When was the last time you asked your boss about his or her goals and challenges?
Most of the time, we are very focused on our own goals. We are interested in our boss’s goals to the extent they impact our day to day work. But do we dig very deeply into our boss’s goals and challenges? Typically, no.
Periodically, our boss will tell us about the unit’s goals and how that impacts us. We may ask a few questions, but we don’t tend to try to deeply explore those - we take them as a given. We move directly on to how those goals affect us, without thinking too hard about how they impract the boss. We too quickly accept the answers without probing deeply enough to really understand the underlying issues…or assume we already know what they are.
This is a big mistake. We are too quick to accept what seems obvious, and miss subtleties that can help us take our work to a new level. We also miss a great opportunity to create real influence with our boss.
When you first ask anyone about their goals or challenges, you typically get a fairly superficial answer. It’s important not to leave it there, and take the answer at face value. You need to peel back the onion, and dig into what leads to that being so important, what factors get in the way of solving the problem, how much that issue is costing the operation, etc. The deeper you get into it, the more insight you will have into the issues, and the better you will be able to see how you might be able to approach your own work in a way that facilitates solutions.
You always have options in how you go about your day to day work, and how you prioritize your tasks. The more you know about your boss’s challenges and what’s behind those, the better you can organize your own work and approaches to show your alignment with those.
Simply by asking the questions, and focusing on the impact on your boss, you build a much stronger bridge. You distinguish yourself from the ‘average’ employee who takes these issues as a given, and doesn’t make the effort to understand these issues at a deeper level.
Think about how much stronger a relationship you could create with your boss if you really understood what keeps him or her up at night, and he or she saw that you attacked your own work in ways that showed you were focused on helping him or her make real progress on those issues!
Try doing this with others with whom you are trying to have a deeper relationship as well. For more on “Digging Into Challenges”, see this article:
“Thank you for your advice on career development. I have a question and need your suggestions. My current company is merging with another company. My position will be cut in a couple of months. I am wondering how I deal with this topic during interviews with my future employer.
Should I tell the interviewers directly about my current situation (for example, if they ask why I am looking for a position with their company)? Or should I not mention it if they do not ask specifically? My concern about not telling them directly is this topic may come up during small talk such as “did you take today off for the interview”, etc.
Would there be any significant downside of talking about my position being cut?”
Your focus needs to be on the future - what you can do for your future employer, and particularly what sorts of results they should expect for you. Don’t worry about the past, other than having a professional, concise answer.
Here’s one way to describe the package you bring to the table:
If there were issues with your performance, or anything else that you contributed to the reason you are being laid off, then review this prior blog entry:
“I have been in my current company for almost three years. Recently I was promoted. After the promotion, my responsibility stayed the same. I was told that there will be some increase within the next year due to the tight budget. I don’t really value this as compensation given the above facts.
I expressed this when the department VP informed me of the promotion before the team meeting. She said that it is obvious that I am not satisfied. Based on her past conversations with me, she felt I always challenged her and wanted something else. She would like to meet with me to know what I really want in a couple of days.
Now I regret my response, since I had already decided to look for another opportunity in other companies. My decision was made before the meeting, since I couldn’t see my future here. I was viewed as a person who is kind of difficult to manage, since I like to challenge things. With that said, why should I make the situation worse? My relationship with my boss (director) is not that great.
What might you suggest as a way to convince the vice president that I am satisfied with the current arrangement? What are the most valuable skills and experience the future employer would like to see from a candidate like me?
Would you please advise the best way to challenge senior management in the future? With my experience here, I now realize that having a good relationship with your boss and working smart are much important than how much you work. How can I have a better result in the future?”
Whether you decide to stay where you are or not, it is important to retain as strong a relationship as possible with your boss and others at your company.
You will be surprised at how you may come in contact with them in the future. I’ve several times ended up working with people again at a new company, with both of us at different levels than before and in different levels of authority relative to each other.
Ideally you would like everyone you come in contact with to think of you as a results-oriented professional they would enjoy having on their team, as that’s how you create the visibility for yourself that generates new opportunities.
Your reputation for being difficult to manage and liking to challenge things may come in large part from the way you present your ideas. You may be doing so too forcefully in ways that challenge the status quo, in effect taking a ‘frontal assault’ approach that raises your boss’s and others’ defenses.
A more effective approach is to be very curious about why things are done the way they are. Ask questions about the goals, what’s led to the way something is done now, brainstorming on how the work can be done in a way that still meets those, but also achieves other critical goals (making operations more efficient, freeing up resources for other critical tasks, etc.).
Often the problem can be as simple as how you phrase the question. For example, asking “Why…” is taken as challenging - it sounds like you are questioning why I’m doing something. Changing the question to “What factors led to this…” makes it less threatening - it sounds more like genuine interest and curiosity.
In your upcoming conversation, you want to focus on:
The discussion about what would make you more satisfied is a longer term question and focus, which gets into career planning.
Frame your answer in terms of your longer term goals, and what can be done over time to help you achieve those. Try to make it a brainstorming session, collaborating with your boss on possible ways to change your job focus, add new types of projects or responsibilities, get you involved in new or different initiatives, etc., over time. Talk about time frames for making some of those changes, and time lines for the longer term goals you want to achieve.
Don’t make any of your requests like ultimatums - “make these changes or I’ll leave.”
After the discussion, you can then weigh in your own mind over the next days or weeks whether the plans are sufficient to make you want to stay, and then you can keep that decision private - no one needs to (or should) know that you are looking elsewhere until the day you accept an offer and turn in your 2 weeks notice.
Excerpted from November 2007 Career Tips. To review contents of past issues and selected articles, visit
Candidates so often focus on their responsibilities, duties and experience in their résumé, cover letter, elevator pitch, etc.
This is an interest killer. Talking about things you were responsible for doesn’t say anything about the quality of your work or the results you can produce. The only reason I would hire you is because I believe you will produce results that I am interested in, so go directly to those.
So what if you were “responsible for managing a unit of 10 engineers”? What about that says you were any good at managing them? And it’s a very passive statement to boot!
“Responsible for” is so easily eliminated - instead of the above, just say “Managed a unit of 10 engineers” - now it’s an active statement. And then add a result, like “Managed a unit of 10 engineers that generated 3 new revenue-genering products within only 1 year.”
So, please, avoid my pet peeve of focusing your message on what you were responsible for, what duties you performed, and your years of experience in a certain area!
Here are some other simple tips for creating a powerful résumé: