Editor’s Note: John is with a client today. This post appeared earlier this year. One of the questions most frequently asked by candidates is how they can be a more effective communicator. This post provides insight into one part of the equation.
Good storytelling is an art. A story well told engages the listener, or the reader, and helps them connect with an idea, a vision or a goal.
In my 20 plus years of executive search, tracking the most common characteristics shared by successful candidates, I have learned that, aside from the core competencies, the skill of storytelling — effectively communicating ideas, a vision and/or values — is a defining factor. The qualified candidates who did the best job communicating their value proposition and how that would benefit the employer, were more likely to be hired over the better qualified individual who were not as effective as a communicator.
This begs the question, how does one become an effective storyteller, not a BS artist who plays fast and loose with the truth, but a good communicator.
First, a little personal perspective. One of the compliments that I value the most is when people say that I am a great storyteller. True, I have a lot of stories, but the size of the “catalog” is not as important as how and when the stories are told. This rule certainly applies to job seekers.
Most executives are brimming with experience, successes, failures and important lessons learned. Unfortunately, too many candidates fail to take advantage of these experiences to weave a compelling reason to be the person who is hired.
Being an effective storyteller begins with being self-aware — to be cognizant of your strengths and weaknesses and then to be able to think how those categories can be leveraged to emphasize the good things, and to show how those not so good qualities and missteps are also part of who you are — important elements of your character and maturity as an effective leader.
To deny you have professional shortcomings is to keep you from becoming a confident, self-aware communicator.
Storytelling in the job search begins with your self assessment. It is supported by the Value Proposition, your resume, and is all about developing a positive story by providing successes with quantifiable proof that you are, in fact, that good. However, too often candidates just write bland words/sentences about their experience without communicating their real power of their accomplishments. They fail to mention that their current and/or previous employers were recognized for performance, innovation or for market leadership, for example. Their scope of responsibility descriptions associated with their job title often fail to capture the magnitude of their responsibility and their achievements.
In interviews, they tend to speak in the language of this is where I worked, this is what I was responsible for, but even when they talk about accomplishments they mirror the resume — very few provide focused evidence-based examples. By the way, using percentages without a baseline number to frame the value is not helpful.
There are times when I feel the candidates waited for our interview to begin before giving any thought to the need for being prepared.
As a recruiter you sense there are some nuggets of success buried in their explanations but they frequently fall short. If only the candidate would seize the moment.
Writers and storytellers will attest that a good story rarely flows extemporaneously. For every one that does, there are nine that do not. It takes research and preparation. A lot of preparation.
The research includes baking in the information that your references provide. As I wrote on Monday, references can be an invaluable resource for strengthening your story. But this process also requires that you think purposefully about the needs of the prospective employer — their challenges and performance expectations — and having well planned examples for experience and performance to reinforce that you are the right person for the job.
So many candidates fall short. Sometimes, as I listen, I can’t help thinking of Clint Eastwood’s grant line in one of the Dirty Harry movies: Make my day.
Recruiters are looking for a reason to hire you. Become a better storyteller.
Give them one.
© 2016 John Gregory Self
Today John is following up on Wednesday’s blog post, When Outplacement Becomes A Guilt Payment. In today’s podcast, John argues that companies which invest heavily in hiring the right people but then scrimp on outplacement costs, are making a big mistake. They are hurting their recruiting brand.
The secret is not the amount of money spent on outplacement, but the quality of the firm — their industry-specific experience and their commitment to the departing executive’s future success.
© 2016 John Gregory Self
LITTLE ROCK — I like clothes, I value a good merchant and I appreciate a beautiful, well designed store. But even though I have more than 20 years of executive search experience, I am not qualified to lead a search for the CEO of a national retail clothier.
Why? I believe I am an excellent recruiter. I will put my process and track record against anyone but I should not be on point to find the next Chief Executive Officer of this or that clothing chain because I lack the industry experience. Search consultants with experience in retail, those who know the top players in the sector, will do a much, much better job.
Just as a retail clothing chain would not hire a consultant who specializes in healthcare, so a health system should not hire a firm that specializes in identifying and recruiting college athletic directors and football coaches to find a new President for their flagship hospital. Sports people may think they know healthcare but they do not know the top players. It is just not their sweet spot.
So why do hospitals hire outplacement firms and consultants some of which recognize a hospital only two out of three times?
They are not doing their departing executives any favors. Hospitals that force their former executives and managers to a certain national “name” brand to achieve a “volume discount” even though they lack depth and breadth of healthcare industry knowledge, are sending a terrible message: get out, we’ve arranged for outplacement support even though the people you will be working with probably do not know much about our industry or the of specific kind of information and help will really work for you. We’ve done our part, here is your box to pack your possessions.
Here is a case in point. You may think this is a little thing but I do not. And it is most assuredly not an isolated example. A national health system in the Midwest sent a departing executive to a national firm with which they had an outplacement agreement that is not known for their experience in the healthcare services space. The firm designed a multi-colored resume that did NOT include the fact that their client was a Fellow in the American College of Healthcare Executives (FACHE). In our particular search the requirements listed the FACHE “strongly preferred” credential. The outplacement consultant, unfamiliar with healthcare, buried it at the bottom under a category called memberships and associations, three or four entries down.
Now here is the sad part. After his name, instead of FACHE, they added MBA. They thought that was more important. Wrong. You are not supposed to list a master’s degree after your name unless it is a terminal degree in a field of study. An MBA is certainly not a terminal degree in healthcare. His resume was almost put aside during the first resume desk review because it seemed he lacked the Fellowship credential.
Moreover, the outplacement firm’s expertise on social media included mentioning there was something called LinkedIn but offered no guidance on strategy. The candidate said this was not all the outplacement consultant from this national, prestigious transition agency did NOT know. The candidate is now reworking his own resume to emphasize his value proposition.
So much for all the good value he got from his former health system’s designated outplacement provider. Clearly that health system thought their meant they should use a big national outplacement firm, that the size of that company and quality they claimed to deliver were the same thing.
Clearly they were not.
Candidates should demand the right to select their outplacement firm. The firm should meet certain standards of experience, they should, at a minimum, be able to demonstrate that they have a track record and, finally, that they have a deep understanding of, and experience in, the field they are representing.
In this case, the System’s $7,000 payment amounted to little more than guilt money for all the good it did their former employee.
Graphic Credit: Shutterstock
© 2016 John Gregory Self