Dear Coach Joan: Career Advice
Getting to the job offer can be a very competitive process. You are often competing against other good candidates. To get the offer, you need to be the stand-out candidate. You need to be not just good or better but best! How do you separate yourself from the other candidates and be the best?
If you are responding to job listings your resume is often in a pile, or file, of many. And if you are interviewing, you are probably up against others going through the interview process as well. Here are three somewhat unusual but proven strategies that have worked:
- BRING PROPS – Yes, bring a distinctive and relevant ‘something’ to the interview. Be creative and spark the curiosity and interest of the interviewer! One client, a recent college grad in aeronautical engineering did just that. He was a very shy and introverted young man. His GPA was impressive but he had trouble showing enthusiasm and passion. When he shared with me a couple of outstanding letters of recommendation by his professors I asked how he made such a positive impression. Seems he not only earned top grades but started a model airplane club where they constructed a model plane as a group, and he was the leader! Turns out he had quite interesting stories to tell around that experience and actually had a small model of the plane. I suggested he bring that plane to his interview and once the focus was that, he naturally lit up and told his interesting stories that reflected his relevant job skills. He landed the job. Can you think of a prop that you could bring along that would both peak the interest of the interviewer and conversation about your relevant and compelling skills?
- WRITE AN ARTICLE: Lately companies and organizations want to see what job candidates can actually do and produce. A cousin of mine is currently job seeking in Silicon Valley. She told me that as part of the interview process she was asked to analyze and write about three industry articles that they sent to her. Employers want to see your thinking and how your mind works. They are less inclined to believe glowing recommendations than to see your real-time capabilities directed to their subject matter. My recommendation is for you to proactively put your thoughts and ideas on paper about an interesting topic in your field. For instance, I had a client who is finance manager and he wrote an article on what he considered the key considerations a company needs to make when doing an acquisition, and specifically from the finance and accounting perspective. He knows that several of his target companies are in the acquision mode and his experience in that area will be compelling. The article he wrote actually got him in the door for interviews with key decision-makers at two of the companies was interested. He ultimately got a job offer from one of them. Interestingly, the article he wrote was shared with the finance team and he came in to the company with some positive recognition. Nice.
- SHOW YOUR INDUSTRY KNOWLEDGE: Yes, most people know to prepare some intelligent questions for an interview. They prepare questions about the job, the management style and company culture. All good. But why not go a step further and show that you are a big picture thinker; that you will be a real asset to the organization because you look at the larger environment that your prospective organization operates in. For instance, if you are applying for a job at a community non-profit, research the other local non profits and talk about them as well . Prepare some intelligent comments about your observations. Show your research and intelligence.
Yes, the job market can be very competitive. You need to do all you can to be the stand-out candidate. The above three strategies are all creative, proven and effective ways to show that you are the best candidate for the job. You don’t need to limit yourself to one of them. You can use all three if they are all relevant to your situation.
Onward to your career success as a stand-out candidate.
Let’s bring the best of you to work!!
Coach JoanRead more
I find it so interesting to see the varied management styles that bring the best out of people. Some people flourish when they have a lot of structure and direction. Others do best when they are given a broad mission and left to design a full plan of action on their own. Some people like a combination of the two. It’s vital to know your best work style. Why? You want to be able to know and recognize the environments and management style that naturally bring the best out in you. And you want to be able to ask questions about the management style for a prospective job to see if it will be a good match. Let’s look at three work styles. See where you fit:
- Defined role, objectives, tasks and tactics. Some people feel most comfortable and are most productive when everything is spelled out. They want to know exactly what their position is, what is to get done, the list of tasks that are involved, the tools provided, any assessment measurements and time schedules. They are happiest when they are fully informed about how they should complete their work, who they should be working with, and what the completed tasks look like. They want to please their manager and feel most at ease when their work is spelled out. They like to have very clear job performance expectations and want to have a manager available to answer questions. Does this sound like you?An example of this kind of worker is a woman I knew at a health club facility. She was confused and overwhelmed with her first manager who only provided broad brush directions. But when that manager left and a more structured one arrived, she was delighted to be given a full page of instructions on the details of her job. She loved knowing exactly what was expected and how to do each step. Same job, different manager, better fit!
- Clear goals but little direction. This is the other extreme. These people like and crave autonomy. They do not want a boss telling them how to get a job done. They actually enjoy creating a path to success by using their resources creatively and figuring out how to best proceed. They don’t mind it when circumstances change and new developments occur that can change things. They actually enjoy a little chaos and feel good about pivoting and changing direction. An example of this kind of worker is someone who comes in to build an entirely new program for the organization.I can think of an individual who was hired by a non profit to create new donor events. This was a brand new endeavor and she needed to come up with creative ideas, build out a plan and present it to the board. She flourished by having an environment where she could be creative and build a program from scratch with little management interference and direction. Many entrepreneurs are like this. They really like to have their autonomy. Even if they have a board to report to and be accountable to, they really work best independently and like to trust their instincts, experience and knowledge to create a win.
- A combination. Most people fall in this in-between category. They like to have some direction, especially at the start of the job, they like to have more freedom as they gain skill and confidence. They want to work closely with their boss at first, but then have more independence. People gain confidence as they get positive feedback that they are doing the job well. They prefer to check-in with their managers on just a periodic basis. An example would be a customer service rep. The manager trains them on the product and how to work with customers. At first they are asked to follow a specific script, but as they get more experienced, they are allowed to go off script and communicate more spontaneously.
It’s important to know your natural work style so that you can align it with the right environment. I often get career coaching clients who are unemployed because there was a real misalignment between their style and that of their boss. It’s sad to me when they didn’t realize that it was a bad fit and they kept trying to make a misaligned relationship work.
This kind of bad fit between the boss and employee often happens when a new manager comes in and inherits a team they did not hire and would not have hired.
The sooner you realize it’s just a bad style fit, the sooner you can begin a process to make change. You can try to make accommodations, and that might work in the short term, but if it’s a really bad style conflict, you’re probably better off moving on.
Onward in your career self-awareness and success!
Coach JoanRead more
I’ve had two clients this year who quit their jobs, feeling justified that the environment was so bad, and the boss so outrageously horrible that they just couldn’t stay for one more day. In fact, one of them was asked to work in an area with toxic materials and refused to for her health.
Another one witnessed his manager refer to African American clients using the ‘N’ word. Yes, both of these situations were outrageous, wrong and require a strong reaction. And in both cases, the individuals quit on the spot. They told the manager they could not tolerate this untenable and unreasonable work environment, and they were leaving. And in both cases they tried to apply for unemployment insurance and were denied.
And I’d like to share that when I was young, (defined as 20s-30s) I was also in an untenable situation and quit on the spot. I found out that the owner of the small multimedia production company I was working for in NYC was not paying the creative freelancers. These talented artists and writers, who did substantial amounts of work for him, would do good work in full faith of being paid at the end of the project, and he did not pay them. He moved on to an almost unlimited pool of freelance talent in the city. I did notice that it was curious that our freelancers seemed to be moving through a revolving door, but I only found out the truth of the situation when I became good friends with one of the writers. He confided in me that he was not paid and could not take the time to fight back. He needed to move forward to the next gig to make money to survive. I was shocked and incensed and felt fully justified in quitting. On the spot!
The good side of quitting when you know you are in an unethical or unhealthy or toxic environment is that you know you stood up for what was right. You put your stake in the ground that you would not tolerate these actions or behaviors. And you reinforce to yourself that you are a person of conviction, good morals and ethics. You confirm your identity as a good person who stands up for what’ is right. And that feels good. Plus, it feels good to confront that boss and let him or her know that you know his or her ways and won’t be a part of them. And you are free of the toxic environment.
The bad side of quitting on the spot is that you are the one left unemployed and often without a way to get unemployment insurance. So, in a sense you have bitten off your nose to spite your face.
And another downside of quitting is that it is more difficult to find new employment when you are out of work. Job candidates always look more attractive when they are currently employed. It’s just the way it is. It’s perception vs reality, and you are perceived as somehow weak or less in the job market when you are not working. Additionally, you will not be doing yourself any favors by telling potential employers why you left your last job. Even though you know you were justified, and it was an untenable environment, it is never perceived positively to bad-mouth a past employer.
So what should you do when you are in a horrible work situation?
First thing, if there is an HR person or department tell them what is happening. In best case scenario HR will be responsive and initiate change. If you are in a large company, perhaps you can ask to move to a new department or work for a different manager. Perhaps, once HR knows of the behavior, they will get it corrected.
OK, if you are in an organization where the HR person is perhaps complicit with the badly performing manager, you need to document this situation thoroughly to be ready when you need that justification for unemployment.
If it is a very small organization you might not have any place to go.
So what should you do?
I suggest you tell yourself that this is now a temporary situation. And again, document it all while you work really hard to find a new job.
And if you have sick days or any kind of personal time off (PTO) or vacation days coming, take time away to build up your strength and resources to get back and do your job, but focus on finding a new one. Update your resume, Linkedin profile and get working on your network to find new, permanent employment.
If that is hard, then at least look for temp work that could keep you with some income to pay your bills.
Once you have secured new work, give two weeks notice, and move on.
Or, keep documenting the problems and show they are not being addressed and have that documentation ready to justify and meet the requirements for unemployment insurance.
Looking back, I’m still glad I left my job when I found out the owner was not paying the freelancers, but I did go through a challenging period of unemployment, eating rice and beans and being fearful about my future. I ended up getting some temp work and finally a new job. But had I had this advice that my older, wiser self just offered, perhaps I would have stayed on and done a job hunt while on the job, seeing it as a temporary situation.
Onward to good work, good management, good times and good luck!