Get Hired - 3 Tips to Pass Every Phone Interview

A few months ago I started a blog series on how to improve your chances at each stage of the interview process. In the first two parts I focused on the top of the funnel – specifically, how to make your applications and resume jump out of the applicant pool so you get more interviews. Check out part 1 and part 2 for some context. In this blog I’m going to focus on the next phase of the job search process – the phone screen.

Also, if you haven't already, check out my blog on resumes. I'll show you the resume I use and give you access to my resume template for Microsoft Word.

The Job Search Funnel

The Job Search Funnel

The phone screen is a standard step in most corporate recruitment processes. Human resources departments and recruiters need to reduce the field of candidates down to a subset that actually stand a chance of getting the job.

Of all the stages in the job search process, the phone screen is the easiest for you to control. There is no reason to fail at this stage if you execute the correct strategy. I’d go further to say that it’s actually quite critical for you to convert phone screens at an extremely high rate in light of the rapidly growing competitiveness of job searches today. Unlike the first stage i.e. getting noticed, and the latter stages i.e. in person interviews, the phone screen is actually quite easy to master – it’s formulaic. But to master the formula you must first understand the mindset of the phone screener.

Phone screens are typically conducted by an in house HR person or an external recruiter. Sometimes you’ll actually have to go through both. In either case there are three primary motivations that govern their behavior and decision making.

1.       The need to reduce the field: The phone screener’s job is to reduce the total pool of possible applicants down to a more manageable number. If fifty resumes meet some basic level of qualification, the screener needs to reduce the field down to 7-10 people for the hiring manager to actually interview. This has implications on the tactics you need to employ to make it through this step. You can’t win the job in this stage – you can only lose.

2.       The desire to avoid the big mistake: Whether the screener is an internal resource or an external consultant, the last thing they want to do is waste the hiring manager’s time by passing along a bad candidate. Some candidates will be better than others, but under no circumstance does the screener want to risk putting forth a completely unqualified or incompetent candidate. Again this has an impact on your optimal strategy. You generally need to play it quite safe and conservative so the screener can be confident you won’t embarrass him or her.

3.       The mandate to identify cultural fit: One of HR’s primary roles in the company is to maintain and grow the corporate culture. Since the screener most often lacks the specific domain expertise to measure depth of competence, they typically focus on personality and cultural fit to help determine which applicants advance to the next stage. You job in the phone screen is to appear like someone who will be easy to work with – I’ve seen many candidates fail at this stage because they come off as over confident in their misguided effort to convey competency.

There are a couple of things may have jumped out at you in that list. For one, screeners tend to be quite defensive in their approach i.e. they aren't typically focused on hitting a home-run but rather they focus on passing along consistently solid candidates while avoiding the big mistake. Secondly, because phone screeners aren't generally experts in the field or function they’re screening for, they tend to rely heavily personality fit and on the job description as the measuring stick for qualification – sometimes to a fault.

So what does this mean for your optimal strategy? Here are three tactics to employ on your next phone screen. They take advantage of what we know about the motivations of the screeners themselves and are designed to help you take advantage of the system to get past this step and onto the in-person interview more consistently. If you can raise your batting average at this stage, you’ll significantly improve your overall chances of landing a job.

1.       Master the job description: The job description that you read on the internet was probably the last communication the hiring manager had with the phone screener about what the ideal candidate should look like. Because the screener is not an expert in the field or function he or she is interviewing you about, they will treat the job description like the bible. Your best opportunity to pass this stage of the process is to study the job description, break it down piece by piece and have a prepared answer for every aspect of it. If there are qualifications in the job description that you don’t have, you should have an answer prepared in advance for that with the strongest counterpoint you can think of. For example if applied for a marketing job that required experience in a marketing automation system or software program that I didn't have, I would prepare the following response and deliver it with confidence:

“I see that you’d ideally like to find candidates who have experience with application X. As you can see from my resume, while I haven’t used that specific application in practice, I have proven to be a quick learner when it comes to new systems and processes. So much so that I spent a few hours over the weekend watching tutorials and videos on best practices for using application X and I’m already making progress towards learning it.”

2.       Deliver the keywords: Phone screeners are taking notes and looking for some key points to underscore in their case for why you are a good candidate to pass along to the hiring manager. It’s your job to make it easy for them to build that case. The best way to do that is to focus on saying the most important keywords over and over again. Look through the job description again and pick out your strongest points relative to the requirements. Then identify the most powerful keywords from the job description that you can leverage. For example if the job description requirement was:

“Extensive experience developing front end interfaces using JavaScript and Jquery.”

I would make a point of saying “JavaScript and Jquery” at least three or four times in the phone call. And at the end of the call I’d make sure I closed with a summary of the keywords I most aligned with. This way you make certain the screener has some specific notes on your strengths in relation to the job description. It should go without saying that if you’re asked about your strengths specifically on the interview, you should make certain your answers align to what is written in the job description. It doesn't do you any good to talk about your strength as a “great communicator” when communication skills weren't listed as a key requirement in the job description.

3.       Prep your cultural message: Inevitably in the course of the interview the screener will ask you a rather innocuous sounding question about the type of work environment you like or what your former colleagues would say about how you were to work with. Most of us consider this to be a softball question so we don’t adequately prepare for it. I've seen more than a few candidates do quite poorly here and cost themselves a shot at the in-person interview. Here are a few simple do’s and don’ts for the cultural question:

  • Don’t talk about work-life balance. It’s always interpreted as “I’m lazy”.
  • Don’t ask about standard work hours or what time people come in and leave. It’s another red flag.
  • Don’t describe yourself as a perfectionist. That gets translated into “I’m a handful and control freak”
  • Do talk about being collaborative. Even if you’re not, you can never lose by saying you are.
  • Do talk about being hard working. A good work ethic can make up for limited skill sets.
  • Do talk about being detail oriented. The better option to “perfectionist”. It says you can be relied upon.

4 Rules for Negotiating a Job Offer

Getting a job offer is a very exciting time. It often comes as a huge relief after a prolonged period of emotional and financial stress for you and your family. It feels like massive weight has been lifted from your shoulders. This is one of the reasons why so many of us mishandle this very important final step in the job search. We so badly want to secure the job that we are afraid to do anything that might make it go away. We rush to get the deal closed as quickly and quietly as we can because we just can’t bear the thought of screwing it all up at this point. It’s a completely understandable fear. Understandable … but unwarranted, and very bad for your career.

As a hiring manager I have the opportunity to make job offers all the time. I’ve also received a few offers myself over the years. I’m surprised how consistently candidates either don’t negotiate at all or approach the offer negotiation stage without a proper plan. If you’re not completely comfortable with negotiations – don’t worry, you’re definitely not alone. Here are some tips I’ve used over the years to get the most out of job offer negotiations without putting the offer itself at risk.

Let’s start by making one very important first point: You should be negotiating 100% of the job offers you receive. There is no scenario where not negotiating is ok. I realize it can be easy to convince ourselves that negotiating adds risk or might offend the future employer, and a host of other reasons to avoid it – but they are all wrong. You need to negotiate your job offer. There are two major reasons why this is the case. Reason number one is that if you don’t negotiate, you’re virtually always accepting the employers low ball offer. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve said something like, “Ok so we’ll offer 65K and take 70K if she counters …” Basically every offer is made with a contingency buffer of 5%-10%. You need to take advantage of this buffer or you’re just leaving free money on the table. The second reason you should always negotiate is that not negotiating sends a very bad message to your prospective manager. As a hiring manager, I want my future staff members negotiating – it tells me they are serious professionals who know how to communicate their value and have the strength to fight for it. There are so many practical applications of negotiation skill in almost any job whether it’s negotiating priorities with internal teams or negotiating terms with a vendor or customer. Negotiation is just a basic professional skill we all need to develop. In fact, each time I make an offer and the candidate doesn’t negotiate, I worry if I’ve hired the wrong person. That may sound a bit harsh, but it’s true. The good news is if you negotiate correctly, you introduce almost no risk into the equation and reap all the benefits.

Here are 4 basic rules I use to guide my job offer negotiations. Try them out next time you have the chance.

1.    Keep it friendly and constantly reaffirm interest.

I first learned this valuable lesson when I was travelling in Egypt and Morocco after university. The market vendors there have a magical way of negotiating extremely hard but making you feel good about it the entire time. A practical lesson you can take from that is to constantly reaffirm how excited you are about the job while you’re asking for better compensation. By contrast, one thing you should never do is use feigned reluctance as a bargaining tool. “Playing hard to get” is one of the absolute worst things you can do when negotiating an offer. When I counter an offer I find several occasions to reiterate just how much I want the role and just how perfect I think I am for the job. And I never use ultimatums. You want to create an image in the mind of the employer that this is the perfect match for both parties and all that stands in the way of a win-win is a small concession. If you keep negotiations positive and avoid presenting ultimatums or binary decisions you never have to worry about the offer being pulled. This is vital to being able to negotiate with confidence.

2.    Always present a package of options.

Most compensation packages have several components to them and most employers have a variety of vehicles by which they can affect compensation. It’s a mistake to fixate on any one offer component when you negotiate. Too many of us focus too much on base salary. For example, we will respond to a base salary offer of 50K with a base salary counter of 55K. The problem with this approach is twofold. First off you haven’t provided a very good opportunity for a win-win resolution to the negotiation by framing it as a binary decision i.e. either you give me exactly what I want or you don’t. And secondly you aren’t giving the employer enough flexibility to be able to easily accommodate your request. By making the offer decision binary you’ve painted the employer into a corner. This is level one negotiating. Level two negotiating is about creating a package of negotiation points so the employer can pick and choose and customize a revised offer that gives everyone a chance to win. For example, rather than the counter a base salary of 50K with 55K, I would say something like:

Thank you very much for the offer. I am extremely excited for the opportunity to work with the company and I’m confident I can make an immediate and positive contribution. In terms of compensation specifically, I’m hoping we can find a way to create a package that is more in line with my skills and experience, and that can work for everyone. I would very happily execute an offer that contained the following amendments:

  • Base Salary: $52,500
  • Annual Performance Bonus: $5,000
  • Sign on Bonus: $2,500

By presenting a package like this you've done a bunch of very good things. First off you’ve given yourself a chance at the home run i.e. that they give you everything you’ve asked for, which in this case goes far beyond the 5K increase you would have otherwise requested. Secondly most of the increase you've asked for is in the form of bonuses which are contingent on you achieving a certain level of success. This takes the risk out of the equation for the company and gives you the chance to earn more money. Lastly, this gives the employer the chance to reject parts of your counter while still giving you a win i.e. They can reject the sign-on bonus and the base salary and you still end up with 55K or they can reject the performance bonus and you also end up with 55K. There are many more paths to success with this approach. One final detail to mention – notice in my example message that I don’t position this counter offer as an ultimatum. I only say how happy I would be execute the offer if certain things were amended. I make no mention at all of what I might do if they don’t acquiesce. This allows me to stay confident in my negotiation strategy and not worry that they might walk away. My worst case in this scenario is that they’ll say no to the changes I proposed and I’ll have to stick with the original offer. Whereas if I had framed it as “I can’t accept this offer because of xyz,” I’d be introducing a bunch of risk into the equation unnecessarily. Stay positive and don’t make ultimatums.

3.    Never … ever negotiate vacation time.

I won’t spend too much time on this one but it’s something I feel quite passionately about. You are much better off negotiating for more salary or bonus or stock options than negotiating on vacation. People who negotiate for more vacation send a very clear message that have a poor work ethic. I’ve had several occasions where I chose one candidate over another solely based on this point. Do not, under any circumstance negotiate your vacation time – find something else to ask for.

4.    Don’t negotiate live or over the phone.

This is another one I personally feel strongly about though I’m sure some people may disagree. I never negotiate live or over the phone if I can help it. The reason is I want to think very carefully about everything I say and ask for. I want the benefit of time to consider an offer before countering and to craft my response in the best way possible. Having to respond in real time presents too many opportunities for mistakes and doesn’t give me the time I need to build a thoughtful counter offer. If I’m presented with an offer in person or on the phone I’ll just politely ask for 24 hours to speak to my spouse about it and then respond via email later. An important point here is that I don’t ask for time to “think it over” because that sounds too negative – like maybe I don’t want the job after all. I prefer to ask for time to speak with my family about it because that is a perfectly reasonable thing to request and sends no negative message whatsoever.

How to Get Your Resume Seen by More Hiring Managers

get your resume seen

I was recently invited to speak at a conference of employment services counselors. It was a great opportunity to meet a group of people who spend their entire lives on the front lines of the job search process. More than most of us, they have a keen understanding of how the job search environment has changed dramatically in the past 5 years. Here is short a clip from the session where I address one of the most important changes you need to make in your approach to improve your chances of finding a great job this year. 

If you want to learn how to build a killer resume that will differentiate you, read my blog post.

Also check out my visual resume template for Microsoft Word. Its the resume template I use and I'm sure it will work well for you too.

Email me or use the comments to let me know how these changes have affected you.

 

Top Job Search Tips: The Multi-Channel Application

Without question, the biggest challenge I hear about from the candidates I interview, friends, and people I coach, is the how difficult it has become to stand out from the growing crowds of people applying for every job. The Internet, frankly, has made it too easy to apply for work.

The Crazy Job Search Numbers Game

25 years ago you had to actually mail in your resume or physically walk into a place to apply for a job. In that world, you just didn’t have the time to apply for many roles so you had to make sure the ones you did apply for were really well suited to your skills and aspirations. That made it easier for everyone - we self-selected to a great extent. I think it also made things easier for employers because the people applying for roles really wanted the jobs they were going for and truly believed they had the qualifications to be successful. So there were fewer total applicants per job and each candidate was a better fit on average.

Even 10 years ago, before LinkedIn, and continuous streams of job postings on twitter, you were still somewhat limited to the number of jobs you could apply to by how many emails you could send.

But today, in 2015, things have completely gone off the rails.

Here’s a quick story to illustrate just how crazy things have become.

I interviewed a guy a year or so ago who dropped some knowledge on me that has been in my mind ever since.  In the course of our conversation he explained to me, quite proudly, how he’d figured out the magic formula for the job search. During the month long period he’d been looking for work he’d refined his job search process down to a science. In 30 days he had applied for 1,000 jobs to get 20 phone interviews which lead to 5 in person interviews and ultimately 1 job offer.

1,000 applications!!?? In a month!

This is the ultimate example of the environment you’re now competing in. You’re up against job seeking super bots who are playing an almost incomprehensible numbers game to find work.

How are you supposed to win in this environment?

And just in case you’re saying to yourself … “well, this sounds like an extreme example – I’m sure it’s not that bad …” Just check some random job postings on LinkedIn and you’ll see 400 and 500 applicants for every role. It’s crazy.

How supposed to stand out in a pile of 450 resumes? (Check out my blog post on this subject)

How are you supposed to match the pace of other people applying for 1,000 jobs every month?

Even if you wanted to - Do you have the time or ability or access to the tools to play this numbers game?

How do you separate yourself from the crowd and find work in THE most competitive job market we’ve ever seen?

The biggest hurdle is right up front. Separating yourself from the 449 other people who all applied for the same job. How do you get noticed at all?

The Multi-Channel Application Campaign

If you’re only applying for jobs by sending an email to one person per job or applying through one channel (e.g. company web site), you’re not maximizing your chances of getting noticed and you’re going to have a hard time getting enough first and second interviews to actually land a job.

The most successful job seekers take a multi-channel approach to each job they apply for. They don’t try to play the numbers game but they don’t use conventional tactics either. They actually campaign for the jobs they want. Unlike the numbers game playing super bots, these job seekers apply for fewer total jobs, but apply double or triple the effort for each job they choose to apply for.

In my experience as a hiring manager, this is the best way to compete and win in todays out of control job search market.

How the Multi-Channel Strategy Works

A good place to start is with a quick description of the two sources of resumes hiring managers receive. As a hiring manager myself I can boil the resumes I actually get the opportunity to look at into two camps.

The first camp are the resumes I get sent from our recruiting department. These are the HR professionals who sift through the 450 applications that come in from the website and LinkedIn and pick out 10 or 15 unicorn applications for me to review. To successfully make it through this filtering process your resume needs to be perfect and you need to check every single box. It’s extremely difficult to compete this way. My blog post on visual resumes is a good resource for improving your chances of standing out in a giant pile of 449 other resumes.

The second source of resumes that I actually read, and the focus for this blog, come from employees inside the company and former colleagues I’m still connected with in some way. Here’s why this channel is so important – I read 100% of these resumes because they came to me through people I know or work with. As a good corporate citizen and conscientious networker, I feel compelled to give these resumes my attention regardless of quality. If a guy in the IT department who I’ve never met, sends me a resume from his old college roommate for a job I’m hiring for – I read it – every time. This is completely the opposite of the first channel where you have to have a unicorn-like resume to get through the crowd.

Even more importantly, because the resume came to me from a co-worker or former colleague, I more often than not, feel compelled to at least do a phone call or exchange an email with the applicant. That can be huge – it can overcome many of the challenges you face in finding a job. If you can find your way into this group of applications, you never get screened out for not having perfect experiences or the world’s sexiest CV – if you can find some connection to the hiring manager – it doesn’t even need to be good - you give yourself a real shot.

How to put it into Action

So what can you do tomorrow to start applying the multi-channel application strategy in your own job search? Here are 4 steps I’d recommend you take to circumvent the giant line up of 450 resumes and dramatically improve your chances of getting based the first step.

1.       Apply for fewer jobs. Rather than sending your resume or application to one person per job posting for 20 different jobs and hoping for the best, apply for 5 jobs and spend 4 times as much effort on each one. This is the optimal strategy for beating your numbers game playing competitors.

2.       Identify 5 people at each target company. Use the company website, your social networks and LinkedIn to get your resume in the hands of 5 different people who work at the company you’re applying to. You will be surprised how easy it is to figure out corporate email addresses or to find some loose social connection to people at these companies.

3.       Send a short note with your resume to each person. Once you have names and email addresses for people at the company, send a short note with your resume politely asking if they would mind forwarding your resume to the hiring manager. In my experience you should get about an 80-90% hit rate on these. People like to help.

4.       Repeat for each job. Repeat this process for each of the jobs you’re applying for. It will take considerably more time than the quick hit, one shot application process, but it will dramatically increase your chances of getting to the first and second interview stage for each role you apply for.

The multi-channel campaign approach to the job search is critical to finding work in today’s hyper competitive environment. Give it a try and let me know in the comments section how it works for you.

The 4 Best Business Books I've Read this Year

One of my personal goals for 2015 was to read one book a week. In my opinion we all need to be investing more time learning and expanding our expertise and spending a little less time focused on the day to day minutia of our jobs. I talk about this at length in my own book; Stealing the Corner Office. In addition to this personal goal for 2015, I also had a professional goal to evolve from being a good individual contributor and a so-so manager to being a great manager. So far this year I’ve been killing two birds with one stone by reading a crap load of management books. I’ve read 12 thus far.

I’ve listed the books I’ve read in 2015 in order of how much I enjoyed them and how much impact they had on me. For the most part these are all pretty solid books which shouldn’t be too surprising since I selected them from other people’s top 10 lists. I will say however, the top 4 on this list are absolute must reads for business professionals, aspiring managers and entrepreneurs. These are the kind of books that when you finish them you feel simultaneously happy that you’ve read such a great book, remorseful that it took you so long to read them, and sad that the experience of reading them for the first time is over. Truly great books.

Absolute Must Reads:

Solid Business Books:

  • High Output Management
  • Purple Cow
  • 7 Habits of Highly Effective People
  • The 22 Immutable Laws of Branding
  • The Personal MBA
  • Eat That Frog
  • The Cluetrain Manifesto
  • What the Most Successful People Do Before Breakfast

The Hard Thing about Hard Things

This book by Ben Horowitz spoke to me like few business books ever have. Rather than focus on success with the revisionist lens like so many other books of this genre, this one sheds light on the impossible choices and devastating failures we really have to navigate on the path to business greatness. I absolutely loved this book.

American Icon

A really entertaining business book by Bryce Hoffman. This one reads more like an adventure novel than a collection of best practices which makes it captivating and useful. I spent a lot of time reflecting long after I’d put the book down on how I can adopt some of Allan Mulally’s practices in my own career. This book inspired me to want to be a better manager.

The Strategy Mindset

This one from Dr. Chuck Bamford is probably the most succinct playbook I’ve read on building and executing strategy. The book is quite short but in a good way. It cuts through all the crap and myths about business strategy and crystalizes it down some absolute truths. Unlike some strategy books that give you some hints but leave you hanging, this one gives a very precise framework you can easily implement in your own business. If you like reading about business strategy, I’d recommend starting here.

Disciplined Entrepreneurship   

A very practical book for entrepreneurs by Bill Aulet. I especially liked this one because it provided a real framework for approaching the start-up process. A lot of the other books in this category are too fluffy in how they describe entrepreneurship – this one gives you a real process. One way I know it was a good book is that I told myself immediately upon finishing it that I better remember to go through it again if and when I start up my own business.

If you've read any of these books i'd love to hear your thoughts. Send me an email or add a comment below. Also if you've read any other great business books lately let me know so I can add them to my list.

4 Tips to get a Promotion this Year

There are three questions I get asked over and over again by friends and readers who care about advancing their careers.

  1. How do I convince my boss to give me a promotion or raise?
  2. How do I deal with a colleague who seems determined to F up my life?
  3.  How do I re-brand myself so people take me more seriously at work?

Over the next few weeks I’ll go through each one of these to give you some tips that have served me well in my career so you can avoid some of the mistakes I made along the way. Since it’s a new year and we’re all still feeling positive, let’s start with #1:

#1: How do I convince my boss to give me a promotion or raise?

The phrasing of this question is actually a great place to start. More often than not the promotion question contains phrases that sound a lot like these:

  • How do I convince my boss to give me a promotion?
  • How do I ask my boss for a promotion?
  • How can I make my boss recognize that I deserve a promotion?

If you’re thinking about the promotion process along these lines i.e. as something you have to pitch, show or make your boss do, I’m afraid you’re already heading down the wrong path. In fact, the biggest mistake I see friends and colleagues make when it comes to promotions, is that they treat them as a point in time event - a binary decision or pitch to their boss. This strategy will get you nowhere.

It doesn't help matters that so many career blogs and workplace columns focus so much time on the importance of bringing in data to support your case, preparing your pitch for a promotion etc. They’re all missing the point.

The single most important thing you can do to get a promotion is to stop thinking about it as an event or a decision, and rather turn it into a journey you go on together with your boss.

I've never asked for a promotion in my life but I've had several. As counter-intuitive as it may sound, when it comes to promotions, you have to play the long game to make them happen fast.

So how does that work?

When you frame your promotion as a journey, your boss can never say no:

If I walk into my boss’s office tomorrow and ask him to promote me to President, I’m putting him in a very difficult spot. I’m unnecessarily forcing him into making a binary decision which will more than likely result in a “no”. There are just too many reasons for him to reject this style of pitch. The timing may not be right, there may be someone in the job already, the budget might not be there, and my skills might not be adequate. By forcing him to make a discrete yes or no choice, I’m inadvertently hurting my chances for a promotion and I’m also risking the relationship I have with my boss by putting him or her in such an uncomfortable position. Making your boss uncomfortable in the promotion discussion is exactly the opposite of what you want.

The secret to getting promotions is to get your boss on your team – rooting for your success. When I’m working towards a promotion I want my boss to be my biggest cheerleader – I want my promotion to be a day he celebrates with me, not a day where I finally get him to capitulate. Turning the promotion conversation into a journey means that you reframe the conversation away from a “yes” or “no” decision and towards a “what will it take for me to get there and how can you help me” conversation – which is almost never met with a “no”. A journey, unlike a binary decision, carries no defined date, which means you’re only asking your boss to join you on a path towards a promotion which you’ll define together. This is fundamentally different from “asking” for a promotion. It turns the promotion into a win-win scenario for both parties. You give your boss the opportunity to define all the criteria and skills he’d like in his ideal candidate and you get absolute clarity and buy in on what it will take for you to get there. This approach might seem like it will take a bit longer but it’s infinitely more effective than forcing an on-the-spot decision.

Here are three ways to get your boss to join you on your promotion journey and become your biggest cheerleader:

1.       Tell your boss what you want 12 months or more before you actually want it.

This one may be frustrating for those of you who are dying for that promotion right now, but you need to be patient. The earlier you engage your boss in the promotion journey the sooner it will happen for you, but you just can’t force it.

2.       Engage your boss like a friend and mentor – not like an adversary.

People respond well to being approached as a mentor. Don’t make the promotion discussion overly formal either, keep it friendly. You want your boss to WANT to help you get there. By not forcing her to make a decision on the spot and by soliciting her help as you work towards your goal, you’ll accomplish that.

3.       Don’t focus on dates – focus on skills, deliverables and development.

You need to re-frame the promotion conversation to be about you achieving specific development milestones. Maybe you need training or you need to improve on a particularly metric or deliverable.  You need to work with your boss to set up a list of achievements that when met will mean you’re ready. This puts you in the driver’s seat and in control of how long it will take to get promoted.

4.       Maintain a regular dialogue to understand your progress towards the goal.

This doesn't need to be formal – in fact I recommend it isn't. But one way or the other you need to be talking to your boss about your progress at least once every couple of months. Do not let it go for six months or a year and then bring it up again all of a sudden – that’s just making the same mistake all over again. And when you do talk to your boss about it, keep it light, let her know how good you’re doing on your journey but don’t push it too hard.

If you’d like to read more tips for getting promotions check out my recent article on careerealism.com

 

6 Career Changes I'd Make if I had a Time Machine

Lately I've been thinking a lot about my younger self. Mostly I've been thinking about all the mistakes I made early on in my career. Check out this slide-share and see the 6 pieces of advice I'd give the 25 year old version of me if I had a time machine.


New Boss? Company Acquired? 3 Tips to Take Advantage of Change

In my experience, the greatest moments for career advancement come in times of uncertainty and disruption. I know this sounds counter intuitive but its very true and something most of us overlook or won't admit. During highly tumultuous periods, like in an acquisition or management shake-up, the opportunities are actually at their greatest and your competition are at their worst. In these chaotic times, roles change, departments get reorganized and objectives and power shift. If you execute strategically you can find many career advancing opportunities. If you operate emotionally (like most people) you can lose out on your best chance to get ahead. While your peers are rebelling to change and worrying what the future may hold, you need to be executing your advancement strategy. Here are some tips for how to embrace change from the book Stealing the Corner Office:

A very important first step is to create a Change Playbook so you can take advantage of these moments when they present themselves. I find it helpful to document my game plan when I see big changes coming. The process of actually writing my plan down helps to remind me how important it is to be consciously executing purposeful tactics during these periods versus reacting emotionally.

I recently met with a business partner who confided in me within an hour of meeting him that he had a new boss he couldn't stand. He just couldn't figure out how to deal with him and he and the rest of the team missed their old boss immensely. As much as he delivered the polite version of his plight, it was pretty obvious that he and his peers were not handling this change scenario well.  A management change is almost universally mishandled by staff who fight against what has already taken place in some naive hope their discontent can actually reverse time. In this case, when your peers are all gossiping and griping about the evil new boss, you should be actively networking with him or her and finding ways to be helpful in the transition. Getting on the winning side of change is as much about choosing to play on the winning team as it is about any specific strategy. Having a positive attitude and aligning yourself with the eventual winners are your keys to success.

So when change is afoot, I jot down a few key notes in three basic areas to guide my behaviors. It reminds me that my goal is to get ahead in the company and not to vent my emotions or misgivings about the situation. Here is a sample of what that might look like:

Figure 1: Sample Change Playbook

Figure 1: Sample Change Playbook

The first area I focus on is my Influencer List. It has most likely evolved as a result of the change that has occurred. I make a quick list of who the key players are and who can most profoundly influence my success or failure in the new environment. My only caution is not to let any personal misgivings cloud your assessment of who actually has power and influence. Sometimes we can convince ourselves power hasn’t shifted when in fact it has.

The second thing I take note of is what key transition projects are likely to take place or have been scheduled already. I want to be a part of these and will do whatever I can to participate. These will come in the form of process alignment meetings, systems integrations, best practice sharing and a variety of other events. They all have the goal of smoothing the transition from the old way to the new way. You will participate on these committees and in these meetings ostensibly to help in the transition most importantly you’re tactically demonstrating leadership and networking with the winning team.

The final area I make note of is how I can advance my position during the change period. Specifically, what actions I will take to proactively improve my status. This can include things like booking a meeting with the new boss to understand her priorities and challenges. It might be taking one or two new people out for lunch or dinner after an acquisition. It can be the small things and conversations that reveal the best opportunities for career advancements in a highly dynamic environment. If you see yourself doing the same old routine, or trying to ignore the chaos around you – you should stop and get involved.

The most important thing in taking advantage of change scenarios is your attitude. Get on the winning team. Do the opposite of what the masses are doing. Find opportunities to demonstrate leadership in the face of disruption which will often be present during this times. Get strategic during turmoil and you will rise to the top.

Here are three quick tips that will make sure you embrace the changes everyone else hates and ultimately end up on top:

  • Make a change plan. You need to actually write down what your plan is or your emotions will likely get the best of you. Jot down some tactics when a major transition occurs to force yourself to act strategically and not emotionally.
  • Pick the winner with your mind not your heart. Make an objective assessment of which side is likely to come out on top and join that team. If someone has just bought your company or has just taken over your department – choose that team. Don’t fight against the winning side.
  •  Leave your ego at the door. If you execute the correct change playbook, people will make fun of you and tease you for being a suck up. Ignore them. Your career is not about making friends, it’s about advancement. 

Why Being Reliable is Not a Winning Career Strategy

One of the most common questions I hear when I talk to people about their careers goes something like this:

“How come nobody cares about the work I'm doing? I’m reliable, I’m never late with my projects, and I hardly ever make mistakes. Meanwhile, people around me who aren’t half as dependable as I am, keep getting all the promotions. What’s going on?”

This one hurts my heart a little bit. So many people feel this way and frankly they deserve so much more than they get. If reliability and consistency were the stepping stones to success they would be at the top. They’re dependable, smart and hardworking. But it isn’t enough. It almost never is.

Whether it feels fair or not, we have to take an honest assessment about what it really takes to advance your career in a corporation. And having spent many years studying success factors from the competent and incompetent alike, I can say with great confidence, and more than a little regret, that being reliable is just not enough to advance your career. At least not to the executive level.

Here’s why:

Reliability is a passive career management strategy that will not bring you the visibility required to make it to the top. Contrary to conventional logic, a career strategy based on consistency and small victories is actually higher risk than one based on big wins and major projects. Many of us like to think we will be noticed for consistently solid work. But in practice consistency is only enough to provide career security. Career advancement demands more. 

To advance your career you have to put points up on the board. Points, in your career, like in football or rugby, come in a couple of varieties. Consistently delivering against your responsibilities and doing solid work in your day to day tasks wins you lots of small points. We’ll call them career field goals. And if you never make any mistakes, those points accumulate over time – slowly. On the flip side, when you inevitably do make mistakes you lose points too. The problem is, in my experience, one career mistake is worth at least five career field goals. So it can be a challenge even for very reliable people to build up enough points using the field goal strategy to put a winning score up on the board in the end.

On the other hand, recognition for being associated with a big project gets you big points. We’ll call them career touchdowns. If you’re actively looking for them you’ll see that opportunities for career touchdowns present themselves all the time. They often don’t directly impact your personal objectives and it will frequently look like there isn’t much to gain from all the extra work you’ll have to do by taking them on. You should do it anyways. Because like in football and rugby, even if you score a lot of field goals, your opponent is always only one or two touchdowns away from catching or surpassing you.

An effective career strategy has to be about scoring touchdowns. It’s about big plays and projects.  While playing a safe, consistent game will keep you employed and keep your boss happy, it’s an extremely difficult strategy to actually win with. As you’ve no doubt experienced a few times in your own career, a less competent opponent can beat you with a few lucky touchdowns even if you’re more reliable on a day to day basis.

To break from the metaphor for a moment, the only people who are paying attention to the reliability of your daily work are your direct teammates and your boss. This is almost never enough to get you a promotion. At least not after you’ve reached a senior management level in your career. To get promoted you need recognition outside of your direct circle of influence. Mistakes by contrast, have a tendency to reverberate across an organization. Nobody will ever notice the twenty times you get the process right but the one time you mess it up, it will seem as though the entire company has been affected.

So what does this mean for your strategy? It starts with changing your personal career score card. Stop focusing on the consistency of your daily work as the number one priority and start seeking out opportunities to participate in big projects. It should go without saying this doesn’t imply abandoning quality altogether – it’s a matter of emphasis. You need to focus your time and energy on projects and initiatives that can actually put up enough points to beat your competitors.

If you want to learn more about this and other unconventional career strategies, check out Stealing The Corner Office.

Memorial Day Management Musings – 3 Questions to Ponder Over the Weekend

memorial-day-sale.jpg

We’re mere hours away from the long weekend. The last thing you want to be thinking about is your career. In fact, if you’re anything like me, as we speak you’re searching for creative ways to sweep a few last minute tasks under the rug and hope nobody notices. You’re deliberating over whether or not it’s too obvious if you cancel your afternoon meetings on account of an “urgent family matter” (it is btw). Career strategy aside, I fully support this. It’s time to relax.

But as much as the long weekend is your time to let it all go, to dump the stresses of work behind you, and trade in your power suit for your swim suit, it’s also a great chance to reset and get your mind right for when you return to work on Tuesday. I’ve always found that when I get back to work from a vacation or a long weekend it’s like a chance to start fresh again, to right the ship and make sure I’m headed in the best direction possible.

Here are a few questions to ponder while you’re swirling cocktails or working in your garden this weekend.

What image am I portraying: Aggressive or objective?

For decades now, holding people accountable and being passionate about your work have been universally accepted management best practices. And while on the surface they seem sensible, in practice they can stop your career dead in its tracks. You should never forget that human beings make up the decision making engine in your company. Your upward mobility will be decided entirely by the people you work with. So if you’re too passionate, too demanding, or too aggressive, people will not root for your success, they won’t want you on their teams. In my experience an image of objectivity and mentorship is much more useful to advance your career than an image as a task master or passion player. When you get back to work on Tuesday, try being a bit more objective in how you present ideas and find opportunities to help people when you might otherwise hold them accountable.

Am I differentiating myself or am I part of the herd?

It can be very therapeutic to gripe and gossip with your peers at work. We all have a difficult boss or unrealistic objectives or incompetent co-workers, and it feels good vocalize our discontent to our colleagues. You should never do this. It’s also way easier to hang out and network with peers or subordinates rather than put the effort in to network with superiors and executives in the company. This is also a mistake. As tough as this may be to accept, you can’t treat your peers at work like your friends – in reality they’re your competition. There are a limited number of promotions available to you at any given time. For most of us there are one or two chances for a promotion every few years. To get it, you need to differentiate yourself from your competitors. Gossiping and griping with your peers at work does the opposite – it makes you indistinguishable from the herd and can eliminate your chances if you’re observed doing it. When you come back to work on Tuesday, start being more positive, stop gossiping and complaining at work, and seek out opportunities to network up the corporate ladder instead of just with your peers.

What points am I putting up on the board: Career field goals or career touch downs?

When it comes to career advancement, small wins and reliable performance do not put a winning score on the board. It can take as many as five small victories to equal one big win. Managers who play a game based on reliability tend to become known only for their mistakes. Mistakes, unlike small wins, reverberate across the company and garner lots of attention. It makes much more sense to pursue a big win strategy even at the expense of making more small mistakes. Big wins are memorable, they build attention outside your department and they ultimately lead to promotions. When you get back to work next week, try to find some bigger projects to participate in. Find a process to improve or a task force to join. It’s the big stuff people will remember when promotion time comes around.

You certainly can’t spend your long weekend obsessing about your career, but while you’re searching for you tee shot in the woods or waiting in line for a hot dog and a beer, give these questions some thought and make sure you’re on the right track to advance your career when you get back to work.

Happy Memorial Day!

For some light long weekend reading, check out Stealing the Corner Office – The Winning Career Strategies They’ll Never Teach You in Business School

The Biggest Reason Smart Managers Fail

In my experience, the biggest reason talented managers don’t advance as quickly as they should is that they don’t fully understand the playing field they’re on. We make false assumptions about corporate dynamics which cause us to build sub optimal strategies for our advancement. We all want to believe companies act with logic and fairness. We want to believe they identify and reward hard work, talent and passion with career advancement. We build our career strategies based upon these assumptions. Unfortunately that is not how corporations work in reality. As much as it may sound cynical, your experience will likely tell you the same. In actual fact, most corporations function in a manner which actually favors the Incompetent Executive – a concept I speak about at length in my book Stealing the Corner Office.

man in ladder in water.jpg

We speak about companies with a certain assumed respect for operational integrity and logic. The media reports on corporate strategy and execution as though it’s mechanical and well-conceived. But it doesn't take more than about six months working in middle management inside a typical corporation to realize that all companies are flawed from top to bottom. And this is not about hating on corporations either, this is about accurately assessing the environment you’re contesting your career in so you can make good strategic choices. 

Corporations after all are comprised of people and people care about personal security over everything else. And most of us are not logical by nature, we're instinctive. We opt for self-preservation over and above any notion of corporate allegiance. And most importantly, people make up the decision making engine for the company. Human beings, not a corporate entity, will ultimately determine the fate of your career. As you might imagine, this has major implications on your strategy for career success as well as your priorities at work on a day to day basis.

Should you be focusing on short term results or expanding your skills?

Should you be aggressively pushing your ideas or dispassionately presenting alternatives?

Should you be holding your peers accountable or finding ways to help them?

Early on in our careers we assume a certain logical order of things in business. We use terms like ‘meritocracy’ to describe how things should work. Should – yes. Do – no. If a widespread corporate meritocracy in fact exists then the scoring system it uses runs counter to any rational definition of merit. What we see when we examine the tactics of successful people - the competent and incompetent alike - is that the most powerful strategies are designed to win on a very human playing field which often times can run counter to the conventional tactics we've been taught are the secrets to get ahead.

If you want to learn more about the tactics people use to navigate and win in the corporate world we really work in, check out Stealing the Corner Office.

The 3 Fatal Flaws of Job Hopping as a Career Strategy

A lot has been written about “Job Hopping” in the last couple of years particularly as it pertains to the generation y workforce. We’ve all seen the stats: Your typical millennial will work for 15-20 employers in his or her career which means on average they’ll jump ship every two years or so. Contrast that to your parents who stayed with the same company for 30 years and it’s certainly startling – but is it wise?

hopping.jpg

On the surface there seem to be plenty of logical reasons why job hopping would be a good strategy. To that end Jacquelyn Smith wrote a pretty balanced account on forbes.com of the pros and cons of executing this game plan. Other more passionate proponents, like Rebecca Thompson, in her post, laud job hopping as an optimal – mandatory even - career strategy in the current corporate environment.

Having spent the better part of three years researching unconventional but effective career strategies, I can say with confidence, that in the long run job hopping is flawed. Certainly it’s flawed as a career strategy if your goal is advancement.  And, as I talk about at length in Stealing the Corner Office, your priority at work should always be advancement, even if, like many millennials, your ultimate objective is rooted more in fulfillment than finance. Advancement leads to seniority which comes with the freedom to be selective about roles and projects and employers and all the other things that lead to a fulfilling work life. Without advancement, the quest for job fulfillment will always be an uphill battle for most of us.

I’m certainly not the first to argue against job hopping as a strategy, but most often those arguments focus on resume optics and professional network depth. I have a slightly different perspective – here are three flaws that rise to the top for me.

1.       Turmoil is your optimal environment for advancement

In my experience your greatest moments for career advancement come in times of uncertainty and disruption.  That is, if you’re around long enough to capitalize on them. During these periods, like in an acquisition or management shake-up, the opportunities are at their greatest and your competition are at their worst. Change begets opportunity – people get fired, organizational structures change, objectives shift – these are the best times to jump up the ladder. But instead of embracing these periods, Job Hoppers bail at the first sign of trouble. They’re missing out on the best possible time to advance their careers.

2.       Credibility demands on-field promotions

In my opinion there is no greater indicator that a candidate is worth hiring than if he or she has a track record of receiving promotions. And any executive who’s paying attention knows there is a big difference between an on-field promotion and a cross-company jump in responsibility. So while job hopping may work once or twice to get a small salary or role bump, more and more these moves are being heavily discounted by hiring managers. I certainly do. There’s just no credibility in it anymore. Job Hoppers, who don’t stay around long enough to get on-field promotions give up the most powerful marketing tool in their arsenal when it comes to job search time.

3.       Learn so you can move – don’t move so you can learn

There is a widely used, albeit flawed argument that says job hopping allows you to broaden your skill set by gaining more experiences in more roles with more companies. But I would argue that learning, when acquired this way, comes at too great a price. And, I should point out that few experts advocate as strongly for learning and skills expansion as I do – it’s a cornerstone of the optimal career advancement strategy in my opinion. But what is a strong tactic when implemented correctly, is being horribly misapplied here by job hopping supporters. Job hopping as a means to broadening your skills assumes incorrectly that skills expansion is the desired end in and of itself. They’ve got it backwards. You should be leveraging your current job as the means to expanding your skills so your next job provides broader leadership responsibilities, compensation and freedom. Jumping from one employer to the next at best demonstrates that you are a flexible individual contributor but does nothing to create a reputation for leadership, which is critical to moving up the corporate ladder.  

Whether you’re after fame and fortune or fun and fulfillment, your career strategy needs to be about advancement. Advancement is the fastest path to achieve your personal objectives. Job hopping is a relatively new phenomenon, so only time will prove if it’s an effective career advancement strategy or not. But having spent several years studying the tactics successful people use to get ahead in the current corporate environment, I would recommend spending a little more time finding opportunities for advancement in your current job and a little less time looking for opportunities at other companies.