Thursday, October 13, 2011

The Initial Interview! Do's, Don'ts and Definitely Do Nots!

I thought of naming this  "How to talk your way out of a job" due to some previous experiences, but I want to provide a broad scope of examples on what do to and not to do during your initial client interview.  Since most initial interviews in our industry are conducted over the phone, I am going to focus on that format. 

All my life people have had the tendency to tell me everything about themselves.  I often feel like I have a blinking sign on my forehead that says "Talk to ME! I want to know all about you!".  I can't count how many times I've been innocently standing in the grocery line waiting to check out and if by chance my eyes meet with the person standing behind me they immediately strike up a conversation.  In a matter of minutes I am learning about this person's family, medical history, current employment situation and what they're planning for dinner.  Fortunately I like people and I normally find their stories interesting or thought-provoking.

I've found that people also have a tendency to become overly comfortable during a phone interview and discuss things that probably wouldn't be a topic of conversation were they face to face with their would-be employer.  Am I interested in how many EMR Implementations you have been involved in?  YES!  Am I interested in your recent colonoscopy?  NO!

To follow are some real life examples of what NOT to do in interview:
1.  Be mindful of the time.  Most people that tend to chatter KNOW they tend to chatter.  If you're a chatty person, prior to your call write down notes on the important points about your qualifications that you want to make sure you cover and questions you want to ask as well.  Have these notes in front of you and get a timer!  Keep an eye on that timer... if you are talking non-stop for more than 3 minutes you will want to think of a way to wrap up.  I'd like everyone to stop reading for a few minutes and stare at the nearest clock for 3 entire minutes..... I'll wait.......humming the theme from Jeopardy quietly to myself while I wait............
You didn't last the entire 3 minutes did you?  Get bored?  The pace of a typical conversation is 140 - 180 words per minute*.   You do not want to exhaust the interviewer with a constant stream of blah blah blah.
1a. Don't speaksofastthatnoonecanunderstandwhatyou'resaying... if you're asked to repeat yourself more than once there is a barrier.  Whether it has to do with language, your talking speed or the phone connection, slow down...repeat yourself and then ask the interviewer if that was better.

2.  Don't go off on rabbit trails.  Stick to the topic at hand.  You are on the phone to discuss your qualifications for your (potential) next career step.  At no time should you discuss medical issues, family issues, how many cats you have... etc.  By law the person interviewing you cannot ask you about your health, family/marital status/children, religious preference or ethnicity.  You should not bring these things up in your interview process unless absolutely necessary.  The interviewer is allowed to ask if you are able to complete the tasks that are required of the position, if for some reason you have a disability that may not permit you to perform all the requirements they can ask you how they might accommodate you.  I am not saying that you shouldn't develop a rapport with the person on the other end of the call, however you do not want to bring up topics that might be used to discriminate against you. 

3.  No matter how much of a jerk-wad your previous employer was, keep it to yourself.  I've conducted numerous interviews where people have vented to me about their previous employer.  That never leaves a good impression.  If you're that disgruntled with your ex-employer... seek therapy, but remove that anger/resentment/frustration from the interview space!  Inevitably you will be asked why you left your previous job(s).  Keep the answer short and simple.  "There were some professional differences between my boss and myself" is a good example. Fortunately and unfortunately this is a tight knit industry where news travels fast.  If you had a conniption fit at your last job, threw your coffee mug across the room and stomped off, it wont take long for your potential employer to hear about it.  On the other hand, if you are always professional and were working at a facility for a notoriously difficult to work for IT Director, and you chose to resign, people will know that as well.  No one wants to work with a hot-head.

4. Definitely DO NOT use the restroom during the call**.  You read that right...  In the age of the "BlueTooth" where you're no longer stuck in a central location while on the phone, people seem to forget what they're doing while they're actively having a discussion.  Never mind that it's a distraction for the people trying to peacefully use the facilities if you're in a public place but... WE CAN HEAR YOU!  Yes... we can hear you as you relieve yourself, flush the commode, wash your hands (hopefully) and exit the facilities.  (I often wonder how many people have forgotten about their bluetooth and have hopped in the shower with it in their ear)

5.  For God's sake.... don't yawn!  Ok, so there are interviewers that may have some of the bad habits I've mentioned above... but even if they're boring you to tears... mute the phone to giggle, yawn, sneeze, etc.

6. Don't waste your time! Wanting to end the interview prematurely:  If the person you're interviewing with is completely unprofessional, rubs you the wrong way, or something you've heard has indicated this job isn't what you're interested in... best to politely interrupt and say something like "thank you for your time, due to what you've just told me, I realize this job is not a fit for my career desires" and end the call.  Keep in mind if you're interviewing with a Recruiter or going through a technical screening you may want to hold your judgment since you probably wont be working directly with those individuals and admittedly Recruiters don't always have all the information on a position.

7.  Don't keep them waiting.  Be on time for your call.  If you schedule an interview be courteous and call or answer on time.  If you must cancel or reschedule send an email or call to notify the interviewer as far in advance as possible.  If you miss a call and don't provide notice... unless it was nothing sort of a catastrophe... you will probably not get a second chance.  It's worse than being stood up for a date.

8.  Don't take it personally. On occasion you will be interviewing for a position that is not a fit for you or your current qualifications.  Its not easy for a Recruiter to tell you that your qualifications are not up to the expectations of the position (trust me).  We want you to be a fit as bad as you do.  When you are turned down by a potential employer do not take it personally.  If it was meant to be, it would've been.  There are so many job opportunities in the Healthcare IT industry you will be sure to find the right position with a bit of do-diligence.  If you are turned down for a position and you truly believe you had the skills the employer was seeking, write an email thanking them for their time, letting them know you have continued interest and express any skills you feel they may have mis-understood or over-looked.  Then ... let it go!  Keep in mind it is the employer that knows what they want.  Writing scathing emails or yelling over the phone is never the way to end an interview process.  As I mentioned before, news travels quickly and you always want to walk away leaving people with a positive impression.  Let's be honest, if you are repeatedly being turned down for positions that seem to be a match for your qualifications, it might be time to consider how you are coming across during the interview process, talk to a Recruiter you can trust and get some interview counseling. 

DO's:

1.  Ask questions.  Always have a list of questions prepared for an interview and make sure they're answered before you're off the phone.  Each of us want to be happy with our career choices.  Its in your best interest to be fully informed about the opportunities on the table.

2.  Eliminate background noise.  Try to find a quiet place without outside distractions. Barking dogs, children yelling, TV, Radio, Wind etc. can be a distraction and can turn-off a would-be employer.

3.  End the call on a good note. Thank the interviewer for their time and inquire what the next steps will be so you are prepared.

4.  Send a quick follow-up email. The following day you should send an email thanking the interviewer for speaking with you, reiterating the next steps you're anticipating "I look forward to scheduling my next interview with the Department Manager as we discussed" and providing your contact information again.

With these tips in mind you should have successful, productive initial telephone interviews.  If you interview over the phone and do not hear back from the interviewer within the timeframe they discussed with you, always pick up the phone and call that person to follow up.  If a Recruiter told you they would call you by Friday COB and you've not heard from them by Monday at 8am... pick up the phone!  By keeping a spreadsheet to track your interview processes you can greatly increase your chances of landing a position.

Happy Chatting!

Tim Tolan of HCITCentral fame recently penned a blog about a less than successful interview from a recruiter's perspective: http://healthcareittoday.com/2011/09/29/hey-mr-healthcare-it-candidate-please-stop-talking/
*(source) Science News / Science Daily
** This actually happened to a colleague of mine.

*Copyright - Expressed permission must be granted by the blog owner to recreate, copy or use this material*

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