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Jan 19

Land That Job: What Interviewers Really Want You to Ask Them

Posted in Career Article, Tips & Tricks at 11:30 am

During every interview, recruiters always ask job seekers, “Do you have any questions for me?” The worst answer is “no.” When you ask questions, no matter how thorough the conversation has been, it shows you’re genuinely interested in that particular company and position, not just desperate to get any job.

 Plus, by asking smart questions, you can get some crucial intelligence into how the company works and what you can expect if you work there. I polled some of my contacts at top companies to find out what they think applicants should ask. 

Nikki Gordon, a talent manager at 7-Eleven, says she always likes when a candidate asks simply, “Why is this position vacant?” 

You want to know why the position is vacant because it can give you insight into the nature of the job and the culture. Maybe it’s newly created because the company is growing. Maybe someone was promoted from within. Both potentially positive signs. 

But maybe it’s vacant because of high turnover. You don’t want to discover on Day One that you’re the eighth person in six months to occupy that desk. So if the answer is about turnover, that’s a clue to you to probe a bit more. Pam Webster at Enterprise Rent-a-Car says she likes when candidates ask about the company culture. 

Company culture means what is it like to work at that company — the vibe, the atmosphere, the values, the work styles and preferences — and what it’s like to be immersed in that environment every day.

Success isn’t only about performing your particular position; it’s also about how you fit into that environment. They’re sizing you up for cultural fit, and you should be doing the same with them. They want to know what makes you tick and what ticks you off.

 And you’ll want to know that their culture is one that you feel is conducive to your success. Is it one you’d be proud to be affiliated with every day? Are the company’s values aligned with your own?

 A great follow-up question to ask is, “If you could change one thing about the culture, what would it be?” This is a polite way of asking what’s wrong with this place without actually saying that. And it can give you insight into something you wouldn’t have otherwise learned.

One woman told me the answer was, “I’d change the hours — everyone works ’til 8 p.m. and it’s grueling.” You need to know that before accepting an offer.

 Rich Deosingh from the staffing firm Robert Half says he advises jobseekers to ask, “How are candidates evaluated and what’s the measure of success?” 

I want everyone to put this on his or her “must ask” list. It’s a perfect way to show that your priorities are in the right place. It’s all about succeeding in your book. Every manager and every company has a different method of defining success and a different method of evaluating performance.

 This line of conversation allows you to showcase your track record of success and it enables you to tout your desire to meet their measurements of success. What manager wouldn’t like to have that conversation with an applicant? 

Another “must ask” that you should end the interview with is “What are the next steps in this process?”

 You’ll want to know if you’ll be expected to interview with others. Is there any kind of testing involved? When will they make a decision? When do they hope to bring someone on board? Is there more information or materials you can provide to support your candidacy? Who will you hear from and when? If you don’t hear, when and how should you follow up?

This ensures that you’re able to manage your own expectations and it gives you a handle on the company’s timeframe, so you don’t leave the interview waiting and wondering. 

Web-extra Tips

  • It’s perfectly acceptable to ask the HR manager to describe the management style of the person to whom you’d be reporting. Oftentimes the HR department has a good handle on the personality traits and work styles of the company’s top managers and can share some of those preferences with candidates. This helps to ensure a good fit all around.
  • Towards the end of the conversation you can ask if they have any concerns about your ability to excel in this role. This is a chance for them to share with you any possible weaknesses, such as a skill you lack or a particular experience they wish you had. More importantly, it’s an opportunity for you to learn quite clearly what they’re thinking so you’re able to address any outstanding issues directly. If you can’t think quickly on the spot about how to explain how you’d overcome their hesitation, it’s surely a topic for follow-up, which you should do within 24 hours. Point to examples of how you’ve been a quick study in the past or explain how you’ll get the skills and training quickly and confidently. Perhaps you can point to comparable experiences you’ve had and how they relate to the challenges ahead.
  • Don’t be shy about bringing a pad and pen to take notes during the interview. Don’t allow those notes to distract from the conversation; your eyes and focus should be on the people in the room, not on your paper. But if there are key elements to jot down — perhaps issues you want to follow up on — you should feel comfortable taking brief notes.
Jan 11

America’s best and worst job markets

Posted in News, Workforce Issues/Update at 2:49 pm

WASHINGTON, D.C. — As 2011 gets under way, Washington, D.C. — flush with government and government-supporting jobs — has the healthiest labor market among major U.S. metro areas. By one estimate, there’s roughly one advertised job opening for every unemployed worker in the D.C. region, which includes parts of Maryland and Virginia. The nation’s capital has an unemployment rate of just 6 percent, according to the latest data. That’s the lowest among the country’s largest 50 metros, and 3.4 percentage points below the national average. 

Of course, Washington’s status as America’s best job market could change if Congress slashes government spending, as many Republicans have pledged. But it won’t be as bad as the situation in Las Vegas, the worst major metro area in which to go job-hunting these days. Bucked by the real estate bust and downturn in tourism, Sin City’s unemployment rate is 14.3 percent. A year prior, it was 12.5 percent. In Vegas there are more than eight unemployed workers for every job opportunity posted online, according to the monthly Job Search Difficulty Index compiled by job search engine Juju.com. 

These two metro areas top Forbes’ 2011 lists of America’s Best and Worst Job Markets, which provide a current snapshot of labor markets across the country. The areas with the most promising employment situations — at least for now — tend to be government hubs like D.C.; Austin, Texas; Oklahoma City; and Hartford, Conn. In fact, six of our top 10 job markets are state capitals.

 ”State governments haven’t necessarily been hiring in large numbers, but they haven’t been laying off,” says Brendan Cruickshank, vice president at New York City-based Juju.com. Recent jobs reports released by the U.S. Labor Department highlight that, national, employment in the health care sector and temporary work has also trended upward in recent months. 

The metro areas that have fared worst: those where construction and real estate, tourism and manufacturing have played a large part in economic growth. Think Miami, Orlando and Detroit. But just as state spending can buoy employment in some capitals, state budget problems can also weigh heavily on unemployment. In Sacramento, Calif., for example, the unemployment rate in November (the most recent month for which data is available) was 12.6 percent. By Juju.com’s estimates there are more than five job-seekers for every job posted online in Sacramento. The state’s budget crisis has a widespread effect; we count four California metro areas — San Diego, Los Angeles, Sacramento and Riverside — among the tough areas in the country to find work. 

To compile our 2011 lists of America’s Best and Worst Job Markets, Forbes relied equally on the latest metro unemployment data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics and on Juju.com’s monthly Job Search Difficulty Index for Major Cities. Moody’s Economy.com provided additional analysis for the trends in each labor market on our lists.

The BLS data show the percentage of people are not able to find a job among those who are actively looking for work. JuJu.com’s index culls as many as 4 million job listings from other online job search engines and compares those openings to BLS’ unemployment figures for each metro. The index shows how many job-seekers there are per opening. We examined only the 50 largest metros, since big cities are most likely to offer the greatest opportunities for employment. 

With a 7.8 percent unemployment rate, Baltimore, Md., enjoys some of the government spillover from Washington, D.C., less than an hour away. The military’s base realignment plans are also expected to bring more jobs to Baltimore, which also has a thriving research and health care sector, thanks to Johns Hopkins University.

Aside from being the capital of Texas, Austin has a number of assets that have helped it weather the economic downturn: It’s a state capital and major convention center, home of the University of Texas and a tech hub. In October local officials announced that the area will become home to a new Eco-Merge Green Corporate Center devoted to producing new technologies. Juju.com reports that in December there were 2.39 job-seekers for every online posting in Austin. 

Orlando, Fla., is among the 10 worst job markets in America, with an unemployment rate of 11.9 percent and 4.27 job-seekers per available position. 

Boston, where the unemployment rate is 7.4 percent, is another state capital bolstered by the tech, health care and education sectors. According to Moody’s Economy.com, state budget problems and a restructuring in the financial services sector could weaken Boston’s growth in the short run, but it’s expected to pick up by the end of the year.

Even if a metro area appears on our list for worst job markets, it’s not necessarily doomed to high unemployment forever. For example, although San Diego, which leans heavily on the defense sector for jobs, could be affected by military budget cuts, a future focus by the Pentagon on the Asia-Pacific region could also provide a long-run boost to the area. For now, however, San Diego’s unemployment rate remains at 10.4 percent, above the national average. 

Miami, where there were more than nine job-seekers per posted opening in December, is still struggling to recover from the real estate bust. But in the coming months a boost in trade (due to the region’s close ties with Latin America) and tourism could bring a swift reversal of fortune. “Miami’s recovery will be among the fastest in the nation, housing issues notwithstanding, says a recent analysis by Moody’s Economy.com. 

Creating jobs in 2011 will be the top priority for the new crop of policymakers who just took office across the country. The task is made easier by stock markets that are now trading at two-year highs and temporary certainty around tax rates, which businesses like. But tight state budgets could provide a hurdle for some metros as they recover. Every lawmaker in the land is aware that national unemployment has been near 10 perent since 2009. They’ve got their work cut out for them.