Sunday, August 30, 2015

Fortune Favors the Bold

It is my opinion that we live in an era of generic, bland-vanilla sameness -- especially in the business world. Most people talk a good game but when it becomes their moment they are deathly afraid of raising their head above the herd, much less to be a black sheep. This is ironic at a moment when innovators and new ideas are most needed. 
Yet, at both administrative and management levels, virtually every process that revolves around interview and hiring is standardized, generalized and homogenized in such a way that they will rarely meet those they need the most. 
Let’s consider the interview process. Most everyone’s goal is to get through it without making a mistake; so worried about it that many people who are more dynamic in other situations are lackluster when it is their turn. Many people strive in fact to be less remarkable. 
When you interview you want to be remarkable, memorable and dynamic. As long as you behave in a professional manner and exercise professional courtesies, relax and be yourself. Stand out, be different than everyone else. 
Consider this: has there ever been an occasion when there was a job you wanted very much, you interviewed for it and tried so hard and what happened – nothing. Then on another occasion, there was an opportunity for an interview or a meeting; this time you just weren’t very excited about it, but you went anyway. When you arrived, you were professional and did your best but – for whatever reason you just didn’t really care if you gained their approval or not. And then wouldn’t you know it, the times when you were not as heartsick, pining away for an opportunity the hiring managers reacted to you differently, more positively. How can this be?
I have witnessed it many times – it’s happened to me and others I know. The difference is clear to me; in the examples when the interviewee displayed more confidence without much concern about how they would be perceived either consciously or sub-consciously, it doesn’t matter which, it made a difference.
When you interview don’t be afraid to display your more bold side, put it out there and let them meet the real you - hiring managers long to see standout individuals. What’s the worst that can happen, they don’t call you back? Chances are that’s possibly already happening, anyway. 
Another piece of advice: regardless of how well qualified you are the worst thing you can do is place yourself in subservience, as if your interview is more an interrogation than a business discussion and exchange of ideas between professionals – which is exactly the way you should view it because that is what the interview represents. By trying too hard to gain their favor at your own expense, you are diminishing yourself – you are putting yourself at a bigger disadvantage, reducing your own value as an individual. 
Have you ever heard someone use the phrase, “they put on their pants one leg at a time, just like you”? Begin small if you must, but pledge to yourself to be bolder and I am not suggesting that you be arrogant or in-their-face. Rather, express why you are the best choice and be prepared to back up any of your claims with facts and/or anecdotal evidence when challenged. If as a result you are going to be damned, be damned for being who you are. Hold your head up high and move on. I’ll wager that you will have different and markedly better results in your job search and interview efforts. 

Sunday, August 23, 2015

Overcoming Resistance

Anyone who’s looked for a job, especially within the last 5 years, has encountered significantly more obstacles and limitations than in the past, erected by the very people and organizations that claim to be looking for the best available talent. This is frustrating, especially if you are a self-reliant person, who prefers to do more than register and submit to on-line processes. It can seem as if the more you attempt to help yourself the more you find yourself hitting a virtual wall.
Regardless of your qualifications and experience, if you don’t get noticed or seen it doesn’t much matter, you’ll find your resume piled with those who aren’t even remotely qualified until someone might get around to you.

No doubt to be successful in this very competitive job market requires more “sticktoitiveness” (yeah, that’s a real term, look it up) and dedication than ever. The dilemma is that if you attempt to do anything more than what is prescribed by the gate keepers, which is to primarily submit online and then wait; you’re likely to draw their ire. They’d prefer you sit and wait patiently like a good and obedient poodle, with no clue as to when or if you will hear from them.

If you want to follow the rules, no problem, and you can wait until someone decides it’s your turn. However, if you don’t like to sit idly by, but rather seek to make your own luck and optimize your chances for success, you’ll have to take things up a notch or two.

Years ago, when being proactive and assertive was a valued trait, I was taught that when you encounter resistance you have three choices: 1) relent and walk / run away 2) power through it and count the costs later, win or lose or 3) side-step and go around it, find another way forward. I prefer the third option, no stress; just find a way around in order to get through to my goal. In this case the goal is to find the actual hiring manager.

You can still apply online if you wish through the proper and mandated channels, but then, take some initiative; take some liberties, be a little selfish for your own good.

Most people, when they choose to be, are pretty clever and resourceful online. Likewise, most people know the title or the position of the person within a company or organization to whom they’d likely report, or the title of a local or regional manager. Most information you need can be found online, otherwise, you can exercise some cleverness and call to try to learn who you should aim to find. Find a way to introduce yourself to a potential hiring manager directly; it might mean reaching out to and talking with their admin assistant – again no problem, be nice to them and they may be more helpful to you.

Whether you seek to go voice direct with them or by email, you’ll make a more notable impact than if you send your resume through a black hole/bottomless pit of a portal and do nothing more. The worst that can happen is they’ll re-route you back through to HR – no problem and beg their pardon, no harm, no foul. The best that can happen – and it does more often than you may think, is that they’ll establish a dialogue with you even if they direct you back to HR; you’re noticed and possibly notable.

I suggest that you are better served researching and contacting 10 companies this way, than to frivolously shotgun 100 resumes to places you won’t even remember a week after the fact.

Sunday, August 16, 2015

The Power of References

A truly dedicated and serious job seeker, applicant or candidate, is one who can juggle and multi-task. Too many people sleepwalk through the job search and subsequent interview process, only to lament their lack of positive results. There are many aspects and things anyone can augment in order to up their odds for better success. It isn’t difficult but takes commitment that most people simply will not have – this becomes an advantage for those who will and do more.
Take the simple exercise of collecting and providing references. I don’t care what type of reference you use, consider what you are really doing here; you are asking someone to speak on your behalf, requesting someone to vouch for you and this should never be taken lightly. More important, they are, by agreeing to refer you, putting their reputation and good name on the line, for you - there is reciprocity involved here that most people take for granted. This makes the subject of asking for and providing a reference an emblematic statement of integrity, honor and putting one’s reputation on the line. Furthermore, in a tight and close contest it can be the win or lose, make or break determining factor. When viewed in this manner the gravity and importance of a reference becomes clear, and yet, many people do nothing until they are asked and scramble to cobble a few together haphazardly. References are not only necessary, but good references can add horsepower to your efforts so that planning ahead sets you apart from most others stumbling along.
In the current, lethargic economic cycle, interview processes often seem to drag along. Companies are still hiring but they are taking longer to do it, being more deliberative and adding interview steps in some cases, to ensure a good hiring decision. Solid, decisive and reliable references can be the insurance you need at the end of a long hiring process.
Ask permission – never assume, always ask for and get approval to use someone as a reference. As stated above, you should take it as a seriously obligation. 
Plan ahead / plan early – even if you don’t need a reference today, if you know someone and the circumstance is such that you can ask and receive a reference for later usage, take advantage of it now and not after the fact when enthusiasm wanes. Frankly, you want to build a collection of references so that when the time comes you have a number from which to choose.
How many references are enough - can you have too many people willing to say positive things about you? Ideally you should have 3 or 4 good and solid references when the time comes and you are asked; having more is better than having to scrounge and scratch for a few that you don’t feel very confident about.
Reference letters – I think written references are your secret weapon of choice. Any time you can get someone to provide you with a written endorsement, it carries more weight than merely their name, title and telephone number. As for you pessimists, you can be assured of knowing what they actually think and say about you, rather than crossing your fingers and hoping for a good word on your behalf. Written references also save time if, for whatever reason, one of your key references cannot be contacted in a timely manner.
Interview process timing – Waiting until you are asked for references to collect and assemble them is negligence on your part. But if constantly being on the lookout for a reference is not your style, then the time to assemble and notify your references is at the positive conclusion of your second interview with a potential employer. This way they’ll be ready to go, when they are requested.
Common sense and courtesy – if you have references already established, always notify them about if or when they might receive a call. First, it gives you the opportunity to verify if they are still willing to speak favorably on your behalf (important). Second, it prevents an awkward moment when a potential employer calls to ask about you and your reference, who wasn’t told beforehand, replies, “Who?”  
A request for references is one of the more predictable steps of most any interview process, so be ready. Or if you really want to set yourself apart be more than just prepared, be proactive and beat them to it. At the end of the second interview you feel went well, on your way out the door you can suggest, “…and one more thing, here are my references…” Detective and Lieutenant Columbo style.
Setting yourself apart from everyone else, with the same goal in mind is the whole point of the interview process. So, do you still think all you need is a good resume?

Sunday, August 9, 2015

Selling the Sizzle

When you are seeking to be hired, promoted or chosen for anything ahead of others, all similarly vying for the same thing, it is essential the hiring manager is happy and excited about the hiring decision they’ve made. Being just good enough to be the last resort or the final option isn’t a winning strategy. 
Having a well-thought-out reply to the question of, “why should anyone hire you?” is a key component of your efforts. Lacking a clear and decisive answer to that question, and others you should anticipate as likely, is negligence on your part. However, before as well as when they meet you, you must attract their attention. When meeting them, there is that thing about first impressions, but you can’t stop there; so what kind of person, what impression will they have -- of you? 
In sales and marketing they sometimes say you’ve got to sell the sizzle, meaning something has to catch their eye and draw attention, in this case, toward you. You know there are a lot of other people out there who want the same thing you do. When you are presenting your resume, as an initial representation of yourself, you are both your own marketer and sales person to your own cause. 
Your resume
The manner by which you present your experience and accomplishments on your resume matters; the info should be more than simply a bland timeline and historical record (yawn). Features and Benefits are the key, but it is more than that. Often people put an Objective statement near the top of their resume; this is meant to be a little personal message of some kind with the hope of framing your intention for the reader’s benefit. If you are going to do this, it needs to actually be what it is intended to be - an attention getter. It doesn’t need to be outrageous but it should be something that pulls in whoever is reading to continue to read on. Bland and general statements that only take up valuable space on a resume waste the reader’s time and ultimately yours too. So the obvious next suggestion is, forget the Objective statement and instead compose an effective cover letter. If you use a cover letter it needn’t be long but it should be impactful; a couple of paragraphs will do.

Your attitude is the best place to start. I don’t care how nervous you are, even if you are sad, angry or bitter when you meet, you’d better have on your game face. People who convey anything other than a positive and can-do attitude aren’t helping themselves. Pissed-off people with a chip on their shoulder don’t usually get job offers and only succeed in creating for themselves a vicious circle (no pun intended) in which they become mired. Don’t misunderstand me; I am not suggesting you become someone completely different and someone you are not. If you don’t have confidence in yourself and your ability to do the job for which you are seeking to interview, you shouldn’t waste someone else’s time. If you are confident and know it, then show it. I am not suggesting you get in peoples’ faces and freak them out or to be overly glib. How you carry yourself is emblematic of who you are and a firm handshake, while looking them in the eye when you introduce yourself with a smile, is your face-to-face start point. 
Regarding the sizzle factor, it’s simple really, if you haven’t sat down and invested some time to contemplate and list the reasons as to why you are a valuable employee and what benefits your efforts can have brought to your current and past employers, you need to do so. Determine a couple or a few of the best and notable attributes and accomplishments and lead with that. Include a preview or two in your leading introductory statement. 
Once you’ve determined what to use and how best to incorporate it into your repertoire, never be shy about talking to anyone. The reason is simple: you have good news for them and worthy of their attention. Any initial stonewalling or ambivalence is usually because they are accustomed to everyone looking and sounding the same – yep, imagine if you can, that there are jaded HR and company managers who are bored to death unless you snap them out of it and they’ll pay attention to you. Don’t be taken off your game if you meet someone who is ambivalent or perhaps even difficult. Often they are bored until they meet someone who awakens their senses; of whom they sit up and take notice. Why shouldn’t that person be you – but you’ve got to give them a reason.
Remember, you are your own marketing and sales manager and if you neglect this aspect, then you sound like everyone else and you’ll have little success in getting anyone to seriously consider the product and solution you represent. You.

Sunday, August 2, 2015

Question Everything

There are many reasons why people fail to progress during the interview process, but a significant mistake is their failure to ask questions during the interview and every subsequent step of the hiring process. Many fail to take full advantage of the event, learning as much as they can with the limited time they have with a hiring manager. A lot of people do only the bare minimum and engage only when it’s expected of them and then seem surprised when they receive no call-back or an invitation to the next step. Still others do all right but they always finish second or third and hiring officials will say, “We liked you, but…” if they tell you anything, at all. We all know that unless a company is conducting multiple hires, there is no prize for second or third-place finishers in the form of a job offer. If you are always close and almost get the job offer but don’t, you’ve got to look in the mirror and figure out, why not?
You might be qualified for the job you seek; perhaps you have a wonderful resume and the interviewer was friendly enough but, during the course of your meeting and near the end when they ask if you have any questions, this is the portion of the interview that in many ways counts the most. It is this question and answer repartee between candidate and hiring manager that will set the tone and afterwards be remembered most; not your resume. 

Too much or not enough

Many job seekers mistakenly assume they’ll get on the interviewer’s nerves if they have too many questions – but this is patently silly. 
My first piece of advice is: don’t try to anticipate the thoughts or reactions of the interviewer – it will only cause you to second guess yourself and creates self-doubt and that’s not a good impression to leave at an interview. Be yourself, ask the questions you think necessary to gain the level of insight you require, while providing the information they require. For your part, you have an obligation to yourself, in your own self-interest, so don’t be shy.
Most questions asked during an interview are for the sake of clarity and to flesh out details, about your abilities, the scope of the job in question or about their expectations of whomever they hire. Furthermore, we not only need answers but we need to understand the answers so there is no misrepresentation or misinterpretation. Generic answers are never good enough, for neither the interviewer nor the interviewee, informed decisions require more info and mutual understanding. We’re adults and as such we should communicate as adults amongst other adults; if you need more information, ask. Problems after the fact are usually linked to the failure of one side or the other to gain a full understanding of the job or one’s qualifications and abilities. I don’t have patience for complainers, both applicants as well as hiring managers, who failed in their obligation during interviews and later blame something or someone else. 
For example: when a hiring manager tells me they are looking for someone senior, my immediate follow-up question is, “How do you define senior?” because their answer is far too vague, should not and cannot be taken at face value. Or when they say they want a self-starter, which is a great sounding cliché albeit it generic, I ask, “can you please share with me your definition of a self-starter?” 
When I speak with a person I might represent they may say they are, “…looking for a career growth opportunity.” Without more information, it’s an empty statement with little or no value. But alas, this is the empty, fluffy sound-bite era we live in, full of empty rhetorical flourish. 
Okay enough of that, so what’s the point? Hiring managers react surprisingly well to people who go beyond the bare bones minimal and bland question and answer checklist and actually communicate, engaging in a business conversation. Don’t doubt me - you’d be surprised about how many smart and highly-qualified people are very poor (and lazy) communicators. When you make a conscious effort of peeling back the layers of the onion this way, to both provide and extract the critical information you need to make a better-informed decision, you elevate yourself in the eyes of a hiring manager. In addition to what you claim on your resume, this is how you demonstrate your suitability. Don’t shrink away; get to the real substance, the meat and potatoes that will help you to help them. Isn’t that the whole point of the interview and presenting yourself as a solution to their wants and needs?