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Often there are nuggets of wisdom from other professions or careers that you can leverage in your own career or life.
One of my favorite nuggets is a technique I learned when I worked in venture capital.
Venture capitalists, like John Doerr or Vinod Khosla, are investors in start-ups that risk a lot of money on a bare concept or idea and – if things go well – make a fortune for themselves and their investors. Examples of such investments are Google, Intel, Sun Microsystems or even simple websites like Mint.com.
Venture capitalists must weed through literally thousands of investment ideas that people pitch to them before they find a diamond in the rough like Google. In fact they will invest in hundreds of companies and only a handful of them will be true blockbuster successes.
For that reason, the best venture capitalists are true masters of managing the funnel: weeding through thousands of ideas effectively without wasting too much time on the duds, and carefully betting their time and mental focus on the most attractive ideas.
In particular they use a technique that I call “finding the weakest link”. This technique allows them to very quickly test the validity of a very complex idea. I think this technique is useful in many situations in life and worth knowing about.
The technique
1. Spell out logic chain
2. Find weakest link
3. Test weakest link
4. If fails, kill idea, if holds true test next weakest link
5. Repeat until entire logic chain is successfully tested
Every investment opportunity venture capitalists come across is based on some sort of logic chain – a set of assumptions and conclusions that all must hold true for the idea to work out.
For example, if my idea is to become the internet’s premier source of tuna sandwiches, my logic chain (in a much simplified form) probably sounds something like this:
In order for my tuna sandwich website to succeed:
I need to be able to make tuna sandwiches that customer really enjoy AND
I need to be lower cost in making tuna sandwiches than anyone else AND
I need to be able to ship my tuna sandwiches for very low cost to my customers before my sandwiches spoil AND
Customers need to be willing to wait for my sandwiches to be shipped.
If I would pitch this idea to a venture capitalist, he would develop a logic chain and then try to guess which assumption is the weakest link – which assumption is most likely not true. There is no science to making that guess – it is based on experience and intuition. For the example above, the VC might have a hunch that customers really don’t want to plan their tuna sandwich consumption ahead of time and won’t want to wait for FedEx to deliver the sandwich.
Next the venture capitalist will do his homework to try to verify that weakest link.
So in our example, the VC will try to talk to several tuna sandwich connoisseurs to see if his hunch is right or wrong. If is hunch is right – and the assumption is wrong and busted, he will realize that he broke the logic chain. The idea is no longer viable and he will drop it. If the connoisseurs surprise him by saying they would totally wait for a day or two for a great sandwich, he will then identify the next weakest link and pressure test it.
If he tests all links in the value chain to his satisfaction he will consider the idea for investment. If one of the links fails the test, he will move on unless he can think of a way to fix the problem.
The takeaway
So aside from getting you excited about having a tuna sandwich for lunch, why should you be interested in this technique? I think it is very helpful approach whenever you need to make a choice and important decision in your career. It will allow you to get to the right answer very quickly and ensure that you don’t waste time on dead end paths. Examples:
Picking the right market for your new product
Hiring the right person
Choosing the best strategy for your marketing plan
Picking the next best career move

Background

Often there are nuggets of wisdom from other professions or careers that you can leverage in your own career or life.

One of my favorite nuggets is a technique I learned when I worked in venture capital.

Venture capitalists, like John Doerr or Vinod Khosla, are investors in start-ups that risk a lot of money on a bare concept or idea and – if things go well – make a fortune for themselves and their investors. Examples of such investments are Google, Intel, Sun Microsystems or even simple websites like Mint.com.

Venture capitalists must weed through literally thousands of investment ideas that people pitch to them before they find a diamond in the rough like Google. In fact they will invest in hundreds of companies and only a handful of them will be true blockbuster successes.

For that reason, the best venture capitalists are true masters of managing the funnel: weeding through thousands of ideas effectively without wasting too much time on the duds, and carefully betting their time and mental focus on the most attractive ideas.

In particular they use a technique that I call “finding the weakest link”. This technique allows them to very quickly test the validity of a very complex idea. I think this technique is useful in many situations in life and worth knowing about.

The technique

  1. Spell out logic chain
  2. Find weakest link
  3. Test weakest link
  4. If fails, kill idea, if holds true test next weakest link
  5. Repeat until entire logic chain is successfully tested

Every investment opportunity venture capitalists come across is based on some sort of logic chain – a set of assumptions and conclusions that all must hold true for the idea to work out.

For example, if my idea is to become the internet’s premier source of tuna sandwiches, my logic chain (in a much simplified form) probably sounds something like this:

In order for my tuna sandwich website to succeed:

  • I need to be able to make tuna sandwiches that customer really enjoy AND
  • I need to be lower cost in making tuna sandwiches than anyone else AND
  • I need to be able to ship my tuna sandwiches for very low cost to my customers before my sandwiches spoil AND
  • Customers need to be willing to wait for my sandwiches to be shipped.

If I would pitch this idea to a venture capitalist, he would develop a logic chain and then try to guess which assumption is the weakest link – which assumption is most likely not true. There is no science to making that guess – it is based on experience and intuition. For the example above, the VC might have a hunch that customers really don’t want to plan their tuna sandwich consumption ahead of time and won’t want to wait for FedEx to deliver the sandwich.

Next the venture capitalist will do his homework to try to verify that weakest link.

So in our example, the VC will try to talk to several tuna sandwich connoisseurs to see if his hunch is right or wrong. If is hunch is right – and the assumption is wrong and busted, he will realize that he broke the logic chain. The idea is no longer viable and he will drop it. If the connoisseurs surprise him by saying they would totally wait for a day or two for a great sandwich, he will then identify the next weakest link and pressure test it.

If he tests all links in the value chain to his satisfaction he will consider the idea for investment. If one of the links fails the test, he will move on unless he can think of a way to fix the problem.

The takeaway

So aside from getting you excited about having a tuna sandwich for lunch, why should you be interested in this technique? I think it is very helpful approach whenever you need to make a choice and important decision in your career. It will allow you to get to the right answer very quickly and ensure that you don’t waste time on dead end paths. Examples:

  • Picking the right market for your new product
  • Hiring the right person
  • Choosing the best strategy for your marketing plan
  • Picking the next best career move

(Photo:Unhindered by Talent)

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Sometimes the phones rings, and someone you never heard is calling, wanting to speak about a job opportunity. You have no idea how the get your name and number, but here they are on the phone talking to you. A well groomed network of head-hunters can be a real life saver in a job search, so here are some tips how to deal with them.

Spell out your profile / needs

Before you speak to a head-hunter, think about you want to get out of the interaction. What is the quick profile of jobs you are interested in:

  • Location
  • Industry
  • Job role / seniority
  • Minimum salary
  • etc.

You will be asked these questions,  so better to have thought about them before hand.

Be friendly

Always be polite and courteous, never rude and short. Often head-hunters will call at a bad time – tell them that politely and ask to talk later that day or week. They will almost always take you up on that.

Be cautious

Keep your hand close to your chest – don’t reveal too much. Seem happy but not ecstatic to talk to them. Its a little bit like dating – if you seem desperate they view of you will be diminished, if you play too hard to get you might seem like too much effort and they will give up on you – strike the right balance.  Don’t say anything about how eager or not you are about finding a new job / leaving your current outfit – just always say that you are happy where you are but also always open for the right opportunity.

Don’t say anything negative about your firm, job

Never say something negative about your firm, boss, job etc – just as in interviews, spending too much time on negative issues will make you appear like a whiner or discontent who would also not fit in at a new firm

Keep a current resume handy

Always keep a current resume handy – if that perfect opportunity comes by you want to be able to send over your resume within 24 hours and not have to wait to until you crank out a emergency – and probably non-ideal – version of your resume.

Help out friends

Often head-hunters will call with job options that aren’t a good fit or don’t come at the right time. Listen to the head-hunter, be honest but polite in turning him or her down, but then think of friends, colleagues etc who might be interested in the position. Then tell the head-hunter if or not to use your name when contacting the people you recommended – depends on your relationships with them. This helps your friends, but also show the head-hunter that you are helpful and will make sure that you keep a special place in his rolodex.

Keep the network fresh

Keep a file tracking the names of head-hunters you know so that you have a good list when you need them. Keep in contact with that list of head-hunters – send them updated resumes when you get promoted, move around etc, and aim to speak to them at least once a year.  When you speak ask them to send you good openings if they fit your profile – and react to emails, vmails to them don’t ignore them or they will delete your file.

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Short answer is: no!

I was reading this article on CNN:  I stopped looking for work

The article profiles several people who were really struggling in their job search and had given or were close to doing so. Clearly a very sad situation for them, but Iwas amazed to see how many job applications these people sent out. The first girl they profiled seems to have sent out over 1,100 applications, most others “several hundred” applications.

If you are in the market, it can take a few attempts, esp. if you skills, experience and profile are not ideal. In fact, you can churn out quite a few applications, but I am a firm believer in quality over quantity. 1000 rubber-stamp, under-researched applications will generate far fewer leads than 10 or 20 well researched and written applications. See my post on How not to become a job application spammer.

Generally, you should spend at least 6-8 hours on research, customizing your resume, crafting you cover letter and developing a networking strategy to learn about a job before even thinking about sending out an application.

If you find yourself in the position of having become an application spammer – I can see how that will happen in a long job search – you need to step back and reevaluate. Concentrate on the opportunities you can win, step away from those that are too far of a stretch.

Good luck!

Image by arnold | inuyaki

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spotToday I came across a resume that was, let’s say – fru fru:  a rather expressive use of fancy fonts making it rather artistic but very hard to read.

Keep it readable

The main purpose of the resume is the highlight your experience and main selling points.  It will only be given a few seconds of attention, and needs to speed-readable – the reader needs to see the most critical points in just a few glances. If you obscure the key points with fancy fonts or graphics, or draw the readers eyes away from what matters, your message will not get across.  Stick to tried and true fonts – Arial, Times New Roman etc., and avoid fancy gimmicks that make your resume difficult to read. That said, don’t be sloppy and careless – make your resume look sharp, but keep it laser-focused on readability.

Keep it short

The more resumes I see, the more I believe in this – your resume should only be one page. Especially older candidates are obsessed with chronicling and detailing every aspect of their careers on their resume, ending up with multi-page works of art. Long, multi-page resumes are not power-readable. Most readers won’t even look at the second page. If you can’t say it on one page, its probably not worth saying. Work to take out any redundancy, anything that doesn’t tell the message you are trying to convey and anything that distracts the reader.

Good luck!

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Whether you are negotiating a brand new job offer or a simply trying to get your boss to give you a pay raise, here are 5 levers or hooks to drive a negotiation.

Five levers to start a salary negotiation
1.) Goodwill – Sometimes all you need is a smile or actually just need to ask. “Thank you for your offer, I really appreciate it. However, I was hoping for a slightly higher salary – is there anything you can do?” If you are nice, calm and sympathetic about it, the person you are negotiating with will try to help you if they can. So don’t be afraid, just ask.
2.) Hard data – Hard, cold facts are always a good thing assuming they are in your favor.
For example, research salaries for the specific company or industry in question on websites such as glassdoor.com, payscale.com or salary.com. Sometimes industry guides such as those from Vault and other also contain hard data. Next, you can also poll folks in your network if they know the industry – just ask them “what kind of salary should I expect?”. Use the data you collected thoughtfully and carefully in your negotiation, mainly as a “proof-point” in your reasoning. “You are offering me $70k for this position. However, my research tells me that your competitors pay $80k for the same position. Can you raise your offer to match the industry standard?”
3.) Profit share – Ask for a share of what you bring in. If your job allows you to measure your impact (not every job does), then ask for a cut of the proceeds. Ask what they expect you to achieve (sales, cost savings, etc) and then ask them for a small cut of anything you do above and beyond their expectation. If you don’t meet their expectation, it won’t cost extra, if you exceed their expectation they are still better off than before.
4.) Better offer – Now we start to play hard ball. Here you either bluff or actually have a better offer in hand and use that for leverage “I would love to work with you guys, you seem like the perfect fit. However, I also have an offer from XYZ, and they are offering me $20k more for the same position. Can you improve your offer? I would really prefer to be able to chose your offer over theirs”. This is a risky play – you can quickly offend people – so be careful in your tone (don’t be arrogant or aggressive), body language and messaging (be polite and friendly!).
5.) Threat – This is the toughest and riskiest approach. Here is simply say that unless a certain condition is met you cannot accept the offer – fix it or else you will walk. All the points above about tone etc apply here aswell. But be very careful, if you mess this up you might end up with a successful negotiation but with an unhappy boss who felt he was taken advantage of – not a good start to a new career.
Remember, salary is not the only variable in a negotiation – consider things such as benefits, timing to promotion, future salary increase promises, bonuses, job responsibilities, work hours etc.
We will discuss these issues in another post, but keep them in mind.
Also, remember to go into the negotiation with a clear threshold in mind. Set your minimum expectation. Be willing to walk away if they don’t hit that threshold, be willing to shake hands if they do.

Five levers to start a salary negotiation

1.) Goodwill – Sometimes all you need is a smile or actually just need to ask. “Thank you for your offer, I really appreciate it. However, I was hoping for a slightly higher salary – is there anything you can do?” If you are nice, calm and sympathetic about it, the person you are negotiating with will try to help you if they can. So don’t be afraid, just ask.

2.) Hard data – Hard, cold facts are always a good thing assuming they are in your favor.  For example, research salaries for the specific company or industry in question on websites such as glassdoor.com, payscale.com or salary.com. Sometimes industry guides such as those from Vault and others also contain hard data. Next, you can also poll folks in your network if they know the industry – just ask them “what kind of salary should I expect?”. Use the data you collected thoughtfully and carefully in your negotiation, mainly as a “proof-point” in your reasoning. “You are offering me $70k for this position. However, my research tells me that your competitors pay $80k for the same position. Can you raise your offer to match the industry standard?”

3.) Profit share – Ask for a share of what you bring in. If your job allows you to measure your impact (not every job does), then ask for a cut of the proceeds. Ask what they expect you to achieve (sales, cost savings, etc) and then ask them for a small cut of anything you do above and beyond their expectation. If you don’t meet their expectation, it won’t cost extra, if you exceed their expectation they are still better off than before.

4.) Better offer – Now we start to play hard ball. Here you either bluff or actually have a better offer in hand and use that for leverage “I would love to work with you guys, you seem like the perfect fit. However, I also have an offer from XYZ, and they are offering me $20k more for the same position. Can you improve your offer? I would really prefer to be able to chose your offer over theirs”. This is a risky play – you can quickly offend people – so be careful in your tone (don’t be arrogant or aggressive), body language and messaging (be polite and friendly!).

5.) Threat to walk away – This is the toughest and riskiest approach. Here is simply say that unless a certain condition is met you cannot accept the offer – fix it or else you will walk. All the points above about tone etc apply here aswell. But be very careful, if you mess this up you might end up with a successful negotiation but with an unhappy boss who felt he was taken advantage of – not a good start to a new career.

Remember, salary is not the only variable in a negotiation – consider things such as benefits, timing to promotion, future salary increase promises, bonuses, job responsibilities, work hours and others. We will discuss these issues in another post, but keep them in mind.

Also, remember to go into the negotiation with a clear threshold in mind. Set your minimum expectation. Be willing to walk away if they don’t hit that threshold, be willing to shake hands if they do.

Good luck!

Image by Photos8.com

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manageRegardless of whether you received only one or multiple job offers, it matters how you accept the offer you prefer, and how you turn down job offers you dislike.

Who you need to deal with

In both cases you will need to deal with both hiring managers and HR. Hiring managers are the people who are looking for new employees and who typically will be the boss of whoever they hire. Hiring managers often make the hiring decision and their own reputation rides on making a good choice. HR – Human Resources – are administrators who help the hiring manger complete all the formalities and deal with the corporate bureaucracy – they typically are less emotionally vested in the hiring process and more focused on completing a clean, professional transaction, regardless of the outcome.

Negotiating vs. accepting offers

Don’t confuse negotiating with accepting an offer. While you are negotiating you need to imply that you are willing to walk away – which isn’t believable when you already acceptable. Likewise, when you accept an offer, you want to ensure that you start your job with as much goodwill as possible – trying to negotiate after accepting an offer will not build up goodwill, in most cases the employers will be annoyed with you.

How to accept an offer

Make that happy phone call: If you know you want to accept an offer, have concluded all negotiations and are ready to sign on the dotted line, call the hiring manager. Tell him or her that you accept their offer. Then call your contact at HR and let them know also. For both, you should remember to:

  • Be courteous, humble, polite and friendly
  • Say “thank you” for the opportunity
  • Say that you look forward to working with them
  • Let your enthusiasm shine through
  • Agree on what the next step is – do you need to sign something, come to the office, ..?

Formally accept the offer: Often you will need to accept the offer more formally than through a phone call (sign a letter, contract, etc.). The HR folks will tell you what to do – make sure to do so quickly and listen to their instructions.

Figure out the nitty gritty: Depending on your job specifics, you may need to sign a contract, get a work visa, fill out specific applications for government licenses, etc. Get on it and quickly. Talk to your contact at HR to figure out what the specific next steps are, what you can do to make their life easier and then deliver on whatever you promise in a timely manner.

Be ready for day 1: Ask your new boss and HR contact when and where you should show up for your 1st day, what to bring (passport, tax info, etc. are always favorites) and how to prepare (maybe read up on some new product line, get familiar with a new software, …?) Figure out the dress code, how to commute, what typical work hours are so that you are prepared for day 1.

Don’t let the hiring manager down: In whatever you do, remember that the hiring manager is your future boss and likely has his reputation riding on his offer to you. If you misbehave it will reflect on the hiring manager and you – so don’t call HR with some outrageous demands, or be rude to the front desk.

How to turn down an offer:

This is often harder than accepting an offer. You will feel guilty or sheepish turning folks down. At the same time hiring managers who made you an offer will feel vulnerable and exposed, and a rejecting an offer in the wrong way can result in hurt feelings. The goal here is to reject the offer without burning bridges, creating enemies or building a bad reputation.

Take the time to make it personal: It is awfully tempting to avoid the confrontation of rejecting an offer by simply not responding, or sending an impersonal email. This however is almost certain to generate ill will with the hiring manager. Instead, you should call the hiring manager up. Thank them for the offer, tell them that after much soul-searching you unfortunately decided to decline their generous offer and seek employment elsewhere. Again, be polite and courteous. Most hiring managers take it hard when they are rejected and will be disappointed - rarely will they be angry.

Stick to your guns: The hiring manager may try to pull out the stops and renegotiate with you or try to change your mind. You should avoid giving in to them; even if they are able to sweeten the offer to the point where it is attractive to you, such a last ditch negotiation is usually a bad way to start a career at a new company. Be firm but polite.

Be discreet and humble: The hiring manager may try to ask you questions that go to far, like what salary you were offered elsewhere or some other details. I would suggest politely declining such questions – “I would rather not discuss that”.  On the same token, you should not gloat or boast with some better terms you achieved – be humble and matter of fact.

Try to salvage a relationship: Try to leave on friendly terms and integrate the hiring manager into your network. Chances are you will want to talk to him or her later in life at some point, so try to keep the relationship alive.

Good luck!

Check out my new project: Not Rich Yet

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Jan/10

21

Be happy!

applyI was interviewing the other day again and I really noticed a difference between the people I met: some were happy, others nervous/scared.

Why you need to enjoy the interview

In the end you will do so much better in interviews – both in terms of getting to the “right” answer and in terms of making a personal connection with the interviewer – if you are happy and enjoy yourself. People who are very apprehensive, nervous and clearly don’t enjoy the interview very rarely do well. The interview is often a mini-preview of the job at stake – you meet people you will work with, you discuss work related topics etc. If you are nervous and apprehensive about that, then why would the interviewer expect you to do any better in the actual job. Also, your personal emotional state is often reflected in your body language, choice of words etc and it will rub-off. Unless your interviewer is some sort of sadist, you will create a negative impression of you are apprehensive and nervous. If you enjoy yourself, you will likely be able to create some sense of goodwill on the side of the interviewer … and when push comes to shove, interviewers will favor people they like.

How to enjoy your interview

This is easier said then done, I know, but for myself I have learned to enjoy being interviewed. I view the interview as a challenge I want to crack, a record I want to beat or a person I want to win over. I don’t see it as some sort of life and death judgement or the one pivotal moment in life where I better not screw up.  By thinking about interviews in that way, you can avoid negative connotations – remember life will go on even if you screw up, so you might as well enjoy it.

Next, tune yourself to think positively about interviews. Whenever you catch yourself down, worried or nervous in anticipation of an interview, remind yourself to think positive and reiterate the points above.

Before the interview, get pumped about the interview – force yourself to look forward to it, even listen to upbeat music on your way to the interview.

Then in the interview, just write the word “fun” in small letters at the top of the notebook – that will help remind yourself to have fun and enjoy the interview.

Good luck!

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This is the fourth and final post in our short series on developing your hiring pitch. The first postexplained what the hiring pitch is and what you need it for: a short, succinct summary of the most critical points of your candidacy that address the must-have and nice-have issues faced by the hiring manager. The second post explains in detail how to develop you talking points – by brainstorming strengths and then developing proof points to back them up. The third post explains how to customize your pitch for a specific job opening.

How to deliver your pitch in interviews and elsewhere

If you have followed the advice in the first three parts of this series you will have developed a specific pitch to use for each company or job interview. But how do you use your pitch? At what moment does it make sense? How do I avoid sound like I am over-selling?

The following spells out how to use your pitch in specific situations.

Using the pitch in interviews or casual discussions

Using your pitch in 1:1 conversations, with recruiters, influencers or even just contacts in your network, is tough but also the most important use of this vital tool. It would would sound corny, inappropriate and plain weird if you would use your pitch at the wrong moment, yet at the same time no one will ever say: “let me hear your pitch”. So when do you use it? Well, you need to weave it in opportunistically when you are presented an opening. You will typically be presented multiple openings, and they key is to recognize and them use them.

For example, a typical question asked in interviews is: “What are your strengths and weaknesses?” This is a perfect launch point for your pitch. Assuming you have 5 talking points in your pitch, your answer would start something like this: “I think I have 5 key strengths ..” then quickly high-light each talking point including the corresponding proof-point as discussed in Part 2. Of course, you should then also have a good answer to satisfy the weakness portion of the question, but that is the topic of a future post.

In some cases you will be only be able to weave in part of your pitch to satisfy a specific question, but be patient, there will be other opening to give your entire pitch.

Questions that give you an opening to deliver your pitch:

  • What are your strengths?
  • Tell me about yourself?
  • Why should we hire you?
  • Why are you a good fit for this job?

Using your pitch in a cover letter

Your pitch should be the central theme in your cover letter. We will discuss this in detail in yet another future post, but a cover letter should typically have 3 parts:

  1. Introductions - who your are and how you became aware of this job opening
  2. Your pitch – why your are a good candidate
  3. Closing -ask for an interview

As you can see, you pitch is the “meaty” part of your cover letter and should be at least 80% of the words on the page. Here you can carefully craft a written version of your pitch. Again, this should be designed to meet the job “specs”. Often, the best way to list your talking points is in the form 4-5 bullet points, each of which claims a key strength and is then backed-up by a proof point (see Parts 2 & 3).

Using your pitch in your resume

Your resume also needs to mirror your pitch, although much more subtly than your cover letter. Essentially, you should make sure that all proof points for your pitch listed in your cover letter is backed up by your resume.

This usually does not require major open heart surgery redesign of your resume, but rather dedicated much space to your proof-points, and deemphasizing stuff that is not relevant to this specific position.

This concludes our short series on developing your pitch – we hope it helps!

Image by Nevada Tumbleweed

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This is the third post in our short series on developing your hiring pitch. The first post explained what the hiring pitch is and what you need it for: a short, succinct summary of the most critical points of your candidacy that address the must-have and nice-have issues faced by the hiring manager. The second post explains in detail how to develop you talking points – by brainstorming strengths and then developing proof points to back them up.

How to customize your pitch for a specific job or interview

As we discussed in the earlier posts of this series, it is critical that you fine tune your story for each company, job and interview. Recruiters have a specific “specification” in mind, and if you do not meet that spec your candidacy will not be met with success.

How to figure out the “design specs”

So how do you know what the hiring manager is looking for? Well, often they actually spell it out for you:

  • In the job posting or job description, they will often list specific requirements
  • Company websites often also talk about what they look for in new employees in general

If you the job description or website don’t tell you what you need, there are a couple other sources you can use:

  • Talk to current or former employees at the target company – they often have an inside view
  • Use a common sense approach and imagine you are the recruiter – what would you be looking for?
  • Talk to the recruiters prior to your application or interview, e.g. at a job fair, marketing event, or even just call them up – asking is free, and often recruiters appreciate the effort you show

How to customize your pitch to meet the specs

Now that you know what the specific company or job opening requires, it is time to develop your customized pitch. Take the long list of strengths that we developed in Part 2 and pick and chose the most relevant strengths. Make sure to address each job requirement – if you long list has gaps, use the methodology outlined in Part 2 to fill the gaps. Do not use any talking points from your long list that are not required by the specific job 0 you have a limited attention span of the recruiter to work with, so you should focus on the most critical elements.

The final post in this series will explain how to use the pitch in interviews and elsewhere.

Good luck!

Image by Nevada Tumbleweed

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Jan/10

8

How to find a good mentor

succeedOnce you succeeded in finding a great new job, you can accelerate the process of acclimatisation by finding and working with a good mentor.

What is a mentor?

A mentor is someone, typically a couple levels senior to you, that gives you advice, makes introductions and generally helps smooth you path in your job. Good mentors will invest effort and call in brownie points to help you. The most important job of a mentor is help you think through difficult situations either in dealing with your supervisors, the company’s bureaucracy or other impediments such as company politics. They take the time to talk to you, listen and offer advice based on their much longer experience in the company or in their specific career.

How can you tell if someone will be a good mentor for you?

There are a couple good indicators that will help you identify a good mentor:

  • Personal chemistry: First off, you actually need to like each other – share the same sense of humor, passion for non-work topics, e.g. sports and plain get along well with each other
  • Good samaritan: Next, the person should be someone who actively invests in others and is interested in more than just themselves; most people fall into this category, but once in a while you will come across egocentrics that you should best avoid
  • Not your boss: Avoid someone you report to, as you will not be able to have the honest and open discussion you need
  • Willing to take time: Very important is that the person is willing and able to take the time to talk to you. A rock star mentor who is never around because she has to travel to Tokyo half the time is not useful. Nor is someone who is ruthless about maximizing the utility of every last second, and would never take the time for the “fire-side chats” that you are looking for
  • Not too far up the ladder: Clearly you would love it if the CEO of your company became your mentor. However, unless you you are very high up in the organization yourself, that is a bad idea: folks who are too far ahead of you – I would say more than 2 levels up from you – a.) don’t have the time, but more importantly b.) are out of touch with the problems you face
  • Actually know what they are talking about: Also very important is that your mentor is actually good at what they do.  Don’t ask the village idiot for advice, ask someone who knows much more than you
  • Respected within the organization: Finally, your mentor should be well respected. That means that they have plenty leverage with the organization, and people listen if and when your mentor speaks up on your behalf

How can you get someone to be your mentor?

Getting someone to be your mentor isn’t difficult. Often you can establish a mentor relationship without ever using that word in a conversation. Just make a habit of taking some time to talk to the person, especially asking them for advice. Everyone loves being asked for advice and then getting a positive reaction in return – makes people feel self-important, appreciated and happy.  Start off by asking for non-controversial advice, easy stuff that you have figured out the answer to but where you would like to have a 2nd opinion. Then slowly work your way to meatier discussions over time. But don’t forget to also have simple social conversations, best on topics your mentor enjoys (”Did you see the game last night?”). Go to coffee and lunch with your mentor – make it a habit.

Reciprocate – become a mentor yourself

When the time comes, you should be a mentor as well. Find a worthy mentoree and invest effort into them.

Good luck!

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Sometimes, I hear people talk about how they sent out a large number of resumes, e.g. 100, and then complain that they didn’t get any interviews. They then proceed to blame everything on a lousy job market.

Quality not quantity

Just from the information above, it is tough to tell what went wrong, but I have a suspicion it is an issue of quantity vs. quality. Only well-crafted, thoughtful and relevant applications are going to have any success. “Spam” applications, that are sent out without much thought, will get you nowhere. In most cases, you will simply not be a relevant candidate, but the real problem is that in the cases where you actually might have a real shot at a job you hurt your chances by sending a crappy generic application.

Spamming recruiters is probably the worst thing you can do – it diminishes your chances, it does not improve them.

Spam applications from the eyes of a recruiter

A couple of years ago when I was running my own business, I was having some issues with my computers. So I decided to hire a part-time IT manager, who would spend a couple hours every week making sure than the computers were working fine. I thought that posting a job ad on Craigslist might be a good way to find such a local part-timer. To my amazement, my inbox was utterly flooded by job applications from people all around the country. I was looking for someone who would swing by my office for a couple hours every week, but I was getting people sending me cover letters and resumes offering to move across the country to take this job – which would total overkill and unrealistic. It was clear that nearly all of them had not read my job posting in any detail – their backgrounds and applications did not match what I was looking for at all. Also, their resumes and cover letters were so generic, they could have been sent to any employer in the country – they made no reference to what I was looking for or any other special circumstances. It was so bad, that I canned all applications I got that way and hired a local IT consulting firm to do the job instead.

How can I tell if I am sending a spam application?

Essentially, spam applications are too generic and not customized for a specific job and they tend to be of weak relevance.

  • If you are not carefully reading a job posting, researching the company and specific job, and then modifying and adapting your resume and especially your cover letter, you are likely sending a spam application.
  • If you are only a mediocre fit candidate – your skills, experience set etc doesn’t really match with what they are looking for – you are trying fit a square peg in a round hole, and you are likely sending a spam application.

How to avoid sending spam applications

Do your homework on every job application you send out:

  • Carefully read the job posting and compare your candidacy critically to what they are looking for – are you are reasonable fit? Since we are shooting for quality, not quantity, you should be honest enough with yourself to skip on jobs that are a bad fit so that you can fully focus your energy on those jobs where you actually fit well
    • Using the CareerAde Method will help you focus on a career and source jobs that actually fit you
  • Research the job, the company, the industry and customize your resume, cover letter and overall pitch to fit to that job as best as possible
  • Track you applications in an excel spread sheet and file away the resume and cover letter you sent so that you can recall it when you get invited to an interview
  • When interviewing invest serious effort in preparing and researching – see our checklist

Good luck!

Image by arnold | inuyaki

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Contacts in your personal network may be your most valuable asset in your job search. These are people who either are hiring, know people who are or who can give you valuable information about a career or specific job you are interested in.

So ideally you actually have people in your network - acquaintances such as former colleagues, customers, friends, golf buddies etc that you think would remember you if you call them up or email them. IF you don’t have such a network, don’t despair – I will write a post another day covering how to build a network.

Now how do you leverage that network in your job search?

You want to plan how to use the network – you cannot go back to the well endlessly so you need to get your approach right and then tap into them quickly.

Spell our your objectives

So what do you want to get out of the network? Spell out what your goals are, examples include

  • Learn more about a specific company, job, career etc.
  • Get specific data points you need in your decision making process, e.g. typical salaries etc.
  • Get specific leads for job openings, companies that might be hiring etc
  • Extend your network by asking for introductions to other relevant people

By having a firm understanding of what you want to get out of the exercise you will improve efficiency and avoid burning too much good faith in the process.

Map out who can best help you fill each objective

So now that you know what you want, you should map out your network – I suggest actually making a list on a piece of paper – and determine who can help you with which objective. If someone can’t help you, they should fall off the list for the time being.

Determine what format is appropriate to interact with a specific individual

Depending on what you are going to ask of them, how well you know them, where they are located and when you last spoke to them you will want to interact with each individual differently. Touchy, sensitive discussions are best done in person, or at least by phone, whereas quick cursory requests can be done by email etc. Also, if you haven’t talked to them in a long time, going in person is often better than just firing off a quick email. If it is really important it might be worthwhile to travel to see the person if they are further away. So if you want to see them in person, you need to chose the right format – invite them for lunch, dinner, coffee, drinks or just ask for a meeting? I usually found inviting people for a quick lunch the most effective – everyone needs to eat so they have time reserved for that anyway and people rarely turn down free lunch. Drinks might be more appropriate if you are friends with person or you know them socially.

Pre-groom the network

Next, you may need to prime the charge. If you are like me, and don’t take the time to keep up with everyone in your network and want to talk to someone you have neglected in the past, you may need to prepare them. In those cases, I might find an innocent reason to say hi a couple of weeks or months before I need to reach to them, e.g., by sending an email, forwarding an article, giving them a call to say hi, etc just to remind them that I am still alive and still remember them. It is important that this seems natural and not odd or hokey. If you can avoid that, then don’t do this step. But I personally feel sheepish asking for a favor (which is what you are essentially doing by leveraging the network) without having talked to the person in eons, so this technique allows me to break the ice before hitting them with the real request.

Reach out and work the network

Now when you know who to reach out to, what you want from them and how you want to engage them, you go on the offensive. Call, email or drop by the people you want to leverage and ask them outright want you want of them or ask them to schedule time for a brief call / lunch / dinner whatever you decided the best format is.

If you are scheduling time with them, you will need to tell them what this is for, for example “just catching up” or “I wanted to pick your brain about topic XYZ”.

When you actually talk to them, use the sandwich approach – spend some time on pleasantries, social gossip etc, then ask the meaty questions you have on your mind, and then after you have gotten what you needed from the conversation, switch back to small talk.

How to ask difficult questions

Sometimes you will want to ask your contact a difficult questions, for example whether they are hiring (or want to hire you), or something similarly awkward. In those situations, I find it easier to ask them indirectly.  E.g., instead of “I am looking for a job, do you want to hire me?”, I would say “I am looking for a job, would you know someone who might be interested in hiring me?”. By asking them for advice rather than a job, I still leave the window open for them to say “Hey, we are actually looking for someone now” while also allowing them to refer to someone else if they are not interested themselves.

Ask for other people talk to

Finally, at the end of the converstation you should always be asking something along the lines of:

“Thanks, this was very helpful – is there anyone else I should talk to about this? Anyone else who might be able to help me with my job search / need for information / etc?”

You should do this especially if you did not get what you wanted. Its an old sales technique – “OK, if you don’t want to buy from me, can you please give the names of a couple of people who would?”

Keep grooming the network

As you should at all times, but especially if your job search is still ongoing or recently concluded, you should keep your network well groomed: update them of your progress, have friendly conversations over time – not necessarily related to your job search – and most importantly, offer them help. In the end, you get much out of your network if you invest into it – show that you are thoughtful and helpful – and don’t chicken out even it requires effort.

Good luck!

Image by Noah Sussmann

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This is the second post in our short series on developing your hiring pitch. The first post explained what the hiring pitch is and what you need it for: a short, succinct summary of the most critical points of your candidacy that address the must-have and nice-have issues faced by the hiring manager.

How to develop the talking points in your pitch

So what should you talk about in your pitch? We think there are two things you should do here. First, you should make a long list of talking points, together with hard-hitting proof-points. Then, as we will explain in part 3you should assemble a specific pitch from the long list of talking points. This post will discuss how to develop and flesh out the long list of talking points.

Figure out what topics are most typically asked

Your pitch needs to cater to the needs of the hiring managers you want to convince, so you should start by laying out what you think they are looking for in a candidate.

Hiring managers will likely have expectations around the following topics:

  • Education & training
  • Skills & talent
  • Experience & knowledge
  • Relationships & networks

Try to establish what the hiring managers you want to cater to will specifically be looking for. Be as specific as possible and as comprehensive as possible. Some expectations can easily be gleaned from looking at job descriptions and postings, but others require common sense (if you were the hiring manager, what would you look for), and others you may only learn by talking to people currently in the field or at a specific company. Worst-case you will have to ask someone at HR or the hiring manager prior to the interview – “So what are you looking for in candidates?” Next, you should spell out all these requirements in a list. Mark those that you think that are must-haves clearly

Here is an example of a hiring manager’s needs for a tech sales opening:

  • College degree from a Top 50 school, ideally in business
  • At least 4 years of sales experience, ideally in the technology space
  • Strong sales tool-kit: winning personality, ability to handle pressure, strong interpersonal skills, excellent communication skills etc
  • Strong team skills: ability to work seamlessly in a large team, proven ability to deal with conflict, good leadership skills
  • Technical knowledge: knowledge of computer system xyz

Brainstorm your strengths

Next, for each of the hiring manager’s needs, develop your list of strengths. This is a brainstorming process that may take a while. Involve your family and friends in figuring out how you match against the needs – rack your brains to come up with examples from work, personal life, college years etc. Start a list on a piece of paper and keep adding to it until you have enough to work with. Remember to stay honest with yourself – it is OK to emphasize and call out skills, experiences and other assets that you truly have, it is not OK to invent, or grossly embellish and exaggerate. Use this test – if you would feel comfortable sharing this point with your current boss, best friend, teacher etc without being embarrassed, it is good. If you would feel embarrassed, it is not.

Try to make the list specific, e.g. not just say you have strong interpersonal skills, but that you are very easy to get along with, work well with abrasive people, are able to smooth over weird and aggressive situations with your humor and charm etc.

In the end you should have a long list of strengths that address all of the key needs / requirements of the hiring manager. Now clean it up – merge points that are too similar or repetitive, delete points that are contradictory, sort by importance and write on a clean sheet of paper.

What if you have a gap?

What if at the end of the day you come up short on one of the important hiring needs? For example, the job requires a college degree, but you left college without a degree. Then what? Well if you think this makes the whole thing a non-starter, move on. Don’t waste your time; look for a career or job that fits better with what you have to offer. However, if you think that you candidacy is so strong on many other points that you could overcome that gap, go for it. Articulate why this gap should not diminish your application and why your strengths on other points more than make up for it. Make sure to include this issue in your pitch. It is better to address such a point early on in your job application or interview rather than for the hiring manager to overlook something and then ding you when the issue is noticed – without you being able to speak to it.

Develop proof points

Next, for each of your strengths that you have brainstormed, develop one or two hard hitting proof points: little stories and anecdotes that prove out your strengths. Ideally these should be from within the last few years and if possible from a professional context, but it is fine to weave in experience from college, personal life or the more distant path, as long as the other proof points you use are more recent and applicable. Think of a very simple way of conveying the story or anecdote that quickly emphasizes your strength while offering enough detail to make it seem real and substantial enough to act as proof. Typically, I find that you should be able to tell such anecdotes in less than a minute. If the interviewer asks you for more details you should be able to talk up to 5 minutes on the story, but for your 1st pass 1 minute should be sufficient. Often building in a little humor or using more active body language is very effective.

Hone & polish

Finally, you should spell out your talking points including proof points. Write them out just the way you would speak about them, and then practice them out loud – alone or in front of your family. See what works, what needs to be refined and in particular work to make each point as short and sweet as possible – cut out as much words as you can without changing the message. In the end you should be able to talk about each strength in about 30 seconds, and have a 60 second anecdote or two to support each strength. Remember, you will not use all of these points in every interview or conversation – you will need to customize your pitch for every discussion.

This is the second post in a short series of posts on the topic of developing your hiring pitch. The next posts will cover the following topics:

  • How to customize your pitch for a specific job
  • How to deliver your pitch in interviews and elsewhere

Image by Nevada Tumbleweed

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One of the most critical weapons in your arsenal during your job search is a well-crafted and well-executed hiring pitch: a clear, passionate and logically convincing argument why you should be the candidate to hire.

It is like when you gaze at stars. All the stars in the sky seem random until somebody points out a clear constellation – like the big dipper – that clicks in your mind and you immediately get it. The random stars were transformed into a vivid picture by just a few words, a short explanation.

Your pitch is exactly that type of explanation that allows a recruiter or influencer to put together random points from your education, experience, personality and talents. You point out how the points fit together until they are able to paint the picture in their own mind.

However, given the very little time you have to capture the attention of a recruiter, the pitch also needs to be very concise and to the point. It needs to paint to picture with only few words and in very little time.

Inherently, many hiring managers have a check-list that they want to fulfill. That list will have must-have points and nice-to-have points. Your job in developing your pitch will be to hit all the must-have points and as many of the nice-to-have points as possible while not wasting any precious time on issues irrelevant to the hiring manager. E.g., don’t waste time bragging about your French or German language skills when the job only requires you to deal with English speakers.

Further, you will need to tailor a slightly different picture for each different job you are shooting for. Your pitches will have a lot in common, but you may need to emphasize, add or adapt specific elements. For example, lets say you are interested in a career in sales. However one job opening requires a lot of travel and another sales job requires a lot of strategic deal making. While the overall profile you will try to convey in your pitch will be quite similar you should emphasize willingness to travel for the one job and experience in negotiating complex deals in the other.

Finally, your pitch should always contain “proof points”. It is easy to claim something, but much harder to convince a listener that your claim is valid. The best way to substantiate your claim is to offer proof points. For example, “I am very strong at managing complex projects” (the claim), “for example, in my last job a managed a budget of $1M and a team of 8 people  on a project that spanned three departments, and I was able to complete the project with my team in-time and under budget” (the proof).

This is the first in a short series of posts on the topic of developing your hiring pitch. The next posts will cover the following topics:

  • How to develop the points in your pitch
  • How to customize your pitch for a specific job
  • How to deliver your pitch in interviews and elsewhere

Image by Nevada Tumbleweed

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Dec/09

29

Interview Check List

applyInterviewing is hard enough, so we created a quick check-list you can use to make sure you are ready to rock and roll.

The CareerAde Interview Check List

The week before the interview:

  • Read annual reports, company websites etc to research the company and the open position you are interviewing for
    • What do they do, what is their revenue, who is their biggest competitor, what were their most important recent announcements, what has their stock price been doing etc.
  • Develop your main talking points
    • Concisely articulate the 3-5 reasons why you should be hired for this job / what you have to offer compared to other applicants
    • If there are any inconsistencies in your application (e.g. unexplained time off, career change etc), developing logical and clear explanations
  • Develop your responses to the most typical interview questions
    • What are your strengths and weaknesses?
    • Why should I hire you?
    • Why are you interested in this job, this company?
    • When have you shown <attribute expected in the job, e.g. leadership>?

The day before the interview:

  • Re-read your research on the company and the open position
  • Rehearse your main talking points and answers to the most critical questions
  • Figure out and prepare what you want to wear
  • Print out driving / travel directions
  • Figure out when you need to leave the house to make it to the interview on time
  • Go to bed on the early side to give yourself 7-8 hours of sleep

The day of the interview:

  • If you are working, try to take the day off to concentrate on the interview
  • Have a good breakfast / lunch so that you will not be hungry during the interview but also do not eat too much so that you are lethargic and ready for a nap
  • If you are a lower energy-type person or tired, have a coffee before the interview!
  • Get to the interview location with some time to spare, especially if you may need some time finding the location
  • Enter the employer’s office building 10-15 minutes before your interview – they will need time to get you to sign in, call interviewer etc
  • Showtime!

Here is a PDF version for you to download and print

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