The old adage of “you are what you are” is really very true. What happens in the past is written into history in ink and cannot be erased. We remember fondly the great times, and tend to flush away the painful memories. There is nothing wrong with that necessarily, it’s just that, a first interview is typically a screening out process, and certain questions are posed in order to aid this process. Answering technical questions is likely going to be the easy part of an interview. It’s the stuff about our imperfect selves that is really hard answer for most of us. Here are some common landmines to step around.
So you got in a little trouble back in college? You paid some fines, maybe a little probation, and it’s now all forgotten. A thing of the past, right? Maybe not. More companies than ever are using background checks to profile people they wish to hire. What is really troubling here is that many companies only run background checks on those who have already accepted offers, and resigned from a previous employer. If you fail to mention those little misdemeanors on your application you could be in for a very rude awakening down the road.
We have seen offers rescinded because of this, and when that happens it’s just a bad deal all around. The bottom line is this: If you have ever been arrested or received a ticket that resulted in a higher class misdemeanor (above a moving violation), it’s best to be upfront about it. If you are asked on the application about convictions of any class, and must consent to a background check, it’s best to assume they intend to run a criminal investigation before hiring you. At that point you should get out in front and own it. Be accountable regardless of the circumstances that were involved and show that you have grown from it.
Frequent Job Changes
For definition’s sake, let’s say a frequent job changer is one who has had three or more job in the last five years, or five or more in the last 10 years. There is one common thread for nearly every one of these candidates I have interviewed. Excuses, and lots of them. You know one thing I almost never hear? Accountability. Just once I’d love to hear a candidate say, “You know what? I really did not handle things well in that job and I was asked to resign. It was totally my fault.” It always reminds me of that scene in “Shawshank Redemption” when the inmates declare that everyone in Shawshank is innocent.
If you were fired from a previous job, don’t say you were laid off, or that you resigned. This is just a lie, and will upset any chance with an employer that does their homework. You may actually have very real reasons for leaving all of your positions, but just remember that your perception is only half of the equation. Those that could reference you must also see things the same way you do to make your reason hold water. Being accountable is really the only right thing to do.
If you are interviewing for a position that requires constant evolution, and the expansion of your current skill set, you must convince your interviewer that you are ambitious. You also must have a plan to get to your intended destination. Essentially, great employers want talent that is organized, thoughtful, and goal oriented. They know that these are the types of individuals that achieve great things in life.
Competition for important positions at great companies is fierce, and it is rarely the closest technical fit that wins the job. Rather, most employers I work closely with hire the person that they believe in the most. Before any important interview, write out your career goals, and your plan to achieve them. Memorize this plan and not only will you be better professionally for it, but also more likely to win the job.
Crazy as this sounds, many people have a hard time articulating what they have achieved in their career. Those that can often can’t provide supporting data value to back up their claims. Your accomplishments are the sizzle that sells the steak, and without the knowledge of what you have done, you don’t stand a chance in a competitive race for a great job. This is why you should always have an updated resume, as it forces you to refresh these important benchmarks of your success.
When it comes down to interview time, be ready to really discuss these achievements in detail. However, be very careful not to brag or sound cocky. Humility and confidence is good. Cockiness is very bad. Take credit for the role you played, and give credit to those who supported you. This shows a team oriented quality that is highly sought after in top talent.
It’s a really good idea to always know who your references are. And they should know who they are too. Have an agreement with a current or past supervisor, co-worker, and subordinate to be a reference for you. Depending on your work history, this may not always be possible, but you must try. These people should be good communicators who are generally very responsive at returning messages. It does not speak well at all if one of your references takes a few days to call back, or doesn’t at all. Also, you should know if they will give a reference. Many companies are adopting a no reference policy, and while some individuals within those companies will still give one, you need to know if your people will comply.
There is absolutely no excuse for not knowing exactly how you earn every cent that you make. This includes your bonuses. However convoluted they may be, you should be able to provide very specific details as to how those bonuses are earned. You should also know what your “W-2 Income” was for the year prior, and when you are due for a review and a raise in the current or following year. You should know how your pension plan works, how many vacations days you have, and precisely how your health insurance plan works. Without knowing these things, it is more difficult to have leverage in a salary negotiation when taking a new position.
The bottom line with all of this is that you must know where you have been, to know where you are going. You must also avoid at all costs the instinct to defend yourself against tough questions. Hey, we get it. We have messed up, too. Who hasn’t? But you must approach your past in an interview with a sense of awareness, and closure. Self-awareness is a premium trait to have as it opens the door to self-improvement. The dynamics of interviewing are as limitless as the stars, but knowledge of who you are will help overcome those tough questions about your past, and allow you to better move forward into the future.
About the Author, Nate Elgert, Senior Account Manager
Nate was born and raised in Lincoln, Neb., graduated from Lincoln East High School, and went on to The University of Missouri at Kansas City (UMKC) where he was a four year letter-winner on the men’s golf team earning a bachelor’s degree in communication in 1999. Nate took a winding road back to Lincoln that led through Phoenix, Des Moines, Chicago, back to Kansas City, and then finally Lincoln once again in 2005. Before coming to Aureus Group in 2006 as an account manager in the Lincoln Accounting and Finance office, Nate was a golf professional, an advertising rep, and a mortgage lender. Currently, Nate is a senior account manager. He enjoys playing basketball, golf, and time with his wife Angie, and daughters Sofia & Cecilia.