How to quickly blow a great opportunity

January 2nd, 2017 by Sherri Edwards in Business, Individual

If you have cultivated the belief that only the “lucky” people get the best jobs, please consider how much power you have given up and the amount of time you have wasted by believing that getting a good job is out of your control. I’m not disputing the fact that it may be more of a case of who you know than what you know, but believing that all you need is that “big break” is missing the mark. Even the best opportunities can result in a big goose egg if the people pursuing them take their relationships for granted or assume that an introduction is all that is needed.

Your connections may facilitate your leapfrogging over other candidates, but all of their praise will not substitute for your being able to articulate your value…

jan-2017-blog-a-great-opportunity-photo-by-fantasista-by-freedigitalphotosThere is considerable work to be done, even when you do know the right people. It is still critical to make sure you show up as the most qualified, likely to fit with the team, excited and invested candidate an organization considers, regardless of how you get there. Your connections may facilitate your leapfrogging over other candidates, but all of their praise will not compensate for your being unable to articulate your value or live up to the hype that came before your meeting with the hiring team.

It is striking to me how many people still believe that all they need is “to get an interview,” with little thought of their need for preparation. The mindset that all a person needs is a fancy resume to get in front of someone and the rest of the interview process will be a wrap, sadly, still exists. To my frustration, I regularly receive after-hours emails with this request: “I have an interview tomorrow morning. Can you send me some tips?” This out-of-touch belief that getting in front of a hiring manager and ad-libbing your way through the interview process will work is as outdated as dial phones and decidedly less effective.

Maybe this analogy would help: You have always dreamed of travelling by car across country to visit historical sites. It’s the first of July and you’ve suddenly been granted three weeks of paid time off beginning the following week. Would you wait until after you start your 6,000-mile road trip to check your tires and oil, water and antifreeze levels? Would you leave without a map or a plan of what you want to see?

jan-2017-blog-a-great-opportunity-photo-by-stuart-miles-by-freedigital-photosThis may sound foolish, but not more so than accepting a referral to the hiring manager for your targeted position at your organization of choice without having prepared for the impending conversation. Regardless of how many praises were sung on your behalf, you will still be required to relate your knowledge of the organization and its mission, illustrate your value using examples of your relatable experience and explain why you left your last job or why you are changing industries/roles/directions, if that is the case. Conversations about all of these points require thoughtful preparation and are unlikely to be handled successfully if you’ve waited until the night before to think about them.

It could be your dream job, which you exactly match, leveraged by a referral from your best friend who is the brother/sister/cousin of the hiring manager — and all of this could become moot in minutes if you show up ill prepared. In addition to blowing the opportunity, you run the risk of harming the reputation of the person who referred you and burning a bridge with someone who may be very important to you. If you are wondering who would do that, I’m here to tell you that I see it every week and can only shake my head in disbelief. To avoid experiencing a less than favorable outcome, make sure you do the most you can to research, prepare and practice in advance of asking for a referral of any kind. Make sure you are ready to shine and are representing your contact well. Showing up as the “perfect fit” for the opportunity in question is a win-win for everyone.

There really isn’t a magic pill for an effective job search

April 1st, 2016 by Sherri Edwards in Business, Individual

Sometimes people come to me with unrealistic expectations. It’s not unusual for people to believe a career coach will “get them a job,” just as many people assume a recruiter will “get them a job.” In each case, their expectations are hopeful but unrealistic.

As a career coach, I can help someone develop a strategy for getting a job, assist with creating all the tools required and guide their preparation. I can also help people navigate tough situations in a way that will allow them to keep their job or move in a new direction. And sometimes it really is possible to connect candidates with employers that are in need. But, overall, there is nothing I (or anyone else) can ever do to guarantee that someone will get a job, unless the person is enlisting in the military. As much as I wish it were so, there just isn’t a magic pill I can give someone to solve their employment concerns.

If a career coach can’t make that promise, then a recruiter can, right? No, sorry, not them either. Recruiters are paid by a company to find talent. They might reach out to candidates when they are representing a client company that is in need, but they are not in the business of finding jobs for candidates. In the old days, as a recruiter I marketed great candidates to employers I had close relationships with and was often successful in facilitating an unsolicited match that worked out for everyone.

Things have changed quite a bit, and the exchanges are less personal. When someone’s skills are common or the market they work in is one that everyone else on the planet wants to work in, those ordinary – even highly talented – people aren’t going to be able to rely on a recruiter to “find them a job.” In this market, unless someone has incredibly unique or in-demand skills, a recruiter is not going to give them the time of day unless they have an immediate need or anticipate one coming up. And even then, a recruiter cannot guarantee that the employer will love the candidate or that the candidate will love the role that comes up. Only the candidate can go to the interview and actually influence the interaction that takes place between them and the employer.

the easy way is typically a quick or short-term fix and is not necessarily the sustainable or long-term solution

No matter how attractive it might seem to just call someone and ask them to do it for you, there isn’t  a special button to push or a pill to take that will remove the need to research what you are getting into and prepare you for your interaction with the employer. Nurse with Pills by nattavut 2016 AprilEven when it seems like there is an easy way, the easy way is typically a quick or short-term fix and is not necessarily the sustainable or long-term solution. An attractive resume or LinkedIn profile may attract employers, but there is never a guarantee that whoever calls on you has your best interests in mind or that you will be prepared to have an intelligent conversation should they contact you out of the blue. The promise of a “catchy” resume or profile cannot make up for the market/industry/role research that is needed before someone can make a long-lasting good impression or a good decision.

The good news is that there are more jobs now. Many of the people who were underemployed throughout the long recession are moving up and out. That doesn’t mean that the great jobs are easy to find or get. People who have stayed connected with their networks and stayed on top of industry trends are moving into roles they have spent time positioning themselves for. The less desirable roles are left for those who have been waiting to climb on the bandwagon, hoping for a break when the economy turned around.

If you have been sending out hundreds of resumes, posted on ten job boards and are still not working in a role that makes sense for you, then consider taking a different approach. Stop doing the same thing over and over again, expecting different results. Start doing your research and connect with your network to learn about unpublished opportunities. Find out what employers want before they post. Don’t wait for a magic pill.

Is your ego bigger than a 5th grader’s?

December 1st, 2015 by Sherri Edwards in Business, Individual

The fearlessness expressed by a very young person with limited life experience can be viewed as innocence. It’s very different from an adult’s fearlessness or refusal to face reality if their viewpoint is based on arrogance. When an adult refuses to look around them and consider taking action based on market conditions, their ability to compete and their unmet commitments, it is probably safe to say that arrogance is driving them to make bad choices. Big egos and dreams of what used to be can dim the prospects of even the brightest stars.

Big egos and dreams of what used to be can dim the prospects of even the brightest stars.

It’s still a surprise to me when people who have been unemployed for months – maybe years – are still so concerned about titles that they’ll pass over opportunities to get back on their feet. Even when spending their last nickel, there is hesitancy to proceed with a lifeline (job) because of the consideration given to a title and a salary that are less than what they were accustomed to, no matter how long ago that might have been. OK, I understand that pride sometimes keeps people from doing work they consider as “beneath” them, but when their financial situation is grave, shouldn’t just plain common sense tell you that having a paycheck and saving your home or maintaining your family’s health insurance should be a priority? It’s times like this that a 5th grader’s unclouded perspective might simply lead us to “It’s a job and you need money. Why wouldn’t you go for it?” An answer lies somewhere in between.

Blog_Dec_2015-Wrong directionWaiting for a high-powered role with a huge income to miraculously appear after years of unemployment may cause repercussions that cannot be remedied. Some people have spent years hiding behind the title of “consultant,” pretending they are still performing work at the level they were 10 years ago. This approach can end up backfiring if you are unable to provide examples of the projects you have been working on. Credibility can be lost and bridges burned that otherwise could have led to some work that could possibly mitigate the financial issues.

Easing back into work in a lesser position after an extended absence allows you to get accustomed to the rigors of a schedule and shake the rust off. As an example, recently, when a client was preparing for an interview for a lower-level role than he had been accustomed to, he told me he hadn’t ever interviewed for something “beneath” him. Given the need to have structure, manageable work and an income, I suggested reframing the situation by viewing this as an opportunity to interview for something that required less than 100% of what he had to offer. Giving less (even with less pay) can fulfill some basic needs, like having a steady income and working regular hours close to home. If the job requires only 50% of your brain and 75% of your time, you can maximize your energy and time to focus on something more interesting outside of the job. And, if the role is the gateway to something bigger down the road, there’s no need to shoot yourself in the foot by overspeaking the role or referencing it as something that is “beneath” you.

Being the exact fit for the needs of the role allows you to get back on the horse because a door has been opened. If there is opportunity to grow, then you’ve positioned yourself to prove just how much you can contribute and set yourself up for a reason to negotiate more money later. Too much too soon can miss the mark because there may not be a budget for more now and they have not been able to experience your value.

Someone’s somewhat skewed view of their current circumstances doesn’t deter me from working with them to help them move forward. It’s my job to help them view things differently, develop a strategy and create a plan to achieve their goals. Any employer will want to see evidence of what a candidate has been doing. Without it, a candidate is probably not going to land back in the driver’s seat in a role similar to what they left 10 years earlier. I’m not saying it could never happen, but from my 20 years of experience, for most people who take an extended hiatus without working on projects related to what they used to do (paid or as a volunteer), it’s highly unlikely they’ll be considered for the same role/level that they left behind years before.

The real prize role may not happen immediately, but we can certainly develop a plan for getting back on top within a reasonable amount of time. Sometimes it is hard to see beyond our own self-image. The role that feels like an insult to our ego may just be the right opportunity to begin getting back on track.

Sometimes you need to step back to get ahead

May 1st, 2015 by Sherri Edwards in Business, Individual

It happens all the time. A candidate has 8–10 years of experience doing something and wants to change into an entirely new role and new field. The requirements to compete for a senior-level role in the new arena are extremely high and impossible to match when there is no specific evidence of performance in the same function. Although the circumstances may seem the same, being capable and being competitive are two entirely different issues. Imagine a pole vault: you wouldn’t walk up to it and expect to be able to leap over it. You would come from behind with a running start and make a leap. Sometimes it is simply necessary to step back to jump over.

Being told you are overqualified may boost your ego, but it does not pay the bills.

One of the pitfalls of stepping back is being perceived as overqualified. If you are thinking about changing directions, then avoid falling into the “overqualified” trap by working on being the “best qualified.” Set yourself up with a strategy that will let you get your foot in the door in a position that provides the opportunity to show them what you can do. Start with a resume that exactly matches the employer’s needs so that it is much more likely to fall into the “yes” pile. Overshooting a role with a highfalutin resume may miss the mark entirely. It often indicates you won’t want to do the job they need to have done.

When your resume with the “exact” fit works and you get their call, stay true to the plan. If they contact you, then they thought you were viable or they wouldn’t have wasted their time. Make sure you address their needs and avoid sabotaging yourself with stories that show much broader scope or higher responsibility. You may have many stories about accomplishments that could be impressive but may be irrelevant. Be careful not to assume that “more is better.” Over talking a role will lead people to believe that you will get “bored.”

Another issue with an entry-level role is that it may have significant administrative functions that you are not familiar with. If these functions are critical to the work needed, then you must be able to perform. To be offered the opportunity to get your foot in the door, you must be able to demonstrate competence. Don’t get trapped in a conversation that leads you into how much you know about everything else in general, when you are not actually capable of doing what is needed. If you are technically challenged, this needs to be addressed long before you show up for an interview. If a role requires adaptability and proficiency with technology, you can’t expect an employer to train you or provide an assistant to do the work.

If you get through the initial screening interview, congratulations! But you are not yet in the clear. As you head into an in-person interview, don’t lose sight of your strategy. The person conducting the screening may have made assumptions. They may have been so excited about what you talked about that they may have missed the “details” about the actual functions of the job. (Interestingly enough, this happens from the other end of the spectrum, too. Under qualified candidates may get through a screening interview, yet, when faced with the tough questions from a hiring manager, are exposed for what they really don’t know. I’ll address that another time.) Make sure you are very clear about what the job entails, be able to show examples of work that indicate you can do it and that you are excited about getting started!

Once you are facing a hiring manager, you may be put through the wringer about whether you are certain you know what you are getting into. They may even test you by saying “I think you are overqualified.” Or “I think you will get bored.” overqualified.May.2015.BlogThat doesn’t mean they wouldn’t hire you. It also doesn’t mean you have to agree with how bored you would be. It’s a test to see if you are willing to do what they need. If they lead with the “overqualified” statement, then smile and act pleased. Respond with “I’m so glad you think so! I think I am best qualified!” Then tell them why you can do what they need and how your experience can help you be faster in catching on, followed by how excited you are about working with them as you grow in this new direction. If you get all the way through this phase and are rejected with “we really think you will get bored,” then you were probably not personally sold on doing the job before you went in to speak with them.

This strategy can work for people who are simply scaling back or have been laid off and need to begin again in a lesser role. Once you become clear about your strategy and leave your ego at the door, it is possible to step back, to move forward. Although the market is decidedly better than it was a few years ago, there are still people trying to get back on their feet. Desperation is unattractive. Getting really clear internally about why you need a particular role and then expressing to an employer why you will be of value to the company can make the difference between being offered the opportunity or not. You cannot turn down something that has not been offered. Being overqualified may feel good for a minute, but being unemployed and stuck without a paycheck can get old really fast.

Interviewing is not all about you

February 2nd, 2015 by Sherri Edwards in Business, Individual

It is surprising that many people still rely on their resume to tell their story for them and spend little time preparing for an interview. The old-school thinking that “the resume will get me in the door and, once there, I’ll wing it” is no longer effective.

Preparing your answers for the most frequently asked interview questions is a good start, but if you don’t know the context of the role you are vying for, or are unaware of the real needs of the employer, you still won’t make it to the final rounds. Context of a role can cover reporting structure, specific deliverables and how this role contributes to the organization’s mission. It also includes team dynamics, functionality and communication styles; potential partnering teams or collaborative relationships; and anticipated work hours/schedules. Overall, you are looking for what you need to produce, how it impacts the success of the organization, and whom you will be working with and how.

Applying for posted positions without knowing the context can put you at a disadvantage during an interview and, more importantly, when you actually accept the offer and begin the position. Job postings can be limited and sometimes completely inaccurate. It’s not uncommon for HR and/or recruiters to “borrow” descriptions of other “similar” positions they are attempting to fill in their haste to get them posted. Conversations with the hiring managers to learn more about their real or actual needs may not have taken place before the post goes live. For everyone involved, it’s critical to know what the REAL expectations are for the role and why the requested skills and experience are important (and sometimes they aren’t). The candidate will stand a greater chance of being selected (and being happy) if they completely understand the actual functions of the role, which may be beyond/different than the posted required qualifications.

Many times a candidate passes an initial screening because they have added the right key words to their resume and they sounded good on the phone. The screener may be unaware of the actual context of the role or how critical skills may be necessary to get the job done. All too often candidates say that they can “learn” key functions without recognizing how much time it could take to train them or how the training would be accomplished. Now, I don’t mean that you should not reach for something when you aren’t a 100% match, but I do recommend that, if you fall short in any way, you need to completely understand the functions of the role, the expected outcomes and how any shortcomings will impact the results the employer needs. If the missing 20% ends up reflecting critical baseline functions, then everyone needs to be aware of how much it would take to get you up to speed. You need to think through whether it is even practical to expect the employer to invest the time and effort on a new employee to teach them a basic function of a role they need to fill right now.

The flip side of that is that it is also common that posted requirements or qualifications are only minimally relevant to the functions of a role. The screener may completely overlook very relevant experience or skills because the words they are looking for are different than what they see in someone’s resume. Once again, without understanding the context of the role or the actual functions, transferable skills can be completely missed. In these cases, even prepared answers to the usual interview questions will fall flat if the candidate’s description of their prior work is not exactly translated into how that experience matches the new employer’s needs. To do that effectively, you need to know exactly what the employer does/produces, how this role supports their mission and what it takes to get that job done. A posted job description may cover only the bare minimum of this information. If you have already applied for a job, a call for an interview could come immediately. Waiting until after you apply to learn more may be too late.

If you are now thinking, “how in the world can I find out what they really need if I have only a job posting?” The answer is pretty simple. The key to knowing what an employer needs is to learn first about the industry, then as much as possible about the actual employer through conversations with actual employees or people who work for competitors and finally as much as you can about the role by talking with people in the same department – before you apply. A proactive search (targeting and researching organizations) started long in advance of applying typically produces more satisfying results than a passive search (only applying to posted positions). Internet research can produce a considerable amount of relevant information to start. Yet it is learning from real people who actually do the work you will be doing or others already working in a company or their former employees that will help you to know and understand what you would really be signing on to.

Blog-interviewingwoman-in-crowd-of-people_web_Feb2015Fully understanding what an organization needs and wants will help you to be realistic about whether you are qualified for a position or a fit with the organization’s culture. Simply wanting the job (or the money it reflects) is not enough. Knowing who else is in the market, which skills are in greatest demand and the amount of talent available to an employer will help you understand whether you are competitive or if pursuing a role is worth your time.

There are many ways to help ensure your next interview results in an offer. Overall, it requires research and preparation. It all comes down to how much time you are willing to invest up front to get the results you desire in the end.

Size Does Matter

January 1st, 2015 by Sherri Edwards in Business, Individual

Titles don’t necessarily reflect the same level of responsibility, nor do they mean the same thing across industries. The context of the positions you have held does/should make a difference to someone who is determining if you are a fit or not. More experience in one area doesn’t necessarily make up for a shortcoming in another. The following considerations need to be taken into account when filling a role, from the candidate’s perspective pursuing it as well as the employer’s perspective in setting realistic expectations for the new employee.

Large vs. small. Size does matter. In a large organization, a candidate’s level of responsibility is often greater than someone with the same or even higher-level title in a smaller organization. The evidence can be recognized by the number of reports they had and the size of budget they managed. As an example, a “manager” of a department of 50 could easily have more advanced skills/deeper experience than a “director” with only two reports and a smaller budget.

Multiple hats vs. specialized. The context of a candidate’s role in regard to the breadth of the responsibilities covered and how many people are impacted can also make a difference. In a small organization, a person could easily cover many areas that in a larger organization are covered by separate people or departments. As an example, in human resources, a “manager” in a small company may handle general issues related to benefits and compensation, some recruiting and some training, but the functions of managing benefits programs, payroll, recruiting or training materials development may be functions that are actually outsourced. In a large company, a manager of human resources may have separate staff for recruiting, benefits and payroll, and training could be handled by an entirely separate department.

Broad vs. deep. As I previously described, the actual functional areas a person covers can vary dramatically in many sectors. In accounting and finance, the role of “finance manager” can mean very different things. A small company may have a “controller” who handles everything from A/R, A/P and journal entries to payroll and taxes. In a large company, a “finance manager” could be someone who analyzes a very specific area of business to determine how to reduce costs or streamline operations. The skills of a “controller” in a small company, does not necessarily trump the skills or expertise of a “finance manager” in a larger company.

Blog_SizeMatters_Jan2015Senior vs. junior (years or skill level?). It’s interesting to see how the word “senior” added to a title reflects different years/levels of experience in different industries. There are some marketing roles that include “senior” and indicate the role requires 3 to 4 years of experience, where in many other sectors, 3 to 4 years of experience would be considered junior. Senior-level project managers can reflect anywhere from 5 to 15 years of experience, depending on their subject matter or project deliverables. In science, using “senior” may reflect 20+ years of experience for someone with an undergraduate degree, yet someone with a PhD and 8 years of experience may qualify for a “director-” level role (higher than senior scientist) that the “senior” with 20 years of experience will not be competitive for.

The examples I have described were intended to serve as a means of comparison and not absolutes. The point is to illustrate why titles do not necessarily reflect value to any given audience or employer. It is critical for candidates and employers to ask sound questions of each other. From the candidate’s perspective, being successful in a new role can pivot on whether you fully comprehend what is really expected of you. Asking enough questions in advance to learn what the employer’s expectations are will help set you up for success. From the employer’s perspective, it is critical to ask questions that require a candidate to articulate experiences that truly illustrate they can produce what you need. Understanding the context of what you’re getting or what is needed is critical to the success of the relationship.

Be clear about your goals before you interview

December 1st, 2014 by Sherri Edwards in Business, Individual

Even though times are tough, asking for a job because you are desperate is not a good look. Employers need convincing evidence for investing time and money in you. This requires knowledge of the company and considerable preparation before you speak with them. The old days of winging your way through an interview are long gone. But first, you need to know why you want the job you are pursuing and how it fits into your life plan.

You may be unemployed and in dire need of an income, but that’s not compelling enough for the employer to choose you. The first step is to articulate your value to the employer in a way that allows them to believe they are making a good decision in hiring you. It doesn’t necessarily mean you divulge your long-term goals. It simply means you need to be clear about your value to them (now) and why this role and their company is a perfect fit. (Again, that is, right NOW!)

This isn’t to say you have to accept the job and expect to stay forever. But not just ANY job will do. If you do have something else in mind, it is critical to gain internal clarity about how you can get there from here. Thinking through this scenario requires some long-term planning and also some flexibility to be able to adapt to changing circumstances. Waiting around until your dream job appears is probably what led you to the desperate state you are in right now. It’s not necessary to know every detail going in, any more than it is necessary to throw out your dream. It is critical for you to understand how and why the job you are interviewing for plays into the scheme of things.

If you are clear about the connection between your short-term goals and your long-term goals, you can begin to prepare answers to typically asked interview questions that do not overshoot the position at hand. It’s been my observation that all too many times a candidate “oversells” themselves by responding to interview questions as if the context of the immediate role is the same as the one they think they want down the road or the higher-level one they have just left. If your answers sound “too big” or suggest that you really see yourself in a different role or different place, you won’t be considered further for the role in front of you. interview-Dec2014 BlogA typical response from the employer is “we are selecting someone else because we think you will get bored in this role” or “we think you are overqualified.” Now, if they received your resume and summoned you for an interview, they weren’t opposed to considering you then, so it stands to reason that something you said in the interview changed their mind.

The key is in understanding and embracing why you might need to begin at a lower level to move in the direction of your goals. The more you own your plan, the more convincing you will be to the employer. When you state how much you want to work for them and want to serve in this role, it will be true — at that moment. An employer can’t guarantee a lifetime job or even long-term employment, so why should you? You can offer them the benefit of work well done and two weeks’ notice when it is time to leave. The reality is that they’ll get at least a year out of you, which may be more than the person who really doesn’t have a plan and ends up chasing a higher dollar without thinking two months into a job.

Another misstep provoked by someone being unclear about their goals is accepting a role just because of the money. It isn’t unusual for someone to grab the first paying gig that comes along, without much more thought than getting their bills paid. The problem with that thinking is that as soon as you get to work and get settled into a routine, you may realize you absolutely hate the work or that it has nothing to do with where you want to end up. Without planning ahead to see how a particular experience connects with what you would want to do, you could end up abruptly quitting or being terminated and be further away from what you want to do than you were before you started.

Taking a passive approach and waiting until opportunities “show up” can lead you off track or just plain leave you empty handed altogether. Overall, it behooves you to take a good hard look at what you want and what is most important in your life, and then craft a plan to get there.

Communicating for Results: Avoiding Miscommunications and Unnecessary Conflict

September 1st, 2013 by Sherri Edwards in Business, Individual

Even with the best intentions, there are still times when our communications (or our failure to communicate) end up leading us down the wrong path. When this takes place, it is necessary to restate, repair or recover from a misstep or misstatement. We waste even more time sorting out the damage than we hoped to have avoided if we had dealt with something using thoughtfulness and careful attention the first time around.

If you have waited too long (or failed altogether) to respond to an important call/email/letter, then there is likely to be some fence-mending in order. The failure to get the results you wanted may be more about the timing of your request or response than the actual wording. The lack of responsiveness when a person is job hunting, searching for candidates or developing new business can end up being a bigger nail in the coffin than an actual message.

Along the same lines, leaving a 10-minute voice mail for a recruiter, candidate or sales prospect when you have been out of touch is likely to put them off completely. It’s critical to respond in a timely way, using the right tools, while also being cognizant of your audience’s needs. Now that the job market is softening up, recruiters/employers are going to have a tougher job filling less interesting roles. It might be the time to reconsider ignoring candidates’ calls or emails and be more conscientious about developing relationships with clearer communications.

Here are several remedies that would help prevent or eliminate unnecessary miscommunications:

Acknowledge. Respond to all communications that include a question, information you requested or any content that leaves you unsure of what the other person needed/wanted. A one-sided conversation can lead to greater issues. A non-response doesn’t necessarily equate to “no” or “I’m not interested.” To the person initiating the message, not receiving a response when feedback is requested can also mean “they must not have received it,” which leads to a redundant request. A non-response can also suggest “this person is pretty rude” or “this person thinks they’re more important than I am” or “this person is much too busy to be bothered, so I don’t think I’ll send a referral/lead/tip/invitation their way again.”

Request clarification. Staying in the dark or making assumptions never helps. If more information is needed, let the person know you can follow with a more complete answer at a later date. Not responding to a request because you don’t know what they mean or don’t have an answer can lead to a variety of misperceptions.

Timing. Send communications that require a response when you/the recipient are most likely to be available. Asking for something late on Thursday, receiving a response on Friday and then waiting until Monday to answer could mean missing an important date/time or leave the other person completely disinterested in helping by the time you respond. Think about the recipient and when they are most likely to be in a position to (1) have the information you need and (2) have the time to respond. If you are requesting information before the person has access to it, they may ignore your request completely. If you make a request just before they are headed out for the day or going into an important meeting, the message may also get overlooked. Likewise, if you have a bone to pick with someone, catching them on their way out the door or just before they turn in for the night is probably not likely to elicit the response you hoped for.

Follow through. If you said you were going to call someone on a certain day — do it! It’s shocking to me how many commitments are broken and not acknowledged because someone was “too busy.” Everyone is busy! It simply causes unnecessary conflict, bad feelings and more work for everyone to make an appointment and not keep it. At the very least, call to change it if you can’t make it. People remember unfulfilled promises and impolite behavior. These actions can break trust, turn away business and cause projects to fail. Here’s a small example:

Recently I read a lengthy blog post that began with a candidate suggesting it was common for recruiters to miss scheduled interviews with candidates. A recruiter responded by explaining how it can happen and why it really isn’t the norm, just a product of too much to do. She may not remember that years ago she stood up one of my clients not just once but twice for scheduled phone interviews. The excuse after the fact was that she had an “emergency” and was too busy to call to reschedule. Coincidentally, at the scheduled time of the last interview, I found several new blog posts published on the recruiter’s website that appeared to have been written during that “emergency.” This was probably close to 10 years ago. I haven’t forgotten.

During a very tight economy, candidates were in abundance. A candidate who didn’t respond to a phone call or email or missed an appointment was out of luck. Many candidates learned the lesson the hard way by missing opportunities. Now, employers may not realize it yet, but after having a surplus of candidates, things are changing. Now that the market is picking up and good candidates are able to be more selective, it is all the more reason for recruiters to respond to calls or email and follow through on promises, or they are going to have an even harder time finding candidates for tough-to-fill positions.

Appropriate technology. A 5-minute voice mail message is most likely to be deleted before the point of the message is heard. If you have a lot to say, then leave a message regarding the points you need to discuss and the best time to reach you, or, if there is a considerable amount of data to share, send the full version by email. Don’t hold someone hostage by delaying the point, or you are likely to miss it altogether. On the other end of the spectrum, if you are using a mobile device to receive messages, make sure you have accessed all attachments or viewed the entire message before you respond or delete. Too frequently, communications break down because the recipient has breezed past the message, inadvertently deleted it or simply didn’t notice the full content.

Proof. Auto-write programs in email and handheld devices have the tendency to skew messages. If you are sending a text that has been auto-filled, please read it again before you hit send. It could save time, embarrassment or hurt feelings. I am personally guilty of dyslexic typing and being in too much of a hurry to stop and correct all of the mistyped information in some of my “quick” communications. Many times, it just creates more work when the recipient is trying to figure out my “code.”

Discuss. Communication is a two-way street. Passive-aggressive behavior (not speaking, not responding or getting even) can lead to greater conflicts than ever could have been imagined. When involved parties discuss a small issue up front when it happens, a small issue/situation can be kept from being blown out of proportion. If someone needs to blow off steam, rather than avoid them, acknowledge their feelings or concern, then suggest a time you can discuss the matter more completely when you are both calm.

Set clear expectations. Clearly define tasks and set touch-back points for delegated activities or projects points to avoid delays. Make sure all parties are clear about their contributions at the start.

Pay attention. Stop what you are doing when someone requests an important conversation. If it is not possible, then let the person know when it will be possible. If a customer requires your attention, figure out how to give it. It’s just not always possible to continue to type, talk, read and respond to four people at once. If I am engrossed in other work that is time sensitive, then it is extremely difficult to stop in the middle to concentrate on random or multiple layers of questions. One remedy I request is that my clients set appointments with me to discuss questions that require more thought or more time to discuss than we each have available by going back and forth by email. That way I am able to schedule time to dedicate to just them and their issue.

Listen. Make sure you have captured the intent of the conversation. Did you fully understand the other party’s intention? Were your responses appropriate? Be certain you have left the conversation with as few misperceptions as possible.

If you think you are too busy to dedicate time and effort to all of the communications you receive, start paying attention to all of the unnecessary communications that inattention generates. Track how many more emails, phone calls and conversations are generated to straighten out misperceptions, address lack of business, develop new prospects and screen new candidates. Think again before you ignore a request requiring a response. Avoid unnecessary conflict and start communicating for results.

Communicating for Results:In Person

August 1st, 2013 by Sherri Edwards in Business, Individual

Although electronic communication may account for a large percentage of our conversations, most of us still talk with people in person each day. This month I am shifting the focus from electronic to effective face-to-face communication.

In person, we are able to use more than words to make a point or communicate thoughts. If we look at commonly accepted statistics, it’s a little shocking to recognize that only 7% of our communication is verbal. The majority of our communication comes from the tone or sound of our voice (38%), and our non-verbal cues account for a whopping 55% of what is actually received. This means it is extremely important to be clear about what we say, cognizant of how we say it and aware of how receptive (or not) the audience is to whatever we need/want to relate.

There are several factors to take into account when sending a message. The following are a few points that need to be considered when beginning a tough conversation, interview or performance evaluation to ensure your intent has the best chance of being heard.

1. Sending and interpreting the messages. There are two sides to any communication: the person sending the message and the receiver. Each has “noise” that can easily change the intent of a message or the tone of a conversation. In addition to the obvious differences (language, gender, appearance), there are other, not-as-obvious differences (values, culture, education, history) that can impact what is received. The everyday hassles each may have on their minds combined with any actual physical noise can create severe distractions. Each sent message comes with all of these factors and is interpreted by the receiver, who, in turn, has their own baggage. To ensure you don’t end up reacting negatively to something that is out of your control, be conscious of any issues that may be distracting someone during an important conversation. If necessary, it might be a good idea to ask to reschedule a meeting if it seems apparent the person you are meeting with is preoccupied or upset about something.

2. Body language. Posture, eye contact (or lack thereof) or placement of hands, arms and feet can all be clues to someone’s emotional state or feelings related to power or self-worth, confidence and attentiveness. And, because what someone sees is typically more reliable than what they hear, body language can potentially turn the outcome of any conversation into something very different than what was intended. Crossed arms can indicate someone is not open to hearing what is being discussed. Fingers tapping on a tabletop can illustrate boredom or impatience. Rolling eyes may indicate total disagreement. Look for contradictions like someone saying “yes” but shaking their head to reflect “no.”

3. Grooming and appearance. Although the rules around “good” grooming may have changed some over the years (such as unshaven vs. clean-shaven, tousled hair vs. meticulously placed and lacquered hair), there are still some basic elements that are consistent. Clean hands and fingernails will send a different impression than dirty ones, depending on the work you do. If you work in an office, the expectation is that you will have clean hands, and, if you work on the land or repair cars, it might be questioned if your hands are “too clean.” Also, check to notice if the clothes you wear are similar to others’ or strikingly different: wrinkled vs. neatly pressed, conservative vs. casual or plain vs. loud colors? These are simple observations that may impact someone’s interpretation of what you are saying. A question to consider is: how much does the sender look like the receiver? To make a good impression, it doesn’t mean you have to match or overdress; it means to be conscious of how different or similar you may appear.

4. Tone and pace. The volume and pace of a message can easily impact interpretation. Some people get loud when they are excited and happy. Others may hear “loud” and associate the sound with anger without actually hearing the words. Speaking too quickly may be interpreted as trying to pull something over on someone. (I can’t tell you how many times I have been asked if I am from New York because I talk at a rapid pace!). A good rule is to mirror the pace of the person you are speaking with.

It’s important to communicate in a way that will ensure the intent of your message is received. When preparing for a job interview (or an important business meeting), it is critical to be conscious of how all of these factors can distort the outcome if not planned out in advance. Learn about a company’s work environment and culture or a person’s style and preferences in advance. Prepare accordingly so you are much more likely to be well received than if you do not take the time to consider how you will be heard or how your messages will be interpreted.

Communicating for Results

July 1st, 2013 by Sherri Edwards in Business, Individual

How many times have you sent an email believing you had asked a simple question and received a response that had nothing to do with your intended request? Or stated an opinion that caused a backlash worthy of starting World War III? Missed communications can turn into missed opportunities. If you have felt unheard or misunderstood and are still licking your wounds, let’s take a look at some things to consider about your contribution to any kind of miscommunication.

Consider the following elements for any form of communication:

  1. Are you using the correct email address or correct phone number to communicate this message?
    People often have multiple email addresses in addition to several home, work, and mobile numbers. Don’t assume that the first one that pops up on your electronic device is accurate. Ask the recipient if you are unsure which is preferred for each kind of communication.
  2. Are you using the right medium?
    Text, email, telephone or snail mail? We have many choices and all have their advantages. Think before you resort to what is convenient for you and consider what will be the most efficient and clear means for the recipient to read/hear and respond.
  3. Did you send a clear, concise and complete thought?
    It’s important to finish a sentence, but don’t write a book. Most people use email to quickly convey information. It’s not always possible for someone to take the time to review a 500-word email. Give them advance warning of your intent/ask when they might be able to review and respond to detailed information. It is not uncommon for key points of a very long message to get lost or overlooked, especially when someone is reading it on a hand-held electronic device.
  4. Did you ask specific questions or make requests that are easy to answer?
    Avoid unnecessary/sidebar chatter that may distract your audience from capturing the intent of your message. Most people have so much on their minds that it is easy to get distracted or simply become unable to stick with the line of conversation when it is about something that doesn’t interest them. Watch for telling body language and listen for responses that may indicate the person is no longer with you. If you are sending an email, make sure you state precisely what you need and by when, or you will likely end up having unmet expectations.
  5. Have you made assumptions that could cause conflict or misinterpretation of your message?
    Think before hitting send or verbally firing back to a voicemail. Reread any prior communications before you jump into a tirade or listen closely to any messages. If your communication is a reaction to an earlier communication from the same person, make sure you have not misinterpreted their intent. Check in with them and ask if they “intended to say…?”
  6. Are you using an email format that makes it easy for the receiver to read?
    Running many thoughts together makes it difficult to read, prioritize and respond. Many times points can be missed. Make sure to separate subjects with space or numbers so the reader can quickly spot the differences.

Here are some simple guidelines for ensuring your communications are effective:

  • Acknowledge emails/calls/texts so the sender is aware you received it.
  • Emails are often deleted or ignored when received on mobile devices. Plan time to look at a full-size screen where you can use a filing system that allows you to save and search.
  • Use texts for brief messages. Sending lengthy messages by text can waste time spent correcting errors made by autotype or misinterpreted abbreviations.
  • Use email for important messages that may need to be used as documentation or for record keeping. Emails can be forwarded quickly, they readily allow for inserts or additions, and they can be more efficiently organized, stored and retrieved when needed.
  • In an emergency, it is important to reach the party ASAP. The most direct medium would be a phone call. Even a text can be easily overlooked.
  • Use courtesy! Remember to say “please” and “thank you.”

We’ve covered only a small piece of the communication process. Stay tuned for “Part II” next month.

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