What Traits Are Most Valuable in a Career?

If you read Thomas Friedman’s interview with Laszlo Bock, How to Get a Job at Google, Part 2, you see that these qualities are the things that Bock discusses:

  • Grit, which I refer to as perseverance
  • Adaptability
  • General cognitive ability, the ability to think and solve problems

How does Bock look for those skills? He looks for some form of STEM: science, technology, engineering or math degree. Not just courses, degree. Why? They show that a candidate had the perseverance to stick with a difficult undergraduate program, that the candidate has analytical ability (yes, I admit of a certain type), and you can adapt those skills to whatever job you have now.

If you read the interview, you can see that liberal arts are important, but not by themselves. BTW, I have an English degree. I read Chaucer. The challenge there was not the same as designing device drivers, two things I did for my undergraduate degrees.

If you already have a technical background, great. If you don’t, what now? Take classes, and more importantly, practice. Volunteer on some open source projects. Try something on your own. Go to code.org and see if you like coding. Don’t do something you don’t like.

Maybe Google or a place like that is not for you. But I have to tell you, I am not doing what I started doing over 30 years ago. Even if I had continued to write code, I would not be using the same languages, solving the same kinds of problems. I would have changed domains several times over. My adaptability has been key to my career success.

Being able to persevere to solve problems is a key piece of my success, too. The people who hire me as a consultant know that. The people who hired me as an employee knew that, too.

What’s been essential to your career success? Now, if you are a hiring manager, turn it around and ask, what’s been essential to the success of the people with whom you work? The answers might surprise you.

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What Does Your Interviewing Reveal About You?

Did you read When Did You Last “Shop” Your Candidate Experience? See the common complaints from candidates:

  • Distracted interviewers
  • Late or no-show interviewers
  • Non-job relevant questions

You don’t have to vie for a “Best Place to Work” award or a candidate experience award, or any award at all. You need to be authentic. That’s all.

I don’t buy their solutions. (No surprise there, eh?) In fact, I think their standard interview questions stink. If you read Hiring Geeks That Fit (as an interviewer), I have better questions for you to ask. If you are a candidate, I have better ways to answer these questions in Manage Your Job Search.

Here’s an example: they suggest you ask, “Where do you want to be in 5 years?” Well, I don’t know any company willing to commit to anyone for 5 years. That’s an irrelevant question. Instead, ask something like this, “Tell me about a recent time when you learned something and applied that learning at work?” Or, “Tell me about a time you wanted a promotion. What did you do to earn it?” Or, “Tell me about a recent time you learned a problem your manager needed to have solved. What did you do?”

As a candidate, you can turn this around, and say, “Let me ask you instead, what objectives do you have for this position in the next 3 months, 6 months, and year, or even longer? I can provide you a better answer based on what I’ve done in the past and make it relevant to the job.” Then you give a behavior-description answer.

Remember, you represent your company when you start the hiring process. You represent your culture as soon as you start hiring, from the ad to the initial candidate encounter. What does your interviewing say about you?

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Job Search Trap: Too Much to Do

Today’s job search trap is something we can all identify with: biting off a big chunk of work and not getting it to done fast enough. I suspect we have all been there and done that!

How do you avoid this particular trap? I like to assess each of my tasks on my board and ask, “Do any of these look as if they will be more than two hours long?”

Two hours is not a lot of time. Two hours is long enough for me to make progress on something and get it to done. It’s also long enough that I’m likely to complete it. And that’s the key.

You know what the problems are in a job search: you have interruptions, such as phone calls; your family needs you to drive them or do laundry or something else; you want a perfect resume. The list goes on and on.

Instead, think of ways to make your tasks smaller. Here are some approaches:

  • What’s the first thing you do? Is this a series of tasks, where you have glommed things together? For example, “Write resume” is really at least three tasks: Draft resume, ask several people to review it, send it out for review. You might even decide that “Draft resume” is “Timebox draft resume to 60 minutes.”
  • How can you make your tasks independent? Are you researching a job fair? Or researching companies? Look at the job fair and decide if you want to go. That’s the first decision. If you do, that’s the trigger event for all the other research for the job fair. Same thing for researching companies. Look at the about page for their mission statement, or their locations, or whatever is most important to you. Do you want to consider working there? If so, that’s the trigger event for all your other decisions.
  • Separate one long task into its component tasks. Do you have many phone calls or emails scheduled for one long “task”? You may have scheduled your “LinkedIn work” for the afternoon. But it’s a combination of replying to requests to connect, deciding which groups to participate in, deciding if you want to write recommendations, and what to write, the list goes on. Those aren’t really one long task, are they? They all happen to take place on LinkedIn, but they aren’t related. Separate these unrelated large chunks into smaller chunks. This is different from the first bullet, because those are related. This is unrelated work.

Tomorrow is the last day of the Manage Your Job Search launch. Yes, I ran the launch Wednesday-Wednesday. That’s one of the tips in Manage Your Job Search, to start your week on a Wednesday. Today is the last conference call about tips and traps. I’ll do a quick intro and answer your questions. Join me?

P.S. I just fixed the title of this post. I misspelled the too, as in too much to do. Oopsie!

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Job Search Trap: I Can Network Only by Going to Meetings

Here’s another job search trap: you think you can network by going to professional group meetings, mashups, informational lunches, and other kinds of what I call “background networking.”

You need to do this kind of networking to expand you network. But it won’t get you a job. It will keep you unemployed.

You need to also create a target list of companies, companies you want to work at. Not types of companies. Real companies, with real names, on a real list. This takes research.

Once you have your target list, you also need to have your marketing spiel (which I describe in Manage Your Job Search), and then you can decide how to find someone at one of your target companies every single week.

If you expand your background networking every week, chances are good you know someone who knows someone at your target company. Maybe you even know someone at your target company! But, if you haven’t defined your target list, you don’t know what you are looking for. It’s a problem.

You do need to go to meetings. You do need to have informational interviews. You need to keep thinking about where you are focusing your networking efforts.

Background networking, by itself, is insufficient. Add target networking to it? Now you have a winning combination.

There are two more days of the Manage Your Job Search launch. I’m hosting conference calls this week. Today’s, April 14, is about networking basics. Tomorrow’s is tips and traps. I’ll do a quick intro and answer your questions. Join me?

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Tech Managers: Time to Grow Up and Manage Like Humans

I read Technology’s Man Problem in the New York Times this weekend. I thought those days were long gone. I guess not.

Since when it is acceptable to make any comment about anybody’s body part at work? Hello? Are we in the 7th grade? I thought “men” were past that. The gentlemen I know are past that nonsense. So are the gentlewomen. There are reasons I call you my “gentle readers.”

Did you see the statistics in the article?

Among the women who join the field, 56 percent leave by midcareer, a startling attrition rate that is double that for men, according to research from the Harvard Business School.

Unacceptable. Why would you remove half the people who can make your products better? Did you read Here are all the quantifiable reasons you should hire more women? Does that sound like what we do in high tech:

  • Create more innovative outcomes
  • Stronger financial performance
  • More diverse teams have a lower turnover rate
  • Teams with women have patents cited more often

The technical managers I know, know how to write ads that are gender neutral. They know how to interview for cultural fit. They understand that culture is what you can discuss, what you reward, and how you treat each other. They offer jobs that are opportunities, not a long list of tools. (They have read Hiring Geeks That Fit.)

Technical managers, you can be savvy. You can hire people of all kinds. They don’t have to look like you. They can be women, men, young, old, whatever. The more innovation you need in your product, the more diverse you need your team.

You need people who can get along enough with each other to work together, and who can do the work. You don’t need people who are carbon copies of each other.

No other industry would tolerate this sexism or bigotry. Let’s stop it now.

If you are an unseasoned manager, learn how to manage and how hire. It’s not a problem to admit you don’t know. It’s a problem to continue to do it badly.

If you work in an environment where there is sexism or bigotry, stop allowing it. You can stop creating a culture that doesn’t allow women to thrive. You can do your part.

Let’s create an environment in which every person can do great work. No matter who they are. It’s time to manage as if we are all human. The last time I looked, we are.

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Job Search Trap: Not Preparing for Each Interview

You’ve landed the interview. Congratulations! Now what?

Make sure you can discuss your value in detail. If you haven’t done so, review your value as in Four Tips to Defining Your Value.

For each and every interview, you want to research the organization and prepare for the interview. You want to understand the questions they might ask you, and be prepared to answer some of the not-so-brilliant questions they might ask.

I’ve covered some of the interview questions I dislike here. See these posts:

You might want to read the interview questions I do like:

You can search this blog for many more interview questions and auditions that I like.

Get ready for the Manage Your Job Search launch this week. I’ll be hosting conference calls this week. The first one, April 10, is a short introduction to personal kanban inside one-week timeboxes. I’ll do a quick intro and answer your questions. Join me?

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Job Search Trap: Stickies Everywhere Except on My Board

I recently met someone who thought he could manage his job search with yellow stickies. Given that I recommend personal kanban, I thought we’d be on the same wavelength.

Imagine my surprise when he said, “I have stickies all over my computer, to remind me of what I have to do.”

Oh no. That’s not organized enough. That’s a job search trap.

You can’t organize an emergent project like a job search with stickies all over your computer, any more than you can with a Gantt chart, or a Word file, or a database, or anything else that is static or random. You need an adaptable system, one that allows you to plan just enough for now, but is flexible enough to allow for change, if you need it.

This is why I like personal kanban inside of one-week timeboxes. You have a pull system, where you can see the work, where you constantly move small tasks across the board, and you reflect at one-week intervals. You have a board—or a parking lot—on which to put everything. That means you don’t have to worry when you have a great idea. You have a place to put it.

If you are looking for a job, you need a system, first. I recommend personal kanban.

Do you know about the Manage Your Job Search launch this week? I’m hosting a series conference calls. The first one, April 10, is a short introduction to personal kanban inside one-week timeboxes. I’ll do a quick intro and answer your questions. Sign up for any or all. Hope you join me. They will be fun and informative.

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Job Search Trap: Spray-and-Pray

In Manage Your Job Search, I discuss a number of traps. A common one is “spray and pray” for your resume.

Spray-and-pray is when you send your resume everywhere, without thinking of your target market. You are not perfect for every job. Every company is not perfect for you. Do not apply everywhere.

Instead of applying everywhere, think about who your target companies are. Yes, this takes time. This is why I suggest you think about your career timeline first, and decide on the culture you want in an organization before you decide on your target market. I also suggest you decide on  your purpose in advance.

I have suggestions for how to network in Manage Your Job Search (yes, more than what is on this blog right now). In the book, I have the ideas of background networking, which is what you do when you go to meetings; and target networking, which is what you do when you want to meet people on your target list.

When I meet people who tell me, “I’ve sent out 200 resumes, and received no response,” I know that they have wasted their time. They have not targeted those resumes.

Deciding on your target network takes time. It takes thought. You need at least 20 companies, preferably 25 companies on your target list. If you have fewer, you are in danger of not finding a job in a reasonable amount of time. You are in danger of not finding that specific job. You may need to expand the kind of job, your geographic location, or the kind of money (almost always less) that you are willing to accept.

If you don’t develop your target list, you won’t know this, will you? Wouldn’t you like to know? I would.

Spend some time thinking about your target network. Research potential companies. Do timebox this. Use your personal kanban—that’s what it’s there for! But don’t spray-and-pray. You will go nuts and wonder when you will ever find a job.

Target. Aim. Get hired.

Get ready for the official Manage Your Job Search launch on April 9, 2014. If you have read the book, and you have found it useful, please leave a review on Amazon or Goodreads. Thanks!

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Hiring Trap: Don’t Hire Anyone Older Than…

When I was a young developer, my employers were hungry for talent. They hired women, as well as men. Of course, my first employer wanted to know what birth control I used, which was an illegal question at the time. I told them so.

Fast forward to the 80′s, when I became a hiring manager. I could not understand why I only received resumes of people younger than I was. (I was a young manager, in my 30′s.) I told the recruiter, I was open to engineers of all ages.

“Good, I have some really interesting people in their 50′s, who need a job,” he explained.

“Send them over!” I was excited. I hired several of them. They were great. I didn’t care that they were older than I was.

A few years ago, I was consulting in Europe, and one of the managers there said, “No one over 40 can know anything about agile.”

I replied, “I realize this is like asking, ‘How do I look in this dress,’ but how old do you think I am?”

The manager looked at me, and said, “Uh, 45?”

“No, I’m over 50. I’m teaching you agile and how to improve your agile approach. Are you sure you can’t hire anyone over 40 to join an agile team?”

He was surprised. He changed his mind.

I don’t know if you saw this post, STEM Shortage Claims and Facebook’s $19 Billion Acquisition of WhatsApp. The author claims we have rampant ageism in technical hiring. He’s right.

Too many hiring managers look at surface issues: where you went to school, how old you are, how many years of some kind of tool or language experience you have, or heaven forbid, what personality type you are, as if all of that predicts your destiny. As if you can’t learn and grow. Nothing about your behavior on the job. Nothing about the essential qualities, skills, and preferences that make you what you are, and how you fit with a team. No auditions. No work with a team. Nothing that would be useful. Nope, just surface nonsense.

Hiring managers and teams, and yes, even HR, think that because they have a job, they are experts in how to hire. Nothing could be further from the truth.

If you have not learned how to hire, you need to. Otherwise, you are making mistakes.

Just because you have a job, does not mean you know how to hire.

You can hire people who are older than you are. They do know something. You have to check for how quickly they learn and adaptability. Do you know how?

You can hire people who don’t look just like you. If you are creating products or solving problems, consider hiring people who have some differences, so you get idea diversity. Do you know how?

Are you worried about people sticking around for a while? Calculate the mean and the median duration of people’s length of employment. Are your managers good enough to keep people around?

Now, look at the duration of the longest length of employment (not the most recent, the longest), on a candidate’s resume. That is a better indication of how long someone will stay, if you are a good employer. Are you good enough?

People want jobs, regardless of their ages. Don’t fall for the trap that “I can’t hire anyone over a certain age” or “older than I am.” Hogwash! Do you think there is a shortage of qualified candidates? There is less of a shortage than you think there is.

There are great people out there. Some might be older than you can imagine. Some might look different than you imagine (women, black, Asian, and many more combinations).

If you’re having trouble imagining the candidates you need, do yourself a favor, and buy a copy of Hiring Geeks That Fit. You don’t have to do this alone.

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Transitioning to a New Role: How to Interview

There’s a comment in Interview Questions for Program Managers. What should I do if I have experience relevant to being a program manager, but I haven’t been a program manager? How do I answer these questions? (I had posted a number of potential questions a hiring manager could ask a program manager in that post.)

That question is the more specific question of “How do I transition to a new role. How do I interview for it?”

You, as a candidate, have to be ready to answer those questions and show the hiring manager how your expertise fits. You have to show your value. Once you’ve done that in your resume, you can craft a cover letter that explains how your past experience fits this job.

I’m assuming you’ve done your targeted networking, and that’s how you got in the door, right? Now, it’s a question of nailing the interview.

You have to help your interviewers make the connection between your previous roles and this role. Let’s assume you are interviewing for a project manager or program manager role, since that was the question.

You might hear these questions:

  • “Tell me about a recent program you managed.” To answer it, you might say, “Well, I ran a consulting business, so it wasn’t quite a program. Here’s how it’s similar to a program:…” and then explain how you think it’s similar. Make the connection for the interviewer. Do not let the interviewer wonder, “How is this similar?” No. Help the interviewer see why you are the right candidate by drawing the parallels yourself.
  • The interview might say, “I was going to ask, ‘Did you have a program charter?’ but I’m not sure what to ask.” You can say, “Here’s how I knew what was driving the business.” You have to make the connection. You have to know what’s in a program charter. Or, you can ask, “What’s in your program charters, so I know what you mean. Let me make sure we’re speaking the same language, first. Everyone has something different in a charter.” (You would be correct :-)
  • “Tell me what metrics you used to manage your projects or programs.” You should be able to answer that, and explain how you modified those metrics for your projects or programs for your needs.

Does this make sense to you?

Here are your steps when you transition to a new role:

  1. Make sure your resume/CV is clear about what role you want.
  2. Make sure your resume/CV shows your value for the work you have done in the past.
  3. Don’t forget to do your targeted marketing/networking, so you know how to find employers who will hire you.
  4. In the interview, make the connection as you answer the questions, so your interviewers understand you are ready for the transition.

Read Manage Your Job Search for more detail about this from the candidate perspective.

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