Four Tips for Defining Your Value

I say in Manage Your Job Search and Six Tips for Editing Your Resume that you have to fill in the details of your resume. It’s the details that count.

Here are three tips that might help:

  1. For every line on your resume, what action did you take that added value to the project or organization? Think about it. If you didn’t add value to the project or organization, should that line be there?
  2. What are the details that make that line on your resume come alive? Did you save the company money? Make a customer happy? Help bring the schedule in? Automate something? Think about what make a difference to managers: schedule, revenue and customer experience. Can you link your experience to any of those three things?
  3. Can you craft that line so it starts with a verb? Maybe you “Facilitated the team so we were able to swarm around the features. Swarming allowed us to reduce our work in progress and meet our desired schedule. This allowed the company to meet our external commitments. It also prevented cost of delay. I estimate we saved the company close to $1M the first year alone.” Not bad for facilitation, eh?
  4. Edit your resume so it sounds like you are talking to someone. You do not want bureaucratic-ease on your resume. You sound pompous and preposterous. Not like someone anyone wants to talk to, never mind bring in for an interview. You want to sound approachable.

The more you show the details of your value, the more a hiring manager can consider you.

If you’ve been working for more than ten years, show the details of your most recent ten years. You can briefly describe the years before the most recent ten years. Why? Because the most recent behavior is the best predictor of your future behavior.

Do you have a better way to articulate your value? I’d love to hear about it.

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Do You Ever Take Hiring Shortcuts?

There are many hiring traps and shortcuts, especially for technical people. Partially that’s because too few HR people know about technical people. But, partially that’s because too many technical people think, “I have a job, I must know what it takes to hire well.”

In my most recent management myth, Management Myth 27: We Can Take Hiring Shortcuts, you can read about four hiring shortcuts I have encountered: hiring barrel-of-the-bottom candidates, supposed ‘rock stars’ or ‘ninjas,’ not paying people what they’re worth, or people who don’t fit with the team.

The dialogue in this myth is paraphrased from a real conversation I had with one of my VP’s many years ago. He wanted to help me by hiring Kelly Temps to help with testing. He was  not a stupid man. He did not understand the value testers brought to the organization. I realized I had not done my job yet as a middle manager. Even though I’d only been in the organization for three months, I had not yet “sold” him on testing.

Hiring shortcuts can kill your organizational capacity. If that is your hiring strategy for now, decide what you will do later.

Read Hiring Geeks That Fit for more help.

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Join me in Manage Your Job Search Workshop, March 21, 2014

Are you looking for job? Will you be in London on March 21, 2014? If so, you should join me for my Manage Your Job Search workshop.

You’ll each work on your own unique job search specifics. And, you’ll help each other get better. Here’s the outline:

  1. Organize yourself for your job search
    1. Introduction to personal kanban and timeboxes.
    2. How to use retrospectives
    3. How you might want to organize
  2. Mine your career timeline (We’ll timebox this)
    1. Prepare for the interview
    2. Articulate your value
  3. Build your networking skills
    1. Online networking: what it can do for you, what it can’t
    2. In-person networking: what it can do for you, what it can’t
    3. Target networking: how you will find your next job
    4. The power of a loose connection
  4. Traps and Tips
    1. The top traps you encounter and how you handle them
    2. We’ll debrief together
    3. The top tips you’ve found
    4. We’ll debrief together

Interesting? Sign up on the Workshops page. I would love to have you join us.

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Three Interview Questions That Don’t Gauge Cultural Fit

I saw this post on Twitter, The 3 Interview Questions You Should Ask to Instantly Gauge Fit. I got excited. Oh, maybe we do have questions that address cultural fit.

No such luck. More stupid irrelevant and hypothetical questions. I am so disappointed.

If you are a candidate and an interviewer asks you these questions in the guise of a conversation, you should be disappointed, too. What are they?

  1. What’s the most interesting thing about you that’s not on your resume?
  2. What’s the biggest misconception your coworkers have about you and why do they think that?
  3. What has to happen during the course of the day to make it a good one at work?

Let’s review what corporate culture is: how people treat each other, what’s rewarded, and what’s okay to discuss. Do these questions address any of that? I don’t see how. Do the questions address how a person can do the job at work? I don’t see how.

Why would anyone ask these questions? (picture a short woman pulling out her hair.)

If you are a candidate, and you get these questions, here’s how you might answer these questions:

1. For the most interesting question, turn it into a behavior-description answer. Take a small thing that was indicative of your collaboration or facilitation or leadership. Make it something you did not highlight on your resume. As an alternative, make it something you chose to learn.  “On my most recent project, let me tell you a story about how I facilitated <this thing>.” Or, “I really wanted to learn basket weaving. I know basket weaving isn’t part of the job, but it’s the learning part I wanted to highlight. Let me tell you how I learned.”

If you don’t turn this into a behavior-description answer, you will flounder and not be able to answer.

2. For the most interesting question, do not talk about your piercings. Or the vacation in St. Barts. Or the fact that you are related to English royalty. None of those things are related to your ability to do the job. Again, you need to turn this into a behavior-description answer. (This is why this is such a terrible question. There is no work context here.)

Think about interesting situations at work. You know how politicians only answer how they want to answer? You can do the same thing. You don’t have to answer the misconception question. You can say something like this: “Oh, I was in a project meeting. This is before we had a kanban board. No one knew the status of anything. Everyone was confused. It was like we were playing “telephone.” Finally, I said, “Let’s all create stickies and put our tasks on the board and see where we are.” We were then able to create a picture of the project and move on from there.”

You have distracted the interviewer from the irrelevant question, and provided the interviewer with evidence that you are a smart person who can move a project along. You have provided a behavior-description answer to a mind-boggling question.

3. What has to happen to make a great day is a hypothetical question. What if you’ve been unemployed for a while and you just want a job, even if it’s a horrible job? The problem is you can’t say, “Going to work will be a great day.” You sound desperate. You can’t say, “Being able to see my kid’s concert is a great day,” or “Arriving at 7 am and leaving at 4pm is a great day.” You want to know what the cultural norms are here. You want to ask those questions. Maybe you want to work on an agile team, but your version of agile is different from what these people think agile is.

Depending on how much you want this job and where you are in the interviewing process, you have some options:

  • You might say, “I’d like to learn more about what you do and how I might fit before I try to answer this question. I don’t know enough yet.”
  • You might say,”What problems are you trying to solve in the next 3 months? If I know that, I can answer this question better.”
  • You might say, “Tell me more about how agile/lean you are. I know how my last company worked. Every organization is different, and I want to make sure I know how you work, so I can explain what would be great for me.”
  • Review your cultural fit questions that you developed in What Culture Do You Want in a Job? and use one of those as an answer.

If you are an interviewer, don’t be fooled by these questions. These questions don’t tell you if the candidate can do the job or fits your culture. (Read Hiring Geeks That Fit or more on this blog.)

If you are a candidate, deflect these questions and use behavior-description answers and auditions.

The blog post is correct in one respect: the best interviews are good conversations. But, they are good conversations that help you determine if the person can do the work here, in this culture. That’s why you ask about cultural fit.

All these misconceptions about cultural fit. I have got to get myself together and do an online workshop series about how to develop and ask questions about cultural fit.

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Six Tips for Editing Your Resume

Along with my series about interviewing tips, I thought you might need a few tips for editing your resume. Here they are:

  1. Write a first draft of your resume. Write it in reverse chronological order, with your most recent job first. Now, put it away for a few days, while you do other things. Your subconscious will work on it while you work on the rest of your job search. Your subconscious is working on the details.
  2. Now it’s time to do the hard work of the details for your resume. Especially for the most recent work on your resume, fill in the details. Assume you will write in prose here. Use good grammar. Don’t worry about the length of your resume yet. You can trim later. For each line of your resume, explain what you did, how you did it, and how you added value to the organization. Use numbers about time saved on projects, cost saved on projects, customers added or retained, revenue added, that kind of thing. If you can’t describe how you added value, does that line belong on your resume?
  3. If you have keywords, put those on the bottom of the resume, after all your experience. Do not clutter the most valuable part of your resume, the top, with keywords. Yes, I know the ATS wants to see keywords. The ATS is a robot. The ATS doesn’t care where the keywords are. The human reading your resume does care.
  4. Check for typos. This is where you can run your resume through Grammarly’s online grammar check and see what Grammarly says. Does Grammarly say, “Schlub. Not readable. Inconsistent grammar.” Or, does Grammarly say, “Professional. Your previous managers, your colleagues, even your mom would be proud.”
  5. Ask other people to review your resume. Does it make sense? Would they want to hire you, based on this resume? Have you boxed yourself into a job that doesn’t exist, or a domain that is shrinking? This is the time to ask.
  6. Now, see how long your resume is. If it’s longer than two pages, what do you need to trim?

You’ve heard “the devil is in the details,” right? You want a hiring manager to see you as a unique individual, someone who cares enough to provide a great resume, and someone who has done terrific work.

When I checked some text in Grammarly, it did find the commonly misused “Principle Engineer” problem. Yes, I know some of you are called “Principle Engineers” instead of “Principal Engineers.” Some HR person does not know the difference and it has spread like wildfire through technical job titles and job descriptions.

Principles are rules, tenets, laws, things like that. People are not principles.

Principals are leaders. People can be principals. There is a nice post on the Oxford Dictionary site, Principle vs. Principal that explains it well.

Why do you want to do all the work of Step 2, with the details? Why do I insist on articulating your value like that?

Because you need to explain what you have done in your jobs, so that you can answer questions well in the interview. You leave the stories of your career for the interview. You summarize the details with numbers in the resume. Is this difficult? Oh, yes. Is it worth it? Oh, yes.

Your resume is a piece of writing, the same as any other writing. It represents you to people you don’t know. Do you want it to say, “I’m a schlub,” or do you want it to say, “I’m a terrific person. Here’s what I’ve done in the past. I’ve told you the details of my previous work. I’ve checked that I’ve represented that work properly. Here I am! Now, interview me.”

That’s what a great resume can do for you.

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Putting Your Best Foot Forward at Campus Job Fairs

Today’s guest post is courtesy of William Reynolds.

You’ve worked hard for years earning your college degree. You’ve slaved away at your own projects and developed your technical knowledge base. Now you feel ready to play a vital role programming, troubleshooting or engineering for a high-profile company or organization — but have you prepared for the campus job fairs that might actually open those doors for you? If not, then study up on these tips for making the right impression.

Do your due diligence. Just as you would routinely perform the preliminary research needed for any important project, you should research the job fair in advance. Find out which companies will have representatives at the event, and then hit the corporate websites until you feel you have a grip on each entity’s vision, mission, clientele and corporate culture — not to mention their specific technical needs and solutions. Walk into that situation confidently informed, and watch the reaction you get. You’ve just set yourself apart from all the other folks who have the tech smarts but not the job smarts.

Campus Job Fairs1

Learn what you can about the participating organizations in advance.

Be businesslike. Of course you’ll want to project a certain warmth and approachability at the campus job fair, but that doesn’t mean you can fall into familiarity. Professionalism is one of the qualities these reps watch for, so “fake it till you make it” — act like a professional if you want to become one. Wear appropriate attire for a business meeting, show proper respect to everyone there at all times, and keep your cell phone switched off (not just set to vibrate) until you can exit the area to check messages.

Bring documentation. Lugging multiple hardcopies of your resume around may seem totally 20th Century, but in the busy environment of a campus job fair paper still rules as the preferred means of document exchange. (Of course you’ll want to double-check that resume for accuracy and correct formatting beforehand.) Some technical positions may call for additional documentation as well, such as certifications in specific software platforms or programming languages. Prepare to take information as well as receive, whether you record it on a legal pad or a tablet. But don’t spend so much time taking notes that you fail to express your interest through eye contact and body language.
Don't forget to take notesDon’t forget to take notes!

Assert yourself. The technical world embraces more than its share of natural introverts, but while this quality may help you focus on your work, it won’t do you any favors at a job fair. Even if it feels unnatural to you, make every effort to work the room, engage representatives at each booth at least once, and act like you’re delighted to be there. Another item for your must-do list: Talk yourself up. Modesty is most definitely not a virtue in these situations, especially when your potential rivals at the event have no such compunction against selling their good points and glossing over their weaknesses. You must make a massively positive and vivid impression if you want the recruiters to remember you after speaking to roomfuls of candidates.

Keep coming at them. As the heavy hitters like to say, “The fortune is in the followup.” But the follow-up begins, not after the event, but at the event itself, when you remember to take each recruiter’s business card. You need this information so you can send email notes thanking them for the opportunity to meet, attaching en electronic copy of your resume, volunteering to answer any additional questions, and generally keeping yourself at the top of their minds for when that great opportunity opens up.

Campus job fairs do not necessarily shower new careers on participating candidates right then and there, so don’t fret if a miracle fails to happen on the spot. Instead, keep honing your applicant skills alongside your technical savvy, and rest assured that practice does indeed make perfect!

William Reynolds has worked as a freelance copywriter since 1997. William specializes in website content, ghost-blogging, print marketing content and audio/video scripts to help businesses with their online reputation management and promotional strategies.

(Images courtesy of digitalart and stockimages /FreeDigitalPhotos.net)

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How You Answer Irrelevant Questions in an Interview, Part 3

Back in More Interview Questions Not to Ask, Part 1, I said that hiring managers and teams should not ask irrelevant questions. Some of you here, and on LinkedIn and Facebook asked, “How do we answer these questions?” Here’s how you do it.

If someone asks you “Who do you most admire and why?” use someone at work. Ground your answer in a work-related answer. You have turned this irrelevant question into a behavior-description answer. Here are two examples:

When my manager, at this job, stood up for us, I thought that was great. Here’s what she did… When it was my turn to be a manager, used that on this project, and…

When my peer cracked the unit testing framework nut on this project, I thought that was great. It gave me the courage to take the bull by the horns on that project to …

Do you see what’s going on here? Instead of talking about a famous person, you’re giving clues about cultural fit, which is a great idea. In both of these examples, you pull the interviewer back from la-la land to the here and now. The interviewer might be looking for “Gandhi” or “Brad Pitt”. Instead, the interviewer has real-world experience by which to judge you. A much better use of interview time.

What about if someone asks, “What is your passion?” Lord, save me. Do not say, “Sailing around the world.” You need too much time off from work for that. It is irrelevant what your passion is. Interviewers claim they want to know if you are well-rounded. Nonsense. Here are two possible examples:

Here’s how you answer this in a behavior-description way in an agile environment, if it’s true: I’m a T-shaped or a comb-shaped person. That is, I really like (development, testing, whatever) first. But I want to help the team ship product. Here’s what I did in the last project to do so….

Here’s how you answer this in a behavior-description way in a non-agile environment, if it’s true: I have a number of interests. I find as I get older that serendipity is a wonderful thing. I read a lot and I meet a lot of people. In fact, just last week I read something in (take your pick of a business mag or the Wall St. Journal) that could have helped us on our last project. See, here’s how the last project went. We did this, and it went pretty well. On reflection, I could have used that pointer to improve it even better…

The first of these answers is about showing you are well-rounded. The second is about showing how you learn. Only use these if they are true. Please.

Now, the what is your ideal job question. You know, I work for myself and I change my job almost every year. I don’t see how someone can answer that question. Take two or three recent jobs, and say something like this. Make it as relevant to the job description as you can.

Let me tell you something about this job at that specific company. I really enjoyed and was good at this part. (Now, describe something you excelled at.)

This interviewer is asking you to sell yourself on the job. The interviewer has ceded control of the interview. Fine! You take control.

Now, the why are you here question. I have to say, I really like Chuck’s response, “You don’t know?” You must say that with a smile, not a smirk. You must. I would burst out laughing. If you are not a belly-laugher, don’t say that. You want to get the interviewer laughing with you.

A better answer might be to answer that with a question, “What results do you want in 6 months, and I’ll tell you why I’m here. I know what I can bring. I know what I saw in the job description. I want to check with you before I answer.”

Otherwise, you can say:

I saw the job description. My background is this… You want these results…, right? I can deliver those for you. Here’s why. At this most recent job, I did this. (Point to that job on your resume. Yes, physically reach across the desk and point to it.) Explain your value.

Of course, none of these examples will stop the interviewers from using these irrelevant questions. But that’s not the point. Your point is to ace the interview.

The posts in this series:

More Interview Questions Not to Ask, Part 1

 Interview Questions to Consider Asking, Part 2

If you liked this post and you will be in London on March 21, 2014, you should sign up for my Manage Your Job Search workshop. You will not be disappointed.

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Interview Questions to Consider Asking, Part 2

Part 1 of this is More Interview Questions Not to Ask, Part 1.

There are more questions from Interview Questions: Hiring Experts Reveal Their Favorites.

I had mixed feelings about these questions. You need to be a savvy interviewer to pull these off:
•    Describe an environment in which you would not thrive.
•    So you’re a Yankees fan. If you were their owner, how would make the team better?

They are hypothetical questions. Hypothetical questions beg the candidate to tell you what makes the candidate perfect, not what makes the candidate real. I would love to be perfect. I bet you would, too. However, I am real and human.

Don’t start with a hypothetical negative, when you can turn this into a behavior-description question so easily and make it great:

Tell me about a time when you thrived in an environment/project/team.

Now, does that tell you about a candidate? Even better, shorten it:

Give me a recent example about a time when you thrived.

Now, if you have been practicing your interview skills, after you ask that question, so a candidate is grounded in reality, you can ask,

Now, contrast that with a time when things weren’t so hot. Tell me about that. What were the differences?

You, the interviewer are asking the candidate to reflect in real time, about real life events. No hypothetical what-if, la-la land required. See how this is better?

By the way, there were some gems. The ones I liked were:

•    You’re a project manager? Tell me about a time you had a delayed project.
•    Describe a project in which you could not thrive.

These are both behavior-description questions.

I’m an experienced interview. I practice interviewing all the time. I never ask hypothetical questions. Never. Why? Because it’s too easy to fake an answer. But I always ask behavior-description questions. Because they are grounded in reality.

What do you do?

Look for Part 3, which is what do when you are interviewing and you encounter these questions. If you’re hiring, read Hiring Geeks That Fit, to learn how to ask questions.

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More Interview Questions Not to Ask, Part 1

I was reading Interview Questions: Hiring Experts Reveal Their Favorites. Some of them are quite good. But some of them? Not so much.

Here are the ones you should avoid, and why:

  1. Who do you most admire and why?
  2. What is your passion?
  3. If you could do anything, what would be your ideal job?
  4. Why are you here?

Here’s why you should avoid these questions. I’ll take them in order.

#1, the admiration. Say someone admires someone political from the other party than the one you belong to. It could happen. You might stop listening. Maybe you’re a hardcore Republican, and the candidate says, “Hilary Clinton.” You don’t even hear why. Maybe you’re a Democrat, and the candidate says, “Michael Huckabee.” You don’t hear why.

It doesn’t have to be political. It could be sports. It could be religion. The problem is relevance. Anyone you admire outside of work is irrelevant to work. Do you really want to discriminate for or against a candidate because of something irrelevant to work?

#2, the passion. Maybe the passion is for a sport. Is the passion for something outside of work? How can you tell if they can turn their passion toward your work? Again, this is an irrelevant question.

#3, the ideal job. Why put people on the spot and ask them what their ideal job is? Most people, unless they’ve done the introspection have no idea what their ideal job is. Are you offering it? Are you going to help people create it? This is offering people a glimpse of nirvana and then pulling it away. Bad idea.

#4, the why are you here question. This is a shocker question, designed to delight extroverts and eliminate introverts. Go ahead and use it if that’s what you want. You’ll create an extroverted team of people. You can still get the work done, but it’s irrelevant to the job.

All four of these questions are irrelevant to the job you need done. All four. Put these on your do-not-ask list.

I’ll have the second part of this in More Interview Questions to Consider, Part 2. Some of the questions were okay, and some were quite good.

Here’s the question: Do you want to make your most important decision, your hiring decision, using irrelevant questions?

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Job Search Trap: I Can Do Other Things Before My Job Hunt

As I give my talks about Manage Your Job Search, I ask people, “What traps have you noticed in your job search?” I hear all kinds of things. I’ve addressed a number of them in the book, and I’ll address more of them here.

One of the traps I hear a lot is this one: “While I’m home, I can just throw in a load of laundry, do the carpools, make breakfast, make dinner, clean the house, clean out a couple of closets, …”  The list goes on and on.

Listen for that word “just.” It’s a trap.

I hear you. You do not want to see the state of my office. (It verges on the state of half-clean/half-disaster.)

There is always more to do in a house. Especially while you are unemployed and you have children. They still have activities to go to. If you used to have someone to pick them up and drop them off, I bet you have reduced that expense, and you are driving the kids now. And, it’s probably you, not your spouse, which reduces your available job-hunting time. There is always a closet to clean, a meal to cook, something to do. Always.

Consider this: you need to think long-term. What will get you back to normal? A job, a good job that will make you feel great about going into work every day.

How will you get that job? By knowing what your purpose is, by know what culture you need. And, if you do that with a system that allows you to make small purposeful steps, such as personal kanban, you can do it.

Can you put laundry on your kanban? Sure. If you make a conscious decision that today, you need to do the laundry, that the laundry is the most important work you can do, sure. Make it a conscious decision. Otherwise, it’s a trap.

When you are unemployed, your job is to get a job. If you do other work, you better have a great reason.

You want to have a great family, a great job, a great you, right? Think about what you need to now and later. Make choices that fit for you now. Use your kanban to visualize those choices. You can say, “No,” to yourself, and do the laundry later.

And, if you have older children who are capable of helping around the house, enlist them to do the cooking, cleaning, and laundry. You are going through what could be the most difficult time of your life. You need their help and support.

If you hear yourself saying, “just,” stop right now. Just is a trap word. You cannot do it all. You need to decide what you can and cannot do. I suggest you focus on your job search.

Isn’t your job search your most important work for right now? Is there anything more important?

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