Find Your Dream Job, Episode 190:
Your Job Search Isn’t Only About You, with Susanne Aronowitz
Airdate: May 8, 2019
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 Susanne Aronowitz about why your job search isn’t only about you.
You find a job that looks perfect for you. It offers exciting responsibilities, an ideal salary, and an easy commute.
In your application and in your interview, you stress that the position meets your needs exactly.
Later, you get a call from the company. The manager tells you, “It wasn’t a good fit.”
But it was a perfect fit. For you. How could the employer not see this?
Our guest today says the most successful candidates put an employer’s needs first.
Want to learn more? Listen in now at the Mac’s List studio as I interview Susanne Aronowitz about why your job search isn’t only about you.
Susanne Aronowitz is a certified career coach. She’s helped thousands of lawyers and other professionals achieve career success.
A former attorney herself, Susanne helps her clients with career exploration, transition, and growth.
She joins us today here, in Portland, Oregon.
Susanne, thanks for being a guest today.
Thanks, Mac. It’s great to be here.
So many people walk into a job interview, Susanne, or send off an application thinking only about what’s in it for them, the applicant. Why is this a mistake?
There are two parties to a hiring decision, the applicant and the employer, and the more that the applicant can connect with the employer, the more likely they are to engage them and show the employer that they’re the right person for the job.
So often, I see applicants talk only about themselves in a cover letter or show up at the interview, talking only about themselves and they miss out on the other key party to this conversation.
If they can find ways to engage the employer, they’re more likely to show the value that they bring to that employer.
This is a well-intentioned mistake. I mean, people do this because they are truly excited about the job, it’s not because they’re raving narcissists.
Right. Well, maybe a few. Most of them. They’re just nervous and they don’t know…it’s like taking an exam but you don’t know what’s on it, so you take that kitchen sink approach and you talk about everything.
But if they can do some preparation in advance and really try to understand, what is it that the employer is interested in and what would help the employer make a good decision, they can focus their thoughts and share information in a targeted, strategic way to connect with that employer.
Well, how will that help the applicant, Susanne, to think about the needs of the employer? What’s the benefit to the job candidate?
Well, there are a lot of benefits. One is that it helps engage the employer and the more that they can anticipate what’s on the employer’s mind, they can be prepared and that will help the applicant relax. The more relaxed they are, the more excited they can become about the interview, the more open they can be, and to be present with the employer in the conversation, rather than being worried that they’re being judged on all the wrong factors. It really helps them relax and show their best self.
In addition to putting the applicant at ease during the interview and being able to show that best self, are there other benefits to thinking about the needs of the employer?
Sure. I mean, the employer has specific needs and the more you can show them that you can serve those needs, that you can solve their problems, and put the employer in a better position, the more excited the employer will be about you. It’s a win-win. You share information that you want to share but you do it in a way that helps the employer recognize your value.
As you talk, another thought occurs to me, that a lot of candidates don’t do this. They, again, because they’re excited, they talk about their excitement about the job.
Is there an advantage when you’re competing against other candidates when you talk about the needs of an employer?
Absolutely. Every candidate, presumably, is excited about the job, so that, in and of itself is not all that compelling to an employer.
The employer, on the other hand, has very specific needs. They have goals they need to meet, they’re having challenges, they need someone to come in and help them and so if you can show the employer your motivation to do that, your ability to do that, and your desire to help advance the employer’s position, the employer can see that you’re in it for them and that’s a way to differentiate from the crowd of applicants.
How do people get started because I can imagine listeners saying, “Well, I found this position, on a job board,” or “I have a colleague inside the company who sent me a description but how do I understand beyond what’s in the job posting itself? What problems the employer might have or what needs they need help with.”
Well, I would start with the job description and read it carefully. I often recommend to my clients pulling out some colored pens and highlighters and circling verbs to see, what are the skills that the employer wants? Maybe use another color to circle the area of expertise or the issues that are mentioned there and that will help you think of some of your substantive matter, substantive knowledge that you might want to share. That will give you some clues.
If you have networking contacts that have the connection to that organization, you can chat with them.
“What do you know about this organization or this hiring manager? What are some of the issues or challenges they’ve been dealing with lately? What insights can you share to help me understand the culture and the needs and expectations of this organization?”
If the applicant takes the time, ideally before they even write their cover letter, to hone in on some of those key themes, they can then emphasize that in the cover letter.
And so, they can present their background not just as a narrative that reflects the chronology that’s on their resume, but they can be very pointed in terms of showing the employer, “Here’s why I’m interested in your organization and your role. Here’s what I bring to it, and here’s the impact I can have within your organization.”
They can then echo those thoughts at the interview and really be more prepared with some anecdotes that highlight those same themes that show the employer, “Here’s the way I can bring value to your organization and here’s why I want to bring value here.”
How do you recommend, Susanne, people talk, either in a cover letter or in the interview, about specific problems their research might have uncovered?
They might ask questions and I actually encourage them to bring a lot of curiosity to the conversation. So beforehand, they might say, “What do I need to learn about this organization to answer some of those questions, to understand what the challenges are?”
And then, “What have I revealed in my homework that might generate more questions?” And to bring those questions to the interview and not be afraid to ask the employer, “Hey, I’ve noticed there have been these challenges, can you tell me more about what’s happening?” Or, “Can you tell me more about the context?” Or, “Can you tell me more about how you want to turn that around? What’s your plan and how might I play a role in that?”
I think showing that curiosity, showing what it is that’s important to the employer is going to give the applicant a lot of the information that they need.
You mentioned homework and looking at a job posting, highlighting those keywords, and then seeing if you have connections, perhaps through LinkedIn or your own professional network to people inside the company and chatting with them about the needs an employer might have.
What other research tips do you have for our listeners? Things they might do both online or maybe even at the old-fashioned library.
Well, I think it’s helpful to be familiar with the industry, trends that are happening, challenges that are happening, so if you know that there is some challenge that’s happening or some opportunity that’s opening up, bring that knowledge to the conversation.
You might get curious, “What impact might that context have on this role and what can I contribute? You know, if I’m in this role, how might I help move the ball forward for this employer?”
Just being familiar, staying current, being able to cite some of the things that you’ve read, showing the interviewer that you are engaged in the profession. For folks who might be between jobs, that’s a great way to show that they’re still actively engaged, to show that they’re still paying attention. That they read industry trends, they go to professional association meetings.
That’s a way to show that they’re not rusty or that they haven’t gotten stale with their knowledge but they’re current and engaged.
Employers want people who are engaged.
As you talk, Susanne, about that kind of preparation and homework, it’s clear that a lot of basic questions about a company, you’re encouraging applicants to know the answer before they walk into the interview room. You’re not using the interview as a discovery process, are you?
Well, yes and no.
I think that you should be prepared, you should not be asking the employer simple questions that you should have found with your own due diligence but it is a good idea to ask some open-ended questions. Ones that you couldn’t discover, ones that bring your curiosity into the conversation.
If you can ask the hiring manager what some of their challenges are or what they’re excited about? What are some of the opportunities they’ve identified for the team or the organization? That gets the interviewer to reveal information to you that can be quite helpful and might signal to you the things that you ought to be emphasizing in the rest of the conversation.
It’s a combination, do your own homework, and then bring that curiosity into the conversation.
It’s a bit like a math problem, too, in that, you want to show your work in the interview, don’t you? You want to demonstrate that you’ve actually done some preparation by citing sources or maybe even sharing articles you’ve discovered.
Absolutely. A colleague of mine who is a recruiter for an organization has said something I think is really wise, and he says, “You show up for the job search, the way you would show up for a job.” And so you are modeling through your preparation, through your engagement, through your willingness to add value, you’re modeling the behavior that you would put into play if you actually got that job and that’s very compelling for hiring managers.
It’s not unlike a sales process too, and I’m sure you run across this, a lot of sales coaching focuses on listening, drawing out potential customers about their challenges and not walking into a meeting with a solution but finding out what the needs are.
Absolutely. I think the best salespeople don’t sell. It’s about listening and it’s about problem-solving. It’s really understanding what this particular customer, or in this case a hiring manager, needs and helping to figure out a way to help them solve that problem.
Okay, well, I want to take a break and when we come back, I want to talk about the interview itself because, in your articles on your website, you mention that an interview isn’t a performance and a lot of people approach it that way.
We’ll be back in a moment and we’ll talk more with Susanne Aronowitz about why a job search isn’t only about you.
No employer wants to make a bad hire.
To reduce the risk of this happening, managers ask behavioral interview questions.
This lets a company learn about your past experience. And your answers show whether or not you’re a good fit.
Here’s an example of one of these questions.
“Tell me about a time you had to deal with an angry customer?”
What would you say?
You don’t want to make up your answer on the spot. And you can’t plan for every question an employer might ask.
So what can you do?
I’ve got a new guide that can help. It’s called 100 Behavioral Interview Questions You Need to Know.
Get your free copy today. Go to macslist.org/questions.
Our guide is just 12 pages long. But here’s what you get.
We share a list of the top questions managers ask. And we also give you a simple four-step process for answering any behavioral interview question.
Go to macslist.org/questions.
You’ll learn how to talk about the problems you faced in your last job. Describe the results you produced. And share the lessons you learned.
Get your copy today. Go to macslist.org/questions.
Now, let’s get back to the show.
We’re back in the Mac’s List studio. I’m talking with Susanne Aronowitz. She’s a certified career coach.
Suzanne joins us in person today, here in Portland, Oregon.
Susanne, before our break, we were talking about the kind of preparation you recommend people do before an interview in order to understand what an employer’s needs are. That’s not how most people approach interviews, is it? They kind of think of it as a performance. Can you talk more about that?
Sure, I think people memorize their elevator pitch; they come in and present a soliloquy as if they’re on a stage but the challenge with that is, just like being on a stage, you have this spotlight directed at you and the most important person in the room is in the darkness. You don’t engage that employer if you’re just reciting your lines at them.
It would be much more effective to engage the employer, to understand what’s important to them. You might need to ask some of those questions we talked about earlier but then you can direct your comments to them and start a conversation where it’s interactive and give-and-take, rather than speaking at the employer.
That will help calm your own nerves but more importantly, you’re engaging the employer into the conversation and into that problem-solving conversation with you.
Well, let’s go into that interview room for a moment. Typically people walk in, they shake hands, the candidate sits down, there might be one or several people behind the desk who make up the interview panel, and it’s not uncommon for employers to start off with a description of the position and then ask some standard questions that probably all of the candidates will get.
What do you recommend that candidates do next once they’ve answered those questions? Or, let me back up, Susanne, how do you recommend people answer those questions in a way that is going to engage the employer and demonstrate that you, as a candidate, understand that it’s not just about you, it’s also about the employer’s needs?
Yeah, this reminds me of when I used to be a hiring manager and I would ask them, “So, tell me, why are you interested in our opportunity?”
And the candidate would launch into a very long narrative tracing their whole history from college to this moment in time. Which actually didn’t answer the question about why they wanted to join us.
I think it’s helpful to listen to the question and then to understand that you need the employer to see that they are part of that story. You also want to be part of their story so if you’ve done your preparation, you know the 2 or 3 things that will be most compelling to this employer.
You know that they want to focus on particular skill sets or knowledge base, so you want your narrative to highlight those themes and then, I find it helpful to connect this new employer into that story.
You may have told a little bit of your background as it relates to this job and then you might say, “And that’s why I’m so excited to be here talking to you today. I’m thrilled to be able to bring this knowledge or this experience that I’ve gained to have an impact on you and your clients or your customers.” But you bring them into that story.
You’re wrapping up that first response, perhaps, by talking about what’s in it for the employer, not why this is your dream come true.
Exactly. It’s not about what a great opportunity it is for me, the applicant; it’s here is why I’m excited to serve you and contribute to your organization.
Okay, now again, there often is a common set of questions about a candidate’s interest in a position. Maybe one or two examples of things the candidate might do that the employer will ask about.
What do you recommend a candidate do when it’s their turn to ask questions? How should they approach that?
With that same curiosity that we talked about earlier, and in fact I would encourage them, if they can, to engage that earlier. To not wait for their turn to ask questions.
The employer might ask them a question, they might answer it, and they might say, “How is that showing up here?” Or, “How has that impacted you here?” Or, “Can you tell me more about how you’ve dealt with that scenario?”
But to try to turn it from an interrogation into a conversation to get that give and take and to really get some candid information from the employer.
When you get to that point in the interview though, where they do invite the applicant to ask questions, have some of those open-ended questions prepared. Things that might engage, you know, ask the employer, “What are some of the challenges that you’ve encountered with this role? What are some of the opportunities you’ve forecasted for the team in the coming year? If we’re successful with this initiative, what do you expect us to have achieved in the coming year?”
Some open-ended questions that show your desire to understand your hiring manager’s needs, how you can serve them, and questions that will also reveal to you a little bit more about the style and the culture of this organization to make sure it’s going to be a good fit for you.
As you listen to the employer’s response to those questions, what do you recommend candidates pay attention to and how might they follow up on what they hear?
I think listening to the words and then the subtext, what’s not being said.
I would encourage them to follow up because often, the first answer is a little bit rehearsed but again, doing some of those follow-up questions, “Help me understand that. I’d love to learn more. What has your experience been? Could you share an example? How did that play out for you?”
Getting the employer to really dig a little deeper and share some more information and to pay attention to that culture. What’s being celebrated here? What are the stressors here? Who else is being mentioned in these stories? That might give you a sense of whether this is an environment or culture that would work well for you.
In your experience, how do employers react when they get these questions? Is it something they welcome and is it something other candidates do?
I think, for the most part, employers welcome it. I mean, they want to see that you’re engaged and curious, and they want to see those wheels turning in your head that you’re trying to imagine yourself working here. You’re trying to get that information and to visualize yourself here. If you can do that, it makes it easier for the employer to visualize you working here.
I will say, as a caveat, there are some settings where the interview’s a little bit more prescripted, so typically in a government interview where they have to ask the same question to each applicant and really can’t deviate too far from that script. You might get a little bit of push back, but I would think in other settings the employer is excited to engage with someone who cares about these same issues, who shares their passion for this work.
I’m glad you brought up the example of the government hiring process because those are often very formal and the people who are asking the questions have to ask the same questions of every candidate.
Any tips about how a candidate can, again, make that conversation more engaging while being respectful of the system and the rules that that employer may have laid out in the hiring process?
Yeah, well, I think in government agencies, in particular, these are public service organizations, they’re mission-driven, and the people who work there really care about the work that they do, the communities that they serve, their responsibility to serve the community. They want to see that same mission and that same excitement in their applicants.
It’s really important for an applicant for those kinds of jobs to show that they care in the same way, that they take this mission seriously, and to show examples of how they’ve served communities in the same way or how excited they are to do this and that they’re motivated to do the work, because it may not be the highest paid work. It may not be the most glamorous work, but if you can show that there is a reward to you in the service and to connect with them on that shared mission, that will go a long way to really showing that connection.
You mentioned excitement and I know we talked about this earlier, that many candidates will express that at the start of an interview or perhaps in application materials. When is the best time to share your excitement? Because obviously, people are excited about the job. Otherwise, they wouldn’t be applying. What are your tips there, Susanne?
I think the excitement should come all the way through. I don’t think it’s something you want to wait and hide. Don’t hide the ball on that. So, I just think you want to show up and smile in the interview. I even recommend to folks if they’re doing a phone interview, don’t forget to smile because it really comes through over the air.
You want to be clear, not only that you’re excited but why. You might start off the, “Tell me about yourself.” And you might end that with why you’re excited to be in the room with this employer. Show engagement throughout, so you’re communicating with your body language, and your facial expressions, your excitement to be there and certainly by the end, it’s a great idea as you’re wrapping up the conversation, as a sort of exclamation mark, to reiterate that, not only that you’re excited, but why.
What is so compelling to you about this work, about this organization, and the contributions you plan to make, or hope to make, in the role with them.
Well, it’s been a terrific conversation. Tell me, what’s next for you, Susanne?
Well, I’m continuing to grow my private coaching practice where I work with folks on career transitions and professional growth. I’m also excited about some new consulting ventures that I’m involved with to do some out-placement work and talent management work.
Well, terrific. I know people can learn more about you, your company, and your services by visiting your website, susannearonowitz.com.
Susanne, given our conversation today, and you’ve had a lot of great tips, what’s the one thing you want our audience to remember when thinking about why a job search isn’t only about them, the applicant?
I think the more you can help the employer visualize you in the role, the more excited they’re going to be to bring you in and see you as part of the team. You want to take it from being a, “You and me,” to an, “Us” conversation. To show them that you’re ready to be part of the team.
Well, thank you. It’s been a pleasure.
Great, thank you.
Well, I enjoyed that conversation with Susanne. Here’s something that stood out for me, and that was, not only the importance of preparation, but how preparation, if when done well, leads the employer to see you as a partner, as a future employee, because you’re in those interviews talking about their needs and their problems and how you can make their life easier and you’re able to do that because you did the preparation. You did your homework and you’re thinking about them and not only about your needs.
Well, when you’re doing that preparation, you’ve got to be ready, too, for what are called “behavioural interview questions.” These are questions that draw you out about your past experiences dealing with the challenges that an employer faces.
Are you ready to answer those questions? We’ve got a guide that can help.
It’s called 100 Behavioural Interview Questions You Need to Know.
You can get your copy today. Go to macslist.org/questions.
It’s free. Go to macslist.org/questions.
Well, thanks for listening to today’s episode of Find Your Dream Job.
Join us next Wednesday. Our guest expert will be Linda Van Valkenburg. She’ll explain what to do if your networking isn’t working.
Until next time, thanks for letting us help you find your dream job.