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Job interviews from the other side

Seem to have spent a good chunk of the summer sitting in on job interviews.

A few helpful hints for job hunters:

Know a lot about the organization you’ve applied to. Google ’em. If you can’t make the effort do your homework for an interview, just how little initiative will you take in your job?

You’re not applying for the job because you’re bored with what you’re currently doing, under or unemployed or in need of a change. You’re applying because the organization does great work and you want to be part of a winning team.

Be enthusiastic. If you’re not excited at the prospect of joining the organization, what are you going to be like in 4 months when the honeymoon’s over and you’re snowed under with the grind of "other duties as assigned"? Smile. Be engaging (sincerely engaging).

When the interview ends and you’re asked if you have any questions, ask a question. How about, where do you see the organization in 5 years? What do you enjoy most about working here? What’s one thing the organization’s dreaming about doing? What are you most proud about having contributed to the organization?

Sounds obvious but you’d be surprised.

If you get an interview, assume you have the technical skills to compete with the other candidates. The interview is a chance to see if you’d be a good and right fit with the organization. Can the folks around the table see themselves working with you day after day after day? Will you make their lives easier and better?

So be prepared. Practice. And perform when you walk through that door for your next interview.

If I was CEO for a day…

Anyone who blind cc’d someone on an e-mail would have to dress up as a hotdog wiener and personally apologize to all those who were blindsided.

Anyone who looked through and walked past the cleaning staff without saying hello would have to spend the rest of the day cleaning bathroooms.

Anyone who kept checking and replying on their Crackberry during a presentation would have to go to the front of the room and sing a song of the presenter’s choice.

Anyone without children who rolled their eyes at a colleague who couldn’t stay late because they didn’t want to miss their son or daughter’s soccer game, recital or school play would have to spend a weekend babysitting their coworker’s kids.

Anyone who called a meeting because it’s 11:30 a.m. on Wednesday and a meeting is always called for that time regardless of whether there’s anything to discuss would have to cater a 3-course lunch for their colleagues.

Anyone who walked past a wayward visitor, customer or supplier in the hallway or parking lot would have to spend the next 48 hours manning the general information line, help desk and front lobby reception area.

Book review: The It Factor

The It Factor: Be The One People Like, Listen To And Remember

By Mark Wiskup

AMACOM, $17.95

Off you march to your meeting to pitch your perfect project. Everyone got your memo last week and you’ve spent 146 hours working on your PowerPoint presentation. Your whole life has led up to this moment.

You’re expecting a green light, a round of applause, three cheers and a plaque in the lobby.

But instead of a blessing, you take a beating. You never even get the chance to fire up the Proxima Projector. Three minutes into your monologue you’re cut off and told we have other priorities. Details need fleshing out. Folks who aren’t around the table need to be consulted with. We tried something like this once before and it didn’t pan out. The timing’s not right. Let’s hold off for now.

You leave the meeting dazed and confused. You close the door to your office and throw a private pity party. What’s wrong with these people?

The truth is, it’s not them. It’s you. You blew it.  Feel free to blame your parents. Back in the days of diapers and sippy cups, your folks hung on your every word. Everything you babbled was magic. You were special.

"Every parent I know, including myself, greets a child’s first few months of talking as if those monosyllabic grunts were more substantive, robust and inspiring than the Sermon on the Mount, the Gettysburg Address and the Beatles’ first appearance on the Ed Sullivan Show, all rolled into one," says author Mark Wiskup.

But it didn’t last. In no time, your sleep-deprived parents tuned out and begged for a moment of silence. They bribed you with snacks and Sesame Street. During roadtrips, they cranked the volume on Raffi’s greatest hits so loud the family station wagon turned into a thumper car.

Yet you kept on talking and haven’t shut up since. And like your parents, no one’s listening and no one cares what you have to say.

"People will not love listening to you just because you are you," says Wiskup. "They will love listening to you only after you’ve built a strong connection with them."

Building that connection takes work and a lot of humility. You need constant reminding that the world is not necessarily and automatically a better place just because you’re talking and you’re naturally brilliant. No one cares what you know until they know that you care.

"Communication superstars know that they need to do more than just be accurate and right; they first need to convince others that they are worth listening to. Proving they are right might come later. It takes the connection to motivate, inspire and encourage others."

So here’s what you need to do to quit talking and start connecting.

Take the time and make the effort to clearly explain why you’re saying what you’re saying. Why should anyone pay attention? What’s the payoff?

The reward? The risk?

Learn to use words to paint pictures so people can easily visualize what you’re saying. "They will pay attention to you, but only if you make it easy for them to do so. Otherwise, their attention will flow to something that’s easier or more interesting to deal with."

Strip out jargon, cliches and what Wiskup calls the eight deadly sins of lazy communication. These sins include telling others you’re being honest and saying "basically" over and over again.

"If your goal is to get under the skin of the people you are talking with, make liberal use of the worthless word ‘basically’."

You also need to break the annoying habits of answering your own questions, using well-worn sports analogies and describing yourself as a people person.

Learn how to connect with others through the art of small talk. Don’t drone on about the heat and humidity or the Leafs’ chances of making the playoffs this year. Instead, ask about someone’s profession, their hometown and favourite hobbies and activities. "If you go all the way to the gutter of small talk — the weather — you are sending signals that you may be borderline socially pathetic," warns Wiskup.

And one last homework assignment. Work on your personal elevator speech. "It’s your audition for professional attention, your calculated attempt to be noticed and to matter to others." When someone says, "so tell me about yourself," you’ll know exactly what to say and you leave people saying "wow, you’re someone I’ve got to get to know."

Most of us make the mistake of tossing out mindnumbing facts and stats, boring job titles and meaningless industry jargon, business speak, marketing slogans, mission statements, vision statements and tag lines when describing ourselves or the organizations we work for.

Here’s how to retool your elevator speech in four easy steps. Describe what you do using non-jargon words. Focus on your customers and what you do for them. Talk about a challenge facing your customers. And then wrap up your speech with a happy customer ending where you’ve provided the solution.

"There’s a cadence and a beat to every good elevator pitch," says Wiskup. "It’s not just smooth and easy to understand, but it’s also filled with impact and individuality. A good elevator pitch always impresses the listener with its intensity."

Great communicators — the ones who get noticed, listened to and who lead change — burn a ton of mental calories in turning every conversation into meaningful connections. Wiskup shows how it’s done with a practical book that should be required reading for anyone in need of our undivided attention.

Going…going…gone?

The CD section at the nearby Future Shop just shrank again. Now there’s more room for DVD boxed sets of 1980s TV shows that someone must be buying. And you have to think it’s only a matter of time before DVDs go the way of CDs as everyone downloads. On the same day I stopped by Future Shop, I’d just downloaded $20 worth of Rolling Stone’s tracks for my wife’s iPod.

Another business that seems to have gone extinct is the ice cream trucks and Dickie Dee bikes that used to troll the neighbourhoods in the dead of summer. Can’t ever remember buying an ice cream bar. But they were always going up and down the streets ringing their bells. Now, the only truck that wanders through our neighbourhood is driven by an old guy who sharpens tools (and I’ve never seen anyone stop him either).

So where did those refrigerators on wheels go? Maybe the same place all of our 8-track, vinyl, tape and CD collections are destined to end up. And you have to feel sorry for whoever gambled all of their life savings on buying an ice cream truck. before the market disappeared.

A golden opportunity goes off the rails…

Went to Hamilton’s Museum of Steam and Technology on the weekend. Free admission so the price was right.

Anyone with young kids knows all about Thomas the Tank Engine. We’ve spent far too many hours reading and watching Thomas and his Really Useful Friends get into crazy misadventures on the Island of Sodor.

At the Hamilton Museum of Steam and Technology, there’s an outdoor set of train tracks and miniature trains you can ride. If you ever watch Cable 14 in Hamilton, it seems as though they’re always showing a clip of the trains. So you think the museum would capitalize on Thomas and win over the kids (and their parents) who show up all excited in their Thomas t-shirts, sweatshirts and hats.

But no. You get the immediate and distinct impression that the volunteer conductors running the trains would be just as happy if none of us showed up. Maybe even happier. Aside from 1 or 2 volunteers, no one cracked a smile. No one talked up the kids or made a big show of riding the rails. Clearly, they weren’t there because of their love of children. So grown men riding around on little trains becomes sort of creepy.

And a few other cringe-inducing moments. There was the volunteer that wore a sweatshirt that let the world know he prefers his women to be like a six-pack of beer. Not really sure what that means but not so family-friendly. And then there was a coal-fired train (the stinky train as my son called it) that kept derailing. At least 8 times while we were lined up. You’d think after the first derailment the train would get parked in a shed. But no. Volunteers came sauntering over to trouble-shoot, leaving us waiting on the tracks. Again, they seemed more interested in fixing the train than interacting with the kids.

Either make the track and trains an off-limits members-only club for grown men or open it up to the general public and make the kids feel special. As it stands, I wouldn’t recommend the museum to anyone, even on days when admission is free.

Of course, once you’ve had your fill of riding on the Unhappy Railroad, you can spend five minutes touring the two 45-foot high, 70-ton steam engines that pumped the first clean water to Hamilton over 140 years ago (one engine operates as a demonstration every day!). It’s as fun as it sounds.

Why you should always look at your direct mail…

Just got a flyer from Big Ed’s Family Restaurant here in Hamilton.

For $20.99, you can get yourself a 3 pound Big Ed’s Big Burger with 6 slices of cheese, fries, lettuce, tomato, pickle and cheese (add bacon for $1.50). Words don’t do this justice and can’t compare with the photo on the flyer.

And to go with your heart attack on a bun, you can order a side of Mootine, something new created by Ed Jr. This "meal in a bowl" comes with mashed potatoes, meatballs and gravy, topped with cheese and melted together. A 20 oz Mootine with 4 meatballs sells for just $4.99.

Good news. Big Ed’s will deliver your 3 pound burger straight to your door (no need to get dressed and if you keep the front door unlocked, they might even bring it straight to your couch). And if you’ve got those late night cravings, Big Ed’s is open until 2 a.m. Monday to Thursday, 4 a.m. Friday and Saturday and midnight on Sunday.

No word of whether Big Ed’s can FedEx anywhere in North America.

Prodigal sons and daughters

Gave a presentation at a conference yesterday at the UWO’s Spencer Leadership Centre (almost makes you think about buying earning an executive MBA). London’s my hometown so I drove in and out of my old west and east end neighbourhoods. Lots has changed. Some of it for the better. Some not so much. And some things haven’t changed in 30 years. Also reminds you that nothing’s permanent and everything changes (seeing strangers in the homes you grew up will do that).

Got thinking that my kids may someday make the same drive through their old neighbourhoods — their first home, first school, the library, park and cookie store. Hope the roadtrip brings back good memories.

Also got thinking about a conversation at work from the week before. Had someone drop by who talked about how we need to convince our young people to stay in our city. Really? Should we maybe ask our young people if they want to stay? And the reasons why they may want to stay or go?

I think there’s value in having folks move around. Tends to broaden their perspectives. The challenges facing one community usually aren’t all that different from those other communities. Same with solutions to those challenges.

I’ve also found the people who complain the longest and loudest about improving the image and reputation of our city are the ones who’ve never lived anywhere else (you can find the same dynamic in the workplace among little-black-raincloud employees who’ve never worked for any other employer).

So no matter how much time, effort and money we invest on trying to win over hometown teens, they may leave for reasons that have nothing to do with quality of life or opportunities wtihin our community. They may just want to leave the nest. Explore. Discover somewhere new.

And while they’re leaving, the best and brightest from from other communities will continue to put down roots in our city, bringing with them a new set of life experiences and a different world view.

Grow down. Not up.

Drove to Long Point Provincial Park on the weekend for a family roadtrip.

Warm and sunny when we left home. Rainy, cold and windy when we hit the beach. Felt like mid-April.

While the grown-ups grumbled about hypothermia, the kids had a blast. Dug holes in the sand to bury their feet. Chased after seagulls. Built and destroyed sand castles. The stormy weather meant big waves pounding the sand bars so out my daughter and I went for our very own wave pool.

This followed last weekend’s trip to the community pool. Basically an oversized and unheated concrete bathtub built a long time ago. Water apparently came from a melted glacier. Yet again, the kids had a blast once they wandered over to a much-warmer wading pool and their lips lost their shade of blue.

Got taught a lesson I often forget about seeing the world through kids’ eyes. Make the best of what’s around and don’t get too caught up in a grown-up world that’s often way too short on fun. Our kids won’t remember what we did at work, have warm thoughts about our performance appraisals and take pride in our job titles. They’ll remember being at an empty beach in the rain having a blast with mom and dad.

Book review: Building better teams

Go Team! Take Your Team To The Next Level

By Ken Blanchard, Alan Randolph and Peter Grazier

(Berrett Koehler Publishers, Inc. $18.95)

I’m trying my best to be a better team player but it’s not easy.

First, I’m a GenXer. We’re predisposed to working solo and cringe at the prospect of group hugs and playing organizational reindeer games.

Best to leave us be and let us do our own thing.

And then there’s my childhood. While other kids played team sports, I played classical guitar alone in my bedroom. Why, I have no idea. I never expressed an interest or showed any sign that I was the second coming of Liona Boyd, the first lady of classical guitar. And it’s not as if the branches on our family tree were laden with musical prodigies. The only sign of talent came from a great grandfather who brought out his accordion every Dec. 24 and performed a room-clearing medley of Christmas carols from the old country.

So instead of a coach teaching essential life skills in team-building, I had a weekly sit-down with a chain-smoking and world-weary music teacher who was off the wagon more times than he was on. When he unexpectedly left for what my parents called an extra-long vacation, I got a new, sober and less manic teacher who was even more introverted than me and had the hairiest arms and hands of anyone I’d ever met.

After seven long years of plodding through the classics, I quit. But not before my folks bought a new guitar apparently handcrafted from the world’s most expensive tree.

I’ve been playing catch-up ever since on the teamwork front although most of you aren’t that much further ahead. Seems it has been all talk and little action when it comes to doing better by working together.

Instead of teams, most of us are toiling away in traditional work groups.

"In a work group, the centre of activity is the supervisor. The supervisor sets goals, plans the work, controls the workflow, determines staffing, evaluates group and individual performance, makes decisions for the group, resolves conflicts and conducts meetings," say authors Blanchard, Randolph and Grazier.

Old-school work groups may be OK if the benevolent supervisor has superhuman stamina and staffers are comfortable parking their brains at the door.

But the times, they are a-changin. Everyone needs to step up and contribute and no one person has all the right answers. "The ability to operate successfully in a team environment is rapidly moving to the forefront of required business skills."

What’s needed are next-level teams. These teams open the books and readily share information to build high levels of trust and responsibility. There are few, if any, secrets on the assumption that everyone’s an adult and can handle the truth. Clear and wide boundaries are set to give everyone the permission and freedom to make fast and smart decisions and get the work done. The best use is made of everyone’s time and talents. And everyone on the team feels valued, is responsible, looks out for each other and is fully engaged.

Next-level teams take time to build and there’s a forced march through the ominous sounding valley of discouragement. Supervisors will grapple with control issues. Staffers will balk at taking on added responsibility. Nothing will happen as fast as anyone wants. And everyone will worry about the team coming off the rails in a horrible career-killing screw-up.

You may also have to wade into the bizarre world of organizational policies and procedures. High on the authors’ hit list are performance appraisals that evaluate and reward individual achievement. If those much-loved appraisals aren’t measuring collaboration and teamwork, mixed signals are getting sent.

But the payoff for bravely soldiering through is huge and the authors helpfully outline the essential skills and the three steps all teams must take to get to the next level.

At the end of the day, it’s all about trading self-interest, dependency and control for partnership, responsibility and commitment. And who wouldn’t want to make that deal?

Worth reading: Damage Control

Just picked up a copy of Damage Control: Why everything you know about crisis management is wrong. Book review coming in a couple weeks.

Damage Control should be a mandatory read for all PR types and senior leaders. Challenges conventional wisdom around managing a crisis (surrender, give in to demands, get folks to like you and maybe they’ll forgive you).

The authors point out that in a crisis, there’s usually a victim, a villian and a vindicator. You’re in for a rough ride if you’re the villian. And asking for forgiveness works if your bad behavior is believed to be out of character.

Sometimes, you have to fight back in a crisis and not play nice. You won’t get everyone to like you. In fact, there will be individuals and groups who hate you, want to crush and humiliate you. The authors suggest reminding anyone who’s about to ignite a crisis for self-serving reasons that you too carry a big stick and there are risks involved.

So it’s always important to ask who’s leading the charge against you or your organization and what they stand to gain. Rolling over, playing nice and hoping that public opinion swings in your favour may not be the smartest approach.

The authors also take a fresh look at the oft-cited handling of the Tylenol cyanide tampering case. They point out that the crisis was inflicted by someone outside of Johnson & Johnson — a sniper-fire crisis and the company was cast as of the victims. The crisis would of played out a whole lot differently had J&J been the ones poisoning folks by accident or through negiligence. Also worth noting it took J&J 8 days to decide to pull Tylenol off store shelves. Retailers like CVS and Walgreen’s had stopped stocking the capsules a day after the first death. And the tamper-proof bottles were already planned before the crisis hit.