I recently celebrated my birthday, and besides eating pizza for breakfast (which I happily did), writing a blog entry (posted a little late) was the only thing I really wanted to do. So, I took a brief respite from laundry and instructional design (what I really needed to be working on) to address some recent themes I’ve been observing in the interview space.
Why this topic?
In all fairness, I’ve only watched about 1/16 of a football game this season, but since I attended Ohio State, I believe that offers me enough street cred to use a football-themed blog title, “Flag on the Play.”
The inspiration for this entry is two-fold: 1.) A friend recently and successfully landed a job outside of her functional expertise and 2.) I have interviewed several campus candidates who could have better prepared to address their red flags.
A red flag in the interview process is a potential concern a prospective employer might zero in on at any point in the hiring process to give him/her reason to question the candidate’s fit for the role or organization. It might be visible from a candidate’s resume or it may come out in the interview process. If not addressed proactively, red flags often result in removal from consideration.
Following are a few key points to consider as you embark on a job search or interview process as it relates to addressing the red flags.
- Know your red flags
My friend recently interviewed for a position at another company. She received an offer and starts on Monday! In her case, there were two red flags: no formal functional experience in the function into which she would be hired, and geographic distance from where the position was based. Clearly, both were significant, so we addressed them head on.
- Have a story to tell
For the first red flag, no formal functional experience, we started with her resume. First we began by tailoring her resume to ensure that all information relevant (in his case, mainly transferable skills from her previous experience in sales) to her position of interest was highlighted in the bullet points at the beginning of each of his past roles. We talked through and scrutinized each experience she had that was relevant to the new role.
For the geographic distance red flag, we brainstormed different ways to approach the topic. She had three talking points prepared 1.) When servicing ABC customer (conveniently located across the street from current employer of interest), she drove every day, leaving home and the office early and it was a manageable commute. 2.) She has a friend who works in geographic proximity to the employer of interest, and they have discussed carpooling a few days a week. 3.) Once relationships are established with key partners at the site, perhaps it would be feasible to work from home on occasion? (a back up talking point to use once an offer was in sight and a culture of flexibility was validated).
- Rehearse, rehearse, rehearse
It is critical to practice interviewing in general, but it is also EXTREMELY important to practice addressing the red flags. You want to be ready to insert an intelligent, well thought out response when opportunities present themselves, whether it’s in a formal interview setting, a casual conversation by the water cooler, or a pre-interview dinner. You never know when red flag questions will come up, so you have to be prepared. I also recommend preparing a behavioral interview response for every theme you may be asked about. When it comes to red flags, you give a prospective employer more confidence in your ability to learn on the job (and quickly) when you can briefly and concisely discuss how you did something similar in the past.
My friend prepared for this by asking me to mock interview her. I did so before each round of interviews so that she would feel more prepared and confident regarding the red flags. I prepared the “red flag questions” and asked her to draft a list of other questions she thought she might be asked. The red flag questions included, “So, you live far away, How are you feeling about the commute?” and “I see you haven’t formally held a position like this before. How would you get yourself up to speed on related core competencies? And “When have you had to learn and apply something new in the past?”
Campus candidate red flags
At the beginning of this entry, I alluded to some campus-related red flags I’ve noticed. If any of the following criteria applies to you (or someone you know), I recommend that you 1.) Know your red flags 2.) Have a story 3.) Rehearse, rehearse, and rehearse!
- Transferred colleges/universities more than once
- Had too much fun Freshman year
- Low GPA
- Unclear from resume/internships why a major or career path was selected
- Unprepared to describe why you want to work for the prospective employer
- Have MANY activities/jobs listed on your resume, but no leadership experience in any of them
- Unable to explain each work, class, or organizational experience you engaged in briefly and concisely, providing enough context, actions, and results you demonstrated to pique the interviewer’s curiosity
Experienced Candidate red flags
In addition to above, other red flags for experienced candidates include:
- Gaps in experience
- Frequent changes in position
- Less than one year of employment in any role
- Educational information unclear or not provided on resume
- Unclear from resume or the interview as to why you are pursuing the position of interest
- Personal information on a resume (e.g., family information)
My mother-in-law usually keeps a seemingly endless supply of chocolate, cookies, and various assorted sweets on hand in her home. She eats none of these herself, but has them ready for guests. For two weeks I’ve been able to pass over said sweets for the first time in approximately nine months of post-maternity visits. I asked myself, “What’s different?” Surely it couldn’t only be attributed to the fact that I started Weight Watchers again? I don’t have that kind of willpower.
Then, it hit me. Knowing that I was going to have to step on a scale in front of colleagues, some of whom I hardly know, and a quirky WW meeting leader (They are all kind of strange. Surely this must be a prerequisite), on Thursday for my moment of truth was enough. Or was it? The first week I gained some weight and thus thought very little of the Nutella and graham cracker shake I consumed with sweet potato fries at our favorite burger joint.
The next week I stopped eating after 8:00 PM and forwent sweets in lieu of herbal tea at night. Some of this was merely chance since I was locked in our home office after 8PM, taking conference calls with colleagues in Asia. But alas, I lost 3 lbs. that week! That small bit of reinforcement coupled with the Weight Watchers meetings was the catalyst for avoiding the sweet temptation at my mother-in-law’s. It was the positive reinforcement I got by stepping on the scale, seeing the number go down, in front of a bunch of people who are practically strangers. For two weeks, I have avoided sweets (save the soy lattes at Starbucks on Saturday mornings) because every time I think about climbing on the step stool and getting into my husband’s stash of cookies I made him hide, I remember how good it felt to see that number on the scale along with the reminder that others were watching.
So, you may be asking yourself, “Where is she going with all this?” When I conceptualized this blog entry, I wasn’t sure, but now it’s two major points as it relates to behavior change – accountability and positive reinforcement. Whether you are embarking on a career transition or a weight loss journey, the same advice applies:
Hold yourself accountable
Having an accountability partner (or source of accountability) can go a long way for those of us light on willpower. I have zero qualms paying the monthly fee (thanks to my company, for chipping in the first half) to have a room of accountability partners when it comes to weight loss. I will take all the accountability help I can get…my husband (hiding the chips and cookies and asking, “Are you sure you want to eat that?”), my colleagues (who have stopped offering sweets and support my efforts), the staff at my daughter’s school (who ask how my weigh-ins go), my mom (whose genetics are partially to blame for my body type), and now my internet audience.
Seek out positive reinforcement
Coupling the sources of accountability with a least one, but preferably multiple sources of reinforcement, both intrinsic (I eat better because it makes me feel better and gives me more energy) and extrinsic (I eat better because I know others in the WW program at my office are watching when I step on the scale) can keep you on the right track. To take the reinforcement a step further, when I reached my most recent weight loss milestone, I treated myself to a new piece of workout attire.
Accountability during career transitions
When you are looking for a new job, partner up with someone else embarking on a career transition. Consider meeting with that person once a week, live or over the phone, to check-in on your progress. Commit to actions (no more than you can realistically handle, e.g., one networking meeting per week or attending one career seminar). Honor those commitments and share the outcomes with your accountability partner(s).
Determine how you and your partner will reward yourselves to positively reinforce your behavior. For the aforementioned networking example, I once advised a client to schedule something fun with a friend every time he scheduled a networking conversation. That way, he would eventually develop more of a positive association through the pairing of these two activities.
Most of us are energized and excited about an endeavor when it involves the ability to master something new, do it autonomously, and when we can see the broader purpose behind it. A job search or self-exploration process may not fall into this camp for you. I was shocked when one of my former managers, a serious go-getter when it came to anything on-the-job, disclosed that she was lousy at making career transitions. She shared that every time she was ready to make a move, she hired a career coach to hold her accountable. Whether it’s diet, exercise, or embarking on a career transition, if you find that the process is too hard for you to manage on your own, consider finding a coach to help you stay on track.
Best of luck with your own transition!
Last month, in A Sweet Job Search, I wrote about a job search process that involves three components, or rather three questions:
- Who are you?
- Where are you going?
- How will you get there?
The resulting answer to those questions stems from a composite of learning experiences I’ve gathered from coaching students, clients, friends, colleagues, and family members. A few weeks ago, I mapped it all out on a blank sheet of paper at a family member’s home, similar to how I envision innovative ideas get scrawled on the back of a napkin during business and networking meetings. When I got home, I transferred it to a PowerPoint slide.
Now, here’s where the blog title, Quid Pro Quo, comes in…My good friend, Kevin Haines, asked for help revising his resume. While I would have done it anyway (because he is a good friend and also a great cook), my time is precious (full-time job, baby, and M.S. in Counseling in progress), so I decided to ask for something in return. Kevin, a Creative Services Manager for an orchestra in Texas, also happens to be a freelance graphic designer. This is what I requested of Kevin:
- You send me a job description or two so I can understand how well your resume is tailored to jobs you're interested in when I'm offering guidance on how to revise it.
- Help me turn a PowerPoint slide I created with the career development process mapped out into a cool document/image I can put on my blog. I'll send it to you.
And after he sent me the graphic:
- Would you mind if I wrote a blog entry entitled "Quid Pro Quo" to demonstrate your awesome work on this cool image, give you credit for it, and address the importance of "rewarding your network.”
As promised to Kevin, here’s what he built:
Isn’t it great? I am thrilled to finally have something I can use as a holistic guide when coaching others on the job search process.
I have composed other entries about rewarding one’s network. In short, this involves intentional foresight into how you can help the person helping you. In this instance, I proactively asked Kevin for what I wanted since I was aware of his graphic design expertise. Then, in return for his graphic design help, I offered to "feature his work" in my blog.
In theory, we should help people because it's the right thing to do. In reality, we are more likely to be helped in the future if we offer something in return. Now...on to the final review of Kevin's resume!
When most people think about embarking on a job search, they think about applying for positions online. You may have been there yourself. You make a few minor enhancements to your resume, press save, rub your hands together and start plugging away at job search engines, LinkedIn, and if you’re slightly more targeted, with companies of interests. You hit upload a few times and think to yourself, “ah progress.” Rarely does this approach yield positive results. So why do we approach a job search that way?
Over Memorial Day weekend, I took a hiatus from my once (or twice, if we’re being honest) a week sugar consumption plans after a particularly unpleasant round of errands with infant in tow. I asked my husband, who has an insatiable sweet tooth, “Could I persuade you to stop for ice cream?” “You don’t have to ask me twice” was his reply as he peeled out of the Home Goods parking lot and into the sweet shop drive through across the street. As I indulged in a hypoglycemic shock-induced sundae, I could feel the dopamine receptors jumping for joy (forgive the pun) in my brain.
I thought about how good the sundae felt after a long and harrowing day. For those of us who are task masters, list checkers, and productivity machines, hitting the submit button on a job posting feels really good, especially after a long round of scouring the internet for opportunities. However, the good feeling from the sundae wears off, as does that sense of accomplishment from the job search…once you arrive at the realization that your resume went into the black hole of job postings, probably deleted by a resume parsing tool. I only wish the calories I consumed last Sunday disappeared into a black hole too.
Sometimes constraints (financial, external pressures from family members, etc.) get in the way of achieving vocational satisfaction, but I would encourage you to evaluate your job search in the context of a long-term career development process. Think about it in three phases or rather, with three questions:
Who am I?
Regardless of where you are in your vocational journey, it can be beneficial to assess your strengths, interests, and values. While your personality may remain consistent (for the most part), the aforementioned dimensions are likely change as you progress through school, jobs, and life. If you’d like to take a Do it Yourself (DIY) approach to this step in the process, check out this free assessment based on Carl Jung’s and Isabel Briggs Myers’ typological approach to personality and this free assessment based on the Holland Occupational Themes. Colleagues of mine have taken these two assessments and claimed that they seem close to those sold by assessment vendors. If you are willing to contribute a few of your own $$$, I recommend taking the Career Development Network’s on-line values and skills card sorts. I used the actual cards with clients, friends, family, and colleagues and they found it to be immensely helpful. As a career coach, I wouldn’t advise you to accept what you learn as complete truth (with or without a formal interpretation by a coach or career counselor). The idea is to use assessments as a starting place to understand what makes you unique – and to have a common language for articulating it to others.
Where am I Going?
This step is all about using what you learned in the self-assessment phase to narrow down fields, positions, and/or career paths of interest. It is as much about knowing what you don’t want as it is learning about the path you wish to pursue. So where do you begin?...by conducting career research, engaging in casual networking, and conducting informational interviews with people in roles or organizations that interest you. The U.S. Department of Labor produces a helpful resource for career exploration, O-Net. Another related resource is the Occupational Outlook Handbook. These may not help you find a niche role valuating the latest financial securities product, but they are a great place to start. I wrote a blog entry, November is for Networking as a refresher on how to go about that process.
How will I get there?
Personal Branding and Tactical Job Search
Once you know what attributes you possess that make you attractive to prospective employers (step one) and you identify your career aspirations (step two), you are ready to brand yourself for the actual job search. This includes tailoring your resume to your area of interest, composing and practicing your elevator pitch, building or enhancing your LinkedIn profile, staying in touch with the most appropriate networking contacts made during the exploration phase, and FINALLY, applying for jobs.
Don’t just eat the sundae (read: apply for jobs) to make yourself feel good in the moment. Set career development goals, make a plan, and execute. Know who you are, where you’re headed, and what you need to do to make it happen. Perhaps most importantly, setbacks are part of the process, so be persistent and ask for help along the way!
I recently helped a family member (FM) update his resume after determining that he was ready to embark on a career change. Fortunately, it was not a total shift in career, more of a lateral move into a related function. However, when making even a slight move from your path, I still believe it’s important to ensure that your resume and related career documents tell a story – about where you’re headed as opposed to where you’ve been. This is exceptionally challenging if you believe you lack the requisite skills or experience to make the move, but OJT, or on-the-job training exists for a reason. People who exhibit potential, sell “transferrable skills” well with networking contacts, and articulate those skills on their resumes are able to make career transitions much more smoothly.
Okay, back to my family member making the transition… After we got past the exploration phase and narrowed FM’s interests down to two functions, we were ready to start tackling his resume. After a cursory round of some obligatory edits (e.g., including his current position, adding an objective and professional summary, putting focus on ACR (see below), and deleting a bunch of irrelevant bullets) I asked FM what kind of story he wanted his resume to tell and he said he wasn’t sure. Brief sidebar: I just read a chapter in my career counseling textbook on developing a career narrative, so I am working on my own evidence-based research here! Second brief sidebar: many people don’t know what they want until they see something they don’t want. I suggested to FM that we conduct an experiment to see what his resume tells us now as a starting point.
I did two things. First, I scanned FM’s resume and "calculated" (checkmarks on the back of a bank statement) the number of times I saw a particular industry appear and did the same for function/area of expertise. Then I asked FM to create a word cloud, like the ones in the graphics below (he used the site, Wordle. Mine (see below) are from a site called “Word it Out” – my Mac was apparently engaged in a spat with Java). You basically cut and paste text into an open text field on the site and it provides you with a colorful assortment of words – sized according to frequency. Not surprisingly, the words that appeared most in my frequency analysis of FM’s resume (tally marks highlighted, highly sophisticated) and in FM’s word cloud were not the ones he wanted to highlight to an employer. FM then started deleting, changing, and revising bullets. He is still working on the revised version, but he knew which terms he wanted to highlight and which ones to minimize. The homework I gave him was to create a new word cloud to see if it tells a more compelling story.
Another Resume Nugget
I alluded to an acronym earlier, ACR. I’ve mentioned CAR in past blog entries, which stands for Context, Action, and Result(s) as a way to structure behavioral-based interview responses.” People in my field also use STAR, or Situation, Task, Action, and Result, which interestingly enough is a model you can use for delivering performance feedback as well. In any event, I think CAR is easier to remember. This is an entry about resumes and not interviewing, but the two go hand in hand. Every bullet of your resume should address the Action, Context, and Result, in that order (or sometimes Action, Result, Context). While revising FM’s resume, I noticed that several of his bullets started with the result and some began with context. Employers care about all three, but it’s most important to start with a sophisticated past-tense verb/verb phrase. “Developed and implemented are better than “supported.” Even if you did support a team in the development/implementation of a project, start with the stronger verb and then hit them with the support in the context, e.g., as part of a strategy team of four.
What I Learned from my own Word Cloud Exercise
Besides performing an activity that appeals to my value of “aesthetics,” I now have a simple way of viewing an outsider’s perception of my career evolution over the past few years. If someone were to look at my resume right before I started working for my current employer (green word cloud), they would likely come away with the perception that I either focus on my own career or that of others, my experience is geographically diverse, and that I’ve done a lot of recruiting. Fortunately, the words “coach, business, and training” stuck out to my current employer via the interview process.
Word Cloud from November 2011
If I were to look for a position similar to mine right now (see purple word cloud/current LinkedIn profile), I would need to consider de-emphasizing the college/university focus (this would be a different story if I had a degree in Industrial-Organizational Psychology) also coaching. Fortunately, development stands out - but it should be more prominent, along with other key words/phrases, like organizational effectiveness and change, assessment interpretation, leadership, and instructional design.
Word Cloud from “under construction” LinkedIn Profile
I took the exercise one step further and created a word cloud based on others' LinkedIn recommendations of me (blue word cloud). It's nice that my name stands out along with that of my former employer, but the themes aren't clear nor are they current. So, my homework over the next few months is to incorporate language into my LinkedIn profile or resume that more accurately reflects the work I do and to obtain LinkedIn recommendations from people familiar (and pleased with) that work. Yes, I am updating my resume and NOT looking for a new job. 'Tis the season - update yours too!
LinkedIn Recommendations Word Cloud