Why Interviewing Is a Two-Way Street, with Michelle Neal

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Find Your Dream Job, Episode 179:

Interviewing is a Two-Way Street, with Michelle Neal

Airdate: February 20, 2019

Mac Prichard:

Hi, Mac, from Mac’s List here. Today’s episode is brought to you by Jobscan, the online tool that optimizes your resume and boosts you chances of landing an interview.

Jobscan also offers a 10% discount to our listeners. To learn more visit, Jobscan.co/dreamjob.

Now, let’s start the show.

This is Find Your Dream Job, the podcast that helps you get hired, have the career you want, and make a difference in life.

I’m your host, Mac Prichard. I’m also the founder of Mac’s List. It’s a job board in the Pacific Northwest that helps professionals find fulfilling careers.

I believe that lifelong learning is the key to a successful career. And to get a better job, you need to learn the job hunting skills that will help you find the role of your dreams.

That’s why we’re here today. Every week on Find Your Dream Job, I interview a different career expert. We discuss the tools and tactics you need to find the work you want.

This week, I’m talking to Michelle Neal about why interviewing is a two-way street.

Michelle Neal helps people get ready for job interviews. She says too many applicants think they’re in the room just to answer questions.

The most successful candidates Michelle sees treat a job interview as a two-way street. These applicants interview the hiring manager . . . and everyone else they meet at the company.

Michelle encourages you to listen carefully to what people say, especially if you get conflicting answers.

And she says you should always trust your gut. If the job feels like it might be cuckoo for cocoa puffs, it probably is.

Want to learn more? Listen in now at the Mac’s List studio as I talk with Michelle Neal about why interviewing is a two-way street.

Michelle Neal is a career coach and the owner of Consulting with Integrity. Her passion is helping people become successful through strategic coaching.

Michelle uses her talents of honesty, openness, and empathy to guide individuals to a successful outcome.

She joins us today, in person, here in the Mac’s List studio in Portland, Oregon.

Michelle, thanks for making the trip downtown.

Michelle Neal:

Thank you for having me.

Mac Prichard:

Yeah, I hope you didn’t have any problems finding parking or making your way through the traffic.

Michelle Neal:

It’s downtown, Christmastime, of course.

Mac Prichard:

It is a little busy out there and though this episode won’t air until February, the holidays are always kind of crazy.

Michelle Neal:

Yes.

Mac Prichard:

Well, we’re talking today about why candidates need to treat job interviews as a two-way street and Michelle, why do you recommend applicants don’t just stick to answering an interviewer’s question? Because sometimes people just walk into that room and think, “I’m here just to answer questions and I’ll do my best and we’re done.”

Why isn’t that a good approach?

Michelle Neal:

Because you need to feel comfortable with the organization that you’re going to be working with just like they need to be comfortable with you. And it is important for you to dig in and dig in deep because a lot of people have jobs or have been in jobs where you actually did not ask questions, you got into the job, and it was nothing like you thought it would be, and so I think it is important that it’s a two-way street. They’re interviewing you just like you’re interviewing them and it’s important to know that.

Mac Prichard:

So you’re not only a seller, you’re there to sell yourself as a candidate, but you’re also a buyer, aren’t you, Michelle?

Michelle Neal:

Yes, yes, yes.

Mac Prichard:

Why do people struggle with that? Because, again, I think most people walk into the room wanting to please and that’s where they stop. Why do they do that, Michelle?

Michelle Neal:

I think there’s a couple of reasons. I think if you’ve been unemployed for a while because of no reason on your own, a rift or restructure, it can be a shock and then you are desperate because you want to have a job and you don’t want to offend people.

I think that when you are looking for a job, even when you have a job, it’s the same thing; you don’t want to offend people but you also don’t necessarily understand your worth and you think, “Well, I’m only able to do the job that I currently have or have had and I don’t necessarily deserve to ask the questions I need to. Because I don’t want them to judge me.”

Mac Prichard:

I know, from our conversation before we started the interview, you do a lot of work with people who have been…lost a job, rather through a reduction in force, or layoffs. People in that situation, they’re hurting, aren’t they? And that affects how they might approach the interview, doesn’t it?

Michelle Neal:

Yes and as a matter of fact, I was just telling you earlier, I did a training today and I had a gentleman who’s my client say to me, “I’ve never had this happen. I’ve been working for 35 years at the same company, and I’m suffering from anxiety because I’ve never had this happen.”

These people are suffering and it’s going to affect them physically, emotionally, mentally. It’s a shock.

Mac Prichard:

You need to, when you go into that room, however, whatever your circumstances, whether you have a job and you’re doing a search and you’re looking for your next position, or you’ve lost a job and you need to find that next gig, you do need to think about, what’s in it for you, don’t you?

Michelle Neal:

Yes, you definitely need to because if you don’t and you get stuck in this situation that doesn’t have the things that you need, sometimes it’s hard to get out of that situation, and it can really perpetuate in the feelings, in the bitterness, and you get stuck and we’ve all been in the position where because of whatever circumstances, you’re sort of stuck there. You’re stuck and it’s hard to get out of it and sometimes it is because you didn’t ask the questions and peel back the onion to really get down and dirty to what’s actually happening in the organization.

Mac Prichard:

What would you say to listeners who worry that they might offend a hiring manager by interviewing the manager, basically asking lots and lots of questions?

Michelle Neal:

I’d say don’t be afraid to ask the questions and don’t worry about offending. I know when I hired people, the people who asked me the deep questions and challenged me were the ones that I was impressed with because it showed me that they were not only interested in the job but that they were looking at it holistically. They were interested in me, my team, the organization’s culture, and it wasn’t just, “Okay, here’s my job duties, and that’s all I’m interested in.”

Mac Prichard:

It won’t hurt an applicants chances to interview the hiring manager and ask these kinds of questions; it actually helps.

Michelle Neal:

I think it completely helps. I think asking the questions that the hiring manager isn’t expecting and definitely in a respectful manner, of course, can put you at the top of the list because they really remember, “They asked me a question that I really had to think about.”

Mac Prichard:

Well, let’s talk about how you get ready before you walk into the interview room. How do you recommend, Michelle, that a candidate prepare to interview a hiring manager?

Michelle Neal:

First of all, you need to have all your questions typed, no matter what, when you go in. You should have your questions typed. It’s not something that you pull from the air. I think you ask yourself, what are the deep questions you want answered before you leave the interview.

Whatever your top three are, you need to be able, by the time you get to a hiring manager, I like to say, it’s really about fit. They know what your resume is, you know what you’re good at, it’s whether or not you fit in their team, or whether or not they fit with you and your needs, and so I think that it’s just really important that you have those kinds of questions that really test the person and what do you need? If work-life balance is really important to you, you need to have questions about work-life balance. If conflict is important to you, and how do they handle conflict, that’s something that you need to ask. A lot of people don’t think of these things.

A question I say for people to ask managers is, not what is your management style but what are your management values?

Mac Prichard:

Tell me more about that. The difference between those two questions. How does that help a candidate understand an organization and the manager?

Michelle Neal:

Well, style – a lot of people say, “Oh, I’m a great communicator, open door, blah blah blah,” and it’s never a fact. Values – it really stands out of what they “value” as a person, whether it’s individually or in their organization.

I always say that people, like for me, respect is my number one thing. I expect to give respect to you as an employee; I expect respect to me as your employer. And it tells you a lot about a person. If a person can’t tell you what they stand for, then you might want to question that and also it shows that they’re not very self-aware which…that’s another topic.

Mac Prichard:

We could do a show on that one, I’m sure. Now, I want to step back for a moment because you touched on something and I think it’s important to call out for listeners and that is your point about how people who get interviews, they’ve proven that they have the technical skills and I think that should give candidates a lot of confidence knowing that when they walk into the room, shouldn’t it?

Michelle Neal:

It should and I try to tell all my clients and when I do trainings, they know, they know you’re the person they want to interview from your resume. The key is getting in the door from the resume. Once you get in the door it truly is about fit. They may ask you some questions, but the behavioral questions, it’s about fit.

“How do you handle this?” They don’t really ask you questions unless you’re in the technical field. “Okay do this problem and work this out.” Otherwise, it’s really asking, having that conversation with one another and do you click? And I know from hiring in my life, really by the time they were screened from my staff and everything and they got to me, it really was whether or not I liked the person.

Mac Prichard:

You mentioned several questions people might ask when talking to a hiring manager to figure out if it’s a good fit for them as a candidate, including work-life balance. How do you recommend people pick those questions?

What process can they go through, Michelle, to make sure they’re touching on the things that are most important to them?

Michelle Neal:

I think it’s important to sit down when you’re ready to do your accomplishments and such to prepare, that you sit down and you make, really a list, what is important to me with a job? And a lot of people I work with, it’s the latter part of their career or mid-career, okay, what’s important to you now moving forward. A lot of people do say like I said before, work-life balance. Okay, if that’s important to you let’s formulate a question that deals with that. If it’s important that you are respected and that’s your number one, well, then you need to ask some type of question that gets to that.

It’s really about you sitting back and asking yourself, “What do I need in this job and what do I need from this hiring manager and what do I need from this team?”

Mac Prichard:

I’m curious, I’ve got to ask, besides respect and work-life balance, which I expect come up a lot when you work with people to identify those top three or five values, what are, say, three more that keep coming up again and again in your conversations, things that matter to candidates, they ask hiring managers about?

Michelle Neal:

As I said respect, accountability is something, and trust. That’s a big one is trust.

Mac Prichard:

Those are good.

Michelle Neal:

That comes up. Wondering and a lot of times trust comes because they had an experience where there wasn’t a lot of trust so they want to know, “Can I trust you? Are you going to support me? Are you going to be held accountable for things that you haven’t followed up with?”

Mac Prichard:

I want to talk more about how to ask these questions. We’re going to take a quick break.

When we come back, Michelle Neal will continue to share her advice on how you can turn the tables in your next job interview and make interviewing a two-way street.

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We’re back in the Mac’s List studio. I’m talking with Michelle Neal. She’s a career coach and she owns the company, Consulting with Integrity. Michelle joins us in person today in the Mac’s List studio in Portland, Oregon.

Michelle, before the break, we were talking about why candidates need to make job interviews a two way street and we were talking about some of the questions they might ask, particularly about values. I know, from reading  your articles on LinkedIn and on your website, you’re a big believer in asking questions in the right way. Because sometimes you might ask a general question about values and you get information that’s not very useful, is it?

What’s the best way to ask these kinds of questions? What do you recommend listeners do?

Michelle Neal:

I think, well, first you need to read the room and read the person. If the person doesn’t seem open enough to want to go a little further…we’ve all been in interviews where it’s been cut and dry and that’s it, you don’t go any further. But if it’s something where it’s definitely, they’ve opened up the door for you to ask questions, I think you always ask the questions in a respectful manner and you put it in a way that you’re being curious but you’re, again, not disrespecting them, but you’re wanting to be enlightened as to, “Okay, I’m interested in this job, I’m interested in this organization, but I have my needs and am I going to be able to get these things fulfilled?” Or, “Am I going to have a chance to,” because sometimes it’s not going to be all there but you may have the opportunity to have it. It’s important to dig deep, and that’s individually.

I’m somebody who digs deep but there are some people who will just stop at a one-word answer and I try to tell people, if that’s the case you’ve got to live with whatever the response is.

Mac Prichard:

Read the room, be respectful, and be curious.

Now, often in an interview process, you might need a hiring manager…let’s step back actually.

When do you recommend people start asking these questions, Michelle? Because as you know, you’ve done your share of hiring and now you work with people who are going through hiring processes. It might start with a phone screener, and then you might meet with one person perhaps in HR, and then maybe a panel discussion, then they might take you around the department and have you have coffee or maybe even lunch with people.

How do you recommend people interview others as they go through and when do they start? Should they start quizzing someone during the phone screener in the very beginning of the process?

Michelle Neal:

No, the only time I say you should start at the beginning and you continue throughout the process is with work-life balance.

Mac Prichard:

Okay.

Michelle Neal:

That’s the one question, to me, it’s important to get it from all levels.

Mac Prichard:

Okay, tell me why that’s important. With that question.

Michelle Neal:

If that’s important to you, and I had someone say it was important to them today, and you start with the HR person and they give you the “30,000 square feet, okay, this is what the culture is, this is how we handle work-life balance.” And you’re like, “Okay, that’s what they say. That’s the marketing.” Then you need to go to the hiring manager, ask them, because the hiring manager may not have the same viewpoint as the company does with work-life balance.

Mac Prichard:

You may never meet the HR person again if it’s a large company.

Michelle Neal:

Then the team, and I always say, Can you give me an example? So, say from the HR person, “Give me an example of how you deal with work-life balance.” Same thing with the hiring manager, same thing with the team, because you will find out if they truly value that.

That’s with that…I say go with everybody.

Mac Prichard:

You’re listening for examples, like, “Well, so and so is going to graduate school so therefore they have a flexible schedule.” Or, “So and so needed an extra month of parental leave.” Or, “Another person had to take time off to care for a parent.”

Michelle Neal:

Yeah, the people who tell you, “We have a kegger,” then no. That’s not work-life balance.

Mac Prichard:

Not work-life balance. Okay.

Michelle Neal:

But there are people who say that.

Also, so that’s that group and then conflict is something that I say you should talk to the hiring manager and the team. How does the team handle conflict? A lot of people say, “Oh, we don’t have conflict.” Everybody has conflict. How does the hiring manager deal with conflict? How do they deal with your team having conflict? Are they an avoider? Are they somebody who’s very directive? What are they like?

Those are, to me, two important things to know.

Then there’s just things with the team, to just ask, “How do you deal with workflow?” That’s more of the actual job. The same thing with the hiring manager; okay, what are some questions dealing with the job.

I do think for the soft skills and that getting down and dirty, you need to ask other questions besides, “Oh, so what’s the first 30, 60, 90 days expectations?” Although that tells a lot as well. If you have someone who says, “Well, my first 30 days, you need to be up and running.” And it’s a totally different industry than you’ve ever been in, that says something to you.

Mac Prichard:

Okay.

Michelle Neal:

Can you do it?

Mac Prichard:

Well, now, what happens, Michelle, as you work your way through the process, you’re talking to different people and you start getting conflicting responses? How do you manage that information? What do you do next?

Michelle Neal:

Run.

Mac Prichard:

Okay. Tell me, why?

Michelle Neal:

Run. I think it’s, especially with the hiring manager and the team, if you get conflicting responses, listen to the team because they’re the ones doing the work and they’re the ones that are there all the time and interacting with each other and a lot of times, there are managers who are completely clued out as to what’s going on with their team.

If you have conflicting, and you and I talked about this, if you go in and the manager says, “Oh my goodness, this is great. We’re a great team. We’re this and that.” And you go in and you meet the team and they are cuckoo for cocoa puffs and they are just not right, leave.

It’s okay to not take the job.

Mac Prichard:

It’s hard sometimes for people to do that, isn’t it, Michelle? Because they fall in love with the mission of the organization or maybe its company or non-profit where they’ve always dreamed of working and they’re getting that conflicting information, and sometimes do you find that they think, “Well, I can work through it.” Does that happen?

Michelle Neal:

Oh, that happens all the time, where people think I can change the situation. And you can’t, because you can’t change people. Especially if people aren’t happy in their work, you can’t change that. And what ends up happening is you end up getting tainted and you end up getting bitter and it just is not healthy. It’s not a healthy environment.

It’s okay but I think people have to give themselves permission. I do have to say, the longer someone’s unemployed, the harder that becomes.

Mac Prichard:

Yeah.

Michelle Neal:

Because people are starting to get frantic and scared and, “I just need to get a job. So, I’m okay with going away from my gut and just taking a job.”

Mac Prichard:

You recommend people trust their gut.

Michelle Neal:

Oh, I definitely, I’m all about the gut.

Mac Prichard:

Okay.

Michelle Neal:

Yeah. I just believe that, and I don’t’ think a lot of people do that. I think that, again, if it’s cuckoo for cocoa puffs I guarantee that they’re supposed to be on their best behavior for you in an interview and their not, that’s the way they are day to day.

Mac Prichard:

I know, I have to say on a personal note, I’ve had some wonderful jobs. There was one position I took, it was a communications directors position, and it was, they’d hired 5 communications directors in 5 years. I knew it was going to be bad but I’d been out of work for 7 months, and I took the position. I was just a few weeks away from cashing my last unemployment check and it was bad. I sympathize with the people who have bills to pay and walk into a position like that.

There were ways I managed it and that’s not what we’re here to talk about today. And you can get through it but I agree, my gut was telling me not to do it and I think I just want to affirm your point that we should listen to our instincts.

Michelle Neal:

Yeah.

Mac Prichard:

Are there questions you recommend people don’t ask hiring managers or members of the team as you’re interviewing for the position?

Michelle Neal:

Oh my god, the worst one is, “How much am I going to get paid?” It doesn’t matter how many years people have been in the workforce, people ask that question.

Mac Prichard:

Let me just draw you out, why is that a bad question?

Michelle Neal:

In the interview, the final interview, what’s bad about that is what that shows a hiring manager is that you don’t care about the actual job, and you don’t care about the organization, you don’t care about being successful, you just are there for a paycheck, and sometimes that’s a fact but you don’t put that out there.

You also, anything regarding time off, this is all stuff that you talk to the HR person about. You don’t talk to the hiring manager about this.

Mac Prichard:

You wait until there’s an offer on the table?

Michelle Neal:

You wait until there’s an offer and you know, because what that does is it automatically shuts somebody down. It really says to that person, “That’s all you’re thinking about; you’re not thinking about being productive here.” People, I like to say people are not that evolved, but people want to feel like you care about them.

Mac Prichard:

Yeah.

Michelle Neal:

And not necessarily a job and so during that time period you have to show that you care about them.

Those are questions that I don’t think you should ask at all and I know if I was hiring somebody and they asked me those questions, it would be, “Click. You’re not coming back.”

Mac Prichard:

We want to avoid that if it’s a job we want.

Well, Michelle, tell us what’s next for you? This has been a great conversation.

Michelle Neal:

What’s next for me is expanding my outreach to helping people throughout every stage of your career transition and coaching you to be successful. I like to say I go from entry to exit and everything in between. I just want to continue doing something that I love and helping people that want to be helped.

Mac Prichard:

Well, I know people can learn more about you and your services, Michelle, by visiting your website, consultingintegrity.com.

Michelle, thanks for coming to the studio today.

Michelle Neal:

Thank you so much, Mac.

Mac Prichard:

It’s been a pleasure. Take care.

Michelle Neal:

Thanks.

Mac Prichard:

Remember this the next time you’re in a job interview; if it feels like it’s cuckoo for cocoa puffs, it probably is. That was a big takeaway for me from my conversation with Michelle and to put it in another way, trust your gut. Listen to your instincts.

Remember, you’re being interviewed but you’re not only selling yourself, you’re a buyer as well so don’t be shy about asking your own questions.

But you do need to be ready for the questions that you’ll get from the interviewers and you will be asked behavioral interview questions.

So get your copy today of our new free guide, 100 Behavioral Interview Questions You Need to Know.

Go to macslist.org/questions.

Thanks for listening to today’s episode of Find Your Dream Job.

Join us next Wednesday. Our guest expert will be Karen Wickre. She’s the author of the new book, “Taking the Work Out of Networking: An Introvert’s Guide to Making Connections That Count.”

Until next time, thanks for letting us help you find your dream job.

If you walk into an interview ready to answer questions but don’t have any of your own to ask, you are not taking full advantage of the interview process. You have a responsibility to not only answer questions but to ask them of everyone you talk to within the company, from the HR staff to the team members, to the hiring manager. The answers you receive will tell you a lot about how things really work inside the company. On this episode of Find Your Dream Job, my guest Michelle Neal says that if you get conflicting answers to your questions, especially from the team and the hiring manager, that is your sign to run. It can be hard to walk away from a job offer if you’ve been out of work for a while but just remember, you can’t change people, and working in an unhealthy environment doesn’t benefit anyone.

About Our Guest:

Michelle Neal is a career coach and the owner of Consulting with Integrity. Her passion is helping people become successful through strategic coaching. Michelle uses her talents of honesty, openness, and empathy to guide individuals to a successful outcome.

Resources in This Episode:

  • If you are in a job transition or you need help planning your next career move, Michelle offers consulting and strategic coaching through her business, Consulting with Integrity.
  • Nail every behavioral interview question in your next interview by learning how to prepare for them. Download 100 Behavioral Interview Questions You Need to Know, the free Mac’s List resource that will give you a solid foundation for any question an interviewer may ask.
  • From Our Sponsor: Jobscan is an online tool that optimizes keywords and customizes your resume for greater chances of landing an interview. Visit www.jobscan.co/dreamjob for a 10% discount.