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.
If someone told you that you should turn down the opportunity for a job interview–especially if you’ve been out of work for a while–would you think they were crazy?
After all, the whole point is to get interviews so you can land a new job sooner rather than later, right?
Bad Job Interview Prospects
There are times, though, when a potential job interview stands to do more harm than good for your overall job search success. These are just a few of the “bad job interview” situations:
- Makes you take time off from your current job (if you’re employed) or postpone other job search activities (if you’re not working), without resulting in a meaningful dialogue with the employer because they didn’t give you enough relevant information up front (in other words, holding their cards too close to their vest).
- Forces you to prematurely reveal information (about salary, etc.)–that is, before the employer offers any solid information to help you evaluate the job opportunity in terms of probable mutual fit.
- Puts you through the full interview process (possibly with multiple interviewers) for a position that sometimes ends up going to an insider (a candidate the hiring manager has had in mind from the start).
When to Turn Down a Job Interview
Having a bad feeling about a company would be a good starting point for rejecting an interview, although you probably wouldn’t have applied in the first place if you got such a feeling initially.
If a prospective employer demands a lot of information from you before scheduling an interview and it’s information you don’t want to reveal that soon–such as providing your references or (heaven forbid!) Social Security number before an interview–you will probably want to pull back from that one.
In fact, whenever the preliminary exchange of information is heavily lopsided in favor of the employer, you could find that an interview would be not only a big waste of time but also a source of aggravation and frustration. Do you really need that?
Similarly, you might be asked (maybe even required) to jump through multiple hoops before scheduling an interview, including agreeing to travel to a distant location on your own dollar. In such situations, you should be evaluating whether the interview and the job (if it gets that far) are worth the risk and the effort you are expected to make.
Job Interview Turn-Down Advice
Ask The Headhunter’s Nick Corcodillos never minces words, and here’s what he had to say in response to an inquiry from a reader:
“If you don’t get the information you need, I wouldn’t go to the interview. Every job seeker needs to draw a line somewhere. Just bear in mind that the company may put a big X on your file and never consider you again. On the other hand, you may not want to reconsider them any time soon yourself.” [Note: The reader opted to turn down the interview request.]
Ultimately, you’re the one who has to make the decision about whether or not to pursue the interview: weigh the pros and cons as objectively as you can and make the wisest choice for your situation.
If you think you aren’t a creative employee, you might want to think again. And if you aren’t being creative in some way, can you change that?
The tendency is to think of creative employees in terms of fields such as graphic arts, marketing communications, and such–in other words, either visual or written creativity that’s an essential aspect of the individual’s job. Those of you who don’t work in such fields might be convinced that you’re not a creative employee. Not so fast, though. Maybe there’s more to it than that.
What Marks You as a Creative Employee?
Coming up with ideas for how to do something better and faster than it’s been done before could be considered evidence of creativity–that is, you might engage in creative thinking that gets out of the every-day rut and looks at a situation differently than other employees do. More than once over the years since I started creating resumes, I’ve had a client tell me he or she had been able to solve difficult problems that others had attempted and failed to do. Those clients went on to give me concrete examples of situations where that had happened.
Look at your job performance and see if you can point to instances where you tackled something that had been tried before without success and got it to work well. It doesn’t need to be of earthshaking importance to qualify you as a creative employee. By the same token, if something hasn’t been tried before but should have been, you might be the one who sees possibilities and opportunities that have previously been overlooked.
Can You Change a “Lack” of Creativity?
If you really feel you’re not a creative employee, the odds are still pretty good that you can change that. Start by changing your concept of creativity. As I indicated above, opening up your thinking to new possibilities can lead to outcomes that benefit your company in a variety of ways. As far as the company is concerned, that makes you a creative employee–and a potentially very valuable one.
A recent article by Ashlie Turley, titled “Building a Work Environment That Inspires Creativity,” states that “Creativity impacts three aspects of business in particular. These aspects – efficiency, effectiveness, and profitability – also happen to be the areas of business that leaders are usually most concerned about.” I believe you can stretch yourself as an employee, if you’re not already contributing creatively to those critical business areas. Encourage yourself to question the status quo in your own mind first and then see if you can identify ways to suggest improvements that your employer will find worth considering.
More than likely, the only thing stopping you from functioning as a creative employee is your own self-doubt or hesitation. Once you start challenging that self-imposed limitation, you might be surprised at how much of a creative employee you can be.
By the way, you can demonstrate creativity before you even start a new job. Look at your job search with a fresh approach and see if you can come up with better ways of managing it. Also, be prepared to demonstrate creative thinking when you prepare for and engage in job interviews. You might give your interviewer a pleasant surprise.