Three Tips to Streamline Your Hiring, Part 1

I spent the day consulting with a client who might sound just like you. He’s a senior manager in a small company. He’s overworked, trying to perform too many roles by himself. He’s the CTO, Scrum Master for as many as three teams (yes, I gave him the evil eye), the tool master, managing about 20 people directly (he has three leads, but he writes all the reviews), and he’s doing all the recruiting. He’s drowning in work. You’re not surprised, are you?

When I talk to people like this client, they share the same frustrations. They can’t find people who can come in Day 1, and start to work. They can’t find enough people fast. They see a ton of people, most of whom are wrong. Their hiring is stuck.

If that is your problem, here are tips that might help you:

  1. Talk through all of your problems in the organization with a trusted adviser, confidant, or consultant. We spent about 45 minutes first discussing what my client’s problems were. When I realized how many roles he was taking on himself, and what his hiring process was, I could make immediate suggestions for improvement. If you don’t know the problems, you can’t see the forest for the trees. You need to go meta in order to know what to suggest on the ground. We did decide he had at least one of the right jobs open, and that he needed four more open positions.
  2. Make sure you do a thorough job analysis of the open jobs. We timeboxed the analysis of a “senior engineer” position to 30 minutes. I asked him questions, and pushed and prodded when he was vague. People are vague the first time through. It’s okay. That’s why it helps to have someone who can push back and help you be less vague talk with you. By the end of the 30 minutes, we had several unique opportunities for this specific role, something that would make someone want the job.
  3. Write an ad that creates a compelling opportunity. If you need one, write a job description with bullets. Since he needs a new person, he needed an ad more than he needed a bulletized job description. He asked me: was it okay to write an ad in sentences? I answered, What would you rather read, bullets or a compelling ad? He smiled and said, “The ad, hands down.”

This started to streamline his hiring from the sourcing perspective. But wait, there’s more!

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Three Tips for Answering “Tell Me About Yourself”

I’ve said I don’t like the “Tell me About Yourself” question long ago and more recently. It’s not a useful question. But that’s not going to stop interviewers from asking it.

Here are my three tips for answer this question.

  1. Remember that you are not your degrees or certifications.
  2. Remember that you are not your role (project manager, developer, tester, whatever).
  3. Remember that you need to articulate your value.

If you remember those three ideas, how do you answer this question? Here are some examples.

Example #1: Let’s assume you are a project manager, with a slew of certificates and an MBA. You don’t say, “I have an MBA and a PMP.” No, you say, “I ran a geographically distributed agile program. We succeeded because I helped people learn how to see their interdependencies. I helped the teams learn to collaborate. I never worked so hard in my life, not driving to a date. I didn’t learn any of this in school or in my certifications. I learned it on the job, experimenting, using the data to see what did and didn’t work. I know what works on an agile program with teams and people all over the world. Some of it isn’t pretty. But, with experimentation, we can make it work.”

Example #2: Let’s assume you are a tester. (Some people call this QA Engineer.) You don’t say, “I’m a QA Engineer” or “I’m a tester.” Nobody cares if you have certifications.  You say, “I provide information about the product under development, regardless of where in development that product is. I can read specs. I can argue architecture. I can create tests anywhere in the product development lifecycle. On my most recent project, we had an intermittent performance problem. I partnered with a business analyst and a developer to create tests that we would run over several builds to find that problem and analyze it. We discovered that the problem had been there from the beginning, and that new code uncovered it. Our partnership was key to uncovering and debugging the problem.”

Example #3: Let’s assume you are a developer. You might say something like this: “I work with the team to develop creating solutions to problems. On the last project, we had to improve database performance by at least 20%. That was a hard problem. We needed to be able to rollback, too. We couldn’t just make this a one-way solution. We had to experiment with several solutions. I facilitated those problem solving sessions. They were loud sessions, but we solved the problem in a really interesting way. If we hadn’t used our tests as a safety net, I don’t know what would have happened. I couldn’t tell people they had to test as we went. I had to influence them. My development skills are great, but I’m not just a developer. If you hire me, you’ll get a great developer who’s also a great facilitator within the team.”

Do you see how those answers differ from the standard, “I went to this school, I have this job, I did that thing”? These answers have the start of interesting details about you. You want to continue with your value. See Four Tips for Defining Your Value.

If you like this post, you want to read Manage Your Job Search.

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Recruiting Animal’s Review of Manage Your Job Search

Did you see Recruiting Animal’s review of Manage Your Job Search? It’s terrific.

One of the things I like best about his review is that he talks about each section of the book and explains what he likes about each section.

In his review, he has a great tip on how to introduce yourself. Go read the review and see.

Here’s the summary of what he says about Manage Your Job Search:

“… up-to-date guide that I would recommend.”

Thank you, Animal! If you are looking for a job, get your copy now.

If you have a review, let me know.

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Job Search Tip: Timebox Everything

In Manage Your Job Search, I suggest the job hunter timebox everything. But what does that look like? Here are some examples.

Imagine you want to research companies to put on your target list. I say you need 25 companies on your target list in the networking chapter. You roll your eyes and you are overwhelmed. You think to yourself, “How do I even start?”

Timeboxing this activity is a great way to start to manage your overwhelm.

You start this at 10am. You decide to spend 30 minutes on this task. That’s your first timebox. You set your alarm clock (on your phone, on your computer, somewhere) for 30 minutes.

30minutealarmclockYou start to research companies. You get involved. You take notes. All of a sudden, rinngg! Your alarm clock goes off!

Your 30-minute timebox is up. By definition, this task is over.

You are done, for now. You breathe a sigh of relief.

Let’s review what this timebox looks like:

MYJS.timebox.pictureYou started at 10am, you finished at 10:30am.

You decided which ToDo to select, your task. Here, it was researching target companies.

You decided how long your timebox would be. Here, it was 30 minutes. In Manage Your Job Search, I’m a big fan of work that takes you under two hours to complete. I recommend you timebox your work to less than two hours. If you don’t know how to start something, start with a timebox of 10 minutes, so you start and don’t make yourself nutso.

See what a timebox looks like? You complete the work in a defined period of time. You define that period of time. You have now completed that work. You move your sticky to done. You breathe a sigh of relief. (Okay, the sigh of relief is optional.)

You can progress through your job search every single day, using timeboxes like this. Even when you don’t quite know what to do. Why? Because you start small, make a little progress, and move your sticky across the board.

When you don’t know how to start, you start small. You build on your successes. Timeboxes help. This is why you are your own project manager.

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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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