Waiting for a unicorn can leave you by the side of the road

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

It’s not uncommon for job seekers and salespeople to be waiting for the “perfect” opportunity before they take any action. The problem with waiting for “perfect” is that it may never come. In the meantime, opportunities that might not be as big or “perfect” but in their own right could lead to something pretty darn close are often passed by. Imagine the surfer who sits on their board all day long and never rides a wave. They might be on the lookout for the “perfect” wave, wipeoutbut if they haven’t practiced with some not-so-great waves in advance, they probably risk wiping out the minute a great wave turns up. Or they may be fixed on an image of what the perfect wave should look like and not realize it was coming until it had already passed. I’m not a surfer, and you may not be either, but I think you can imagine my point.

I’ve overheard conversations about work scenarios that quite clearly (to me) were rife with opportunity. For instance, in one case, someone was describing a technology migration in their department that wasn’t going well and didn’t seem to have a solution. The listener was also a technology professional with deep experience in system migrations but was not currently working. At the end of the description of the problem, the listener didn’t ask pertinent questions, such as, “what have you tried?” or “how do you expect to solve that?” Instead, they wrapped the conversation with “if you hear of any job openings, please let me know.”

sometimes people/companies can be faced with a problem they haven’t yet started to solve

If you are thinking “what’s wrong with that?” then I’ll spell it out for you. Very simply, sometimes people/companies can be faced with a problem they haven’t yet started to solve. Everyone might be talking about it, but it may take a while for everyone to agree on exactly what the problem is or what they want to do about it. You may have heard people complain about your office’s coffee service. It may have been going on for months, but no one has considered taking action. A savvy salesperson would hear that clue and ask questions to determine if their company offered the right products/equipment/service plan to solve the problems that were described. At that point, rather than say “let me know if your company decides to look at a new service,” they might say “I’ve heard of that happening. Our company provides x, y, z and we could help with that. Who can you introduce me to who would be in a position to discuss a potential solution to the problems you’ve described?”

So, when someone is describing a problem that you can help fix, it’s a fabulous opportunity to help lead them to a solution. The process for getting to the point where an agreement is made about how the service can be provided and what it may cost may take a while, but being part of that process keeps you in the loop. Taking action early when you hear the first clues can help secure your role in the solution. Waiting until someone decides a position must be created, funded, approved and posted to speak up can leave you as only one of hundreds who apply and are considered many months later.

Another misconception is that you have to wait until a position is posted and then your only contact can be a recruiter or HR. Typically, they will not know nearly as much about a role as someone already working in the department who may have told you something was in the works. If you can get more information from your contact in the early stages of a solution/position development process and an introduction to the decision maker, imagine how much further ahead of the game you will be than if you wait until the position is posted or the request for a proposal hits the streets. That doesn’t mean you can circumvent companies’ hiring or purchasing processes when they are established. Showing interest early can simply help you learn and leverage the inside scoop to ensure you are strongly considered and that you are able to respond to their processes in the most favorable way.

Horse-3When you hear about opportunities that are undefined or sound like they are less than you want, it’s only a sign that more information is needed. If you assume there will be a better opportunity later or that the grass is greener elsewhere, make sure to test your assumptions. Waiting for the unicorn when a horse and saddle are right in front of you may leave you standing on the side of the road much longer than your bank account is able to bear.

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.