Job interview pointers for A/E/C marketers (and virtually any other frequent pavement-pounders)

Table, glass & hallYou are a moving-on or laid-off Marketing Manager, Director, Coordinator, Associate, Assistant or Specialist—depending on your firm’s titular tastes (I was #2 and #3)—or a time-for-a-change or last-hired-first-fired in another profession. So you’re back on the boards with the bumps and bruises of the job-hunt that got you your prized position in the first place. And you wonder whether you can reprise your results in your next round of interviews.

EmploymentInterviewWell, don’t expect instant results—especially if you do the “don’ts” or don’t do the “do’s” explained below. I did (or didn’t) just those things in my post-layoff interviews, which prolonged my job search to no end and left me with unrequited love for many firms I might have done wonders for.

do's and dont'sAnd I don’t mean those do’s and don’t’s the Internet inundates you with—do your research on the firm, don’t be late for your interview, do ask relevant questions, don’t dress like the janitor, etc. I mean eight no-no’s and must-do’s seldom seen on job-search sites, that I had to learn the hard way:

Manager interviewing job candidate1. Don’t look too eager. This was what a fellow actor advised me not to do when auditioning for plays in my thespian days. It applies even more to job interviews. If you accent your excitement to a breaking point, one or more of the following will show in your style, and will likely cost you the job:

Desperation. Your boisterous enthusiasm could be masking “I need the job” or “Please hire me.” That will raise a red flag, making the interviewer wonder if the termination of your last job was more than just a layoff, or if “moving on” really means “booted out.”

Fakery. This is often a cover-up for incompetence, or uncertainty about whether you’d be a good fit. The interviewer will wonder if you really are who you say you are, what you’d actually do if hired, or how tolerable your showmanship would be in the office. (True, Jerry Lewis thought Donald Trump would be a good President because “he’s such a good showman.” But this is business, not politics or entertainment. And hiring managers seek collaborators, not loose cannons.)

Aggrandizement. You may be making a bigger deal about the job than it really is (perhaps out of desperation). The interviewer may feel you wouldn’t be happy in that position because it’s below your skill level, management level and/or salary expectations, thus write you off as “overqualified.” (That happened to me.) An interview is an exploratory process, not a declaratory occasion: you’re seeing if the position would be a good fit for you, just as the interviewer is seeing if you’d be a good fit for it.

Shame. My overeagerness in interviews veiled my feeling of embarrassment that I had been laid off after only a few months, before I could get a solid foothold in the industry or my marketing efforts could kick in and give the firms returns on their investments in me. But this doesn’t necessarily concern hiring managers; I got numerous interviews at some of Boston’s largest or most award-winning firms. Your accomplishments, abilities and personality matter more to companies than financial circumstances beyond your control.

Good interviewSo, rather than conceal with zeal, explain in a conversational way how your marketing efforts repositioned your former employer to generate a higher business volume, and could help the firm you’re interviewing with.

And don’t close the interview with such pronouncements as “I’m very interested!” or “I’d really like to work with you!” (as I did), which will raise more red flags. Just conversationally say something like, “I think this position would be a good fit for me, and I’d enjoy being part of your team.” Then briefly sum up why, and ask the interviewer about the next steps or when to expect to hear about the hiring decision.

Nor should you open the interview as an eager-beaver. That means:

Man gesturing handshake2. No glad-handing. This will give a negative first impression, which will give the interviewer immediate doubts about you, and perhaps show them in the interview with an impersonal tone of indifference, lack of curiosity about you, and few questions for you. Remember, you’re a job candidate, not the President of the United States! Just a firm handshake with good eye contact and a warm but subdued self-introduction will do. “Go slow, go gradual,” as a character in a play I once acted in said. Or, as a fellow college student told me in reaction to my overfriendly handshake of a new student, “Relax.”

The Sound of MusicThis recalls that scene in The Sound of Music in which Maria (Julie Andrews) mistakes Franz the butler (Gil Stuart), for Captain Von Trapp, but after acknowledging her error still eagerly pumps his hand. He responds with a look of bewildered disdain of the who-is-this-crazy-woman sort. Don’t begin your interview that way!

Expect the unexpected3. Expect the unexpected. No matter how many of those common or uncommon interview questions on job-search sites you carefully prepare and rehearse answers for, there will always be that curve-ball question or abrupt change of situation that will throw a monkey wrench into the workings of your mind. A few personal examples:

standup interview croppedA. An architect was to interview me in a café, but by the time we got there all the tables were full, so we had to do the interview standing up. This awkwardly frustrating situation caused me to freeze and not tell him much about myself. Efforts to email him what I had meant to say about my architectural marketing experience and accomplishments were fruitless; he had already hired someone else.

This might have been a good opportunity for me to think on my feet (so to speak) and adjust quickly to unforeseen circumstances, which I would have to do on the job (and in life) anyway. Rigidity in expectations will get you nowhere. Flexibility is key, just like the change of plans architects, engineers and contractors have to go through each day. Speaking of which:

worried-unhired-job-applicant-feeling-nervous-employer-rev-recruiter-reviewing-bad-resume-unprepared-vacancy-candidate-97152570B. An architect scheduled to meet with the marketing director for my interview didn’t show. When I said at the end I’d been told he’d join us, the director said it was a mistake and swiftly ushered me out. Avoid that scenario. Just assume he’s busy with a client, or has other priorities. That shows your respect for the boss’s schedule and your flexibility in adapting to it.

group_interviewC. Speaking of flexibility, a marketing director who was interviewing me for a Marketing Coordinator position introduced me to the landscape design firm’s marketing team without advance notice of any group interview. Needless to say, I was caught off-guard. So I anxiously went off on a tangent that gave them the sense I wouldn’t be happy on the job (which wasn’t true; it was similar to the one I had enjoyed before my layoff), and I wasn’t selected for a second interview. A good way to deal with this is to think of how you’d receive unexpected company at your home: turn them away, or warmly welcome them in for a drink and a chat?

NOT-to-say-during-your-job-interview croppedD. Prompted by a silent tell-me-about-yourself cue from an architect, I launched into a diatribe about my admiration for his work, citing a housing complex of his I’d read about in a 1996 book on house design. His response: “But that was 20 years ago. What about my current work?” I froze. And so did my employment prospects there.

plansInstead, I might have cited a current work, followed by, “And what current work do you currently have in the works?” That would have shown interest in where his firm was heading, and how my marketing skills could head it in a good direction.

N.B.: If you’re drowning in an interview, don’t give up the ship. Rescue yourself by thinking quickly and steering the conversation into a calm sea and prosperous voyage toward, hopefully, “Welcome aboard.” A good way to avoid a rocky wave is to:

bad_interview_lg cropped4. Avoid misplaced emphasis. Architects, engineers and contractors don’t like to talk about way-in-the-past projects they’ve artistically matured away from, that may abash them to think about anymore. They want to focus on their present efforts. Thus the marketer must emphasize how s/he can bolster those current initiatives and head the firm into the future.

Job Interview with a chatterboxThis also means not telling all you know about the firm—another hard-learned lesson on me. An architect said he was impressed with my depth of research on his firm, but concluded that I “wouldn’t be a good fit for the office.” Eagerness to show off all you’ve learned from having done your homework might have pleased Mommy, Daddy and Teacher, but is, again, misplaced emphasis in the business world. The interviewer already knows all that; what they don’t yet know—thus, what you need to emphasize—is how your skills and experience can meet their needs. In focusing on the latter, remember:

Talking too much5. Don’t lead with a sales pitch.
I did just that. The interviewer said I was “too talkative” and the firm was seeking someone “more laid-back.” Besides, what you pitch isn’t always what they need. You must ask questions about what they seek in a marketer, so you can explain how your skills can meet those needs.

orig-work-hiresAnd don’t pitch “big plans”! They’re vague, pompous, and no substitute for asking about the firm’s present needs and crafting your proposal accordingly. My offer to devise “a major marketing plan” (or something of that nature) got laughter and mockery from my interviewers, hence no follow-up.

And what a shame, considering how promisingly the interview started. Beforehand, they had told me one of the firm’s principals had passed on, and in his memory the lobby screen was showing his favorite movie, which had once been mine as well—a common interest that might have begun the interview on a more positive note.

the-pink-panther-cartoon(That movie, by the way, was The Return of the Pink Panther, a masterpiece of slapstick comedy and suspense in which Peter Sellers as Inspector Clouseau made every snafu, faux-pas and pratfall under the sun, yet still accomplished his mission. I wish more interviews could end up that way.)

Pitch avoidance can be tricky if you get an open-ended question like, “What is your marketing plan for us?” I did, and I immediately said I’d upgrade their marketing collateral, pitch press releases for publications, etc., etc. A better response would have been: “If you could let me know your current marketing needs, I could answer your question better.” This makes it more conversational, and directs the interview back to the main thing to pitch: how you can best meet their needs.

interview-in-the-architecture-officeThat especially works for the most open-ended, oft-dreaded question of all: “Tell me about yourself.” To avoid autobiography mode, respond with something like, “I’d be happy to. Where would you like me to start?”

This sets up the interviewer to ask questions pertinent to the firm’s needs and expectations for the hiree, which sets you up to connect your skills and strengths to them.

Businessman hold megaphone with dollar bills spraying out6. Don’t declare your desired salary. Even if asked about salary expectations. I did this twice; no job. Upon being asked what salary I wanted when first hired, I gave a respectable, market-driven figure of $40K. The response: “Wow. We’re budgeted at $24K.” This gave me pause, but I took the job to get my foot in the door of the industry, as a steppingstone to greener pastures. (Even with that low figure, the firm couldn’t financially sustain me beyond three months.)

A better answer is: “I’d be open to the best you can offer, based on what you think I’d be qualified to earn.” Make your tone conversational, avoiding stock answers like, “I’m open to your best offer.” A staffing agent told me to say that, and the interviewer responded with a laugh, “That’s what they all say.” (He quoted a $50K figure, which I found very satisfactory, but they hired someone else. Later I learned they eliminated that position and rehired the departed Marketing Specialist [who happened to be the firm president’s daughter] as a Marketing Consultant by telecommunication.)

salary-comIf your interviewer still presses you for a figure, give a ballpark range of that position’s current market rate, based on your due diligent research (do it!) on, Glassdoor, PayScale, Indeed, SalaryList, Salary Expert, and the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ Occupational Outlook Handbook. That way, you back up your claim with solid statistical evidence. This not only prompts your potential employer to think about a fair offer, but also shows you’ve done the math, as a good marketer must do.

A disabled person in an office7. Declare your disability if you have one. This could answer the “What is your greatest weakness?” question if it comes up. If not, find a convenient moment to make the interviewer aware of your limitations, and how you compensate for them with particular strengths that would benefit the firm. Thus the interviewer knows what to expect.

I repeatedly made the mistake of not revealing my Asperger’s syndrome, which might have explained my unusual mannerisms or discomfort in the interviews. But Aspies are also very attentive to detail, an asset to fields as exacting as architecture, engineering and construction. Emphasize that if you have such a condition.

Thank-you note8. Forget the flowers. Your thank-you note should have no flowery language. It’s a friendly but businesslike confirmation of your enjoyment of the meeting and your interest in the position, with additional information the interviewer should know, closing with “I look forward to hearing your decision.” My overeager frills often got the stock answer, “It was nice to meet you too. We’ll be in touch.” (Which, of course, meant, “No.”)

I hope my experiences have given you useful pointers for interview success. The bottom line is: cut your interviewer some slack, regardless of shifting circumstances, mistakes, awkward moments, etc. Interviewers are human, too, they have other things on their mind, and interviewing may not be their forté. So they could use a little support, forgiveness, and assurance that you’ll be a solid, collaborative team player no matter what. Besides, unexpected obstacles are challenges for you to “come through” and do a crackerjack job, which will indicate you can do that on the job—as an orchestra can give a bravura performance despite a conductor’s miscues.

So trumpet your strengths, but not too loudly or sweetly. Convince your interviewer you can harmonize with the team, even in moments of dissonance. Best of luck!

Thank you for visiting. I welcome your comments!

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