It is easy to ask 'how great was I' when you have achieved something - that is the kind of feedback that we all love and can cope with comfortably. The problem is and this will not be a surprise to you, the most important feedback that you ever hear is actually when you have failed to achieve something that you wanted to achieve.
So you have created a brilliant CV because you have read my blogs about personal brand and your CV being your marketing flier and worked on it. Fantastic! The problem is that the interview you tried so hard and worked so long to get has resulted in them declining your application. They have given you some 'feedback' although it is pretty brief and useless because it reads 'there was simply another candidate who performed better than you did / was more suitable for the role / had more relevant experience' - so what next?
Well thanks to the fear that seems to purvey many HR Departments that all feedback will lead to a tribunal that is likely to be the best you get when you ask for it the first time. It is no good to you and leaves you standing still. You need a bit more than a standard wording in a standard letter. So do not be afraid to ask for it. This does not mean creating a problem for the employer but just asking them very clearly what you need to work on to be successful next time.
If you have the reflective learning and self-appraisal habit already then you will have made notes after the interview to describe how you felt you performed, what questions you answered well and which need work and how you think the recruiter rated your performance. So why not ask them specific questions like 'I felt that I came across as being very nervous and under confident, is that something that the interviewers report mentioned?' They might try to deny you detail at first but by being specific, constructive and polite you can make progress, especially if you make it clear to them that you felt you had been fairly treated and that you are asking for feedback to just help you to perform better next time!
I have a good example from a few years back when I was a Recruitment Manager in industry; a young man who had received a decline letter with respect to his application to be a Sales Advisor rang up my team seeking further feedback. Sadly our feedback policy was also to say little and summarise the result as I have done above saying it was either experience or someone else out performing him. But he was not content with that, he felt he had performed well and argued that if he was never told how or where he fell short that he would repeat his errors next time. Quite rightly he persisted and found out my e-mail address and connected. I called him and he was so passionate about getting his performance right, so clearly disappointed that he had not got the job with us and so polite and professional despite his emotional state that I listened, talked to him and decided to meet him as I had not been involved in the initial recruitment process.
Well the bottom-line is that I was very frank with him, he did not get the job because someone else with the proven track record, industry experience and industry qualifications did. In terms of his performance it was good and the only feedback remark from the report that he might be able to use was that he needed to slow down and be a bit more measured in his communication style. I recommended him for another position within the company, he was managing within 3 years and has gone on to have a very successful career. All because he asked and the fact that he asked and manner with which he asked told me a lot about him.
Feedback is a used and abused; it was corrupted in the 80's and 90's when very earnest looking managers fresh from their training course on staff development and motivation used it during meetings where everyone felt awkward and no discernible progress occurred. But now it is crucial to help all of us in developing and understand how the world experiences us. Asking for it is brave especially in a recruitment scenario because it might feel like saying 'I know I have failed but can you tell me in a bit more detail why I failed' but really it is simply that you are saying 'I am honest with myself, I want to improve and by giving me honest and constructive feedback you can help me to do that.'
Feedback and reflection are the fundamentals to you being able to evolve, learn and grow. To nail an interview you need to understand your past failures and do something about them. So don't let people off the hook if they don't want to help you - insist that they give you something that you can work on and take it on the chin!
Returning to work after any sort of break be it parenthood, studying, illness, sabbatical or unemployment is not easy and sure we all have doubts about how we will make the transistion and whether we will be able to find and keep the kind of job that we want.
These doubts are perfectly natural and understandable but ultimately they are a burden and they need to be understood, managed and controlled for you to move forwards. So where do you start?
Well I think Step One must be to make sure that you are ready. Being ready is not just about wanting to get back into work or indeed needed to; being ready is about the preparation you need to go through to ensure that you are going to be confident and successful and this bit is about you and no-one else.
Have you reviewed your CV or have you got one from three years ago that ‘will do’? Well for starters it won’t do and by ignoring your CV, which is the most crucial key to opening career doors, then you are already putting yourself at a disadvantage compared to other candidates that do understand its power and are working hard to use it.
So why don’t you want to tackle the CV issue? Are you concerned about the gap, worried that the job you are looking for now does not sit well with the work you did in the past, anxious that your technology skills have not kept pace with the market or are you simply unsure what a CV should look like in 2013?
All are easily answered and managed. Your CV is your flier advertising the brand of you and you can read more detail about this in earlier blogs I have written but let’s focus here on you being comfortable with the gap and not allowing it to be an unexplained black hole in your career development or something that you are somehow not able to explain or indeed celebrate.
Developing more knowledge and skills, becoming a parent, overcoming illness or doing something different for a while are all part of who you are and being comfortable in including that time in your CV and explaining it to potential employers is key to you being ready to get out there and get a job that you want. So get started. Think about the positives; what you have learned about yourself and how you have grown and celebrate them. Step Two
Once you are comfortable that you don’t need to excuse yourself about your recent work history and that it can be integrated with your past career history and your personal brand then you can start looking outwards.
Are your skills sufficient for what you want to do? Is the job market healthy in the areas you want to work, are you being realistic? Setting yourself up for more disappointment by not researching carefully and being honest about what you can do and what you want to do can be a big mistake.
All of the confidence that you have built up and the energy that you have to invest might be wasted on making many applications for roles that just don’t suit you or which might not exist. Knowing the market is key and that takes time on line and talking to experts to achieve. Step Three
Getting out there! Now that you know that you have a researched and achievable job target and you have a CV that you are proud of you need to sign up to on-line job sites,–post your CV and let people find you as well as finding them through recruitment agencies, job sites and adverts for vacancies.
Dressing the part and feeling the part are both key to you being successful. That personal brand and confidence that I talked about needs to be expressed physically as well as in your mind and employers respond to confident body language and candidates that speak with confidence and purpose and even if you don’t feel it sometimes you need to ‘fake it to make it.’
We can help with all of these stages if you need us but more important than that is your own self-belief and positivity because good things happen to candidates who know themselves and the market and get out there and make things happen.
Returning to work can be a fresh opportunity to reinvent and re energise your career; so good luck with it and let us know if some one to one coaching
or a place on our career boot camp
days would help !
Working with one of my regular career coaching clients this week I had a revelation, not a blinding flash of light or anything dramatic, but a genuine realisation that one of the key things that is essential to being open to, attracting and considering all opportunities is a truly open mind.
An open mind unburdened by parental influences, that is not restricted by a culturally imposed vision of what a career means or what it might involve and also a mind open and able to let people know that you are looking for a new challenge and able to ask them about what they do and then crucially, actually listening to what they say.
The key conversation with my client went something like this; I suggested a possible occupation, one where I knew there were vacancies, that my client had the skills set and personality required and which fell within their commuting distance requirements. Their answers was 'Oh no I don't want to do that...(5 second delay)....what do they do exactly?' That in a nutshell is the closed mindedness that I am warning against. That could have been a job advert on line, a conversation or a recommendation that my client might have just wasted by not being open-minded and receptive to new ideas.
We all have stereo-types knocking around in our minds; environment, parents, experience and preference (however ill-informed) all create them but to truly give yourself every chance of finding a role that will satisfy, challenge and develop you, you will need to get rid of the 'office work is all paperwork / sales is all cold-calling and account management means the same thing in every company' approach because it will limit your chances and also in turn display a lack of the both the imagination and desire to find the right thing and can never do you no favours.
The conversation continued and we found out that actually my client had very little idea about very many different career paths and job titles infact they had a worryingly small amount of knowledge for someone that was not fresh out of school or college and might have had an excuse for not being very worldy wise about such things.
My advice is; find out more, find out detail and challenge yourself not to present a closed mind to any opportunity. Why? Well in my opinion on many occasions your career will find you rather than vice versa, in which case you need to let it find you rather than not even listening when fortune comes calling. Many of the successful people that I know in challenging, responsible and indeed well paid roles did not set out to be a ............ whatever but instead have taken time to understand what it is that they offer and then when the right opportunity arises and they asked the right questions and then saw that a match might be possible and grasped the opportunity.
Many skills and competencies do span across a whole range of occupations. Knowledge is clearly very important but training and additional qualifications (often in the role) can help you to overcome those barriers. Ask yourself which industries are struggling to recruit (and trust me despite the financial climate as a write this there are many industries with long vacancy lists that they cannot fill.) Research the businesses / sectors involved and really try to understand what it is they do. Ask people in the industry and seek out connections in your network who can advise, inform and illuminate the whole picture for you.
There is nothing wrong with having a dream job and being geared towards it from an early age within education but times change and the role that you always wanted to do might not even be what you think it is. So in short; have an open-mind, know what a job involves before you commit or reject it and use those around you to inform you and you will find that many more opportunhities arise and that the world looks a different place once the blinkers are removed.
We often forget the important details when we are getting ready for an interview; thinking too much about those dreaded 'killer questions' and imagining the pressure won't really do you any good to be honest. This simple little memory prompt will be invaluable just to make sure that you give yourself every opportunity of nailing it and being in the best state of mind you can be to be successful!
Dress The Part
Simple but crucial - are they a 'suited and booted' type company or do they encourage smart casual or even dress down as part of their culture? Even then do you want to risk adopting the dress code that their employees are encouraged to use or do you want to start with a statement of standards? Our advice - go suited and as smart as you like unless they specifically tell you different. Let them see the best of you and that includes ironing things well and shining shoes and knotting your tie somewhere near your neck. You don't know the standards of the person who will be interviewing you so don't risk a decline on something as superficial as dress.
Plan Your Route
Again in a world of Google Maps, AA Route Planner and Sat Nav you'd think this was a no brainer; but you'd be surprised. Don't assume anything, look for the best route and best form of transport to get you there reliably on time. Time keeping is still a corner-stone of performance analysis in many businesses and so is personal organisation. Make the effort to know and be sure that you will be there when you need to be. It might not be the coolest thing in the world to swot up on routes and bus / train timetables and research traffic issues around the venue but since when has cool been relevant to getting a job!
Prepare Some Questions
When they ask, and they will, at the end of the interview 'do you have any questions for us' you must have something to say. Why? Well it's not always about what you ask, it's about the fact that you are interested enough in them and their job to have thought about it, that you can make a critical last impression by showing your research skills, asking intelligent questions and really engaging with them. It is flattering to a recruiter for you to be interested enough in the company that they work for to ask them about it. Simple.
Breathing / Control Your Nerves
The biggest cause of interview failure in my experience? Not skills, not ability to answer questions or indeed any one of a dozen other reasons....if fact it is your ability to execute your interview skills in a calm and professional way. It is your ability to remain focused, project an authentic you and gain their confidence. Nerves create nerves, so if you are calm then the interviewer will relax, listen more and be more receptive to you and what you offer. So, a few deep breaths perhaps in the rest room or on the walk to the interview room are highly recommended. Get your heart rate down and get some oxygen in your lungs. Develop some personal mind tricks that will suit you for calming down; I think of a waterfall or a sunny day, things that make me feel relaxed. You'll find yours; use it!
Get There Early
Fits with the route planner point above but also it means you can do the relaxing things and the caliming down thing in your own time. It means you can sit in reception and soak up the atmosphere, get used to the environment and start to feel at home. It also means you can interact with other candidates; if it is perhaps an assessment centre. You can show them that you are relaxed by getting talking so that you are warmed up for the interview and maybe show them that you are a strong candidate for the job which might put them off their game!
Practice Your Lucid Stories
I'll blog another time maybe about the full lucid stories theory that we use but in the meantime my basic advice is this. If you practice using some examples from your life / career / experience before the interview and you know what competencies and skills you want to illustrate using those examples then you can relax because essentially you already know what you are going to say in the interview, it is just a question of them asking the questions! This means you can focus on your 'performance' and do the body language, eyes and smile stuff that makes a huge difference because you already know your lines!
Research The Job
Please don't ignore this as being too obvious! Find out as much as you can about the job / company / sector as you can. Go on-line, ask people visit company sites and find out from others who work there. If you know about the job already then it gives you an advantage over others competing with you and it shows you are really interested and gives you a chance to answer that tricky industry or company related question that might get sneaked in! It is time very much invested...
Know Who To Ask For
Basics again but really important. You should confidently approach reception and ask for the person who invited you to interview and mention the job that you are being interviewed for and smile, make an impact with the receptionist. I always ask the reception team what they thought of my candidates and ask them if anyone stood out from the rest and why. They are used to meeting all kinds of people all day so they are sensitive to people with a bit of extra sparkle - let them see the sparkle it in you!
Eat / Hydrate
How often do people run out of gas on a long recruitment day? All of the time and it costs them dearly. Make sure that you have eaten the right amount of food, that your blood sugar levels are maintained and that you drink before and during the interview / assessment centre. If there are biscuits on offer take one, ensure you have a glass of water at interview and eat well at lunch if it's an all day event. The water will give you a prop as well as hydrating you; you can think while you drink. Also at lunch often assessment centre or interview evaluations continue so make sure you talk, shine and use the right cutlery!
Reherse Your Answers
Ask your nearest and dearest to ask you some basic questions and practice your answers. Often competency based interviews have questions that start with; Can you give me/us and example of....Can you tell me/us about a time when.....and....Describe a siutation that illustrates your skills / knowledge in...........if you get your Lucid Stories sorted out and practice applying them to questions about; team work, handling pressure, working to deadlines, hitting targets, working as a team, project management and managing people then you will be really well prepared for what they throw at you.
As I said before this is all very simple stuff and the pics I have used are just clip arts finest but ignore this post at your peril because when it comes to interviews and assessment centres in the current climate with huge coimpetition for every job; the candidate who prepares best will give themselves the best chance of success and that is the bottom line.
Sometimes it surprises me that candidates struggle to connect with potential employers when their immediate network of friends, family, team mates or social contacts could help them out in all sorts of ways. I thought I would talk about how you can give yourself the best chance of connecting with the right job opportunities based on my own experiences of both looking for jobs, helping others to and seeing how successful candidates use their connections.
What should you have in place to maximise your chances?
Ask People What They Do / Tell People what You Do – I was really surprised when a cricket team mate, who had recently graduated and was looking for a career opportunity, was unsure of what I did in my work. I then realised that we only ever talked about cricket in that social circle. We both I guess need to take responsibility for the not knowing; but once we had talked and he asked for help, we spent time getting his CV the way it needed to be and I was then able to get his CV in front of perhaps 15 key contacts which lead to three interviews within two weeks and two job offers within a month. All from one conversation between two people that knew each other already.....
LinkedIn -–I am huge fan of LinkedIn for many reasons but as careerist or graduate it makes all sorts of sense to create and build a profile for yourself using this platform. You will be surprised by how many people you know who are already active on the site and also how many people they know or have access to through their connections. My 1,100 connections means I have 11,500 people on my network and access to 7.9m through my connections it takes time to build numbers and needs and weekly investment of time but it pays you back!
CV - make sure you have a new, updated and well presented copy of your CV with you at all times or at least the ability to e-mail a copy of it to new contacts quickly. You never know when a conversation might end up with the line ‘I know someone that is looking for someone with your profile’; the ability to follow up on these golden opportunities is crucial make the most of your good fortune.
Expand Your Network - traditional British reserve means we are not fantastic at putting ourselves out there and
advertising our skills to the world but you will be amazed how responsive potentially important contacts can be.
Contacting industry leaders, local specialists and potential mentors to help you and advise you on their area of expertise is a huge compliment, first a foremost; you are saying, in essence, I know you are a key player, I want to work in your industry, can you help. Also attending events relating to your potential career industry and asking questions, seeking out people that you think may be able to help and absorbing information about the industry will help you hugely.
The key as far as I am concerned is always being on duty for your career. Any social setting or situation has potential and people that know you and like you will help you, so give them every chance to do so by letting them know that you need help.
Managing your own career is very much the way it is now; the lower numbers of job opportunities, the changing relationship between employersand employees and the current economic downturn all add up to mean that you
need to be your own marketing department for the brand of you and that concept once absorbed and understood should inform the way that you communicate with the network around you and maximise your chances of getting lucky.
I think it was golfer Gary Player who said ‘it’s amazing, the harder I practice the luckier I seem to get.’
Wanting a job, understanding the qualifications required, seeking out some really strong industry background material and focusing on the leading players the sector are all very laudible activities in the process of getting yourself hired to work in your dream industry but sometimes you need to be able to not walk the walk or even walk the talk but simply talk the talk.
OK so let's think for a moment about how not being in control of language makes us feel. Being in another country and not talking the language fluently can be pretty stressful and confusing and creates a real barrier immediately to successful communication indeed being in another part of your native country and being exposed to another dialect or accent can be pretty difficult sometimes; so imagine that stress and that feeling of not being understood and put it into the context of the interview process.
I have interviewed many many people. I have seen some awesome talent and heard some impressive interviews but what can really make the difference; especially when we are focusing on second or even third jobs, is the candidates comfort and fluency in the language of both industry generally and especially the sector for which I am recruiting. Does that sound daunting, sorry. Actually it is perhaps more accessible and easy to obtain than just having to have ten years experience in the industry.
Advice. Well read lots of industry related material; trade magazines, blogs, postings, on-line reports and web-site information. Gather the clues of what that industry uses as a palate of words.
Linked-In. Join groups in that industry, see what the hot topics are at the moment. Interviewers love hot topics, they are industry relevant and give you a chance to show them that they know your / their stuff. Also ask questions on the group forums - the people providing the answers will be surpirsingly generous, people want to attract talent into their industry it is a tiny bit of reflected glory and they are also looking after their own interests by attracting the best people into their industry!
Mirroring - use the same language as the job ad and interviewer(s). If they call a sales lead an 'in' then you should too. It makes people feel relaxed if others use the same jargon - there is a also power thing involved but essentially you can do yourself a favour by adopting their language / jargon lead! You can generate a genuine sense of belonging and of being of the same 'career tribe' and that creates a buy in that can really benefit you.
The second strand of this process in the language of the specific employer that you have targetted. Do they call they customers clients or customers? Do they call their employees employees, partners, staff or people?
Their web-site will of course always give huge clues on this and my good friend Linked-In will help too. Same advice as above; find people that work within the culture and experience their vocabulary and learn from it.
Remember three things; the interviewer is nervous too and that they are usually very proud of their employer and of the industry they have invested their career in and so using every chance to call things the same name as they do with as much underpinning research and understanding as possible can surely only do you good!
So spend a little time as part of your preparation for interview routine focusing on this bit, often ignored or not sufficiently prioritised but a great way to build bridges, earn trust and demonstrate cultural fit; through language.
That's it I guess - talking the talk.
Who do you listen to when it comes to the really big decisions?
There are always a queue of people waiting to give you what they feel is the best advice you will ever hear. They care, are paid to care or just want to have their say in your career future; but who do you actually take notice of?
So the list of candidates to potentially heed are parents, friends, teachers, lecturers, colleagues, relations, career advisors and the media (newspapers / online and TV) and that is daunting; no question about it. Your decisions are increasingly critical to your career which impacts directly your financial and domestic future and so everyone you know wants to help because they know how important your career decisions are.... wow not an easy one for you, so I ask again, who do you actually listen to?
The simple answer is everyone; the more input you can gather the better it will be in the long term of course but in listening to everyone you first need to put some fundamental filters and considerations in place before buying into their advice:
1. What is their motivation?
2. What is their emotional involvement?
3. What is their level of real expertise?
4. When did they last experience what you are now experiencing? If ever?
5. Will it cost you money? Is it worth it? Have they helped others? Can they prove it?
The world of careers is evolving quickly but equally some of the essentials of employability are constants, you are the variable. For sure in this arena one size does not fit all and you need a bespoke approach - tailored to you and you alone. Having a plan, a vision and the ability to take the best that everyone has to offer without being side-tracked or distracted from your purpose is your responsibility.
The advice and guidance you need is out there and mostly is pretty easily available but today you need to be your own career manager, nobody can do it as well as you can. Gather that support network around you to ensure that you know everything you need to know, can do everything you need to do and so give yourself the best possible chance of being successful.