6 Ways to Position Yourself for Success in Your First 90 Days on the Job

Congratulations – you got the job! You searched, networked, applied, interviewed, and aced your way into a great new role. As anyone in the job market will tell you, you’ve done the hardest part. Now all that you need to do to succeed is to be awesome in that shiny new job – or at least not suck so much that you get yourself fired.

The first 90 days is an important time in the job cycle. It’s where you start building your reputation, your relationships, and your influence. It might seem superficial, but whatever you build up during that first 90 days is going to stick with you for a while. If you’ve done well, you’ll collect enough goodwill from your boss and co-workers to get you through a few rough times. If you’ve started off on the wrong foot, you’ll find yourself having to work twice as hard for twice as long to try to repair the damage that’s been done.

In most jobs, there are two keys to success.

  1. Can you actually do the job?
  2. Can you make your boss happy?

If you didn’t lie on your resume or in your interviews, the presumed answer to the first question is yes. The second one is often the more important, and always the more complex, of the two. So here are a few things that you can do to help ensure your success during that crucial first 90 days.

  • Be nice to EVERYONE. You’re in a new work situation, and you don’t know who’s friends with who, who are the influencers of opinion (especially your boss’ opinion), and who are the ones that you really want on your side. So err on the side of caution and treat everyone with respect. Don’t condescend, don’t belittle. Just be nice. You can never have too many friends. You have all the time in the world to pick sides. For now, pick EVERY side. Your boss will love when people come up and tell him/her how they just met you and they love you. And that love is very good for you.
  • Make the rounds. As you find out the people you’ll be working with on a regular basis, make sure that you take the time and make the effort to introduce yourself. When possible, schedule (or ask your boss to schedule) quick 15-minute meetings or even lunches to actually have a conversation and find out what makes them tick. You’d be amazed how far these initial meetings can go to solidify great working relationships for years to come.
  • Ask questions. During these introduction meetings, and as a general rule, ask lots of questions. Find out what and who makes things happen in your company. Get to know people’s happiness and frustration points. The insight that you gain from the answers will give you the beginnings of a great arsenal of tools for navigating any potentially slippery political or inter-personal situations down the road.
  • Take care of the easy things first. Most of the time, you’re not going to be expected to move heaven and earth in your first 90 days. When you’re given tasks, they’ll often be things that you can execute on quickly. Get them out of the way. Show your boss that you’re reliable and that you only need to be asked once. Stay on top of tasks however works for you – through technology, pen and paper, or your amazing photographic memory that used to impress everyone at parties. However you do it, do it.
  • Put yourself out there. Make sure that, as you’re getting the feel for what’s on your boss’  plate, you make a point to ask if you can help. Sometimes we forget that the boss has responsibilities, deliverables, and stress just like the rest of us. Treat him/her like a human being, and genuinely offer your assistance – even if it’s not something that’s in your job description. Start to solidify your place as the go-to person right off the bat.
  • Don’t over-commit. In the same vain, don’t try to be a superhero. You’re new. You’re learning. If you’re asked to do something, don’t give unrealistic timelines or say that you’ll do something that you’re not really ready for. Better to under-promise and over-deliver than the other way around. Your boss won’t mind that you don’t offer up super-human deadlines. S/he will mind when s/he has to explain to the top brass why a project wasn’t finished when you said it would be.

As Head & Shoulders used to say, “You never get a second chance to make a first impression.” And although I normally wouldn’t recommend that you take advice from a dandruff shampoo, in this case it just makes good sense.

Do you have a question you’d like to see answered on this site? Send an email to HR.Dave1@gmail.com.

Questions or comments about this topic? Please leave them below – it’s a conversation, not a lecture.

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Getting Social – Really Social – in your Job Search


I recently had the honor of speaking on a panel for graduates of Oxford University’s Said School of Business alongside two amazing co-panelists, Lindsey Pollak and James Alexander. The topic was “Social Media in the Job Search.” There was a ton of great conversation and insight, both from the panel and from the audience. One question that sparked a particularly engaging chat was this:

“How does Social Media fit into an overall job search strategy? How do you balance online and offline efforts?”

I love this question, and frankly I think it’s one that not enough people are talking about right now. There’s more information than you can shake a dead goat at about how to use Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook, blogging and every other online social tool to help yourself get a great job. But it’s starting to overshadow one basic premise that still holds true. Social Media isn’t going to get you a job. It could potentially help you make a connection that could get you an interview that could lead to a job. But once that connection is made, you’re not using social media anymore. At some point you have to unplug and be, you know, a person.

The fact is that once you land a job, you’re going to have to actually show up, talk to people face-to-face, and generally function in the physical world. The ability to do this, and to do it in a way that gels with your potential employer’s culture, is going to be of paramount importance in the decision of whether or not to hire you. In interviews, how you say things is as important as – and in some cases more important than – what you say. You may be brilliant when locked in a room by yourself, but if you can’t effectively communicate ideas, offer and accept feedback, and generally function in a social environment (as opposed to a “social” one), you’re dead in the water.

So what can you, the social media whiz and guru of all things digital, do to prepare for this cold, real world? The answer is simpler than you might think.

Mix it up a little.

The internet has made it almost ridiculously easy to identify, weigh, and pursue potential job opportunities. You can make your list of dream companies, follow companies, recruiters, and hiring managers on Twitter, LinkedIn and wherever else they’re hanging out, apply online (often directly with your LinkedIn or Facebook profile) and generally manage your search. The fact that it’s so easy has made a lot of people feel like experts, but the ease of online job search has also created a lot of “noise.” Recruiters are inundated with friend requests and messages through a variety of online tools, so no matter your mastery of the medium you’re not standing out from the crowd. If you really want to do something different, go old school. Pick up the phone. Go to an event. Talk to someone in real time.

If just broke out in a cold sweat reading that, don’t worry – you’re not alone. The thought of putting yourself out there in an actual, real-life situation is scarier for most people than the thought of typing your way to a great “personal brand.” But it shouldn’t be. Even though it can take a while to get comfortable just cold-calling a recruiter or introducing yourself at an industry function, let alone giving your “elevator pitch,” you should always remember the upside. Any potential mistakes you make off-line are not searchable. They’ll be just between you and whoever you’re talking to. And there’s something to be said for that. Besides, you probably did better than you think you did. And you definitely made more of an impression than the 10 LinkedIn messages that your competition sent while you were talking.

So don’t abandon all of your social/online strategy – I’m not saying that at all. There’s still a ton of value to be derived there. But take a break now and then and really engage. Call that contact on the phone to ask for an informational interview. Show up at a Meetup or other event taking place in your industry and area. In general, just start talking. Trust me – the more you do it, the easier it will get.

And by the time you find yourself in that interview, when it really matters, you’ll be ready to talk yourself right into that job.

 

Do you have a question you’d like to see answered on this site? Send an email to HR.Dave1@gmail.com.

Questions or comments about this topic? Please leave them below – it’s a conversation, not a lecture.

Poll: Social Media in Your Job Search – What’s Working for You?

Is it just me or does it seem like every day there’s a new social media tool coming out, or a new application of an existing social network, that promises to help you get a job? Across the web (and across the real life population as well, I assume) there are people touting the superiority of Linkedin, Twitter, Facebook, and every other option when it comes to helping you find a job. I have my own biases as to what’s been successful for me, both as a job seeker and as a recruiter, but I’m asking to hear your opinions. Let me know what’s worked for you, and please don’t be shy about commenting.

I’d love to hear where you’ve been spending your social job searching time, and how the various available avenues are paying off. Thanks for voting!

Your Personal Brand is Not Going to Get You a Job

I’m about to make a statement that’s going to ruffle some feathers. It’s not a great revelation; in fact it’s a statement that 10 years ago was a given. But times have changed, the information highway has taken over, and people are hungry for anything that appears to offer sound-bite answers to life’s toughest questions.

There is no such thing as a “personal brand.” That’s right, folks – you heard it here. I’m mounting a one-man campaign to take this term out of the vernacular. Will I be successful? Not on your life. But does that make me wrong? You be the judge.

There’s a debate raging in our Nation’s capital about whether business can be considered people. While this isn’t a political blog by any stretch, I don’t see how that’s even a debate. A business is not a person. And along the same line of thinking, a person is not a brand.

So what exactly is personal branding supposed to be? It’s how you present yourself in real life and online. Some of the basic criteria for what’s considered a “good” personal brand:

  • Real Life:
    • Well dressed
    • Groomed
    • Firm handshake
    • Well spoken
    • Not stinky
  • Online
    • Considerate
    • Giving
    • Engaging/Engaged
    • Intelligent
    • Relevant

Is it just me, or are these attributes nothing but basic protocol for being professional and successful? Depends on who you ask, apparently.

Taking the things we already know to do and wrapping an easy-to-digest-yet-slightly-intimidating term around them is, well, is just good business. If your personal reputation and activities now constitute a “brand” then isn’t it a no-brainer that you need a qualified professional to manage that brand, or at least to tell you how to manage it yourself? The boom of personal branding experts and coaches is a testament to that. It’s capitalism at its best, folks. Create a need; fill the need. What I’m saying is that just because the need has a name doesn’t mean that it’s anything different from what people have been doing since the beginning of time.

Should you be all of these things that make up your “brand?” Of course you should, but to think of it as branding is to already be disingenuous. If you’re branding, you’re not being you. If you’re putting up a false front in the interest of being a better brand, you’ve already lost.  Again, there’s nothing new in this branding concept except a ton of confusion and overwhelmed job seekers. Instead of thinking of your personal brand, think of not being an asshole. That tends to pay dividends.

So if your brand isn’t going to get you hired, what will? The same think that always has and always will. The right qualifications, the right cultural fit, and a bit of luck. Out of these three, you can control all of them. So do what you can to be in the right place at the right time. Apply to the jobs that you’re actually right for. Do your homework on the companies to see which ones you think are the best match for your values and personality. Ask your friends and acquaintances for favors that can help you to get in front of the right people, and offer assistance and favors without being asked.

Because which would you rather have people saying about you (this is the multiple choice part)?

“Marge is really great. Talented, driven, down to earth, giving, and not bad to look at.”

or

“Marge has a really great personal brand.”

I know which one I’d choose.

Do you think personal brands are for the birds? Do you think they’re awesome? Have no idea what I’m talking about? Leave a question or comment below or email me at hr.dave1@gmail.com and we’ll see if we can get it sorted out.

33,000 Career Experts Can’t Be Wrong(?)

I got an email the other day making the claim that “33,000 recruiters can’t be wrong.” The email wanted me to buy whatever it was that the company was selling (OK, the email didn’t want that. Emails are inanimate objects and don’t actually want anything. But I digress.) The first thought that popped into my head was “just how many recruiters are there, anyway?” As it turns out, I have no idea. I lost interest in the Google results long before I was able to make a real go at finding out. What I did uncover was that according to one person’s research, in 2009, there were over 1,000,000 recruiters registered on Linkedin. To my thinking, if there are one million recruiters slinking about then there must be at least a bajillion so-called career experts out there hawking their wares. The internet and social media have made it increasingly easy for anyone with a domain name and a dream to become an “expert” in his or her respective field. And while there are a lot of really smart people out there giving career advice, there are a definitely some others who, well, let’s just say there are some others.

Throughout the days after I received it, I became increasingly obsessed with the title of that little semi-spammy email. Just because a lot of people think the same thing doesn’t make them right, right? If we always went with the majority viewpoint minorities still wouldn’t have the right to vote, the Earth would still be flat, and the Backstreet Boys would still be together. No, friends, just because lots of people agree on something doesn’t mean it’s right. Especially for your career. With that in mind, here are three pieces of advice that at least 33,000 career experts (please don’t ask me to list them) agree on and that you can feel free to disregard.

  1. You’ll never get a job by traditional methods. This is utter fallacy, and the fact that so many out there are furthering this preposterous idea pains me. Physically. Like the splinter-under-your-fingernail kind of pain. Recruiters would love nothing more than to post a job and have a ton of qualified people apply. Do you know why? It means that they don’t have to spend as much time looking between the couch cushions for good candidates and can spend more time getting to know business needs, screening candidates, developing in-depth, job specific behavioral interview questions and generally adding more value to their organizations. So tomorrow, do a recruiter a favor. Apply online to a job that fits your qualifications.
  2. You need to stand out to get noticed in your job search. In my time as a recruiter and as a hiring manager I’ve gotten resumes on rainbow paper, thank-you card envelopes filled with glitter, a shoe, a magic 8-ball and more gimmicks than I can shake a stick at. Some of them were interesting; some of them were obnoxious (think glitter.) But none of them have gotten anyone a job. Know what gets you a job? The right qualifications, good presentation skills, and timing. Period. If you can articulate the right information in writing and in person, have a little bit of luck, and are actually one of the best qualified people for the job, you have a great chance of landing it.
  3. The resume is dead. Poppycock. Horse feathers. Nonsense. Every day someone new is trying to live out his or her get-rich-quick scheme by telling you that the resume is out-dated and instead you should make a video/social/virtual resume, a visual CV, an infographic, whatever. Well I have news, folks. The resume is alive and well, and won’t be replaced any time soon with any other product. That’s right – you heard it here. That said, in certain cases it makes sense to supplement your resume with other materials – if you’re a marketing pro, you might want to put together a marketing pitch about hiring you. If you’re a video producer, go ahead and put together a sizzle reel. If you’re a designer, make something cool that speaks to your unique awesomeness. But if you’re not in a creative field and you don’t want to be the butt of a long-running joke between the recruiter and hiring manager, don’t get too cute. People in the recruitment process want resumes. Give the people what they want.

Disclaimer #1: Just because these statements don’t hold true for the vast majority of us doesn’t mean that they’re for everyone. If you think you’re in the minority and that these gems don’t apply to you, drop me a line and I’ll tell you if I agree.

Disclaimer #2: I absolutely include myself in the “domain name and a dream” category. Keep this in mind when you’re deciding whether I’m full of it: I’m not a professional career expert or coach, so I don’t have a thing to sell you. I’m just a guy with a pretty good track record in HR, Recruitment and Management who likes to write. Nobody can decide what’s best for you, because in the end you’re the one who’s responsible for the decisions you make, the career you pursue, and the glitter with which you stuff the envelope.

Have you gotten bad career advice? Good advice? Advice that has you at a loss over whether it’s good or it sucks? Leave a comment below or email me at hr.dave1@gmail.com and we’ll see if we can get it sorted out.

Don’t Phone In Your Next Phone Interview

You know that feeling when you walk into a great restaurant and you get the first whiff of intermingling smells coming from the kitchen and from the plates of various satisfied diners? You know how hungry that can make you, how it makes you want to dive into a big plate of whatever even before you’ve seen or tasted the food for yourself? Now switch gears with me and come to a darker place. The greasy spoon that you went into because it was the only thing open at 3 in the morning. That unique and unmistakable mix of smoke, week-old bacon grease, cleaning products and cheap perfume that made you turn right around and walk out even though you hadn’t eaten in days.

In both of these situations you’re making a decision about the food even though you haven’t seen or tasted it. Do you see where I’m going with this? Yes! It’s the same decision that recruiters and hiring managers are making about job candidates after a phone interview. They’re deciding whether you have the right skills and are the right fit for the job, sight unseen. They’ll either be hungry for more, or they’ll be reaching for the Pepto, and it’s all up to you which one it is.

Since the internet has made it ridiculously easy for job seekers to find and apply to jobs, and as job seekers are getting more and more savvy about finding ways to get their resumes seen, companies are increasingly relying on phone interviews to try to shrink the field of qualified candidates into a manageable number. This means that if you’re looking for a job, the likelihood that you’ll have to impress someone over the phone is pretty high. And the last thing you want to do is to not be ready.

Luckily for you, phone interviews offer you, the candidate, some real advantages that in-person interviews don’t. Namely, you get to have your notes, talking points, and cheat sheets out in the open and you can refer to them as much as you want to. It’s like an open-book test in school. You have no excuse not to ace this. Here are the main points you’ll need to make sure you have covered.

  1. Make sure your interview is scheduled for a time that you’ll be able to talk. This means that you won’t have to rush back to work, pick up your aunt, walk the dog, or anything else. If the conversation goes over its allotted time, that’s a good thing. Don’t be the one who has to end the call.
  2. Arrange to be in a good place to take the call. This could be your bedroom, a conference room, your car, or anywhere else that you can be alone and that’s quiet. It should not be the local coffee shop, the bus, or walking down the street. Avoid places with loud people, barking dogs, sirens, or other distractions.
  3. Put together your list of talking points. Do this by going over your resume and writing out the specific accomplishments or highlights that you want to talk about. Write an outline of your story of how you achieved 150% of quota, how you reduced costs by 30%, how you single-handedly saved your company from ruin. Having this cheat sheet will keep you from having to remember details on the spot, and will give you a list of topics that you should be able to use to answer a multitude of interview questions.
  4. Write out your answers to those questions you know you’ll hear: What are your weaknesses? When did you have a challenge at work that you had to overcome? Where do you see yourself in 5 years? When I say to write them out, I mean bullet points or outline form – don’t write a full script or else you’ll find yourself reading from it. You want to be prepared, but you still want to sound fresh, not like you’re reading the words off of a page.
  5. Print out a copy of your resume, so that you can refer to it. If you’re asked about anything specific that’s on it, it’s helpful to be able to actually see what your interviewer is talking about.
  6. CHARGE YOUR CELL PHONE. Of course if you can use a land-line, that’s preferable (much lower chance for dropped calls, bad signal, etc.) but many times mobile is your only option.

And now you’ve prepared. When the time rolls around for your phone interview, treat it like any other interview. Dress nicely (even though nobody will see you), pre-caffeinate if you need to (don’t eat or drinking during the interview – they can hear that), arrive 5 minutes early (so that you can get settled and lay out your materials), and mentally prepare. I’ve always found it helpful to stand during phone interviews – it can help you convey more energy in your voice than if you were relaxing in a chair. And the last thing to remember for your phone interview is to SMILE. Yes, you may feel like an idiot smiling to nobody. But it will come across in your voice – you’ll sound more pleasant and more engaging if you have a smile on your face. It’s a proven fact. I think.

Keep in mind that if you follow these steps you may not move on to an in-person interview or whatever the next round is. No matter how prepared you are you could still let nerves get the best of you, or you could just not be the right person for the job. But the more prepared you are, the easier it will get, and the better you’ll be positioned to really nail it. If you nail the phone interview, you come off smelling great. And the better you smell, the hungrier that potential employer will be to dig in. So be the feast, people. Be the feast.

Bon appetít.

How To Ask For a Raise – And How Not To

I shall now tell you your desire. Wait, don’t say it… I can get this…

You want a raise!

Know how I knew that? Because everyone wants a raise. You’re about as unique in this desire as you are in liking cake. So now that the cat’s out of the bag and we all know that I’m no psychic, what shall we do about getting you this raise that you seek? When it comes to milking more money out of your employer, there’s sadly no magic bullet. We’re at the mercy of budgets, emotions, parity, revenue forecasts, the economy, and a host of other factors.

Mostly, there are three things that are going to influence whether you get a raise. Before I get into what those things are, let’s take a minute to talk about what will NOT be factors. Just to be clear – this list is of things not to bring up when you’re asking for more money. Ever.

  1. What you need. Honestly, as much as I care from a human perspective about your kids’ college fund, your sick parents, your student loans and the new home you just moved into, from a management perspective I couldn’t care less. You’re not going to see more money because you have more outside obligations, distractions, and questionable spending choices. Your ability to get a raise is about how much your employer needs you, not how much you need money.
  2. How much your co-worker makes. If your co-worker makes more money than you do for the same job, chances are that at least one of two things is true. Either s/he is a better negotiator than you, or s/he adds more perceived value to the company than you do. Either way, don’t bring it up. It may in fact be true that you’re underpaid compared to cubicle-dweller next door, but if you use that as a bargaining tactic it will fail. The only thing you’ll succeed in doing is making yourself look like a child.
  3. How long you’ve been there. Because in case you’re not doing an amazing job, the last thing you want to do is to remind your boss just how long you’ve been scraping by. And besides, we’re not paid for loyalty. We’re paid to produce.

So that’s what not to talk about when asking for a raise. But with that in mind what, exactly, should that conversation be about? Well I’m here to tell you. I’ve been involved in this conversation from every vantage point – I’ve asked for raises, I’ve been asked for raises, I’ve coached people on how to ask for raises, I’ve coached managers on how to respond to people asking for raises – so I’ve seen this work and I’ve seen it fail disastrously. The difference is usually preparation.

  • First, think about your timing. Is the company experiencing layoffs? Is your boss stressed about his/her budget? Are share values in your company dropping faster than really fast-dropping things? If so, do everyone a favor and hold off. You’ll do yourself more harm than good by asking.
  • Second, make an appointment to speak to your boss. Don’t try to catch him/her on the fly; don’t grab him/her coming out of the bathroom or the elevator. Get on the calendar. This is a serious conversation with serious potential outcomes. Treat it with respect.
  • Third, know your case before you start. Just like in a job interview or a presidential debate, you need to have your talking points in order. Trying to do this on the fly is not your ideal strategy.
  • Fourth, know what you’re asking for – have that number in mind that you think is a fair compensation for what you bring to the table.
  • Last, know what you’re prepared to do if the answer comes back negative. Are you making a request or an ultimatum? Are you prepared to stay and continue to give 100% if you don’t get what you’re asking for, or are you prepared to start looking for your next job?

As we’ve gone over, when asking for a raise there is a multitude of things not to talk about (I only listed three, but the list can easily be expanded to include such topics as your new haircut, Coke vs. Pepsi, and what you dug out from between your teeth last night), but there is only one thing that you should in fact talk about. That thing is simply why you deserve more money. Not why do you want it, but why should you get it. What have you done to earn it? Have you taken on additional responsibilities outside the scope of your job description? Have you had some great wins that resulted in the company making and/or saving money? Have you consistently been recognized for outstanding performance? Have you become the resident expert in your field? Is the company truly better off for having you there?

That’s it. There’s nothing else to discuss. It’s easy to sell what you’re going to do, what you plan on over the next year. But you’re not being paid for the future – you’re being paid for what you’ve done, not what you may or may not do later. Highlight your successes, the ways in which you’re irreplaceable, the ways and times that you’ve made your boss’ life easier. Can’t think of any? Then you might want to think twice about asking for a raise. Because at the end of the day, all of us employees are products, and we’re all subject to the same principles of supply and demand. Would you pay more for the same quality product or service if you don’t have to? Neither would your employer. Keep that in mind when you’re building your case.

If you follow these guidelines, you are absolutely, positively 100% NOT guaranteed to get a raise. But if you’ve done a good job of requesting one, you’re very likely to have at least gained some additional respect in the eyes of your boss and to have started the wheels turning for the next time there’s money to spend.