Sunday, October 4, 2015

A Manner of Speaking

Have you ever listened to yourself? Do you know how you sound? It can be instructive if you have a chance to record one of your conversations. Often, it is not what you say, but how you say it that makes a difference.
With so much technology now doing our talking for us, the claim can be made we are losing our communication skills. Acronyms and abbreviations have entered the lexicon in texting and emails. For example, I have received text messages containing the word great spelled instead as GR8 to save a few keystrokes, as if two more letters makes a difference. This grates on my nerves if it is utilized in a professional communication. Frankly, I usually reply by saying TTYL and I don’t consider them further. Aspects of this communication style have also reached into our spoken language, and many don’t even realize how they sound. Being able to communicate and engage in conversation is no less important than your resume, experience and personal appearance during a first interview when you are trying to make a positive impression.  If you can’t string together a coherent sentence, you won’t get very far because, regardless of how GR8 your resume is, at some point you are going to have to open your mouth. Will it help or hurt you?
Too often, I hear people speaking with the halting and jerky style of speech that consists of a series of sentence fragments with “you know” inserted every 5 – 10 words, connecting some endless rambling. As an example, if you were born before 1980 you may remember a film from 1986 titled Valley Girl. With little exaggeration, it spoofed a ridiculous speaking style that became a stereotype for vapid, self-absorbed and air-headed individuals. Sadly, what was once meant as a caricature and a joke has turned into a normal manner of speaking for many people, especially Americans. I was certainly not at the top of my graduating class at school and, when it came to English studies, I wasn’t paying very close attention when sentence structure was being discussed. On the other hand, from a young age my mother exerted some influence and encouraged me to speak properly. Now, for those who take issue with me because you may resemble my remarks, I am not suggesting anyone go to the other extreme, just use your head and realize there is a difference between ordering a Big Mac at the drive-thru and speaking with a potential employer. 
I have another piece of useful advice that can make a difference in your effectiveness. Since I live and work in Europe, I regularly communicate with non-native English speakers. Occasionally, someone will say something I clearly understand, but I cannot always discern if they are asking a question or making a statement. If you accent the end of what you say on a higher pitch or tone, it sounds as if you are unsure of yourself, looking for acknowledgment. If you end your comment with a lower pitch or tone, it is a statement. Try it. Say something out loud, for example “Does that answer your question." If you end the word question with a higher pitch it sounds like a question or as though you are indecisive. If, however, you finish the sentence in a slightly monotone or lower pitch, it sounds more assured, it becomes a rhetorical question implying factuality. Now repeat the statement, “Does that answer your question." See the difference.
Practice this. It demonstrates how a small thing can make a big difference when you want to be taken seriously.

Monday, September 28, 2015

Small Things Make a Difference

In the modern jobs market, trying to be noticed in the crowd is a difficult thing to do. Especially with the standardized and restrictive manner by which you are required to even get an opportunity for an interview is demoralizing for many people. I think these processes that are in place primarily for convenience for administrative staff are counterproductive for companies, but that’s a completely different topic.  
But let’s say you make it through the sieve and filters and you have been selected for an interview. Granted, though there may be fewer than originally applying for the same job you still must compete with others. Assuming you are well prepared, that can carry you so far but you will have to demonstrate not only that you are well qualified but you also must convince them you are the best person for the job. Likewise, assuming that others are also qualified and they think they too are the best choice for the job means you need to set yourself apart – in a good way that will attract and not repel decision-makers.
I always suggest separating oneself from the crowd. I’m not talking about anything bizarre, although there are many small things you can do and they are effective for the simple fact that so few people make the extra small efforts and gestures.
Take the simple gesture of a Thank You note following an interview. I am aware of 6 times in as many months in which this small gesture made a difference and was a factor in their progressing forward in the hiring process that resulted in a job offer. It was helpful in three ways:

·         It demonstrated initiative and interest in contrast to others seeking the same job, who didn’t do so
·         It provided the job candidate with what amounted to having the last word, to convey any helpful additional afterthoughts
·         It was emblematic of professionalism

Now, consider for a moment how such a small thing can make such a difference. I have known some middle and senior-level professionals go so far as to hand write and mail in a stationery card. Now, are they nuts, or crazy like a fox? Although I find it interesting the things that once were a matter of etiquette and protocol (two words rarely used anymore) can have an impact. Again, you are setting yourself apart and by doing so elevating yourself. 
Here’s something else you can do to set yourself apart:  having your references prepared and offered to a hiring manager before they ask for them. You can do it on your way out as an afterthought, think of TV character Detective Columbo, “Oh, one more thing…”  Do it at the end of a second interview. Of course you need references other than your current employer for obvious reasons.
You have more influence on the outcome of the process of which you are a part. These suggestions aren’t stunts, they are helpful to your purpose and mission which is why it needs to become your habit. 
Consider a scenario in which you are one of two people, both suitably qualified and they have to decide between the two in order to select one – you or the other person. Trust me, it happens more often than you think. Cross your fingers and hope for the best or make just a little extra effort. Know, too, that most people don’t heed advice.  Like I said, crazy like a fox.

Sunday, September 20, 2015

Until Something Better Comes Along

During the last few decades there are some silly questions and comments, based on not much more than assumption, which always seem to come up. I’ve always been amazed when company representatives encounter a well-qualified and, okay yeah, occasionally over-qualified applicant interested in their job opportunities.  Most often they reflexively reject or at the very least instantly view them with suspicion.
More Pavlovian than a logical response, it is sometimes legitimate, but making a snap judgment without any due consideration is nuts and, frankly, pretty stupid in my less-than humble opinion. I am referring to some, not all, managers in this blog and a dereliction of their responsibilities to their company - as I see it. 
If a manager happens upon an exceptionally qualified person who’s sincerely interested in the job - even after emphasizing they may be overqualified for the job position in question and yet they are still eager and interested - then why not drive on and continue with the process and, if they are your best choice, hire that person and be thankful for the blessing that walked through your door. That is, of course, if you are, in fact, seeking to hire the best available talent. 
I’ve seen too many environments staffed by less than impressive people who just go along to get along – and apparently, management is just fine with it judging by their inaction. Then, when an opportunity avails itself and someone who is clearly a notch above seeks an opportunity, many hiring managers will make short-sighted and weak excuses like, “Well you know, Michael, we think they might not fit our team here and could be disruptive to the team (status quo).” For expediency and their own sake, they’re just fine with the bar lowered and would rather hire in comparison with the strongest of the weak among their employees. Perhaps, and this is just a wild thought on my part, a potential disrupter is exactly what they need. However, more managers than ever lack any imagination, because if something doesn’t go right, they might actually have to explain themselves – clearly leadership and innovation is no longer encouraged in companies based on this obvious trend. 
When I introduce a candidate and know in my own heart of hearts, as well as my 23 years of professional experience, they should be happy to find someone better than what they seek who is, regardless, willing to consider the job, they say, “But Michael, within a few months they will want more money…” or, here is the dumbest excuse of them all, “They’ll only stay until something better comes along.” 
Hey, News Flash!!!Everyone leaves when something better comes along, hello! - including managers uttering that nonsense with a straight face. Indeed, people do attach some loyalty to good managers and employers so long as they see a reason to stay, but everyone with any measure of ambition will move on to a new opportunity – eventually. 
For those managers who possess real leadership abilities, who are forward thinking and don’t lack self-confidence, hiring someone who may be viewed as over-qualified can be quite a catch, especially if they are managed well. Indeed, bring on someone of a higher caliber than some other current employees and team members; yeah, a few of the underwhelming who feel the heat of standing near someone who provides contrast might leave as a result. Then celebrate, because they’ve affected change for the better. It’s the bi-product of Top-Grading, you know that nearly forgotten term downplayed by those who don’t measure up themselves.

Sunday, September 13, 2015

Information with Value

I have now been writing my blog for almost three years, which coincided with the publishing of my handbook meant for the individual job seeker. For the person without a champion, as someone in their corner, advising and coaching them along in competition with scores of others while trying to be the one selected to receive a job offer. When you are competing for a job along with other people with a similar intent, there is no prize for second place – only one person gets the job offer. Shouldn’t that person be you? My aim has been to assist individuals, people who are navigating the obstacle course that is the jobs market and interview process. There are many people I’ve helped who have benefitted and a few have expressed as much on my LinkedIn profile (if there are any doubts).
But there is another indicator that provides me with validation, that what I know and share is impactful and has value to those who choose to be different and innovate on their own behalf, for their own sake to set themselves apart and indeed above others. Often I am contacted by professional recruiters, many of whom read my blog and others who’ve purchased my handbook. I am not shy and confidently claim, somewhat tongue-in-cheek, that I am a keeper of lost knowledge as it relates to the task of looking for a job and then, more important, interviewing for a particular job. 
Within the niche that is the recruiting market, those who work for recruiting agencies or firms, or are in-house recruiters or HR professionals, or anyone else for that matter tasked with recruitment and hiring of employees; the manner by which they conduct their work has shifted the last 20 years to primarily online functions and processes. This is fine for many kinds of positions for which companies hire. But when it comes to more difficult and harder to fill positions, for jobs that require special skills, or when an organization wants to attract hard to get people – they are also taking advantage of what I share. The same advice I provide to job seekers is also very instructive when turned around and capitalized on by HR pros and hiring managers. 
As with any skills that take years to develop, if you don’t use them, you lose them. Besides active and direct recruiting done the old-fashioned way, I also provide different kinds of consultation and advisory that has involved training for teams of in-house company recruiters.  Regardless of whether it is two or a team of 10, it improves the abilities and success ratios for the employers. It’s rewarding work and I’m happy to share the skills I’ve been developing for 23 years - and counting. But I always come back to what is my passion, to help the individual job seekers who feel somewhat at a disadvantage in the hiring process, hoping to level the playing field in their favor. 
If recruiters and HR professionals find value in the advice I give then, clearly, individuals would be well served to take advantage of it. For more than 5 years I have been lecturing University students who have no such practice, much less experience looking for and interviewing for jobs after graduation. Recently I’ve begun conducting seminars for professionals who want to better prepare themselves for when they will need to find a new job, now or in the future. Often people have shared with me they’ve used what I’ve taught them when also competing for promotions and discussions pertaining to seeking pay raises.
For those of you who read my blog or have wisely purchased my handbook, whether you work for companies, or for academic institutions who have interest and could benefit, I will consider going almost anywhere to deliver content that involves two-days, 4 hours each (with breaks, of course) for those with interest. For more information, I can be contacted at:
I will be conducting my next seminar in Prague on the 26th and 27th of this month. If you are near my location and you or someone you know might benefit from learning skills most people increasingly do not possess, in order to optimize your job search and better odds of interview success, you can find registration info here: 
Over the course of my career I have well- learned and observed that people can change their circumstances for the better, anytime they choose, to make an effort to make a difference.

Sunday, September 6, 2015

Make a Difference

When we think in terms of references we invariably think of what others can do for us. It’s something that only crosses our minds, for the most part, when we need them to speak well of us and on our behalf. Good references can and should be regarded as a powerful tool, an extra weapon in your arsenal to have at the ready when the time is appropriate. I recommend one should always be on the lookout to keep a file of references because they are so important.
No man is an island, entire of itself; we live in a society and whether we realize it or not, each of us has the power to influence the lives of others for the better with small gestures. I’ve recently written that asking for and providing a reference is not to be taken lightly, as we attach our reputations to those on whose behalf we speak. Assuming there are no strings attached and no quid pro quo (something in exchange for something); we do it and should, as a selfless act, in my opinion.
However, I’d like to suggest that you consider this from a different perspective. We are all busy as we rush about in our busy lives. Often when we recognize and take note of someone for a job well-done, or when we receive better than average service, we take notice of it but we rarely do anything about it - I suggest this should change.  
We don’t have to wait until we’re asked to provide a positive reference or a good word on someone else’s behalf. In reality we have an opportunity, if we act upon it, to help make a positive difference for others who are deserving.
Look, we see it every day, a lot of people do just enough to get by, they do only what is expected of them and little more - these are not the people to whom I am referring.  I’m referring to those who make an effort and do that little bit extra to see a job gets done right; to insure the customer is satisfied – they are increasingly rare.
When was the last time you received exceptional service from a waiter or waitress and, besides leaving a good tip, sought out the manager and told them about how good an employee they have working for them? Or, after a good business interaction you offered to provide someone with a letter of recommendation or a reference? Such expressions can be immeasurably helpful to those who do a better than average job at whatever they do. 
It only takes a bit of effort to follow-through on a thought, to simply go one step further, is all I am suggesting. Endorsements on LinkedIn make it easy, but even better if you write a testimonial. Many businesses have a Facebook presence, which can be a quick resource to share a good customer / client experience. Additionally, now more than ever many people work for small companies or they work for themselves independently; for these people especially a reference, recommendation or testimonial can make a big difference in aiding their careers. It’s not charity or a handout, but deserved (and appreciated) recognition. 
In too many places of business we are hurtling toward mediocrity as the general rule, these trends marginalize the doers. Furthermore, personal excellence is increasingly misunderstood, considered a threat by those who think being average (or less) is good enough and, in some places, good employees are actually mocked and ridiculed by their less than impressive counterparts. I despise group think, one-size-fits-all, generic generalization, which diminishes individual effort and personal excellence – increasingly we’re led and managed by anything but the best qualified and the most able. Yet, the trends demonstrate that better than average employees seem to be more under-valued and unappreciated than ever. That is, until they resign or find another place of work where they’re more appreciated, but that is a whole other topic.
Most of us like to think of ourselves as good, decent, fair, caring and helpful people, both professionally and personally. Small, acted upon gestures, such as what I am describing, can be of great help to both the attitudes and careers of those who daily put forth their best personal effort in the face of the creeping fungus of sameness and purposeless conformity and that which shrugs and suggests, “why bother”, as so many do.

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.