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“I was fired! How do I handle that in an interview???”

image I was recently asked a question by someone trying to help a job seeker that had been terminated from his last position. They wanted to give some helpful advice. Here’s the conversation (edited for privacy)…

I am trying to help a gentleman who was let go from “ABC Company” last month. My first impression was that he was laid off, but when I asked him some questions about the change he said he was terminated. Obviously I wasn’t there, but this person was at “ABC Company” for 20 years, had very successful performance reviews and then got a new manager (and from what it sounds like) this manager just really wanted someone different in his role and instead of laying him off, terminated him through progressive discipline and said he wasn’t meeting the requirements of the job. He won his unemployment case, but he’s having difficulty talking about this when he interviews. This person is very smart, focused and it’s hard to imagine him being terminated.

How should he best deal with this in job interviews?

There’s no question this can be a difficult situation, however, a 2-step strategy may be appropriate:

If, in an interview, he’s asked about the circumstances of leaving his last job, his initial response can be somewhat light-hearted, simply saying something like:

“Unfortunately, there are a lot of people losing jobs these days.”

The interviewer might just leave it at that and move on. If they do ask for more specifics, however, it’s important he gives a brief, well worded answer that ends on a positive note, then ask a question that moves the conversation in a different direction. Too often people dwell on too many details that only serve to raise more questions and make the situation worse. When you’re in a hole… stop digging! He might say something like:

“I had been at “ABC Company” for 20 years with consistently positive performance reviews. Last year though, through some transitions in the organization, I ended up with a new manager. It’s not uncommon for a new leader to come in to a group and want to make changes. Unfortunately, I was one of those changes and ended up being separated from the company. In many ways, I’m looking forward to the opportunity this gives me to continue developing my career in a new environment! Can you give me a more detailed idea of what the expectations would be of me in this role in the first 3 to 6 months?”

He’s got to use words that are true, and comfortable for him to say. However, since this is something he knows is likely to come up in most of his interviews, it’s very important that he hone his words, and memorize them. If he “wings” his answer, he’s likely to ramble and dig a deeper hole.

Effectively discussing a termination is always difficult in a job interview. However, if you have a plan and are well prepared you can move past it and make the case why you are the best candidate for the job!

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Leaving Effective Voicemails In Your Job Search!


When networking, following up on an application, reconnecting after an interview, or for virtually any other aspect of a job search… talking to someone is always better than an email.

A professional voice on the phone is much harder to ignore than one of dozens of emails.

However, for most people, the majority of calls you make will initially result in leaving a voicemail than actually being able to catch someone on the phone.

I recently received an email from someone asking what they can do to improve their chances of getting a call back. Good question!

Here are some points to consider:

Be prepared! Many people prepare well for their introduction and presentation should they get the intended person on the phone. However, most are unprepared and stammer or ramble on if they get a voicemail instead. It is just as important to be prepared for a voicemail as it is to talk to the person directly. Just as you should have a script prepared for a conversation, you should also prepare a script for a voicemail. Having a well prepared message to leave will keep you from rambling, stammering, or leaving a message you may regret.

Make it brief! The fact is, a lengthy voicemail is not likely to be listened to in its entirety. And even if it is, it will likely hurt the impression you leave rather than help it. If they are trying to get through their voicemails quickly, a lengthy one quickly becomes annoying. Briefly state  your name, the reason for the call, 1 or 2 very brief reasons you would be of interest to them, and be sure to leave your name and return number at the end. The impression you leave will be much improved by being succinct, substantive, and upbeat. Your voicemail should never be more than 30 seconds or so.

Let them know you’ll be back! If you make it clear that you will be following up again, it may improve your chances of getting a call back. If you leave a voicemail without any indication that you will be following up, it’s very easy for them to delete it and forget about you. The likelihood that they might call you first, or at least remember your call is greatly improved if you indicate you will be persistent. Let them know you’ll be reconnecting.

Be Pleasantly Persistent! Keep trying! Only leave a voicemail once, however, keep trying to reach them often. Many times it’s easier to catch a manager before or after “core” hours. They may be easier to catch at their desk before 8:00 am or after 5:00 pm. Try several times throughout the day to improve your chances of actually catching them by phone versus getting their voicemail. While a call back from them is fine, you will invariably be better prepared for an effective call when you are the one making the call to them rather than receiving one at a random time.

Say something like…
Hello Mr. Smith. My name is Harry Urschel. I’m calling in regard to the open Accounting position you have posted online. I believe my Oracle AR experience in a manufacturing environment over the past 5 years fits the requirements exactly. And I have process improvement skills that saved my previous company a great deal of money.

I’m sure your schedule is full, however, I hope we can speak soon. If you are able to call, you can reach me at 867-5309. I’ll also call back around 4:00 this afternoon and keep trying over the next day or two until we actually connect. I look forward to talking soon. Again, this is Harry Urschel, and you can reach me any time at 867-5309.

Some points to keep in mind when crafting your voicemail script:

- Never use someone else’s script! You will never sound natural using someone else’s words. Write your script in words that you feel comfortable using.

- Practice. Don’t try your script out for the first time when you’re leaving a message to an important contact. You will be better if you’ve practiced it several times in advance.

- No more than 30 seconds. Time it. If you’re over, figure out how to say it more succinctly.

- Immediately connect the dots. Give the most relevant experience you have to the requirements for the position. Telling of unrelated skills, no matter how impressive they are, will not gain interest if it’s not required for the role. Then, give them one BRIEF skill that might set you apart from the competition…. again, related to the open position.

- Repeat your name and phone number at the end of the message so they don’t have to “rewind” to get that information. Make it easy for them.

There is no “guaranteed” way to get a contact to call you back. However, by following a few basic guidelines, your chances can be greatly improved. In most cases, though, your voicemail sets the stage for an effective conversation when you catch them on the phone another time.

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Want recruiters to call?

image One complaint from many job seekers is that they can’t seem to get recruiters to call them back when they’re looking for a job. You’d think they’d love an opportunity to place a good candidate… so why don’t they call? They often know the market in their field of specialization better than most people. Is there anything you can do to get them to be a little more proactive in helping you find a job?

It helps to understand their motivations and what gets their attention. Then you can be more effective at getting them to return your calls.

Here’s how…

Understand how recruiters get paid. Many job seekers think that recruiters exist to help people find jobs. The reality is that recruiters are paid by companies to help them find the best candidate for a particular position. A recruiter’s responsibility is to the company that is paying them, not to any candidate they may like but doesn’t fit the role. A recruiter may like a particular person a great deal, however, they can’t make their client hire them, and they lose credibility with their client if they present a candidate that is less than an ideal fit.

Understand what they want. Recruiters are always looking for 3 things…

  1. The best candidate for the position they are currently trying to fill.
  2. Exceptional performers in their field of specialization that may fit future openings.
  3. To build relationships with great connectors!

Listen to Zig! Zig Ziglar, the renowned motivational speaker has a phrase he uses often: “You can have everything in life that you want if you will just help enough other people get what they want.” If you want recruiters to call you back, be one or more of the 3 things they want!

You may or may not fit a position they have right now. You may or may not be an exceptional performer in their area of specialization. However, you can certainly become a great connector. What good does that do you? A good recruiter strives to nurture relationships with people that are great resources of information and referrals. Those great “connectors” are essential to their livelihood, they will often help those connectors in any way they can.

As a recruiter for the past 24 years, I’ve gone out of my way to help people that have been a help to me in my search for candidates for positions I’m working on. I help them with leads I may know of, referrals to others that may be helpful for them, coaching for their own job search, and certainly consider them first for any appropriate opportunities that may arise.

Be exceptional and be a connector! Present yourself to a recruiter in the same way you would to a potential employer. They work for their client companies, they are not career counselors. In order to feel confident about presenting you to their clients, they have to view you as someone that will be more professional and more competent than the average candidate their client is likely to see. If they believe you will add to their credibility with their clients, they will have no hesitations in presenting you for any open positions you’re qualified for. In fact, if they believe you are an “A” candidate based on your experience or presentation, they may proactively market you to some of their clients whether they have an open position or not. It’s your responsibility to help them view you as exceptional. Present yourself as professionally as possible.

Let them know you would be glad to refer people you know for opportunities they may be working on. When you give referrals, don’t only consider people you know are looking for new opportunities. Rather, refer the best people you know with the specific backgrounds the recruiter is looking for. No one has to pursue a position they don’t want, however, it’s to their benefit to be made aware of them and have the opportunity to decide for themselves. When the recruiter realizes you are someone that can point them to other good people, they will be helpful in return.

You want recruiters to return your calls? Be one of their 3 favorite calls to make!

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Your job search is not likely to be ‘One and Done’!

image It’s probably not news to many people that there are not many “lifetime” jobs available anymore these days.

My dad worked at the same company for 35 years before he retired in 1993. At the time, it wasn’t that unusual to hear similar stories as his. In the last 20 to 25 years though, even the companies considered the most stable and secure have had massive lay-offs at one point or another.

The median job tenure of American workers was 5.1 years in 2008. When you consider people that still have been in positions 20 years or more, the average drops dramatically for the rest of us. And, considering the economic turmoil the last couple of years, it has certainly cut the tenure shorter for millions more.

So… unless you’re currently 60 years old, it’s highly likely you will have to look for a new position again! What can you do now to be better prepared the next time the ‘opportunity’ to transition into a new job comes up again?

Here are some ideas that may help:

Professional networking should be a way of life! Most people never think much about networking until they need it. Networking, however, can have far more benefits than finding a new job. LinkedIn, for example, was not developed to be a job search tool (although it is a great one). Its primary function is to provide an arena where professionals can connect with other professionals to get help, ideas, advice, and make connections in their fields in order to do their jobs better, gain new business, or solve problems. Your network will be a much more effective tool for you if you engage and build relationships with people, offering your help when they need it, rather than just pumping them for information when you need a job. Continue to expand and deepen your network when you don’t need it, in order to be able to tap into it when you do. Set up automated prompts on your calendar to touch base (email or phone call) with each person in your network periodically. Some may only be once per year, others may be a couple times per month. Use good judgment and make it a lifestyle.

Always be updating your skills. A job search becomes much more difficult when your skills in your field are outdated. Continuing to get training and seeking opportunities in your job to use new skills throughout your entire career will make you much more of an attractive candidate when the time comes to look again.

Keep records of your responsibilities, kudos, and achievements. Trying to remember all the stories of accomplishments you’ve had for an interview or for your resume can be tough if you haven’t written them down along the way. I know people that keep a file folder in their desk where they drop in notes, employee reviews, project details and other noteworthy events any time something occurs. It’s a great resource to go to when you need to write a new resume or prepare for new job interviews. Whatever system may work for you… use it to keep good records and have the resource available when you need it!

Keep track of current events in your field and industry. Awareness of what’s, and who’s, hot and not in your field and industry can be a great asset in your career and potential future job search. What companies, or individuals, seem to be the most successful at any given time? What are they doing differently? What can you learn and apply in your own company or job? What companies are growing… and thus good prospects to pursue for new positions if you need one? The answers can help you be more successful in your current job, and create a ready list of target companies and contacts should you decide to look.

Keep recruiter relationships warm. Sometimes it seems as if you hear from recruiters all the time when you’re not looking for a job, and can’t seem to get a return call from them when you are. Typically, people ignore, or worse, blow-off recruiters when they don’t need them, thinking of them as an annoyance. Is it any wonder then, that they aren’t motivated to help when you do want to find a new job? Build relationships with a few recruiters in your field that you like and trust. Make them aware of you, and offer to help them with referrals any time. They will tap you occasionally for help and look for ways they can be of help to you as well. My best relationships are with people I’ve placed 2, 3, or 4 times in their careers over the years. They’ve been my clients, using me to find people when they are in hiring roles, and are great resources for referrals when I need help in finding candidates for other positions. They become candidates again when they call me saying they would like to find something new. Because of the relationship we’ve built, I go well out of my way to help them find new opportunities… sometimes even giving them leads or contact information for positions I know of but don’t have an opportunity to place. Recruiters can best be a tremendous resource when you build solid long-term relationships.

Nurture your career! One of the best things you can do to make yourself more employable is to be successful where you are. Do the things necessary to be productive, achieve results, and gain recognition in the role you’re currently in. It will make you more secure in your current position and a more attractive candidate for a new role!

In today’s workplace, you are likely to need to look for a new position again sooner or later. Don’t ignore what you’ll need for your future job search while you’re currently employed!

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