Pick the path to job success

When I was 17 I bragged that I had gotten every job I applied for. That was 5 jobs at the time. I set my own expectations and hit them. I continued to get every job I applied for. Looking back, I was lucky and that luck kept me from doing better.

I always had enough money to survive and my desires weren’t huge. I was going to college by then and just wanted to graduate. That is why my luck hurt me so bad. 

After I left college I found out that my Geology Department would have gladly given me jobs while I was at school. I just never asked. I could have gone on to graduate school and jobs would have been lined up for me so I could afford it. I never asked. During the summer break there were jobs available for aspiring geologists, but I had already lined up something else selling books or working in the library. It was so easy to get the jobs I applied for that I never got the jobs that would advance my career.

Even when I graduated I applied for a job in geology that was being filled by high school graduates at the time. Of course I got the job. And I earned less than I could. And I didn’t look for another job until I was laid off.

It took me 3 years after that lay off to get a good job with a bright future. It took me that long to learn that if I accept every job I can get, I get jobs without a future.

I was a slow learner. I didn’t start failing until after I was laid off. I finally learned. Sometimes getting every job you apply for means you aren’t aiming high enough.

Something to do today

Do you have a real career plan? 

I have talked with programmers earning $50,000 per year and others earning $120,000 per year. They had the same basic talents. The better paid ones had chosen to work in SAP instead of Visual Basic. They really had to pay a price to get into SAP. Now they are reaping amazing rewards compared to the programmers who applied for jobs they knew they could get.

Do you really have a career plan? Or is it just a downhill career path?

How to distract an interviewer with a red herring

Is a red herring good or bad? Obviously it can be either. A red herring distracts from an important point. Here is how it works.

Do you have something to hide? If it is a minor disqualifier, be prepared to talk around it. Let’s say you were five years in accounting, but only the last year of it in audit. They ask about how much time you actually spent in audits. You answer precisely, “I’ve been with Bolger & Smith CPA’s for five years. In the last year alone, I have done full audits of 12 companies in addition to my other duties.” The phrase, “In the last year alone,” is a red herring. Skillfully placed it diverts attention to the last year.

Were you fired for refusing to work any more overtime? First off, make sure there will be no overtime in the new job. When they ask, “Why did you leave,” 

you can reply, “My manager and I disagreed on a matter of service, which I will not go into.” Don’t say, “I was fired.” Don’t give a full explanation. When they press for details you can say, “My last manager was well qualified. We disagreed on a matter of service. I won’t go into it any further.” 

The red herring is your nobility in not tearing down your old manager. Make sure they see your loyalty and refusal to gossip. It makes you look good and distracts them from the issue of you being fired.

A red herring is not a lie. It is a distraction. If your distraction doesn’t work, either refuse to answer or tell the unvarnished truth. In the end, distraction is acceptable. A lie will get you fired.

Something to do today

If you have something to hide, write out tough questions. Write out three red herrings for each question. Practice them.

How to show personality and quality to get a job

Reading off of a sheet of questions, each interviewer takes a turn asking set questions. There are technical questions, motivation questions and team related questions. Which are the most important ones? Which are the red herrings?

If you interview with 5 people at a company, you will have to deal with 5 agendas. Each will have a different set of core values and competencies they are looking for. So how do you win?

Be yourself, but avoid dwelling on yourself.

Be yourself

Make sure your interviewers know one or two endearing things that make you different. For instance, I have ten kids and I am a Boy Scouts leader. That will set Bryan Dilts apart from other candidates and give me a personality. Do you have a computer network in your basement? Were you the top salesman of Girl Scout cookies as a kid? Mention one or two things that make you unique. Make sure NOT to mention politics.

Avoid dwelling on yourself

A quick mention of your one or two endearing qualities is all that is needed. Then it is time to mention past job performance. 

When asked about what you did, mention specific projects. You can say, “I was in charge of the budget,” or you can say, “While I was in charge of the budget we increased productivity 60% while increasing the budget only 20%.” That will catch their attention. As a salesperson you can say, “I sold to companies with over 2000 employees,” or you can get bonus points by saying, “In the last year I opened new accounts at 14 companies, each with over 2000 employees.” 

Don’t dwell on yourself. Dwell on the facts. Facts that demonstrate your value to your last company and the company you are interviewing with.

Their red herrings

You really have no hope of knowing which of their questions are red herrings. All you can do is refocus each question they ask on what you have accomplished in the past. Given a choice, most people would rather work with someone who will get things done rather than someone who answers the questions just like they are supposed to.

Ignore their red herrings and show them you are a big fish. They’ll want to reel you in and hire you.

Something to do today

Ask if you can help do interviews at your current company. You may be surprised what you learn about being interviewed by watching others in the hot seat and talking with your boss about them afterwards.

How to save your resume from getting deleted

Some people wisely ask, how can I hide my flaws? Others seem to ask, how can I hide my greatest strengths? 

Every resume I read is a mystery novel. For instance, an accountant dismissed in March is a lot different than one dismissed in May. March is the busy part of tax season, so, why would a competent accountant be sacked? May is a time that accountants cut back on staff. Is the firing a red flag or a red herring?

Is an 8 or 10 line “objective” on a resume a red herring? Do any of those 200 words really mean anything? A 300 word paragraph describing the last job is incredible camouflage for good and bad. 

A bullet cuts through all the fluff, just like in a murder mystery. Find the bullet, find the gun, find the murderer. I always read the first 3 bullets under a job in a resume. 

If those first 3 bullets are three red flags, then I will absolutely skip the rest. 

If those first 3 bullets are three red herrings, I may skip the rest. By skipping the rest, I may miss the one important bullet that would convince me to keep your resume.

My problem is that I am human. I am easily distracted. I have hours of work to plow through before I leave. If I see too many red herrings in your resume, I’ll push the delete key. I don’t have the time to carefully consider each bullet to see if it’s a herring or a flag.

How many pounds of red herring are in your resume?

Something to do today

Hand your resume and the job ad you are applying for to a friend. Ask them if they match. If it takes more than 15 seconds to say, “Yes!”, then you lose.

Find the real qualifications for a job ad

In a murder mystery on TV show the culprit is never the obvious answer. It’s not the neighbor who hated them and their dog, and their kids and who had their blood on their clothes. it’s always an unassuming character from left field.

Man in Gray Long Sleeve Suit Holding a Pen

Job ads are like a murder mystery TV show. Job ads often have long lists of qualifications and most are going to be red herrings. Only a few of those are really going to be important. Remember, these ads are written by HR, not the hiring manager. 

Job ads all seem to be long lists of skills you absolutely have to have in order to get a job.  My experience is that job ads are more red herring than meat. When a company sends me a job ad and asks me to find a person for the job, I always have to talk with the person who wrote the ad.  I ask, 

  • “What are the absolute minimal qualifications for the job?” 
  • “Which of these skills in the ad are the hardest to find?”
  • “What has kept you from hiring the people you have already talked to?”
  • “Is there a hidden qualifier that was left out of the ad?”

As you look at a job ad, ask these questions.  You may even want to call up the HR (Human Resources) department and ask them the four questions.  

If you know any of the answers, you can change your resume.  Put your most important qualifications first in a group of bullet points. Mention them in the very first sentence of your cover letter.  Make sure they come out in a phone call.

Most job ads are huge.  The minimal qualifications and the most important skills are usually hidden in the middle of a school of red herring.  Figure out what the most important need is, and point out in an unavoidable way that you qualify.

Something to do today

Have you ever called an HR department to find out the real qualifications for a job?  Try it today.  Use the 4 questions above.

How to keep your eyes open to office politics

Seeing office politics in the moment is not easy. Seeing the final disastrous result of office politics is easy. You can train yourself to see invisible office politics before they kill you. Let me give you an example of being trained to see what is already there.

I took my Boy Scouts out into the woods. We went to look for animal signs. The boys couldn’t see a thing. Nothing. Then one spotted a bird. They all saw it. Another heard a woodpecker. Suddenly they could all hear it and they also noticed the trees with woodpecker holes in them. I pointed out a rabbit run. The leaves were broken up into smaller pieces than the surrounding leaves and there was also a tunnel under some bushes. They started seeing rabbit runs. We walked down the road and I saw some deer tracks. They looked and found the path that the deer were using. It was just like a rabbit run, only bigger. As their eyes were trained, they saw more and more. Once they concentrated on looking for things out of the ordinary, they got good at spotting animal signs.

Animal Tracks, On Snow, Snow, Winter, Frost, Sunny Day

Training yourself to see office politics is difficult. Often you see the person who gets what they want, and not the people who enable it. Look at the interactions where you are. Who really makes the important decisions?

Choosing a guide is a great idea. Don’t choose the loudest person. Choose the most effective person. Who seems to get what they want? Invite them to lunch or just find a moment to be alone with them. Ask how they do it. Sincere interest is a form of flattery that is almost impossible to resist. You will quickly find out what you need.

Keep in mind! As you are finding out who the gatekeepers and roadblocks are, learn to keep your mouth shut. Getting experts to trust you with their secrets depends on your keeping their confidence safe. Ask questions. Don’t spill the dirt. Funny thing about gossip, effective people shun it. They like helping people understand how a department really works, but they shut down and hurt gossip.

You can have a training program you don’t have to pay for. If you are worthy of their trust, the people who know will train you. They will want you for an ally.

Something to do today

Take a few days and become an observer. Ask questions. Find out the lay of the land. Who are the people who benefit from the power brokers? Who really are the power brokers?

Roadblocks and gatekeepers on the road to success

Faster access to our computers from home made all the sense in the world. One man was standing against my recommendation. Everyone else loved it. The big boss hid from the debate, citing Jim and the cost as reasons to not go forward with it. It seemed like spite, but we had been friends. Why was Jim sabotaging me? Why wouldn’t he listen to reason?

A year later, as technology advanced, a much cheaper and faster access method was installed. I also gained some perspective. Jim wasn’t an SOB, he was a guy with an opinion. I watched him turn out to be right every single time he took an unpopular stand. It might take a couple of years to be vindicated, but he was always right. Management had learned to ignore Jim at their peril.

Jim was a gatekeeper. He could be reasoned with. He would accept proof. He changed his mind when it made sense. Jim only seemed like a roadblock when you were wrong.

The roadblocks are the folks who are mean and spiteful. They can stop a project by getting in the way or going slow. They literally may kill a plan just because they don’t like someone on the team. They stay in place because they know enough of the right people that they can help advance or hinder careers. They help their friends and shaft their enemies. 

Be careful who you define as a gatekeeper and as a roadblock. Ask around. What do your coworkers think of the person in your way? I was wrong about Jim when I thought he was a roadblock. He was a smart guy who was a very respected gatekeeper. 

Something to do today

Is someone getting in your way? Ask around. Are they gatekeepers or roadblocks?

The right words to end an interview

I once had a candidate end an interview with “How soon can I take my vacation days?”. Unsurprisingly, that did not end well. The CEO was already planning on hiring him. That candidate didn’t get the job.

When you end your interview with the wrong words, your interviewer often says, “They didn’t want the job. They never really expressed an interest in it. So we are offering the job to someone else.”

I rarely hear this about my candidates because I tell them exactly what they should say right before they leave. It should always be a variation of, “I want this job.”

Examples

“This is the kind of company and job I thrive in. I think we could work well together. Can we set up the next step in the interview process right now?”

“I have really enjoyed talking with you. Thank you for interviewing me. The job is something I would definitely like to do. Based on everything you have learned about me so far, is there any reason you would NOT hire me for the job?”

“I would like to work here. I enjoyed meeting the team. I can do an outstanding job here and I really want to go to work for you. Can we set up a time for our next meeting right now?”

“This is a great job. I would love to work with you. Can I have the job?”

“This is a great job in a great company. When can I start?”

If it all seems a little too gutsy to you, then go back and read the second paragraph. 

I only occasionally hear, “He didn’t want it enough”, from employers. That is when my candidates do not ask for the job.

Something to do today

Do you have a list of all the jobs you have applied for and the people you have talked to? That is another good list to keep in your job journal.

Prove your worth on your resume

The first paragraph of most resumes states: I am hard working, a team player, a great contributor, an original thinker and will make you money. 

In an interview every candidate makes the same assertion.

Why do so few people prove it?

I used to work with a salesperson in a national company. She was in the top 5 salespeople of her company. She never told me. She didn’t put it on her resume. Her friend finally told me. She had absolute proof of how good she was compared to others, but she never used it. To her credit, she did talk about the dollar volume of sales she made. She just never said how much better than average she was.

I work with engineers who know exactly how much money they saved their company, and they don’t write it down. They don’t mention it in interviews.

CEO’s and CFO’s fail to mention how much money they made stockholders.

Why? They have been taught not to brag. 

If you don’t prove how good you are, you look like every other candidate. 

Who is going to hire you? There are ten candidates. One proves how much money he can make you. The other nine say they are team players who want an exciting job.

Which candidate were you?

Something to do today

Keep a special folder at home or work where you prove how much money you saved, how many customers you helped, the money you made and how much faster things work now. Write a summary in your job journal every week.

The best workers can still lose their job

Some economists say that outsourcing jobs to China increases high paying jobs and wages in the US. Jobs don’t have to be outsourced to China. Here in Harrisburg, PA, a significant amount of high paying programming jobs were moved to California.

Even if it’s good for the economy in the long term, in the short term the reality is that workers get hurt when jobs are outsourced. 

Why California? It costs even more to get work done out there. How can that be economical? I can understand someone wanting cheaper labor and moving labor to China, but California makes little sense. 

In truth, a PA company was bought by a CA company. The PA company hadn’t been competing effectively, but still had a loyal customer base. Instead of letting the company run itself into the ground, the owners were able to sell to the CA company. 

The CA company got more customers, the customers got a better and more reliable service, and the PA owners were able to sell out before it got too dire. Everyone wins… except for the workers in PA.

For the economy, there is nothing better than capitalism leading to the demise of a company for the benefit of another. For a new jobless worker, there is little that is more terrifying.

Those workers did eventually find new jobs. It’s been years now. Were they all the best in their field? Of course not. However, the best of them still lost their job. 

It doesn’t take getting fired to lose your job. Jobs are outsourced all the time. 

When a company dies or the work is outsourced, people either re-train or retire. They use the new skills they learned to find new, better-paying work. 

Ship, Listing, Galapagos Islands, Sea

Are you getting new, valuable skills at your current job? In a dying company, there are people who will re-train themselves long before the company sinks, then use that to get a new job. It’s better to train and leave early than to wait until you’re up to your neck in water.

Something to do today

Write down a list of skills you’ve developed at your current job. What skills are your coworkers developing that are not on your list?