warns Coon.) Offer something in return, like an intro to influencers in your network.

Impress the C-suite Crowd

For you to be identified as a candidate, “companies need to see that you’re a known commodity,” says Job Search Magic author Susan Whitcomb. That means going beyond attending industry events. To capture the attention of those with hire power, you must steal the spotlight. Whitcomb suggests getting on the speaking docket at a trade conference or forming a cross-industry group on a trend in your field.

Get the Boss’s Buy-in

Want to climb at your current ­company? Ask the boss for a boost: “Under your direction I’ve learned so much and feel ready to take on a higher role. Can you help me find new opportunities here?” If that’s uncomfortable, schedule a visit with the head of HR. “Say you’re interested in moving up, and why,” says Coon. Also, find a mole in finance, since filling jobs often requires budget sign off. Adds Coon: “It’s detective work, pure and simple.”

MONEY career

Ace Your Annual Review

No two words inspire more dread in managers and employees alike than these: performance reviews. Rather than letting your annual checkup get you down, though, consider the upside. This is one of the few times of the year you get to chat with your boss about your career. And with a bit of strategizing, you can set the stage for a big raise or promotion in the year to come.

Show you’re a top performer

Your supervisor probably doesn’t recall your every accomplishment over the past 12 months, so jog his or her memory. Richard Klimoski, a management professor at George Mason University, suggests submitting a one-page self-evaluation before the review. That way you draw the baseline from which your performance is measured. Sum up the year in three to five major contributions — with evidence. Highlight, for example, that you increased sales by 20% and share a testimonial from a new client. You’ll seem more genuine if you also identify skills or knowledge you must gain to take your performance to the next level.

Request a real critique

“Even when you don’t agree with it, feedback is useful,” Steve Miranda of Cornell University’s Center for Advanced Human Resource Studies says. “It provides insight as to how you’re being perceived.” You’ll need this information to clear hurdles standing between you and your career goals.

Related: Baby on the Way? Time to Make a Budget

Unfortunately, managers are often as uncomfortable giving negative feedback as subordinates are at receiving it. So you may have to drill down to get real advice. You might say, “I understand my presentations could be better. Perhaps I should work with a public-speaking coach?” Respond positively to criticism, owning up to problems and offering solutions; if you really disagree, ask for examples, so you can separate fact from perception.

Plan your compensation

Even if your review is tied to a pay increase, this generally isn’t the time to fight for more money — budgets are typically set by the time of the review, says Lori Holsinger, a principal at New York HR consulting firm Mercer.

Related: From Real Estate Exec to Laundromat Owner

What you can get: details on the salary review process to help you prep for next year. Find out how and when your raise was decided and who was consulted. Did you get a big bump? Ask what actions you can take to repeat the result. Vice versa if you got pennies.

Get on board with the boss

End the conversation by asking for measurable short- and long-term goals, advises Dallas career coach Jean Casey. Align at least a few of these objectives with your supervisor’s. You might say, “I know our department is dealing with a budget deficit. What can I do to help?” Your efforts to get on the same page will most likely make your manager happy, which will in turn keep your career moving forward. As Casey puts it, “You want to work with the boss — not for the boss.”

MONEY Careers

Tweet Yourself to a New Job

Twitter can help you position yourself as someone to watch, both in your company in and in your field. P.S. It's easier than you think.

If you want to shine in a competitive workforce, take to Twitter. Nearly 95% of recruiters surveyed by software firm Jobvite used or planned to use social media to find and vet candidates last year.

“But you need a strong social media presence even if you aren’t job seeking,” says Rochester, N.Y., job coach Hannah Morgan, co-author of Social Networking for Business Success.

You can use Twitter to improve your visibility inside and outside your company, and connect yourself with influencers and hiring managers along the way. Whether you’re new to the platform or have tweets under your belt, take these steps to sharpen your networking skills.

Perfect the profile

First impressions matter here too. Upload a professional headshot and use the same one across your social media profiles, says career expert Dan Schawbel, author of Promote Yourself.

Set your name as your handle, or at least include it (like @JaneSmith_CPA) so you’re easily found. Your bio should pack a punch in the allotted 160 characters, Schawbel notes: Include your area of expertise, your level of experience, a hobby (to humanize you), and a link to your LinkedIn page so recruiters can access your résumé.

Follow the right crowd

Twitter gives you a unique opportunity to engage with VIPs you don’t know, says Morgan. Following them opens the door for conversation. Search directories like Twellow and Wefollow for handles of industry hiring managers and influencers, as well as related news sources and firms you might want to work for.

Tweet with value

To be seen as an expert, says Susan Gunelius, CEO of marketing and communications firm KeySplash Creative, you need to establish “social proof”: evidence you know what you’re talking about. Do this by sharing links to news or information relevant to your target audience, adding insights or teasing out a key stat within whatever’s left of the 140 characters.

Jane Smith might write, “Give less to Uncle Sam this year! @MONEY has tips on cutting your 2014 taxes,” then paste a link to the story. Also, participate in conversations started by people you’re following. Aim to tweet three to five times a day.

Pay it forward

Another way to get on the radar of influencers is to re-tweet them — play to their egos by sharing their posts with your followers. (Be sure to include “RT @[person’s handle].”) Morgan says the gesture could have a bigger return if the person tweets back, as that gets your handle seen by his followers. So leave 15 to 30 blank characters to give your new pal space to reply.

MONEY Networking

Work the (Office Party) Room

If you're going to the company holiday festivities only for the food and drink, you're squandering a unique networking opportunity.

Wouldn’t it be nice to have a friend at the top of the corporate ladder? Mark your calendar for the office holiday party, your annual chance at cocktail chatter with company brass.

“Take advantage of being in the same room as your CEO or division director,” says Miriam Salpeter, co-author of 100 Conversations for Career Success. Making nice with key executives can help you gain visibility you can leverage later for new projects or even promotions. Use these tricks to make no-stress small talk with the big shots.

Study your prey. Make a list of three execs you’d like to meet, focusing on those with influence to help you ascend. Research each one’s background online.

“Look for commonalities you can use as conversation starters,” says Salpeter. (Maybe you both attended a Big East college, for example.) Ply co-workers for more information. (Does the veep follow basketball?)

Make a calculated approach. The best way in: Ask your supervisor for an introduction. This establishes instant credibility, says Hallie Crawford, a career coach in Atlanta.

Boss not game? Approaching the target one-on-one is ideal but may not be possible. To join a group conversation, “simply ask if you can increase the size of the circle,” says Terri Griffith, a management professor at Santa Clara University. Introduce yourself by making what Diane Windingland, author of Small Talk Big Results, calls a “role pitch”: Sum up in a sentence what you’ve done for the company of late. So rather than “I’m a sales director,” add on “I developed the campaign for our new product line.”

Steer the conversation. Remember, this isn’t a meeting, but a party. “It’s about building relationships, not about making transactions,” says Ivan Misner, chairman of business networking organization BNI. So quickly shift away from shop talk; personal conversation makes for a more memorable connection.

Use your research to formulate an open-ended question like, “Do you think Marquette has a shot this year against Georgetown?”

Exit gracefully. Keep the conversation brief so you don’t monopolize the person’s time. Debra Fine, author of The Fine Art of Small Talk, recommends signaling that the chat is almost over. For example, “I must get another of these canapés, but before I do, I’d love to know which NCAA player you think is the one to watch this year.”

In January — when everyone’s back to business — follow up with an email recapping the meeting and offering a big idea or help on future projects. Says Windingland: “Never miss a chance to solidify a relationship with a decision-maker.”

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