Saturday, December 8, 2007

Positioning Your Story

When it comes to telling a story, one of the most difficult concepts for some people to grasp is positioning. To help you understand exactly what I mean, perhaps the best place to start is by making a distinction between presenting and positioning.

PRESENTING is telling your story from your point-of-view.
POSITIONING is telling your story from the customer's point-of-view.

Your customer may be a hiring manager within your current organization, a potential employer, or quite literally, a person with whom you would like to do business. Whatever the case, it is absolutely essential to know this person so well that you can speak directly to their needs, challenges, and pain.

If your goal is to make a connection with a specific person, it is in your best interest to know everything you can about what drives him or her:

- What challenges does this person face?
- What opportunities are on the horizon?
- What are his or her goals? Why?
- When do these goals need to be accomplished?
- What factors are driving these needs and goals?

Think of yourself as an investigative reporter. Learn everything you can about the person's situation. Once you know this, start by asking yourself these questions:

- What can I offer this person that will help solve a problem or capture an opportunity?
- What experiences have I had that support my ability to succeed?
- What are the REASONS TO BELIEVE my involvement is the NEXT LOGICAL STEP in my personal or professional development?
- Why does this opportunity excite me?

Interestingly enough, although a personal connection certainly helps, it isn't a requirement. You simply need to know the important similarities the person shares with other people in their same situation. For example, when I write copy targeting career-changers, I can speak to a wider group by knowing the struggles they all have in common. However, I don't write the copy as if I am addressing a large audience, I write it as if I am speaking to a single person. Starting with a question can be an effective way to accomplish this:

"Have you ever applied for a job that seemed like a perfect fit yet never received a response?"

If you have ever been in that situation, you would probably read that line and immediately relate to how disappointing and frustrating it can be. By putting myself in the customers' shoes and speaking to their pain, people reading it feel I am connecting directly with them in a one-on-one conversation. That is my goal. That is positioning.

Having captured a person's attention, I would continue to tell the story from THEIR point-of-view thereby giving them a REASON TO BELIEVE I have something valuable to offer.

Presenting, on the other hand, would be telling my story from my point-of-view. In this case, the communication might look more like this:

- "Over the past 15 years, I have worked with career-changers at all levels in a variety of fields ranging from finance and engineering to advertising and manufacturing."

Even if you happened to be in one of the fields I mentioned, I haven't communicated anything that would get you to believe I truly understand what you are currently experiencing. Unfortunately, that is what happens when people don't take the time to position their experiences. They attempt to speak to everyone and, in effect, speak to no one.

The next time you need to gain the interest and attention of a prospective customer or employer, take the time to tell your story from THEIR point-of-view. If you want to truly connect with a customer or hiring manager, positioning is always worth the effort.

Saturday, November 10, 2007

The Secret Excuse - A Personal Example

We've talked at length about the stories we tell other people. Now, it's time to change focus and talk briefly about the stories we tell ourselves.

Today's lesson comes not from the world of professional development, but from the world of dating. If you are wondering what this has to do with marketing yourself, keep reading because I am about to share one of the most valuable insights I have ever learned. I will also share a very personal example to illustrate my point.

When it comes to achieving our goals-—personal or professional--there will always be obstacles that stand in the way and threaten our sense of who we are and what we are capable of achieving. Some of the obstacles are real and quantifiable. Others are based on the limiting beliefs we have developed over the years. Because there may be a small element of truth to limiting beliefs, they often dictate our expectations and, therefore, our reality.

David DeAngelo, creator of a program called Double Your Dating, calls these limiting beliefs The Secret Excuse. The Secret Excuse typically relates to factors beyond our control that we use to explain, usually to ourselves, our lack of success. For example, Secret Excuses might include:

• I’m too short.
• I’m too fat.
• I’m not successful enough.
• I’m too ugly.
• My hair is too stringy.
• I'm not geographically desirable.

If we give our attention, energy, and focus to these secret excuses, the universe will deliver, right to our doorstep, examples that confirm their truth. This is the Law of Attraction at work. In other words, if we think we aren’t successful enough, we are likely to encounter an endless array of potential partners who are looking for someone who can provide a higher level of financial security.

But the Secret Excuse is just that, an excuse. It can only threaten our sense of self and confidence if we let it. If we dedicate our attention, energy, and focus to finding examples that contradict our Secret Excuse, we can find evidence to support that as well. This often clarifies the difference between objective reality and a harmful, self-limiting belief.

At 5’9”, I am not what one might consider tall. Hence, for years my Secret Excuse was “I won’t be successful in dating because I am too short.” I truly believed that the women I wanted to date wouldn’t find me attractive because I was less than 6’ tall. In my darkest moments, I catastrophized and convinced myself I would therefore never be truly happy or successful.

Rather than accept that being too short might an issue SOME of the time, I turned it into a Secret Excuse with the expectation that it would be an issue ALL of the time. As the author of Learned Optimism, Martin Seligmann, might say, my interpretation was “personal, permanent, and pervasive.” In other words, “It’s me, it’s going to last forever, and it’s going to impact everything I do.” Talk about pessimistic.

Once I came to terms with the fact that this Secret Excuse was standing in the way of my freedom to be myself, I made the decision to actively search for evidence that contradicted it. Not long afterwards, I hit it off and briefly dated two women who were over 6'2". One was 6’5”!. In light of the fact that most women are not even close to being that tall, the experience served as powerful evidence to discount my Secret Excuse.

You might be wondering what this has to do with marketing yourself. As it happens, I see secret--and in some cases not-so-secret--excuses at play all the time:

• I'm too old. No one will hire me.
• I don't have enough experience.
• I've been out to the game too long.

And on it goes.

The last example, "I've been out of the game too long" is the favorite Secret Excuse of women returning to the workforce after being stay-at-home moms.

What do all these examples have in common. They are EXCUSES. They are the stories people tell themselves to justify their inability to reach their goals. That's not what marketing yourself is all about. Marketing yourself successfully is about finding EVIDENCE to support your interest in a particular area and telling a compelling story that underscores why your goal is the Next Logical Step in your personal and/or professional development.

Here's my challenge to you:

Do some intensive soul searching and make a list of your Secret Excuses. Once you have the list, start looking for evidence that CONTRADICTS these limiting beliefs. Once you look for it, you'll find it everywhere. And when you do, send me an email and tell me about it. My email is Write "Secret Excuse Success Story" in the subject line.

Thursday, November 1, 2007

The Ineffective Interviewer

I firmly believe the responsibility for accurately and effectively communicating your story rests with you. Having said that, there are certain hindrances you will almost certainly face along the way. As strange as it might seem, one of these hindrances is the person who most needs you to communicate powerfully--the interviewer.

How could this be? Why would the interviewer stand in the way of you and your story?

The behavior I am referring to is a lot more insidious than the typical, confrontational interviewer who does everything conceivable to make you feel uncomfortable. In his or her own way, that interviewer is also making it more challenging to communicate your story. But that's not what I'm talking about. I'm talking about interviewers who unconsciously sabotage the interview by asking off-topic questions. In my book and in my seminars, I talk at length about interviewers who ask stupid questions like, "What are your weaknesses?" and "Where do you see yourself in 5 years?" So, I won't repeat myself here. What I am talking about is much more subtle.

I was recently hired by a company to coach employees to be more effective interviewers. In the sessions, I did an exercise in which we did a mock interview and tracked the questions that were asked. What happened was not an isolated event, but a scenario that plays itself out in countless interviews everyday.

The first observation I made was that the number of questions asked in a 30 minute period averaged close to 20. If that seems like a lot, it is. As often happens, many of the questions were closed-ended. In other words, they required only a yes/no or short-answer response. While this approach to questioning is undoubtedly ineffective, that wasn't the most serious issue.

After 30 minutes, I stopped the mock interview and asked one simple question:

"What are the most important qualities you look for in a candidate for this particular position?"

Each time, the interviewers responded with a list of 4 or 5 qualities deemed critical for a successful candidate. With these qualities in mind, we reviewed the list of questions they had just asked. In each case, there were only one or two questions that were even tangentially related to the most important qualities sought by the company. In other words, the interviewers weren't asking the right questions.

I have witnessed the same scenario play itself out many times. The results are almost always the same. Interviewers do themselves and the candidates a disservice by taking the conversation in unhelpful directions.

What can you do about it?

As a candidate, it is absolutely essential to approach the interview with a simple 3-part strategy.

1) Know what qualities are important to the company. (Do your homework!)
2) Know what you have done to demonstrate those qualities.
3) Find ways to answer even off-topic questions with examples that communicate what the interviewer really needs to know.

Easier said than done, I know. It's going to take more effort on your part, but if you want the job or promotion, it's worth it.

Wednesday, August 8, 2007

"The truth, the whole truth, and nothing but..."

"Charlie", a participant in one of my workshops posed an interesting question about how and when to divulge information that might create a less-than-stellar view of a person's background. In his case, he had a misdemeanor charge on his record that he could petition to have expunged in one year.

This brings up some interesting issues. The fact is that none of us have perfect stories. Anyone inclined to dig deep enough can probably find something in our past that would raise questions about our ability to perform in the future. In some cases, like Charlie's, the facts are easier to uncover because they are a matter of public record.

To complicate matters, Charlie made it through two rounds of interviews for a job that seemed like a perfect fit. The headhunter who presented Charlie with the opportunity had just called to say that he made it to the third and final round. At this point in the process, the company asked Charlie to fill out a form indicating any criminal convictions. Given the nature of the offense, Charlie's attorney pointed out that this particular misdemeanor was not legally considered a conviction, therefore Charlie did not have to divulge the information. However, Charlie was feeling understandably awkward and conflicted.

Having recently been eliminated from consideration by a company that specifically asked about misdemeanors (which Charlie disclosed), he did not want to jeopardize his chances again--especially given the possibility that the company might not find out. At the same time, Charlie could see that he put the headhunter in an potentially uncomfortable position by not revealing this fact in their initial conversation. After all, if the company finds out and eliminates Charlie from consideration, the hiring managers could be upset with the headhunter for not knowing or alerting them to the issue. That might, in turn, jeopardize the headhunter's relationship with the company. It would also jeopardize all of the rapport and goodwill Charlie had generated with the headhunter.

At this point in the game, Charlie has to make his own decision about how to move forward. Assuming his attorney is correct about the nature of the misdemeanor, Charlie can leave the information off the form without being considered dishonest. If the company finds out anyway and eliminates him as a candidate, there is little he can do to change their decision. All Charlie can control is his ability to maintain presence as he tells his story.

That may not seem like much, but it is.

Presence is everything. If the company confronts Charlie and he appears uncomfortable and hesitant, the company may wonder what else he is hiding. On the other hand, if he maintains his composure, acknowledges the facts, and emphasizes what he learned about himself in the process, he may leave the company with a completely different impression. The company may or may not reconsider, but at least he will have given himself a shot and, most importantly, maintained integrity.

Having worked myself as a retained headhunter, I know just how important it is to have the full story from candidates. No one likes unpleasant surprises. Some headhunters may hear the facts and decide not to work with Charlie. Others may not be concerned. Here again, Charlie cannot predict or control the reactions. He can only present the facts and give people space to make their own decisions. In the interest of building successful long-term relationships, being honest and upfront is always the best way to go.

Monday, July 2, 2007

Resume Screening

A hiring manager recently posted the following question in a forum:

"When you are reviewing a resume for a job - what are the critical assessment factors for making a good match (between the candidate and the position) and not bypassing someone who is qualified?"

Although he received a variety of answers,
most were what I would consider distinctly unhelpful. Some focused on the importance of grammar and spelling. Others clearly indicated a bias for or against particular degrees. Still others talked about the importance of meeting minimum requirements. While I agree that intelligence, education, and experience are important, it pains me to see people spend so much energy focusing on what I consider artificial measures of potential.

Do I think spelling and grammar are important? Absolutely. Nothing turns me off more than people who butcher and torture the language. That's one point on which I agree completely with the other people who responded. However, I don't agree that education is a particularly good predictor of success. Nor do I think that a minimum number of years of experience is a meaningful requirement.

I cringe when I see "5-7 years experience required". Anyone with more than a few years in the workforce has worked with people who in 5 years have not accomplished a single thing. As a result, "5 years experience" is what I call a meaningless quantifier. Instead, you have to ask yourself, "What does the company expect me to have accomplished or been exposed to during those five years?" If you can answer that question, you'll be in a much better position.

Now that I've talked about what isn't necessarily important, let me say a few words about what IS important. To answer the original question about resume screening, it is important to take a step back and consider what makes a person successful in any given job. In other words, what separates top performers from capable employees with a been-there, done-that attitude?

Three important qualities: Passion, Initiative, and Resourcefulness.

There are other qualities, depending on the job/industry, but these are my top three because they are relevant to a wide range of positions.

Smart companies look for these specifically because they know people cannot be trained in any of these areas. They either have it or they don't. Unfortunately, these qualities almost never show up in the resume simply because of the ineffective, cookie-cutter approach most people take to resume-writing. Of course, it is also worth noting that these are difficult (although not impossible) to communicate in that medium.

To make matters worse, many people who have all three qualities camouflage them behind a completely ineffective presentation. There are a variety of reasons for this, but the short version of the story is that people don't know the difference between bragging and healthy self-promotion. As a result, they either take their accomplishments for granted or hope they will somehow come out in the interview--an interview that, in all likelihood, will never happen because the resume didn't do its job.

These are just a few of the reasons I encourage people to write cover letters that communicate passion as well as relevant accomplishments. A hiring manager has to be left thinking: "Wow! If this person can do that for those companies, just think what he or she could do for me." Anyone who has ever screened resumes can appreciate just how rarely they are left with this impression--or anything even close.

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Into the Gap

According to the U.S. Department of Labor, health care and technology jobs are poised to soar between 2000 and 2010—despite a jobless recovery that lasted well into 2004.

Fastest-Growing Occupations
Total number of new jobs from 2000 to 2010

Occupations - Net increase - % Chg.
1. Computer software engineers, applications - 380,000 - 100%
2. Computer support specialist - 490,000 - 97%
3. Software engineers, systems software - 284,000 - 90%
4. Network and computer systems administrators - 185,000 - 82%
5. Network systems and data comm. analysts - 92,000 - 77%
6. Desktop publishers - 25,000 - 67%
7. Database administrators - 70,000 - 66%
8. Personal home care aides - 258,000 - 62%
9. Computer systems analysts - 258,000 - 60%
10. Medical assistants - 185,000 - 57%
11. Social and human service assistants - 147,000 - 54%
12. Physicians assistants - 31,000 - 53%
13. Medical records and health info techs - 66,000 - 49%
14. Computer and information systems managers - 150,000 - 48%
15. Home health aides - 292,000 - 47%

Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics

The job categories with the largest net increases and decreases from 2000 – 2010 are listed below:

1. Food preparation, and servers, including fast food: 673,000
2. Customer-service representatives: 631,000
3. Registered nurses: 561,000
4. Retail salespeople: 510,000
5. Computer-support specialists: 490,000
6. Cashiers (except gaming) 474,000
7. Office clerks, general 430,000
8. Security guards: 391,000
9. Computer-software engineers, applications: 380,000
10. Waiters and waitresses: 364,000
11. General and operations managers: 363,000
12. Truck drivers, heavy and tractor trailer: 346,000
13. Nursing aides, orderlies and attendants: 323,000
14. Janitors and cleaners: 317,000
15. Postsecondary teachers: 315,000

A few of the categories above warrant a little more explanation:

Food service workers: According to the National Restaurant Association’s own projections for the same period, the figure is more than double this estimate.
Customer-service representatives: Even as help-desk and other customer service jobs move overseas, the growth in Internet commerce is expected to yield a net increase in this category.
Registered nurses: The need for nurses, the largest group within the health care industry, will continue to expand as the baby-boomer population ages.
Retail salespeople: As it stands, retail sales is the largest single occupation with over 4 million workers. This is significant because 510,000 new jobs in this sector represents an increase of more than 10%.
Computer-support specialists: For the foreseeable future, computers and technology will continue to play an important role in our culture. At the same time, there will remain a strong need for people who can provide service and support. Some of this can be accomplished with tech support people overseas, but it’s unlikely that face-to-face support will be completely eliminated.
Security guards: Not surprisingly, the need for security guards—especially in office buildings and other likely terror targets—will continue to increase. However, most of these positions offer low pay and little opportunity for advancement.
Computer-software engineers, applications: As new software is developed and current programs are updated, the need for computer-software engineers is expected to remain relatively strong—especially as the 68 million baby boomers head toward retirement.

According to the U.S. Department of Labor, the following jobs categories are expected to experience to most significant losses between 2000 and 2010:

Farmers and ranchers: (328,000)
Order clerks: (71,000)
Tellers: (59,000)
Insurance-claim and –policy processing clerks: (58,000)
Word processors and typists: (57,000)
Sewing-machine operators: (51,000)
Dishwashers: (42,000)
Switchboard operators, including answering services: (41,000)
Loan interviewers and clerks: (38,000)
Computer operators: (33,000)

Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics[1]

It is worth noting that the projections above are consistent with former secretary of labor Robert Reich’s observation that order entry, claims processing and other routine tasks will, over time, either be automated or outsourced.

What The Labor Market Situation Means For You
Given the situation described above, the question is not “If,” or even “When,” but “What does this labor shortage mean for me and what can I do about it?”

After years of rapid growth in the labor force and endless corporate restructuring and downsizing, the laws of supply and demand will tilt decisively in favor of the individual. With this shift come opportunities and hazards. For the careful strategic planners, opportunities for professional development and financial reward will be plentiful. In contrast, the not-so-careful may find themselves sacrificing their personal lives to compensate for the lack of adequate labor.

Unlike the current labor market that has left countless unemployed workers wondering whether they’ll ever find another job, the upcoming labor shortage will exact a toll of a different sort. Not unlike the workers who survived corporate downsizing, people who find themselves at a company with too few employees are, if they aren’t careful, likely to inherit a workload that would previously have been handled by more than one person.

In late 2003, as the U.S. eased out of the recession, but before hiring picked up, an estimated 9 million people were unemployed. At that point, a survey by indicated that 71% of workers spent more than 40 hours a week on the job. Not surprisingly, 57% of respondents described themselves as overworked.[2] As the labor market tightens, these numbers are likely to increase significantly.

The flip side of these potential pitfalls is opportunity. With the laws of supply and demand favoring the individual, you will have the power to shape your career and play an active role in creating opportunities for professional development.

[1] BLS Chart: Time Magazine, November 24,2003.
[2] “Now Hiring!” by Lisa Takeuchi Cullen. (Time Magazine, Nov. 23, 2003)

Thursday, May 24, 2007

Becoming a Good Story-Teller

In a very real sense, the single best way to advance in your career is to be a good story-teller. That probably sounds strange, so let me explain what I mean. I’m not saying you should become one of those people who can manipulate the facts and talk their way in and out of situations with no regard for anyone other than themselves. We have enough people like that in the world already.

Instead, I’m suggesting you become a good story-teller by truly appreciating what you have to offer, understanding how it relates to what people need, and finding the most effective way to communicate your potential to succeed. That is not nearly as easy as it might sound.

I’ve been working with job hunters for more than 15 years. In that time, I have yet to meet anyone who can, within the first 45 minutes, clearly articulate their most compelling accomplishment as it relates to why a potential employer might hire them. This is a HUGE problem when you consider that most interviews are only about 45 minutes long. The reason most people don’t communicate their accomplishments effectively is usually pretty simple: they have no idea what they are. People might think they know—and they might be far more insightful than most—but they still miss an unbelievable number of opportunities to share their true capabilities. In other words, they aren’t good story-tellers. Why? Because they don’t know the whole story.

What it Means to Be a Good Story-Teller
To be a good story-teller, you must first be a great marketer. For those of you who are more logical and process-oriented by nature, this undoubtedly sounds like bad news. The truth is, logical, left-brained, analytical, and process-oriented thinking may be what makes you successful in your job, but it isn’t what you need in the job market. If you aren’t careful, your most valuable professional asset—the way you think—could easily become your greatest liability.

Remember, the job market is just that—a market. Like any market, if you choose to participate, you have to think like a marketer. That means right-brained, creative, marketing-oriented thinking. If you are a hard-core IT or financial person and this isn’t how you think, don’t worry. You are not alone. We’ll explore a few options that may help you think more creatively about your experiences, but don’t be embarrassed if you struggle with the concepts. Just find a coach who can help.

A Quick Lesson in Marketing
Job hunters in general—and left-brained types in particular—miss most of the opportunities to leverage their experiences because they don’t understand the difference between an attribute and a benefit. Even high-profile marketers aren’t always clear on the concept as the example below illustrates.

For years, Castrol Motor Oil has been running commercials focusing on the product’s ability to prevent “engine viscosity and thermal breakdown.” Unless you are a mechanic, that probably doesn’t mean anything to you. This is a great example of a company selling an ATTRIBUTE rather than a benefit.

For people at Castrol, the thinking stopped at what the product does. A benefit, in contrast, takes into consideration what the product does FOR YOU, the consumer. Otherwise, it’s meaningless. If you don’t know what “engine viscosity” or “thermal breakdown” is, I’d be willing to bet you aren’t waking up in the middle of the night in a cold sweat thinking, “Oh no. . . it’s happening. Thermal breakdown. Engine viscosity. I’ve got to do something about my car!” It’s certainly not keeping me up at night.

Instead, let’s look at the BENEFITS. For the purposes of this example, let’s assume that by using Castrol Motor Oil you’d lower automobile repair expenses by $400 per year and your cars would last, on average, five years longer. If true, that would be the BENEFIT of using Castrol. It might even convince you to use the product.

Now, apply this thinking to the pictures and stories you create as part of your own marketing communication. Your ability to use Java or C++ and your proficiency with Oracle databases are ATTRIBUTES. People who possess the same basic skills are EVERYWHERE. That’s not why people are going to hire you. True, companies are looking to hire people with those skills, but there’s more. Much more. What really matters is what you have done with those skills. That’s where you’ll find the BENEFIT!

Thursday, May 17, 2007

Reframe to Manage Stress

Reframing is the process of consciously removing unhelpful thought patterns by introducing new facts that challenge--and change--the way you view the world.
Since these new facts literally do not fit within the frame of reference associated with the situation, a new or expanded frame is required—hence reframing.

To show how this works, let’s imagine you have a friend named Steve who routinely shows up late. Against your better judgment, you invited Steve to be your guest at a banquet and accept his offer to drive. The event is particularly important to you because your coworker is going to be honored in a surprise ceremony at the beginning of the banquet.

Looking at your watch, you realize Steve is a few minutes late. You do your best to assure yourself that you will arrive in time, but after 20 minutes pass it is looking less likely. With each passing second, you feel yourself getting more and more upset. Horrified that Steve could be so inconsiderate you think, “He only cares about himself. If he truly valued my friendship, he would know how important this is and he wouldn’t be late. I can’t believe he would be such a jerk.”

Before long, you start reliving all the other times Steve has been late or disappointed you in some way. But now, you are not just mad at Steve. You are also furious with yourself for giving him another chance.

Just then, his wife calls to let you know that Steve witnessed a serious traffic accident. Because he stopped to help, he was able to save the life of a child inside the car. Unfortunately, he is running at least 45 minutes late.

Your situation hasn’t changed. You are still late. You will probably miss the most important part of the evening. But the real question is: how are you feeling? Are you still mad at your friend?

While you may be experiencing a range of unpleasant feelings—disappointment, frustration, sadness—there is a good chance that these new facts have either alleviated some of the anger or caused you to view the situation, and your friend, in a completely different way. In this particular situation, the new facts that allowed the situation to be reframed appeared naturally as the events progressed. But you can take these same steps consciously as well.

Reframing Exercise

Whenever a situation is causing you stress or anxiety and you’d like to reframe it, use the following exercise to uncover the facts and create a more positive explanation.

What are the FACTS of the current situation? List as many as you can.

How are you interpreting these facts? What are you making them mean? What have you made these facts mean about you? How do you feel? List the emotions you are currently experiencing.


Reframe the External Situation (Find ways to reinterpret the facts)
Does X have to mean Y? What are some alternative interpretations of the situation?

Create a Counter Example
Has X ever NOT meant Y?

Reframe the Future
What is going to happen to your mental health if you keep thinking this way? What will your life be like in one month, three months, and six months?

Taking Steps on Your Own

If you struggle with negative or pessimistic thoughts, read Learned Optimism by Martin Seligmann, PhD. This book describes a variety of interesting methods you can use to literally change the way you think.

Whether you do it on your own or work with a therapist, it is important to release the grip of negative emotions in your life. The anger, resentment, and hostility you feel about outsourcing or other less-than-optimal situations will, over time, drain your energy and weaken your spirit. This is true whether you express your anger outwardly or not. Either way, negativity will seriously hinder your ability to come across as the positive, energetic person you can be. Not coincidentally, it is your positive, enthusiastic, energized self that companies are looking to hire.

Friday, May 11, 2007

Avoid Artificial Performance Measures

Having specific, measurable goals in place, along with agreement on what happens when the goals are achieved does more than help you track your success; it helps you avoid the heartache of artificial performance measures.

Some companies, for example, are more preoccupied with tenure than performance as my friend Ross discovered. The company he’d been interviewing with extended an offer, but Ross didn’t accept it immediately because didn’t have a clear picture what his path within the company would be. The hiring manager told him that people in his position typically get promoted in 12 months. Being a hard-driving, energetic guy with a track record of rapid promotion, Ross didn’t like that answer so he asked: “What, specifically, do you expect that person to accomplish before they reach the next level?”

The conversation continued until Ross learned the specific, measurable goals he needed to achieve. At that point Ross said, “I know myself well-enough to know I can achieve all of those goals in 6 months.” He proceeded to back up his claim with examples from previous positions and asked, “When I achieve these goals in 6 months, what happens then?”

Unmoved, the hiring manager said, “No one has ever achieved that in 6 months. Even if you did, it would still take the full year until you were promoted. That’s just the way we do it.”

After a somewhat spirited negotiation, the hiring manager begrudgingly agreed to write up a formal letter stating that if Ross achieved the goals at any point before the first year of his employment, he would be promoted immediately. Not able to distinguish talent and confidence from arrogance, the hiring manager went on to say she didn’t think he could do it. Nevertheless, Ross accepted the offer.

Six months later, after achieving all of the goals, Ross went to his supervisor and proudly requested his promotion. His supervisor told him a promotion at that point wouldn’t be possible because he had only been with the company six months as opposed to the 12 months dictated by company policy. Even with the a written letter of agreement, the company didn’t want to promote Ross because it would appear he was getting preferential treatment relative to other people in that position. The company eventually honored its agreement, but not without a fight.

The morals of this story should be clear:

1. Agree on the specific, measurable results—and outcomes—BEFORE you accept a job, promotion, or additional responsibility.

And, of course:


Calculating Your Value
Take the time to establish, in advance, where the company is and how the value might change through your efforts. This information will help you justify performance-based compensation beyond whatever salary was budgeted for the position. A helpful book in this regard is Value-Based Fees by Alan Weiss. The book, which was written primarily for consultants, describes principles and strategies valuable to anyone who wants to be compensated for the value they bring to the organization.

According to Weiss, for a business relationship to be truly successful, the person who received the service has to be able to say: “That was a terrific investment” while the person who provided the service has to be able to says: “And I was fairly paid for my efforts.”

Through my coaching and speaking, I have met countless people who have contributed far more value than they ever received in return. One executive, for example, saved his company more than $5 million over a 16 year career through strategic investments in automation, real estate negotiation, and other initiatives. Many of these accomplishments went well beyond his areas of responsibility and the standard metrics used to evaluate the performance of a person in his position.

For purposes of illustration, we’ll ignore the value he created in other areas and focus exclusively on cost savings as if it were the only measure of success. In this are, he contributed, on average, more than $312,500 annually to the company’s bottom line. Yet during the same period, his average annual compensation was under $140,000. Arguing for performance-based compensation isn’t about being greedy; it’s simply about being rewarded for the legitimate value you contribute. If you can save a firm over $300,000 every year, you are worth a lot more than $140,000. It’s up to you to see that you get it.

If you take the time to quantify your accomplishments and understand the expected value of your efforts, you will be in a far better position to avoid the inequities above—tight labor market or not.

Sunday, May 6, 2007

"Fine" as a Four-Letter Word

For the last few days, I’ve been thinking about something William Arruda, the Personal Branding Guru, said when he addressed the University of Michigan alumni in Chicago. Arruda made the bold statement that “fine” is a four-letter word and should be stricken from our vocabulary. To make sense of what seems like an odd statement, let’s start with the dictionary definition:

Of superior or best quality; of high or highest grade: fine wine
(Source: Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © 2006)

So, what’s wrong with "fine"?

If everyone used “fine” as an adjective meaning “superior” or “high quality”, there would be no problem. But that isn’t what happens. Far from it.

“Fine” is one of the most common one-word answers to the question, “How are you?”

In this case, when people say, “Fine”, they don’t mean, “superior” or “top quality”. They typically, mean “about average”. Average is a long way from top quality.

Apparently William Arruda isn’t the only one who feels this way. One of the other participants mentioned that a famous Chicago restaurant owner has instructed his staff to NEVER ask any question about the food or service that could be answered, “Fine.” He simply doesn’t want to link the restaurant experience with anything that could be interpreted as average. It’s all about image.

The next time someone asks you what it is like to work on a particular project, what it is like to work for a particular boss, or how you feel about the performance review process, think twice before you say, “Fine.” Instead, challenge yourself to fine a more descriptive, more accurate way to answer the question.

Friday, May 4, 2007

Finding Your Passion

What If You Haven’t Identified Your Passion?

This is a very real issue for many people. If you truly aren’t sure what you are passionate about, think about all the projects you’ve been involved with as well as your related accomplishments. Then, ask yourself these questions:

• When did I feel the most energized?
• When did I feel the most drained?

The key to a happy and fulfilling professional life is to find a career in which you can do more of what energizes you and less of what drains you. No doubt, this sounds like common sense. Nevertheless, it’s amazing how many people don’t think in these terms. But, most likely there are certain projects in which you can immerse yourself and completely lose track of time. There are other activities—including some at which you excel—that you may absolutely dread doing. For this reason, it’s critical to look beyond your skills to your actual interest level.

A Reason to Believe
Once you’ve traced your passion and you can describe the origin of your interest, you have completed the first, critical step in the self-assessment process. But it doesn’t stop there. Your next challenge is to show what you’ve achieved as a result of your passion. In other words, what have you done that gives a potential employer reason to believe you will be successful in your chosen field?

Creating a Journal
To answer the question above, it’s important to create an inventory of specific experiences you can use to support your case. It may take some time to remember details of those experiences, but the good news is you only have to do it once. After that, you can add to it as you go along. This way, keeping the journal just becomes a matter of maintenance.

Keep Your Journal on the Job
The need to quantify your accomplishments does not end when you get a job offer. Quite the opposite. In order to earn raises and promotions, it’s incredibly important to keep track of your accomplishments on an ongoing basis. Keep a list of every project you work on and highlight the ones where your efforts had a direct, positive impact. It may sound like a lot of work, but it really isn’t. Just keep your journal nearby and jot down the key details. That way, you won’t have to rely on your memory a few months or years from now when the facts won’t be quite as clear.

The first entries in your journal will address the following:

1. Make a list of any time you have ever been recognized for an accomplishment. Go back as far as you can.
• What, specifically, did you do?
• If you received an award, how many people were eligible?
• What was special about your performance or achievement?
• How old were you at the time?

This is an important category because it forces you to acknowledge yourself for the accomplishments that others valued. For example, if you were elected or appointed to serve in a particular role, it says a lot how people view you and your performance. Or perhaps you earned a promotion faster than anyone else in the company’s history. If so, that can be a selling point on its own because it gives people a favorable comparison between you and other people who received the same promotion but took more time to earn it.

The recognition you receive from others is tremendously valuable because it provides a third-party assessment of your skills and abilities. It’s like having the person in the room telling the interviewer what a great job you did. Better still it’s factual. You don’t have to say how great you are when the facts speak for themselves.

2. When friends, family, co-workers, and others come to you for advice or assistance, what, specifically, do they need?

If you don’t know the answer to this question, start keeping track. Friends and family are almost always better at recognizing our talents than we are. By opening our eyes to the way others already see us, we are forced to acknowledge our unique contributions. The more we do this, the better able we’ll be to counteract all those years of programming in which we denied and doubted our abilities. Thus, building an awareness and appreciation of our gifts is an important step in developing the unshakable belief in ourselves that we need to speak confidently, using relevant, believable examples, and without worrying about bragging. In the words of legendary Major League pitcher Dizzy Dean, “It ain’t braggin’ if you kin do it."

3. Think back on all the projects (work-related and personal) on which you’ve been involved. What is different because you were there? What did you bring to the table that otherwise would never have occurred?

In other words, how is the result better because you were on the team?

I like to think of this as the “It’s-A-Wonderful-Life-Approach” to the self-assessment process. In the movie, George Bailey, the main character, was given the chance to see how the world would have been different if he had never been born. In a very real sense, that’s exactly what I’m asking you to do. It’s the best way I know to get people to think about—and acknowledge—their achievements. As an added bonus, you’ll get a much-deserved boost in confidence because you’ll see just what a difference you actually make in this world. Later, when you’ve built a substantial inventory of contributions, matching your specific experiences with the needs of a particular employer will be easy. And, you’ll be that much closer to convincing an employer of the difference you can make for their company.

Monday, April 23, 2007

Follow your Passion to Work - Believing, Thinking, and Speaking Your Truth

When you are looking for the next logical step in your career, either by changing jobs or making a greater impact at your current job, you must follow your passion to work. This means that you must believe in yourself, think about how to tell your story to your employer, and speak your truth.

There are two steps you must take before you can speak comfortably and confidently about your interests and abilities:

1) You have to understand the origin of your passion
2) You must believe in yourself

Generally speaking, step two will take care of itself once you’ve uncovered the secrets of the first step.

Tracing your passion is important because you have to convince an employer that you have logical, compelling reasons to pursue a career (this is particularly important for career-changers and entry-level candidates who, by definition, are pursuing opportunities in which they have no prior employment history). Remember, employers don’t want to feel like they are taking a risk when they make the decision to hire or promote you. That’s why your reasoning has to be sound and believable. If you ever find yourself thinking, “I know I’d be great if only someone would give me a chance,” take it as a sign that you need to do a more thorough self-assessment.

Start by answering these questions:

-How old were you when you first recognized your interest in this career?

-What, specifically, opened your eyes to this opportunity?

-Is there a particular person you admired (e.g., parent, grandparent, mentor, teacher) who served as a role model or otherwise nurtured your interest?

-Is this a subject you studied in school?

-What have you done on your own initiative to learn more about the field?

The last question is especially important because relatively few people think to sell themselves on the experiences they’ve gained as a result of their own initiative. However, from a potential employer’s standpoint, these experiences tend to be the most convincing. Think about it. If you read and studied numerous books on your own, you obviously have more than a passing interest in the subject matter. This usually gives people more than enough reason to believe your interest and sincerity.

If you’ve already begun to develop a track record in your industry (i.e., you have some work experience or a history of success), employers are less likely to feel like they are taking a risk in hiring or promoting you. After all, if you have experience, you probably know enough about the business to know what you are getting into at the next level. Regardless, it’s still important to trace your passion because this understanding will help you communicate your enthusiasm for the career.