Q&A for Your Next Boss

A job seeker at my career transition ministry asked me the following.

I have a major interview coming up soon with a start up company.  I will be interviewing with and ultimately reporting to the CEO.  I have one question that I need to ask someone, but I am not sure who.  — What is the CEO’s management style?  Do I ask him, or do I ask some, or all, of his subordinates?  Or should I ask both sources? The main concern I have about the job is whether or not the CEO is a micro-manager.

Here is my answer.

Simple. Go ahead and ask “would you mind sharing with me something about your management style?” All managers will have an answer for that. The good ones can describe the way they like to lead people versus “managing” people. Bad ones will likely talk a lot about metrics, systems, and results, leaving out the human elements of the answer.

Of course the best answers will need to come from the people who work for them or know them. This is a great example of a LinkedIn question to ask someone. Use LinkedIn to find former employees of the target company. Then make personal, direct inquires to those people. Tell them you might be interviewing at their former company and would like them to share some insights. (Point 7 in my “12.5 Ways to Get Ahead on LinkedIn”). I have used this approach for several years and have gotten some amazing information to use.


Procedures? We Don’t Need No Stinking Procedures

While being interviewed on a recent radio talk show, I was stunned to hear one of the co-hosts claim “At my company, we see as many as 92% of our job applicants failing to follow the prescribed job posting procedures. We count that as immediate elimination.”

No kidding! Wow, 92% of the presumably desperate job seekers applying to this company’s posted jobs cannot follow enough instructions to pass through the grid and become potential interviewees. What are these people thinking? Ok, maybe the company has some special requirements they have laid out, but so what? I am sure the nature of their business has some unique requirements too (as do most company’s). If someone cannot or will not follow the steps, then what kind of worker might they be?

Remember, the job search process is as much about elimination as it is selection. Candidates cannot give the employer a reason to eliminate them by failing to follow a step in the process.

Can’t Remember the Punch Line?

I am going to continue my theme on building a compelling story to use when job interviewing and/or power-networking. In a previous blog I presented the idea that your interview needs to be YOUR story. Just like a comedian who tells a good joke, you have to be able to tell your own punch line at the end of your story.  So when you are doing an interview, you do not want to leave the punch line up to the interviewer. You need to tell the punch line. It’s the why I am relevant and significant for the job opening.

First, this thing I am calling your story is different from the traditional “elevator pitch”. Basically, I hate those. They always have a way of coming out either rehearsed or canned. There is no personality in that. To have a good story, you need to be ready to modify things on-the-fly. You need to be soaking in the dialogue from the interviewer. Listen carefully and shape your responses to fit the context, language, terminology, and buzz that the other person is using to communicate.

Here are the basic elements. You need a beginning, middle, and an end. WOW! When have you heard that before…hmmmmm, maybe in 5th grade language arts? I did. This childlike simplicity is so powerful. It goes something like this.

“I know exactly what you are talking about. My experience includes direct handling of XYZ during the most recent change in the market. I was responsible for 20% of the increase my old company had in XYZ. Because your company is launching a new initiative with XYZ (I know this from studying your information), I am sure I can make a similar contribution here.”

Keep working on those stories and the right punch line.

PS – I have become a contributing author on Linked2Leadership. Visit http://linked2leadership.com/

PPS – for more on career transition and job search resources, visit www.AskJMS.org

What is the New Normal?

In a recent post by another author, I heard this question; What is the New Normal? I like that thought. As things around use change, we see a shift towards a “new normal”. The example given was that the airlines now charge for extra bags and in many cases, even carry-ons. So, that change creates a new normal.

My question is what is the new normal for the employment game? An old fashioned resume and cover letter won’t get you very far these days. Computers scan documents for keywords and make sometimes arbitrary decisions about candidate selection. So that has become the new normal. How can job search candidates stay up with the seismic shifts in the placement game? Here are a few thoughts:

  1. Get to know a quality recruiter. I mean someone who can prove themselves as a real pro in the recruiting game. Become a trusted connection for them. Offer to help them with referrals and input. Then get their insights into the norms they see emerging.
  2. Join a professional networking group. Whether you choose a trade association or a community sponsored group, GET INVOVLED.
  3. Read and grow. When was the last time you flipped thru, no, I mean really read articles from a Fortune, Forbes, Businessweek, or Wall Street journal?
  4. Become a better listener. Listen more than you talk when you are introduced to someone who might have some knowledge about a topic. Stop trying to impress them with your “stuff”. Listen to what they might offer, then grow from that.
  5. Finally, be willing to accept change. As you learn these new normal things, try to avoid the temptation to buck the change.

Little More Life in Your Day

The other day I was driving between appointments and had the radio on. There was a great song that was new to me. The artist was singing about the common ground we all share by having 86,400 seconds of time bestowed upon us each and every new day. Yet as we scurry to handle our responsibilities, tasks, and the things we think are “important”, we often find ourselves asking for more time. When the day is done, we usually have a sense that some things were left undone.

The message in the song said rather than lamenting the need for more TIME, the thing we really need is more LIFE in our day. As those seconds tick off, what can you do to bring more life into the moment? WOW! What a concept. We will always be challenged by the circumstances of our day. Sometimes we really cannot control those things. What we can control is the quality of the life we live in response to those moments.

Looking for more ideas, visit www.12Point5Ways.com

Are You a Cool Breeze or a Fog Machine?

Workplace conduct always has its ups and downs. Personalities of all shapes and sizes interact, presumably to accomplish some common goal. Yet as each new day unfolds, there are extreme ends of the spectrum that are worthy of our consideration.

First the Cool Breeze…these are the people who find the positive in most any circumstance. They seek first to understand before being understood (ala Covey). These good folks look for solutions to problems as they arise versus becoming the problem. Whoever invented the phrase ‘thinking outside the box’ had these souls in mind. With these people on the team, you can enjoy a renewing energy each and every day. They bring positive outlooks and smiling faces to the task regardless of how difficult or taxing the chores may be.

Then The Fog Machine…these are the personalities who look for ways to obstruct and/or derail a project. Eor in Winnie the Pooh had nothing on these guys. Chicken Little looked like an optimist compared the dour and sour attitudes voiced by the fog machines. Why fog? Because that’s what they bring. Their attitudes and opinions fog the clearest of days and make seeing the goal line almost impossible. Too much energy gets drained pushing out the fog.

Funny thing is, we have a choice each day to be either personality. What shall you choose?

Are You Ready to Be an “Emerging Worker”?

Greetings from the road. Recently I have been involved in a new consulting engagement that has afforded the opportunity to work almost exclusively with a team of “emerging workers”. That is the term I use for workers “of age” who were between jobs and now are taking contract/consulting opportunities. While many companies today are adding these contract workers to their ranks to augment projects and/or staff specific short term needs, it is rare to see a situation with a whole team of these “employees”, guided by only a few permanent staff members.

The whole spectrum I’ve observed in this assignment is worthy of some commentary here. First let me say the camp is pretty evenly divided between three key profiles. First, there are those workers who are incredibly skilled and gifted AND who are demonstrating an incredibly positive attitude about the opportunity. These people can easily be trusted to take a task and run with it to either good or many times, even great results. The other extreme is the group who exhibits poor work ethic, moderate to low willingness to be a part of the team, and outright poor attitudes about all parts of the workload. For these folks one might say “it’s easy to see why YOU lost your last job”. Then there is a rather strange group in the middle. The paradox with this ‘tweener’ group is the conflict between having high potential based upon occasional demonstration of skills yet there is a barrier to success because of various (and often unpredictable) objections to instruction or tasking. Many times the objections take the form of ‘well we did it this way where I came from’ or ‘I don’t care what you say, I know better’.

On one hand, the three profiles represent the problem with the workforce at large. As any manager can tell you, even among permanent employees, most work teams end up with the same three profiles in play. The challenge for the leaders of these work teams where the assignment is temporary is to bring out the best in those who are ready and willing to contribute. Then they must still work with the “people management” part of dealing with the rest of the team. As an employer choosing to deploy temporary workers, the fix is somewhat easy. If a person cannot or will not contribute, then they can be terminated more quickly.

To workers facing this alternative to permanent employment, I recommend the following:

  1. Before taking the engagement, decide upon a clear and specific set of your own expectations. Deals like this are often offered at pay grades below your former level. Be sure you are clear and honest with yourself about that fact. If you accept an engagement, then later decide your pay grade is a problem, you will have created your own biggest barrier to success.
  2. Join the work team with a whole new and fresh set of attitudes. Be open to new ideas. Respect those who may be in authority. Try VERY hard to scope the whole assignment from within before you start making decisions about what you can and will do. Ask questions that exhibit a willingness to achieve success, not to undermine the plan already in place.
  3. Understand who the designated leaders of the group may be, then offer help of all kinds.
  4. Develop good rapport with everyone in a 360 range; peers, reports, and leaders. Demonstrate an openness to be the best member of the team you can be.

If you are saying you are not willing to do some of these things, I can promise you a temporary assignment like this will not be a good experience for you.  Since there is strong and growing evidence that corporate America is shifting to this model, it is vitally important that workers consider these things when looking at contract opportunities.

Change Management: Aura+Attitude+Angle

In the business world, a whole dedicated discipline of “change management” has arisen.

Fred Nikols writes “One meaning of “managing change” refers to the making of changes in a planned and managed or systematic fashion. The aim is to more effectively implement new methods and systems in an ongoing organization. The changes to be managed lie within and are controlled by the organization. (Perhaps the most familiar instance of this kind of change is the “change control” aspect of information systems development projects.).  However, these internal changes might have been triggered by events originating outside the organization, in what is usually termed “the environment.” Hence, the second meaning of managing change, namely, the response to changes over which the organization exercises little or no control (e.g., legislation, social and political upheaval, the actions of competitors, shifting economic tides and currents, and so on). Researchers and practitioners alike typically distinguish between a knee-jerk or reactive response and an anticipative or proactive response.”

Let’s consider the proactive response in terms of job seekers needing new ways to accomplish greater things. Rather than suffer the impact of interview rejects or having no call-backs, persons between jobs need to consider the cause and effect of behaviors and attitudes they bring to the hiring process. The science of change management aside, the easiest source for deciding on the need for change is a quick look in the mirror. Here are a couple of tips to ponder:

  1. How’s your aura? You know, that “luminous radiation” generating from your face and posture. Do you project the things that would make an employer want to hire you?
  2. How’s your attitude? Are you depressed, angry, uncertain, fearful, full of angst? These are all negative energies that block any potential success for effective communication with a person of influence.
  3. How’s you angle? Are you ready to tell a story that communicates who and what you are? By story, I do not mean a fabricated lie. I mean a clear, cohesive statement of the goals you are seeking and the values you can bring to a new job.

 If any or all of these are out of balance, you my friend are a candidate for CHANGE.

Is Conan O’Brien the New Permanent Temporary Worker?

NBC’s decision to juggle its late-night schedule has caused quite a stir. Regardless of which star’s side you might take, one thing is clear. Employment, even for major network superstars, is temporary at best. Conan’s gig only lasted 7 months.

He now represents a growing number of workers in America who are facing the very real probability, not just possibility, that their next employment opportunity may be short lived. Companies of all sizes are considering the very real idea of bringing on workers for short term engagements to accomplish projects, make changes, expand product lines, and other execute on strategic decisions. Yet they have no intent to retain the employees for long term assignment. Some management teams consider it long term employment “bloat”. The thought is to reduce headcount at all levels to maintain a lean workforce profile.

The primary concern with successful implementation of this course of action is that the average American worker has expectations rooted in 50 years of workforce history. After WWII companies began offering various incentives to draw workers back to their specific firms. Competition for benefits and perks grew. As a result, workers began expecting these additions as part of the total compensation package.

For companies to successful wind back time and reduce benefit package offerings, the workforce will have to embrace these changes. As NBC has learned in their ouster of Conan, watch out for public outcry. The story is far from finished.

Job Search Rollercoasters

People between jobs face a daily rollercoaster of emotion, energy, and challenge. So how do you find balance in the ups and downs? Here are a few tips: 

First, have a plan. As in all good planning, you will uncover and define expectations. Know that there will be days of “no” between the days of hearing “yes”. If your plan has contingencies for the process of landing a new job, then you will have accounted for the low points in the journey. This should serve to take some of the sting out of the less than positive news you hear from day to day.

Next, get connected. Do not make this journey alone. Find a job search buddy (or several) to share the walk. Stay in touch. Help each other set daily and weekly goals so you can make real progress. Then hold each other accountable for those goals.

Allow yourself occasional breaks from the grind of finding a new job. Of course you might not afford a trip somewhere, but take the weekend off to do something with family or friends. Stay with a hobby you love. Read books or magazines. Allow your brain to shift into other modes so that the cycle of job searching can rejuvenate.

Last, maintain your health both physically and spiritually. The stress of job loss can weigh heavily on your body and your mind. Create a system for maintaining your physical health via exercise and other stress relieving solutions. Connect with God, following whatever faith based teaching you choose. Re-join your local faith family and reach out to help others. You will be amazed at the stress release that comes from stepping out of your “stuff” and focusing some energy on helping others.