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?

Monday, July 27, 2015

We Have Software for That

When I look at the changing trends that have taken place since I became a headhunter in 1992, the most notable is the advent and increased reliance on technology that is supplanting traditional human interaction. 
One of the areas where it is most evident, for me, is the job application and interview process. The downside is the obvious degradation of soft skills and interpersonal communication abilities of all involved in the hiring process. For all of the technology at our fingers tips, which is indeed useful and necessary, our abilities to communicate are suffering. When it comes to interacting directly with other people; when we can’t hide behind our devices, we’re more uncomfortable and awkward than ever. And when I do speak with some people what comes out of their mouths has little relevance. Increasingly they speak in generic terms and are not really saying much of anything.
Job seekers are increasingly clueless about the most basic tasks of presenting themselves and demonstrating to hiring managers why they should be chosen for a job, instead of someone else. Even worse, those who are tasked with interviewing, evaluating and selecting those whom they need to hire are not much better. They increasingly will do anything to avoid face-to-face interaction with applicants until it is absolutely necessary. Sure, they can say all they want about technology saving time, efficiency and indeed I do believe that was the original intent. But now, the time saving tools have become a crutch, a barrier to hide behind so they don’t have to actually meet people or worse, have to speak with them! It’s getting so bad that many decision makers increasingly lack confidence in their own conclusions without some tech tool telling them, “its okay, go ahead”.  
The handshake and initial face-to-face screening interview has been replaced with a Skype call. But as that is not really a meeting nor is it an opportunity to get to know you, you’ll need to take a psychometric evaluation to understand what motivates you to determine your suitability, as well as to look for red flags and warning signs. They could of course meet you and ask, trusting in their own instincts but that might take up too much of their precious time. Later, if you are determined to be suitable when measured against their metrics, they’ll finally meet you - to discuss the results. I wonder if this method of making a decision based on a test actually results in better hires, better employee retention and less turnover and fewer bad hires, because many companies are paying a lot of money to evaluate that which they are no longer capable of doing on their own. But I am sure the companies that produce all the software we over-rely upon, that makes modern hiring possible, have plenty of marketing evidence to show without their wares, competent decisions just cannot be made.
Their propaganda aside, all the software tools and excuses can only delay the inevitable and at some point they have to meet you and likewise, you’ll have to meet them. Are you prepared? Are you able to do that which no software program can as yet replace, that being your ability to articulate why you should be the person selected for a job for which you’re qualified? It might seem like a small thing and many people fail to consider it, but from my perspective witnessing the trends of the last couple decades, being a good communicator, possessing better than average soft skills provides you with more of an edge than you may have previously thought.
It is amazing when one considers that only 50 years ago, industry thrived and economies were strong, decisions were made before the advent of widespread computer use. Most managers lacked college degrees too. I wonder how they managed to do it - but I digress.

If you lack confidence in your ability to communicate, there is no software that will help you to improve. You can only improve your skills the old-fashioned way, by removing your face from whatever screen it’s buried in, getting out there among people, better developing your skills to interact with others. 

Monday, July 20, 2015

Selling the Benefits

Any accomplished and successful salesperson reads the title and knows immediately to what I am referring. The best way to sell any product or service is to present the benefits, thus demonstrating to potential customers why they should choose what you have to offer to them rather than someone else. 
When you interview, it is, or I suggest it should be, the very same concept you use when you interview for a job. Simply replace the word buy with the word hire and the advantage of this approach should be obvious. Applying this logic and making the appropriate adjustments to your efforts can make a notable difference anytime you are presenting yourself in pursuit of a new job, for a promotion or even a pay raise. 
This concept goes to the heart of the interview process and exemplifies your task when you are looking for a new job. As a headhunter, before I will consider whether or not I might represent someone, I always ask, “Why should anyone hire you?” How they reply will influence to what degree I think I can help them. You need to ask yourself this same question. If you can’t sufficiently answer with anything compelling then you have some work to do and this, ladies and gentlemen, is the starting point and where to focus your self-improvement efforts. This is an aspect that can quickly transform your interview performance results. I consider it to be so important, that you should not even attend another interview, until you can provide some compelling answers to that basic question.  
Make a list if you need to and refine it, practice it so you are ready when the time comes. Know how to respond with something that results in a hiring manager nodding his head in agreement when he or she hears your responses. If you make a claim be ready to back it up with evidence. You can pre-empt them and also save time by sharing some of the information when they ask, “So tell me about yourself?” Don’t delude yourself into thinking you can breeze through an interview hiding behind and simply reciting your resume. You’ve got to go beyond the resume and elaborate, expound about that which they already have in their hands, they can read too. That’s the difference between those who simply attend and interview and those who participate in an interview – know the difference, make a difference. 
Your resume got you in the door but it’s up to you to get invited back for the next interview. To take it up a notch further, in addition to presenting (selling) your benefits, point to examples using anecdotal evidence about a situation that encapsulates and proves your claims.
Regular readers of my blog know that I suggest you adopt a salesperson's role; you are product and your resume is your product brochure. The hiring managers, the interviewers are the customer. Sell the benefits as to why your product, you, are the solution to their needs.

Monday, July 13, 2015

Be Indispensable

We live in a period of great change, which in-turn, has a lot of people glancing over their shoulders wondering what’s next to change. The biggest concern for many is their job status and security; most everyone knows someone that’s been negatively affected the last few years. Among those who’ve been impacted, some spring to action, do what is necessary, make adjustments and with effort they regain their footing as best they can and move forward. Yet increasingly, others really have a tough time recovering. In light of all the changes, it astounds me there are still a majority of people doing nothing to be better prepared, just-in-case. Human nature is such that unless there is a need to be on alert, most people get comfortable and settle into a routine resulting in atrophy, their senses dull and so if/when the time comes they are slower to react. I would suggest you not be one of them, those who fail to prepare themselves until it is too late, only to lament what they could’ve, should’ve or would have done in hindsight. 
In my profession I meet scores of people but in fact, I can only actively help and represent a very small number of them. This is the reason for the advice I provide in the form of my blog, articles, and my handbook for job seekers, lectures – in order to lend some assistance as best as I can. And beginning this autumn as a matter of fact, I’ll be begin conducting seminars for people who want to improve their job search and interview abilities to better compete with others, who are all scrambling for the same jobs. Because plainly speaking, people I counsel and advise always perform better in the interview process. 
Being indispensable means the company would suffer without you, your work and your abilities as well as your effectiveness. Frankly, it can often go unnoticed and can at times, be thankless. In fact it is common, that it can be taken completely for granted until, one day you are not there anymore. Many people who are conscientious and good at what they do, sometimes complain that they are the go-to person in their organization, whilst others are less effective and participate only when prodded or they think the boss is watching. I hear people who tell me, “They (management) always come to me because I am dependable and I get the job done, while others sit around doing nothing”. 
There was a time when pride in one’s work mattered (more); when personal excellence was something to strive for. It appears to have gone out of style but let me tell you, when it is time to thin the ranks and let people go, who do you think they are going to begin with when they start handling out layoff notices? I am not referring to situations when entire teams, groups of divisions are let go, those are usually financial and profit based decisions. But rather, when individuals are targeted do you know the term used by management at such times? Dead wood is an oft used term to describe those they want to clear out and get rid of. So ask yourself, about whom are they speaking – might it be you or is it always someone else – I don’t know, I am just posing a question. 
If you’re intent is to be more indispensable, you need to regularly perform at or above expectations, whatever it is you do, without be prompted or told. If you are or can be involved in any special projects or operations at work, be proactive and involved. Whenever possible, take advantage and exploit any training your company might offer and provide, especially if they will pay for it, or cost share. Be the person who is viewed as dependable, the one who get things done right and ahead of schedule or deadline. If taking some college or trade school courses is a possibility for you and might up your market value, do more than just consider it. When you get right down to it, the level of effort resulting in the difference between mediocre and excellent, is in reality quite small. 
I imagine there are those who consider what I am suggesting as brown-nosing or sucking up to management. Still others might say, “What’s the point, even if I do all those things I still might lose my job anyway.” Yeah, you might and sometimes there is nothing you can do to prevent it. But don’t be myopic; look further down the road ahead. You’re not doing it for them, but for you. Ideally, you are better preparing yourself at their expense. Sure they benefit and when it comes time to let people loose they might reflect and say, “…what can we do to keep your name here…?” And here’s the other thing, if or when you look for another job, either by choice or necessity, you’re more marketable than others who did nothing or waited too late. I’m a headhunter and when I look at someone’s resume, before I determine if I can effectively represent a person, I look for some of the things described in the 5th paragraph (above) – and so do employers. 
Times are such that it seems we have less and less real influence over the direction our lives and livelihoods take us. But self-development and improvement, personal excellence and pride in one’s work, even to a small degree, is truly in our own hands. Be better prepared, so as not to be run-over when change comes either by choice, or by circumstance.  

Applying a little bit of humor to exemplify what I am suggesting, you should strive to avoid finding yourself in this situation (Warning: offensive language)  

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Unprepared for the Interview

Would you take an important exam without studying beforehand? Of course not, so why would you attend an interview without first investing some time researching and familiarizing yourself with the company for which you claim you want to work? 
As a job-seeking candidate, there are a couple of questions you should always assume you’ll be asked at the interview.  Being ready for questions like “What do you know about us (our company)?” and “Why do you want to join our company?” is about as basic and fundamental as arriving to your interview at the appointed time. Considering there are others who would like the same job for which you are interviewing, why would you throw away an opportunity, waste your and the interviewer's time, by not having done the most basic of research? Is it even necessary to suggest that you shouldn’t take an opportunity for granted and you should be prepared? Especially now, when the jobs market is so competitive for fewer jobs.
As an example, I had represented a candidate to one of my client companies, who was both qualified and enthusiastic about a particular opportunity. I presented her with the position details and also described what kind of person they sought. As a matter of habit, I suggested she do her homework and familiarize herself with not only the job information, but also with the company, any news releases, etc., to have a good overview in general going into the meeting. I’m a headhunter and not a baby sitter; I expect any adult professional to conduct themselves as a grown up. I want to assist people and help them to help themselves, while also representing my client in an appropriate manner. I might invest extra effort to manage and help keep the hiring process moving. Of course, I am also a trouble shooter for both sides to smooth out any rough edges or miscommunications but, once they’ve met and shaken hands, it is up to them. Experience has taught me that job seekers need to invest themselves in the process and if they don’t, they are not serious. 
To make a long story short, after the interview, the candidate told me that from her perspective everything was positive and she thought it had gone well. However, after I spoke to the hiring official with whom the candidate had met, I heard a very different version. When the candidate was asked why she wanted to join this particular company, she could not adequately answer beyond stating she thought it is a “good company”. When she was asked what she wanted to accomplish regarding her own career development, the reply was that she “wants to learn new things”. Apparently, this was the best she could come up with. But, worst of all, when she was asked what she knew about this very well-known international company, whose name is a household word, she couldn’t answer with any details. The best she came up with was she recognized it is a “…very well-known international company, whose name . . . is a household word.” I actually felt embarrassed for her. I just shook my head and apologized to my client for wasting his time. 
So, let’s see, the job seeker wasted her own time, as well as that of everyone involved. In the future, do you think that hiring official or I will waste even one minute of time considering this individual again? Time is money, time has value and time wasted cannot be recovered. Fortunately, I had a back-up candidate who was slightly less qualified but more enthusiastic and invested some time in preparation. This was the individual who got the job, so I guess sometimes things work out the way they should.
I do not have patience for people who waste my time and neither does a hiring manager. If this sounds harsh, it is meant to be. It’s not an exaggeration to say you might have one chance with a company for which you would very much like to work. Don’t blow it! If you arrive at the interview with physical presence, but you left your brain somewhere else and failed to prepare, why attend the interview at all? With the Internet, email and so much technology at our disposal to gather information, there is no excuse to fail to prepare for a meeting that has the potential to benefit you and your career.

Monday, June 29, 2015

Workplace Harassment

Harassment in the workplace is on the increase. We hear about sexual harassment most often because it makes good headlines and, rightfully, it strikes litigation fears in hearts of company executives, so it is usually acted upon when exposed. I don’t mean to diminish the critical importance of this form of abuse but there are already plenty of laws and protections in place, as well as lawyers ready and willing to assist. Rather, I am focusing on everyday workplace harassment and referring to just plain rotten treatment of employees – it is becoming rampant and endemic.
Depending on where you live, workplace harassment is variably referred to as mobbing in different parts of the world, but it means and represents the same thing. By itself, the term “harassment” is rather subjective and can be widely interpreted. If someone is having a bad day and might for whatever reason lose their temper and take it out on a co-worker or a subordinate, by itself, it does not constitute workplace harassment. In my own view, the criteria for what constitutes harassment is intentional and repetitive attention; of singling out an individual or a group for personal and/or institutional retribution by those acting independently and counter to company policies. 
I have heard stories that would curl your toes about harassment, public ridicule and mental abuse at levels that are hard to imagine. I’ve met previously exceptional people who’ve been almost broken as a result for merely trying to do their jobs and some whose self-confidence is never quite the same afterwards.
Let’s consider a few of the reasons for the kind of unprofessional behavior to which I am referring: 

·         Cliques of bullies - in many organizations there are small groups of people within that are akin to a syndicate, a little internal mafia of sorts; perpetrators and their sycophants who band together and collaborate, to cover and protect each other from scrutiny. Cross them and you’ll receive their disapproval at best or worse, their wrath.
·       Disengaged senior management – there is a growing trend, a degradation of management skills and leadership ability. Earning an MBA may result in good by-the-book management skills, but it does nothing to teach or promote true leadership abilities.
·       The sluggish economy - management is under enormous pressure for results and that pressure is passed down the chain of management; the further down the line the more pressure is exerted. This by itself is not a cause of, nor does it constitute workplace harassment; most companies are under pressure. The problem here arises when managers lacking interpersonal / people / soft skills lash out and tend to transfer their own frustrations onto lower-level subordinates. In other words they can’t handle pressure and don’t know what to do. 
·       Societal breakdown – yeah, that’s right; does anybody doubt the increasing lack of civility or the degradation of common courtesy? Obviously, this is going to inevitably carry over into the workplace.

So what can be done about it? First from the company and employer perspective, it should be thought of as a disease rotting the company from the inside out; tumors must be removed. Whatever happened to Topgrading? It is almost as though senior managers are more detached than ever about what is happening, or they prefer to avoid the issue because they are not equipped to deal with it. This is one reason why some companies lose some of their best and brightest, while the corrupted, remain and cling to their jobs any way they can - resulting in mediocrity as the new normal. Therefore, it is necessary to either root out the infections or lose your best quality people to people like me, I am happy to take them. The only solution rests with senior-level company managers to take on this issue.
Second, for employees who experience this kind of unprofessional treatment, keep a log or diary of events, write everything down, save and print emails, save offending voice mails, record conversations, take photographs or videos whenever possible. The perpetrators of workplace harassment are usually clever and to a varying degree can be evil geniuses bordering on the delusional or worse, psychotic. They’ll deny their behavior with a straight face and imply there is something wrong with the complainant. Have you ever heard of the term “Gaslighting”? Look it up. And don’t rely on others to step up as witnesses for fear of later retribution. The more info you can compile to prove your claims the better, not because you plan to litigate, in part because some of the things I just listed might not be admissible in a court of law. It’s primarily for the sake of your own sanity and so that you can back up your claims because, after all, the main point of this kind of treatment is most often intended to drive you away. Furthermore, if or when you decide to act, if you haven’t kept records you have nothing to validate your side of the story and you will be branded a whiner, a nut, delusional or a trouble maker; management might actually assist the very people making your life difficult.
In conclusion, if management won’t back you up and fails to take any real action, your only recourse is to find another job and leave. Sadly, for some people these experiences burn deeply into their psyche – and you cannot allow bitterness or hatred to take over, following you to wherever you go. And remember, one of the golden rules of interviewing, never talk trash about a current or past employer / employee; it is both bad form and can be slanderous – even if the person was truly a jackass.

Monday, June 22, 2015

About Urgency

Anyone who reads my blog knows that I consider predominantly online job search efforts as a sole means of searching for a new job as only a half-hearted effort -- by limiting your activities you are limiting your potential for success. The more and varied effort you put forth the better your chances, it’s pretty simple. The other key factor is your level of urgency. Do you want a job; do you need a job? The answer to this question guides most of us and influences our actions, real or perceived. But here’s the problem I encounter far too often: most people plod around and while they speak about urgency, their actions do not match their rhetoric. Let me explain.
When you see a good job posted, I assure you that companies are deluged with resumes within just a couple of days. Indeed, so many resumes come in that HR will often take down the job post assuming they have plenty to choose from and, as such, within a few days that job post is removed – first you see it, then you don’t.
When you find a good job posting, one that interests you, you need to act on it and pursue it then and there – on the very same day. If you’re serious don’t think about it, don’t sleep on it or consider it, but do something about it. Now. I am not here to psychoanalyze the reasons and rationale about why people do or don’t do what they need to be doing. I don’t care, but I do know that the longer people take time to contemplate a decision, time’s ticking. However, in order to be able to react you need to have your resume or CV and a basic cover letter template (with a few adjustments to suit the situation) ready to go. Are you ready, do you have these things prepared to use on short notice? If not, why not?
Years after having served in the military, certain memories stand out in my mind. Others know what I am talking about - little things that stick with you for a lifetime, things that influenced you at a very personal level. And one of those is of a Drill Sergeant screaming at you from your very first day, saying, and I quote, “You better move like you've got a purpose!” 
Furthermore, I have often observed human resources and office managers post jobs, then take down the post for a particular job in as little as two days, as soon as they have a handful of respondents they think sufficient to choose from. I recognize that what I am describing is not the case each and every time, but your mindset should assume it is so and that there is a very limited window of opportunity. So when you see something that appeals to you, that you feel is worthy of your attention don’t pine away, stop day-dreaming about it and do something, now
When you are or will be looking for a job and you are serious, you have a purpose so what are you waiting for? When you see something that interests you, react within the same day. If, in your particular situation there is no urgency, I still suggest you apply quickly for another reason; companies look only until they find suitable and qualified candidates. If you arrive late to the party, it’s already over.
Let me share with you a prime example of unintended procrastination, but procrastination nonetheless. Recently, I was working on a search for a mid-level lawyer for a good-named law firm. I was referred to someone who is indeed a good candidate with a great reputation. I spoke with him 3 ½ weeks ago, a few days before he was leaving for vacation. Rather than provide me his updated resume and his approval to submit him for consideration he said he’d do it upon his return. Well, that was 2 weeks ago and after he returned he needed a few days to catch up on work, but he shared with me that during his vacation his level of interest had increased and he’d get something over to me soon. That brings us to the beginning of last week when my client called me and said they were satisfied they had enough candidates and closed the process for additional candidates (you see, during this time I was still doing my job, continuing to speak with and recruit others because the process nor the hiring manager was taking a vacation). To make a long story short, the person who was too busy missed out and was surprisingly disappointed. Sadly the person who was too busy was indeed a better candidate than the person selected and hired. But, in fact, was he better? I suggest the better of the two was the person who wanted it more and demonstrated their interest in both word and deed.