Friday, June 21, 2013

Starting Out 02: Before You Apply

Before You Apply
Back in the old days . . . well, in my case, 1981, we distinctly remember the lecturer’s ‘opening salvo’ on our first day at university and something remarkably similar to that heard by the lucky few in a police line-up. She said, ‘turn to your right and turn to your left. Because, believe it or not, only one out of the three of you will graduate from this course.’ It was an extremely discouraging thought and one we still haven’t forgotten - despite that first day of university being a long time ago.

Fortunately, today’s universities and colleges are enthusiastic to see as many students as possible graduate from their particular institutions and, as such, it’s far more likely that the people who sat beside you on your first day will also be there at your graduation.

Unlike 1984 - the year we eventually graduated - today the intimidating thought is that with all the graduates entering the workforce and applying for the same positions as you, only one of you will get the job - somewhat unsympathetic, but accurate.

We all begin our careers at the same spot - funnily enough, the beginning. Therefore, with the level of competition that exists in the graduate market place today, how do you get the jump on all your other company?

Join a Professional Association
What's it really like to work in a particular field? Consider joining a professional association – or, better yet, the student chapter of a professional association! There is a professional association for almost any career field in the world of work and you can join at any time, first year to senior year (or beyond). Professional associations keep you up-to-date on issues and developments in your field; alert you to who the ‘movers and shakers’ are, and tell you about companies - or individuals - with whom you would like to work. Professional membership is an excellent addition to your resume - there are few better ways to show your serious commitment to the field.

Research, research, research
Did someone say research? To prepare successfully for your job search, you will need to know as much as possible about the companies that interest you. Knowing how to research firms and organizations is vital to a winning job-search undertaking. To customize your resume and cover letter to a specific position, and particularly to prepare successfully for an interview, you need to know as much as possible about the corporation or business.

Employers perceive ‘researching the corporation’ as one of the decisive factors in the assessment of applicants as it reflects interest and enthusiasm. In the interview, it indicates you understand the purpose of this process and establishes a common base of knowledge from which questions can be asked and to which information can be added, thus enabling both applicant and interviewer to assess the position fit more correctly. The best way to research a company is through their corporate website; however, surfer beware – similar to annual reports, corporate websites can often mask the truth – it’s highly unlikely many, if any, corporation websites will tell you they’re going bankrupt or that their product is in violation of the environmental accords.

At a minimum, try to locate the following items of basic information about the organisation: age, services or products, competitors, growth pattern, reputation, divisions and subsidiaries, size, number of employees, sales, assets and earnings, new products or projects, number of locations, and foreign operations.

Armed with this information and you will certainly impress at such a time you arrive at the interview process. Indeed, most employers, when asked what job candidates can do to shine in the job interview, the response is to comprehensively research the corporation and be able to talk proficiently about it during the interview. Graduate candidates who have done their homework are better able to discuss how their experiences and qualifications match up with the firm’s needs; prepared candidates who know the organisation can also talk about how they can make an immediate contribution to the company. The candidate who can do this is typically the candidate who gets the job offer.

Understand What Employers are Really Looking For in Recent Graduates
When an employer looks at your CV, they are looking to see if you have the skills they need. However, their main concern is not so much ‘where’ you have developed these skills, but ‘whether’ you have developed them. To further get a jump on your competition, these are the skills you will need in almost all jobs for which you apply and which all employers value highly:

  • communication: speaking and writing clearly; listening and reading accurately, 
  • numbers and IT: understanding ideas expressed numerically; using the latest popular commercial software packages, 
  • working with others: working in a team; dealing with the people; being in charge of others, 
  • organising and taking responsibility: planning; meeting deadlines; organising projects, and 
  • problem solving: finding solutions when you get stuck; thinking logically; thinking laterally 
Believe or not, as much as you may wish to trump that you have just graduated with a degree in partial physics or financial arbitrage, that’s only a portion percent of the acquired skills employers are seeking – never lose sight of the fact they are also looking for evidence that you have acquired the above skills by looking at your education, your work experience, and your leisure activities.

Next article, we’ll attempt to put all of your newly-minted currency into practice and motion, beginning with – The Resume.

Starting Out 01: Deciding on a Career

You remember as if it were yesterday - early May; the sun was out, but the curtains were closed. No distractions allowed. For weeks, it seemed you only left the apartment when food and water ran out. Walks around Times Square – cancelled. Visits to the girl or boyfriend – cancelled. Nightlife – cancelled. Put the world on hold, it was Final Exam time.

As the days and night blurred into one and the first exam approached, you were living off coffee and down to two hours sleep per night. Loaded with caffeine and your brain stoked up to meltdown on theories, diagrams and calculations, it was impossible to switch off – a case of going from home desk to exam desk and back again without opening your eyes. Still, you said, it wasn't forever. And, looking ahead, you were adamant this was the last set of exams you would ever take in your life. They would be a defining moment - the key to a more lucrative life. A little focus now would save years of anguish later on. Eventually… eventually, it was all over.

Then, after graduation came the easy bit. All that remained was to turn up for a few job interviews and wait for the offers.

Unfortunately, on the ground in Hong Kong all was not as it should have been - in the weeks that followed, you accrued so many rejection letters you could paper your parents home with them. Not to worry though – flood the market with enough applications and something should turn up sooner or later. Wouldn't it?

It didn’t even come to mind you may be doing something wrong. In truth, you were doing plenty wrong. In reality, it's easier to say what you were doing right – which was pretty much nothing.

However, let's be a little more precise and consider the fundamentals. Basically, your preparation consisted of one thing - looking up target companies through your university or college career office. If no corporate information existed, well, you’d just improvise and admit that lack of knowledge was not your fault – no data was available.

Effectively though, you had no real career in mind. You had laid no real groundwork. You had no real plan. Not really.

Settling on a Career
One way to address questions about your future career is to implement a career plan. Such a plan will outline the steps necessary to take you to your career goal.

Steps Involved
So, what do you want to do? Better yet, what do you want to be? Tough question. With the myriad of career possibilities available, how can you possibly make that decision? In fact, even if you knew what career path to follow, how are you going to get there?

Develop a career plan to determine your interests and skills. Thinking about your skills and interests can help you find a satisfying career. To determine your interests, think about what you enjoy doing. Think about the experiences you have enjoyed. Assess what you liked, what you found testing, and what you may have learned from those experiences. Build a list of activities you have taken pleasure in during the past several years.

To identify your skills, make a list of competences you have (communication, report-writing, presentation, numeric). Skills may also include training you have gained through part- or full-time jobs. Even if you’ve never been employed before, you do have some skills that will help you find a job. For example, you may have skills you learned through volunteer work or through social activities.

Evaluate the skills and interests you have listed. Are there comparable activities on the two inventories? Are there any experiences that could turn into a vocation? For instance, if you volunteered at a hospital and enjoyed the experience, you may want to consider a medical career.

Find out about the types of careers available to you. If you don't research careers, you may not know about the best occupations to fit your interests and skills.

It's also important to decide if the career you are considering is really what you expect and whether it offers the salary and benefits you want. One way to learn about a career is to intern in the position (internships are also a great way to gain experience in your selected career field). An additional way to find out about a job is to network – seek out and talk to people who are currently in your interested career.

Once you have decided on the career path you want to pursue, weigh up what you need to do to prepare for that occupation. Do you need special training? If so, research the institutions or professional bodies that offer the kind of training you need. What kinds of familiarity will you need to be successful in the profession? Again, consider an internship as a way to get work experience in the career field.

By implementing a career plan, you can now focus on what you want to do and how to get there. And when you are ready to prepare your resume for your career search, you will have a better understanding of your skills and experiences to discuss with potential employers.

Monday, July 23, 2007

... on Internships

Finally, there's light at the end of the tunnel; and, for once it doesn't appear to be an oncoming subway train. You've ground it out at university for three or so years and now you're at the point of realistically considering your first corporate internship in preparation for the real working world. In advance, you've spent the summer assembling your thoughts and you're now ready to work on your applications in earnest. Considering you haven't undertaken a route such as this before, you feel a bit like a rookie sailor on the open seas - you see numerous points of land on the horizon, however, they all look different and you have no idea how to reach them.

Never fear Captain Edward John Smith, a few considered dos and don'ts can help you reach your chosen destination: a good internship match.


Do try at obtain at least one internship during your school years. And do try to get several internships;

Do set definite goals for both yourself and each internship. Know what you want to achieve with each;

Do be sure you have a quality cover letter, a superior resume, and polished interviewing techniques;

Do send thank-you letters to people who interview you and all people who help you find an internship;

Do expect to be treated professionally, and do conduct yourself professionally at all times;

Do make the most of your system of family and friends to the fullest to get leads on internships;

Do try and arrange ongoing meetings with your internship manager;

Do secure as much exposure within the internship firm as possible;

Do find a mentor in the organisation, either your internship supervisor or some other manager;

Do ensure you leave your internship with new skills, a better appreciation of your chosen field, and concrete achievements.


Don't forget to take advantage of the career services office at your college or university - they typically have leads to numerous internship opportunities;

Don't expect all internships to be paid. Consider accepting both paid and non-paid internships; some of the best internships are non-paying;

Don't expect internships to be simply handed to you; as with any job, an internship must be earned;

Don't pass up opportunities to gain experiences outside the regular scope of the internship that lead to chances to learn more about the organisation or the industry;

Don't ever give up in your internship quest. And don'€™t pass on any internship leads - regardless of how slight they may appear;

Don't be afraid to ask questions. And be open to learning new skills, processes and methodologies; and

Don't burn any bridges - even if your internship was not the best.

How to Make a Lateral Move

George Bush may have the deluded view that "we all not in Crawford anymore..." well, similarly, the workplace sure isn't what it used to be either.  Since the brush was cleared after our father's days, flatter organisational structures mean there are fewer opportunities for promotion to go round and, as a result, many more of us are having to rethink the way our careers progress.

A lateral move involving a change in jobs, but keeping the same pay, status or level of responsibility, is increasingly seen as a good way to develop ongoing career breadth and employability.

Aside from professional growth, other reasons for making a lateral move may include a change in personal circumstances or working for an organisation that matches your personal values.

Ultimately, making informed decisions about a lateral move and executing it correctly is another vital aspect of managing your career, and will pay dividends when it comes to long-term career advancement.

Where do I start?

Making a success of any lateral move calls for careful thought and planning.  Firstly, ask yourself:  why do you want to make the shift?  What is your long-term career objective?

Consider your strengths and passions and how the new working environment will help position you for the future.  Will it develop fresh thinking, skills or competencies that take you a step closer to the higher-level position you want, or provide more job satisfaction?  Accept that initially it may even involve a perceived backward step.  Be prepared to defend against that perception.

Look at internal possibilities

Many organisations encourage employees to pursue lateral moves as it helps cut down on the cost of recruiting and training new staff when existing employees leave - so establish your company's policy.

There's a growing trend for organisations to put mechanisms in place that enable individuals to find out more about other jobs in the company.  Chief among them is the informational interview, where employees can discuss, with colleagues in other departments, how they got their jobs, what their positions entail, and learn more about their part of the company.

Identify suitable jobs

One of the quickest ways to learn of new projects and assignments is if your organisation posts them on your intranet.  Sign up for new postings to be e-mailed directly to your inbox and put yourself forward for the ones you like the sound of.

Your network is another good way of hearing about opportunities before they are advertised.  So make sure colleagues, friends and family are using their eyes and ears on your behalf.  Also use online forums to hook up with people from other organisations.

However, remember that as specialist skills can go out of date, too long away from your key function could lead to you becoming less employable.

Update your CV

One of the downsides of lateral moves is that you could end up with several CV entries that show similar job titles or the same grade levels.

To get round this, prepare an experience-based, or functional, CV that emphasises what you've done and plays down job titles or industries.  For instance, if you've held the position of recruitment manager at the last three companies you've worked for, specify that each time you've handled successively larger budgets - managed bigger teams - recruited more headcount, etc.

The hard sell

In addition to standard interview preparation and thorough background research, rehearse thoroughly the reasons for your collection of similar jobs and why your career progression appears to have stalled, particularly if the move is an external one.  Use your breadth of past experience to sell yourself.

If you only do five things...

1.  Identify your long-term career objective;

2.  Let your strengths and passions influence your direction;

3.  Actively network to find out about suitable openings;

4.  Make full use of informational interviews; and

5.  Create an experience-based CV;

Flat organisational structures have made lateral moves inevitable.  Traditionally, most careers are built on vertical moves, where individuals are driven solely by the desire for money and status.  Considering a lateral move tends to be much more about gaining job satisfaction and added knowledge even though progression up the ladder may be the ultimate goal. 

To succeed in a lateral move, significant knowledge about oneself, how the move matches the needs of the new role in a different, usually untried function is essential, as is, of course, a personal interest in the new area.  Job changers tend not to do this well, but a good executive coach or mentor can help.

If researched properly, and matched objectively to your skills and interests, a lateral move may be the best decision you make.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Leading From the Middle

How’s this for an opening hypothesis: middle management are the mainstay group in any firm and play a critical life and death role in its business success.

As such, if the above is true, middle management therefore possesses the following leadership skills: networking, influencing (both in the Board-room and in the trenches), problem solving and the communication skills to keep the company from sliding rapidly to Hades in a hand basket.

However, ask most managers and they will politely inform you they spend most of their time ‘’doing things’ and little time on that ‘leadership’ bit.

That’s a problem… because it’s not really managing, and it’s certainly not leadership.

Consider this: you have just been promoted to manager and now float in your own personal Petri dish under the microscope of higher management and staff, where they observe you, before passing verdict on whether your promotion was justified.

What to do?

Understand and Train Your Subordinates
Good middle managers concentrate on helping staff understand the wider landscape – the importance of strategic planning, together with building knowledge of the organisation's overall direction – so as to generate a mutual awareness of the total business intent.

Accordingly, you should dedicate time to appreciating their staff’s own individual goals, strengths and training needs - particularly as it relates to their own value for when they become managers. Most managers agree that to prevent failure in your next position; train people to replace you in your current position.

Understand Your Business
Seems like a no-brainer, but it really is imperative that middle managers totally understand their firm’s commercial goals and strategy – together with any politics that exist - and, importantly, how these goals, objectives, and politics - directly apply to their piece of the corporate puzzle. The more familiar one is on how the firm works (and doesn't work), the more able a middle manager can avoid the land mines.

Don’t Forget the ‘Me’ in Us All
Stay ahead of the management curve by intensifying your assimilation of new knowledge. Most companies already provide management training, but if not lobby hard for courses that will take you to the next phase of your career.

Network with your new manager peers to gain their points of view on the issues you - and they - are dealing with. This activity will help you through difficult management times.

Also, remember this: the most important consideration in leading from the middle is to spend approximately three-quarters of your day away from your desk and with others - staff, co-managers, your boss and other stake holders – learning, sharing, training and strategising. In a nutshell, leading.

The voluminous emails you are now carbon copied in on since your promotion to manager will only anchor you to your desk and all of the considerations above may as well go out the window. Check your emails twice a day and prioritise accordingly.

Having written that… go forth and lead.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

How to Tell if You're On Your Way Out

Some people need no indication as to the precarious nature of their job status. Take, for instance, the team in Washington - war in Iraq, sliding economy, randy congressmen, second-in-commands that shoot their 'friends' during gated hunting trips...

Multiple reasons for a sacking if ever there were any.

However, in the real world, it's a little subtler, and deadly important to know if you're living on borrowed time.

Not all employment situations work according to expectation and, as such, the ability to sense approaching waves on the horizon can ensure you control the employment situation should your days be deteriorating. By staying ahead of this important curve you can either take action to correct the situation or action a plan to hunt for another job.

Consider the following in determining if your days are dwindling:

Have you achieved your ‘Peter Principle,’ - the process of being promoted up the employment ladder to the point where you are ‘in over your head’ - or are you under-performing in a position at which you were once good?

Have you received a disapproving appraisal or missed out on your bonus? How about you and your manager? Have relations broken down? Perhaps, you are now omitted from the normal Friday memo.

The reasons for the above are many: from unhappiness with responsibilities to your individual principles colliding with those of the organisation. From changes in the firm’s business objectives reducing your skill worth to a merger or buyout that may, indeed, cost you your job.

Perhaps, you have character qualities that impact your ability to get on with colleagues? The devil is not the only one wearing Prada… well, at least Armani.

So, in the immortal words of philosopher and former Clash frontman, Mick Jones…

“Should I Stay...
If staying is an option - and you really want to stay - talk to your manager privately. Secure clarification on expectations and what will be necessary to get the wheels back on the road (be aware you may have to take a demotion as a condition of continued employ). On the up-side, this could be the chance you need to turn the situation around or, at a minimum, allow you time to conduct a job search and leave on your terms. If faced with this scenario, stay positive and remember your former accomplishments in the view you can succeed.

… or Should I Go?”
If you see your own reflection in the cross hairs of termination, you may wish to resign before being sacked. As such, the decision will have been yours and, as such, most employers will speak well of you when questioned about your reason for leaving. In regard to reasons for leaving, distance yourself from ‘left to follow other interests’ or ‘take a break from working,’ as they both scream of termination.’

If your choice is resignation, ensure your resume is updated and your networking list ready as, dependent on your position, you may be asked to immediately leave your place of employ.

Saturday, July 15, 2006

Speaking Openly… Without Losing Your Job

Footballer Roy Keane's personal handling of his public criticism of Manchester United's operational and team performance was probably not the best one on recent record. In fact it was a complete disaster and it, eventually, cost him his job with the club. Then again, how many of our own employers have an in-house television station through which to air our grievances with colleagues and management?

Lambasting employers without being escorted to the door - as Mr. Keane may be the first to admit - is not an easy challenge; however there are ways to ‘speaking frankly without losing your job’ (although we don’t recommend you try these at home):

Communicate Your Position in Private
Raise your objection confidently, evenly, and away from third parties - if you think your boss is about to make a negative, immoral or, for that matter, outright bad decision. Always act on a one-to-one basis and document your concerns in writing, ideally in a memo and not through the firm’s email system. A face-to-face meeting on the matter will also reduce your odds of the boss discounting any objection you may raise during a staff meeting simply to save him or her embarrassment in front of the group. By standing independently, you avoid the peer pressure of simply going along with your colleagues simply for the sake of ‘going with the flow.’

Establish Policy for Disagreeing
We can’t all work for fun-loving, open door Virgin boss, Richard Branson. So, if your manager is more akin to former Sunbeam CEO, ‘Chainsaw’ Al Dunlap, who once ‘axed’ 6,000 Sunbeam staff in one payroll month, then you will have to establish policy your right to disagree – inclusive of whether disagreements are to be kept firmly private or can be aired during staff meetings. By following this line; at a minimum, you will either be allowed to disagree or you won’t, in addition to being clearer on the ‘how’ (privately or in meetings) and ‘when’ (what’s open to disagreement and what’s not). Furthermore, most forward thinking managers will appreciate knowing you aren’t simply a ‘Yes person’ who will automatically go along with their decisions or opinions.

Practice Makes Perfect
As for most behaviour, standing up for one’s beliefs becomes easier with recurrence. If you never protest when a person cuts in line at the taxi stand or closes the elevator door even though they know you are rushing to get on, start to do so. Also, agree to yourself - without being thoughtless, of course - to take a small risk every so often and do something that would not normally jibe with your usually safe routine. Like saying ‘no’ or ‘I don’t quite agree with that,’ for instance.

Do Not Take Your Issues to Another Level
Thinking of going over your boss' head? Think again. If you’ve ever worked a day in your life, you’ll know this is a career ending idea. Whine all you want to your colleagues on the barstool beside you, but by not respecting the corporate chain of command, you'll alienate both your manager and potentially his or her colleagues.

In the world of work the protocol of communication flows up and down. Manager and staff relationships are based on trust and, as such, by eliminating the boss, you are hurting that relationship.

Even if you ask your boss' boss to keep what’s said confidential, you can’t guarantee the conversation will remain that way. How can they correct an issue without explaining to your boss the issue and how she became involved? Rest assured; if you go above your manager, they will know it… and once your boss knows, the relationship will not be the same and you'll be the one working to rebuild it.

If you have a complaint, be direct and honest with your manager - schedule a time for your discussion, lay it on the table and offer up suggestions for resolution.

Only in rare and serious circumstances should anyone go to their boss' manager, or the Human Resources Manager: (i) if the company is on the line - to save the company; (ii) if a boss is doing something illegal (stealing from the company); (iii) if a boss has a serious physical or mental illness, or drug addiction of which a staff member is aware, or; (iv) if a boss is doing something that exposes the company to a lawsuit (sexual harassment). A word to the wise, however – act cautiously in these matters, as they are quite serious.

Plan Ahead
Carefully plot your plan of action and consider all avenues of potential consequence. Be extremely clear on what you are going to say to your manager and consider all possible responses. Before you cross any Rubicon, ask yourself, ‘what's the absolute worse that may happen?’ Obviously, you could lose your job… and nobody wants that.

We hope you'll never have a manager that you cannot trust enough to speak openly and work together. If you do, and you're unable to talk or work through it you may need to move on.

Then again, if you could get fired for being absolutely honest, do you really want to work for such an organisation over the long term?

We know Roy Keane didn’t.

Sunday, July 09, 2006

Salary Negotiation and Asking for a Raise

Funnily enough, while most universities conveniently cover global business techniques and how-to-build–better-mousetraps over their three- or four-year scholastic programs, not many tackle one of the earliest challenges on a graduate student’s agenda – first-time salary negotiation.

With all the exhilaration surrounding a job offer, it is quite easy to succumb to a joyous ‘Yes! I'll take it, where do I sign?’ And, while such enthusiasm is expected and even commended, this course of action is not always in your best interest.

Negotiating Your First Salary
Let's begin with a definition of ‘negotiation.’ In a nutshell, it's meeting to discuss a subject with another individual in order to reach an agreement.

While salary negotiation generally begins towards the conclusion of the interview process, for grads it really starts with the initial interview. Achieving the salary you deserve, is founded on what you have told the potential employer about yourself, any accomplishments you may have achieved and what you can deliver on the job; all of which increases your worth when a pending job offer arrives.

Therefore, during interviews, use dynamic words to describe accomplishments - ‘initiated,’ ‘developed,’ ‘oversaw,’ ‘created,’ ‘took charge of,’ ‘followed up on’ and ‘actively contributed to’ – all of which will significantly help your case. Additionally, the skill to handle details, multiple projects and time management will also contribute significantly to your wage value.

Simply asking for more money, unfortunately, is not negotiating. You will need to answer or research certain questions prior to discussing salary, to know if there is even a chance to secure more. Among the questions to which you should know answers include:

  • What is the salary range of the job?
  • What is the lowest salary I will consider?
  • What makes me worth a higher salary?

There are several places you can secure this information, including the university career services office, recruitment firms, job search web sites, people who work in your chosen industry, and trade associations and publications.

However, notwithstanding you can answer these questions, there may be opposition to your request for more money, in the form of:

  • That would be more than other employees at your level are making;
  • Your experience is not enough;
  • There’s no room in the budget and, the tried and, sometimes, true;
  • That's what we pay new hires.

When responding, think about these objections in a way that continues the discussion positively and without pinning yourself down. Remember, you are asking questions - not delivering ultimatums. For example in responding to the ‘more than other employees at your level are making,’ you may follow up with a response such as: ‘what is the range for this post?’ and ‘what would it take for me to get to that higher level?’

If the manager indicates the company does not have money in the budget at the present time, you may wish to counter by highlighting how you have saved or generated the firm money through your (if appropriate) accounting, sales or management skills. Sometimes, senior management needs to see that a raise can be paid for out of the revenue you have created. However, as a rule, the ideal time to ask for a raise is immediately after you have demonstrated your worth to the company via a business win or cost-saving achievement.

Always keep in mind that you're looking for a way to reach a mutually-beneficial arrangement and often you have to ask a few questions to see if there may be a way to reach an accommodation. In many cases, especially at this level, the person offering you the position has already received sign-off from someone else, so you have to give them a good foundation to return to that authority and ask for more money.

Also keep in mind, that when negotiating your first salary, you may be spending the next 30-40 years working – not necessarily with that organisation - and it's critical to find a job for which you are both qualified and, indeed, like. If this means accepting an offer with a firm you admire or respect tremendously or believe has great career potential, but the salary is marginally lower than you wished, it may still be worthwhile… particularly if it's an organisation in which you can grow and learn over the long-term.

Asking for a Raise
Asking for a raise in salary is never easy. However, if properly prepared, you can come away from a salary increase negotiation with a figure with which you and your employer can be happy.
First, however, it is essential to appreciate external pressures - what does the current and mid-term economic environment look like and how is your organisation performing in this environment? If the economy is in recession or your firm is struggling to stay profitable, then clearly it is not an appropriate time to ask for a raise - no matter how strong your reasons. However, if the company is making money each year and growing according to plan, you'll probably have a chance of securing a wage increase.

Prepare a list of your accomplishments. In the time you've been employed in the company, what have you done for them? What do you plan to do moving forward? Why should the firm invest more money in you? Had you been keen to work hard for the organisation in the past and are you willing to allocate longer hours and extra work in the future? Before you even get within eyesight of the manager’s office, ensure you can answer all of these questions.

When you are prepared to meet with your manager, wait for a good time to ask for an appointment. If word has it the boss is in a difficult frame of mind or complaining of how they can't get on top of their work, it’s obviously not a good time. If you feel the boss is in a positive mood, this is probably a good time to make an appointment to see them. Pick the meeting time carefully - as with most things in life, timing is everything.

When asking for a raise, use ‘past and future performance’ as your rationale. For instance, your professional performance has nothing to do with the fact that you need the money to move out of your parents' apartment before you turn 35 or that you need to buy a new liver to compensate for the four years of university drinking that have finally caught up with you. Present your case in a professional manner - state what you have done for the company in the past and what you plan to do in the future. Your supervisor may be a concerned individual, but at the end of the day, your performance at work and the amount of money available are the only two things that really matter.

Also, don't act as if you are entitled to a raise. Be confident and show your worthiness of a raise, but don't expect it. Just because Mandy in the next cubicle received a raise two months ago, or that you have been at the company for a certain period of time, doesn't mean you are owed a raise. We all believe otherwise, however the powers that be that sign your paychecks may not feel the same.

With that in mind, prepare well and you’ll make a good case for that raise!

Thursday, July 06, 2006

Oh No….You’ve Been Promoted!

So . . . you used to lunch and gossip with Tiff, Mandy, and the tea lady (whose name you simply can't recall) down at the Petri Dish Café in Lan Kwai Fong. Now, by no fault of your own - you’re their boss. Truly, a difficult workplace situation if there was one - especially when the tea lady was one of those who contended for the job and lost.

And, as if losing your seat at the Dish isn't enough, you've lost your peer group - maybe even your friends - just when you needed them most. Now you’re the boss you and your co-workers used to moan about. You remember how side-splittingly funny that was!

Naturally, in a fit of heat dementia, the HR Officer has announced the promotion. Company-wide. What will you do?

Agreed, ‘shopping at Pacific Place Mall’ is a reasonable answer, however, consider this:

Seed a new circle of peers: friends, romans, countrymen - you need them fast and you need them yesterday! Generate some ‘fancy-a-wine-spritzer?’ relationships with peers in other departments. Not that you’ll never hit the Dish with the old gang again, but for now you all may need some short-term distance. Seek people at your new level dealing with the same challenges you’re facing.

Get your boss in the programme: ask your boss to answer questions from others in a way that supports your new position as their manager. For example, asking them to turn in their reports to you on time, or to go to you for help if they need it. That demonstrates clearly where the new authority rests. Acknowledge your boss for their support ‘when Mandy came to you with issues, I appreciate you sent her to talk to me directly.’

Meet face-to-face with your subordinates: recognize the change and ask for support: ‘we’ve worked together a long time, so this will take some adjusting to. I’m happy you’re on my team and I ask for your support while we go through this transition.’ If you have any, share concerns.

Remember, as the new manager, it’s better to be respected than be treated as a ‘peer.’

Changing Careers... With Little or No Experience at the New Career

Changing careers could be one of the best decisions you make in your life. It may also be one of the more difficult things you will do. Creating a self-inventory and doing some basic preparation can make a big difference in the way you view yourself and as a result how others see you. Here are five tips to help you weave your way through your transition.

Focus on Your 'Transferable Skills'
When you change careers the focus will be on the "soft" skills - referred to as "transferable" or "portable" skills. These are skills you have used at any and every job or situation you have been in, including volunteer work and school.

Examples of transferable skills are: communication, ability to work with a diversity of people, ability to plan and organize, time management, analytical problem solving, customer service skills, etc.

Make a list of your transferable skills, keeping in mind that these are the skills you could use regardless of what company you worked at, or what position you are applying for. A good source of desirable transferable skills can be found in job postings. Print out several postings and highlight words that reoccur. These are 'key traits' that the employer is seeking – don't underestimate them.

Find Your Uniqueness
Each candidate is unique. What makes you unique? Think about your personality and your personal traits. One of the things that the interviewer is looking for is "someone to fit in" - who is likeable with the ability to work well with other team members. Your personal traits could be the tie-breaker between you and an equally qualified candidate. Think of at least five personal traits that make you unique. Some examples are: friendly, flexible, quick learner, reliable, responsible, easy to get along with, detail-oriented, loyal, etc.

Believe in Yourself
Once you have established what you have to offer, you will begin to see the value you can bring to the job. When you believe in yourself and the fact that you have something of value to offer, it will be easier to show confidence and to convince the employer that you can do the job. Any sales person will tell you that when you believe in your product and its reliability it is far easier to sell and influence someone to buy.

Listen and Read Between the Lines
Prepare five to ten questions to ask about the company. The best questions will come from your ears. It is also important to listen to what is said as a way of formulating questions. For example, if several of the questions they ask you center around a certain topic, for instance "databases," be sure to ask questions about the database and the challenges and the problems with the database. Showing an interest by asking questions demonstrates your interest in the company.

Prepare Stories About Your Past Experiences
When you can show examples of past successes, you will have a better chance of showing the interviewer that you have used similar skills in past jobs, even if the job duties are different.

Changing careers is not easy to do in any market. Remember, the employer has a problem – there is work to be done. It is your job to listen to what the interviewer is looking for and then to sell yourself as the solution to the problem. Letting the interviewer know you heard and understand the job will make you appear more interested in what is going on at the company, and in turn will make you appear to be a more viable choice as the best person for the job.

What Managers Would Say (If They Could Talk, That Is)

It's not easy being staff today - just ask anyone in the Bush administration - more work, longer hours, fewer benefits, less air…

However, if you think managers are the root of unease, ponder the other side of the fence where, reportedly, grass is greener and stars shine brighter. Sure, there are teems of hopeless, inhospitable and, well, outright malevolent supervisors around but, generally, most managers are evenhanded people simply trying to do best for those they supervise. In fact, being staff is a cakewalk compared to management: diminishing budgets and increasingly less staff with which to accomplish greater workloads.

In 2006, our Year of the Dog, let’s not regard managers as if the year were named specifically for them and consider that when they behave the way they do, they may have reason:

Short… Impersonal?
Probably, they are engaged in work they would rather not be doing. Your brilliant suggestion may interest the boss, but they may not have the approval or budget to immediately say ‘Bueno, bring it home!’ If a manager goes ‘corporate’ on a staff or is unforthcoming, it may be they are uncomfortable turning down the request. This approach protects managers from the fact that ‘it's them’ and not their ‘position’ that is disappointing the staff. A good approach when this happens is to ask, ‘is this awkward topic?’ which might allow opportunity for the manager to state the real concern.

Speaking of Concerns…
They care about yours, but can't turn each difficulty you encounter into an Article 23 march. Certainly, managers are there to ‘clear the path’ for us when those loafers in I.T. or bean counters in finance obstruct our operational progress, but there are only so many issues managers can address. Don't be disturbed if your manager doesn't immediately blast someone because they forgot to order your business cards again or couldn’t get you that aisle seat. Spend some additional time attempting to solve the problem yourself before taking it higher.

Managers don't want to be Big Brother…
…so don't give them reason. As overtime payments and comprehensive benefits are pretty much a thing of the past, within reason, most managers will let staff come and go as they choose, given the work gets done on time and to budget, etc. Just don't vanish when you're needed. Most managers will give leeway if you work with them, but if you don't…

Upset with a Manager?
Tell them. You could spend time on eyeball-to-eyeball stares, one syllable responses to questions, and other vague telepathic transmissions to show you're upset, but managers have a lot going on and will probably miss most signals. When they are not buried in work, schedule a meeting and tell them what's wrong. They will listen and, probably, without being defensive.

Problems on a Job?
As above… and, well in advance. When things are proceeding well on initiatives, managers love to be surprised… but not with bad news. If ‘Project World Takeover’ is off schedule, tell them - they may rough up the messenger somewhat, but it's better than what could be anticipated as last second complications are harder to solve.

Don't do Anything Really, Really, Really Irresponsible
Overall, most managers are decent enough to help you out of most jams. However, downloading pictures from or punching a colleague will definitely put a manager at a distance… and you out of a job. Try to remain sane.

What are managers saying in all of the above? ‘The work arena is already tough enough, so let's work together.’ To reduce stress and succeed with as little grief as possible, team up with your supervisor - you'll be surprised how much everyone benefits working it this way.

Saturday, July 01, 2006

Questions You Should Ask During the Interview... and some good answers

But first, some words of wisdom: ‘One who asks a question is a fool for five minutes; one who does not ask a question remains a fool forever.’

One guaranteed way to tower head and shoulders over the competition during a job interview is to pose questions; as questions are the best way for an individual to reveal they understand a firm’s challenges, in addition to highlighting how they can assist the organisation overcome such challenges.

Today’s interviewers (and maybe even those of yesterday) seek to observe that you are achievement-oriented, committed to the long-term, enthusiastic… and curious (think Barney the Dinosaur). Coupled with your skills and experience, these are the characteristics that will secure you the position. If you come across as unreceptive, detached, short-term, self-interested, and indifferent (think Dick Cheney the Dinosaur), you’ll miss out. Therefore, a capacity - or incapacity - to pose intelligent questions will quickly confirm to the interviewer in which group you belong.

Of all questions asked by an interviewer, the final question is quite often the essential one. That’s when the interviewer inquires if you have any questions, and… dependent on your reply, you will either continue with your job search or move up to the next level in their interview chain. In our experience, one of the most neglected parts of the job interview is the time spent by candidates on preparing for their chance to ask questions of the interviewer.

Reality Check (Part I)
Most, if not all job applicants believe that when the interviewer says, ‘do you have any questions?’ it’s a subtle indication the interview is drawing to a close. Of course, they couldn’t be more wrong. Believe it when we write: the ‘do you have any questions?’ question really signals the start of the interview’s second half.

Why? Because candidates who fail to ask intelligent questions during a job interview are guaranteed to maintain their job hunting status over the short-term. Given a lack of candidate questions, most interviewers will conclude a candidate: believes the job is unimportant; is not easy in asserting themselves, or; lacks intelligence. Naturally, it goes without saying that none of these assumptions will get you closer to the job.

Reality Check (Part II)
Human resource, recruitment and line managers all expect applicants to ask adequate enough questions to shape a judgment on whether or not they want the position. If an applicant doesn’t ask enough questions, managers who may have been prepared to make an offer on the strength of skills and experience may reject a candidate (in comparison to others) because they’re not convinced the applicant is totally sure of what they’re getting into. Contrary to popular belief, hiring managers are human and, as such, need to be convinced a candidate has enough information with which to make a decision… in case they decide to make an offer.

Of course, questions have to be relevant; asking an interviewers opinion on England’s chances of winning the World Cup are great for when you’re walking to the elevator, but during the interview, intelligent questions are in order.

Good questions show interest in the job; great questions indicates to interviewers that you are someone not be ignored.

May I Take Notes During the Interview / Our Meeting?
Obviously… a question you should ask at the beginning of the interview. Of course, some interviewers become uneasy when a candidate has their note pad at the ready; while others are impressed by the professionalism and interest demonstrated.

Therefore, before justifying asking this question; a ground rule - always ask permission before opening the notebook and beginning to write. Gaining consent makes a difference: it’s courteous and it negates any surprise on the interviewer’s part by your not asking… as surprises rarely fall in a candidate’s favor.

Consequently, what to do?

The downside: some interviewers feel it is inappropriate to take notes during an interview because it is impolite. Some feel that during conversation; it is polite to pay attention. Others feel taking notes puts interviewers on the defensive - as if you were collecting evidence for a lawsuit to be used at a later date. And, finally, some believe that candidate note-taking indicates short-term memory or a problem with thinking on ones feet.

However, consider this: most interviewers take notes, why shouldn’t you? A job interview is not a social occasion; a forty minute exchange on the best bar to visit for your next round of Coronas - it is a business meeting; and one that, potentially, impacts the next several years of your life. In a corporate business environment, taking notes in support of a meeting is considered not only appropriate, but highly professional.

In addition, note taking need not be distracting. Unlike Richard Nixon, the point is not to record the conversation word-for-word - which would, indeed, be disturbing - but to remind oneself of salient points made with a view to questions or comments you may wish to initiate on your turn to speak.

In closing, most experienced interviewers welcome candidates note taking. It shows you are serious about the matter at hand... just don’t forget to ask permission.

What are the Major Responsibilities / Objectives of this Position?
Certainly, this question will have been addressed in the twenty or so lines of advertisement you read or, perhaps, the interviewer may have been through the job description during the interview… but, as anyone will tell you - job descriptions rarely stick precisely to script and, in our experience, most companies tend to hire on immediate needs, not longer-term needs. Those, they plan for.

As such, this question is important as it gets to the crunch of what will need to be addressed from Day-1 and, by rights, shouldn’t pose too difficult a problem to the interviewer (you’re not exactly asking for the secret recipe to the fifty herbs and spices contained in Kentucky Fried Chicken). By posing this question, you’re asking the interviewer to identify what is most important and then to prioritise. On occasion, human resources and non-line interviewers may find this question difficult because they aren’t involved in short-term activities. But, how can you succeed without knowing what’s most important, as much of your decision to join a particular company will hinge on what you will be doing on a day-to-day basis. Therefore, it’s in your interests and only fair you’re provided with comprehensive information in regard to this question.

If an interviewer can’t answer the question or if immediate job responsibilities have not been adequately covered during the meeting, then ‘Houston, we have a problem’ and you may wish to consider what else they may not be able to answer.

However, given reasonable disclosure to your question, you can then highlight previous work history, or describe similar problems / projects you’ve faced, and then detail how you can assist.

A good way to phrase this question: ‘what are the day-to-day responsibilities I would be assigned?’ Notice how the question gently assumes you’re already on the team.

How has this position become available?
What happened to the incumbent?
How long has the position been open?

Of course, if this were Washington, this would be a non-question as the position would, most likely, have become available through either impeachment or the incumbent facing a lengthy jail sentence.

In all seriousness though, you want to know the circumstances surrounding the vacancy. Is it a new position? No… then what happened to the last person in the job? Did they resign, and if so, why? Were they promoted or were they sacked?

Asking these questions sets-off an important dialogue, as you’ll learn either that this is a new position; that the incumbent resigned or was dismissed; or, that the incumbent was promoted. If the individual was dismissed, you really need to know why; what the company learned from the incident; and, if they feel such a problem could have been avoided. By asking these questions, you want to be viewed as interested in the incident from a learning standpoint - what the company learned and what everyone can take away from the incident.

If the previous post-holder was promoted, your response is obviously ‘I’m delighted to hear that!’ Promotion within the organisation is excellent news; as this position may be a springboard for your own further career success.

Clearly, the best responses to this question are either the incumbent was promoted within the firm, or that it’s a new position, both of which generally indicate the firm is growing.

Finally, by inquiring as to how long the position has been open, you’re seeking clues on the desirability of the job on offer. If the position has been open for several months or more, something is probably not right. Therefore, try to find out what it is about the position or organisation that makes the post hard to fill.

When Do I Start?
Asking for the job is tricky. Some consider asking for the job straight out as being assertive; while others think it cheeky or smacking of desperation. Our personal preference is to err on the side of being assertive. The meek may inherit the earth... but they don’t necessarily get jobs.

As always, use your radar to measure the environment and trust your instincts. If you feel the meeting went quite well, it’s probably good to be direct and ask for the job. In all likelihood, the worst you'll be looked upon is as enthusiastic. All things being equal, the person that appears to want the job the most generally gets the offer. As such, try to find out their level of interest in you by asking them directly. However, rather than "when do I start," try something like: "do you feel that I am suitable for the position?" or "do you have any reservations about my ability to do this job?" By phrasing it this way, you may be able to overcome any objections that they may have. It may feel a bit uncomfortable, but it’s better to find out what their concerns are now, than to find out that you did not get the job.

Asking for the job can be a crucial factor in the interviewer’s decision-making process as there's a fine line between confidence and arrogance. To be successful in some jobs, you need to be somewhat aggressive and demonstrate how you can sell. Sales people will, invariably, have to sell themselves to get the job, therefore, they need to be a little more forward; while in the software industry things are more laid back. As such, an I.T. Manager might be a little less comfortable with someone coming over that strong.

What are the Key Qualities Required?
This is not a follow-on to the question about what additional technical abilities you need to bring to the table. Instead, it asks about the qualities and characteristics that separate you from other candidates.

These characteristics include intangibles such as an eye for detail, entrepreneurial abilities, diligence, persuasiveness, commitment, organisation, communication and tact.

These intangibles are as important as technical skills, as they make up the set of personal characteristics you possess and have more to do with who you are than what you do. Accordingly, they reflect your attitude, work habits, ethics and the way you relate to other people.

This is a critical question as it solicits important information about the personal qualities that line managers or hiring managers look for and, importantly, often mirrors many of the qualities managers believe they possess.

This question opens the door for you to further market yourself. For instance, when a manager says he or she is looking for loyalty, dependability and initiative, you will need to introduce specific examples where you have demonstrated qualities such as reliability. Try to think of work-related examples and if you are not able to do so, non-work examples often suffice. Since these qualities are not based on skill, they are often difficult to quantify.

To express the quality of being reliable, you might say: "I'm extremely dependable. The managing director often left the operations of the company to me in his absence."

Of course, as is the case when speaking of your technical skills, it is unwise to make a claim about your personal traits without having some evidence to support it. Therefore, try to find at least one instance, fact or example that proves you possess such a trait.