The Blog You've Been Missing

Acing that Interview

July 6, 2015

Filed under: Coaching,Health,Management,Resumes — Tags: , , , , , — admin @ 7:46 am

The government tells us that 223,000 new jobs were added to the economy last month. That means that at least 500,000 people probably had interviews.

What was the difference between the folks who got the job and the those who are still looking? Obviously, I don’t know all the factors at play, but I can offer some suggestions to help you ace your next interview.

Dealing with Stress:

Job interviews are stressful. But you need to understand that stress is normal. It’s the body’s reaction to fear. Thousands of years ago our stress reaction, shut down unnecessary systems, to allow us to focus on evading that saber-toothed tiger.Echo-Examiner-How-Strong-was

Today we sweat to cool our body temperature, our heart pumps more blood to critical organs, such as the brain, and our nervous system – infused with a chemical surge –  alerts us to the slightest change in the environment.

This is good, it helps you focus your attention on the person in front of you and the questions being asked.

Knowing that your stress reaction is normal can help you relax.

A simple breathing exercise is one way to reduce your stress. Before you enter the building find a quiet spot where you can just sit and breathe deeply. Focus on your breath trying to visualize yourself as relaxed and calm.

And finally: smile –research shows that this one act, will help relax your mind and body.

What to Wear:

You need to dress like you already belong.

The assumption is that you have done some research before you applied, but now you need to explore the company culture.

Does everyone wear business attire every day? Do most men wear ties, are women expected to wear skirts or business suits? The only way to find out might be to visit before your interview.

At many places in Silicon Valley (i.e. Google, Facebook, Apple) what you wear is much different than your ‘uniform’ for a Wall Street Interview.

The old saying, ‘you never get a second chance to make a first impression,’ is true. When in doubt, a suit that says you are serious about the opportunity, is always the best choice. Looking sharper than your interviewer is always better than the other way around.

At the end of the interview I would rather be told, I’ll never wear my suit to work again, than I need a new wardrobe.

How to Act:

I was once told to mirror my interviewer. If he or she reached out to shake hands, fine, but don’t offer your sweaty palm first.

If the interviewer crossed their legs, I could too.

But this is all part of communication – which is 70% visual. By the time you get to the interview, chances are good that you fit the technical requirements to do the job and they are looking more at your personality and ‘soft skills.’

Many times interviewers form an opinion in the first five minutes and then spend the rest of the interview trying to prove themselves correct. Google claims they have developed a system to prevent this cognitive bias, but the statistics don’t suggest their practices insure better choices.

One other tip, make sure you have your own copy of the resume you submitted. You want to make sure your interviewer is reading things correctly.

I parrot my third grade teacher, Miss Opie, when I advise clients, “sit up straight, pay attention, don’t chew gum and speak clearly.” Always be honest and if you don’t know the answer to a question, admit it, and agree to find out.

Many firms are famous for asking brain teaser questions to test problem-solving skills. I think they are less than useful, unless they are directly related to the job. Unfortunately they still exist, despite the fact that there is no evidence they prove anything beyond whether you can solve that particular problem.

I am particularly bad at them, and once when challenged at an interview, simply declined, saying it was not a true test of my ability. Yeah, I did not get the job, but I felt it was probably not a place I wanted to work anyway.

Remember this is a two-way street, so be prepared with questions of your own. Not specifics about pay or benefits, there’s time for that after you get an offer, but about the company and what they do. Maybe even current trends in the industry.

With any luck, the first interviewer will ask you to stay for a while to speak with a few more people – maybe a manager or co worker – so be prepared for a longer stay. Don’t be afraid to stash an energy bar in your pocket or purse to avoid hunger pains. A quick trip to the restroom gives you a break and some time for a snack. (Just make sure you check your teeth before you return)

How do you handle an interview panel? Not easily.

It’s impossible for one person to think as quickly as three, so it’s inherently unfair. Always address your answer to the person who asked the question, and don’t be afraid to pause, and collect your thoughts before you respond. You are not in a time competition.

And, when the panel members start arguing about a question (they always do) stay out of the fight and take advantage of the time, and breathe.

With any luck, the preparation and the talent that got you to the interview in the first place will be your biggest asset. Hopefully, when next month’s employment numbers come out you will be among those with a new job.

 

 

Post to Twitter

Existential Career Crisis

June 6, 2015

Filed under: Coaching,Management,Uncategorized — Tags: , , , — admin @ 9:17 am

A friend called recently worried about her career. She was apparently having an existential crisis after the end of a major project.

She’s a physician by training, specializing in back and neck injuries, using integrative treatment methods.

But, like many Baby Boomers she had been able to cut back on her work schedule and increase her volunteer activities.bigstock-playing-a-game-of-chess-52764313-758x485

As she said, “I like seeing patients two days a week, but I want something more, I just don’t know what it is.”

As I mentioned in my post “Career Conundrums” this is a frequent problem for older workers who already have a career. You can call them midlife crises or late-life crises, but they are generally an uncomfortable feelings related to “Is that all there is?” Peggy Lee’s 1969 hit.

After a short discussion, it became obvious that, hers wasn’t really a problem with “what do I want to do,” but was more about marketing – an all too common problem.

Turns out, my friend had some very specific ideas about her talents. She had even made a list – before I could suggest it. But she didn’t know how to market herself, or more accurately, just didn’t want to. That’s because sales and marketing requires a whole new skill set.

As someone who has done sales support and sales, I know that good sales people seldom get the credit they deserve.

Knowing what you want and telling the world about it require two very different talents. Most of the time we fail to recognize the difference. The real problem becomes bridging the gap.

Many very creative individuals have come to understand the problem. That’s why artists – actors, writers, painters – have agents. It frees them to do what they like, and leaves the sales, promotion and marketing to someone else.

Recruiters effectively do the same for other professions. Unfortunately, not every field has a specialized recruiter and many recruiters do a poor job of matchmaking.

If recruiters don’t meet your needs, you might look into outsourcing – the latest Baby Boomer growth industry. I don’t mean moving to India, but rather small companies who specialize in part time work. There are firms who place financial officers for  temporary positions or others who do the same for HR. There are even firms who place temporary CEO’s. This is particularly common in turn-around efforts, or for unexpected departures when firms need time to choose a new leader.

These outsourcing specialists are looking for a talent pool they can offer on an as-needed basis. Sometimes they lead to permanent jobs, but more often they are short assignments on a contract basis, which might be just what you want.

Believing that the world will beat a path to your door, because you have great skills is simply naive. You may have  a large circle of friends who know what a great job you did on that last project, but unless you let them know that you are open to more, you are invisible. You cannot be afraid to ask for help.

It requires a lot of self confidence to advertise yourself as an expert in a new area, because it risks criticism.

It also means change, which can be very disquieting.

The trick is to reframe your efforts: to expand your network: and practice your marketing pitch.

Ask a friend to lunch, but don’t approach it as a sales pitch, view it as an opportunity to ask for advice. Once you’ve done it a few times with friends, expanding to less familiar acquaintances will get easier.

Marketing yourself is just as important as the new career. You need to carve out time for it. At the start, your new job is all marketing, but eventually, it should just be part of your new career. But it needs to be a fixed part of your weekly schedule.

Don’t get trapped into a narrow range of assignments you will accept. Everyone sees you through a different lens and may see skills that you did not recognize.

And don’ expect instant results: keep your day job until you have some concrete new offers.

If you’re comfortable with blogs, tweets, or Facebook posts you can build your brand on the internet, but marketing on the internet can take even longer and means exposing yourself to many people who may not be able to help.

Your new career, at least at the start, will come from the people who know you the best.

Change is difficult, but it may be easier if you understand that:

1. Recognizing what you want to do, is not easy – you may need help.

2. You need to list the skills you want to market, but be open to alternatives.

3. You must recognize that marketing is part of your new job.

4. Self-promotion should start with people who know you best.

5. Reframing your interactions as a request for advice will make it easier.

6. Considering  recruiters or outsourcing specialists is an option.

7. You realize change will take time

 

 

 

 

 

Post to Twitter

Graduating Into Networking

May 23, 2015

It’s graduation season.

High school seniors are looking forward to a summer off, before they start worrying whether they chose the ‘right’ college.

College graduates are considering taking on more debt to get an advanced degree, or worrying if they will ever find a job.

And perhaps not surprisingly, older workers are starting to wonder if they should return to the classroom. In an era where many thought leaders are openly questioning the value of a college education, univrsities have seen a dramatic increase in the number of ‘mature’ students returning to campus.Unknown

Just 15 years ago most of these older students were baby-boomers who were suddenly empty nesters, looking for a new challenge. Degrees such as Executive MBA’s were the province of small schools trying to generate some extra money from unused classroom space at night or on the weekend.

But with the recession, and millions of Americans out of work, almost every major university suddenly discovered that money from established workers was just as good as fees from undergraduates. Schools such as the University of California’s Haas School of Business, which had dismissed executive MBA programs in 2000, now have huge, and costly, courses in conjunction with other major universities.

So, as your son or daughter threatens to do a “Steve Jobs”  – rejecting college to work in the garage – is returning to school worth it?

I might be biased, since I received my MBA about 30 years after my bachelor’s degree, but my answer is a decided yes, for a number of reasons.

First and foremost is the knowledge you gain, which is particularly valuable in an economy where you can never have enough skills. Change in the American workforce used to take place over generations. These days, it can occur in much less than a decade.

Just look at the number of jobs that went begging over the last 8 years while unemployment hovered around 10%.

Schools are making it easier to get accepted by removing testing and, in many cases, undergraduate degree requirements. Your work experience now has a completely unexpected real-life benefit.

Secondly, it’s all about networking. I once had a very heated and lengthy discussion about post graduate networking with a dining companion who insisted that “the only value’ to an advanced degree was the people you meet. His argument suggested that the only programs worth attending were from elite schools where you could rub elbows with classmates who were already successful.

The discussion grew so heated, my wife pointed out later, that diners were asking to be reseated away from our table. She admitted that I was not the main culprit, my debate-mate was. His debating style included language that probably should not be used outside a locker room – if at all.

I know I wasn’t convinced that my MBA was worthless because it was not from an Ivy League school, and I doubt he agreed that an education could be just as valuable, but we both should have apologized to the other diners.

You probably didn’t realize you were networking as an undergraduate, but as any college career office will tell you, your classmates can be a huge advantage when you start looking for a job.

In fact, some schools welcome freshman as alumni at their annual convocation near the start of the school year. They don’t exactly start fund-raising to 18-year-olds –  that’s a subtle side benefit that comes later.

School networks can be incredibly valuable on both the graduate and undergraduate level. Particularly with sites such as LinkedIn where you can easily find fellow alumni at companies where you want to work.

Likewise when hiring agents recognize their own college on your profile, it might be the extra leg up you need to at least get an interview.

So whether you are in college now, or contemplating a mid-career  advanced degree, remember the advantages of networking and use it as part of your job search. By the way my undergraduate degree is from Bucknell University in Pennsylvania and my MBA is from Dominican University in San Rafael, CA.

Post to Twitter

Unconscious Bias

September 24, 2014

Filed under: Coaching,Health,Management,observations,Wellness — Tags: , , , — admin @ 11:56 am

A lot has been written over the last year about steps Silicon Valley companies are taking to combat bias in hiring.

In case you missed it, over 70% of the workforce at many firms, is white and male. A recent NYT article details the problem and some proposed solutions.

But I think the issue is closer to most people’s homes than they realize. A recent example helps prove my point.

My ophthalmologist, is the mother of twins , a boy and a girl. I have been seeing her for almost 15 years so I’ve followed the normal trials and tribulations of parenting.

The children are now, at 15, starting to make choices about college and careers. At my last appointment the doctor said the young man had really applied himself and was looking forward to technology/science as a career and was looking at top tech schools.

When I asked about her daughter, the doctor said she found math and science “too hard,” adding,”all my friends just want to get Liberal Arts degrees.” The doctor’s response,”Well, OK, if that’s what you want.”

I was slightly appalled, and my expression must have revealed my thoughts, because she asked, “Do you think I should have pushed her more?”

We had a lengthy discussion, in between eye chart readings. But it made me wonder how many other subtle signals the little girl had received about avoiding math and science.

It’s no surprise the Silicon Valley workforce is overwhelmingly male, if even a professional women, in a field that certainly required some science (ophthalmology), wouldn’t even urge her daughter to consider science and math because they are “too hard.”

Maybe  a short visit with an unbiased career counselor/coach would help break through the peer pressure and produce a few more female engineers for the next great startup.

Post to Twitter

What Color IS your Parachute? – A Review

October 24, 2011

Dick Bolles, or Richard Nelson Bolles- as many folks know him, has been writing his ‘Parachute’ books on career development for 40 years. The latest edition of his signature series continues to be a must-read for anyone looking for a new career or the thousands of career specialists who have followed in Bolles’ footsteps.

You might think that, at 84, the internet or current events might have passed Bolles by, but his 2012 “What Color is My Parachute,’  is up-to date and filled with the same kind of useful information contained in the other 39 versions. In addition to the links I was particularly impressed with his comments about the Microsoft purchase of Skype and what it might mean for distance coaching.

You may not agree with everything he says or suggests, but he lays out sound guidance on everything from finding your mission to negotiating pay.

What you won’t find is any reference to parachutes or colors- a burden that Bolles has been saddled with, since the title of his book was first suggested. When I met Bolles recently he was careful to explain where the phrase came from – an offhand remark he once made about some Episcopal ministers who were going to be out of jobs soon – and that it really has no relationship to his lifelong work.

Bolles uses the tried and true techniques he discovered by accident 40 years ago and combines them now with web resources to create a modern tool for job hunting. His links and references, which are also available on his website, are well worth the price of the book.

They key component of his work is the self-inventory ‘Flower Exercise’ that he suggests everyone use to both define their job search and their skill set. The reality is that you don’t have to wait until you need to look for a job to use the exercise since  everyone should probably do this kind of self assessment on a regular basis.

Starting the search for a new job does not just occur when you are out of work but can happen any time.

Bolles writes in a simple, folksy style that is easy to understand  and very clear. There is no professional gibberish or double-speak that many professionals like to use. It’s just information, suggestions, strategies and real world common sense.

You may not use everything, but it can be a helpful foundation for self exploration as well as practical tips for interviewing and research. I have some issues with his suggestions for trying to research jobs by setting up informational interviews. I don’t think it’s as easy to do as he suggests but I would never suggest that you shouldn’t try.

Bolles, a former Episcopal minister, makes no secret of his faith and its role in his life and career. He makes no apologies, but tries to limit his faith-based approach to the ‘Pink Pages’ in the appendix but it doesn’t detract from his advice and the usefulness of the book.

Bolles also offers advice for career coaches. In fact it seems at times that his book is directed at coaches and not just the average job hunter. But in my mind that just makes it more useful. His suggestions for finding a coach are important no matter what side of the equation you are on.

One note: I bought the e-book version of the book and while it makes it much easier to get directly to the many links listed, it has made a mess of the charts and graphics. Having read other e-books I know this does not have to be the case, but it’s unfortunate. I hope it will corrected, but I plan to purchase a printed edition anyway.

In short, not matter what version you buy, read the book and you’ll be much closer to a successful career.

Post to Twitter

Finding a New Job-the Easy Way

September 19, 2011

Filed under: Coaching,Management,observations,Uncategorized — Tags: , , — admin @ 7:42 am

I met a woman over the weekend who is starting a new job. In today’s economy that’s probably enough news for a feature story.

Since I’ve done my share of career counseling, I thought I would just chat with her for a few minutes and get some hard evidence that the suggestions I give people, really work.

I asked what skills she had that were transferable. Both of the jobs involve working with the public, but in much different ways. In her old job she was the office manager in a cemetery. In the new job she would be a public safety dispatcher. Other than dealing with people under stress I couldn’t find much in common.

Well, I suggested, maybe your networking paid off and you knew someone at the new company. “No,” she said, “I just saw the job advertised and applied. It was much closer to my home.”

Well, you must have certainly analyzed the job market and picked a field with opportunity. “No,” she reported, “I just wanted to do something different.” The fact that her new job is in the public sector, and was actually hiring, was a shock to both of us.

I continued to pepper her with questions about interview techniques, networking and the color of her parachute – all the sorts of questions I was sure would lead to some insight on how she used some valuable tidbit that would prove my techniques work.

Nice try Mr. Professional – this woman did  it her way and it worked. She saw the job in the help wanted section, thought it would be interesting, applied, interviewed and was hired. Call the President, his new jobs bill is working!!

She was as amazed as me. She was just the right person, at the right time and she got the job. I guess that’s all you really need. Congratulations.

Post to Twitter