How to Get Through Tough Job Interviews
By Tania Anderson – Special to washingtonpost.com

For many people, job interviews rank right up there with dental work and taxes. They can be stressful, unpleasant and even mysterious, not great adjectives to describe an experience that is a crucial gateway between you and your career development.

And seemingly everyone has a tale to tell — a story of the kooky interviewer, of getting stuck in a room for hours as a parade of people come in to repeat questions over and over again, or of surprise skills tests.

But those situations don’t have to derail your job search. We asked a panel of experts to provide tips to help you navigate through some all-too-common job interview perils, and they offered up a host of answers.

Take note: They can help you get to the “other side” — and maybe even help you land your dream job.

The Panel

You’re sitting across a table from five unfamiliar faces. Question after question is lobbed your way over a series of hours. One interviewer takes quiet notes; another peppers you with question after detailed question. And now the sun is clearly setting outside the office. It can be grueling, but many companies use the multi-interviewer approach to vet job candidates in hopes of ensuring that key information isn’t missed.

Luckily, you can prepare. In group interviews, each person is sometimes assigned a role. One may be playing the bad cop, asking you questions about the gaps in your resume. Another might be there to observe body language and fact-check your claims. Looking for these roles can help you direct your answers. “You have to have your act together much more in that kind of scenario,” says Robert McGovern, president of online career search service JobFox.

To help stay sharp, take breaks when they’re offered and use subtle techniques — such as deep breathing during breaks, or positive visualizations — to de-stress. Focus your responses to the person who asked the question, then “work” the whole room by making eye contact with everyone.

The Miss

Unless you’re perfect, there’s always a chance that you’ll miss a job interview — maybe you just plain forgot, or maybe your car broke down and you can’t make it on time. To make up for the flub, call the interviewer as soon as possible — before the interview is to start, if possible — and take full responsibility.

“Most employers would be understanding,” McGovern says, though if you get a second chance you may attract extra scrutiny — was this a one-time error, they may wonder, or are you a risk to make a similar mistake with an important client?

“You would have to convince me that you’re not going to do this again and you’re not going to blow off a customer,” says Marva Gumbs Jennings, executive director of the career center at George Washington University.

When your second try comes around, take extra pains to get there on time — you don’t want to develop a reputation as a scatterbrain.

The Test Run

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By EILENE ZIMMERMAN

Q. Your plate at work is full, but your boss has asked you to take on yet another assignment. You say “yes” even though you know you don’t have time for it. Why?

A. In situations like this, people often automatically say “yes” out of fear, says Jim Camp, a negotiations coach in Dublin, Ohio. “We have a real desire not to let down our bosses,” he says. “People are afraid if they say they can’t do it, they look incompetent or incapable.”

Matthew J. Kaplowitz, a psychologist in Manhattan who specializes in executive coaching, says employees generally don’t trust authority and find it hard to be honest about things like handling more work. “When we deal with authority, it’s an uneven game,” he says. Because people today are especially fearful about losing their jobs, they are reluctant to say no to their bosses.

Q. What can you do instead of saying yes to a work request?

A. At first, express gratitude that you’ve been asked to take on something new, because it means that your boss believes in you, says Tres Roeder, president of Roeder Consulting, a project management consultancy in Cleveland and author of “A Sixth Sense for Project Management.”

If you think you may already have more work than you can handle, tell your boss that, because you’re juggling other time-sensitive projects, you need to examine the details of this new task to determine if there’s some way you can fit it in, Mr. Roeder says. You may find that you won’t be able to, but automatically responding “no” without any consideration gives the impression you just don’t want to deal with it, he says. “And you don’t want to be known as the person who always says no unless they get the perfect assignment,” he adds.

If the work needs to be done immediately, tell your boss what you’re already working on and then let him or her do the prioritizing, says Evelyn Williams, a professor at Wake Forest University in Winston-Salem, N.C., who teaches organizational behavior. “Ask what you should do first. Should you stop working on X and Y and finish this new project first?” Framing it this way creates the feeling of a partnership between you and your boss, rather than putting you in a subservient role, she says.

Another option is to act as a quarterback, bringing in others who might be able to help. For example, Mr. Roeder says, the new project may require a lot of financial data, so you could say, “Let’s get someone from finance to help with that data, and I will see to it the rest of the work is completed.”

Q. By agreeing to take on extra work, you’re creating a crisis because you can’t get everything done on time. Is there some way out that won’t reflect badly on you?

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Most people at one time or another feel as if they are just spinning their wheels, unable to gain traction either in career or in life. This feeling of being stuck in one place, while troubling, is part of a necessary crisis leading to personal growth, says Dr. Timothy Butler, Senior Fellow and Director of Career Development Programs at Harvard Business School.

“Without it we cannot grow, change, and—eventually—live more fully in a larger world,” Butler writes in his new book, Getting Unstuck: How Dead Ends Become New Paths (Harvard Business School Press).

Butler, a psychologist, psychotherapist, and career development counselor for over 25 years, is also a researcher on career decision making generally and the relationship between personality structure and work satisfaction in particular. He met recently with HBS Working Knowledge to discuss how commonly business professionals may be confronted with a sense of psychological impasse and how they can free themselves.

Martha Lagace: What sorts of thoughts, feelings, and images do people experience when they face an impasse?

Timothy Butler: First, let’s distinguish between day-to-day frustrations and the experience of being at an impasse. The impasse experience has features that are common to all of us, and in time each of us has a unique experience of impasse. For most people the recognition that we’re at an impasse, whether it’s a career situation or a broader life situation, creeps up rather than presents itself suddenly. For most people it comes through feelings first: of being frustrated, stuck, maybe even feeling a significant down mood, maybe even shading toward feeling depressed. And along with that, typically, is a self-attribution: feeling that there is something wrong with us and feeling stuck.

Thoughts are always part and parcel of the feeling experience: thoughts of “I’m not doing something correctly, I’m not succeeding, I’m not fulfilling my potential. I’m not doing my job to my utmost. I can’t see what the next challenge is going to be and I can’t get motivated about it.”

Q: Are there particular experiences that lead to an impasse?

A: No. Our lives are unique. We all experience impasse, and we will experience impasse many times in our lives. Why? One of the things I describe in the book is the fact that impasse is developmentally necessary. The meaning of an impasse, although it’s usually first expressed as a failure or in an internalized notion of inadequacy, is a request for us to change our way of thinking about ourselves and our place in the world.


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This interview with Tiffany Cooper Gueye, chief executive of BELL, a nonprofit organization that assists urban children, was conducted and condensed by Adam Bryant.

Q. Do you remember the first time you were somebody’s boss?

A. The first time was as a site manager for BELL when I was 20. I was a college senior, and I was supervising other college students and some graduate students. Being in that leadership role wasn’t scary or even all that challenging. I had done leadership things throughout high school and college, so that part was easy.

But I remember my first challenge: a colleague I was supervising, instead of jumping right into tutoring, would actually start reading his newspaper. That kind of challenge stuck with me for a few years — managing people who aren’t self-motivated, and the ones who don’t quite get it. The people who are psyched about the mission, and committed to it, will thrive because they’re about the right things. But how do I kick-start somebody who maybe shouldn’t have been there? That stuck with me for a while because I didn’t know what to do with it.

Q. So what did you do in that particular situation?

A. I probably let it go on for a couple of days without doing anything. What I wanted to say was, “That’s a ridiculous thing to be doing right now.” But I had kind of rehearsed something in my head like, “Well, maybe there’s a way you can use that story to engage your students,” and I tried to hint at it that way. He got the message, so that worked out fine. But I did learn a good lesson about the need to be direct.

Q. Because it sounds like you weren’t really direct with him.

A. Right. That first year I was too nervous about the role, and what it meant to be a manager, and I didn’t want to upset people, and I wanted them to like me. I’ve since learned, of course, that hinting or trying to dance around issues is probably the worst thing you can do for somebody whose performance you’re responsible for. And so, since then, feedback is probably one of the most important things to me in my leadership role. Assuming I have all the right people in the right positions, I think the most important thing I can do for them from there is provide direct, honest, clear feedback. And I get a lot of feedback in return from my direct reports that they really value that.

Q. Tell me more about the learning curve to reach that point.

A. For several years in management roles early on, I realized that I’m really good with the people who are high performers. I’m not so good with the people who are not very good performers. And I continued to learn that the hard way for a couple of years by being kind of dismissive of the people who weren’t high performers — you know, never mind, I won’t try to get things done through this person, I’ll go elsewhere. And I think it took a couple of years before I really had an appreciation for how much that hurts the organization, and how poorly I’m using resources when I do that, and how I am misusing the high performers when I do that.

This notion that somebody could be low-performing and take feedback from me that they would see as valuable — I really didn’t have the confidence those first couple of years to believe that. For the last five years I have really changed my mind about that. I’m not more expert necessarily. I’m not smarter necessarily. But I know what I know about what we’re trying to achieve, and I know what I know about people’s performance. So that’s a valuable perspective. I feel really confident in that. And as long as I’m really clear in communicating it, then I think people appreciate it.

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Packing for college? Toss these books into your suitcase.
By Katharine Brooks, Ed.D. in Career Transitions

These days, with the rising cost of higher education and the shaky job market, students need to be on a dual-track: one eye on their education and one eye on the future. While I am not generally a proponent of selecting a major based on career plans (see my blog post on this), students who fail to consider career options as they go through college are often at a disadvantage in the job market come graduation. The major isn’t the key factor: it’s how well they have used their time in college to gain experiences, and developed their ability to articulate their value to an employer. And career books can provide much-needed information and resources for college students struggling wih career decisions.

When I wrote my book, “You Majored in What”, my goal was to help college students who, like me, greatly enjoyed their education, but were a little lost when it came to knowing what to “do” with it. One of the most popular exercises with my students is “Possible Lives.” In that exercise, students jot down all the careers they have considered or would like to consider from the serious (medical doctor) to the fanciful (American Idol winner) to the dream (Photographer for National Geographic). They love this exercise– and I do too, because I learn so much about their hopes and dreams for the future. And then we get to develop the scaffolding for those dreams and help them find ways to move forward.

But some students struggle with that exercise for one simple reason: they don’t know what jobs are out there. Sure they’re aware of lawyers, doctors, CSI investigators, and even ghost hunters (thank you, television), but the rest of their career knowledge is severely limited. And even when they do know some job titles, their understanding of what goes on in an average day in the field is negligible. And helping students learn about the vast spectrum of jobs isn’t easy: resources like the Occupational Outlook Handbook, or the Dictionary of Occupational Titles certainly contain a wealth of information, but are rather dry for general reading.

Enter a new book, Dig This Gig, by Laura Dodd, a graduate student at Columbia University’s School of Journalism. After graduating from Washington University, Laura took one of those dream jobs my students would list as a “Possible Life” (production assistant on a television show). But within a year or so she and her friends found themselves questioning their career choices– wondering if that’s all there is and longing for days of more adventure. They quit their jobs, moved to Australia, and, in Laura’s case, began pondering just what career she would want to pursue next. This started her on an interview quest: finding people with interesting jobs in a variety of fields (environment, entertainment, nonprofit, education, government, publishing, etc.) and developing profiles of their work life.

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An all-female team is doing the hazardous and painstaking work of removing unexploded Israeli ordnance from the 2006 war

Rachel Stevenson in Tyre, southern Lebanon

Only up close does it become clear that some of the bulky figures in armoured vests scouring the fields of southern Lebanon for unexploded cluster bombs are wearing hijabs under their protective helmets.

Once local teachers, nurses and housewives, this group of women are now fully trained to search for mines and make up the only all-female clearance team in Lebanon, combing the undergrowth inch by inch for the remnants of one of the most indiscriminate weapons of modern warfare.

Leading the women in the field is Lamis Zein, a 33-year-old divorced mother of two and the team’s supervisor. She was one of the first recruits for the team, which was set up by the de-mining NGO Norwegian People’s Aid (NPA).

“When I heard they were recruiting I applied straight away,” said Zein. “At the beginning men were surprised to see us in the field, wearing the same protective equipment as men, doing demolitions of bombs like men. But we work together well as a team of women. We share things that we wouldn’t with male colleagues. We are good at what we do and we are showing that women can do any kind of job.”

Their painstaking task became necessary five years ago this week, after Israel rained cluster munitions on southern Lebanon to a degree the UN condemned as a “flagrant violation of international law”.

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By JENNIFER PRESTON

Companies have long used criminal background checks, credit reports and even searches on Google and LinkedIn to probe the previous lives of prospective employees. Now, some companies are requiring job candidates to also pass a social media background check.

A year-old start-up, Social Intelligence, scrapes the Internet for everything prospective employees may have said or done online in the past seven years.

Then it assembles a dossier with examples of professional honors and charitable work, along with negative information that meets specific criteria: online evidence of racist remarks; references to drugs; sexually explicit photos, text messages or videos; flagrant displays of weapons or bombs and clearly identifiable violent activity.

“We are not detectives,” said Max Drucker, chief executive of the company, which is based in Santa Barbara, Calif. “All we assemble is what is publicly available on the Internet today.”

The Federal Trade Commission, after initially raising concerns last fall about Social Intelligence’s business, determined the company is in compliance with the Fair Credit Reporting Act, but the service still alarms privacy advocates who say that it invites employers to look at information that may not be relevant to job performance.

And what relevant unflattering information has led to job offers being withdrawn or not made? Mr. Drucker said that one prospective employee was found using Craigslist to look for OxyContin. A woman posing naked in photos she put up on an image-sharing site didn’t get the job offer she was seeking at a hospital.

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BEIRUT: Economy and Trade Minister Nicholas Nahhas promised substantial investment in Tripoli, saying it would lead to 30,000 jobs in the next 10 years, during a visit to Lebanon’s northern city Sunday.

The minister visited the city’s Chamber of Commerce, Industry and Agriculture Sunday for the first time, vowing to allocate funds for the development of the north, one of the country’s poorest areas, where unemployment has risen to 17 percent and where many residents live on $4 per day, reported Lebanon’s National News Agency.

These funds, which will go toward rehabilitation and education projects, are expected to generate 30,000 jobs over the next 10 years, he said. Leaders are also hoping to fill the post of the chamber’s president, which has been vacant since the murder of chief Abdallah Ghandour in August 2009.

“I am very happy today … to see the reality of the situation experienced by the people so that we can work together to serve our children,” said Nahhas. “The north, unfortunately, is one of the areas most affected by poverty … It is important to have studies and plans to address these issues, and more importantly, to take a decision [to change the situation].”

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By Elizabeth Broomhall

Gulf residents are now able to enter Lebanon without a visa following a decision to loosen border policies for Gulf tourists in certain employment categories, the country’s tourism ministry said.

The move, announced last week by the country’s tourism minister, opens the door to Gulf residents of all nationalities working in fields including law, medicine and engineering and general business.

Travel agents say the decision is an opportunistic move to capitalise on Lebanon’s image as a safe haven, after the country largely sidestepped the wave of Arab Spring unrest.

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Arab Human Development Report 2009
Challenges to Human Security in the Arab Countries

View or download the full report at the UNDP website

By PHYLLIS KORKKI

THE beginning of this new year — after a very difficult 2009 for job seekers — offers a good opportunity to review and fine-tune every element of an employment search, from résumés to thank-you notes.

While you may be doing almost everything right, neglecting or mishandling just one or two pieces of the process could keep you from getting a job, especially in this ultracompetitive market.

Here, then, is a checklist that covers some of the major links in the job search chain:

THE RÉSUMÉ When was the last time you took a word-by-word, letter-by-letter look at your résumé? Make sure it’s completely up to date and tailored to the types of jobs you are seeking. (After all, your situation might have changed since you started looking.) Now is also the time to create alternate versions, to reflect different types of positions.

Have someone else look at your résumé. If you cannot afford a career coach, give your résumé to friends or family members to scrutinize, said Alison Doyle, a job search specialist for About.com, which is owned by The New York Times Company.

Little things count. You could have overlooked a typo or another error. This happens more than you might think, and “it can knock you right out of the running,” Ms. Doyle noted.

And have copies of your résumé printed, so you’re ready to hand them out at interviews, she said.

REFERENCES If you have not talked to your references lately, call or e-mail them. Make sure they are still in the same jobs, and tell them you’re still looking. This helps expand your network, because references may know of job openings. It’s also a good time to consider whether to add or remove some people as references.

COVER LETTERS Maybe you’ve set up a few basic templates in advance, but that’s not enough. Each cover letter you write should be geared specifically to the job for which you are applying.

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Q&A with: Timothy Butler
Published: April 25, 2007
Author: Martha Lagace

Most people at one time or another feel as if they are just spinning their wheels, unable to gain traction either in career or in life. This feeling of being stuck in one place, while troubling, is part of a necessary crisis leading to personal growth, says Dr. Timothy Butler, Senior Fellow and Director of Career Development Programs at Harvard Business School.

“Without it we cannot grow, change, and—eventually—live more fully in a larger world,” Butler writes in his new book, Getting Unstuck: How Dead Ends Become New Paths (Harvard Business School Press).

Butler, a psychologist, psychotherapist, and career development counselor for over 25 years, is also a researcher on career decision making generally and the relationship between personality structure and work satisfaction in particular. He met recently with HBS Working Knowledge to discuss how commonly business professionals may be confronted with a sense of psychological impasse and how they can free themselves.

Martha Lagace: What sorts of thoughts, feelings, and images do people experience when they face an impasse?

Timothy Butler: First, let’s distinguish between day-to-day frustrations and the experience of being at an impasse. The impasse experience has features that are common to all of us, and in time each of us has a unique experience of impasse. For most people the recognition that we’re at an impasse, whether it’s a career situation or a broader life situation, creeps up rather than presents itself suddenly. For most people it comes through feelings first: of being frustrated, stuck, maybe even feeling a significant down mood, maybe even shading toward feeling depressed. And along with that, typically, is a self-attribution: feeling that there is something wrong with us and feeling stuck.

Thoughts are always part and parcel of the feeling experience: thoughts of “I’m not doing something correctly, I’m not succeeding, I’m not fulfilling my potential. I’m not doing my job to my utmost. I can’t see what the next challenge is going to be and I can’t get motivated about it.”


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Q. You’ve just graduated from college but couldn’t find a job or internship in advance — so you are moving back in with your parents. Can you take some time off before restarting your job search?

A. No, because taking time off will be hard to explain in an interview and can make you less employable. Kathy Kane, senior vice president for talent management of Adecco Group North America in Melville, N.Y., says that because of the state of the economy, new grads think they have a free pass to take it easy for a while, but they don’t. “When I look to fill a position, I’m not looking for someone who’s been sitting around with idle hands.”

It’s easy for unemployed college graduates to feel sorry for themselves and mope, but they shouldn’t fall prey to that, says Dan Black, Americas director of campus recruiting for the professional services firm Ernst & Young in New York. As a recruiter, Mr. Black says he looks for those who have been “keeping themselves meaningfully busy.”

Q. What’s the best way to use the time between graduation and employment?

A. Your focus should be on developing skills you need for employment and learning about your industry, says Katharine Brooks, director of liberal arts career services at the University of Texas, Austin, and author of “You Majored in What?” This is also a good time to build your network. Use your college’s alumni office to seek out professionals in your industry, she says.

Do some virtual networking through a social media campaign. “Create a LinkedIn profile, because recruiters use that as a primary way of sourcing candidates,” she says. Twitter and Facebook enable you to have conversations with people in your field. “Use Twitter to begin to establish yourself as someone who is knowledgeable about your industry,” Ms. Brooks says. “Start tweeting about articles of interest in your field and the latest research findings.”

Being comfortable with social media, however, doesn’t mean you are familiar with the technology used in a corporate environment, says Jeffrey Livingston, senior vice president for college and career readiness at McGraw-Hill Education in Columbus, Ohio. “Use this time to learn the software companies want, like Excel and PowerPoint, and read up on search engine optimization,” he says.

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