Sustainable Career Success

August 21, 2009

Thoughts on increasing your ‘employability’ factor

I was talking with a friend last week and we happened upon the topic of what distinguishes people who rise to the top of their chosen profession and those who seem to struggle through their work life (and maybe even their personal life). As you can imagine this quickly became a rather philosophical discussion, but from the exchange a few key words surfaced. Consistently successful individuals have 3 things in common; Confidence, Competence and Character. Interestingly, 2/3 doesn’t work – it takes 100% to create success. Let’s explore each in a little more detail.

Competent people are those who have invested in themselves professionally. These individuals have an appropriate level of education for their chosen specialty but don’t rest on that initial set of qualifications. These individuals are hungry for knowledge and invest in continuing education, conduct personal research and stay on top of emerging trends in their industry. They are well versed in current events, know what is happening in the world, their local community and when they don’t understand something, take personal time to get educated.

How much time does this take? Competent people really don’t know. Their personal investment in professional development is just part of who they are, the lines blur between their personal interest and their professional endeavors.

Successful people are confident. Careful here, I didn’t say arrogant, I said confident. Arrogant people are not successful – they are usually hiding insecurities. Confident people know what they know, recognize what they don’t know and understand how to ask for help. Confidence manifests itself through actions, activities and stories that demonstrate Competence. See how those two characteristics work together?

Strong Character (a positive mental attitude) is resident in successful people. I realize that you’ve heard this assertion too many times to count, but it’s true. Can you name even one star athlete who has a negative attitude? Here’s a story. I was watching one of the major golf tournaments last weekend and Tiger was not having a good round. He put a shot in the water and threw his club over his shoulder in the direction of his caddie. This public display of poor character was disappointing, and I believe resulted in his loss that day; and ultimately the tournament. He chose to let that shot get to him, and as a result, was unsuccessful.

Why am I focused on this combination of traits for the column this month? Because these three words combined is the foundation of success – in your job search, in your career and in your personal life. Let’s talk about the Halo effect a popular term from a career development book called, What color is your Parachute? The Halo effect is creating a perception of perfection during the interview process. Ok that’s not realistic, but you can strive to be better than your normal self while you’re looking for a job, or while you are on the job.

Susan is a hiring manager who needs to add a new employee to her staff. She begins the interview process with candidates who have been carefully screened by her Human Resources Department. Joe arrives for his interview 10 minutes early dressed in a suit, carrying a notepad and pleasantly greeting everyone he meets. Joe is articulate, organized in his responses and polite. He has the required degree for the position but has also spent time on advanced technical studies recently and understands the challenges that the industry is tackling in the current economy.

Chad is another qualified candidate. He arrives dressed in a wrinkled shirt, empty handed and slouches in the reception chair once he checks in. When Susan greets him he doesn’t smile or make eye contact and seems preoccupied. During the interview Susan asks the same questions of Chad as she did Joe. Chad spends more time talking about himself and how experienced he is than he does answering Susan’s questions. He talks about how horrible his last job was and that his boss just didn’t understand him. He hasn’t cracked a book since he graduated from college because he’s been too busy riding his bike, snowboarding and hanging out with his friends.

Susan completes her interview notes. Both candidates are competent and could do the job from a technical point of view. However, Joe’s demeanor and interview presentation was confident and positive as well. In contrast Chad displayed arrogance and self-absorption along with a negative attitude. Susan will absolutely hire Joe; not because he is more qualified, but because this hire is a reflection of her and will be a representative of her team and the company. She can envision Joe meeting the CEO and knows that this meeting will be a memorable experience. It might even help her career!

Looking for a job is stressful and it’s easy to blame others for the situation. Stay focused on keeping a positive mental attitude, a likeable persona and on making it easy for your future employer to see you as a member of their team.

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Give ’em a break!

August 3, 2009

Remember your manners during a job search

I’ve been recruiting for 3 economic cycles now (over 15 years) and I’ve noticed some distinct differences in this particular downturn. There are a bunch of folks who, for the first time in their career, have found themselves unemployed or fearful of becoming unemployed. I’ve also noticed that some of these folks are not practicing good manners in their quest for a new position.

Let’s set the stage a bit. There are companies hiring, there are jobs out there, and there are terrific opportunities for career development. The companies who are hiring are also experiencing a tremendous flow of candidates. The HR departments are understaffed and overworked. They not only screen applicants; they also take care of payroll, benefits, 401k administration, year end performance assessments, bonus calculations, employee on-boarding, training/development, payroll – you get the idea. The hiring managers with open positions are trying to hire while already tackling their full time roles. This is a catch 22 for them; they are busy and need to hire additional team members, but because they have open positions they are having a hard time finding space in their calendars to do an effective job of interviewing.

On the other side of the fence are job seekers. Sadly, our society doesn’t spend any time teaching people how to find a job. As a result, when you find yourself in the position to change employers (voluntarily or involuntarily) this causes stress. When stressed you may slide into unattractive behaviors, which compounds the lack of success in your search.

This is where I start with some sound motherly advice. Don’t forget your manners. Common courtesies such as please, thank you, follow up calls, acknowledgements, graceful exits, referrals, straightforward responses and open, honest communication may very well mean the difference between you and another candidate.

It is absolutely critical to be courteous to everyone you meet during the interview process. This means the front desk, security personnel, HR, future peers, passersby; everyone.

Write email thank you notes to everyone who takes time to meet you. Don’[t forget to get their cards or at least name spelling during the interview. Email thank yous are appropriate, especially during a job search. Time is critical, don’t wait for the US Mail to deliver your follow up.

Address direct questions with direct answers. It’s frustrating for the interviewer to listen to a candidate who goes off on a tangent or dances around the answer to a question. You won’t get a job using this approach.

Ask about follow up protocol. If the hiring manager says that she will make a decision in a week then ask if you can call back in a week. If the HR manager says you can follow up in 3 days, then make a note and make sure you keep the commitment.

If the position is not interesting to you bow out gracefully. Thank them for their consideration; let them know that you appreciate their offer and that you will refer friends and associates to them as appropriate.

Looking for a job is stressful and it’s easy to blame others for the situation. Stay focused on keeping a positive mental attitude, a likeable persona and on making it easy for your future employer to see you as a member of their team.