Monday, October 17, 2016

Act in Your Own Best Interest

When you search for a job and subsequently interview, you’re supposed to ask questions. Although increasingly, I find that people have a reluctance to do so and they somehow imagine a good resume is all that is necessary and somehow everything else will fall into place and take care of itself.
There are five basic types of questions: Factual, Convergent, Divergent, Evaluative and Combination. But let’s keep things simple, for our purposes I’m only concerned with open-ended and close-ended questions. Consciously knowing the difference and learning when to use one or another can help you, regardless of whether you are being asked, or you are the one asking the questions.
Open-ended questions require an explanation. Open-ended questions are like the name says: they are open-ended requiring explanation that will help to gain more insight or better understanding. Let’s say for example, I want to engage a person in conversation that has no real reason to speak with me, and I ask, “Are you interested in considering a new job opportunity?” Their reply is possibly going to be “no”. That was a close-ended question. If I wanted to learn more about him, I might have instead inquired, “Tell me what kind of job would appeal to you?” That was an open-ended question requiring a more thoughtful response resulting in more information.
A close-ended question is one that elicits a simple yes or no answer. If you ask a lot of close-ended questions you will not get a lot of information and the conversation will not go far. By the very nature of this kind of question, it’s not meant to. When you watch television and see a courtroom drama, you will notice a lawyer will ask someone on the witness stand a close-ended question when they might say “Did you or did you not see who killed your neighbor?” The intention is to limit the witness’ response to a yes or no and cutting off and preventing any discussion. He doesn’t want details and the lawyer has steered the question and answer process to serve his intention.
Determine, according to what will benefit you most, when to employ an open-ended or a close-ended question. When you want a black and white answer or a clear decision ask a close-ended question. When you want to keep the dialogue alive and extract more information, with which to make a better decision and prove yourself worthy of another interview, ask engaging open-ended questions. Conversely, learn to recognize when these methods are being used on you. Interviews are never meant to be, nor should they be, one-sided. I am not exaggerating when I say most people with whom you are competing in the job market are like zombies, simply going through the motions.
When sitting in front of a hiring official, their behavior is almost entirely reactive. I can assure you it doesn’t take much to set yourself apart from others, and it’s much easier than you think to make real impact. In the end they may not choose you, as there are never any guarantees but, take some initiative so when you walk out that door, unlike most others who’ll be forgotten five minutes later, you’ll have made an impact they’ll remember.

Sunday, October 2, 2016

Stand Apart, Stand Out

How does one exude self-confidence without appearing arrogant or conceited? It’s simple really, but first let’s put it into context. When you attend a first real interview, I’m not talking about a telephone screening or a cattle-call and assembly-line assessment center. Instead, the first real interview when the purpose for the meeting is to consider you for whatever role you’ve applied. During the interview you will be asked, “…tell me about yourself.” We’re not going to talk about how to present yourself, that’s a whole other subject unto itself. I want to focus instead on what to share when presenting yourself, your experience and qualifications.
I’m an American living and working in Europe, I have 25 years of experience as a recruiter on two continents. I recognize there are cultural differences that influence people but that should not matter as the world and especially business is more inter-connected than ever. Interview an American and, on average, they have no problem telling you about themselves and their accomplishments. Europeans are less open and I have run into many who regard such self-portraits akin to self-promotion, as if it is a bad thing when interviewing for a new job. Regardless of from where a person is, there are a lot of people who are shy or reticent to talk about themselves and their career accomplishments. 
When you interview, you’ve got to tell the interviewer not only about what your responsibilities and qualifications are, but key to your candidacy is what you’ve accomplished with your qualifications; how did you handle your responsibilities? Did you rise to any challenges and what are some examples? If you don’t tell them, how will they know? Many think if it’s on their resume a hiring official will see it, but that’s a weak excuse and oh yeah, do you know when most interviewers review your resume? Too often it’s about 5 minutes before they shake your hand at the start of the meeting. The reality is that it’s up to you to get them to wake up and take notice of you; to show how you stand apart from others seeking the same job. It’s ultimately on you to demonstrate why you are the best person for the job compared to everyone else. Or are you like most people who mistakenly hope a piece of paper will do it for you?
Ask yourself, what are the things you’ve done and are most proud of? This is a good place to start. First, any successes or accomplishments you would share with an interviewer should be directly related to a current or past job position. Second, it must be somehow verifiable, you’ve got to be able to prove anything you point to with documentation of some kind or be able to produce a reference of someone willing to back up your claim. Documentation can be a performance review, a company news letter, an award, a company stack ranking list related to office, district, region, etc., listing your standing compared with others, such as what most salespeople receive on a regular periodic basis. It could be a press release within which you are noted or listed or a certificate of accomplishment. Whatever it is, you’ve got to be able to prove your claim if asked.
Then work on it, write it down, refine it, and rehearse it. Be able to speak with confidence and with some brevity. Condense the information down to brief but impactful points about which you can elaborate if asked. While most others are only parroting what’s on their resume, you’ll be talking past the piece of paper, relating to them what you’ve actually done.  


Sunday, September 18, 2016

A Hard Worker - With Pre-Conditions

I am in contact on a regular basis with many very well-qualified and dedicated people who want to pursue good jobs and, lately, the job market is improving and some sectors are doing rather well and experiencing growth. I have client companies with needs for everything from receptionists to senior management with a lot in-between. So you’d think people are snapping up jobs left and right. Yet I talk to many, who are frustrated they can’t get beyond the 1st or 2nd interview. Meanwhile I have hiring managers who lament they can’t find the right people to hire. So what’s wrong; where’s the disconnect? 
Well, the problem often stems from the candidate / applicant side in too many situations. Here’s what is happening: an applicant goes to the interview, they like what they hear about the job and they begin to demonstrate they are good and worthy candidates. For their part, the hiring managers like what they hear and see but then they start listening to the pre-conditions, often during the very first meeting. 
I am not new to this business; I recognize many people want a work-life balance, but it verges on the ridiculous, especially when young people, who have little or no experience, start asking how long they’ll have to work each day. Or, someone declares when they must pick up their children, at odds with the standard job description of potential work responsibilities. Many times they disqualify themselves from further consideration with demands so beyond the pale it is as if each potential employee wants a customized schedule and work conditions tailored just for them. I know hiring managers who are very frustrated and tell me they can’t find anyone willing to work. 
Sometimes the demands are reasonable and the issue may not be what you are asking for but, rather, how you’re asking or more likely you’re asking prematurely because, frankly, a growing number of people possess underdeveloped communication skills. But here it is in a nutshell; before and until you demonstrate your value to them, until such time as they identify you as someone they have more interest in than others, seeking the same job making any demands is pointless and only diminishes your chances. Get through the first interview with a goal of securing the 2nd interview as best as you can. Show them why you’re their best choice thereby increasing your stock value. Then, you can discuss your needs and possibly get some of your wants.


Monday, September 5, 2016

The Art of Asking Questions

When you are engaged in an interview process, far too many people sit mute and do little on their own behalf. Reciprocal dialogue is part of the process but, to do so effectively, requires the ability to effectively communicate. It is an interactive event and there is an aspect of self-interest in that it is incumbent upon you to make a thoughtful effort to gain the most information possible, in order to make an informed decision by the end of the process. 
To do this you’re supposed to also be asking some questions and, if you do well enough, your interview becomes a negotiation that can lead to a job offer, with a mutually beneficial outcome for both sides. It may sound complex but it isn’t. 
We live in a period when individuals don’t really communicate, regardless of all the means available to us. Dialogue between people has been reduced to a hashtag and 140 characters or an Emoji to express our feelings, because actually communicating has become too cumbersome, requiring too much effort for many.   
Furthermore, you need more than a single clever question and far more than a clever rehearsed answer or two, if you are going to shine. Being memorable is not the goal; however, being remembered well, is. Doing just enough to get by is not sufficient and will not win the day for you. Yet, that is what most people are doing.
If you’re not a good communicator, become one. Better communication skills can help you sweep aside others seeking the same job – even some of those who might be better qualified. It is a worthy effort. 
Think of the questions you will ask, instead of saying something painfully obvious, such as, “…how late will I have to work?” Use a set-up that is general but requires more than a yes or no answer, like, “…Can you describe for me a typical day in this role?” That will get you some helpful info, but that’s just the set-up. Depending on how they respond, then follow-up to extract more pertinent info. I can imagine another 4 or 5 questions so that by the time you’re done you will learn that which you need. Most interviewers are also simply going through the motions – they have a list of routine questions, especially during the first interview and they are not going to give you details unless you ask. This is where most interviewees, in my opinion, falter – not just for their own purposes but also in the eyes of a hiring manager.
Asking good questions is how you learn about a job opportunity, the company, as well as the person to whom you may both work and report. Failure to probe for this information is a dereliction of your duty as an applicant / interviewee. 
If you don’t think ahead and take charge of your own fate in order to empower yourself, do you think anyone is going to do that for you, much less care? It falls to you to act in your own best interest. This, and being able to communicate effectively, is the only way it’s going to happen.

Sunday, August 21, 2016

The Root of the Problem

Understandably, most people don’t consider the things I write about until such time as they need a job; ironically, it is my job. But I highly suggest you share this article with others you know, whether they find themselves in need of this less-than-desirable exercise now or sometime in the future, which for most of us is inevitable.
I hear over and over two things: there aren’t any jobs or I can’t find any jobs. But after twenty-five years in the business and, increasingly the last ten years, I’ll tell you something you won’t like to hear – you’re not trying or at the very least trying hard enough. Now before you want to kill the messenger, hear me out.
Patience and perseverance are what’s missing, as well as innovation -- by today’s standards at least. Yep, it’s true in most situations. 
I hear from people telling me they’ve (digitally) sent out 100 resumes, big whoop, I’ll bet that wore you out. Then I ask them, on how many of those did you follow up? The answer is usually, none. Without going into detail and, I do write about it all the time, if all you’re doing is reviewing the jobs posted online you’re doing yourself a disservice and barely scratching the surface.
Then let’s consider the interview. No one likes to interview per se; some may think they are pretty good at it, but it’s not as if it’s a hobby people enjoy and seek out. Nope, we interview only when we must and for most it’s half-heartedly at best. Here again, most people spend the precious limited time they have during the interview reacting to what is asked of them. Do you have any questions prepared when you arrive at the interview, are you being interactive and engaging them, and proactively posing questions important to you during that brief event? And have you made an actual effort to impose the impression they should invite you back – did you literally ask for the job, or at the very least to be advanced to the next step? How do they know if you are as much or more interested than everyone else, are you doing anything that would leave no shadow of a doubt? I am betting you’re not – or at the very least you’re not doing enough and, most likely, the very least that is required of you. 
That’s a pretty damning commentary, isn’t it? But it doesn’t have to be. Along with the conveniences of the digital age we’ve lost a lot of our own abilities to help ourselves. Furthermore, we’ve succumbed to the instant gratification provided us in so many things we have taken for granted, much less forgotten. Therefore, we’re no longer patient and if someone doesn’t reply back to our resume sent to a faceless inbox, we get frustrated and give up. When we interview, we bump along asking only that which is asked of us by those who aren’t very good themselves at evaluating people, and wonder why no one called back. 
Instead of treating a job search like a chore or a pastime you do when you’d rather be doing something else – I suggest you treat it as though your livelihood depends on it, because it does. Here are tons of things you can do to improve and enhance your efforts and abilities on this topic. Frankly, I have people regularly contacting me to thank me for my advice. For example: a key question that worked, helping them either to advance or get the job. Check my Blog archives, which date back to October 2012. Last but not least in a shameless act of self-promotion, the updated and streamlined 2nd edition of my handbook will be reposted for sale again soon. Get it so you don’t have to dig through the archives.

Sunday, August 7, 2016

A Super-Charged Interview Performance

I speak to a LOT of people and, when I question them about their interview skills, they are most often very self-assured. They tell me with a hint of condescension, “oh, Michael I know what to do thank you very much”. Then, when it comes time to interview - they choke. Most often people sit before hiring managers and they dutifully answer questions and, when prompted, they obediently recite the lines from their resume almost word-for-word, which the hiring managers already have in front of them. They possess no real negotiation skills, much less closing skills, so they are completely at the mercy of the interviewer. But according to them, they know what they are doing. What they fail to do, is to place themselves on a relatively equal (professional) footing with the person they’re meeting. They fail to engage in a business conversation and, instead, allow themselves to be interrogated so that what follows can hardly be called an interview. 
Developing and possessing good interview skills, going beyond describing what you do and have done, citing examples anecdotally sets you apart from most others, who only show up intending to answer questions. Having the ability to influence the interview, in order to present yourself in the most optimal manner possible, is what you should be and could be doing. Consciously employing open and close-ended questions to get the info you need and following up with a pre-close or closing question will set you worlds apart from others seeking the same job. In actuality, most people are content with crossing their fingers and hoping to get through the event without looking or feeling foolish. This is not goal-oriented nor a winning strategy, but that’s what most people do.
I can tell you from 25 years of experience that someone who is a good interviewer, able to multi-task in the manner I described above - even if they lack in one area or another, will outshine another person who might be slightly more qualified but sits like a bump on a log, responding only when prompted.
Interpersonal communication and soft-skills of a growing number of people are woefully inadequate. A few years ago I wrote a handbook that is a step-by-step guide, instructing job seekers and interviewers everything they don’t know. I removed it from Amazon, while I updated and added to it even more horsepower. The newer 2nd edition is complete and it will be available again within the next couple of weeks on If you think you know everything -- great, then you don’t need any help and good luck. But if you want to know what I know after a quarter century of work as a close-in, hands-on headhunter, who advises both hiring managers and job seekers at all levels- you’d be wise to give it a look. I’ll announce very soon when it is again available.

Wednesday, August 3, 2016

About Discrimination

I was recently asked by a reader about my thoughts on discrimination and what one can do about it.
We do unfortunately live in a world where people make snap judgments about others, casting aspersions and thereby exposing their own insecurities. But discrimination goes much further than the most noticeable discrimination, that of racism. There is no end to what could be termed discriminatory but it all comes down to assumptions made by some about others. Sometimes a person discriminates according to one’s own personal experiences but most often it is based upon pure assumption, as it is easier to generalize than it is to apply scrutiny on an individual basis. By no means am I justifying any kind of discrimination but, instead trying to put it into some kind of perspective. I think it’s counter-productive to dwell too much on the topic; we are all discriminated against in one way or another. It is the darker side of human nature but it is a part of us nonetheless. 
People discriminate for many reasons and one that stands out in the workplace is according to gender. Childbearing years and maternity leaves are one reason women are discriminated against. Sure, I’ve experienced hiring managers suggesting I recruit and select male candidates rather than females. I always respond that I will select and send them the best suitably-qualified candidates, regardless of gender. It is notable that in every one of those situations - it may surprise you - the hiring managers were themselves, female.
Everyone views the topic of discrimination through their own prism.   
Personally, I judge according to a person’s character and accomplishments – something I learned in the military, where I worked and associated with most every different type of person and personality there is. Good people come in many shades and likewise, judgmental and prejudicial people come in many shades as well as from different creeds and cultures. 
When I was a boy, I was small and skinny. In school when picking teams I was almost always the last or near last choice. I didn’t whine about it and as a result I later joined the wrestling team, as it is based according to weight classes. 
Many people over 50 years old, who mysteriously lose their jobs and must start over again, feel they’ve experienced age discrimination - and they are often right. Someone without a college degree feels discriminated against in comparison with those who have a college degree. Furthermore, straight people sometimes discriminate against those who are not. Also, there are market sector niches into which, if we're honest, unless you're gay or lesbian, you'll likely have less chance of entering much less excelling. Furthermore, I have seen very attractive people discriminated against by not so attractive people with a grudge. Conversely, I’ve observed the opposite as well. I know military veterans who are unfairly stereotyped and as a result experience discrimination. And, of course color and race discrimination is one of the most prevalent forms out there but, in my work, for over 25 years I have actually encountered this form of discrimination less often than others I mentioned above – and yes, it is true. 
So what can you do about discrimination of any kind, if you encounter it? The easiest advice is, don’t be a whiner and grow a thicker skin; nobody likes any of us all of the time for a variety of reasons, some valid but most, not. Second, if you choose to be an activist about whatever grievance you feel passionate about, do so, on your own private time or work for an NGO. Being a culture warrior or an activist is counter-productive to the job hunting and the interview process - period. Instead, perhaps, demonstrate and set yourself apart through your abilities as an individual, build a reputation on your merits to shatter negative perceptions. Or perhaps, on a more positive note, if you meet a jackass with tendencies to negatively judge you on appearance or some other petty rationale, celebrate – yeah that’s right, celebrate someone who’s voluntarily outed themselves before you begin working with them and becoming an un-equal (in their eyes) co-worker. 
True professionals, the kinds of people you want to work and associate with, couldn't care less about your race or many of the other traits that have nothing to do with how you perform your job and fortunately, this still describes most of us.