10 first impressions for job-search success

Game of thronesWhen I watched the first episode of Game of Thrones, I was not impressed. I’d heard it was a great show, but the gratuitous violence did more to turn me off than draw me into the most important episode of the series. I haven’t returned to the show since.

I know you’re thinking this is a post about first impressions jobseekers make at interviews, but it’s not. It’s about how important it is to make great first impressions in every aspect of your job search, not just how you shake the interviewer/s hands, maintain eye contact, etc.

Making a positive first impression can come into play before the interview phase, perhaps when you least expect it. I’m imaging a scenario where you’re at your local Starbucks, scoping out a comfortable chair to sit in for a couple of hours, and see the only one available among eight.

As you approach coveted chair, a woman dressed in a tee-shirt, yoga pants, and Asics also has her eyes on the prize. You have two choices; you can beat her to it, or you can offer her the chair, knowing there are plenty of stools at the table along the window, albeit uncomfortable ones. You take the high road and offer her the chair and retreat to one of the stools.

A week later you’re at an interview for a job that’s perfect for you. As you’re making the rounds shaking hands with the interviewers, you notice the woman to whom you offered the chair when you were at Starbucks; and she notices you as the kind woman who gave up that chair.

She’s the VP of marketing and a key decision maker in the hiring process. A couple of traits she desires in the next hire is integrity and selflessness. The interview is off to a great start because you made a great first impression by relinquishing that chair. Little did you know that that act of kindness would pay off in a big way, an act of kindness that had nothing to do with the interview process.

You may be thinking to yourself, “But that’s my nature.” Or maybe you’re thinking, “I can’t let my job search dictate how I act every minute of the day.” The point is when you’re in the job search, you’re constantly on. Let’s look at other ways you make a first impression before the interview begins.

  1. The way you dress. When you leave the house during the warm seasons, are you wearing your Red Sox Tee-shirt, baggie shorts, and sneakers without socks? You might want to ditch the Tee-shirt…and everything else. Work casual dress shows you’re serious about your job search. Trust me on this: I know which one of my customers’ job-search stint will be short based on how they dress.
  2. Body language. I tell jobseekers that people–not just employers–can read your body language like a neon sign and will make judgments. People can tell if you’re tense and therefore unapproachable. Alternatively, people sense you’re open and welcome them if you have an open stance and pleasant smile.
  3. Possitive attitude. I see plenty of people who are understandably angry, and they’re not afraid to show it. There are other people who are angry because of their unemployment but don’t display their attitude. Think whether you’re more likely to help others who show a negative attitude or those who come across as friendly. I would never insist that you must feel positive; I’m just saying fake it till you make it.
  4. Effective communications. At a networking event or during a phone conversation, are you demonstrating proper communication skills? Are you listening or just doing all the talking? If you’re doing the latter, it could be a turnoff for those with whom you’re speaking…a possible employer or valuable networking contact. I’m highly sensitive to people who do most of the talking.
  5. Activity. One of the best ways to present a great first impression is by being active in your job search. I’m not talking about being overbearing or obnoxious–I’m talking about due diligence, including sending appropriate e-mails, making telephone calls, attending networking events, calling on recruiters, engaging in daily networking, and whatever you’re capable of doing in a professional manner.
  6. Personal business cards. Nothing says professional and serious about the job search than personal business cards. They’re perfect to bring to networking events, job fairs, informational meetings, or just when you’re out and about. My close LinkedIn connection and branding master explains how business cards brand you.
  7. Your online presence. While it’s a well-known fact that employers are using social media to hire talent–approximately 96% use LinkedIn–it’s also known that they are using social media to “dig up dirt.” So make sure your online presence is clean, that there are no photos of you sloppy drunk in Cancun, that you haven’t used Twitter to blast your previous boss. (If you type “Bob McIntosh” on Twitter, you’ll find my tweets, and I guarantee they are professional in nature.)
  8. Chillax. In the job search you’re so focused on getting your next job that you may come across as too focused and determined. Give yourself a break every once in a while. People can sense those who are desperate.
  9. Follow up. This can’t be stressed enough. When you say you’ll call or email someone or meet that person for coffee, make sure you follow through with your commitment. And be sure you’re on time by the minute. Being late leaves a negative first impression.
  10. Pay it forward. In the above scenario you demonstrate selflessness by offering the other person the chair. It so happened the recipient of the chair was someone on the interview team. Your act of paying it forward worked out nicely, as she appreciated your act of kindness.

The story of you meeting the VP of marketing at Starbucks and offering her the coveted seat ends well; she casts a heavy vote to hire you for the job of your dreams. You still don’t know what you did to earn her vote, but does it really matter as long as you consider being the say you are. The power of first impressions.

If you found this article helpful, please share it with others.

 

BRAVE: 5 letters to remember for the interview

Today in my Interview workshop I went off on a rant about the importance of being a fit in the workplace. It’s not enough to have the job-related skills that allow you to hit the ground running, I told them.

Most of my participants nodded with agreement, while others had to process this point–maybe it never occurred to them, or maybe they were convinced that being able to create code is all they need to do.

Further I told them there’s been a lot of talk from recruiters and hiring managers who reinforce this point. “Really,” the naysayers eyes said. Really.

In an article entitled BRAVE Cultural Framework by George Bradt, the author talks about how employers are looking for job candidates who understand and can demonstrate they’ll fit in with the company.

Employers are looking at: the way people Behave, Relate to others, display their Attitude, express their Values, and the work Environment they create.

As jobseekers, you should keep this framework in mind by remembering the five letters and what they stand for. This is imperative to successfully landing a job where employers are astute enough to realize that overall fit is essential  to a productive workplace.

Remember these five components when you prepare for interviews, as you’ll most likely have to field questions based on the B.R.A.V.E framework.

Behave: This is how you make decisions and/or behave under leadership. Are your decisions the right ones that contribute to a better run business? As individual contributors, do you toe the line, contribute ideas that are implemented, deal well with autonomy or deal equally well with reward and discipline? These are all considerations, and more, that might arise at an interview.

Relate: This is the way you interact with others and create a team environment. You relate to difficult support staff and take appropriate measures to keep everyone on the same page. You understand differences of opinions and methods and work toward a team environment, even with those with whom you disagree.

Attitude: “A big part of this comes through in individual and organizations’ sense of commitment to what they are doing,” the article says. Does the manager promote the proper attitude, make her support staff see the mission of the company or organization? Do the support staff embrace the mission and goals of the organization? This is where someone might be said to have a “bad attitude,” and this could be the mark of death.

Values: As a manager, you must instill values that foster learning, advancement, creativity, autonomy, etc. Staff must hold the same values as the company, or there could be conflict. To understand the values of the company, you must ask the appropriate questions at the interview to uncover them. For example, “How important is creativity to ABC Company?” If you get a blank look, chances are you’re at the wrong interview.

Environment: The article talks about the way people approach the workplace in terms of “formality/informality, preferred office layout, etc,” but it’s really an accumulation of all the aforementioned components, in my opinion. Environment is created by upper and mid management and sustained by the support staff. How one behaves, relates to others, her attitude, and values, are what creates a healthy and efficient work environment, not dress and working hours.

It’s a well-known fact that employers look for three qualities in potential employees. Can they do the job? Will they do the job? And will they fit in? B.R.A.V.E answers the third component, the fit. You must prove that you can work with your support staff, inspire and motivate them to work toward the company’s goals. Likewise, you must show that you are adaptable and can work with any management style. Will you follow the B.R.A.V.E framework? Employers are banking on it.


When the interviewer is doing 100% of the talking

Have you experienced a situation like this at an early-stage interview–you’re excited to be there, a bit nervous expecting the difficult questions to be fired at you, but the interviewer is doing 100% the talking?

Then toward the end of the interview, you ask if he wants to ask you any questions, to which he replies, “No, I read your résumé. We’re good to go.” You’re wondering what the hell happened. You didn’t have the opportunity to sell your skills, experience, and accomplishments.

Some of my customers complain to me about similar scenarios, while others tell me they felt relieved and grateful for not having to talk. Those who felt relieved erroneously believe the interviewers were doing them a huge favor.

Interviewers who do all the talking are not doing you a favor; they’re hogging your precious time. And although you’re nervous at the time, it’s essential that you achieve what you went there for–to sell yourself.

You never want to come across as controlling the interview, but sometimes you have to break in so you can inform the interviewer why you are the right person for the job.

So how do you break into the conversation?

First of all, don’t make assumptions. One assumption might be that it’s an inside hire and the interviewer is just trying to take up time. Another might be that the company is required by law or according to their policy to interview a few candidates. There are a number of reasons why the interviewer is blabbing like a fool, but chances are he’s simply self-absorbed and unaware of his duty.

Know when enough is enough. After the interviewer has rattled on for a number of minutes, it’s time to put a halt to the monolog. There’s a chance the interviewer might get on a roll and sabotage the whole process.

Don’t get belligerent. Saying, “Aren’t you going to ask me questions?” won’t leave a good impression. You’ll come across as rude and trying to control the interview.

Break into the conversation in a seamless manner. “The management around here leaves a lot to be desired,” he is saying. This is your cue to answer one of the most popular questions; what kind of manager do you prefer?

“Where I last worked, management was very good,” you break in. “They were fair, communicative, and had their priorities in order. I’ve worked under many different management styles from hands-off to hands-on. I’ve thrived wherever I’ve worked because I can adapt to all types of styles.”

Later he says, “Our customers are very needy. They require a lot of hand-holding–a real bunch of idiots.”

You counter, “Interacting with difficult customers is one of my fortes. In fact, many of the difficult customers were routed my way because I had a very patient attitude which the customers could sense. I managed to revive many failed customer relations.”

This may put a halt to the interviewer’s loquaciousness, or he may continue to drone on and on. But you can’t give up your efforts of getting yourself heard. The next time you hear a break in his monolog, engage him again by summarizing your job-related skills and accomplishments, declaring you’re the person for the job.

At the end of the interview inform him that you’ll send along an e-mail outlining how you can address many of the problems he was so kind to elaborate on. You may want to ask him if you should forward it to his manager and HR.

The curse of tattoos at interviews

An article by Jeff Haden got me thinking about my daughter’s latest request; a tattoo. Jeff’s article is about a man with a tattoo so intricate and enormous that Jeff could only stare at it, making the man uncomfortable.

Although my daughter’s only 16 and she doesn’t want to cover her whole arm with a tattoo, her request makes me think about the ramifications a tat will have on her career future. Will it be detrimental to her job search? I’m sure it will. She’s waiting for my reply.

Where will she put the tattoo, I ask her. I dunno, she tells me. Great. I don’t normally have to deny her requests, but I feel conflicted. I try to picture a tattoo on her.

Will it be private or public? Will it be tasteful or obnoxious? And how many is she planning to get? If it’s private, tasteful, and only one; I guess I could accept her getting a tat. However, if they’re numerous and on her neck, wrist, and anywhere they’d be seen during an interview or at work; I will definitely have an issue with that.

TattooOne of my customers who formally worked at an upscale salon has tattoos that cover her hands, forearms, and neck. They’re magnificent tattoos like the one Jeff mentions in his article, but the assortment of them makes me wonder how employers would view them, if she were to apply for, say, an office position.

This customer’s tats are so visible and magnificent that they distracted me during my workshops. Particularly during my Interview Techniques workshop when I want to have her stand up so I can tell the group that tattoos like these might not be the right image you want to present at an interview.

And then I want to add in a Sam Kenison rant, “They’re forever. Ah, Ah, Ahhhhh.” But I neither make her stand or express my disapproval of her tats. It’s her life, even if they are forever. I can only wonder why she decorated her body like a Harlem wall covered with graffiti. Maybe if she had a parent who urged her not to get the tattoos, she wouldn’t have marred her body with them.

Among the many aspects of our first impressions, tattoos are one of them. Employers are more forgiven than they were in the past. We know this because many of the people who serve us at restaurants and coffee houses, work with us in offices and outdoors, are displaying them freely and with impunity.

But it makes me wonder if the tattoo-baring employees displayed them so freely when they were interviewed, or did they hide them with long sleeves, turtle neck shirts, and pants that covered their ankles…in the dead of summer? If these folks with tats had the foresight to hide them, they may have dodged a bullet.

What if, for example, a college grad is applying for an accountant position, in the last stages of the interview process, and talking with the VP of say PricewaterhouseCoopers. She’s feeling so confident because she’s been told this interview is a formality, a sign off. It’s in the bag. So she lets her guard down and wears a sleeveless dress, revealing a small, tasteful butterfly tattoo on her shoulder.

Harmless, right?

This is my fear; my daughter will be that young woman at the interview of her life, only to blow it because of a simple tattoo. Only because some conservative guy might be the decision maker and think that this woman is too compulsive; not right for the company image.

All because of a tattoo my daughter got while her friends were encouraging her to “go for it” in New Hampshire at some seedy tattoo parlor. The image of her walking out of the parlor sporting a tat on her wrist, looking at her friends for approval, showing some doubt on her face; is enough for me to make a decision.

I tell her no to the tats, and she shrugs her shoulders and says fine. I get the feeling she never wanted one and all my worrying was for naught, until she asks for is a nose stud.

 

 

I’m not the enemy–8 myths and facts about what I do

myths

I recall a conversation I had with a recruiter who told me I’m the enemy. The reason she told me this is because my job as a career strategist and workshop facilitator is to prepare jobseekers for their search. And I imagine this recruiter believes I instruct my customers to do anything to pull one over on recruiters.

While it’s true my goal is to help my customers get jobs, I will not go to any measure to help them land in a position, especially when they’re not qualified.

The fact that this recruiter called me the enemy got me to thinking about how misunderstood I am when it comes to preparing jobseekers for their search. Here are 8 myths and facts about what I do.

1. Myth: I tell my customers that all recruiters are scum. That they only care about themselves and their client, the company.

Fact: I tell my customers a recruiter’s paycheck comes from the company. However, the recruiters’ goal is to create a match between employer and candidate. Many recruiters want to build healthy relationships with jobseekers–it only makes good business sense.

2. Myth: I encourage my customers to lie on their résumés or, at the very least, embellish their accomplishments to trick recruiters into calling them.

Fact: My mantra is, “Never lie on your résumé.” People who lie on their résumé are found out for the frauds they are. So don’t make it worse by claiming you’ve accomplished more than you have, I advise.

I’ll admit that I tell my customers to conceal their age by only listing 10-15 years of work history. 

3. Myth: I tell my customers that the recruiter’s purpose is to screen them out of consideration because of their their salary requirement, so they should agree to a lower salary. Then they can battle it out with the hiring manager.

Fact: Yes, recruiters need to know if the opportunity is at all plausible, so I tell my jobseekers it’s best to know earlier than later if they and the employer are even close. Why waste everyone’s time?

4. Myth: Similar to myth # 3, I tell my customers that the telephone interview with the recruiter is only a screening to verify they have the technical requirements for the job and has nothing to do with determining personality fit.

Fact: Recruiters need to verify if my customers can do the job, have the required software/hardware/procedural skills required by the employer; but good recruiters also determine if applicants are a personality fit. I tell my customers to be prepared for more difficult questions, including behavioral-based ones.

5. Myth: I tell my customers that recruiters have no say in the hiring process.

Fact. Recruiters don’t make the ultimate decision, but their opinion is valued by the hiring manager, so the interviews will be challenging and reveal the strengths, as well as the weaknesses, of the applicants.

6. Myth: I tell my customers to go around the recruiters and speak directly with the hiring managers.

Fact. Going around the recruiters will not only fray relationships with recruiters, it will demonstrate a lack of integrity and will turn the hiring managers off. However, if my customers are not getting the love from a recruiter, they should take measures into their own hands.

7. Myth. I tell my customers to contact as many recruiters as possible to increase their chances of getting a job.

Fact. My father told me as a teenager to play the field; this always backfired. The recruiter can be your best friend, so don’t dis him by not showing the love. My customers need to build the trust with the recruiter and not insult him by being a player. Some recruiters are putzes, so move on until you find one or two that deserve your love.

 8. Myth. I tell my customers that all recruiters read cover letters.

Fact. From the words of a recruiter who doesn’t read cover letters, “I read 200 résumés for one position. No, I don’t have time to read cover letters.” Some recruiters (the smart ones) read cover letters, but no all.

As you can see, I’m not fighting against recruiters; I’m merely trying to prepare my jobseekers in a realistic manner. I don’t believe all things come up smelling like roses. There are jobseekers who will pull dumb moves, and there are recruiters who will treat my customers with disrespect. The goal is to develop a partnership between jobseekers and recruiters.

 

 

 

4 ways to take control of your job search

Some jobseekers tell me they turn on their computer every day to log on to Monster, Dice, CareerBuilder, Indeed, and other job boards. They spend many hours a day applying for posted jobs, sending as many as 20 cookie-cutter resumes out a week, anticipating a call from a recruiter or Human Resources. They wait and wait and wait.

To these jobseekers I point out the futility of a job search like this, explaining that if they want faster results, they have to be more proactive. I tell them this in my Career Networking workshop.

First I talk about the “Hidden Job Market” which is a concept they understand, but I’m not sure they accept. When I tell them them connecting with others is the best approach to penetrating the HJM, I can hear them thinking how difficult it will be to get outside their comfort zone, to get away from their computer.

The message I try to deliver is that they have to be proactive, not reactive. They have to take control of their job search, not let it control them. Here are some ways you can be proactive in your job search:

Approach letters. Not oft used, these documents are ideal if you prefer writing more than using the phone, so you might be somewhat introverted. No job has been advertised. (Advertised jobs represent 20% of the labor market.) You’re not reacting to an advertisement.

The goal is to get an informational meeting or better yet, chance upon a possible opening that hasn’t been advertised (80% of the labor market). You must describe your job-related skills and experience and show the employer that you’ve done research on the company to boost the employer’s ego. Read Teena Rose’s article on approach letters.

Good ole’ fashion networking. Normally we think of networking as strictly attending organized meetings where other jobseekers go, doing their best not to seem desperate. (I’ll admit that this type of networking is unsettling, although necessary.) The kind of networking I’m referring to is the kind that involves reaching out to anyone who knows a hiring manager.

Most of the people who contact me after they’ve secured a job tell me that their success was due to knowing someone at the company or organization. You must network wherever you go. Network at your kid’s or grandchildren’s basketball games, at the salon, while taking workshops, at family gatherings (see Any Time is Time to Network)—basically everywhere.

LinkedIn and other social media outlets. I recently received an in-mail from someone who is currently working but is not enjoying her experience. I’ll keep my ears open for the type of position she’s looking for because she asked me to. LinkedIn members who know the potential of this  professional online networking tool are reaching out to other LI members for information and contact leads.

Another one of my jobseekers is doing everything possible to conduct a proper proactive job search. He updates me on his job search and sends me job leads for me to post on our career center’s LinkedIn group. I’ve got a good feeling about this guy. He’s being very proactive by using LinkedIn and his vast personal network of professionals.

Follow Up. Allow me to suggest a must-read book called Never Eat Alone by Keith Ferrazzi. I think this guy gets more publicity from me than any author I’ve read. The reason I recommend this book is because none of these three proactive approaches are useful unless you follow up on your efforts.

Never Eat Alone teaches you how to network in every situation and then how to keep your network alive by following up with everyone. I mean everyone. Send an approach letter, then follow up with the people to whom you’ve sent it. Network face-to-face, then follow up. Connect with someone on LinkedIn…you guessed it, then follow up.

Being proactive sure beats the hell out of only reacting to jobs that have been advertised and visible to hundreds, if not thousands of other jobseekers. It gives you a sense of accomplishment and yields more results than exclusively participating in the visible job market. Being proactive makes you believe that the job search will finally come to a halt, that the job search is in your hands.

4 important principles of your job-search stories

Chinese Food2I remember being in a Chinese restaurant in Vancouver, Canada, where my four brothers, mother, father, and I were waiting for our food to come. My father was telling us a story about our favorite topic—how our parents met—and even though the food was late in coming, we were all enthralled.

I think we’d heard this story a bazillion times, but we couldn’t get enough of it. My father’s story began like it always did, after one of us gave him the directive, “tell us about how you and Mom met.”

In a way my father’s storytelling was similar to what job candidates must do at an interview when asked to tell a story. Often at behavioral interviews the employer will ask for specific events meant to extract particular skills from a job candidate.

A successful story includes the following principles:

Meaning. What meaning does your story have? Here’s a big hint: it must be applicable to the job for which you’re applying. Asked how your strong verbal communication skills made a difference at a specific moment or period of time, but instead you talk about a time you demonstrated strong written communication skills does not have meaning.

You’re a skilled writer who has been published in countless trade magazines. You go into great detail about this in your story. But you fail to realize that the employer seeks someone who can verbally communicate with the media, partners, OEMs, and customers. Your story lacks meaning. There was meaning behind Dad’s story for us; so much so that we didn’t mind the food coming late.

Form. In a Complete Interview Process workshop I lead, my participants construct a story using the following form: the problem or situation, approximately 20% of the story; the actions taken to meet the situation, 60% of the story; and the result of the action taken, the remaining 20%.

Some of my workshop attendees have difficulty keeping the situation brief. They feel the need to provide background information, which in effect distracts the listener from what’s most important—the actions taken to meet the situation. The result is also important, whether it’s a positive or negative resolution. Twenty-sixty-twenty is a good formula to keep in mind.

Achieving success. When the candidate has achieved success, a couple of things can happen. First, the employer may smile and indicate approval by saying, “Thank you. That was a great answer.” This likely means that your story addressed the meaning behind the question and adhered to proper form.

Or the employer may come back with follow-up questions, such as, “How do you know you saved the company money by volunteering to take over the webmaster responsibilities?” Bingo. You’ve gained the interest of the employer who follows up with additional questions.

Dad’s story about meeting mom was always met with follow-up questions from all five of us. Mom always blushed.

Preparation is paramount to success. There is really only one way to prepare for telling your stories. You have to completely understand what’s required of the position. Know what competencies the employer is looking for, e.g. time management, leadership, problem solving, problem assessment, and customer service skills. Based on this knowledge, you will construct five stories in anticipation of directives like, “Tell me about a time when you felt your leadership skills had a positive impact on your team…and a time when it had a negative impact.”

With all the practice Dad had telling his story about how he and my mother met, the stories got better and better as time went on. That was a great time in the Chinese restaurant in Vancouver. Not because the food was great—I don’t remember eating any—but because the story was what we all wanted to hear.

Photo courtesy of Flickr, Honey Bunny.

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