What is the hiring manager thinking, anyway?

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We have all been in the interviewee’s seat before.  It can be nerve-wracking, especially when you do not really know what the hiring manager’s thinking as they speak with you.  Do they like you?  Are they just going through the necessary motions, giving you your equal and fair shot before standing up, eyes unfocused, shake your hand limply and say, “We’ll be in touch, thanks” only to never call you again?  Are they already envisioning you in the role?  Hiring managers are like everybody else – they conceal what they actually mean, very often to see what you’ll do.  The trick is to be prepared.  No, I cannot help you learn how to read minds (I wouldn’t be writing a blog if I could do that).  However, I will impart a couple of tips to help you swing the interview in your favor.

#1 Be prepared to explain gaps in your resume

First impressions are generally the last, also.  A good method to cover any short-term gaps in your resume (those that are one month or less) is to simply list your dates of employment in a month/year format without listing a specific date.

However, things happen.  Layoffs do occur, many times unexpectedly.  Even the best of us have probably been fired at least once in our lives.  With the jobless rate higher than it has been in decades it is not that uncommon to see gaps in resumes.  Hiring managers know this.  They are also eager to attract and retain the best employees so expect a certain level of vetting, especially in this climate.  Employers are now in a position to be choosy.

BE TRANSPARENT. BE SPECIFIC.

If you were, for instance, a member of a company’s sales force and you were laid off with several other people because business was dead and the company was trying to shore up its expenses then you might have a couple of months of inactivity showing on your resume, but it can be easily explained and should not be held against you – most recruiters and hiring managers will understand and be able to differentiate between circumstances that are not your fault and those in which you were terminated for performance issues, et cetera.  The bottom rule and general rule of thumb here is to be as transparent as you possibly can.  

Be prepared to answer questions like, “I see you were employed from June 2005 to August 2010 and then you didn’t work from August 2010 to May of 2011.  What were you doing during that period?”  If the answer is that you chose to take the opportunity to complete college coursework for a degree that will help advance you in your field then that is your answer.  Don’t just say, “I went back to school.”  Offer details: “Oh, well, during that time I enrolled with the University of Phoenix and earned my bachelor’s degree in Information Systems Management – focus on security and data management.”  While both statements are true, the second one makes you seem much more credible.  Being prepared with reasonable, truthful and detailed answers will help you overcome gaps in your resume.

#2 Do not speak badly of your former or current employer

This is considered a rule of etiquette for interviews but exists also in sales, too.  Don’t bash the competitor!  If a client asks about a competitor, Sales 101 tells you to reply with the stock answer: “Mr. Client, XYZ is a great company.  They have a good product.  However, most of our best customers were using XYZ and they chose to come over to us.  Can I tell you why?”  

The same principle exists with interviewing.  A hiring manager may not say a word if you say that your former or current employer is a horrible company that’s only open when it’s dark outside and raining and your boss is the devil himself – but they will make a note of that, I promise you.  It is bad decorum to do this and is a great way to shoot yourself in the foot, figuratively speaking.  I immediately suggests to the hiring manager that, if they were to hire you and things went awry, you might one day say that about them, perhaps even to a competitor!

DON’T BASH YOUR BOSS.

Refraining from badmouthing your boss – even if he deserves it – is a sign of professionalism and maturity.  I have heard many applicants say to me that they had a “difference of opinion” with their manager.  How this sounds when you say it: “I had a difference of opinion with my boss.”  How it sounds in a hiring manager’s head: “I can’t work with supervisors well.”  To repeat a line from the beginning of this post: “First impressions are generally the last, also.”  A good alternative is to say, “My former/current employer is a good boss and I like/liked the company.  However, I am moving in another direction.”  Even expand on this and say this is because you are seeking more room for professional growth.  The goal is to appear professional and mature.  

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