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Archive for Saturday, January 7, 2006

Turn interview into learning tool

January 7, 2006

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Q: I left a corporate job because it got too stressful, and I've been looking for work ever since. I have been on more than 20 interviews, but no offers. I have no idea what I'm doing wrong. - Lynn

A: Kate: Twenty is a lot. Our research shows that the average person needs seven interviews to land a job.

Dale: And I'm glad you did that research. We hear from plenty of people who get panicky after being passed over just once or twice, forgetting that companies typically interview four to 10 people, which means that most candidates do not get hired.

What you need to know is where you're falling short of the others.

Kate: You'd find that out by asking during the interview, something many job hunters resist. Here's my favorite story on this: George was interviewing with a large bank for a securities-processing job. He had related experience, but not securities processing, specifically. They brought him back and brought him back, but I couldn't get him to ask about their hiring decision. Finally, after months had gone by, he asked them, "Can you tell me, are you talking to someone else?" They said yes, and that lead to a conversation in which they admitted they were stymied, because while George had more managerial experience, the other candidate had direct securities-processing experience. Now George had something to work with. I said to him: "This is easy. Go out right now and talk to people in securities processing and ask them what things they would do if hired for that job." He did, then recontacted the company and said he wanted to have a conversation about what he'd do if hired. Did George get the job? Of course he got the job.

Dale: If, you asked every interviewer Kate's favorite question, "Is there any reason you wouldn't hire someone like me?" you'll often get an answer. If you asked her other favorite, "Where do I stand, compared to other candidates?" you'll often get an answer. After 20 interviews you'd know what you needed to improve. You would have constructed your own learning curve, instead of being stuck as a learning flat-liner, never learning because they never ask.

I have two colleagues who have lots of experience - four and 10 years - but associate degrees, not bachelor's. Many jobs in our field list a bachelor's degree requirement, but I think experience offsets that requirement. Am I right? - Beth

Gee. Bill Gates would never get a job, and neither would Steve Jobs, because both are on that long list of college dropouts. I just met with the head of human resources for a 1,000-person law firm. She's 40 years old with 20 years of experience. No college. She's an example of how, in most cases, experience trumps education.

Dale: I put "people without college degrees" into Google and learned that of those on the Forbes list of the wealthiest people in America, one-third don't have degrees. So, why is a degree so often a job requirement? That takes us into the heart of corporate darkness: the bureaucracy.

So tell your friends to focus on getting to the people doing the hiring, the ones close to the work, the ones who know what sort of knowledge really matters.

- Kate Wendleton is founder of The Five O'Clock Club, a national career-counseling network. Dale Dauten is founder of The Innovators' Lab.

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