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Q. I am working in a software house and have several years of IT experience as a systems analyst. I have been on the lookout for a new job in the IT field for a few months and have been called up by a number of companies for interviews. The problem is that I never get to the second interview stage. I believe I have an impressive resume, and that's why I was called up for interviews. However, it seems like I'm not able to clear the first interview stage. I have several years of IT experience in the same company, of which two or three years were as a project leader. My previous job was in an engineering field, but I was also involved in a major software development. I am interested in moving to a project management role. How can I better present myself to prospective employers during my first interview? I'm often asked for my expected salary during the first interview. My salary expectations are a 15-20 percent increment from my current drawn salary. Are my salary expectations realistic?
Submitted by Jason via e-mail.
Career advice from Chong Yoke Sin, CEO, NCS: A. If you can't seem to clear the first interview, time and again, observe the body language of the interviewers. At what point during the interviews did they show signs of becoming uncomfortable. It may be that the salary expectation is too high. Remember that these days, the job market is still skewed toward the employers. Singapore is facing a cost crunch with competing countries nearby, and there are foreigners who are also willing to take the same job for less pay. As employers, we would like to give preference to our local talent, but the premium cannot be too high, otherwise we can't keep our costs down.
Your prospective employer has to know what value you can bring to the job. If you don't have the relevant experience and you are seeking to upgrade yourself to get into a project management job but with more pay, you would have to demonstrate 1) why the organization should take that chance with you 2) what additional value you can offer immediately before you become productive in project management. It's all about being able to define the value that you can bring, showing your capability to be able to create that value, and committing to delivering that value consistently and flexibly.
"If you want to understand why you didn't get the second interview, ask for feedback."
--Saw Ken Wye Microsoft
The IT business has changed tremendously, and personally, I am seeing that people have to work much harder than before to secure their jobs. Basically, it's the syndrome of doing more with less. We all face this at every level, even at top management and executive board levels. The world is tougher these days, and only the fittest will survive. You have to convince your prospective employer that you know how tough it is and that you are willing to work hard and go the extra mile before he will engage you.
Career advice from Saw Ken Wye, president for Southeast Asia, Microsoft:
A. If you want to understand why you didn't get the second interview, ask for feedback. At interviews, exchange name cards with the person interviewing you. After the interview, send a short "Thank You" e-mail, reaffirming your interest in the company and reiterating why you think you can be a good fit for them. And if you don't hear back from the company, you can now use this opportunity to ask for feedback. The reason may be as simple as they had rated you as a 'hire' but there was a better candidate. If someone were to ask me for feedback after an interview, I would be prepared to let them know.
The key point to make in an interview is what you can do for the company that is hiring you. Don't tell them how great you are but tell them about your experience and skills that you can bring to the table. Come prepared. Do some research, understand the challenges the company is facing and offer an opinion, if asked. You don't want to give an impression that you know the situation better than someone working in it. The biggest turnoff for me in an interview is if it turns into 'I am looking for a role change because I feel that I have done enough time in the current role'. Similarly, why should I, as an employer, be interested in offering a role to further your career aspirations? I have a need to be filled and if you can do the job and also meet your career goals, we have a win-win situation.
Finally, on the question on compensation: What is the basis for the 15-20 percent pay increase? How do you know that you are not overpaid for the work that you do now? In some instances, if you really want to broaden your career opportunities, you may need to take a pay cut. My response to a question on expected salary would be to deflect the question to 'do you think I am a good fit for the role? Compensation is important but I do want this job and would trust that you will do the right thing for me'. It is therefore not about 'me' but how you value me as your potential employee and how you will treat me.
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