Saturday, March 18, 2017

Trust Your Instinct! Gut feeling and the Job Interview/ Offer Process

I am currently looking for a job as the climate for consulting is pretty poor for one man bands, and McKinsey, PWC, multiconsult seem to want a double doctorate with ten As at A level.

So a near miss with the public sector this week, often locked by experience in the law-work , a typical chicken and egg thing. However I made a second interview only to be beaten by someone a little better and with no doubt lingo as a native.

However what have I learned from the last three decades of job seeking and indeed, people in general?

Well most of all it is to trust your gut feeling I would say every single time. Nothing has ever, ever gone against my gut feeling , but occiasonally it has been derailled by other people in the interview or being a bit rose tinted spectacles on what was a 'gut neutral' recruiting process.

Gut feeling is an odd thing, because it reflects not only your emnotional response to the external sti,mul;us but also a subtle two way street on that issue. People have a terrible inbuilt instinct to make very rapid decsions based on superficial and immediate impressions. This is based not just on their prejudices but on YOURS, you will give immediate signals which they will immediatlely react to. It is the first thirty seconds of the encoutner which colours what happens next. It is a bit like love or hate at first sight with the opposite sex though, because in the cold lightr of day either or both parties may find they have made a bad initial judgment and reverse that by the new learning,

No such luxury for that girl who couldnt stand the sight of you but then you fall madly in love a month later once the ice is broken with a crash of defences falling, In the typical interview you have only 15 minutes of the hour to actually present yourself and often you are very lucky to establish a dialogue on the actual position, what the focus and demands are, and what your strengths and short comings may be. That is the ideal situation, as in a first date, there  is dialogue and not a polite process which has to be gone through. I have never had a job offer when the interview has felt like a cut and paste presentation and standard one way questions, when often they start late, rattle on about the company for too long, and then start watch checking about 15 minutes before the end. Most often this has been associated with a very neutral invitation to interview, more on that below.

Very often the employer will have shaped either a very positive view of you from your CV with preconceptions in a positive light, or they are a little dubious but you seem a good fit on many counts, or they have just had a handful of applications. In my last actual job, they had only 8 qualified candidates apply even though the big down turn in the oil industry had put many like me in SCM on the dole!

The job ad' should though not give you a gut feeling. I find that a standard, good application with some explanation of why the company and or job is appropriate for you and vice versa helps. But setting your hopes on one job in this market is the absolutely wrong thing to do. You are competing with very key competance people who are either unemployed or feel their company or department may go under the chop. So you just have to gett the numbers up and hold a good quality letter with your CV. Open applications are both less effective in terms of interviews per hundred, and you need to do hundreds, but on the other side they are more effective in terms of getting a job which may suit you geographically, This is because employers are loathe to advertise sometimes, they get hundreds of applications and then a lot of social pressure from their freinds and family to employ. They would rather do it a little under the radar, although very often this type of approach leads to a stop-gap temporary position.

So I did the wrong thing this time and stopped up with my other applications and dropped open applications altogether in the push to study for the job and be there for the reply after second interview. I was a bit 'rejection fatigued' anyway, but it made this one a bit harder becauuse my head was down and not up looking at the market.

Now we come to the invitation, it should give you a gut feeling. I guess some professions are a little more neutral and square in their invitation to interview, but you can get a good gut feeling if they bother to phone you up. If they send an e-mail invitation and don't call within a working day of it arriving, then you have to ask yourself how much they care and just how many they are interviewing? A personal invitation in the phone followed by an e/mail confirmation is important. If any significant travel is involved, then you should ask if they cover travel expenses / this gives you a bit of a feel for them as an employer.

A stratight No on travel expenses can mean they have tight budgets, it can mean they dont care much for candidates or it can mean that they have more than 10 to first interview, or indeed it can mean that they have a high staff churn rate and cant afford to be nice to people because they arent nice to employees once theyre in!!  A positive tone in the conversation should be expected if it is the manager who you will be working with, while personnel are more netural or matter of the fact, often verging on the rude because very often they are busy and very often you were not their prime candidate ie the manager did not like their choice.

You should pose at least one question at this point, whcih can be as cheeky as how many are you interviewing? / a  very off hand or slightly negative answer to this can be intepreted with your gut feeling. With jobs which are in areas expensive to live in or commute to, I often ask what the wage is, and rarely get an indication to be honest. That is the culture here, but in other areas like the USA perhaps and the UK you should know the wages and some of the conditions from the ad or ask. Where there is a culture for wages in adverts or openess on them, hiding wages is usually a sign to something a little wrong IMHO. All part of the gut feeling.

For a job which you think will be marginally economic for you ie you have to weekly commute or it is part time, then I wouuld recommend trying to change the time point of the interview just to see how they react. , as well as asking them to cover travel expenses. Some firms say they have a policy of not paying candidates for first interview, so why not have a policy of not accepting such interviews? Think of it this way, if it is a very specific skill set they are looking for, then you are quite likely making way for one of your competing candidates to get that job in that area. You would be better served spending say a 200 euro travel expense on doing something positive in  your life or paying debt to be honest. An alternative little wheeze is to say your car is in the garage and can you take it as a phone interview or via SKype since you cannot make it. This all sounds a bit risky, and to an employer reading this, bloody minded, but youu face two big financial risks when you mixs in with a job ouuytside comfortable daily commuting distance. Firstly if you got five interviews 200 miles away, then you would use up all you monthly income in your dole or local waiting job. Secondly the cost of establishing yourself there means you are in negative cash flow for up to two years, which I know to my cost. You are always a monthy behind and needing to use your credit card if you had littlle or no savings to establishy yourself with an appartment or pay for a long daily commute.

Due to the fact that so many quality jobs these days can demand very key competances, youu can often get a good feel that you are a good match for that set, and that there will be less than 10  to first interview. This is often in a set whcih includes not only the core skills, but also specific computer systems (SAP being my bug bear lack on the CV) , supply chain and industry, even down to specific customers such as the public sector, or suppliers such as Bayer or GE., or markets say China or Germany. So when you do get a call with a positive tone from the boss who will be employing you, then you it should feel right. Go though back to the job advertisement and get your feet back on the ground every time at this point, and see through which applications you have out, and which you have to do. It can be worth now putting pressure on all the prime jobs you have not heard from by ringing and saying you are in an interview process with another company and would like to hear yes or no sooner, which will indeed get you picked out or dropped sooner. Also get ringing those other jobs which are out there before your apply, because now you are hot property , off the back foot and on the offensive. In this market in most western countries, employers will be sitting with hundreds of applications with a good few dozen or even fifty good qualified candidates, from whcih they may use some arbitary secret filter, including age-ism, sexism, college snob value, and most of all geography and previous employer brand name. So gettign picked out because you are hot, and would rather have that job than the one you are up for is worth a go. With a smaller job application number it can sound a bit pushy, but it means that you are most likely yet another wrung uip the ladder towarrds securing interview.

At interview employers and especially recruitment constulants, will nearly always ask if you are in another interview round, or give you the spanish inquisition on why you are leaving. A major hidden agenda which recruitment consultants have as a key offer to clients, is wages control and expectations management via the vaneer of a wide net of screened candidates. Very often they send half the candidates as window dressing for the main product so to speak. i hate recruitement constultants a lot because of these two factors. You often end up being an also ran, having had your hopes up, or being presented with a suprisingly low salary offer or discussion nearer the end of the process. They basically wanted to establish the highest motivbateion, most qualkified candidate for the lowest wage, and today they can often get that even if those candidates quite often are the very ones who will job hop out of those mediocre wages asap.

I have had a couple of major mess ups in my career and both times I had my gut instinct a little out of tune. In one I felt the bosses were so odd that this was a bit of a strange department, but I had been out of work over a year. They were odd, I had a dumped marketing assistant called Marianne who no one else wanted to work with because she was a hopeless egotistical spastic who wrote marketing material like a 14 yearr old. It went pear shaped through no real fauklt of my own, and the two bosses even had left within a year if sacking me. Also in another interview some 8 years later, one boss was very bitchy and passive aggressive, while the director was very positive. I went on his side with my gut instinct, but it turned out that she was my boss and she was the fucked up machievellan boss from hell, with no idea how to structiure workflows in an SCM department or how to manage people. She was a bitch delux.

Interviews are always seen as putting all the pressure and focus on the candidate, but in fact the way the employer behaves in an interview and as mentioned, before and after in their approach to you, is very, very telling,. Now to the three Cs=  The Cars, the Carpet and the Coffee. A rule of thumb is how are the offices, the parking lots? Are the cars there scrappy or a lot of new cars? Is there a rich-poor car lot? Then you get to reception, for a company with more than 20 employees at a main reception they should have full time work hours reception and/or security gaurd. Then there are the carpets and the decor. Investing in working environment means investing in people, but also investing in image. Crappy carpets and crappy coffee mean in my costly experience, a crappy employer. The opposite is also true, very fine entrances and artwork can be all show, ask to see the 'cube farm' you will be actually working in? I worked for one ad ' agency whose bosses all had flash fully expensed cars, while account managers got nothing but the going rate for the job. They tried hard to make a good environment in an old church, but they had a them-and- us attitude which sucked big time.

Coffee is a bad thing for gut instincts and first impressions. I would always avoid it in interviews, but be polite to say don't let me hinder you if you need one. If the interview start runs late, as they often do when they have 10 or more candidates to get through in a week, then give quite a blunt no thank you and even say,  we can start as soon as ytou like. Coffee means a lot of time following someone to a machine or canteen, and they will have their back to you and it is awkward with hot, plastic ups or cups and saucers through doors and so on. So judging the firm by the coffee is worth avoiding in terms of getting up to an extra five minutes face to face time with the interviewers. A polite, no thanks I had a bit of time on my journey to have a coffee break, but dont let me hinder you is a good way of getting on with it. It may be that they are dieign for a coffee after back to back interviews in the stuffiest conference room  they got landed with.

Post interview you have to both trust your gut instiution and abate it. Do you have evidence to support it? Did you really answer to their satisfaction? Were the slight negatives which gave you a negative taste in the mouth so to speak, actually real or just hiccups or nervousness on both sides? Did they answer YOUR questions to YOUR satisfaction, or even give you time to ask them? A positive gut feeling often cvomes from buying signs which are both verbal,ised or content basxed, and from tone of voice and body language which in turn is conscious and suibconscious. These buying signs often come in first or even second interview because you have matched or exceeded expectations from your CV, and to that point in time are one of the best candidates they have seen. They have the other candidates to go through, and if they have had any training at all, will know to lay subjective thoughts to one side and appraise on a point for point, answer for answer, skill fo skill needed basis. If not then they will colour an interview result, and often a senior manager will wade in with their prejudices from the CV or how they took you on first impressions. Would you want to work for a company with institutionalised racism, sexism, ageism or snobbery? Lucky escape if this happens to you behind the scenes, or well done WASPY Ivy Leagure boy, you landed your first job on  the old vine network.

Post interview these days is not the time to rest on your laurels given a positive interview. Before that beer or wine, put the job behind you and get on with looking for the newest jobs on the market, and the applications you have inevitably postpoined, especially open applications. Do one application before you uncork that Chardonnay,  Keep it to one beer or two if it is midweek, it could be they call you back that evening or next morning 8am to ask a supplementary question or offer you a second interview. Once I was offered a job next morning because I was the best of the candidates by head and shoulders above them, and one not bothering to turn up!

The offer too shouuld give you a gut instinct, but I have had a couple of mediocre wage offers in my life. Mostly thouugh I have established a win win on that front at some point, and pushed a little for information on it. I would say for any job you should ask for a meeting to accpet the letter of appointment and see round the offices. This means that you have them on the spot about a low offer, and also you get to meet some colleagues and gauge the atmosphere of the office. I usually have gone into most any job  I have got  very up and positive, yet in many cases I have found that this is an odd place to work with some bitchy people with nationalist agendas against foreigners like me. I make mistakes again and again, like letting coworkers get a look at my CV or Linking In with them. Ask your boss specifically not to share your CV and take your Linked In off line is my advice.

Getting a job these days feels like winning the world cup, but come back to earth. I have had a couple of jobs where although I was just qualified enough, I was a bookmark so to speak- holding up head count while they maybe got a better internal candidate to come over after a project. This is a very real phenomenon, and if you are unemployed when you get the job, be aware of this. There can be a rack of better candidates who could not start withouut several months of notice or turn down the job because they have an interesting project to complete.

So when you get an offer you have to ask yourself, is this a keeper or is this a stepping stone? Will you tread water and have this as a wating job? What are the risks your skills will fall a little short? What are your personal financial risks in commuting or relocating?  We are back to then getting those other applications forward to a position where we have other options and we can postpone a decision on a job which is a little shakey. I would say a visit to the company is well worht while to meet the team at this point, and worth doing at your own expense to save potentially a lot. Ask some minions and middle managers how it really is in the company and wh\at they expect of the position if you can. Some jobs are very, very different from the way they are dressed up in the advert unfortunetly, For instance a job with 'account manager with responsibillity for major customers' can mean a telesales job trying to win those customers in reality!

At a job club for graduates a long time ago now in the mid 1990s at the end of the course on applications and everything before we got stuck into doing masses of applications, the course leader said "...and when you get a job, don't stop looking for jobs" . I took this as a little trite or even daft at the time, but in fact this is very good advice, especially for us who dont have a golden handcuffed, blue chip career path.

So with people, go with your gut feeling but reel it in a little in terms of being disappointed with a rejection or a job which is not as interesting as advertised, or being thrown into a frying pan of fire fighting and over work as I was in my last two jobs in fact and why I tried consultancy. Take a step back from your gut feeling, and see if the reality of skills match on paper and how they reacted and what they said or asked really supports your positive or negative take out.  Cold light of day stuff though is only attenuating your gut feel a bit IMHO, go with it in making your actual decision always!!!!

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