Tag Archives: Job Advice

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.

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.

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.

Your Personal Brand is Not Going to Get You a Job

31 Jan

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(?)

24 Jan

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

25 Oct

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.

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