Friday, December 18, 2009

360-Degree Performance Reviews

When people think about performance reviews, they usually think about feedback from their supervisors. However, from a professional development standpoint, some of the best feedback can come from peers, direct and indirect reports, support staff, and even vendors. Unfortunately, too few people think to ask.

For more about this, check out a recent article I wrote for The Ladders.

http://marketing.theladders.com/career-advice/360-degree-performaces-reviews-do-it-yourself

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

It's NOT a numbers game!

I am horrified by the number of career coaches who insist that job hunting is a numbers game. It isn't. It's all about strategy. To say that job hunting is a numbers game is nothing more than a convenient excuse for coaches who don't have the skills to truly help people (and should themselves be looking to change careers.)

Video Montage

My good friend Ann Liston and her team just created a promo video for me. Take a look.

Friday, October 2, 2009

Harry Wilson's blog - update

My apologies for the faulty link. Here is an updated, functioning link for Harry Wilson's blog:

http://www.5milesintowonder.blogspot.com.

Be sure to check it out.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Fashion Focus 2009

If you are in Chicago on October 25, come down to the Chicago Cultural Center at 78 E. Randolph. I will be doing a workshop for fashion students as part of Fashion Focus 2009. For more information, visit www.chicagofashionresource.com. The session, which is called "The Ultimate Design Challenge: Finding a Job", is scheduled to run from noon -2pm. Be sure to register in advance.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Special Labor Day eBook Sale

As a special offer to readers of my blog and subscribers to my email list, I put together a 6 eBook package called, Job Search Essentials, that I am offering at a substantial discount (over $250 in savings) until noon CST on Tuesday, September 8. For more information, visit the hidden page on my website: www.rifproofing.com/laborday

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

WGN-TV News Chicago

video

This is an interview I did on the WGN-TV news on Aug. 20, 2009.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

The Stories Companies Tell Candidates

I had lunch yesterday with a good friend who shared a disturbing story. A few weeks ago, Mike (not his real name) interviewed with a high profile investment management firm and was invited to take a personality assessment. At the time, he was excited about the possibility because it required several hours of his time and a significant investment on the part of the company.

In general, I don't have an issue with companies that require candidates to go through whatever psychological tests the company might find helpful. But I do have an issue when companies put so much emphasis on the test results that they become inflexible in their recruiting. I also have an issue with the way some companies choose to share the results. Unfortunately, both issues played a role in this case.

If the hiring managers want to put their faith in a psychological assessment, that is certainly their prerogative. But, to borrow a phrase from Hippocrates, these companies have a responsibility to "first, do no harm". Or, to borrow a Buddhist concept, hiring managers and recruiters, when sharing results, should ask themselves the question, "Is what I am about to say an improvement over maintaining silence." If the answer is "No", they need to consider other options.

In Mike's case, the company decided not to hire him because the assessment results indicated:
  • "an inability to build relationships" and
  • "an inability to sell"
Not surprisingly, Mike was disappointed and immediately began questioning himself. On the surface, he seemed to handle it better than I might have expected. But I couldn't help but wonder if a part of him was somewhat devastated. I could clearly see the disappointment and sadness in his eyes.

My reaction to the results was a bit different. I was (and remain) thoroughly disgusted with the company. There is absolutely nothing constructive or helpful about the feedback that was shared with Mike. On the contrary, it was destructive, thoughtless, and despicable. It's one thing for the company to exercise its right to choose employees. It's another to tear down unsuccessful applicants in the process. All they had to say was something generic like:

"Your scores on the assessment were not consistent with what we have found in our most successful employees and what we look for in applicants."

That would have been fair, honest, and infinitely preferable to the blunt, tactless approach the company chose. Even if the results were absolutely on target, which they weren't, it wouldn't excuse the company's offensive behavior.

I've known Mike for over 15 years and can personally attest to his integrity and ability to build relationships. He is also a natural sales person--especially when he is promoting projects for which he has a particular passion. As it happens, I have invested considerable time and effort into helping him launch a business he has been working on because I am completely sold on the idea and his ability to make it happen. His passion and enthusiasm for the project is so infectious I couldn't help but get involved.

Over the past few years, I have done sales training workshops for sales professionals in a variety of industries including finance and investment management. If every one of my workshop attendees had the same passion, integrity, and natural sales ability that Mike has, my job would be a lot easier. Mike is a trusted advisor in every sense of the phrase. The company's test may not have picked up on this, but that certainly doesn't mean he lacks the ability to build relationships and sell.

As a result of the company's irresponsible behavior, I spent a good part of my conversation with Mike sharing specific examples from his past that prove the test results are wrong. I sincerely hope he takes my word for it rather than the test results, but it may take some time for Mike to get past this unfortunate and completely avoidable episode.

If you are in a company that uses assessment tests, think long and hard about how much stock you put in the results because you are probably missing great candidates like Mike with disturbing frequency. At the same time, I urge you to be more responsible and compassionate with how you share the results. First, do no harm.

If you are a candidate who is going through an assessment, keep the following points in mind:
  • Don't try to second guess the test. Answer as honestly as possible. Even if you could game the system, which you probably can't, the company would end up hiring someone it didn't think it hired. That's a lose-lose proposition for everyone.
  • Don't question your abilities based on the results of any given test. It doesn't matter how much time and money the company invests, no test is 100% accurate.
  • If you get rejected by a company because of a test result, be grateful. If the company is so inflexible that it puts more faith in a test than in the judgment of the hiring managers, you probably wouldn't have been happy there anyway.
  • Rejection is the Universe's way of saving you from a nightmare.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Your Resume: Three Possible Outcomes

Most people treat applying for a job as a black and white proposition. Either they get the interview or they don't. But there's a lot more to it than that. Your resume faces three possible fates. The first, and by far the most common, is the black hole that either leads to no response at all or an ultimate rejection.

The second possibility is that the hiring managers will look at your resume and think: "She might be worth a conversation" so they add you to the list of people they want to bring in for an interview. The third, and most rare, outcome is that your resume is so well done it inspires hiring managers to read it and say: "He looks fantastic. Let's get him in here as soon as possible." Unfortunately, most people who get interviews never achieve this because they haven't taken the time to match their experiences to the needs of a company. Nevertheless, it is worth shooting for because there is a world of difference between candidates who get companies excited about interviewing them and those who don't.

Most people who get interviews never truly appreciate this distinction. Nor do they know what expectations (if any) they've created in the minds of interviewers. That's unfortunate because it could mean the difference between getting a job and remaining in the unemployment line.

If you are ready for the coaching that could help you create excitement, let me know. I'd love to help.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Harry Wilson's new blog

Last fall, I posted a living eulogy to my good friend, Harry Wilson. I am happy to report that Harry has started a blog to feature his art: http://www.5milesintowonder.blogspot.com.

Be sure to check it out. If you like what you see, send him a note. I know he'd appreciate it.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Recent Articles

In case you are interested, Northwestern University has posted a number of articles I wrote on their website. Click on the titles below to read whatever interests you.

Creating A Strong Introduction

What It Means to RIFProof Your Career


Another article, "Compelling Cover Letters", will run in mid-June.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

The Stories We Tell Without Realizing It

Professional presence can be thought of as a combination of how we carry ourselves, how we dress, and how we come across in general. In other words, presence is the nonverbal and verbal aspects of our presentation working together to create an impression.

Any single component of our presence can change the combination and alter the perception--often beyond the conscious awareness of others. For example, as a psychology major in college I remember hearing about a study in which random people were videotaped walking down the street. The videos were then shown to prisoners who were in jail for mugging. The goal of the study was to help people avoid the behaviors that made them appealing targets for muggers.

As expected, there were certain people who appeared to be easy targets because they were walking with their heads down or were somehow preoccupied. But there were other people every mugger agreed would be a target even though they didn't seem out of the ordinary in any way. Strangely, the muggers were at a loss to describe exactly why these people looked vulnerable. The researchers were confused as well--until they went back and reviewed the tapes. That's when they discovered that these people were doing something subtly different than the average person. Rather than swing their arms the way most people do, left-arm/right leg, right arm/left leg, they were swinging them left arm/left leg, right arm/right leg. As a result, they looked slightly off-balance and therefore more vulnerable.

I mention this study because there are a variety of obvious and not-so-obvious ways we can impact the way we come across personally and professionally. Even if you think the image you project is positive and strong, there may still be opportunities for improvement.

When my clients and colleagues need help with their overall professional presence, which is outside my area of expertise, the person I turn to most is Susan Fignar. In short, Susan teaches people how to improve their image and enhance their personal and professional success. Other benefits of working with Susan include:
  • Developing self-confidence and project self-assurance.
  • Becoming a better observer of yourself and others.
  • Identifying negative body language, facial expressions, and nervous gestures.
  • Appearing more polished and professional in your overall appearance.
  • Understanding the importance of selecting the appropriate business, business casual, and casual attire for your lifestyle, position, and professional environment.
  • Developing poise in business and social situations.
Whether you work with Susan or another equally capable professional, there is a tremendous value in addressing any issues you might have in this area. This is especially true for people in transition who need every possible advantage to get ahead in this market.

Having personally experienced the benefits of Susan's insight, what I appreciate most is her willingness to provide candid, constructive feedback. It's not always easy to hear how we create negative impressions. However, it is so much better to have the opportunity to make mid-course corrections than to fly in the dark, make the same mistakes, and wonder why life isn't going the way we'd like.

Even if you don't think you need it, make an appointment. You might be in for a surprise. Susan can be reached via her website: www.pur-sue.com.

Friday, April 24, 2009

RIFProofing for Companies

When I started doing outplacement workshops almost 10 years ago, I was amazed how many downsized employees had accomplishments that went well beyond the expectations of their company. Unfortunately, the companies weren't aware of the impact because the employees themselves had never taken the time to quantify their accomplishments.

At the time, I was convinced the companies were to blame for not doing a better job tracking employee accomplishments and for eliminating the positions of employees who, in many cases, were contributing far more to the bottom line than they were being paid. While it is true that companies frequently make ill-informed decisions when it comes to layoffs or Reductions in Force (RIFs), it isn't always their fault.

Over the years, I have come to realize that most people make almost no effort to think through how their work impacts the organizations, customers, suppliers, and others with whom they come in contact. That's unfortunate because if employees don't take the time to track their accomplishments, no one else will.

While personal and professional development is the responsibility of the individual, it is also true that companies have an enormous amount to gain by encouraging people to play a more active role in tracking their own accomplishments. As companies continue to downsize and operate with fewer employees, it is more important than ever to make sure the right people are in the right position. That's an important part of what my most recent eBook, RIFProofing Your Career, is all about.

RIFProofing isn't just for individuals. It is a process companies can use internally to gain a deeper appreciation of the depth and breadth of talent within the organization. This can be accomplished through workshops, one-on-one coaching, or by licensing the eBook and encouraging employees to work through the process on their own. For more information about what RIFProofing can offer your company, visit: www.rifproofing.com/rif-proofing-ebook-for-corporations.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

RIFProofing for Individuals

Over the past year, we have seen the unemployment rate skyrocket as companies resort to layoffs or Reductions In Force (RIFs), as some companies euphemistically refer to them. To help people avoid becoming yet another statistic, I have written a new eBook called, RIFProofing (sm)Your Career: How to Protect and Keep Your Job in Any Economy.

In my work as a career coach and trainer, I have seen too many clients and workshop participants who didn't do enough to protect their jobs and found themselves unemployed. For example, one woman named Andrea was working at a company that decided to eliminate 40% of the payroll across all departments. As often happens, Andrea's company started with employees who were making the most money. That isn't a smart strategy, but that's what happened. Since Andrea had been at the company for 8 years, she found herself on the list.

Unfortunately, since Andrea had never taken the time to communicate the depth and breadth of her impact, the company viewed her as a highly paid expense. What Andrea didn't realize (and therefore never communicated) was that she had saved the company $1 million over eight years by coming in at or under budget on all of her projects. That worked out to an annual savings of $125,000--$50,000 more than her salary. In other words, she was an INVESTMENT, not an expense.

Considering the fact that 60% of the payroll in every department was RETAINED, there is no question in my mind that Andrea's job would have been spared if the company had known the bottom line impact she had on the organization. But they didn't.

While there are a variety of factors that go into layoff decisions, the fact remains that most companies are clueless about the real impact of their employees. I wish I could say Andrea's case was unusual. But it isn't. Every day, people who shouldn't be losing their jobs are being released by companies who don't truly know the value of the people who are walking out the door.

Given the struggle many people are having from a job search perspective, you owe it to yourself to do everything possible to protect your position. That's what my new eBook, RIFProofing(sm) Your Career: How to Protect and Keep Your Job in Any Economy, is all about.

I'm not going to lie to you. RIFProofing takes work. You have to be willing to make an investment in yourself. And you have to be willing to take steps you may never have considered. While there are no guarantees, you have a much better chance of protecting your job if you know the pitfalls that so many employees encounter when layoffs become a possibility. RIFProofing Your Career can help you navigate and avoid the traps along the way.

If you are one of the many who feels your job may be in danger, I have one question:

What are you willing to do to protect your position?

If you are willing to invest the time and effort it takes to RIFProof Your Career, this eBook could be the best investment you ever make.

Friday, April 10, 2009

RIFProofing Your Career

With so much concern about job security, I decided to write a new eBook to help people avoid the mistakes I've seen countless people make over the years. The eBook, RIFProofing (SM) Your Career: How to Protect and Keep Your Job in Any Economy, is available now on my new website www.rifproofing.com.

RIFProofing Your Career includes my most up-to-date strategies and is perfect for people who want to make sure they are doing everything possible to protect their jobs. Working through this eBook is equivalent to at least 3-5 hours of 1:1 coaching--at a fraction of the cost.

For a limited time, you can take advantage of a special introductory discount of 50%.

Watch this space over the next few days for more information about how RIFProofing can help individuals and companies alike.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Hiding Behind Email

Over the past few weeks, I've had some interesting conversations with people about the rapidly decaying manners of our society--a phenomenon that impacts companies and individuals as well. Once again, I am talking about people who hide behind emails when delivering bad news.

Not surprisingly, a growing complaint among job hunters is getting rejected via email. While it would be wonderful if job hunters received some indication that their resumes were received and didn't drop into an abyss, I know it isn't practical for companies to formally acknowledge every applicant. Nor is it necessary considering that a huge percentage, thanks to the Internet, probably don't even remember applying. It's truly unfortunate that great, qualified applicants frequently get lost in the sea of unqualified applicants who are under the misguided impression that job hunting is a numbers game.

The problem, as I see it, happens after the interviewing process. It is amazing how many companies think it is appropriate to email a rejection to people who have invested time and energy going through formal, face-to-face interviews. Ideally, this news should be communicated by phone and, I shouldn't have to say this, by an actual living, breathing human. At the very least, the company should send a formal letter on company letterhead. But an email? Come on. That is the ultimate in lazy and inconsiderate behavior. Have we become so gutless as a society that we can't even deliver bad news by phone anymore? These are the wimps who make the rest of the human resource professionals look bad.

Any company that sends rejections via email needs to rethink this policy because it leaves a seriously negative and unprofessional impression. Is that really the way these companies want the world to view them?

While were are still on the subject, here's one more thought on the inappropriate use of email by individuals:

I had a disturbing conversation the other day with a friend who decided to stop dating a guy she had been seeing for several months. As she talked it over with her female friends, she was shocked how many of them encouraged her to break up via email. She was so disappointed in her friends, it actually made her wonder if she had as much in common with them as she thought. In any case, it clearly illustrates how quickly rude behavior has become the norm. It also made me wonder if any of these women had ever had a guy break up with them via email or text. My female friends who have had that experience didn't like it all. But maybe when you are hell-bent on taking the easy way out, you don't think about things like that.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Think—And SPEAK—Before You Type

I know I've talked about email communication before, but it continues to be an issue so I will continue to write about it. How and what you communicate via email says a lot more about what kind of person you are than you might think.

The focus of today's post is on personal communication, but the same observations hold true for business.

If you have ever called it quits in a relationship via text, email—even voice mail, you owe the person a serious apology. This is a disturbing trend I see as our society becomes more web-focused. Any communication that could potentially hurt or disappoint someone should NEVER be delivered via text or email. It's insensitive, rude, gutless, cowardly, thoughtless, and classless. Were you raised by wolves? I like what my dear friend Sherry had to say about this disturbing practice: "It's a pansy-ass move and the wimpiest thing EVER."

Talk face-to-face. If you can't do that, pick up the phone. But don't send a text or email and pretend you are being honest. By the way, NOT returning phone calls as a way to avoid a difficult conversation is JUST AS LAME. And yes, I know guys are guilty of this too.

For the record, some of my best friends—and people I respect most in the world—are people who weren't afraid to initiate or participate in an open, honest dialogue when it became clear there wasn't chemistry.

Although I make my living as a speaker, I will probably not be remembered as one of the great communicators. Nevertheless, I am working hard to improve. That's why the communication issue is so important to me—aside from the fact that it sucks to be on the receiving end of someone else's bad manners.

Think—and SPEAK—before you type.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Tracing My Passion For Speaking

A colleague recently approached me about the possibility of working as a contract trainer to help people with presentation skills. Taking my own advice, I took the time to craft a cover letter that specifically addresses my interest and ability in this area.

Thanks to popular, but ill-conceived "rules of thumb", many people are afraid to go back more than 10 years when they present their credentials. As a result, they fail to consider some of the most compelling facts that support their desire to pursue particular areas of interest.

I follow a different rule of thumb:

Go back as far as you have to in order to demonstrate something you can't demonstrate more recently.


With a few exceptions (e.g., IT experience), WHAT you did matters more than WHEN you did it.

As I wrote the cover letter and reflected on my journey as a speaker, I was surprised to realize how much an experience I had when I was 7 years old impacted me years later. Since it was an important fact in tracing my passion, I included it. What follows is my cover letter--with certain confidential facts removed: (Feel free to comment. I don't hold it up as the gold standard. It simply represents my truth.)

---
Dear ______:

On a strictly confidential and exploratory basis, I am forwarding a copy of my résumé for your review. I would welcome the opportunity to learn more about your organization and see if there are opportunities to work with you in a consulting or training capacity related to presentation skills.

There are a number of factors that contribute to my ability to teach presentation skills and effective communication:

• My passion for the topic
• My ability to empathize with people who struggle with public speaking
• The exceptional training I have received through my own initiative


Most importantly, I can relate—painfully—to the difficulty people have speaking in front of others. When I was 7 years old, a Chicago television station came to our school to ask what we thought about Thanksgiving. My excitement at being interviewed was quickly replaced by horror when I saw myself on the 10 o'clock news. The minute I heard my lisp, I suddenly understood why I was spending so much time in speech therapy.

I eventually overcame the lisp, but remained hyper-conscious of the way I came across. My last painful memory of speaking happened during senior year in college. I was asked to present an overview of my 20-page research paper on Dr. Seuss for my 10 psychology classmates. Despite my enthusiasm for the topic, I found myself shaking and sweating the entire time. My performance was so bad the professor pulled me aside and urged me to take a public speaking class.

Although the college didn't offer a class, I found a training company that did and signed up immediately. But I didn't stop there. Over the years, I have been fortunate to learn from Dale Carnegie, Toastmasters, Doug Stephenson's Story Theater, Players Workshop (improv), and Second City.

Many trainers have what it takes to teach basic presentation skills and mechanics. What makes me different is that I have learned, through hard work, practice, and observation, what it takes to elevate those skills to something more compelling. To put this another way, I help people become more who they really are. Better still it works for all aspects of communication—not just public speaking.

Here are just a few of the comments from the presentation and communication workshops my training partner and I did for a major pharmaceutical company:

"Since I took your class I have been receiving heaps of praise from my boss about my communication. Last week she told me that I have been 'magnificent', twice in two days! Thanks so much."
– Jennifer J.


"I just wanted to let you know I've been talking up the workshop...awesome! I've suggested to my manager that our group be required to take your course. Nothing else offered has been this beneficial."
– Jennessa L.


Making a difference like this in the lives of workshop participants is what energizes me more than anything. I would welcome the opportunity to do the same for your clients. Thank you in advance for your time and consideration. I look forward to exploring the possibilities.

Best regards,

Rob

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

When Not To Tell Your Story

The issues facing Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich bring up another point worth noting. More specifically, there are times when it is best NOT to tell your story. For Gov. Blagojevich, who is facing impeachment, this would be one of them. My late grandfather, an attorney, used to say he made a lot of money telling people to "Just shut up."

In discussing this with an attorney familiar with Blagojevich's attorney, I asked what he thought about the governor's public statements:

"I am sure having him (Rod) go and talk was not the firm's first choice. Having someone who has, for all intents and purposes, used his mouth/words to create the situation is a bit like having a shooting suspect put on a marksmanship demonstration--there is not much to be gained by it. If a defendant's lips are moving and it is not subject to attorney-client privilege, they are probably not helping their case.

"In my experience, many accused persons like to continually protest their innocence, rationalize their actions, or the like seemingly in the hope that it will somehow convince people no matter the volume of actual proof and evidence there is to contradict them. At the end of the day, you often have to try to protect them as best you can from the system and process, while simultaneously trying to protect them from harm from themselves. Their efforts can look a bit like reckless suicide, if there were such a thing. At the end of the day, I think it is just part of the deal with someone who cannot or will not keep his mouth shut."


At times like this, it's good to remember a Buddhist principle I mentioned in an earlier post. Namely, when you are wondering how to respond to any given situation, ask yourself the question: "Is what I am about to say an improvement over maintaining silence?" If it isn't, keep your mouth shut.