Gurpreet Kaur Mann, a career and job search success coach based in Brampton, Ont., says when jobseekers ask her for tips on how to ace job interviews, she also cautions them on what not to do during a meeting with a prospective employer.
Some years ago, Ms. Kaur Mann was part of a panel interviewing for a vice-president’s role with a Toronto-area manufacturing company. The interview appeared to be going well, when the candidate asked the CEO about the IT system the company was planning to install in its warehouse. As the CEO named the system, the candidate slammed his hands on the table, raised his voice several decibels and proceeded to go on a tirade about the CEO’s choice.
He didn’t get the job.
“What he should have said instead was, ‘I know that system well and there are some pros and cons with it. Why not consider this one instead?’” says Ms. Kaur Mann. “I always tell my clients to align their energy through meditation or breathing, recognizing their worth and owning it.
“[But] here’s the thing: if you’re cocky, that will go against you too.”
Google is for research, not bad advice
In her early years as an entrepreneur, Ms. Kaur Mann realized her task was to articulate – with a great deal of specificity – how her company could solve problems for her corporate clients. This sales-oriented approach was an “aha” moment. Jobseekers should treat the interview process as a sales pitch, she says.
Here are some of her go-to strategies:
1. Do your research
Looking to impress your potential employer? Learn what you can about their organization. For example, when interviewing for a marketing or social media position, Ms. Kaur Mann suggests candidates undertake a SWOT (strength, weakness, opportunity and threat) analysis of the organization and their biggest competitor. Then, explain how they can strengthen their position. By doing this, you will come across as an expert, she says.
2. Reverse engineer the job description
Read carefully, because the job description will offer you clues about the company’s existing pain points, says Ms. Kaur Mann. Then, tailor your responses to show how you’re the best person to tackle the problems you’ve uncovered.
3. Ignore Google
Many people take the generic advice and talking points floating around the Internet and include them into their interviews. This is a big mistake, Ms. Kaur Mann says, because you’re unlikely to sound authentic. Even worse, you will miss an opportunity to show your personality.
‘Trust, relatability and likability’
Toronto-based career coach Nada Buhendi became an entrepreneur after a series of challenging rejections. Seeking another path, she quit her 9-5 job to launch a now successful career coaching business.
“Despite having strong work experience [with global consulting firms], I hit a plateau during my job searches and kept getting rejected,” she says. “So, when I started my career coaching business, I realized the formula for getting someone to buy into what you say during the interview comes down to trust, relatability and likability.”
Ms. Buhendi has created a framework to help her clients navigate the interview process – here are a few of her tips:
1. Have a trusted advisor mindset
“When you make the conversation about you, you will come across as desperate,” Ms. Buhendi says. “You need to instead approach the interview as, ‘How can I help this person?’ and present yourself as a trusted advisor.”
2. Structure creates consistency
People need a structure to organize their thoughts. So, Ms. Buhendi suggests people create a script before their interviews by putting their thoughts and ideas onto paper and then rehearsing. Once candidates become comfortable, they can ditch the script. Ms. Buhendi notes that it’s important to approach interviews as conversations in order to build a rapport with the interviewer, rather than sounding robotic or stilted.
3. Tell stories as proof of success
Job contenders must spell out in detail how they solved a problem and quantify the outcomes through storytelling. When you tell a story around a career highlight, it becomes a proof of success, Ms. Buhendi says.
An interviewer’s perspective
Poonam Gupta, an enterprise agile coach/director at CIBC, says when she’s interviewing candidates, she’s looking for integrity, honesty and openness. Ms. Gupta primarily helps teams (within CIBC) fill new roles.
Ms. Gupta first connects with a candidate over a 30-minute coffee chat to ensure they’re a right fit for the team. The second round includes a team interview.
“I want candidates to share their vulnerability, because that shows me the real person we are going to work with,” she says. “Human skills are the most important attribute I am looking for in a candidate.” (Ms. Gupta notes these views are her own and not that of CIBC.)
For example, when she asks an applicant to share a time they failed in a task or project, Ms. Gupta says she expects the person to be honest and share not only how they failed, but what they learned from the experience.
“There is no right or wrong answer,” says Ms. Gupta. “I look for a growth mindset, and [for] the candidate to demonstrate that they can they think outside the box.”
Ask Women and Work
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Question: I am frustrated with my career. I have been working in healthcare administration for about 15 years and have done well. However, I have stopped finding fulfillment in my job and I can’t imagine another 25 years doing this. I am craving a big career change. Having said that, I am also a divorced mom with a mortgage and I need an income. How am I supposed to reinvent my career without going broke?
We asked career coach Allison Colin-Thorne of Career Off Script to field this one:
Such a tough spot to be in, but you’re not alone! The first question to ask yourself is – are you sure it’s your job? The last few years have been incredibly painful to endure and mental health is at an all-time low. Before you become another statistic of the Great Resignation, be sure that you are pinpointing the true cause of your dissatisfaction.
Do you only feel this way when you are at work? Or is it difficult for you to enjoy your non-working time as well?
If it’s the latter, chances are there is something deeper here, and changing careers will unfortunately just be a band-aid.
If you are certain that your job is the issue, here are my best tips for identifying, and moving towards, a new career path without breaking the bank.
Start with a job inventory, because before you know where you are going, you need to know what you want – and don’t want. Write down every single thing you do in a week at work, and then rate it based on how much you like it and how skilled you are at it. After the week is done, you should have clarity on what you enjoy doing and where you need to upskill. This is where I advise clients on following their ‘likes’ rather than their top skills, as you can always upskill in an area you enjoy, but building a skill set around something you find boring is setting yourself up for misery.
Next, start doing some online research. Creep people on LinkedIn that have held your position (or similar) in the past. What roles have they gone on to? If there are any positions you have been thinking about, check out people doing those roles as well to see what their background is and what their career trajectory has been. Don’t forget job boards like Indeed – take those transferable skills and use them as your search terms to identify jobs that utilize those skill sets.
Make a list of people doing work you are curious about and connect with them for a conversation. I have never turned down a request like this and I doubt many would – people want to help. Ask them how they got to where they are, what a day in their life is life and what challenges they face.
Armed with all this information, it’s time to start moving towards that change you are seeking. Perhaps this means retooling your resume to highlight those transferable skills in pivoting to another direction. Or exploring a more junior position in a new path while you learn the ropes. (Crunch the numbers to see what is affordable for you, keeping in mind that sometimes you have to take a step back to take two steps forward.)
Upskilling may be necessary, but this does not have to be expensive. Continuous learning is more affordable now than ever with the plethora of online course platforms like Udemy, more technical bootcamps and private learning organizations like General Assembly, and continuing education offered through colleges and universities, the majority of which can be completed in the evenings, online and on a budget. Perfect for a busy mom! As a bonus, a lot of these providers offer job support as well.
Interested in more perspectives about women in the workplace? Find all stories on the hub here, and subscribe to the new Women and Work newsletter here. Have feedback on the series? E-mail us at GWC@globeandmail.com.