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…
There 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belief that getting in front of a hiring manager and ad-libbing your way through the interview process will work is as outdated as dial phones and decidedly less effective.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?
This 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 are professionals who match people to jobs or business opportunities and others who connect people with similar interests. Professional associations or academic institutions may match mentors with mentees. All around us are opportunities to link people with people, or people to information. The success of these referrals is typically predicated on how much the referring party knows about each of the others.
Everyone wants to benefit from a referral in some way. Whether it is to gain new information, meet a key influencer, identify a useful service or secure new business, there is always something to be gained through an exchange of information. The risk involved to the referring party is whether the referred person represents them well or leaves a trail of evidence that questions the association.
Referrals can go south pretty quickly when the referred party fails to follow up or isn’t prepared for the requested outcome. The following are tips to help you become the person people are happy to refer.
Be reliable. If you are asking for something from someone, make sure you have demonstrated that you can be counted on to follow through if they deliver. Show up on time for meetings and deliver what you promise, on time. Trust is built slowly with many people, and seeing is believing.
Show an interest in others. Ask questions to learn more about people’s interests. Be an active listener. Make an effort to stay in contact with others. Send reminders and plan time to communicate with people you may not interact with regularly.
Be helpful. Find reasons why you CAN do something and fewer reasons why you can’t. Go the extra mile to arrange a carpool for a group of people, drive someone to their door or make a phone call on someone’s behalf. If you are requesting a referral to someone, make sure you are ready to return the favor in some way.
Be responsive. Follow up quickly when others reach out to you. Make sure you are available to respond quickly when you have reached out to others. Manage your communication devices and use them to stay on top of things. Don’t let your email pile up and then use your full inbox as the reason you haven’t responded to someone sooner.
Prepare. If you are making a request for a referral, research the person you are asking to be referred to or the company you would like to learn more about. Plan questions for people that indicate you have done your homework. If you offer a service, prepare in advance and anticipate new business.
Walk the talk. Soft skills are hard to measure. If you are claiming to be a great communicator, project manager or meeting facilitator, make sure you are visibly illustrating those strengths. Volunteer or take the lead at events that will allow you to show people what you can do and how you do it.
If you are wondering why your phone isn’t ringing with opportunities on the other line, take a look at how much effort you are putting into helping others get what they need. If you can do more for others, it is very likely you will be positioning yourself for others to be comfortable doing something for you. Are you modeling behavior that allows people to confidently refer you?
The news is filled with pleas to the public to be better “prepared” following a terrible event. Disaster. Emergency. Storm. Flood. Earthquake. Recession. Unfortunately, these events occur pretty frequently, so it is reasonable to believe that being prepared means setting ourselves up for the worst to happen. That might seem obvious, but on the flip side, how prepared are you for the best to happen? If the opportunity you have been dreaming about and waiting for were to suddenly materialize, are you prepared to grab that brass ring? What are you doing right now to be ready when opportunity knocks?
Recognizing you want something to be different is the first step. Getting ready to seize an opportunity requires having an awareness of what has to change to allow something different to happen. To ensure your “dreams come true,” it is necessary to connect the dots between your desired goal and the things you can do to get there. Sometimes the gap between where you are and where you want to be might seem insurmountable and that only a miracle can change things. But just as people are able to overcome the odds against surviving a catastrophic event, you can shorten the distance between where you are and where you want to be by changing the things that are in your control. That means changing your own behaviors and habits so that you are ready to respond when opportunity strikes.
One of the single most glaring reasons I see people stay unemployed or remain in less than their desired role is that they “assume” they have time to get around to things or that some sort of miracle is going to take place. I hear a lot of grousing or wishing for a change while observing behavior that contradicts what people say they want. Some people:
Don’t acknowledge info while they are “thinking” of what to say
Assume people will do what they say
Don’t follow up when information has been promised but not received
Aren’t prepared for introductions or interviews
Believe “it won’t happen to me” (layoff, termination, plant move)
Don’t believe “it will happen to me” (opportunity)
If you have previously missed opportunity, then it may be time to enlist some new behaviors. There are some very basic habits anyone can develop to help overcome complacency.
Manage communications. If you have sent a message to the universe, you’ve got to find ways to access your communications to acknowledge the response you receive in a timely way. It may mean checking email in the morning, lunchtime and evening or investing in a smartphone if matters are more urgent. It may mean visiting Starbucks to find a hot spot or going to the library. In today’s market, it’s critical to use technology to stay in touch, or make sure someone else can respond on your behalf if you are out of reach for 12+ hours and awaiting important news.
Respond within 24 hours. Even if you need time to think about the information you have received, it is critical to acknowledge your receipt. Show courtesy by thanking the sender and letting them know when they can hear back from you. Not responding until you have the “best” answer can appear unappreciative or downright rude to someone who has responded to what may have seemed an urgent request.
Manage your expectations and guide other people’s intentions. Most people are sincere when they offer to help. Unfortunately, even the best intentions get forgotten when someone’s focus is elsewhere. When someone offers to do something for you, follow up immediately with a confirmation of what and when. Make sure to provide them with any information they need to facilitate the offer to take action on your behalf. This could include a written introduction, a list of bullet points regarding the information you need or dates of important/relevant events.
Own the communication process. If someone has offered to send you information or make an introduction, set touch-back times to check in and gently remind them of the request. Don’t expect others to manage your needs. People get busy and things slip through the cracks. It is up to you to guide the conversations to ensure your needs are met.
Be careful what you ask for. Expect people to respond to your requests and be ready to follow up.
If you have been communicating a specific request to your network or the universe in general, you must believe it will happen. Keep your resume updated and make sure you are prepared for an interview or introduction to a key contact at any time.
Nurture your network. Make sure you are connecting with people on a regular basis. Ask questions about their circumstances or their interests. Find out what they are working on, worried about or challenged by. If you are able to assist them, by all means do so. If you can’t help, then prepare yourself in case you, too, may find yourself with similar issues.
Stay awake and aware. Pay attention to what is going on with your company. Take note of any indicators of a potential status change. If an important account is on the line, it could change the company’s financial picture. If there have been talks of a merger, be aware of what your value would be if roles are duplicated or the company were to close your location. If there is a drastic change in the market, be aware of how it impacts your business.
Take control of what you can, while you can. Following these suggestions will help you be prepared to make the most of that golden opportunity when it knocks at your door. It isn’t a mystery that opportunities always seem to come more readily to those who are prepared for them.
It continues to surprise me when I receive emails from people I have either not heard from for months, or have never heard from before at all, that go something like this:
“I have an interview with XYZ Company tomorrow. Do you have any tips?”
Many thoughts go through my mind when I read an email like this, but to keep from losing some readers at this point, I’ll focus on the more helpful things I can offer, so that you don’t end up being one of those people with a last minute request of this nature.
1. Know the organization. First of all, if you are only applying to posted roles on Craigslist or Indeed without researching companies ahead of time to be better aware of what is a fit for you, then you have put yourself at a disadvantage. It means you have to act quickly to get attention (within 24 hours), and, you have little time to get in touch with people to learn more before a call from the employer is expected. To avoid being caught in this predicament, it is critical to have researched your industry and targeted companies so you are already familiar with them. The best circumstance could be that you are alerted by an insider before the position is posted. Keeping in regular communication with contacts inside of companies you have targeted provides a resource for information to help you prepare for the interview you are hoping to get one day, and it also will help you determine if the organization is really a fit for you.
2. Tailor your resume to fit. When you take the time to tailor your resume to exactly meet the needs of a position, you are accomplishing two things. The first is that you are more likely to get a response, and the second is that you have already mentally prepared yourself for the interview. Sending a vague or generic resume only means you have to answer more questions about your background at some point, and it is typically harder to think of the answers under the duress of an interview. If some of the basic information is already included in the resume, then the questions asked during a first interview ultimately move to something of a more significant nature. A first interview can turn into more of what happens at a 2nd interview, simply by eliminating the usual general information gathering questions like:. “How much was your budget? How many people did you supervise? “, etc. Instead, the questions may move into how you did things, which allows you to connect at a deeper level, sooner.
3. Get your act together in advance! I think the reason those last minute requests annoy me so much is because I know there are hours of work to do to prepare for an interview. The night before is not the time to begin. Any time you are looking for work and sending out resumes, the intention has to be to get a response. (Aren’t you anticipating being called in for an interview??) Interviews will typically include many of the same questions, which means you can prepare your answers for many questions in advance.
4. Make sure you know who you are meeting with. Interviewing on the fly rarely produces the results you would get if you know more about the organization, their needs and the people you are interviewing with in advance. Even with the use of LinkedIn, trying to learn as much as you can with short notice is not typically effective.
5. Plan time for following up. It is important to thank interviewers after your meeting. This may be in the form of an email, a card or a letter. Whichever is appropriate for your industry or role, it is still necessary to plan the time to do this within 24 hours of the interview. Missing this opportunity to show you are courteous, have listened, and are interested may make the difference between you or someone else receiving an offer if all else is equal.
6. Get your priorities straight. If you need to go to work, then it is necessary to do all that it takes to achieve your goal. This means planning ahead and scheduling time to do all that is necessary before the call for an interview comes in.
Have you experienced different results from your interviewing experiences with preparation? If so, please share.
Two of my clients accepted offers for employment this past week. Each had experienced difficulties with interviews in the past, so we worked on specific areas that had previously been problematic. For one, the issue was the tendency to tell too much, and for the other, it was not being able to articulate answers quickly. Not surprising, that after working on the issues and practicing, both went into their next interviews and aced them. Two other clients said they “blew” the interviews they had last week. One came right out and said she wasn’t prepared; the other said “I didn’t want that job anyway.”
Now, it doesn’t seem like rocket science to put effort into preparing for an interview, but it continues to amaze me when scores of people continue to do the same thing, the same way, expecting different results. Or, when they are absolutely positive that the reason they haven’t gotten offers is because of the interviewers, as opposed to something they have said or done (or not done!). Or even worse, they spend all the time and energy to pursue a target company, then don’t prepare themselves for the eventuality of the interview.
Now, don’t get me wrong. There are certainly times when the interviewer has another agenda (like a friend’s cousin has applied for the job), but to throw up your hands and determine there is nothing that can be changed, or to use sour grapes, i.e., ” I didn’t want the job any way” as the reason you didn’t get an offer, is really giving up. When someone really needs a job, I have to question why they think blowing an interview makes any sense. Blowing an interview only means you won’t get an offer. If you don’t want it, then why not spend your energy elsewhere? If you need it, but don’t want it, why not figure out how you could leverage the opportunity into something else or until something better turns up? But why in the world would you spend any energy going after something without giving it your all?
If you want to debate the need to go to work when you are in debt and have no income, this isn’t the right blog. If you want to learn how you can improve your chances for getting an offer so that you can get out off the bench and into the game, then read further.
Research. Many times applying to a posting on a job board leaves you at a disadvantage. You know nothing about the organization, their politics, preferences or issues. Targeting who you want to work for and finding out more about them before you apply, will give you a much stronger position going on.
Script. If you have trouble answering tough questions, then write out your answers in advance. Practice what you will say. If you have already interviewed unsuccessfully more than once, then you probably have a good idea of what can come up in an interview. There are only so many variations on a theme when it comes to interviewing questions. You can probably guess what will be asked the next time you go in for an interview. That means you can also practice writing out your answers. Yes, it takes time. How much time are you willing to waste by ‘blowing’ an interview because you didn’t prepare?
Plan ahead. Don’t set a date for an interview if you aren’t ready. Don’t answer your phone if you aren’t prepared to take the call. Make sure you are completely ready and prepared for any conversation with a potential employer.
Be ‘other’ focused. It is not all about you. Unless you can show what you bring to the party that is of benefit to the employer, you won’t have the option of deciding whether or not you want the job. It is important to know what they need, how you can deliver it and how you will get along with everyone else that is already there, before you begin an interview.
Keep a positive attitude. If you want an offer, then you need to act interested, excited and informed. If you have a chip on your shoulder, check yourself before you go in. They will spot it a mile away. Proudly boasting irrelevant information about your skills or experience is only going to make you look like you are full of yourself, not impress them. Make sure you show them genuine enthusiasm for the role. (They’ll be able to smell desperation a mile away.) It takes careful preparation to change desperation into excitement.
I am not saying that you have to plan on staying with the next employer forever. But if you need to get paid, then it is time to do what you have to do to have the opportunity. Once in, you can continue working towards what you would rather be doing. Getting just any job isn’t the answer, though. It is important to make sure that whatever you are doing is in some way on track and in line with what you would like to be doing, or you are going to make things tough on yourself moving forward. Once again, careful planning will not only help you make the first step (getting back to work), but it will help you see what you have to do to keep moving forward.