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Being the Most Qualified Does Not Guarantee You the Job!

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Have you ever left an interview feeling you nailed it quite well that you would be offered the job? You wait for days (or weeks) only to hear you didn’t. I am sure you have, and it’s not a nice feeling.

The US elections are over. One candidate got hired; the other got fired, and for those of us who follow politics, we are wondering what happened. That conversation was what dominated the group coaching class with the women in my Let’s GROW Project today. One woman commented that the most qualified person did not get the job. I chimed in that 46.9% of eligible voters did not vote. Another spoke of places where people do not have the opportunity to vote. The discussion provided a segue into why being the most qualified candidate does not necessarily guarantee you the job.

Here is how the group drew an analogy with the results of the US elections and a job interview. Two candidates were shortlisted for the position and were going to be interviewed by a panel of the American public. One had a very impressive resume. She had 30+ years of experience in politics as First Lady of a state; First Lady of the United States, Senator and Secretary of State. She also had testimonials and references from high profile colleagues and celebrities. All that would easily make her a shoe-in for the job.

The other candidate didn’t have any of that. He touted himself as a businessman, and an outsider to the Washington establishment. Despite publicly passing incendiary remarks, and refusing to follow protocol, it did not stop him from getting the job. How did that happen? Answers to that question will vary, depending on which side of the political fence one is on. However, from a job search perspective we could examine the role that personal branding, messaging and the halo effect might have played:

Personal Branding and Messaging

One candidate branded herself as the one with the experience, a steady hand and an even keel temperament. She cited her many success stories and had proof that backed them up. Many on the interview panel (the electorate) believed her. In fact, she won the popular vote, but because of how the Electoral College works, she did not get the job. What went wrong? Was it her brand? Did people buy into the narrative that she was untrustworthy? What about her messaging? Was it clear to her audience that she understood their pain?

The other candidate branded himself as the outsider; the businessman who could turn around Washington. He pointed to his business successes and his ability to ‘swing deals’. Although that is debatable, it was enough to convince a good part of the electorate that he was the best person for the job. He showed himself as an astute marketer, ripping right into the heart of their core beliefs – that the status quo needed a shake up; that the other candidate was a part of the establishment and was going to offer more of the same. His messaging was effective enough where his negatives didn’t matter to his constituents.

The Halo Effect

The halo effect, as described in Wikipedia, “is a cognitive bias in which an observer’s overall impression of a person, company, brand, or product influences the observer’s feelings and thoughts about that entity’s character or properties.” This means, many on the interview panel could have been influenced positively or negatively by their perception of each candidate. If that were the case, their minds were already made up. Regardless of what the candidates said from thereon, they latched on to their first impression of each candidate.

  1. Not too many of us aspire to be a head of state, but we are very often invited to interviews. In preparing for an interview, what could we learn from the results of the US elections?
  2. A resume might not be enough. An impressive resume, LinkedIn Profile (with its many testimonials), and high profile celebrity references might not be enough to get hired. Go beyond those, and think of what additional value you have to offer. Determine if your 30+ years of experience is an asset or a liability, and will it help or hurt your chances?
  3. Branding is not just for companies. It is common these days to speak about one’s ‘personal brand’. This is a blend of people’s perception of you and how you see yourself. Are they congruent, or, do people characterize you as someone different from who you really are? One way to find out is to complete a 360 assessment. These are easily available from a variety of sources, including the 360 Reach Branding Assessment.
  4. Authenticity is a key part of your branding. Be yourself. Highlight the skills, knowledge and strengths that make you unique. Showcase yourself in a way that feels natural to you, yet capture the attention of the hiring manager. You need to ensure that your brand is received positively by the people thinking of hiring you.
  5. First impression matters. You should strive to make a good first impression. Extend your research beyond that of the company and to the people who will be a part of the interview panel. Don’t know who they are? Find out, then conduct a Google search. What you discover could serve as a conversation opener and rapport builder instead of having to discuss the weather.
  6. Messaging is important. Your message should be tailored to the needs of the employer. You need to articulate your success stories in a way that convinces the employer you understand their needs, know where their pain points are, and that you “can fix it”(according to one of the election candidates).
  7. Monitor your social media footprints. Most employers conduct a search on candidates before inviting them to an interview. Make sure you do the same. Do a Google search on yourself to see if there are any negative or unsavoury mentions about you, and clear them up as quickly as you can.

It hurts when you were not hired for the job you were sure you would get. You know in your heart that you have the right qualifications, skills and experience. You did all that you could do, but the decision making was not under your control. Don’t beat upon yourself too much and never stop believing in you and your capabilities. “Take a deep breath, pick yourself up, dust yourself off, and start all over again”, said Frank Sinatra. This might not be easy. It could take days for you to come to terms with what happened, but life goes on and so should you.

What other tips would you offer to someone who is feeling dejected because of a lost job opportunity?

 

 

Why Are You Afraid to Tell Your Unique, Authentic Story?

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We tell stories every day – to family, friends and colleagues – yet we hardly think of telling stories when we meet recruiters, hiring managers, potential employers, and even potential business partners. Why? We are afraid; we don’t want anyone to label us as ‘braggarts’. A LinkedIn article titled “Get Comfortable With Being Uncomfortable – Why Now is the Time to Tell Your Work Story”, indicates that approximately only 29% of Canadians and 40% of Americans feel comfortable talking about themselves. In fact, 53% of workers admitted they feel like they are bragging if they talk about themselves. “We’re so uncomfortable touting our work successes that we’d rather share our political views on social media than let our followers know we received a promotion or got a new job.”

In his book, Tell to Win, Peter Gruber states: “Today everyone – whether they know it or not – is in the emotional transportation business. More and more, success is won by creating [and telling] compelling stories that have the power to move partners, shareholders, customers and employees to action. Simply put, if you can’t tell it, you can’t sell it.” This means, if you can’t engage, persuade, motivate and convince others of your accomplishments, your story will remain inside you, and someone else will snag that coveted job or business opportunity.

Storytelling has not only become a central theme to the job search process, but is also a powerful way to get your message across in any setting. It doesn’t matter if you are in an interview, at a networking event, delivering an elevator speech in 30 seconds, participating in meetings, or communicating one-on-one. What matters is your ability to confidently tell stories that will communicate your value and build credibility.

Bear in mind that you are also telling your story in verbal and nonverbal ways. For example, did you know that your resume and your other career marketing efforts are all telling your story? When your resume is set aside by a hiring manager for follow up, it is because something compelling grabbed the his or her attention. When it comes to interviews, you are often asked to “tell me about yourself” or “describe a time when…”. Those questions present an opportunity for you to recount stories that will convince the hiring manager you are the ideal person for the role.

Whether you are a job seeker or an entrepreneur, it’s important that you become a masterful storyteller. Someone who is able to strategically craft and deliver stories that will engage and capture an audience, whether it’s an audience of one or many. You need signature stories that you are proud to share, without feeling bashful. Stories that reveal your authenticity and set you apart from your competitors. How do you do that? Think of it as a movie where you were the main actor. Recall and write out compelling scenes that demonstrated the challenges you were up against, the actions you took and the results or outcomes. Look for patterns. What skills were you using most; where did you feel more energized. This exercise should give your confidence a boost and have you well-prepared to articulate your unique and authentic stories.

Before telling your story, consider the following:

  • Know yourself: Candidly assess your strengths, weaknesses, failures and successes, and be ready to address them if asked.
  • Learn to promote yourself. This might take you out of your comfort zone, but you need to learn to talk about yourself. This is not bragging. This is articulating what’s true about you; who you are, what you have accomplished, and what value you will bring to the new role. If you don’t tell your story, then people won’t know the broad range of talents you have. There is merit in the cliché of tooting your own horn, because if you don’t, no one will know you are coming.
  • Be authentic: Don’t borrow someone else’s story and try to be somebody you are not. Tell your own unique story honestly and with confidence and ensuring that you stay authentic. Author and poet May Sarton said, “We have to dare to be ourselves, however frightening or strange that self may prove to be.”
  • Review interview questions ahead of time. While you may not know all the questions you will be asked, research, review and practice certain interview questions that are commonly asked. Then prepare to condense your accomplishments into a few short points that will be memorable.
  • Strengthen your online presence. Nothing speaks louder than a well-written, consistent, authentic online profile that tells your story even when you are asleep. This could be a personal website or blog, or your LinkedIn profile, complete with accomplishments and work samples (if appropriate).

Now, it’s your turn. Are you ready to tell your story? Need to learn storytelling strategies? Grab a copy of Tell Stories, Get Hired.

Are You Guilty of Unconscious Bias?

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Last Wednesday, serial entrepreneur John Greathouse published a blog post in The Wall Street Journal titled, Why Women in Tech Might Consider Just Using Their Initials Online. He argued that, “…women in today’s tech world should create an online presence that obscures their gender. A gender-neutral persona allows women to access opportunities that might otherwise be closed to them. Once they make an initial connection with a potential employer or investor, such women then have an opportunity to submit their work and experiences for an impartial review.”

Soon after the post was published, readers reacted, including Cathy Belk, founder of JumpStart, who wrote an article in Fortune titled No! Female Entrepreneurs Should Not Have To Hide Their Gender To Get Funding. She explains that “asking women to hide or change who they are doesn’t create equality or drive change. All it does is reinforce the status quo…”.

While Greathouse may have had good intentions, it ended up having unintended consequences. He may have thought that by hiding the fact they are women potential funders would automatically assume these applicants are men. This automatic assumption is known as unconscious bias. To back up his point, he stated that “Many people in the business community are “intellectually dishonest,” and while they preach diversity, they don’t practice it.” But, instead of  going after those he described as intellectually dishonest, he chose an easier path, suggesting that women create an online presence that obscures their gender. That, in itself, is acquiescing to the status quo rather than trying to change it.

Although the Wall Street Journal article focuses on women, there is a job search analogy to be drawn from it. Imagine a job seeker with a non-English name being asked to change it to one more readily acceptable, or suggest that they omit photos from their online presence, or use initials when applying for a job. This happens.

When it comes to bias, no matter how open minded we think we are, we all have it to some degree and by the way, it is not limited to ethnicity or race. It is shaped by our experiences, what other people tell us, media portrayals, etc. While we are mostly aware of conscious bias because it’s explicit, unconscious bias is instinctive; it is unintentional, and something we are not usually aware of. Because of all this, it is important that all of us (businesses, employers and individuals), become more in tuned with our biases before we make automatic assumptions.

In a recent LinkedIn post, Microsoft’s Chief People Officer, Kathleen Hogan wrote, a piece titled Screen In to diversify your workforce. She states, “Screening In reflects our desire to bring in talented people who aren’t carbon copies of existing employees, because building a homogenous workforce isn’t the best way to innovate and problem solve for the increasingly diverse customers we serve.” As well intended as this statement is, the image used in the article did not reflect the diversity of which she touted. Was unconscious bias at play with the choice of that image? Probably, although it does not detract from the message of a company committed to doing things right.

As part of the Screen In approach, all Microsoft employees are required to participate in an annual Unconscious Bias Training. Not only that, but Microsoft is making the training available externally for anyone to experience. Experimenting with the tool might help us learn our own unconscious biases and change our behaviours.

Another area of the job search where unconscious bias often rears its head is in resume reviews. A Fast Company article, How Unconscious Bias Affects Everything We Do,  suggests that before doing so, managers could be asked to respond to a series of questions such as:

  • “Does this person’s resume remind you in any way about yourself?”
  • “Does it remind you of somebody you know? Is that positive or negative?”
  • “Are there things about the resume that particularly impact you? Are they really relevant to the job?”
  • “What assessments have you made already about the person? Are they grounded in solid information or simply your interpretations?”

The Wall Street Journal article might have stirred up the hornet’s nest about gender, but it has also opened up an opportunity to have conversations around our preconceived notions. And, from a job search perspective, these conversations could help to decipher biases and tap into the skills, talents and expertise of everyone.

British Economist, Journalist and former advisor to the World Trade Organization, Philippe Legrain, said “Most innovations nowadays come not from individuals, but from groups of talented people sparking off each other – and foreigners with different ideas, perspectives and experiences add something extra to the mix. If there are 10 people sitting around a table trying to come up with a solution to a problem and they all think alike, then they are no better than one. But if they all think differently and bounce new ideas and reactions off one another, they can solve problems better and faster, as a growing volume of research shows.”

What are your thoughts on unconscious bias? Are you guilty? Take a few minutes to complete the free unconscious bias training offered by Microsoft. I am halfway through it.

Are You One of the 87 Percent Not Enjoying Your Job?

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Did you know that 87% of the workforce do not enjoy going to work? In fact, only 13% of employees worldwide report they actually like going to work, which means the rest are struggling to force them into the office.

Imagine this: it’s Monday morning, your alarm clock goes off. Your stomach starts churning, your head starts hurting and it takes every bit of energy to force yourself out of bed. For most people, just getting them to go to the same energy-draining, uninspiring job, Monday through Friday is work in itself.

What if you accept this invitation to ‘attend’ this FREE online event – The Ultimate Career Summit – that will help you take charge of your career, land a job you love and earn what you deserve? ACT NOW to learn from fourteen or more experts in the field of job search and career development/advancement. The expert panel will share effective strategies to help you begin to take positive actions in designing and developing a career; one that rewards you both emotionally and financially.

Here is a sample of what you will learn:

  • How to use LinkedIn to build visibility in the hidden job market
  • Learn how to obtain a federal job; forget what you thought you knew
  • How to create your personal branding for visibility to help advance your career
  • Hear what actions one can take to confidently and effectively discuss a merit/salary increase
  • The kind of fears stand in the way of career success
  • Why passion is essential for a great career, and why it is not enough
  • How to use a job-search strategy that matches your personality type

That’s just a sampling of what you will learn from this FREE global event, and it’s packed with career information. Here’s your chance to reserve your spot.

Imagine going to work to a job that makes you feel energized, appreciated and fulfilled. Wait no longer. Act now and REGISTER to gain access to this information including how to access the hidden job market or how to advance in your careers.

P.S. I get it. You already feel swamped, and stressed out! Then you are just the person this summit was designed to help. Schedule some time for yourself – only 30 minutes a day – and listen to this amazing group of professionals share tips and strategies that can help you take control of your work day and your life.

Register now to join us

 

 

Want to Find the Best Places to Work in Canada?

One of the critical elements of an effective job search is to conduct research. Every job seeker has repeatedly heard such advice. However, many have limited their job search to job boards and company websites. Those resources are quite useful, but if you are not gaining any traction with them, you might want to take your search up a notch.

If you would like to find the best places in Canada to work, the Top 100 Canadian employers, or the best jobs in Canada, then they have all been curated here.  These resources, listed below, will help you tap into the hidden job market, find opportunities and get hired faster. Make sure to bookmark the links so you will have them at your finger tips:

Best Places to Work in Canada (2016)

Great Place to Work, “Is an HR Consulting firm, conducting the world’s largest workplace survey with over 11 million employees world wide”, according to its Senior Vice President Nancy Fonseca.

Since 2005, the Canadian affiliate has been recognizing Canadian companies based on how their employees have been able to build high-quality relationships characterized by trust, pride and camaraderie. Robert Levering, Co-Founder, of Great Place to Work, states that, “A great place to work is one in which you TRUST the people you work for, have PRIDE in what you do, and ENJOY the people you work with.”

The company’s website states that, “Trust is the defining principle of great workplaces — created through management’s credibility, the respect with which employees feel they are treated, and the extent to which employees expect to be treated fairly. The degree of pride and levels of authentic connection and camaraderie employees feel with one are additional essential components.”

They recently released their list of Best Workplaces for 2016, including the best workplaces for women. Awards were made in the following categories:

  • 8 Best Small Workplaces in Canada with 25 – 49 employees working in Canada.
  • 50 Best Workplaces in Canada for Women
  • 50 Best Medium Workplaces in Canada with 50 – 999 employees working in Canada.
  • 50 Best Large and Multinational Workplaces in Canada with more than 1000 employees working in Canada or worldwide.

The full list can be found here: 2016 Best Workplaces in Canada.

Canada’s Top 100 Employers

Canada’s Top 100 Employers is produced by Mediacorp Canada. It determines Canada’s Top 100 Employers using eight criteria: (1) Physical Workplace; (2) Work Atmosphere & Social; (3) Health, Financial & Family Benefits; (4) Vacation & Time Off; (5) Employee Communications; (6) Performance Management; (7) Training & Skills Development; and (8) Community Involvement. Employers are compared to other organizations in their field to determine which offers the most progressive and forward-thinking programs. Their list of top Employers for 2016 can be found here: Canada’s Top 100 Employers

Canadian Business Magazine’s Top Jobs for 2016

Canadian Business has also ranked the Best Jobs in Canada in 2016, based on salaries, qualifications, and employment prospects. This allows job seekers and career changers to explore some of the fields with the highest pay and greatest potential. While they have their top 100 picks, they have also narrowed the list to the top 25 Jobs for 2016.

If you are looking for the jobs with the biggest salaries, fields showing strong demand for talent, or fields where there’s lots of opportunity, consult the following:

Top 25 Jobs for 2016

Top 100 Jobs in Canada for 2016

In addition, the Magazine has also published its second annual ranking of Canada’s Best Employers uncovering “the companies where people can’t wait to get to work.” In partnership with AON Best Employers, they gathered information on:

  • How they (employers) get every employee to innovate
  • How they hang on to their best employees
  • How small companies provide big perks
  • How they thrive in the face of crisis

Top 100 Best Employers

Statistics Canada (Canadian Labour Market Information)

Canadian Labour Market Information is a resource produced by Statistics Canada, and which includes labour market activities of the Canadian population. This is broken down into: how many people are employed or unemployed; the unemployment rate; which industries or occupations people work in; the hours they work; commuting patterns; wage and non-wage benefits; job training; labour mobility; work absences; unionization; unpaid work; and other topics.

Labour Market Information is a grossly underutilized career development tool, and any job seeker or career changer who would like to get up to speed on current trends in the Canadian labour market should have this resource in their job search toolkit. Canadian Labour Market Information

If you are a job seeker or career changer, or someone who is serious about your career development; if you are tired of scouring job boards and company websites; if your resume is getting lost in applicant tracking systems, it’s time to change your strategy. Each organization mentioned above has their own criteria for arriving at their top employers or top jobs. There could be overlaps, but these are comprehensive resources that will help you start your research, tap into the hidden job market and shorten your job search.

Do you have any other resources to recommend? Share it with us.

How to Win the Interview Game

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Interviews are terrifying. Job candidates are known to sweat profusely, become tongue-tied, give wrong answer and blow the entire interview. Some have even tried reading the interviewer’s mind to come up with what they think the interviewer wants to hear instead of than focusing on the value they could offer. These peculiarities are not limited to entry-level candidates but run across the continuum to management and executive level candidates.

It’s natural to be nervous and experience some or all of the above symptoms, but there are better ways to prepare for interviews, lessen your stress and win the interview game. It IS really possible to unravel the mystery in each question, develop answers that showcase your accomplishments, and convince the interviewer you are the perfect person for the job. It starts with knowing that the interviewer really wants you to convince her that you will be able to do the job; you will be productive and help them make money, and you will fit in with the team. All of this takes a bit of work!

Below are seven questions that are regularly asked at interviews. They are followed by a short explanation of what the interviewer is looking for. They are designed to help you understand what the interviewer is looking for and develop your stories. While they are geared to managers, mid-career professionals and executives, anyone who wants to win the interview game should take note:

QUESTION: “Tell me about a time when you accomplished something significant that wouldn’t have happened if you hadn’t been there to make it happen.”

Another question related question could be: “Tell me a time when you were not a formal leader but became a leader.

WHAT THE INTERVIEWER IS LOOKING FOR: In both instances, they are looking for leadership competency. Are you an effective leader? Are you willing to assume a leadership role even if your job description doesn’t identify you as a leader?

QUESTION: Tell me about a time when, despite your best effort, you failed to meet a deadline. What factors caused you to miss the deadline? What was the outcome? What did you learn from it?

WHAT THE INTERVIEWER IS LOOKING FOR: Are you competent at  goal-setting, project management or organizing and planning. Do you understand how to keep track of a project in relation to its deadline? Do you demonstrate above average organizational skills? Are you a procrastinator? Are you quick to blame others, or do you take personal responsibility for failures?

QUESTION: Tell me two characteristics of your personality you have to improve, and how you will do it?

WHAT THE INTERVIEWER IS LOOKING FOR: This question is to find out if you are aware of your shortcomings (weaknesses). If so, what steps have you taken to work on them. They also want to determine if you are self-motivated, and can initiate your own developmental plans.

QUESTION: Imagine I am your manager and I offer you the position. At the end of one year, what will I be writing in your performance review?

WHAT THE INTERVIEWER IS LOOKING FOR: They want to know if you understand the importance of defining and setting specific goals and objectives; if you set realistic goals, and if you attain them. Give the interviewer two or three short-term goals you would have set for your first year on the job, then describe the results after the year.

QUESTION: Why should I consider you a strong candidate for this position? What have been your most significant achievements in your previous role?

WHAT THE INTERVIEWER IS LOOKING FOR: Have you reviewed the job posting thoroughly? Do understand the duties and responsibilities of the job? Do you have the specific skills and the right experience they are looking?

QUESTION: What if I should contact your supervisor to enquire about your technical competence in your previous position? What would he or she list as your strengths? What weaknesses would they mention?

WHAT THE INTERVIEWER IS LOOKING FOR: They are looking for evidence that you are highly competent; that you are a contributor who work hard; that you demonstrate excellent interpersonal skills when working with others. They want to make sure you have the right skills and temperament for the job.

QUESTION: What do you know about the position we are trying to fill? What are your strengths for this job? Is there any reason why you cannot perform the essential functions of this job?

WHAT THE INTERVIEWER IS LOOKING FOR: If you put a lot of effort into researching the company, if you understand the job requirements, and if your skills match their needs. You need to understand what they do, then demonstrate how you would fit in. Avoid mentioning any weaknesses related to doing the job.

You can win the interview game when you understand what the interviewer really wants. To do this, you need to analyze the job posting line by line to make sure your skills, abilities and background are aligned with the requirements. Your next step is to develop accomplishment stories that relate directly to these requirements. Know yourself and your success stories well enough so they are easy to articulate. Refrain from giving rehearsed, robotic answers as they are easy to spot. Recall instances where you helped the company make or save money.

When it comes to discussing your weaknesses, tread carefully, but don’t be afraid to be vulnerable. After all, you are human. Discuss a weakness that shows the imperfect human being we all are, but nothing that could exclude you from being offered the job. Are you impatient? That’s a fair human condition, but explain what you are doing about it.

Finally, this is not the time to be shy. If you really have accomplishments, talk about them with confidence. They are your stories.

Related article in the Toronto Sun on How to Read the Interviewer’s Mind:  How Shall I Answer That?

Want to win the interview game? Ask me how.

Do You Know What Employers Think of Your References? (Part II)

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As mentioned in Part I of this series, reference checking forms a crucial part of the hiring process. If you are a candidate who is being seriously considered for a position, your potential employer is going to need performance verification from people with whom you have worked. A Monster.com article titled What Employers Want From Job References, states: “It’s common for employers to seek out additional references for new hires — either online or through their own networks.”  They want to make sure you are who you say you are on paper, that you are going to be able to do the job, and that you will be a good fit for their team.

The norm is to ask for names and contact details of at least three individuals who can vouch for you. But not every employer relies 100% on candidate-supplied references. One reason for this is that many employers believe the job references practice is flawed because candidates tend to provide the names of people who will say good things about them. They view these references as  “candidate-supplied super fans”, according to Deborah Aarts, Senior Editor at Profit Magazine. “Candidate-supplied references are usually nothing more than glowing reviews”, she said.

I differ somewhat with this assumption, as the point of selecting references is to get someone who will attest to your background and capabilities. Someone who will, in fact, give you a glowing review. That said, I understand the point of the argument. While these ‘super fans’ may offer some flattering comments about you, employers also want to get a well-rounded perspective on you.

So, what do they do? They turn to other reference sources. These sources include LinkedIn, Facebook, and Twitter. These are ready-made sources where they can gather reference information on the candidate they are considering hiring, as well as on the job references provided. And, because such information is in the public domain, employers and recruiters do not need anybody’s permission to do conduct their due diligence.

It shouldn’t come as a surprise then that social media is the other job reference source that employers will use to conduct checks. Since that’s the case, your first task is to review your own online brand to see what will show up when someone searches for you. Is your profile consistent with the professional image you want to  portray? Is there someone else with the same name as yours? How is he or she depicted? Is there anything negative that could easily be attributed to you? If so, you need to address it quickly, not only with your potential employer but also with your job references. You don’t want them to discover anything that has nothing to do with you, then make a wrong assumption or cast any doubts about you.

Your second task is to review the online profiles of people you are considering asking to act as your reference. Check their LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, and other online profiles to see what shows up. Are they portrayed in a good light? You need to make sure that neither you nor your references are displaying behaviour online that could indirectly damage your brand and your chances of getting a job.

The final of the series – Part III – will look at some of the questions employers ask when they contact your job references.

What You Need to Know About Job References – Part I

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Most job seekers spend a lot of time on their resumes. A smaller number spend some time preparing for interviews, but not very many give the job reference process the priority it deserves. In fact, many treat it as the easiest part of the job search. That shouldn’t be.

It is customary for employers to conduct reference and background checks on candidates they are planning to hire. Studies have shown that 80% of employers conduct reference checks, and this is because they need to validate the accuracy of the resume and whatever other information the candidate provided. The process is critical to successful hiring and is necessary to ensure that employers have full information on potential employees. A bad hiring decision can prove very costly, and employers want to avoid this.

Start Early

It’s never too early to start building your reference list and engaging your references. Gather a list of names and review the list carefully. Think of people with whom you work, including your direct reports. Individuals who are able to tell stories of your capabilities and accomplishments, and who will leave the best impression.

Avoid individuals who might come across as overly dramatic. Such individuals can discourage the recruiter or hiring manager, or lead them to ask more questions. Do not use family members, friends, or anyone you know would not present you well, including anyone who fired you. Ideally, the references selected should be professionals you know through business, non-profit organizations, your place of worship, or professional associations.

Meet With Your References

Set up a time to meet in person with your references, if possible. They will feel more invested in your success. Provide a copy of your current resume and the job posting. It allows them to have the same information as the employer. Help them remember exactly what you did together. Ask them how they want to be contacted by employers and ensure you have their up-to-date contact information.

Give Adequate Notice

Give your references at least a day’s notice so they are prepared. The more notice they have, the better prepared they will be to speak on your behalf. Provide them with details of what the job entails; who might be calling; what skill-sets are required in the new job, and any specific project you want them to highlight. If they are not notified in advance of the call, they might not be prepared and may come off as uninformed. Such an interaction could reflect poorly on you.

Prepare a Customized Reference Sheet

Separate yourself from the pack and create a Reference Sheet. Ditch the usual sheet that lists name, contact number, and email address. Prepare a customized version that includes attributes that your references can attest to on your behalf. Provide some insights of your knowledge, skills and abilities that connect with the job for which you are applying. Share this document with your references so they will know how they are being presented to the recruiter or hiring manager, and what to focus on during the call.

Follow Up With Your References (after the Interview)

Give your references an idea of how the interview went and what things were highlighted during the discussion. This will help them respond well when they are called, and mention things that are relevant.

If your job search is taking longer than the norm, schedule a meeting or a telephone call to tell them how things are going, and to ask them questions. Ask who reached out to them, and if any of the questions were challenging for them to answer. This will give them an opportunity to talk things through with you and prepare you for future reference discussions.

Don’t Smother Your References

Some candidates might find themselves applying for numerous positions or going to several interviews, especially if the search is long. In such cases, have more than three individuals from whom to choose, and be selective in how you use them. You don’t want to overuse any of your references to the point where it becomes annoying for them.

Keep in Contact and Express Gratitude

It is important that you keep your references up-to-date with your progress. In fact, as often as you update your resume you should review and connect with your references. Be sure to let them know how much you appreciate their willingness to support you. This is a good way to show how you value them and it will help them to remember you in a most positive way in the future. As Marty Britton, of reference-checking firm, Britton Management, says, “Always thank your references, especially if you got the job. A handwritten note goes further than an email.”

This article is the first of a three-part series on Job References. It includes information from my book Tell Stories, Get Hired, as well as from notes taken during a webinar presented by Manpower Group in 2015.

Caught in a Salary Negotiation Trap? NEVER, EVER Do This…

Wallet with coins on top

When it comes to salary negotiations, experts will tell you to postpone such discussions until you have been offered the job. That does not mean you should wait until that time to craft your negotiation story.

Imagine this: You have moved to a different state where the economy isn’t booming and the job market is gloomy. You have been applying for jobs and getting interviews but not the offer. Finally, in one of these interviews you are asked about the salary you are expecting. You are thrilled, and you start your answer “Well, I am new to the city, I know the job market isn’t that hot right now. Although I have the credentials for the position, and several years of experience, I only have two years experience in the field. I am willing to start at an entry-level salary of $50K.”

The interviewer wraps up the interview and you leave, feeling a bit uncertain. Imagine a few days later you see the same job advertised with a salary range of $70-$100K. What do you do?

This is a real scenario that happened to one of my clients. I listened to him as he explained his dilemma. Family circumstances necessitated the move, and now he is in a situation where he has to get a job, any job – even an entry-level one. I could sense the desperation in his voice.

Salary negotiation is not a comfortable topic for most people. It becomes even harder when our words and body language tell a story of desperation. As desperate as you may be though, never, ever do what this client did. George C. Fraser, Chairman and CEO of FraserNet Inc. said, “Never bargain or job hunt from a position of weakness. Soar like an eagle, even when you are feeling like a wounded pigeon.” Easier said than done, but there are tools to help job candidates navigate the salary negotiation maze.

The first step is to conduct research so you are more informed when the discussion comes up. At minimum, start with tools such as Salary.com, Payscale.com, salary.monster.ca, Careerjournal.com and Salaryexpert.com. Canada’s Job Bank also has information. These tools allow you to conduct research about salary ranges based on industry, location, job title, experience, etc.

A new resource featured recently on Fast Company, is Paysa.com. One of its cofounders, Chris Bolte told Fast Company that the goal for the platform is to help people figure out how to understand what their value is in the market, and prepare them to have a more balanced, data-driven conversation with either a current or future employer.

To use the tool, a candidate would enter information such as job title, years of experience, company, location, education level, and skill set, and the Paysa platform would give a comprehensive picture of what the candidate is worth in the market.

Having said all of the above, it’s important to keep in mind that salary figures are not universally applicable. You need to take into consideration locations (cities, regions, provinces, states or territories). Having some information puts you in a better position to negotiate.

While you are negotiating don’t get stuck on the dollar figure. Some companies might not pay the salary you want, but you could negotiate for additional vacation, a more flexible work schedule, company-paid training, or other perks. These, if converted to dollars, could raise your total compensation package.

Additional Advice from an Expert

Carole Martin, President of The Interview Coach, and contributor to my book, Tell Stories Get Hired, said that the first rule of salary negotiation is to be prepared with your numbers. You need to know what you want. You never want to be caught off-guard. When they ask you questions about salary you want to be prepared and ready with answers.

You have several options when faced with the question:

  • You can tell them what you were making at your last job. (Weigh the pros and cons before you offer this information).
  • You can give them a range that is acceptable to you – making sure that the lowest number is enough to cover your basic needs. (Better way of handling this difficult question).
  • You can postpone the discussion until you have more facts about the company and the entire package. (If possible this is the best scenario for you. Only then will you be able to do a fair comparison of what you have made in the past; satisfy your own basic needs; and get the deal that is the best for you).

How you handle the salary negotiation discussion will be key to your ability to get what you want, and more, and you won’t get caught in a salary negotiation trap.

 

Warning! You Could Be Damaging Your Brand With This Resume

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Want to distinguish your resume from every other resume on the recruiter’s desk? Yes, you can! And you don’t have to create one that looks like a patchwork quilt. This type of a resume is one where an individual copies phrases and sentences from other people’s career marketing documents (resume, cover letter, bio, LinkedIn Profile), and present them as their own.

This is a fairly common practice, and one that might start quite innocently. Someone might read a line or two from a resume, cover letter or LinkedIn Profile that sounds great, and feels it would fit snugly into their resume. The problem here though, is that this is no different from the many documented cases of high profile individuals who embellished their resumes with degrees, skills, experience and awards that they did not have.

One incident that comes to mind is the British-born chef who once had a successful cooking show on the cable channel Food Network. He cooked up a lie that he had been a chef at Buckingham Palace, and was even knighted by the Queen.

Some may argue that it’s a stretch to equate some of these famous lies with copying blocks of text or bits and pieces from other people’s job search documents and inserting them into a resume. But, you can bet if such a patchwork quilt resume lands on the desk of an eagle-eyed recruiter or hiring manager, one’s credibility could be called into question.

HOW TO SPOT A PATCHWORK QUILT RESUME

It is very easy to spot a patchwork quilt resume. The information is incoherent; statements are generic, and some phrases do not match the person’s level of experience or background. Actions like these only serve to damage one’s brand, and elicit accusations of copyright infringements, plagiarism, and ethics. The fact is, if you are not able to capture your uniqueness on paper (or online), then you are better off seeking professional assistance.

HERE ARE SOME FACTS:

  • Your resume is a branding tool that tells YOUR story. It is authentic and compelling and showcases your value. This means, even if someone wakes you up in the middle of the night, you could easily and effortlessly articulate your accomplishments without fumbling. Why? Because you own those stories.
  • You are unique! There is no one else like you, with the same experience, accomplishments and work ethic. Your co-worker may have the same job description and may do the same work like you, but he or she is not your clone. Differentiate yourself.
  • Your aim is to create a resume that captures YOUR unique talents, accomplishments and experience. As much as you may be tempted to copy phrases, keywords and sentences from other people’s resumes because they sound good, it doesn’t help you in the long run. You are unique, and so should your resume.

HERE’S WHAT YOU CAN DO:

  • Instead of copying your friend’s resume or searching the Internet for samples you can reproduce as your own, take a look at your job description and ask yourself these questions: “What have I done with all the responsibilities I was given? What is my legacy in that role? How has the company benefitted from my presence?”
  • Read each job description statement and apply the ‘so what?’ principle to each. If one of your responsibilities is to “monitor and analyze sales promotion results...” Ask yourself, “So what? What did I do? What happened? “What was the outcome?”
  • Review your performance appraisals and comments from your boss and your peers. What is consistent about those comments? Do they highlight your strengths? Also, look for nuggets of your contributions from projects you worked on, objectives met and targets exceeded.
  • Start building a resume that tells YOUR story. For years you have been accumulating education, training, and experience and depositing them into your skills bank. Now all you need to do is to tap into that bank, withdraw the experience and achievements that relate to the position you are targeting, and you are ready to craft a resume that’s uniquely yours. In doing so, make sure each statement addresses your value proposition, and answers the “Why should we hire you?” question.

In this highly-connected digital environment that we occupy, a patchwork quilt resume will not work. In fact, it does not speak to the real you, and will more likely give the impression you have a Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde personality. You goal should be to craft a resume that reflects who you really are, and not one that could damage your brand.

Need professional assistance? Reach out to someone who can help you tell your unique story to make you stand out from your competitors.