Imagine you are shopping for an electronic widget and have several models from which to pick. As part of making an intelligent purchasing decision, you would want to know a few basic things about the widget:
-- Is it in my price range?
-- Will it perform as advertised?
-- Will it live up to my expectations?
Analogous to these reasonable questions are the concerns of any hiring authority when selecting among a variety of candidates to fill a position. When you look at it from this perspective, you can get a better sense of how to address these concerns in your résumé, cover letter, LinkedIn profile and interview conversations.
1. "Is it in my price range?" = "What are your salary expectations?" While unsettling to interviewees, this question is asked to see if a candidate will fall within an employer's budget. While you will often be pressed to name a number, what a reasonable interviewer really needs to determine is if you are too expensive to hire, or if you will be unreasonable when it gets to final negotiations later on.
You are wise to resist naming a particular number or even a range early on. Nonetheless, you should be willing to provide an approximation of your salary history up to this point. Approach the issue from a standpoint of offering and expecting fairness, and stay focused on the overall match rather than a particular price point.
2. "Will it perform as advertised?" = "Can you do the job?" You can begin to address this with skills sections in your résumé and LinkedIn profile. But claiming a skill is just that -- a claim. That's why you will encounter specific skills testing as part of a technical interview experience, along with thought-provoking questions that will help interviewers determine how your mind organizes its responses to complex problems.
Tech companies, as a matter of course, will have candidates stand at a whiteboard to work out problems in real time and monitor their speed, thought patterns and results. Questions like, "How many windows are there in Manhattan?" aren't posed to discern if you know facts, but to see how you would go about using the skills and resources at your disposal to come to grips with a complex problem.
3. "Will the widget live up to expectations?" = "Will you actually perform well on the job?" Of course, no one can ever predict the future with absolute certainty. But we all tend to look to the past as a guide for what to expect in the future. That's why the most impressive résumés are those filled with fact-based accomplishments rather than simple recitations of your current or former responsibilities.
At an interview, you'll likely be asked about your greatest accomplishments. Prepare to tell stories rather than brag. Instead of: "I'm the best at ...," go with: "Here were my challenges, this is what I did and here are my results."
If you're the kind of person who has a history of reliability and solid achievement, employers have some basis to hope your performance is likely to continue. And, conversely, if you can't show these things, you raise a red flag.
The other aspect of this concern is ongoing reliability. How long will you stay put in the job? Hence, you'll encounter the standard question, " Where do you see yourself in five years?" Everyone knows that no job is forever these days, nor can any employer expect a super long-term commitment from a candidate. However, a recent CareerBuilder survey revealed this unfortunate response of an actual candidate who, "told the interviewer he wouldn't be able to stay with the job long, because he thought he might get an inheritance if his uncle died - and his uncle 'wasn't looking too good.'"
There are few people who love "selling" themselves. Yet, if you approach the process with the recognition that the employer has legitimate concerns that you can reasonably address, you'll be well on your way to engaging in a meaningful dialogue that will move your career forward.
Arnie Fertig, MPA, is passionate about helping his Jobhuntercoach clients advance their careers by transforming frantic "I'll apply to anything" searches into focused hunts for "great fit" opportunities. He brings to each client the extensive knowledge he gained when working in HR staffing and managing his boutique recruiting firm.