Talent vs. Hard Work in Job Success

Companies theoretically want to hire high-performance employees, and if that describes you, you probably want to be hired by a company that will recognize and appreciate the value you bring to it. The trick is, how do companies determine ahead of time whether someone will be a high performer and how do you present yourself in that light to prospective employers? Is it all about talent or does hard work play a part?

5 Signs of High Performance in Job Candidates

According to an article by Laura Stack in the Atlanta Business Chronicle, “Based on recent studies, some researchers argue that natural talent will triumph, whether a person works hard or not….Then again, hard work clearly gives the less talented a special edge.” The article then suggests that there are “5 signs of high performance to look for in job candidates“:

  1. The Yoda attitude: This is basically optimism and determination in pursuit of goals.
  2. A brilliant past: Testimonials to past performance, including top-quality references, can suggest great potential for future performance.
  3. Well-defined goals: Requirements include not only clear long-term goals but also clear, well-thought-out plans to achieve them.
  4. Advanced time-management skills: Top performers know they have to make the most of their time while still maintaining a balance that precludes burnout.
  5. Optimistic ambition: Here’s that reference to optimism again. These individuals are self-motivated and have a clear sense of direction, but they also check with their managers often enough to make sure they’re on the right track.

What Does This Mean for You and Your Job Success?

Stack’s article focuses on what employers need to know and do. Now it’s time to turn things around a bit and take a look at what you, as the job candidate, need to know and do. For instance, you need to:

  1. Believe you can achieve challenging goals and be willing to expend exceptional effort to get there.
  2. Perform consistently at the highest level you can achieve at any given point and execute appropriate actions to ensure full awareness of your value on the part of your boss and other influencers within your organization.
  3. Map out an action plan that spans both short-term and long-term goals, with suitable steps to achieve both types at designated times. Then be flexible enough to revisit and revise that plan periodically, so you don’t end up off-track (off-goal) down the road.
  4. Keep a reality check in terms of your time–make the most of it, even including relatively short bursts of intense activity when needed, but maintain an awareness of potential pitfalls that can accompany sustained intensity and take steps to counteract that.
  5. Reach out to connect with and interact with others to reinforce your efforts, but realize that you need to be highly self-motivated to move in the direction you’ve chosen.

With year-end 2014 now in sight, this would be a good time to take a look at some of these points and do your best to make sure you’re ready for your next move when 2015 arrives.


Midlife Career Change–And Other Times, Too

The phrase “midlife career change” is nothing new. It’s something that’s been occurring for decades, maybe even centuries. However, there are some aspects these days that might make career change–midlife or otherwise–more challenging or at least challenging in different ways than in the past.

Midlife Career Change–What’s Involved

Two broad scenarios can apply to these situations. Either you’re considering a career change voluntarily or it’s being forced on you by external circumstances beyond your control. Some considerations apply in both cases. For instance:

  • When–how fast, etc.–does the change need to happen?
  • What economic factors must be taken into account?
  • Who do you know that might be willing and able to help in some way?

If you’re contemplating a voluntary change, you might also need to think about aspects such as the following:

  • How sure am I that I need to make a change? Am I just reacting to a temporary situation out of frustration?
  • If I’m sure it’s needed, how much time and effort (and maybe money) am I willing and able to invest in making it happen?
  • Who else will be affected by the change and has a right to be involved in the decision one way or another?

Career Change at Any Point

Whether change is self-initiated or directed by others–and whether it happens in your 20s, 30s or later–it involves choices and decisions that aren’t always clear-cut. Some of them get tougher as you get older. For instance, you might be competing with younger job seekers who have knowledge and skills you haven’t needed to know until now. On the other hand, you might have experience that can translate really well into the new field and help you gain an edge over them. That’s something you have to determine and find ways to make your advantages work for you as strongly as possible to offset the perceived disadvantages.

When you’re younger, you might have more flexibility in making changes, because much of your potential earning time still lies ahead and changes might be somewhat easier to make than they will be later on. However, with the increasingly rapid pace of external change (particularly technology and its effect on the world of work), even younger workers could face some daunting challenges when making a career change.

Who’s In Control of Your Career Change?

Essentially, you need to assess the situation, evaluate your options, and make whatever decisions you can about how, when, and if you should proceed. If  the career change is involuntary, you could also find it necessary to overcome the negative feelings you’re experiencing because of that. Trying to move forward before you deal with those feelings can be an uphill battle and take longer than if you get on top of things first. The key point is to be able to put as much thought and energy into the forward-momentum planning and execution of your career change as possible, regardless of whose idea it was.

Freelance Workforce vs. Direct Employee

If you’re currently working and aren’t a direct employee of a company, you would probably be part of the freelance workforce. That’s either a good thing or a bad thing, depending on several factors. Regardless, it points to a trend that has been growing over the years and could have relevance for you in the future.

Is Freelancing the “New Normal” Employment?

According to a study quoted by Recruiting Trends, freelancing is the new normal, with 53+ million Americans doing it. The rosy picture painted by the heads of Freelancers Union and Elance-oDesk suggests that this is a strong and positive trend. For example, the CEO of Elance-oDesk says that “the connected era we live in is liberating our workforce. The barriers to being a freelance professional…are going away.”

The Downside of Freelance Work

As you can probably imagine, all is not necessarily rosy about this situation. The article references the opposing view that the surge in freelancers and consultants stems from “recent tough economic times when full-time jobs were scarce.”

If you’re one of those who turned to freelancing/consulting after being laid off, for instance, you might not find this reported trend to be a positive factor–especially if you’ve been trying to reenter the full-time workforce as a direct employee. For one thing, freelancers generally don’t have access to the side benefits of direct employment–things like paid sick leave and vacation time, medical coverage, and the like.

Perceived Positives of the Freelance Trend

In the Recruiting Trends article, several facts are quoted as evidence of positive growth in freelance work. Briefly, these are:

  • Increased demand for freelancers: 32% increase versus 15% decrease.
  • Use of technology to find work: 69% are finding technology helpful; 42% have done freelancing via the Internet.
  • Improved reputation: 65% indicated that the choice of freelancing for a career path is regarded with more respect than it was 3 years ago.
  • Growth potential: 38% expect their hours to increase in the coming year versus 12% that expect a decrease.

If you have been or are considering being part of the freelance workforce vs. a direct employee, the above information might give you something to think about. Of course, if you’re looking at the situation as a “no other choice” scenario, your attitude about it is probably less positive than it would be if done voluntarily.

What to Keep in Mind about Freelancing

Regardless of your reasons for being a freelancer/consultant, it’s important to keep in mind that your future prospects could depend heavily on the value you contribute in each situation going forward. Value is still a kingpin in the minds of potential employers–that is, what can you do for them that would enable them to be more competitive, profitable, etc.?

Ideally, every assignment or project you land should enable you to make–and document–a clear contribution to the success of the organization you’ve done the work for. Progress from one assignment to the next over time could also play a significant role in how your freelancing is viewed by prospective employers. Simply treading water won’t impress them.

Ho-Hum Resumes: Is Yours One of Them?

Sometimes it feels as if I’m playing a broken record on this, but experience shows that too many job seekers still don’t get the difference between a resume that showcases their unique value to employers and one that looks basically like a job description. The latter is what I’ve decided to call a ho-hum resume.

In other words, the response to it is likely to be something along the lines of “who cares?” or “So…?” or even “OK (round-file that one). Next.”

What Makes a Resume Stand Out?

Remember that employers get hundreds, sometimes thousands, of resumes in a relatively short time when they publicize a job opening. If your resume doesn’t stand out in a quick glance through the stack, it might not ever get even a cursory look.

And that’s quite apart from the requirements set up for passing the ATS (applicant tracking system) screening process. If you’ve done that, you still need to impress the people who will actually be looking at your resume and (you hope) considering you as a potential employee.

In some ways, the question should really be: What makes a resume blend into the background? Or to put it another way, why would your resume disappear and never be heard from again?

Job Description Terminology–Good or Bad?

If used with careful thought, some job description terminology in your resume wouldn’t necessarily be bad. However, if it doesn’t somehow bring out your value proposition so that employers can see it quickly and become interested in pursuing you further, that job description wording will relegate you to the ranks of would-be employees who don’t get a serious look.

For instance, there’s a world of difference between these two statements:

  1. Established a sales department; hired 5 employees and initiated contact with potential customers.
  2. Built a sales department that successfully established strategic relationships with 3 major customers in primary target market, creating a pipeline projected to generate $1.5 million in revenue over the next 6 months.

Both of these are presumably factual (or they shouldn’t be used at all), but #2 leaves #1 in the dust, metaphorically speaking. It’s still relatively concise, which is good, but it delivers a “punch” that the first one totally fails to do.

You need to make a memorable impression on employers in the best possible way, and you need to do it fairly quickly. A ho-hum resume packed with generic job description verbiage won’t get you there, so don’t settle for taking that “easy way out.” Create a standout resume that makes you shine in the eyes of employers!

Privacy and Your Job Search

Privacy is a huge topic these days, including with regard to job searching. One of the big questions seems to be whether it’s even possible for you to have privacy when conducting a job search.

Of course, this is a larger issue than just when an active job search is involved. However, some of the articles and news items I’ve been reading indicate that its application to job searching is becoming more troublesome–even challenging–all the time.

Is there privacy in a job search?

Perhaps a better question would be, how close to job search privacy can you get? I’ve had executive clients who were conducting a highly confidential job search, and at least a few of them avoided doing much, if anything, on LinkedIn because of fear that the wrong people might become aware of what they were engaged in.

That might be a very valid fear, and I certainly don’t want to seem as if I’m treating it too lightly. If you’re in that kind of situation, you have to do what your thoughtful assessment of the circumstances tells you is wise.

At the same time, the more you restrict your job search visibility (or try to), the bigger the challenge you face in getting the word out to the “right” people. In other words, you’ve made more work for yourself by excluding certain tools and have to step-up to that task with determination if you hope to succeed.

Forfeiting privacy in a job search–or elsewhere

It’s no secret that we live in an age when floods of information are available at the click of a computer mouse. Whether data is legitimately available about you or is released unintentionally or maliciously, the result is the same. Determined people can find out a lot about you that you might prefer they not know, and the problem seems to keep growing.

To some extent, we’ve given up our “right” to privacy by opting in to the information age, with all its whiz-bang technology and other aspects. What used to take real determination to find (if it could be found at all) has now become disturbingly easy for many people. Unless you somehow manage to stay “off the grid” by some miracle (I don’t know anyone who has), you’re going to encounter this challenge.

What should you do about your privacy?

There’s no easy or completely satisfying answer. I suspect that the closest you can come to a solution is to act in a way that’s as sensible as possible–for instance, not putting information online about yourself that might be misused or misinterpreted. Use the Internet–LinkedIn, etc.–but not in a reckless fashion.

Assume that someone you don’t know or don’t want to make aware of your present activities might see the material you post online; then proceed with appropriate caution. If you’re in a confidential job search, do as much as possible offline and conduct your online involvement carefully. If your search isn’t so confidential or you’re not even currently in an active job search, adjust your participation accordingly.

Job Interviews–Are You Asking the Right Questions?

Job interviews can be stressful enough without having them go sour because you didn’t ask the right questions–resulting either in no job offer or in being offered and accepting a job that turns out to be a serious miss-fit. You owe it to yourself to go in prepared to ask questions and make them the “right” questions. Sometimes that’s easier said than done, so I’d like to share a few thoughts about how you can do it.

Questions to Ask in a Job Interview

Questions can touch on a variety of areas, including things you need or want to know that you didn’t uncover in your pre-interview research online or elsewhere. Sometimes, for instance, a company’s future plans aren’t yet widely known outside the company, but they could well have a direct bearing on what your job would be and on the potential for reasonably long-term employment with the company. Asking questions to elicit information on such a topic is a valid approach in a job interview. How else can you make an informed decision if they offer you the position?

Another good question involves why the position is open in the first place. Is it new? If not, why is it open now? How long ago did the previous incumbent leave? You might also want to know why the person left (was it involuntarily, for instance?), although that information can be hard to pry out of the interviewer.

Ask questions that will give you insight into the most critical job requirements or expectations–what your performance would need to be in order for the company to consider you a valuable addition to their team. This could give you an edge in completing a successful interview (that is, one that leads to a satisfying job offer and subsequent period of employment).

Be sure you don’t shy away from asking questions that will help you find out about present or upcoming challenges the company (and/or your potential new department) is facing. If the interviewer doesn’t volunteer this kind of information, ask respectfully, but ask. You have a right to know before you make a decision about working there.

What Questions Should You Not Ask?

It’s okay to be a realist and know that you can’t expect the company to look out for your best interests ahead of its own goals. At the same time, you need to temper your eagerness to get that kind of information with a sense of balance between your interests and theirs. Any question that focuses (or seems to focus) mainly on what the company can do for you–if you haven’t already made a compelling case for what you can do for them–is fraught with potential for disaster.

Really, it comes down to the concept of timing as well as appropriate ways to ask a question. When you inquire about salary and benefits is at least as important as the words you use when asking.

Questions to Use to Assess an Employer

An article titled, “6 questions for assessing a prospective employer,” by Michael Lee Stallard and Katie Russell, poses the following questions:

  • Do employees feel respected?
  • Is recognition a key component of the culture?
  • Can I belong here?
  • Are employees given autonomy?
  • Can I grow here?
  • Is this work important to me?

You might want to ask the prospective employer some of those directly. Others might be questions you’ll want to ask yourself and use as a guide for the questions to ask the interviewer. Above all, you don’t want to end up saying to yourself, “I should have asked that before I took the job!”

Performance Reviews: Bad vs. Good

I’ve never met anyone who really enjoyed performance reviews–giving or receiving them! Some people consider them a necessary evil at best. The fact is, though, that if your company uses performance reviews, you’re not going to have a choice in the matter.

Keeping things as black-and-white as possible, we have two kinds of performance reviews: bad and good. However, like many things in life, it’s not exactly that simple.

Bad Performance Reviews

One way of looking at this is to label as bad any performance review that does one or more of the following:

  • Hits you with negative comments that seem to come out of the blue.
  • Criticizes you for events outside your control.
  • Gives unclear feedback that leaves you wondering just where you might have gone wrong and what you can do to correct that.

Of course, this isn’t a comprehensive list. I imagine you could think of some other circumstances that you would consider involved a bad performance review. One of the criteria that I consider is whether or not the review enables you to move forward progressively if you are really willing to do what it takes to make that happen.

Good Performance Reviews

On the other hand, a good performance review (at least in my opinion) is one that does the following:

  • Takes a constructive approach to pointing out areas where you have room for improvement.
  • Includes suggestions or invites open discussion of ways you might elevate your job performance–including but not limited to those areas marked for improvement.
  • Praises you for work you have done well–that is, beyond just what was “expected” (i.e., the minimum acceptable performance) and makes particular note of your contributions that went substantially above and beyond what you were required to do.

Bad Performance Reviews are Hard to Swallow

If you receive a positive review, you’re probably not going to lose much sleep over it later. In contrast, a negative performance review can cause you serious concern, stress, uncertainty, and more. It’s seldom, if ever, something you can shrug off and move on without a qualm. And you shouldn’t do that anyway.

According to an article by Carolyn O’Hara on HBR Blog Network titled “What to Do After a Bad Performance Review,” you can take several steps to respond during and after a negative performance review. Briefly, these are:

  • Reflect before you react.
  • Look for your blind spots
  • Ask questions.
  • Make a performance plan.
  • Give yourself a second score (for how you respond to the comments).
  • Look at the big picture.

I believe the first one is possibly the most important, although they’re all valid. For example, if you do a “Mt. Vesuvius” (volcanic eruption) or burst into tears and rush out of the room, you’ve done yourself an immediate disservice. It’s tough to bounce back from that in a beneficial way. It’s kind of like the saying, “Make sure your brain is engaged before putting your mouth into gear.”

Note: In this post I’m not trying to address the kind of negative review that stems from having a totally unreasonable (e.g., toxic) boss who might not have given you a positive review even if his or her life had depended on it. That’s when the last suggestion on the above list might come into play–you might really be better off looking for a new and hopefully better job than spinning your wheels trying to turn that bad performance review into a good situation.