Playing 20 (or so) questions

Nobody tells you this, but there’s a quiz.

The questions ebb and flow depending on the circumstances of your layoff, and there’s no one with a master answer sheet saying whether you got it right or wrong. But the way you answer the questions will have a direct impact on your job search.

Here are some starter questions:

1. Did I like what I was doing?

2. Do I want to find a job in the same field?

3. Are there jobs locally in this field?

4. Do I have the qualifications for jobs in this field?

5. Do I have contacts to help me find jobs locally in this field?

Depending on the answers to this question, some of the next questions would be:

6. Are there good jobs in my field somewhere else?

7. Do I want to move?

8. Can I move if I have to?

9. Do I have the contacts/skills to find a job somewhere else?

10. Does it make sense to take a lesser job and stay because my spouse has a good job?

Seriously, this question of moving/not moving is an important one, especially if your spouse is employed, your children are in a good school program, or you own a house in a slow housing market. And even if you’re single and don’t own your home, leaving behind your social safety net — family, good friends, places you’re familiar with — can be traumatic and empowering in equal measure, depending on where and why and how you go. If you were holding on to a bad job because you were afraid to step outside your geographic or social comfort zone, you could be pleasantly surprised if you land in a friendly spot with good money and the opportunity for new experiences. Or you could be homesick and never really fit in, I’m not going to lie. I’ve done both and you never know what you’ve got until you get there.

If you decide you can move, and you start applying for jobs outside your area, here are some other questions:

11. Where would I go? (This website can give you an idea of what kind of jobs would be available in other parts of Canada, and here’s one for Ontario).

12. Do I want to look from here, or can I move there and look on-site?

13. Do I need to upgrade my skills before I start looking elsewhere?

14. Is there some place I’ve always wanted to live and are there jobs available there in my field?

15. Do I know anyone there?

There are some other questions the homeowner has to answer:

16. If I sold my house, would I lose money?

17. Is my house ready to sell? (Does it need paint/repairs?) — A married couple I used to work with bought paint almost immediately after hearing about our layoff, on the assumption they’d have to move. And it’s a good thing — they did move out of the province and were able to sell their house fairly quickly for a good price.

18. Do I know a realtor?

19. Am I prepared to pack and leave?

20. Can I afford to pay my mortgage and keep the house going if I stay here and take a pay cut?

You will not be graded on this quiz, but it will be counted against your final mark…

Thank you, thank you very much

It’s a long-lost art, the thank you note. I regret its passing even as I acknowledge that I’m not particularly good at writing them myself, despite my best-laid plans at Christmas and birthdays. Particularly in the age of email — even though I love getting mail that doesn’t have a bill or request for me to otherwise spend money attached, I’m far more likely to fire off a thank-you email than a note, if I send one at all.

If you’re like me, it’s time to smarten up, particularly if you’re on the hunt for a job. Because a well-written thank you note could be your key to job-finding success.

Thank-you notes don’t need to be long or effusive, no need to be obsequious or ingratiating, or to use $10 words when a 50-cent word will do.

There are a few key reasons to send a thank-you note: First of all, to say thank you. Some busy people thought enough of you to invite you to come in and talk to them. Secondly, you want to remind them why they did that, hit the high points of why you’re perfect for the job. Maybe add a thought that came up after the interview — but be brief, you don’t want to look like  twit. Keep it short and simple, error-free and polite. It’s a courtesy, but it’s also a sign of character that you’re aware of the requirements of etiquette and can fulfil them.

An email thank-you letter is sufficient, but if there’s time, you may want to send a short letter (avoid flowery thank-you cards, send those to your grandmother).  There are a number of websites, including this one, where you can find samples if you’re looking for a little guidance.

And remember, you can always practice your thank-you note technique by formally recognizing people who give you gifts at various times during the year. Can’t hurt.

Who’s in charge here?

Do you have any questions for us?

I hate, hate, hate that question. Hate it. Loathe it. Cringe when it comes.

This is a horrible thing for a journalist to admit but I quite often HAVE NO QUESTIONS to ask a prospective employer in an interview — or at least, no questions that strike me as suitable to ask in the interview itself. My questions tend to be things that are more appropriately addressed after the offer has been made — like vacation allocation and salary. Sometimes I’ll have questions but the interviewers will have answered them all  by the time we get to the question portion of the show, and I’m left looking like a dolt, smiling and saying “No, you’ve answered them all.”

Mostly,  the questions I’d like to have asked come to me hours later, or the next day, just like the perfect retort. Frustrating as hell.

But still I’m intrigued by suggestions by the Brazen Careerist, Penelope Trunk, that one way to ace an interview is to ask questions before they ask you if you have any. In fact, Trunk seems to advocate taking the interview into your own hands, starting out by asking about the job — and then spending the rest of the interview explaining how you’re perfect for it.

Another way of taking control, Trunk suggests, is to present your interviewers with a plan of what you’d do for your first three months on the job. “Show some humility —  say, ‘This is just something I came up with that we might use to get the interview started.’ Of course, you can only do this if you know a lot about the job. But the best way to get the job is to know a lot about it.”

The very idea blows my mind. For me, the interview is a torture, whereby I put myself forward to be poked, prodded and ultimately judged by a panel of one or more people. It would never even occur to me that I could turn that whole paradigm on its ear. It’s not particularly in my nature to assert myself with strangers, I tend to sit back and assess the situation and then make my move when I’ve got it sussed. (The validity of this approach was brought home to me when at one workplace a new supervisor swore he was going to “fix” everything that was wrong in a very smooth-working and highly productive office — and this before he even walked in the door.  Never was a man so quickly and universally hated.)

But what if you had that kind of cojones? Just imagine it. You’d have to be very certain of  having done your homework, and I suspect that approach would work better in some industries than others — some industries reward the brazen advance, others punish it. But it would be worth it just to see the faces of the interviewing panel as you thwart their interview plan, carefully structured to elicit answers to their pre-determined questions, spoken and unspoken.

And who knows, it just might work, particularly if the company was hoping the new person in the position would put their own stamp on it.

Hmm. Tempting. Perhaps to be labelled: For supremely confident adrenaline junkies only.

Interview with the (information) vampire

That’s what interviews feel like sometimes, a meeting with an information-sucking fiend that always wants more than you’re prepared to give.

Well, that may be overstating the case  just a little. Mosquito more than vampire, maybe — a necessary evil, more irritating than life-threatening. And the amount of blood lost is directly proportional to the amount of repellent used — the repellent in this case being preparation.

Depending on the nature of the job you’re applying for, and the company you’re applying to, the interview is likely to take one of two main forms: the traditional interview and the behavioural.

The traditional interview is the one we all love to hate — the one where they ask your strengths and weaknesses, why you want to work for that company, where you want to be in five years, yada yada yada. Very easy to learn your lines once you’re aware of the script — and these days, with all the information on the Internet, you’d be foolish not to be aware of the script. According to the website, “Employers are looking for the answer to three questions: does the job-seeker have the skills and abilities to perform the job; does the job-seeker possess the enthusiasm and work ethic that the employer expects; and will the job-seeker be a team player and fit into the organization.” If you can answer those unspoken questions to the employer’s satisfaction, you’re in.

The behavioural interview is a serious weeding tool. These interviewers want to hear all about your worst day on the job, how you handled it and what you learned from it.  They want to hear what you did an a kazillion different situations. They want you to probe your professional psyche for them on the theory that past behaviour will indicate future behaviour. Compared to this stuff — particularly if your work history is a minefield big mistakes and inability to play well with others — the traditional interview is a breeze, a mere trifle. That’s not to say that there isn’t a script for the behavioural interview (which I understand is a favourite of the Canadian government), it’s just Hamlet instead of Twelfth Night. Longer, more intense, and someone goes insane before it’s over. offers this suggestion for preparing your script for the behavioural interview: “Job-seekers should frame their answers based on a four-part outline: (1) describe the situation, (2) discuss the actions you took, (3) relate the outcomes, and (4) specify what you learned from it.” And don’t go off-book if you don’t have to.

That’s not where the interviewing story stops, either. There are many more types of interviews. Phone interviews are among my favourite — I’m comfortable with them because as a desk-bound journalist I’ve done a lot of (non-job) interviews that way. I’m good on the phone. I know my voice is pleasant to the ear, the interviewer can’t see you roll your eyes or do your impression of The Scream

if you don’t like the question. You don’t need to dress up — though actually it doesn’t hurt, just to get you in the mood — and you can sit in your comfy chair in any pose you like if it helps you to concentrate.

No matter what form the interview takes, take your cue from the Boy Scout motto: Be Prepared.

What to do if you’re laid off in 2008 recession — Scobleizer

This article was written four years ago but the economic times don’t seem to have changed much — and the advice still stands for anyone laid off now. I followed most of these tips and people keep telling me I got a job quickly — though it really didn’t seem like that to me at the time!

What to do if you’re laid off in 2008 recession — Scobleizer.