Category Archives: Informational Interview

Chili Cook Off and Networking

Senator Alan Hays and Baby Mo
Senator Alan Hays and Baby Mo

Research is clear, when it comes to professional progression, networking is the key. Over the past weekend, I happened to be in the middle of a well-kept networking secret: can you say Chili Cook Off?

Participants and cookers mingled for hours at one of the most relaxed environments thought possible. Though our team were part of the cookers, Tropical Air of Central Florida and Baby Mo’s Chili, connections made were priceless. For those lacking networking expertise, a Chili Cook Off offers an ideal stage to rehearse and expand those in your circle while becoming comfortable and confident around others.

With chili in hand, striking up a conversation never has been easier. I hear you, the topic of employment rarely comes up while dipping chili, but establishing networks can be as natural as fiber and peanut butter.

For tasters, simply venture table to table, complimenting along the way while learning about the companies behind the chili. To what seem as a surprise for many (not to me), I noticed over 20 local and regional businesses behind the chili. Some would call this an opportunity as one taster approaches:

Taster: “Baby Mo’s Chili? Where’s the chef?”
Server: “The young one with the gloves. She’s the master behind the chili.”
Taster: “Awesome chili. She got it right and I’ll be voting for you!”
Server: “Thanks, do appreciate it. Not only do we make great chili, we take care of air conditioning and heating needs throughout Central Florida.”
Taster: “I like the logo and no doubt keeping people cool in Florida is always a challenge. Are you a technician?”
Server: “Actually I own the company.”
Taster: “I like how Tropical Air of Central Florida is taking part in the community and would love to be part of a company like this.”
Server: “We enjoy keeping people cool and serving chili. What are you looking to do?”
Taster: “I’ve worked as an office administrator over the past two years. Now going to Seminole State. I really want to work with a small company, learning all I can and growing with the company.”
Server: “We’re always looking for positive people, grab my card and give me a call in a few days. We may be hiring part time office help next month.”
Taster: “Definitely will give you a call. And I really mean it, this chili rocks.”
Server: “Don’t forget to vote, last year we were two votes shy of placing.”

Networking can happen anywhere… the only limitations to networking are the limits YOU place on it. 

One never knows who will be walking around as well. During chili cook offs, special judges are often called in to assist, another networking advantage. During the “Apopka Old Florida Outdoor Festival Chili Cook-Off,” one of the judges happened to be Senator Alan Hays. For those interested in politics, business, and community opportunities, this was your chance to connect.

Not just for the votes, but I encourage you to attend the Orlando Chili Cook-Off March 7th. Baby Mo will be cooking the chili and I’ll be serving… hope to see you taking advantage of this networking opportunity.

Seeking awesome chili, employment, promotion, or career transitioning support, self-help job development books and resources, including material designed for those transitioning out of prison, visit www.edu-cs.com or www.CareerBreakOut.com.

Danny Huffman, MA, CEIP, CPRW, CPCC
dhuffman@edu-cs.com 321-972-8919
Education Career Services: http://www.edu-cs.com
Career Break Out: http://www.CareerBreakOut.com

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What is your greatest weakness?

DSC_0143Whether you are new to the job seeking field or are a seasoned professional, one interview question will always throw you a curve ball.  The dreaded “what is your greatest weakness?”  This sounds like an easy question, yet most interviewees freeze up as soon as it is asked.  As a general rule, the question is typically asked toward the end of an interview, after you think you’ve nailed it.  Employers do this to see how quick you think on your feet when posed with a question you do not have a ready answer for.

When asked, what is the most effective response?  Below are helpful tips to help you prepare before the interview.

First, research at the company and evaluate their needs.  Using websites such as ONET.Org or TagCrowd.com to gather and prioritize information places you above the competition.  Another great spot to research is the company.  Check the BBB website as well, detailing any complaints.  If there are a few, take a look at the outcomes and how you could cut back on complaints or eliminate them completely.

Additionally, go to your favorite search engine, such as Google, and enter the company name. No doubt you will discover a trove of information about the company.  You can even call the company itself and do an employee survey.  Be careful what you ask, you want facts, not gossip.

Equipped with company research, compile a list of company issues and how you can resolve them.  IF possible, incorporate an issue or two into the greatest weakness question.  True enough, the questions you have may not help you answer the question: “What is your greatest weakness?” but it will give you an advantage when the interviewer asks you if you have any questions.

Then sit and write down what you consider a weakness in the workplace.  Do not look at weakness in your personal life.  Future employers do not want to hear about personal weaknesses.  Keep your personal life separate as much as possible from you professional life.  This will show the employer that you are focused on work, not problems at home.

Think about jobs you have had in the past, what you struggled with and how you coped.  Once you’ve done this, pick the one you think would most benefit the employer (this is where previous company research comes in handy).  Then state it in such a way that your weakness is seen as strength for the company.

For example, one of my biggest weaknesses is that I get too involved in the companies I work for.  I get caught up in the day to day activities and find myself putting in more hours than intended and skipping lunch to keep working.  I take it personal if the company takes a hit for whatever reason, and I look back through my work and those around me and blame myself for missing something.  I have no problem being accountable for work that I’ve done incorrectly, or someone else who may have done something incorrectly as I feel I should have caught any errors before they turned into problems.

Notice in the above example how what I considered a weakness can be turned around to become an employer’s benefit.  The interviewer will be thinking that I am very involved with work, care about the company, and be willing to do what needs to be done, even making sacrifices in my personal life to be there for the team.  This would not be an erroneous assumption, it would be true and that is the key to comfortably answering the question.

CC Connection Tip of the Day: Stick to the truth, you won’t trip yourself up trying to lie; lying is not the way to get yourself employed.

Once you have determined how best to answer this question, you need to practice.  Practice with a friend, relative, or in front of a mirror and edit to best reflect the value you offer.  Watch facial expressions while practicing in the mirror; do you look scared or confident?  Do you have no expression at all?  How is your posture; slumped or straight and tall?  It is not just the words that have an impact on your answers; your body language speaks much louder than words.

Reword the answer so that if you do have a sudden attack of the “uuummms,” you can fall back on an abbreviated answer.  Ask for honest feedback if you practice with someone, and record yourself while practicing.  Play back the first recording to yourself and do an objective self-evaluation by asking yourself three questions:

  • Did your voice shake or vibrate when answering?
  • Did you have good tone and inflection?
  • Does it sound as if you’ve been rehearsing?

If you answer yes or no as appropriate to these questions, keep practicing.  Also have someone else listen to your response.  Be sure it is someone who is going to be honest and not afraid to hurt your feelings.  Have them evaluate you based on the same three questions.  It is best to have a second opinion, one that won’t be biased.  Truth is, we are always more critical of ourselves then others.  “Practice makes perfect,” as the expression goes. In this case, it is all too true.

Here’s a warning: You do not want your answer to sound practiced, so practice until you are comfortable with the answer, confident and contemplative.

When asked, don’t panic. Instead, take 2-3 seconds before answering. A slight pause gives the employer the impression you are seriously thinking about how to answer.

The best advice is to do your research.  I sound repetitive but I cannot stress enough how proper research helps you prepare for an interview even if questions are asked that you didn’t prepare for.

When it comes to the interview process, knowledge is everything. The more you know about the company, the better armed you are for the interview.

If you have any questions or comments, let us know.

Sharon Parker
Your CC Connection

Interview Relaxation

Have you ever been nervous going into an interview?

Most of us have (our first few times). Not knowing what to say or even how to introduce yourself can be stressful. Physically, your heart starts to race and you get little nervous twitches. The twitches could be your leg shaking, sweaty palms, or messing with your hair. Good news, there are mental and physical ways to prepare and relax for the interview. Here are just a few:

Be Prepared

  • First and foremost, and probably the most overlooked, is getting a good night’s sleep. Have your clothes and everything you will be needing set out the night before so you don’t have to rush around making yourself nervous and uneasy.
  • Make sure you eat something before the interview, even if it is just a couple pieces of toast. You do not want to go in and have your stomach rumble because of an empty stomach.
  • Do not forget to bring a pen! You want to be ready for anything. They usually will have you sign something and if you do not have a pen you may be seen as unprepared.
  • Use the restroom beforehand. Just do it. On this note, look in the mirror, smile and feel confident!

Wear Comfortable Clothes

Ever not know what to wear other than something seemingly nice?

Do   wear

Comfortable

Dressy

Make-up (but not too excessive)

Button up over shirt

Something clean

Presentable

Do   not wear

Tight pants

Uncomfortable shoes

Stuff with holes

Flip-flops

Tank tops

A face full of jewelry

Be Confident
Well.. this is an easy one. You have to know you’re going to do great! Go in thinking and visualizing: “They love me and I have this job!” Do not second guess yourself. All those “What ifs.. What if they don’t like me… What if I mess up… What if.. What if…” This is what makes you nervous. Another way to be more confident is knowing that it is okay no matter what the outcome! As much as you would want to have that one specific job, you will have more opportunities out there. You do not need extra stress that this one interview could have a drastic change on your whole life because it will not. Greatness will come your way if you just give it time and charge through obstacles confidently.

Make Them Comfortable
During an interview, things may seem to become stiff. This means one thing: Research the job and company beforehand. Think of a way to bring up experiences that are in common with the person interviewing you. Just do not make it a life story taking thirty minutes to explain. Smiles can do a lot to lighten the mood of a serious interview session; not to mention, make you feel more relaxed.

Thank you for taking the time to stop and relax with me. Give it a whirl next time you get called in for an interview. One more thing, check out my next blog on “Unspoken Communication.”

Floyd Cooksey

Your Career Edge: Informational Interviews

DSC_0023With the majority of employees NOT satisfied with their career and company, an effective method to increase the likelihood of a good company culture connection can be found through informational interviews. Though few conduct such diligence, doing so will place you at the advantage.

Recently working on an assignment for Education Career Services, I illustrated the steps involved when a networker and jobseeker finds a company they’re interested in and wants to make a new connection with them for further networking purposes in the form of an informational interview.

I realized soon enough into the writing process that I had never really done that before and just as quickly tossed the thought to the side as a waste of time. After all, I have certainly acquired jobs through networking contacts in the past, and have several times in my younger job-seeking days cold-called companies to introduce myself and ask about any open positions.

Sometimes networking and doing just enough was enough to land a job, sometimes not, and most of the time the company simply did not match my expectations culturally or professionally. Looking to enhance the hits and eliminate the misses, the concept of informational interviews suddenly became clearer.

True enough, back then it was easier to get jobs since I was still quite young and tended to be content with lower-skilled jobs (and less pay) while in college. With a fast-forward nod, the need to progress has out-paced the college minimalist lifestyle and has been replaced with reality. Fueled by a progressive perspective, I have come to appreciate the value/benefit of career diligence.

With career in mind, here’s a six step plan to make a more consistent company connection:

1. Know your career interests and research them
To best prepare for a successful informational interview, first understand what types of work you are really interested in doing. Make a list of all the types of jobs you’ve always wondered about or had an itch to try. Don’t waste company time or your time either if you’re just shooting in the dark and don’t know what you want to do.

2. Know who you want to interview
It’s a good idea to start with people you know first, if for no other reason than practice. Try interviewing friends, relatives, students, co-workers, neighbors, etc.

Research companies of interest and write down a list of questions that come to you during your research. Use such resources as the internet, the library, career counseling centers at schools, and employment centers. One thing is for sure, you don’t want to go into an informational interview unprepared, so don’t rush this part.

3. Make a phone script for each call
Once you get a chance to talk to one person, you should politely ask if they may suggest someone else you could arrange to talk to another time. If the work interests you, you will want to get as many opinions as possible about the industry and job specifics, comparing notes later.

4. Interview your contacts using 20 interview pre-written questions

Though you have 20 questions at hand, select the ones most fitting – do not attempt to ask all 20 questions the person on the other end of the line may not have the time.

If you are meeting with the person, dress appropriately, arrive on time, and be polite and professional. Refer to your list of prepared questions, but be flexible enough in your conversation to allow for spontaneous discussions, should they arise.

It’s generally not recommended that you use a recording device during the informational interview. This can be a turn-off, and you don’t want to get started on the wrong foot. A notepad, however, is fine.

5. Track each interview with your action plan worksheet
Immediately after the informational interview, it is best to record your impressions and other important thoughts or information. Keep the information from each on a separate “action plan” worksheet as you may need those names and information later.

6. Write a thank you letter
Be honest, sincere, and clear with your words, and you can’t go wrong when sending a thank you letter. When possible, make sure it’s a handwritten thank you letter as these types of notes set you apart, are more personable than an email message, and will keep you in a contact’s memory.

Discussing the industry, job responsibilities, expectations, and culture with those in the field better prepares the seeker to create a match. For those interested in delving deeper into informational interviews as well as other career focused methods, visit our library of resources.

Article penned by Bret Hoveskeland
Education Career Services
Follow us on Twitter #dannyatecs
Blog: https://careerbreakout.wordpress.com
Education Career Services: www.edu-cs.com
West Orlando News Online, Event and Career Columnist: http://westorlandonews.com

 

Employment, Experience, Education

In our continuing effort to assist those during their career lifecycle, the following comes in response to a recent question posed by Michael:

I am a recent graduate of the LPN course at Rasmussen College. Do you have any suggestions on how to gain employment without having experience other than schooling? Do you think volunteering is a good way to find a job? Any advice on where and how to get a job would be appreciated.”

Thanks for the question(s), no doubt what you are experiencing is felt by thousands eager to transition into their chosen career. In order to keep confusion to a minimal, I’ll break your question into three sections.

1. Do you have any suggestions on how to gain employment without having experience other than schooling?
Though few recognize this fact, experience comes in many forms, not all being formal.

Informal methods to gain experience come by way of volunteering (we’ll get to that during the next question), capstone projects, internships, externships, job shadowing, and community events. If you’ve worked at spots such as Taco Bell or Burger King, don’t sell yourself short as the time there is valuable, though mostly in the form of transferrable skills.

No matter where you find yourself, fast-food establishments or working on a school project, customer service, ability to perform multiple tasks, prioritizing responsibilities, resolving conflict (my fries are cold, what are you going to do about it?), and being productive in a team setting are all things employers find valuable.

For those who truly have no experience, your educational accomplishments must be the ticket to your first job—though most likely an entry-level one. Under this situation, I would highlight relevant courses, awards received (perfect attendance is always good to showcase), and instructor references. You can always insert insight from those professionals around, including the dean of academic affairs or your Career Director. Sharing his or her insight on your character can be effective if used wisely. There’s nothing like placing a well-written quote or reference on your resume or cover letter from a professional overseeing your educational development.

For those involved in a capstone project, take the reader along and let him or her visualize the value you brought to the team: What was your role, what issues did you encounter, how did you overcome problems, and what was the final result.

Here’s a little known secret: Employees want to hire trustworthy individuals with a passion to grow, to learn, and to contribute to the bottom line.

Ultimately, little experience does not mean little chance of securing an opportune position as long as you are grounded to reality and are willing to work your way up the ladder. Truth be known, gaining the attention of the hiring manager is as much about attitude and packaging as anything else, including experience.

2. Do you think volunteering is a good way to find a job?
Without much debate, volunteering IS a GREAT way to find a job. If you’re wondering why and how… think about the employer’s perspective.

Companies and communities are symbiotic in nature… without one, the other would not survive. As a result, employers look favorably on those who are committed to helping those less fortunate. Volunteering offers avenues to networking, which is where many jobs are found out about.

I noticed your program at Rasmussen College (on a side note, I have a great deal of respect for Rasmussen College and believe in their program and Career Services Department/Personnel—you are in good hands so take advantage of the resources they offer—special shout out to Sheila and Tamyrn) was for a LPN. With this, community involvement is extremely important and could lead to many rewards.

Career tip: While volunteering, always behave in a professional manner as you never know if the person across the room is connected to a company you always wanted to work for.

3. Any advice on where and how to get a job would be appreciated.
That’s a tough one as the right job may be right around the corner. Though it may seem old-fashioned, the concept of physically visiting companies you are interested in working for can be effective. If you decide to go this route (in conjunction with other routes), be sure and research the company before showing up. Show respect to the receptionist and always be courteous. Remember you are showing up without an invitation so not all doors are going to be open… remain calm, patient, and diligent.

One more thing, have a professional resume/cover letter prepared and always look the part.

Another way to get an inside foot is to conduct “informational interviews.” If you are unfamiliar with this method, I will be glad to cover the concept in an upcoming article… just let me know, or you can obtain additional material detailed below.

Always remember that during informational interviews, you should NOT ask for a job or a formal job interview. The purpose is to gain insight and develop a network into the company.

Career blast warning: Sending hundreds of digital resumes out without customizing each (the gunshot method) is not effective and can be detrimental to your career… don’t even think about it.

Ultimately, experience is only one piece of the job equation. Obtaining a college degree is also only one piece of the job equation. Though many lacking formal experience often sell themselves short or become discouraged, that tactic makes the slope even slipperier.

What hiring executives look for in a new hire:
* Attitude and professionalism
* Commitment to learn and progress
* Confidence and belief
* The TOTAL PACKAGE

If you can satisfy the above four bullets AND are willing to keep your job search real, you will find career success as companies can’t find enough employees with the total package.

Allow diligence and professionalism to be your guide. Volunteer, network, and hit the pavement with confidence.

Are you interested in developing your own career success techniques or in securing cutting-edge career focused books, including how to write effective resume/cover letters? I can show you the best strategies for a successful interview, how to take advantage of social/professional networking, and ways to overcome barriers to employment (arrests and/or convictions). Visit “Danny at ECS” on Amazon or go to www.edu-cs.com for a complete listing of available support. You may also contact me directly: dhuffman@educationcareerservices.com to see how I can help you.

Danny Hufman, MA, CEIP, CPRW, CPCC
Follow Me on Twitter #dannyatecs
Blogsite: https://careerbreakout.wordpress.com
Education Career Services: www.edu-cs.com
West Orlando News Online, Event and Career Columnist: http://westorlandonews.com

Career Breakout: The Character Clause

Over the past few months many readers expressed concerns regarding initial interviews. From what I have been hearing, many get an initial interview but that’s as far as it goes. No second interview. No job offers. In effect: Nothing but darkness.

For the record: Becoming post-initial interview invisible may be a result of the character clause.

Based upon piles of research, interviews, and conference workshops, a key element to succeed during an interview comes down to one word: Character.

According to Merriam Webster, Character is defined as “attributes or features that make up and distinguish the individual,” and “the complex of mental and ethical traits marking and often individualizing a person.”

For the record: The intent of the initial interview is to determine company, cultural, and position fit.

Okay, so you’re asking, where does character come into play and isn’t it good enough that I can do the job? We’ll tackle the easy part of the question first: No, it’s not good enough that you can do the job. Doing the job is only one of many factors… so get over it.

Going directly to character, initial interviews evaluate your personality, thus the increase use of behavioral questions. Several topics beneath the character umbrella you should be aware of include:

* Trust: Can the company hold confidence in your ability to do the right thing?
* Dependability: Do you show up on time, everyday?
* Professionalism: How well will you represent the company, during and after hours?
* Courtesy: Are you friendly and respectful to all individuals you encounter, including the receptionist?
* Appearance: Hate to say it but the way you look affects outcomes. Do you look the part?

Violating the above, though often intangible, will cause harm to your initial interview. If you are being asked to come in for an initial interview but nothing more, the hurdle may be in the manner in which you represent character. With that in mind, let’s evaluate each of the above topics and resolve potential disconnections:

* Trust: The hiring agent wants you to detail a time where trust was tested. For example, did you ever work as a cashier? If so, how much money were you responsible for? If so, talk about that during the interview.
* Dependability: Do you have perfect attendance certificates or awards for being at work and on time? Employers want to know you will work every scheduled day. Perhaps a reference letter from a previous employer could address that issue… just saying.
* Professionalism: Work is no longer isolated to brick and mortar. With Facebook, Twitter, and a slew of other sites, companies don’t want insensitive or compromising images of their employees. While on this note, employers do filter social sites during the interview process. In other words, your Spring Break party photos may be damaging to your career.
* Courtesy: Nothing is more damaging than being rude to the receptionist or to a stranger in the elevator as you near the office. After all, the person riding the elevator with you just may be the owner. And yes, that does happen.
* Appearance: Most companies prefer the conservative look. If you have rings in the nose, mouth, tongue, or cheek, take them out immediately. The adage about how you are expressing individuality is so over-done, stop your whining and get over it.

There are many examples one can detail to showcase character. One of the most effective interview techniques is for you to develop short stories that highlight character. An easy way to arrange stories and prepare for the interview is to take advantage of the Performance, Action Result (PAR) method. The PAR method asks you to expand by following an easy format:

Problem (Briefly explain what was going on and how you were involved):

Action (Briefly explain what you did to resolve the problem):

Result (Briefly explain what happened and if possible use measurements):

For the record: Creating several PAR short stories will prove to be beneficial during interview sessions.

Hiring managers want you to be the right candidate. Giving them short stories, creating a discussion-like atmosphere, and believing in yourself may be the missing link between initial interview and the job offer.

If you would like additional information or insight about the interview and how to better prepare for your interview, send us your questions.

For those interested in obtaining cutting-edge career books and single topic guidebooks, visit our website (www.edu-cs.com) or go to Amazon (simply search Danny at ECS) and review our career resources library.

Danny Hufman, MA, CEIP, CPRW, CPCC
www.educationcareerservices.com
Got Twitter? Shadow me @dannyatecs

Phone Interviews on the Rise

According to the most recent Career Thought Leaders Group, phone interviews are increasing in frequency and scrutiny. Accordingly, in addition to the initial phone screening, telephone interviews are being used more often to cut costs and save time during the hiring process.

Given its usage increase during the interview cycle, the consequence of improper phone etiquette can be damaging to your career. With this in mind, improving your phone interview odds can be gained by following these common-sense tips.

●  Dressing up for your phone interview. I know it sounds a bit odd but it is a well-known fact that individuals “looking the part” perform more effectively than those in their pajamas.
●  Researching the company, industry, and specific position. Besides doing a bit of company research on the Internet, a valuable job skills and responsibilities resource can be found at ONETOnline.org. Recognizing what’s out there in terms of products, competitors, and job opportunities will give the interviewer the perception that you know what you are talking about and that you are interested in the company and position.
●  Engaging in the phone interview in a quiet area with limited (how about none) distractions. Remember the interviewer can’t see you or your physical reactions. As a result, the interviewer is seeking clues to help them determine if you are the right fit. For example, are dogs barking near your feet? Is a mother-in-law asking what you want for lunch? Are kids yelling in the background? Is street-rap blaring in the background? Noises and distractions in the background do create an impression, rarely a positive one.
●  Being prepared for the “Tell me about yourself” question. When asked this question (or something like the “Why should I hire you” question) appreciate the question is designed for your benefit and is the ideal opportunity to sell yourself and the many contributions you bring. This is where company and job position research comes in handy as you develop a response based upon what the company needs, not a long-winded story about summer camp.
●  Keeping a professional and calm tone. This is not the time to speak rapidly, too softly, or too loudly. Make sure your responses are heard at a comfortable level and not overtaking. Remember the interviewer is listening for clues of confidence, not cockiness.
●  Asking a career coach, mentor, or family member to practice with you. When it comes to phone interview strategies, practice does make perfect. Don’t fight me on this, but when conducting a mock interview, dress and act the part.

No doubt companies are becoming more and more cost conscious and will expand the use of non-face-to-face interview methods. For the unprepared, this could be disastrous on many levels. But for those who have performed their due diligence, becoming one of the pack leaders can be obtained.

If you have questions or examples regarding phone interviews or any other career related issue, don’t hesitate to reach out and send your request through the comment section or email me directly at dhuffman@edu-cs.com.

For those interested in obtaining cutting-edge career books and single topic guidebooks, visit our website (www.edu-cs.com) or go to Amazon (simply search Danny at ECS) and review the available library of available career resources.

Danny Hufman, MA, CEIP, CPRW, CPCC
www.educationcareerservices.com
Got Twitter? Shadow me @dannyatecs