Many candidates make the mistake of all but stopping their searches from Thanksgiving to New Years, thinking that the holidays are an unproductive time. Nothing could be further from the truth! Here’s my attempt to put a stake in the heart of that false assumption:
In both interviews and one-on-one networking meetings, you want to have a good answer to “Tell Me About Yourself.”
Even if you are never asked the question, you want to find a way to work this into your presentation. This is how you draw
for the other person the picture you want of what you bring to the table.
Instead of the other person focusing a lot of their attention on trying to
draw their own picture, you’ve put your own stake in the ground first.
One way to present it that I have found to be quite successful is the “HERO Story” approach. Here is my template for crafting a powerful HERO Story:
Just don’t make the mistake of memorizing a story that
comes out exactly the same every time you tell it. As soon as ANY answer is
the “Best” answer, it ceases to even be a “good” answer, because it starts
to sound rehearsed and phony.
I often advise people to come up with the
best answer they can, and then to tear up the script. Having your story (or
any answer) come out a little bit different every time you tell it keeps it
fresh and real.
I came across a good discussion of how to handle a bad reference in a job-search-related blog.
It highlights a very key point when seeking critique in any situation - don’t get defensive. As soon as you start to try to explain why something isn’t a problem, you shut down the input you might have received. And in this case, where there is already (apparently) a relationship issue, you can actually make the situation worse.
The approach they describe shows you to be a mature professional, and even if it doesn’t change the negative perception of PAST performance, it can help that former boss to see you in a new light.
I wrote a related piece some time back on the more general issue of seeking critique:
And for the blog entry on handling a bad reference:
I invite you to submit your answers to this question:
“What Is Your Biggest Obstacle To Career Growth?”
Post your answers in a comment to this entry, and then I will write my suggestions for dealing with those issues.
In the meanwhile, here’s an article on Achieving Your Career Potential:
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Here are just a few of the most recent articles in my free reference library …
In Career Search:
In Career Growth:
And in Business and Personal Development:
Find them all here:
Drop me a note on what other topics you would enjoy seeing, at John@JHACareers.com.
Candidates are very concerned about the screening process they hit when they submit to posted openings, and how to get their résumé to the top of the pile. One critical aspect is keywords. My good friend Alex Freund wrote a simple, step-by-step approach to this in his blog - you can read it here:
Sometimes I hear people giving advice to put those keywords in a special section of the résumé, in white text so they don’t print. Resist!
Many internal and external recruiters and HR people have caught on to that, and immediately look for ‘hidden’ text that might have been put there simply to improve the hits on a screening program. Many screening programs highlight words that were otherwise hidden, so that the report points those out specially. In either case, you have likely just eliminated yourself from any further consideration, and damaged your professional reputation to boot. (Have you ever noticed those porn sites that use all sorts of unrelated keywords on their pages and postings to increase their search results? Do you want to be equated with that?)
Others try having a keyword section in their résumé, hoping to increase the scores in the screening routines. If that section is at the very end of the résumé, it may be OK, but at the same time it definitely detracts from the professional appearance of your résumé.
The best way is to carefully use those keywords in your various job-related bullets, and in your opening profile.
For the 3 questions your résumé MUST answer to grab a hiring manager’s attention, see this article:
And while you’re here, click on the “Résumé” menu item for a host of articles on how to make the most of your résumé …
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I was reading Abby Kohut’s excellent book, Absolutely Abby’s 101 Job Search Secrets, and came across this statement:
“Prepare a good reason for any gaps on your resume in addition to an explanation of what activities you were involved in that may have enhanced your career, including personal activities. Gaps are typically not the reason why candidates are rejected. It’s the inability to explain them sufficiently, and or a lack of confidence about them that is likely to be a concern for recruiters.”
I concur 100%.
Candidates are always worried about their flaws. This is natural. However, it’s generally not the flaws themselves that hold them back, it’s how they deal with them.
If you present with confidence, and have a good response to questions about your flaw, that will go a long way to minimizing the impact of that flaw.
For example, consider this most difficult situation - where a candidate was actually fired (unfairly) from their last job - this post walks through how to deal with that simply and with confidence:
The key in these cases is to not dwell on the flaw, and to focus on the future - what you can do, what you hope to do, what you have learned from the problem that will ensure it will never happen again - whatever answer best fits your situation. Make it simple, and then shift attention to what you can confidently do.
One other point: Any time there is a gap or other flaw in your background, you are going to be much easier to screen out when you are trying to come through the front door, competing head to head with every other candidate who knows about an opening. The busy HR screener or recruiter who is thumbing quickly through 100’s of résumés to find the handful to present to a hiring manager is that much more likely to take a pass on yours.
This cries out for even more emphasis on networking. When you talk to someone outside of the “is he / she qualified for this job” evaluation mode, you have a chance to get that person engaged. You can talk about your package. You can explain (briefly) the flaw in context. And you can get then thinking about why you would be a great candidate, so that you can come into being evaluated for a position with a supporter.
For more on how to make this networking happen, see these articles:
As I prepared for this tele-class (see http://www.JHACareers.com/10Traps.htm for
details), even my ‘quick list’ of traps quickly grew to exceed 50! The
class promises to be a content-rich hour…I’ve compressed as
many as I can down into 10 themes, and perhaps this will
need to lead to another “10 More Traps” tele-class in the near future!
One of the most critical traps that I
will get into in much more depth is the “If it ain’t broke,
don’t fix it” syndrome.
In a search, there is so much
frustration and anxiety, and so many people share so many suggestions
(wanted or unwanted) about the search that there is a tendency to start
to screen out the negative comments. For example, I was talking to a
new client one time and pointed out to her serious defects in her
résumé. It was, frankly, an extremely poor résumé. Even though I gave
her specific, concrete feedback on the flaws and what was needed to fix
it, she insisted it didn’t need any attention, and didn’t want to spend
any time working on it. Her comment:
“I’ve had HR people tell me what a good résumé I have.”
I moved on to talking to her about
networking (which she REALLY wanted help on), and how we would go about
turning her into a master networker. Again, she balked at the details
of what I was suggesting. By the end of our first session together, I
simply handed her back her check, telling her that neither of us would
be happy with how things turned out if we continued to work together.
I don’t advise simply jumping at every
‘constructive’ criticism you receive, automatically changing everything
you are doing just because one person said so. However, you need to
always be seeking to step out of your current comfort zone,
experimenting with new thinking, new strategies and approaches that
lead to an expanded comfort zone. This is how true growth and success
Carefully probe the criticism or
suggestion being offered, and explore why that person is offering it,
their level of expertise with the issue at hand, what their context and
rationale are, and how that fits to your situation. Go back and
compare to other, perhaps conflicting, advice you’ve received, and give
both some examination. Find ways to experiment with either way in your
search, and see what seems to work.
The worst thing you can do is assume
“it ain’t broke,” particularly if you’ve been searching for several
months and aren’t building the steady stream of referrals and
interviews for the sort of position you want!
And by the way, as to that client who
didn’t want to change what she did…the friend who first referred her
ran into her a few weeks later, and asked her how things were going.
She said she was very happy with her progress. (She had admitted to me
that her ‘progress’ was 1 interview in 7 months! And this was a few
years back, when the economy was booming.) Over the next several
months, I happened to see her in various coffee shops in the middle of
the day, not dressed in business attire, so clearly she had not landed
in the interim.
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I just came across this posting to a variety of networking groups to which I belong:
“As you probably already know recruiters usually have the best jobs in the
market, the ones that are not posted. The ones only the recruiter can
get because of his or her relationship with the
A good recruiter can be worth more than GOLD to a client
company. Most CEO’s will tell you they are only as good as their
people. Ever get frustrated with recruiters not calling you back or
following up after you have submitted your resume? Want to get
The facts are that recruiters are commission driven and
they work on what they think can close fast. It’s just the nature of
the business; if recruiters don’t get people hired then they don’t eat.
Sure some companies pay base salary’s but that is for rent not
If you want to get the attention and get noticed then you
haft to be willing to help the process along.
five tips here:
While these are good points, they are mostly from the recruiter’s point of view.
As a candidate you want to also make sure you
are working with very good recruiters in your specific field. As with any
profession, there are a small percentage of very strong performers, a large
percentage who are average, and a large percentage who aren’t all that good.
You want to work primarily with the top recruiters.
You want to be
sure that they have a strong track record of placements in your industry, in
your specific job, at your compensation level. Just as you would expect a
quality recruiter to interview you before agreeing to present you, you should
expect to interview them before agreeing to be presented.
For more on
how to work effectively with recruiters (from the candidate’s point of view),
see this article:
You never know where inspiration is going to hit you … which is a good argument for opening yourself up to various experiences and moving out of your comfort zone. I’ve always heard experts tout reading occasional publications outside your field, so that you would get perspectives. My reaction often was, “I get it, but when am I going to find the time?”
In the last couple of years, though, I’ve seen it happen more and more.
I was on a plane, and decided to read the airline magazine, which I generally had never bothered with. Right away I came across a quote from an entertainer that fit exactly with the sort of message I try to put out to my Career Tips readers. Before I was done with that issue, I had torn out at least 4 items that could be relevant to my newsletter, that I wanted to send to specific clients, or that I simply found inspirational. Since then, I’ve made a point of reading those magazines when I’m flying, and at least 50% of the time find something that made it worth the investment.
I started subscribing to Entrepreneur magazine, but tended to put them on the shelf right away. Then one Saturday I was going out to the deck to relax in the hot tub, and took down an issue. Within the first few pages I came across a short item that exactly fit an important message I wanted to communicate in Career Tips, with validation from leading businesspeople! Again, I found a number of useful items throughout the issue.
My latest inspiration came from a newsletter in my specialty area, but one that I hadn’t read for awhile. Frankly, I get so many emails, newsletters, etc. that unless something jumps out at me in a title, I will often move on quickly. However, I was feeling uninspired about the next issue of my own newsletter that I felt obligated to put out that day, and started leafing through this job group’s newsletter while I procrastinated.
Then I came across a “PAR” story that they were promoting as a particularly good example. My topic jumped right out at me - “The Problem With PAR’s.” Here was a group with expertise in the area, promoting what they believed was a great story, and it was a glaring example of what’s missing from most PAR’s! (If you’d like to see the article, just drop me a note at John@JHACareers.com.)
So what do we learn from this?
Be open to inspiration from many sources. Occasionally read items you would normally ignore, if only to validate that you can continue ignoring them. And read or watch videos or review blogs or whatever on a regular basis, particularly those outside of your ‘normal’ area of expertise.
Serious illness in family…taking some time off from posting.
Headed off on vacation for a week…more posts when I return.
Did you spend time building up a good set of LinkedIn connections?
Have you spent an equal amount of effort keeping those as strong connections?
It’s easy to forget to build on the relationships we have, particularly when we are busy at work, and allow them to slowly wither on the vine.
What do you think might happen if instead you implemented a regular keep-in-touch strategy with all of your contacts, to keep them fresh and vital? Do you think that might occasionally mean that one of them would approach you about an interesting opportunity?
Here a thought for how you might approach that…
1. Decide how often you want to stay in touch. If it were, say, once a quarter, then divide your 1st level contacts by 12 (3 months x 4 weeks), and that’s how many you need to reach out to per week to accomplish that. Divide up the list into those 12 segments. (OK, if you want to get technical, there are actually 13 weeks in a quarter. I was just trying to keep the math simple for you.)
2. If your 1st level contacts are filled with lots of people you don’t know, who just happened to reach out to you or you to them without any relationship, then you might want to first pare down your list into the ones you at least know, before creating the 12 segments.
3. Mark an appointment in your calendar for a half hour each week. Use that half hour to drop notes to each of the contacts in that week’s segment.
4. Make periodic updates to your Status that remind people you are out there in interesting ways. For example, you could post something about a new blog entry you put up, a new resource you stumbled across, an interesting article you read, …
5. Read the periodic LinkedIn update summaries you receive to see if there is a change, status or other update to someone’s profile that create a good excuse to write to them.
If you just do this much, you will continue to foster stronger LinkedIn connections within a manageable time commitment.
What other thoughts do you have?
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If you are interested in accelearting your career growth, I’ve written a number of articles on different aspects of this. The latest is “Where Do You See Yourself in 5 Years?”, which I wrote for the Actuary of the Future magazine. In it I share my own career journey, and key lessons learned others can apply to their own explorations.
I’ve posted over a dozen on my website, and you can download them there. These include:
To find them, just scroll down to the Career Growth section on this page of my site:
I welcome any comments you might care to share on any of them. And feel free to drop me a note at Advice@JHACareers.com if you have any specific issues on which you would like advice.
“You don’t have to be the first to be a success. You don’t have to be unique. You don’t have to be revolutionary. What you do have to do, however, is give people value. Give them a reason to buy from you instead of from somebody else.”
Tim Berry, author and founder of multiple companies, writing in the Entrepreneur.com Blog Network, on “Startups: Unique and Revolutionary, or Forget It?”
This statement is very apt for the job seeker, and for those already in a company, and seeking to accelerate their career growth. The way to get noticed, and ultimately to get hired or awarded a new opportunity, is to give prospective employers value, and a reason to buy YOU instead of someone else.
The only reason I hire someone is because I firmly believe you will solve the problems I face, and achieve the results I need. This is the ‘value’ I seek.
Expressing how many years you have been doing something, all of the credentials you have, and the various duties you have performed over the years doesn’t equate to value. Those are what the unimaginative candidates fall back on, often because:
Unless you get very good at expressing your value in all venues, in a very natural, conversational way that isn’t ‘pushy’, you will always be left wondering why others get hired for the best jobs, or get awarded the most interesting opportunities for which you really wish you had been considered.
One key to doing this is to build a visibility campaign. I wrote about 7 ways you could start to go about this in my most recent issue of Career Tips. Write to me at John@JHACareers.com if you would like a copy, or you can review the contents and selected articles from past issues and sign yourself up at
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“I want …”
Your marketing message, your résumé, your cover letter, etc. should all be focused on what THE OTHER PERSON wants, not on what you want. Your goals will come out in the process of the discussion, but you want to be sure that the emphasis is on why I as the listener or reader should be excited about helping you achieve those goals.
One example is the “Objective Statement” many candidates use to open their résumés. An objective is all about you, not about what you can do for me. For a more complete discussion of why these are counterproductive on your résumé, see http://www.jhacareers.com/ObjectiveInResume.htm.
Here’s one example, from a real résumé I received:
To utilize acquired skills leading and supporting cutting edge system development and implementation efforts to further my management career within the Insurance/Financial Services Industry.
What message does that send to the hiring manager who reads it?
Including what you want somewhere in your message is OK, as long as you do it in a way that shows why you would be an outstanding candidate for it - then it’s making it interesting to the listener / reader. It’s equipping them to know how they could help you or refer you.
Just be sure to do it later in your message, after you’ve engaged them.
The best result comes if you only get to what you want in response to the other party’s follow-up question…
“I’m a results-oriented professional…”
or this variation:
“Proven results in…”
These are used all the time in résumés and cover letters, or even in oral 30 second pitches…and they do absolutely nothing for you.
Remember the adult voices on all the Charlie Brown specials, how they were purposely designed not to be understood? That’s basically what empty phrases like these sound like; all the other party reads or hears is “blah, blah, blah.”
The problem is that these are just statements that you produce results, instead of demonstrations. It’s easy to simply say you produce results or are results-oriented, and saying it doesn’t make it true, or make me any more likely to believe it.
Instead, give concrete examples of the results you produce. Let the readers and listeners conclude from your examples that you are ‘results-oriented’, instead of trying to hit them over the head with it.
For example, if I was trying to show someone that I was “results-oriented,” instead of:
“I have proven results in helping my clients with their job searches.”
This would be much more powerful:
“Kevin had been out of work for 2 years, and within a few months of working together was back at the job and pay he deserved. And a simple technique I showed him earned him an additional $10,000 of base salary.”
“Tom had 15 months of interviews without a single offer. Within 1 week of attending my Winning Interviews course, he was weighing 2 competitive job offers.”
So strike empty statements that say you have results from your repertoire, and instead show the proof of the results.
And have a Happy New Year!
“I can work in any industry”, or providing in your message 2 or 3 different industries as your targets.
Candidates who say this may think they are keeping their search open, but they are actually closing it down. It has the same problem as “I have transferable skills” - it sounds like you are unfocused, and are willing to work in any industry if I’ll just consider you for a job.
You might think you are displaying confidence through your willingness to apply your skills in a variety of industries. Exactly the opposite is true. You come across as lacking the confidence to present a specific target industry, perhaps even a bit desperate.
Think niche marketing. The strongest marketing efforts are tailored very specifically to a target. The same is true in your search - the more focused you appear to be, the more likely it is that I will pay attention and be engaged by your message.
This doesn’t mean you can’t be open to other industries, jobs, etc., but you will never get my attention if you start by providing a laundry list of what you might be open to. Once you have my attention, and the conversation leads to a discussion about another industry, type of company, job, then you can pursue that with me. If you never get my attention in the first place, you will never have the chance to have that conversation.
In my travels, I get to hear and see a lot of elevator pitches, marketing messages, sales pieces, cover letters, résumés, engagement bios, etc. Most of these include phrases that range from meaningless to unhelpful to seriously detrimental to any attempt to market yourself or your practice.
Over the next several weeks, I’m going to publish my thoughts on many of these. I invite your comments, and suggestions as to other phrases that frustrate you. Drop me an email at John@JHACareers.com, or simply insert your phrase in a comment here, and I’ll promote it to a new topic.
OK, here’s the first:
“I have transferrable skills.”
Ask yourself what the potential hiring manager or networking contact is hearing.
“I hope someone will consider me for something that my skills might apply to.”
“I don’t have confidence to present myself directly for a role I might want, so I’ll simply say my skills are transferable.”
“I’m not willing to commit to any one thing.”
Not exactly awe-inspiring messages, are they?
Instead of saying this, come up with a description of the type of problem you can solve with those ‘transferrable skills’, as relevantly as you can make it to your ideal target area, and then talk about that!
Here’s a quote from a column by Michael Port, the NY Times bestselling author of Book Yourself Solid, in the December issue of Entrepreneur magazine. The title of the column: “Keep Your Cards To Yourself.”
“Don’t share your business card. Take some contrarian sales advice: Never give out another business card again (unless someone asks for it, that is). Ask them for their card without reaching for yours. Simply ask permission to follow up with a call or e-mail on a specific date and/or time. Imagine what happens when on that very day (and perhaps even at the precise time) you follow through and do exactly as promised….Your first interaction with this new person is based entirely around an experience when you’ve made a promise and fulfilled it.”
Michael makes 2 critical points here that exactly match what I tell my clients:
1. It doesn’t matter how many cards you give out. People who wander around a networking event giving out lots of business cards rarely are effective networkers.
What matters is the cards you get, from people with whom you’ve had enough of a conversation to build some R&R (rapport and relationship).
How much R&R?
My guideline is that it should be enough that I feel confident this person will take my call and agree to meet me for coffee.
2. Whenever you have an important interaction with someone (a 1-on-1 networking meeting, a job interview, a sales call, or even just sending a letter requesting a meeting), leave yourself with both an action step YOU will take, and an explicitly communicated time frame when you will take that step.
This lets you do exactly what Michael is suggesting above, build the opportunity for interactions based on you making a promise and then fulfilling it.
When you meet with me, and tell me that you will call me on Monday to follow up on that contact you promised me, I may get busy and forget what you told me. However, when you do, in fact, call me on Monday as you promised, I will remember it. I will see you as someone who makes and keeps promises, the sort of person I want to work with.
Keep both of these points front of mind in everything you do.
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