Welcome to another episode of the exEXPERTS DIVORCE etc… Podcast where we give you all kinds of information and tips on everything divorce. Why? We’ve lived it, so we get it! We’re T.H. & Jessica.
T.H.: Hi, everyone, welcome to today’s podcast. Today, Jessica and I are happy to welcome back Jenifer Barkon. She is Chief Talent Officer at a large company in California. So welcome back to our podcast, Jen.
Jen: Thanks for having me back.
T.H.: So we learned a lot, and where we wanted to pick up was, how do you bring your A-game to an interview? I know that’s a big answer, and it depends on a lot of different things, but tell us some tips that you’ve got.
Jen: Well, it’s like anything in life, right? The more prep you do, the better off you are. I think that it falls into two categories. It’s what you do before the interview and then it’s what you do during the interview. In terms of before the interview, I’d say do a lot of research. Research who you’re meeting with, what their backgrounds are, again, LinkedIn is your best friend in the job in the job search market, understand a lot about the company, do as much research as you can on the company, read that job description that’s posted, look specifically at what they’re looking for, and make sure that you’re prepared to answer questions about how your skills and background meet those needs. That’s really the biggest piece of it. But go deep, I mean, the internet is a place where you can find so much. For example, my CEO gave a TED talk and there’s no reason why when you’re meeting with someone like that, you shouldn’t be able to reference their materials, their background, or anything that you can really find like news about the organization, any sort of acquisition activity that they’ve undergone, companies they’ve acquired or been acquired. Depending on the size of the company, you may have read something in the press or the trades about a recent strategy or business endeavor, but just do your research on who you’re meeting with at the company, read the job description backward and forwards, look for keywords about what they’re looking for, and then be prepared to really reference how your background is perfect for what they need because that’s really what this is about.
Jessica: I feel like, well, two things. First of all, when you’re talking about doing research, sometimes you’re doing research on a company and some of the stuff that you come up with is not necessarily great news, but that may be the most recent stuff that you find so I’m curious as to whether or not you would suggest even mentioning that kind of stuff and how you would handle that? Also, doesn’t that depend on what the position is that you’re specifically looking for yourself? Like some of the things that you research may not be relevant at all?
Jen: So two answers. One is a very good point about a place like Glassdoor. Glassdoor is Yelp for employees and it’s where they go to air all of their grievances. That’s not to say that it’s not worthwhile.
If a company has a litany of horrible scores, something’s up there. I know in my company, we pay very close attention to Glassdoor and we work specifically to make sure that our profile is the best reflection of us that it can possibly be. Make no mistake, you guys, Glassdoor is working with companies and it’s a pay-for-play environment. You pay them and they then elevate your best reviews, and you pay them for job boards.
Jessica: Wow, I didn’t know that. I don’t think a lot of people know that.
Jen: Outed everybody.
Jessica: I think that people think that’s it’s an objective forum.
Jen: It is, but it’s like any other search function, right? There’s optimization that can be done so take everything you read there with a grain of salt, everything.
Jessica: Well, but would that mean that if you’re reading about a company, and they have really bad reviews, it’s just because they’re not paying for the more optimal reviews? It doesn’t mean that they’re really terrible?
Jen: No, it could mean a bunch of things. I’m just saying take everything with a grain of salt, because even some of the best companies with the best reviews, that’s not happening organically, and bad companies with bad reviews, then their eyes are off the ball, right? You have to take both sets of circumstances not at face value is what I would say, so pay attention to it. It’s not something I would bring up in an interview unless you are going to be the head of recruiting.
Jessica: I actually didn’t mean bad news with regards to those kinds of reviews. I meant if you’re actually reading in the news, and all of a sudden you read the company is in the midst of a lawsuit that just came in or they were trying to acquire something or they’re being acquired, and it wouldn’t necessarily be a good thing for the company. I don’t mean specific petty people complaining about working there but just news about the company. If it’s not the best news, do you even bring it up?
Jen: It’s all so dependent. I mean, look, Facebook has a huge number of lawsuits that are currently pending and one that is big in the press right now. That doesn’t mean that I wouldn’t take a job at Facebook, right? There are things that matter, and then there are things that probably don’t matter for your individual job. Now, if I was interviewing to be their general counsel, I would want to dig on that. I think judgment is what matters most in those situations. I wouldn’t necessarily go hard at something unless, to your point, Jessica, if there’s a pending acquisition happening, and most of the time those things are kept pretty quiet, but if the company that you’re interviewing at is actively looking to be sold, then I think that there’s a fair question around what is the strategy post-acquisition for the settlement. It also depends on the role that you’re in. If you’re in a shared service role, like finance, HR, or legal, there’s a greater chance that your role would be made redundant vs. if you were in a role that maybe was complementary to the company that was buying, the acquirer.
T.H.: So, in order to bring your A-game, and you’re looking through the news and doing your research, maybe also looking for common ground, maybe a similar interest, like if you google the person, and I don’t know, somehow you see they have a Peloton or whatever that is, or they’re in a Peloton group, even if it’s personal, if it’s out there then it’s out there. Maybe you can find some common ground?
Jen: I think a little gentler with the personal stuff; you don’t want to make it look like you’re stalking them on a personal basis. I think forums like LinkedIn are better where you can see, Oh, you worked at GE, in the finance division, I too worked there.
T.H.: Or we were a vendor or something for GE. So look for professional common ground with the person.
Jen: Or look for reference points. Jennifer, I saw that you were at Barneys during their Chapter 11, talk to me about – I mean, I’m just saying, I don’t think that that would actually come up in an interview, but I definitely wouldn’t go down the I see that you’re a member of Soho house or that you own a Peloton.
T.H.: Right, gotcha. So before leaving, you’ve done your research and you’ve done your homework, and you’re ready, how do you show up?
Jen: I think the most important thing is that you show up as yourself.
I think as a prospective employer, we can suss out inauthenticity pretty quickly. So it’s like, just be who you are. Don’t try and be someone else. Don’t pretend you’re infallible or don’t have weaknesses. It’s super important to acknowledge where your strengths and weaknesses are. It’s really important that during the interview, again, this is like typically an hour to an hour and 15 minutes amount of time that you’re spending with each person in the interview panel, so a collective maybe four to six hours with the company, and the next thing you know, you’re committing the next several years of your life to these people. It’s sort of an odd system. I think truthfully, there’s got to be a better way. A lot of people are trying to figure it out with AI and things of that nature, personality tests, and none of which I subscribe to at this juncture. But I just think the more authentic that you can be, which allows you to be relaxed, because you’re being yourself, the better chance you have of having a good interview. Also, you have to know your audience. If you’re meeting with somebody who’s a young, digital native, you could probably show up a little bit more relaxed than if you were meeting with the Chief Financial Officer of a large financial services firm. At my company, we sort of laugh when somebody shows up in a jacket and tie. If you were interviewing at Goldman Sachs, and you didn’t show up in a jacket, and tie, it would be probably a different scenario. So I think you just need to cater how you prep and how you show up based on who you are and who you’re talking to in the company that you’re exploring.
Jessica: You said something about being yourself and knowing your strengths and your weaknesses. I have to ask because I feel like this is something that everybody dreads when they go in to have meetings at companies, and when they ask you that predictable question of what are your weaknesses? I mostly try to turn a weakness into a strength like I’m super organized, I’m so anal I have to get everything done in an hour. How do you answer those questions? And again, there are a lot of people and they’ve been out of the workforce for a while so that and people who are in the workforce and just needing to get a leg up in the business, but how do you answer those kinds of questions?
Jen: Again, I think honestly and authentically. Now, it’s hard for me because I’ve reached a place in my career where clearly I’ve accomplished a lot and my resume and my experience speak for themselves. So when somebody asks me, what are my weaknesses? I say very honestly, like, I will execute and facilitate until the cows come home. If you’re looking for a high-level strategy person, I’m not terrible, but it’s where I’m going to fall down the most. I’m going to need thought partnership and I’m going to need scaffolding in those areas.
T.H.: I think everyone should mark down those words that she just mentioned, scaffolding, and what did you say?
Jen: I don’t know.
T.H.: We’ll rewind, but you said a lot of keywords. We’ll rewind and listen.
Jen: But again, that’s my authentic language, and that’s how I talk. You’ve just got to find your own voice, and don’t be afraid of it. This is what I mean about coming to your job interview with confidence. Just be who you are and you’re going to find the right place. I cannot tell you, and this is kind of ironic given the form of this conversation, but the parallels between looking for a job and dating are unending. Just because you are looking for this job doesn’t mean that they’re looking for you at this moment in time. There are so many things about it, you will find the right place, and they will find you at the right time. It’s just not always who you think it might be at the exact moment that you’re hoping it is.
Jessica: And so getting onto your A-game, when it comes to putting your resume together, and prepping for your interview, I totally get doing your research in terms of interview prep, but is the old cliché of like practice in front of the mirror and roleplay with people, do you subscribe to all of those things? Are there things you would tell people don’t ever put this on your resume vs. always make sure you have this on your resume?
Jen: I can’t tell someone whether they should or should not prep in front of a mirror. If that’s what’s going to make you more comfortable and confident going in, then do it. That’s not how I operate. As evidenced by this interview, I sit down and have a human conversation. It can be scary, but it’s the best choice in my opinion, and that’s me. In terms of things that you should never put on your resume, definitely don’t lie. That is the number one thing and they will find out. We do background checks, we do employment verifications, and we do educational verifications.
Jessica: You’ve told me about people that come into your office with things on their resume, about places they’ve gone to, schools, and things that they’ve done in jobs. You’re like, they never even went there, it’s such blatant flagrant lying, and it’s so amazing to me that people are so ballsy.
Jen: Yeah. Well, there have been numerous TV shows made about numerous imposters. It’s not that often. But the other thing, again, this is more entry-level, I just don’t know the audience here, but don’t have your parent call on your behalf. We’ve had that happen a few times.
Jessica: Oh my God. Okay. I don’t think anyone listening here is going to be that young that their parents would be calling, but people could be going in for more beginner-level jobs only based on their own personal circumstances. But I think what I’m wondering is I feel sometimes people will put things on their resumes that are so basic, that it almost makes you look worse, because you’re like, you shouldn’t have to write that you know how to use Microsoft Word.
Jen: 100%. Yes, very good point. Again, back to the point that I made last time, a resume should be less about a list of things that you were responsible for, and more about a summary of things that you accomplished and the impact that you made. Don’t say, I was responsible for maintaining the integrity of the financial forecast. Say, I owned the financial forecast, resulting in month over month – I don’t know, I’m making this all up, but I’m just saying talk about what you did and what the impact was to the organization because you could have owned the integrity of the financial forecast, but you could have sucked at it too. Just talk about the things that you excelled at and the things that you made improvements on for the company.
T.H.: What if you’re new to the job market? You’ve never worked before, you’ve raised your kids, and you’re now in the throes of what looks like a divorce. You’re going to be out on your own and you have to be independent financially. Are there some tips? Bringing your A-game, being competent, and doing your homework would make me feel better if I were in that position, but aside from that, as far as skills and what do you put on your resume and how do you talk about yourself? Because I still believe, and I’m sure not in your organization, but say, I’ve raised my kids, they’re in college, they’re great, I took care of the home, I ran everything, my then-husband traveled all the time so it was just a single parent, how is that viewed in the marketplace in general today? Where do you even begin?
Jen: I think the key there, and I know a few women like this, I would look for jobs that then tap those skills. So a perfect example is a friend of mine, who is now an assistant to a very high-powered celebrity. Doing all of the things that she did as a stay-at-home mom was incredibly relevant. She handles all of the gifting, all of the appointment making, and all of the personal responses.
All that kind of stuff, which is in direct correlation to – So in that instance, I think that’s a great job and you can make really good money. The downside is you are owned in terms of your time like you can get woken up at 3 am in the morning, because there’s a problem with a hotel reservation. That’s different than an assistant to an executive who likely has an on-staff executive assistant, whose job is more of the work-related stuff, so travel accommodations, booking meetings, owning the calendar. But particularly with personal assistants, which are more what I’m talking about, there are a lot of transferable skills. I’m going to be honest; I don’t see a huge path forward for people who have no practical work experience trying to get into the corporate environment. It’s very challenging, and if it is going to work, it’s going to work in a smaller company. Nobody’s who’s got no work experience is waltzing in the front door.
T.H.: Right. It’s too much of a risk I would imagine.
Jen: Unless you’re willing to take a job doing something really entry-level. You could work in the mailroom –
T.H.: And then work your way up.
Jen: Right. Crazier things have happened.
Jessica: Talk to us about that kind of stuff. We’ve had conversations before and so has everyone listening about fake it till you make it. I hear you don’t lie on your resume, but how far do you push the line or answer questions to the point of like, yes I can totally do that, and fake it till you make it?
Jen: As long as you have confidence that you can actually do it, then do it. Well, listen, what’s the worst-case scenario? You get in there, you fall down, and you get fired? You’re no worse off than you were before.
I know that we’re looking for perfect answers. I am a ride with the tides kind of gal, and I just think you go where the opportunities lead you. If they don’t work out, I mean, listen, I’ve had a ton of great career success, and I’ve also had a job where I emailed my resignation and walked out the door after two weeks, like sobbing. It happens and you can’t let those setbacks get in your way. They happen to everyone. And by the way, I’ve also made terrible hires, and anyone who tells you that they’ve never hired a terrible – it happens. Again, it’s to my point earlier about a flawed system.
T.H.: I fired someone right in the middle of a Super Bowl, three days pre-Super Bowl event, where you need all hands on deck. He was so awful that I was better off working double-time than having him continue to work for us.
Jen: Okay, and reflecting back on the interview, what did you miss?
T.H.: He was immature, he wasn’t experienced, and I wasn’t paying attention to the right things. But then on the reverse side of it, I was just thinking about it, I was out of work because our company imploded, Enron, which already ages me, but I was out of work in the traditional sense for almost six years. I started an eBay business at home and I was selling all the innards of Jessica’s apartment in the city. Then it grew into this big business, and it was awesome, but I didn’t have a set job in a traditional way.
Jen: That you had at one point.
T.H.: I did, yes, but it was many years ago. Nobody even knows who Anderson Consulting is anymore.
Jen: That’s not true, I do.
Jessica: Those of us that are old know.
T.H.: But I went for an interview at the place where I developed a whole events division, and I walked in there and he said what do you think about starting an events division? I was like sure, I could throw a party. Somehow I had confidence that I could do this and I did a whole pitch to his executive board with my ideas. I don’t know why I was not afraid to fail, but I was not afraid to fail. Failure was not even in my head, I was going to win and I was going to get them. I think that’s also something, it’s not in every person and I don’t know how you get there, but for me, I feel like when I look at things, and this project that we’re working on right now,
I only see success. In the future I see success, I do make mistakes, that I have to go back and review, but I see success. I think that your mindset on where you’re going and like you said, matching your skills to the job, it doesn’t necessarily mean you like your skills, but you should find something that you enjoy doing so you’re not a bitter, angry employee. It has to make you happy at the end of the day. Oh, guess what I did? Who cares if it was sending out the gifts for whatever, you did it for 100 people. You go do that. Somebody else go try that, I dare you. I think all of your points are really valid and can help anybody in any position, so thank you.
Jen: And just keep in mind, recruiting is just one piece of my total responsibility for which I have an incredibly talented senior vice president who reports to me. I also have a purview for learning and development and compensation and benefits and employee relations and all these other things. I am not a deep subject matter expert on any one of these things. I’m sort of a jack of all trades, master of none.
T.H.: Love it.
Jessica: [Laughs] Master of disaster.
Jessica: Thank you so much for bringing all this information, because I feel like everybody listening definitely has great points to take away from this. If someone is like, I want to go out and really get ready, what are a couple of resources that you would direct them to? You mentioned Glassdoor, you mentioned LinkedIn, are those your two favorites when it comes to people starting to figure out how they want to get back into the workforce?
Jen: I mean, LinkedIn, and Google for sure, again, Glassdoor grain of salt. But it’s worth seeing, and it’s going to be the first thing that’s going to come up in your Google Search most likely. Go to the company’s corporate web page, and understand what sort of things they’re prioritizing. I think I look back on my years at IPG, and they were front and center and really early adopters of a strategy around diversity, equality and inclusion. If you know that and you go into your interview, then speak to your beliefs around DE&I. It’s very au courant, thankfully. You can find out a lot about a company by visiting their own webpage. Bigger companies will have investor relations and press coverage directly, and you can get linked right there. Research on their executive team, what their backgrounds are, and know as much as you can
Jessica: Well, thanks, Jen. Thank you so much for coming back. We’re going to have you back again to talk more about all of the things you need to know about skill sets and getting back into the workforce. So thank you.
Jen: My pleasure.
T.H.: Thanks, Jen.
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