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Job Application Retrospective

After a flurry of applications and interviews, while I wait to hear back, I’ve been thinking about what I might have done to prepare better or at least differently. I know I can’t change anything and overall I’m ok with that. But here are three things I’ve learned for the next time:

1) Check your voicemail greetings.

Like many, I included my cell # in with my resume, so I could receive and return messages during breaks in my working day (of course, my day is erratic anyway, but I’m sure it’s even more important for people on the 9-5). After receiving messages about scheduling interviews, I realized that I had no idea what my voicemail greeting sounded like.

Fortunately, it was pretty boring and standard. In calling friends, I’ve heard a number of greetings which involved music, silliness, or were just brusque like Micah’s: “hey, leave a message.” People seem to be a lot freer with their cell voicemail greetings.

If you’re going to be getting calls from people you want to impress, cut out cheesy lines, don’t be rude, and don’t make yourself sound irresponsible. I’ve heard some where the person was either drunk or pretending to be. Hilarious to friends, less so to employers.

This isn’t lying about who you are or giving up your identity. It’s part of the formal presentation, it shows you can be professional. I once tried to work with a sales rep who had a very long voicemail of her rapping and giggling (yes!). Didn’t impress me or my supervisor, especially since we played a lot of telephone tag.

Two things that I’d look for are: a) is your name clearly articulated on the greeting? b) does the greeting convey whatever sense of professionalism you’re bringing to the job in the rest of your application?

2) Always have an articulate answer why you want the job.

The first interview threw me off by asking that right off the bat. I knew why I wanted the job, but in focusing on other things I had forgotten to prepare something about why. Because the job excited me, I was able to come up with something. I prepared for the next time around and sure enough it came up. My answer wasn’t scripted, but I had identified 3 main points.

3) Prepare for a group interview.

Previously, I’ve only interviewed with a maximum of 1 person at a time. Most interview materials imply that it’ll be you and the interviewer. But what do you do if you have 2 or 3 or 4 or 5 people asking you questions? How do you build a rapport with them? Do you focus on only a few if it’s a larger group? Which ones?

Here are a few contributing factors that may lead to a group interview: Working under a couple parallel supervisors. Several tiers of management coming to the interview. A small team environment that’s looking for a good fit. A chair of directors hiring for a high-level job. A plain old high-level job.

What has surprised you most in an interview? What weren’t you prepared for?


Christine November 20, 2008 at 8:12 am

Back just before my Walmart days, I was very surprised to get called back for another interview after I’d been hired, whereupon the manager in question started asking me all the questions from the previous interview, the one I’d already been hired after.

I told him that I already had the job, and he was very surprised. Then I laughed at him. Then he promoted me.

So it all worked out in the end.

Amanda November 20, 2008 at 11:28 am

Another tip, make sure that if you have a ringback tone on your cell phone that is appropriate! I used to work HR and while calling back perspective employees I heard a lot of bad ringback tones, including comics saying inappropriate things etc. If you know you are interviewing, please change your ringback tone!

Frugalchick November 20, 2008 at 12:21 pm

I had a group interview once. There were 8 of them and to keep myself from getting too nervous, I pretended it was a one-on-one interview by focusing on whoever is asking the question at the time. It worked and I was hired.

Melissa November 20, 2008 at 1:22 pm

I agree with Frugalchick. I have done several interviews with groups of five or more. I always tried to pick out the most relaxed person and the most critical from the start. From there, place most of your primary focus on the person asking the question and as you explain your answer, glance to the relaxed individual if you feel you have a weaker response, as they’re likely to give an encouraging smile. If you feel that your response is absoluetly stellar, make glances to the most intense person, because they’re going to be the toughest sell.

mrsmicah November 20, 2008 at 2:49 pm

@Christine, that would’ve thrown me for a loop. Good for you. 🙂

@ Amanda, I’m proud to say that my cell phone has never been anything but a real ring. And my ringback is the default. Combine that with a bad message and dang.

@ FrugalChick & Melissa, some good points there. I ended up in a 5-person group interview and tried to focus primarily on whoever was asking the question. Plus I identified two comparatively sympathetic people in the group (pretty intimidating overall).

Budgets are Sexy November 20, 2008 at 4:41 pm

hahah…yeah, that whole voicemail thing is def. a good idea, as well as making sure your email/full name doesn’t appear in MYSPACE and/or FACEBOOK!

I’m telling you, every employer i talk with admit to checking this before and after interviews….and obvi. before an interview ever comes about because of what they find! haha…yikesy mama.

Dad November 20, 2008 at 7:31 pm

The point about the voice mail greeting is very important. Even if the interviewer isn’t turned off by the ‘unprofessionalism’, they probably heard them all and responds with a yawn. But unconsciously they will record a negative check on the impression you leave.

I’ve found that there is always the unexpected question. No matter what I prepare or anticipate, there is probably going to be a surprise coming. Being relaxed and comfortable with yourself is probably the best thing because you will be able to think on your feet. Which may be the whole point.

I’ve found group interviews daunting. I’ve been on more as one of the interviewers and as the interviewee. I liked some of the suggestions made.

Dad November 20, 2008 at 7:33 pm

Forgot, being relaxed and comfortable with yourself is important but overconfidence is a big no no. A little bit of nervousness is probably read as a form of respect for them.

Zhu November 20, 2008 at 10:48 pm

I haen’t had an interview in a while but I absolutely hate when HR try to over analyze answers and dig into my brain. My skills have nothing to do with the way I write, my dreams shouldn’t be interpreted and my favorite color has nothing to do with the position.

French HR are specialist of the psycho-crap…

Nikki November 21, 2008 at 4:02 am

While on this topic I would like to comment that a lot of people memorize good answers to common job interview questions. Is this enough? I don’t think so. Why? Because a lot of other people will be doing the same thing. Just imagine a scenario where several people are attempting to get a particular job. The person who does the proper background research on the company is more likely to get the job. He has a definite edge over the others. What I am trying to say here is prepare for the interview in a unique way and don’t follow the herd

deepali November 21, 2008 at 12:22 pm

I think I might have to disagree with your Dad – I found that my best interviews (and this girl interviewed at top med schools at age 17) were when I was interviewing *them*. In other words, I was overly confident and wasn’t beholden to the outcome, and it showed. But Dad is right – don’t be cocky. Just make it clear that they have as much at stake as you do, and they start to wonder if you’re actually some awesome catch. 🙂

In one (group) interview, I had a guy put his feet up on the table (cowboy boots and all). He asked me a question, and I said I couldn’t respond because I couldn’t hear him through his boots. He laughed, put his feet down, and moved on.

FYI, this works in other situations too – looking for a place to rent (or buy), etc.

Nicole November 25, 2008 at 12:44 pm

I once got a job interview for an island-based job. The interview was on the island and I was told I’d have to ride the ferry with the three other candidates. One and a half hours in each direction.

Preparing for that experience taught me a lot, especially the importance of being gracious in a group situation. Because no one wants to hire Mean Girl or Cocky Guy!

Simmie August 29, 2009 at 12:47 pm

Question about ringback tones on cell phones– could they EVER be considered professionally acceptable? For example, my current ringback tone is a simple instrumental clip from MGMT’s “Kids.” Catchy, upbeat, but no words and it’s not too crazy. Is it OK for my job search, or am I better off removing ringback tones altogether?

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