Learn what you’re stepping into before you take the job.

He came for the amazing opportunity at XYZ (the name is changed). A year later he was gone. He quit. That happens a lot at XYZ. It seems like half the people who join the company are transplants. It has been the case for at least 15 years. 

They are hired from across the country and move to Harrisburg, PA. It is one of the biggest companies in its market, a national powerhouse. But an unnatural percentage of its executives, computer experts, accounting gurus and even retail purchasers have been relocated here. Of course many love the place. It is just that their first year turnover is huge and local people avoid the company.

I always warn people I place at XYZ of the reputation. I help them find out if they are a fit before they join. So, how can you avoid getting one of those short term, bad fit jobs?

Check the company references

Talk to 3 of their references. They want to talk to your references, you can ask for theirs. You also need to find a few references on your own. Finding references on a company will get you a clearer perspective on them and it is also a good networking tool that may get you a different job.

The best company references you can get are:

  • A talkative recruiter who knows the place
  • A happy ex-employee who works at another company
  • Someone doing your future job at a competitor
  • An HR person from another company
  • Someone you know who works in that department

I did not include a disgruntled ex-employee in the list. They know why they quit, but usually not what the trends for the company are. It’s okay to talk to disgruntled ex-employees, just filter their responses. They may have an ax to grind.

How to find them

Connect through LinkedIn to the HR person and anyone you talk to at the company.  That way you will get networked into other people at the company now, and former employees. 

Make a few phone calls. You need to find out who the competitors are anyway. You can find them online then call them. Make it a habit to search them out. Look for former employees at competitors. They may have a better opening than the one you are looking at.  At the very least, you’ll be able to ask questions about the job you are considering.

Something to do today

Check references on the last 3 companies you interviewed with. It is good practice.

Leave your mark to impress your boss. 

I have been around a lot of big bears in Pennsylvania. It is exciting. Still, I have only seen one bear in Pennsylvania. Bears leave behind footprints, scratched trees and scat (the polite way of referring to bear excrement). As a matter of fact, some bears try to impress other bears by showing how high on a tree they can scratch the bark away. They may never see each other, but bears know who is the “big bear”.

Bear, Brown Bear, Mammal, Animal, Nature, Wildlife

In job hunting you need to let people know you are the “big bear”. Don’t tell them everything you did at your last job. Show them signs of your size and impact. In your resume do not give every detail of your jobs. Show the things that prove you are the “big bear” now. 

Are you a Controller or CFO? How much money did you save your company? How much new revenue did you personally drive to the bottom line?

If your title is manager, assume that people know you hire, make budgets, and write reports. Increased revenue, how much money you saved, and faster execution are things that show how high you reached. 

As a programmer you need to have a list of languages you know somewhere on the resume. That’s necessary but it doesn’t make you stand out. The fact that your last five projects came in on time and under budget will show you are a big bear. 

Don’t hide what you accomplished in a forest of petty details. Make the things that prove you are a big bear unmissable. If you have ten bullet points about one job, get rid of half of them. A five line paragraph will hide a lot of accomplishments. Make three short bullets instead or put a couple of keywords in bold font.

Show you are the big bear. Stretch up high and scratch that tree where the other bears can’t miss it.

Something to do today

Hand your resume to some friends. Give them 45 seconds to read it, then ask them what your biggest accomplishments are. 45 seconds is a very thorough read for resumes, most only get 10 seconds. If you can’t get your point across in 45 seconds, getting hired will be pure luck.

Make your job search into a learning experience 

2 1/2 pounds of trail mix per boy each day for a total of 90 pounds. 3 packages of hamburger helper for one meal for 6 boys. Oatmeal every day for breakfast for 6 days on the trail. Coyotes, raccoons, elk and a 20 acre meadow of ripe blueberries. It was a great adventure. By the end the boys learned they had taken way too much trail mix and hamburger helper. They also stopped liking banana flavored oatmeal. They planned, saw, did and learned things they would never have known about without that 50 mile hike. Later most of the boys did 70 and 100 mile hikes. On the later hikes they carried less weight and had even more fun.

Job hunting

If you want to constantly move up you have to stop looking at your job search as an occasional sprint. It has to become a planned excursion. It may become a safari.

Job hunting does not get any easier at the next level up. When you get better at what you do, it takes longer. The number of jobs decreases and the number of good people looking for the great jobs increases as you move up. Moving laterally isn’t hard. Moving up is hard. Getting a promotion is tough. Beating the 20 other people who want to be raised to Executive Vice President or be the highest paid technician in the company is very hard. 

It takes one month of job searching for every $30,000 of salary in today’s market. That’s how hard it is to advance. That is how much harder it gets later.

If you start now and decide to LEARN while you search for a job, you’ll do better next time. You need to study and try different ideas. Find out what works for you and what flops. Everyone is different. There is no reason for you to do things exactly the same as someone else.

My boys started out with 2 mile, 10 mile and then 20 mile hikes. They got better, but kept learning. The 50 and 100 mile hikes were a lot of work, but not as painful as the 20 mile hikes because they had learned and prepared better. Your job searches may get longer, but they don’t have to be as difficult as your current one if you keep on learning.

Something to do today

Go to your job journal. List your employment dates so far. Also list your promotions. You will probably see a pattern. If the new jobs or promotions stopped, was it really your idea or did you just stop advancing? Write down how quickly you really can earn that next 3 raises, promotions or jobs. You may want to set up a personal progress program.

Don’t lose a job over one email 

Dan had the perfect first interview. I debriefed the hiring manager. Dan was a sharp leader with experience and corporate savvy. The pay would be $175,000 per year. Dan drafted a thank you email and sent it off to the hiring manager. 

The next afternoon I called the hiring manager to set up an interview. It was not going to happen. Instead of the short “thank you” I recommended, Dan sent a two page email. Not a problem, usually. Then the email was forwarded to me. Dan had sent a lethal email. 

There were two problems:

1. Dan wrote about the wrong things

2. The grammar, spelling and layout were terrible

The wrong things

A thank you email is not a good place to bring up problems with your last boss, the other reasons you quit that job, or that you are tired of working long hours. You don’t set salary, vacation and relocation demands in a thank you email either. You just say, “Thank you.”

Grammar, spelling and layout

Dan was in the running for a job as leader, manager, communicator and chief computer dude for a multi-national company. He would be giving direction and building coalitions. His technical expertise was essential. But, Dan didn’t use the computer to check his spelling or grammar. It was bad. Just plain bad. He also wandered from subject to subject in the middle of paragraphs and sentences.  The email did not hang together. 

Make it very short, or get it proofread

A short thank you is best.

If you are writing more than 3 sentences, wait an hour and re-read it before you send it. The idea of informal and off-the-cuff email is sweet, but wrong. You will be judged by what you send. If your email is over 3 lines, at least proofread it yourself. Better yet, have someone else who is a good writer look it over and make suggestions. And please learn how to use a spelling and grammar checker.

Make sure your thank you gets you closer to the job, not shut out.

Something to do today

Go to your email outbox. How many of those should have been more formal?

An email to remember

As the Steelers were marching on their way to the Super Bowl a while ago, I had a candidate from Pittsburgh with the email address of “steelman”. The manager in charge chuckled after the final interview and asked me, “Did you see his email address? I’m pretty sure who he wants to win the game.” That email address made the candidate memorable in a good way.

Hands Writting, Invitation, Typography, Calligraphy

If your email address is anything but your name, make sure it is memorable in a good way. Put yourself in the hiring manager’s shoes. The success of the person you hire will be directly linked to you and your career as a manager. There are three strong candidates and you can’t decide which one to hire. Your eyes stray to the email addresses. One is “ironwillsmith”, next is “bryandilts” and the third is “womanhaterjones”. I guarantee “womanhaterjones” will be eliminated. The other two will have a positive or neutral effect.

Be careful how your email address looks. It is hard to believe, but people actually try to find a job with obscene and hateful email addresses. If you have any doubt about the appropriateness of your address, sign up at gmail or yahoo for an address to use only for the job search. 

Vanilla is fine. Positively memorable is fine. An Offensive email name may keep you from getting hired. 

Something to do today

It is probably not your problem, just check your email address anyway.

Don’t dig your own grave in an interview

I had a guy come in for an interview after a depressing few months of job hunting. Within 5 minutes it was obvious why no one wanted to hire him. What really killed him was that it wasn’t his fault, sorta, why he left his last 3 jobs.  If your boss won’t explain what you have to do so that you can understand it, it isn’t your fault, sorta.  When you finally decide not to work 50 hour weeks any more, it is not your fault you quit.  And an affair with your boss that ends unhappily is certainly not your fault, is it? And every detail was explained in the interview. Worse, when questioned, “Do you explain this to everyone you interview with?” the answer was, “Of course, I can’t lie about it.”

He was digging his grave with his own hands.  He would shoot himself to prove why gun safety is important.  In a game of checkers he would explain why he made each move so he didn’t surprise his opponent.

We worked for an hour to give him answers that were true and made him look discrete and loyal.  Near the end he said, “I guess I am going to have to learn how to lie.”  He didn’t understand. We explained, “In 20 years you won’t tell all the heart wrenching reasons you left your recent job, so don’t tell them now.” He just couldn’t accept that.

What to say 

For any negatives, acknowledge them very briefly, and also find the good side of that experience.  I said, “Acknowledge them.”  I did not say, “Explain them.”  In almost every negative situation there were some positives.  Think of what those positives were and emphasize them. Explain the positives and not the negatives. Here are examples: 

Your boss didn’t train you:

“I was very grateful for that job, but I needed an opportunity to grow more. I had a strong boss who taught me about leadership.”  

You left because of long hours:

“My boss taught me a lot, but we disagreed on working conditions.  It was great to work directly with an entrepreneur like him.”

The office affair went sour:

“That was a great company, but I left because of the office atmosphere. My trainer at that company was brilliant.  I learned a lot about business as well as the technical side of my job.”

When someone asks you more about the negative, refuse to talk about it.  Instead, talk about the positives you brought up.  It is called loyalty when you refuse to discuss unimportant tidbits of gossip and concentrate on the positive. Another word to describe it is discretion.

Something to do today

Make a list of all the things you mention in interviews that just don’t sound good.  Figure out how to mention them in 5 words or less.  Then figure out 2 good things you can mention that are related to those negatives.

12 tricks to stand out in your next interview

A moth trap can teach you how to stand out, be remembered, and be hired. The principles can be used in interviews, resumes, and networking.

The moth trap in our pantry is supposed to be much better than the average one. It has the same sticky glue and pheromones, but instead of just a white sheet of cardboard, it has black stripes on it. I don’t know if it really is better, but I paid a few dollars extra for it. If it is better, great. I made a great decision. If it is only as good as the cheaper trap, I still made a good decision. Either way the trap will catch the bugs before they lay eggs in our flour, cornmeal and popcorn. I get protection either way, and maybe I get a little better protection with the more expensive traps.

In every interview you have to have something that sets you apart. It is nice if it is a huge difference, but that is not absolutely necessary. One of the reasons a college degree or certification in your field is valuable is because it sets you apart. People can remember how you are different and hopefully better. Other things that can set you apart are:

  • Putting yourself through college
  • Courses you have taken
  • Projects you have lead
  • Having lots of kids… or having no kids
  • Your volunteer work
  • Your passions and hobbies
  • Dressing sharper than is required
  • Shoes that shine like the sun… or suede tennis shoes
  • Letters of recommendation
  • Someone you know who already works there
  • Long hair… or a marine haircut
  • Something amazing and relevant you did in high school

Remember why I bought the expensive moth trap. It MIGHT be better. Anything you can do to show you just might be better than Mr. Bland will help. 

For the moth traps, it was just a black stripe on cardboard. What is it that you can do, say, be, or show that makes you worth a few extra dollars?

Something to do today

Every time someone is hired at your current job, go find out what was different about that person. When you are told, “They were more qualified,” ask, “Were there any small details that seemed to confirm that they were better?” You may be surprised what little details separate first place from no place at all.

Getting the best benefits out of your next job.

One of our candidates was offered six weeks of vacation and personal time per year.  It wasn’t a matter of begging, pleading and negotiations.  It was just offered. To tell you the truth, I’m not sure she did anything special in the interviews.  She was just worth it to the company that hired her.  

Put on the brakes and read that last sentence over. The way to get more vacation is to be so valuable to the company that they offer it.  I’m always pleased when a job offer comes in with three, four or five weeks of vacation. It means that the job and the candidate matched well at a highly skilled level.

A recruiter is the best person to get better benefits for you.  They can tell the company exactly what you currently have at the beginning of the process. They can suggest an extra week of vacation will sweeten the offer.

With or without a recruiter, the time to negotiate for vacation time is after the company has decided to hire you.  If you ask for an extra two weeks of vacation in the first interview, you won’t have a second interview.  A key question you may be asked is, “What is your current compensation package?”  That means they want to know the full cost of hiring you.  It is a very different question from, “What do we have to pay you?”  When the company is asking about your current full compensation you can give them the whole story including pay, vacation, personal days, car allowance, 401K matching and healthcare costs.  Telling the HR person or the hiring committee in your second or third interview your full current pay and benefits is not threatening. Telling the first person you talk to that you need 5 weeks of vacation along with a 30% pay raise and every other Friday off is a mistake.    

So, getting your recruiter to get that fourth week of vacation is the best idea.  The time for YOU to ask for more vacation is when the company already knows your current vacation time and wants to hire you.  Then you have some leverage. And the most important point is to make sure you are worth the extra vacation time.  If the company wants your skills enough, they’ll give you all the vacation you want.   

Something to do today

Find out from your HR department what your full benefits package is worth.  You need to know vacation days, personal days, sick days, pension contributions, 401K matching, their healthcare costs and what exactly is your contribution to healthcare.  You can add your salary, bonuses and expense allowances to the list.  You may be surprised at the cost of your benefits, and it will be a great thing to know when asked in your job interview. 

It is just about the end of the quarter.  Monday would be a great day to give your supervisor a list of your major accomplishments for the quarter and year so far.

10 questions to ask during your interview

Dare to be different. Different like the cartoon roadrunner, not like the coyote. Everyone likes the roadrunner. He has an infectious smile and inventive ways of getting safely past the coyote. 

Companies hire to fill a need. By asking the right questions, you can find out what that need is. Just by finding out that need, you may get the job. When your interviewer feels they are understood, they are likely to say to themself, “This candidate will be a great team member since they understand what I need.” Then you are hired.

Phone, Business, Person, Lifestyle, Males, People, Man

You may want to consider using a variation of these questions which I got from Danny Cahill:

  • When you made the move to come here, what was the most compelling reason for YOU? 
  • What keeps you here?
  • I’m looking for a leader who I can believe in and whose coattails I can ride. Tell me your ambitions. 
  • What do I have to do to get your job? 
  • You’re not hiring because everything is wonderful. What are the problems that need solving?
  • Companies hire short term solutions to short term problems. How can I stand out in the next 60 days?
  • I’m happy to give you my references, are there people here or at some other company that I can talk to about you? 
  • Profile your top performer for me. What do they do that makes them so much better? 
  • When it comes to work, what keeps you up at night? 
  • Do I have your vote? Are you going to recommend I be considered? 

Something to do today

Make a list of questions you can read over before every interview. You will be amazed how often the right question will help you in a tough situation.

Ask these questions to stand out in an interview

Salespeople who earn over $100,000 per year know how to ask questions. Then they ask another related question. Top salespeople get smart people to say, “He’s right, I need his help.” They do it without telling how smart they are. They do it by asking the right questions.

Your job interview is a sales meeting. You need the interviewers to “buy” you. Getting a job at McDonalds is just like getting a CEO’s job. You have to convince the interviewers that you can do the job and that you are the best person available. 

Everyone says, “I’m the best.” You will be expected to list your accomplishments. You will proclaim yourself a team player. “I’ll do whatever it takes,” will be a key phrase you will utter, just like everyone else. I’m still waiting for the candidate that says, “I hate people. I refuse to work hard. If possible, I will drive this company into the ground.”

So, be different. Ask great questions. Here is the first one:

“How will I be measured in 12 months time if I take this job?”

Or use a related comment and question:

“Everyone is hired to fill an immediate need. So, what problems do I get to resolve in my first two months?”

Are you getting the idea? Tomorrow I’ll give you a list of some more questions I have gleaned over the years.

Something to do today

Make a list of at least 3 questions or topics you should ask about in every interview. 

Now think about the exact wording. Can you make the questions show your keen interest in doing a great job and helping your team?