Interviewing

Networking with Humility

Some of you that know me are wondering how I could write such a post. Humility has not always been my most evident trait. (That would be an understatement John!) But as they say, those who can't do, teach! :)

But my ego and self obsession have been down-sized over the years. I have been humbled by the world around me. Not sure it is seen by others, not sure I truly care. But I have made a concious effort to keep my hunger for self adulation in check. 

I am humbled every day by the needs of others, by the potential of the human spirit, by the unknown and the unknowable. I am in awe of everyone I meet for their uniquenness. For I used to under-estimate others and over-estimate myself. If I am aware I am filled with humility. Humility

As I started to become more self-aware, more authentic with myself, and more open to the world around me--I could not help but see how insignificant I am. That my relevance is tied to others. And to my pursuit of larger purposes and questions than myself. That the truth about education is the more you learn the more you discover what you don't know.

Always cracks me up, that some people think that getting another degree will clarify things for them--that they will obtain more certainty about their lives (not just their jobs/careers) If done well, education confuses the student more, in a good way. Education enables you to ask better questions. But I digress....

Don't be so humble you are not that great. Golda Meier

True humility is not an act. It is the real sense of your self importance in the bigger scheme of things--however you define it. It is toning down our arrogance and our sense of certainty. It is a realization that you are not the center of the universe.

I remember when I was 19 years old and I was completing a medical intake form for the first time by myself. It asked for my religion. I thought that was irrelevant, so I wrote "Protagonism". To my surprise the doctor inquired about my stated faith. I said. "I believe I am the main character of my story." Another failed attempt at Kobara humor:)

But we can be so deluded by our own individual perspective.

David Foster Wallace mused about this in his famous commencement address:

Here is just one example of the total wrongness of something I tend to be automatically sure of: everything in my own immediate experience supports my deep belief that I am the absolute centre of the universe; the realest, most vivid and important person in existence. We rarely think about this sort of natural, basic self-centredness because it's so socially repulsive. But it's pretty much the same for all of us. It is our default setting, hard-wired into our boards at birth. Think about it: there is no experience you have had that you are not the absolute centre of. The world as you experience it is there in front of YOU or behind YOU, to the left or right of YOU, on YOUR TV or YOUR monitor. And so on. Other people's thoughts and feelings have to be communicated to you somehow, but your own are so immediate, urgent, real.

One strange manifestation of this  self-centeredness, is our unwillingness to reveal what we need to work on in our lives. Our inability to embrace what we need to know, learn and understand-- the way we are taught to address our weaknesses.

Popular career guidance sources preach "turn your weaknesses into strengths". When you network or interview you are supposed to provide these types of answers or assert these types of thoughts, when asked, "What areas are you trying to improve upon?" 

"I am a perfectionist. I want work to hard and too long to get things just right."

"I love to work too much. I am a work-aholic."

"I let others take the credit for the work I do. I don't assert myself enough."

For whatever reason, this is now SOP for many folks. They robotically say these things that have been commoditized and therefore regress to the mean instead of differentiating themselves.

I have found that more than 50% of students, networkers, job seekers--in my unscientific networking study--say they are stumped by a direct question about their "weaknesses". They literally say, "I don't know what to say." "I'll have to think about it." "Wow, that is a good question."

To have no weaknesses is not a sign of strength, but a sign of ignorance and even arrogance.

To me, this shows a hollowness, an emptiness, an immaturity and an abject lack of self awareness that repels potential opportunities.

A truthful, insightful answer that reveals the person's desire to improve is an endangered species.

Showing our vulnerability to others is seen as a weakness, but we know the opposite is true.

Vulnerability is the birthplace of innovation, creativity and change. Brene Brown 

How do I balance my strengths and show my upside as well? 

How do I express my qualifications and my competencies as well as my desire to learn and improve?

That they need me as much I need them.

How can opportunities be mutually beneficial arrangements where all parties have clear objectives to help each other?

This is the way the best networking and mentoring work. The reciprocity. The trust that exposes the needs and resources of both sides.

Humility is grounded in the understanding that the tip of the iceberg of your knowledge is dwarfed by what lies around and beneath you.  

When people know what you need and want, they can help you. 

It takes courage to know your needs. It takes real courage to ask for help.

More David Foster Wallace: Our own present culture has harnessed these forces in ways that have yielded extraordinary wealth and comfort and personal freedom. The freedom all to be lords of our tiny skull-sized kingdoms, alone at the centre of all creation. This kind of freedom has much to recommend it. The really important kind of freedom involves attention and awareness and discipline, and being able truly to care about other people and to sacrifice for them over and over in myriad petty, unsexy ways every day.

Listen more than you talk. Be prepared to give without expectations before you self promote. Put the needs of others before your own.

Then you will see that you are not the center of the universe but at the center of opportunity. 

Thanks for reading. John

 

 


Sabotaging Yourself in Interviews

I think it was Dennis Miller who said he has a rare case of ADD/OCD. He says he is afflicted with constantly changing what he is obsessed about. :) 

Hmmmm maybe all of us suffer from this......

Every week I get to hear how people intend to improve their live, pursue new careers, and search for their next resume filler. I can now predict what what most people say. Not sure where this downloaded verbiage comes from, but the vast majority utter a pablum of memorized (read non-authentic words) about their future. These words inevitably and inexorably sabotage their chances to achieve their goals. Let me explain.   Self-Sabotage-300x300 (1)

I was recently interviewed by a executive coaching site to provide some advice to their subscribers. One of the questions was:

What three interview questions are the most effective? 

  1. Why do you want this job?
  2. Why are you leaving or left your last job?
  3. How will this job advance your longer term career goal?

I try to get to the candidate's story--the story of goals, passion, and self reflection. The true story, not the half truths of a resume--but the inner thoughts and persona of the candidate.

Intuitively we know that the job of a candidate is to differentiate oneself. It is the ultimate marketing challenge of telling the interviewer/employer what sets you apart from the sea of "qualified" humans who seek the same spot. Right? 

Here are the typical and predictable and yes, you guessed it, worst answers to my questions:

  1. Why do you want this job?  I love what (employer name) does. Seems like a place I could make a difference. Really looking for a place to grow. 
  2. Why are you leaving or left your last job? My current position/place of employment limits my mobility. I  am looking for new opportunities where I will have more mobility and opportunity. 
  3. How will this job advance your longer term career goal? Eventually I want to head my own/division/company/non-profit and I see this position as helping me achieve this. 

Why do we spend so much time and energy demonstrating why we are like everyone else? Why is our pitch-- our story, our marketing materials--resume and cover letter, and our approach to interviews like every other candidate?!!

Laziness, apathy, perhaps ADD/OCD and our rush to act, play leading roles in this regression to the mean. We want quick solutions--so we plug in generic phrases and ideas to to keep the engine of progress going--even if the result is mediocrity.

Not sure how these oft repeated answers get embedded in our brains and process but I have seen this pattern over and over again. Reading these answers you get a distinct idea that "this job" is not the focus of this conversation. You learn little about the person. Everything in these answers speaks to the future--what the candidate will need to advance. No attention is paid to learning and contributing to "this job". No expression of awareness of what the candidate needs to advance in their career--in other words what they hope to achieve/gain to lighten their intended path. 

  1. Why do you want this job? How does this job align with your purpose? Everyone wants to "make a difference and a place to grow". What are your personal reasons to work here?
  2. Why are you leaving or left your last job? This is a delicate and important question that needs to be addressed. Layoff is an answer that requires details. Dissatisfaction with the job, the growth, the purpose need attention and inform the question above. Lack of prep on this question demonstrates lack of readiness to move on. 
  3. How will this job advance your longer term career goal? Another softball question that tees up your chance to solidify your answers above. This is the space you use to talk about how you expect to grow, what opportunities that you found lacking in your previous job you hope to uncover here, and what areas you hope to hone, refine and master to become more confident. In other words, "How will this job challenge you?" Is this merely a stepping stone. This is not the place to say, "I want to be the head of (employer)." Or some other ambiguous ambitious sounding words about becoming the head of something. Often "this job" will probably not lead to this goal (even if you believed your own answer) raising serious doubts about your understanding of "this job" and your attention span for "this job."

Cover letters, interviewing, networking, mentoring, answering questions, and telling your story are more about vulnerability and authenticity than regurgitating your quals and resume. 

Otherwise your auto-pilot average answers to the questions unwittingly sabotage your candidacy.

Get compulsive and obsessive about your story--your real story. Invest time into it and develop the words that convey your ideas and your candidacy. Let your greatness, goodness and needs shine!

Thanks for reading. John

 


"Informational Interviews" that help YOU

I only accept informational interview requests from warm referrals--people I know and trust. As you might imagine, I meet lots of people. People who want things from me. People who seek my "advice" but are looking for a job. People who read some article or blog (hah!) that told them to meet more people and expand their networks. And I have seen the good, bad and ugly versions of informational interviews.

I think "Informational Interviews" are just a fancy way of saying networking, right? Great value in meeting people in fields, companies, industries that interest you. You prepare for the "interview" like a real interview. Meaning you look like, sound like you are a serious candidate for employment. But isn't this life? I mean aren't we supposed to be constantly ready for opportunities? Don't we believe that opportunity knocks when we least expect it? "Interviewing" is what you do when you are alive! :) People are judging you from near and afar everyday. You have conversations and meet "potential" employers all of the time.  No "interview" is always scheduled, scripted, and orderly. While an informational interview is often scheduled it requires preparation but agility and flexibility as well.  Interview

Yes, informational interviews are an underutilized way of finding leads and more important, finding yourself--more on that in a few. But just as in cooking with confidence, you start to vary the recipe to meet your own tastes. Otherwise every cookie from the cookie cutter tastes and looks the same. The greatest thing about you is you are different and unique. The moment you start following a formula step by step like a poorly trained monkey, you lose all of your differentiation--your YOU-ness. Comprende?

Yet every "informational interview" seems to start in the same way. Somebody told everybody to start by asking the same question: "So, tell me how you got your job (or chose this career) and about your career journey." There are several bad variations on this theme. Don't get me wrong, the essence of this query is important. Understanding WHY and how people got where they are is interesting and instructive. And yes, people, especially me :), like to talk about themselves. The theory is to warm up the conversation. The problem is when it feels robotic, like a line--a parroted phrase from a script. There is a cheesy insincerity that puts the interview into a tailspin if you read from a script.

Informational interviews are networking conversations with a focus. They are a chance for you to get insight into a different world and into yourself through someone who has generously agreed to spend some time with you. But it is a conversation. You should always have questions, but you always allow the exchange to take its course. It is a dance between your specific needs (assuming you can articulate them) and the information that they yield.

The biggest difference in the way I view informational interviews is the information seeker is the interviewer. Let me repeat this: The person who wants information leads the interview.

So the information seeker has to seek information:) They must interview me! They have to have great questions. They have researched and Googled me and my work? They are not there to wing it? (Is there ever a time when we wing it?) We have to prepared 24/7. The interviewer prepares a unique interview. I know this takes extra work, sorry about that. But each "interview" is different. Just like when you send in resumes and cover letters, but I digress.

So here are a few tips to guide your "informational interviewing":

  1. What do YOU want? Always the question that should keep you up at night, but the focus of any interview and career conversation. Whya re you here? Be clear on what you are seeking--not just a job--but the path you are pursuing or considering. Because understanding what your next job means to your trajectory is pretty damn important. Ultimately learning about who you are and what you want are the objectives.
  2. Google/Research/Prepare for the "interview". Seems so obvious, but do your homework! And then prepare questions that are driven by YOUR curiosity and your needs. Write them down in priority order and use them as your guide.
  3. Act as the interviewer. It is your inteview. Start off with why you are there and what you want. Be respectful. Listen. Let the conversation go where it naturally goes. Be curious!(all of the basic and essential rules of any conversation!) But get through as many as your questions without wearing out your welcome. Remember that if this conversation goes well you can ask more questions and get more feedback later.
  4. Seek advice and feedback. In the end you want to get counsel on your thoughts, your strategies, your resume, your goals. You want to get advice. I am reminded of the wisdom I was given about fundraising that applies here. If you want advice ask for money. If you want money ask for advice. The greatest outcome in an informational inteview is to get feedback on YOU. 
  5. Enjoy the conversation. Meeting people, different people and learning new things is fun. Yes, a bit nerve racking, but no mind expanding experience isn't accompanied by a little fear.  Even if the interview is disappointing to you, you will gsin something--an insight, an idea, and another chance to practice your interviewing. So appreciate that and appreciate the time and effort you were provided to reflect on YOU.
  6. Follow-up. Again, common courtesy that is infrequently practiced. You land a job and forget the people who helped you, even a little bit. Of course thank people for the interview, but remember to let them know when you succeed.

Interviewing, networking and mentoring is a lifestyle--it is what you do when you are breathing. 

Lastly, let me just encourage any of you who get requests from warm sources to meet with you about your business and your job--to conduct an informational interview--to do it! YOU will always be the beneficiary of the session. Talking about yourself, why you do what you do, and what advice you have for others, always makes YOU better. That is the transformative and reciprocal power of networking!

Thanks for reading. John


Endurance Networking: 10 Tips for the Longer Term Job Search

Labor Day is the time to consider and help those without jobs. Regrettably that is a huge percentage of people around us. People we know and people we don't know. More and more frequently I am encountering people from my former lives and people who are in my extended network who have endured an interminable and for some, brutal process of looking for a job. The time and effort to get a job from a layoff, termination, or job transition can be a marathon of frustration and exasperation. The toll this process takes on ones psyche, confidence, and self dignity can not be exaggerated.This is where doing the same thing over and over is insanity. Let's be honest, most people have never been taught or know how to conduct a job search in good times. So looking for work when competition is furious requires a much different mindset and approach.Distance 

Many approach this like a video game. They are under the hypnotic trance that the internet will find them a job. They are seat belted to their home computer and go through the maze of job sites over and over and over, and impulsively lob resumes at them. It has become a game of numbers where quantity matters and you want instant gratification. These same people send out FB and Linked in requests without personalizing the invites. Because amassing more impersonal connections will help you win the game but not a job.

I remember a friend who had developed a condominium project for a specific price point and target market. It was not working, people were not buying. As we know, people look at certain price bands that they can afford and avoid other bands as "too low" and "too high". We sat around and discussed discounting strategies, promotional tactics and other ways to essentially lower the price point and move into a lower band. Then someone suggested that the product was positioned poorly and would have less competition if we RAISED the price and re-positioned. We decided before we discounted we would try to retain the value proposition and move into a different band of buying. The condos sold out quickly and the lesson is one of human myopia on both the buy side and the sell side. We operate in narrow bands of behavior based on what everyone else is doing. And in doing so we have forgotten the most important principle of marketing oneself--differentiation. How do we stand out of the pack, the pile of resumes, and separate ourselves from the sea of candidates?

I see this in the job market today where for some reason we gravitate to the common denominator strategies where the great majority of the candidates are operating and competing. See the same thing in college applications. People follow a formula that others told them, they read on the web, or they got a tip at a workshop--and then become the unattractive average. Surveys always tells us that more than 75% of us are above average! So why would we adopt a job search process that your competitors employ? This behavior is proof of the gravitational pull of conformity and the centripetal force of mediocrity that leads to an insurance policy that your job search may never end.

If it works, it is obsolete. (attributed to Marshall McLuhan)

If we agree this market is different then you have to be, think and act differently.

Economic disruptions like this cause irrational behavior. Job seekers who start to second guess the market where they adjust their resumes and their job search process may or may not work. They can lose their way going down the rabbit hole of confusing self-talk and behavior that can distract them from their strengths. Simply put, straying from who you are and what your competences are is risky. Not saying you should not traverse sectors or make major job shifts.  But if you are a finance, marketing, or human resources professional with years of experience, you have to play those cards. Otherwise you are reduced to a new grad with a liberal arts education---you can do anything! And how does that differentiate you in the pile of resumes?

The following assumes your resume, your basic understanding of your story (including gaps, challenges and transitions), and your goals are fairly well established. So here are 10 tips to keep you on a pace to to survive the long distance job search:

  1. Stay positive. Put any semblance of embarrassment, shame, self consciousness and self doubt in a box and lock it in the attic. These demons keep you in a mode that is less willing to ask for help, less able to show your vulnerability, and less of the authentic you.
  2. Every day is a work day. Your search has to consume the equivalent of a full time position. This is not just playing the job boards, it is the process of getting leads and networking. Energize yourself to go at it every morning.
  3. Think about your "band of behavior". What types of jobs/opportunities are you willing to take? Remain open and pursue opportunities that make sense but you have never considered. How big of a pay cut are you willing to take? Will you relocate? If you are making a sector transition, are you willing to essentially start over? Expand your band with specificity.  In other words, describe all of the attributes of your minimums (we know you want more!) What are your true minimums? 
  4. Stay active. Pursue or maintain volunteer, consulting, pro-bono and/or part time gigs to keep your juices going and to keep a warm place on your resume. Substantive charitable or non-profit volunteer work can be part of your story that fills the time and the gap in your work history.
  5. Continuous education. Take a class to sharpen your skills and find another networking platform.
  6. Apply early and often. Apply for everything that interests you AND where you have a real chance to add value. You need the practice interviewing. When in doubt apply. Focused on your goals, you do need leads and options. Even if you are "over-qualified" give the resume reader pause by considering someone who can do the job easily.
  7. Differentiate, differentiate, differentiate. How will you make your resume, your candidacy stand out? The key is who you know. Who you know and who they know.
  8. Go Face to face. Devote more than half of your search time to meetings or telephone conversations. Get out of your house and talk to people. You have to be able to push yourself and those around you to get out from behind their computers and literally and figuratively "pound the pavement" and "knock on doors". Hopefully you have gone beyond the basic networking and have a good inner circle of supporters. People who know you and you have a trusting relationship with. Have you met with all of them? No you haven't?! Connect and reconnect with your existing network--your relatives, your friends, your former colleagues, and your former bosses.
  9. Get on the insider track  As you expand your connections, you will begin to become aware of positions that are open and not posted. This happens when your focus is also on employers not openings. The biggest mistake is ONLY talking about positions that are posted. Most jobs are like houses in the most coveted neighborhoods, they are not listed, they all start out with private processes that are not made public unless they did not work. The word about a good job is put out to the employer's inner network to talk to the "best" candidates. The only way your name comes up in these searches is if someone you know is aware of it.
  10. Be introduced and referred This is the most powerful networking and the biggest differentiator. Having influential people you know or meet introduce you to prospective employers is enormously helpful. Instant credibility, good brand management, access to information, and an expansion of your network. Clearly, the ability to drop a name on the cover note of your resume when applying/inquiring for a job may be the biggest differentiator. The bigger the name the hotter your resume becomes. That resume has to be separated from the pile, people have to track it and you get a better chance to get to the next level of consideration. Please don't misunderstand me, you don't need referrals from the C Suite, you need to be referred by an insider. That implied endorsement is big, regardless of the level.

Jobs are opening up everyday behind the curtain and posted on Monster. So persistence and vigilance are essential partners for the longer term job search.

Networking is ALWAYS a long term if not a life time process. A process of staying in touch and exploring opportunities. It is a marathon lifestyle where the tortoise beats the hare every time. Meeting people to appreciate who you know and who you are will energize you. To learn of new opportunities and ways to approach old ones. To keep the mind sharp, the blood pumping and keep the finish line in sight.

Thanks for reading. John

 


The 8 week interview diet

Many years ago I came to the conclusion that the only way I was going to understand where I was going was to encounter as many people and opportunities as I could. Through some very hard lessons from my mentors and through life itself, I realized that I was in charge of my career path and choices. And more important, that my career path would neither be linear or sector centric. These revelations took my blinders off and I was able to see so many new opportunities that were not tethered to my past, my education, or what I preferred. Are you following me? In other words, once I realized I had to get out of my own way, my options and opportunities multiplied. Blinders 

Last week I met with a graduate class in public policy to talk about their impending graduation and their career choices. We discussed many things but I tried to impress upon them two basic ideas:

  1. It's the Boss--Other than mission alignment, your personal belief in the vision/goals of the employer, the number one factor in choosing a job is who your boss will be. Do you have a sense of chemistry with her? Do you see her helping you and providing counsel and advice? Have you done any due diligence on her? Your progression and future are tied more to her than the company's reputation.
  2. Your Toolbox is Transferable--Don't make the mistake I did early in my career by trying to find an elevator, escalator or a plain ole ladder to advance my career in a single silo sector. Your skills are applicable to other working worlds. Each one of you has so many other skills and abilities, in addition to your newly minted degrees. Pursue your curiosities and passions not just a rational career path.

Literally an hour after my invigorating session with the students, I was waiting at my doctor's office to have my annual physical. Dr P. comes in with a big smile and greets me warmly. I have been going to see him for almost 20 years. There are few who know you better than your MD! Since I have been having these annual checkups I have had 8 jobs in arguably five different fields. From for-profit to non-profit. Start-up to publicly traded company. Higher education to online education. Grantee to grantor. Anyway, Dr P has heard my various job stories and received a small collection of business cards over the years. He looks at me with a wry smirk and says,"Where we working now?" I have become pretty defensive about this question and find it less and less humorous. After all I have been at CCF for more than 3 years! The point is I have a bit of a reputation for making job and career moves, moves that are not intuitive to some, especially those wearing handcuffs of semi-precious metals.Handcuffs

Early in my career, I got occasional calls from recruiters. I found them uncomfortable conversations. I felt like I was cheating on my employer. I had a good job, a good boss and I was not looking. Some job prospects didn't make any sense in terms of mission, geography and fit. Others were intriguing. But I rarely did more than just try to be civil and discrete. I learned quickly that headhunters should become part of my network.

A mentor said to me that you have to inteview for things that interest you. And don't dismiss any opportunity until you KNOW you are not interested. Here was the the kicker for me: When you get out there and explore other opportunities you grow and so does your brand! He advised me to "interview" for information and inspiration on a regular basis. I later interpreted that to be every other month.  That's right, I will respond to at least 6 real and interesting opportunities that are presented to me each year. My record since 1993 is fully intact! These have been interesting opportunities to meet people, executive search firms, and think about something new. Had one such conversation on Friday, so I am good for another 8 weeks. :) I seriously do not have any interest in leaving my current employer, but the practice continues to yield so many benefits for me. I told my former boss about my "interview" goals and he said he wholeheartedly agreed on the concept of "interviewing". In fact he told me he expects 8 "job offers" a year!

Let me be clear, this is not about leaving, this is about learning. Being asked to interview is much different than seeking an interview. This is about staying fresh. This is about staying sharp. This is about strengthening your network. This is about finding yourself, advancing your brand and clarifying your path.

At the end of the week, I agreed to have an informational interview with this very accomplished gentleman referred by a close friend. He was just "exploring possible options" for his future. He was looking and had decided to leave his current job! We both knew what was going on. He told me this was his first "interview" in the last 12 years. Big mistake. Hard to move when your brand is stale and you are unaware of the landscape and frankly your own personal interests and your value in the marketplace. We discussed my "philosophy" and he said he had never heard of such a thing. But wished he had adopted the diet of 6 interviews a year, long before.

Thanks for reading. John


Parents guide to your kids career development

"Would you mind talking to my kid?", maybe the number one question I get today. Responsible and/or doting parents want to help their children make the connection to find a job. I become an attractive resource when people find out I was an average student and a rebellious teen and young adult! And of course because I am free :) These parents perceive their kids to be stuck and need a bit of outside encouragement and motivation (every self respecting parent knows that advice from outside the family, even if it is exactly the same, has more truth and brilliance!) That's what parents want. That is not what the kids want. Although a few more doses of encouragement and positivity are welcomed, the new gen wants a safe place to discuss their often very mal-formed thoughts about their futures (that do not seem to be going over with the older people) As I have advised hundreds of times and in every speech I give, always and enthusiastically agree to help your close network"s family members in their search for life, liberty and the pursuit of a career. Why? because you will always, always, always, get more out of it than you deliver!Helicopter parents  
 
Back on parent front. This job of trying to steer our heirs into the "right careers", the "right jobs" and our obsession to make them happy (if they just knew what was good for them) is extremely challenging. Why? The whole parenting thing is based on how we were parented, good or bad. And we pass down whatever our notions of career development, job and life values, by what we do not we say. Your kids have watched you, idolized you (until they are 14), mimicked you, whether you like it or not. So now your offspring are facing the worst job market in memory and anxiety and stress are running high. Both parents and their kids are going a little crazy, maybe the parents a tad more! 

You have to invoke mentoring and networking to help your kids.

All of our kids need guidance from us to maximize their options and to realize their potentials. To be honest, we are over bearing as parents. We hover, we nudge, we complain, we want them to be like us OR avoid the mistakes we made. The nurture thing is really important but the nature thing is so much more powerful. Their chromosones give them choices. Their DNA give them decisions. What young people need after they get the basics from Maslow's hierarchy is to be loved and to be supported for who they are and what they were meant to do. There is a wonderful Nigerian word amachi, loosely translated to, "Only God knows what each child brings."

  1. Help your kids find themselves. What are their passions and interests? Not what you want them to know and experience. This applies to pre-teens, teenagers, picking a college major and even later. Met a guy in Baltimore last week, he was bragging about his two sons. The "genius" older son was admitted to Annapolis on a scholarship, but his mom forbid him to go into the military. So his son went to Cornell against his wishes, quit and joined the Navy! Spent 4 years in officer training and returned to Penn St to study nuclear engineering. Once he graduates he returns to the Navy. Mom is proud now. The book Hand Me Down Dreams by Mary Jacobson, describes how we try to control our kids. After I read that book, I became more conscious of my kids strengths. The other day, I advised my daughter to drop her initial major of biology and consider the classics or greek mythology, because she loves those subjects. She was surprised and said sarcastically, "What kind of Dad are you?! How am I going to get a job?" We discussed the merits of picking a major based upon a future job that may not exist or be of interest. We concluded that a college education is much more than a major. I meet dozens of kids who lie to their parents to keep them off their back. They aren't lying about drugs or their sexual escapades. The lie about their career interests so that mom and dad aren't mad and worse, disappointed. These bright and talented young people are so frustrated and anxiety ridden by the dreams that are being forced upon them by their parents. Such a shame.
  2. Help you kids become well-lopsided. I have written here several times about how top schools are now rejecting the "well-balanced" students. Students with good grades and scores and a couple years of community service, couple years of leadership/student govt, a couple years of art or music, a couple years of work experience etc. These applicants have become parent created "commodities" and are being rejected for students with deeper personal interests and passions.
  3. Help your kids meet other people and express themselves. Other people's parents, uncles or aunts, people who care about your kids can be wonderful sounding boards. Help them network, for college choices, for career decisions, for narrowing and focusing their job search. They need other people's opinions and perspectives to shape their search for meaning and a job. These are not necessarily interviews for an opening, these are informational interviews. People to review the resume and to hear the strategy. I never liked it when my Dad and Mom arranged these meetings in my life, but it always helped me see the possibilities. More important it helped me understand how I could discover things on my own and I know it made me a better parent.
  4. Sponsor a career tour. If your kids are younger, this is more important than the college tour-- the exposure to jobs, industries and employers. Meeting people in your network to see and hear what people do. It is amazing who you know and what they do. All of it is interesting. Sure not all of the jobs are super cool, but all offer insights into worlds they don't know. Again, if these jobs involve any of your kids interests that will make a big difference. It may be a product, or a service that your kids love. Meeting an exec, a manager, or another young person at the bottom of the org will be insightful and open their minds to new avenues.

Some of your kids are preparing for college, others will get their college degree soon, still others have returned to the nest to re-tool and find employment. While you can find a lot of things on the intenet, you have to use the power of mentoring and networking to make new connections. Frankly it gets much more difficult after your kids are in their late 20's. But before then, there is so much you can do. First back off your dreams and get tuned into theirs. Second, open up your network for introductions to opportunities. Lastly, connect your son or daughter to trusted members of your network to provide "external" advice and counsel.  

Being a parent is so tough. The tension between pushing and pulling is ever present. Once you start to fully appreciate the extraordinary and unique talents and gifts of your kids, the sooner you will be able to help them fulfill their dreams and find gainful employment. 

Thanks for reading. John. 

 


Non-verbal networking

We all know how important the non-verbal cues are to effective communication, relationship development, and networking. Our body language, inflection of our voice, our eye contact, facial expressions dominate the words we say. Those that study this stuff have said that words are only about 7-30% of the communication we intend. As I said, we know this in our heads, but we are not conscious of it.Body language 2

Tell your face---You see this one everyday, if you are paying attention. We have these robotic exchanges that have become meaningless transactions. You enter the elevator, or the office in the morning and you say something to greet anyone and everyone. It is neither sincere or intentional. We say things like "Good Morning", or "How are you?"--even if the morning sucks and you are not interested in or care about anyone's well-being. In fact, if the target of our pre-recorded pablum speaks, we are awakened  from our slumber and struggle to respond. My assistant for years, Patsy, would greet me every morning with a confusing happy voice and an enthusiastic Good morning! and a severe frown. At first I thought she had been part of a botox experiment gone awry. :( The first time she did this, I said, "if it is a good morning, tell your face!"

Do you remember the Michael Dukakis passionless response to the question about whether the death penalty should be applied to the murderer and rapist of his wife Kitty?

Without putting energy into your daily deliveries of words and messages, you will communicate poorly. Your posture, handshake, intonation, and your facial attention can undermine your persuasiveness.

A few basic tips to remember to keep focused:

  1. Engage the other person by looking into their eyes, listen and observe their body language.
  2. Keep your hands in front of you, instead of folding them, on your hips or in the "fig leaf" position.
  3. Smile. It will always brings energy into your voice and your eyes.

Lead with your passions--When people talk about what they care about, they stand up straighter, their eyes light up, and their voice is overflowing with expression. So funny, because many people have asked me if I have ESP. I listen to and watch people, and when they really smile and start becoming more animated, I tell them how obvious that this is an important subject to them. "How could you tell?", they query. Find out what others are passionate about, then your encounters and conversations will feed off one another.

How can you understand, see and hear any incongruences or distracting body language you create?

You practice in front of a mirror. You videotape your presentation skills. You get candid feedback from colleagues and confidantes. When I started the process to refine my speaking and presentations, I immediately improved. Seeing and hearing is believing. You become a student of yourself. How do others see you? How big is the gap between what you think you are doing and what others see? This is a critical skill, your accurate awareness of you. I became painfully aware of my strange an previously unknown habits and body language expressions through a thorough and relentless examination of my schtick. Still working on it and never again took it for granted.

Always suprised how under prepared people are for making impressions. They wing it. They hope that the right words and body language magiacally appear when called upon. Some people think they are Robin Williams! Most of us know that Robin doesn't ad lib, but draws on a library of practiced and rehearsed routines. I am not saying that you need to script yourself, but preparation with a keen eye on what it really looks and sounds like is essential.

As Allen Iverson said, "Are we talking about practice?" Yes we are!

Connect your mind to your body through your conciousness. Don't let your folded arms, furrowed brow, repeated "ums", shifty eyes, or inaudible voice, steal your opportunities and your compelling ideas.

Carry yourself, express yourself, with the spirit and energy that it matters--because it does.

Your ability to network is directly tied to your trustworthiness, believability, and likability. How you present yourself deserves at least as much prep and attention as your clever words and phrases.

I dedicate this post to my brother in-law Andrew Kim Weaver, who was tragically taken from us this week. Andrew was fiercely candid and famous for his non-verbal communication.

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


Email and Phone Interviewing: Think and Sync

When there is furious competition for scarce few jobs, employers invoke intuition, subjectivity, and instincts to govern their decisions. Assessing talent has to be done quickly. Otherwise, you lose the great candidates. Great candidates are perishable and the not so great have a much longer shelf life. Quicker and "more efficient" filters to determine which candidates move ahead are being instituted. Job openings are precious and making a mistake would be inexcusable. Being smart and fast is vital. That position has to be filled with someone who "fits" to keep up with the increased workloads of the surviving employees and the great desire to keep the ship afloat and moving ahead. Scarcity

A friend's brother, who I have been coaching thru job interviews, just had his 6th phone interview for the same position! He was not prepared for this. He is anxious to meet the people in person, but has had to endure protracted inquisitions with teams of telephonic interviewers. It has tested his ability to remember that each successive group had not heard his answers before. Without body cues and facial expressions, he learned he had to listen, think before he answered, and confirm he was in sync with the interviewers.

Everyone knows why this is happening. Everyone understands that there are a lot more qualified people chasing a fewer number of jobs. Interview and selection processes have changed with these circumstances. However, many candidates have not adjusted their approach to respond in kind. They just prepare their resumes, cover letters, and interview the same way they always have. And many hit the buzz saw of change and don't know what hit them. The key is to think and then sync.

Business computer and phone Email and phone interviews are just two of these changes.

E-mail interviews: Either a follow-up to your online application or just a regular interview step, email is being used to clarify questions about your resume and your qualifications. This is a quick test of your writing ability. Can you write about yourself and about your candidacy? Writing clearly and completely is a must. Here's a sample of e-mail interview questions.

  1. Why did you leave your last position?
  2. Why are you applying for this one?
  3. What is your minimum salary requirement?

Seemingly innocuous questions. But how you answer matters. Short terse answers show you do not care. Long rambling ones show you can't write. Thanking the sender for the opportunity and crafting a few pithy sentences that directly address the questions is the goal. Think and sync.

Phone interviews: Your preparation here is no different than for an in-person interviews. In fact, they carry more weight because they determine whether you advance. Most phone interviews are trying to see if the candidate is a fit. Increasingly, these are group phone interviews. Multiple people to listen and participate, again to speed up the process and gain consensus. The big difference is using your ears to connect to the interviewers.

Some basic tips:

  1. Schedule the interview when you are in a quiet place and ideally not on your mobile phone.
  2. Write down the names of all of the participants on the call, so you can address them by name and then thank them at the end.
  3. You smile while you talk. People can't see your face but they can hear your smile.

Here's more on etiquette and tips for phone interviews.  

In the end, all interviewing is about thinking and syncing. Listening to the question (or reading), answering it, and verifying you answered it. Did you help the questioner understand your unique qualifications and what makes you a great candidate? Did you express yourself in a way that helps the reader/listener get to know you?

Knowing your story and your BIT is crucial. There is no substitute for practicing your answers to questions you know will be asked, so you can be confident and comfortable.

This new world of supply and demand gives the prepared candidates an edge over the under-prepared. The positive candidates a better chance over the hesitant ones. Whatever interview process they throw at you, you should think and sync. If you do, you will distinguish your candidacy and show off why they should meet you in person. 

Thanks for reading. John


Ready, Interview, Aim!

First a couple of sources of information and inspiration:Brandyou

  1. A friend of mine Joy Chen is featured in a NYT piece on careers and Managing your Career like a Business. This is an old idea freshened up for today. You remember the Tom Peters piece on BrandYou, worth re-reading. One of the things that can be lost in this omnipresent social network is your brand, your uniqueness--what differentiates you from the pack. Anybody can be a video star, be their own publisher, even have their own blog :), but that's the point. The stakes just got higher and harder. You have to nurture your brand. Check out Joy's blog that does a great job of helping people think about personal brand building.
  2. Did you see this news report about possibly the youngest head of school in the world, Babar Ali?This is a lesson for all of us. Needs can be addressed. So easy to be numb from the quantity of challenges facing humankind and seemingly insurmountable odds. Babar ignored the rational and the possible and did the impossible. 

Was talking to a former colleague about her career aspirations. She shared compelling and exciting thoughts about specific jobs she wanted. It was clear to me that she was ready to test if not embrace her dream. And I began to share in her enthusiasm until she told me her plan. Being the over-achieving and overly competent person she is, she has figured out all of the things that diminish her qualifications and readiness. She went on to tell me about her 5-7 year plan! (Last week I discussed your 5 year VISION, big difference from your plan) During the next 5 years she would rigorously fill these gaps and address her deficiencies and then launch into interviews when all systems are go. For new entrants in the job market or others who are making radical career shifts this approach might make sense, but for those who know what they want in their chosen field, you have to be biased toward action not planning. Like all new inventions that solve a problem, choices have to be made on how many features and benefits are needed to roll it out. It can be an endless process where paralysis through analysis creates a fierce case of rigormortis. Analysis paralysis
And like a new career step, the "inventor' that would be you, has to test market the product. Meaning go out and talk to people in the field about what they do. Is it what you think it is, do you have what it takes? And more to the point here, do you even want it? Have you seen the body of research regarding people who want the top job only to find when they get there, they don't. But if you find you do, the question is how close are you to having what it takes? making assumptions is a waste of time. In my friend's case, I know she is not only close to being qualified, she is qualified--she just does not see it.

As I have mentioned on these pages, I am the king of being "unqualified" for almost every job on my resume. That's what the headhunters told me. That's what friends told me. What I learned is few people have all of the required skills for a job. That people hire people--profound isn't it!:) And those hiring people value chemistry over some qualifications. They seek commitment and passion for the mission over a set of impressive graduate degrees. I said some qualifications. You have to have the basics and often a lot more. But after you make the cut, we are talking about fit and the intangibles. C'mon most of these job descriptions, especially higher up the food chain are almost laughable in terms of the litany of requirements that are poured into them. They are a wish-list to frighten off the timid and the non-serious. 

So back to my friend. I told her to start interviewing right away. I know she is very close to being "qualified" and I know that the marketplace would be more generous than she is to her background. The questions that have to be tested are:

  1. Do you really want this "dream job"?
  2. What are the gaps, if any, in your background and resume that need to be addressed?

Much to the consternation of my wife and sometimes my employer, I accept invitations to interview frequently. I learned that it can be the most interesting time to think about my trajectory and what else is out there. I always learn something about myself and something about the world around me. I am straight forward and tell them that I am not looking for anything. And while employed, most people are amazing interviewees! The seller becomes a buyer and that makes a difference. My friend is gainfully employed so this applies to her too. 

Going in to your lab to tune up and re-calibrate your qualifications in isolation from the real marketplace forces is not very smart. And opportunities can arise at inopportune times. Don't you hate that! But when opportunity knocks you got to answer the door. Maybe in your heart you know you have shortcomings, but this is the job you want. If you get the interview then you can reveal your gap analysis and why you may not be fully qualified. And if done well, it can make you the most honest and most transparent candidate. Reflecting on your weaknesses, something conspicuously absent from your resume, can be dis-arming and refreshing. Of course, having a response on how you plan to address these weaknesses is a must--but you knew that. Interviews

Back on my friend. So she was not planning to interview for 5 years! Does she really think the stars will align on her timetable?! Seriously? Either she is the most powerful person in the universe, the luckiest human, or  she is wrong. She has to start now. When an attractive opportunity arises, she can unleash her considerable network to conduct due diligence and pave the way. We discussed the reasons and she finally agreed that there were opportunities out there and that her confidence about her gaps was based on a bunch of assumptions. 

Some dreams need to be tested and others must be abandoned. Should we wait 5 years to know--no way! If you are your own brand manager, then you have to take charge of understanding that brand and what will make it competitive and successful. That is what Babar Ali did. Waiting is never an option. 

Thanks for reading. John


Resumes that get interviews

First of all we know that a resume does not get an inteview YOU do. A well conceived resume will advance your candidacy, when you take an active role in shaping and marketing your resume. 

Then people see your resume they should understand who you are--it must reflect you. 

Mirror

That being said, your resume is the most important tool in your career change "I gotta get a new job" toolbox. It is not only your direct mail sales lead piece in your personal marketing campaign--your resume is YOU and your unique brand, at least for those 10-20 seconds of the initial review to determine whether you are in the pool or not. In the American Idol job world your resume has to have chops --it has to sing! 

Idol

Resume test:

  • Does your resume differentiate you from others?
  • Would you hire you?

 A "no" to either of these questions requires you to re-boot the system and craft a resume you love. 

  
There are so many great resources out there that give great examples and tips. Rileyguide is my favorite. Jane Porter's WSJ column is also a good primer. 

Let me just start with what a resume is NOT:

  1. It is not merely a chronology of your jobs and duties
  2. It is not one size fits all 
  3. It does not assume the reader knows anything 
  4. It does not have to fit into one page, unless you just graduated in the last couple of years 

Please see my 10 tips on resume writing. Here's the summary for you attention deficit readers :) 
  1. Target the resume to the skills and requirements of the job and industry.
  2. Avoid functional formats, stick to chronological. 
  3. No "Objective" or "Summary" on the resume. 
  4. Brief description of your employer and/or function of that location. 
  5. Use months for employment dates, not just years.
  6. Insert relevant volunteer/unpaid, non-profit Board, committee chair experiences where you have a track record and deliverables
  7. Don't be afraid to leave off old, irrelevant or distracting things.  
  8. List achievements as well as duties. This is one way to differentiate. 
So after you have spent some thoughtful time re-writing your resume from the standpoint of "Would you hire you?" Here are the three things to maximize your chances for an interview:
  1. Write a killer cover letter. Do not write the textbook cover note. Use the opportunity and space to tell your story. Why you want this job. How you are uniquely qualified. Give your resume a plot, where you are the protagonist. Explain obvious gaps or questions raised by your resume. Were you laid off? Were you busy being a mom? Don't let the reader assume you were imprisoned or fired for embezzlement.
  2. Network for insider information. Use your network to find connections at the targeted employers. Any connections at any level at any position. People to talk to for the inside scoop on the state of affairs of the company and specifically about the view of the department/division you are considering. Any first hand info will give you a leg up in your interview, either to show your interest level or to shape your questions.  
  3.  Network for influence. Here's where you can get a big advantage. Find a senior executive, Board member, or even a high ranking official at a vendor of the employer. You need to have a warm connection to them, meaning somebody you know has a trusting relationship with this person. Your mentor, uncle, sister, best friend, college roommate, somebody who can endorse you. The ask is, "Please interview this person." And the employer does it on the strength of who is requesting.You have already applied or your resume is attached to the request. Nothing separates you from the pile than such a request. You still have to be qualified, but this endorsement gives you a chance and adds a patina of trustworthiness to your candidacy that can be invaluable.  Brand you
In general, people's resumes poorly reflect their objectives and their capabilities. It does not differentiate their brand--their unique experiences and background. Often, little care or attention has been given to this precious and influential document. People seem to think that their interviewing skills will fill in the gaps and get the ultimate message across. But if you do not get the interview, your chance to audition is lost. 

Would you hire you? And would you vote to give you the chance to sing at the next level? 

Thanks for reading. John

What is your story? Developing an authentic and compelling story to advance your career

Your story is the truth, wrapped with your hard work and passion, guided by your dreams, that helps people understand who you are where you are going.

 

Your story is so much better than you think. The crazy way our lives evolve, the experiences we have encountered, the things we have learned, our achievements, our failings, our dreams--are unique, intriguing and much more interesting than we acknowledge. In fact we tend to conclude that our stories, our lives, are pretty much the same as other people's--translation--AVERAGE and BORING.  I constantly hear this from young and old, new graduates and PhDs, sr execs and mid-level managers. The result is we don't tell our own stories at all or well. This is more than tooting your horn without blowing it. Really this is about pride in who you are, how you got to this wonderful or challenging chapter in your life. As a friend of mine says, "It is what it is." Necessity is a virtue!Tell your story and tell it well.

It ain't brag if you done it. Walt Whitman

As the interviewer, I usually say, "tell me the (your name) story." It is my version of tell me something about yourself. This is where most people do something really dumb they begin reciting their resume or look like the question is about astro physics. They think this is an innocuous question, but it is the easiest sounding hardest question of all. 
 
Putting together your story takes a lot of work and practice. However, the benefits to you and to your career are enormous. Your stories:
  • Give you confidence through self knowledge and awareness
  • Bring humanity to your resume  
  • Make you memorable 
  • Set you apart  
By understanding your story you will be able to talk about the themes, values, and goals that weave together your life so far. When you reflect and remember, the reasons why your life and your career have evolved are clearly understood. Your answer to the question, "Tell me about yourself." Is not a spur of the moment or robotic response--it is your personal and compelling story. 
 
Here are the basic steps you should take to write and tell your story:
  1. Take a comprehensive inventory of the chapters of your life---Chronological may be easiest. Major events, memories, and turning points that began in your childhood. Times you recall that shaped who you are. Make notes about your feelings, expectations, your frustrations. Each of these chapters may contain multiple stories. Of course, list your jobs/positions, your volunteer gigs and what you learned, accomplished, and experienced. These stories need to have vivid dimensions so people will experience that moment with you. A young lady I work with, described the lessons she learned doing insect research standing in cranberry bogs.  When I heard her say this my mind immediately formed a picture and that significantly enhanced our conversation. It may have been a moment with your mom on the porch, or a trip you took to a far away place, or what a boss or mentor told you. Aha moments that reveal you and that revealed clues to your journey/path. They do not have to be dramatic, just meaningful to you. I use a simple excel spreadsheet and start listing things under a time period or a job. Not complete sentences, but attributes and lessons that trigger that story.
  2. What are the themes that emerge from the inventory?---Are you an educator/teacher, a leader, an entrepreneur, a risk taker? Has technology, metrics, research, and/or presentations been your competency? What emerges as your passion(s)-- mentoring your subordinates, pro-bono work, helping a specific type of client, advancing knowledge in your field? What gives you joy?
  3. What defines your career path?--- How did you choose the opportunities and who helped you? What motivated you then and now? Have your motivations been consistent or evolving? Are you someone who likes new projects? Or executes the details of someone else's vision? The SAR method of discussing a situation, action, and response is a great structure to tell your stories. 
  4. Practice Practice Practice---What begins to emerge is your story and an inventory of other stories. Now you have to begin using your story---saying it out loud, ideally to others. You can recite it into a tape recorder or tell it to a confidante for feedback. The ultimate test will be the next time someone says, "Tell me about yourself." 
Storytelling for a job interview
Specifically applying your story to a specific employer or job is the next step. Interviews, if you are lucky to get one, get right to the point now. They are competency and behavioral in the questions. Yes, they are also looking for fit with the team and the culture of the employer. But does the candidate have what we need in skills, knowledge and abilities and can he/she apply them is the focus.  
 
Joe Turner in his article about interview stories recommends you use these questions to shape your story inventory: 
  • Examples of when you either made money or saved money for your current or previous employer.
  • A crisis in your life or job and how you responded or recovered from it.
  • A time where you functioned as part of a team and what your contribution was.
  • A time in your career or job where you had to overcome stress.
  • A time in your job where you provided successful leadership or a sense of direction.
  • A failure that occurred in your job and how you overcame it.
  • Any seminal events that happened during your career to cause you to change direction and how that worked out for you.
You now have a work in progress story about you and a growing list of other supporting stories. Lining up the stories that apply to the employer and the specific position is critical. You know about the job duties and required qualifications, you have networked to learn more about the culture and environment, you have networked further to get an internal recommendation to insure you get a look and hopefully an interview. Put yourself in the interviewers shoes and pose the questions you would ask the candidate and align your stories. Which ones are relevant to this opportunity? Especially revealing to employers are personal stories about how you handled change, made choices under pressure and lessons learned from mistakes and failures.
 
For the more confident and sophisticated, you will have stories about different aspects of management that reveal your skillset. For example having a stories about strategic plans, financial models, HR, marketing, change management, dispute resolution etc will be extremely helpful for follow-up questions and when you have committee interviews. To be able to relate how you worked with the various types of departments represented in the room of interviewers can be very persuasive. 
 
There are a lot of resources out there for you. Here is a comprehensive online resource that will give you much more help and guidance on how storytelling propels careers. Get over your feelings of story inadequacy or thinking that a job well done speaks for itself. Hah! Learning and appreciating your story is a pre-requisite to to any interview process. You can not always rely on your improv skills or "thinking on your feet". You can anticipate the questions and you can have the stories at the ready. In the end, this is about making a great and memorable impression that demonstrates competency and ability. As you become more comfortable in how to tell your story, you will see that your life has not just been a string of randomness and serendipity. Your story has a past and it has a future and the road ahead becomes more clear when you understand where you have been. 
 
We need your story. Tell it!
 
Thanks for reading. John
 
 

Breakthrough questions

Btw, finally saw Slumdog Millionaire--Wow. Loved it. While it's a ride off into the Indian sunset type flick, it is very entertaining. 

-----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

When you are lost in the forest stand still! 

Challenging and interesting times should trigger questions. My current daily encounters with people and groups increasingly starts with questions. "What do I do to prepare for the worst? How should my org re-focus on new realities? How long should I/we wait to make a change? "What are the opportunities that emerge from this crisis?" 

Self reflection is a process for all times. Thinking about where we are and where we are going need not be a response driven to the environment. But human nature generates a swift, strong and automatic reflex to fear and to danger. Regardless of the circumstances, asking questions or better said, questioning the path we are on, is a necessity. Btw, if everything is perfect for you--stop reading this! :)

Remember when we were kids, or if you are around kids, the questions children ask? Silly questions and profound questions. How high is up? My favorite example came from my 10 year old Little Brother (when I was in the Big Brothers program), "Does God exist if everyone in the world stops believing in him?" Impossible questions that come from sheer curiosity. Kids, unlike us, do not employ all of the filters of socialization and self consciousness. So their questions are very real. They think about things and then want to understand them. They aspire to be astronauts and presidents, NBA stars, and celebrities--as they should. They do not see limits, boundaries, or certainly obstacles. The beauty of this innocence is the infinite imagination of what is possible. Regrettably, over the the years, we lose this ability. It is the steady and imperceptible erosion of this innocence, emboldened by norms, conformity, cynicism and doubt. Archaeological layers of moments, memories, and experiences thicken our personal lenses and cloud our ability to see ourselves and our possibilities clearly. Others around us warn us not to leave our little myopic world. Consequently, our adulthood realism and practicality form questions that limit our possibilities.

First let's examine a few examples of these questions that you must AVOID:

  1. Don't I need to wait for the right time?  
  2. Should I discover my passion(s) before I make any moves? 
  3. What will my parents and friends think?  
  4. How can I be certain that I am doing the right thing? 
  5. Will a change hurt my resume and my career? 
  6. Shouldn't I just do my job and not make any waves?  
  7. Isn't another academic degree required? 
  8. Doesn't make sense for me to wait until I feel better about myself? 
  9. Don't I need a financial reserve to pursue my dreams?   
  10. If I am patient and attentive, won't my destiny reveal itself? 

How about this one, "How long should I procrastinate my dreams?" Of course these questions have some merit, but as a group they are excuses not to pursue something better. Po Bronson in his book What Should I Do With My Life? found that people who found success ignored these types of questions. These queries present obstacles and do not assist us to address the real questions. 

Let's return to doubt and cynicism. They can be powerful allies in your quest to ask yourself and those around you thought provoking questions. Questions that truly seek real and fresh answers. Think like a child. I did not say be childish! Think about the unfiltered big questions inside of you, that are bigger than you. 

Here are 3 questions that have helped me and the people in my network:

  1. How do I love what I am doing to do what I love?
  2. What do I want to accomplish with my life that would be most meaningful to me?  
  3. I have always wished I could.........., but.....................? 

How do I love what I am doing to do what I love? How do I take full responsibility for where I am and make the most of it? If you are satisfied with your current role but want more, then how can your current employer help advance your goals? Optimize your current experience with your next step in mind. Even if you have decided to make a change, it is very hard to make a transition without some planning. Somehow you got yourself into this place and time. Many people and things can be blamed, but at the end of the day, you have to extricate yourself on your terms. In my recent encounters with people, this question gets skipped. Just talked to an old friend I had lost touch with. She was just laid off, but she has 60 days transition with a remote possibility there would be an opening at that time. She could quit. However, she needs the time to look for a new job. We also talked about her need for a great reference from the current employer. She decided to give the next 60 days her all and go out on a good note. She had been angry and depressed. Now she saw there was going to be a new chapter and she embraced it. As the old adage goes, when you got lemons, make lemonade! 

What do I want to accomplish with my life that would be most meaningful to me?  This is the ultimate question. What will give your life "the most meaning"? This question requires thought and contemplation. It has to include an inventory of the issues and causes you care about. The hidden talents you have wanted to develop. Some people misinterpret this question. They think there is just a single answer, a single profession, a single career track. You are complex and have multiple interests and ideas. You may have a constellation of passions and goals. Can you find a job that aligns with your goals, become a volunteer with a charity that gives you meaning, and start taking piano lessons? Yes, yes, yes! Building a total portfolio of interests and goals may be much easier than finding a career that satisfies all of them. 

I have always wished I could.........., but...................? This is Barbara Sher's wish/obstacle phrase from here work on Wishcraft . The beauty of this question is it isolates the reason that you have not pursued something. The premise is that people are drawn to other people's wishes more than their wants. It is a very powerful way to network for connections. This phrase will trigger other people's desire to assist you when you articulate what you want in the form of a wish. But this question releases its power when you ask others about their wishes. Try it. Ask people you care about what they are wishing for? Ask kids you know. Just tell them not to answer with any material objects. They will reveal many things you did not know. I tried this on my Mom a couple of years ago. My mother Tomi is an accomplished artist and has traveled the world. Surprisingly, she told me she wanted to see Santa Fe New Mexico. She described Santa Fe's importance to the art world and went on and on about things she wanted to see there. I told her I never knew about this wish. I immediately contacted my brother and sisters and we put together a small fund to send my Mom there with one of my sisters. Every year we struggle to get Mom a Christmas or birthday gift, but this is something she wished for! I put my network to work and got her a VIP tour of the Georgia O'Keefe Museum and to meet other Santa Fe artists. 

Here's a photo of my Mom and sister in Santa Fe. Santa Fe

We have to open up our minds to questions that cause us to think beyond our growing adult cynicism. Questions that help us reflect on what we want for ourselves and for those around us. Questions that force us to stop running around and stand still in the forest, to enjoy the greatness of the trees, and then explore the paths out of the forest. 

Thanks for reading.  John


Opportunistic interviewing and serendipity

These are the craziest of times, especially if you are looking for a new position. Let's assume you have focused your search on certain types of jobs and types of employers. You have developed a preferred list of both. You have scanned the horizon, conducted research, compiled your questions, and engaged your network for assistance. Your resume is in order. Then job openings start to pop up through various sources---Through your web searches and through referrals. Some seem close but others are are just not a fit. You make quick decisions not to apply to those that are "beneath" you, have titles that appear to be foreign, or are in fields/industries you do not know. You have decided to be focused and only apply for positions that exactly match your search criteria. WARNING! You must resist this classic case of job search myopia. You know, when you look for a tree and miss the forest. Let's be honest, your search criteria is not set in stone. Once you create too many filters and requirements, you can easily overlook and just plain miss opportunities. Frankly, lazy people use this exact match principle, this myopia, as a way to avoid the hassle of interviewing. But in this type of market you have to get out there and actively uncover opportunities. Serendipity is a powerful force. By looking for what you want you discover new things and people discover you. I can tell you hundreds of stories when an interview for an "interesting but not what I want to do" job results in a surprising match. Or when an "overqualified" candidate interviews for one job and is referred to another opening, often not posted. And even, where employers alter the job to fit the interview candidate's unique experience and abilities. My point is: limiting your job search, limits the possibilities.

For those of you who are still not getting what I am saying. If you have a pretty good idea of what you want to do and have some preferences for employers, then the trick is getting inside the tent, the internal network of that employer. If you have the skills and impress, that carries weight in the organization. Employers want to place good people and may even refer you to opportunities outside of the firm. You want everyone you meet to say, "We have to hire this person." Bottomline: Don't dismiss opportunities to interview based upon superficial and narrow criteria. Apply more, interview more and the goal is always to get the offer!

Here are a few reasons and tips why you should interview as much as you can:

1. You need the practice. Some of you have not interviewed for awhile. Answering questions you may have asked candidates is very different. You need to refine your story and you can only do that through practice. Here's a couple of sites to help you Interview Help , 35 questions and answers

2. You refine your search. By getting out there you learn about trends, new positions, your perspective shifts and you see new paths which previously did not exist.

3. Your network gets stronger. You have engaged your network to be referred to preferred employers and to recommend you for specific positions. And you meet new people who are connected to your network.

4. Job search and interviewing is a second or full time gig. Applying for positions, engaging your network, and interviewing takes an effort that can not be intermittent or casual.

5. You are not only a buyer but a seller. Being prepared and asking great questions about the position and the employer shows your interest. You can't just be an effective responder, you need to assert yourelf too. Here is a guide to questions YOU should ask. Questions for the employer

6. Be self-reflective. Show the interviewee you know yourself--your strength and your weaknesses. What areas would present challenges AND how you would address them. Much more convincing than "I have what you need and I can do anything I put my mind to."

Here are the 5 questions I e-mail to all candidates that make the paper cut. I require a written response from VP to assistants before I interview.

*Why are you interested in this position?
*Why are you leaving or why have you left your current position?
*Why do you think you are qualified?
*How does this position fit into your longer term career plans?
*What is your minimum salary requirement?

Amazing the range of answers I get. :)

Take this approach and the job search and interviewing can be a lot more enjoyable and rewarding.

Thanks for reading. John



Essential networking tool: Your resume (and the cover letter)

Before I dive into this topic, let me just give a shout out to the Raytheon employees and Non-Profit Leaders who attended my workshops in the last week or so. Met a number of fascinating people like Linh, Depak, Zoom, Chris, Vu, and many others who are doing extraordinary things. Keep it up!

Now for the dreaded and often neglected resume. This document, which describes our professional life, upon which we heap great expectations to open doors and lead us to a new and better job, never seems to get the attention it deserves. And when you are networking and networking well, the resume is your calling card. We know that the resume is the most important self-marketing piece. It can make the difference of connecting with opportunities or not. We mail and e-mail these two or so flimsy pages to perfect strangers, like some sort of reverse magical lottery ticket we hope gets picked!!!! In the last 2 weeks I have reviewed about 300 resumes for jobs and for friends and for others. It is so exasperating to see what people are sending out. Yikes! Generic resumes that are sent to any employer, show little care for the reader and are ineffective. So I wanted to give you my top 10 tips:

1. More than 1 page okay--Unless you are 21 years old a new graduate or incredibly inexperienced :), your resume can be 2-3 pages if you have a lot to say. (see below)
2. Chronological only!--Other formats, especially functional, appear to be more deceptive and less persuasive. Use months on all dates of employment. Only using years gives the appearance of more deception. You know, 2006-2007, reads Dec 2006 to Jan 2007! 2 months not 2 years.
3. Explain gaps and fill gaps--Don't send out a resume with massive time gaps. The reader assumes you were in solitary confinement. :) If you were being a Mom, caring for a relative, or managing personal matters, tell the story in your cover note. Don't send out a resume that has no current activity. Why make it look like you have been idle for a long period of time? Have you been volunteering, consulting (even without pay), or attending to your professional development? That looks better than a long period of time where no one else wanted to employ you.
4. Who were your employers and what was your job?--Provide a brief description of every employer--who are they? What makes them unique? Don't assume people know who or what they do. Then describe the duties of your job. You managed people, resources, a budget, projects. You were responsible for certain deliverables.
5. What did you do with these employment opportunities?--Try to list a few bulleted achievements under each job. Milestones, goals met/exceeded, awards, increases in efficiency, efforts led, etc etc
6. No career objective--This is for the cover letter where you customize for the employer
7. Education at the bottom--What you offer are experiences, skills, knowledge and abilities. Education is critical but when you are young you lead with it, because it is all you got.
8. Customize for the industry or for the line of work--Use key words, align to targeted jobs, highlight related work. For example, if you are applying for a job that requires writing, then list writing and written reports under applicable jobs. Remember this is a marketing piece and there nothing less effective than a generic that depends on a one size fits all approach.
9. Your story, the one you want remembered: The Cover Letter--A lost art form and may be as important as your resume. Tie everything together in the cover letter. What happened or is happening at your current work to move you to apply. Link your experiences into a coherent flow that demonstrates your qualifications for THIS job. Address gaps if need be. Do some homework about the employer and the job and link your interest and skill set to that position.
10. Be referred to the employer--This is where the power of networking reveals itself. Get a referral to the employer. The higher up the food chain the better. "So and so encouraged me to apply for this position." This immediately distinguishes you from the pack. The reader has to separate this from the pile and it will require more attention. That's a big advantage! Of course you have to have the right stuff if they call, but increasing your chance to be interviewed is the name of the game.

Whether you think these tips are valuable or not, take at your resume and update it!

Thanks for reading. John