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June 2010

Don't refer unqualified candidates. Don't pass the trash!

The power and influence of networking trades on your reputation--your brand. If you do not manage your brand by making sure that nothing undermines it, then you are a very poor personal brand manager.

If you have any semblance of a network, then you are being asked to help friends and relatives with their job searches or even more likely, for their friends or relatives. Always respond to assist and be helpful as I  have advised repeatedly here. The benefits you derive often exceed any you dispense.

However the decision to refer or hand-off your friend, relative or others is one that you have to examine carefully and thoroughly. Just as you stand to benefit from the experience you also can also damage your brand.

Referring job candidates that you know are not qualified, prepared, or even good is simply stupid for all concerned.

In Waiting for Superman, the award winning documentary on the state of education in America, it characterizes the process of exporting or exchanging horrible teachers between districts as either "passing the trash" or conducting "the dance of the lemons". Principals and Superintendents who can not fire really bad teachers because of tenure, opt to shipping these teachers to other districts in exchange for their bad teachers. It is an obscene process that reflects how little the kids/students matter. Pasing the trash

When anyone refers, forwards via e-mail, a candidate they do not know, or worse, a candidate they know is weak--they are passing the trash. Imagine what this does to a brand, especially if they are a repeat offender at referring bad candidates.

I get dozens of referrals a month for specific jobs. And there is a dramatic increase in this transactional, thoughtless, process of referring candidates bereft of quality. Sometimes it is plain embarrassing. But always a waste of time. I have to decline the candidate AND explain to the referrer that the person is not even close to the specs.

People just want to get the task of helping people off their plate and on to someone elses. This is a cardinal sin of networking and mentoring.

Why mentoring you ask? Because the referrer needs to take the time and effort to help the candidate reflect on their goals, on their resume, on their process. This is where mentoring can be the most valuable. Stopping someone from a poorly defined job search and adding value to their journey is the purpose of mentoring. These moments of mentoring can be super powerful. No one is served if you just robotically agree to "forward" their resume. And you become known as a trash passer!

Passing the trash is a new form of spam. Puts me in the position to be the bad guy. because not only do I swiftly decline these candidates, I tell them and/or their referrers why. In a number of cases I de-brief the candidate on their missing qualifications, typos on their resume, career goals and the lack of fit. But somebody has to push back and stop the stream of trash. I feel sorry for the candidates because they are pretty much riding the process out. However, they get damaged in this process too. They are seen as not having their act together and when ruled unqualified, that hurts them psychicly and in the marketplace.

Stop before you refer someone. And don't refer anyone you think has dodgy or sketchy qualifications. No one wins and almost everyone loses, especially you.

Thanks for reading. John


Your path to the future is paved with questions

One of the most powerful resources in your career and networking toolbox is curiosity. Yeah, the insatiable desire to try to understand how things work or don't work, what is success or failure and how is it measured?; what are the best practices?; who is considered the best or the leader?; what are the trends and therefore the scenarios of the future?

Questions shape our understanding and define our thoughts, opinions, and our preferences. Good questions lead to better conversations. And great conversations generate important relationships. Questions matter. Questions

Question authority. Did he pop the question?

Yet, there seems to be a dearth of well formed questions. You would think that learning would motivate our questions, wouldn't you?

We all evaluate dozens of organizations and individuals every week. Vendors, partners, colleagues, friends, restaurants, product providers, etc. We accept and tolerate many issues and challenges in our daily experiences. Often they trigger questions about how to improve something, somebody. Questions about the goals or expectations of a service, a project, or an organization.

There are the profound questions we have to ask ourselves everyday, every month, every year:

  • Who am I?
  • Where am I going?
  • Am I on track?
  • What is meaningful to me?
  • What do I want?

Questions are the lifeblood of the conversations that make mentoring and networking relationships work and thrive. What you want to know, what perplexes and stymies you, where you think there are gaps or weaknesses--this is the fuel that powers the engines of personal and professional change. But they can not be questions just about you and what you want.

We seem to be more interested in using our questions to purchase a car or a new computer than to choose our next job or career? We invest more time and energy into the quality of our material possessions than the due diligence of the work we do and how it will help us grow and advance.

Not having answers should motivate us instead of depress us.

I meet a lot of people. People who want to find jobs, people who want something, people who are searching, people who are lost, and people who want to partner. And overall, the quality or in some cases the absence of questions is surprising.

I look at resumes the same way I review business plans, or grant application. Where have you been, where are you going, why did you make changes, where have you succeeded, where have you failed, what makes you unique, why should I affiliate with you?

I could not make up the stuff I hear and see in interviews. Sometimes it is a reality show of outtakes from American Idol or America's Got Talent. Once in awhile it is invigorating and inspiring but that is the exception.

Here are my top five favorite meaningless questions that I have been asked by job candidates in the first interview?

  1. How many days off will I get?
  2. How much do you love working here?
  3. Are the dental benefits any good?
  4. How soon would I be promoted?
  5. Do you have a strategic plan?

It's like, "Did you just say that out loud?" There is zero interest in how the employer is doing or what is going on? Are you so self absorbed and ill-prepared that you have no genuine interest in the business, the challenges, and the results?

The most irritating sound outside of the vuvezelas at the World Cup is the worst radio station in the world, WII-FM. What's In It For Me. When this radio station plays so loudly that it drowns out even the semblance of what others want, then failure and rejection will be your listening mates. WII-FM makes one's questions seem self-absorbed and selfish.

We all know that asking questions has to be accompanied by thoughts on the answers. You can't just verbalize queries without ideas. Otherwise you are just another whiny solution-less member of the chorus of complainers. And there is little room in our crowded lives for this irritating irrelevant noise.

All of us have an exaggerated level of confidence in our ability to ad-lib, address impromptu situations, think on our feet. In general, when we rely on this non-existent skill, we look stupid. The only way to avoid this embarrassment is to prepare questions. Writing down questions. Thinking about what questions you would ask yourself if you were hiring you.

Our quest is looking for special people, special opportunities, special moments, and ulimately a greater sense of fulfillment--the diamonds in the rough, the needles in the haystack. We find these things by following our hearts, our intuition and our questions. We discover these things by being insatiably curious.

What are your questions?

The important thing is not to stop questioning. Curiosity has its own reason for existing. Albert Einstein

Thanks for reading. John


Seeing "Invisible" Networks through Inclusivity

All of us think we are open minded, free of prejudice, and sensitive to differences. We also know that trying to uphold these values is a struggle. Often our sensitivity and compassion are limited by what we know and see. Our eyes can be opened to new dimensions, attributes, and new understandings by a shift in perspective that reveals new truths.

I have given a number of talks about diversity and networking in Canada. Canadians talk about "visible minorities", a more politically correct colored people. Diversity is very different in Canada for obvious and not so obvious historical reasons. Nevertheless, they differentiate between the visible and the invisible.

Invisible man I remember when I was working at UCLA and was responsible for recruiting its top undergrad scholars. We formed this UCLA Ambassador group as the creme de la creme to represent UCLA and recruit more scholars. The Ambassadors were presented to a very diverse group of leaders and a prominent African American leader expressed her disappointment at the lack of diversity of this student group. We had the Ambassadors introduce themselves and the audience was treated to a United Nations set of multi-racial, religious, immigrant, sexual preference, and economically diverse biographies that made everyone proud. Diversity is not visible and is most often not skin deep. Often we only talk and think about the visible. Many populations are invisible to the naked eye. Populations with wonderful histories, unmet needs, and under represented potential.

This week my perspective of my fellow humankind was forever changed. This shift tested my comfort and sense of how inclusive I am. How open minded I am. How accepting I am of differences. I saw something right in front of me for the first time.

I had the great fortune of attending an intimate meeting with the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral Mike Mullen. Been around a lot of leader types over my varied career. Admiral Mullen is one of the most genuine, compassionate, and competent leaders I have ever encountered. He speaks from the heart, he listens, and he discloses his weaknesses. Pretty amazing for a command and control 4 star general!Mullen

His focus was on the fate of the veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan. More than 2,000,000 men and women have been deployed to these wars and their return back to civilian life has been very rough. A few facts that made me think and view things differently:

  1. 25% have traumatic brain injuries(tbi)
  2. 25% have post traumatic stress disorder(ptsd)
  3. Homelessness is 4x bigger, 4x faster, and 4x more severe than Vietnam Vets

He discussed in great detail the challenges that the government has had to make sure that returning soldiers have a successful transition into civilian life. He admitted that these two systems are separate bureaucracies that are not well coordinated. The system has many holes and many soldiers and their families fall through those gaps and the consequences can be brutal. Admiral Mullen is on a tour of the country to raise the visibility of the needs of veterans and the role of local communities to provide assistance. He admitted that government could not do it alone. He asserted that local communities will be an important third component.

There are many organizations that support veterans, and he is grateful for the groups that recognize veterans and put on parades, but he wants to help grow and invest in organizations that are involved in the long term treatment and education of veterans.

During the meeting, many examples where veterans are not being included in the services, programs, and outreach for homeless, mentally ill, substance abuse etc. Veterans are not turned away, but they are not being included or recruited.

Hopefully your perspective may shift a bit and when you encounter a vet or a family, engage them and if they need help, guide them. Here is a couple of great resources for veterans and their families:

Warrior Gateway

Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America

Inclusion is not a passive act, It is a proactive act. Inclusion is not just an open door or an open mind. It is a process of engaging and understanding. It is building bridges. Inclusion requires awareness, education, and targeted approaches. After listening to Admiral Mullen I realized that serving veterans would require this mindset. That serving veterans and their families will require great intention and effort. That veterans are not a "visible minority" they are hidden and not easily identified. Veterans, like immigrants, or the undocumented, or other groups need encouragement and doors opened. They need sensitive and proactive processes.

For example, I am going to pursue adding the population of veterans and their families as a evaluation criterion for the grants my employer the California Community Foundation makes. Just adding those words and a little help in understanding why, will shift the perspectives and outreach of all of our grantees.

When we realize that all members of our communities are connected and that our fates are tied together. We support diversity, by understanding differences, by actively reaching out to learn about and include visible and invisible peoples, including out veterans. Then will we be more inclusive.

Thanks for reading. John


The Passing of a Coach, Mentor and Legend

After an extraordinary life of 99 1/2 years, Coach John R. Wooden died. His legacy is so vast and well documented, I will not spend time here recounting it. If you are not familiar with Coach Wooden please read about him, learn his pyramid of success, buy his books, and learn from his life!Jr wooden

I was fortunate to know the Coach. I was not close to him, but I had many encounters and chances to hear him speak and several lengthy private sessions with him. My kids met him. My wife Sarah and I had an intimate dinner with him several years ago. I have considered him a mentor for many years.

The guidance he provided through his teachings and lessons have profoundly impacted my life. I can honestly say that I am a better leader, father, husband, and person because of the Coach. I am so grateful for his life and for his mentoring.

I want to share with you just a small sampling of the lessons that guide me everyday.

Failing to prepare is preparing to fail.

Doing your homework. Practicing to hone your abilities. Anticipating challenges. Thinking about what you are going to do before you do it. Thinking about what you are going to say before you say it.

Be quick but don't hurry.

Keep moving. Take action. Make decisions. Speed is a sign of progress. But don't rush. Don't miss what is around you and appreciate the moment.

Don't measure yourself by what you have accomplished, but by what you should have accomplished with your ability.

Don't read or get caught up in your own press statements and achievements. Don't become satisfied with your past success. Find your limits. Push yourself to maximize the talent and ability you possess. Watch and learn from your "game films." Be obsessive about how you can improve.

Make no excuses. Your friends don't need them and your foes won't believe them.

Reasons why we are not making progress in our lives are irrelevant. Everyone has challenges and hardships. Talking about the obstacles that prevent us from reaching our goals is wasting time that could be devoted to the achievement of those goals.

Make everyday your masterpiece.

Make each day a new opportunity to excel and do your best. Do good, help others, and set an example while you are awake. You never know which masterpiece will be your last.

These are my interpretations of a few the Coach's thoughts. His Pyramid of Success sits on my desk. I will never forget how he could recite 25 lines of Shakespeare from memory. Or his ability to move an audience without bluster, hyperbole, or ego.

John-wooden-pyramid-of-success-printable 

We are grateful we had the Coach for almost a century. We have lost a great teacher of humanity, but his teachings will endure. We celebrate his life by becoming the best we can be.

Thanks Coach.

Thanks for reading. John