Category Archives: Career Management

Research the Employer Before the Interview

When you don’t research the employer before the interview, your superficial research downgrades your answers to every question, disappoints prospective employers and shortchanges you. Take the time, leave your comfort zone, and learn everything you can.

As John headed back to his car after a grueling interview, he was elated. Always optimistic, he usually thought it had gone very well. The panel of interviewers seemed to like his responses to their questions, and he had a good feeling about his chances.

Finally, it was coming together for John. He was proud of the fact that he had taught himself the ins and outs of the plant manager role with a small town manufacturer before it was sold a year ago. Now he felt ready for a big break, bringing his skills and knowledge to a national firm. This position brought a higher salary, opportunities for promotion and improved benefits, just in time for the baby coming in a couple of months.

Thorough Research Before the Job Interview is essential

Research Before Interviews

Back inside, Sherman was puzzled. Something was lacking in John’s answers. John undoubtedly had solved some challenging problems with a shoestring budget. But it was harder to visualize him working in the department. His stories placed him in an environment entirely unlike this one. No more walking into the president’s office and demanding immediate approval for new equipment. If he was hired, could John adjust?

John is oblivious. The very idea that his limited knowledge of even basic differences between his former employer and this new one could undermine his credibility would never occur to him.

For that reason, John didn’t sell himself as effectively as he might have.

Good research distinguishes you from less prepared candidates

The first time I was asked what I had done to prepare for an interview, I was startled by the question. During my academic career, that would never be asked. The truth was, I had done very little to learn about the organization. It simply never occurred to me that I was expected to research the employer before the interview! Frankly, that sounded like a lot of unnecessary work.

The power of thorough, in-depth research to distinguish you from the other applicants, and to overcome biases cannot be overstated. There would have been concerns about John’s suitability just from looking at his resume, but careful preparation of responses that were designed to suit the actual workplace of the prospective employer would have reassured the interview panel.

Possibly even if John did know that he needed to adapt his answers for this specific company, he might have dismissed the idea of spending that much time in preparation for one interview. So the payoff needs to be high. Continue reading

Transitioning to a Second Career? 5 Questions to ask yourself first

Second Career Danger Zone Ahead:  5 Questions to ask before leaping

About to embark on a second career, or even a third?  Maybe yours will send you back to school for the first time in years. Like any transition, that can be exciting and scary at the same time.

You completed an intensive career exploration program and found a career where you can be remarkable, given your temperament and interests. They’re saying employers will line up to hire you when you graduate in two years.

Career Exploration is just a first step toward a second career

There are a few more questions you need to answer. I don’t mean the kind of answers you can’t get from the recruiting officer at the local college or by surfing the internet. I mean the honest, unbiased answers you only get from talking to people who actually hire in the new field.

I’ve experienced first-hand a second career transition, from retail lumber manager to corporate banking after an MBA. My resume wasn’t anything like corporate recruiters were seeking. Had I known then what I know now, I could have changed that resume significantly with some targeted activities during my time as a student. In my resume, my appearance and in my answers job interview questions, I needed to look like someone who had already made the transition from manager of a lumber yard to an executive position.

Choose a Second Career Carefully

Choose a Second Career Carefully

If your new career is a very predictable extension of your current career, you don’t need to concern yourself much with these 5 issues. But if there is little or no continuation from old to new, like truck driver to restaurant manager or plumber to librarian, they may matter a lot when it comes to your jobsearch.

You only need one job, but….

Add your new diploma to your current resume. Imagine that you are applying today for the position you want in two years. What’s missing?

Need more accomplishments? If so, between now and graduation, you need to create enough significant accomplishments to make you remarkable.And just completing the requirements of your program won’t make you remarkable.

Suppose your career exploration tells you financial planning would be just right for you. Your dream will differ but the basic issues are the same.

5 Questions to ask before investing your time and money: Continue reading

Prepare for the why you chose this career job interview question

“So tell me why you chose this career.”

The interviewer might just be putting you at ease, or they could genuinely be mystified. If you are changing career, expect the question and be ready for it.

Why on earth did Julia Roberts marry Lyle Lovett? There’s probably a wonderful reason, but that won’t stop you from wondering every time you think about it.

Why on earth did they hire you? And why did you ever pick this field? The interviewer is meeting you in person for the first time and they really want to know that other people in the company won’t have the same mystified look. Part of your agenda in the job interview is to help them stop worrying.

“Why You Chose This Career” is more than a conversation starter

Ideally, your answer reassures the interviewer, leads to a very lovely bit of conversation

Why You Chose this career

Why Did You Choose This career?

between you and sets you at ease. But if you don’t handle it very well, neither of you is at ease.

If the question seems to catch you off guard, that’s not a good sign. After all, they expect an applicant in the middle of a career change to welcome the question. If you are enthusiastic about your answer, maybe it was your own decision.

Simply, if you can’t give a 45 to 60 second answer that makes some sense and demonstrates some enthusiasm for why you chose this career, you have raised the Lyle Lovett worry.

When you aren’t ready for the question, you might just blurt out the truth!

Continue reading

Faking competence on a resume? Don’t Even Think About it.

Being caught faking competence in a job interview can be embarrassing and even worse. If you claim to be a  hotshot be ready to back that up.

It’s not so hard to impress them once

Can-you-draw-Ernie.jpgWhen my daughter was small she had a Sesame Street coloring book. I had been struggling to learn to draw and a simple line drawing of Bert caught my eye. With a few almost straight lines, some ovals and a scribble or two, you can create a recognizable likeness of Bert. My daughter was impressed, but just like every child since, it was obvious to her that Bert without Ernie was like Dean Martin without Jerry Lewis. (OK, I recognize that’s going back a while, Try Johnny Carson without Ed McMahon.)

Every child recognized Bert instantly and concluded that I possessed outstanding drawing skills. But my Ernie looks like a football with ears.

But it’s harder to impress them many times

But I would forget that when I had a small child for an audience, I liked to pull out a scrap of paper and in a few seconds approximate the iPad sketch at right. And every time the smile of delight turned into a frown. It’s not that I haven’t worked at drawing a recognizable Ernie, but something about his face eludes me.

Raising expectations, intentionally or not, by doing something well once can make others believe you have skills that you can’t repeat at the same level of proficiency. When you tell others about how great you are, you take expectations to a new level,

Continue reading

What on earth are strong Microsoft Office skills?

Is “strong Microsoft Office Skills” too vague for your comfort? Then decide for yourself what that means to you and let employers know exactly what you can do for them tomorrow morning if they hire you. There may be a reason for the vagueness of what the employer is asking for, but you can rest assured the vagueness isn’t for your benefit!

Take care of your own interests by setting out a clear list of things you can do with Microsoft Word, Excel and the other great and useful programs that let you accomplish more work of a higher quality in less time. That tells them in a very understandable way how you will add value far in excess of the salary they will pay you.

4 Easy Steps to a clear story employers understand and believe:

  1. Do your homework: Research the specific programs that are needed to do the job you would like to have. Talk to someone who actually works there!
  2. Honestly compare your current skill level for each relevant Microsoft Office application to what employers need. The many skills checklists on the Free Resources page are intended for exactly that purpose.
  3. Upgrade your skills as needed by self-study and taking courses.
  4. Assemble completed checklists along with supporting evidence as needed.

You’ll find MS Office Skills Checklists here.

For more detailed explanations, check out my Slideshare presentation, then have a look at  some earlier posts that I’ve listed below.

I welcome any questions and suggestions for additional related materials.

First 20 Hours: Enough to Add a New Skill?

If it takes 10,000 hours, as Malcolm Gladwell told us in his book Outliers, to become really good at your job, can you become reasonably good in just 20 hours? You’re probably skeptical? Me too.I certainly was. Yet Joel Kaufman claims his method that will take you in just 20 hours from total novice to a reasonable level of competence in any area of skill.

So how long does it really take? 10,000 hours or 20 hours?

Can the 10,000 hours and 20 hours both be true? The answer is “yes”, but Kaufman and Gladwell aren’t talking about the same level of proficiency. Gladwell means becoming as good at what you do as Tiger Woods is at golf. That is to say, amazingly good. When you’re that good, you have what Cal Newport calls career capital. Real estate salespeople who are that good make a lot of money and know they can walk out the door and across the street to another broker. Any time they want and as often as they want. Professors who are that proficient can teach at the university they choose. Excellence like that means thousands of hours of focused , intentional, deliberate practice.

Plodding away at your job for five years gets you to 10,000 hours but that doesn’t automatically make you outstanding or even above average. And 10,000 hours is the reason why so few attain that level of truly remarkable proficiency. And the older you are, the less appealling a commitment of that sort. But Joel Kaufman says he has learned that a novice golfer can become good enough to play a round with some friends and not look like a rank beginner, with 20 hours of intentional practice following a short interval of research to identify the specific skills you need. Kaufman actually claims to have learned to play the ukulele in 20 hours. Continue reading

Prepare for the Difficult Person Job Interview Question

I never met a man I didn’t like. Will Rogers

Inquiring employers want to know. How do you handle difficult people in the workplace? You can’t get away with a nice story about an annoying boss and now you work together in uninterrupted harmony.

handle the difficult person

Can You Handle this Difficult Person?

Forget about claiming that you have never met a difficult person unless your name is Will Rogers. The interviewer knows exactly what difficult person you will encounter your first week.

Last post, I laid down some background on why some people find you difficult and that other guy really grates on you. Given your temperament, entirely predictable. Now we can build on that foundation to accomplish two objectives.

First. we want to effectively relate to difficult people. Second, we want to communicate those skills to a prospective employer in a way that reassures them.

That is one of my consistent themes in this blog and my other material. I don’t just want to convince the employer that I can handle difficult people by offering one isolated, contrived story.

I want to be effective because I have learned how to respond to difficult people in a way that prevents any conflict from sabotaging my success and the organizations interests.

Then as I continue to do so mindfully, I accumulate a repertoire of relevant stories that I can tell very naturally.

Continue reading

Should you ever turn down a job promotion?

Job promotions are often welcome, well-deserved and timely as they should be. But that isn’t always true. Early in my career, I was offered an outstanding opportunity that I strongly felt was just not right for me at the time. A promotion when you aren’t ready for all that it entails can be unnecessarily stressful and limit your career options. 

Can you turn down a job promotion?Can you turn down a job promotion?

Can you turn down a job promotion?

Fresh out of my MBA, I was hired into a position with a large association. It was a perfect fit for my temperament and qualifications. I was immediately assigned a few choice projects that provided perfect opportunities to show what I could do. The work that I did on those assignments was well and widely received.

When my boss was promoted to the top position in the organization, he pressed me to apply to replace him. It was flattering but I felt very strongly that it was premature. Any national association is  rife with politics, which had never been a factor in my pre-MBA work experience as a store manager in the retail lumber industry. I was presently insulated from those concerns which suited me fine.

As you probably guessed by now, I accepted the promotion which brought a nice office, a higher salary, status and travel. Over time I learned a great deal about leadership in a large association but the role was never a great fit. And the new job, with a higher salary and title made it much more difficult to move into other employment.

What advice would I give today to that 30 year old version of myself? Continue reading

5 Reasons Microsoft Office Skills Need Proof

Proving Microsoft Word or Excel Skills to an employer even before they call can boost your credibility.

Prove your skills with a checklist

Prove your skills with a checklist

Most job postings specify Advanced Microsoft Office Skills, but not every interviewer confirms those skills for every applicant by asking a specific question.  But there are situations where they will need to know that you really have those skills or are just gambling that they won’t ask or will accept an evasive or vague answer.

When your Microsoft Office Skills need proof, nothing less will substitute.

Begin by clarifying in your own mind exactly what is included in an advanced level of skills and then make sure you can actually perform them!

Here are 5 situations when vague, unsupported responses to job interview questions just won’t do and your Microsoft Office Skills need proof.

1. Your MS Office skills are better than your work history suggests

If you have lots of relevant experience in positions requiring Microsoft Office skills, the interviewer may not ask you about them.

On the other hand, if very basic skills are likely all that’s needed in your current position and the employer needs advanced proficiency, they will be more skeptical and require evidence. and that just might mean they don’t invite you for an interview.  Continue reading

Don’t Let Resistance Sabotage Your New Years Resolutions

resistanceYou don’t need another me to tell you that we don’t keep most of our resolutions. Every TV station around has served up the obligatory visit to the local Gym.

They interview people who just joined in early January, fully expecting to stick with some new commitment right through to December 31st.  Most don’t. The initial excitement of those commitment quickly fades.

Why Does Resistance Sabotage your Commitments?

Here are three ways to frame those feelings of resistance from authors who have each taught me a great deal: Continue reading