Learn the basics before you experiment

Most of my kids at one point or another play some sort of instrument. When kids first play an instrument they mash keys on a piano or play with the strings on a violin. To them, it sounds really good. To other people, not so much. Eventually they get to learn in classes and through books how to play. Of course most people will want to learn how to play the hit songs or their favorite songs immediately. Of course that’s not how that works. 

You have to learn the basics before you can become good. Lots of my kids can tell you that learning their notes and the basics can be annoying or tedious. But once they learn them (and learn to practice them right) they realize how important they can be, even if it is more fun at the start to mash keys on a piano. Fun doesn’t mean it sounds good.

When going into interviews, learn to give the correct response, even if it’s boring. Then experiment with different answers or variations to improve it. 

Learning comes in stages. First you have to learn to give a correct response. It may be dull to learn and practice, but you will be right. After you know a correct response and why it is correct, you can experiment with different answers. Eventually you will come up with much better responses than you were originally taught. But every once in a while you have to go back to what you started with. You have to check what you are now saying against what really needs to be said.

The next few days are going to be going over interview questions you need to ask. I’ll start out with the basics. They are the questions that work in every interview. Then I’ll go to questions that set you apart in an interview.

I suggest you repeat your practice questions aloud 3 times before you go in for an interview. When you are in the interview, don’t worry about getting them word perfect. You’ll have the ideas cemented in your brain. You’ll be prepared to set yourself apart from the competition by the questions you ask.

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? 

There’s always a reason for getting fired.

My son was the best checkout clerk in the store. His checkout speed was consistently the best. Customers loved his happy personality. He often had the most “add on” sales at the cash register. Then one day he was put on probation. Shortly thereafter he was fired. It was because he had decided not to double check when the cash register said that a particular coupon had no corresponding product bought by the customer. Most of the cashiers ignored the warning at least part of the time. One of the baggers had noticed it and informed the managers. They checked, asked him, and found out he was guilty. Probation was a formality. They fired him as soon as they could get it approved.

I’m proud my son accepted responsibility and never told anyone who the bagger was. When asked, he admitted what he was doing immediately. He was fired as a warning to the other checkout clerks. He didn’t have a chance to eat crow and change his ways. 

The real question is: What about the other clerks? The clerks had a chance to get upset at the baggers in general. They could moan and complain on breaks about how unfair it was. They could become paranoid and follow each rule to complete stupidity. Or they could admit their problem and humbly accept the truth, like my son did. They knew they had been costing the store money by not checking coupons. They had been breaking the rule all the time, not just when the checkout lanes were jammed. They had talked about it. They weren’t listening to the managers about it anymore when the firing occurred. It was time to eat crow. And crow is best served warm, when the offense is fresh.

How about you? What do you do when someone is fired for doing something everyone does? What about when you are passed over for a job you apply for?

If you blame another person, you are human. If you blame society, you are human. That being said, it doesn’t make YOU right.

If you got fired for poor performance, accept it. If you were the best at a particular job but got passed over for a promotion, there was a reason. Admit defeat. Find out why. Don’t brag about how smart you are and how stupid the managers are. There was a reason.

Back to job hunting. If the job is evil and horrible, drop out of the interviews or don’t apply. If you found out the manager, company or division is full of idiots because they didn’t hire you, thank God you didn’t get that job. No need to ceaselessly murmur about the idiots. However, you may want to eat crow and find out why you really were not hired. Getting the truth can be difficult. Still, the time to eat crow is when it is still warm. Ask what you did, said, or put on paper that disqualified you. Then decide if you want to fix it.

Something to do today

Ask why you didn’t get the job. Ask the recruiter. Ask the company. Ask the hiring manager. Don’t worry about offending someone. They already offended you by not hiring you, didn’t they? Ask politely, but ask.

Break through your glass ceiling 

“Dinosaur Jim” was a professor of dinosaurs at BYU and he only earned a high school diploma. He discovered more earth shattering fossils than any other man alive. He published unbelievable finds. Finally he was awarded an honorary PhD. They built a large building just for his incredible fossil collection. 

You can get ahead without a college degree. To do it in the university or corporate world you have to be twice as good as the best guy with his university papers.

Let’s see, there is Michael Dell and Bill Gates. They dropped out of college. The guy who founded Wendy’s dropped out of high school. Everyone knows those three. You can probably name a few more very successful people who did not finish their education but became rich. With luck you will name one person, who did not start the company himself, who rose to lead a major company without a college degree. Many who started into their careers without a degree went back and got their degrees at night or dropped out for a few years to get an MBA.

Education is a foundation for people climbing the corporate ladder

I’m not saying you have to get a college degree. However, you have to be twice as good as the college graduate in order to compete in upper management job hunting. That is just a fact of life. And a Bachelor’s 4 year degree is worth a whole lot more than an Associate’s 2 year degree. Banks love MBA’s. Technical companies love Masters Degrees and PhD’s.

It may be hard to get your college degree now. Part time education for years is not appealing to many people. And you don’t have to do it. But building the foundation at this point in your career will be easier than building it 5 years from now. Here’s why: you are being evaluated every day at work for a move up the career ladder. Like it or not, you are the guy without a degree, MBA or engineering degree. People say it and know it. It can be positive if you are the best guy in the company and everyone knows it. Otherwise, it is already killing your career. Every time managers compare you to another employee they mention it. 

Think about it. If you want to climb the corporate ladder, a degree will help.

Something to do today

Unless you have a PhD, check out how you can get another degree part-time. What can it hurt to just find out?

“Lone Eagles” join flocks, too

I used to believe that eagles don’t flock. I’d seen flocks of geese, starlings, and turkeys. Never a flock of eagles. For some reason, I believed the best people didn’t flock either. After all, my employer used it as a recruiting slogan. You have to find the great people one-by-one.

8 years into EDS, I worked with a dyed-in-the-wool environmentalist. On her wall she had the Sierra club calendar. There was a picture of a dozen eagles all sitting in the bare branches of an Alaskan tree. I commented on the incongruity of all those eagles flocking together. She said, “My husband and I were in Alaska when we took that picture. It really isn’t that uncommon of a sight where there are a lot of eagles.” 

Close Photography of Bald Eagle

Looking for flocks of eagles became a hobby of mine, particularly since my employer’s recruiting slogan denied that eagles flock. I found that there really are a lot of lone eagles. They are islands of expertise and productivity in an ocean of mediocrity. My current profession is to find those eagles and move them into flocks. 

There are a few flocks of eagles in every industry and city. Places where eagles are naturally attracted. Once you know where those places are, it is pretty easy to get an eagle to move to that flock. Some choose to remain the lone eagle among sparrows. I can’t blame them. Besides, they can move to a flock anytime they want.

Just being around eagles makes you grow. You can’t help but want to be like them even if you are just a sparrow. Somehow, you absorb their attitude and habits. Even if you don’t really want to become an eagle, being around them is exhilarating.

So keep your eyes open for flocks of eagles and individual eagles. Find a way to work closely with them. You’ll learn and grow. You’ll find your career is enhanced and your outlook improves whether or not you ever want to become an eagle yourself. 

Something to do today

Ask around. Where is the flock of eagles you would like to work with? Where are the lone eagles?

9 reasons it’s time to leave your job

Other than money, most people have to leave a job because of a major problem. It can be like an arrow wound for some people. This is called a job wound. Money can be the arrow, but it has to be a major problem, not just wanting to leave for 5% higher pay. 

Common job wound in a person’s job search are 

  1. being passed over for promotion, 
  2. a boring job, 
  3. a horrible boss, 
  4. dishonesty around you, 
  5. an abusive environment, 
  6. the company is failing, 
  7. long hours for months on end, 
  8. too much travel, 
  9. or lack of personal growth. 

A job wound is a serious problem. One that can’t be overcome by doing your work a little better. I will always try to find your job wound before I try to place you.  That’s because you are likely to spend a lot of time job hunting, only to stay where you are if you don’t have a painful enough job wound.

Many people will live with a severe job wound for years. A good spouse, friend, or recruiter won’t let you live with a bad job wound. We poke our fingers into the wound to see how deep it is. I use a little rubbing alcohol to help clean it out because it really stings. Then after I know how deep the wound is, I’ll pour in a little salt occasionally. I want someone who is thinking of changing jobs to hurt so bad that they don’t make the same mistake again.

Sometimes you need someone with a vested interest in change to get you to do something about your problems. If you have a severe job wound, it is time for major surgery. You need a job-ectomy.

Something to do today

Show this article to someone who is willing to do some surgery. Ask them to help you probe the size of your job wound. Write down all the details and emotions you bring to the surface. 

Look for a job while still employed

It is absolutely legal and a good idea to look for a new job while you are still employed.  It can also be theft, treason and absolutely illegal.  It depends on how you do it.

There was a running joke at one place I worked.  

“Hey, Jim, this is the fourth day this month you’ve worn a suit.  Are you going to see the dentist again?”

It was obvious when people were interviewing for a new job. None of us minded as long as the person didn’t slack off. 

The principles are simple:

  • Honestly keep earning your income at your current job
  • Don’t give away any company secrets

Here are some things I have noticed about job hunters that I respect:

  • They interview at lunch or during a normal job downtime.
  • They use their own email address or know the company policy on using their work email for personal use.
  • They are careful about who can hear them when talking on the phone.
  • You can’t pry confidential company information out of them.
  • Getting their work done despite looking for a new job is important to them.
  • Sabotaging workplace morale is out of character.

It is pretty simple.  Treat your job, boss and coworkers how you would like to be treated.  Be worth every penny you have been paid and will be paid.  Switching jobs is not a crime unless you make it one.  

Something to do today

Decide what ethical job hunting really is.  Write down some rules.  Live by them.

Why to ask your spouse for guidance in your job search

For 9 years my wife told me, “You can get into that business, but don’t quit your day job.” I was working at EDS. I wanted to start my own company. 

I matured over those years. I learned a little about business and life. I started and failed at a few small part-time businesses. Then one day I said, “I want to leave EDS and start a company.” My wife said, “I think that is the right thing to do.” 

I was surprised, but she was right. It was finally time to make a change. I was finally ready. My wife helped keep me in touch with reality.

Spouses motivated by love and in a spirit of honesty can be great counselors. As a recruiter I have repeatedly seen spouses give counsel that I personally disagreed with. Then later it turned out they were right. I misread employment situations that they saw clearly. The person closest to the candidate knew what my candidate wanted much better than I did. Often a spouse “just knows” when something isn’t a fit. On the other hand, they also are pretty sharp about pressing people to leave a bad situation too.

Value the counsel, hunches, and assertions of the person closest to you. A lot of times it is the best advice you can get.

Something to do today

Have you talked with your spouse and family about your job situation lately? Ask them about quitting, relocation, companies and career paths. You may be surprised at what they really think.

Choosing when to relocate

It was a drop in total pay, but for a $125,000 dollar base salary, my candidate moved to another state. Two years later the company was sold and he pocketed an additional half million in cash. That was a financially successful relocation. The opportunity had been even better than expected.

But they had to deal with finding a new house, moving the girls into a new school, finding a new church and new social group. The first 3 months were very painful. The financial reward was great, but they questioned the decision to move as they tried to settle in. They eventually found a school, neighborhood and social group that was even better than the one they left. At work and at home it was an improvement because there was opportunity for a positive change combined with strength and preparation.

One year he made $500,000 in base salary and commissions. The next year he moved again, to another company….for less money. He moved for opportunity.

What if the money is NOT that good?

Opportunity is what is important in considering whether to move or not. More money alone is not that great of a reason to uproot yourself. The opportunity to live near family or to get away from a disruptive family member is a good reason. It may be worth moving just to be where the economy is more vibrant or stable. Getting into a company with a technical or managerial career ladder that suits you is a great reason to relocate to another state. A lot of people move here to Harrisburg because it is a smaller town with shorter commutes, and there are a lot of outdoor activities 15 minutes away.

You need to figure out the opportunities that are most important for you and your family. Talk about it. For the right opportunity, those high school students may even want to move.  

When to delay a move

Running from a problem may be necessary. If possible, take a little while to fix the underlying cause first, then move. Otherwise you merely take your problems to a new location and they reappear like weeds in a garden.

That may mean admitting you need more training, a better attitude at work, better work habits or to build a stronger family. When you are on the road to fixing underlying problems, then a move can give you a clean slate to start over with. 

Relocate for opportunity. That means YOU need to be ready, really ready, to grow. 

Something to do today

This is a good time to talk to your family or a good friend about what is holding you back. Do you need to have more opportunities for work, your family, or both?

Executives are jumping ship but slowly

Half the executives I talk with every day are keeping their eyes open for a new job. That includes CFO’s, CIO’s, COO’s, Directors, and VP’s at every level. They may not be actively looking, but they want to talk to me. Even CEO’s and Presidents who are not founders are talking to me more.

Senior professionals are more stable

Professional level employees like Senior accountants, engineers, and programmers are less likely to be looking than their bosses. They have their eyes on their projects…on what needs to be done today.

Do you know what gets them to call me? They like working from home and don’t really believe any other employer would let them continue working from home. When their managers say, “You have to start coming into the office 4 days a week now,” they want to talk about a new job.

Regular staff have a foot out the door already

Staff and Junior level professionals are looking. They don’t just have their eyes open, they are checking out the job boards and checking company sites for jobs. These are people working for their company for less than 3 years. There has been a boom of accountants, admins, clerks, and engineers talking to me.

When I call these people about jobs, they want to talk to me in-depth even if they just got a new job.

Shop floor and warehouse workers

Turnover is unbelievable. Leaders at every level say they are being killed by the turnover levels. Staying ahead of the market requires constant diligence.

Something to do today

What are top companies actually doing? What is working from the management and employee sides?

Job search scams to watch out for

A banking jobs website salesman called my partner one day. They have the best, the greatest, the most useful banking jobs website ever. They want us to have all of our candidates put their resumes up on their website. Then any employer can pay a fee, find the resumes, and hire the candidates. There are a whopping 175 resumes in the database. It is useless for anyone to go there. Don’t waste your time putting your resume on that website.

  1. Wasting your time online is the biggest internet job site scam. Many sites sell hope, and not results, ever.

You need to talk to people. Your resume only has one purpose, to get you an interview. If you can call up a company and talk to a real person who might tell you to come in for an interview, that’s the best use of your time.

  1. One other job site scam is the high fee “We’ll help you find a job” website. I have nothing against legitimate resume preparation companies. Someone who helps you prepare for interviews for a fee is fine. Resume rabbit will post your resume on 75 websites for a small fee. Companies that send your resume to 10,000 companies do a service, even if it is mostly useless. The problem is with companies that will charge you $5,000 or $20,000 for those services. Sorry, that’s where I draw the line. So, let me give you some guidelines on top fees you should pay. Paying a fraction of these fees for great service is common. This is the MOST you should pay, ever.
  • Resume preparation: $800
  • Resume posting to job sites $150
  • Interview coaching: $150 per hour
  • Mass resume blasts to employers: a few hundred dollars

Consider the internet a helper in your job search. Your goal is to talk to people who can hire you.

Something to do today

Call a potential employer or recruiter today. Talk to someone.