Monday, December 23, 2013

Increase Your Chances in the New Year

It seems you can’t have the New Year without New Year’s Resolutions, they just go together. Among the resolutions people make and pledge to do is to find a new job. And like most resolutions the discipline to stay true to their stated goal fades sometime in the weeks and months that follow. But if, indeed, you do seek to find a new job opportunity, just like anything you aim to achieve, intent alone will not get the job done, it requires sustained and focused effort. If perhaps you are already looking or soon considering putting some energy behind this kind of effort, what’s your plan and how will you turn your resolution into a reality?

Anyone who reads this blog knows I strongly suggest you not restrict your efforts or pin your hopes primarily to online-advertised jobs. Think about it, when a company posts a job on either their company website or other Internet-based resources, by the time you see it and answer there are already a lot of other people who are also interested in applying for the same job. Likely by the time you’ve sent your resume, you are situated somewhere in the middle of the pile of resumes. Then comes the process of qualification and elimination and when the dust settles, you might just get an opportunity to meet and demonstrate why you should be selected over others. However, I contend that by the time you’ve sent your resume the process is already well under way and you’re behind the curve trying to catch up. Ideally, if you could you’d like to be there and involved right from the start, wouldn’t you? But that isn’t possible, or is it?
I recently spoke with a person who is frustrated about this very scenario, feeling as if they are always last to know and late to get involved. Many times they learn within days of reacting and applying, that a selection has already been made. Consider, if you will, that if you reverse engineer the hiring and interviewing process, the time (days) it takes to receive and screen resumes, then schedule and conduct interviews, schedule and conduct second-round interviews, etc… we’re talking a couple of weeks, so you do recognize how far you lag in your involvement by the time you’re contacted or considered? Please don’t misunderstand; I’m not trying to step on your optimism. My book outlines a combination of other activities you should be doing in addition to responding online, but here is a relatively simple additional thing you could, and should be doing.
Even a blind squirrel finds a nut, occasionally
Of course, you should continue to react to jobs you see posted and have an interest in, but the mistake is limiting your activities primarily to this method only. You can leave your fate to luck or a phenomenon of good timing, but is this the best you can do?
If you want to get out front and ahead of the curve, you can’t be only reactive. Consider what happens in companies that want to hire a new employee. First they look internally, asking for employee referrals. Next HR checks their own internal database and after looking internally, then they will look externally and post the job. Of course, you don’t have a crystal ball to anticipate who will be hiring or when, although you can create better odds for yourself, thence create your own luck. If you want to assemble a list or, whenever a company you’d like to work for crosses your mind, construct a short introduction letter stating that you’d like to be considered if there might be a future opportunity, and send it with your resume by email. Indeed, you will not hear from many of the companies you contact, and how many companies to which you are currently applying, also replying to you? Yep, it requires more effort than the activities with which you may already be engaged, but if that’s all you’re doing, how’s that working for you?
Reactive Internet activity is important, but incorporating additional measures increases your odds and I imagine most people would like to increase their chances of success. As you contemplate the New Year and how you might want to enhance and influence your good fortune in 2014, make the commitment to a higher level of effort that most others are not doing.
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Monday, December 16, 2013

Who’s Easier to Speak With?

When you first meet a business person, who is easier to speak with, lower and mid-level managers or top management executives?
In anticipation of an interview or an initial business meeting, most people have some level of anxiety beforehand as they consider many what if scenarios they might encounter. This is understandable and often the more senior the individual(s) the more nervous most of us become. Some people falsely view themselves as unworthy or below or of inferior status, as if they are out of their own league compared with more lofty people of position. The bottom line is they automatically sense inequity resulting in higher anxiety. This just adds to the pressure already felt about making a good impression, and your confidence level is clearly one aspect of what you want to convey.
I am not going to dismissively suggest you shouldn’t be nervous; “don’t worry, be happy” was a cute tune in the ‘80s, but it’s not helpful advice and it does nothing to alleviate your stress level. I almost never aim at the street-level entrance or the middle for that matter; instead I seek to go directly to the source, which means senior management. Now, you may think that a higher ranking or titled individual has no time for the likes of you, but it’s not about your age, your experience or your title, that’s just your own self-doubt causing you to think this way. Indeed, if or when you have the chance to speak with some such individual, you’ve gotta have something worthwhile to say, but that’s going to be the case with anyone to whom you speak for the first time if you want to make a good first impression.
Often, lower and middle managers possess insecurity about their own jobs, consciously or subconsciously, unless they are familiar with or directly involved in a situation. They have little reason to invest themselves and, therefore, you are more likely to be passed off or dismissed. Perhaps, if you are an outsider with good experience, who knows, they might consider you a threat – such is the new normal in many organizations where teamwork and cooperation for the good of the company has devolved into CYA for the good of oneself, sadly. So why bother trying to gain the entryway approval of anyone except those key decision makers you’d ultimately speak with anyway. Furthermore, senior-level managers don’t have the same hangups, they have their groove and you are not a threat, coupled with the fact that you are a curiosity because, after all, why are you calling into their office when all the others go the more conventional route. And this can be an advantage. I have found they are easier to speak to, once again, if you have something worthwhile to say and you can deliver it with confidence. Now they may simply refer you back to a lower echelon person, but now you have the blessing of a senior manager so you are more likely to be noticed and less likely to be ignored. The intrigue of it all can be quite convenient and helpful to your cause. Plus, if by chance you left a good impression and you were memorable, if or when the time comes when your name crosses the desk of that same senior manager, they’ll remember you. Throughout my career a little bit of brashness backed up with credibility is necessary for a headhunter, so hearing the words and someone insinuating, “you’ve got some nerve”, or as someone from the UK might say, “you’ve got some cheek” yeah, I do. If you are not so bold and prefer to blend in that is fine, there’s nothing wrong with that but, for those who want to make their mark, it is refreshing to those higher-level executives who are looking for innovative doers. Managers often confide to me that so few are willing to stand up or stand out. So, from where I sit, the advantages are clear; aim high and if you’re sent back down the line, so what, you’ll be no worse off. 
Remember the three most important components of this strategy:
  • Approach with confidence. Professional courtesy and a sense of purpose is the right approach. Warning: arrogance, hubris or aggressiveness is not the same thing and is ill advised.
  • Have something to say that is worthy of their time. As mentioned above, this is all about that sense of purpose (as mentioned in the previous bullet point). Your delivery should be clear, which means you should rehearse and know what you are going to say.
  • Be concise. Don’t be too wordy and your delivery should say more, with less. If this is difficult for you, or you don’t know how to describe yourself and your intent, take time to practice.
With these three things in mind, go for it. The worst thing that can happen is they’ll send you back to HR. Stand up and stand out, resolve to take more control of your own career moves.
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Monday, December 9, 2013

Three Most Critical Components of the Interview

I can go on and on with advice and I do, every week. Of the many things I suggest, there are three things people fail to do that are critical to one’s interview success. As a result, many people doom their own chances right from the start and later scratch their heads wondering what went wrong. These three seemingly obvious measures are not mere window dressing for appearances; they are integral steps without which you’re barely going through the motions.
The interview process is, in many ways, a ritualistic event; styles and methods can vary but hiring officials are watching for and expecting certain rudimentary steps, a checklist of sorts. The three components to which I am referring, that you ignore at your own risk  are one each before, during and at the end of the interview. They need to be a part of your own ritual and applied to every interview in which you participate, throughout your entire career. If you’re looking for shortcuts, the Internet already provides you with plenty but, at some point, you must personally engage and participate directly, face to face. But if that’s too much for you and you want the easy way out, if you want to zombie walk your way through life, get a government job.
For those who want to better influence their own fate, here they are:
Interview Prep – Before your interview, invest 30 or more minutes to learn about the company and, when possible, the division or group, however narrow you can focus your inquiries. It’s all available online. Start with the company website, look for new products or services, check out press releases, etc. During the interview you are very likely to be asked, “what do you know about our company?” and/or, “tell me why you’d like to work for our company?” These are a couple of basic questions and a threshold you need to meet and get beyond. “It’s a great company” will not cut it. Or take it even further; whenever possible, you might even find a career bio of a hiring official with whom you may meet. Who knows, maybe you’ll find some commonalities, such as having attended the same university, both served in the military, similar interests or something else potentially helpful. Do your homework before you shake hands at the interview.
Ask Questions – refer to my previous blog entry for more on this one but, suffice to say that if you don’t have any questions, you’re either lazy or not as interested as you claim to be and that is precisely the impression the interviewer will have. This is another critical interview threshold if you want to be taken seriously, and how will you know the right time to ask? In most interviews it is pretty obvious, and it’s near the end of the interview and sounds like this, “Do you have any questions?” Or preferably, simply be engaged in an interactive discussion and ask when the feeling hits you. Just be sure to do it before you shake their hand and depart.
Ask for the next step – a somewhat ritualistic threshold telling you it is near the end of the interview is when they ask if you have any remaining questions. So I have one more for you to ask; your final question should be, “What’s the next step?” And this, ladies and gentlemen, is a most critical threshold, indicating your interest in continuing. Or -- you can blend into the background, like countless others who leave and are quickly forgotten after they depart, by saying, “um, uh well, I hope I hear from you.”
Each of these three is important, but each is more critical than the previous. My book provides many more details and variations for these and a long list of other steps to improve your odds of being noticed. And if you’re noticed, you’ll stand out from the legions of others trudging along and competing for the same jobs by doing the bare minimum. Be different to make a difference. If you’re serious about your career you may have only one shot at a good opportunity, so don’t squander it. In my vocabulary, regret is a dirty word.
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Monday, December 2, 2013

Questioning Authority

Ironically, the catchphrase “Question Authority”, came into vogue in the 1960s and early ‘70s. It was meant as an idealistic challenge to what the young generation of that period considered an inflexible and rigid societal status quo, which needed to be shaken loose. The ironic part is that these are the same people who now run the very system they once criticized and are more critical about dissent than their predecessors in power – or so it seems. I recognize that this is a blog about employment-related matters and not politics. However, in all aspects of our lives during the last few years, non-conformity, dissent or simple disagreement, questioning or challenging a process or a function increasingly evokes condemnation – and this trend also extends to the job market.
Take the interview process, for example, sadly I encounter a lot of people who worry that if they ask too many questions they will somehow disqualify themselves from further consideration because they might be, you know, asking too many questions. This is nonsensical and the complete opposite of the reality. If you are interviewing and trying to learn about a potential job opportunity, you can and should ask as many questions as you think necessary in order for you to have as complete an understanding as you require before making any decision. Certainly, the interviewer will ask you as many questions as they see fit to evaluate you, therefore, as an equal participant you owe it to yourself to ask. This benefits not only the job seeker but also the company conducting the interview. Too often people will pursue a job according to only the basic job description they read and responded to. Many people sit almost mute during the interview and speak only when spoken to, scratching together some courage to ask questions only at the very end of a process – this is a big mistake. “Why,” is the universal interview question to ask and I recommend you exploit it to your heart’s content.  Recall that when we were young, most of us drove adults crazy asking why, about everything, although at some point we were instructed to stop asking so many questions. This same trend continued throughout our time in the classroom and into adulthood.
As a headhunter I can tell you that asking thoughtfully structured questions demonstrates that you are fully engaged in the process – as you should be. Question away until you have nothing more to ask. Some may disagree with my viewpoint, so let me share with you what hiring managers tell me. Here are two common things I hear related to this subject. One comment I hear is, “…I was surprised they didn’t have any questions.” This is a response that is often met with an assumption of lack of interview prep or lack of real interest. Another observation I get from interviewers is, “…they asked me a lot of great questions and he/she is clearly interested.” Based on these comments, the message is clear, or do you need me to spell it out? Incidentally, one comment I never hear about an applicant someone wants to hire is, “…they asked too many questions.” 
So to overstate the obvious, when you interview for any job, assuming you are interested, ask as many questions as you feel the need to ask, don’t be shy and don’t be intimidated into feeling as though you are attracting negative attention. Remember, if you don’t stand out from the rest of the applicants, it means you are no better or worse but just the same, which is not a good strategy if they are looking for the best-qualified person, who stands apart from the others.
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