In times of economic prosperity, such as the post World War II “Baby Boom” years, companies seeking to hire new talent took much at face value. While it was necessary for job candidates to complete applications, and perhaps less necessary in those more stable times to present a resume, the potential employer was more apt to place his faith in the dialogue that took place between him and the candidate during a face-to-face interview. If, for instance, the job hopeful claimed to have increased sales volume by 11% in an 18-month period for his current employer, the interviewer was prone to believe it, based upon perusal of the applicant’s prior positions and job functions. The prevalent thinking at the time was, “If the new recruit doesn’t work out, I can always fire him and hire someone else.”
With our economy now as tight as a Victorian corset, and in the wake of terrorism that has literally hit home for us, the entire atmosphere of the job market has changed. Companies no longer have the luxury to hire, fire, and re-hire at will; they want and need to get it right the first time. And, more and more firms are delving deeply into the backgrounds of their potential hires. This often includes credit checks, based upon the rationale that if an individual is irresponsible with her personal finances, she will be just as untrustworthy on the job. Even if the company does not investigate your finances, rest assured that they will be a lot more vigilant than their “Father Knows Best” predecessors in verifying the facts surrounding your employment history.
All’s well that ends well for those who are truthful, and whose job functions were not highly performance-based. But what of the employee whose performance directly impacted her employer’s bottom line? This includes but is not limited to business developmental professionals in virtually every field, from health care to the spa industry. If your goals were linked to profit generation and business has been down over the past two years, how will you present that on an interview?
Don’t even bother to blame the economy!
Any employer worth his salt will ask to see sales figures. Not the ones that you concoct, but the ones published internally by your employer, and the ones that appear on your formal job evaluation. It will do you no good to point to a feeble economy as the reason for you falling short of your goals. The employer wants to know what you can do for him now, as the yawning chasm of this recession widens. You need to find a way to turn the negatives into positives, while remaining as closely as possible to the truth.
As we have advised you all along in our “Making Lemonade” series of articles, be prepared. If, for argument’s sake, you produced an increase of 0.8% against goals of 2%, find the positives in what you did accomplish. Explain how you saved a major account on the brink of turning business over to your competition. What sparked the client’s interest in the competition in the first place? Was there a problem on your company’s end or did the competitor simply offer reduced rates? How did you step in to resolve the situation and ensure that you would deliver on your promises? What is the account valued at, in terms of what they generate monthly or annually? Have this information ready and if at all possible, solidify your tale with hard evidence, such as a letter of commendation from a decision-maker at the client level.
The Customer Satisfaction Barometer.
Does your company use a CSI (Customer Satisfaction Index)? Through formal surveys and unbiased analysis, employers in hospitality and many other service-oriented industries determine how satisfied a customer was in the product or service that the company provided; the product or service that you promoted, sold, inventoried, and/or shipped. If you can show an increase in CSI, and support this with the proper documentation, this too is an achievement as it speaks directly to your ability to retain business in an uncertain economy.
Suppose I’m not in the sales, customer service, hospitality, or logistics field?
Not all performance metrics are linked to the production of sales volume or customer retention. There are other internal criteria used to measure an employee’s contributions. Business analysts, for instance, are charged with determining the needs of computer-system users (defined as internal or external clients) against the capabilities of existing technology. Finding and communicating the gaps between these two elements to the IT community, the analyst participates purely in an advisory capacity in functions such as software development, testing, implementation, and trouble shooting. Many of his performance indicators are linked to schedules. If he can prove to an employer, through supportable documentation, that he had met all or most of his deliverables on or ahead of schedule, the employee will be perceived as well-organized, problem solving, and good at communicating with various internal business units. If the system whose development he had supported became fully functional, statistics should have been published within the company that tracked improvements in efficiency, productivity, and/or data accuracy (i.e. “It took two days using the old system to complete this job function; with the
new, enhanced system, this process has been reduced to four man-hours with an associated reduction in costs”). Locate the required statistics and use them as leverage during your interview!
The closer you can stick to the truth, the better off you will be when interacting with the potential employer who is bound to investigate your claims. And change your perception of the truth to encompass other accomplishments that you once may have viewed as not quite relevant against cold hard figures. Properly presented in an interview, these accomplishments can go down like the revitalizing lemonade you have made them out to be from that stack of lemons!