Category Archives: Coaching

What to say when they ask you: how much do you make?

It’s often said that you don’t realize most of the monumental life decisions until after they have happened. The bar you decided to go to on a whim where you met your best friend. The chance encounter on a train that led to a new job. Even the haircut that led you future spouse to “accidentally bump” into you one day.

Sometimes you never see them coming.

Thankfully, salary negotiations are not one of those types of moments although, for many people, they often feel that way. Why? Because HR folks go out of their way to make them feel that way.

Of course, it all sounds so innocent:

HR: So this brings us to the end of the interview process. Feedback has been very positive but usually have a meeting to discuss before moving to the next steps. Just out curiosity, what is your current compensation?

Bam! That’s the sound a signpost on the crossroads of life makes when it’s thrown right at you.

How have you reacted in the past to this question?

Most people out of a combination of slight shock at the question being slipped in and a general sense of wanting to be helpful just hand over their current compensation numbers. What they don’t realize is that they just lowered their lifetime earnings by potentially hundreds of thousands of dollars.

“What??” you might be asking, “How is that possible?”

Good questions. Let’s step inside the mind of a HR person who does a lot of hiring.

Their mental model looks something like this:

  • Find out what the candidate currently makes
  • Most of the time that’s WAY less than we would be willing to pay them
  • Generally, people won’t leave for less than they currently make
  • Given the above, if they are sitting here interviewing, they are most likely not happy where they are
  • Therefore, if we offer them slightly (5% or so) more than they currently make and they take it, we’re golden!

“I get that Alex but it’s still 5% more than I make now!”. Very true. Let’s say you make $100,000. That’s an extra $5,000 more for you per year.

If you had said something like:

You: I’m sorry I don’t give out my current compensation numbers. However, I can say that I’m looking for $200,000.

Odds are you are going to end up at a number much closer to $200,000 than $105,000. If that number turned out to be $160,000 over the next five years you would have made an extra $300,000 (5 years x $60K) vs $25,000 (5 years x $5K).

“Wow! I never thought of it that way!” should be what you’re thinking now which is good.

Your next thought might be “But wait. Alex, these conversations are never that easy. Plus, I’m not a fast talker and these HR folks do this all day long! How can I compete with their years of experience?”

Excellent questions!

Later on in this post I’ll give some “scripts” that you can use. Before we get there though, let’s start by going over some of the basic assumptions of the negotiations.

Do I have to give my current compensation?

The short answer to this question is: no. You are not required legally or otherwise in the vast amount of cases to actually provide a number. There may be certain cases for government jobs etc that may require you to disclose compensation etc but we will ignore those as part of this discussion.

If I don’t give my current compensation, can the company decide not to give me an offer?

The answer to this is very clear: yes. This is certainly a possibility. Some companies refuse to make any offer without current compensation numbers. This is their right so it’s best to be prepared to run into them from time to time.

That being said, my general advice is do not work for these types of companies. Why? By taking this stance the company is signaling to you that they don’t value you based on your contributions to the company.
In fact, their policy communicates that they care more about keeping payroll low than they do about attracting top quality candidates.

Again, there are always exceptions but in both my personal and career coaching experience these are not firms you want to deal with.

I’ve heard that even if I don’t have to give my current compensation, I also shouldn’t give my expectations?

This answer is more complicated. From a pure negotiation strategy point of view, yes, you should never give the first number. This is based on the idea that if you give a number first, you are both anchoring yourself to that number and potentially giving a number substantially lower than what the other party was willing to offer. Further, it assumes that you have no knowledge of what the other party is willing to pay and no way of determining that information.

We can address these points one at a time.

First, with regards to anchoring, it is a perfectly rational game theory approach to lead off with a first number that is highly advantageous to you. This way, you are at least controlling the initial anchor point.

“But what if they were willing to pay me more??” you ask.

Good question. If you start off with a number already in your favor you have eliminated the prospect of getting a “bad” deal for yourself. While you could have potentially gotten a better deal, you have drastically increased the odds of getting a good deal.

“But doesn’t that cap the maximum I can get from them?”

No and here is why: it is perfectly ok to give your number, find out more about the role and then say the following: “I see. Well given what you’ve told me about the position, that’s a bigger role than I was expecting when I gave you my initial number. Given that, I am going to raise my expectations with regards to compensation”.

Second, this is the age of the Internet. With LinkedIn, Facebook, Glassdoor, emailing your friends who know friends etc it is incredibly easy to get a handle on what a firm pays its employees. Work your personal network and you’ll be surprised to find at least one friend/ex-coworker who knows what everyone makes. Some people make it their hobby to find out this kind of information and these friends can be a gold mine when it comes to salary negotiations. Barring that, headhunters and career coaches are also excellent sources of general compensation numbers.

So let’s get to the scripts.

NOTE: My comments are in italics.

HR: So how much do you currently make?

You: So as a professional courtesy to my current employer, I don’t give out current compensation numbers.

HR: Well, that makes it very difficult for us since we don’t know what to give you an offer that is below what you currently make.

Here they are appealing to your “helpful” side. Remember, it’s their job to deal with this so they want to make it as easy as possible for them.

You: I understand that. I still do not give out compensation numbers. If I end up being an employee at your firm and down the road I move somewhere else, I would extend that same courtesy to you.

HR: We appreciate that but we still need some kind of number to work off of.

They can be pretty persistent here so be strong!

You: I’m sure that you have a number in your head in regards to the type of value that someone with my background would be adding to your firm. How about we start there. What kind of number were you thinking?

You’ve now putting the ball in their court to give a starting number. They can basically come back with one of two answers

Answer 1: they give the number

HR: So we had in mind something around $X. What do you think about that?

If this is a number much less than you currently make you should ask yourself: “Do I want to work at a place that pays so little”?

If the number is higher than you currently make, first do a little dance of joy in your head and then your default answer should be:

You: That is somewhat lower than I was looking for. I would be more comfortable with 1.5 * $X.

NEVER accept the first offer! That’s another one of the iron laws of negotiations.

Answer 2: they REALLY don’t want to give a number

HR: I’m sorry we just don’t operate that way. I really need your current compensation.

You mentioned before that you generally don’t want to work for companies that operate this way. That being said, it’s always worth at least finding out what a company would pay. You can do that by being the first to offer a number.

You: Let me put it this way: it’s one of my core principles to not give out current compensation. I’ve read a lot about your firm and that is highly values it’s own principles and those of the people it hires so I’m sure you see where I’m coming from. I also understand your need so how about a compromise: I can give you my expectations and you can tell me if that’s in line with what you are looking for. How about $Y.

NOTE: $Y should be AT LEAST 1.5 times what you currently make and prefferably double. Yes, double Why? Because that is your starting point and you are going to most likely negotiate down from there so give yourself plenty of room to maneuver.

These are great points! I’ve got a negotiation coming up and I want to find out more. How do I do that?

One of the many services I offer as a career coach is how to handle these situations to your benefit. Hiring managers are at a distinct advantage in that they go through this every day. You may only have to negotiate a salary every few years.

After years of coaching clients through the same process, I can help you through every stage of the negotiation process via mock interviews, detailed scripts and sample emails that you can use with hiring managers and together we can maximize your future compensation.

You should check out my career coaching service.

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What’s really going on in a salary negotiation

You’ve probably experienced a conversation very similar to the following:

Hiring Manager (could also be a HR person): So we’ve come to the end of our general interview and answered your questions. Just out of curiosity, what is your current compensation?

You: I currently make $[your current salary].

HM: Great. And what kind of salary are you currently looking for?

You: I was thinking $[your current salary + 20%]

HM: Ok, great. Well, let me talk to the other folks who interviewed you and we’ll be in touch.

What just happened

Most people (who aren’t my clients), think that some form of the following unspoken agreement just happened:

You asked how much I make and because I’m a good and honest person, I told you. You then asked me what I wanted in salary which I also told you. My expectation is that because I disclosed my current compensation, as a good faith exchange you will offer me what I asked for.

Sound familiar? If not, and you’re reading this, my guess is that consciously or not many people think this way when approaching interviews. Why? Well, after having coached many clients over the years, I’ve come to the conclusion that this line of reasoning comes from most people approaching a job interview as they would an interaction with a friend of family member. Essentially: if I help you, you’ll help me.

What the person across the table from you is thinking

In the above scenario, the HR manager is working off of a very different mental model of what is happening.

They are following a structured set of steps that looks like this

  • Find out how much they make.
  • Find out what they want.
  • Once we know how much they make, we will offer them 5-10% more than they currently make.
  • If they accept, great!
  • If they counter with what they want, offer a little more.
  • Keep going back and forth until, most likely, we settle on a number half way between what they currently make and what they want. e.g they make $100K and they want $150K so let’s keep it under $125K if possible.

But Alex, that makes no sense! I’m a top quality performer! They should pay me what I want!

That’s an excellent point! However, there are a couple things working against you.

1. The Hiring Manager’s incentives

Let’s think about it from the hiring manager’s point of view. Which looks better to their boss:

  1. “Boss, I just hired a great engineer for what they wanted in compensation! It’s above what we pay everyone else and above market rates!”
  2. “Boss, I just hired a great engineer for less than what they wanted which also happens to be less than our average. That leaves more money in the budget to hire other candidates!”

Number 2 is a whole lot easier sell to a boss than number 1.

2. Because it works the vast majority of the time

Think about your past job switches and those of your friends. What was your/their attitude at the time?

Generally, the thought process goes something like this:

I can’t take this job anymore! I’m so frustrated. I want to have a better job and make more.

They end up at the interview, go through the above conversation, get offered 5% more than they make now and are so fed up with their old company that they say to themselves:

Well, they offered me 5% more than my old job so I’ll just take it.

Hiring managers see this all the time. Roughly 50% of the candidates they interview fall into this category. Another 25% of the time, the candidate will counter and everyone ends up at the “mid point” of the current and asked for compensation.

3. Anchoring/Bracketing

The last thing working against you is what is reffered as anchoring and bracketing.

What is anchoring? Here is an example: My guess is that there are 3 million people living in New York City. How many do you think there are?

Statistically speaking, most people will guess around 3 million even though the real number is much higher. You can pick other numbers and, again, people will guess around whatever number you first give.

Bracketing is similar. If you say to a hiring manager: “I make $X and I would be happy with $Y” you just “bracketed” the offer. The hiring manager thinks “Well, they would be happy at $Y so there is no reason to offer them more than $Y”.

So what do I do?

Here a couple quick points:

  • If you are going to switch jobs, start looking before you can’t take it anymore.
  • Don’t give out your current salary when asked and don’t deal with companies that pressure you to give it.
  • Don’t give a hard number when asked what you want.
  • If you feel you have to give a number, give a number higher than you would actually be happy with
  • Be willing to walk away if you don’t get what you want.

One thing I strongly advise not to do: lie about your current salary. Why? If you get hired at the new company and it comes to light that you were dishonest about your old salary (via background check, verifying with your old employer etc), you may be in for a lot of trouble. Your new employer will most likely see this as unethical and raise questions about your professionalism in general. I do not take on clients that have done this in the past.

These are great points but how do I that?

One of the many services I offer as a career coach is how to handle these situations to your benefit. Hiring managers are at a distinct advantage in that they go through this every day. You may only have to negotiate a salary every few years.

After years of coaching clients through the same process, I can help you through every stage of the negotiation process via mock interviews, scripts and sample emails that you can use with hiring managers and together we can maximize your future compensation.

You should check out my career coaching service.

My mailing list

In addition to this blog, I also have a mailing list.

If you would like to receive:

  • alerts whenever I add a new post
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How to tell if your manager believes in “heads I win, tails you lose”

In my last post, I went over some of the ways to tell if you have a bad manager. I received a lot of feedback asking me for some specific examples of manager behavior that, while bad, may be harder to detect.

In response to that feedback I’m going to present a conversation I had with a colleague in regards to what is sometimes called the “heads I win, tails you lose” strategy of management.

Me: How are things going?

Tom: Not so great.

Me: I’m sorry to hear that. I heard you just got promoted so I would assume you would be in a good mood. What’s going on?

Tom: Well, I was just given a new project to build a QA testing lab from the ground up.

Me: Isn’t your background in QA though?

Tom: It is! However, my background is in manual QA testing. I don’t have a technical background and I’ve never built a QA testing lab.

Me: Hmm. Did your manager give you any resources or get someone with less QA experience but with a good technical background?

Tom: Not really. When he gave me the project he said, and I quote, “I just received this project from the department head and, Tom, you were the first person I thought of. You’re so good with QA testing this is a perfect fit.”

Me: Does the department head have a background in technology and/or QA testing?

Tom: No, actually, quite the opposite. They have more of a business background.

Me: What happens if you are able to complete the project vs not being able to finish it?

Tom: Well, the department head is really tough. They usually takes credit for projects that succceed. I’ve also seen them demote or even let go people who don’t finish projects on time.

Me: So let me get this straight:

  • your manager gave you a project both they and you have little experience with
  • they didn’t give you the right resources to complete it
  • if you succeed they take the credit and if you fail you may be let go?

Tom: Wow! I never put it together that way. No wonder I was feeling down about this.

Me: This sounds like a pretty bad deal for you, Tom.

Tom: But I’m the kind of person that gets stuff done!

Me: Of course you are. It sounds like your manager was given a project they think isn’t going to work and then went through the following thought process:

Given how this company works, this project is probably going to be a disaster. Who do I know who:

  • Gets things done and may actually be able to pull it off
  • I can plausibly claim was the “best person to handle it” in the case that it fails
  • Tom, while you are certainly someone who gets things done, I would keep this in mind: a good deal is where both parties feel like they benefitted from being a part of the deal. This sounds like a lot of upside for your manager and lots of downside risk for you.

    Dealing with “heads I win, tails you lose” managers

    You will often find this type of person at large corporations and in middle management positions. These types of firms often give lip service to rewarding risk taking but in reality severely punish any failure. The best operating strategy for managers in these situations is to “hot potato” risky projects onto either others or subordinates.

    One way to handle this situation is to create a guaranteed positive outcome for yourself. e.g. In Tom’s case, if he were to take the project, he should negotiate in a technical resource as a direct report. This is a win-win for him as he gets an additional team member which is good for him as a manager (more direct reports) and good for the success of the project (he has technical assistance).

    Career Coaching

    If you would like to hear more about dealing with bad managers, one of the services I offer as career coach is helping you “manage up”, better deal with difficult bosses and create positive outcomes for your career.

    You should check out my career coaching service.

    My mailing list

    In addition to this blog, I also have a mailing list.

    If you would like to receive:

    • alerts whenever I add a new post
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How to tell if you have a bad manager

Over the years, many of my clients have asked me the same question:

Alex, how do I know if I have a good manager?

To help them answer that question, I often use a framework from legendary football coach Lou Holtz. It’s composed of three questions which he originally applied to coaches and players but today, I’ll show you how to apply it to your manager.

1. Can you trust your manager?

Trust comes first as it is both the easiest to understand and the most important since it is impossible to have a good relationship with anyone without it. Whether you realize it or not, you are continually making deals with your manager. These range from large deals such as “I agree to pay you $X” all the way down to “If you send that email out, I will make sure it gets addressed”. If you can’t trust that your manager will keep up their end of these deals, that can put you in a very difficult situation. Especially so if you can’t trust the bigger deals you’ve made around salary, benefits, vacation etc.

Here are some questions that show that your manager is not trustworthy, have they:

  • promised you one thing and done another?
  • told you that you were doing well but then you found out they told their manager something different?
  • consistently not held up their end of various agreements you’ve made with them?

2. Is your manager committed to excellence?

Top quality employees always want to work for a manager that is committed to creating a team that functions at its “best”. I put best in quotes because best can have different connotations for different companies, groups, products etc. A sales team may have a very different “best” than a customer support team. The difference is secondary to the point that the manager is constantly striving to improve not only themselves but the rest of the team.

One thing to keep in mind about excellence: it refers to a measure of quality that you both agree on. For example, if your manager’s goal is to be excellent at getting themselves raises and promotions while your goal is something else, that’s a pretty good indication that you and your manager may have some issues going forward.

Again, here are some questions to ask yourself to determine if your manager has issues with excellence:

  • Do they have two sets of standards: one for you and one for themselves?
  • Do they value and measure the key items that you value or only the items that make them look better?

3. Does your manager care about you?

While last, this point is certainly not least. Many years ago I was watching an interview with a motivational speaker that went something like this:

Interviewer: Wow, I can hear my producers in my earpiece saying “This guy is so intelligent”

Speaker: People often say that to me but I disagree. It’s not about intelligence. I care about people. Caring is more important than intelligence. Real change only comes from understanding someone’s needs and helping them to meet those needs. Intelligence may help me figure out the best way to do that but I still need to care to want to take action. Plus, even if I’m not intelligent, if I care about the outcome, I can always find someone intelligent to help me reach my goals.

Multiple studies over the years have shown that employees value acknowledgement and appreciation over even financial rewards. A manager that cares about you will not only acknowledge and appreciate you, they will go out of their way to provide you with what you need to accomplish your goals. A good example of this is when managers provide you with key resources that you require that are easy for them to provide. For example, if ten minutes of your manager’s time would save you hours and they take that time to help you, that’s a big win.

Some questions to help you identify that your manager doesn’t care about you:

  • Do you get task/assignments/projects that your manager knows are difficult and where you get the blame if it fails and they get the credit if it succeeds?
  • Does your manager consistently demonstrate that they don’t value your time e.g. showing up late for meetings, not answering emails promptly?
  • Is it very difficult to get them to do things that are relatively easy/quick for them and incredibly helpful to you and your team?

So how do you deal with a bad manager?

Helping you deal with bad managers is one of the services I offer as career coach. If you would like to hear more about how we could work together to help you “manage up”, better deal with difficult bosses and get what you want when it comes to your career, you should check out my career coaching service.

Check it out and we can get started on helping you get a better career.

My mailing list

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If you would like to receive:

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Why you should craft industry specific resumes

Over they years, many clients have asked me “Alex, I want to switch from industry X to industry Y. How do I do that?”

Well, one of the first ways is to structure your resume in such a way that a hiring manager or recruiter in industry Y will find it interesting.

“But I want my resume to show my full background?” is a common response I hear back.

In order to address this, I’ve decided to share an anecdote on resumes once told to me by an administrator at my old university:

I had just recently graduated from a JD/MBA program and I was super excited to start my career. I put together my resume showing all of my work experience in both law and business. I sent them out and eagerly waited for a flood of responses.

As time passed, I was somewhat surprised that I received no responses. I couldn’t understand it! I had always been told that having more education and more experience would make me more marketable. At least, that’s what the deans at the law and business schools told me when I signed up for the dual JD/MBA program.

It wasn’t until I spoke to an alumni that had also gone through the JD/MBA program that I understood what was happening. They pointed out that lawyers and business people often had less than positive views of each other. For example, from the alumni’s point of view, lawyers saw business people as “always wanting to do crazy things like start new businesses and take on lots of risk”. Business people, on the other hand, saw lawyer’s as “never letting the good things happen because they are so scared something will go wrong”.

This made sense to me and I hit upon a solution: I would make two resumes! One would be my “legal” resume and one would be my “business” resume. Each resume would only have work experience related to the relevant degree e.g. clerking with a judge would go on my “legal” resume and my internships would go on my “business” one.

After sending out both to the respective firms, my responses skyrocketed! I wish someone had pointed this out to me sooner.

Moral of the story

Many people are under the impression that “more is always better” when it comes to resumes. The anecdote above is just one example of how that is not necessarily always the case. It always pays to “know your audience” and to asks yourself “How can I show that I can add value to a potential hiring manager?”. Both of these questions require you to do some hard thinking to determine industry norms, cognitive biases, good and bad experiences the hiring manager may have had etc etc.

Resume Review/Updating

One of the services I offer is a complete review and rewrite of your current resume. If you would like to hear more about how we could work together to help update your resume, build a job network and get what you want when it comes to your career, you should check out my career coaching service.

Check it out and we can get started on helping you get a better career.

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If you would like to receive:

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“If he doesn’t work out, you can take his salary out of my bonus”

The title of this post is an actual statement. It was made by one of my former managers to their boss during a discussion about whether they should hire me.

How did it happen? I am glad you asked because the backstory highlights several of the points I advocate to my clients during career coaching.

To start, let’s rewind back a few months. I was coming to the end of a three year stint running professional sports tournaments for a mid-size sports promotion company. It was an amazing experience that took me all over the United States and even to Europe. It was also dangerous (outdoors/occasional lightning/lots heavy equipment) and I had reached the highest level I could within the company (General Manager). While there are many, many interesting stores about working there and I learned a great deal, suffice it to say I was looking for more of a challenge but was unsure as to what that might be.

Thankfully, while working, I was able to coach a college club sports team. One day at a practice, one of my former players who had since graduated happened to be there. He walked up to me and the conversation went as follows:

Player: Alex, have you thought about working for [name-of-big-investment-bank]?

Me: Actually, no but I’m open to the idea.

Player: Great! We are looking for people and out of all of my friends, I think you would be a great fit. Just send me a copy of your resume.

I promptly did.

After a month or two, I received a call out of the blue from the hiring manager. We talked about my approach to technology and some of my hobbies e.g. programming and he was impressed. He asked me in for an in-house interview with the rest of his team. One quote from him in particular struck me from this part of the process:

Manager: While your background isn’t the typical one we look at, you were personally recommended from one of our top team members and that counts for a lot with us.

The in-house interviews went well and next thing I knew I was negotiating salary and start dates. It was a big adjustment from a small sports company to one of the biggest investment banks on the planet but, overall, I was really enjoying the new work and my team members where great.

About six months later, we were at an after hours work function and my manager was talking to some of the developers that my team interacted with on a daily basis. Someone asked how I was hired and my manager proceeded to tell the following story.

So Alex had gone through the interviews and technical tests and passed with flying colors. He was a strong-yes for hiring but I still needed to have him reviewed by HR and get sign off from the Big Boss.

One day, the Big Boss calls me into their office:

Big Boss: We can’t hire Alex

Manager: Why not? He’s great and the whole team is excited to have him start!

Big Boss: Well, first off, he hasn’t worked for a corporation in several years and, second, he’s owned his own business. As a rule of thumb, we generally don’t hire people with those characteristics as we don’t think they will be a good fit.

Manager: That’s ridiculous! He’s a top candidate and we could really use him.

Big Boss: Yes, I’m sorry but that’s how it works.

Manager: How about this: I say we hire him and give him six months. If for any reason he doesn’t work out, you can take his salary out of my bonus!

Big Boss: You’re serious?

Manager: Absolutely!

Big Boss: Ok. Hire him and I’ll hold you to that.

Manager: Great!

Can you imagine? We would have lost a great employee just because of some corporate rules that don’t make a lot of sense.

I had never heard this story before, I was very suprised. Plus, as I had built up an excellent relationship with the developers, they were pretty shocked at this story. They couldn’t understand how rules like this would be put in place when the company was obviously in need of quality employess.

THE TAKEAWAY

At this point, I want to highlight some of the points that I often go over with clients that are illustrated by this story:

Companies often have rules that limit hiring.

Every firm, large or small, has some kind of “filter” on who they hire. Those rules can be written down, “rules of thumb” or even completely arbitrary based on the hiring manager.

Those rules are essentially “made up”

I use the term “made up” for several reasons. First, they are not rules based on legal requirements. Second, they are not based on hard evidence a majority of the time. If anything, the hard evidence would usually lead to those rules being thrown out if a proper, evidence based review was performed.

Personal recommendations from a trusted network can easily bypass/trump those rules

This is one of the key points I go over with my clients. There is a strong belief that using recruiters/job boards etc is the best way to get a new job. I disagree. Building and in turn leveraging a strong career network is often a much more efficient use of career planning and job searching.

If you would like to hear more about how we could work together to help build your network and you get what you want when it comes to your career, you should check out my career coaching service.

Check it out and we can get started on helping you get a better career.

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How to advance your career, one manager at a time

Have you ever found yourself asking yourself the following situation:

Man, I just don’t know how to please my manager! Every day I come to work and do all of the tasks assigned to me in addition to helping other people do their tasks and it’s I get no appreciation from my boss. It’s just so frustrating! I wish I knew how to stand out from the rest of my co-workers and show that I’m a great employee.”

If you have, congratulations because you are in good company. Many of my past clients have contacted me with exactly the same scenario. I’ll present a sample (and fictional) conversation to help show you how best to approach impressing your manager.

Me: So tell me a little about your day-to-day?

Client: Well, our line of work involves a lot of very detailed work. We have a “pipeline” of requests and each one requires several steps to complete.

Me: And how do you measures your productivity?

Client:I consider it a good day if I can complete a majority of the tasks during the day. Since it’s my primary job function, the more I complete the better I feel.

Me: I see. Are you measured on the number of tasks that you complete?

Client: Yes, absolutely. It’s part of year end review process that we are ranked based on our completion of our tasks.

Me: And how do you rank against your co-workers?

Client: I’m usually one of the most productive in terms of completion rate for new requests which is actually really frustrating.

Me: Why is that?

Client: It’s frustrating because in the time I’ve been there, I’ve seen other people with lower completion rates get promoted ahead of me or get assigned to more interesting projects. I do more work than them but it doesn’t feel like I’m being rewarded by manager. On the contrary, I get more work to do.

Me: I can see how that would be very stressful. A quick question, are you and your manager ranked on the same metrics? e.g. Are they ranked based on the overall completion rate of the team they manage?

Client: Hmmm, actually, that’s a good question because I’m pretty sure the answer is no. We have an overall customer satisfaction survey and from what I’ve heard from other managers that is the primary ranking metric and their level.

Me: So if Understand correctly, there are two different metrics for rankings employes at your level and the managers one level above you. Is request completion rate a primary driver of customer satisfaction?

Client: While I guess that it is pretty important, I would say that it’s not the main driver. The customer wants to feel that their requests are being handled promptly and efficiently. Come to think of it, a customer that had a completed task but didn’t know it was completed could potentially feel upset that their request was taking too long. The reverse would also be true, a customer that had a task in progress but knew exactly where it was in the process and the ETA may not be happy but they would at least feel good about the over all process.

Me: Given that, how would you compare your actions to those of some of the people who have been promoted ahead you?

Client: Oh wow! I see where you are going with this. They were always emailing the customers and letting them know the current status. I always thought that was a waste of time since a customer would be happier with a request completed more promptly. I probably should have focused more on communicating status while balancing that against getting the tasks completed. Especially since customer satisfaction is what my manager is getting ranked on!

At this point, I hope the overall thrust of this post has become clear.

Over the years, I’ve coached many people who were smart, hardworking, organized and great communicators. They have grown frustrated with their work because they feel that they are not being rewarded for the effort that they are putting into their work.

It is incredibly rewarding to walk them through an exercise like the one above and having them realize that they’re frustration is not due to a lack of effort but, rather, that they have channeled their effort in the wrong direction. To quote one client:

“Alex, I realized that everyone thinks they are working hard in their own mind. To advance my career, I realized I had to work hard in the eyes of my manager.

A good way to keep this in the forefront of your mind is to think of your manager as one of your customers. Just like every customer, they have requirements that need to be filled and frustrations that they wish could be handled by someone else. If you can figure out how to do that while also servicing your actual business customers, you will be in a very enviable position.

I can help you get there. Together you and I can create a tailored plan to identify exactly what it is that your manager values and start putting together concrete tasks to maximize your value in their eyes.

If you would like to hear more about how we could work together to help you get what you want when it comes to your career, you should check out my career coaching service.

Check it out and we can get started on helping you get a better career.

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What an interview is really about

Most of the people I’ve coached over the years had a less than perfect understanding of what an interview is really about.

How do I know this? One easy way is to take a look at the kind of questions that they ask:

  • What if I’m not qualified?
  • What if I can’t answer their questions?
  • What if they don’t like me?
  • etc…

These questions show that the candidates, generally, have quite a bit of uncertainty about the actual interview process. My belief is that this comes from a lack of understanding about the hiring process from the manager’s point of view.

To help deal with this fear of the unknown, let’s go over what a typical hire looks like from the point of view of the person actually doing the hiring:

Gather resumes

This can be from several sources including: recruitment firms, recommendations from employees and online job boards. The number of resumes can easily be in the hundreds especially if using job boards. At this point, the person doing the gathering is using some pretty low level filters to exclude people as quickly as possible.

Review Resumes

This is usually done by the hiring manager alone or includes both the manager and the team that will be working alongside the candidate if they are hired.

At this point, the resumes are getting much more individual attention. One of the key things to note here is that there may be broad spectrum of opinions on each resume. For example, current employees with many years of experience may give more weight to experienced candidates and vice versa.

The main take away is that this is often a very subjective exercise. The overall goal though is to find someone who, on paper, appears to be qualified for the position based on what they have put on their resume.

Interview

Ah, the part that makes people the most nervous!

The hiring manager has a couple questions they want answered by the end of the interview:

1. Does the candidate match their resume?
2. Can the candidate answer questions in such a way that they demonstrate that they can handle the day-to-day work environment?
3. Does the candidate fit in with the rest of the team?

Believe it or not, question #1 is rarely an automatic yes. Candidates put all kinds of exaggerations on resumes that lead hiring managers to ask themselves: “Is this the same person??” It happens so often, in fact, that managers are incredibly distrustful of resumes which in turn is why they put such a premium on in person interviews. They need to verify that the candidate matches the resume. One highlight of this, if your resume accurately matches your experience and skills, you can consider yourself golden!

Question #2 is really the meat of the interview from the manager’s perspective. Every within the same industry, every company operates in their own idiosyncratic manner. While a candidate may have worked in the same industry before, the manager still wants to verify that the candidate can handle the types of situations and questions might face working on the manager’s team. Each manager/team does this differently and it depends heavily on the type of job. For example, jobs involving lots of troubleshooting and analysis result in interviews that are very question/scenario based. On the other hand, sales positions have a completely different process. For an excellent recount of a sales interview, I highly recommend this post from Ben Horowitz.

As a potential candidate yourself, the main take away is to remember to “know your audience”. The questions you receive during the interview should give you an excellent insight into what your interviewers are looking for. In fact, being able to identify what the interviewers are looking for may be part of their plan. This is especially true in fields like consulting where understanding what the customer wants even when they don’t is highly valued.

Assuming that questions 1 and 2 have been answered, the final stage of the interview is to see the “fit” of the candidate. As already mentioned, every team is different. Some enjoy very little day to day “banter” while working whereas others may enjoy joking/teasing constantly. While many of my past clients have expressed some concern over this part of the process I usually give them this advice: fit goes both ways. While it is obviously important to the hiring firm that you fit in with them, it is even more important that the company fit YOU.

Speaking from personal experience, I once took a job where, based on the fit portion of the interview, I had strong doubts about how I would like the work environment. I ended up taking the job due to several other strong positives (salary, commute, etc) but I ended up leaving 18 months later primarily because the “fit” was no good. Specifically, I prefer a gregarious, dynamic and outgoing workplace whereas this firm was oriented more towards a quiet and structured work atmosphere.

The best way to measure fit is to ask questions. In the interview, ask the people interviewing you about themselves e.g. where did they work before, why do they work there etc. It’s a lot like dating that way.

In closing, hopefully this post has helped calm some concerns by giving you an insider’s view of what an interview is really about.

If you found the above interesting and would like to hear more about how you and I could work together to help you get what you want when it comes to your career, you should check out my career coaching service.

I offer everything from mock interviews to salary negotiation coaching.

Check it out and we can get started on helping you get a better career.

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One more reason networking is very important and how to jump start your network

Imagine for a moment you are a hiring manager. You have been trying to fill a spot on your team for several months and have gone through over 100 resumes and at least 20 in person interviews.

You’ve finally gotten two candidates you would consider hiring and here is a summary of each:

Candidate 1

At almost every stage of the hiring process this person has been outstanding. Their resume shows a good mix of solid in-industry work experience coupled with a varied mix of firms that match well with the additional skills you are looking for. On their phone interview they showed great communication skills and phone presence. Finally, they did incredibly well in the in house interview showing cool under pressure and good analytical skills. They also have very strong understanding and grasp of the key technical parts of your business and everyone of your co-interviewers is recommending a strong hiring decision.

The only thing you don’t have is any personal recommendations from people you know and trust that have worked with this candidate in the past.

Candidate 2

This candidate is average in just about every category you look for. Phone skills, technical knowledge of your industry, work experience and their resume are ok but not great. They would probably fit into your team ok and do acceptable work but you don’t think they will be hitting any home runs once hired. Your team feels the same way about them.

One big thing is that a good friend of yours who you’ve worked with in the past who has also worked with the candidate confirms your thoughts that they are not terrible but not great either.

So who would you hire?

A lot of folks think that Candidate 1 is the obvious choice. Why wouldn’t a rational person go for such a strong candidate with so many obvious green flags?

Excellent question!

To answer, here is a real life scenario that many hiring managers have either experienced themselves or been on a team where this happened:

The last person to interview Candidate 1 sent you their notes saying they recommended a hire. As you scan through the resume one last time you notice that several of your co-workers are alumni of the candidate’s current employer. You reach out to some of those folks to ask their feedback on the candidate. The first feedback to come back is overwhelmingly negative. Phrases like “don’t hire them! They throw people under the bus whenever they can!”.

You first thought is that maybe this was an inter-personal conflict of some kind. However, after the third internal feedback comes back along the same lines you start to get suspicious. You reach out to old friends working at other companies who might know the candidate and the negative feedback gets worse.

You realize that this candidate must be one of those people who interviews well, has a great resume and good work experience but once you hire them they become a toxic presence on your team. These people cause lots of harm to team morale and are very difficult to remove from an organization. Since you were on a team in the past where this happened, you count yourself lucky to have “dodged” this bullet.

End of the Scenario

Now what do you think?

Given what I just described above, who would you hire now? I can tell you who most hiring mangers would pick: Candidate 2. Even without the negative feedback, they usually think “Go with a known quantity. The risk of going with an unknown is just too great”.

This works two ways however. In my own example, I switched from working for a company that organized mid size professional sporting events to applying to work on a trading floor for one of the largest banks in the world. I passed all of the interviews and tests and had a very strong personal recommendation from one of the current team members. HR went to my hiring manager and said: “You can not hire this guy! He has no corporate work experience!” My manager said to them “Hire him. If he doesn’t work out then you can take his salary out of my bonus.” And I got hired. This is a 100% true story and, yes, it really happened.

At this point, you are hopefully thinking “Wow, having a strong network that can recommend me is great! But I have only ever worked for a few companies, how can this help me?”

I’m glad you asked! Here’s a question for you: what’s an easy way to double the size of your network? Think hard.

One of the easiest ways is to switch to a new company. If you go from one similar sized company to another then you just effectively doubled the number of people who have worked with you. Since people tend to move and stay in an industry, this has a ripple effect as time goes on to the point where in a few years, you’ll have contacts at multiple firms to help you transition to your next firm.

If you found the above interesting and would like to hear more about how you and I could work together to help you get what you want when it comes to your career, you should check out my career coaching service.

I offer everything from mock interviews to salary negotiation coaching.

Check it out and we can get started on helping you get a better career.

My mailing list

In addition to this blog, I also have a mailing list.

If you would like to receive:

  • alerts whenever I add a new post
  • private coaching tips and advice offered only to my mailing list members

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