Thursday, January 26, 2012

Dear online retailer

How nice of you to start sending me e-mails this week, telling me that you want me back. In fact, it is very kind of you to remember me at all, since I haven't ordered from you in years. Since it has been a while, I thought I might clue you in on why I have been gone so long.

You see, you sell all sorts of things – and way back before iTunes got really big, you even used to sell downloadable music. Back then, I bought a lot of songs from you. But then one day, one of these songs I purchased was a corrupt file that wouldn't play. Downloaded it a couple of times, in fact, to be sure it wasn't me.

"No biggie," I thought. "I'll just e-mail customer service and let them know. They will appreciate hearing about the problem, and I will get my 99 cents back." What happened instead was one of the most ridiculous bureaucratic ordeals I have had with any consumer product.

First I received an e-mail, written in marginal English, telling me that you would "investigate" the problem, and would then inform me of the results of the investigation – and that after this process was complete, you would then decide whether I would receive my 99 cents back. *Weeks* go by. I cannot resist the curiosity of asking about the status of this. A good while later, I receive a response telling me that you are still investigating this, and that you cannot respond to my request for a refund until this investigation has been completed.

Some time after that, long after I first contacted you, good news! Your "investigation" was now complete, and you were now finally prepared to refund my 99 cents!

Meanwhile, as a former customer support executive – and now as a customer service author and speaker – I was curious about why this involved such a long, drawn-out process. After all, we were talking about a sum that was probably less than what it costs you to send one of these e-mails – unless, perhaps, your offshore customer contact staff were being paid in agricultural products and small farm animals. So I wrote a polite note to one of your senior executives. And, of course, never got so much as a harrumph from the corner office. 

So meanwhile, back to your recent e-mails wanting me back. First, I have a question for you: given what was involved in getting my 99 cents back, how much trust do you feel I should have in ordering, say, a $1500 laptop from you? Or a $200 digital camera? Get back to me on that one, OK? I don't mind waiting a few more weeks.

Monday, January 09, 2012

Interviewing skills: Common wisdom versus reality

As a longtime former hiring manager, I often get a kick out of reading articles on how to act during a job interview – because there is so much in them that is just plain wrong. Especially now, in today's tight job market. Let's take a look at the "common wisdom" that is often in print about interviewing, and hold it up against reality:

Common wisdom: Say nothing but positive things about yourself. Never admit weaknesses.

Reality: Do you have co-workers – or relatives – who never admit to any weakness, and always have to be right? They are a pain in the neck, aren't they? You don't want to come across like them. It is much better, as a person and as an interviewee, to "own" both your strengths and your legitimate weaknesses. And forget about that trick of substituting a strength for a weakness, like, "I work too hard" – hiring managers have seen through that one for years.

There is an even more important reason you need to be proud of strengths and authentic about your weaknesses: your credibility. Especially if you've been out of the workforce for a while. Many hiring managers – including me – have had the experience of getting "yessed" by someone who is desperate for a job, and then getting burned. Trust me, you don't want to smell like these candidates. So when you can tell an interviewer, "I'm great at A, B, and C, I can easily learn D, E, and F, and I'm absolutely horrible at X and Y," BAM! Instant credibility.

Common wisdom: List as many duties and accomplishments as possible on your resume. You never know which one will "stick."

Reality: Less is more. Emphasize your biggest successes and summarize everything else. Yes, keywords are sometimes important, but so is white space: focus on the things you are the very best at, or your biggest goals.

Be aware that an endless laundry list of projects and skills can stereotype you. As a hiring manager, I used to refer to these densely-packed, buzzword-laden resumes as MEGO (My Eyes Glaze Over) resumes – and their authors were usually mediocre at everything and masters of nothing. Always go for quality over quantity.

Common wisdom: Stay formal and professional throughout the interview. Don't let your guard down for "small talk" beforehand or afterwards from interviewers.

Reality: This is a tricky one. Of course, you don't want to come across as someone who talks too much or lacks boundaries. But the opposite is sometimes even more dangerous. Your qualifications are important, but so is how much interviewers like you as a person. If you are hired, you will probably spend more time with these people than your own family, and chemistry is what hiring managers lay awake at night about. Small talk is a preview of what you will be like to work with, so err on the side of being friendly, open and genuine – not just a professionally competent robot.

Common wisdom: Interviews are a competition to show you are better than others.

Reality: People rarely – if ever – "blow" an interview. Even if they are very nervous or forgetful. If you really have the best professional or personal skills for the job, it will show. The purpose of an interview is to discover who you really are. Prepare well, research the position and the company, and then do the one single thing that will most help you get the job: relax and be yourself.