At some time or other, many of you have probably found yourselves in a work situation that was a disaster–or close to it. When that disaster involves a boss who exhibits out-of-control or other toxic behavior, your situation becomes a waking nightmare. The question is: Could you have done something–anything–to avoid that?
Job Search Guidelines Worth Remembering
You might already know some of these, but if you haven’t been keeping them in mind while planning and conducting your job search, it’s time to rethink your approach. At any rate, here are a few points to consider if you hope to avoid disaster in your next job:
- Block desperation with observation: Even if you urgently need a new job, make a conscious effort to keep your powers of observation sharp. You don’t want to overlook signs (including subtle ones) that would suggest proceeding with caution in deciding whether to accept an offer if it comes.
- Investigate as thoroughly and as objectively as you can: Job postings can sometimes sound like dream opportunities you’d be crazy to pass up. After all, companies want to hire someone, not scare candidates away, so they’re usually trying to put their best foot forward. If you want the best available information to make a decision, you need to conduct your due diligence almost as thoroughly as a company does when considering an acquisition.
- Evaluate the elements that are most important to you and rank them in order of priority: For example, if you prize integrity and ethical behavior, you probably won’t be happy working for a company or a boss who acts as if the end justifies any means necessary. On the other hand, if you would rather not travel all the time but don’t mind traveling a fair amount if necessary, a position that’s described as needing 75% travel might not be a problem.
- Pay careful attention to not only what is said but how it’s said–and by whom: Listen and watch before, during and after job interviews to note how your would-be boss interacts with you and those around him/her that already work there. What does he/she say, what tone of voice and/or facial expressions are used, etc.? You want to be sensitive to nuances that might not be really obvious. Someone who speaks disparagingly of people he/she works with or manages might be someone who goes off the rails without provocation.
How Bad Can It Get?
The answer is, pretty bad. A classic case in point is a recent blog post by Nick Corcodillos (Ask The Headhunter). A reader sent in a description of his just-left situation that was horrific. It was so bad that he quit without another job lined up. Part of Corcodillos’ response was: “Please remember a piece of advice my mentor gave me many years ago…: Never work with jerks. As you learned while facing the sick wrath of your boss, It’s the people, Stupid. (No offense intended. We all need to think about that.)” He went on to add, “I compliment you for not resigning on the spot in anger. It’s critical to take time to think, and to act with forethought and grace.”
A much better alternative than struggling with a horrendous work environment, if you can manage it, is to prevent your job search from dumping you into a situation that could be hazardous to your health in more ways than one. Before you decide to accept an offer, ask yourself honestly if you’ve done everything you reasonably could to minimize your risk and maximize your opportunity.
A while ago I mentioned the idea of “canned” video interviews that some companies were instituting in their hiring process (make that screening process). Now I have a first-hand client story that points out some of the perils these interviews pose for job seekers.
One of my clients was required to undergo a video-webcam interview that he expected would contain five questions. After just one question, he found he was unable to continue. He assumed that was due to a technical glitch, but when he contacted their tech support, he was informed that he had completed the interview and it was being processed. Subsequently, he received a rejection notice.
What’s wrong with this picture? He was applying for a position similar to what he does now but at a more well-established company, and his background seemed like a good fit. Obviously,there’s no way to tell whether his answer to the question was good, but what does seem apparent is that, for whatever reason, technology had been used to rule him out as a job candidate.
Challenges of Video Interviews
My client’s experience indicates just one of the challenges of video interviews used for pre-screening candidates: The technology can be inflexible, and you have little chance to influence that. Here are a few more challenges:
- The information available to you before the interview might be inaccurate, incomplete or otherwise not as helpful as it needs to be in order for you to prepare properly.
- Such interviews are completely one-sided. You have no interaction with an interviewer to give you hints on his/her responses, reactions, etc., because there is no interviewer involved at that stage. You also don’t get to ask questions about things it might be important for you to know.
- If you don’t do well when being recorded (visually or audibly), you start the interview with a pre-set handicap that can put you at a distinct disadvantage.
Opportunities of Video Interviews
According to an article by Hannah Morgan titled “Are You Ready For Your Video Interview?” (an interview with Jobvite’s CEO), video interviewing offers some advantages to the job seeker as well as saving a lot of time for recruiters.
“Dan Finnigan says this advancement will help eliminate the ‘black hole’ applicants find themselves in because companies will be able to interview more candidates. The candidate will have the opportunity to review and re-record each answer before submitting them according to Finnigan. This is the equivalent to an open-book test in my mind. There will be no excuse NOT to submit the best interview responses possible. That is, unless the candidate doesn’t review their answers first.”
But what if the system you’re forced to use doesn’t allow you to review and revise your answers or exhibits a glitch that truncates the process? Does that mean you’re pretty much out of luck? At this point, who knows?
These points do suggest, however, that preparation will be as critical as for a more traditional interview–and maybe even more so. Your best bet is to begin by gathering as much information about the company and the position as possible–always a good idea in any case. A key element, of course, is the need to make sure that you are well prepared to present yourself effectively in a visual format (including obvious factors such as hair, clothing, facial expressions, etc.). In addition to that, you need to practice speaking about yourself and make sure you don’t stumble over your words or come off looking/sounding like an idiot.
Will every company move to video interviews? Maybe not, but the more that do, the more challenging you’re likely to find the interview process. Be prepared!
One definition of commodity is: “A basic good used in commerce that is interchangeable with other commodities of the same type.” In the world of job search and career management, you do not want to be a commodity! Interchangeability is not your friend.
Avoid the “Me Too” Syndrome
If your resume and other career marketing/job search tools paint you as just another candidate like the scores whose resumes preceded yours across the employer’s desk, you have set yourself up for failure at the start. You don’t want to come across as a copycat or someone without any original ideas, experiences and value.
It’s fatally easy to look for a shortcut that avoids the hard work required for a successful job search, such as convincing yourself you don’t really need to develop a professional resume that clearly and compellingly showcases your value-add message. Or maybe you’ve just looked at a few samples and decided you can kluge together a generic version that will work for you. (By the way, the definition of kluge is: “Use ill-assorted parts to make (something).”)
The “me too” approach means you have zero chance of standing out to potential employers or being memorable enough to them that they will think of you when scheduling interviews.
Present Yourself as a Special-Value Candidate, Not a Commodity
You can take a number of steps to present yourself as a desirable (special-value) candidate and prevent the commodity label from being applied to you. For example, you can:
- Identify uncommon qualities and qualifications you can offer employers. You might, for instance, have demonstrated the ability to bring together people who don’t much like each other and are ready to fight to defend their turf–and get them to collaborate productively on business-critical projects. Not everyone can do this.
- Research potential employers and their probable needs or challenges. What can you offer them that hits really close to home? What obstacles have you overcome for other employers that would resonate with their needs or challenges? Also, have you broken new ground in doing so, rather than just following in someone else’s footsteps?
- Evaluate your strengths and weaknesses; then look for creative ways to accentuate your strengths and distinguish yourself from the herd (that is, your competition). Let the weaknesses just drift out of the picture unless one of them is standing in the way of setting yourself apart as a non-commodity job seeker (in which case, take active steps to eliminate it as a problem).
- Start now (if you haven’t already) to acquire a unique skill or specialty that will help you gain an edge in a competitive job market. Do your homework first, though, to make sure you have identified something with real promise, not just the next “shiny new thing.”
If your name comes up in a hiring discussion and people say, “George [or Georgina] who?”–you have some work to do to make sure you’re not viewed as a commodity job seeker the next time you pursue a new job.
The term “behavioral interview” isn’t new. It’s been around since at least the 1990s, I believe. However, you might still not have heard it or you might have encountered a behavioral interview without knowing that’s what it was going to be.
You can prepare just as well for a behavioral interview as for a “normal” interview (whatever that is!). However, you do need to understand what they involve in order to do the most effective preparation.
What is a Behavioral Interview?
According to an article titled “What is a Behavioral Interview?” by Alison Doyle, “Behavioral interviews are based on the premise that a person’s past performance on the job is the best predictor of future performance. When a company uses behavioral interviewing they want to know how you act and react in certain circumstances. They also want you to give specific ‘real life’ examples of how you behaved in situations relating to the questions.”
To put it another way, in a behavioral interview the employer is asking “what did you do when…? ” or “tell me about a time when…” rather than “what would you do if…?” The interviewer doesn’t expect you to hypothesize about what you might do in a certain kind of situation. In fact, he/she doesn’t want you to do that. Real-life examples are the goal.
You really can’t effectively “wing it” in your answers to behavioral questions or try to frame them in a way you think the interviewer will like. Your answers need to be on target.
How Do You Handle Behavioral Interviews?
Start by doing your homework ahead of time. (Groan! Yes, I’ve said this before, and I’ll keep saying it because it’s essential.) Find out as much as you can about the situations you might encounter in that company and position.
Then comb through your success stories and other sources of information about the challenges you’ve encountered and overcome. Identify at least several kinds of situations you’ve run into that could be applicable to the company and the position you’ll be interviewing for. Become comfortable with presenting a story that relates to each one of them. Notice that I said comfortable, not rote-response-enabled. There’s a big difference.
Whatever you do, resist the temptation to fake it. Glib, off-the-cuff responses will more than likely land you in the soup! If you don’t have a response that fits the question neatly, try to come up with one that’s close enough so you can legitimately say something like: “I’ve never encountered that exact situation, but I did experience one that I believe is similar. Here’s what I did about that….”
Remember, too, that in a job interview it’s always okay to take a second or two (even three) to consider a question you’ve been asked and focus your thought on the most desirable answer before you start speaking. You don’t need to rush into speech and stumble all over yourself trying to answer the question quickly.
On the other hand, as I sometimes tell clients when I’m doing interview coaching, you don’t want to sit in front of the interviewer with a “deer in the headlights” expression that tells him/her you haven’t a clue what to say!
Get your act together before the interview, and it probably won’t matter whether it’s a behavioral interview or some other kind.
You might have heard the term “talent wars” or something similar, which generally refers to companies competing for top talent even when a lot of job seekers are unemployed (and some have been for an extended period).
If you’ve been looking for a new job or trying to move out/up from your current job for a while, this whole concept of a talent shortage might seem almost laughable–except that no job seeker I know is laughing about it.
Talent Shortage is a Matter of Perspective
To some extent, the feeling seems to be that companies aren’t doing enough–or enough of the right things–to find the employee talent they desperately need.
According to a recent article by Mike Prokopeak in Talent Magazine, “Luring the Best Talent,” companies’ management teams are lagging behind in understanding the need to change their talent management practices because they just don’t get the extent of the challenge.
Prokopeak’s article quotes an executive VP at ManpowerGroup as saying, “They’re in denial because they think their company brand is strong enough that people will want to work there….A lot of people with high demand skills don’t want to work in the environments we’ve created.”
But Job Seekers Might Contribute to the Problem
On the other hand, you as a job seeker might be a part of the problem. Say what? Of course you’re working hard at your job search! (You are, aren’t you?) You’d love to put your talents to work at the right company and are doing everything you can to make that happen.
Not according to some experts. At least a few of them (including Nick Corcodillos of Ask The Headhunter) maintain that if you’re just following the tried-and-true methods, such as submitting your hopefully-great resume to as many potential jobs as you can, you’re really missing the point.
Why is that? For starters, because it’s the easy way to conduct a job search but at the same time maybe one of the least likely methods to actually produce solid job opportunities that can lead to job offers. You almost certainly will face significantly more competition that way, and it’s harder to impress employers with your value (stand out from the crowd).
Here’s Corcodillos’ take on the situation:
“You write your resume only after you’ve talked to the hiring manager. The resume comes last. It’s not your ‘marketing piece’ and it doesn’t ‘introduce you.’ You introduce you….everyone should create their own because the point is, each is and must be unique and tailored to a single employer….it’s an enormous amount of work.”
Caveat: As a professional resume writer, I could be said to have an axe to grind if I disagree with Corcodillos, but I don’t–at least, not exactly. What he wants, I think, is for every job seeker to make this kind of effort every time he/she looks for a new position. Realistically, I don’t think that’s ever going to happen. Not in my lifetime, anyway.
However, I do agree that you need to put a fair amount of real thought and effort into your job search campaign–and it is (or should be) a campaign, not just a one-off sending out of resumes here, there and everywhere. That includes networking your way into companies you’d like to work for, now or at some point in the future.
As the saying goes, “If it’s worth having, it’s worth working for.” If that means sticking your neck out now and then, going outside your comfort zone, so be it.
Trust is a critical element of any meaningful relationship. That’s just as true in the business world as elsewhere. If your leaders make promises they don’t keep–once–you might give them the benefit of the doubt. On the other hand, if that behavior looks like becoming a pattern, trust goes out the window. You no longer have a trust-based relationship.
True Leadership: It’s “Walking the Talk”
Promises are easy to make, and for too many “leaders,” they’re just as easy to break in the name of business expediency. Whether it’s a promise to promote you to a more responsible, career-enriching position or something else, if your boss promises it and then doesn’t deliver, you’ll naturally start to wonder if you can believe and count on anything he or she says. That’s a shortcut to a dysfunctional work relationship that doesn’t produce good results for you or anyone else.
It isn’t necessarily illegal to make promises that aren’t kept, but it is unethical if it’s done knowingly. In other words, if your boss assures you that your job is safe, even though a layoff is coming, the situation could still end with you facing job loss. Either your boss was manipulating you to achieve a specific outcome–such as convincing you to continue putting hard work into a critical project (deliberate deception)–or he/she meant well but ultimately had less than full control over the details of the layoff (inadvertent promise-breaking).
Simon Sinek (of Start With Why) believes that “many in leadership positions talk about doing what’s right. But only the true leaders actually do it.” How many leaders do you know that “walk the talk”?
Are You a Promise-Keeping Leader?
If you manage or supervise a team, do they know they can rely on your word? Even if you’re not yet in a leadership role, you can develop much stronger support and gain solid respect if others on your team are able to trust that you will do what you say you will.
Leaders who advocate one thing in their role as leader and do something contrary to that in their own actions don’t inspire confidence and can actually end up sabotaging the success of their organization. That’s not something you want to chalk up against your name and reputation as a leader. The cost is likely to end up being higher than you want to pay.
I came across a short but inspiring blog post on the subject of walking your talk, from Karin Conway (Organic Growth Coach), that includes the following:
“I hope this quote inspires you today. I think its [it's] a good reminder to practice what you preach and live a life of integrity. We can do a lot of ‘stuff’ and never accomplish anything if we are careless in our actions….:
‘It’s not what we eat but what we digest that makes us strong; not what we gain but what we save that makes us rich; not what we read but what we remember that makes us learned; and not what we profess but what we practice that gives us integrity.’ (philosopher Francis Bacon)”
The Cost of Doing Right
Sometimes sticking to your guns and doing what’s right as a team leader involves a personal or professional cost to you. For instance, if you’re faced with taking a stand against something senior management expects you to do that goes against your strongest sense of right, you might have to decide if it’s worth the risk to keep your promise to your team–up to and including possible loss of your own job. That could end up being a really tough call, but no one said that doing right would always be easy.