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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.

How to Interview For a Law Firm

Despite what you may have heard and read, many job seekers, including new lawyers, still get the jitters when they are invited to an interview. However, unlike painting, you don’t need to be Monet in order pull in a few useful skills that can help you land the job. New lawyers looking to get their foot in the door will need a bit more help than just your regular job interviewing tips.

Law firm jobs are sometimes difficult to obtain, and while most law firms prefer to hire someone with a good amount of experience, they’re willing to consider new hires who can nail the interview. What you need is the right mindset and a few helpful tips to put you on the right track.

First of all, it’s best to get out of your mind the idea that your interview is going to be like a courtroom. While you are on trial in a certain sense, you won’t be asked complex legal questions. The law firm wants to get to know you. Your resume will play a major role in that conversation, but how you handle yourself in the back-and-forth dialogue will be the most telling part for them.

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New attorneys will need a resume that is clear of ambiguity. To the point and totally free of spelling and grammar errors; remember that your resume is going to be the first thing the law firm sees. Avoid including extraneous information that is unrelated to your graduate and undergraduate education, and that includes unrelated work or volunteer experience.

Before handing in that application, be sure to conduct research on the law firm you are applying to. Know their history, the kind of law they practice, their size and especially any of their notable accomplishments. A lot of this information can be gleaned from their website and local news media.

Keep in mind that having questions to ask your interviewer is a good strategy. This shows your interest in the company, and your desire to want to learn more about them. Failing to ask questions can make you appear uninterested. You will also want to know more about the law firm’s culture, and to determine whether it will be a good fit for you. Remember it’s a two-way street. The interviewer is assessing whether you will be a good fit for the firm, and you should do so as well. Consider asking questions about how the firm handles assignments for associates, development strategies and continuing education.

The term “Dress for Success” applies for your law firm interview. Professional attire is commonplace for law firms, so make sure you are properly prepared and that your own personal presentation fits the bill. Also review the types of questions your interviewer is likely to ask. This can include question such as:

  • Where do you see yourself in 10 years?
  • What type of practice are you interested in?
  • Tell me about a time when you went above and beyond the call of duty at work.

You will also be questioned about your resume. Make sure you know your resume thoroughly, and be prepared to elaborate when asked.

Make sure to exude confidence at all times, but avoid sounding arrogant. Be sure that you keep your conversation to the topic. Avoid making any disparaging remarks about others or other law firms.

Prior to your interview, make sure to research your interviewer(s). Know their career history and accomplishments and be prepared to weave some of this research into the conversation. This will not only show that you went the extra mile to find out something about them, but will give you something pertinent to discuss instead of the standard ‘How is the weather?’ small talk. Having said that, avoid getting too personal.

Finally, never forget to follow up! This includes a handwritten thank-you note that individually addresses a specific topic of discussion in the interview. Make sure to send the note the day after your interview. In fact, send it the same day, if you can. If a few weeks pass without any contact from the law firm, do not be afraid to send an email inquiring about the position.

For an easy to remember, easy to digest version of this article, Tenge Law Firm LLC, kindly contributed the article and accompanying Infographic below for you to use as your visual guide on How To Interview For A Law Firm.

 

 

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.

The Truth About Colour in Your Resume

Whether you are an executive, a manager or mid-career professional, in a tight job market you know you are competing against equally qualified candidates for the same position. What can you do with your resume (and your other career marketing documents) to differentiate you from your competitors? Infuse them with a tinge of colour.

Before you baulk at the idea, take a look at the Colour Emotion Guide below. It contains some of the most recognizable brands. Notice their logo colours? They did not choose them by accident. A lot of thought went into their decision.

Image credit: The Logo Company

      Image credit: The Logo Company

Colour speaks a powerful language even without uttering a word. It evokes emotion. It plays a huge role in marketing. Corporations such as IBM and Coco Cola use colour in their branding with the hope it will evoke a positive response from consumers. In an Entrepreneur.com article, The Psychology of Color on Branding and Marketing, writer Gregory Ciotti states that “It is of paramount importance for new brands to specifically target logo colors that ensure differentiation from entrenched competitors.”  As a job seeker, you are also involved in marketing and should employ some of the same tactics as the big brands if you want to stand out.

For those of us who collaborate with clients on their career marketing documents, there is a rationale behind our use of colour. Although our main aim is to help clients uncover their value proposition and tell a focused story, we are also involved in developing an ad campaign to help them differentiate themselves from their competitors. This may include designing a logo, adding some lines, boxes or charts, and adding colour. More often than not colour is used sparingly to ensure it does not overpower and detract from the main message

All this colour dialogue might not resonate with everyone. First of all, when it comes to resumes, opinions are plentiful as to the perfect design, length and format. If ten people look at a resume, it will garner ten different responses. Second, colours mean different things to different people, depending on one’s culture and personal likes and dislikes. However, what most people would agree on is that resume appearances have evolved, and are no longer restricted to black ink on white, gray or ivory paper.

As alluded to above, colour impacts our psyche. It induces an emotion. Generally, if one sees red (as in a flashy red car), it is supposed to denote energy, flamboyance, and dominance; blue symbolizes tranquility, trustworthiness and confidence, and green signifies nature, growth and generosity. The list below contains a few popular brand colours and their meanings:

  • Blue is very popular and implies honesty, trustworthiness, tranquillity, confidence and authority.
  • Red is very intense and aggressive, and draws attention.
  • Gold is associated with value, luxury and prestige. It reflects wisdom, beauty and generosity.
  • Gray is neutral, calm, and conservative but also implies security and reliability.
  • Green has an harmonizing effect. It is associated with nature, health and growth; balances the emotions, inspires compassion, and encourages generosity and kindness.
  • Orange inspires warmth and optimism, and creates enthusiasm. It also suggests affordability and cheap.

While the content of a resume is of paramount importance, anyone who wants to differentiate him or herself from their competitors, should experiment with a dash of colour in its design. It just might boost their brand, garner some extra attention and hopefully evoke an emotional response from an employer.

Want to determine your brand colour? Watch this 4-minute video from the Personal Branding website of William Arruda, developer of the 360Reach Personal Branding Assessment (a tool that I am certified to administer): Discovering My Brand Colour.

Are you ready for the experiment? Go ahead!

 

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.

7 Better Things to Do on the Drive to Your Interview Than Stress

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[Article contributed by Millenial Career Expert Sarah Landrum]

Your big interview is close; anxiety is setting in, and you know that by the time you are ready to make the commute to the interview, you’ll be one giant ball of stress. To make matters worse, you will be driving to the interview, and when under pressure, driving isn’t the most fun. Here are seven things you can do during the drive to your interview to lessen your stress.

  1. Crank Up the AC: Stress has a way of fogging up our brains, making articulating what we’re thinking difficult. If you’re feeling groggy or sluggish, roll down the windows or crank up the air conditioning in your car, even if it’s a chilly day. With some fresh air hitting your face, you’ll liven up in no time and be able to think more clearly. An additional advantage is if you’re prone to sweating is that the cold air will work to calm your nerves.
  1. Listen to Some Music: Whether you’re feeling excited, overwhelmed, stressed or all of the above before the big job interview, music can lower stress levels immensely. The week of your interview, take the time to create a playlist with songs to calm you down and an upbeat one to get you pumped up. If you’re not into music, you can still take your mind off the interview. There are various podcasts you can listen to, including ones covering pop culture, food and other lighthearted topics. Depending on your mood while driving to the interview, you’ll have plenty of options for your listening pleasure.
  1. Snack Smartly: Before your interview, your stomach may feel like it’s in knots and it might be hard to eat. However, nothing is worse than being in the middle of a sentence with your future boss, only to be interrupted by your stomach gurgling its displeasure at finding itself on empty. Prior to your interview, find a healthy snack that won’t be messy and isn’t going to make your breath putrid. Fresh veggies, a protein-packed smoothie or a scone or muffin will work perfectly. Snacking smartly can help to wake you up and give your brain the fuel it needs to ace the interview. Just make sure it ends up in your stomach and not down the front of your suit or blouse. It may be best to pack another shirt just in case.
  1. Go Zen: You might be lucky enough to have a yoga session right before your interview to release some stress, but why not bring the good vibes of the studio with you? With some essential oil room spray, relaxing music and a positive mantra to repeat to yourself, you can focus on the drive while melting away stress. By the time you arrive at your interview, you’ll feel refreshed and have a positive outlook for your potential new employer.
  1. Get a Massage: Tell stress to take a hike by getting your own personal massage as you drive. Old massaging cushions required a wall outlet to power them, but now, your car’s 12v charger will do just fine with various massager models. There are various types of car cushion massagers available, so do your research to find the best one for you and your budget.
  1. Practice Your Smile and Posture: Driving can be tough on your back depending on how far you’re traveling, and even with a car cushion massager, you may start to feel anxious just because you’re stuck and can’t burn the nervous energy off. The good news is you can practice good posture and a warm smile anywhere. According to a recent study, candidates who smiled less were deemed more favorable for jobs considered to be serious and professional. However, candidates who smiled at the beginning and end of the interview faired better than candidates who smiled throughout the entire interview. So practice those award-winning smiles for when you first arrive and when you leave.

Great posture – shoulders down, head up, and back – work for any type of job interview and shows you are confident, poised and ready to address anything that comes your way. Let your body language reflect your attitude about the job.

  1. Check Your Face and Breath: Stuck at what seems to be an extra long red light with only a mile or two to go? Take the time to flip down your mirror and give those pearly whites a once over. If you were snacking in the car, this part is especially important before you make your way into the interview. Having chia seeds from your smoothie stuck in your teeth won’t really win you any points. Make sure if you’re wearing makeup that nothing is smeared, and check your hair, especially if the windows were down or the AC was cranked up. Your looks will make the first impression, so ensure your looks are wow-worthy in a professional way.

A certain degree of stress is normal. It pumps up the adrenaline and allows you to be more focused, so don’t allow it to derail your chances of doing well in the interview. Recognize the stress for what it’s worth, then start focusing on success strategies to ace your interview.

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Contributed by Sarah Landrum, a freelance writer and millennial career expert. Her blog, Punched Clocks, is all about finding happiness and success in your life and career.

 

What You Need to Know About Job References – Part III

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This is the final of the three-part series on Job References. The first part of this article looks at how to handle negative references, and the latter part contains a list of 18 questions that job references could be asked by potential employers.

How to Handle Negative Job References

Most employers know that people are not perfect and that work relationships sour. However, if something had happened at any of your jobs that could potentially put you in a bad light, you should be ready, if asked, to explain the highs and lows in each of those positions. This is not the time to badmouth the boss, ex-boss or anyone else. If the relationship was not all that great, say so, but frame it in a way that’s open and honest. Here is a suggestion:

“I am not sure what George at The Widget Company would say about me at this point since he wasn’t too happy when I resigned. After three years in the department, I was bypassed for a promotion and asked to train the new hire. I decided it was time to explore other opportunities and so I left for the position with ABC Company. That position represented not only a hike in salary, but the responsibilities were exactly what I was looking for. As you can see, I excelled in that role and was promoted within 12 months of joining the company.”

If you are willing to be transparent and authentic, and discuss the situation candidly while focusing on lessons learned, you could end up being a better reference for yourself than anyone else could.

Questions Your References May be Asked

In an article in the Globe and Mail, a job seeker asked, Why are references even required in this day and age when information about a candidate’s job history and accomplishments can be found online…?” Great question, but as mentioned in the earlier series, it is very costly to make the wrong hire. Therefore, employers look for honest answers, not only during the interview but when they contact your job references. Make sure your references are prepared in advance.

The following questions represent a sample of what your references may be asked. While there are no guarantees, knowing what these questions are ahead of time will put you in a better position to advise your references on what they may be asked:

  1. Can you verify candidates date of employment, title, dates and role?
  2. Is the candidate eligible for rehire? Why or Why Not?
  3. Did the candidate go above and beyond what was required?
  4. What are their strong points? Areas for improvement?
  5. Is there anything else you can add about the candidate, or that I should consider before we hire?
  6. What was she like to work with?
  7. How did she handle conflict?
  8. To what extent was she perceived to be a team player?
  9. On a scale of 1-10, how would you rate the candidate?
  10. Describe the candidate’s day-to-day responsibilities on the job
  11. What kind of situation would you not hesitate to put the candidate in? What kind of situation would give you pause?
  12. Provide an example of how the candidate raises the bar for herself and for those around her.
  13. If you could create the perfect work environment for the candidate, what would it look like?
  14. What kind of development plan was communicated to the candidate and how did he respond?
  15. How would you describe his interpersonal skills?
  16. What would you say motivated her most?
  17. Why did the candidate leave?
  18. Could the candidate have stayed if he had wanted to?

While your job references will not be asked all of the above questions, it is important that you, the job candidate, familiarize yourself with them and share them with your job references. The answers they give could be what stands between you landing the job or being bypassed.

A final thought on references: When asking someone to act as a reference, pay attention to their response. If they were slow to respond, or appeared lukewarm, this could be a warning sign. Select someone else. It’s better to have someone who is enthusiastic about speaking on your behalf than someone whose lack of enthusiasm could land you at the bottom of the list for consideration.

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

Job References_WCS

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.