How to Start a Job Search at 55: From a Hiring Manager
This is Part III of Glen Bradley's blog series. Read Part IV here.
There are comments you hear that will make you cringe. “The test results are positive” or “we’re downsizing” or even “the wedding reception band plays rap music”. It can also be the case with the bittersweet phrase “you have an interview”. Bittersweet because yes, this is what the job seeker is working diligently to obtain, but there is a sweatiness that almost instantly forms in the palms as you consider the event.
In my situation, I haven’t had an interview external to my company in about 20 years. However, there was a period in the early 2000s where I was an IT Director and did a significant amount of hiring. So, I sat down in my home office next to the trusty Golden Retriever to think what advice my hiring manager side would give to my job seeker side.
First, I should say there are mountains of advice columns, books, blogs, etc. where true recruiting experts can advise. I will also say that if you tried to keep up with all the tips and tricks that are given you would be reduced to a pool of water in the interview as you try to remember it all. This is a topic where I don’t consider myself “best in class”. On the other hand, I’ve done a lot of it, so I can provide a look into my internal conversation.
The most important thing I tell myself is that I only get one shot at the first impression. I was in an executive roundtable discussion this week and there is some scientific evidence where the “visual” stimulus in the interview may be as much as 60% of the information gathering. I agree with this. How the candidate was dressed, grooming, posture, and body language provided important signals to me as we would step through the questions. That may seem unfair to some, and maybe hiring managers shouldn’t admit it, but as much as I hate it, I have to get those leisure suits and polyester bellbottoms out of my closet for some updated threads.
The next thing I remember is that the hiring manager's chief goal in the interview is to cut through all the candidates' coaching to find out what they would really be like when they show up for work on that first Monday morning. Authenticity, I feel, is the holy grail of the interview. Everyone has numbers. They’ve reduced x percent, increased by y percent, added customers, eliminated waste, etc. Truthfully, as a hiring manager, I didn’t get caught up in the math on the resume, as it seemed many of the candidates' calculators would misfire on the actuals.
Usually, I could start to get to the real person by talking about weaknesses. My administrative assistant had to pad my office with rubber because every time candidates told me their weakness was they “worked too hard”, I would begin to bang my head on the wall. Candidates who were honest and thoughtful about how they worked through their warts and freckles moved to the top of my list.
The other question I utilized was the discussion on mistakes. I once had a project manager candidate who had never missed a deliverable or key timeline. Really?? Then you couldn’t work here because our business people can’t make up their mind on requirements, the delivery timelines from our customers are ridiculously short, and my IT partners generally have a fire to put out rather than meet our agreed-on project task for that week. No, I needed a project manager that had been through Viking pillages if they were to cope and succeed in my shop. So, despite the great coaching I’m getting on interview techniques, how do I keep it real?
And finally, I tell myself to embrace the moment. Interviews are stressful, no way to get around that. But, I look at it this way: someone is giving me time to talk about the great teams I’ve shared tears and celebratory beers with, and all the wonderful experiences that I’ve had in my career. As I reflect, I have a lot to offer a new company, so pull up a chair and let’s sit and talk about it.