Biron Clark is a former Executive Recruiter and Founder of the blog CareerSidekick.com. His career advice has been featured in Forbes, The Muse, Huffington Post and more.
You started out as a recruiter, before beginning CareerSidekick, working with enormous companies like Spotify, HBO, and Pfizer, among many others. What were some of the main things you learned about interviewing, recruiting for Fortune 500 Companies?
I learned that huge companies aren't right for everyone. People try to get into these big, famous companies only to find that there's a lot of bureaucracy, things move very slowly and it's tough to get approval for everything from a new project to a raise in salary. That said, there are some benefits too. Fortune 500 companies look great on your resume, they have bigger budgets for projects and state-of-the-art equipment, and the projects you do work on will often far more people than if you were building or supporting a niche product in a small company.
In terms of interviewing, I learned that job seekers should be patient and expect delays. It's unfortunate, but it happens frequently when Fortune 500 companies hire.
Also, don't be intimidated by interviewing at a large company. It's still just a person sitting across the table from you (who might have worked at a smaller company themselves before this). Don't let it distract you from preparing for your interview like you would with any other company and going in ready to impress them.
Along those lines, what did you notice about people's interviewing style that made you want to start CareerSidekick? What need were you hoping to fill or address?
I noticed a couple of things. First, I regularly saw extremely smart, talented people in fields like chemistry, biology, data science, and statistics who were being held back in their careers by shyness or an inability to interview well.
I saw that talent alone wasn't enough, and there was a missing piece for these people that they weren't taught in school.
The other thing that almost nobody does properly – or enough of – is tailoring their answers for the company. The average person goes into the interview with the goal of sounding as impressive as possible. What should you do? Go in aiming to sound as relevant as possible.
Show them the exact skills and experiences you have that will allow you to come in and help solve their problems immediately. That's what companies are typically looking for and the average job seeker either fails to realize it, or doesn't do nearly enough to address it.
What have been some interviewing tips, tricks, and insights that you wish you would have had in your own career, when you were first starting out?
I made the mistake of seeing the interview as a quiz or a series of questions I need to pass. The biggest interview trick in the world is to stop thinking of it like an interview and start thinking of it as a dialogue or conversation between two people to figure out whether this is a good potential fit for you and for the company.
Once you do that, you become a lot more comfortable asking questions to makes sure the job will interest you. You'll also feel comfortable clarifying a question you don't understand, showing your personality and more.
You should feel equal to the interviewer in the conversation. If you go in with the mindset of just answering their questions correctly and leaving, you're not going to get offers from the best employers.
Before you became a recruiter, you didn't like many of the jobs you had and weren't making enough money. How did good interviewing skills help you get into the right career?
I learned most of what I know about interviews after becoming a Recruiter. I did just enough to get hired for that first position as a recruiter, and they had 10 openings because of how fast they were growing, so I got a big lucky.
But I did do a few things well in that interview, including asking a lot of questions, giving them a clear picture of what my personality is like and how I approach problems and challenges, and showing high energy and a willingness to learn and be "coachable".
What have been some of the most significant changes in your own life since you started working in a career that works for you, both professionally as well as in your personal life?
A lot of people don't know but recruiting is very similar to sales.
The most significant changes for me have come from losing my fear of hearing "no" for an answer, asking for things, going out on a limb and taking a risk, etc.
I'm not afraid to do things that push my comfort level in life and in business. This has helped me personally and professionally.
When I started recruiting I was terrified of picking up the phone. But when you do it 50-80 times a day for years, it becomes something you don't even think about.
In general, finding a career I enjoyed completely changed my mindset and how I perceived work as well. Having to stay 30 minutes didn't seem so bad when I was working toward something I cared about. Everything changes when you find a career you're passionate about. Whereas in previous jobs, being asked to stay late felt like a death sentence after sitting eight hours already.
What advice might you have for someone who's trying to get an interview in a new career, or one where they don't have much experience?
Don't sell yourself short. Find areas where you do have parallel skills so you can highlight them on your resume and in the interview. If you ever apply for a job or go into an interview thinking, "I don't have any of the required skills that they want", then you haven't done enough homework, because it's not true.
Also network a lot. Companies are far more likely to interview someone who was introduced to them by a current or former employee. So try to get introduced to companies rather than just applying online.
Get creative. You need to find a way to cut through the noise. That means not just relying on job boards and online job postings.
Go to meetups and networking events. Send emails to companies who aren't actively hiring (but who interest you in general). I wrote about this in detail in the Huffington Post. You need to do things differently if you want to get noticed.
You talk a lot about the most common interview questions on your blog. What are some of the most common interview questions? Why should ever interviewee know these questions like the back of their hand?
Thinking about common questions in advance will make you a lot more relaxed in the interview room. Things will seem a bit more familiar, even if they only ask some of the questions you practiced. I've had a lot of readers tell me, "Biron, I went on an interview and they asked questions that were different than what I prepared for, but all of the thinking I did helped me come up with ideas for how to answer these questions too."
That said, I'm not an advocate of memorizing answers word-for-word. I recommend coming up with general ideas you want to touch on and practicing your answers by making sure you're hitting each key point for the most common questions. You can use flashcards for this.
Here are the first questions I'd recommend somebody prepare for:
- "What do you know about us?"
- "Why did this job interest you?"
- "Why are you looking for a new opportunity right now?"
- "What motivates you to come to work each day besides money?"
- "Tell me about something difficult you've had to overcome?"
- "What questions do you have for us?"
There are a lot more but these are a great place to start.
You wrote a post recently about how to answer the question "What motivates you?" What advice would you have to illustrate your motivation to an employer, and why does that matter? Also, how can an interviewee help spin their personal interests as a benefit for their employer, rather than just making it all about them?
Employers ask this to get a sense of how resilient you'll be if things get tough, and how likely you are to stay in the job for a long time (they're scared of hiring someone who will leave after three months because hiring and training someone takes a lot of resources).
There's no "right" answer. Some people are motivated by making a difference in the world. Other people just want the biggest, toughest challenge they can find. Other people like teamwork and cooperation. Other people have a personal reason for being involved in a certain industry.
My advice is think about what motivates you, then research the job and company and find the piece about this job that really does excite you the most, and then explain why and how it ties into your motivation. Nothing beats the truth on a question like this.
And make sure to find something other than money to talk about. Everyone comes to work for a paycheck. They want to know what's going to keep you motivated on all of those days that you're not receiving a direct deposit or check.
You've also written about how to research a company before an interview. What are some useful ways to research a company that you would particularly recommend? Why is it important to do your due diligence before any kind of interview?
You can't tailor your answers to fit the company's needs if you don't do any research. So you're eliminating the most powerful interview tool if you don't spend time researching.
You also can't answer basic questions like, "what do you know about us?" or "what excites you about this job?"
I recommend going on the company website and at the very least, knowing what they sell or how they make money, who their customers are, and why their customers might choose to work with them.
Beyond this, I like to look at recent news or press releases from the company. Then I'd go into the interview and when they ask whether I have any questions, Id say, "Yes, I recently read about XYZ in the news, can you tell me more about that?"
What are some tips you might have on body language and physical presentation during an interview? What difference can that make towards getting the right job in the field of your dreams?
It can make a huge difference. People judge things visually before anything else. We make our first impression within fractions of a second, and we do this primarily from visual cues.
I read about a study where they set up a camera in the interview room and had a hiring manager make a fist behind his back when he had decided whether he wanted to hire someone or not. It often happened within 10 seconds.
So practice your handshake with a family member or friend, to make sure it's not too weak or too strong. Practice standing up straight when you walk.
Work on maintaining good eye contact. Most people can do this easily while listening but find it harder while speaking, so practice this in everyday conversations.
Finally, avoid crossing or folding your arms. It's a sign of defensiveness.
Body language can definitely be the difference in getting your dream job, since so much of the interviewer's decision is based on their initial impression of you.
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