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Five Interview Mistakes and How to Avoid Them, Too

When you are in an interviewing mode, stop for a moment, and think about the uncanny parallel between choosing the right job and finding a great marriage partner. If you make a good match, you will live with your spouse and your colleagues for years motivating and mentoring each other, pursuing common goals, celebrating successes, and sharing failures.

Even though career and marital relationships are both very important, job seekers spend much longer selecting a mate than deciding on their next job. Below are some common mistakes that job seekers make on a regular basis. Avoid them, and your chances for interview success will improve tremendously.

1. Focusing on Experience Rather Than Benefits

Anyone who has taken a sales course knows a potential buyer is more interested in how you can benefit him than how your product or service works. This is also true of a potential employer. While discussing your experience is useful, it isn't nearly as intriguing to an interviewer as how your background and skills will apply to his particular situation.

Fortunately, this basic tenet of human nature can be very helpful to a job seeker who hasn't already held a position like the one she is pursuing. If she can show an employer how her innate abilities and personality traits will benefit the company, she may win the position over other candidates who have more applicable experience, but don't know how to sell it. If a career changer can prevail over a career veteran by talking benefits, imagine how powerful a veteran's case can be, if his interviewing techniques equal his technical ability.

2. Accepting a Position Without Interviewing Your Immediate Manager

Would you agree to marry someone you have never met? Not many Americans would, yet quite a few decide to work for a company without talking to their potential boss. This is especially true for young people who are looking for their first job.

No one has more impact on your career than your immediate manager. His performance, feedback and attitude will have an effect on everything you do. His conversations with his boss (the one who has the real power to promote, reward, and fire you) may color higher management's perceptions of you for years to come.

Before you accept a job, get to know your manager. Ask probing questions to determine if you and he have compatible work styles and philosophies. Determine if he is someone whom you could admire and cultivate as a mentor. If he isn't, look for another professional who more closely mirrors your image of a good boss. There are many terrific supervisors searching for talented employees. With a little sleuthing, you will find one.

3. Assuming the Compensation Offered is an All-or-Nothing Deal

In the book, You Can Negotiate Anything, author Herb Cohen talks about the power of precedent. He says the written or spoken word of a person in authority is often perceived as being immutable. Yet very few things in life are as inflexible as we believe, including compensation packages. Most positions carry with them a range of salaries based partly upon experience and education and partly upon what the market says they are worth.

If your job offer is less than your desired compensation, you probably have room to negotiate, especially if the number quoted is not at the top of the position's salary range. It's better to ask for what you want than feel exploited. If you don't, you may put a chip on your shoulder that grows every time you work overtime on a hot project for your Scrooge of a company.

4. Failing to Use Your Leverage

This mistake is closely allied with a number of others in this and last week’s articles. What do they have in common? Fear the employer is a rigid autocrat who expects the candidate to do his bidding or else.

Many job seekers don't realize there are two needy parties in a job transaction. The employer is dependent upon finding the right candidate. The candidate is anxious to settle into the right job. Both people have an equal desire to develop the best possible match.

Yet many job seekers relinquish their power when they are chosen as the number one person for the position. Instead of using their blue ribbon status as leverage to ask for what they want, they squander their advantage worrying about what the employer will think. Will Mr. Jones say I'm greedy if I ask for the company to pay for my parking spot? Will he withdraw the offer if I don't take it as is?

When you are selected for a job you haven't yet accepted, the balance of power between you and the employer is in your favor. If there is something you want, make a counter offer before you say "yes." Once you start working, your stock will take at least a year to rebuild.

5. Obsessing over Catastrophic Expectations

When you were a child, did you ever awaken in the middle of the night afraid there was a monster hiding under your bed or behind the closet door? While these shadowy creatures were pretty scary, they always lost their power when exposed to the light.

Few adults still worry about monsters under the bed, but many job seekers find themselves threatened by other, more insidious ones like:

The “I Will Never Work Again” Monster

The “I’m Too Old/Young/White/Black/Fat/Female/Male” Monster

The “I Will End Up Sleeping Under a Bridge” Monster

and the scariest one of all: The “I Am Worthless” Monster.

Catastrophic expectations and negative self-talk are much more deadly than bad dreams, because they linger in your conscious mind, capitalizing on every opportunity to frighten you into emotional paralysis. It's no coincidence that people want to stay in bed and pull up the covers when the "I Am Worthless" monster comes to call.

Thinking the worst would be bad enough, if it only affected the job seeker's self esteem. But it has an even more far-reaching consequence. People who feel worthless and desperate are very poor interviewees. No matter how hard they try, they cannot disguise their negative feelings about themselves. They become victims of their own self-fulfilling prophesies.

If you find yourself in an internal negative dialog, stop immediately. Use an affirmation, pet your dog or cat, call a friend, pray, meditate, etc. to help you halt you’re stinkin’ thinkin’ (phrase courtesy of Zig Ziglar).

If you need to banish a psychological dragon, expose it to the light of rational thought. The next time you are obsessing about a catastrophic expectation, confront its reality. Quantify the probability of finding yourself sleeping under a bridge in the next three months. You may be amazed by how low the realistic number is. Develop some alternatives for what you would do should you be evicted from your home. Could you stay with friends or relatives, rent a room somewhere or sleep at a homeless shelter?

Once you have considered the true probability of your catastrophic expectation and devised a plan to deal with it, it will lose its power.

 Career Dimensions ● 214-208-1706 ●

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