HOUSTON — “I never thought I would be looking for another job and I certainly didn’t think it would take me as long as it has to find a new one.”
That is a phrase I frequently hear these days. It is a reflection of several factors: business consolidation, tightening job markets, legacy industries facing a digital wave, as well as local economic conditions. Regardless of the cause, it is taking a toll on executives who appear to be suffering an intellectual disconnect between knowing that the job market has changed, and continues to change, and a sort of stubbornness to ignore reality by doing what always worked for them in the past.
The other day a long-time friend called to vent his frustrations with his job search. It had been more than year since he was laid off in a post-merger consolidation. Not only was he not getting many calls from recruiters, but the big dark hole — the corporate web-based applicant submission sites — were just as maddening. “I don’t think I have had one response for 10 or 15 applications I have filed.”
After he ran out of emotional steam, I asked a couple of questions and it didn’t take long to figure out the problem.
Recruiters — the search firms and the in-house headhunters — were not calling my friend because his profile — also known as professional digital footprint — was non-existent. For all practical purposes, my friend did not exist in the world of potential candidates.
When I pointed this out, he continued to diminish the importance of LinkedIn and even his failure to maintain an updated ACHE profile. “I have a good reputation, a good track record. Why should I have to do all this silly stuff?”
You do these things and a lot more because that is how today’s job market works. If you do not create an impressive professional digital footprint, how would anyone know that you can help them solve problems?
I value my friendship — and I wish I was working on a search that matched with his expertise — but I am concerned. His age and attitude are sending him down a pathway to early retirement.
He didn’t like the sound of early retirement. He said he would try to adapt.
© 2017 John Gregory Self
Hello and welcome. I am John Self.
Today, in three parts, information to help you manage your next job search.
We begin with the subject of preparing for your next interview. I have written several blogs posts on this subject over the last six months, but today, drawing on some questions I have received at firstname.lastname@example.org we will offer some specific strategies to help you make a greater impact in your next interview.
Listen up, this is not rocket science stuff but amazingly very few people make the effort.
Throughout my career in executive search, I have found this lack of preparation is one of the most consistent and surprising realities of the talent acquisition process. Most candidates just show up and respond to the questions. They may have read the position overview a couple of times, and some even prepare questions they would like to ask, but that is pretty much the full extent of their interview prep.
I don’t know about you, but this fact seems like an open invitation for motivated candidates who are willing to invest time with research to smartly differentiate themselves from all of those who did little or nothing to prepare.
Preparation is the edge that can make a meaningful difference in a competitive interviewing process.
Here are my recommendations:
Step One: Let’s begin with knowing who you will be interviewing with. It is not enough just to be familiar with the organization and have a summary of the position. A well prepared candidate always wants to know who he or she will be meeting with as well as their scope of responsibility. You can get this information from the recruiter, or the assistant for the executive responsible for initiating the search.
Step Two: Build a profile on as many of the interview team members as possible. Here are some sources to tap for background: in healthcare, look at the ACHE or HFMA membership databases. You can find where they went to graduate school as well as their career progression.
Most other industries have professional societies or accrediting agencies and you can find useful information on these sites.
Step Three: Use LinkedIn. This powerful professional networking platform frequently can provide invaluable information on members of the interview team — sometimes even their photos. You can see their posts which can provide insight into their policy or political interests, as well as a roadmap of their professional connections and how they interconnect with your network. Candidates should leverage their contacts for actionable intelligence. That is perhaps the most important information you can harvest.
Step Four: Don’t ignore Facebook. Not all executives have Facebook pages, but if they do, this can be a treasure trove of personal and family information that can help build a bond of comfort — knowing something about the personal life of an individual who will be interviewing you can instill a level of confidence and comfort.
Finally: Look for other news and information on the Internet. Google and the other search engines can frequently yield information such as news stories about successes, setbacks and even personal characteristics, such as a commitment to civic affairs, community honors or personal accomplishments.
Once you have the information, you can begin to think about how you will use it, and that can be a tricky proposition. When working this into your interactions, you must execute flawlessly. A misstep such as an error in information, mistaking your subject for someone with a similar name, or, more commonly, misunderstanding information, can do harm.
OK, that said, I believe that those risks, while real, can be mitigated by double checking the information with other sources.
Here is another thing to consider. We have all heard the old saying, “It is not necessarily what you say, but how you say it.” In this context, candidates must make the right choices in terms of how they use the information they develop and, in some cases, whether the information should be used at all.
I once heard about a candidate who stubbed both of his toes because he made a bad choice in terms of “how you say it.” Let me explain:
This individual, a CEO candidate, was among the finalists produced by a national search firm. The position overview provided to the candidates was remarkably brief in terms of explaining why the former CEO left the organization.
Here is what really happened: The board was in the midst of a very public conflict over how to deal with key members of the medical staff, all well-known in the community. While they enjoyed great respect from their patients, and by community members for their involvement in civic affairs, behind the scenes at the hospital, they were consistently on verge of committing fraud in some of their business dealings, their behavior with the hospital staff was not always exemplary and when it came to the medical staff by-laws, they liked to cherry pick their pathway to compliance. The hospital CEO, who himself suffered some considerable deficits in his leadership style, was in a state of perpetual conflict with the offending physicians and their supporters on the board.
After one particularly egregious incident of bad behavior involving two the physicians, the CEO issued an emergency suspension of their hospital privileges. That is when the fight broke out amongst board members and, with the help of the physicians and their allies who mobilized their patients with a less than complete explanation of why the two physicians were suspended, the controversy quickly spilled over into the community. That is when Board members, the recipients of numerous daily telephone calls from irate patients and community leaders, decided to act.
Within weeks, the CEO was terminated, and the interim, a long-time executive who had no interest in becoming the permanent CEO, immediately reinstated the doctors and referred the matter to the medical staff for review.
In his interview with the full board, the candidate in question, announced that he had done a lot of research on “the mess with the medical staff.” There had been ample stories in the local newspaper and that, apparently was the sole source of his knowledge. The board members who were upset with the doctors laughed nervously. The physician supporters on the board were not impressed with the candidate’s inelegant statement. In his zeal to impress the board with his understanding of the crisis, he failed to demonstrate that he had the political skills to navigate these types of issues.
That was a mistake from which the candidate would not recover.
I was not a party to this engagement, but I knew the candidate fairly well. After being eliminated, he asked me for advice on what he should have done differently. Here is what I recommended.
First, be very careful. Usually there is much more context to the story than appeared in the newspaper. There are other sources of information. Even if you are certain that you have a balanced understanding of the controversy, how you use information can determine success or failure.
I would have worked in a reference to the controversy in a more indirect way. Try this:
Use the quote from Peter Drucker who famously said that hospitals are the most complex human organizations devised by man.
Then point out that the challenge for boards and their CEOs is to collaboratively work through the inevitable conflicts and controversies in a way that begins and ends with a focus on the mission of the organization. Make the point: As a CEO, I have been very successful in resolving these types of issues. My leadership style is grounded on the fact that, at the end of the day, the Board is responsible for the well-being of the organization. Sympathize that some of the issues hospital boards face are complex and the solutions may require hard choices and then make the closing point with a response like this:
“We have to work together collaboratively to ensure we respect the needs of our stakeholders, including our medical staff, to build a culture that, at all times, fosters respect for employees and ensures that the patients are cared for with an absolute devotion to quality and safety.”
Notice that in this answer, there was no direct reference to their controversy. There was nothing in this response that favored one side over the other. The big takeaway for the Board is that this candidate has had experience and success in dealing with these types of issues.
Even on less controversial matters, a candidate’s answers should focus on the needs of the prospective employer, emphasizing their relevant experience and their quantifiable achievements in dealing those needs.
The candidates who are the most successful in connecting these dots for the potential employer are almost always the ones who have done their homework and who have thought strategically about how they will use this information.
One final note: be creative. A blunt instrument — that is to say unchecked candor — rarely impresses anyone.
I have the greatest job in the world. I occasionally get to see people at their very creative best. But more often that not, I see the other side. People will say and do things that not only hurt their brand but, in job interviews, then shoot themselves in the foot.
So today, here is my current list of “Why Would You” questions. Believe me, it is an ever evolving list.
Why would you submit the same resume for every job you pursue when all of your competitors are doing the same thing? Differentiate your candidacy by customizing your message to address the specific needs of the prospective employer.
Why would you submit a resume that does not include your address and current contact information including your email and LinkedIn URL profile? Make it easy for researchers to immediately contact you. Using active links makes it that much easier. If I do not see an address, I am going to ask why they did not include it. It triggers suspicion. Do not make a recruiter ask questions they don’t need to ask.
Why would you submit a functional resume? Most recruiters I know say, and this is based on real experience, that candidates who use functional resumes are usually trying to hide employment gaps and short tenures. Why do you want to create an impression you have something to hide?
Why would you omit short job tenures from your resume? Well, here, I know why but know this: a deep background investigation will reveal all of your prior employments, long or short. The good recruiters are going to find out. If you are asked about a short tenure in an interview, own it with a well thought out answer. Do not embarrass yourself by thinking you can omit that short employment event. More and more recruiters are now using investigators to conduct in-depth background checks. Bad things happen to good people. If you are prepared for the interviews, this need not be a liability.
Why would you not give me a stellar reason to hire you? The recruitment process can be broken down into two phases: the initial screening and the final screening. In the initial screening, there are typically more candidates than can be reasonably accommodated for the more in-depth screening phase.
To be honest, in the initial screening phase, recruiters are working hard to eliminate candidates to get the panel down to a manageable number. If your resume is not stellar, targeted to the needs of the client, you elevate your risk for elimination. If you are not prepared for the dicey telephone screening interview, you increase your risk for being eliminated. When you are invited to meet the recruiter, a crucial phase of the search process, if you are not prepared and focused on how your can add value for their client, you multiply the risks for being eliminated. When you meet the client, you need to close the deal. Now this assumes you have the good sense to drop out of a search in which you have a diminishing interest.
By the time you are invited to meet with the client, the interest is real. The client may have questions about you, but at this stage, everyone is looking for a reason to hire you. Give them one!
So remember, the first phase of the search process is almost adversarial. It is all about eliminating potentially weak candidates. The second half is hopeful. The recruiter, the client is looking for a reason to be excited about you, to want to hire you. Your job as a candidate is to give them a reason. Close the deal!
On Wednesday, March 29, my colleague Nancy Swain and I will give a presentation on interview skills to the American College of Healthcare Executives Congress in Chicago. If you are in healthcare and plan to attend to the Congress, I want to encourage you to enroll in this complimentary course. I guarantee you we will make it worth your while. We will add sustainable value to your career management efforts.
If you are not in the healthcare industry, no problems. Our information is applicable across all industrial sectors.
If you would like information regarding our presentation, email me at email@example.com. We will make our presentation available following the conference. By the way, if you are looking for an outplacement consultant, let me recommend our Nancy Swain. She is one of the best in the nation. Her expertise crosses all industries. She can energize your job search in ways you never thought possible.
If you would like me to share this information with your professional association in a workshop or presentation, contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org. I guarantee you we will make career management a topic that will thoroughly engage your audience.
Join me next Wednesday for another episode of Self Perspective, the podcast. Remember our regular blog posts appear on Tuesday and Thursday at JohnGSelf.Com. And now, on Saturdays, check out our TV career management channel on YouTube. Please subscribe.
As we close remember this:
Great leadership is built on trust, not on politics. The foundation for leadership is truth.
© 2017 John Gregory Self
“They are on a plan,” as in a performance improvement plan.
When we hear that phrase we typically assume that an employee’s performance hasn’t been up to snuff. “The plan” was developed by a supervisor to document what the employee must do to continue in their job, or to avoid termination. Being on a performance plan has decidedly negative implications. It is frequently seen as part of a process leading up to termination if they do not meet targets.
But that context is beginning to shift. In some organizations with a culture that is deeply rooted in employee engagement, executives, mangers, supervisors and hourly workers are being encouraged to proactively develop their own performance improvement plans, but not because they are not passing muster. Hardly. In fact, the reverse is true. It is all about pushing to move from good to great. When the top performers in a company announce that they have developed their own professional development plan, that sends a powerful message to everyone else.
Do not confuse these personal development plans with an organization’s business plan targets. No, these personal development plans are about seeking input from their boss, their peers, and their subordinates regarding those areas that colleagues see as either weaknesses or more broadly, areas where improvement would benefit the team. These suggestions include these types of general categories:
These categories are worthy because they support building a more engaged, respectful relationship with colleagues at all levels. And the idea of demonstrating a commitment to personal performance improvement, especially when you ask team members for their advice, is a powerful demonstration, but it is not without its risks. If you “fall off the wagon” so the speak — if you get busy with your established routines and forget to make the effort every day — then any value you hoped to achieve will be lost and your lack of commitment will affect morale.
I recently interviewed a senior executive who said that when he decided to create his own performance plan, his boss was skeptical and anxious. “I think he was concerned the idea would catch on and he might get sucked into the process,” the executive explained. “When I asked members of my team — direct reports and those with whom I worked on a daily basis, they thought I was bats**t crazy. Then I had a tough time convincing them that I would not bite their head off if they suggested some improvements I did not like. It took some time but finally I got them to trust me. I think they were amazed that their boss valued their opinion enough to seek their help. But what blew their collective minds is that I asked them to hold me accountable for actually improving.”
“This has been one of the best decisions I have ever made,” the executive explained. “Now I do it twice a year. Some of the items are carried over but I take this very seriously.”
Now here is the amazing part, other members of the team launched their own personal performance plans. What started off as a personal effort by one executive is sweeping through the C-suite. “When they saw how my team’s performance improved across all dimensions, from improvements in revenue, a sustainable reduction in costs and improved satisfaction scores, they decided that I wasn’t so crazy after all.”
If your goal is to improve your personal performance as well as advance in your career, this might be a strategy worth considering.
© 2017 John Gregory Self