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This post was originally written for the blog in March of 2010, but the topic and recommendations are still very relevant even three years later. 

While the economy is showing some signs of improvement, there are still millions of people who are out of work.   For executives who need the fulfillment of daily accomplishment, the job of finding a job can be enormously frustrating.

When you add in the fact that the best qualified candidate is selected only 35 to 40 percent of the time, according to our observations, that can make the job hunting process all the more defeating. 

When you consider that the odds are against the typical out-of-work executive — hundreds of applicants for each position — it is a wonder so many keep looking.  Rejection is a bitter pill that can corrupt the spirit.  Therefore, executives in the job market need to be at their best at each stage of the interview process.  

Question:  If the best qualified person is not being hired most of the time, which executives are getting the jobs and how does a candidate work their way into that group?  

Answer:  Qualified candidates who do the best job of interviewing.  If you are tired of rejection, here are some hints that will help you compete in the crowded, noisy marketplace of job hunting. 

  1. The resume is the first interview.  If the resume does not present a compelling story of the candidate’s experience, skills, and accomplishments that are supported by metrics, that is a weakness that must be overcome. There is no limit on the length of a candidate’s resume; it should be proportional to years of experience and relevant accomplishments. 

  2. Perfect the elevator speech.  When asked to describe themselves, or worse, when asked to share information about growing up, far too many candidates stumble, mumble and frequently fumble, to borrow a phrase from ESPN’s Chris Berman.   This is the answer that a candidate should nail.  Surprisingly, however, it does not occur to many candidates to rehearse several answers to these or similar types of questions. 

  3. Be prepared.  It is not uncommon for recruiters to zero in on resume gaps and short tenures, especially if there appears to be a pattern of multiple jobs in a relatively short time frame.   The candidate must realize that these events cannot be hidden or ignored.  Develop a response for all or each event and then practice the response.  Stand in front of a mirror and learn the answer(s).  Tweak the response if you feel it can be improved. However, be honest and be authentic.  These events are not necessarily a ticket to rejection.  This “practice principle” applies to the entire interview.  The book Topgrading provides a list of challenging questions that were used by successful corporations like GE.  It is worth the price of the book to get those questions.  Stand in front of a mirror and practice .  

  4. Be authentic.  One question that many candidates seem to hate — and flub — is: Tell me about your weaknesses? Or, “What will your references say are your weaknesses?”  The worst response is, “I work too much.”  Or, you see the candidate flinch and then the stumbling answer begins.  Stop.  There is a better way.  Talk to your references and ask them about your weaknesses.  Then incorporate their feedback into an answer that shows you are aware of these issues and that you have a system to monitor yourself.  Your answer will be more authentic.

© 2012 John Gregory Self