By Carla Rudder
Ther Enterprisers Project, March 12, 2019.
What is the polite response when a company goes dark, or tells you that you’re the runner-up, not the winner, for example? Use these tips from job hunt experts
Job hunting can cause sleepless nights. Sure, it’s exciting to think about the end result of job hunting – career growth, a chance to work with new technology, perhaps even landing your dream job. But getting there means sitting through quite a few awkward conversations and navigating tricky situation that come up during the interview and hiring process.
We asked career experts for their tips on six common scenarios that job seekers must navigate on the way to their next role. If you are on the hunt or thinking about looking for a new job soon, familiarize yourself with the best practices below so you can go into your next interview cool, calm, and prepared to handle these situations with grace and professionalism.
1. When your resume has holes or a gap
As long as companies treat job descriptions like wish lists, most job seekers will have to apply to positions that seem slightly out of reach. Even if they only have some of the listed requirements, job seekers must be prepared to explain why they are a perfect fit for the role.
Employers want to know that you are willing and able to learn on the job.
“It is rare that a candidate will match 100 percent of the requirements listed on a job description,” says Jenna Spathis, senior project manager, technology services at Lasalle Netwwork, a national staffing and recruiting firm. “If you do not have experience with a software or technology listed, conduct research on the technology before your interview. This shows a demonstrated interest and a strong sense of initiative. Try to draw parallels between similar software/technologies with the same function that you have worked with and explain the similarities and differences between the two.”
Employers want to know that you are willing and able to learn on the job, Spathis points out. “If there was a situation in your last role that you learned a specific software on the job, make that a point of conversation and highlight your willingness to learn,” she says.
A gap in work history is another issue job seekers should be prepared to address. “Explain what you were doing during that time. Hopefully, it was something meaningful,” says Brett Ellis, career coach and executive director of brett Ellis Career Marketing Services.
If you are currently in the midst of a gap, filling your time with volunteer work and online courses will make it easier to discuss when you are in an interview, says Ellis.
2. When they ask about your weaknesses
“Be real! Talk about a mess-up you had, how you resolved the mishap, and what was learned.”
Hiring managers typically like to get creative with their interview questions, but some classics will never go out of style. What will, however, are the canned responses to those classics that hiring managers have heard time and time again. Instead of saying your greatest weaknesses are working too hard and caring too much, try being real instead, experts say.
“The question ‘What are your weaknesses?’ is an interview favorite, so definitely prepare an answer,” says LaCinda Clem, executive director of technology staffing services for Robert Half. “The hiring manager is trying to gauge how you evaluate yourself and overcome challenges. Mention something that you know needs improvement but that you’re working on.”
Clem offers this example that demonstrates how to turn a weakness into a strength: “I used to procrastinate often, but I always made my deadlines. However, I realized this trait made my job more difficult, so I took a time management class to learn how to better organize and put a plan together. I’ve been working on it since and notice how much more productive I am.”
No matter how you answer this question, it’s important to keep your emotions in check, says Spathis.
“People tend to become defensive when talking about their weaknesses, but we are all human; no one is perfect,” says Spathis. “Interviewers see it as humble when you can admit to a weakness and failure. Be real! Talk about a mess-up you had, how you resolved the mishap, and what was learned. Come prepared with specific examples, explain what you learned from each situation, and how you have applied those learnings to future projects. Don’t bash others when explaining a failure; take ownership and don’t make excuses. Interviewers want to see humility and vulnerability.”
3. When they ask why you are leaving your job
Your friends and closest confidants may hear that the reason you are job hunting – or why you lost your last job – is because of your tyrannical boss or crazy co-workers. But when a hiring manager asks this question, tread carefully. They aren’t trying to get dirt on your last company, and they don’t want to play the blame game. What they are really interested in is your motivation, says Katie Ross, managing director at Heller Search Associates, a retained recruiting firm that specializes in CIOs and other senior technology executives.”
Motivations are good indicators of your personality, emotional intelligence, ambition, and interests.”
When recruiters ask about your last job, “Don’t panic,” says Ross. “Good recruiters ask this for several reasons, not just to see if you are afraid of getting fired or laid off. This question probes for your motivation. Is the commute too long? Are your projects boring? Did you hit a ceiling and doubt you’ll get promoted anytime soon? Was the company going under? Motivations are good indicators of your personality, emotional intelligence, ambition, and interests,” she says.
Thinking about your motivation will also help you avoid a big interview no-no: badmouthing your current employer. “If you go into an interview complaining about or bad-talking your current boss, role, or company to the potential employer, this type of response is indicative of the type of professional you will be at their organization and how you’ll interact with current employees, clients, and prospective customers,” warns Spathis. “Rather, flip the vernacular from what you’re running away from to what type of opportunity you are running toward, and why the company you are interviewing for can provide that opportunity.”
Erika Stark, principal recruiter from HCM company, Paycor, agrees with this strategy and adds: “Be truthful about why you are leaving your current role but emphasize the specifics of what you’re looking for in a new career endeavor.”
Now let’s get into an even stickier subject: Salary.
4. When the salary question comes up
Salary negotiations prove notoriously tricky to navigate. Even if you go into the conversation prepared, questions remain: Who should name their number first? At what point in the interview? How much back and forth is appropriate? What if you can’t agree?
“Don’t worry,” says Ross. “Legally in certain states, recruiters can’t ask you your salary. However, do ask the range for the role. If your salary is higher or a lateral, you can make a judgement call early in the process on whether or not pursue the role. Or, you can blatantly say you would make a move for $X and see if that fits with their range. If you are a finalist, a bit of transparency on your future salary expectations will shorten the offer negotiations cycle. It’s hard to issue an enticing compensation package blind.”
Spathis also advocates for staring the discussion early in the process. “Addressing it on the front end will avoid the back-and-forth towards the end of the interview process,” she says. “The interviewer may be asking about your past salary to ensure that they make a competitive offer that is within their budget. If you feel that you are underpaid, share where you are at and why you are seeking the number you are looking for. The same way you would talk to your boss about why you deserve a raise, highlight what you can bring to the role and the impact you can make for the company.”
If you don’t want to share your salary history up front, it’s well within your right to hold off. But it’s smart to have a strategy for how you will respectfully delay the conversation.
“Try to move the conversation away from the salary history and towards the role you are going for,” suggests Mark Burgess, head of resourcing for the recruiting firm The Talent Locker. “Remember that you can ask questions too, so this may provide an opportunity to ask what they expect for the role.”
“The more a role matters to you, the more likely you are to make a mistake.”
Whatever you do, don’t let the pressure of the situation trip you up, says Burgess. “It is important to not commit to a salary on the spot just because you feel pressured into doing so. The more a role matters to you, the more likely you are to make a mistake. We’ve seen it happen when a candidate says they’d accept a figure that is way below their market value when the company would have offered a much fairer salary.”
You can, of course, name a range if you don’t want to pin yourself to a specific number, says Clem, whose company offers a Salary Guide for IT job seekers to learn the market rate for positions based on their geography. “You can also start your negotiation by letting them know you are not motivated by salary alone and hope to earn fair compensation based on the position’s responsibilities,” suggests Clem.
Whether you give a range or a number, you will have to give the hiring manager something to work with. Being too cagey on this topic could cost you the job, warns Spathis. “Withholding the information, especially if asked multiple times, may cause a hiring committee to move onto another candidate,” she says.
5. When a recruiter goes dark
Few things are as disheartening as waiting days or even weeks to hear back after a job interview. Especially if you’ve followed up and gotten no response in return. “Ghosting is real and happening in the job hunting world. We’re seeing that some candidates don’t respond to an employers’ offer or messages, but it also works the other way around,” says Clem.
Stark suggests the following three-step approach when it comes to communicating with a prospective employer.
“First, follow up with a phone call and leave a detailed message regarding the feedback or response you are seeking. Be patient and wait three to five business days for a response. If you have not received communication after five days, send an email explaining that you attempted to get in touch with the person via phone and haven’t heard back yet. Reiterate what information you are looking for and remember to be polite and courteous. Since you don’t have visibility into the recruiter’s schedule, you don’t want to come across as impatient or demanding by reaching out too often,” she says.
“You can tell a lot about a workplace based on the hiring process.”
“Lastly, if another five business days have gone by with no response after the second attempt, you can send a final ‘closure’ email. State something to the effect of, ‘I’ve tried reaching out a few times and unfortunately I haven’t heard back from you. At this point I will consider you not interested in my candidacy and will stop attempting to reach you. However, if something changes and you would like to engage with me in the future, please feel free to get in touch. I wish you well in your search for the right candidate.’ Maintaining professionalism throughout the follow-up is key, even though you may be extremely frustrated. In the long run, you will know that you did not burn a bridge and have left the door open for future connections with that company,” says Stark.
Remember, professionalism and etiquette should go both ways. If you are ghosted, consider what that says about the company, says Ellis. “This is usually a bad sign,” he says. “If this happens with no warning, it’s a sign that you aren’t a priority or that the company may lack effective communication as a whole. You can tell a lot about a workplace based on the hiring process.”
6. When you come in second place
After several rounds of interviews, salary negotiations, and meetings with potential co-workers, it’s hard not to picture yourself in the new role. That’s why it can feel like a sucker punch to be told it was between you and one other candidate … and they went with the other person.
“Do what you need to do personally to remove your disappointed emotions from your communications with the employer,” says Ellis. “Share that you were very excited for the opportunity and ask if they would consider you for similar roles in the future. If you made it all the way to second place they have already decided that you are capable of doing the job.”
Instead of taking offense, keep an open mind, and ask why, says Ross. “Most times, you can get honest feedback about your interview or communication style that will help you with future interviews. Sometimes, the honest answer is that the hire was just a better cultural fit or had a specific experience that you didn’t. Take the feedback and learn from it. Communication with good recruiters shouldn’t be transactional, it should be informative.”
Stark acknowledges that this could be a tough conversation for both sides. She suggests posing the question: “Are there any reservations you have about my fit for the position that I could address?”
“This gives the interviewer the chance to discuss any gaps in the candidate’s experience that may prevent them from getting the role. At the end of the day, regardless if you know the reason for not getting the position, be polite and respectful and thank the interviewers for their time. Recruiters and hiring managers will remember your professionalism, or lack of, based on how you respond to rejection.”