When Is It Acceptable in the Interview Process to Inquire About Benefits?

Kristen is on her first interview and has just spent about 40 minutes with the interviewer.  The interviewer asks Kristen if she has any questions about the opportunity.  Kristen opens with a question to clarify what a typical day would look like in terms of the time breakout for each of the key duties & responsibilities. Way to go Kristin that is a good question to ask to show her skill of gaining clarification as well as determining if she would enjoy a typical work day in that position at XYZ Company. After getting an answer to her opening question, Kristen then asks the interviewer if the company has any benefits and how much would be her cost for the benefits.  What do you think? Is this a good question to ask?

Most experts in the field of human resources, search and recruitment would disagree with you if you said “yes”.  I know the temptation is great to get right to the money questions particularly if you are at the point in your career that you have limited income earning potential and need a job that makes significantly more.   I also know that most candidates have a spouse, significant other or family member that they will be reporting into once they get back home.  The significant other will be more interested in asking about the salary, benefits and the attractive perks for working at the prospective new employer rather than the job’s challenges.  So we know that the candidate is motivated to bring home some really good news about what the perks may be.  However, experts agree that the main motivation for a career change should not be money and benefits but should be more in the order of A) the supervisor relationship and management style, B) that the job challenges appropriately for your skill level, C) opportunity for advancement, D) how this position meets your career goals, E) culture, ethics and business philosophy of the company.  Money and financially related motivations are usually in the 5th or 6th tier ranking for career-focused individuals. If the motivations are aligned in getting a position with a company that meets the needs A – E previously discussed, the money, benefits and perks will generally fall in line commensurate with the level of experience and expertise presented by the candidate.

So what happens if the interviewer asks Kristen first about her expectations for salary & benefits? Is it acceptable for Kristen to offer that information and further clarify about the scope of the benefits?

I think the answer to this question can depend upon the career level of the candidate. Non-managerial candidates can answer this question directly since the interviewer asked the question. Non-managerial positions sometimes have narrow salary guidelines anyway that are rigid for the position no matter how much experience that you may have.  My answer for executives however is slightly different. The executive that answers directly may have base salary needs that are so high that it scares the interviewer from advancing to the next interview or not to probe into the candidate’s flexibility with money.  The executive may be better served with an answer that goes something like this, “You should know that I am accustomed to making around $250,000 per year. I am open as to how we get there in terms of the total package. I am sure that we can work out a mutually beneficial package based upon my credentials and past track record.”  This kind of response tells the interviewer that perhaps you are affordable because there are more ways of getting to the desired result other than just base salary.  Another suitable answer may sound more like this, “I have been used to making a good living and accustomed to earning my bonus programs in the past. I am more interested today in finding an organization where my skills and talents will be fully utilized yet offering me adequate career challenge and stretch. The base salary is less important and I would rather we discuss this later after you have had a chance to see what I can offer your organization. I am confident that once you have found out that I am the best choice for your company, we will be able to work out an acceptable salary and package.”

So getting back to Kristen, how could Kristen possibly get the benefits information that she is asking for without asking the direct question? Consider some of these possible open-ended questions:

  1. “Mr. Interviewer, what brought you to the XYZ company?  What keeps you at XYZ?”
  2. “Ms. Interviewer, can you tell me what are some of the reasons that your company has low employee turnover? What do you think are the reasons that they stay with XYZ Company?”
  3. “Can you tell me what are the 3 most important things that my performance will be evaluated upon and how does that occur?”
  4. “Can you tell me more about your performance review process?”
  5. (reference their competitor) “I interviewed recently with ABC and they have a very strong story for attracting new employees. Ms. Interviewer how would you compare XYZ to ABC in terms of attracting new employees?”

Since all of these questions are open-ended, the interviewer could offer up information on anything ranging from compensation, benefits, tuition reimbursement, stock options or he/she could go in other directions like market position & dominance, company culture, management style, product / service superiority, research & development pipeline, etc.

With today’s technological resources and social media readily available to almost anyone who is in a job search, there are ways to do your research prior to going on the interview.  Visiting www.glassdoor.com  may tell you what others who worked at XYZ had to say about XYZ Company. Try reaching out and connecting to others on LinkedIN who work at XYZ Company to see if you could learn more about why they like working at the company. Ask for their phone number and gain permission to have a phone conversation prior to your interview. See if they know the respective manager that you would work for and if they can give any insight as to the managerial style of that person. Ask them what they know about salary guidelines and benefits and other issues that might be too sensitive to ask of an interviewer on the first interview.

In closing, it is always best to let the interview process play out whether it is 2, 3 or 4 interviews before you get real focused on the money and the benefits. Once a job is obtained, most people forget all about the money because it is all about job satisfaction, challenge, career growth and strong professional relationships with the boss, superiors and co-workers.  If any of these are not satisfactory, you will be apt to look for another opportunity that meets those needs in the near future.  Changing jobs for money is usually not a good idea and generally leads to short term stays and job-hopping which ultimately become very detrimental to you down the road.  Take the time to get your next position with an employer who is a good fit for your career and watch how the appropriate salary and benefits will follow.

Roger Manning is the Founder/President of the Manning Search Group.  Roger Manning can be reached at 636-875-5080 ext. 112 or roger@manningsearchgroup.com

Closing the Interview / Closing Techniques

John has just spent one and half hours in a very thorough and interesting interview with the XYZ Company.  He feels that the employer is interested in him based upon his perception of “chemistry” between John and the interviewer.  John knows that he has answered all of the employer’s questions to the best of his abilities.  John also feels that the employer is knowledgeable of John’s capabilities and prior accomplishments and how they will add to his success at the XZY Company.  The employer closes the interview by stating to John, “John, we have some other candidates to interview in the next two weeks.  I will be back in touch with you.  Thank You for your time today.”

How do you read this closing?  Some will say that the interview went well. Some would say that there was no commitment on behalf of the interviewer so there was low interest in John.  Others would say that this is the normal process that John must go through and he must wait out the employer seeing the other candidates.  Some would say that the interviewer was testing to see if John would make an attempt to close the interview.

Perhaps John could have taken the interview to one more level through an effective summary and closing statement? What do you think? Could you have done it differently and more successfully?

That brings up the question, “What is a successful interview?”

Some candidates will feel that a successful interview is something of an exchange of information and fact finding.  They are not yet committed to the company so they see the interview as successful if they can learn more about the company.  If they are offered a chance to advance, then they see that as a bonus.

Others will see the whole interviewing process as very stressful and they just want to survive the interview.  Their mind is not fully focused on closing the interview.

Your answer however should be:

Passing the interview and getting to the next step and/or gaining a job offer.

The job interview can be broken down into steps much like a sales presentation:

  1. The introduction / Areas of Commonality
  2. The Interview Questions/ Needs Assessment
  3. The Analysis / Further probing and clarification of features & benefits
  4. The Summary and The Close

Many candidates as well as sales professionals are excellent in the presentation of Steps A, B, and C but fail at D.  Why is it human nature to balk at closing the deal?  An interview is just like a sales presentation and YOU are the product that you are selling.  If you have done a good job at A, B and C, then you have every right to ask for the sale/ the next interview/ or the job.  The employer EXPECTS you to do this.  Some employers expect this closing in a variety of ways depending upon their own personality. Some will expect the closing to be very aggressive such as, “I am ready to go to work for you. When can I start?”

Others will expect a more subdued closing such as, “I am very interested in this opportunity.  Have I done well enough to advance to the next step?”

Sometimes you have to “mirror-up” or “mirror-down” to the personality type of the interviewer to determine which closing is best for the situation.  If you have been exposed to or trained on DISC profiling, get out your notes and brush up on them prior to your interview so that you can best recognize the behavior trait of the hiring manager. In that way you will best be able to mirror-up to them.

Some possible closing techniques to consider based upon your personality as well as the situation:

  • “I  have done my homework on ABC Company prior to this interview. I like everything that I have heard from you today as well.  I am ready to go to work as soon as you need me. When can I go to work?”
  • “Mr. / Ms. Employer, you and I seem to have the same philosophy, the same work ethic and the same ideas about the kind of company that we want to work for.  I am very interested in coming to work for you and ABC Company. May I come to work for you?”
  • “Mr. / Ms. Employer, from what you have heard and seen from me today, is there any reason that I cannot advance to the next step in this interview process?”  “What will be my next step?”
  • “Mr. / Ms. Employer, can we go ahead now and coordinate our calendars for the next interview?”
  • Mr. / Ms. Employer, have I done well enough to advance to the next level of your interview process? What can I expect and when will that be?”
  • “You have represented your company very well and have answered all of my  questions.  I would like this position! Are you in a position to make me an offer?”
  • Mr. / Ms. Employer, I appreciate that you have other candidates to interview, but I also know that when you have found the right candidate, you will know it.  I feel that I am the right candidate for this job opportunity for these 5 reasons.” [briefly summarize your 5 reasons]  “Do you  agree with me?”
  • “Mr. / Ms. Employer, I appreciate that you want to speak to all qualified candidates that you can before making a decision. However, taking two more weeks to interview possibly qualified candidates could cause you to lose out on your best candidate right now.  I am your best candidate for these 3 reasons. (briefly summarize your 3 reasons]  I am ready to go to work in 2 weeks. May I have this opportunity?”

Closing requires a skill that you can develop through practice. Just like sales people will almost always encounter objections that they must handle successfully, interviewers will always have a closing to their interview. So doesn’t it make perfect sense to practice and prepare for the inevitable.  Best wishes and happy closing your deal!

Roger Manning                roger@manningsearchgroup.com

Boost Your Confidence Level for the Interview

If you find yourself normally nervous, fidgety, dry-mouthed or sweaty from prior experiences in the interview process, then it is very worthwhile to address this as part of your preparation process.

Being nervous and anxious is not an abnormal thing. Most everyone will a little nervous prior to that big interview.  Most actors/actresses will admit that they have the last minute butterflies prior to their big performance.  If you are not able to control the nervousness, however, then that will definitely affect your performance adversely.  I would like to offer some of the following tips to help control pre-interview nervousness and anxiety and build confidence for a stronger interview.

Advanced Preparation for the Interview

One of the reasons for pre-interview anxiety and jitters is not knowing what the interviewer is going to ask.  Will they be cordial and personable or will they be a tough, close-to-the-vest type of person.  Will they accept you based on your answers or will they be judgmental?  The only way to stack the odds in your favor is to prepare for the interview as if this is the most important meeting of your life.

  1. Review your resume thoroughly before the interview so that you are confident about dates of employment, accomplishments, numbers and hard facts.
  2. Practice in front of a mirror in pretending to answer questions from an employer about these objective facts.  For instance, can you confidently respond to your dates of employment with your past 2 employers? Can you confidently discuss major accomplishments including objective measurable performance parameters?  As an alternative, practice with a friend or loved one who will be helpful and constructive.  Pay specially attention to your body language. What do you see? Is your posture sending a positive and confident message or do you look nervous and anxious?
  3. Use a tape recorder so that you can play back your responses.  Evaluate you voice inflection. Do you sound enthusiastic or do you sound boring? How about the use of proper grammar and enunciation?  Perhaps you should have your friend or “significant other” listen and give some constructive criticism.
  4. Review a list of most asked questions and prepare written answers in advance. Such lists can be obtained through books such as Ron Fry’s, “101 Most Asked Questions” or through a little research on the internet.  Write down your answer and read over them several times. Do your answers sound logical and well thought out? Are you being truthful or do tend to mislead the facts?
  5. Be prepared with an understanding of how “behavioral interview questions” are different in case your interviewer uses this style of interview process.  See my articles on behavioral interview questions.
  6. Write down an inventory list of your most positive traits and attributes.  How do your past employers see you in terms of these traits and attributes?  What things have been written about you in past performance appraisals?  Focusing on these traits will help build your confidence as well as have you mentally prepared to demonstrate these traits in the interview.
  7. This is an interesting idea especially if you see yourself in applying for a sales position or any position where you will be presenting to groups or committees.  Executives would especially benefit from this idea.  Prepare a Power Point slide presentation and the subject will be:  “Why XYZ COMPANY Should Hire ME”.   This exercise challenges you to put together all the compelling evidence about your background, accomplishments, skills, knowledge, traits and abilities.  You are then testing your ability to sell YOU just as you may someday have to sell a program or service for your employer.  This is a great exercise and very worthwhile your time.  This same concept is done today by some candidates by creating their own website presentation complete with slide show, video stream or audio presentations.  Obviously, this kind of preparation is a strong confidence builder!
  8. Avoid any situations of misleading your interviewer about questionable areas of your background.  Fabricating stories only increases your level of anxiety and this will come out in today’s interview or in future interviews.  Questionable areas like gaps in employment, terminations, poor career decisions are best answered with giving the honest facts.  The best way, however, to convert a negative into a positive is to immediately explain how the decision or incident was a valuable learning situation and how you have benefited from that lesson or how you will utilize this learning situation on your future career opportunity.
  9. Research your potential new employer.  In today’s world of abundant access to the internet, there is no excuse for not researching the new employer prior to the interview. Knowledge builds confidence.  Print out as much information as possible. Take a highlighter pen and focus on key pieces of information that can be part of good questions to ask the interviewer.  Highlight exciting pieces of information that you use to demonstrate your enthusiasm for the job and the company. Use this information to get the interviewer to talk more about the company and the opportunity.  It is always perceived as a strong sign of taking initiative when the interviewer sees evidence of the candidate’s attempt to research the company.
  10. Make a list of career-focused questions to ask during the interview.  Questions as to compensation, benefits, and perks are usually best left to the second or third interviews.  Strong career-focused questions will cause your interviewer to respond more favorably thus building your confidence.

Turn Jitters into Enthusiasm

  1. Greet your interviewer with a strong handshake, warm smile and eye contact.
  2. As you seat yourself take a long deep breath.  Bringing oxygen to the brain is relaxing for the whole body.  Seat yourself with special attention to good posture.  Good posture is defined as facing your interviewer with good eye contact; sitting erect without slouching and both feet planted on the floor.  If you are jittery, make sure that you gently hold your hands or place them on the arm chair or upon your legs.  By doing this, you will not be wringing your hands, shaking, or excessively moving your hands around.
  3. Smile, smile, smile.  Make sure that you always take time to interject a smile into your conversations and answers.  Practicing in front of a mirror is excellent for checking this out.  Smiling takes away anxiety and nervousness.  Smiling causes the interviewer to relax as well.  Smiling demonstrates that you are a happy and a content person.
  4. If you still feel that you are uncontrollably nervous, begin your introduction to the interviewer by telling them how excited you are to be meeting them today. Tell them how your research has been so positive and you are anxious to learn much more about this great opportunity.  In essence, you want to turn those jitters into enthusiasm and create an air of excitement.  A candidate with high enthusiasm scores very high in most interviewers’ minds as compared to those candidates without it.  Body language also signals enthusiasm.  Does a person slouching in a chair show enthusiasm? Of course not.  Maintaining eye contact demonstrates confidence, ability to communicate well one-on-one and shows high interest.  If you are placed in a situation where you are asked to sit where you cannot directly face your interviewer for good eye contact, make a point of shifting your body so that you can. If needed, ask the interviewer’s permission to move the chair for better eye contact.

Sometimes this technique places the employer in the situation of doing much more talking on the front end of the interview.  This allows you to quiet yourself, relax and listen to some exciting news about the company.  Your attention and focus changes from nervousness to responding enthusiastically about the news you are hearing.

Remember most employers will be very skilled at getting you to talk 75% of the time. It is their job to ask questions and you are taking most of the time in answering the questions.  No matter how nervous you may feel, don’t ramble after you have successfully answered the question.  Be specific and give the precise information that is asked for.

Overall, your goal should be to effectively display the following qualities: capability, confidence, dependability, enthusiasm, flexibility, resourcefulness and strong work ethic.”

WIN OR LOSE!

  •  No matter what happens during the interview, end the interview in the same strong fashion that you opened the interview….strong handshake, smiling face, enthusiastic interest in the job and ask for the opportunity.
  • Ask the interviewer for feedback as to their interest in you.  Ask them if there is anything more that they need to know from you for a successful completion of this interview.
  • Never end an interview by telling the employer when asked that you have no more questions.  Always keep back one really good career-oriented question that you ask when the interview allows that one final question.  Then close the interview by asking for the next interview, the job or summarize why this job is good for both you and them.
  • Talk to someone close to you as soon as you can about the interview experience. If you are working with a recruiter/Search Consultant, then you should be calling them as soon as possible.  This helps you conduct an analysis of the interview and replay some of your responses to interview questions. Perhaps your friend can encourage you with better responses to bumbled answers.  Bottom-line your friend or recruiter can be supportive and this will eliminate future interview anxiety.  Based upon this analysis, you may want to clarify a point or two in your follow-up “thank you” letter.

If you have further needs for advice in this area or just have a specific concern that you need advice, contact a Search Consultant at the Manning Search Group.

Be confident and best wishes on your next interview!

Roger Manning

roger@manningsearchgroup.com