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  1. Three Ways to Answer “Tell Me Something No One Knows About You”
  2. Managing Expectations Between Two Internal Candidates
  3. Series on Hiring Technical People
  4. 7 Tips to Starting a Job Search
  5. Job Search Tip: Choose Enough References
  6. More Recent Articles
  7. Search Johanna Rothman, Management Consultant » HTP
  8. Prior Mailing Archive

Three Ways to Answer “Tell Me Something No One Knows About You”

Hiring managers who haven’t read Hiring Geeks That Fit are now asking another irrelevant question:

Tell me something no one else knows about you.

Now, in case you aren’t sure, this is an irrelevant question. It doesn’t directly help an interviewer learn how the candidate can perform the work or fit with the team. It doesn’t help the candidate learn about the job. That means it’s irrelevant.

However, if you are looking for a job, you can use this question. I would focus the question back at the work. Here are some ways to answer this question:

  • Tell a personal story about how you exhibited problem-solving or fit with a team. Something that you know or suspect the interviewer is looking for.
  • If this is a first question, ask the interviewer, “What does success look like for this job? I can tell you how I did something like that in the past.” If you do have that experience on your resume, point to it.
  • Think back to the value you bring to an organization. Now, think of a personal story that shows one or more of those values.

Answer this question with a story. Your interviewer is looking for something personal.

If you’re not sure how to answer or define your value, look at Manage Your Job Search. I have a number of examples of how to answer irrelevant questions.


Managing Expectations Between Two Internal Candidates

You have an open position. You have two internal candidates. You’re going to hire one of them. (See Two Candidates, One Position.) Now you have a problem. You have one person who will not be happy. This often occurs when you have two candidates for technical leadership or management positions.

You might have a political problem. You certainly have a challenge. How can you “save” both people?

This is a management and expectation problem.

You need to clarify to yourself first, why you want to hire one person over the other. Once you understand your thinking, you can set expectations with both candidates.

Here are some scenarios:

  1. One candidate is ready for the new position. That candidate has demonstrated that he or she can already do the work required. The other candidate is not quite ready. In this case, you owe the not-quite-ready candidate coaching, if the candidate wants it. You also owe the candidate specific examples of what he or she can do to be ready the next time.
  2. Neither candidate is quite ready, but you think one candidate has more potential. In this case, you might need to change the job description. You will have to coach the candidate you hire. You will have to manage expectations with the other candidate and offer coaching.
  3. Neither candidate is good enough for the role. You will expand the search outside the organization. In this case, both candidates need feedback and coaching.

Note that in all cases, you can reset expectations and “save” the other candidate with feedback and coaching. That’s just the first step.

You can fix these problems if you have an expertise criteria chart for all your positions, individual contributor and leadership/managerial.

An expertise criteria chart explains what people need to have demonstrated to achieve a certain level. These criteria are all about the non-technical skills, qualities, and preferences for the role. Sometimes, HR wants to put an education component in the role. I find education is irrelevant. These criteria are about accomplishments.

The expertise criteria arise from your job analysis. What qualities, preferences, and non-technical skills do you want people to have in your organization? Here is an example:

You might value the ability of someone to coach other people. In that case, a junior person can be coached. A mid-level person can coach one or two people about something he or she knows well. A senior person can coach a team, regardless of the domain. A manager would be able to coach about career development in addition to the other coaching.

Now, people can see where they fall in the criteria. Someone who has not tried coaching peers is not ready for a senior position, regardless of other experience—if that is what is valuable to you.

What do you do with the candidate who didn’t get the job? Offer to provide coaching for the pieces of the job that the candidate was not qualified to perform. it doesn’t matter if that candidate wants coaching from you or not. It’s about providing coaching.

Whatever you do, do not say, “You’re too valuable where you are.” A manager said that to me years ago, and I was almost out the door when my new boss started. She had gotten the position.

She said, “Let me coach you and give you feedback so you can do this job in a year.” I agreed, and she showed me what great managers do and don’t do. I learned a ton under her tutelage. I worked for her for more than a year, quite happily.

Know that you will have a disappointed candidate, as well as a happy candidate. Prepare for the conversations and make sure you have internal candidates who can meet the criteria. Don’t lose the disappointed candidate—offer feedback, coaching, and a knowledge of the expertise they need to show before you consider them for another position.


Series on Hiring Technical People

Have you seen Nick Korbel’s series about hiring techies? See On Hiring Techies.

There are several posts:

  • Evaluate Potential, Not Accomplishments. He’s talking about evaluating qualities, preferences, and non-technical skills.
  • Coding Challenge: A pre-interview audition. The cool thing is that they then discuss the audition in the interview.
  • The Team Interview. I dislike panel interviews. It sounds as if Nick has some positive experience with it. I prefer one-on-one interviews with an interview matrix to organize the interviewing. One thing I do like is that Nick says the entire team must agree with the hire. (Yes—Fist pump!)
  • Hire For Cultural Fit. Nick says, “I can teach someone a new technology. I cannot teach someone how to fit into our culture.” Believe it.

If you want to see some of my posts, check out:

Skills for 2013: It’s Not About Tools or Technology

Three Tips to Streamline Your Interviews and Auditions, Part 4. Also, check out my audition tag.

Assign Roles for Group/Panel Interviews and Plan for an Interview with an Interview Matrix

My own cultural fit posts:

HiringGeeksThatFit.150 You can always get your own copy of Hiring Geeks That Fit. It explains everything all in one place.


7 Tips to Starting a Job Search

Do you have a resolution to find a new job this year? Check out these tips for a better, streamlined job search.

  1. Develop your LinkedIn Profile along with your resume. You need both. You might want to read 7 LinkedIn Profile Tips and Tricks in 2014 That Make a Difference. You  cannot afford to ignore LinkedIn. It is just as important as your resume. And, you don’t need the same information in each. You don’t have the room on a resume. You do have the room on LinkedIn.
  2. Consider who you want to ask for references, and contact them first. You may want to have several sets of references if you are not sure exactly what new role you want. If you contact your references first, you can discuss with them this question, “What will you say as my reference?”
  3. Network in person, as well as online. I meet people all the time who think they can network online, and never leave the house. Nope, networking doesn’t work that way. You need to meet people. They need to see who you are, in person. That leads to the next tip.
  4. Assess your appearance. You do not need to have 6-pack abs. You do not have to have a $300 haircut. However, you do need to look put together and clean, whenever you leave the house and network or interview. Do your teeth need a cleaning? Do you need a haircut? Do you have professional-looking clothes? Even if you are a developer and you normally dress in jeans and a ratty t-shirt, that outfit is not acceptable for job searching. Make sure your clothes are at least business casual. Everything needs to fit and be clean. So do you. You want to be able to smile and not worry about your teeth, your body odor or anything. Don’t be distracted by your appearance; focus on meeting people when you network and the interview when you get one.
  5. Develop a target network list. Your target network is the list of 25 organizations that you might want to work for. If you can’t find 25 organizations, is your role too constrained? Is your role no longer something organizations pay for? Do you need to change what you do?
  6. Work on your job search each day. You don’t have to go to a networking every night. You don’t have to participate in online groups or work on open source projects every day. But, if you are not working on your job search: determining how to meet people on your target list, improving your resume or LinkedIn profile, somehow connecting with people, you are not working on your job search.
  7. Make sure you have created small enough chunks of work so you can succeed with your job search. I like personal kanban for this. With small chunks of work, you can see your progress, and see how to review your progress.

I hope you like these tips. If you want more help with your job search, read Manage Your Job Search.


Job Search Tip: Choose Enough References

If you’ve been working for a while, you have a number of people who could be references for you: colleagues, project managers, managers. All of these are people who know what you’ve done.

So, how do you choose references?

  1. Make sure your reference can talk on the phone. If you select someone who hates talking on the phone, you are not going to get a good reference. It doesn’t matter what they say, if they ‘um’ and ‘err’ and sound slow to respond, you will not get the reference you need.
  2. Choose someone who can talk about the value of your work. If you select someone who says, “Oh, yes, Tim worked here,” and stops, what good is that? Even saying, “Tim was our release engineer,” does not show your value. Contrast that with this: “Tim worked on my project for six months. In that time, he showed me the value of continuous integration. He helped influence all the other developers into doing continuous integration. I don’t know how we would have finished the project when we did without his nudging and cajoling us into it.”
  3. Choose at least one manager and a couple of colleagues. If you’ve had multiple jobs, ask several peers and managers. Once you have two or three managers and two peers, you’re set.

If you haven’t worked in the field long enough to have that many references, ask your managers wherever you worked before you got into the field. You want to ask managers who can attest to your reliability and value.

All of these ideas require that you stay in touch with people at previous jobs. You don’t have to have long conversations every week. Touch base with these folks every 3-6 months, so they don’t forget you. You can even remind them you’re staying in touch because you enjoyed working with them and that they’d agreed to be a reference.

Remember, these people are doing you a favor. Choose them carefully, prepare them, and don’t forget to thank them.


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