Differentiating Yourself – Answering the Question: “Why?”

Recently, I attended the NFL game between my Cleveland Browns and the Buffalo Bills.  There were 71,000+ people in attendance and the majority of those fans were wearing something (hat, jacket, jersey) with the team’s colors (brown and orange).  Let’s say that someone that knew me was also at the game and decided to text to advise, “Hey, Mike…heard you were at the game…I’m here too”.  I would text them back to ask, “Great, where are you?”  If they responded with something like, “I’m wearing a brown hat”, that does not really help me find/see them…since probably 70% of the fans might also be wearing brown hats.  If they add, “Oh, also…I’m standing up”, that bit of additional information does help, but I still have little chance of finding my friend among  the 40,000 or so people who are standing up and wearing brown hats.  If my friend adds, “I’m eight rows up, on the 50-yard line, north side of the field, and next to the Browns’ mascot, who is walking up the aisle”.  Bang..!  There he is.  Just a few more words and I was able to quickly find him out of a crowd of 71,000 people (who, in that setting, all basically looked pretty much the same).

The job seeker’s most daunting challenge is to stand out from what could well be a relatively large pool of candidates.  Today, it is still common for a posted opening to receive up to a few hundred resumes/online applications.  So, hundreds of resumes go into the candidate pool, with possibly as few as 15 – 25 of those being perceived by the HR screener or recruiter as attractive enough to be scheduled for a phone screen.  The task of the screener/recruiter at this point is to select from that “first cut” group the 5 – 8 candidates who will earn the opportunity for an in-person interview.Thus, the vast majority of applicants never make it even to the phone screen step in the overall selection process.  This is simply due to the fact that most candidates do a poor job of positioning themselves in their resume as the potential “game-changer” the employer is seeking to find.  And, this is because they fail to answer one very basic, yet tremendously critical question for those involved in the hiring process:“WHY (should you, the HR recruiter or hiring manager) consider/select me from among all of the others in the pool of applicants?”Of all of the many thousands of resumes I’ve read/reviewed over the years, very few provide the HR staff or the hiring manager with the answers to, “Why are the results I’ve produced better than the other candidates?”, “Why am I a better fit for your company’s culture?”, “Why would I be better able to make an immediate impact within your team/group/organization?”, “Why would you feel, six months after I joined the firm, that you would tell your boss that hiring me was the best decision you ever made?”, and, “Why am I the best suited to come into your group/division/company and help to take it from good to great?”.

People to whom I’ve provided job search coaching usually tell me, when advised their resume lacks the “wow” factor, they felt including such would be perceived by the reader as bragging.

It is not.  Unless the “facts” presented are actually embellishments of the truth without any quantification.  For example:

Embellishment – Guy in the next cubicle tells his buddy, one of 10 sales people in the Widget Division, “Dude, you rock”, which the candidate translates on his resume into, “Recognized as one of the top salesmen in the entire Division.”

Truth with Quantification – “Key Accomplishment” on candidate’s resume reads, “Cultivated, over the course of one year, a strong relationship with the president of Really Gigantic Machine Corporation using social media, on-site visitations, and meetings with their key production team resulting in an initial purchase order of the Super XL Widget for $5M. This was the largest single order ever received by our firm from a Fortune 100 company and the largest order ever written by any salesperson in our company’s 80-year history.”

OK…Which of these two examples is more believable?  Which contains the “Why”…the “Wow” factor along with quantification of such?

To catch the eye, and interest, of the HR screener, recruiter or hiring manager reviewing incoming resumes, each of the Key Accomplishment bullets needs to contain a quantified “why”.  Otherwise, why would a hiring manager, whose job might be hinging upon their ability to select a “game-changing” candidate, feel that candidate was “the one”?

They wouldn’t.

Remember that during the course of the selection process, those involved are being asked, “why”.  “Why are these 15 candidates you (the HR Recruiter) selected for a phone screen the best 15 out of the 245 resumes you received for this opening?” or “Why are these the best five candidates, and the ones you want me (the hiring manager) to interview, out of those you phone screened?”.  The hiring manager normally is asked by his boss, “Why did you pick “X” as your top candidate, the one to whom you wish to make the offer?”  Also remember that the hiring manager’s reputation can be impacted, positively or negatively, by how the selected candidate performs.  I don’t know of any hiring managers who desire to be associated with an employee who turns out to be a disappointment.

Simply…if the candidate provides great, “why’s” in the resume, they have a very good shot at being selected for a phone screen and/or in-person interview.  Provide “why’s” also during interviews.  The more reasons provided to those involved in the hiring process regarding why you are a better fit and a better overall candidate for the opening, the easier you make their decision as to whom to make the offer.

Think of it this way…for virtually every suggestion/recommendation we make in our work and personal lives, we are pretty much always asked for some quantification of such:

·  “I think we should close these two production facilities”  “Why?”
·  “We should buy that new Corvette”  “Why?”
·  “I want to promote Susan to VP of Operations”  “Why?”

What’s your “why”?  Will it be enough to separate you from the “crowd”?

Preparation is the Key When Trying to Land a New Job

A couple of weeks ago I witnessed an “interview implosion”, which was painful to watch.  Yet, this squandered opportunity could have turned out very differently, had the candidate just put in some prep time prior to that discussion.Because I happened to arrive fairly early for a breakfast meeting, I wound up being one of only five people in this particular restaurant thus, overhearing the discussion (which turned out to be a job interview) from one table over was inevitable.

As it turned out, I had a front row seat for an interview regarding a Research/Analyst position at a local venture capital group.

The interviewer was in his mid-to-late 40’s, while the candidate was no more than early 30-something.  Both were dressed in shirt and tie, with the interviewer being very professional in his appearance and the candidate…well, that is where the problems began.

The candidate’s dark tie was sticking out from underneath the collar of his white shirt and was very noticeable.  Small item you say…Yes, maybe so, but I could tell that the very well dressed interviewer was noticing the “wardrobe malfunction”, and probably thinking to himself, “Would the partners be proud to have this candidate as part of the team or embarrassed?” (This reminded me of a TV commercial I saw a couple/few years back during the Super Bowl in which a spot on the candidate’s shirt garnered more attention from the interviewer than what was being said by that candidate).

During the “get-to-know-you” part of their breakfast meeting, the interviewer asked the candidate, “So, tell me what you’ve been up to lately”.  The candidate’s answer contained little to nothing that would have been work-related, but he did spend quite a bit of time telling the interviewer about just moving into a new apartment and how, “This is the best apartment I’ve ever lived in…I am near all of the clubs downtown” (this part of the response was delivered with much excitement, passion and hand gestures).

Then, breakfast being completed, it was “game on” and the interviewer asked, “There are a number of venture capital companies in town…what is it about our leadership team and partners that has you interested in joining our firm?”

OK…the door had been opened for a “This is your opportunity to really impress me” response.  And, here was the candidate’s answer:

“I think your partners are really smart guys and what your firm does is exciting.”  That was it.  The candidate then stopped talking.

WHAT!!  That was his best shot as demonstrating his strong/excellent research skills and abilities (remember, this was an interview for a Research/Analyst position)?  Apparently so, since the candidate went silent and looked at the interviewer with a, “OK, what’s the next question?” look on his face.

At this point, the look on the interviewer’s face was pretty much priceless – a mixture of being dumbfounded and pain.

The next question was, “Tell me what you know about our firm and what you think differentiates us from other VC (venture capital) groups” (again…the interviewer opened the door for the candidate to clearly demonstrate, “I’m a better choice for this Research job than any of the other candidates, because of my excellent research skills and abilities”).

The candidate, who at this point had both hands on his knees and was speaking in a monotone voice, provided the interviewer with basically the same response given for the previous question.  WOW!  What happened to all of that passion and excitement you displayed a few minutes earlier when speaking about your new apartment!

The interviewer now had that, “Which of our recruiters wasted my time by scheduling me to meet with this candidate” look on his face.  He spoke to the candidate for a few more minutes about how they were looking for a highly-energized person who could speak to demonstrated successes related to research skills.  Then, the interviewer ended the meeting.  That was it…the candidate had just two opportunities to shine and totally dropped the ball on both.  I believe that, had the candidate done his homework on the interviewer, the company and the partners, the interview would have continued for much longer.

But, the candidate’s answers clearly showed that he had done little to no such research.  If you know that you are applying for a position that requires a whole lot of research work, wouldn’t you want to demonstrate your passion for this by learning as much as possible about the targeted employer and interviewer?  Shouldn’t you know about the company’s culture and if you would be considered a great “fit” for such?

YES!

Preparation IS “everything”.  Great preparation can certainly do much to lessen the chances that you might embarrass yourself during a job interview, and can also become a key factor that convinces others you are their ideal candidate.

The most successful sales people are those who spend a great deal of time learning everything they can about a prospective client.  They use that information to customize their sales approach/pitch.  A job seeker is selling to the prospective employer the reason why they are the clear choice among all of the other candidates and best overall fit for the job, team and organization.  This is the most important career related sales pitch the candidate will ever make.

Everything you write, say and do and what is written or said about you is part of your sales pitch…the “story” as to why the employer should offer the job to you and no one else.

Great preparation is the result of investing a lot of your time and provides you with the knowledge to make a highly customized, very powerful presentation about YOU, the candidate.

Here are just a few samples of the types of information that are out there for you to find and use to help make your “story” more compelling:

Position Description for the job you desire – This is the road map on how to be perceived as an ideal candidate.  Focus on the skills and competencies being sought by the hiring manager, as defined within the job description.

Company Website – In many cases, companies’ websites provide a great look into their culture, direction, vision, client base…etc.  If the site includes “About Us”, “Our History”, “Careers” and/or “In the News” tabs, these are basically required reading.  Many people I know have found some terrific tidbits of information in news stories or press releases about a targeted employer that became for them that “Ace up the sleeve” during the selection process.  Does the company’s site have a “Clients” tab..?  If so, determine if you know someone who works at one of their client companies…and would put in a good word for you.

LinkedIn – From strategic recommendations and skills endorsements to using the “Advanced People Search” function to learn about employees already in the group/department you are seeking to join, this is one of the most powerful tools currently out there for job seekers.  Learn everything you possibly can about the existing employees and the hiring manager.  Not only does this help a candidate to determine if they are a great fit for the company, but it can also provide the type of information that can strengthen that sales pitch (i.e., A candidate finds, by reading press releases, that the company is seeking someone with Merger & Acquisition experience, and discovers – from reviewing the profiles of existing employees – that no one on the team has such…but, THEY do..!)

Job Search Related Websites – such as www.glassdoor.com, or www.salary.com, can provide some great insight into everything from sample interview questions, salary levels by position, feedback from current and former employees, job postings and more.  You can also search for topics such as; “ABC Company interview questions” or “Employee forums for XYZ Corporation”…you might be surprised as to the number of results.  Disclaimer – as with anything on the Internet…just understand that much of what you find has not been confirmed/verified…but, it is information, which is easily obtainable and for the most part – worth a look.

Financial Analyst Reports on a public company can be very helpful when it comes to trying to determine if you are truly a fit for the company’s culture and current/future needs.  These folks write the “good, the bad and the ugly” about a corporation, its management team/style and direction.  As mentioned above in the “LinkedIn” tip, such insight might provide a candidate with the information that could help them “seal the deal” with the hiring manager.  Just how many candidates do you really think do this type of research and then incorporate it into their cover letter, resume and interview dialog?  The answer is – not very many..!

I know what you are thinking, “Hey, Mike, doing all of this stuff you suggest will take a lot of time”.  Yes, it will.  And, the vast majority of candidates won’t do half of what I’ve suggested here, because they feel sending out dozens of generic resumes will land them a new job and do not wish to make this type of time investment in their search.  That is too bad for them and great for those of you who are doing or will do this type of in-depth preparation & research.  I do have one question, which I ask of every person with whom I provide job search coaching:

How badly do you want to be re-employed/find another job?

Words cannot adequately answer this question, but your actions will.

What Might be Keeping You from Receiving the Interview Phone Call

Just a few days ago I had dinner with a long-time friend who is the Marketing Director for a large non-profit organization. When I asked regarding what was the most frustrating part of her job, she immediately replied, “hiring new people”. She went on to relate how 400 resumes were received within two hours of posting an opening for a Marketing Assistant. When I asked how many of the 400 resumes she felt were good enough to warrant a call for an interview, my friend responded, “less than 10…and a few of those are borderline”. This is today’s reality for hiring managers.

Regarding the most common reasons why she did not select a resume to be added to the “short list” of people to be called for interviews, I was told the following:

No results – Bullet points that read like a laundry list of duties and responsibilities rather than specific examples of accomplishments and “how” those results/outcomes were accomplished. You cannot just tell me that you can do something well – you must prove it by using specific examples demonstrating exceptional outcomes.

Lack of metrics to quantify stated accomplishments – Telling me that you “increased client satisfaction” packs no “punch” unless you quantify that claim with some sort of metric (percentage increase on client satisfaction survey scores, percentage growth in referrals from existing clients, dollar or percentage increase in repeat sales…etc.)

Poorly written and/or formatted – Resumes that contain grammatical or spelling errors, bullet points that are not clear and need to be “interpreted” (by the way, hiring managers have neither the time nor the patience to figure out what you are trying to tell them in your resume), formatting that makes it hard on the eyes to read (font size and style, too many lines used as separators, margins that are too small or too big, etc). I would strongly suggest not using acronyms that only you and your former co-workers understand/recognize – remember, you are trying to engage & “wow” the hiring manager, not confuse them.

Word file saved in the wrong format – The vast majority of businesses who use Microsoft Office software still use MS Office 2003 – not 2007 or 2010. The 2007 & 2010 versions’ default is to save Word files in “.docx” format, that cannot be opened with MS Office 2003, which uses “.doc” (unless the hiring manager/HR recruiter has downloaded and installed a file converter tool from Microsoft). Use the “Save As” function to save the Word file in “.doc”. If a hiring manager cannot easily open your uploaded or attached file…they just move on to the next resume submission and yours is deleted – they have no interest in searching for, downloading and installing the conversion tool from the Microsoft website. Make it easy for me to open the file containing your resume. You can also send it in “.PDF” format, as pretty much everyone has Adobe Acrobat Reader on their PC’s.

Resume not customized for the position being sought – the more generic your resume sounds, the less skilled you appear. You are trying to convince me that you are “the one” to fill my open position. Remember – the hiring manager’s objective is to find “the best person available”…someone who is going to make them look great to their boss. If a hiring manager sees a resume customized for their open position, you’ve already made a positive impression by demonstrating that you understand the need to focus on the skills and requirements as noted in the job description. The frustrating reality is that only a very small percentage of submitted resumes are what would be considered customized (based upon my own experience and my discussions w/dozens of hiring managers and professional recruiters) – which means those written in that manner have an excellent chance to be added to the list of calls to be made to schedule interviews.
Incomplete work history – This one might be the most frustrating for job seekers. A number of folks have told me that they have been strongly encouraged to only include work experience from the last 15 years on their resumes, nothing beyond that. Although I recognize that there are definitely two different “camps” on this issue (i.e., include no more than the last 15 years vs. show everything), I am a strong proponent of the “show everything” side. And, I have yet to find a professional recruiter or hiring manager who has told me that they wanted candidates to show only a partial work history. Most of these people have told me that, if they find out a candidate who (from the resume’s work history) appears to be in their mid-30’s – is really in their late 40’s or 50’s, they begin to wonder “what else is this person hiding from me/not telling me?”. As mentioned in my posting from last month, “Tips for the More Experienced Job Seeker”, better to be honest up front and find out that a company/hiring manager might discriminate on age – than to wind up working for such an employer.

The good news is that all of these problems/issues are correctable…and easily so. Yes, there is a greater investment of your time required to develop that “killer” resume, but – aren’t you trying to convince me that you are that one out of 400 other candidates that I should hire? How impressed would YOU be, if you were the person hiring this Marketing Assistant, and found documents that were vague, poorly written, formatted in such a way to appear “pretty” – but contained little to no real content and contained a lot of bullet points about what candidates “did’ rather than what they actually accomplished and “how” they did so…?

As you write your resume, put yourself in the shoes of the hiring manager who wrote the position description for the job you are seeking (pretend that your job depends upon the success of this particular hire). Are you (the hiring manager) – going to be “wowed” enough to move you (the candidate) to the next step and schedule an interview? Until you are, don’t submit the resume – because it will most likely wind up in the pile that will receive a “thanks, but no thanks” letter.

Create a “wow” perception that will become the hiring manager’s reality.

Telling Your Story Effectively During an Interview

A powerful resume is only the first step to getting your foot in the door. Okay, you got noticed and now you are scheduled for an interview. We all know the saying, “you only have one chance to make a great first impression”. So, what do you do to “nail” the interview?

Let’s face it; most hiring managers are going to take the opportunity to fill a new or open position with the person whose skill set, image and presentation are the closest to the criteria established for their ideal candidate.

How do you convince your interviewer that you are “the one”…that person?

You do so by structuring your answers to their questions to focus on what you have accomplished and how you did so…NOT by providing a laundry list of job responsibilities while at previous employers.

Because of its proven effectiveness, most companies today use behavioral interviewing, which focuses on the premise that the most accurate predictor of future performance is past performance in similar situations. One of the most effective methods for navigating through such an interview is to use the STAR method (Situation or Task, Action and Results).

• Situation or Task – Provide an example of a specific situation/task in which you were involved that resulted in a positive outcome
• Action – Discuss specific actions that you took related to achieving the desired outcome
• Results – Provide the measurable results related to the direct outcome of your actions

For example, let’s say you are asked the following question by the interviewer:

“Give me a specific example which clearly demonstrates how you are able to work effectively with a wide variety of individuals.”

A non-STAR answer – “I think it’s a good idea to know how to deal with different personalities, and I can do that. I have been a team leader in the past and completed many big projects successfully.”

Congratulations, you’ve just told me nothing about how you are going to be able to apply your skills to the challenges of the position you are seeking and produce exceptional results at my company. I have no perspective on the actual scope of any of your “big” projects and telling me that they were successfully completed means very little without specific metrics to back up your claim. And, I have no clue as to your ability to consistently “bring it” to my team if I hire you.

I have done many hundreds of interviews during my career with most candidates’ answers sounding like the one above. I did not hire any of those people.

Answer using the STAR method – “(Situation/Task) I was asked by the company president to lead a project team consisting of representatives from different groups within our organization, to design and launch, within six months, a new widget that could help expand our current product offerings. (Actions) Selecting a very diverse group of employees, I put together a team consisting of twelve individuals representing the Design, Fabrication, Marketing, Sales, Operations and Customer Service departments. I established an environment that promoted creativity and effective collaboration among individuals, allowing my team to realize a powerful synergy from the combination of their unique talents. (Results) The new Power Widget was launched five months later and within the following year it was responsible for a 20% increase in our overall widget sales and a 5% increase in total market share. For this effort I was recognized by the president with the company’s ‘Outstanding Team Leadership’ award and promoted to vice president.”

A candidate who delivers an answer like this is going to get my attention…especially when they deliver it using good eye contact, body language that exudes self-confidence and the right degree of passion that makes it all very believable.

Interviewing is a lot like dating. Think about it…what is the real purpose of the first interview (date)? The objective is to get a second interview (date). Not unlike two people using an online dating service, the interviewer and interviewee can use the Internet to do quite a bit of research about each other – including a look at photographs, prior to actually meeting. During the initial discussion there is normally a mixture of general “get to know you a little better” questions and tougher “are you really who you say you are”, more detailed inquiries. This first meeting is used to determine if what was written about each other (LinkedIn, Facebook or Match.com) seems legitimate. Ultimately, both parties are trying to determine if the person with whom they are speaking is “their type”. A very important part of this process is figuring out if the other person will “get along with my group of friends”/future co-workers.

Interviewers love asking the “give me an example of a time when” type questions – the STAR method will help you to focus on demonstrating how your past performance indicates that you are “the one”…the ideal candidate which they are seeking.

Why Are You My Ideal Candidate?

Over the past several weeks, I’ve had one-on-one meetings with dozens of job seekers in regard to their resumes. I often ask, “Why are you here today to meet with me? What do you wish to take away from our meeting?” Most often the response is something such as, “I am not getting many interviews or being eliminated early in the interview process and want to figure out where is, for me, the weak link in that chain.”
What I continue to find is one of the most common issues/problems with candidates…They are providing me/the hiring manager (in the resume or during an interview) with a lot more information than is relevant for the position, or spending all of their resume space or interview time relating what they DID vs. what they ACCOMPLISHED, and that is not how to communicate the “wow” factor and why they may be my ideal candidate.
What you DID relates to tasks, your ACCOMPLISHMENTS tell me about what outcomes were produced as a result of your actions. And, hiring managers really wish to hear about HOW you applied the sought after skills and competencies to produce exceptional results and why those results are/were considered to be outstanding.
Here is a typical bullet point that I’ve seen on literally hundreds of resumes:
“Sourced, interviewed & recommended candidates for open positions.”
Well, that’s just terrific. You and 1,000,000 other HR people do this every day. This is a “did”, not an accomplishment. Here are some questions that this job seeker should be asking themselves about this “achievement” (trust me, the hiring manager will be):
· How did you source candidates and WHY was your manner of doing so much more effective than others?
· What is different/distinctive (from all of the other candidates who applied for this position at my company) regarding your methodology for interviewing candidates for open positions?
· What is the approximate retention rate for new hires that were sourced and recommended by you? How does that compare to your peers? Is it a “wow”? WHY?
· How many candidates did you source/interview annually…one, ten, one hundred..? How did this compare to others at your company who had similar responsibilities?
The answers to such questions helps the recruiter or hiring manager determine which candidates will be on the list to call for scheduling a phone screen or interview. And, this number is normally only a small percentage of the total amount of resumes submitted for an open position.
Here is a sample of how to tell a more impactful story about your “Sourced, interviewed & recommended candidates” accomplishment in the resume:
“Developed large network of recruiters, business owners, peers and outplacement professionals, which referred an average of sixty strong candidates annually for consideration, dramatically reducing sourcing time from an average of six weeks to two weeks or by 67%. Engaged employees, from within the department in which the new hire would be placed, in the interview and selection process, contributing to an average new hire retention rate of 95%, which was the highest percentage ever achieved by the HR Recruiting Group in 25 years.”
See the difference?
Let’s say you are a Tool & Die Maker and wish to tell the hiring manager during an interview that you helped save time as a result of coming up with solutions to problems/more efficient operational methods. You could state:
I saved a lot of time by coming up with ideas to make the workflow process more efficient.”
Again…OK, this might be very true, but the statement does not “wow” me about what you have done at your current/previous employer(s) and could possibly do if I brought you on board at my company. Something like the following would do much more towards capturing the attention of the hiring manager:
“I developed, during personal time outside of the workday, a solution to the problem, experienced by all 40 Tool & Die Makers at the company, of locating tools needed to assist in performing assigned jobs. Tools were often difficult to find by workers or had not been properly maintained, thus causing significant increases in the time necessary to complete a job. I drew up and then submitted to ownership detailed drawings and a step-by-step plan for the re-design of the Tool Room and establishment of a process for periodic maintenance of tools. This effort resulted in an average decrease of 100 man hours in the Production area on a monthly basis. The hours previously spent searching for tools or finding tools that were properly maintained and “job ready”, supported the completion of 25 additional jobs per month. I received from the company owner a bonus (no bonuses had been awarded to any employee by ownership during the previous three years) and a promotion to Senior Operator in recognition of this accomplishment.”
Once you “earn” the opportunity to interview, you need to continue the focus on accomplishments. Also, telling the interviewer about skills and competencies that are not even on the list of “Required Skills/Experience” for a company’s ideal candidate is a waste of time. It may seem/feel important to you to do so, but most hiring managers see such information as irrelevant or unimportant (and wonder why you are wasting their time by not focusing on the items noted in the job description).
Remember, a candidate has approximately 30 – 40 seconds to impress the reader of their resume or just a few minutes to “wow” the interviewer enough continue to the next step in the selection process.How are you presenting yourself?

Are you telling me why you are “the one” – the ideal candidate for the opportunity?

What Type of First Impression are You Making?

Many people say that you can tell a lot about someone in just the first few minutes of meeting them. I agree. Body language, tone of voice, attire, level of self-confidence, ability to convey a sense of believability and trust are just some of the snapshots we give or receive that go a long way to creating that critical first impression.

Job seekers often do not realize that basically everything they do, say, write or wear is considered when a hiring manager looks holistically at candidates for an open position. Below are some real life examples of impressions made:

A soon-to-graduate senior at a large university is asked to go to the headquarters of a large, international company on a Thursday for a round of additional interviews that would take place the next day on Friday. He travels across the country and is picked up at the airport by a representative of the company. That evening he, along with about 50 other candidates, is asked to attend a “mixer” at the hotel in which the company has put up all of these students from colleges around the U.S. Several of the company’s managers are at the “mixer” event…at which alcohol is available. A number of those in attendance think this is terrific and treat it like a frat party. Guess which students did not go much farther in the interview process?

Prior to this individual leaving on the trip, I asked him when he thought the interview process would begin. His response, “Like I told you, Mike, my first interview is on Friday @ 8:30 am”.

Wrong..!

His interview started when he was picked up at the airport…and ended when he was dropped off on Friday afternoon by the company’s representative.

This individual did not have any alcohol at the “mixer” that Thursday evening and made it a point to introduce himself to each of the company’s representatives who attended the event. By the way, he’s been with the company now just over three years, had three (above average) pay raises and a promotion.

A job seeker with whom I did some resume coaching had a bullet point in their resume that read, “I sold $50,000 worth of product X each month”. When I asked her to provide me with some perspective of that accomplishment by ranking that level of production against the other 5 sales people in her former company, I was told, “I was fourth”. A bit surprised I remarked, “Fourth out of six sales people…that means your sales volume was below average!” Her reaction to my comment was simply, “Wow, I hadn’t thought about that.”

If you were a sales manager, a good chunk of whose overall compensation might come as a result of the level of sales revenue generated by your sales team…would you give any serious consideration to this candidate..?

A job seeker includes in his resume’s “Career Summary” that he is a “results-oriented team leader”. Yet, there is no mention anywhere else within the content of the two-page document of ANY results for any accomplishment or anything about leading a team. No quantification of his “claims” to be results-oriented or having expertise as a team leader. This is not a good strategy for making a hiring manager believe that you are his/her “ideal” candidate.

An English teacher sends me their resume to review. I find that it is filled with multiple spelling and grammatical errors. I advise the former educator that it would be difficult for me, as a school system Superintendent, to take the resume seriously. When I review the revised resume a couple of weeks later, there were only about half as many spelling and grammatical errors. I told this gentleman that if my children attended the school in which he taught English…I would make certain that they did not have him as their teacher.

In response to a position I posted for an Administrative Assistant, I received a few hundred responses…one of which came with a cover letter that was addressed as follows:

Mike Perry
President
Szarka Financial Management
29691 Lorain Road
North Olmsted, OH 44070

Dear Lois,

Dear LOIS…!!! Apparently this candidate did not understand that when I saw the cover letter I had a disturbing vision about letters typed by her, going out with similar errors to my company’s best prospects and clients.

No thanks..! I never bothered to read her resume.

Why do people attend job seekers’ group meetings dressed like they just came from a cookout? This is a business meeting. The presenters are most often employed executives and/or hiring managers. Do these folks ever look around the room and wonder, “If that speaker (potential hiring manager or someone with connections to other hiring managers) looks at all of the attendees, observes that some/most come dressed in professional attire and then sees me in jeans or shorts and a t-shirt…what type of first impression will they have?”

I have a lot more of these “horror” stories, but you get the point.

Be your own toughest critic. Put yourself in the shoes of the potential hiring manager or HR recruiter who will be formulating quick impressions from a review of your resume, a phone screen, a search of the Internet (Google search for your name, Facebook, LinkedIn…etc).

Would you be impressed with you?

Here are a couple of tips to help ensure that you are positioned to make a great first impression with a hiring manager:

  • Check, double-check and then have a couple of other people (who you trust to be excellent proof readers) check and edit your resume and cover letter.
  • Do a thorough review of your “digital life”. Ensure that the “story” being told about you on Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter is consistent with the story being told by your resume, during networking conversations and interview discussions.
  • Have you proven everything that you claim you can do in your resume? Ensure that all descriptions listed for each of your former positions held coincide with the skills and experience being sought for the job you are seeking, and that each of your “Key Achievement”/accomplishment bullet points contains specific examples of how you applied those skills to produce exceptional results (results that are quantified with metrics).
  • Understand that everything that you do, say and write is considered part of the interview and selection process. Are you taking advantage of everything that you say, do and write as multiple opportunities to “wow” the hiring manager and anyone else involved with the candidate selection process?
  • Be willing to do something that other candidates cannot or are unwilling to do (like showing up two days early at the employer’s facility and introducing yourself to the Receptionist – the “gatekeeper”). I’ve mentioned this tip in at least one of my previous posts and I suggest it whenever I speak to groups of job seekers. Do you know how many candidates actually bother to do something like this…practically none. Impressing the gatekeeper can do a lot to begin setting you apart from the other candidates.

Be aware, be consistent, be impressive.

Oak Barrel

Oak Barrel – Our New Home

Oak Barrel

We have good news!  Our attendance at the networking events have outgrown our old home, Mavis Winkles Restaurant, and have landed at one of the newest restaurants in town – the Oak Barrel.  Chef/owner Demetrios Atheneous is very excited to open his doors to all of our Ohio CareerConnect friends.  We look forward to the expanded space and hope that our attendance continues to build.  Remember, this is all about you – those that are in transition and are looking to network with others as well as our ocassional guest speakers from our regional corporations.

http://www.cleveland.com/dining/index.ssf/2012/12/valley_views_new_eatery_the_oa.html

OCC Nominated for 2012 Networking Organization of the Year!

Rick Martin & Chuck Conrad

Rick Martin & Chuck Conrad, co-creators of Ohio CareerConnect

We are excited to be in the top 5 nominated for the “2012 Networking Organization of the Year” for CBC Magazine’s Connector’s Choice Award. We thank all of you who voted for us!

Which Job Seeking “Expert” is Really Correct?

Tough question…but, it shouldn’t be.

Although there is no “one and only” expert when it comes to the nuts and bolts of putting together a strong and effective job search strategy, there are a whole lot of folks out there giving advice that ranges from “not really accurate” to horribly wrong.

The frustrating part for job seekers is that they often hear presentations by or have one-on-one discussions with people (describing themselves as career experts) who may speak about similar topics, but provide sometimes wildly different advice. Unfortunately, this wide range of advice/opinions not only confuses the job seeker, but often adds significantly to their already high levels of confusion, frustration, anxiety, and diminishing feeling of self-confidence and self-worth.

For example, during a recent networking event co-sponsored by my company, one of the attendees (who has been in transition for several months) told me that she had attended a presentation at a local job seekers group at which the presenter (local career/job search/recruiting “expert”) stated to the 60 some attendees:

I see from looking around the room that most of you are in your 50’s or 60’s. Well, I’m not going to say that you won’t be able to get another job, but you’ll most likely be unable to get something at the same level as what you just came from, and probably will not be able to find something outside of that industry”.

WHAT..!!! That is not how you go about motivating a group of folks who are already feeling badly about themselves due to an unexpected job loss. Plus – It is not true!

I asked this person if she might have misperceived what had been stated by the speaker. “No”, she replied. “Everyone in the room looked at each other, shrugged their shoulders and said, ‘well, then…what are we doing here?’. At that moment I felt like I might never get another decent job”.

Wow.

I am asked to speak at corporate outplacement firms and job seekers groups about 80 times a year. On my worst day, I cannot see myself telling the job seekers assembled to hear me, the invited guest (expert) speaker, that they are “too old to get a good job”…Mostly because I just do not believe it and also – It Just is Not True!!!

This job seeker went on to tell me that another “expert” (recruiter) had told her – when she asked about the most effective manner in which to present her transferable skills (her objective was to change careers) – that, “You won’t be able to get out of the industry you are in. Don’t worry about focusing on transferable skills…that is overrated and has little to do with you getting another job”.

Again, WHAT…!!!

Hiring managers are focused on what skills/expertise/competencies you bring to the table. Case in point – Several years ago I worked with a college graduate on his job search. He had graduated with majors in Computer and Electrical Engineering and was seeking to find an entry level position as an Electrical Engineer designing control systems for custom built machines for large manufacturers. His only work experience at that time was 6 years at a local grocery store…with his title being, “Beer Aisle Manager”.

On the surface, one might perceive that to be a bit of a stretch to go from stocking beer to designing electrical schematics and programming complex control systems for large production machinery. As it turned out, his skill set matched up extremely well with the key competencies being sought by the engineering firm that ultimately wound up hiring him. That firm was seeking a college graduate, with a major in Electrical Engineering, having demonstrated expertise/proficiency in the following areas:

• Leadership
• Project Management
• Team building
• Decision Making
• Customer Service
• Communications
• Attention to detail

Guess what…he had numerous examples of his ability to apply all of these skills to produce exceptional outcomes.

After two interviews, he received a job offer…not the Beer Aisle Manager from the grocery store…but the guy who had all of those key skills/competencies that the employer felt would transfer well to their specific environment and culture.

Transferable skills not relevant…I absolutely disagree. I’ve assisted nearly 900 people with their job searches over the last 4 years and a significant number of those folks (the majority of whom, by the way, were in their 50’s and 60’s) earned a job offer as a result of proving that their skill set was transferable.

So…why do people like the recruiting expert tell a room full of job seekers that such things don’t matter or that they are too old to get a “good job”…?

Can’t answer that one, but it is terribly frustrating for those of us out there trying to provide the best advice possible to people in transition. Advice that is actionable and proven to improve a candidate’s job search results. We’re not telling people that they are too old to matter or that skills aren’t transferable…because that is just not true. We are trying to help and motivate those with whom we speak…the folks who are spending those evenings at networking events and in the basements of churches at job seekers group meetings…people who are reaching out and trusting that the advice received from supposed experts is correct.

So, how can you avoid job search/career “experts” who are really not so? Here are a couple of tips:

• Check out the speaker’s profile on LinkedIn…Do they have any recent recommendations from people who they have assisted w/job searches or from those who may have heard them make presentations on job search related topics?
• Check out the firm at which the speaker works. What do they do? What is his/her position there? What is their background (again, LinkedIn) and does that background seem to fit w/their being an expert related to resume writing, interviewing and networking skills, and putting together an effective job search strategy/plan?
• Was the expert ever in transition themselves? Have they walked in your shoes?
• When was the last time the speaker/expert actually was involved in hiring someone (I’ve had people, who asked for my assistance regarding their resumes, tell me that, “Well, my resume should be good, I’ve had an expert work on it already”, only to find out that the “expert” is their next door neighbor who had absolutely no HR, recruiting or hiring experience at all!)?

If the results of just this research don’t convince you that the person is really an expert related to job searches…well, why put yourself through the frustration of hearing poor advice that is probably mostly opinion vs. the result of years of actual experience.

Reading a book about job searches does not make someone a job search expert. Anyone can claim they are a Career Coach…doing so does not make them one.

So much of the success of a job search is the result of preparation and the effort put into researching potential employers, industries, hiring managers, culture fit…etc. Save yourself some grief and frustration by extending that same effort to those who claim to be job search/career related experts. Isn’t the job search already tough enough without throwing another log on the fire by listening to or working with a job search expert who really isn’t one?

Actions Really Do Speak Louder than Words

If a company tells you that they brew the best beer in the world, but have minimal sales and no awards to show for their efforts, how believable is their claim of having an outstanding product? We can all say whatever we wish about our abilities and achievements, but, as the saying goes, “the proof is in the pudding”.

And thus is the challenge for today’s job seekers…making believers out of skeptical hiring managers. This is actually not that difficult to accomplish, but it does take a significant investment of a candidate’s time, which is something that the vast majority of job seekers are still NOT willing to do. This means that those candidates who do elect to put in the time and effort necessary to develop a truly “killer” resume and memorable interview discussions, can very quickly distance themselves from a large percentage of those competing for the same job opening.

Here are some tips that should help your actions (accomplishments) speak for themselves:

• Telling me what you DID makes your resume sound like a job description…the hiring manager wants to read about what you ACCOMPLISHED in each of the roles you held while at previous employers. Write/talk about how you applied each of the required skills/abilities being sought by the hiring manager (your actions) and how doing so produced outcomes that were considered (by supervisors, senior management, clients, co-workers or industry standards/averages) to be exceptional.

• Quantify with metrics (dollars & percentages) each of your accomplishments. And, be certain to relate why that level of success was considered to be outstanding. In other words, provide the hiring manager with some benchmarking that proves the results of your actions were actually exceptional. For example, don’t just state that you, “increased sales”. OK, maybe you did…but the hiring manager needs to know by how much and then see that level of production compared to peers in your company and/or a similar industry. If you really are as outstanding a salesperson as you claim, comparing your accomplishments in this manner will clearly support such a statement.

• Understand that the interview starts as soon as they look at your resume. Does the document reflect the skills and competencies required/being sought as noted in the position description? What type of image did you project during the phone screen (confident delivery of your answers – reflecting thorough research on the company on your part or taking the call at your house while children are yelling and dogs barking in the background)? Did you dress appropriately for the interview? Show up on time? Did you check out the interviewer’s profile on LinkedIn (I know of many hiring managers who will check to see who has looked at their LinkedIn profile…they are often looking to see which candidates made the effort to learn about them prior to the first interview)?

Remember that everything you do, say or write, is written or said about you is all considered as part of the job selection process.

What are your “actions” telling the hiring manager about you?

Candidates May Need Some “Tough Love” to Succeed

Over the last week, I’ve met or spoken over phone with a couple dozen or so people in transition to do some resume/job search coaching. Often, I find that a good deal of what is discussed and recommended during such conversations is difficult to hear for the person being coached. After one such session with a former Human Resources executive, whose resume needed quite a bit of work (it did little to reflect her supposed HR expertise), the individual looked at me and remarked, “Wow, that was really tough love, wasn’t it?”

Yes…and the frustrating part for today’s hiring managers and recruiters is that this type of discussion needs to occur with way too many candidates.

During this same time period, I met with an executive coach, a Global Recruiter for a large, multi-national company and spoke at length with a career coach/recruiter at a large corporate outplacement firm. Below are some of the main points they shared with me when asked about strengths and weaknesses of the resumes they read and candidates with whom they speak:

Strengths

  • Mindset – Candidates with the “that job is mine”/“I can and will make a significant difference at your company when you hire me” approach…and, come fully prepared to back up that confidence with examples of their exceptional successes and accomplishments.
  • Preparation – Proving that they really are interested in the position by demonstrating much research has been completed regarding the target company and respective industry and reflecting such in their cover letter, resume and interview discussions.
  • Resume That “Wow’s” – Having to dig through what is normally hundreds of resumes per position posting, hiring managers and recruiters consider only those documents that tell a great story about exceptional accomplishments at previous employers when selecting a pool of candidates for interviews.
  • Powerful Interviews – All of these folks told me that they will develop a strong “sense” about a candidate during the first few minutes of speaking with them – whether that discussion is over the phone or in person. The candidates who are moved along in the process are those who do the best job of engaging the interviewer during the interview conversations and can create a sense of excitement about the possibility of having them become part of the team.
  • Global Thinkers – Candidates who demonstrate that they “get it”…that they have a great feel and understanding of the company’s challenges and the direction of the respective industry. This is the difference between someone with a holistic view of the work environment/organization/industry vs. a person with “tunnel vision”.
  • Culture Fit – Candidates who demonstrate that they can and have flourished in a work environment similar to that which exists at the prospective employer. Candidates that are perceived to have the ability to perpetuate and strengthen the company’s brand/image.

Weaknesses

  • Wrong Mindset – Candidates who act as though they “deserve” a job just because they claim to have the required skills and that they have “worked for 20 or 30 years” doing something of a similar nature. They may arrive late for interviews, dress in attire which is too casual or engage in phone screens/interviews at home with the dog barking and the children running around the house screaming and fighting with each other (during which the candidate often stops the interview discussion to yell at the dog or the children to “be quiet”). This occurs more often than you would think. Last week I was doing a resume review over the phone and had to stop what I was saying because the person who called me started washing dishes! I’m not kidding.
  • Lack of Preparation – Candidates whose resumes or answers to interview questions clearly demonstrate that little to no research and preparation was done regarding the target company and the respective industry. One of these folks told me, “How does someone expect to sell something (themselves as a great candidate…a great fit for the organization) if they know nothing about the buyer?” Resumes and cover letters that lack customization for the specific job being offered reflect little to no extra effort by the candidate…and this is not a message that will impress recruiters and hiring managers who are seeking to refer or hire “the one” from a pool of hundreds of applicants.
  • Resume That Fails to “Wow” – Candidates whose resumes read like a job description, contain no quantifiable results or accomplishments, are poorly formatted or written (spelling and/or grammatical errors). These poorly constructed resumes are perceived to be an example of the quality of the candidate’s written communication skills. One of the recruiters told me that he would be embarrassed to show to his boss many of the resumes received, because they contained such a large number of errors. Another told me, “Why should I recommend a candidate if they are unable to differentiate themselves with ‘wow me’ results and accomplishments? Who I refer is a direct reflection on my ability to judge talent.”
  • Interviews That Lack “Punch” – Candidates that have “nothing” of substance about which to speak or who are unable to back up their claims of expertise and success with some sort of quantification (metrics, recognition, awards…etc.) Candidates who show no passion during the discussion and/or struggle coming up with substantive answers to the interviewer’s questions are not going to do enough to warrant being moved along in the selection process towards being a finalist. One of the recruiters remarked that they find it amusing when a candidate looks at the ceiling when answering a question. “The answers are not written up there”, he stated while smiling and shaking his head.
  • Lack of Big Picture Thinking – No demonstration of thinking “outside of the box”, being innovative or understanding how one’s actions can impact other areas of the company. These are qualities that are basically no longer an option for a candidate to have…they are expected to be “part of the package”.
  • Culture Mismatch – Recruiters are paid to find the person with the “right stuff”…the candidate whose brand/culture “fits like a glove” with that of the prospective employer. Hiring managers are judged by the level of talent they find to bring into the organization and how well that talent works in harmony within the existing culture. Candidates that are perceived not to be a good fit are often “put back on the shelf”. Too much is at stake for the hiring manager to consider doing otherwise.

So…where do you stack up? Would you be considered a strong candidate or one that should not be moved along in the selection process?

First, you need to listen with an open mind to those providing you, the candidate, with feedback/advice/coaching…the “tough love” regarding your job search strategy and tactics.

That does not mean all advice is great advice that will work well for you. Advice consists of opinions based upon facts or years of actual experience, but can also consist of nothing more than “just my opinion as your friend, family member or former co-worker” (who may know/understand very little about the hiring process). Ultimately, you must make the decision regarding what strategies are followed and which tactics are executed – and with how much effort!

You must be your own toughest critic and fully committed to push yourself to take the steps necessary to be one of the candidates considered by recruiters and hiring managers as strong and potentially “ideal” for the position they are seeking to fill.