Bloomberg has surveyed corporate recruiters regarding what skills are lacking in current MBA graduates. According to the survey, industry experience is less important than analytical and communication skills. Collaboration is more important that risk taking and decision making. The article breaks out which MBA programs do the best job of teaching the most desired skills. If you’re considering an MBA, this article is a valuable resource. However, if you’re a manager who already has an MBA or does want the degree, it is very informative to think about what skills are most desired and how those skills are areas or strength or weakness. Career success begins with self-evaluation. Take some time to think about where you are strong and what skills you still need to develop.
One of my clients is making a career change. He was a senior manager, but is now looking for a lower pressure role. We were practicing interviewing skills, and he talked about problem solving, leadership, and communication skills. The problem was that he never gave any idea about how he would use those skills in the job he was applying for. I recommended that he take about ten note-cards, put a soft skill on top of each one, and then list 3-5 examples of how he used those skills. After that, he should practice telling stories without worrying about saying the same thing each time. Good interview answers should be clear and concise. They also need to be substantial if you want potential employers to recognize that you can do the job.
When I ask clients to name their strengths, they often point to broad qualities or skill sets, such as, leadership, communication skills, and flexibility. Too often that’s where they stop. The trick to good personal branding, networking, interviewing, and resume writing is to take this kind of strength and project it to the different audiences you interact with. For example, a senior sales professional and an office manager both need good communication skills, but they are different. Sales representatives present, negotiate, and train to sell. Office managers negotiate to buy products and train employees in job skills. They might also lead meetings. Whenever you are promoting yourself as a professional, think about the person or group you are addressing. What do they need to know about you? What is their biggest concern? Give them what they need to know, and they will give you the kind of respect that opens doors.
I’ve had a big problem over the last week: my company’s email system was down. In that time, a few clients called to ask what was wrong, which I appreciate. It also let me remind them of one of my most important career management strategies: If it’s important, call rather than email.
It’s very easy to dodge email contacts. If you’re clumsy like me, it’s also easy to delete or clump email together in a way that makes it easy to lose a connection. Finally, as in my sad case, there are times when systems go down. Generally speaking, none of these problems are as bad if you use the phone.
I also prefer phone contacts because they enable better communication. If you follow up on a job interview by phone you can ask questions and engage the employer in a way that email does not allow. You can also set up another interview in real time rather than going back and forth by email.
If it’s important, use the phone. It’s the best way to follow up.
A few minutes ago I hung up on a telemarketer named John. He was trying to offer me a home fall prevention service that “had already been paid for.” The call began with no identification of the company or purpose of the call.
At first, I politely tried to interrupt the caller to see if he was calling for me or if this was a wrong number. He kept reading the script. Then, using his name, I told John that I didn’t think I was the person he was trying to reach. He kept reading the script, only adding that the service “had already been paid for.” When I heard this, I started swearing, which I regret. I should have controlled my temper, but the situation was absurd and insulting.
What does this story have to do with jobs and careers? A lot. John is working for a company that requires him to read his script word for word. In some situations, such as market research, verbatim presentation of a script makes sense. In this situation or any sales situation, it does not. John’s employer showed me no respect, and I took it out on his employee. More importantly, if I was not the targeted of the call, they missed a possible transaction. What kind of company is this?
What kind of person is John? I can’t judge his character, but clearly he’s stuck in the worst kind of job, one where the employer doesn’t trust its employees to think. When people communicate and ask questions, they expect answers. John, following the script, could not answer my questions. In essence, he was behaving like a machine. I do feel bad for the way I spoke to him, but his behavior – and his company’s behavior – made me lose my temper. This is garbage work, and I pity the people who have to do it.
As a culture, we train people to value team achievements. From the time we’re young, we’re drilled with cliches such as, “There is no I in team.” Many of the clients I work with talk about their jobs in terms of “we.” I frequently stop them and remind them that employers are not hiring “we.” To be successful in a job search, you need to be able to let potential employers know what you can do for them, not what you did as part of a team at your former job.
Practice what you will say at interviews, but don’t do it in a way that will sound scripted or canned. I recommend that clients use 5-7 index cards. Put one achievement or success story on each card and then practice telling the story different ways. For example, a success story in sales can also be a success story in negotiation or problem solving. The key is to use the story in a flexible way that tells the employer how you will help her company.
Remember what the employer is looking for in every interview: someone they can trust. You need to talk about yourself in a way that is clear and believable. “We” stories don’t tell the employers anything about you. Keep them focus on you and what you bring that will make you a great employee.
Many clients tell me that they follow up with employers by email after job interviews. They also seldom get a reply. Here’s a better strategy: Use the phone. While it is possible to dodge a message as easily as it is to delete an email, a phone call carries more weight. The interviewer hears your voice and remembers that you’re a person. Better still, if the interviewer picks up the phone, you get the chance to ask questions and engage the interviewer.
An email message is passive, and it gives you no chance to ask questions or answer them. Some clients think they are being polite by using email. Think about it this way: You took the time to interview with a company. Don’t they owe you the respect to reply to a phone call?
Know what you want to say when you talk to the interviewer. The key question is: “Are you still considering me as a candidate?” If the answer is yes, ask when the company expects to make a decision. Don’t leave it there. Follow up with this question: “I am very interested in this position. What else can I tell you that would help you make your decision?” If the interviewer tells you that she is not considering you as a candidate, ask: “Thank you for considering me. Do you have any advice for me as I continue my job search?”
In either of these cases, the interviewer could give you an answer that isn’t helpful. On the other hand, if you don’t ask the question, they won’t be helpful because you’re not asking for it. Use the phone. Ask questions.
What word best describes you as a professional? If you find that word, you can use it as a tool to carve out your personal brand. Start by making a list of 5- 10 words that best describe you. Test each word. Play with it. How does that word help you tell others who you are as a professional and what value you can bring them?
The word in itself is not your brand. It’s a seed. You have to cultivate it and grow it over time. For many people, the word will change, which usually signals some kind of promotion or career change. Don’t cling too tightly to any word or brand. There is always a time to adapt and change.
In making a list of words for myself, the first word was reliable. Nice, but not good enough. I couldn’t run a business for 8 years without being reliable. That word is a good start of a brand statement for someone early in their career. Later on my list, I found the word strategy. Everything I do – whether writing or coaching – depends on strategy, finding a message and a way to deliver it. My brand is about helping other people market themselves and deliver messages. To do that, I have be a good strategist, which is the simplest way of presenting my brand.
Find your word and work with it. Practice telling other people who you are as a professional. Think about how you will present yourself when looking for a job, seeking a promotion, or introducing yourself to a co-worker or client. Branding sounds like a mysterious concept. It’s not. We do it all the time. The trick is to brand yourself so people want to work with you. Start by find your word.
A friend of mine is in HR, and he told me two interesting stories about how candidates talked themselves out of a job by focusing too much on personal issues.
In one case, a candidate whose primary function was not client facing said that he did not really care to interact with the company’s type of client. In one sense, it shouldn’t matter since he’d seldom meet a client. Still, a VP told my client that he wants an organization that is totally client focused. By talking too much about his personal preferences, this candidate talked himself out of a job.
In the other case, a candidate rambled on for 10 minutes about his daughter’s professional accomplishments. Both my client and his boss tried to redirect the candidate to his qualifications for the job, but he was determined to finish his story about his daughter. In doing so, he showed terrible communications skills and a lack of respect. It’s great that this candidate loves his daughter, but his demonstration of love was not appropriate for a job interview.
Bottom line: Keep business about business. Revealing personal information in a job interview can often boomerang and hurt a candidate’s chance of landing a job. Keep focused on what the company needs and how you can contribute to its success.
Interviews are all about questions, so the most important interviewing skill would seem to be answering questions. Many book titles play off this assumption, offering 100 or 200 best answers to interview questions. In coaching clients at all stages of their career, I’ve found that there is a skill that is much more important: listening.
A job interview is not a test. Companies evaluate potential employers based on a variety of factors. Interviews are usually the final evaluation, and they often get down to intuition about who will be the best fit. Employers offer positions to candidates who make them the most confident. Someone who is listening will speak more clearly to what an employer needs. Rather than spitting out scripted answers, someone who is listening will build a dialogue with the people who are interviewing her.
When we show that we are listening, we also demonstrate that we respect other people’s ideas and opinions. We also show an ability to understand other people and what they need from us. If a candidate doesn’t listen well during a job interview, how will that person perform after she has been hired?
To improve your odds of landing a good job, it is important to improve your listening skills. Practice interviewing with a friend, and have her occasionally ask you to repeat the question that was asked. Another good tactic is to repeat the resume or key word or phases in the question at the beginning of your answer. Listening is a skills, and it can be improved with practice.
Here’s one final benefit of focusing more on listening and less on having the perfect answer: You will be less nervous during interviews. People who script answers go into an interview with an anticipation that they know what questions will be asked. The problem is that interviews seldom follow the script. By listening, you will be engaged in a dialogue with the interviewer. You will be speaking to her questions and asking questions that will help you show what you can contribute as a new employee. You will also be more relaxed because you will not be focused on uttering the perfect answer. Listen first – that’s the key to a great interview.
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