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Tag Archives: Career

How Pushy Should My Thank-You Note Be?

11 Oct

A reader writes:

I interviewed for a job with a company I used to work for. I know many people still at the company & am friends with the VP who interviewed me. Yesterday she emailed saying I did not have the typical experience that they’re looking for and thus the higher-ups in corporate would not accept my candidacy.

 Question: Should I write her a letter/email explaining why I am better than some average candidate just because their resume has the traditional boxes checked off? Or does that seem desperate somehow?

 

In typical HR fashion, I’m going to say “it depends.”

On one hand, it’s natural and expected to follow up an interview with a concise pitch for why you’re interested in, and perfect for, the job. That said, you’ve already received feedback that you won’t be seriously considered for the role. Whether you should continue to make a play for the job depends largely on your relationship with the VP who interviewed you. If you think she’s a fan of yours and might go to bat for you given the right information and tools then you should definitely give it a shot. Maybe she just needs to see the indisputable facts and arguments for why you’re the perfect fit for the job – all spelled out before her. If you think this is the case, do it. Write that note and make your case.

If, on the other hand, the VP isn’t likely to make the case for you with the rest of the management team, it’s a different story. If she either isn’t necessarily a huge fan and won’t stick her neck out for you, or if she just doesn’t have the sway or decision making power to influence the original assessment of your candidacy, then it’s probably a waste of time to try to re-sell yourself after being initially rejected for the role. If this is the case, a well-crafted thank you note would be a better option. One that lets her know how you appreciate being considered initially even if you are an “out of the box” candidate, and expressing an interest in exploring other appropriate jobs with the company. 

If she’s a fan of yours, it can’t hurt to make one more effort to see if she’ll stick up for you with the bigwigs. If you don’t think she can or will affect any kind of change of opinion when it comes to you, it can come off as a bit out of line, if not desperate.  So I can’t tell you what to do with this one, but if your relationship with this VP is one that you want to continue to nurture then let that be your guide on what to do. Put yourself in her shoes and figure out what you’d want if your situations were reversed.

I’d love to hear your thoughts on this. Would you try to re-sell yourself or would you write it off as a done deal? Please leave comments below.

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The Player-Coach Phenomenon

11 Sep

When reading job descriptions, I’m sure you’ve come across the term “player-coach” more than once. It’s a designation that employers use for positions that have management authority but are also expected to get their hands dirty on some day-to-day work. Seems reasonable, right? Especially when you’re talking about the junior-management levels where employees are in a team lead role, mentoring and managing others, but still doing the job themselves.

One thing that I find interesting about the term “player-coach” is that although it’s obviously based in sports it’s not something that I’ve EVER seen on an actual sports team. In sports, you’re either a player or a coach. Going back to my earliest sports memories – from toddler soccer leagues to little league baseball to high school football – we had players and we had coaches. But we never had a player-coach.

Businesses, however, have adopted a very different mentality. They have fully embraced the idea of a manager who isn’t too managerial to roll up his/her sleeves, and a front-line worker who is capable of thinking strategically. Two birds with one stone! Or more specifically, two jobs with one salary.

This hybrid role can be a great opportunity for employees and employers alike, but it’s not without its challenges. In its best format, it’s a way for star individual contributors to move into management without completely being removed from their comfort zones. It gives them a chance to lead by example, to grow into role models, and to develop their management style all while still getting to work in the area of their greatest strength. At the same time, the employer gets to bring a superstar into management ranks and mold him/her in the company’s image, while not overpaying for a more experienced manager if that’s not what they need. In this situation it’s a great arrangement for both the employee and the company, but lately I’m seeing more and more examples where the player-coach position is not being used quite as effectively.

As companies are bouncing back from recent recession woes, they are starting to hire and organize staff with the intention of doing more with less. Especially in small and mid-sized companies, executive level positions are being asked to pitch in at the line level, and junior and mid-level managers are being given increasing responsibility and autonomy – regardless of whether they’re ready for it. This can present problems for both parties – companies are having a harder time finding the right talent, and employees are having a harder time succeeding in these roles. It’s very tempting for employers to hire too senior or too junior for the role they need to fill, and both have serious risks. Going too senior, you risk making a hire that is not going to remain engaged and effective in the line-level work and will either leave for greener pastures or under-perform. If you hire too junior you run the risk of giving your new hire decision making authority and autonomy that s/he’s not ready for, which can lead to poor strategic decisions and a loss of morale – both of which can have serious negative effects on the overall organization.

So what’s a company to do? First and foremost, be honest and upfront. If you’re hiring for a player-coach role, emphasize and stress the nature of the role to your candidates. If someone seems too senior or managerial, dig deeply in your interviews to find out if they really are. Then go with your gut. Even though a candidate might seem perfect “if only there was less execution involved” then don’t make the hire. These roles should be a stretch for the person you’re hiring, but an achievable one. In today’s job market, lots of candidates are making compromises to find a solid job with a solid company. But these same employees will jump ship at the first opportunity for more of a “real” management job.

And if you’re a job seeker, how do you navigate this territory? First, be honest with yourself. If a job seems like a step down, or feels too junior for you, don’t take it just because it’s a job. There will be more. And wouldn’t you rather wait for the next one than spend the rest of your career explaining your bad choice? Conversely, if you’re more of a player than a coach, be realistic about how much of a stretch is appropriate for you. Never managed a budget before? Then that multi-million dollar one in the job description might not be for you.

For recruiters, hiring managers, and job seekers – ask questions. In the interview; after the interview; throughout the entire process. Make sure that you know what you’re getting into, and that it’s the right thing for you. Too many bad hires are made because of wishful thinking instead of thorough investigation.

The role of the player-coach might be right for you, but “might be” isn’t enough. Know for sure before making a decision you might regret.

More Ways to Not Be an Idiot

7 Sep

I recently read an article by Jennifer King of Software Advice (which I am in no way affiliated with nor endorsing) entitled (in typical SEO optimized format) Job Seeker, Beware: 5 Ways You Could Damage your Reputation Online. The article isn’t breaking any new ground, as there are daily entries into the “don’t be an idiot” collection of articles and blog posts. But I’ve chosen to highlight this one because I think it clearly and concisely illustrates its point and, frankly, this stuff just can’t be overstated.

The five ways are:

  1. Polarizing Email Signatures – because not everyone wants to “have a blessed day” and not everyone finds your kissy-face emoticon as charming as you do.
  2. Fishy LinkedIn Recommendations – because we can tell when they’re made up, and not having them at all is better than having a load of crap.
  3. Friends, Followers and Connections That Don’t Line Up – because sometimes it’s about the company you keep. And if you’re not going to “network” on your social networks you’re probably better off not being there at all.
  4. Inconsistent and Out-of-Date Profile Info – because if your information isn’t consistent I’ll have to assume that you’re lying somewhere.
  5. Unflattering Posts on Others’ Sites – because not only should you not be an idiot, but you should also not be an asshole. These things have a tendency to follow you around.

To read the original article and to see these points illustrated with a bit more tact than I’ve illustrated here, check it out. It’s a nice read. And we can all use these reminders every once in a while.

Changing Careers – Where Do I Start?

6 Aug

A reader writes:

Hello Dave,
Since graduating college four years ago, I have worked as an aide for a state legislator. My duties primarily include casework, reviewing bills, letter/press release writing, and general administrative work. As time goes on, I am increasingly learning the public sector is not where I want to be. For the past year, I have been looking to change careers. I have been applying for analyst and human resource positions within various industries, primarily in finance and media, because I find those fields interesting.

My question is – how do I get my foot in the door with an industry I do not have any direct experience in? I feel my skill set qualifies me for many of these entry or second level positions, but am not getting the response I’m hoping for. How do I get HR people to notice me?

Thanks for reaching out. Your question is a tough one, and one that people in a variety of fields are struggling with. Unfortunately there’s no easy answer – the kind of career shift that you’re looking for tends to rely on luck (being in the right place at the right time.) Fortunately, there are ways to create your own luck to give yourself the best shot at success.

  1. Make sure that you’re not just spraying your one resume format out to every junior-level HR job you see. That’s the kiss of death. Make sure that the jobs you’re applying for have some relation to your skills, and make sure that you’re highlighting those relations on the customized resume that you’re sending to each one.
  2. Network. I know that it can be a scary word, but when you break it down it’s really not that bad. Do some research on LinkedIn or individual company directories, and find a handful of people who are doing the jobs that you want to do in your area. Email them, explain your situation (just like you did with me) and ask them if they’d be up for a brief meeting so that you can get some more insight into their industry, background and career path. Offer to buy them a cup of coffee at a local place, or to meet with them at their place of business if that’s more convenient. These networking meetings accomplish two things – they give you access to information that could help you get the job you want, and they get you on the radar of the people who are doing what you want to do. If one of these people gets promoted or leaves a job, wouldn’t it be great if they said “hey – I know someone really smart and insightful who would be great for my replacement”?
  3. Explore temporary work. Register with some temp agencies in your area, and when you meet with the recruiter tell him/her what you’re looking for. They just might have some temp assignments for you in an entry level or admin role within an HR department. If they do, this is your big chance to make a great impression. When on a temp assignment, take the time to get to know the people around you a little bit. Always try to go above and beyond, and make sure that you’re not shy about expressing your interest in the field. I owe my career to a temp assignment that I had when I was ready to transition out of acting and into the corporate world, so I can say with absolute certainly that this can be a successful means to an end.

Are any of these guaranteed to get you where you want to be? Of course not. But there are no guarantees in life, so these are as good are you’re going to get (at least from me.) I’ve always been a firm believer in two things: roll with the punches and create your own luck. If you’re smart, diligent, and if you’re the kind of person that others genuinely want to work with, the opportunities will come in time. Just make sure that you’re stacking the deck in your favor.

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.

Because a Gazillion Facebook Users Can’t Be Wrong

3 Jul

Hey folks! In the interest of creating a forum that’s more conducive to conversation, I’ve decided to join the magical world of Facebook with the official HR Dave page. It’s there for asking questions, sharing insight, and generally having a real dialogue about job search and careers. Check out the page at http://www.facebook.com/hrdave1. I hope you’ll join us there. Thanks, as always, for reading.

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

11 Jun

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.

Getting Social – Really Social – in your Job Search

5 Jun


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.

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