Monday, December 3, 2012

You Want the Truth?

In the workplace, as well as during the interview process, honesty is something most dare not speak due to the easily offended. Utter the truth and likely you’ll be exposed to ridicule and derision. With the potent combination of political correctness and a litigious society, who wants to stick out their neck. For example, after McDonald’s was sued by a patron who spilled hot coffee onto their own lap a few years ago, instead of monetarily rewarding their stupidity, the honest  response to a lawsuit should have been to offer them a lifetime supply of coffee served in a two-handed sippy cup with instructions and a bib. I’m sure many more agree with me than are willing to admit it, truthfully. Not only are people increasingly reluctant to speak honestly, many can’t handle the kick of full-strength 100 Proof honesty and, instead, prefer only a very watered-down version for fear of any deleterious side-effect, such as an occasionally necessary reality check. A Jack Nicholson script line comes to mind. But I digress, as I often do.  

Even providing a truthful, yet poor, job reference without first considering the potential liability risk is a modern consideration. So I understand it may be an oxymoron to suggest you should actively seek constructive criticism from a hiring manager, following an interview process in which you were not selected to progress forward. If you feel it was the result of a miscommunication or misunderstanding you can ask to be reconsidered. Failing that, I think it is wise to suggest you’d like to learn the reason(s) for why you were not selected in order to help you to help yourself in the future. For many of the reasons I have mentioned, they might choose to avoid the subject, but anytime there is an opportunity for this kind of feedback, it's valuable information. Take what you can get and thank them. 

Occasionally I speak with job applicants who tell me they do well in interviews but, on more than one occasion when they reached the semi-finals, alas, they weren’t selected. To my mind, if there is a pattern like this, you must determine what the problem is and address ways to make an adjustment or correction going forward. 

It’s never easy to give people bad news although it’s a part of my job. It’s also a routine part of my job to debrief hiring officials for details regarding why or why not to move an applicant forward. Over the years I’ve observed there are five basic reasons as to why people stumble: 
  • Unreasonable demands – When it comes time to discuss the compensation package or benefits some people are simply unreasonable in their demands, i.e. money benefits, etc. Remedy: Look around and understand what the market will bear. There is a difference in what is an acceptable demand during better economic times and now – it’s just the way it is. Have a plan A & B; for compensation, for example, determine the money you’d like to earn and the money you need, which are usually two different numbers, and be satisfied with landing anywhere in between.
  • Misrepresentation – Sometimes people inflate their qualifications on the resumes a bit too much or, in some rare cases, a misguided soul just flat-out lies. None of these Mittyesque situations end well - even if a person somehow slips through and gets hired they always get nailed. Remedy: First and foremost, be factual about your experience and the depth of it. Regarding your experience, the key is to have enough info to tease, but hold back and don’t use all your ammo until you meet face-to-face, and then knock their socks off. Undersell and over deliver and not the other way around.
  • Unsuitable – Sometimes you just don’t fit the bill, you’re not the right match or you were not able to convince them of how your slightly different skills are transferable and applicable to the role for which you applied. In this case, no matter how good your attitude, it ain’t enough. Remedy: Don’t play Russian Roulette or Pin-the-Tail on the Donkey with your job search efforts, it only wastes your time and that of others. Be able to connect your transferable skills and experience with what they are looking for and be able to convincingly explain why you are a suitable choice. 
  • Poor interview prep – Whatever the excuse, be it a lack of time to prep or maybe a lack of motivation, there is no reason to fail to prep, it only takes about 30 minutes to an hour and easy access to the Internet deflates any excuse not to do so. 
  • Poor presentation skills – sometimes those with more than adequate experience and skills just plain stink when it comes time to explain to someone why they are the best person for the job. Sometimes it’s nerves as a result of shyness or when the spotlight’s on them. Other times it’s ignorance because, let’s face it, most of us don’t interview often enough to be proficient. Remedy: Practice at literal or mental role playing. Make an effort to improve your skills. BTW, I have a book filled with this stuff and I am confident everyone will learn something from it.

Of the five, the last two are the most common missteps. As an example, there was a very sharp professional specialist I coached who, when asked to describe his claim of being an effective project manager, replied, “I don’t know how to describe it but just trust me, I know what I am doing and I am very good at it.” At that moment, I knew his chances for further consideration died with that reply; that kind of response isn’t good enough, ever. On the other hand, this an easy thing to remedy in the future. When you can receive feedback from someone willing to be honest with “constructive” criticism, sometimes bad news is really good news, depending on what you do with the information – be grateful and thank them! Even so, it still comes back to you and you are your own best resource. Occasionally stop to review what’s working or what is not and make the necessary adjustments.

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