Friday, March 1, 2013

Stepping Out Of Your Comfort Zone

I am pleased to say that I'm starting a new job! Yeah for me!!

I never really understood how someone does the same thing for their entire career. Maybe I will find that one job I want to keep for 20+ years but until then I will have to be content with cycling through jobs as needed.

I actually envy people who do the same thing for decades since they never have to deal with the cycle I've recently gone through. It's not easy starting up a job search, putting yourself out there, applying, interviewing and then repeating the entire process until you find the right landing spot. There can be a lot of rejection in that cycle before you are accepted. I was definitely entrenched in a comfort zone in my old job and felt for quite a while that I could do it on auto-pilot. So change was needed and thankfully I have some new challenges and responsibilities ahead of me that I am really looking forward to.

Everything about getting a new job is awesome. Your career is being validated by your new employer. You have new challenges ahead that will test you in ways you've not been tested before. In a lot of cases there's more money involved, which is always nice. However, there's one thing I'm not looking forward to and that's stepping out of my comfort zone for the better part of the next year.

I like being in the groove, knowing what I am doing and being able to do it well. It's a great feeling to be liked by your department because you are good at what you do. The trepidation I am feeling at the moment is solely due to the unknown. The learning process, the mistakes that will inevitably be made as I overcome the learning curve, meeting new people, adapting to new office and department culture. All of it combined certainly doesn't outweigh the positives of making a job change but they shouldn't be forgotten about either and they should serve as a sobering reminder that you can't just walk in on the first day of a new job and expect a 6 month honeymoon. You need to show up on that first day aware of your status as the new person and ready to meet all of the challenges head on.

Wish me luck!

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Interview Preparation Packet

As I mentioned in an earlier post I create a packet of information when I am preparing for an interview. Below I describe the different parts of the packet and how I use them.

The Packet Itself
The actual packet is nothing more than a Word document printed and stapled. When I go into the interview I put it in a folder so that I am not walking in empty handed and then when it comes time I pull it out and use it to write my notes and ask my questions of the interviewers. Brandishing such a document shows that I am prepared for the interview. No one but me can see what is written on the pages but they can see that I have a document that looks nice and orderly.

I am the kind of person who has to take notes in order to remember things so if I didn't have these papers with me I would need a pad. However, the packet provides addition advantages. The front 2/3 of it is all of my prep materials so while I am waiting for the interviewers I can run through my prep questions to kill time and to keep my answers fresh in my head. I can also refer to parts of the packet during the interview if needed, perhaps to quote the job posting for example.

Finally, after the interview is over I always make a note of particular questions I wasn't expecting or ones that I struggled with so that I can be better prepared next time.

The Job Post
For starters I take the job positing  and cut and paste it into a Word document. I then separate all of the responsibilities and required qualifications and underneath each I make the case for how I do or don't meet each of them.  Part of this work ends up in my cover letter. The other part helps me identify exactly how I fit the position and where there might be gaps in my experience. From there, I can start thinking about how I can compensate for any gaps and highlight those places where I fit the position.

Next I make a list of all the possible questions I think I might be asked. Some of this is off the top of my head. Some is based on my research of the company or department. Some of it is from searching the internet trying to find the hardest possible questions out there and the best possible answers to them. Then I go about figuring out how I will answer each one of the questions. As the interview get's closer these are the questions my wife asks me in mock interviews.

Additional Questions
I also include a long list of generic interview questions that I don't prepare for. As my wife and I prepare and she asks me the questions I've prepared I am cementing the major talking points I want to hit during the interview no matter what questions I am asked. I know I won't get asked many of them but I also know that the answers I am preparing will be used not matter what they ask me. At the same time, I want to be ready to answer anything. So I ask my wife to intersperse these additional questions into the ones I've written up and prepared answers for. This way, I can be sure to stay on my toes and feel comfortable knowing I am ready for anything.

Questions for the Interviewers
Finally, I have a few pages of specific questions I plan to ask each interviewer I meet. Some of these are the same for all interviewers and some are specific to that particular person. Your research will inform you about what you need to ask to everyone and what you need to ask of particular individuals. These pages become the place I take my notes during the interview process.

Friday, January 11, 2013

An Interviewing Lesson Learned The Hard Way

I prepare for job interviews by creating a packet of information. Included in this packet are the job posting, questions I anticipate being asked and how I want to answer them, a long list of additional interview question, and finally the questions I want to ask the interviewers during the interview.  This packet becomes both my source for preparation for the interview and the document I can use to take notes during the interview process.  I will get into more detail about the nuts and bolts of this packet later but before I do I need to relay a story to you about it and a recent lesson I learned, several lessons actually.

I once interviewed for a position I didn't get. Actually, truth be told, I've interviewed for a few positions I didn't end up getting. Happens to the best of us right? For this particular position, I prepared my packet as usual and used it throughout the interview process. When I ended up not getting the position I tossed the interview packet into one of my numerous piles of paper at home and several weeks, months, or years later, I'm not sure how long it was, I threw the packet away. My thinking was that I tried, gave it my best shot, didn't get it, and thus I'm never going to need the packet about that job again because it's clear that I am not right for the position. After all, if I was right, they would have hired me.

Low and behold, time passes and fate being as it is I end up interviewing for this same position some time later. That packet of information and especially the notes I took during the previous interview process would have been an invaluable resource to me as I prepped for this new interview process for the same position. Typically, I take notes during and after each interview not only on what the interviewers say but also on how the conversations went, questions I was asked that I wasn't expecting and new information about the position I didn't know. I would have done anything to lay my hands on that first packet again to review how the interview process went the first time.

The lessons here are many. To name a few:

  • Save your interview prep materials! Create a file and drop them in it after every interview. Not only will you start building a reservoir of interview questions and answers but you'll also be preserving valuable preparation materials that you won't have to waste time recreating each time you prepare to interview.
  • You never know where your career is going to take you. I never in a million years thought I'd be interviewing for this position a second time.
  • Don't jump to conclusions when you don't get a job. There could be any number of reasons why they chose someone else over you. We assume it's because we aren't qualified because at the time we feel rejected and jump to the conclusion that we must not be that great at what we do. But really, it could be anything.
  • Don't be afraid to put your hat in the ring again even if you didn't get the position the first time. Yes, I know it's hard to do, trust me! But our careers are like the lottery: you simply can't win unless you play the game.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

The Importance of Effective Communication

Watching the presidential debates has lead me to think a lot about the importance of effective communication skills at work. After all, how many job postings have you read that call for "excellent written and verbal communication skills" or some variation of that? In truth though, there's more to it than just written and verbal skills we need to consider.

For starters, regarding the debates, in the face of searing opposition those guys are ridiculously smooth. I can't even fathom holding my composure in a forum like that the way they do. Imagine engaging someone whose sole objective is to tear apart every single thing you say for 90 minutes. Now imagine what your body would feel like. What would your body language be in that type of situation? Imagine the way your muscles would tense up. The way your blood pressure would rise and your heart would race. Oh, and then consider that roughly 60 million people are watching you. YIKES!!!

Have you noticed how much commentary there is after the debates about how the candidates looked? In fact, how they look is just as important, and may even be more so, than what they actually say. Do they appear "presidential"? Are they looking at the moderator or audience when they speak? Are they looking down at the podium or looking at their opponent when he is speaking? Are they making hand gestures? Looking at their watch? Shaking their head when the opponent is talking? Sighing, laughing, grunting or making other noises? President Obama got crushed for looking like he didn't want to be there in the first debate and you better believe that his camp spent a lot of time fixing that in preparation for the second one.

As odd as it seems, non-verbal communication is an imperative skill in the work place. The media doesn't latch onto it after these debates for no reason. They talk about it because it's clear messaging being sent to us by the candidates and there are things about them that can be learned from analyzing it. The silent messages you are sending when speaking to someone or being spoken to say as much as the actual words that are being spoken. How are you sitting or standing? Are you slouched in your chair? Do you appear actively engaged in the conversation? Are you making eye contact? Are you prepared to take notes? Are you fidgeting with a pen or something else? Are you actually engaged in something else (multitasking) while someone is speaking to you? Do you check your phone?

Be conscious of the non-verbal messages you are sending. You don't want to go through an entire meeting having not uttered a singular word yet actually having said more than anyone else in the room.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Surviving the Phone Screen

I just had the pleasure of participating in a phone screen interview. If you happen to work with me, don't worry I'm not going anywhere. My employer has a program whereby they send 900 students around the globe between semesters for immersion experiences in emerging markets and I applied to be a Program Manager.

I don't know about you but I find phone screen interviews to be really hard. It is so much easier to have a conversation with someone who is sitting right in front of you. The idea of having to make a meaningful impression on and connection with someone you can't see is much more intimidating than being able to engage someone sitting in front of you so you can read their reactions to what you are saying.

If you are faced with the prospect of a phone interview there are some basics you can do to make for an optimal setting and experience:

  • Prepare like this is any other interview because it is. Run through your talking points. Go through you practice questions. Write down a few questions you want to ask the interviewer. Always be prepared. If you are not prepared none of what follows will matter.
  • Have your resume handy so you can refer to it.
  • Make a list of talking points and refer to them during the interview. Being able to have materials in front of you is one advantage of the phone interview so use it.
  • Have a pen and paper handy so you can take notes.
  • Remove any and all distractions from the room including but not limited to: disable call waiting, silence phones not being used in the interview, shut down music/TV, email, internet, kids, pets, co-workers, spouses, in-laws, bookies, handymen, plumbers, massage get the idea.
  • Use a land line. 
  • Have a glass of water handy and don't eat, suck on candy, or chew gum.
  • Repeatedly tell yourself how AWESOME you are going to do.
  • Keep your answers brief and concise. 
  • Take your time, speak clearly and with confidence.
  • Breathe.
  • Smile!
  • Don't interrupt the interviewer.
  • Remember to ask about their timeline for their next steps and what those steps will be.
  • Thank the interviewer for his/her time.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Dead Tree Summary

Technology has been a break neck game changer in so many areas of our lives it's often hard to comprehend when you try and step back to think about it. Now it appears that job hunting is no longer immune to the digital age as the dead tree summary paper resume is all but phased out of the process.

This article from CNN is fascinating on so many levels. 10 years ago fax machines were integral to job hunting. When's the last time any of us sent a fax!? Might as well fire up the old telegraph while we are at it! Now it's email and even your overall web presence being used to sell yourself to potential employers

Just imagine what it'll be like in 10 more years. 

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Listening on the Job

Raising kids, especially two active boys, has made me revisit the importance of listening. I can't stand it when I am talking to them and I can see on their faces that they simply aren't listening. (Shout out to my parents here because I am quite certain they experienced this with me!). On the stage listening to the other actors is vital to the creation of a robust performance. Actors and musicians hone their listening skills to help them polish their craft. I am willing to bet that most people working in other professions take listening for granted, which is really a shame because it is an imperative skill to perfect.

Have you ever dealt with a bad listener? I had a boss once who didn't listen to a word I said in the three years I work for him. He was as bad a listener as my 2 year old. It didn't even have to be work related either. When we were sitting around talking about baseball I could tell that he was looking right through me. He'd talk right over me and anything he had to say was more important or relevant than what I was saying at the time.

On the job, listening is a must. If you are a new employee one of the most important things you can do is make sure that the people talking to you know you are listening to them. You can't succeed without it. So how do you do that?

It helps to take a fresh look at yourself as a listener and remind yourself of the finer points of the skill. To help you out I've found a link that you might find useful.