Expert Interview with Frances Cole Jones on Job Searching and Interviews

Frances Cole Jones started her career as an editor, working with authors to better interpret ideas. She rapidly realized, though, that those skills could be applied to candidates and interviews, and has since become one of the premier career experts, offering advice on TV, books and on her website.

She spoke with us about interviewing and the surprises you might find in that office.

How have job interviews changed over the last few years? What are employers looking for out of a candidate?

Unless the field is highly specialized, many candidates have the same level of education and skill set. Given that, employers are paying closer attention to the “soft skills” that demonstrate a candidate will be a good team member, or as Tina Fey has said about picking writers for Saturday Night Live, “someone you want to see in the break room at 3 a.m.” With this in mind, candidates need to actively work to create camaraderie. Easy ways to do this are to comment on office decor that has obviously been chosen to impress, like a framed diploma; to eat and drink what you’re offered in your interview; to write both email and snail mail thank-you notes.

If a job seeker hasn’t been on the market in a while, what’s the first step to brushing up on interview etiquette?

Candidates need to practice their answer to “What have you been doing in the intervening time?” so that their response is concise and confident and reassures their future employer that they are ready to re-enter the job market and give 110%. They also need to reassure themselves about the value they have to offer. More seasoned candidates bring institutional memory of what has occurred in an industry, and that is invaluable.

Can an interviewer sabotage themselves as well, and how?

I think interviewers sabotage themselves by failing to prepare and falling back on “softball” queries along the lines of “Tell me about yourself.” Candidates need to know that this is NOT an invitation to talk about themselves. This is an opportunity to say, “Your job description states that you are looking for someone who can do ‘Y’ and not only can I do ‘Y,’ but I can also do ‘W’ and ‘Z.'” In other words, “Tell me about yourself” is an opportunity for candidates to show how they are going to add value to the firm once they are hired. No one needs to know they are one of six siblings and grew up on Nantucket.

What can we do to ensure feet don’t enter our mouths in an interview?

Slow down. Inhale and speak on an exhalation. Doing so gives your voice more resonance and authority. It also makes you come across as more confident. Jumping on every question as soon as it leaves the interviewer’s mouth “reads” as anxious. If you don’t have an immediate answer to a question, don’t hesitate to say, “I’d like to think about that for a moment because I want to be sure to give you the best answer possible” – no one is mad at the candidate who wants to give the best answer possible!

How much research is too much research on a company or your interviewer?

Doing so much research that you never get around to applying for the job is problematic. Other than that, I don’t think it’s possible to do too much research. The tricky bit, however, is remembering you don’t need to use all that research in every answer! For example, while it’s important to demonstrate to your interviewer that you are familiar with their background – by using the information available on LinkedIn, etc. – you don’t want to include a bizarre amount of detail. For example, saying something along the lines of “Loved those pictures of your family at the July 4th barbecue!”

What are some trends in hiring we should be keeping an eye on?

Most candidates know that employers are checking their social media profiles, and if they aren’t aware of this, they should be. They also know that employers might ask you to open your accounts mid-interview for a look-see. One thing candidates might not know, however, is that many interviewers are stopping interviews halfway through and saying, “You know what, I just don’t think you are the right fit for us” even if they think the candidate is great. They are doing this to see a) if an interviewee will fight for the job and b) how she or he handles stress. If this happens to you, I recommend leaning in, smiling and saying, “I see I haven’t made it clear how much I want this position. Let me take you through my thinking one more time.”

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