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Thread: When a great interview is not enough: beating more experienced planners for a job offer

  1. #1
    Cyburbian
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    When a great interview is not enough: beating more experienced planners for a job offer

    I earned a few interviews for mid-level planning jobs over the past year, coming in very close to a job offer, but always out-manuevered by a more experienced planner. After I am told the bad news, I try to have a brief disucssion to find out what I was lacking in and what would have made me a better candidate. They usually say there is nothing wrong with my interview: I have the right technical and people skills, did my homework, understood their issues in great detail, but someone with just a little more experience was offered the job.

    I am pretty confident that I will earn at least some face time for one or both transportation jobs I applied for. I bypassed the traditional process of sending my application packet to HR. Instead, I sent my resume and a charming coverletter to a former employer (a retired politician who now sits on the board of the transportation agency) who, in turn, sent an endorsement to the agency executive director. No matter what happens, I am indebted to my old boss for her help, and will help her with whatever volunteer help she needs with political events.

    I think I am capable of doing both jobs and would love an opportunity to earn more experience in transportation planning and develop solid mangerial skills. However, 500 people applied for both jobs already. At the very least, my endorsement may bump my application to the top of the pile. Even if I earn an interview, do all of my homework on the agency, and practice, practice, practice the interview questions, I have a feeling in the back of my mind that both positions will ultimately go to transportation planners with a lot more experience. However, that's not going to keep me from trying my hardest, since I really would like to earn an offer from this agency, and use my experience to meet their specific needs.

    What can I do in this case? Are there any strategies that you have tried that worked to beat incredible odds for a job?

    Thanks-
    "This is great, honey. What's the crunchy stuff?"
    "M&Ms. I ran out of paprika."

    Family Guy

  2. #2
    Cyburbian Michele Zone's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by nrschmid View post

    What can I do in this case? Are there any strategies that you have tried that worked to beat incredible odds for a job?

    Thanks-
    This doesn't come from interviewing for a job. It comes from dealing with doctors in the face of a) being really sick and no one knowing what was wrong with me and having a lot of negative experiences with doctors who were denying me treatment, sending me for more testing, and occasionally implying that I needed a psychiatrist rather than a physician and b) later winding up with some obscure, new-ish diagnosis that no one had ever heard of and didn't know how to treat -- which led doctors (who are a conservative lot) to continue to put my life in danger by undertreating me.

    I would recommend that before the interview, you do what you can to clear your mind of any baggage you have from past job hunting experiences and to relax/calm yourself. Do deep breathing or whatever works for you to center yourself, focus yourself, and de-stress. You do not know the outcome of this interview, you have probably not met the people you are about to interview with so you probably cannot reliably predict how they are likely to respond to you, and it ain't over 'til it's over.

    After over a year of being jerked around by doctors, this technique helped me seize the opportunity after I had a diagnosis and ran into a doctor still in training on a Saturday at the ER when he was basically on his own. He and I hit it off and, with good rapport and good communication, I was able to effectively convey to him that no one had 20 years experiences with this diagnosis that had only been named about 4 or 5 years earlier, the conservative treatment I was getting was killing me, and his best guess was as good as anyone else's. I was able to encourage him to take his best shot and not second guess himself. He prescribed a different antibiotic than anything else I had taken before. In conjunction with other things I was doing on my own, that helped stabilize me and after that I wasn't in the ER every time I turned around. Instead, I was in the ER during stressful times, like midterms and finals, which was more "normal" for me. There were actually two interns there that day but I didn't hit it off with the first guy the way I did with the second guy. It didn't matter. I was able to make it click with the second guy because I didn't let the interactions with the first one taint my expectations.

    If you don't get the jobs, ask what edged you out. Try to get them to explain it in concrete terms that would be conducive to helping you set goals for how to get X experience to put on your resume or otherwise fill in the gaps in real world terms.

  3. #3
    Cyburbian Emeritus Chet's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by Michele Zone View post
    If you don't get the jobs, ask what edged you out. Try to get them to explain it in concrete terms that would be conducive to helping you set goals for how to get X experience to put on your resume or otherwise fill in the gaps in real world terms.
    Although this is good advice, as a person that was in the hiring spot, I HATED those follow up calls. I tended to be a bit harsh on the caller. I tried to be constructive, but please, my time is limited. If you don't get "good criticism" don't be mad.

    I understand your frustration, really i do. It's hard to be in a 500 person hiring pool.

    As for strategies... I think the things you speak of are on the right track.

  4. #4
    Cyburbian Michele Zone's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by Chet View post
    Although this is good advice, as a person that was in the hiring spot, I HATED those follow up calls. I tended to be a bit harsh on the caller. I tried to be constructive, but please, my time is limited. If you don't get "good criticism" don't be mad.
    Okay, let me try to rephrase that: Losing out to someone "more experienced" is pretty vague. I personally would not be inclined to make cold calls to get feedback -- I don't think that results in good feedback and your remarks only reinforce my view on that. But clearly nrschmid is getting feedback somewhere along the way. I would try to find some way to get feedback that is more concrete and specific than "more experienced". Does that just mean "more years in the profession"? Or does it mean something else? If it does mean something else, what else does it mean? What exactly are they looking for other than years in X job? What type of "experience" do they want?

    Sometimes you can't get a direct answer from the people who turned you down. Informational interviews might be another path to getting information that's concrete enough to act on.

  5. #5
    Cyburbian natski's avatar
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    Being in the same position very recently, being told although i had the best technical knowledge etc out of the candidates, i wasn't 'experienced' enough- and when i asked exactly what that meant, i was met with a load of B*@!##$*t as an answer (they are my current employer so i know), i don't think i will ever ask about that ever again.

    I can't give you an answer- i think its sometimes a range of things, and like Chet says, employers are unlikely to have the time/be totally honest with you.

    Good luck with your hunting
    "Have you ever wondered if there was more to life, other than being really, really, ridiculously good looking?" Zoolander

  6. #6
    Cyburbian mike gurnee's avatar
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    I once lost out to someone taller with hair. Very similar credentials. Would HR say "sorry, but the selected candidate was tall and had hair"?

    Making a hiring decision is often gut-wrenching. Because of potential litigation, we ought not tell you much beyond "a more qualified person was chosen". I wish I could be blunt with answers, but it is not allowed. Come back in a couple of years for the real reasons.

    Most often, the candidate does nothing wrong in interviews. (well, I do know of a few) It comes down to which one is a better "fit" for the position, which is too vague to ever explain to one who lost out.

  7. #7
    Cyburbian Veloise's avatar
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    While I have yet to experience a 500-candidate pool, I've done well in FTF meetings where I establish a rapport with the interviewers. If they want someone personable who will do whatever it takes, I'm in.

    Sometimes I offer them something and solve an issue. Once (a non-planning gig) I was taking their skills test, and in front of the eventual supervisor used some keyboard shortcuts. She said, "I am learning watching you type."
    N.B. a gig where you know more than the boss will not last long.

    HTH

  8. #8
    Cyburbian
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    Quote Originally posted by Michele Zone View post
    Sometimes you can't get a direct answer from the people who turned you down. Informational interviews might be another path to getting information that's concrete enough to act on.
    I have always made it a priority to find out why they did not choose me. If anything, it helps me learn from my mistakes. I don't have anything to loose by politely asking.

    On several second interviews, I am the youngest and most inexperienced out of the bunch. I now have 4 years with a BUP but have gone head to head in the final round against planners with an MUP and 10-15 years of experience. To get to the final round, I have to do homework, target their needs, and hopefully convince them that I know more about their problems than anyone else, to compensate for my lack of an MUP and not as much experience.

    In several second interviews, each candidate is so convincing that is hard for staff to make a final decision. There is not always a clear winner. I play up my people skills even more, and stress personal chemistry since that may be the final determinant in which candidate earns the offer. After the second round of interviews, I feel I have enough rapport with the interviewers (that is not a guarantee on anything though). Sometimes, it feels like the final elimation round of a reality tv show with judges. Two of the five judges wanted to hire me, but three of the five judges wanted to hire the other guy. In the end, they usually call me to tell me it was a "very, very, very hard decision for them to make, while we think you are the perfect fit for this position, but we had to hire the other guy based on just a tad more experience."

    In this case, when I ask them what I can do to make myself a better candidate, they are speechless and can't give me an honest answer. I am guessing that in the end, if its a toss-up between two candidates, with everything else considered equal, they will hire the other guy because he has just a little more experience, even if I they told me I came across as more knowledgeable and/or personable in the interview.

    Is it frustrating? Obviously. I am always grateful for earning any interview. When I am the dark horse in the second round of interviews, I just wish the interviewers would realize that I had to bust my butt even harder to compete against the bigger fish in the big pond. However, I'm not about to throw in the towel and go back and earn a second planning degree. I can do farely well competing against 50-100people for a job in a good economy, but when I am competing against 500 people, the odds are just too overwhelming, and it's easier to get kicked out during the first running.
    "This is great, honey. What's the crunchy stuff?"
    "M&Ms. I ran out of paprika."

    Family Guy

  9. #9
    Cyburbian beach_bum's avatar
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    When I read your OP, a situation at my former employer came to mind. We had 2 city attorneys, one was older, had been around longer and sat on the Commission more often, but rarely worked with staff. The other was younger and worked more with staff instead of the commissioners. Obviously, the younger one did more of the detailed (dirty) work and had more support from staff, but the commission always listened to the older one and questioned the younger one when he would fill in. My boss used to say, the younger attorney didn't have enough gray hair. It says alot that you are getting to second interviews with your portfolios and all you do to customize your application, but simply the competition has the one thing you can't create. Lesson, people are naturally going to gravitate towards someone with more experience, you have to play up what you can add to the team, a fresh perspective, cutting edge technology and newer ideas. At the same time you have to fit into their position and within the exisitng team. I'm not sure how much I helped, but I understand where you are coming from!
    "Never invest in any idea you can't illustrate with a crayon." ~Peter Lynch

  10. #10
    Cyburbian Michele Zone's avatar
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    I have been in situations where I was the youngest of the bunch or otherwise had less "experience" or less "status". Although I am generally older than others in my job classification, I have little work experience. The experience I do have is something I am not good at putting on a resume. Perhaps I will revisit that and attempt to remedy it at some point in the future. For now, I have concluded that the main thing I need to focus on is "networking" (for lack of a better word). I need to talk to folks at work and they need to get to know me. I work for a large company and there is plenty of room for advancement within the company. I don't really see myself making a life-long career of it the way some folks do there, but advancing where I am is probably the best thing for me to focus on for now. My experience has been that because my situation is so unusual -- because I am always a statistical outlier, no matter the subject -- it takes some time for people to wrap their brains around it. If I try to tell people up-front what I am capable of, I get reactions like I am telling tall tales, an egomaniac, delusional, a braggart....etc. I think they need some experience with dealing with me to be convinced that I am not just full of crap.

    I don't know how you can apply that to job hunting. But I thought I would toss out the idea because it sounds like you are very competent and able to compete with people with more education, etc., so I think you have a similar hurdle to overcome. Perhaps you need to find a path to get more exposure to the folks doing the hiring beyond just a job interview, such as volunteer work or some kind of networking activity. I don't know what specifically to suggest. I am just telling you that my experience has been that people don't buy into a radical concept quickly, with little time to think about it. In the limited time available for a typical job interview, they will go with something more familiar and statistically likely to have success in their eyes -- ie the guy with "more experience".

    The other alternative is to choose a career path where the work speaks for itself. Artists put together a portfolio of their work because you just can't judge them based on things like college degrees and resumes. I don't know if there is such a path for planners.

    Quote Originally posted by beach_bum View post
    When I read your OP, a situation at my former employer came to mind. We had 2 city attorneys, one was older, had been around longer and sat on the Commission more often, but rarely worked with staff. The other was younger and worked more with staff instead of the commissioners. Obviously, the younger one did more of the detailed (dirty) work and had more support from staff, but the commission always listened to the older one and questioned the younger one when he would fill in. My boss used to say, the younger attorney didn't have enough gray hair. It says alot that you are getting to second interviews with your portfolios and all you do to customize your application, but simply the competition has the one thing you can't create. Lesson, people are naturally going to gravitate towards someone with more experience, you have to play up what you can add to the team, a fresh perspective, cutting edge technology and newer ideas. At the same time you have to fit into their position and within the exisitng team. I'm not sure how much I helped, but I understand where you are coming from!
    It seems to me that it wasn't just the lack of gray hair/experience. It was also the lack of face time with the commissioners.
    Last edited by Michele Zone; 05 Apr 2009 at 1:20 PM.

  11. #11
    Cyburbian
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    Quote Originally posted by Michele Zone View post
    The other alternative is to choose a career path where the work speaks for itself. Artists put together a portfolio of their work because you just can't judge them based on things like college degrees and resumes. I don't know if there is such a path for planners.


    It seems to me that it wasn't just the lack of gray hair/experience. It was also the lack of face time with the commissioners.
    I always submit a portfolio with my resume, cover letter, and application, even if it's not required. I don't include it only when I am specifically told not to do so. I have a much better chance of earning an interview by including it than not including it. I select writing samples/graphics relating to the job I am applying for. I did an experiment years ago where I included the portfolio with a few job applications and omitted the portfolio with a few other applications. I was more likely to earn an interview from the sample set where I sent the portfolio. However, no one from the other sample set (sans portfolio) asked me in. I think if the agency/firm has something tangible in their hand, it sets the application apart (but at the same time the work better be good since it is held up to greater scrutiny). One interviewer told me he was drawn to freebies the same way he picks them up at trade shows.

    I am confident the rest of the application, resume, and coverletter can stand on their own without a portfolio. However, it becomes harder to compare apples to apples to apples to apples. It's always been an uphill battle to move up even in better times (there are too many people interested in too few jobs). With the competition 2x-3x harder, everything and anything needs to be used to stand out.

    I agree, in the end it might be a question of how well you know ALL of the interviewers/decision makers to beat the odds. I network as much as I can (also part of the job of being a consultant). I might know one or two planners from a firm or agency, which is how I might get an intitial interview. Unfortunately, I am usually interviewed by strangers. I try to find out who is interviewing me ahead of the interview, so I can do a little digging around and find out what they might be looking for. Unless I know them from somewhere else, they are still strangers, and I have to give them the best FIRST impression that I can.

    Another option is to attend public meetings in communities where I might want to work, even if they aren't hiring, and start to network with plan commissioners and elected officials. I don't really want to do that just yet.
    "This is great, honey. What's the crunchy stuff?"
    "M&Ms. I ran out of paprika."

    Family Guy

  12. #12
    Cyburbian Michele Zone's avatar
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    Well, you are clearly doing a great many things right. At this point, I can only return to my original line of thinking and suggest that getting your head on straight (so to speak) can give you an edge.

    I never know how to effectively convey the importance of having things straight in your own head/heart and how much we broadcast our expectations to the world and make them self-fulfilling prophecy. The best example I can think of is that when I was younger, people found me extremely approachable and total strangers would talk to me, hit on me, etc. I went through a health crisis in my late twenties (a more minor one than what I usually talk about here, at an earlier age) and people stopped finding me so approachable and strangers no longer tried to pick me up. To this day, I don't know what I do differently now compared to what I did before that health crisis but I am clearly sending out different signals somehow. And I know it is not simply that I am older and less physically attractive because after I recovered and looked better, I was briefly a 36DD and men at the mall who stared with their mouth's open --practically drooling down the front of their shirt -- did not approach me to say "Hey baby, wanna go out with me?" I was doing something differently which was being responded to differently.

    Although I cannot tell you what I was doing different, I can tell you that when I was sick in my twenties and looked like hell, I became "invisible" to men for the first time in my life. I had perceived myself as a very beautiful woman before that and a lot of my identity was invested in that self-perception. It was a huge identity crisis to be completely overlooked by men -- but I also felt "safe" around men for the first time in my life. I valued being safe more than I valued being beautiful/attractive and I got over my identity crisis and embraced the emotional healing that was going on in my life at that time. I believe this big internal change is directly related to the fact that when I got healthier again and was, therefore, more physically attractive again, I still did not get approached the way I had been throughout my teens and early to mid-twenties.

    Good luck.

  13. #13
    Cyburbian btrage's avatar
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    Obviously, I'm not in on your interviews nrschmid, but perhaps you're coming across as "too polished".
    "I'm very important. I have many leather-bound books and my apartment smells of rich mahogany"

  14. #14
    moderator in moderation Suburb Repairman's avatar
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    You are in a tough situation and honestly, there's not a lot you can do to control it. The fact that you are getting second interviews tells me that you look good on paper and in the interview, but that you are barely getting edged out. Like beach_bum said, it may simply be that with two virtually tied applicants, they default to the experience. The only thing I can think of is to emphasize any cutting edge knowledge/experience you have, play up your ability to work with new technology, etc. If the experience issue comes up in discussions, emphasize that fewer years of experience allows you to more easily step into a situation with an open mind. Those are about the only ways a "new dog" can get a leg up on an "old dog" in an attempt to prevent them from defaulting to experience with two similarly qualified applicants. What MZ says has a strong element of truth at this point--it's very much a head game in deciding between equally-qualified applicants and you need to go in confident.

    Honestly, it sounds like you are doing everything right and have simply been just barely edged out by experience when push came to shove. The fact that you've had frequent second interviews tells me that you are coming within a breath of your next job. Eventually one of those second interviews will go in your favor--it's just a matter of time.

    "Oh, that is all well and good, but, voice or no voice, the people can always be brought to the bidding of the leaders. That is easy. All you have to do is tell them they are being attacked and denounce the pacifists for lack of patriotism and exposing the country to danger. It works the same way in any country."

    - Herman Göring at the Nuremburg trials (thoughts on democracy)

  15. #15
    Cyburbian
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    Quote Originally posted by Suburb Repairman View post
    The only thing I can think of is to emphasize any cutting edge knowledge/experience you have, play up your ability to work with new technology, etc. If the experience issue comes up in discussions, emphasize that fewer years of experience allows you to more easily step into a situation with an open mind. Those are about the only ways a "new dog" can get a leg up on an "old dog" in an attempt to prevent them from defaulting to experience with two similarly qualified applicants.
    Thank you very much. This is exactly the type of advice I am looking for
    "This is great, honey. What's the crunchy stuff?"
    "M&Ms. I ran out of paprika."

    Family Guy

  16. #16
    Cyburbian Emeritus Chet's avatar
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    In hindsight, I was a bit harsh. I wish I was more specific and less critical. Give me some time to think about this one.

  17. #17
    Cyburbian Brocktoon's avatar
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    This has also happened to me in the past few months. I was beat out for an ed job by some with 15 years experience when the posting was looking for 3 to 5. I was told I was their second choice but they could not pass up someone with the background and experience this person brought to the table.

    My plan for next time is when they ask me if there is anything else I would like to add I am planning on mentioning that, " I might have as much experience as other people applying you will not have to worry about me jumping ship when things turn around. I am sure that you will see people more qualified but if these normal economic times would you still see their resume...because you would definitely see mine. I am not applying for this position as a holdover job...I am applying because I targeted your (organization/city/etc) several years as a place I wanted to work because your focus on (whatever cool thing I learned during my research) as it relates to (some skill or project I worked on). "

    Or something to that effect. Maybe not as biting but something that puts doubt in the mind of the interviewer about those that are over qualified for the job.
    "If you don't like change, you're going to like irrelevance even less" General Eric Shinseki

  18. #18
    Cyburbian Raf's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by Brocktoon View post

    My plan for next time is when they ask me if there is anything else I would like to add I am planning on mentioning that, " I might have as much experience as other people applying you will not have to worry about me jumping ship when things turn around. I am sure that you will see people more qualified but if these normal economic times would you still see their resume...because you would definitely see mine. I am not applying for this position as a holdover job...I am applying because I targeted your (organization/city/etc) several years as a place I wanted to work because your focus on (whatever cool thing I learned during my research) as it relates to (some skill or project I worked on). "

    Or something to that effect. Maybe not as biting but something that puts doubt in the mind of the interviewer about those that are over qualified for the job.
    WOW... brockton, droppin the knowledge today. That is great. I gotta file that one away for future interviews. A lot of great advice here, especially for folks like Nick and myself who are on the hunt for a new gig and are facing an uphill battle with planners with way more experience that is required in a job description.
    follow me on the twitter @rcplans

  19. #19
    Cyburbian
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    Interesting input. However, I think we might have diverging views on interviewing styles:

    First, I think you are making an assumption that the other guy is going to jump ship and that he doesn't have the same level of loyalty as you do. I think you can still be both loyal AND have years of experience. The other guy might even have a much stronger track record, especially if he worked for many years in one position, so he would still trump your loyalty argument. Bottom line, I think loyalty is a very hard area to prove, especially to strangers who are interviewing you.

    Second, as a personal rule, I never ever make the job fit me. I make me fit the job. This doesn't mean you can't have your own goals. However, in the interview, I tend to focus on the potential employer's needs first and how I can meet those needs. Presenting my own agenda or wishlist may not always work in areas where you are expected to adapt easily to change. Let's say for the past 1-2 years?

    Again, I think we just have different views on interviewing, and neither one is right nor wrong.
    "This is great, honey. What's the crunchy stuff?"
    "M&Ms. I ran out of paprika."

    Family Guy

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