Sunday, September 20, 2009

Practice to Avoid This Common Interview Mistake

After interviewing thousands of job applicants, the most common error I observe is talking too much. A candidate starts to talk and five or ten minutes later, they are deep into left field as one thought leads them to another. A hiring manager may start to think that you dominate conversation, don’t listen very well, may talk more than you work, and even that you’re undisciplined. All things you want to avoid, of course.

Some people subscribe to the philosophy “answer the question you wish you were asked,” and that’s fine--as long as you still answer my question, too. In case you’re wondering, I do notice when you don’t answer my question and most of the time, it won’t work in your favor.

If you know that you’re a big talker or tend to ramble when nervous, you need to practice, practice, practice.

Listening for the question.
Jot down a few key words if needed. Practice giving a complete answer succinctly. Glance down at that note to make sure you’re on track and you’ve answered what was asked.

Different kinds of questions
gathered from a number of sources. Include some off-the-wall ones, e.g. “Which movie is a metaphor for your life?” or “If you were an animal, what would you be?” You are not trying to memorize answers; you are practicing to observe your thought proces and finetune your response under pressure.

With different people. Not just your best friend, but someone you don’t know as well; perhaps even someone who intimidates you. Or try using your family as a panel interview.

Using different media.
Writing or diagramming responses can be invaluable especially when questions involve a decision tree. You ensure you cover all bases and give the tightest, most thorough response. Then practice your answer in spoken conversation.

Place holders
to buy time. For example, “That’s an excellent question, how have I contributed to the bottom line at ABC Company.” As you’re saying that, your mind is preparing your response. If your mind is completely blank, ask to return to the question later.

What are your best tips for interview practice? I’d love to know.

image by Darren Moore

Friday, September 18, 2009

I'll Settle for Less-Paper HR

Like many, last December found me humming holiday songs. But while others dreamed of a white Christmas or a Happy Hanukkah, I dreamed of paperless HR. Yep, I'm an HR Nerd; I admit it!

I work at a nonprofit, where resources, time and budgets are tight. As I compare technology in the nonprofit and the business worlds, I see the latter forging ahead while I fear nonprofits fall behind at an exponential rate. It's a bit alarming to contemplate the lag that expands relentlessly every year. Many of us don't have IT departments. We don't have much money for consultants or new technology. What we have is a great work environment, the World Wide Web (free or almost free), our connections (free), and our ingenuity, resourcefulness and persistence (free, free, free).

Less-Paper HR

It is in this context that I try to reduce the amount of paper I amass, track, store, and ultimately shred. At the moment, Paperless HR is a pipe dream, but for now I can happily settle for "Less-Paper HR." Some thoughts for other nonprofits who may agree:

1. Consider Scanning to your HRIS. Think about the cost/benefit ratio not just now but later; in what electronic format will those documents be stored, and how will that impact conversion/implemention costs when and if you choose a new HRIS down the line?

2. Consider Less-Paper Recruiting. Rather than relying on paper applications or emailed resumes, use free or low cost Applicant Tracking Systems (ATS) to post positions, house resumes, and respond to candidates. Some possibilities I've started to play with: Resumator, Simplicant, and Credentify (thanks @FrankBoese of Twitter for the tips). Each has its own spin, whether posting, automatic/canned email responses, or screening capabilities. Check them out!

3. Force a Change. To implement #2 may require culture change. Believe it or not, a small but significant proportion of my staff and applicant pool don't regularly use the Internet or have a Yahoo email account. At some point, that's gotta change. I'm deciding that point is 2009.

4. Shorten Forms. I just shortened my HR Coordinator interview format by 75%. I now only print resumes of candidates I'm interviewing. If I could similarly reduce all paperwork, my file cabinets would start to fear being put out to pasture! What can you shorten or eliminate?

5. Go Online Whenever You Can. Enroll benefits online. Have new employee enter their information into the state New Hire database rather than completing, faxing and filing a form. Store Workers Comp, FMLA, correspondence and other records online whenever possible.

6. Think Before You Print. Regardless of the task, think twice. When you print, you have to collate, organize, file, track and shred.

Good luck! Less-Paper HR, here we come! Please share any Less-Paper HR ideas in the comment section below.

flicker pic by Howard Roark

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Shelter Me!

Hoping to add a second dog to our family, I stopped by a local shelter at 2:30 on a Sunday afternoon. I had no obligations until a 5 p.m. family birthday party, so I thought I had plenty of time to submit an adoption application.

I was wrong.

A cute Chihuahua mix caught my eye. I waited for slip to visit with him. Then I waited at the kennel for the introduction. When I decided the pup wasn't right for us, I had to start the process over for the scrappy little black and white terrier mix.

He was perfect; I immediately decided I wanted him! But not so fast, Bucko: after waiting to meet him, the next step was to take a number, deli counter style, and wait for 45 minutes for an application. (The kennel staff apparently aren't trusted to give them out?) When the worker reviewed the application instructions, she stressed that I couldn't just leave the form; my signature must be witnessed by shelter staff.

Long story short, at 4:55, 20 applicants were ahead of me. I gave up, thinking I didn't want to adopt from a facility with the apparent philosophy that applicants aren't "pet-worthy" unless willing to jump through multiple hoops, withstanding considerable, needless inconvenience. I've stopped by pet store adoption shows with a more consumer-friendly approach. Applications are displayed for the taking; better yet, you may submit one online for pre-approval. Animals are freely accessible to visitors. What a different experience!

I've been thinking of the needless rigmarole at the animal shelter as it may parallel HR and employment processes. While I understand doing the best one can on a shoestring budget, it highlights the dangers of not stopping to evaluate processes and ask whether each step assists--or hinders--one's goals. And I wonder: Are there ways in which we as HR professionals unknowingly construct unnecessary obstacles to employment? Are we (God forbid) displaying that attitude that you're not job-worthy if you won’t put up with needless and annoying bureaucracy?

I hope not. But to be sure, let's all audit our own hiring processes and eliminate unnecessary steps, delays, and other inconveniences along the way.

image by katsuma, flickr